Sunday, January 31, 2010

New Blog Format

(1) Let me know what you think of the new format.

(2) Please give me suggestions for additional changes, given that I am thinking about this now.

Photoblog: Part 2

You can find picture 201 and beyond in Part 2 of my photoblog.

If you have a Facebook account, you know you want to be the first to comment on it. :)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Photoblog Entry 200

I just posted photoblog entry 200 today, which fills up the Facebook space for Photoblog 1. There is a limit of 200 entries per album, so Photoblog 2 (which starts tomorrow) will occupy a different album in Facebook. I haven't yet decided whether I will fill it completely or only with just enough entries for the photoblog to have lasted 1 full year.

Lemon Sorbet + SPRINKLES = Win!

Sometimes the simple things in life really help make things feel right in the world---I just came back from G & D's; they have lemon sorbet right now (I don't think I've ever seen them have that before), so I ordered lemon sorbet with SPRINKLES, which is what I always used to get at Häagen Dazs as a kid.

This, in fact, is one of my good memories from childhood, and I hadn't thought about it for many years until this evening. My mother would sometimes take me to a particular location (gone for well over a decade, I think) of Häagen Dazs in Beverly Hills, and I would order a waffle cone with lemon sorbet and rainbow sprinkles. [As for the most important thing that makes things feel right in the world, that is and always will be my spending quality time with good friends. Maybe second place goes to the beginning of the baseball season the first time I get to hear Vin Scully announce a baseball game in the new year?]

Friday, January 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Given how short you are, you probably will look like a smurf if you do that." [where 'that' = paint herself blue]

I suppose that's not something that one should say to one's student? To be fair, one of my other students had already suggested smurfdom (which needs to be a real word, by the way) before I interjected with the above comment.

Monday, January 25, 2010

"Optimal Design of Composite Granular Protectors"

This paper, which was accepted for publication in October 2008, has finally appeared in print. About bloody time.

Title: Optimal Design of Composite Granular Protectors

Authors: Fernando Fraternali, Mason A. Porter, and Chiara Daraio

Abstract: We employ an evolutionary algorithm to investigate the optimal design of composite protectors using one-dimensional granular chains composed of beads of various sizes, masses, and stiffnesses. We define a fitness function using the maximum force transmitted from the protector to a "wall" that represents the body to be protected and accordingly optimize the topology (arrangement), size, and material of the chain. We obtain optimally randomized granular protectors characterized by high-energy equipartition and the transformation of incident waves into interacting solitary pulses. We consistently observe that the pulses traveling to the wall combine to form an extended (long-wavelength), small-amplitude pulse.

Note that this paper is in many senses an engineering paper. Some of the results are definitely things that would be nice to understand in a more "fundamental" fashion.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

RIP Andrew Lange (?-2010)

Apparently, Caltech astronomy professor Andrew Lange committed suicide on Thursday. You can read about some of his research here.

Maybe it's small sample size, but the suicide frequency at Caltech seems to have increased nontrivially during the last couple of years.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Riddle Me This

Why am I often in my worst moods on Friday evening?

(And I was in a shitty mood before I realized I'd still be working after midnight, when I ought to be letting it all hang out.)

Let me know if you have any ideas, but the Friday evening blues seems to have become a bit of a trend with me. (And it's not that I don't have shitty moods at other times, because I am a very moody person, but there does seem to be a Friday night spike with me.)

Oakland Athletics Prospect Retires to Enter Priesthood

You don't see baseball stories like this one every day. I love the headline for Rob Neyer's blog entry about this: A's lose prospect to higher league.

