Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dodgers Sign Free-Agent Pitcher

This time, it's for real: we have signed –– past tense! –– free agent pitcher Scott Kazmir to a three-year contract.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Awesome Embroidered Temari Spheres

These embroidered temari spheres are awesome!

(Tip of the cap to Association for Women in Mathematics.)

Awesome Visual Illusion

This visual illusion is really cool!

Note: I originally referred to this illusion as an "optical illusion", but my friend Steve Van Hooser, a visual neuroscientist, has pointed out my use of the incorrect term: "I know you are a stickler for details, and as a visual neuroscientist I feel you'd want to know: say "visual illusion" rather than "optical illusion". Because the visual system produces this illusion. There are true "optical" illusions, like the illusion of water on a hot road ahead. That is an optical illusion because it is the diffraction of light that causes the illusion." (I have made this same error on several prior blog posts, which I may eventually look up and correct.)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Today's Headline: "German Man Dies After Blowing Up Condom Machine"

I think we may have a winner in our Headline-of-the-Week competition: "German Man Dies After Blowing Up Condom Machine".

Yup, that's a pretty spectacular headline.

(Tip of the cap to Kin Chan.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Life Imitates Fluxx

Following these parking instructions works just like in the game Fluxx, right?

Randomized Controlled Trials of Parachute Intervention

Apparently, there are none. At minimum, the paper called Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials reported the following summary of their results in the preamble to their paper: "We were unable to identify any randomised controlled trials of parachute intervention."

The paper does have a serious undertone, however, as the authors are commenting about the limits of evidence-based medicine.

(Tip of the cap to Easter Eggs in Scientific Papers.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What Happens in the LA Basin Stays in the LA Basin

So to speak.

(Anyway, I'll be home for the holiday season.)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Quantum Mosaic of John Stuart Bell

This mosaic of John Stuart Bell is very cool.

Tumblr: Math Professor Quotes

The Math Professor Quotes tumblr has just been brought to my attention.

(Tip of the cap to Association for Women in Mathematics.)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Would You Believe Zero Pitchers?

Just over a week ago, I thought we had signed one good pitcher and traded for another one, and now it seems that both deals have fallen through. Aroldis Chapman is being investigated under Major League Baseball's domestic-abuse policy, and the Dodgers found something they didn't like in Hisashi Iwakuma's physical. Our deal feel apart, and today comes the news that Iwakuma has resigned with the Mariners after all.

We've also lost Zack Greinke because we were unexpectedly stingy, so this hasn't been a particularly good offseason so far. Hopefully, the three-way trade with the Reds and White Sox will pave the way for acquiring somebody like José Fernández...

Comic Panels: "Good Mathematician vs Great Mathematician"

Here is a series of comic panels called "Good Mathematician vs Great Mathematician".

(Tip of the cap to Karen Kustedjo.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"Complexity: A Story of Love and 'Power Laws'"

Apparently, somebody at Oxford is supposed to take complex systems and turn it into a work of fiction (taking inspiration from Alice in Wonderland, etc.)

Ten Thousand Years of Fresh Air

Well, life once again imitates Spaceballs: A Canadian company is important canisters of clean air to China.

The need to get fresh air from the planet Druidia is one of the central plot points of Spaceballs. Here is one of the relevant quotes: Ah, planet Druidia. And under that air shield, ten thousand years of fresh air. We must get through that air shield!

And, of course, life has imitated Spaceballs several times: This includes not only an incident of "mowing the ocean" (which is only slightly more effective than combing the desert) and the hacking of a combination that is the kind of thing an idiot would have on his luggage but also a chastity belt and canned oxygen for sale. This story revisits the canned oxygen.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"I Don't Want to be a Pie!"

The Improbable Research Blog has passed along a pie chart that tabulates (or perhaps 'pie-bulates'?) the various causes of death in Shakespeare's plays. (Being baked into a pie would have to suck.)

