Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Six Degrees of My Umbrella

I have inadvertently started a variant of Stanley Milgram's small-world problem with my attempt to get back the umbrella I accidentally left in Bath today.

First, I checked to confirm that I left it in Chris Budd's office rather than in a random place in Bath. The obvious possibility was to get it back to Oxford next Tuesday, as next week's seminar speaker is also from Oxford's Mathematical Institute. And then presumably I could get it back shortly thereafter.

But then Chris e-mailed me to point out that several of the complex systems people from Bath are attending a complex systems workshop in Oxford this Thursday. He called the conference 'cow' (which doesn't mean anything to me aside from synchronization issues, and cow sync isn't relevant here), but I think he means the Scaling in Social Networks workshop that is being held by CABDyN on Thursday. I can't go to this workshop, so either those people can go to Dartington House reception or the Somerville lodge, but it would be more convenient for them to just give this to somebody I know who is attending the same workshop. So once I confirm the identify of the workshop, my next step is to e-mail people who I think will be attending it to arrange for them to pick up the umbrella and then to give it to me.

As another variant, I still am in possession of copies of a pair of PhD theses that passed from Jaroslav Stark to Heather Harrington and then to me. These are copies of the theses written by one of my collaborators (Ricardo Carretero-González) and his wife, and the question is when is the next time and place I will see him---or whether I can get it back to them faster via an intermediary who will see him before I will but who I will see before he will.

So, essentially, the problem becomes not just to reach the target but to do it as fast as possible and consider temporal ordering as part of the whole process. There is perhaps some penalty to increasing the number of steps, but there is definitely a penalty for the amount of total time between the start of passing the 'message' (or the umbrella or the PhD theses) and the time it reaches the destination, and there can also be a penalty for 'inconvenience' from e.g. having to walk from the building where a workshop is being held to another building.

One could actually make a nice generalization of some message-passing problems by thinking about this in a tractable mathematical context. An appropriate abstract model with these kinds of effects would be a pretty neat mathematical problem, actually.

See, my research is practical!

Another comment: Sometimes its strange how inspiration is born.

Also: I know there has been some work on message-passing (and algorithms for it), but I believe that this leads to a different problem than what has been considered thus far.

And (hopefully) finally: It turns out that "COW" = "Camridge Oxford Warwick" and is an algebra and geometry meeting that moves around rather than the complex systems workshop. But my ideas still make sense. :)

Monday, November 28, 2011

XKCD, Privacy, and Hyperspace

The final panel of the new xkcd becomes even funnier (by leaps and bounds) in the context of Caltech and the South Houses.

Is "Applied Mathematician" a Prestige Class?

Three of my undergraduate students decided to make a Dungeons and Dragons character sheet on my behalf.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

This is Why I Like Math

Here's another winner from xkcd. The mouse-over is particularly awesome, by the way.

Pictures from Korea (So Far)

Here are some pictures from Korea

Update (11/27/11): Here is a second set of pictures from Korea.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ryan Braun Wins National League Most Valuable Player Award

Grrrr.... Matt Kemp got robbed of the National League MVP award. Ryan Braun had a fantastic season, but Matt Kemp was better. (Not that I'm biased...)

I'll be boarding my flight soon, but hopefully the link above will eventually have the full results of the voting.

Tales from the ArXiv: One Word to Rule Them All

Damnit. I want to write an article whose title consists of only one word. I must figure out a way to do this. Any suggestions from the audience?

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Happens in Korea Stays in Korea

Tomorrow I am flying to Korea to give a talk at the Cosmic Brain Network conference.

I'm really excited about this trip, which will be my first ever trip to Korea! Yay! I'm really looking forward to this! (And Korea is my first new country to visit of 2011. I almost went the entire year without visiting a new country, but now I'm making up for it in style!)

Of course, I return on Sunday evening right before the last week of term, so I'll be paying for this mightily next week.

But in the meantime, I intend to have some Korean BBQ for Thanksgiving...

A Picture Worth 60 Trillion Burgers (and Words)

Take a look at this demotivational poster, which visualizes the distance to the nearest McDonald's throughout the United States. Notice that the country's borders are not drawn in this picture---the border arises just naturally from the visualization.

