Friday, December 28, 2012

Writers and Voting for Baseball's Hall of Fame

T. J. Quinn has written a very nice and intelligent article about why he has given up his annual vote for Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. I approve!

"The Nonsense Math Effect"

Courtesy of the Annals of Improbable Research, here is a discussion of the nonsense math effect. That is really depressing...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Strange But True

Jayson Stark has posted his annual strange-but-true article for the 2012 Major League Baseball season. I haven't yet read the whole article, but my favorite snippet thus far is this one: But that wasn't even the Rockies' Strangest But Truest Feat of the Year. Thanks to an innovative team rule limiting all starting pitchers to 75 pitches, they didn't have a single pitcher on the roster who even threw 115 innings. And how many teams since 1900 could say that? Zero, of course -- including strike years!

That's pretty damn impressive!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Newton's Laws Still Work

I have once again tested Newton's laws of motion (though not in as dramatic a fashion as at the 2004 American Physical Society March Meeting). Yup, they still work.

Stupid wall. That was supposed to be an open passageway.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Darkened Cities

Thierry Cohen has produced some awesome pictures of what a few cities would look like if they didn't have human-made lights. I especially appreciate the pictures of Shanghai to compare to my memories and pictures of the place.

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

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sequel to "Who's on First?"

And now, for your listening (and viewing) pleasure, here is a sequel to "Who's on First" starting Jimmy Fallon, Billy Crystal, and Jerry Seinfeld. I approve!

Where have you gone, Chin Lung Hu?

Friday, December 21, 2012

I am a Selective Luddite

As some of you know, I am a luddite when it comes to cell phones. I don't want one, and I do my best not to have one. I had one for the first half of 2003 when I lived in Berkeley because it was the only chance of having a private phone number. I was living in the room of somebody else's house, and my landlady's 98-year-old mother apparently was quite a fan of answering the phone and talking to people. The mother was a nice lady --- she once asked me if my family went back to "The War", by which she meant the civil war --- but she wasn't particularly coherent and I figured there would be massive communication problems if I didn't get a phone.

Now here I am 10 years later spending 4 months in Palo Alto for my sabbatical. I again don't have access to a landline and I plan to hang out a lot with my friends --- that is why I chose to spend my sabbatical in Palo Alto, after all --- so I've gotten a phone to use for the next 4 months.

And just to prove I am a selective luddite, once 4 months have passed, I am going to drop my new phone off of the top of a very tall building. I might as well make it literal.

2013 American Mathematical Society Prizes

The 2013 American Mathematical Society have been announced. I don't remember seeing them announced this much before the Joint Mathematics Meetings before.

There are some winners from the home team (by which I mean dynamical systems). Yasha Sinai won the Steele Prize for lifetime achievement, and John Guckenheimer and Phil Holmes received the Steele Prize in exposition for their famous book (which continues to be a useful reference for researchers several decades after its release). Very nice and richly deserved!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cool Shirts and Cookie Monster Hat

I am extremely amused by this pirate crossword shirt. There are quite a few other cool shirts on this page, where you can also see an awesome Cookie Monster hat.

She Fucking Loves Science

Elise Andrew has done a huge amount good for science outreach with her Facebook page called "I Fucking Love Science". (I am a subscriber and I enjoy many of the posts, but I am particularly pleased with its outreach success.) You can read more about it in this article.

Tip of the cap to I Fucking Love Science.

Tales from the ArXiv: "Cool for Cats"

This paper, which is about Schrödinger cat states, is called "Cool for Cats". I approve!

(I considered telling a similar joke in a paper once, but the pun didn't quite work, and I found a different one that worked better.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Happens in Palo Alto Stays in Palo Alto

I am on sabbatical, and I will be spending the bulk of it based in Palo Alto. I'll have a desk to use in Stanford's math department and I'm sure there will be good collaboration (including with friends), but the main thing is to spend some quality time with some of my favorite people.

I'm in a bit of a dark mood at the moment, but I think that's mostly because of not eating or sleeping enough yesterday. At least I can recognize that this is where my sour mood comes from, though unfortunately that doesn't prevent my mind from taking dark turns.

But enough of that! Tomorrow morning I am going to fly to Palo Alto and start hanging with my friends. I could mention names (and I am thinking of you fondly right now) but you know who you are, so you don't need me to tell you that. And even though I am not in a good mood as I write this and of course jetlag is going to kick my ass (as it always does), I'm really looking forward to spending 4 months with a home base near my friends. And, obviously, it will be very nice to be able to spend a lot of time with them in person instead of just communicating electronically.

I'm going to be with my peeps! Bring it on!

P.S. This is blog entry number 3000. I write a lot of text.

Update (12/19/12): Not so much an update but more of a glaring omission in the text above. I will be based in Palo Alto through 18 April.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"The Extraordinary SVD"

The final version of my article The Extraordinary SVD is now out.

Title: The Extraordinary SVD

Authors: Carla D. Martin and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: The singular value decomposition (SVD) is a popular matrix factorization that has been used widely in applications ever since an efficient algorithm for its computation was developed in the 1970s. In recent years, the SVD has become even more prominent due to a surge in applications and increased computational memory and speed. To illustrate the vitality of the SVD in data analysis, we highlight three of its lesser-known yet fascinating applications. The SVD can be used to characterize political positions of congressmen, measure the growth rate of crystals in igneous rock, and examine entanglement in quantum computation. We also discuss higher-dimensional generalizations of the SVD, which have become increasingly crucial with the newfound wealth of multidimensional data, and have launched new research initiatives in both theoretical and applied mathematics. With its bountiful theory and applications, the SVD is truly extraordinary.