Tales from the arXiv: Apparently, Congress is a Sandpile

It's this type of research that gives complex systems a bad name. The authors "model" Congress using the sandpile model from self-organized criticality, and they even have a few lines mentioning Al Gore's praising of the sandpile model as evidence in their favor. I call bullshit. This is yet another one of those articles that makes me react with a resounding 'So what?'. Anyway, here are the details of the article:

Title: Stochastic modeling of Congress

Authors: M.V. Simkin, V.P. Roychowdhury

Abstract: We analyze the dynamics of growth of the number of congressmen supporting the resolution HR1207 to audit the Federal Reserve. The plot of the total number of co-sponsors as a function of time is of "Devil's staircase" type. The distribution of the numbers of new co-sponsors joining during a particular day (step height) follows a power law. The distribution of the length of intervals between additions of new co-sponsors (step length) also follows a power law. We use a modification of Bak-Tang-Wiesenfeld sandpile model to simulate the dynamics of Congress and obtain a good agreement with the data.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Is Alice in Wonderland about drugs or mathematics?

Apparently, at least one person thinks that many parts of Alice in Wonderland were about Lewis Carroll's (aka, Charles Dogson's) attempts to criticize the newfangled mathematics of the day (such as symbolic algebra with imaginary numbers). The full article appears in New Scientist.

I browsed through the article. It's certainly conceivable that Dodgson did this, but other than the obvious feasibility given that Dodgson was a mathematician (and a very conservative one with respect to mathematical ideas) and I find the idea being put forth to be a very interesting one, I don't really find the argument for this interpretation to be overly convincing. However, because it is rather interesting, I'd be curious to see the author of the New Scientist article give a seminar about it. Maybe I'll have a chance at some point. (She is doing a Ph.D. here, after all.)

Impact Factors Suck

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Impact factors suck. They can be gamed, and treacherously so at that, and they have little to no bearing on the scientific quality of a journal or the articles therein. Read this article for some examples, and indubitably there are numerous smaller (and thus harder to catch) bad practices all over the place. We need to be more discriminating in what journals we consider good, and I feel like screaming every time I hear somebody using a journal's impact factor as a reason to submit there. (And in some fields, such as pure mathematics, the citations often don't tell the real story anyway!) And I feel like screaming even louder whenever I hear about impact factors of the journals in which in author is published being used for hiring, promotion, tenure, or anything else that can be very meaningful to people.

When I publish a paper, I try to choose journals whose papers I actually read or that I feel will reach the audience I want to reach---independent of numbers, etc.

Let's spread the word!

(Tip of the cap to Predrag Cvitanovic.)

Oxford Police at Play

As reported on Boing Boing, Oxford cops have been reprimanded for tobagging on riot shields. I am officially amused. :)

(Tip of the cap to Tim Elling.)

Quote of the Day: Delayed Edition

While I was in Pasadena during the winter, I witnessed the following quote: "Am I a bad Christian because I like Mason's t-shirt?"

I'll let you figure out which t-shirt it was. (And it's unfair guessing if you happened to be there at the time!)

New to the Blogroll: ChaosBook

My collaborator Predrag Cvitanovic, who was my (unofficial) postdoc advisor on the physics side at Georgia Tech (Leonid Bunimovich was my postdoc advisor from the math side at Georgia Tech, and in that case it was official), now has a blog. Well, apparently, he had one before, but only since December 2009 has there been a decent amount of activity on it and only today did I find out about it.

The name of his blog comes from his award-winning (and I know, because I gave it the award) book on classical and quantum chaos.

There are certain comments that have appeared here over the past few years by anonymous posters that I suspect might have come from Predrag.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pictures from My Winter 2009/10 USA Trip

You can find them here, and I even included a bunch of snarky comments. How about that!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mechanical Properties of Ice Cream

Does anybody know why ice cream sometimes gets chewy when it gets old (you know, when a lot of crystals settle inside the container)? Surely somebody has studied the mechanical properties of aging ice cream...?

Sarcasm Emoticon

Here is an article about sarcasm getting its own emoticon, but surely the entire article is meant sarcastically?

I love the phrasing of the 'fun fact' at the end of the article: "Sarcasm" comes from the Latin sarcasmos, which means "to tear flesh." How bad-ass is that?

