Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Complete Papers of Isaac Newton

For those of you who think we scientists can be a bit (or very) obsessive or even a bit nuts, keep in mind that we're just taking after our founding parents. For example, consider Isaac Newton.

And I bet that I'll leave more than 10 million words before I'm done. :)

(Tip of the cap to MoMath.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Do You Believe in Research Grants?

Yes? Well, these days it's kind of like believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

(Tip of the cap to Andrea Bertozzi.)

Delusions of Grandeur

I like today's SMBC, possibly because it makes fun of physics students. :)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Citizens Demand Goofy Batting Stances

Yes! Yes we do!

Choice quote from the article: "I want to see more batters standing at the plate looking like complete fucking idiots before they take a cut."

Friday, December 26, 2014

Epidemics on Networks: A Pun

Here it is: "Those infection dynamics are pathological, so we can ignore them."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Doug Fister Wins Points for Awesomeness

Yup, this gesture by Doug Fister was awesome (even though it was Starbucks). Way to go!

Snow Fractals (and Some Beach Invaders)

Simon Beck produces some fantastic fractal art in the snow. I also really like the scene from the game Space Invaders that he drew on a beach.

You might also remember that I blogged briefly about some other beach art in January.

(Tip of the cap to whoever posts for The Museum of Mathematics on Facebook.)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Headline: Cambridge University Press Breaks Google Scholar

Congratulations, Cambridge University Press! You have broken Google Scholar. I noticed that a paper of mine (Wymbs et al., Neuron, 2012) suddenly went from 40 citations to 70 in one Google-Scholar update. No other paper jumped so crazily this time, so I ruled out an algorithm update. It turns out that there is a recent 'target article' in Behavioral and Brain Sciences that includes much invited 'open peer commentary'.

One comment cited us, but each comment/article has a separate DOI even though they all link to the same .pdf file. 30 instant citations.

Now I wonder how much BBS inflates their impact factor by doing this... (Important note: this effect can easily be an unintended byproduct. I am just pointing out that it does indeed appear to be such a byproduct of how the website has organized the article and its associated comments. I am making no comments whatsoever about anybody's intent, because I have no idea about that.)

I am amused. (Also horrified.)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Awesome Statues

Many of these statues are really awesome!

I have seen two of these in person (to my recollection). I have seen the one outside of the Tate Modern museum in London. It is decent, but I don't consider it spectacular. I have also seen the one in Wroclaw, Poland. Despite it's name of "The Monument Of An Anonymous Passerby", I think of it as zombies rising up from the ground. (Wroclaw also has that whole thing with the many small statues of gnomes. One can play the game of seeing how many of the gnome statues one can find around the city.) Also, note that statue #25 is in Oxford. I have not seen it in person, and I don't remember even hearing about it before.

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

"♪ Ooo Shanga Day" And Fruit Falling From the Sky

I was walking peacefully back to my place when, while passing under a tree, I got bonked on the top of the head by a rather large fruit-pinecone hybrid (whatever it is called). Ouch! Isn't this only supposed to happen in cartoons?

Naturally, I responded by looking up at the sky and shaking my fist in indignation. (And maybe I also spoke a bit of Simlish, but I'm not sure.)

Friday, December 19, 2014

"Modernized Space Camp Allows Kids To Simulate Frustration Over Lack Of Funding"

I'm not sure how I missed this article in May, but The Onion wins again. Sadly, something similar also seems to apply to people who dream of academic careers in science. :(

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"SKIES App Aids Learning in Caltech Classrooms"

I want to congratulate my friend and classmate Julius Su (of capacitor fame, among other things) for his awesome innovations that are helping education at Caltech. He is also doing some excellent outreach efforts.

I am looking forward to when he's famous, so I can tell my many Julius stories to a wider audience. (Capacitors --- and counting to 1 and occasionally perhaps toilet paper or predicting the number somebody is thinking of by looking into their eyes --- will of course play an important role.) Julius is already very much one of the legends of Caltech, and his innovations in education are going to make a huge contribution to the world (and are already making major contributions at Caltech and among local students).

Eigenvalue Diplomacy

Credit goes to Craig Montuori for the title of this blog entry.

