Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Baseball Call of the Year

Wow. Just wow. I'm not even going to describe this, so you're just going to have to follow that link and listen.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Awesome School Answering Machine

Unfortunately, this is a video that was directly uploaded to Facebook, so that is the only link to this video that I can put here. (I don't have time to look right now, but if somebody finds a link on YouTube, please send me the url.)

The important part of the video is the audio, which apparently has an actual answering machine message at a school in Australia. It's a lovingly sarcastic message that has things like, 'If you want to lie about why your child is absent from school, please press '1'.) I approve!

(Tip of the cap to Jeffrey Porter.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Mechanics of Fingernail Cracking

I have managed to further savage a couple of my fingernails and toenails lately, so that made me wonder about their mechanical and growth properties (and, more particularly, if I have done additional permanent damage to them). I hadn't gotten around to googling this yet, but todat's issue of mini-AIR has helped answer one of my questions. (I'm actually pretty amused that an issue of mini-AIR, meant to make us laugh and then to make us think, has managed to do that. It doesn't usually have blurbs about things in which I already knew I was interested. Now I can just cross my fingers and hope that time does a bit of desavaging...)

Tales from the arXiv: Intruder dragging edition

I was struck this morning by the abstract for this new arXiv paper:

Title: Journey of an intruder through the fluidisation and jamming transitions of a dense granular media

Abstract: We study experimentally the motion of an intruder dragged into an amorphous monolayer of horizontally vibrated grains at high packing fractions. This motion exhibits two transitions. The first transition separates a continuous motion regime at comparatively low packing fractions and large dragging force from an intermittent motion one at high packing fraction and low dragging force. Associated to these different motions, we observe a transition from a linear rheology to a stiffer response. We thereby call ``fluidisation'' this first transition. A second transition is observed within the intermittent regime, when the intruder's motion is made of intermittent bursts separated by long waiting times. We observe a peak in the relative fluctuations of the intruder's displacements and a critical scaling of the burst amplitudes distributions. This transition occurs at the jamming point characterized in a previous study and defined as the point where the static pressure (i.e. the pressure measured in the absence of vibration) vanishes. Investigating the motion of the surrounding grains, we show that below the fluidisation transition, there is a permanent wake of free volume behind the intruder. This transition is marked by the evolution of the reorganization patterns around the intruder, which evolve from compact aggregates in the flowing regime to long-range branched shapes in the intermittent regime, suggesting an increasing role of the stress fluctuations. Remarkably, the distributions of the kinetic energy of these reorganization patterns also exhibits a critical scaling at the jamming transition.

Comment: "Intruder dragging" sounds like a kind of torture. ("I know how we can get the secret code out of him! Let's drag him into an amorphous monolayer of horizontally vibrated grains at high packing fractions!") Maybe it's just me...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Return of the Random Walkers (2009 edition)

There have now been enough games in the 2009 college football season for the 'monkey rankings' (i.e., random walker rankings) to be calculated. (AKA: The relevant adjacency matrix now satisfies the Perron-Frobenius theorem, but never mind...) Our rankings are never good this early in the season, but you can still go to my collaborator's blog (i.e., the link above) and yell at him about the rankings. :) The basic way that the rankings work is explained on that page.


It looks like I was oinking.

I started having severe muscle aches on Thursday night while I was playing Okami, and I went to bed not long after that. (I stayed up just long enough to turn on the Dodger game so I could listen to it while I tried to go to sleep.) I woke up Friday morning and felt like total crap---easily the worst I've felt in over 3 years, but actually nowhere near as bad as that day that Lemming might remember. That was the one in which I slept 18 hours and bowed out of going to a play with him. That day, I somehow had walked to campus and had to be driven home by the condensed matter physics secretary after she saw me lying prostrate on the floor of my office. Then I slept for most of the next 3/4 of a day, went to campus the next day feeling not too horrible, and had the guy at the Red Door Cafe tell me that I looked horrible. (My response: "You should have seen me yesterday.")