Fractions of Worms and Singular Limits

Do you know what's worse than taking a bite out of an apple and finding a worm? Taking a bite of an apple and finding half a worm. And do you know what's even worse than that? Taking a bite and finding a quarter of a worm? And even worse than that is taking a bite and finding an eighth of a worm.

I can continue like this, and finding progressively smaller fractions of a worm after the delicious bite is progressively worse --- until we get to the situation in which we take a bite of an apple and don't have any worm. That's the best situation, as we have a normal delicious apple without any worm in it.* In mathematics, we refer to situations like this as a singular limit: the situation of setting a value equal to zero is qualitatively different from the situation of considering a sequence of values that we let approach zero. This is a very important concept in what is called singular perturbation theory, and it shows up all over the place in mathematics and its applications (e.g., in fluid mechanics, quantum mechanics and semiclassical limits, and many other places).

*Unless, of course, one swallows an entire worm with the bite, in which case it's a regular limit and we lose.

(Note: I don't remember seeing this analogy for singular limits before, but if somebody used it and I blocked out where I should be giving credit, please let me know. I could imagine somebody like Steve Strogatz using this type of analogy, for example, but I don't remember seeing him or anyone else use it.)

Update: Dominic Vella reminds me that Michael Berry used this analogy in an article in Physics Today. I definitely read that article, so I assume I got the analogy from there and forgot about it. I did have a nagging feeling that I must have seen it somewhere before even though I wasn't able to place it. And, no, I am not surprised that Michael Berry would use such an analogy. He's very good with analogies (and many other things).

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Jose Canseco's Plans for Terraforming Mars

José Canseco has announced his plans for terraforming Mars on Twitter.

Clearly, this is a follow-up to his theory of gravity.

I love the terse 'trending' headline on Twitter.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Congratulations to Dr. Valentin Danchev!

The D.Phil. thesis of my student Valentin Danchev (now a postdoc in the Knowledge Lab at University of Chicago) has now been officially approved. Valentin's other supervisor was Michael Keith of COMPAS (Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society) at University of Oxford.

Valentin is a sociologist and was a D.Phil. student in University of Oxford's International Migration Institute. His thesis is called Spatial Network Structures of World Migration: Heterogeneity of Global and Local Connectivity, and we have a joint paper on the topic in progress. We plan to submit that paper to a sociology journal.

Monday, December 07, 2015

New Dodger Pitchers (or Possibly Only One New Pitcher...)

The Los Angeles Dodgers have picked up two new pitchers: we signed free-agent starter Hisashi Iwakuma to a three-year deal, and we traded a pair of prospects to the Reds for power reliever Aroldis Chapman.

I hope we can pick up another good starter. Losing Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks left a gaping hole in our rotation.

Update (12/08/15): Then again, it may take a few weeks for the trade for Chapman to go through --- if the Dodgers bother going through with the trade at all. (And is it really a good idea to acquire somebody with this kind of personal track record?)

Update (12/18/15): It may actually end up being zero pitchers. Um, bring back Zack Greinke?

Tales from the ArXiv: Modern Art

It is usually a good idea to preview the compiled file when you upload a paper to the arXiv. (The topic of the paper looks interesting, by the way.)

Otherwise, all of your figures might be plastered over each other on the same page.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

"How Math Works": A Comic Strip About a Fundamental Truth

The new SMBC, which is titled "How Math Works", is spectacular. It also gets at a fundamental truth, and it does so in an amusing way. (It is of course exaggerated.)

Step 5: "I will never understand it. I will never believe it. As I go into death, with my final breath I spit on your theorem."

The other steps also speak the truth, and Step 4 is damn funny. Step 6 is also a familiar one.

Of course, pretty much all of science works this way. It is worth noting, however, that the notion of repeating experiments is a fundamental difference between science and pure mathematics.

