Friday, December 31, 2010

iTunes Oracle: 2011 Edition

After skipping last year (which turned out alright anyway), it's time to use the iTunes Oracle to see what 2011 has in store for me. I might have asked Paul the Octopus, but it's too early in the morning in Pasadena to have a seance, so we'll have to do this the old-fashioned way. You can take a look here to see the predictions for 2009 and links to the predictions for 2008, 2007, and 2006.

My first attempt to use iTunes for 2011 divination caused iTunes to crash. Perhaps that's not such a good sign of the future, but nevertheless let's carry on!

Here is what the iTunes Oracle has to say about my 2011:

1. The Covering: Nirvana, The Man Who Sold The World (Unplugged)
2. The Crossing: Flamin' Grooves, Paint It Black
3. The Crown: The Cure, Love Will Tear Us Apart (Live)
4. The Root: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Walls
5. The Past: Celtic Woman, Fields of Gold
6. The Future: Visage, Pleasure Boys
7. The Questioner: Erasure, Piano Song (Instrumental)
8. The House: Soft Cell, The Art of Falling Apart
9. The Inside: New Order, Blue Monday (1988)
10. The Outcome: The Knife, One Hit

Bonus Song: Depeche Mode, Dreaming Of Me

Hmmm... My divination for 2011 started out a bit oddly, as four of the first five songs are covers. The Covering concerns important things regarding the situation, so something about somebody selling the world. It could be serious, or perhaps it could be whoever sells Civilization V to me or otherwise provides some mechanism for me to get it? It's not clear. The Crossing refers to current obstacles, which might refer to the rather annoying but harmless 'black line' that I first noticed I had in last March. The Crown refers to the best that can be achieved by the current situation, which seems rather bleak, given that it's a band that sings dark songs covering a group whose lead singer committed suicide. The Root refers to things from the past that played a role in bringing about this situation. As usual, that could be anything---especially given that walls could be either literal or figurative. The Past manages to be a song about the past, and I'm having trouble even coming up with a hokey interpretation for this one. Maybe fields that workers of mine have tended in older versions of Civilization? That seems rather dubious. The Future, on the other hand, seems rather disturbing. Let us speak no more of this. The Questioner seems to suggest that I'm not actually asking any questions. And after that recent glimpse of the future, I think should probably be afraid to ask anything. The House clearly evinces the confidence that other people have in me. Right. According to The Inside, my expectations are apparently that Mondays will be bad (or at least sad). Well, given that I don't like Mondays, I didn't exactly need an oracle for this. The eventual Outcome is one hit. Maybe that means I'll have one really big success in 2011 (my preferred option) or that I will be hit really hard once in 2011? As usual, it could be anything. The bonus song isn't actually part of the divination, but many other Top N lists (such as the "Top 5 Modern English songs" that KROQ once famously played) include a bonus song, so why not? And it was Depeche Mode, so that's always good.

As always, the iTunes Oracle doesn't make any sense, but it's fun, I skipped last year, and Paul the Octopus put me back in the divinatory mood, so it's a nice exercise. Have a Happy 2011!

As for what resolution should come out of this divination, I could always do my usual one to be less neurotic than the previous year, but I think this time I'll go for being more patient and understanding instead. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Communities in Multislice Voting Networks

My latest Nonlinear Science Gallery paper officially came out today. Its title appears in the title of this entry. Note that this is the first time ever that Peter Mucha and I are the only two authors on a paper, which is interesting given that we have coauthored so many papers with students and other collaborators.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

This Sucks

As of last night, I have some sort of stomach flu or food poisoning (rumors that I am pregnant are likely false) and even sitting up in bed has been a major effort since then. I have now resorted to asking for help with marketing, which is very frustrating and demeaning. Sigh... This is the sickest I have been since I had swine flu in September 2009. I did manage to get coffee at EuroPane and walk right back because I wanted coffee and needed to be outside. (Being cooped up and not able to spend much time doing anything other than lying down is exceptionally frustrating. I can't handle it, and I wish I could at least get work done.) Sigh...

I am trying to figure out what food I can actually hold down (coffee and tea has worked so far), and my best idea at the moment is fruit juice.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jane Austen's Fight Club

Jane Austen's Fight Club is the best use of Jane Austen ever! I approve!

(Tip of the cap to Heidi Eldenburg Bramlet.)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Classical Versus Quantum

Again using Google's new tool, one can see transitions between ordinary English usage and jargon.

Nobel Prize Predictor

Thomson Reuters (who produce the Web of Science, among other things) have a Nobel Prize Predictor. (I've linked directly to the physics page, but one can find interesting predictions in the other ones as well---e.g., Eric Lander in Biology/Medicine.) Michael Berry ought to already have a Physics Nobel. My Mathematical Institute colleague Roger Penrose is unsurprisingly also on the physics list. It would be especially awesome if he won, because then the department would almost certainly have a big Nobel Party!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Concerts and Things

I went to a few concerts recently, though I abandoned my plan to go to the Shakira concert in London on the 20th because there was lots of snow, and even in the best of circumstances travel takes 2 hours each way (the venue is in a corner of London, which entails 45 minutes of metro travel from the train station). I would have come back very late and faced a decent chance of getting stuck in London, so I decided that Shakira didn't make the cut for me to bother. Maybe another time.

There are two recent concerts in London that I did actually attend. One was Dar Williams, which took place in the Union Chapel, which has church services by day and concerts by night. It's a rather nice venue, and I got there early enough to literally have a seat in the front row---and I've never had one of those. The concert was cool, but Dar did spend too much time talking and not enough time singing. I later went to a Squeeze concert in which the Lightning Seeds were the opening act. That concert was awesome! Hearing "Cool For Cats" live gave me goosebumps (so did a couple of other songs), and the 12+ minute version of "Black Coffee in Bed" that started Squeeze's performance was awesome.

I have greatly enjoyed a couple of recent albums. One of the standout albums from 2009 (ok, so this one is not so recent, but I want to mention it anyway) is Röyksopp's "Junior". Their 2010 album "Senior" is much more mellow and unfortunately not as good (though it has a couple of songs I like). I also want to mention A-Ha's 2009 album ("Foot of the Mountain") and the new Loreena McKennitt album that just came out last month. I hadn't realized McKennitt was going to have a new album, and I'm really enjoying several of the songs---especially her version of "Star of the County Down". There are some other good albums and individual songs I've gotten in the past couple of years, but these are the ones I wanted to mention in this post.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What happens in the United States stays in the United States (again)

Last night I arrived in Los Angeles. I flew out of Heathrow (with no delays!), had a layover in Paris (my first time in France in any sense... I'll try to visit for real in the near future), and then made it to LA after a very long flight. I'll be in the LA area (both Pasadena and Beverly Hills) until at night on January 7th. Then I'll go to North Carolina for a few days because I co-organized this workshop, and then I'll fly back to the UK on January 13th of the new year.

I'm exhausted. I wish I could fall asleep.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Quote of the Day: Some Perspective on Technology

Today I have been reading a bit about Paul Otlet, who died in 1944. Check out this quote of his:

Cinema, phonograph, radio, television -- these instruments considered to be substitutes for the book have become in fact the new book, the most powerful of means for the diffusion of human thought. By radio not only will one be everywhere able to hear, one will everywhere be able to speak. By means of television not only will one be able to see what is happening everywhere, but everyone will be able to view what he would like to see from his own vantage point. From his armchair, everyone will hear, see, participate, will even be able to applaud, give ovations, sing in the chorus, add his cries of participation to those of all the others.

Now that's a visionary.

3 in a row!

Caltech's basketball team has won 3 games in a row for the first time since I was a frosh.

Did I wake up to an alternate universe today?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Google's New Tool

Google Lab's new tool, called Books Ngram Viewer is extremely awesome. I think I should be able to use this for some really fascinating networks projects in the future. There are things that I have wanted to do that would involve text searching, and this might well allow me to do it (or at least to help me to do it).

And as you can see from my chosen plot, baseball has defeated cricket. (And I am damn curious about baseball's spike in the 1700s.)

(Tip of the cap to Bernie Hogan, who told me about this at the pub tonight.)

Update (12/23/10): Here is a link to the article about the new tool. One of the authors is Martin Nowak, who is quite a familiar name. Also, I love the use of the monicker "The Google Books Team" as one of the authors.

My Kind of Holiday Tree

Now that is the kind of tree that I'd be happy to have in my apartment for the holidays. (And the heap of presents doesn't hurt either!)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

RIP Blake Edwards (1922-2010) and Bob Feller (1918-2010)

Blake Edwards, who directed the "Pink Panther" series of films, fied yesterday.

Baseball legend and Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller also died yesterday. You can find his career statistics here.

That's quite a big pair of losses yesterday.

Surely they can do better than this?

Notice the picture on this web page. I am going to have to make fun of the Zurich Graduate School in Mathematics, because the pile of books that this guy is holding includes two copies of the same book. (OK, so maybe people should make fun of me for noticing this. But still...)

Those Funny Referees...

Sometimes, referees say the darnedest things. Some of these comments are really damned funny, though it's bad as an author being on the receiving end of such snarkiness. I've had my moments as well, but I do try to minimize the number of such things I do in the referee report (unless it's a good-natured comment). I do let the snarky comments fly elsewhere, of course!

One must be very careful, however, with the proverbial "third referee".

(Tip of the cap to Mariano Beguerisse Díaz.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"The Brothers Mario"

I don't think that any description that I can give can do justice to this video. You're just going to have to watch it.