(Tip of the cap to Sharam Shokrian.)

Another Take on Mark McGwire and Steroids

I try to minimize the number of posts I have here about steroids in baseball, but this article in The Onion is just too good not to post. I approve!

(Tip of the cap to Kevin Hickerson.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

2010 American Mathematical Society prizes

The 2010 American Mathematical Society prizes just got awarded at the Joint Math Meetings.

The recipients include my Oxford colleague Marcus du Sautoy (who won the JPBM Communications Award) and Carlos Castillo Chavez (who I know from Cornell---I used to TA in the REU program he runs), who won the Award for Distinguished Public Service in recognition of his gargantuan outreach efforts. This is true of some of the other awards as well (and there are several on which I don't know enough to have an opinion), but I wanted to highlight these two as rather richly deserved and also because of my connection to the recipients.


Baby Got Back

Recent research from Oxford university suggests that fat-bottomed girls and guys are gaining some benefits from having fat asses.

I've seen two articles about this research, and neither of them alludes to the two songs to which I've alluded. Hell, the only reason I'm posting this is because it lets me bring up those songs!

Demotivational Posters of the Day

In this case, the picture says it all. Wow.

Update: Another awesome one just got posted, so I wanted to add this one to this blog entry.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I have just gained a lot of respect for Google.

The only other thing that I have to say is: Way to go, Google!

(Tip of the cap to Dave Relyea.)

Friday, January 08, 2010

Binary Trees

In case you were wondering, I have photographic proof that binary trees exist in real life. (Also notice Peet's Coffee in the background.)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Andre Dawson Elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame

Andre Dawson got elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame today. Bert Blyleven got jobbed again, missing by only 5 votes. He should finally make it next year. Shockingly, Roberto Alomar---who I thought would certainly make it this year (his first year of eligibility)---just missed getting elected. He should make it next year as well. Notable players eligible for the first time who didn't make it include Fred McGriff, Barry Larkin, and Edgar Martinez. I'd probably vote for all three of them, and I'd certainly vote for Larkin and Martinez.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Randy Johnson retires

In today's big baseball news, Randy Johnson has announced his retirement. Next stop: Cooperstown. (On that subject, the new Hall of Fame members will be announced tomorrow.)

Jewish Haikus

Here is a website of Jewish haikus. They are hit or miss---some of them are very funny (at least if you're 'in' on the joke) and others are very stupid.

(Tip of the cap to Predrag Cvitanovic.)

Monday, January 04, 2010

Quote of the Day

Today's quote comes from me: "It's surprising that there are two gaps... I'm too tired to calculate exactly how surprising it is."

The context: A large number of us (around 12 people, I think) at the conference were in the elevator after dinner. The elevator can stop at floors 1--6. We got on at floor 1 and nobody needed to get off either on floor 2 or on floor 6. I wouldn't have been too surprised to see one gap, but I think having two gaps put us near the extreme of the probability distribution.

What happens at Dynamics Daze stays at Dynamics Daze

I took my red-eye flight this morning to Chicago to attend the Dynamics Daze conference at a hotel in Northwestern.

Naturally, I'm running into people I know. My reputation now precedes me, because I've been asked if I was working on my slides. (For once, I actually prepared them in advance.)

I just found out that 2 nights of my hotel stay are going to be covered by the conference! Awesome! I wasn't aware that I was going to get some funding...

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Quote of the Day

I found a fabulous quote in an article on about attempts to defy Ireland's new blasphemy law:

The 25 "blasphemous" quotations include the words of Jesus, Mohammed, Mark Twain, Salman Rushdie and Bjork.

I simply love the fact that Bjork is being included in this company.

Update: Tom Lehrer is on the list, too! Hell yes!

Demotivational Poster of the Day

I like this poster, but it would be much cooler if the bird weren't Photoshopped (or otherwise artificially placed) in there.

January 2nd is the new January 1st.

Well, maybe. I'm just pondering things at the moment.