The comic strip is of course exaggerated, but I do think it genuinely gets at a fundamental truth. Once a theorem is true, it is simply true; but if it changes a paradigm and people don't understand the argument, there can certainly be a lot of skepticism that can last a long time before things are accepted.

Update (12/14/15): Take a look at this post in the Improbable Research blog. It asks: "Does science really advance on funeral at a time?"

Front-Page Editorial in The New York Times

Today, The New York Times ran a front-page editorial for the first time since 1920. I'm very glad they've done this, and obviously it takes a lot for them to do this when the last one was almost 100 years ago. I hope it has an impact.

(Tip of the cap to Ernie Barreto and George Takei.)

What Research Papers Inspired Me?

I was asked to write about my favorite research papers (and why).

I answered what is perhaps a somewhat different question: What are some of the research papers that inspired me?

Here is my answer.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Math Postdoc Application Rage Thread

The title box of the math postdoc application rage thread on Reddit is all too real. My job applications were a long time ago, and I still have horrible memories of having to repeat the same damn piece of information on a form too many bloody times. In fact, I still have to do such damn things.

Design Fails

Here are some spectacular design fails.

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Awesome Acknowledgements

The Science Easter Eggs blog illustrates a paper with a spectacular Acknowledgements section. (One of the authors also has the daycare that he currently attends listed as his affiliation.)

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Tales from the ArXiv: Systemic Risk in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Yes, really.

The abstract begins: In this paper we study the financial repercussions of the destruction of two fully armed andoperational moon-sized battle stations ("Death Stars") in a 4-year period and the dissolution ofthe galactic government in Star Wars.

(Tip of the cap to Guido Caldarelli.)

"Estimating Interevent Time Distributions from Finite Observation Periods in Communication Networks"

Here is the latest paper in my "please do this stuff more carefully" series.

People have been getting things wrong when it comes to examining inter-event time (IET) distributions, and there are methods from other fields (e.g., renewal processes) that allow one to correct for biases.

Here are the details of the paper.

Title: Estimating Interevent Time Distributions from Finite Observation Periods in Communication Networks

Authors: Mikko Kivelä and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: A diverse variety of processes––including recurrent disease episodes, neuron firing, and communication patterns among humans––can be described using interevent time (IET) distributions. Many such processes are ongoing, although event sequences are only available during a finite observation window. Because the observation time window is more likely to begin or end during long IETs than during short ones, the analysis of such data is susceptible to a bias induced by the finite observation period. In this paper, we illustrate how this length bias is born and how it can be corrected without assuming any particular shape for the IET distribution. To do this, we model event sequences using stationary renewal processes, and we formulate simple heuristics for determining the severity of the bias. To illustrate our results, we focus on the example of empirical communication networks, which are temporal networks that are constructed from communication events. The IET distributions of such systems guide efforts to build models of human behavior, and the variance of IETs is very important for estimating the spreading rate of information in networks of temporal interactions. We analyze several well-known data sets from the literature, and we find that the resulting bias can lead to systematic underestimates of the variance in the IET distributions and that correcting for the bias can lead to qualitatively different results for the tails of the IET distributions.

Tales from the ArXiv: Duck Dodgers and Bifurcation Diagrams

I hope that the authors of this paper make references to Duck Dodgers when they bring up this work in seminars.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Google + Star Wars

Yup, there is some cool stuff in the Google–Star Wars mash-up.

The Onion Win Again: U.S. Versus U.K. Edition

This new article from The Onion is funny (though also depressing because of how true it seems), and their tagline that compares the current health of the U.S. to the U.K. is positively hilarious: "Residents say that letting the U.S. pass peacefully is better than having to watch it linger on in agony like the United Kingdom."

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Ranking Scientists According to Sarcasm

"Instead of using citations, I think we should rank scientists from most sarcastic to least."

Naturally, I was accused of using my own CV after I proposed that criterion for measuring quality.

Maybe I should call this metric the "p-index"? We could call it the "s-index", if you prefer, but then I wouldn't be naming it after myself.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Physics of Chocolate Fountains

Here is a delicious exploration of the fluid mechanics of chocolate fountains.

