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.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A PhD in Pictures

I think that this sequence of pictures tells it all.

(Tip of the cap to Craig Montuori.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why can't I own a Canadian?

Greg Fricke passed along this beauty that somebody recently posted on Facebook.

In fact, it's rather old.

Deadpan Synopsis of "Baby Got Back"

How awesome is this? As discussed in the blog Mental Floss, the "synopsis" portion of the wikipedia entry for the song "Baby Got Back" is written in a wonderfully humorous deadpan manner. It's like the writer was producing an essay for a high school English class. I approve!

(Tip of the cap to Mariano Beguerisse Díaz.)

Sunday, August 08, 2010

"The Function of Communities in Protein Interaction Networks at Multiple Scales"

Here is a just-published paper on protein interaction networks by my collaborators and me.

Title: The Function of Communities in Protein Interaction Networks at Multiple Scales

Authors: Anna C. F. Lewis, Nick S. Jones, Mason A. Porter, and Charlotte M. Deane

(There seems to be a bit of a name transposition of the last author in the official published paper... I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry.)

Abstract (in 3 parts, as per journal requirements)


If biology is modular then clusters, or communities, of proteins derived using only protein interaction network structure should define protein modules with similar biological roles. We investigate the link between biological modules and network communities in yeast and its relationship to the scale at which we probe the network.


Our results demonstrate that the functional homogeneity of communities depends on the scale selected, and that almost all proteins lie in a functionally homogeneous community at some scale. We judge functional homogeneity using a novel test and three independent characterizations of protein function, and find a high degree of overlap between these measures. We show that a high mean clustering coefficient of a community can be used to identify those that are functionally homogeneous. By tracing the community membership of a protein through multiple scales we demonstrate how our approach could be useful to biologists focusing on a particular protein.


We show that there is no one scale of interest in the community structure of the yeast protein interaction network, but we can identify the range of resolution parameters that yield the most functionally coherent communities, and predict which communities are most likely to be functionally homogeneous.

Jam Versus Marmalade

I had a toasted baguette with marmalade this morning, and that got me to wondering: Just what is the different between jam and marmalade?

You can find attempts at answering this question here and here. (By the way, I appreciated the targeted ad for The Jam on the second one of this pages.)

Exercise for the Reader: Suitably adapt an appropriate reference from Spaceballs.

Saturday, August 07, 2010


I want to keep a proper perspective. Really, I do. Though I think anybody who truly knows me well also knows that I fail miserably at it (the proverbial "do not", as Yoda might say). I know that I fail at this, and I still worry endlessly and on a regular basis make myself absolutely miserable with worry about either trivial problems or even things that aren't actually problems at all. And this can sometimes---much more often than should be the case, IMHO---lead to my frustrating the people I care about most (naturally, exactly the people I don't want to annoy). Meanwhile, people with real problems seem to be worrying much less than I am. It's at times like these that I realize just how much of a piece of work I am. I have trouble believing that my good qualities make up for this, given that I sometimes (and certainly far more often than I'd like) end up annoying other people with my worrying or my actions that are directly related to my worrying. And, naturally, it's my closest friends who I end up frustrating the most, and these are exactly the people I least want to annoy. How did I ever get this far without driving the people I care about away from me?

I think that during my life I have usually worried less when there is a real issue just because for most real issues that I have had to face, I spent so much time trying actively to solve them that it didn't leave much time or energy to worry about them. (I realize that there are plenty of real issues for which I would not have that luxury---and on occasion I have been faced with such issues---but such major issues have been far less common for me than ones that I felt I would be able to make concrete efforts to solve.)

I think I'm going to call someone to talk. There isn't a problem to solve, although I am genuinely worrying about something silly, and I think that talking will help me to act with more patience than I actually have without driving myself nuts in the process (and also to not frustrate one of my dearest friends, who besides her other excellent qualities has put up with me amazingly well for more than 2.5 years). And somehow certain types of uncertainty are the ones that correlate the most with my driving myself nuts. And I don't actually need to talk about this---just to have a live phone call with a friend and talk about stuff; something to occupy myself with another person I like involved and there with me in a stronger sense than just typing something on the computer.