Anyway, having learned my lesson, I cancelled all my meetings on Friday and I stayed home except for a brief walk to get fresh air and coffee + pastry. On the way, I also dropped off a form I absolutely had to submit on Friday, and I tried to avoid everybody as much as I could and just slide the form under the right door. (I probably shouldn't have stepped out of the apartment at all, but being cooped up was driving me nuts, even though I was lying down most of the time and occasionally drifting in and out of sleep.) At first, I couldn't even sit up for 5 minutes without feeling extremely nauseous, but things were already getting better by mid to late afternoon. Then I looked up the symptoms of both flu and swine flu, and it looks like I had just about every one of them. I went to bed at 9pm on Friday (and I was exhausted by that point) and except for getting up briefly a couple of times in the middle of the night, I slept until 9am. I dealt with e-mails on Friday, but that was the only work I could handle. So much for the page proof corrections I was supposed to finish by then. By the way, just to give you an idea of how cushy my job is, one of my colleagues brought me fruit and tea to my flat.

I already felt much better yesterday. In particular, I felt well enough to type up my page proof corrections (that I had finished scribbling on paper on Thursday), but that and some e-mails are about all of the work I did. I again got coffee and otherwise stayed in my flat (aside from a brief venture to the SCR to return the stuff from Friday and take a couple of apples). For the second day in a row, I ate only fruit, nuts, coffee, and pastry (finishing the one I started the day before). I also started a new game of Civ IV, because I think that getting swine flu is the FSM's way of saying that I should be playing Civ IV.

I'm pretty much recovered now, except that I am pretty heavily weakened from this and have eaten very little during the past couple of days. I am going to have to continue taking it easy for several days---I just don't think I'll have the strength to go back to my normal work schedule (which I suppose most people would consider an insane schedule) for a few days. Naturally, I haven't done the work this weekend that I initially intended to do, though perhaps I'll do a small bit of it today. Everything else will be delayed in turn, but my collaborators and I will just have to deal with it. It's better to get this over with and have this happen after classes start when it would be much harder for me to slow my pace this drastically. (It still annoys me to need to do this, but I don't have the strength to go at my normal pace right now. I guess there are a few things that are capable of slowing me down. :) )

I guess I get all of the hip diseases.

Dodgers clinch playoff berth

The Dodgers clinched a playoff berth with their victory last night. We now have a magic number of 2 to win the National League West. (That is, any combination of Dodger wins and Rockies losses summing to 2 or more will result in our winning the NL West.)

Go Dodgers!

(Hopefully, however, we can get farther in the postseason this year...)

Update (9/27/09, 1st inning): According to the broadcasters on today's Dodger telecast (who are idiots rather than Vin Scully), our magic number is 1. However, by my counting that would only clinch a tie. So perhaps that means we have won that tie-breaker? Unfortunately, the announcers didn't bother giving any explanation whatsoever. Maybe they will later. (Of course, this won't actually come into play.)

Update (9/27/09, 4th inning): The announcers finally bothered to explain that the fact that the magic number is 1 is indeed a tie-breaker situation. That rule is so lame (even when it favors my team). Also, the Dodgers had 2 runners nailed on the bases this inning---Bloody Hell!

Update (9/27/09, top of the 9th inning): Maybe the announcers mentioned this earlier, but I didn't notice it. The reason we won the tie-breaker is that we won the season series against the Rockies. I guess that's a reasonable choice of tie-breaking mechanism, but I'd still prefer not to have one. By the way, unless something goes horribly wrong in the bottom of the 9th, we're about to win! (I'll write a separate post on that.)

Update (9/27/09, after the game): Then again, things might go horribly wrong in the bottom of the 9th... Damn.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

That is an ex-dove.

This Peace Day video is awesome, "awesome", and priceless. Wow.

(Tip of the cap to Dave Relyea.)