(Tip of the cap to Aya Khaled Al-Zarka.)

2015 Dance Your Ph.D. Contest

You can see the winning videos in this article, which also includes a link to all 31 entries. (The overall winning entry includes some networks, and the winner in the physics category is from University of Oxford.) Very cool!

(Tip of the cap to Physics Today for this particular link. I saw a post earlier in the day from IFLS.)

RIP Carla Martin (1972–2015)

A bunch of us who went to school with Carla at the Center for Applied Mathematics at Cornell University have written an obituary for her. It appeared online yesterday in SIAM News. Go read it and see how she was an inspiration to students. (I would like not to need to work on another obituary like this for one of my friends for a very long time...) Also look at our coauthored paper on the singular value decomposition.

Carla died tragically last month.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Oxford's 2015 Mathematical Bake-Off

Pictures from the Mathematical Institute's 2015 mathematical bake-off are now posted!

The Menger sponge cake, which was the winning entry in the undergraduate-cake category, was created by two of our students (Louise O'Rourke and Sndrew Tweddle) in Somerville. Excellent job!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Don't Drink the Water (and Don't Breathe the Air)

Apparently, the news (rather ambiguously phrased, too) out of the Andrew Wiles Building is "Don't drink the water."

As the most recent e-mail indicates, "there may be a problem with the drinking water supply". And remember how the word "may" gets used in that context in the UK...

So, in honor of the situation, here is an appropriate song.

Tweeting Cats During the Brussels Lockdown

This is spectacular! Well played, Belgium. Very well played.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

What Happens in San Francisco Stays in San Francisco

In a few hours, I'll be flying out to San Francisco to go to the wedding of one of my best friends. I'll only be there until Tuesday, so I'll also be wracking my body.

Amusing Book Dedications

The signal:noise on this list of book dedications is a bit suboptimal, but there are a few spectacular ones.

And mathematicians will very much appreciate the appearance of item #6.

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Limit-Cycle-Oscillator Models of Bipolar Disorder: Revisited

Years ago, Steve Wirkus and I coauthored (with several undergraduate students) a paper that first introduced the idea of using limit-cycle oscillators to model bipolar patients. Our model was a toy model, but years later several of my colleagues at Oxford have been doing amazing things from a more data-centric perspective. Their latest paper is especially exciting for me. It does what we dreamed about and speculated about 12 years ago in our paper: taking the basic idea of a limit-cycle oscillator and combining it with clinical data in a realistic way. (The authors of this work understandably also incorporate noise into their model.)

Quoting the last few lines of our conclusions: "In this respect, we view our work as a first step in developing mathematical models of the mood swings of bipolar individuals. Our intent is to provide a mathematical framework that ultimately leads to the development of more detailed models of bipolar disorder that incorporate clinical data. With this work, we hope to motivate the collection of time-series data from clinical trials that will lead to refinements of our model that incorporate such data. In our view, dynamical systems theory and mathematical modeling in general can lead to important advancements in the understanding of bipolar disorder."

(Tip of the cap to Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, who shared a popular account of the work on Facebook.)

2016 Most Valuable Player Awards

The expected --- and correct --- players won the Most Valuable Player awards.

Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals is the 2016 National League MVP. He won unanimously: he was named first on all 30 ballots, which gives him 420 total points. Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks finished second in the voting with 234 points, and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds finished third with 175 points.

Josh Donaldson of the Toronto Blue Jays is the 2016 American League MVP. He garnered 23 first-place votes and 385 votes in total. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim (aka "The The Angels Angels of Anaheim") finished second with 304 votes (he had the other 7 first-place votes). Lorenzo Cain of the Kansas City Royals finished third with 225 points.

This page shows the number of votes garnered by a few more players. (For example, Zack Greinke finished 7th in the voting in the NL.)