The visualization is awesome, but the story it tells is sad (on multiple levels).

Update (11/22/11): Jed Yang told me about this link, where one can find the factoid that one is always within 107 miles of a McDonalds in the contiguous US. The farthest one can get is in South Dakota.

Pitcher Justin Verlander Wins American League MVP Award

For the first time since 1992, a pitcher has won a Most Valuable Player award. (And for the first time since 1986, a starting pitcher has won the award.) The honoree is Justin Verlander, who capped his incredible season---which previously earned him the American League Cy Young award---with the AL MVP award. I approve!

Now we just need Matt Kemp to get the National League MVP, and then I'll be able to say with all confidence that something is right with the world! Now about that "bipartisan" deal concerning the US debt...

Tetris for MATLAB!

Also, let me assure that that I would never, ever use Matlab to play Tetris---especially not while I am trying to eat my dinner, catch up on my almost-40 e-mails that have built up since 2:00 pm, finish reading the transfer thesis draft on my desk, do some reading of the PhD thesis draft on my desk, or pack for tomorrow's flight to Korea. Never.

(Tip of the cap to whoever in Matlab is posting stuff to FB.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mushroom Death Suit

I have to say that when I saw this headline, I immediately thought of Super Mario Brothers and raining death upon my enemies with this new suit.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Revised Baseball Playoff Format and Astros in the American League

Two recent items of discussion in Major League Baseball have now become official (though a few details remain to be worked out): (1) There will now be two wild-card teams in each league, and they will face off against each other in a one-game sudden-death playoff to see who advances in the postseason; and (2) the Astros will be moving to the American League.

Both of these are likely to start with the 2013 season. Unlikely many previous changes in the playoff format, I massively approve of change (1). I think this is excellent, and it reinstates the situation of division leaders having a genuine advantage over wild-card teams, which was the major reason that the institution of the wild card annoyed me so much in the first place.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Clayton Kershaw Wins National League Cy Young Award

Dodger hurler Clayton Kershaw has won the National League Cy Young Award. Yay! I'm very happy he won, though I actually think Roy Halladay deserves it more. The Dodgers are my team and Kershaw had a superb season (just not quite as superb as Halladay), so I pleased he won. You can find a comprehensive list of the voting on this page.

Now let's cross our fingers that Matt Kemp gets the MVP award that he so richly deserves!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kirk Gibson and Joe Maddon Win Manager of the Year Awards

Baseball's Manager of the Year awards have now been announced. Kirk Gibson won in the National League, and Joe Maddon won in the American League. Neither result was a surprise, and I'm pleased to see Kirk Gibson win in his first full year at the helm.

Tomorrow is when the National League Cy Young Award will be announced. I have my fingers crossed that LA Dodger Clayton Kershaw will win, though I think that Roy Halladay deserves it slightly more than Kershaw does. I still want Kershaw to win, though. :)

Where Citations Come From

Here is a new xkcd strip about where citations come from. They're kind of like babies but slightly less messy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Justin Verlander Wins American League Cy Young in Unanimous Vote

To put it frankly, I'm shocked.

(Everybody paying attention to Major League Baseball saw this one coming a mile away.)

Here are all of the votes.

You Versus The World

This demotivational poster is brilliant (and exceptionally well-done). I approve!

Monday, November 14, 2011

2012 Rookies of the Year and Big Dodger News

Braves closer Craig Kimbrel and Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson have won the 2012 Rookie of the Year awards.

The article to which I link doesn't yet include all of the voting results, but presumably it will reasonably soon.

Of course, today's really important baseball news is the 8-year contract extension for Matt Kemp that the Dodgers are apparently going to announce officially this afternoon. Woot!

Update (11/15/11): You can find all of the voting results in this article. In additional Dodger news, we have signed second baseman Mark Ellis to a 2-year contract.

Update (11/15/11): The Dodgers have also apparently signed Matt Treanor to a 1-year contract to be their backup catcher. This is even smaller news than the Ellis signing, though the Kemp one is obviously a wonderful piece of news for the Dodgers.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hairstyles and Baseball Jerseys

The picture in this demotivational poster is pretty funny. (The caption is dumb.)

By the way, did any of you get the Timbuk3 reference in the title of this entry?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Let's All Go to 11 Today!

