Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tales from the arXiv: April 1st Edition

I saw Zombieland last night (I hadn't cried so much since Titanic), and I have zombies on my mind. So let's talk about zombies.

Like in this new article just posted on the arXiv that was co-authored by George Romero (well, not really):

Title: "How many zombies do you know?" Using indirect survey methods to measure alien attacks and outbreaks of the undead

Author: Andrew Gelman (and possibly George Romero)

Abstract: The zombie menace has so far been studied only qualitatively or through the use of mathematical models without empirical content. We propose to use a new tool in survey research to allow zombies to be studied indirectly without risk to the interviewers.

I love April 1st...

2010 SIAM Fellows

Here are the new fellows of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. There are quite a few familiar names on this list...

RIP Jaime Escalante (1930-2010)

I just noticed that Jaime Escalante died last night. Escalante was a teacher at Garfield High School in Los Angeles, and the movie Stand and Deliver (which I really ought to see at some point) was about him. One of my friends from grad school had him as a teacher---she's quoted in the wikipedia article---and I assume that one math major from Tech who went there had him as well. (I am using the latter phrasing because I don't know for sure.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Double Dog Dares

I was recently having a discussion with my friend Danny Schwarzblatt, and I was wondering about the origin of the phrase "double dog dare", which didn't make any sense to me. Apparently, it takes bat to the 19th century (at least), and (based on this link) it seems like there might be some negative connotations associated with it that have long since left the phrase. You can find other details at this site. Still, the origin of this phrase is far from definitive, and I'm curious whether any other juicy details are known.

By the way, is the term "etymology" still correct if one is thinking about the origin of a phrase and not just a single word?

Quote of the Day: Passover Seder Edition

Today's quote is awesome: "The Jews were not pussies." (My father, quoting from the bible at Passover Seder)

I've got the power!

Steve Strogatz's latest opinion piece in the New York Times is about powers, exponentials, and logarithms.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Quote of the Day: Tempe Festival of the Arts Edition

I spent 3 hours or so at the Tempe Festival of the Arts today. I saw lots of cool stuff, and I bought a couple of things: a t-shirt with the Chinese symbol for "chaos", a hand-crafted dragon mug (the tail is the handle, for example, and its eyes make the face cute), and a print of a gecko practicing karate. I hope the print survives my trip back to Oxford (and the travelling between now and then) so that I can frame it and hang it in my apartment in Oxford.

I bought the dragon from a guy who had tons of cool dragon-themed and wizard-themed clay items. (I especially liked a couple of the lamps and the piece that had the small dragon familiar holding up the wizard's laptop so that he could use it.) Lots of stuff was reasonably large and expensive, and it unfortunately just wasn't practical for me to buy a more expensive item from him---though I totally would have if it weren't impractical. I think he doesn't ship his larger items, but I'm going to check his website anyway.

Anyway, I was wearing my "flirt harder, I'm a physicist" t-shirt today, and while I was buying my dragon mug, another customer said: "Nice shirt. [pause] Good luck." I'm amused.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Best combination of book title and author name ever!

Today I found the best combination of book title and author name ever: Apparently, an anthropologist named Barbara B. Smuts has written a book called Sex and Friendship in Baboons. Nice!

The book is obviously on a legitimate topic, but combining the title with the author's last name just makes me giggle.

Most insane. CV. Ever.

That honor goes to Gene Stanley. Crazy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cornell versus Kentucky

It's amazing that Cornell unexpectedly earned a birth in the "Sweet 16" of men's college basketball. Unsurprisingly, #1 seeded Kentucky beat us. Nevertheless, here is a fun comparison between Cornell and Kentucky. Tonight at dinner, we actually had an all-Cornell table, and we watched the beginning of the game together. The game started with a 10-2 Cornell lead, but then reality quickly set in (and watching the game made it obvious even to me---and I know nothing about basketball---that Cornell was simply outmatched) and we ended up losing 62-45. In one streak, Kentucky got 30 points to Cornell's 6.

The people at dinner included me (obviously), 3 fellow CAMsters (2 of whom overlapped with me), a former Cornell postdoc who overlapped with one of the people who overlapped with me (but not with me), a former Cornell professor who overlapped with us, and a former Cornell grad student from the biometry department. We were all present in one of my 2 seminars today, 3 of the people are faculty at ASU (main campus, which I was visiting), 2 of the people are faculty at ASU West Campus, and 1 person is a visitor from Purdue. And then there's me.

