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.