Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tales from the arXiv: Theories of Nothing and Everything

And here comes a philosophical entry...

Title: A Complete Theory of Everything (will be subjective)

Author: Marcus Hutter

Abstract: The progression of theories suggested for our world, from ego- to geo- to helio-centric models to universe and multiverse theories and beyond, shows one tendency: The size of the described worlds increases, with humans being expelled from their center to ever more remote and random locations. If pushed too far, a potential theory of everything (ToE) is actually more a theory of nothing (ToN). Indeed such theories have already been developed. I show that including observer localization into such theories is necessary and sufficient to avoid this problem. Ockham's razor is used to develop a quantitative recipe to identify ToEs and distinguish them from ToNs and theories in-between. This precisely shows what the problem is with some recently suggested universal ToEs. The suggested principle is extended to more practical (partial, approximate, probabilistic, parametric) world models (rather than ToEs). Finally, I provide a justification of Ockham's razor.

Comment: Subjective, indeed.

Tales from the arXiv: World-Ending Edition

When world-ending physics meets the law, we get this:

Title: The Black Hole Case: The Injunction Against the End of the World

Author: Eric E. Johnson

Abstract: What should a court do with a preliminary-injunction request to halt a multi-billion-dollar particle-physics experiment that plaintiffs claim could create a black hole that will devour the planet? This real-life case seems like a legal classic in the making. Unfortunately, however, no court has braved the extreme factual terrain to reach the merits. This article steps into the void. First, the relevant facts of the scientific debate and its human context are memorialized and made ripe for legal analysis. Next, the article explores the daunting challenges this case presents to equity, evidence, and law-and-economics analysis. Finally, a set of analytical tools are offered that provide a way out of the thicket - a method for providing meaningful judicial review even in cases, such as this one, where the scientific issues are almost unfathomably complex.

Note that this article has been published in a legal journal.

Make it so!

Make it so: Patrick Stewart is now Sir Patrick Stewart. Nice!

A Quick Comment on New Year's Resolutions

Years ago, I used to use "don't be neurotic anymore" as a New Year's resolution, and then I realized that that was hopeless. On the bright side, however, that leaves a lot of wiggle room for "be less neurotic this year", and I even get to use the same resolution year after year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Beverly Hills is not my home.

I don't think that Beverly Hills has felt like "home" for several years, and it really doesn't feel that way now. This is what assaults my feelings the most whenever I am in my parents' house. I just don't belong in this city anymore, and I'm not sure that I ever did. Ah well... (Caltech feels like home and so does Oxford, and I think that's about it.)

Maybe I'll write a longer entry about this at some point, but I'm really not sure what else there is to say.

Whenever I think about the early years with my family, I always feel that I have orders of magnitude more bad memories than good ones. (I have many good memories with my friends.) Maybe I'll eventually feel differently, but I have to be honest with myself and for now let me just say that I am so thankful that other aspects of my life (my wonderful friends, my career, etc.) have done a Hell of an excellent job of making up for any deficiencies in my life. This is the holidays and although being in the house of my childhood makes some of the bad stuff from the past come to the front of my thinking a bit more than usual, I will do my best to focus instead on all of the great things in my life---which (a) far outshine the bad things nowadays and (b) make me immeasurably luckier than most people. My deepest thanks go out to the people who have played such important roles in this.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Scientific Peer Review, ca. 1945

Miguel included this link in his comment on a previous post, and I think that this video about scientific peer review (circa 1945) is hilarious, so I wanted to give it the post it deserves. Very nice!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Deconstructing Mason?

Once again, somebody seems to be trying to put some sort of philosophical interpretation on one of my articles. To wit, consider the following description:

"Porter, Mason, et al. Communities in Networks. Notices of the AMS. 56/9, 2009. In consideration, Oxford University mathematician Porter, along with Jukka-Pekka Onnela, a Helsinki University physicist lately at Harvard, and from the University of North Carolina, mathematician Peter Mucha, might themselves be imagined as agents interlinked in local and global neural-like webs that they study. By this view, Mindkind’s historic learning process may just be reaching critical robustness in such exemplary works, together with many other articles posted herewith (e.g., Barrat, et al above). As the quote cites, statistical physics and complex systems science are realizing they engage the same phenomena in different ways so a merger is underway, still largely unbeknownst. But viola, a revolutionary new kind of materiality is being revealed. Both an independent, implicate network geometry and dynamics that involves such node/link, modular, weighted clusters becomes evident, which then explicates into universally repetitive, nested occurrence from biosphere to blogosphere, from protein webs to international scientific collaborations. In a natural genesis, such a vista could appear as a parent to child genetic code."

