Sunday, July 31, 2011

Last Licks

It occurs to me that the term last licks (which is frequently used in sports like baseball) probably has rather dubious (as in dodgy) origins.

I couldn't figure it out with some quick googling, and my best guess is that it has to do with the hunt. Do any of you know?


I wish people would stop using the term "exclusive" as if it were a good thing. I'm not sure whether to "grrrrrr" or "sighhhh" ( ... he says from his perch at Oxford).

Fabulous Protest Signs

Here are some absolutely fabulous protest signs in support of gay marriage. Hilarious... and in support of a good cause!

(Tip of the cap to Puck Rombach.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Most Improbable

Here are some interesting tidbits from the latest issue of Mini-AIR.

(1) An article in Journal of Forensic Sciences called
Blood and Tissue Spatter Associated with Chainsaw Dismemberment
. This reminds me a bit of a problem that I thought would be great for Physics 103 (on 'order-of-magnitude physics') on the mean free path of a person after they exploded in a certain way.

(2) An article called Self strangulation by hanging from cloth towel dispensers in Canadian schools. Blame Canada, indeed.

(3) An article in Journal of Food Science called Magnetic Resonance Temperature Mapping of Microwave-Fried Chicken Fingers. I wonder if any of the chicken fingers were shaped like Italy?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pitching is for the Young

This one completely snuck up on me...

Anyway, as Rob Neyer reports, the Tampa Bay Rays about about to break a seriously impressive record: most consecutive games started by pitchers under the age of 30. The record is currently held by the 1913--1917 Washington Senators.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Data Cake

This data cake is so, so true. It just hits it right on the money.

(Tip of the cap to Jimmy Lin.)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Super Salads and Meat-Eaters

At dinner tonight, my waitress asked the usual question "Soup or salad?" Also as usual, she said it reasonably fast. This caused me no end of trouble when I was a child, as I thought that waiters and waitresses were asking me if I wanted a "super salad," and I had no idea what a super salad. I was confused about this for years before I ultimately figured it out, and even then it still usually sounded like the waiting staff were saying "supersalad."

Another major confusion during my childhood was "meteor" versus "meat-eater." I thought they were both pronounced "meat-eater" and it also took me a while to figure that one out. I have vague memories of one discussion that caused particular confusion for more than one of the parties involved.

Of course, issues with pronunciation and enunciation are not unique to kids. There was one memorable incident involving an 'aunt' (technically a great aunt or other such variant) who wanted to have whipped cream. Unfortunately, English wasn't her first language and she had a thick accent, so it sounded like 'vit cream.' The waiter or waitress---and it's likely that multiple waiting staff ultimately tried to help with this one, though I don't remember that specific detail---was extremely confused. For example, this could sound like 'with cream' and I want to say that the waiters brought multiple different types of cream to our table but never the desired one. Or maybe my aunt wanted something 'with cream' and was brought whipped cream? I can't remember those details (I think my brother and parents remember this one much better), but the conversation was pretty damn funny. By the way, have you ever noticed that even 'memorable' incidents are often hard to remember? Somebody should look into the meaning of that word, because it seems to have somewhat lost it.

Thinking back to childhood memories also reminded me of the home video of me reacting to the song 'Da Da Da' when I heard it for the first time. I would love to post this on YouTube, but it was taken on a roughly 30-year-old movie camera---that's right, an old-school movie camera* rather than even a video camera---and the film itself is buried somewhere in my parents' home anyway. Seeing that home movie would not make you think the the strange child depicted therein would eventually become a member of the Oxford mathematics faculty, but it certainly would explain my musical tastes. I'll let you know if I ever find it.

Anyway, did any of you have this kind of confusion with words or phrases when you were young?

* I actually started using the \latex command '\emph' before I realized that I needed to use the html command for italics. I actually do this quite a lot for things like bold and italics: I type a \latex command when I should be typing an html command and vice versa.

Update (8/22/11): I completely forget to mention in this post another confusion I had as a child---I thought that "lavatory" was the same thing as "laboratory", though I suppose that that can genuinely be the case in some circumstances. Alas, this update is so late that few people will read it. Maybe I'll bring it up again in a later post.

Friday, July 22, 2011


One of the perhaps unfortunate side effects of participating in a program on brain networks is discussions in immediately-post-lunch seminars about sucking out parts of the brain with a straw (which old-school neuroscientists apparently used to do). Um, thanks?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Best. Trade. Ever.

