Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Porter. Mason Porter."

Through a stray Google search during a spare few minutes, I found episode 16 of an audio drama called Action Science Theatre.

This episode contains a spy named "Mason Porter" and has three mathematics-related tags (math, maths, and catastrophe theory). The brief 'explanation' of catastrophe theory in the episode is ok but not quite right. It is amusing, though, that their brief discussion of catastrophe theory is reminiscent of the more science-fictiony aspects of catastrophe theory that were hyped for years. (In Vladimir Arnold's book on catastrophe theory, he has some very snarky things to say about that with respect to the work of René Thom.)

Here are few lines from this episode:

The character with my name, who is a spy who works for British Intelligence: "Let me introduce myself. [...ominous music...] Porter. Mason Porter."

Main character (the mathematician): "What? Really?"

"Me": "I'm sorry."

Mathematician: "Is that really your name?"

"Me": "Well of course it is. Why?"

Mathematician: "It just sounds a bit made up."

Hmpf. That's my real name --- so not exactly made up. Anyway, at least my namesake wasn't killed off in chapter 1 this time. (The link in my old blog entry is now dead. Perhaps that suggests that that book project might not be completed any time soon?)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Get Outta Da Way!"

Take a look at this puppet's tips for New York City tourists. Hilarious!

(Tip of the cap to Maria King.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Quote of the Day: Tenure and Sea Squirts

I love this quote from philosopher Daniel Dennett (from 1991): "The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it fi nds its spot and takes root, it doesn't need its brain anymore so it eats it! (It's rather like getting tenure.)"

(Tip of the cap to this paper by Pablo Echenique-Robba. And thanks to Easter Eggs in Scientific Papers to pointing me to this paper. (I might have actually seen it before, but I didn't pay any attention to it until I saw it on that blog.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

25th Anniversary of Gibson's Homer

Today is the 25th anniversary of my favorite homerun of all time. GO DODGERS! Let's kick some butt tonight!

What Happens in the Other Place Stays in the Other Place

I gave a talk in Cambridge today in a room in King's College. This was the first time that I gave a seminar while a bust of Keynes was staring sternly at me. (I am far more used to having meetings or an outreach session while a portrait of Margaret Thatcher stares at me sternly and a portrait of Indira Ghandi looks at me with a strange smirk.)

I am also staying in a room in King's College for the night. One can walk on the grass if and if one is accompanied by a Senior Fellow. (My host used his grass-walking privileges on the way to picking me up.)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Kam Torrye: Rogue Demon Hunter (My New Pathfinder Character)

For those of you who are interested, here is my new Pathfinder character. This gives the details of my flame oracle (with the tongues curse) for any of you who want to try to decipher my handwriting (and are interested). He's a rogue demon hunter.

I previously wrote a shorter description when I made some decisions about the character but hadn't yet determined the details.

Update: It turns out that Firestorm has 11th level as a prerequisite, so clearly I need to fix that.

Demonstrating Moments of Inertia

I have my first tutorials with the new Somerville freshers tomorrow.

I have just prepared my copy of "Somerville for Woman" to use for tomorrow's demonstration of moment of inertia and stability.

(I don't want to mess up my copy of the book, but the dimensions of the book are good for this demo and I can't think of that many books that it would be funnier to use tomorrow. A copy of the OED would be funnier to use for this, I suppose, but I don't have one and I don't have time to get one before tutorials tomorrow.)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

NLCS = Dodgers vs Cardinals

Well, the Dodgers opponent in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) has now been determined: Last night, the Cardinals unfortunately beat the Pirates in game 5 of the National League Division Series (NLDS). Thus, the Dodgers are going to have to get through the Cardinals (who are a less interesting opponent). But we've got a good team and a particularly awesome top of the rotation, and that will help a lot. Go Dodgers!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

"Commentary: Teach Network Science to Teenagers"

Our article on our outreach efforts to teach network science to teenagers now has its page numbers, so it's out in final form. Here are the details.

Title: Commentary: Teach Network Science to Teenagers

Authors: Heather A. Harrington, Mariano Beguerisse Díaz, M. Puck Rombach, Laura M. Keating, and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: We discuss our outreach efforts to introduce school students to network science and explain why researchers who study networks should be involved in such outreach activities. We provide overviews of modules that we have designed for these efforts, comment on our successes and failures, and illustrate the potentially enormous impact of such outreach efforts.

Also don't forget our associated teaching materials and University of Oxford's promotional video about our efforts.

My Dialect

I took a dialect quiz that I found via this article that Louis Wang posted on Facebook. My results place the way I speak from The Valley in California --- which I already knew --- though according to this quiz I have almost as strong a similarity as how people speak in Sunnyvale (part of Silicon Valley). From the perspective of how I speak, I apparently have least in common with people from Michigan, which might partly explain certain arguments/discussions with Lanth in the past (and, at the very minimum, it amuses me a great deal even if it doesn't explain anything!).


Backyard Brains' RoboRoach is sparking an ethical debate. The company ships live roaches and neuro stuff to 'install' in it so that one can, for example, control the animal a bit with devices like an iPad. I find both the ethical discussion and the science itself very fascinating. Overall, I have mixed feelings about this being available commercially. Take a look at the article for some of the pros and cons.

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

Monday, October 07, 2013

RIP Abraham Nemeth (1918-2013)

Abraham Nemeth, who created a Braille code for mathematics and also invented MathSpeak, has died. Now here is a dude who made major contributions!

(Tip of the cap to Ernie Barreto.)

Saturday, October 05, 2013

"Who's Afraid of Peer Review"

The magazine Science conducted a fascinating experiment on peer review in open-access journals. They were able to get a bogus paper accepted (often without peer review and even more often without rigorous peer review) more often than not. Interestingly, they did not comment on whether or not they got the IRB approval that is necessary for studies that involve human subjects. (IRB is "Internal Review Board" and is a board for US-based studies. Other countries have analogous bodies.) As discussed in the first link, although this experiment was done with open-access journals, I'm sure one would find the same crap in journals that are published using more conventional pricing models.

(Tip of the cap to someone named Gary King, who appears to be a professor at Harvard University. I found this article via a Facebook link on which my collaborator James Fowler wrote a comment.)

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Faces in Everyday Objects

Here are 26 awesome pictures (well, most of them are awesome) in which one can see faces in everyday objects. I've seen a few of these before, and most of them are big wins!

(Tip of the cap to Anna Iwaniec Hickerson.)

Oracles, Tongues, and Finding Paths

My new Pathfinder character is a Lawful Good 'Oracle' who has the 'Flame' mystery and the 'tongues' curse. I chose 'infernal' for the language of the tongues. I have mega-charisma and a rank in intimidate (class skill), so I plan to roll intimidate checks when I start speaking in tongues.

The GM is requiring all characters to be good, so I figured the LG but divine-touched oracle who others will think is possessed because of his curse will cause lots of trouble --- I mean 'interesting role-playing opportunities' --- for the party.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

"Uphill Both Ways Through the Snow" on Steroids

I will see your walking uphill both ways through the snow, and I'll raise you walking in the snow every day with no shoes on a non-orientable surface. I approve!

I am so going to use this one the next time I visit Cornell!