The following text is a quote from my article that is included below the blurb above:

Graphs can represent either man-made or natural constructs, such as the World Wide Web or neuronal synaptic networks in the brain. Agents in such networked systems are like particles in traditional statistical mechanics that we all know and (presumably) love, and the structure of interactions between agents reflects the microscopic rules that govern their behavior.

The text that really confounds me is the following: But viola, a revolutionary new kind of materiality is being revealed. Both an independent, implicate network geometry and dynamics that involves such node/link, modular, weighted clusters becomes evident, which then explicates into universally repetitive, nested occurrence from biosphere to blogosphere, from protein webs to international scientific collaborations. In a natural genesis, such a vista could appear as a parent to child genetic code.

Comment: What the fuck?

In case you're curious, here is link where I found this deconstruction.


Two of the workers at Peet's Coffee on Lake Avenue in Pasadena remember not only my name but also the drink I like to order. I approve!

I remember their faces (and the faces of at least one other worker, though this one I remember from a previous visit after I moved to Oxford... there are only 2 people who work there now who also worked there before I loved away) but either didn't learn their names or forgot them. I also recognize the faces of several of the regular customers who I have seen at Peet's the last couple of days.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What happens in the United States stays in the United States

Late morning tomorrow, I will start my trek back to the US for the winter. My flight from Heathrow is at 4pm, though apparently all of the cool people are having their flights delayed. We'll see how things go. (Hopefully there won't be any airport liveblogging this time...) I am slated to arrive at LAX at 7:30 pm pacific time, and the plan is to meet up with Lemming (and perhaps company?) there and then head for dinner and then Lemming's place where I'll go online for a bit and then probably crash. Notice the priorities. :)

I'll spend most of the time on this trip in the Pasadena and LA area, though I haven't yet figured out exactly when I'll be in LA (or, more technically, Beverly Hills). The exception will be for a conference (Dynamics Daze 2010) just outside of Chicago from January 4th-7th. More on that conference later.

Friday, December 18, 2009

RIP Borders UK

Apparently, all UK locations of Borders are closing, and the last day of operation is December 22nd. That's a shame.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dodgers sign utility man Jamey Carroll

The Dodgers have signed free agent utility man Jamey Carroll to a 2-year contract. He's a useful spare part, but that's about all I have to say. I'm glad Juan Pierre's gone, though. :)

"What, American and quiet?" (aka: unintentionally "awesome" exchange of the day)

I went to G & D's somewhat under an hour ago to unwind a bit from some very long and stressful days of interviewing and debriefing. (Actually, I'll be helping with some interviews for prospective Ph.D. students tomorrow, so it's not like I'm entirely out of the woods...)

I ordered raspberry sorbet with hot fudge. The guy behind the counter, who had taken my order before, apparently only just noticed my American accent today and remarked about that and that he hadn't noticed it because of how "quiet" I am. (I suppose the "quiet" pertains to my not striking up conversation with the people who work behind the counter as opposed to any inherent properties that I might have? Although I'm exceptionally shy and often asocial, I don't think that "quiet" is a good description for me.)

Then as he walked off to get my stuff, he remarked: "That's a good combination."

I completely misinterpreted what he meant, and said (in all innocence, and in particular without any attempt at sarcasm or snarkiness whatsoever!): "What, American and quiet?"

Him: "No, raspberry and chocolate."

Me: "Oh."

Then the conversation continued along more normal lines between server and servee. (I know, I know: "servee" isn't a word, but it damn well should be.) He liked the fact that my accent was strong, and I really hope it remains so!

Now that's an exchange that I would call "awesome" (with quotes, of course).

2010 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has some new members. The artists I really like among the inductees are ABBA (the Swedish supergroup, and they were actually called a "supergroup" in the article; I approve!) are Genesis. I also have passing interest in The Stooges, which were founded by Iggy Pop. Of course, what I really want to know is when Depeche Mode will finally get the call...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

RIP Paul Samuelson (1915-2009)

Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson, one of the 20th century's giants in economics, died on Sunday. As you can read in his wikipedia entry, the Keynesian Samuelson was (among other things) a pioneer in mathematical economics. (For example, as a grandstudent of Gibbs, he used some ideas from thermodynamics.)