I don't normally care about basketball, but this was pretty cool. I guess that's what it's like to go to a "real" school, although the fact that we were severe underdogs was a big part of the fun for me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fashion Meets Topology

You don't believe me? Just take a look at this blurb (and links therein). Dude!

What happens in Tempe stays in Tempe

I am heading off to Arizona State for a whirlwind tour: 2 days on campus, 3 talks, 3 different topics. And do you know how I'm going to prepare for this? By going to tonight's Dodger game, of course!

I didn't see any baseball game in person in 2009 (for the first time in maybe 25 years), and I am going to make up for this!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Behind the Water Curtain

Check out this picture! I love cool, water-induced visual effects.

Maybe they'll call it the Virtual Boy 2?

Isn't this the same kind of promise we heard back in the day with the Virtual Boy? I know the world is a little more ready for 3D gaming nowadays, and Nintendo has certainly done a lot better on the market than it was doing for many years, but it does admittedly feel like I've heard this before.

Level 1 Human

I wholeheartedly approve of this demotivational poster.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Network science research provokes terror alert

A run-of-the-mill network science paper about cascading failures via targeted attacks (based on nodes with high degree or betweenness) has caused a bit of a panic in the United States. The work is rather theoretical and there are tons of other papers like it. This one did appear in a journal called Safety Science, and I wonder if that made a difference here? (By the way, I very much appreciate that the New York Times piece uses the term "network science".)

Maybe I ought to be careful about my research on cascading failures in networks?

(Tip of the cap to James Gleeson, my coauthor on this paper on network cascades.)

Think Globally

The latest New York Times article by Steve Strogatz is called "Think Globally", which is pretty ironic (despite the applications to earth's geodesics) given that the article is about differential geometry, which is inherently local. Maybe that's the "act locally" part? And it just warms my heart to see an article about differential geometry in the New York Times. Where are the wedge products, though? :)

Friday, March 19, 2010

More Blogs by Baseball Players (and Former Players)

I might look at the blog of former Astro Morgan Ensberg a bit more at some point. His tone is sometimes snarky, and he seems like he's being more forthright than most former players, but the color combination and typesetting hurts my eyes. He also responds to reader comments, which is always appealing.

On the other hand, current pitcher Pat Neshek's blog is a wall of text and doesn't appear to have the usual feedback mechanisms (though there was a message board that I didn't check out). On the other hand, I very much like the up-front information for autograph-seekers.

I have previously mentioned Curt Schilling's blog, whose format is more readable than I remember. Schilling also has a tendency to be pretty forthright. I'm going to see if I can find some e-mail contact information to send him a copy of my article in ranking baseball players. I think it would be awesome if he wrote snarkily about that.

Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

Here is a Periodic Table of Visualization Methods.

(Tip of the cap to Mark Rogers.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Clay Millenium Prize Awarded to Perelman

It's official: Grigoriy Perelman has been awarded a $1 million Clay Millennium Prize for his resolution of the Poincaré conjecture.

How much do you want to bet that he declines the award?

(Tip of the cap to Mariano Beguerisse Díaz.)

"Can Baseball Be Used to Teach Statistics?"

This is the title of my new book review of a book that attempts to teach statistics using baseball (I bet you didn't guess that...) that just appeared in Notices of the American Mathematical Society.

Pick-Up Line of the Day

I just heard "Do you work in oxides?" used as a pick-up line. It appeared to be successful. :)

You know what 'they' say: What happens at the March Meeting stays at the March Meeting...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

'Saturday Catblogging' and 'Cheerleaders at a Physics Conference?'

As promised, here is some Saturday Catblogging (which I am only posting 3 days late). Also, registration for the March Meeting opened on Sunday---while a conference for (way too) young cheerleaders was still going on. I'm pretty sure that they were just as afraid of us as we were of them.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Square Dancing

Here is Steve Strogatz's latest article in the New York Times. It concerns the Pythagorean Theorem and the different levels of elegance of different proofs of it.

Quote of the Day: March Meeting Edition

Sometimes, I even amuse myself. Today's quote come from me:

"I think I'll take one piece of candy for each paper of mine that you've rejected." (Me, to the people manning the Physical Review booth)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Early contender for best talk title: Accelerated Evolution in the Death Galaxy

Here is my opening contender for best talk title at the APS March Meeting: "A27.00002: Accelerated Evolution in the Death Galaxy"

Note that this talk is not in the psychoceramics session. I'm not going to see it, as it conflicts with a 'human mobility' session (which is a complex systems session), and I'll also need to use part of that session to set up my posters.

