Thursday, May 31, 2012

Save Nonlinearities in North Carolina!

Join the fight to save nonlinearities in North Carolina! [Yes, really.]

Apparently, in an effort to combat the exponential rise in sea levels and the risk of coastal flooding, North Carolina legislators have decided that only linear extrapolation can be used to measure the rise in sea level.

Or, as the new law puts it: "These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly."

As the writer of the article to which I link puts it, "North Carolina legislators have decided that the way to make exponential increases in sea level rise – caused by those inconvenient feedback loops we keep hearing about from scientists – go away is to make it against the law to extrapolate exponential; we can only extrapolate along a line predicted by previous sea level rises."

Should I laugh to keep from crying now? Hell, I was trained as a nonlinear scientist---am I not allowed in North Carolina anymore?

Next thing you know, some state legislature will try to say that π must be approximated as 3.

(Tip of the cap to Karen Daniels.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Memorable Homework Comments from my Frosh Year at Caltech

When I was a frosh (and, yes, of course I had to phrase it like this), I took introductory mechanics during my first term, just like almost everybody else did.

And I particular remember one comment that a physics TA wrote on a homework assignment amidst my free-body diagram that answered the question completely but for which I got only 3 of 4 points: "A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a sentence is worth a point. Please explain yourself."

I still remember this and I have taken this advice to heart (and passed it along as well) whenever I write papers or do just about anything else scientifically. So, to this Phys 1a TA whose name I am too lazy to look up right now, I raise my iced latte in a toast.

Another memorable homework incident from my frosh year was in Chem 41 (organic chemistry) when a TA wrote a brief note about my handwriting at the top of the first page and then signed his name. And then right below his signatures were the signatures of the 10-12 other TAs in the course... [I really need to find this Chem 41 assignment and scan that in... ]

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Like Father, Like Son

Tonight's Los Angeles Dodgers starting lineup includes 4 players whose fathers played in the Major Leagues: Dee Gordon (Tom), Tony Gwynn Jr. (Tony), Jerry Hairston Jr. (Jerry), and Scott Van Slyke (Andy). Hairston Jr.'s grandfather Sam also played in the Majors. Also on the Dodgers current roster are Iván DeJesús Jr. and Justin Sellers, whose fathers also played in the Major Leagues. So we could get up to 6 chips off the old block in a starting lineup at once. I wonder what the record is?

Nontrivial Pursuit

One of my Somerville students has borrowed one of my Trivial Pursuit sets so that he and some other students can use it to turn their studying into a game using the flash cards they created for mathematics and computer science. So instead of categories like "Arts & Entertainment" and "Sports & Leisure", the categories are now things like "Calculus", "Concurrency", and "Analysis". I approve!

Maybe this new game should be called "Nontrivial Pursuit"?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"Being a Professional Mathematician"

Tony Mann of University of Greenwich has conducted a very nice "Being a Professional Mathematician" project. I participated in this, and you can find my entry and interview on this page.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Saved Games and Dating

This demotivational poster is of questionable taste, but it's really funny. (Or, if you prefer, I can just call this my "simile of the day".)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Version Numbers of Documents

I started numbering the initial drafts of my papers using 00 (instead of, say, 1) a long time ago, but today I sunk to a new low: I not only gave a paper a negative version number, which I have actually done before, but I gave it a negative and noninteger version number.

Of course, from a mathematical point of view, this isn't technically a new low, as it is version -0.5 and I have had a version -1 on other papers.

Also, the reason I use 00 instead of 0 is in anticipation of needing double digits and wanting the alphabetization to work correctly.

Update (5/25/12): Ernie Barreto challenged me in a comment in my Facebook post on this topic to use complex numbers in my version numbers. Challenge accepted. John Meacham reminded me of Knuth's up-arrow notation, and by looking that up, I learned for the first time that iterated exponentiation is called "tetration". That last fact alone is worth the entire Facebook post. (P.S. Now that it is 25 May, be it known that it is now Towel Day.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Google Doodle of the Day: Moog Synthesizer

This rocks.

