Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Congress Vanishes into Infinitely Recursive Loop"

According to a new article in The Economist, the United States Congress has managed to get itself into an infinitely recursive loop with its budget follies.

I once crashed all of UGCS when I accidentally started an infinitely recursive loop (it was taking a while, so I lost patience and decided to use the bathroom, and the whole server went down while I was gone), so we'll see what crashes this time.

(Tip of the cap to Puck Rombach.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tales from the ArXiv: Damping in Quantum Love Affairs

Sometimes, an eye-catching paper gets posted on the arXiv preprint server. Here is one such paper:

Title: Damping in Quantum Love Affairs

Author: Fabio Bagarello

Abstract: In a series of recent papers we have used an operatorial technique to describe stock markets and, in a different context, {\em love affairs} and their time evolutions. The strategy proposed so far does not allow any dumping effect. In this short note we show how, within the same framework, a strictly non periodic or quasi-periodic effect can be introduced in the model by describing in some details a linear Alice-Bob love relation with damping.

One of the things I really like about the title is that 'damping' can be used in both a physical and nonphysical context. Hell, it can be used in at least two different physical contexts! [Rarrrr!] And you know what makes it even more awesome? The fact that the abstract includes a typographical error in which "damping" is inadvertently called "dumping". D'oh!

I have only one question: Shouldn't the author have cited my article on quantum cuteness?

Play Ball!

Opening Day for the 2011 Major League Baseball season is tomorrow (March 31st) --- as opposed to Tomorrow --- and I'll be watching the Dodgers-Giants game. Kershaw versus Lincecum: Hell yes!

Anyway, here are some predictions for the 2011 seasons. Let's see if I fail as spectacular in my prognostications as I have in the past.

National League

National League West: Giants, Dodgers, Rockies, Padres, Diamondbacks

National League Central: Brewers, Reds, Cubs, Cardinals, Astros, Pirates

National League East: Phillies, Braves, Marlins, Nationals, Mets

Wild Card: Braves

NLCS: Phillies versus Brewers [Phillies win 4-1; Roy Halladay gets LCS MVP]

MVP: Ryan Braun

Cy Young Award: Roy Halladay [Tim Lincecum is my top non-Phillie]

Rookie of the Year: Brandon Belt

Manager of the Year: Ron Roenicke

Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Kemp

Team on the rise: Milwaukee Brewers

Team on the decline: St. Louis Cardinals

American League

American League West: Athletics, Rangers, Angels, Mariners

American League Central: Twins, White Sox, Tigers, Indians, Royals

American League East: Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, Orioles

Wild Card: Yankees

ALCS: Athletics versus Red Sox (Athletics win 4-3; ALCS MVP is Josh Willingham)

MVP: Adrian Gonzalez

Cy Young Award: CC Sabathia

Rookie of the Year: Mike Moustakas

Manager of the Year: Bob Geren

Comeback Player of the Year: Manny Ramirez

Team on the rise: Oakland Athletics

Team on the decline: Tampa Bay Rays

World Series: Oakland versus Philadelphia. Philadelphia wins 4-2 (and Roy Halladay gets the World Series MVP award)

I'm sure that most of my predictions will be wrong. Here are some predictions from ESPN's "experts".

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

PhD Comics: The Movie

Yes, there really will be a move version of PhD Comics. It will be filmed at Caltech and will star several actual Techers.

(Tip of the cap to Jimmy Lin.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Art and Science

As you can see in this picture, sometimes art imitates science (and vice versa).

On the left: Community structure in protein-protein interaction networks

On the right: a work of art in the Tate Modern museum in London

(Big tip of the cap to Mariano Beguerisse Díaz for taking the picture on the right.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

They're real, and they're fabulous!

The woman behind the counter at Bojangles asked me, "Are those natural curls or do you curl your hair?"

I *should* have answered, "They're really and they're fabulous!"

Alas, it didn't occur to me until afterwards.

This entry will make sense only to people who know what I look like, but Google can always help you with that. Actually, women mention to me pretty frequently that they wish they had natural curls like me and sometimes even mention that they try vehemently to get their hair that way through curling (by which I don't mean the sport), but I don't remember ever previously being asked if I curl my hair. (To put this into proper context, recall that I lived in Midtown Atlanta for 2.5 years! Of course, I do vaguely recall being rendered speechless after some guy at one of Turgay Uzer's parties asked me, "Who does your hair?")