Oh, and here is a poster on psychoceramics. And another one. Um, do you think this person is generating these abstracts algorithmically? Why were these abstracts accepted? Does anybody read the submissions? (By the way, check out the first authors for these three posters---they include variants of familiar names---of at least one person who has been dead for several years---and allusions to mathematical formulas.)

P.S. Happy Pi Day!

Sometimes, I'm very easy to please.

After a bit of an arduous journey---especially the last leg, which had me get lost and turn a 2-block walk to my hotel (complete with lots of luggage) into a 25+ block trek, I was ecstatic to see a location of Peet's right next to my hotel. Woot!

During my "epic" journey, I managed to accidently leave my posters at a bus stop. (I needed a place to sit to look at the .pdf maps I had saved in order to orient myself and see what I was doing with my chaotic spiral around my hotel.) Somebody opened the poster tube while I was gone, and apparently just left it and the posters therein where he/she found it after not seeing anything of apparent value. It's a good thing that whoever this was evidently isn't into either community detection or granular crystals.

Anyway, hello from Portland. I need sleep!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Even more "awesomeness"

I made a brief pitstop at Tim and Christina's place to pick up my laptop (and other stuff in my laptop bag) for my meeting at Peet's Coffee at 4pm (so, imminently).

I wanted to make sure to put my computer to sleep. I noticed that it was asleep, so in order to put it to sleep, logic dictated that it would be necessary to wake up my computer.

And, therefore, I woke up my computer in order to put it to sleep... because I wanted to make sure to put it to sleep before putting it away to bring with me to my meeting.

I am awesome.

(Technically, my logic was impeccable, though I did manage to inadvertently rediscover the inverse operator in the process...)

Another Reason That I Am "Awesome"

I find myself in the middle of what I thought was about 34 hours in Pasadena. (I had to really squeeze things tightly with flying from the UK to LA and then flying from LA to Portland for the APS March Meeting.)

As it turns out, it will actually be about 33 hours, because the clocks get sprung forward tonight due to the whole Daylight Savings Time business. (I only found out because I found a blurb about this on the APS website in the context of not being late for the Sunday tutorials. I am currently trying to figure out my plans for Sunday and Monday in terms of registration, the events I want to attend, etc.) Great; just great. I wonder if Supershuttle will screw up my 4:15 pick-up?

Thankfully, I'm flying out of Burbank airport. I have previously been to LAX the day after the clocks change, and it's significantly more of a nightmare than usual (which is saying a lot, because it's usually pretty nightmarish even at its best).

In sum, I am "awesome". (Oh, and what happens at the March Meeting stays at the March Meeting.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Demonstrating the Emergency Bra

Tonight I went to the Oxford show of the 2010 Ig Nobel UK tour, and I took this picture of the demonstration of the emergency bra.

I love the look on the guy's face...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Quote of the Day: Oxford Don Edition

Today's quote is just priceless: "The verb in the sentence is the equal sign."

(To get the proper ambience, you have to imagine these words coming from an old Oxford professor with a stuffy British accent. I won't say who uttered this beauty, and the context---arguing grammatical structure on the wording of an exam---makes the whole thing even more awesome.)

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Monkeying Around with Investments

Apparently, monkeys can do more than just rank football teams. Money quote: It shows that financial knowledge does not play a great role in giving forecasts to how the market will change. It is usually a matter of more or less successful guessing. And the monkey got lucky.

(Tip of the cap to Martin Gould.)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Monday Catblogging

Gazebo isn't doing this anymore, so I feel like I need to pick up the slack.

Actually, I think that today's catblogging photo (once again featuring Pogo) is actually quite nice. (And I am using "quite" in the American sense rather than in the British sense.)

I think that maybe I'll have a Catblogging picture on Saturday. ;) Stay tuned.

Like ping pong injuries, except even more manly

Sadly, my hands have been horribly savaged by the British winter this time.

The cold has lingered a bit longer than usual, and at many times, the winter has actually been quite dry, so the skin on my hands has nicely cracked, become rough, and developed a couple of open sores. It's rather unpleasant, actually.

I realized today that one of the things that has been exacerbating the problem is that I have been lecturing this term with chalk rather than with whiteboard markers. I forgot to make my usual request in advance to get a room with a whiteboard, and I am paying the price. Giving my lecture was literally physically painful today. (I warned by students at the beginning of lecture that my writing would be worse than usual, which is unfortunate given that my writing is messy anyway, and I indicated the reason why; upon hearing that, one of them actually sneered. That's pretty insensitive, Dude!)