UK versus US academic culture

Well, I could make quite a few comments here, but let me instead just link to an observation that one other person has made on the blog Lawyers, Guns, and Money. Note that I have not noticed anything similar during my time here, so I have no idea how widespread this is. It's an interest blog entry, and I'll leave it at that except for one thing: The article to which that blog entry links is both disturbing and outrageous. What century are we living in? How can people think that way?

Update (9/27/09): It occurs to me that it's worth commenting that friendships between faculty and students are definitely much more common in Oxford than in any of the institutions where I have been before simply because (due to the College system) there are many more opportunities for social interactions between students and faculty. I suppose it then makes sense that there might similarly be more opportunities for relationships (especially of the 'conflict of interest' variety) to arise. Though that wouldn't explain anything about UK schools that don't have a Collegiate system. My own best friend in Oxford happens to be a graduate student, but I don't see myself being able to similarly become friends with, e.g., somebody in mathematics because of my own reservations based on how I was brought up academically. (And even if I were able to overcome that---and I don't believe that this is something that I should even try to overcome---I would obviously be recusing myself from being an Examiner, etc. just as if I had advised that student.)

(Tip of the cap to Justin.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Facebook + Konami Code

For all of you old-school Konami/Gradius fans out there who have Facebook accounts: Log into Facebook and type the usual Konami code (up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-b-a-[enter]) and then scroll up to the top of the page. While the effect isn't that interesting, Easter Eggs like this just warm my gaming heart...

(Tip of the cap to Samuel Lee.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Project 'Gaydar'": Oy Vey

You'll notice that I have quotes in part of the title for this blog entry, and that's because this study about using network information to infer unknown demographics has been given a rather unfortunate and irresponsible name.

The link I have provided is a Boston Globe article about some research coming (mostly) out of MIT about using Facebook data to infer demographic information that people have not openly acknowledged---in this case, sexual orientation. Now, of course it is true that such data can be used for that, and indeed many of the tools to do so come from network science. And it is essential for people to be far more aware than they seem to be that that is the case. Of course the media is going to butcher the actual research, so as a scientist it is crucial when talking them to make sure approximations are reasonable and---when it comes to sensitive studies like this one---non-damaging. ("First, do no harm.") I'll come back to some of this in a minute, but first I want to tell a story (and then beyond my research interests, it will really become clear why I am blogging about this incident).

I saw a link to this study this morning when I was going through the daily digest from SOCnet listserv. Among the included e-mails was one from sociologist Barry Wellman that included a link to this newspaper article and some of his commentary. More commentary from others came in subsequent e-mails. Obviously, I have a great deal of interest in this topic based on my research, and instead of saving the article for later (as I often might, but in this case I was especially interested in the article), I opened it up immediately. Scanning through the text, I noticed a very familiar name: Fuck! One of the students on this project is one of my former research students from Georgia Tech!. He worked with me on an abstract problem in dynamical systems---nothing to do with networks---but I am one of his educators, and my memories of him are of his being just a fundamentally nice kid (not a generic nice kid, but somehow nicer in some deeper sense). Also, educators have nightmares about seeing their students' names in situations like this. When he applies for jobs in a few years, people will google him, and this thing is what they're going to see, and he's probably going to have to explain himself.

For this kind of research, there are obviously very serious issues---especially when such personal information is involved---and any study of this nature necessarily has a lot of hurdles to pass to even be allowed to happen, and that includes ensuring that the data is anonymized. The article in the Boston Globe indicates one of the ethical hurdle but not one that would be sufficient. (Based on an e-mail exchange with my former student, there were several beyond this, though I can't say if they are sufficient.) Also, the "validation" that was mentioned in the article is just frightening. My former student assures me that there is more in there, but things are exacerbated by the fact that the paper is not available publicly in any form. It is currently under review and isn't even around as a preprint. So the experts reading the Boston Globe article can't even look it up to see what the researchers really did. Also, it seems like huge mistakes were made in the discussions with the media---I wonder if the people on the project actually used the term 'gaydar' in those discussions, and that is just stupid. How could one think that something like that wouldn't blow up in one's face? (And not that it's a particularly nice term in the first place.)

