Saturday, March 31, 2012

Stephen Hawking and Me

One of the guys who works at the hotel saw that I was at Oxford, so he asked me if I knew Stephen Hawking personally. (Yes, I know: He's at "the other place" [tm].)

[I did mention Hawking's visits to Caltech to visit "friends", but I didn't get into his having been a dinner guest at Lloyd House.]

New "Quest Mode" in Google Maps

This appears to be an early April Fools joke, and it is an awesome one indeed! Check out quest mode in Google Maps. It's available in the upper right corner. That is just awesome. Now you can imagine your attempt to find directions just like back in the day on the NES.

(Tip of the cap to Louis Wang.)

The Legend Continues

Yet another reason I am awesome: I tailgated into the building for today's meeting because I don't have a key to the building. Then I e-mailed my host (whose office I am using) that I was sitting outside his office and would meet with him inside when he came. Then his postdoc came by and reminded me that I have a key to that office. I just forgot I had it in my pocket. Dur.

(And for those who care, it is Maha's office at Harvard that I am using.)

Jamie Moyer Makes Rockies Starting Rotation!

Baseball is simply a better game with Jamie Moyer in the Major Leagues. That's right: 49-year-old Jamie Moyer has made the Rockies' starting rotation.

(And having Omar Vizquel still around also makes the game better.)

Friday, March 30, 2012

You Sank My Battleship!

I don't drink at all, but I think that this Battleship drinking game is pretty damn awesome. Well done.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tales from the ArXiv: They had me at Hello

I love the topic of this article as well as its title and section titles. I haven't looked closely enough to have an opinion about the research itself.

Title: You had me at hello: How phrasing affects memorability

Authors: Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Justin Cheng, Jon Kleinberg, and Lillian Lee

Abstract: Understanding the ways in which information achieves widespread public awareness is a research question of significant interest. We consider whether, and how, the way in which the information is phrased --- the choice of words and sentence structure --- can affect this process. To this end, we develop an analysis framework and build a corpus of movie quotes, annotated with memorability information, in which we are able to control for both the speaker and the setting of the quotes. We find significant differences between memorable and non-memorable quotes in several key dimensions. One is lexical distinctiveness: in aggregate, memorable quotes use less common word choices, but at the same time are built upon a scaffolding of common syntactic patterns; another is that memorable quotes tend to be more general in ways that make them easy to apply in new contexts. We also show how the concept of "memorable language" can be extended across domains.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What Happens in Boston Stays in Boston

This is Phase V of my trip. I am in Boston for the first time since 2006. I will start out by giving a talk at Boston University's physics department tomorrow. I will then move over to Harvard (both statistics and applied math) starting on Friday. And then, starting on Friday April 6th, I will be geeking out at the Pax East convention.

The hotel I am in for the next two nights has a Japanese restaurant with karaoke from 9pm-1am every night. This could get ugly.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Emmy Noether in the New York Times

I cannot overstate how much it pleases me to see an article about mathematician Emmy Noether in a venue like the New York Times. (Not that the huge amount of time I have spent studying Hamiltonian systems makes me biased or anything. Somerville College is named after a female mathematician and used to be a women's College, so of course Emmy Noether is also somebody who I want my Somerville students to know about.)

(Tip of the cap to the MAA.)

Protection in Foreign Countries

Note to self: Bring protection if I ever visit Greece. (Um, is this photoshopped?)

Also, here is another nice poster, though I like this one for a very different reason.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dinosaur Comics and Doing Arithmetic in One's Head

This issue of Dinosaur Comics is pretty funny. (I hadn't actually been aware that new "issues" of Dinosaur Comics were still being produced.) Of course, I remain partial to the one about Rotating Hell.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Airport Security Job Qualifications

I received some extra special screening at LAX, and one of the TSA security people involved was chatting me up. She was telling me about her educational background and eventually this led to the following exchange:

Me: "So how did you get this job?"

