Monday, April 30, 2012

Karate Cake

This cake, designed and baked by my doctoral student Puck Rombach, is perhaps the most beautiful cake ever. And it even tells you why science works. :)

By the way, this cake was Puck's contribution to OCIAM coffee time this morning. Sadly, I wasn't around for it, as duty called (in the form of tutorials). But the cake is sheer awesomeness!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Stick a Fork in It

One of the windows in Green's Cafe was messed up and wasn't able to close, which was rather unfortunate, as it's rather cold and somewhat rainy outside. The solution? Simple: One of the workers used a fork to jam the window closed. I approve!

P.S. The weather sucks ass right now.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Matt Kemp is Awesome!

As Tom Maccarone pointed out to me this morning, I have managed to get through almost all of April without posting on Facebook about how awesome Matt Kemp is and about the Dodgers enjoying a healthy first place lead! So I have now corrected that injustice and want to bring it up here as well. (As Tom phrased it, "You must be busy if you haven't made half a dozen posts about this already.")

I'm actually not yet very optimistic about our division lead, as we have played the bulk of out games against crappy teams, and just about our entire offense comes from Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. But, hey, we're in first place, so I'm happy!

And in case you haven't noticed, Matt Kemp has been en fuego all year!

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Reliquary Collection

Now this is pretty cool. Autumn Looijen's little brother is trying to fund a collection of high-quality relic games via Kickstarter.

(Tip of the cap to Autumn Looijen and Stephen Heise.)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Plane" Thinking

Here is an interesting article on a couple of psychological studies on analytical versus intuitive thinking/cues and how one subsequently answers questions related to faith.

I do take one issue with the article, though: the idea that the word 'plane' has nothing to do with thinking is absolute nonsense. To give just one example, whether or not a graph is embedded in a plane or not has a profound influence on it's structure. :) [I know, I know: I've had it with this motherfuckin' graph in this motherfuckin' plane!]

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Up All Night

PhD Comics has a panel about all-nighters.

I still pull an all-nighter every now and again, though it's certainly harder than it used to be (and I did a Hell of a lot of these in college). Two fundamental differences between my experiences and the description:

(1) I start my work early rather than at O(11pm).

(2) I want to kill everybody when they get up to start their day rather than to kiss them---especially if they wish me a good morning (and doubly so if they have been blasting country music, which was one of the rites of passage in grad school in applied math at Cornell... shudder).

(Tip of the cap to Jimmy Lin.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tetris on a Building (Again)

MIT students have pulled off a prank that has allowed them to play Tetris on the side of a building. This isn't very original at this point, but it is very cool, and the article has a video in which one can watch them playing suboptimal moves in their game. (I have chosen to blog about this for the simple reason that I have not previously encountered any videos in prior instances of Tetris-playing on the side of buildings.)

(Tip of the cap to Ravi Montenegro.)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Alpacacon 2012

I missed the 2012 World Alpaca Conference (which took place in Oxford last week). Damn.

Yes, really: Alpacacon does exist.

(This post is inspired in part by Lorian Schaeffer, who for some reason that I never actually caught was obsessing about alpacas one evening last week.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Polish Scrabble

Fun Fact: In the Polish version of Scrabble, the 'Z' is only worth 1 point. Such a shame. :)

Surely somebody has designed a version of Scrabble in Klingon?

Jamie Moyer Becomes Oldest Pitcher to Win a Major League Baseball Game!

The title says it all. And Major League Baseball is simply a better game with oldsters like Jamie Moyer and Omar Vizquel still playing in it. I hope that Moyer wins a Major League game after turning 50.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Suggestions for Alternative Use for Underwear?

I accidentally bought underwear of the wrong size. Damnit. Now I'm going to need to find an alternative use for them. Maybe to use as flags on some stray flagpole?

Does anybody have any good ideas? I'm willing to take suggestions.