Lifting the boards, which are very stiff and require some effort, was unpleasant, and it turns out that chalk dust and open sores really don't mix.

It's now gotten to the point that I can barely lifting my cutlery to eat, carry my plate to the table to start eating, etc. (And it hurts a lot to do all of these things.) Ugh. I have one more lecture tomorrow, and then maybe I can start recovering.

Update: After I pressed the button to publish the post, blogger gave me an advertisement for whiteboard markers. Now that's service! :)

Update 2 (3/11/10): I just noticed (because the website was still up) that after the update, I received an advertisement for Vaseline for chapped skin. I guess I can sometimes rely on responses to my blog entry not just from my readers but also from automatic advertisement. I'm amused. :)

Finding Your Roots

Here is Steve Strogatz's latest opinionator article on mathematics. My old "buddy" John Hubbard gets a nod in this one.

I think I'll try to solve the classical problem first.

In the latest tales from the arXiv, I present quantum dating.

Title: Quantum Dating Market

Authors: O.G. Zabaleta and C.M. Arizmendi

Abstract: We consider the dating market decision problem under the quantum mechanics point of view. Quantum states whose associated amplitudes are modified by men strategies are used to represent women. Grover quantum search algorithm is used as a playing strategy. Success is more frequently obtained by playing quantum than playing classic.

Comment: Um, I think that there is a quantum cuteness paper that really ought to have been cited. :)

Sunday, March 07, 2010


I think that what is possibly one of my greatest strengths professionally is certainly one of my worst weaknesses personally---namely, that I seem to be incapable of feeling content and focus way too much on what I don't have even in cases where the things I do have are arbitrarily good.

I am capable of feeling happy---just not content, and I sometimes drive myself nuts as a result.

On the academic side, this can of course drive me to bigger (and ideally better) things. On the personal side, for example, I have a tendency to feel down when I don't get to hang out with my closest friends as much as I want (which of course is going to be the case a lot because I'm busy and they're busy, and only a very small number of them live close to me anyway). My best friends basically are who I consider to be my true family, and I would rather focus on the excellent times I have with them. Those times are my fondest moments in life, yet I have an annoying tendency to spend too much time thinking about the fact that I wish there were more of them when I think it would be much healthier for me to think happily about the good times themselves. And so I can drive myself nuts sometimes with this. (The flaw aspect of this also can come into play academically---by not being satisfied with certain things in a similar fashion---but I think it's the personal one where I can truly drive myself nuts much more than I'd like.)

There are various bits of subtext above---such as why my best friends are my real family and my genetic family really isn't---but I might have written about that before and in any event, I am planning on getting to work rather than on writing volumes now. There is also a reason that I am thinking about it this morning, but I will save that for another time as well.

In the meantime, I have some solution sets to correct, and I hope to go through a draft of a paper today that has taken way too long to revise.

Jewish Wazzup Commericial

This video is supposedly a banned Budweiser 'Wazzup' commericial. It has a Jewish theme, and I think it's pretty damned funny. (Note: Some people thought that entire thread of commercials was really stupid, and the first few commercials in it were. But then it started getting incredibly self-referential, so that later commercials in the series became pretty bloody funny. Being amused by this video is probably predicated on knowing the thread.)

(Tip of the cap to my cousin Leydah Evers.)

Friday, March 05, 2010

Quote of the Day

Today´s quote comes from me: "Four years at Cornell made me a man."

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Toto, I don't think we're in Topeka anymore.

Topeka has temporarily renamed itself "Google" in a rather shameless ploy. Unfortunately for them, they're still located in Kansas.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

What happens in Sevilla stays in Sevilla (Take 2)

Tomorrow I take my second trip to Sevilla. In July, I went there for a nonlinear waves workshop, and this time I am visiting a collaborator. Thankfully, the weather should be much cooler than it was in July.

I have a way with words.

During tonight's after-dinner conversation, I accidently confused the term "on the menu" with the term "on the list of people going to lunch" (well, it might technically have been dinner). Um, oops.

I'm "awesome".

Traffic Shock Waves

Here is an experimental recreation of the traffic shock waves that uses one of the main idealized conditions (circular tracks, with cars attempting to travel at constant speed) that has been studied. My professor Gerald Whitham at Caltech was one of the pioneers in early, idealized models of such things.

(Tip of the cap to Wendell Misch.)

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Joy of $x$

Here is Steve Strogatz's latest opinion piece on mathematics in The New York Times.

This one wasn't as engaging for me as the previous ones.