(Tip of the cap to Kevin Hickerson.)

Too Close to Home

This PhD Comics hits way too close to him. The fact is that it's just true, and that makes me sad (although it also makes the comic strip good).

When I was TAing Math 1 at Tech and Wilson was teaching it, he had a great trick that I have occasionally adopted: Let's say that there is a problem on the midterm (or first midterm, if there is more than one) that befuddles lots of people. Put the exact same problem (word for word, number for number, symbol for symbol) on the next exam and see what happens. Keep iterating until people get it. We did this with a problem in Math 1 that year. The same person graded it on both exams, and somehow the average point total was lower the second time it appeared than it was the first. Oy vey.

(Tip of the cap to Ravi Montenegro.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cliff Lee Signs with the Phillies

The Phillies have signed Cliff Lee as a free agent. Yup, they've got a pretty good starting rotation.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Onion is officially awesome!

Trust The Onion to come up with a headline like this. I approve!

Their baseball articles often amuse me immensely---especially when they make fun of Derek Jeter! (And I'm not jeterating when I make that claim.)

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Always Label Your Axes!

Even xkcd agrees with me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"On the Perception of Religious Group Membership from Faces"

I think that this article stands a good chance to net its authors an Ig Nobel prize.

Title: On the Perception of Religious Group Membership from Faces

Authors: Nicholas O. Rule, James V. Garrett, Nalini Ambady



The study of social categorization has largely been confined to examining groups distinguished by perceptually obvious cues. Yet many ecologically important group distinctions are less clear, permitting insights into the general processes involved in person perception. Although religious group membership is thought to be perceptually ambiguous, folk beliefs suggest that Mormons and non-Mormons can be categorized from their appearance. We tested whether Mormons could be distinguished from non-Mormons and investigated the basis for this effect to gain insight to how subtle perceptual cues can support complex social categorizations.


[[Look at the link if you want to see this part of the abstract.]]


Subtle markers of group membership can influence how others are perceived and categorized. Perceptions of health from non-obvious and minimal cues distinguished individuals according to their religious group membership. These data illustrate how the non-conscious detection of very subtle differences in others' appearances supports cognitively complex judgments such as social categorization.

(Tip of the cap to Mariano Beguerisse Díaz.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The 36 Plot Points

Georges Polti claimed that there are only 36 types of dramatic situations that a story can contain. This list makes me want to come up with a 37th. Any ideas?

(I found out about this, by the way, by reading my L5R rulebook.)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Wales versus Scotland: Fight!

PLoS One has an interesting new paper on community detection. It just got published today.

It's abstract includes one of the best sentences ever: "We also quantify the effects of partitioning, showing for instance that the effects of a possible secession of Wales from Great Britain would be twice as disruptive for the human network than that of Scotland."

Suddenly, Welsh pride goes way up. And they owe it to all to community detection.

Contest of the Day: Come up with a Punchline

I will buy a drink for whoever comes up with the best punchline for this announcement.

By the way, when I saw this link, I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.

(Tip of the cap to Ben Williamson.)

Monday, December 06, 2010

Betweenness Centrality and the Military

Network methods are a major object of study in the military, and concepts such as betweenness centrality are actually being employed in practice in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, betweenness centrality is severely non-robust with respect to false positives and false negatives.

Pat Gillick is now a Hall-of-Famer

The once-again-newly-revamped Veterans Committee has elected former executive ("Stand") Pat Gillick to Baseball's Hall of Fame. He was the only one of the 12 finalists under consideration to make it this year. Former Players Union chief Marvin Miller missed by 1 vote, and nobody else came particularly close. Gillick will be joined by whichever players are elected in the normal vote in January. (This should finally be Bert Blyleven's time to make it!)


About an hour ago, I actually found myself writing an urgent letter of introduction to show the Thames Valley Police so that someone who recently renewed a UK VISA can stay in Oxford. That's quite an indignity to require of that person!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Quote of the Day

I am reading an obituary for Vladimir Arnold from the December 2010 issue of Physics Today. This article includes an absolutely awesome quote by Arnold with which I wholeheartedly agree: "Mathematics is the part of physics where experiments are cheap."

Comment: Amen.

"Second Coming Sale"

From the department of things I couldn't possibly make up, here comes the "Second Coming Sale" on jewelry. What a world we live in...

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

MIT Entrance Exam from 1869-70

Here is MIT's entrance exam from 1869-70. How well would you have done?

(Tip of the cap to Tim Chartier.)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

"It's life, Jim---but not as we know it."

There's some very exciting news from NASA today about research they funded: one form of bacteria can apparently thrive on arsenic, so the chemicals that can be used for life are broader than previously thought. One question to ask, of course, is just how broad might it be?

(I didn't check in any detail, but the following seems to be the case: The news release comes from NASA, but it appears to be the equivalent of the NSF having the news release. The article quotes a research-group member from Arizona State, and the research happens to be funded by NASA. I find the differing dynamics of mentioning "NASA-funded researcher" as opposed to "NSF-funded researchers"---a phrase that I don't remember ever seeing in such an article---to be interesting. OK, back to our main program: life with arsenic!)

(Tip of the cap to Julius Su, Meredith Alden, and Siamak Daneshvar. However, I have elected to link to the CNN article rather than the apparently very hyperbolic Gizmodo article that came out earlier.)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Coefficient of Obliviousness

This paper has the best scientific term ever: the coefficient of obliviousness, which is denoted by a backwards question mark.

(Tip of the cap to the Annals of Improbable Research newsletter.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

First Jon Garland and Now Juan Uribe

It won't become official until the physical scheduled for tomorrow, but the Dodgers have apparently signed free agent infielder Juan Uribe to a contract for 3 years and 21 million dollars. Uribe becomes our starter at second base. He isn't great or anything, but he sure beats Jamey Carroll, who was previously slated as the starter. Recently, we also signed Jon Garland to a 1-year, 5-million-dollar contract to be our 5th starter. Now that was an excellent move! (We had previously resigned Ted Lilly to a 3-year deal before the free agency period began and resigned Hiroki Kuroda to a 1-year deal.) Our starting pitching is in shape, and now some of the other stuff is coming along too. We still seriously need to improve at both 1st base and catcher---our incumbents are substandard---but things are looking up in Los Angeles.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Old Job Application Materials

I keep passing along my old job application materials (from Fall 2006, my last time on the job market) to various people, so I have decided to repost these items. You can find 2006-era teaching and research statements on this page, which also contains two LaTeX introductions.

Feel free to pass these materials along to anybody who might benefit (even if you want to use them as examples of what to do wrong).

I won't post any materials from when I applied for postdoc positions during the Fall 2001 season because, frankly, my research and teaching statements from that era sucked.

I am happy to pass along old cover letters as well, but I won't be posting those publicly.

(And, obviously, these materials are most relevant to mathematicians, physicists, and the like. I think, however, that they are not entirely irrelevant to others.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Tonight I had Thanksgiving with 4 of my friends. I was the only person from the US there, but of course the point was to invite the people I wanted to invite. I hosted, one of my friends cooked, and I helped with shopping and setting things up. We played some Trivial Pursuit and Time's Up. I found out tonight that my version of Time's Up has The Ride, and my heart start beating more rapidly whenever it was hummed (even the first time, in which it was hummed poorly ... I knew it was The Ride and not something else because my heartbeat had accelerated!). Because it was a special occasion, I used Ms. Pac-Man napkins that I had purchased at Toys 'R Us when I was 5 years old. (Well, I asked my mother to buy them and she did.) These napkins are older than one of the friends who was at my place tonight. Also, this is the first time ever that anywhere I have lived (aside from my parents' house, of course) has hosted a proper dinner. I even almost set the table correctly (I put the spoons in the wrong place) and alternated my styles of cutlery between adjacent seats. Anyway, it was rather fun!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Student Removal

My first thought when I saw this business card was that this was some type of pest removal. I really amuse myself sometimes...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cookie Monster Should Host SNL!

I think that Cookie Monster should totally host Saturday Night Live! (Parts of the video are hilarious, by the way!)

(The video on that Facebook page is highly amusing, by the way.)

Update: This similarly-themed demotivational poster is also really funny.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Didn't We Read About Such Things in Old Dystopian Novels?

The more I hear about the new security measures in US airports and related things, the more I feel like withdrawing from the world and just doing the best I can to live inside my bubble---hang out with my friends, do my mathematics and science, play games, and otherwise just pretend I am living in a better time. The world in which we actually live just sucks in so many ways. Didn't I read about such things back in the day in dystopian sci-fi novels?

I feel like the only way to show my true allegiance is not to be a citizen of any country. I just want to take my friends with me and live in my own little world. Sigh...

I wish I could just have a world citizenship passport that states 'no country affiliation'. Sigh. They all suck. I am registered to vote with no party affiliation in the US, so why not...

Solving Mazes Using Image Processing

I only looked at the pictures (and briefly at parts of the descriptions), but this use of image processing ideas to solve mazes is pretty damn cool.

(Tip of the cap to Matlab's post on Facebook and whoever is responsible for this particular post.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quote of the Day

Once again, Henri Poincaré has shown himself to be awesome. I just saw the following quote of his: It is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover.

Comment: Amen.

Josh Hamilton wins American League Most Valuable Player Award

Josh Hamilton of the Rangers has won the American League Most Valuable Player award.