For the complete tabulation of the votes, see this website. (Clayton Kershaw finished 10th in the balloting.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Twitter User @MrSnuffleupagus Follows Exactly One User: @BigBird

Twitter user @MrSnuffleupagus follows exactly one user: @BigBird.

Now that's a great new-school twist on something old-school!

(Tip of the cap to Gregory Fricke​ for the article that led me to the above factoid.)

Jake Arrieta and Dallas Keuchel Win 2016 Cy Young Awards

Baseball's Cy Young Awards were announced yesterday.

Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs won in the National League, and Dallas Keuchel of the Houston Astros won in the American League.

Arrieta received 17 of the 30 first-place votes and 169 points in total. Zach Greinke of the Dodgers finished second with 147 points (with 10 first-place votes), and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers finished in third with 101 points (with 3 first-place votes). I figured that Arrieta would win, given the storyline and his dominance in the second half of the season, but I think Greinke deserved the award very slightly more than Arrieta.

Keuchel received 22 of 30 first-place votes and 186 points in total. David Price (of the Detroit Tigers and then Toronto Blue Jays) came in second with 143 points (with 8 first-place votes), and Sonny Gray of the Oakland Athletics finished third with 82 points.

The complete vote tallies are available on this page.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What Happens in Florence Stays in Florence

Late last night, I made it to Florence, Italy for the COSMOS workshop on complex oscillatory systems, where I was asked to give an introductory talk on networks and dynamics. The talk took place at the Galileo Galilei Institute for Theoretical Physics. (Perhaps it is the queen of theoretical-physics institutes? At minimum, I am sure it is mercurial.)

My hotel is located on Viale Machiavelli, and the GGI is located on Largo Enrico Fermi.

2016 Managers of the Years

Major League Baseball's Manager of the Year awards were announced last night. Joe Madden of the Chicago Cubs won the award in the National League, and Jeff Banister of the Texas Rangers won the award in the American League.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Kris Bryant and Corlos Correa are the 2016 Baseball Rookies of the Year

Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs and Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros have won the 2016 Rookie of the Year awards.

Unsurprisingly, Bryant was the unanimous winner in the National League, as he was named in the first slot on all 30 NL ballots. Matt Duffy of the San Francisco Giants was the runner-up in the National League, and Jung Ho Kang of the Pittsburgh Pirates finished in third place.

Carlos Correa was named first on 17 of the 30 American League ballots to become the AL Rookie of the Year. Correa had 124 total points. Francisco Lindor, with 13 first-place votes and 109 total points, was the runner-up. Miguel Sano finished in third place.

A Universal Law of Happiness

The statistical physicists need to get cracking on this one.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Neuroimaging Study of Neuroscientists' Reactions to Journal Impact Factors

Well, we seem to be getting a bit meta here...

A group of scientists has conducted a neuroimaging study of neuroscientists' reactions to journal impact factors.

Here is a short excerpt from the body of the paper: "Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we examined the brain activity of N = 18 neuroscientists during the anticipation of their own publication."

And here is the paper's abstract:

The incentive structure of a scientist’s life is increasingly mimicking economic principles. While intensely criticized, the journal impact factor (JIF) has taken a role as the new currency for scientists. Successful goal-directed behavior in academia thus requires knowledge about the JIF. Using functional neuroimaging we examined how the JIF, as a powerful incentive in academia, has shaped the behavior of scientists and the reward signal in the striatum. We demonstrate that the reward signal in the nucleus accumbens increases with higher JIF during the anticipation of a publication and found a positive correlation with the personal publication record (pJIF) supporting the notion that scientists have incorporated the predominant reward principle of the scientific community in their reward system. The implications of this behavioral adaptation within the ecological niche of the scientist’s habitat remain unknown, but may also have effects which were not intended by the community.