Anyway, conveying science to the media is a very difficult endeavor, but it needs to be done in way that doesn't result in articles like this. Obviously, the researchers didn't want this kind of article, and something like this could have been prevented---even with a sensitive subject (which is when you want to be especially careful). Work with your interviewers, prepare for your interviews by establishing both talking points and things not to say, try not to say asinine things, and insist very stubbornly to look at drafts of what might get published. Some of the science will necessarily get approximated; grin and bear it if the approximation is reasonable and kindly offer corrections if it isn't. And, especially, as it is with doctors: "First, do no harm."

If you want to see an excellent capsule of the scientist-journalist relationship, take a look at the short sequence of PHD Comics that starts with this one. "Robots", indeed.

"Derek Jeter Honored For Having Fewer Hits Than Harold Baines"

This article by The Onion is yet another awesome Onion article that pokes fun at jeterating. To be fair, though, Harold Baines was a good player for many years.

(Tip of the hat to Justin.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Quote of the Day

Today's quote comes from Jack Cowan, today's seminar speaker, who said: "The nonlinearity isn't linear."

(The follow-up comment to that from one of my esteemed colleagues was: "Can we quote you on that?")

Blogging about Community Structure

My coauthor JP Onnela has blogged about our community structure survey article on David Lazer's "Complexity and Social Networks" blog. JP will be contributing to Lazer's blog on occasion, so that will give some more opportunities to read about things like community detection (and other things from the methodological corners of network science).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rickrolling Hack at MIT

A recent hack at MIT entailed putting the first 7 notes of Rick Astley's 'Never Gonna Give You Up' on a part of a building that looks like empty sheet music. The hack itself is pretty neat, but I especially love the nod to Rickrolling.

(Tip of the cap to Craig Montuori.)

Shana Tova, Maties!

This year, we are experiencing a confluence of International Talk Like a Pirate Day and Rosh Hashanah. I care more about the former, whereas my family cares far more about the latter (and many of them are not only heathens but likely haven't even heard of International Talk Like a Pirate Day). I do, however, like the idea of a holiday mashup. I want to hear a pirate blowing a shofar, damnit! Ahoy!

This year, we be experiencin' a confluence o' International Talk Like a Pirate Day and Rosh Hashanah. I care more about t' former, whereas me family cares far more about t' latter (and many o' them be not only heathens but likely haven't even heard o' International Talk Like a Pirate Day). I do, however, like t' idea o' a holiday mashup. I want t' hear a pirate blowin' a shofar, damnit! Ahoy!


Friday, September 18, 2009

Congratulations to the 08-09 mathematical modelling MSc students!

Today we finished the vivas (thesis defenses) and awarded the diplomas for the mathematical modelling and scientific computation MSc (Masters) students for 2008-2009. We also awarded 5 "distinctions" (out of 18 students). I was the advisor or co-advisor of 4 of the 18 students. Two of my students received distinction, and one of my students (Ben Franz) won the Nuclear Electric prize for best overall student in the cohort. It just goes to show how far one can get by working on a project on cow synchronization. (Naturally, my other 2 students also performed well.) When giving out the results, we didn't have any stories amusing incidents like we did last year. I couldn't find a blog entry about last year, so let me briefly recount the story here:

The students line up alphabetically to come into a room and formally be given their results one by one. There was one student (I don't remember whom) to whom we forgot to tell some germane piece of information so we had to call him back in. Then we realized we had forgotten to tell him something else, so we called him back in again. Between one or both of his appearances in the room, other students had gotten their results. Then after we had called him back in twice, we decided we should call him back in a third time a little bit later just to screw with him. That incident remains perhaps the funniest moment I've experienced at Oxford, and it's certainly one of my best memories here outside of things of the form 'quality time with good friends'.

Anyway, congratulations to all of the students who graduated today! (And that would be all 18 of the students, by the way. We didn't fail anybody this year.)

I think the best quote that might have come from this is one I heard about second-hand---namely, a rather distraught statement of "I just had to read 100 pages about hypergeometric functions!"