The full rank ordering is here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Joey Votto wins National League Most Valuable Player Award

Joey Votto has won the National League Most Valuable Player Award. This was not a surprise and is also the correct decision. Albert Pujols finished second, which is also a good call.

In going to Google News to find an article that lists the full rank ordering, I was highly amused by what I found for the article on MSNBC. The headline for the article reads "Reds' Votto wins NL MVP in a landslide", but the link on Google News (and, I assume, a preliminary version of the article from before the award results were announced) instead reads "Reds' Votto edges Pujols for NL MVP". And in related news, Dewey beat Truman. I'm amused.

I will post a link to the full rank ordering as soon as I can bloody find one... Grrr... I'll go get some work done first. The e-mails keep coming.

Update: OK, here is the full rank ordering. I should have known to go directly to the BBWAA's web site, but it still shouldn't have been this hard to find!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Today I played pool for the first time in 3.5 years. (I played with Pageboy Greg Fricke '00 at The Green Room in Durham, NC.) I was certainly rusty, but I also had a lot better muscle memory on this stuff than I though would be the case---and I played better than I was expecting. My knowledge was still there and my lag to start the game of 14-1 was actually really good even though I hadn't done a lag in so long. Wow, it felt really good to play pool again! I need to find a place in Oxford to play. I want to play regularly again. (I never actually wanted to stop.)

I do have enough money these to buy a pool table, so I wonder if that might be a decent solution...

And for those of you who don't know, I actually used to be really good at pool!

Update (11/23/10): Hmmm... I can easily afford a full-size pool table plus all of the trimmings. Very, very tempting... If this wouldn't mess up my living room and kill its use for having friends over, I'd possibly buy a table right now. However, that would be way too much to sacrifice, so the question is whether a regulation-size US table will fit and whether I can find a good one that can double as a dining-room table. (The website above has non-regulation tables that can double as dining-room tables.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

May the Force of Typography be with you!

This is possibly the best use of typography I've seen! Wow!

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

King Felix wins American League Cy Young Award

Yes! The Cy Young award voters really do seem to be genuinely more intelligent than they used to be! After Zach Greinke and Tim Lincecum (correctly) won Cy Young awards in 2009 despite the presence of pitchers with gaudier win-loss records, Felix Hernandez of the Mariners has done the same in the American League this year. King Felx only had a 13-12 record, but that was through no fault of his own, as he was the best pitcher in the American League this season. I approve!

You can fine the full rankings on this web page (though notice the messed-up url, given that this is the 2010 ranking---I wonder if that will be changed...).

I didn't mention this for the National League Cy Young ranking (because I hadn't realized it), but starting in 2010, voters could give their top 5 pitchers instead of their top 3. In some circles, this is informally known as "the Keith Law rule".

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Headline of the Week

This demotivational poster is a big win. Awesome!

Legends of Caltech: The Movie

I've been helping out with this project for quite a while (I first read a script draft in February 2010, for example, and my discussions with the script-writers date back to February 2009 or earlier), and it finally gets to become public information! Tell all of your friends, neighbors, and countrymen (and maybe even Romans) about the "Legends of Caltech" movie!

The movie is inspired by a series of books in which I've had a certain amount of very deep involvement. :) In fact, I am co-editor of the third book, which you should buy. ("Buy my book!")

As of today, the movie has a Facebook page.

My Aunt's Art

Some of my relatives have a lot of artistic talent.

For example, I should have realized that my aunt* Anita Evers has a website devoted to her art. You should take a look at it! (I already knew about her talent.)

* Anita is my mother's first cousin, so I think that makes her my cousin once-removed or something like that. I never remember the terminology. Instead, I'd rather give directions on how to follow the family tree. It's more algorithmic anyway.

(Tip of the cap to my second cousin Leyda Evers.)

Erwin Schrödinger Institute in Critical Condition

On 25 October 2010, the Erwin Schrödinger Institute in Vienna was informed without prior warning that its funding by the Austrian Ministry of Science will be terminated with effect from 1 January 2011. It might not be too late to reverse this decision---and I really don't like the idea of something like this on that type of ridiculous time scale---so take a look at a letter circulating among mathematicians and maybe try to help mathematics in Austria.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Legend Continues

After coming back from coffee this morning, I did an extremely "awesome" thing: I accidentally walked into the wrong apartment, which I can assure you is not a very good idea. I love how it took me a couple of minutes to figure out what I did, and for a while I was just confusedly thinking "That's odd. How did Kin [the friend with whom I'm staying] manage to buy a dog in the 30 minutes I've been gone. And all that while he's asleep."

I am really awesome sometimes.

Some notes:

(1) I didn't actually see the dog---only the carrier in which it can be transported. [I chose this phrasing on purpose.] I am guessing that the apartment's resident was out walking the dog.

(2) Kin's apartment is exactly one floor up from the one I entered, and in the analogous spot.

(3) This isn't a Robert Downey, Jr. situation. I was just groggy.

(4) I have been going into this apartment on numerous occasions, so I made this mistake after lots of previous successes. So while it's odd that I failed on this occasion, allow me to stress that my success rate is actually rather good. Also, see (3).

(5) After entering the apartment---I'm not sure how the key managed to work (maybe it wasn't really locked?)---I locked the door behind me. Then I had my time pondering about the dog before realizing that a more likely situation was that I was in the wrong apartment. The unknown flip-flops by the door confirmed that notion. Then I realized how bad this could be and tried in vain to unlock the door to leave. I eventually managed to unlock the door and went upstairs to Kin's apartment. Oy vey.

(6) Did I mention that I'm "awesome"?

Roy Halladay wins National League Cy Young Award

Roy Halladay has won the National League Cy Young award. In fact, he won unanimously, as he garnered all 32 first-place votes. You can find the full rankings on this page.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Buster Posey and Neftali Feliz win Rookie of the Year Awards

Catcher Buster Posey (San Fransisco Giants) and pitcher Neftali Feliz (Texas Rangers) have won baseball's Rookie of the Year awards for 2010. I agree with the choice of Feliz over Austin Jackson (who finished 2nd), but feel that Jason Heyward of the Braves deserved the away over Posey. Posey did have an excellent year, but Heyward was better. You can find the full rankings on this page.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cars on a Hill

Thanks to Lemming for helping provide me with enough information to successfully google this classic video, which is set to the tune of "Yakety Sax" by Boots Randolph. (I'd also love to see a similar video that uses "March of the Toreadors" from Carmen.)

Part of the reason for this blog post is to help myself have the link in my records, and part of the reason is that the video is a big win.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A-Rod in The Onion

I love this article, especially the headline:

A-Rod Finally Leads Rangers To World Series

Now that's a big win!

Topical Bias in Mathematics Journals

A new article about topical bias in generalist mathematics journals looks very interesting. Based on just a quick glance, I want to draw your attention to where the applied topics tend to show up in certain prominent journals. Very interesting (and, as a cynic, highly unsurprising)...

Monday, November 08, 2010

"Intrinsic Energy Localization through Discrete Gap Breathers in One-Dimensional Diatomic Granular Crystals"

I have a new paper on granular crystals that just got published in Physical Review E today. I am an embedded author on this paper, as I am not one of the major players on it. Hopefully I'll do some more granular crystal stuff at some point, but I have pretty much not been involved in the current stuff in progress by my collaborators (including a new paper that got posted on the arXiv today).

Title: Intrinsic Energy Localization through Discrete Gap Breathers in One-Dimensional Diatomic Granular Crystals

Authors: G. Theocharis, N. Boechler, P. G. Kevrekidis, S. Job, Mason A. Porter, and C. Daraio

Abstract: We present a systematic study of the existence and stability of discrete breathers that are spatially localized in the bulk of a one-dimensional chain of compressed elastic beads that interact via Hertzian contact. The chain is diatomic, consisting of a periodic arrangement of heavy and light spherical particles. We examine two families of discrete gap breathers: (1) an unstable discrete gap breather that is centered on a heavy particle and characterized by a symmetric spatial energy profile and (2) a potentially stable discrete gap breather that is centered on a light particle and is characterized by an asymmetric spatial energy profile. We investigate their existence, structure, and stability throughout the band gap of the linear spectrum and classify them into four regimes: a regime near the lower optical band edge of the linear spectrum, a moderately discrete regime, a strongly discrete regime that lies deep within the band gap of the linearized version of the system, and a regime near the upper acoustic band edge. We contrast discrete breathers in anharmonic Fermi-Pasta-Ulam (FPU)-type diatomic chains with those in diatomic granular crystals, which have a tensionless interaction potential between adjacent particles, and note that the asymmetric nature of the tensionless interaction potential can lead to hybrid bulk-surface localized solutions.

ESPN Sunday Night Baseball Team Broken Up

Jon Miller and Joe Morgan have been announcing ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball as a team for more than 20 years, but they will no longer be the announcing team for Sunday Night Baseball in 2011. Jon Miller still might return---and I hope he'll be back---but Joe Morgan won't be returning. I actually don't think Morgan is that great an announcer, but Miller is awesome.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

What Happens in Seattle Stays in Seattle [2010 edition]

Tomorrow I am heading to Seattle for the first time since August 2007. I will be giving a seminar at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. While I'm around, I will also be giving an applied math talk at University of Washington.

Once I land in Seattle, I will be living in my 5th time zone in less than a week. (Technically, things like Eastern Daylight Time and Eastern Standard Time count as separate time zones, and I have "fallen back" twice in the past 8 days because the UK and US experience the fall clock change one week apart.) I live in a very confusing world sometimes.