Takes from the ArXiv: Modelling Roulette

There is a new paper on the arXiv preprint server that models outcomes in Roulette. This might be of interest to several of you. I can certainly think of people in OCIAM who I think would get a kick out of this problem.

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

Monday, May 21, 2012

Famous Inboxes

In you you ever wondered what e-mail messages characters like Hamlet, R2D2, or Napoleon Bonaparte might receive, then the blog Famous Inboxes is for you.

This is pretty cool!

(Tip of the cap to Keith Fraser.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Broadcaster Mash-Up

The Orioles and Nationals did something very cool for their interleague series. Namely, the broadcast booth included announcers from both teams. I would like to see more of that in baseball games (as long as Vin Scully gets to continue to announce alone, of course!).

Also, I am watching the Giants game, and injured closer Brian Wilson visited with the Giants broadcasters for a couple of innings. Wilson was highly amusing.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Essence of Science

As Richard Feynman explains in this 63-second video, "If it disagrees with experiment, it's wrong." This quote, by the way, doesn't do justice to Feynman's emphatic explanation, as he makes some other statements around that one that are simplify and profoundly correct. You really should watch the video.

(Tip of the cap to whoever posts on Facebook for Cornell University's official account.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

"In the Event of a Moon Disaster"

Wow. Take a look at this letter, which was written in case of a disaster regarding landing the first people on the moon. It was never used. This is an amazing read.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Social Structure of Facebook Networks"

My "data dump" paper on Facebook networks is finally out in final form (including page numbers and all of the trimmings). Here is some information about it.

Title: Social Structure of Facebook Networks

Authors: Amanda L. Traud, Peter J. Mucha, and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: We study the social structure of Facebook ‘‘friendship’’ networks at one hundred American colleges and universities at a single point in time, and we examine the roles of user attributes – gender, class year, major, high school, and residence – at these institutions. We investigate the influence of common attributes at the dyad level in terms of assortativity coefficients and regression models. We then examine larger-scale groupings by detecting communities algorithmically and comparing them to network partitions based on user characteristics. We thereby examine the relative importance of different characteristics at different institutions, finding for example that common high school is more important to the social organization of large institutions and that the importance of common major varies significantly between institutions. Our calculations illustrate how microscopic and macroscopic perspectives give complementary insights on the social organization at universities and suggest future studies to investigate such phenomena further.

The Before-Math and the After-Math

The before-math is rarely ever as good as the after-math (pun intended).

What Happens in The Other Place Stays in The Other Place

Just for variety, I am going to go to High Table in The Other Place tonight. Then I will be giving a talk at Cambridge Networks Day tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Animal Photobombs!

Some of these animal photobombs are really sweet! (I've seen a couple of them before, but it's nice to have a collection of them in one spot.)

(Tip of the cap to Sammy Kline.)

Reviving an Old Tradition

This article includes the following line:

We were interested to note that at the time, the leading scientific figures did not hesitate to criticise each other publicly in vitriolic terms that would certainly be deemed inappropriate in our modern society.

I assure you that I would never do anything of the sort. ;)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why is it Called "Common" Sense?

I'm just saying...

Why Can't it Just be Labeled "Soap"?

I just went to quickly buy some shampoo, and I am continually frustrated by the fact that there seem to be millions of different products with names like "bathing cream" and the like that I fundamentally don't understand. Then when I look at the descriptions, I read how it's supposed to reduce my stress, make me relax, and so on. I don't see any descriptions about how it's supposed to make me clean, which is why I want to buy the bloody thing in the first place! There are just all these damn words I don't understand and with long, meaningless descriptions that don't explain anything ("full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"). I can't tell which product is which. Grrr. Why can't it just be labeled "soap"?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Maybe He Got Lessons from Crash Davis?

Given the contents of that John Axford left for the media as he dashed off to be with his wife (who went into labor), I think he might have taken some lessons from Crash Davis. And if this allusion doesn't make sense to you, then go and watch Bull Durham as soon as possible!

(Tip of the cap to whoever does the Facebook posts for Major League Baseball.)

"Tic Tac" is "Kit Kat" Pronounced Sideways

Hmmm... "Tic Tac" is just "Kit Kat" pronounced sideways.

