Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tales from the ArXiv: Lovecraftian Edition

Sometimes a new paper on the ArXiv catches my eye, and this one, which has fittingly been posted on Halloween, certainly fits the bill. Indeed, this paper is rather Lovecraftian.

My favorite line from the abstract is the following: We propose a simplified example of such a geometry, and show using numerical computation that Johansen's descriptions were, for the most part, not simply the ravings of a lunatic.

Here are some more article details.

Title: Possible Bubbles of Spacetime Curvature in the South Pacific

Author: Benjamin K. Tippett

Abstract: In 1928, the late Francis Wayland Thurston published a scandalous manuscript in purport of warning the world of a global conspiracy of occultists. Among the documents he gathered to support his thesis was the personal account of a sailor by the name of Gustaf Johansen, describing an encounter with an extraordinary island. Johansen`s descriptions of his adventures upon the island are fantastic, and are often considered the most enigmatic (and therefore the highlight) of Thurston`s collection of documents.

We contend that all of the credible phenomena which Johansen described may be explained as being the observable consequences of a localized bubble of spacetime curvature. Many of his most incomprehensible statements (involving the geometry of the architecture, and variability of the location of the horizon) can therefore be said to have a unified underlying cause.

We propose a simplified example of such a geometry, and show using numerical computation that Johansen`s descriptions were, for the most part, not simply the ravings of a lunatic. Rather, they are the nontechnical observations of an intelligent man who did not understand how to describe what he was seeing. Conversely, it seems to us improbable that Johansen should have unwittingly given such a precise description of the consequences of spacetime curvature, if the details of this story were merely the dregs of some half remembered fever dream.

We calculate the type of matter which would be required to generate such exotic spacetime curvature. Unfortunately, we determine that the required matter is quite unphysical, and possess a nature which is entirely alien to all of the experiences of human science. Indeed, any civilization with mastery over such matter would be able to construct warp drives, cloaking devices, and other exotic geometries required to conveniently travel through the cosmos.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pretty Please?

I cannot overstate how much I agree with this article urging Tim McCarver to retire (though I'm sure that McCarver could). I've been ranting about his crappy announcing for more than 2 decades.

And this guy won the Hall of Fame's award for broadcasters...? Groaaaaaan.

Singularity Chess

This blog post about a game called "Singularity Chess" makes me want to think about chess in all sorts of spaces. :)

(Tip of the cap to Carlos Castillo-Chavez.)


It's time to start nurblizing! (Take a look at the new issue of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal to see what I mean.)

For shits and giggles, I decided to try this on my research synopsis webpage, and the result is pretty damn amusing. Hence, I claim that nurbled academic text can be at least as amusing as nurbled political speeches.

How to Eat a Triceratops

In case you and your fellow t-rexes want to learn how to eat a triceratops, then you should take a look at this article.

(Tip of the cap to "I Fucking Love Science".)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Beautiful Visualization of the Time Evolution of Ideology in the United States Congress

This visualization of the time evolution of ideology in the United States Congress, which constitutes today's xckd, is absolutely gorgeous.

(It reminds me of a visualization that Jim Moody and my collaborator Peter Mucha are publishing in the journal "Network Science". I don't think they have posted that one on a website yet. It also reminds me of Martin Rosvall's "alluvial diagrams".)

The calculations of political ideology were done using DW-Nominate, by the way. I am biased, but I happen to know of a better method to do this. :)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Damnit, It's Cold.

Damnit, it's cold.

This message was brought to you by Expats for Warmer Weather (EWW), which has possibly the best acronym ever.


Wow, Oxford Playhouse sure gives a lot of choices for what title I should use.

This is really difficult: I can't decide between "The Very Revere", "Crown Prince", and "Chief Constable"

Friday, October 26, 2012

Statistical Mechanics on the BBC

On my blog for my statistical mechanics course I have posted links to two new BBC popular documentaries on statistical mechanics. I have not watched them, so let me know what you think of them.

(Tip of the cap to Mark Wilkinson, who is my TA for the course.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Science of Joy Division

Well here's something really cool: the cover of Joy Division's album Unknown Pleasures has visualization of astronomical data has its inspiration. That is just way cool!

(Tip of the cap to Mariano Beguerisse Díaz.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Biological Sweets

Trust the biologically minded to design desserts like this. Make sure to enjoy it while cuddling up to your favorite plush microbe, although these desserts (though awesome) are still not as cool as my student's geeky Karate Cake.

(Tip of the cap to Iain Macmillan.)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Imprisoning Them with Science?

I've heard of being blinded with science, but this verdict in Italy that has ruled guilt and calls for associated imprisonment of scientists for their failure to predict an earthquake is just absurd.