Friday, November 05, 2010

"A Piece of Their Mind"

Here is a really neat blog entry about 4-year-old conjoined twin girls who are in fact craniopagus. (They share a skull, and there is even a bridge between each girl’s thalamus.)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

RIP Sparky Anderson (1934-2010)

Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson died today from complications of dementia. Here is his wikipedia page.

The one remark I want to make about Anderson is that he always looked much older than he actually was. I'm also not entirely clear on what constitutes complications from dementia, so I might look that up later.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Jerry Brown is once again Governor of California

Looking at this from a bird's-eye view and without thinking about partisanship, Jerry Brown regaining the California governorship after serving from 1975-1983 is just a really neat story. And his campaign commercial inspired by Dos Equis beer is simply a big win.

I have OCD.

From volume 1 of things not to do in the customs hall at the airport: Have a sudden thought about one's page proofs, and then let OCD take over and find a corner of the room to open up one's laptop so that one can check a formula in the .pdf file while other people are doing the usual thing and going through security. Then spend long enough doing that so that a security guard becomes suspicious and comes over to ask you what you're doing. (I did manage to talk my way out of it, though!) Um, oops?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What Happens in Durham (NC) Stays in Durham (NC) [Take 2]

In about 45 minutes, I will be on the bus to Heathrow to take my 2nd trip to North Carolina to visit SAMSI. I will be there for 3 weeks (except for a few days in Seattle) and will again be staying with Kin Chan.

Congressional Networks Research Back in the News

You can find the blurb about my research here. I had never heard of the venue io9 before, but it seems to have a pretty healthy readership.

Tracking Break-Ups via Facebook Status Updates

Here is a article about a journalist and graphic designer who minded Facebook status updates to try to discern when people broke up the most. (And, of course, this is a sensible way to do that. On a similar note, one of my collaborators is involved in a project that tracks the nation's moods---and, e.g., election updates---by following tweets.) However, I don't understand the plot that goes with the article. There is supposed to be a spike around Christmas, but the graphic that goes with the article clearly does not show such a spike. What gives?

Smile on a Baseball Card and Live Longer (and maybe also Prosper More)

One often hears comments that people who smile more live longer, which has to do with the positive emotions. But how to test this? Well, how about with baseball cards. Now that's pretty damn cool!

And in other news, I have a book deal. And I'm going to try to be concise when I write it. Stay tuned. (Or ask me, but I have to actually write the book first...)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Quote of the Day

I just finished reading an article by Gerald Folland about communication between mathematicians and others, and he mentioned (and hence reminded me of) the following wonderful quote:

Mathematicians are like Frenchmen: whatever you say to them they translate into their own language, and forthwith it is something entirely different. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

My Power Animal = Angora Rabbit

Apparently, my power animal is the angora rabbit.

Naturally, all this talk about power animals makes me want to quote Keanu Reeves (lines 1 and 3):

"Call your power animal."

"Come here."

"Do it in your head."

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Physics of Shaking Oneself Dry

The videos discussed in this blog entry are awesome. I am guessing (1) that this is one of the videos for the 2010 Gallery of Fluid Motion and (2) that it will also end up being one of the winners.

(Tip of the cap top Mariano Beguerisse Díaz.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Best. Slogan. Ever.

A "sport" called Major League Dreidel has the best slogan ever: "No Gelt, No Glory!"

I approve!

Congratulations to Dr. Dan Fenn!

Dan Fenn, my first Ph.D. student, passed his thesis defense today with flying colors. (He has on the order of 2 hours worth of corrections that he needs to make.) His thesis concentrates mostly on topics in mathematical finance, with a focus on financial networks. He also developed some new theory related to community detection in networks.

You can find some of Dan's work in our coauthored papers that I've posted on my website (and 2 more of them will be posted very soon). Once all of the i's have been dotted and the t's have been crossed, I will post his dissertation per se.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unpopular Science

This particular cartoon guide to physics is fantastic! It appeared a couple of days ago in the New York Times.

(Tip of the cap to Ravi Montenegro.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

RIP Paul the Octopus (2008-2010)

Paul the Octopus, the cephalopod who took the world by storm with his oracle-like soccer predictions, has died. RIP Paul.

(Tip of the cap to Bonnie Harland.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Citation Errors as Genetic Mutations

As this opinion piece discusses, citation errors are rather analogous to genetic mutations.

Unfortunately, the optimism expressed at the end of the article that referencing software will help matters is misplaced---my experience is that such things induce new errors rather severely.

(Tip of the cap to Julius Su.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Words of Wisdom from Bill James

"To use academic jargon is rude, lazy, elitist, and counter-productive. It diminishes the influence of the academic world; it diminishes the influence of thinking people on the general debate. If you want people to accept your ideas, you have to speak in language that others can understand. This is common sense, and it is common courtesy."


(Of course, one needs to be precise in journal articles, but that doesn't mean that certain things can't be made understandable or that we can't speak and write things in other venues to help facilitate understanding. Anyway, the point is: Know thy audience!)

Moustache of the Day

Now that is a serious 'stache.

Congratulations to Dr. Felicia Gottmann!

On a few occasions, I like to highlight accomplishments from my friends in this spot. (And we all know that I spend too much time talking about myself anyway, so this is a welcome break from the usual deal.)

I just got back from the celebration for a successful D.Phil defense (a "viva") for one of my best friends---for one of the dearest, closest friends I have ever had or will ever have. And I try to do the best I can in return.

So that means it's time to pause and use this spot to express congratulations! Felicia passed with flying colors, which was not a surprise at all. (A foregone conclusion in fact, though it's obviously always better after the fact.)

I know Felicia through Somerville, and she studies French and history. The title of her thesis is "The eighteenth-century luxury debate: the case of Voltaire"---quite far from anything I can even pretend to know, but surely that is because all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds?

There were a lot of mathematicians at the pub, so ironically I was the one who knew other people. This resulted in our table getting recruited for charitable donations (one of the staff members left her job today and was celebrating the end of her job), and one of my students also dropped by to say 'hi'.

Anyway, it was all very excellent and fun, and now I am pretty tired. I should also mention that Felicia's mother (who flew in from Germany for the celebration) called me "an international phenomenon". Maybe I should adopt that as my tagline?

It's not every day that I get to celebrate an important day for one of my best friends, so today has been a good day.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Dance Your PhD" Contest 2010

There is apparently something called a "Dance Your PhD" contest, and here are the entries for 2010.

I didn't know until just now that this exists, and I have to say that I am afraid to watch some of these videos. My dissertation was called "Quantum Chaos in Vibrating Billiard Systems", and I think that the presence of the word "vibrating" would have made this a clear winner in 2002.

(Tip of the hat to Alex Cayco Gajic.)

A Techer's New Adventure

Tomorrow, fellow Lloydie Rachel Gray '00 goes to Italy to start her new life as a nun. Pretty soon it looks like none of us will hear from her for a long time (she won't have internet access, and apparently she can't write or read snail mail except from close family). You can read about her life decision on her blog (which I suppose won't be updated for quite a while...), so for those of you who know her, now is definitely the time to send her well wishes. Hopefully our paths will eventually cross again.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Best. Law Firm. Name+Slogan. Ever.

I have only two words to say: I approve!.

(Tip of the cap to Lemming.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New to the Blogroll: "Principal's Blog", "Somerville Historian", and "Complex Matters"

I have added links to new blogs maintained by three of my Somerville colleagues: our new Principal, one of our history Fellows, and one of our physics Fellows.

Isn't it just like me to show my support?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Does Judaism Get Wile E. Coyote?

Here is the straight line (you provide the joke): The Vatican has apparently declared that Homer Simpson is Catholic.

Meanwhile, back on Earth...

Tales from the ArXiv: Tibetan Singing Bowl

A new paper on the arXiv discusses the Tibetan singing bowl. We have one of these in OCIAM, though note that this one isn't like those depicted in the wikipedia article.

Here is more information on the new article on the arXiv:

Title: The Tibetan Singing Bowl

Authors: Denis Terwagne, John W. M. Bush (the fact that John Bush is involved is not a surprise at all!)

Abstract: The Tibetan singing bowl is a type of standing bell. Originating from Himalayan fire cults as early as the 5th century BC, they have since been used in religious ceremonies, for shamanic journeying, exorcism, meditation and shakra adjustment. A singing bowl is played by striking or rubbing its rim with a wooden or leather-wrapped mallet. The sides and rim of the bowl then vibrate to produce a rich sound. When the bowl is filled with water, this excitation can cause crispation of the water surface that can be followed by more complicated surface wave patterns and ultimately the creation of droplets. We here demonstrate the means by which the Tibetan singing bowl can levitate droplets. This is a sample arXiv article illustrating the use of fluid dynamics videos.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What happens in Limerick stays in Limerick

I am taking my second trip to Ireland. I will once again be flying into Shannon and heading down to Limerick to give a seminar and collaborate (and occasionally to stop and listen). However, I probably won't present my conclusions in Limerick form on this occasion---because it went over so well last time...

I have a bit of a backlog of established invites in various countries that I will eventually do: Spain (again), Portugal, Singapore, China (again), France, and Germany (the last for social purposes, though I technically also have an academic invitation that may or may not have expired) come to mind. At this point, I doubt that any of them will happen in 2010, but hopefully I'll do some of these in 2011. There is also a conference in Hungary (in Budapest) in June 2011 that I would like to attend. Lots to look forward to!