Security person: "I couldn't get anything else."

I think there is nothing else to say.

What Happens in Evanston Stays in Evanston

For Phase IV of my trip, I am flying to Chicago and heading off to Northwestern for a few days. (This is why I am up at this un-FSMly hour of the morning.) I'll be giving a seminar in the Engineering Science and Applied Mathematics (ESAM) department.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wikipedia Page of the Day: List of Serial Killers by Number of Victims

This wikipedia page is awesome.

And do you know why? Because the text starts out with the following words: This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding this article to provide more information about past victims. Please do not expand the list with original research or adding yourself.

(Tip of the cap to the Demotivational Poster blog.)

Trampoline Accident

Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain injured himself rather gruesomely in a trampoline accident.

This isn't quite at the level of Glenallin Hill's injury that resulted from the spiders that attacked him in his sleep, but it does seem like a new entry in baseball's version of the Darwin Awards. (The spider incident is described briefly on Glenallen Hill's wikipedia page. Skip Carey used to always bring this up whenever Hill was involved in a game.)

Update: Courtesy of Sammy Kline, here is a slideshow of freakish baseball injuries. Naturally, this includes Glenallen Hill as well as Clint Barmes's bout with deer meat. But where is Chris Brown's bruised tooth?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Justifiably Picking on Physicists (Again)

This series of panels from the comic strip Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal hits way too close to him. XKCD's similar joke about physicists is even funnier, by the way.

(Tip of the cap to Anna Iwaniec Hickerson.)

Tales from the ArXiv: Cricket Tooth Edition

Sometimes people post some strange papers to the arXiv preprint server. Cricket teeth? Wow.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Right Track, Wrong Train

Cyndi Lauper certainly got it right when she sang "Right Track, Wrong Train". Because, you know, I did that today. And I only had a choice between North and South. Oops.

Note to self: Train networks are directed.

P.S. There were both very unkind and kind people on the train when I needed to borrow someone's cell phone to let my friends know that I would be an hour or so late. (To the bitch who didn't let me use your phone: You could have just said 'No' instead of lying that your phone was out of batteries and then starting to use it 2 minutes later and thereby rub things in.)

Supervising Students from Prison

I just want to assure my students that I would continue supervising them from prison (just like this guy) if I were ever imprisoned. Not that I'm actually planning on that or anything...

(Tip of the cap to Karen Daniels.)

What Happens in Palo Alto Stays in Palo Alto

I'm a bit late with this one, actually. I have been here since Sunday evening, and I will fly back to LA and head over to Beverly Hills tomorrow.

This has been primarily a social trip, which is very uncharacteristic for me, though I am sneaking in some work.

I had dinner with one of my new (from 2011) but still fabulous friends on Sunday evening, and otherwise I have mostly been hanging out with Techers. I visited the Belly of the Beast (aka, Facebook headquarters) yesterday as a combined work/fun visit. I hadn't (and still haven't yet, in the case of those I am seeing during the rest of the trip) seen some of these people for several years, so this has been nice. I should take social trips more often. :)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Sexually Rejected Flies Turn to Booze"

Wow. Just wow.

I have posted about fruit fly sex before, and apparently fruit flies show a greater preference for alcohol when they don't get any action.

All we need now is some fruit fly rock 'n roll.

(Tip of the cap to Andrew Waugh and Yunkyu Sohn.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Best. Sign. Ever. (Buffet Edition)

This sign is absolutely wonderful. (It opened up my mind.)

(Tip of the cap to Peter Mucha.)

Playing Nintendo Games is Hard

Yup, one of the world's most important mathematical problems has finally been solved: some of the classical Nintendo games are NP-hard. In fact, several games in the Legend of Zelda series are also PSPACE-complete.

One of the authors of this paper is Erik Demaine, a brilliant young mathematics professor at MIT who also has a history of doing research on quirky problems. (I strongly suspect that an Ig Nobel Prize is in his future---perhaps even for this bit of research.)