For those of you who have never heard of this, in the early 1970s, there was an infamous baseball trade in which one pitcher traded his family for that of another pitcher. Naturally, both pitchers are lefties. By the way, The Baseball Project has a really awesome song about this trade.)

It's possible that I've blogged about this trade before, but I can't remember at the moment. :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Penis Economics

Annals of Improbable Research posted blurbs of a couple of interesting-looking papers on Facebook.

One paper, according to the first sentence of its abstract, "explores the link between economic development and penile length between 1960 and 1985."

Another paper discusses etiquette versus effort in door-holding, which some of you know quite well is actually very important to me. Here is a link to the actual paper. I should mention, though, that my purpose in doing this is not to minimize total effort; I do it because it's the right bloody thing to do!

Friday, July 15, 2011

What Happens at KITP Stays at KITP

Tomorrow I am going to fly to Santa Barabara to participate in the three-week brain networks workshop at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara.

I have two comments.

One: Braaaaaaaaains.

Two: Importantly, my final flight touches down in Santa Barbara rather than Los Angeles. This will allow me to avoid 'Carmageddon', which should not be confused with Carmageddon. (By the way, there is a private joke about Carmageddon among The Usual Bastards.)

Update (7/20/11): Here are some pictures from my trip.

Update (7/24/11): Hitler didn't have too many nice things to say about Carmageddon. And while that's pretty damned funny, his comments about the proverbial "third referee" are even funnier.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

World of Fourcraft

The headline for this article says almost everything one needs to know: World of Fourcraft Turns NYC Into a Giant Game of Risk.

That is perhaps the best application ever of reporting online when one checks into to a location. I was mentioning to Elizabeth Leicht today how lame such things were, and she said that she agreed with me---except for the notable exception of this particular game, which I agree is seriously sweet.

We really need to do something like this in Oxford!


Wow! I can't say that I expected this outcome: Roger Clemens's perjury trial has been declared a mistrial. There might well be another trial, but this was still unexpected.

Oh, and here is perhaps my favorite quote from the article: Clemens and his lawyers remain under a court gag order, so they are unlikely to comment on the development.

Ya think? (However, I do really love how the author of the piece is holding
out some hope...)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Artists Respond

This letter from the band Greenday to an angry parent is (a) awesome and (b) right on the money. I approve!

(Tip of the cap to Eric Hwang.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Welcome to the Priesthood

It's official: Somerville's only 4th year Mathematics (and related subjects) student with a First Class score this year has decided to become a priest. I'm not sure whether this says anything about us (his teachers).

Granted, the decision does solve the problem of finding cheap accommodation in Oxford (which is not a trivial feat), as free accommodation is apparently part of the deal.

Monster Attacks Fleming

Joe Trela posted a link on Facebook to one of my favorite pictures ever. I saw it years ago in an issue of Wired, which is probably buried somewhere in my parents' house.

Bonus Question: How many Flems are in this picture?

Saturday, July 09, 2011


This demotivational poster is awesome! I know I'm a geek, but I love font jokes.

Somebody needs to build on this with a joke that involves Comic Sans. :)

Derek Jeter Records 3000th Hit

Derek Jeter recorded his 3000th Major League hit today, becoming the first person to ever get 3000 hits in a Yankee uniform. I don't want to be accused of jeterating, but it is somewhat amazing that the Yankees of all teams have never had a player do this before. (I know, I know. There are only 28 Major League players with 3000 or more hits, but I am thinking in the context of the fact that there are quite a few rather excellent players who spent their entire careers or almost their entire careers with the Yanks.)


There's a store near where I live that is either new or that I just noticed that sells a bunch of used stuff. Most intriguingly, this includes used records (as in 45 rpm vinyl records and so on), and that can be a bit distracting when I am trying to do lots of work---as I am today---because it's just so damn interesting to look through those albums. Additionally, I'm tempted to buy certain particular records just to frame them and put them on my wall.

Ah, the good old days... And, yes, I am old enough to have tried learning the trick of playing only the specific track one wants to hear from a record album without scratching the record in the process.

Friday, July 08, 2011

RIP Dick Williams (1929-2011)

Fall of Fame manager Dick Williams died on Thursday. The ESPN article to which I have linked goes through his whole career, but I remember him best as a manager for the San Diego Padres---and, in particular, for this sound bite. The comment that comes after the sound bite is something like "it was the fat little Italian."

In that particular incident, Williams was stating that Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda had ordered pitcher Tom Neidenfuer to plunk some Padre batters on purpose. Tommy Lasorda's response to that accusation is is one of the all-time classics. Here is another small part of the same tirade. I wish I could find the entire audio clip.