Saturday, October 16, 2010


This demotivational poster is a big win. Actually, it's not truly the poster that's a win but rather the TA for the class in question. Nice job!

RIP Benoît Mandelbrot (1924-2010)

I can't yet find an article to confirm this (though it's mentioned on a couple of blogs and private websites), but it appears that the mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot (as in the Mandelbrot set, among other things) died on Thursday.

2010 has been a really bad year for dynamical systems (and allied subjects---fractals and related phenomena, in this case). We've lost so many big names this year.

(Tip of the cap to Jeremy Corbett.)

Update: The New York Times has now posted a proper obituary. Also see the blurb in Wired.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Flawed Design

Um, who designed this? That's a bit of a fail...

The subtitle, however, is excellent.

Customer Support

Today's xkcd hits close to home.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Monkey Rankings are Back!

Now you can start seeing how the monkeys (aka, random walkers) are doing in their attempt to rank college football teams.

10/10/10 = 42 Day

I was well aware that today is 10/10/10---especially given the birthday party that reminded me of it!---but I hadn't caught that 101010 is the binary representation of 42.

(Tip of the cap to Puck Rombach.)

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Competition for Popularity in Bipartite Networks

One of my papers was published in Chaos yesterday. You can find a link to it here. It uses data from the Netflix competition, and it concerns the human dynamics of video rentals.

Title: Competition for Popularity in Bipartite Networks

Authors: Mariano Beguerisse Díaz, Mason A. Porter, and Jukka-Pekka Onnela

Abstract: We present a dynamical model for rewiring and attachment in bipartite networks. Edges are placed between nodes that belong to catalogs that can either be fixed in size or growing in size. The model is motivated by an empirical study of data from the video rental service Netflix, which invites its users to give ratings to the videos available in its catalog. We find that the distribution of the number of ratings given by users and that of the number of ratings received by videos both follow a power law with an exponential cutoff. We also examine the activity patterns of Netflix users and find bursts of intense video-rating activity followed by long periods of inactivity. We derive ordinary differential equations to model the acquisition of edges by the nodes over time and obtain the corresponding time-dependent degree distributions. We then compare our results with the Netflix data and find good agreement. We conclude with a discussion of how catalog models can be used to study systems in which agents are forced to choose, rate, or prioritize their interactions from a large set of options.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Japanese cover of "The Elements"

The Annals of Improbable Research just posted on Facebook a Japanese cover of Tom Lehrer's "The Elements"---now with more elements and a Japanese pop style. Yup, I think I've seen everything now.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Roy Halladay pitches postseason no-hitter

In his first ever postseason game, Roy Halladay has just finished pitching the first no-hitter in the postseason since Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Yup, he's pretty good.

This is Halladay's second no-hitter of the season (he pitched a perfect game earlier... today, he walked one batter), and he became the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1973 to pitch more than one no-hitter in the same season. Unless I am mistaken, Larsen's perfect game is the only other postseason no-hitter.

Zelda at Caltech

This "real life" version of the Legend of Zelda was filmed at Caltech a few years ago. I'm not sure if it was done for anything along the lines of a Lloyd Movie or if it was done only for the Hell of it.

(Tip of the cap to Gary Wu.)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

First an Ig Nobel and Now a Nobel

Andre Geim, one of the new Nobel Laureates in Physics (for the discovery of graphene), has become the first Ig Nobel Laureate to also be a Nobel Laureate. That's pretty cool! Ironically, Geim shared his Ig Nobel with Michael Berry, who deserves a Nobel Prize for his work on geometric phase. So I was hoping that Michael Berry would be the first person to get this particular distinction...

Monday, October 04, 2010


I think I'll just link to the picture.

"Father" of the Test Tube Baby and other "Awesome" Quotations

I want to distinguish my "Quote of the Day" series from what I will called a "Quotation of the Day".

The article in which this occurs is from, and it concerns the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to the "Father of the Test Tube Bay". This isn't my main point, but using the term Father of the test tube baby is pretty ambiguous, don't you think? (It's pretty "awesome", too.)

But that's not the only gem in this paper. If you look at the sidebar, you find out that the 2009 prize went to Americans who 'solved "a major problem in biology"'. Yes, a major problem in biology is actually in quotes. Well, tomorrow somebody (hopefully Michael Berry!) will be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for solving a major problem in physics, and on Monday somebody will be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for solving a major problem in economics. (Strictly speaking, one can get an awarded for contributions that help lead to a solution, rather than a solution itself, but that still means that one is solving something major in the field relevant to the prize in question---even if that solution is only a piece of a solution to a larger problem.) In the article itself, this quote is followed with a more specific statement about what the 2009 Laureates in Physiology or Medicine actually did. But the ambiguous phrase was still in quotes. What the Hell? Talk about unnecessary quotations...

Sunday, October 03, 2010

2010 Ig Nobel Prizes

The 2010 Ig Nobel Laureates include my coauthor Mark Fricker! (The best one this year was the prize in Management, which was for a paper in Physica A that won "for demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.") Now I know why he was travelling to Boston right about now...

Maybe I'll eventually win an Ig Nobel for cow synchronization...

But can they cast entangle?

Britain has, for the first time, recognized Druidry as an official religion, giving it various tax benefits and other benefits.

For more information, dial 1-800-DRUIDIA.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Mythical Man-Month

David Lazer gave today's complex systems seminar, and he actually brought up The Mythical Man-Month. Wow. I hadn't thought about this book in years.

(Now if only we could get Steve Taylor to come back and say "pointers" just one more time... He appears to be at Dartmouth these days, but the website doesn't include his CV, so I'm not 100% sure it's the same guy.)

Ah, the halcyon days of CS 1...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Apparently, there is something called a sin-tree in probability theory. Obviously, they're a religious bunch. (Do a 'find' on the website to which I link if you want to see what a sin-tree is.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

This equation is stochastic as shit!

I really like today's xkcd. Among other things, It makes me think of George Carlin. :)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mapping Europe According to Stereotypes

Here are some maps of Europe (and surrounding environs) according to stereotypes. This is priceless.

(Tip of the cap to Karen Daniels.)

Update (9/27/10): Mariano Beguerrise Díaz also points out the Tory Atlas of the World, which is also pretty amusing.

Friday, September 24, 2010

"I am way too cool for this place."

I seem to have purchased a very skeptical stuffed phoenix at Dragon*Con.

I also posted pictures of the other pieces of art I bought.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ichiro gets 10th Straight 200-Hit Season

Let me follow up Zifnab's lead by following up a negative post with a positive one (at least if you care about baseball).

Ichiro Suzuki extended his own record last night, recording his 200th hit this season in what has become his 10th consecutive year with at least 200 hits. That extends his own record for most consecutive 200-hit seasons. Ichiro's 10 career 200-hit seasons is the American League record; Ichiro is tied with Pete Rose for the Major League record. Wow!

Some more baseball records are possibly coming up. In particular, I am interested in whether Cliff Lee can break the Major League record for best single-season strikeout/walk ratio.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

RIP Jerry Marsden (1942-2010)

I just received an e-mail (via Caltech's Control & Dynamical Systems mailing list, which is probably the one list where I still get relevant e-mails via my UGCS address) that Jerry Marsden died of cancer last night. I knew he was sick, but apparently things got extremely bad lately.

Here is what I just wrote as my Facebook status: RIP Jerry Marsden. Your supervision of my first research project, excellent lectures, and tons of recommendation letters, and much more meant so much to my career. (Not the e-mail I wanted to get...)

This bothers me a lot. Jerry was one of my biggest mentors, especially in the early stages. (I ultimately decided that my research style and preferences were different from his, but of course we all ultimately decide our path based on our various experiences. This is a sad, sad day.)

9/23/10: One of my collaborators has posted an appropriate quote from MacBeth, and I'll just assume (though perhaps incorrectly... I didn't check and I don't plan to ask) that it's for the same piece of news as reported in this blog entry. I knew that Jerry's death would bother me, but it's definitely hit me harder than I was expecting. Our relationship was entirely professional, but that is meaningful all the same.

9/24/10: Here is (a version that had some 1997 modifications of) my SURF Report from my project with Jerry.

9/26/10: There is now a remembrance page set up at Caltech.

10/01/10: Caltech has now posted an obituary.

Durham hosts 4th ACiD Workshop

Don't believe me? Then just take a look at this website. Yup, those mathematicians are doing ACiD.

This is a great choice of acronym for a mathematics workshop, isn't it?

Today's xkcd

Today's xkcd has an excellent final panel. It's just so well-phrased.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Yar! (Oops)

I totally forgot that today be an important holiday! I'm not aye what I should do starboard now. Maybe I can find a substitute day t' celebrate properly once I'm aft home. There be more likely t' be pirates in Oxford than in Durham (North Carolina) anyway. I remembered last week that International Talk Like a Pirate Day was comin' up, but for some reason it totally escaped me as t' actual day drew nigh. And then I completely forgot. Maybe it's that I'm extremely perturbed these days because t' Dodgers continue t' suck this year? Can I use that as me excuse.

In conclusion, yar!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Don Mattingly to Succeed Joe Torre as Dodger Manager

It looks like Joe Torre will step down as Dodger manager after this season, and he'll be replaced by Don Mattingly. I'm not at all convinced that Mattingly is the right choice as manager.

However, I do know some things that we need [not necessarily in order, except #1 is definitely first]: (1) better owners [the McCourts both need to go away!], (2) a better starting catcher, (3) a better starting first baseman, (4) better pitching, (5) a better attitude for Matt Kemp, and (6) stuff that didn't come to mind in my current hypergeometric-function-induced haze.