Grrrr.... I am my own worst enemy. I always have been, and at the moment I'm exhausting myself mentally without any good reason at all.

Update (8/08/10): I had a 3-hour conversation with my friend Danny (who has been my friend for more than 30 years), and that helped a lot. I'm still worrying over something I don't think I should be worried about (and indeed have no right to worry about, given that other people I know have things to deal with that genuinely merit worry), but some time during which I am not driving myself nuts is always good. And I don't think I annoyed any of my friends either, which is also very good. Maybe one day I will achieve genuine patience, which I really wish I had. I think that lack of patience is one of my major flaws. And just because my best friends have shown willingness to put up with my flaws (with occasional expressions of frustration, as to be expected) doesn't mean that they should have to. Indeed, I more than anyone else don't want to be a cause of frustration for them---they are my friends, I care about them deeply, and I would rather that my flaws slowly eat myself alive than end up frustrating them on occasion. Though I think that adverse effects on me and on them actually tend to arise simultaneously in practice. ("With self-inflicted wounds.")

Update 2 (8/08/10): I am no longer worried about the thing about which I shouldn't have been worried in the first place. My so-called worst-case scenario [which, as I hinted, is not anything even remotely horrible... only suboptimal], which I should be able to handle more stoically anyway (because, as I mentioned, I have no right to worry about such things), is of course not happening. I still don't know what to do about my propensity to worry about things that pale in comparison to real worries.

"Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday."

In fact, I tend to follow the "worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum" bit in practice, but I think I'd be much happier if, instead, I just didn't worry about things so much---especially when the "bad" outcome is nothing more than suboptimal rather than genuinely bad.

Friday, August 06, 2010

What Education is Supposed to Be

I could rant on and on about this, but let me instead just to a recent high school valedictorian speech, which I won't debase by calling a rant. This student described what education is supposed to be far better than I ever could.

As for my reaction to this speech, all I have to say is: Amen!

I am sure I am sometimes guilty of some of this stuff with my own teaching, though I try not to be. Also, some of the points in this essay chime rather well with what I always appreciated at Caltech. I worked really hard and it could be a royal pain in the ass, but that is part of the price of encouraging independent thinking. There is typically a ton of hard work that needs to go with it in order to help such efforts work.

(Tip of the cap to Greg Fricke, who once had to put up with my attempts at teaching. I still wish that I brought that pillow to class one day in order to assist with your sleeping!)

The Burgeoning Oxford Student Chapter of SIAM

Oxford's student chapter of SIAM (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics) apparently has a larger number of members than all but 5 entire countries, and we're not that far behind Japan. Go us! [Based on an approximate calculation, but country #6 has maybe about 60% as many people as we do based on the estimate, so my global conclusion should be accurate.] We are estimated to have 213 members, but that overcounts by a decent bit because of people who have graduated who should be counted as UK members but no longer counted as Oxford members.

We're totally going to take over.

Demotivational Poster of the Day: This Owl

Apparently, this owl wants a divorce. I think this poster is hilarious!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Proposition 8 Ruled Unconstitutional

Sometimes, there really is justice: California's Proposition 8 (banning same-sex marriage) has been ruled unconstitutional and overturned.


Alex Rodriguez hits 600th Career Homerun

Alex Rodriguez hit his 600th career homerun today.

You know, I actually considered not blogging about this---given the past several years, I just don't care as much about homerun records as I used to. In fact, I am hoping that no Major Leaguer will hit 40 homeruns this year. (Unfortunately, Jose Bautista probably will. But it would be really nice if nobody did it for the first time in a long time.)

On the other hand, if Cliff Lee breaks Bret Saberhagen's record for best single-season K/BB ratio, then I will very eagerly be blogging about that!

Monday, August 02, 2010

How to Pick a Perfect Font

Fresh from the pages of Gizmodo, here is a chart for how to pick the perfect font.

This chart includes the best use of Comic Sans ever. I couldn't find Geneva in there, however. :)

(Tip of the cap to Louis Wang.)

Demotivational Poster of the Day: It's What's for Dinner

This demotivational poster is a big win!

I assume that this picture was taken at the recent Comic-Con?