Alright, follow scientists. You better choose things like your ensemble of initial conditions really well from now on! Otherwise you might be in big trouble...

(Tip of the cap to DJ Patil.)

Physics and Baseball

Well, those are certainly two of my favorite subjects! Check out these 5000 frame-per-second videos highlighting some fantastic physics (with accompanying explanations) of contact between bats and balls.

(Tip of the cap to Michael Woods.)

Update (10/23/12): And on that note, take a look at the video in this article. The bat and ball contacted each other 3 times!

"Kitiporn" and Strange Fruit

The scientist discussed in this entry at the Improbable Research blog has the last name "Kitiporn" (which you want to pronounce without fully enunciating the 't').

Diffusion of Swear Words in Japan

An article published last year in Physical Review E analyzes the diffusion of swear words in Japan. (This is not obvious from the abstract, so take a look at the .pdf file if you have institutional access to the journal.)

Here is a brief excerpt: The most beautiful example of Yanagita’s theory is the distribution of swear words. The Japanese are not known for their frequent use of swear words, but if you nevertheless are cursed at by someone with baka (∼stupid person), the one you are having trouble with is probably from Tokyo. If you instead hear aho (∼dumb), he or she is most likely from the Kyoto-Osaka area. The confrontation between these two swear words is so clear that it is considered by the people as a part of the competition between the two major cultural centers.

(Tip of the cap to Sang Hoon Lee.)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Baseball's Comeback Players of the Year

Buster Posey and Fernando Rodney have been named Major League Baseball's comeback players of the year. Posey won in the National League, and Rodney won in the American League. Both are good choices, though I think Adam Dunn would have been a better choice in the AL (as he returned to a level reasonably close to his previous heights after a historically bad 2011 season).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Punk Music and a Mathematics Seminar

My knowledge of early new wave and late punk music in the UK finally helped me understand a slide in a mathematics seminar!

(This actually happened last week, but I forgot to post it.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Powers of Ten

Here is Steve Strogatz's latest article in the New York Times, and it's one of the best newspaper articles he's ever written (which is saying a lot).

The article concerns attempting to make sense of scales, and it includes an awesome old video (which I had either never seen before or had forgotten --- most likely, the latter, because in retrospect it does seem a bit familiar) about scaling up many powers of 10 and then down many powers of 10. The total span is 40 orders of magnitude, and this video is really excellent at conveying intuition about them. Truly fantastic. (I also noticed that the video includes what appears to be an inter-racial couple, which is also notable given when that the video was produced in 1977.)

One thing of which this video reminded me is the old Disneyland ride Adventure Thru Inner Space, which was my favorite ride at Disneyland. That ride tried to convey the idea of progressively smaller scales by "shrinking" the riders more and more as they go inside a snowflake. (It was one of the major things from my past that inspired me towards my career path.) The narration in the "Powers of Ten" video has a similar style as what I remember from "Adventures Thru Inner Space". I didn't like it when Disneyland dumped that ride and didn't ever want to go back after that. (I guess both my enjoyment of that particular ride and my reaction at its being dumped shows that I haven't changed much in two very important respects since 1985!)

"Influence of Network Topology on Sound Propagation in Granular Materials"

One of my papers just came out today. Here are the details.

Title: Influence of Network Topology on Sound Propagation in Granular Materials

Authors: Danielle S. Bassett, Eli T. Owens, Karen E. Daniels, and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: Granular media, whose features range from the particle scale to the force-chain scale and the bulk scale, are usually modeled as either particulate or continuum materials. In contrast with each of these approaches, network representations are natural for the simultaneous examination of microscopic, mesoscopic, and macroscopic features. In this paper, we treat granular materials as spatially embedded networks in which the nodes (particles) are connected by weighted edges obtained from contact forces.We test a variety of network measures to determine their utility in helping to describe sound propagation in granular networks and find that network diagnostics can be used to probe particle-, curve-, domain-, and system-scale structures in granular media. In particular, diagnostics of mesoscale network structure are reproducible across experiments, are correlated with sound propagation in this medium, and can be used to identify potentially interesting size scales. We also demonstrate that the sensitivity of network diagnostics depends on the phase of sound propagation. In the injection phase, the signal propagates systemically, as indicated by correlations with the network diagnostic of global efficiency. In the scattering phase, however, the signal is better predicted by mesoscale community structure, suggesting that the acoustic signal scatters over local geographic neighborhoods. Collectively, our results demonstrate how the force network of a granular system is imprinted on transmitted waves.

As a side note, my friend and coauthor Karen Daniels and I have talked about various scientific things on and off for over a decade since we were grad students together at Cornell. This is the first paper we've published together.

