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.)