What Happens in London Stays in London

I just made it to London for a Mathematics and Social Sciences Workshop. When I was first invited to speak at this workshop, it had the tentative name of a "Socio-math Workshop", and Google gave me a nice surprise when I tried to find a website for the workshop.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A New Quasipolynomial Time Algorithm for Graph Isomorphisms

In case you haven't been paying attention, you may be interested in reading Jeremy Kun's post about the seminar covering the announced quasipolynomial algorithm for graph isomorphism. Once the preprint comes out and it is vetted, I hope the result does turn out to be genuine. Exciting times!

Headline: "Councillor who Announced Closure of Public Toilets Fined for Urinating in Street"


(Tip of the cap to Alan Champneys.)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Barry Simon Wins 2016 AMS Steele Prize in Lifetime Achievement

Barry Simon has won the 2016 AMS Steele Prize in Lifetime Achievement. This is richly deserved!

Barry Simon's influence on mathematical physics and numerous related topics has been absolutely huge.

(Regarding his teaching: Barry's version of freshman calculus wasn't a hit with the students, to put it kindly, but his teaching at more advanced levels is extremely good. I was one of the inaugural TAs when he took over the introductory freshman class; it was an interesting experience.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Using "The" Before Freeway Numbers

This cool article explains why Southern Californians put "the" before freeway numbers when talking about them.

(Tip of the cap to Kevin Hickerson.)

2015 Baseball Gold Glove Winners

Baseball's 2015 Gold Glove winners were announced last night.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Creating a "Urine Black Hole"

One of these years, I ought to go to the APS fluids meeting just to see talks like this.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Headline: "Old Mice Drinking Champagne Three Times A Week Navigate Labyrinths Better"

A new article in IFLS reports that mice taking champaign supplements seem to perform better at navigating a labyrinth. This leads to an obvious follow-up research question: do they also start dancing the magic dance?

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Alphaville's "Strange Attractor"

I am going to have a field day with Alphaville's new album, likely called "Strange Attractor", as it opens the door for numerous jokes that combine 80s music with math and physics. At minimum, I'm sure it will be big in Japan.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Baseball's Comeback Players of the Year

Major League Baseball has announced its two Comeback Players of the Year. Prince Fielder won in the American League, and Matt Harvey won in the National League.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Cool Exoplanet Poster

I really like the exoplanet poster in this IFLS article.

Philosophical Heaven and Hell

The punchline of the new SMBC comics is awesome (especially if you know or are a philosopher).

What Happens in Philadelphia Stays in Philadelphia (Again)

I'm heading back to Philadelphia to give a lecture at University of Pennsylvania in the Warren Center for Network & Data Sciences.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Mathematizing the Alphabet

Here in the Mathematical Institute at University of Oxford, we're mathematizing the alphabet, starting with 'A' with Roger Penrose's entry on aperiodic tiles.

Monday, November 02, 2015

"An Emergent Property"

This is how I feel about many claims of "emergence" in scientific articles.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Public Lectures on M. C. Escher

A couple of weeks ago, we had really nice public lectures on M. C. Escher in the Mathematical Institute. Now, you can watch them online. Watch for the modernized version of one of Escher's famous paintings that plays a role in one of the talks.

"Granular Crystals: Nonlinear Dynamics Meets Materials Engineering"

Chiara Dario, Panos Kevrekidis, and I have written an expository article about granular crystals for the magazine Physics Today.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Twists and Turns

The people in this article are two of my friends from grad school. I have nothing else I want to say.

Takes from the ArXiv: Hydrogen π

This paper is cool (though surely someone must have done this before).

It rederives Wallis' formula for π by looking at the spectrum of the quantum-mechanical description of the hydrogen atom. (It does this with a variational computation of the spectrum.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ferrofluids + Glowsticks = Awesome!

Those of you who like pattern formation (or even who just like colorful things) should look at this article's video about mixing Glowsticks and ferrofluids. Sweet!

RIP Leo Kadanoff (1937–2015)

Physicist Leo Kadanoff died yesterday. He was a giant in statistical physics, condensed-matter physics, complex systems, and other areas of physics.