It's too bad that it isn't "Tik Tak", as then it would be spelled sideways as well.

Quick Baseball Update

The Dodgers now have a 6-game lead!!!!

And in other baseball news:

(1) It's great to see Adam Dunn back to normal.

(2) It's about time that we start using the adjective "future Hall-of-Famer" in front of Carlos Beltran.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bizarre Game

I watched the first game in today's double-header between the Orioles and the Rangers, and this was a rather bizarre game. The Orioles became the first American League team ever to start a game with 3 consecutive homeruns. In fact, all five of their hits were homers and Rangers starter Colby Lewis set careers in both homers allowed (5) and strikeouts (12). Baseball never ceases to amaze me.

The Physics of Spilling Coffee While Walking

Yes, that's right. A paper about walking and spilling coffee just got published in Physical Review E. Huzzah!

(Tip of the cap to whoever posts Facebook items for the American Physical Society, though note that I decided to post the abstract rather than the link they posted.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Its Chief Law is Increase of Entropy... Just Increase of Entropy

It's now May 10th in my time zone, so here goes [and in honor of today's Statistical Mechanics consultation session]...

NOBODY expects Thermodynamics! Its chief law is increase of entropy...increase of entropy and transitivity of thermal equilibrium...thermal equilibrium transitivity and entropy increase.... Its two laws are transitivity of thermal equilibrium and increase of entropy...and conservation of energy.... Its three laws are thermal equilibrium transitivity, entropy increase, and energy conservation...and the fact that entropy approaches a constant value at a temperature of absolute zero.... Its Amongst its laws.... Amongst its laws...are such elements as transitivity of thermal equilibrium, increase of entropy.... I'll come in again.

(Bows and exits)

Today --- by which I , of course, mean after I wake up --- I am running a consultation session for my Statistical Mechanics course, so I figured that this would be an appropriate way to celebrate International Monty Python Day. (Yes, this is mostly redundant, but I'll just go with it.)

How Convenient!

Apparently, my brain is now automatically filtering out the parts of messages that indicate the only possibility for certain meetings is in the morning, thereby saving my conscious mind from needing to be aware of such horrible possibilities.

This is possibly very convenient! :P

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Order and Disorder in Pastry Displays

Perhaps strange dreams beget strange ideas, and here's my idea for the day.

I was at Green's Cafe today, and I noticed that the ordering of the pastries in their display case differs from day to day. And this makes me ask: Is it better strategically to do this (perhaps so people think there is more variety than there actually is?) or is it better to go with regularity and put everything --- when it's in stock --- in basically the same place every day. Also, it might be interesting to come up with a mathematical model of this. Do any of you have any thoughts on whether order or disorder is better in this situation? (Also, I'm guessing that the model would have a phase transition between a region in which the pastries should be ordered and one in which disorder ought to be favorable.)

Monday, May 07, 2012

"Every Major's Terrible"

As today's xkcd points out, every major's terrible (as sung to the tune of "Modern Major General" or, if you prefer, "The Elements").

Though I think applied mathematics is awesome, as I haven't ever had to decide what subject I study. :)

(Tip of the cap to Joe Blitzstein.)

Research Buzzword Cloud: 2012 Edition

Here is a research buzzword cloud, which I just created from my freshly updated research synopsis page. I used Wordle to create this piece of art. (Well, it's a piece of something. I like to think of it as art.)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The "Atlas of True Names"

As this blog entry points out, the Atlas of True Names is awesome.

Imagine if places had names based on their original meaning---names like Land of the Red People, United States of the Home Ruler, Sibling Love, Virgin's Land, City of Many Fish, Island by a Strait, Cape of Strangers, Fire Cleared Land, Currentown, Land of Calves, Land of 40 Tribes, River that Flows into the Sand, Minor Farm, Long Beach (oh wait...), Meeting Place, Bay by the Stranger's Fort, and Land of the Rebellious One. Wouldn't that be great?

(Tip of the cap to Ernie Barreto, though I technically saw this through his comment on a post by Bert Vaux, who was giving a hat tip to Ernie.)