In reading the New York Times obituary to which I linked, I was reminded of their annoying style of putting "Mr." in front of the last name of any guy about whom they write---no matter what the correct title actually should be. This is one of multiple stylistic conventions in the New York Times that really annoy me.

I don't have Juan Pierre to kick around anymore.

We interrupt our regular program with the following exciting news: Juan Pierre is no longer a Dodger!. We have traded him to the White Sox for cash and two minor leaguer pitchers to be determined. He actually did have a good year as a back-up in 2009, but I'm still quite pleased to finally be rid of him. Simply, the money that we used to pay his salary is better spent elsewhere.

And so the era of Juan Pierre-bashing has come to an end. (I have to admit, however, that I am going to miss making fun of him.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Big Baseball News

There is some big news on the baseball pitching front today.

The Red Sox have signed free agent John Lackey to a 5-year contract. Additionally, Roy Halladay is apparently going to the Phillies as part of a 3-team deal that will send Cliff Lee to the Mariners. That's pretty major! Meanwhile, the Dodgers seem to be handcuffed by the McCourts' divorce. Thus far, we've only managed to lose significant pieces this winter, and signing hurler Josh Towers to a minor league contract doesn't exactly count as a significant acquisition.

Update (11:03 pm, UK time): The article about the Halladay trade apparently jumped the gun, but the trade is evidently "close" to happening. Stay tuned. And in related news, Dewey beat Truman.

Update (12/15/09): The trade is all but official now. Essentially, it's a done deal, but the press releases from the teams that put the official wrapping on things aren't quite out yet.

Update (12/16/09): The trade now is official, and as reported earlier (though after the original link I used) it includes four teams rather than three. It's really nice to see a huge trade like this now and again.

"Mutually-Antagonistic Interactions in Baseball Networks"

We interrupt this fixation on student interviews (as well as the 2000 extra special taxes that the UK government wants to charge me---hopefully incorrectly) for the following news bulletin:

My baseball networks article has now officially appeared in print. Because of the journal's printed backlog, it's actually in issue number 5 of a 2010 volume, but anyway it has official page numbers now, so it's time to link to my paper in this spot.

Title: Mutually-Antagonistic Interactions in Baseball Networks

Authors: Serguei Saavedra, Scott Powers, Trent McCotter, Mason A. Porter, Peter J. Mucha

Abstract: We formulate the head-to-head matchups between Major League Baseball pitchers and batters from 1954 to 2008 as a bipartite network of mutually-antagonistic interactions. We consider both the full network and single-season networks, which exhibit structural changes over time. We find interesting structure in the networks and examine their sensitivity to baseball's rule changes. We then study a biased random walk on the matchup networks as a simple and transparent way to (1) compare the performance of players who competed under different conditions and (2) include information about which particular players a given player has faced. We find that a player's position in the network does not correlate with his placement in the random walker ranking. However, network position does have a substantial effect on the robustness of ranking placement to changes in head-to-head matchups.

And, of course, it's always good to be able to discuss Bert Blyleven in one of my research papers. He better get elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010, damnit!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

LOLCat Bible

There is something seriously wrong with this.

It's not as wrong as The Brick Testament, but the LOLCat bible to which I link above is wrong nonetheless.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Best. Compound Adjective. Ever.

This whopper of a sentence comes from a letter that Richard Feynman wrote to his piano tuner (which has been published as part of an article in the December 2009 issue of Physics Today): "Why are the ear-created (or bad-amplifiers-etc-in-radio-and-phonograph-created) harmonics exact multiples?"

It makes one wonder how physicists could possibly have earned a group reputation of not being able to write well. The compound adjective has 7 dashes in it! Sheesh.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Adversarial Reviewing

If you are (or were) an academic, you know you've experienced adversarial reviews. (The link points to a paper that shows how to prosperously referee papers adversarially.)

I'd like to dedicate this entry to the adversarial referees that have been a part of my life. (Among others, I'm looking at you, PLoS Computational Biology referee who (incorrectly!) complained about the fact that we used a method that didn't work on weighted networks on a paper in which we only study unweighted networks. (Sadly, the Editors actually considered this report to be legitimate even when presented with a published mathematical proof to the contrary and a pointer to a very prominent line in which we state rather clearly that all of the networks under study are unweighted. Se la vie.)