As you have probably heard, Cuba and the US are going to normalize ties. Aside from political stuff, do you know what's really cool about this? Now I have an additional awesome pun to use when I write papers on weighted networks. (One way for the US and Cuba to normalize ties is just to divide by the size of the tie with the largest value.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

As the Napkin Turns

I think I am in the middle of a sitcom again: I put my coffee and associated napkins on the counter while washing my hands. The air from hand-dryer was pretty strong, and it blew a napkin right over the face of the person at the sink next to me. (Thankfully, he took it rather well.)

Maths and Stat

Brits (and Aussies) say "maths", but Americans and Canadians say "math".

Let's call the whole thing off, though before that you can read about it in Slate.

It's a bit weird that Americans saying "math" but also saying "stats" never came up in the article.

2015 Inductees to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The 2015 inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been announced. They include Green Day (in their first year of eligibility), Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Lou Reed (for his solo work), and others.

"Fight-Club Nodes"

First rule of fight-club nodes: You do not talk about fight-club nodes.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

RIP Sy Berger (1923–2014)

Baseball card pioneer Sy Berger, who is credited as the co-designer of the 1952 Topps baseball cards, died today.

What Happens in Philadelphia Stays in Philadelphia

I am about to start phase 3 of my northeastern swing. This evening, I will be flying to Philadelphia to visit my friend and former Oxford colleague Sandra González-Bailón at University of Pennsylvania. (I'll be giving a DiMiNet seminar at Penn.)

And, since I'll be in Philadelphia, clearly I should have an epic tweet battle with the band Mason Porter.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Goats in a Tree

At the recommendation of yesterday's speaker Nina Fefferman (of the clan that mathematicians know well), I searched on YouTube for goats that flock in trees. As she promised, this is indeed pretty damn cool!

And don't forget about fainting goats.

One of my Somerville students once fainted in the middle of explaining a problem at the whiteboard when I discussed "narcoleptic goats" in the middle of a tutorial. (The marker slid along the whiteboard with a descending streak and everything. He was ok, thankfully; this was definitely one of the all-time classics.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Elevator Action

The elevator problems in Oxford's new Mathematical Institute have gotten so severe that one of the building's denizens has tried to come up with a helpful mathematical model of the problem... according to rumor, while actually stuck in the elevator...

We moved into the building at the boundary of August/September 2013. Is this really that hard to solve? I wonder what Arrowsmith would say about this problem?

(Tip of the cap to Philip Maini.)

Brutally Honest Referee Comments

Here are some occasionally amusing and often harsh referee comments from submissions to scientific journals. I have been both on the giving and receiving end of such things, such as the following gem that one of my papers was subjected to earlier this year.

One of my PNAS referees wrote the following in the last line to summarize his/her review: "The results here represented a substantial step backward in terms of value and sophistication from the many published analyses that have already been published in Korean and/or English."

(The referee never provided any example paper or author, and we were blown off by PNAS when we requested to have a name or reference as a starting point. We looked very thoroughly both before and after the submission to PNAS, and we could never find any such paper. At the end, though, our story has a happy ending: our paper is now happily residing in PRX, which is PNAS-level but for physics specifically.)

(Tip of the cap to Joshua Bodyfelt.)

Update (12/14/14): Here are a few more harsh comments from referees. A couple of these are amusing, but overall they aren't as good as the ones above.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What Happens in Pittsburgh Stays in Pittsburgh

I am now in the proverbial (and dreaded) phase two of my northeast swing. Today, I made it to Pittsburgh for the workshop Advances in Discrete Networks. I was thinking about saying something about continuous networks --- possibly in an indiscreet way --- but I only will sort of do that. I did, however, create a special slide for my talk just for this occasion. My talk is the first scientific presentation of the conference, so I figure I should set the right tone. :)

Update 12/12/14: Here is my special slide, which I created specifically for the occasion.

Terry Tao and Paul Erdős: Awesome 1985 Picture

This article on recent important advances in gaps between consecutive prime numbers has an absolutely awesome picture from 1985 that shows Paul Erdős and Terrence Tao (who was then 10 years old) discussing mathematics as equals. I love this picture.

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

Quote of the Day: The Volume of My Text

The following was pointed out by e-mail by my collaborator Peter Mucha, who is not my department chair: "During my time as a department chair, I received roughly 20K *work-related* (e.g., not personal and not spam) emails each year... Mason occasionally accounts for just over 2K of those himself."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Headline: Dodgers Go Apeshit

Wow, the Dodgers seem to have gone totally apeshit today: 3 trades today, and it looks like we're about to sign a starting pitcher (Brandon McCarthy, which is ok, as long as we don't expect him to be more than an average #4 starter... I'd rather get James Shields). These moves help somewhat, I think, but the outfield logjam is alive and well. I suspect we're not done.