What Happens in Manchester Stays in Manchester (Take 2)

I am in Manchester to give a talk in the physics department tomorrow. Sorry, but this post isn't going to be terribly exciting. :)

It's the second time I have spoken to a group in physics here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fastest E-Mailer in the West

I received an e-mail at "Mon, 15 Oct 2012 22:00:53 +0100"

I responded at "Mon, 15 Oct 2012 22:01:13 +0100" [20 seconds later]

31 seconds later, I received a reply of "No one should reply to emails that fast."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Drugs and Self-Portraits

I don't recommend trying this at home, but I have to say that this art project is damn clever (though also damn stupid). Bryan Lewis Saunder would take some sort of drug and then draw a portrait of himself while under its influence. It is very interesting to compare the different pictures.

(Tip of the cap to Alexander Morisse.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Gibbsian Botching

I just saw my favorite botched reference of all time: "[21] Mason A. Porter, Jukka-pekka Onnela, Peter J Mucha, and Josiah Willard Gibbs. Communities in Networks. Notices of the AMS, 56(9), 2009."

As I wrote to the author: So, while I appreciate having an eminent scientist like Josiah as a coauthor, he died almost 73 years before I was born, so I'm afraid this reference has a slight bug in it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Politicians Versus Hedgehogs

Clearly, you want to vote for hedgehogs. I know I do!

(Tip of the cap to Dave Fallon.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded for Measurements on Individual Quantum Systems

I should have written a brief blog entry yesterday when the announcement was made, but here it is now.

Serge Haroche and Dave Wineland have won the physics Nobel Prize in 2012 for pioneering experiments that measure single quantum systems. This is important for quantum computing, among other things. John Preskill has described some of their work in this blog entry.

On my end, I'm happy to see a Nobel Prize for this topic (go quantum mechanics!) instead of particle physics and other things of that ilk. :)

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

"Dangerous Intersections"

Steve Strogatz's latest article in the New York Times concerns the fold catastrophe and its manifestation---quantitatively in some cases and in toy models in others---in various phenomena. (By the way, the example in footnote 10 is something that occurs in many of the threshold models of social influence that have become increasingly popular since a paper Duncan Watts published in 2002.)

(Tip of the cap to Mariano Beguerisse Díaz.)

Ohio State Marching Band Plays Video Games

In a recent halftime show, the marching band from The Ohio State University---notice the 'The'!---had a video-game-themed performance. The video is a bit long (about 9 minutes), but it's pretty awesome.

(Tip of the cap to Prista Charuworn.)

Monday, October 08, 2012

"Generalized Master Equations for Non-Poisson Dynamics on Networks"

Here is one of my papers that has just appeared in final form today:

Title: Generalized Master Equations for Non-Poisson Dynamics on Networks

Authors: Till Hoffmann, Mason A. Porter, and Renaud Lambiotte

Abstract: The traditional way of studying temporal networks is to aggregate the dynamics of the edges to create a static weighted network. This implicitly assumes that the edges are governed by Poisson processes, which is not typically the case in empirical temporal networks. Accordingly, we examine the effects of non-Poisson inter-event statistics on the dynamics of edges, and we apply the concept of a generalized master equation to the study of continuous-time random walks on networks. We show that this equation reduces to the standard rate equations when the underlying process is Poissonian and that its stationary solution is determined by an effective transition matrix whose leading eigenvector is easy to calculate. We conduct numerical simulations and also derive analytical results for the stationary solution under the assumption that all edges have the same waiting-time distribution. We discuss the implications of our work for dynamical processes on temporal networks and for the construction of network diagnostics that take into account their nontrivial stochastic nature.

"Dynamical Clustering of Exchange Rates"

This paper is another one of those papers that my collaborators and I submitted to a journal a long time ago (in this case, in spring 2009) that has only now appeared in final form. Hence, although it's a new paper in some sense of the word, it certainly doesn't feel new. Here are some details:

Title: Dynamical Clustering of Exchange Rates

Authors: Daniel J. Fenn, Mason A. Porter, Peter J. Mucha, Mark McDonald, Stacy Williams, Neil F. Johnson, and Nick S. Jones

Abstract: We use techniques from network science to study correlations in the foreign exchange (FX) market during the period 1991–2008. We consider an FX market network in which each node represents an exchange rate and each weighted edge represents a time-dependent correlation between the rates. To provide insights into the clustering of the exchange-rate time series, we investigate dynamic communities in the network. We show that there is a relationship between an exchange rate’s functional role within the market and its position within its community and use a node-centric community analysis to track the temporal dynamics of such roles. This reveals which exchange rates dominate the market at particular times and also identifies exchange rates that experienced significant changes in market role. We also use the community dynamics to uncover major structural changes that occurred in the FX market. Our techniques are general and will be similarly useful for investigating correlations in other markets.