Now that it's after midnight (and I'm letting it all hang out...), this is Spinal Tap Day.

In case you haven't heard, today is Spinal Tap Day. And during my 11:00 am - noon statistical mechanics lecture, I'm hoping to quickly pause at 11:11 am to commemorate the event. Hopefully I'll find something to do at 11:11 pm as well.

In case you haven't seen the movie This is Spinal Tap, it's kind of a cult classic. One might even say that it goes to 11.

Watching the movie would be the proper way to celebrate tonight, but I will be attending Somerville's formal hall instead. One of tonight's guests is the Member of Parliament for our district, so hopefully I'll get a chance to talk to her and let her know how important this holiday is. (Plus, I want to ask her about whether it might be possible for me to get access to census data as well as about a 'networks for politicians' event that I think would be a nice thing to try to do.) But if you haven't seen the movie before, then tonight is the perfect day to see it. You'll never again have such a momentous opportunity to do it.

I used to have a 'My d10 Goes to 11' t-shirt, but sadly I lost it at some point in 2010 (no later than during the summer), and it's no longer being sold. Sigh. [This is a proverbial first-world problem rather than something serious, but I'd still really like to get another one of these shirts in my size.]

In conclusion: Today I'm Going to Rock You Today. :) [Yes, I adopted the lyrics slightly.]

(Tip of the cap to Peter Mucha for informing me that tomorrow is Spinal Tap day and to several others who mentioned more mathematically but less-awesome aspects about today.)

Update: I was unaware of it until the 10 seconds of silence at tonight's formal hall in Somerville, but November 11th also marks a far more serious day of the year. As you know, I'm very good at paying attention to the world around me.

An Excellent Statistics Question

Now here's a truly excellent statistics question.

Those of you at Caltech who also took Alan Hájek's "Philosophy of Probability" course will know exactly what this question reminds me of. :)

Hajek's test was the best test ever when it comes to exam-taking paranoia: It was multiple choice. For each question, instead of picking a correct answer, we assigned a probability of correctness to each possibility, and our score on each question was determined by a formula that included a logarithm. Woe to anybody who assigned probability 0 of correctness to a choice that turned out to be correct, because then one got a grade of -infinity in the course. The result of this was to ask oneself nervously on every question: Am I truly sure that I am 100% confident that this answer isn't right? (Not only that, but exactly how confident am I on every possible answer for every question?)

[The scoring methodology was announced before the exam when I took the course, so I computed beforehand exactly what I should place instead of '0' on the questions in which I was maximally confident that some choice wasn't correct.]

(Tip of the cap to Tammy Porter and Danny Suiza.)

Monday, November 07, 2011

Grand Unified Theory of Cutlery

Here is a Venn diagram for the recently proposed Grand Unified Theory of Cutlery. Nice!

Postdoctoral Position in My Research Group to Study Community Structure in Networks

The advertisement for the postdoctoral position in my group is finally live. You can find it here. The deadline is 9 January 2012, and the project entails the study of community structure in networks. The advertisement includes detailed application instructions.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Excellent Use of Signage

This picture made me laugh. I'm sure I can figure out a way to adapt this for use over here. :)

Prof. or Hobo?

Here is a small visual quiz to see whether you can tell profs and hobos apart. I scored 7/10. (Tip of the cap to Thomas Kroedel.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Good Riddance

Frank McCourt has agreed to sell the Dodgers. Good riddance. (I hope he had the time of his life.)

In other Dodger news, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Clayton Kershaw all won Gold Glove Awards. Hopefully this hardware will be followed by a Cy Young Award for Kershaw and an MVP for Kemp.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

"I don't know what kind of bullshit passes for jurisprudence down in the 4th Circuit these days."

There are times that The Onion just nails it. This is one of those times.

Dysfunctional Markets: Featuring Principal Component Analysis

Here is a video describing some insights based on research by my former Ph.D. student Dan Fenn. There is some discussion of this work in his Ph.D. thesis and also in this paper.

Somehow, when the media gets ahold of it, a "PCA" turns into a kind of "Risk On, Risk Off index". (Actually, I think HSBC chose to use that name.)

(Tip of the cap to Stacy Williams of HSBC.)