It started with the news that we acquired Jimmy Rollins from the Phillies. We then traded Dan Haren and Dee Gordon to the Marlins for some prospects and a reliever. We then traded the main one of those prospects (Andrew Heaney) to the Angels for Howie Kendrick. We're also apparently close to signing starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy to a 4-year deal.

All of these stories have broken within the last few hours (and have delayed my bedtime).

Update (12/11/14): And now we have traded Matt Kemp to the Padres along with about $31 million of his salary and catcher Tim Federowicz. In return, we will receive catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitchers Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin.

Update (12/11/14): I think we have improved our team a good deal with these moves, and we sold high on Kemp. Kemp gave us some good years (and a couple of excellent ones), but the renewed offensive output he showed last year is counteracted to a nontrivial degree by his poor defense and he is rather brittle in terms of his ability to stay on the field (in stark contrast to his former ironman days). I would rather dump Ethier at this point, but Kemp had some value, and that trade with the Padres was a very good one. We have a glut of outfielders, and they are going to pay the majority of the cost for his waning years. We also have improved at several other positions and have acquired a decent number of prospects, who we can either use to keep building for subsequent years or can trade for a premium pitcher (Cole Hamels comes to mind). This is called "Moneyball with money". Jayson Stark summarized the Dodgers moves very well in his recap of Baseball's Winter Meetings. (Why is it "Winter Meetings" instead of "Winter Meeting" anyway?)

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

"Directed Evolution of the Full Professor"

Easter Eggs in Scientific Papers has pointed out a gem this time. It is a farcical abstract for a paper called "Directed Evolution of the Full Professor". Read the whole fake abstract; it's awesome! Here is one of the sweet parts:

"Assistant professors that displayed such proteins (so-called ‘stressed-out’ mutants) were then fused to the M13 coat protein, displayed on phages and passed over a friend and family members column to identify those that were incapable of functional interactions. These were called ‘full professors’. Although these mutants arose independently, they shared striking phenotypes. These included the propensity to talk incessantly about their own research, the inability to judge accurately the time required to complete bench work, and the belief that all of their ideas constituted good thesis projects."

Test Your Strength: Millikan Library and Lloyd Gong Edition

Yes, really. I am very amused.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Tales from the ArXiv: Text "Reuse" Edition

Paul Ginsparg was telling me about this project (now published in PNAS) at dinner when I visited Cornell in February 2013. In looking at this article, you should think about flags such as "substantial text overlap with article xxxx.yyyy by other authors" that we see on the arXiv.

Also, I like the use of "reuse" in quotes in the paper, especially in the first sentence of the abstract.

Oxford's Mathematical Bake-off

Oxford had a mathematical bake-off a couple of weeks ago. Here are some pictures of the contestants (well, of what they baked, technically).

Previously, I showed you my student Flora Meng's multilayer-network cakes.

Update: And, of course, there is Puck Rombach's frosting-embedded visualization (i.e., cake) of the Zachary Karate Club network.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

RIP Ralph Baer (1922–2014)

Ralph Baer, the inventor of the first home video game console (and also of the toy Simon), has died at the age of 92. Baer has been called "The Father of Video Games".

What Happens in Boston Stays in Boston

My northeastern trip (Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia) starts this morning with a flight (through Philly) to Boston, where I'll be visiting the Center for Complex Network Research at Northeastern University. I'll be giving a talk in CCNR on Monday, and I'll give an applied math seminar on Tuesday.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

"Husband Arrested for Attacking his Wife with a McChicken Sandwich"

Life imitates The Onion, apparently: A man was arrested for attacking his wife with a McChicken sandwich. (Read the story. Its bizarreness doesn't stop with the headline.)

This follows on from my hearing about one person stabbing somebody with a squirrel a couple of days ago.

Also, this guy seems like a complete bastard, which you can also see from the headline but which you'll see even more from the story. (His wife is also pregnant, for example.)

Monday, December 01, 2014

Major Props to Baseball Journalist Keith Law!

I first heard about this from my high school classmate Jeremy Booth, and now IFLS is reporting about the Twitter discussion between baseball journalist Keith Law and Curt Schilling. Major props to Keith Law for his science advocacy!