On a similar note, I really need a haircut...

What happens in Urbana-Champaign stays in Urbana-Champaign

Tomorrow morning I will fly away from North Carolina to visit University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and give a seminar in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering.

Back in 2002 (when I was still a graduate student), I interviewed for a faculty position in that department. It was still called the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the time, as the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics had not yet joined forces with it. This is my first time visiting UIUC since that long-ago interview.

I know quite a few faculty members at UIUC both in that department and in other departments (in fact, one of my friends from graduate school is in the MechSE Department), and one of my friends from my postdoc era at Caltech is currently a graduate student in physics at UIUC. She was my regular ping pong partner back then, though whether or not we actually play ping pong or hang out in some other way (she'll be picking me up and dropping me off at the Indiana-Bloomington airport, for example) depends on whether we can actually find a ping pong table.

Friday, March 25, 2011

OMG, LOL, and FYI now in OED

The Oxford English Dictionary has now officially recognized FYI, LOL, and OMG as words. But how about "WTF"? Seriously, WTF!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tsunami Benchmarks

Randy LeVeque (Progessor of Applied Mathematics at University of Washington) and his collaborators have set up a Tsunami Benchmark to share data and code for Japan tsunami simulations.

(Tip of the cap to SIAM.)

THE Unreasonable Effectiveness of Tree-Based Theory for Networks with Clustering

After 7 (count 'em!) page proofs, my new paper has just officially appeared in Physical Review E.

The title (with "THE" actually written as "The") alludes to a very famous paper by Eugene Wigner. We're certainly not the first people to allude to that paper in a paper title, but we enjoyed doing it nonetheless. One of the arts in writing (and, indeed, it is something I enjoy very much) is to come up with a clever title for ones papers.

During the page proof stage (which was a comedy of errors on the part of the publishers), PRE tried to remove the "The" from the title because it's apparently their policy not to allow article titles to start with "The". However, we objected very strongly, it seems that they forgot about this by the time we were done with the proofing process. We were thus able to get our preferred title after all. :)

One of the really cool things about this paper, by the way, is that we found unexpected subtleties about something that most people in the field mistakenly thought were completely understood. The reality is that there are still some rather interesting and subtle myseries remaining. See the paper for more details.

Anyway, here are some more paper details

Title: The unreasonable effectiveness of tree-based theory for networks with clustering

Authors: Sergey Melnik, Adam Hackett, Mason A. Porter, Peter J. Mucha, and James P. Gleeson

Abstract: We demonstrate that a tree-based theory for various dynamical processes operating on static, undirected networks yields extremely accurate results for several networks with high levels of clustering. We find that such a theory works well as long as the mean intervertex distance \ell is sufficiently small -- that is, as long as it is close to the value of \ell in a random network with negligible clustering and the same degree-degree correlations. We support this hypothesis numerically using both real-world networks from various domains and several classes of synthetic clustered networks. We present analytical calculations that further support our claim that tree-based theories can be accurate for clustered networks, provided that the networks are "sufficiently small" worlds.

John Milnor Wins Abel Prize

John Milnor has won the 2011 Abel Prize, which is a lifetime achievement award (meant to parallel the Nobel Prizes) in mathematics. You can read more about Milnor's work here.

Milnor is known for his work in several areas of mathematics, including dynamical systems (which is near and dear to my heart, as many of you know).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"The Spread of Ranting in a Large Social Network": Maybe Later

It was suggested at lunch in the workshop today that my coauthor James Fowler should write (with Nicholas Christakis, of course) a paper called The Spread of Ranting in a Large Social Network and that I should be used as the seed node. :)

In similar news (though this occurred a couple of weeks ago at Oxford), my preferred writing style in my research papers has been described as "aggressively cautious", and I consider this to be a compliment.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mathematics Awareness Month 2011

The theme for Mathematics Awareness Month in 2011 is Unraveling Complex Systems. Of course, that is a subject that is near and dear to my heart.

By the way, although mathematics awareness month occurs only in April, I am always aware of mathematics. :P

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Radiation Dose Chart

Here is a radiation dose chart compiled by Randall Munroe of xkcd. Better watch out for that bananaphone!

(Tip of the cap to Heidi Eldenburg Bramlet, Anna Iwaniec Hickeron, and Kevin Hickerson.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

English-Chinese Ambigrams

These English-Chines ambigrams are way cool.

(Tip of the hat to Jimmy Lin.)