Man, this season has been frustrating.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Awesome New Disaster Movie

If you thought that The King of Kong was an excellent movie (and I know I did!), then I suggest that you take a look at this trailer for Pixel, an awesome new disaster movie with special guest appearances by (among others) Donkey Kong, Frogger, several Tetris pieces, and even Pac-Man. I approve!

(Tip of the cap to Puck Rombach.)

Term of the Day

I have decided that I love the term National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities. It's even better than "ambassador of capitalism".

Sometimes it's amazing how much a small set of words can amuse me when they're placed together.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

XKCD on Physicists

Sometimes, xkcd gets it exactly right.

Wow. This is so amazingly true! Not to bite the hand that helps feed me, but...

(Tip of the cap to physicist Karen Daniels.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gaming and Decision Quickness

A new study suggests that gamers (with, in particular, action games---I didn't check the paper to see how that's being defined) make decisions faster and just as accurately as non-gamers. Of course, please note that what was observed was a correlation rather than causation.

This is my new excuse, and I'm sticking to it. :) It looks like all of those hours playing games like Ms. Pac-Man paid off.

(Tip of the cap to Louis Wang.)

King Felix versus C.C. Sabathia

C.C. Sabathia has a lot of wins and is considered the favorite to win the American League Cy Young award, though he has not actually been the best pitcher in the A.L. this season. For example, Felix Hernandez has been better thus far, though unfortunately poor run support is going to doom King Felix (as his win-loss record is pedestrian). I love this particular graphical representation of relative performance, though of course whether one "believes" this plot depends fundamentally on what one thinks of the diagnostic called Game Score.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010


That's right. There is apparently a LOLCAT method, which is a particular implementation of the Gillespie Algorithm.

That is just wrong.

(Tip of the cap to Liam Pomponi.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Stranded Magazine

Stranded magazine is finally out. This is the magazine induced by ash clouds that was produced by stranded people. I have a couple of contributions in it.

"All proceeds go directly to the International Rescue Committee to help people stranded in a more permanent way."

Epic Fail

EPIC FAIL: When the building is going to be shut down at 5:30 pm and all vehicle access to the building will be shut down along with it, I should be informed of this situation (which was apparently well known to the people who run the building) before 4:40 pm on the same day---especially when I had previously arranged to be picked up at 7pm. SAMSI, this is yet another epic fail on your part. This is what mailing lists are for.

Travel Through Time with Videos

Wow! This website is awesome!

The site is called, and its tagline is "Pick a year, click refresh, and TRAVEL THROUGH TIME". I put the link above on 1976, which is the year I was born. You can turn on the desired combination of video games, television, commercials, current events, sports, movies, and music. The site will then---for the given year---cycle through videos from those things. For example, for 1976, the first thing it gave me was the video for the song "Crazy on You" (a great song, by the way). I am putting this site away right now because I can see how much of a time sink it has the potential to be.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Chocolate-Covered Bacon

I was just at Whole Foods market, and I was completely broken by looking at Mo's Bacon Bar, which is chocolate-covered bacon. Whole Foods had both a milk chocolate and a dark chocolate variety (though the dark chocolate was only something like 62%, which is pretty weak). I didn't buy it, though. I like chocolate, and I like bacon. But... WTF?

(I did buy almond butter, however. Mmmmm....)

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Presenting Data With Faces

Chernoff Faces, which give a way to present data using facial features, seem way cool. I so need to use this in one of my papers!

I got this from Bay City Ball, which presents Chernoff Faces for the Major League Baseball teams.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Life Imitates 'In Soviet Russia'

Allow me to paraphrase a comment that my former postdoc advisor Leonid Bunimovich made today: In all countries, one cannot predict the future. But only in Russia is it is also true that one cannot predict the past.

(Russians can be awesome sometimes, especially when they claim that something was already in Landau and Lifschitz. :P)

Monday, September 06, 2010

Pictures from Dragon*Con 2010

I took lots of pictures, and I have posted a decent subset of those pictures.

Here is part 1.

Here is part 2.

Dragon*Con: Day 3.5

On my last half day at Dragon*Con, I took some pictures, listened to some live music, visited the art gallery again, and bought some art.

Now back to our regular programming...

(I'll post pictures within a few days or so.)

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Dragon*Con: Day 3

Today was filled with both pictures (of course) and gaming. Among my pictures includes a picture with the Flying Spaghetti Monster... on a day when I happened to be wearing my FSM shirt (and I had no idea that somebody was dressed up as the FSM). Oh, and I was touched by her noodly appendage, as you will see when I post the picture.

I played a 3rd edition Legends of Five Rings adventure today (and given that many of the rules in 3rd and 4th editions are apparently pretty compatible, this provides me with a nice head start for learning the system). I have a copy of the 4th edition in hand now---I bought it this morning (and cancelled my order through Amazon, as they have been out of stock ever since I ordered this more than a month ago)---and I am looking forward to playing more games in the system. I then played another "Into the Nexus" adventure (using modified 3.5 D & D), and that again wasn't horribly fun, so I am going to give up on that group of DMs. I had traded my 10pm-2am ticket to a neat-sounding game for one of the other two (and then bought an additional slot for the second), as I just didn't feel like I would have the stamina for that. I also didn't want to take a cab instead of the metro back to the hotel, and I really need to be functional tomorrow to work on mu Powerpoint slides after Dragon*Con is over.

That's about it for today.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Dragon*Con: Day 2

Yesterday really wiped me out, so I decided to be lower-key today.

I again got tons of cool pictures, which I will post once I get back to North Carolina. I made sure to eat breakfast (unusual for me) because I was too tired to have dinner last night, and that definitely helped. I then split time between the art exhibit and some of the 30-minute mini-concerts---where I could sit down, listen to some cool music, and take pictures. I bought a t-shirt in the art gallery from the artist who I believe is responsible for 'Houses and Humans'. (For that matter, I recognized a couple of artists from signatures amidst pictures on covers of D & D novels and also pictures in D & D game products.) The picture shows a dragon on top of a crushed house, roasting a chicken and sipping some tea. How very English! I want to buy a picture to hang on my wall in my flat, and the problems is that there are so many cool things that I don't know what one or two things to get. And there's part of the art gallery at which I haven't even looked yet! I'll do that tomorrow. (I also want to head back to the dealers and exhibiters halls, but that might not happen until Monday.)

Then I had lunch with a friend (who came down for 2 days of Dragon*Con) [+ his wife] who was a fellow math postdoc at Georgia Tech but with whom I also overlapped a year at Caltech. After that, I wandered a bit and decided to get in line early for the Firefly panel with 4 alums of the show. (I have a nice picture of the panelists---did I ever mention that I like my camera's zoom feature?) I figured that I could get good pictures of passersby while waiting in line, so I occupied my time that way. The line ended up being outside much of the time, but thankfully the breeze was nice, I never ran out of photo ops, and only one person who walked by told us that it was not too late to turn away from evil. The panel itself was meh, though it had a couple of shining moments and the stars certainly have an excellent rapport with each other. After the panel, I played in a 3.5-ish D & D game (it was heavily modified, including the magic system---but for 4 hour sessions at cons, this helps quite a bit) based loosely on a part of the first book in the Death Gate Cycle. It's too bad we were in the Air realm; the first book was painful to read, but it was necessary because it set up all of the other stuff. In truth, though, very few aspects of that world were overly relevant to the game. The event was team run by 3 DMs, and a huge group was split into 3 groups of 9-10 people each, and each group was assigned a different mission---so in essence three different games were going on simultaneously (though if one group wreaked havoc, others could use it to their advantage). This is way too many people per DM, in my opinion, and our group included 2 small children who were often bored/distracted and went on side quests. (And in one case, needed in game to be prevented from destroying any chance of success in the mission---a little bit of magic from my character did the trick and resulted in profuse thanks from every adult at the table, especially the boy's mother.) It was a bit of a challenging real-life scenario in which to game, and the huge amount of background noise in the room didn't help, but we made it through and most people seemed to have fun, so things worked out well in the end. (I was often very frustrated, but I strongly suspect that the 9 people around the table and horrible background noise were much larger factors than the children occasionally needing to be reigned in.)

Then I went back home, and here I am.

The Word is Spreading

The Power Law Shop has been covered by Nature's blog.

What a way to get into Nature... I've also heard that some Barabasi alums are tweeting about it.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Dragon*Con: Day 1

I am exhausted, and today was only the first day. I was back in my hotel room at 7pm---much earlier than I was planning---because of how tired I am, and I am better of conserving strength for the next 2.5 days. This is one reason it's nice to have a room in one of the nearby hotels instead of a few metro stops away, as then it's easier to crash for a couple of hours and then come back for more on the same day. Alas.

I got up at 6:30 am and was at the registration just after 8am. (It would have been a bit earlier, but I got slightly lost. Things are split in 4 different hotels this year, and things were only in 2 different hotels the last time (2004) that I attended Dragon*Con. I then spent about 2.5 hours in line, though I was occasionally able to get pictures of people in interesting costumes. (I took a ton of cool pictures today, as expected. People-watching the plethora of people in costumes and taking pictures of them---and in this type of thing, they are very good sports about it; it's really rather nice---is one of my favorite parts of the Dragon*Con (and similar events).