Note: I know I have brought this one up before in my blog and it did appear online after dealing with page proofs a couple of months ago, but it now has page numbers, etc.

The Innocence of Youth

I just overheard one of the new Somerville freshers mentioning how he was planning to only work from 9 to 5 and see how that works for him.

Ah, the innocence and naivety of youth!

While I was there, my thought process went as follows: Try to keep a straight face. Try to keep a straight face. Try not to burst out laughing. Try to keep a straight face. Try to keep a straight face. Try to keep a straight face.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

A Geometry Theorem and Interpretative Dance

Here is an excellent entry for the 'Dance Your PhD' contest that illustrates a new theorem from geometry.

(Tip of the cap to Kreso Josic. [Note: Kreso has accents in his name, but I don't feel like looking up the html codes for them today.])

Friday, October 05, 2012

Yup. I've Done That. :)

Well, I didn't use experimental equipment---as depicted in this comic strip (well, comic panel)---but when I was in graduate school, I did take advantage of being a seminar-series organizer and thereby having access to a video projector by bringing my Nintendo 64 to campus for the purpose of playing big-screen Mario Kart. :) So I highly approve of this comic strip!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Birthday Problem with Johnny Carson

Steve Strogatz writes about "the birthday problem" and Johnny Carson's attempt to discuss it on "The Tonight Show" in 1980 in his latest article in the New York Times.

A Short Baseball Round-Up

The regular season ended yesterday.

I watched a bunch of the Rangers-Athletics game, and the Rangers finished their implosion with a wretched game yesterday that allowed Oakland to leapfrog them for the AL West title. Texas is still a wildcard team, which---with the new format this year---really is much worse than winning a division (and that is why I like this change).

Baltimore has made the postseason as the other AL wildcard team.

Miguel Cabrera won the first hitters Triple Crown since 1967 (making it the first in my lifetime), though Mike Trout deserves the MVP by a mile over Cabrera. It is extremely awesome that Cabrera got the Triple Crown---which one gets by leading a league or tying for a league lead in each of homeruns, RBIs, and batting average---but his season still comes nowhere close to the one Trout had. Trout will obviously win the AL Rookie of the Year Award---his season was probably the best rookie season ever---but he deserves the MVP as well (and, again, nobody else is anywhere close).

As expected, adding a second wildcard and making the battle between wildcard pairs in each league 1 and gone (i.e., a one-game playoff for a chance to advance to a Division Series) has really improved things massively.

The Red Sox fired Bobby Valentine today. I am shocked. SHOCKED, I say :) That marriage was doomed from day 1. (Additionally, the Red Sox finished in last place in an utterly disastrous season. It was their worst season in a very long time.)

(Sorry for not putting links to player stats and articles and so on, but I am feeling really overwhelmed right now and need to get back to other things, so I'm going to forego them this time.)

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Quote of the Day: Cardinality Edition

I uttered this gem today: There are infinitely many methods, more than half of which have not yet been discovered.

I accidentally made this comment earlier today, and this is perhaps one of the most brilliant things I've ever said. (I guess I was just channelling my inner Yogi Berra?)

In the UK applied mathematics community, such things are sometimes called "colemanballs".

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

What Happens in Glasgow Stays in Glasgow

I am currently in Glasgow to visit University of Strathclyde's math department.

You know you're in Scotland when you hear comments like "I'll put that in a wee plate for you."

Update (7/01/14): I think I neglected to post my pictures from Glasgow.

Headline: Math Professor Strips Naked and is Escorted to the Hospital by Police

Greg Fricke posted this article on my timeline about a Michigan State University mathematics professor who stripped naked in class and started cussing madly.

Greg used this text with the post: I'm comforted by the knowledge that, when you go crazy, you at least will not strip naked (and the profanity laced rants will certainly be much more creative and snarky).

Notice the use of the word "when" rather than "if". When he posted that on my timeline, the first thing I did was open up the article and see if the dude is somebody I know (he isn't).

Clearly, I am a ticking time bomb. (And also a GOLDEN GOD!!!!) And, yes, if I ever truly go off the deep end, I definitely plan to keep my clothes on.

D4D Challenge

Do you want to study a huge mobile phone data set? Well, if you write a 250-word abstract quickly and you get chosen as one of the lucky winners (based on your proposal), then here's your chance.

This is a very cool idea, and I like the idea of this kind of challenge very much. If one or more of my group members or collaborators wants to do this, then I will help him/her/them, but when there are too many cooks stirring the pot (as there are with mobile phone data), I usually steer myself towards other research directions. I do have a paper that uses data from the NetFlix Prize competition, but my collaborators and I studied used the data to study human dynamics and generative/rewiring mechanisms for networks for their own sake rather than practical things.

(Tip of the cap to Lada Adamic.)