"Where's Wal-Mart?"

I know that I shouldn't propagate Southern stereotypes, but it's hard not to do so when the list of frequently asked questions in my hotel's welcome packet includes "Where's Wal-Mart?"

Spring is Here!

Spring is here! Spring is here!

And perhaps you think that means I'm poisoning pigeons in the park, but alas that is not so.

Do you know why today finally feels like spring? Well, first, the weather is nice and warm (74 degrees farenheit), and I went outside in a t-shirt and still felt warm. But, even more, today feels like spring because I am listening to the dulcet sounds of Vin Scully, who is announcing today's Dodger game. (I think it's the first game that he has announced in 2011.) Vin is awesome, and listening to his voice is what makes me feel like spring and baseball have truly begun.

Phenomena (Doo-doo-DOO-de-Doo-doo)

I interrupt my work to bring you this very important announcement/rant.

"Phenomena" is plural, so stop bloody using the word as if it's also singular. The singular form is "phenomenon" (Doo-doo-DOO-de-Doo-doo).

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I see that my work is done here.

One of my students wrote the following text as part of an e-mail discussion about a seminar that I missed because I am in Los Angeles:

There was also a video about power-laws in the middle that induced more than a few people to look around in terror to check that you weren't there, Mason.

Apparently, I've developed a bit of a reputation. (And, clearly, this has to be the quote of the day.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Donate to the Japanese Red Cross Society!

Here is a Google Checkout link to donate to the Japanese Red Cross Society.

(Tip of the cap to Rae Yip.)

Public Lecture on "The Physics of Social Networks"

Booking information for my public lecture on "The Physics of Social Networks" can be found on the public-relations home page for Oxford's physics department.

Attendance is free, but one has to reserve tickets in advance. It takes place Monday 9 May starting at 6pm.

In case you don't want to look at the web page, you can book by e-mailing the following address:

You must be age 14 or older to attend. (And when you see one of my slides, you'll find out why.)

Update (4/7/11): One can just show up. There is no need to reserve a spot.

How Embarrassing!

Well, here's another embarrassing retraction of an article in a science journal. On looking at the actual article, the only response I can reasonably give is "Seriously? What the fuck!"

And do you know what I find most embarrassing about this whole incident? That this journal actually rejected one of my articles once. Oy vey!

Home Experiments with Granular Materials

I wouldn't even dream of playing with my food in order to look at the packing properties of the grains in my chicken soup.

A Physicist's Thriller

Cornell physics professor Paul McEuen has published a sci-fi thriller novel. I have never been a big fan of thrillers (except for Michael Jackson's song, of course), though I feel inspired every time one of my fellow scientists publishes a novel. I'll do that one day too.

Paul has a few more grey hairs now, but one of my first thoughts the first time I saw him over a bit over a decade ago was that he looked like John Lennon. (I talked to Paul about some stuff related to me PhD dissertation when he first came to Cornell while I was in graduate school.)

He Might Want to Try Using the "Aristocrats" Joke Again

Gilbert Gottfried might want to use "The Aristocrats" joke again after he got himself fired from his role as the Aflac Duck for making insensitive comments about the situation in Japan via twitter in an attempt at humor that went over like a lead balloon.

I hadn't actually realized that Gottfried provided the voice of the duck, and given Gottfried's grating voice (for which he is best known), that's actually pretty cool. As described in the wikipedia entry for the Aristocrats joke (as well as in the movie about the joke), Gottfried made some 9/11 based jokes only 3 weeks after the event. When those didn't go over well at all (so there's a bit of a history here...), he rescued himself by switching to the Aristocrats and doing a massively funny version of the joke.

Gottfriend does seem like quite the douchebag, doesn't he?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What happens in the United States stays in the United States: Take N

My flight leaves for Los Angeles at noon. I will be staying in Beverly Hills, and then I will go to the Research Triangle in North Carolina, where will spend most of the subsequent 3.5 weeks. While based in the Research Triangle, I will be visiting Urbana-Champaign for a few days and whatever city Davidson College is in for a day. Then in the middle of April, it's back to Beverly Hills and Pasadena. I'll be returning to Oxford in late April. (Hopefully there won't be any volcano anger this time.) This is mostly a work trip, but some fun things are confirmed and hopefully the other fun things that are planned but not confirmed will work out. I feel that I am somehow less excited about the trip than I should be, even though there are a couple of things to which I am looking forward. That's not usually a good sign, given that I haven't even left yet, but hopefully I'll be excited once I am actually in the States. (Maybe it's because this trip is so predominantly for work and I'm not going to any spectacular locations that I'm not excited?)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Visualization of the Tsunami's Propagation (and a Few Thoughts)

Here is a very pretty vizualization of the tsunami that arose from the magnitude 8.9 earthquake in Japan. Somehow I tend to treat these things with a mixture of scientific fascination and more common human emotions.