By the way, John Ockendon ("Ock") says I should give a shout out to our esteemed External Examiner from Limerick, who came to Oxford armed with the knowledge that I have strong opinions and tend to be very passionate about things. I'm glad I have established my reputation. Also, I was once again the strictest Examiner by far this year. So end my duties as an MSc Examiner. (Two more years as a Part C Examiner, and then all of my Examiner duties will be over for a very long time.)

On a somewhat unfortunate note, I am feeling extremely depressed at the moment, though there isn't any good reason for it. The chemicals in my body simply aren't cooperating, and I have managed to get into a depressive episode. I even saw it coming, but my efforts to avert it weren't successful.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Spectral Tripartitioning of Networks"

The published version of another one of my papers just came out. This paper is a methods paper:

Title: Spectral Tripartitioning of Networks

Authors: Thomas Richardson, Peter J. Mucha, and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: We formulate a spectral graph-partitioning algorithm that uses the two leading eigenvectors of the matrix corresponding to a selected quality function to split a network into three communities in a single step. In so doing, we extend the recursive bipartitioning methods developed by Newman [M. E. J. Newman, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 103, 8577 (2006); Phys. Rev. E 74, 036104 (2006)] to allow one to consider the best available two-way and three-way divisions at each recursive step. We illustrate the method using simple “bucket brigade” examples and then apply the algorithm to examine the community structures of the coauthorship graph of network scientists and of U. S. Congressional networks inferred from roll call voting similarities.

There are a couple of vignettes worth mentioning:

1. One of the referee reports for the original version of the paper complained that we cited Mark Newman too much. (This is, to date, the only time a referee has ever complained to me about citing someone else too much.)

2. This is the first time I have ever gotten a networks paper into a Physical Review journal. (I have gotten such papers in other good journals, but upon submitting networks papers, PR has usually tended to just tell me that they don't consider the paper to be physics. It's a crapshoot, though I have since gotten one of the Physical Review E editors to indicate conditions (or at least his opinion of what they should be) for whether or not something is "physics" that are much more precise than what APS, the publisher of these journals, has posted on the Web. (I can pass this along if you ask me privately. It's public information, but I just don't want to get into it in this blog entry.)

Very Important Pixels

The blog Very Important Pixels, filled with pixelated versions of famous people, is pretty amusing. For example, the Michael Jackson one is hilarious.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Nearest-Neighbor Coupling (aka: Best. Bathroom door sign. Ever.)

I think you're just going to have to look at the picture for this one. I approve!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Taking the word "cougar" to the next level

According to this CNN report, a 107-year-old woman fears that her 37-year-old husband (who is apparently her 22nd husband!) doesn't love her anymore and will leave her.

According to an online slang dictionary, cougar is "the word used for a middle aged woman who hits on twenty-something men at university pubs". Well, I think it's used more generally than that; I wanted to check the urban dictionary site, but Somerville blocks that one. I do think that it typically refers to middle-aged women who go after younger men (though I initially thought it referred to men who went after much older women), so I guess we might have to come up with another word for this situation. Unfortunately, I don't currently have any suggestions.

So if this woman netted her first husband at age 19, that's about one new husband every 4 years. Raar! (How does one actually spell that?)

The digging minigames in Okami are evil.

Bloody Hell. My wrist is starting to hurt.

Tales from the arXiv: Dickens versus Bulwer-Lyton

The following paper showed up on the arXiv mailing list this morning:

Title: Scientific evaluation of Charles Dickens

Author: M.V. Simkin

Abstract: I report the results of the test, where the takers had to tell the prose of Charles Dickens from that of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who is considered by many to be the worst writer in history of letters. The average score is about 50%, which is on the level of random guessing. This suggests that the quality of Dickens' prose is the same as of that of Bulwer-Lytton. Previously I reported similar results for the case of Modern Art (physics/0703091).