(Tip of the cap to Aaron Clauset.)

Peter Gammons retires from ESPN

It was announced on Tuesday that Peter Gammons, one of my favorite sports writers, is leaving ESPN to pursue other things. I am under the impression that this won't include much baseball writing, and I'm really going to miss reading his words. One particular aspect of what I occasionally do in expository articles was actually influence a bit by his writing, though I don't know if anybody has particularly noticed that. Here is Buster Olney's tribute to Peter Gammons, and here are some other words of appreciation.

Here is what Peter Gammons writes.

Neil Diamond covering "The Hannukah Song"

Here is Neil Diamond's cover of Adam Sandler's "Hannukah Song", with some lyrics slightly changed---though I think the idea of Diamond covering Sandler is just plain wrong. Granted, Diamond has been known to do funky stuff before, such as apparently doing a UB40ish version of his song "Red Red Wine" in honor of their cover. (I really need to listen to that at some point.)

Oh, and Happy Hannukah to the tribe.

(Tip of the cap to Alan Hiller.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Back "Angus"

I have been digging Very Demotivational (see the blog roll) ever since Justin told me about it. I need to point out this particular post. While most of the other posts are much funnier, I feel like I have to highlight this link for person reasons having to do with "colon cancer". If you haven't yet browsed through the Very Demotivational blog, I highly recommend it. It's often hilarious.

The Brits are confusing me.

I learned a few days ago that Brits use the word "quite" quite inconsistently (or, if you prefer, in a manner that is quite dependent on context), and frankly I find that quite confusing. (Though I admittedly love the multiple meanings my previous sentence has depending on how one mixes the American and British usage of the word.)

As a service to my faithful readers, here is an explanation of the differences.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Download Achievements

My paper on visualization of communities in networks was the 4th most downloaded paper in the journal Chaos in November. Then again, the most downloaded paper was "The Mayonnaise Droplet". Go figure.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Whitey Herzog and Doug Harvey elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee has elected manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey to the Hall of Fame. Former Manager Herzog's given name is "Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog", but he was always known as Whitey and occasionally called "The White Rat"; he doesn't really belong in the Hall. On the other hand, Harvey, nicknamed "God" (one of the best nicknames ever, by the way), is vastly overqualified for the Hall. Harvey should have been elected years ago!

New Caltech Prank at MIT

There was recently a new Caltech prank at MIT, which wasn't particularly successful, according to an MIT student publication. Words from Caltech people suggest a somewhat higher level of success. We shall see.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Extremely necessary quotation marks

I love this entry from the Blog of Unnecessary Quotations. Awesome!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

I clearly haven't been domesticated.

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Take a look at the latest entry in my photoblog. I'm "awesome".

Thursday, December 03, 2009

New to the Blogroll: Very Demotivational

Tip of the cap to Justin Howell for pointing me to Very Demotivational, a new blog dedicated to demotivational "posters" (well, art made to look like posters). There is a version of the awesome girl scout poster on it, although it uses "damn cookies" and I greatly prefer the one that uses "fucking cookies". There are some other masterpieces as well, such as the one with Cookie Monster and the gun!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

"Localized Breathing Modes in Granular Crystals with Defects"

My latest paper has just come out in Physical Review E. Here are the specs:

Title: Localized Breathing Modes in Granular Crystals with Defects

Authors:: G. Theocharis, M. Kavousanakis, P. G. Kevrekidis, Chiara Daraio, Mason A. Porter, and I. G. Kevrekidis

Abstract: We study localized modes in uniform one-dimensional chains of tightly packed and uniaxially compressed elastic beads in the presence of one or two light-mass impurities. For chains composed of beads of the same type, the intrinsic nonlinearity, which is caused by the Hertzian interaction of the beads, appears not to support localized, breathing modes. Consequently, the inclusion of light-mass impurities is crucial for their appearance. By analyzing the problem’s linear limit, we identify the system’s eigenfrequencies and the linear defect modes. Using continuation techniques, we find the solutions that bifurcate from their linear counterparts and study their linear stability in detail. We observe that the nonlinearity leads to a frequency dependence in the amplitude of the oscillations, a static mutual displacement of the parts of the chain separated by a defect, and for chains with two defects that are not in contact, it induces symmetry-breaking bifurcations.

By the way, this is the paper that gave me a bi-Kevrekidis number of 1.