Dick Williams was also responsible for this short-but-sweet gem, which I believe might be part of his full comment about blaming Lasorda (though I'm not entirely sure about whether this one is from the same incident).

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Studying Human Dynamics Using Halo

Yes, that's right. Aaron Clauset has a new project that entails studying human dynamics using the game Halo: Reach.

There actually have already been some network science studies using video games---such as this one.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Museum of Mathematics

The Museum of Mathematics will open in New York City in 2012. Here is a New York Times article about the new museum. (Tip of the cap to SIAM for posting this on Facebook.)

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

What's Up With Jose Canseco

Jim Caple wrote a very interesting article about Jose Canseco's current adventures as a player/manager in independent-league professional baseball. Among many other things, Canseco sure is interesting, and he does seem to genuinely love the game. (And for all of his faults---and there are many of them---he was right about the steroids thing before everybody became so aware of it.)

I give a fuck about an Oxford comma

With a big tip of the cap to Mariano Beguerisse Díaz, let me reiterate that I give a fuck about an Oxford comma.

You can find some discussion in this old blog post.

And in case you didn't know, the music video for the song Oxford Comma is just as awesome as the song.

Passing the Torch

Sometimes one finds out the strangest things at Mathematical Institute parties. To wit, one of our administrative positions is changing hands, and the list of duties for the position apparently includes a bullet point to the effect of 'Take care of Mason, and try not to be offended by what he writes or says.'

Sunday, July 03, 2011

2011 All-Stars

The 2011 Major League All-Star rosters were announced today. As has been the case for the last several years, the final spot on each team will be decided by fan vote. (The fans get to choose one out of five players for each league.) Naturally, there will also be replacements based on injuries and so on.

Here are the current lists of National League and American League all-stars.

Some of the players obviously deserve to be there, and it's nice to see people like Jose Bautista and Alex Avila (who won the balloting at catcher after a late push) be deserving starters in the American League. But then one also sees Derek Jeter starting for the American League even though he has done all of jack and shit all year. This year's Mike Sweeney Memorial Royals All-Star (MSMRAS) is reliever Aaron Crow, the latest in the recent trend of setup men having fabulous years making the team. Rob Neyer discussed the American league snubs, and Paul Konerko is by far the most ridiculous omission. (He is one of the five players for whom the fans can vote, so presumably he'll make it before all is said and done.) Yankee CC Sabathia and Tiger Jhonny Peralta are two more serious snubs, and neither of them is even among the five players for whom the fans can vote.

The National League has had its usual mixture of good and bad picks. I'm very pleased to see Matt Kemp starting, and it's great that Lance Berkman's comeback year is being recognized. But Placido Polanco's start at third base annoys me. In fact, it's a weak year for AL catchers and NL third basemen, so Russell Martin is the AL backup catcher (and he's been awful since his strong start) and Chipper Jones is the NL reserve third sacker (in recognition of his career rather than his 2011 season). The two best choices for third basemen in the NL this year are in fact Chase Headley and Aramis Ramirez, but their stats aren't exactly superb, so the pick of Chipper is certainly defensible. Picking Polanco is not. Shane Victorino, Andrew McCutchen, and Ian Kennedy lead the National League snubs.

Friday, July 01, 2011

A Brief Comment on Oxford Elitism

I just sent the following letter to the Editor of Oxford Today in response to the editorial that appears on page 1 of this issue (page 3 of the .pdf file to which I link):


I would like to comment on Editor Lofthouse's editorial in the TT2011 issue
of Oxford Today. He writes that "It [Oxford] cannot be expected to mend
inequalities that are deeply rooted in society." Really? I always thought
that one of the most important purposes of education---especially at
institutions like Oxford that think of themselves as elite---was to help do
exactly that. And in contrast to what Lofthouse suggests in his editorial,
I think that that *can* be done without compromising merit-based admissions. I find the attitude expressed in his editorial to be rather shameful, and I earnestly hope that most of my Oxford colleagues don't share it.


Mason A. Porter
University Lecturer, Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford

Home Run Derby

Baseball has tweaked the format of the All-Star Game Home Run Derby in a way that I think is very, very cool. Namely, the last two winners (David Ortiz of the American League and Prince Fielder of the National League) have been named the captains of their respective teams, and they will each be the ones who pick their 3 teammates. I think this is a refreshing way to do this. I wouldn't necessarily want it this way every year, but at least this once I like it very much.

Infinite Penetration

It doesn't matter how serious the science is. If you start your title with the phrase "infinite penetration of a projectile", then people are going to giggle.