I have several comments:

1. This was posted under 'physics and society'. I looked at the paper. Where is the physics? (I have no issue with applying physics techniques to such things---obviously, because I do that myself quite a bit---but I just see a survey and simple statistics here.)

2. The results are interesting, but in what way does this constitute a scientific evaluation of Charles Dickens. The title is very misleading. I think doing this kind of study is worthwhile, but be careful about what you can actually conclude from it!

3. Statements such as "Edward Bulwer-Lytton is the worst writer in history of letters." are not exactly scientific in nature. That's pure opinion---the bad fiction contest be damned.

Monday, September 14, 2009


I think for this one the simplest thing to do is just to repost my newest Facebook status update word-for-word:

Mason Porter just received a letter by snail mail, sent personally to him (not a mail merge), addressed to "Sr. Prof. Mason A. Porter". Somewhat intrigued, he opened the letter. Inside were the secrets to nuclear fusion, and apparently his recent expository article on the history of the Fermi-Pasta-Ulam problem was the final piece to the puzzle.

There's nothing else that needs to be said.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Elements

This is just an awesome taxi. (For an added bonus, take a look at the cab driver and the expression on his face.)

To see what other pictures have recently made the photoblog, take a look here.

Me Being Myself

I just came back from G & D's, the local ice cream place across the street from Somerville. (There are two other locations---both in Oxford---but the one across the street is unsurprisingly the one I always go to.)

Upon entering I noticed a possibly-interesting woman, but then I noticed she was using what appeared to be one of the new (or at least reasonably new) Macintosh computers, and then I found myself to be far more interested in the computer specs than I was in her. What can I say---I have to be me. Then, in another example of me being myself, I immediately sat down somewhere and minded my own business (doing some reading from an issue of Notices of the American Mathematical Society that has been lingering for several months). I laughed internally about the relative importance of these things in my thoughts, and I also quickly understood that I was perfectly at peace with this. I suppose I could do with not being so horribly shy, but I have been able to make some really good friends here, so I'm at least mostly (and sometimes---like today---completely) at peace with that as well.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Physics of Calendars

In 2010, the APS April Meeting will be held in February, which in particular is before the 2010 March Meeting. May I humbly suggest a nomenclature change for these meetings so that such calendar flexibility doesn't come across as retarded? (Or perhaps this is just supposed to be a lesson in relativity?)

(I tried but failed to find a permanent url for the 2010 April Meeting, but I could only find a url for the current April meeting---I write this is in case somebody reads this blog sometime in the future when this link leads to a different APS April Meeting.)

Career hit leaders for each Major League Baseball team

As some of you might realize, Derek Jeter recently tied Lou Gehrig for most career hits by a Yankee. The LoHud Yankees Blog has compiled the career hit leaders for each Major League Baseball team. The thing that really stands out is that the career leader for the NY Mets is Ed Kranepool with a paltry 1418 hits.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Belated Apology for Alan Turing

The British Prime Minister has issued a belated, posthumous apology to Alan Turing for the inhumane treatment he received due to the apparently awful crime he committed by being gay. I have mixed feelings about how much such an apology helps, because although I'm glad Turing is getting some of his due with this, to me this still feels very much like 'too little, too late'. I wanted to sign the petition to support this, but it was only open to UK citizens.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Philosophy of Viagra

When I first saw this call for papers on the philosophy of viagra, I thought it was a joke. And then, to my immense amusement, I realized that it was apparently not a joke. (I could make a derogatory joke about philosophers here, but I have both friends and colleagues who are philosophers, so I will resist the urge to do so. Also, there are at least as many derogatory jokes about mathematicians, so I'm not sure if I want to anger any philosophers at the moment.) I'm going to forward this website to AIR now...

Tip of the cap to Thomas Kroedel, a philosopher.

Pretty Pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope has an article showing some really pretty pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope of the Butterfly Nebula.

For some more pretty pictures, here are the results of a Google images search. (Justin: Maybe you have some recommendations on this one for the recent pictures?)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

"Communities in Networks"

My survey/review article on community structure in networks finally came out today! I poured what was left of my soul into this one. (Among other things, I devoted a very large fraction of my winter "break" to work on this article.) This paper might well be my best chance in a long time to make a name for myself.