I then headed off to pick up my gaming tickets that I bought a while back and then to enter my pseudodragon monk (named "Quasi", of course) in the Cheesegrinder, which is a deadly survival dungeon that is (obviously) very cheesy, has lots of character death, and encourages cheesiness and min/maxing skills by the players. Some of the dungeon rooms are also rather clever, though Quasi had some trouble with the very first room, which was called "Rock You Like a Hurricane". D'oh! (One of the people running the show made sure that that song was playing once we started the room.) Quasi is tiny, so he was absolutely useless in that room. In fact, he successfully passed 3 rooms and failed 1 (the party couldn't handle "Rock You Like a Hurricane", and it was mathematically impossible for Quasi to harm the huge elementals in the room, so he just tried to hunker down and prevent the hurricane from smashing him into the walls) without ever getting a chance to make a single attack! I wanted to use my spring attack and DC 23 poison sting. :) Quasi was maxed for saves, armor class, and immunities, but unfortunately he was incapable of doing anything more than a trivial amount of damage. (As a tiny creature, the physical damage---which was just about all he could do---gets really lessened. Quasi was built to be hard to kill but not to be able to dish out damage.) Unfortunately, Quasi wasn't immune to petrification (but was immune to many other things), so when the party entered the room with 4 medusas riding 4 basilisks, there was some trouble when he had to make 8 saves in the surprise round. I could only fail on a 1 because of my massive fortitude save, but unfortunately my d20s did their usual bit and got me one. One of the party members could have turned stone to flesh before it was too late, but he decided to cure light wounds on himself instead. That's ok---I was hungry and had already been playing for 3 hours. The Cheesegrinder is better organized than it used to be (granted, I don't know which year from 2005-2010 this happened) and the trophies they give out are much fancier. Quasi is a contender for the "WTF Award", which is given to the character that the DMs deem the strangest. He's not really a contender for anything else, but there is actually a chance that I'll end up in the Tournament of Champions this year (just like in 2004).

I know that for years I have been bragging about my award-winning pixie from the 2004 Cheesegrinder, when I lasted something like 11 rooms (taking about 11 or so hours) and then finished 2nd overall in the tournament of champions. Well, it turns out that after I demonstrated how broken pixies can be with that character, they were retired from PC choices because of me. The guy who runs the game specifically remembered both my character and me because of this. Score! As it mentions on the website, it is considered a nice player accomplishment when one is able to do that within the rules. And, of course, then such characters get retired, so one has to find another way to do it. (I wouldn't want to play the same character twice anyway.) Anyway, I have always really enjoyed the Cheesegrinder! I do realize it's not for everybody.

After I ate (and took pictures as I went along doing things all day, of course), I walked into the Walk of Fame a bit. There one could get autographs or even get one's picture taken with people---including several I'd be interested in---but one has to pay a nontrivial amount. (Among the ones there today, the cheapest of people I'd be interested in getting an autograph from was $25, but it's not worth it to me to pay that much for an impersonal autograph or to get my picture taken with someone. I'd rather just take pictures of people in costume. However, I will walk through again at other times just to see who is there. I am tempted to stand in a line if it's short just to say 'hi' even if I can't do anything else.)

I then went to both the dealer and exhibitor halls. I can't tell the difference between the two, but there was lots of cool stuff in both. (I'll want to go to at least the second of these again because I was very tired towards the end, and there are several booths at which I'd like to take closer looks.) The people selling ironic t-shirts kept complimenting me on the "Enjoy Crack" shirt I was wearing (actually, several others did as well). The only shirt I bought was the 2010 official Dragon*Con shirt, which is a nice blue tie-dye shirt. I bought several sweet new d20 dice (which I was planning anyway), and I also bought a d30 and a d16. Several of the booths had some really cool stuffed animals and others were from artists---I want to look at both of these types of booths more tomorrow---and one of the booths was by an indie retailer who makes her own stuffed animals, sculptures and other things. And she had a stuffed animal with which I absolutely fell in love---this is a gorgeous handmade stuffed phoenix for which I paid more money than a sane person would be for a stuffed animal. But it's *awesome*, and I can't wait to show it off! I have it packed up in a way to survive my trips back to North Carolina and then to Oxford, but I'll take a picture of it once I am back. This is the second most that I have ever paid for a stuffed animal, and the one for which I paid the most I bought on November 8th, 1986.

Plans tomorrow include the art gallery, a 3.5 D & D game from 6-10pm, more pictures (including finding a nice place to chill out and take pictures), and otherwise we'll see. Maybe I'll even go to one of the panels, which I have never actually done at Dragon*Con before.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

What happens at Dragon*Con stays at Dragon*Con

I have arrived in Atlanta. My first Dragon*Con in 6 years starts tomorrow morning!!! 3.5 solid days of gaming and geekery starts morning!!! (That's right. For once, I am actually taking a proper holiday.) Stay tuned for some *awesome* pictures!

My hotel is near where I used to live, and seeing my old apartment complex upon walking out of the metro station felt very weird.

I have pre-registered for 2 games, though I might skip out on one of them because it starts at 10 pm on Sunday, and Monday after the Con ends I will need to prepare my slides for my cow synchronization talk at Georgia Tech on Tuesday. (Once Dragon*Con ends, I am going to switch to my academic visit mode, and I didn't get a chance to make too many of these slides yet, and this is an all-new talk.) The one I will definitely do is the 3.5 D & D adventure called "Into the Nexus" (which is based on the Weis/Hickman series of books on which you think it's based). The one I might not do is in a system called "Spirit of the Century". The adventure seems very cool, but I'm not keen on getting home at 3am on Monday. I'm also going to play in The Cheesegrinder, of course! My pseudodragon monk, who is immune to just about everything (though an anti-magic field would get rid of some of the immunities temporarily, as only some are due to race and monkhood) but can hardly do any damage at all, is ready to go. I finished 2nd overall 6 years ago, and the key is survivability, so we'll see how things go. In making this character, I had to actually look up weapon damage adjustments for tiny creatures! (And, yes, the characters are supposed to be cheesy too.)

As always, I'm also looking forward to the dealer room, the exhibit hall, and the art gallery. I didn't have a digital camera the other two times I attended Dragon*Con, so I expect to take tons of cool pictures. Lots of people will dress up in their finest geekery, so there is also great pleasure even in just sitting down, having some coffee, and people-watching. Plus I have several Firefly, Buffy/Angel, and Star Trek autographs that I'll try to procure. (And I'll try to get pictures taken with these people of course.)

Bring it on.

(By the way, these 3.5 days off constitute a tie for my longest vacation in about 3 years---well, it's tied with the 3.5 days off in a row that I took during my Shanghai trip.)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Introducing "The Power Law Shop"

My snarky power law memorabilia is spreading (maybe even virally eventually?), and thanks to a discussion this morning with Aaron Clauset and Michelle Girvan, I have now set up The Power Law Shop on CafePress.

For some reason, the graphics are way too small right now, but I'll fix that later. I will also add some appropriate 'log-log' plots later as well.

But anyway, at least I now have the website up as a placeholder. I'll improve the products later. (I really ought to pay attention to the talk now...)

Update: Cosma Shalizi expressed things particularly well in his blog entry about my new shop. His blog doesn't allow comments (as far as I can tell), but I have to say that this isn't the only funny thing to come out of the SAMSI workshop---my collaborator Peter Mucha had an awesome joke slide about the Zachary Karate Club network, which people had already been making fun of ever since the first day of the workshop. (We'll see if it shows up in any of today's talks.) It's also worth mentioning that things are working pretty fast with the store, as a few of us have had a parallel e-mail conversation---continuing the live conversation just before today's talks started---during the last couple of talks. I really love the internet sometimes. :)

Update 2: Our motto is: All "power laws", all the time! (Also, thanks to Aaron Clauset for providing some of the graphics that I have used for the shop.) If you're interested in community detection, you can also order t-shirts with a Zachary Karate Club network theme.

Update 3: Here is Aaron's Clauset's link to The Power Law Shop.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Manny is Going to the White Sox

Breaking News: Tomorrow, the Dodgers will apparently announce that they will allow the White Sox to take Manny Ramirez in a straight waiver claim if they do not work out a trade for a minor leaguer. His last at bat today was obnoxious---he pinch hit with the bases loaded and got ejected after arguing balls and strikes after the first pitch. Manny had worn out his welcome, which of course he also did at his previous stops.

Quote of the Day: Academic Journal Edition

Rick Durrett is a fountain of snarky remarks. At the workshop I am attending, he just unloaded this beauty [in perfect deadpan] during his talk: "I don't know if anyone on the editorial board is here. Do not submit to this journal."


(I don't have a formal collection of quotes or snarky remarks from Rick, but he's definitely uttered some doozies over the years.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pencil Sculptures

These pencil sculptures are both insane and awesome.

(Tip of the cap to Deb Eason.)

If the drug raid isn't successful, then just play Wii Bowling...

Kin Chan told me about this as we were driving home from lunch a little while ago, and the video is indeed awesome: Some police officers were caught by surveillance cameras playing Wii Bowling after an unsuccessful drug raid. Wow... Just wow.