One of the impressive things about the natural disaster is that the coast of Japan has apparently shifted by 8 feet. Also impressive is the fact that earth's axis has been shifted by almost 4 inches. The part that I think I find the scariest is the issue of nuclear meltdown. I'm more used to extreme situations like this in things like SimCity, where it doesn't actually count.

One of the reasons I find this scary is that I am from Los Angeles, so I automatically wonder whether something like this will happen there while I'm still around to witness it. I know it's all hands on deck at Caltech when earthquakes occur, but magnitude 8.9 is pretty damn scary.

(Tip of the cap to Kevin Hickerson for the visualization.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

"Mel Gibson Charged With Battery"

Isn't this headline something that ought to happen in Soviet Russia? (Also, the headline "Yakov Smirnoff Charged with Battery" would be rather ironic, given that the whole Soviet Russia meme originally came from his comedic shtick.)

I'm just saying...

Monday, March 07, 2011

"Ten billion ants in this world, and I'm having trouble with just one."

Ooh! All of the Ant & Aardvark cartoons are now on the web!

I actually own all of them on a DVD, but this is still extremely awesome. In case you have never seen these cartoons, they are hilarious!

The same person voiced the ant and the aardvark. He used a James Dean voice for the ant and, more importantly, a Jackie Mason voice for the aardvark (so you're supposed to imagine these quotes coming from a stereotypically Jewish aardvark).

"I hate you, instant hole!"

(A big tip of the cap to Chris Klausmeier, who I am very impressed remembered that I am a huge fan of this series of cartoons.)

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Gasoline Prices

Doesn't it seem sometimes like gasoline will cost you an arm and a leg?

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Who Goofed? I've Got to Know!

I love this poster, as ham is being advertised as "delicious for Chanukah". I don't think that this was one of the more successful advertising strategies of recent vintage.

Friday, March 04, 2011


Rango is a fantastic movie (I just saw it tonight), but I was totally unprepared for one particular scene, and I am pretty sure that I jumped up a bit in my seat when the music started playing.

Depeche Mode is Coming to Rock Band!

Depeche Mode is coming to Rock Band!

Here is the blurb on the Depeche Mode news web site: Three classic Depeche Mode songs are coming soon as downloadable content for Rock Band 3. "Personal Jesus", "Never Let Me Down Again" and "Policy Of Truth" will be released on March 8th as DLC (downloadable content) on Xbox 360, Wii, and PlayStation 3 systems. "Personal Jesus" will include Pro Guitar and Pro Bass parts.

I can't wait to play those songs!

Looking Forward

I will be one of the panelists in the Looking Foward session at the 2011 SIAM Conference on Applications of Dynamical Systems.

Tune in to see what I will have to say about the future of dynamical systems.

Also, I'm sure that Jim Yorke will get into at least one argument with each of the other panelists.

It's really cool to be one of the major participants in this session at the big dynamical systems conference. You might say that I am looking forward to it...

"Invented" in 1999, right?

Here is a plot of appearances of "cumulative advantage" and "preferential attachment" in books since 1860.


Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Million Song Data Set

The new Million Song Data Set looks really cool! It makes me want to do some community detection.

(Tip of the cap to whoever does Matlab's Facebook postings.)

A Rousing Teaching Experience

A professor at Northwestern University has hosted an after-class sex show.

Here is one of the choice quotes from the article: "It was a fun and educational experience," [guest speaker] Melvoin-Berg told the Chicago Tribune. The students "seemed to be incredibly pleased. We had a number of them that got closer and closer."

About 120 students after class for this "extracurricular activity", which included a "rousing performance".

(Tip of the cap to Alexander Morisse.)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Boba Fett + Zelda + New York City Subway Station = Big Win!

Imagine somebody dressed as Boba Fett playing a rendition of the Lost Woods theme from The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time in a New York City subway station.

Done imagining? Good. Now watch what you just imagined.

(Tip of the cap to Louis Wang.)