Title: Communities in Networks

Authors: Mason A. Porter, Jukka-Pekka Onnela, Peter J. Mucha

Abstract (arXiv only; The Notices doesn't use abstracts): We survey some of the concepts, methods, and applications of community detection, which has become an increasingly important area of network science. To help ease newcomers into the field, we provide a guide to available methodology and open problems, and discuss why scientists from diverse backgrounds are interested in these problems. As a running theme, we emphasize the connections of community detection to problems in statistical physics and computational optimization.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Awesome Signage

Here is an awesome sign from The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. (As I write this, there are also a couple of other pictures near the top of the blog that are both "awesome" and awesome.)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

"We apologize for the inconvenience."

I returned to my flat from lunch and noticed outside the back door that there was an unmanned forklift that had been left on. Thus far, one of my pictures of it will probably make my photoblog today, but in any event it made me think of Hitchhiker's Guide. (I also thought about the fact that maybe forklifts are the new Daihatsus. And on looking at a picture I took, I think that "forklift" isn't actually the correct name for this things. Please remind me what this is actually called.)

Shortly after that, I finally started dealing with some extra-special tax forms that I now have to fill out because my consulting arrangements required me to register as self-employed. A Somerville accountant was kindly helping me with these forms, and we were going through the various line items. Here is a snippet of what transpired:

Accountant: "Charitable contributions? [pauses... looks at me for a minute] Probably irrelevant."


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

New batting helmets

The new baseball batting helmets, which offer better protection and which Minor League Baseball players will be required to use starting in 2010, have been the subject of several articles for the past few weeks. Now, courtesy a link that Rob Neyer put on his blog, here is a picture of David Wright wearing one of those helmets. Wright recently came off the disabled list after being beaned in the head and decided to use the new helmets, which look ridiculous (as you can see from the picture) but which offer better protection. Several Major League players have stated they don't want to wear these helmets because of how ridiculous they look despite the extra protection they offer. (If you look through old newspapers, you will find similar comments about things like catching mitts, the original helmets, etc, so it's not like this type of resistance is anything new. Eventually, these helmets---just like those other pieces of equipment---will become entrenched and will be treated as if they've always been around.)

The players should definitely protect themselves better and wear these helmets, but I still can't help snickering whenever I look at that picture of David Wright.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Ill-Conceived Idea of the Day

I think somebody's head is going to roll at Microsoft because this is quite an epic screw-up. Seriously, shouldn't one anticipate the kind of fallout that would occur when something like this becomes public? D'oh!

(Tip of the cap to Christopher Voyce.)

Dodgers acquire Jim Thome and Jon Garland

The Dodgers were quite active while I was asleep, acquiring starting pitcher Jon Garland from the Diamondbacks and slugger Jim Thome from the White Sox just before the September 1st postseason roster "deadline" (which seems to have so many loopholes that it's much less of a deadline than it used to be).

Garland, a starting pitcher, fills a gaping hole on the team. He isn't an ace, but he is useful, and I'm quite pleased about this trade. Thome has had an awesome career, but he can't play in the field at all anymore, and we're reasonably set at first base (where he played for much of his career when he wasn't DHing) with James Loney. (Of course, Loney is going to need to pick up his OPS if he's going to remain our long-term solution at that position.) Thome will be a useful pinch hitter, but the acquisition of Garland is far more important. The Dodgers are currently playing the Diamondbacks, so in fact Garland had the interesting experience of walking from one side of the dugout to the other.

These trades give some very good news (and all the Rockies got was Jose Contreras, who I can't see being particularly helpful given that he usually implodes when he is on the mound these days) and certainly make a lot more sense than the move to get Belliard.

Update (9/02/09): I forgot to point this out previously, but an important comment is that if the Dodgers make the World Series, then Thome will be exceptionally useful to have in the DH spot when we play in American League ballparks.