I am simultaneously highly amused by the video and appalled at what these officers did while on the job.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What Happens in The South Stays in The South

I am at Heathrow Airport right now, waiting for the first flight associated with my sabbatical this fall (though technically it doesn't really start until the fall term starts). My home base for 1 month will be Durham, North Carolina. I will be attending the opening workshop of SAMSI's 2010-2011 program on complex networks, then I will head off to Atlanta---where I'll be staying in a hotel just 1 block from where I used to live!---for Dragon*Con (My first one since 2004! Yay! Bring on the Cheesegrinder!) and a brief visit to my old stomping grounds Georgia Tech. Then I'll return to Durham to be at SAMSI before returning to Oxford. While at SAMSI, I'll be staying with Kin Chan '98, who I have only seen a few times since I graduated from Tech. I'll be back in Durham in November, January, and possibly parts of March or April.

I'll write more about Dragon*Con later, but three of the guests are former Firefly stars, so hopefully they'll be available for autographs.

Incidentally, I experienced a new indignity at the airport today. There was a brief security deal in the ticket line at American Airlines, and I was actually compelled to enumerate every piece of electronic equipment that I had with me. That took a while. :) Seriously, though, WTF?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Scholarpedia Entry: "Soliton"

My scholarpedia entry on solitons is now officially live.

Hopefully, this will become the first port of call for information about solitary waves and solitons---that is certainly the intent of the article.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Periodic Table of Swearing

Here is a Periodic Table of Swearing. Awesome! George Carlin would be proud.

Now I am wondering if there might also be a quasiperiodic table?

(Tip of the cap to Mariano Beguerisse Díaz.)

Vin Scully to be back in 2011!

Yay! Vin Scully will continue announcing Dodger games in 2011, as he is postponing his retirement for yet another year. FTW!

Friday, August 20, 2010


In conjunction with a one-day furlough on his lifetime ban for gambling, Pete Rose is going to be honored by the Cincinnati Reds for breaking Ty Cobb's record for total number of hits. However, the event is going to occur 1 day after the anniversary of hit number 4192 (though note that Cobbs' hit total has since been adjusted to 4189 due to corrections in the historical record) because Rose has a prior commitment to appear at the Hollywood Casino. Oh, man.

Pictures from Philly

Here are some pictures from Philadelphia. I didn't get a chance to do much tourism, but (importantly) I did go to a baseball game!

Update (8/23/10): SIAM has posted pictures on Flickr. I haven't yet checked if I appear in any of them, but now I'll take a look and find out.

Quote of the Day: Reservation Edition

This is actually yesterday's quote (though I arrived in Oxford on a red-eye flight, so it feels like today), and it occurred when I was making a reservation for a shuttle to pick me up and take me to the Philadelphia airport.

Q: "Can I get a confirmation number for that?"

A: "We're not that sophisticated, Sir."

Then, in order to prove that they're not sophisticated, they ignored the 6:10 pm reservation, insisted that I come when they arrived in the hotel lobby at about 5:30 pm---luckily I was discussing our joint projects with my roommates in the lobby instead of in our hotel room!---and informed me that that they could not guarantee that they could come at 6:10. Um, so what happened to the meaning of "reservation"? Excuse me?

Anyway, I'm back---I just spent a bit longer in the Philly airport than I was planning, and unfortunately the wireless internet wasn't working last night.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fields Medals Awarded for Work in Number Theory, Ergodic Theory, and Statistical Physics

The Fields Medals in mathematics were announced today. One of them was awarded for research in number theory, one of them was awarded for work in ergodic theory (an area of dynamical systems) with connections to number theory, and two of them were awarded for theoretical work in statistical physics. As you can see, three of these are parts of fields that are near and dear to my heart.

The new Fields Medalist who does some work in dynamical systems is Elon Lindenstrauss, who I met at the Penn State--University of Maryland spring dynamical systems meeting in 2001. I knew he was very good, and he's done some very nice stuff over the years, but it didn't occur to me that he might win a Fields Medal for it. I haven't seen him since that meeting, but he struck me then as a very humble person, so hopefully his subsequent decade of amazing success hasn't changed him. Lindenstrauss got his award for progress on the Littlewood conjecture. He also is one of the people responsible for the only truly huge result in quantum chaos from the last decade or so (and probably from somewhat longer than that, depending on how one wants to count things), which was a proof (with Jean Bourgain) Zev Rudnick's and Peter Sarnak's Arithemetic Quantum Unique Ergodicity conjecture. This result was mentioned explicitly in the citation but seems to have been a secondary consideration in the award.

You can find the official prize announcements at this website.

Update (8/20/10): Here is another brief article, which makes the excellent point that some of the work of this year's Fields medalists has more applied implications than is usually the case. These four people are still very much pure mathematicians---I prefer the term "theoretical mathematician" to "pure mathematician", by the way---but this (in addition to the interest I have in the subject areas of the Medalists) still warms my heart.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Today's Fortune

My fortune cookie today was a bit unfortunate (pun intended): "It is better to have a hen tomorrow than an egg today (in bed)." D'oh!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Street Sign of the Day: "Universe closed"

Aaron Clauset has posted the street sign of the day. I approve!

Math Skills Versus Time

This particular strip of PHD Comics hits way too close to the truth.

(Tip of the cap to Mariano Beguerisse Díaz.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Facebook Statuses of Historical Events

In case you ever wondered about the Facebook status updates of historical events, wonder no more. This is pretty funny.

(Tip of the cap to John Meacham.)

Sailing to Philadelphia

AKA: What happens in Philadelphia stays in Philadelphia

Tomorrow, early in the afternoon (just after noon, when I won't be letting it all hang out), I am flying to Philadelphia to participate in the 2010 SIAM Conference on Nonlinear Waves and Coherent Structures. This is the 4th conference in this biennial series, and I have attended all of them thus far.

I am once again organizing a minisymposium, as is my tendency at the SIAM conferences that I attend. Additionally, I am for the first time chairing one of the plenary sessions. (I'll try not to make an ass out of myself.)

Update (8/14/10): I am now in a bus and am heading to the airport and from there to Philadelphia. But much more important than that is that I was seen off this morning by one of my closest friends, with whom I had coffee and showed off some of my pictures from China. Let no one underestimate how awesome it is to be seen off by such a dear friend on the way to a journey. (And it's always wonderful when somebody else wants to see me just as much as I want to see them.)

Update 2 (8/15/10): A Brit informs me that in the UK, "seen off" is an expression that means 'to be tricked out of money'. Damn Brits. Naturally, I was referring to the fact that my friend specifically got up very early on Saturday morning to go to the bus station to hang with me and then say 'goodbye' before I went on the bus. And that's the dog's bollocks! (And that, by the way, is a particularly awesome British expression.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Nonlinear Waves in Disordered Diatomic Granular Chains"

Every scientist has written papers that have interesting stories. Like everybody else, I have several of these, and my paper that was published in final form today is one such paper. You can see the title of this blog entry, and I will give the abstract and some other comments below, but let me first tell you a story.

I have been working on nonlinear waves in granular crystals since November 2006, and this has become the main component of my nonlinear waves research. It's been a fun and challenging adventure and I am looking forward to continuing in it. The idea for this paper arose from three different occurrences: a question from an audience member in the seminar that I gave to OCIAM (the research group I'm in) when I first joined the faculty in Fall 2007, a seminar I gave the same term at University of Cambridge, and a similar idea by e-mail when I was showing a collaborator (from a different set of projects) a draft of a much earlier paper of mine on granular crystals. In each of these cases, I was asked about the possibility of Anderson localization in disordered granular crystals.

I hadn't thought about it before nor did I know too much about Anderson localization (though I had heard about it), but it sounded interesting, and eventually my collaborators and I designed an undergraduate student project to study disordered granular crystals. The student project started in summer 2008 and eventually became this paper, which was first submitted to a journal in April 2009 and had a bit of a rough path. The first referees asked us to remove language related to Anderson localization, and the fifth and final referee (five---count 'em---five referees, though I do actually have one paper that needed 6 referees) asked us to put that stuff back in. [In fact, that referee all but called one of the previous ones an idiot.] It got a bit frustrating at times, but the published version of the paper is so much better than the original version, so in many senses the pain was worth it. And now the paper is finally out!

OK, so what did we find? Well, I was asked several times about the possibility of Anderson localization in granular crystals. What actually occurs is a different and seemingly novel form of localization, and in my view our paper opens up the problem of what exactly this phenomenon is. I have no idea what kind of impact this paper will ultimately have and I have several papers in more prestigious journals, but I do feel like my collaborators and I have opened up a pretty damned interesting problem with this paper. Alex, I'll take "nonlinear localization" for the win!

Oh, and here is the formal paper information:

Title: Nonlinear Waves in Disordered Diatomic Granular Chains

Authors: Laurent Ponson, Nicholas Boechler, Yi Ming Lai, Mason A. Porter, P. G. Kevrekidis, and Chiara Daraio

Abstract: We investigate the propagation and scattering of highly nonlinear waves in disordered granular chains composed of diatomic (two-mass) units of spheres that interact via Hertzian contact. Using ideas from statistical mechanics, we consider each diatomic unit to be a "spin," so that a granular chain can be viewed as a spin chain composed of units that are each oriented in one of two possible ways. Experiments and numerical simulations both reveal the existence of two different mechanisms of wave propagation: in low-disorder chains, we observe the propagation of a solitary pulse with exponentially decaying amplitude. Beyond a critical level of disorder, the wave amplitude instead decays as a power law, and the wave transmission becomes insensitive to the level of disorder. We characterize the spatiotemporal structure of the wave in both propagation regimes and propose a simple theoretical interpretation for a transition between the two regimes. Our investigation suggests that an elastic spin chain can be used as a model system to investigate the role of heterogeneities in the propagation of highly nonlinear waves.