I don't have the time to go and return them, so I figure it's better to find some alternative usage for them. You might think of this as turning underwear into underwear-ade.

(I'm sure there is a peanut gallery out there who can give some creative suggestions.)

"Problematic Problems"

Really, Elsevier? I'm glad that this article got retracted because it "contains no scientific content", but perhaps the author's e-mail address of "" might have helped give things away. Or maybe just a quick glance at the text might have helped?

The paper's abstract is: "In this study, a computer application was used to solve a mathematical problem." Well, great.

Perhaps the best way to end this blog entry is with a brief extract from the paper's conclusion: "In brief an impossible proposition was proved as possible. This is a problematic problem." Yikes!

(Tip of the cap to whoever posts stuff for Physics Today on Facebook.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

OCIAM has no Webpages Like This One

Really. I mean it.

(Tip of the cap to Lorian Schaeffer.)

Do You Want Some Coffee With Your Sugar?

I just got back to my temporary Caltech office from getting some coffee at Peet's. One of the customers there got a small coffee and proceeded to empty something like 20 (!) sugar packets into it. Holy crap! May I suggest instead trying Pixy Stix dipped lightly in coffee?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tales from the ArXiv: The d12 Gaming System

Apparently, this person wants to invent the d12 gaming system. Sadly, I became much less intrigued with the article (called "Dodecahedral Bowling") after looking at its content.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

These Animals are Disappointed in You

Yes, yes they are. Anthropomorphism can be so much fun!

(Tip of the cap to Julie Bjornstad.)

Life Analytics

Stephen Wolfram has apparently been keeping track of his life analytics for more than 20 years. Although this is pretty narcissistic, it's also very interesting and it does make me curious about my own life analytics.

I didn't read the full article, so let me know if there is any kernel at which I should look more closely.

(Tip of the cap to Dave Goulet.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

NES Controller Coffee Table

This coffee table doubles as a fully functional controller for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Awesome!

(Tip of the cap to David Blau.)

Monday, April 09, 2012

PAX East 2012

I just finished attending the 2012 edition of PAX East. I was staying with friends who live in Reading, MA. I went on my own to PAX on Friday and went with one of my friends Saturday and yesterday. Here are a bunch of pictures that I took this year.

This is my second PAX convention. In 2007, I went with Lemming to PAX in Seattle. In case you're interested, here is stuff I wrote about that one. I wrote several blog entries about the 2007 PAX, and the entry to which I just linked includes links to my other entries.

PAX now has a lot more tabletop gaming than it used to, which is good for me. I split my time between 3 main areas: the main exposition hall (which focused predominantly on video games of various sorts), the tabletop gaming area (which was a much more peaceful place to be!), and a retro gaming room that blasted 80s music and had a few old arcade games I really like. I didn't bother to go to any of the panels or concerts. I also didn't bother to get any autographs, though yesterday I did accidentally walk near the Jonathan Coulton line when it was short. I considered getting his autograph, but I didn't have anything to sign, didn't want to pay for a poster or whatever, and ultimately decided I didn't care too much---and hence didn't want to make somebody who did care wait longer while he dealt with me. I did consider bringing back his autograph for others, but I didn't know if anybody wanted it without doing it in person (which is a bit different from getting it in person). I wish I had remembered to look carefully at who might be at the convention beforehand, and then I could have asked in advance.

Two really cool aspects of the expansive tabletop area were (i) that I could try out lots and lots of games I didn't know (some of which are new or even not out yet) and (ii) I got a chance to play some RPGs. I was in two games of Pathfinder, which is basically Dungeons & Dragons 3.75. I enjoyed both games, but I liked the first one better. We all played goblins in that adventure, and I apparently was the only player in the entire con who played the particular character I got intelligently. The DM was very good, and the other 3 players were fun people. I tried out lots of board games and card games (some of these were technically in the main expo hall rather than the tabletop room), and I ended up buying two of them: Miskatonic School for Girls and Puzzle Strike (and an add-on for it). The former is an indie game, by the way. I really enjoyed both of these when I tried them out, so I bought them. As a long-term source of enjoyment, Puzzle Strike easily outshines the other game, but MSfG is still very fun, and it is pretty simple and will be good when playing people who don't want to think much about strategy. Puzzle Strike is a boardgame incarnation of console game Super Puzzle Fighter, except it replaces twitch skills with Dominion-like skills. It is very cool.