Distribution Plushies

Those of you who are not satisfied with plush microbes or plush fundamental particles might be interested in buying statistical distribution plushies, because those are also pretty cool.

Personally, I would love to have some plushies of fundamental particles (I don't have any yet) or of microbes (I recently received a bookworm, a brain cell, and a neuron as a gift).

(Tip of the cap to Joe Blitzstein and some of the people who have commented on his Facebook post. The person who posted the specific link above for the distribution plushies is Miruna Antonia.)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Parties and Alienation

I went to our math department's Christmas party for 5 minutes but then left because of the Christmas music. I was going to try to pretend that it was not for a specific holiday that is somebody else's and celebrate the end of term with my colleagues, but the Christmas music to go with everything else makes it impossible for me, so I felt the need to leave because it was starting to make me angry. There's just no point in staying when it makes me feel alienated and angry. (And it's not even that I don't like any Christmas songs --- there are, in fact, a couple that I like a lot --- but the whole feeling of inundation is something I can do without.)

Sorry if that's my flaw and nothing more (I know this bothers others less than me), but it remains true that this makes it so that I should leave. A holiday party isn't about feeling alienated. So it's best that I left.

I will get some more work done instead, and I'll celebrate with my colleagues another time.

And I will also calm down and return to my feelings of placidity.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Achievement Unlocked: Break Expedia's Shortest-Path Algorithm

No, Expedia, if I try to go between Ithaca and Newark with stops first to Philadelphia and then to Boston, it is not ok to insist that I do Ithaca->Newark->other city->Philadelphia when I try to go directly from Ithaca to Philly.

Actually, there was additional shortest-path failing besides that (like insisting that particular direct flights that exist for some searches don't exist for others).

Expedia really needs to hire some graph theorists!

After several failed attempts and significant frustration, I basically went and bought the tickets I wanted with Orbitz instead.

Anyway, this is what I get for trying to arrange an SFO -> Clarkson -> Cornell -> Rutgers -> SFO trip, because all three of those colleges are in the middle of bloody nowhere, except with slightly different nowheres. (That said, I am very excited about this academic trip. I will visit collaborators at Clarkson, I will be starting at a collaboration at Rutgers, and I will be visiting Cornell for the first time since I left when I graduated and will be giving a talk in the colloquium for the program from which I graduated. Awesome!)

A Mathematical Name

Another one of my former students just became a father. As he writes, Kallisti Lemma [last name] was born at 11:41 PM CST on December 6, 2012 weighing in at 9 lbs 5 oz and 22 inches long.

Notice the middle name. It compelled me include the following sentence in my response: If/when Kallisti gets a younger sibling, presumably the middle name is going to be "Theorem"? Apparently, other people have suggested names like "Corolloary" and "Proposition" for future siblings.

The story behind the name is very cool. The mathematics connection is there and that was one reason why my former student really liked it, but it started from a honeymoon in Greece, the original name of Santorini being Kallisti (which means "the loveliest"), and the name "Lemma" (which in Greek means "something received, such as a gift") from a section on antiquated names from a book of names. (My former student's name apparently likes antiquated names.)

Anyway, I think this is extremely cool!

Tales from the ArXiv: Daft Punk and Ultracold Atoms

The title of this article has a nice allusion to Daft Punk. The title is Production of quantum degenerate strontium gases: Larger, better, faster, colder. Nice!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Dodgers Sign Free Agent Zack Greinke!

The Dodgers have won the Zack Greinke sweepstakes. They have agreed with him on a 6-year deal worth a reported $147 million.

Notice, by the way, that I didn't refer to Greinke as an "ace" pitcher, because on our team he is #2 in the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw.

Now let's see if we can also sign Hyun Jin Ryu. Then we're really have a starting rotation to be feared...

Update: And we managed to sign Ryu before today's 5pm eastern time deadline. Fear our starting rotation!

Update (12/10/12): In other baseball news, the Rays and Royals made a big trade. "Big Game" James Shields, Wade Davis, and a player to be named later are going to the Royals, and top prospect Wil Myers (who is awesome), a good pitching prospect, and other minor leaguers are going to the Rays. Myers should be in the lineup this year and start mashing immediately.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Apocalypse Later

I know the poster suggests that it's been cancelled, but maybe it's only been postponed?

Friday, December 07, 2012

Maps and Wallpaper

The online store Nornob has a very cool product: one can use a map from any zip code for wallpaper design. Sweet!

(Tip of the cap to Jimmy Lin.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

"Geometric Cohesion in Granular Materials"

I just read a really fascinating expository article called "Geometric Cohesion in Granular Materials". It concerns how the shape of granular materials can make them stick together. A good example is clumping in staples. Way cool!

Monday, December 03, 2012


This article about Alex Rodriguez's missing the first half of the 2013 Baseball season due to injury includes the term "pre-rehabilitation", which has got to be just about the most retarded 'word' ever.

I tried to figure out via google if that monstrosity is a real word, and the main thing I found out is that Clemson University offers a degree in "Prerehabilitation Sciences".

I know, I know: I am a grammar Nazi. Guilty as charged.

Veterans Committee Elects New Baseball Hall of Famers

That is news in and of itself, given how much of an epic failure the Veterans Committee has become.

The committee actually managed to elect three new Hall of Famers: former owner Jacob Rupert, longtime umpire Hank O'Day, and catcher Deacon White.

(Oh, the ESPN article states that the name "Veterans Committee" has actually been canned. I hadn't realized that.)