One thing that would interest me about the puzzles in these various games is if such a result still holds when only considering the subset of "reasonable" (or perhaps even "good") moves. Essentially, I want to see a result of the computational complexity in more "practical" circumstances. On at least a philosophical level, this is similar to the idea of the worst-case scenario being hard but getting a good or good enough solution (say, a "good" local optimum, which could perhaps take more than the theoretically minimal number of steps) is easy in practice.

I'd be very interested in what some of you CS folks think about this stuff.

(Tip of the cap to Louis Wang, who posted a link to the Kotaku article on Facebook. I have chosen to link directly to the scientific article on the arXiv.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Congratulations to Dr. Anna Lewis!

My DPhil student Anna Lewis passed her viva "today" (the 13th --- her exam started around the same time as my flight to LA). Anna has done some excellent work on protein-protein interaction networks and unsurprisingly passed with flying colors. She just has to make a few phrasing tweaks and she'll be done.

I was trying to send my congratulatory e-mail to her, but sadly the e-mail server seems to be broken.

Bimodal Sleeping

Apparently, bimodal sleeping (in which there is a 'first sleep', a waking but restful time of an hour or two, and a 'second sleep') harkens back to tradition. I do this a lot, except for the "restful" part.

(Tip of the cap to Jimmy Lin.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

What Happens at Sunbelt Stays at Sunbelt

Tomorrow morning I fly away for my Spring 2012 trip, and I'm really excited about it because I'll be doing lots of cool stuff---both on the professional side and on the social side. I will start off my epic journey by going to the proverbial Sunbelt Conference in Redondo Beach. This is a conference on social networks, so I'll be hanging with the sociologists (and other social scientists, of course). While there, I will be staying with friends who live a couple of blocks from the hotel where the conference is occurring.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Grammar Nazi Almost From Birth

Apparently, I was quoted as using the word "etc." (correctly, I might add) at the age of 22 months, and there is documented evidence of this! I can't say I remember this, but the evidence is certainly there, and I'll happily take credit for it. My mother gave my sister the baby book that she used for my sister during her first month of life, and there are some quotes from me contained therein.

I guess my life as a grammar nazi started very early indeed.

(Tip of the cap to my sister---and I'll spare her by not posting my other comments that went along with the "etc.")

Quote of the Day

I just found a nice quote from The Peanut Farmer (aka, Jima Carter) while I was moiling away: A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It's a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity.

"Delicious and Versatile"

Maybe my mind is in the gutter, but my thoughts go in all sorts of horrible directions when I see a package describing the maple syrup contained therein as "delicious & versatile".

And, in case you were wondering, part of the reason I bought this is that I didn't have my camera with me at the market, and I wanted to snap and post this picture.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

What Happens in Nottingham Stays in Nottingham (Take 2)

This evening after my tutorials, I will take the train to Nottingham. Tomorrow I will be giving the Mathematical Physics seminar in their mathematics department, and maybe I'll sneak in a little bit of robbing from the rich (and perhaps even giving to the pour) while I'm at it.

A couple of years ago, I gave a seminar to the applied math group in this department, though I understand that the various research groups have been reorganized since then.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Bletchhhhhhhhley Park

I took my second trip to Bletchley Park today. Here are some pictures. I imagine that some of you might convince me to take a third trip there when you visit me in the UK. :)

Friday, March 02, 2012

RIP James Q. Wilson (1931-2012)

James Q. Wilson, well-known political scientist and author of the textbook I used for AP Political Science when I was in high school, died today.

I love his quote about moving back to the Boston area a few years ago: [his descendants] "feel a legal obligation to live within 30 minutes of Fenway Park."

(Tip of the cap to Andrew Waugh.)

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Precocious Murder Eyes

How does one get this good at 'murder eyes' at that age? Wow, this demotivational poster is fantastic.