I finally tried dragon dice. Even the simplified version on display was way too complicated for my tastes. It's a cool idea, but it's not for me.

I saw some really cool gaming dice, including some large and heavy ones made out of metal. (One d20 cost around $50 in a couple of cases.) There were also some dice made out of various crystals. There was one particular family of dice made of iron, and these had some gorgeous etchings. They come from a game called Irondie, but they were being sold by themselves due to their prettiness. It would be a bit expensive to buy the game and it seems like it would be almost impossible to find someone with whom to play (based on what would be needed for two people to play it), but I am very curious about it---and I absolutely adore the dice that go with this game. I didn't buy any of them (only a small number of individual dice were being sold), but this is something that I would like to investigate further in the future.

There was a wide variation in which booths had helpful people and which didn't (for both the tabletop and video game areas). For some of the video game booths, the exhibitors ignored me and just played games on their own even when there was almost nobody visiting their booth. So I left. They obviously didn't want 'customers', so my curiosity about their game waned rather quickly. If I were more than mildly curious, I would have stayed. The Steve Jackson Games people were among the particularly helpful ones. I have a special promo Munchkin card from the convention that I will use in my copy of Munchkin Quest, though I sadly was not around that booth when Felicia Day was there giving out and autographing special Munchkin: The Guild cards. (That happened on the morning of the first day, and I started my day off in the main expo hall because that closed at 6pm every day, whereas the tabletop area was open much later than that on the first two days. Also, the tabletop area was a really nice place to escape when things got too intense in the main hall.)

I tried some indie video games, and some of them were pretty cool.

There's a lot more I could write, but this entry is already very long. My Galaga skills are still there, which I am pleased is the case. There was a copy of Galaga in the main hall, but I didn't get a chance to play until a few minutes before the main expo hall closed on the last day. I got 2/3 of the way to the high score on my first life, but then I had to leave the room. The wiring is definitely still there, though!

Anyway, take a look at the pictures, and let me know if you want me to comment on anything else.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Re-Opening Day!

Play Ball! Again. GO DODGERS!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

My "Performance" at the Imperial College Ig Nobel Show (3/9/12)

Here is the video for the show that includes my 5-minute "performance" on cow synchronization as part of the Ig Nobel show at Imperial College on 9 March. My 5 minutes of fame occurred right after Marc's long introduction.

(Tip of the cap to the Annals of Improbable Research's very own Marc Abrahams --- the head honcho there --- with whom I just finished having coffee.)

Congratulations to Dr. Sumeet Agarwal!

My Ph.D. student, Sumeet Agarwal, recently pass his viva. He had some proverbial "minor corrections" to make, but he mentions that it should only take a couple of days, so he'll officially be "Dr. Sumeet Agarwal" very soon. Congratulations! (Apparently, his Ph.D. defense lasted a whopping 4.5 hours, which is quite the marathon!)

The title of Sumeet's doctoral thesis is "Networks in Nature: Evolution, Dynamics and Modularity in Biological Networks". It includes work on protein-protein interaction networks but also more general things on machine learning in networks.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Inflatable Star Trek Captain's Chair

Clearly, Somerville needs to buy an Inflatable Star Trek Captain's Chair for its Senior Common Room. Is anybody with me?

And if nothing else, I wouldn't mind owning one of these.

(Tip of the cap to Alex Cayco-Gajic. Well, sort of---it was posted on her Facebook wall by one of her friends.)