Several of my physics friends were posting Facebook updates about Kadanoff yesterday. I didn't write an entry yesterday, as I figured that by today there might be a proper obituary to which to link. I didn't find any, so figured I would post a note now (with a link to his Wikipedia entry) and add one later.

Here is the comment I shared on one of those posts:

I met him once when I was a grad student at Cornell. Besides seeing him give a talk (I think I saw him speak on two other occasions as well), we had a "round table" with him and students, and it was great to get a chance to pick his brain.

One major point of discussion concerned people with physics training (and, for some in the room, who would get PhDs from the physics department) applying methods and tools from physics to problems that were not physics. It was a discussion about identity crises.

(Tip of the cap to Sara Solla.)

Update: Predrag Cvitanovic posted a really cool picture from Kadanoff's 75th birthday conference.

Update (10/28/15): The American Physical Society has now posted an obituary.

Update (11/02/15): The New York Times has now also posted an obituary. The article starts with "Leo P. Kadanoff, a physicist who provided critical insights...", and of course "critical" was absolutely the right word to use here. (Tip of the cap to Ernie Barreto.)

Update (12/01/15): Nigel Goldenfeld published an obituary for Kadanoff in Nature Physics. (Tip of the cap to Sang Hoon Lee for pointing me to this article.)

Some Awesome Spurious Correlations

Take a look at these awesome spurious correlations. I have seen a similar list before --- perhaps even the same one? --- and it's possible that I ever blogged about this list at some point (though, if so, I can't find the entry). However, these plots are fantastic, so go take a look at them.

Obviously, I really like the last one, though naturally I wonder if applied mathematics degrees were included. (Now where did I put that uranium...?) I am also amused to see an apparent peak in the revenue of arcades in 2008. I am really surprised that the peak is this recent. (The data only goes through 2009, but I am assuming that arcade revenues haven't gone back up.)

(Tip of the cap to Anna Iwaniec Hickerson.)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

RIP UGCS (1989–2016)

Well, from the e-mail today (forwarded to my current account from a chain that started with my UGCS account), it looks like (barring a miracle) Caltech's UGCS cluster is going to bite the dust in a few months. As Blake Jones wrote, "Alas, poor envy! I knew it well." To quote Steve Ginzburg, it's the "End of an era". Indeed it is.

UGCS has served the Caltech undergraduate and alumni communities for 26 years, but technology has moved on. Forwarding will still occur, but I assume that in a few months my "awesome" undergraduate website (from the days of "Oh, cool! I can put up a public page on this thing called the Web!") will go away. (Maybe it will be visible on an internet archive.)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Awesome Mountainous Landscape Pictures from Google Earth

Take a look at the pictures accompanying this article to see some awesome mountainous landscape pictures constructed using Google Earth.

(Tip of the cap to Jimmy Lin.)

Fires and Queueing

Tonight I heard a story that I think encapsulates the UK perfectly. The server at the pub noticed a fire in a trash receptacle (I think that's what it was) just outside of a Starbucks on the High Street. He went inside and asked for water to put out the fire, indicating explicitly that it was a fire. The employees at Starbucks wouldn't let him jump the queue, so he stood in line to get water so that he could go outside and put out the fire with it.

Maybe the guy was trolling us, but this is a story that I want to be true.

Pandemic: Legacy

I just read part of a blurb about Pandemic: Legacy.

Pandemic is a really good choice to try something like this out on a game. (Note that I stopped reading the article in the middle because of spoilers. I wanted to read enough to be intrigued, so I suggest browsing through the beginning to see why I think this is interesting and then stop reading.)

I did once play Risk: Legacy, and this happened. (The person who was running the game as a facilitator noticed exactly what I was doing. I was playing the false peaceful person the whole game, and then I cashed in all my cards and blitzed over the entire world in one turn while annihilating everything and everyone in my path --- and winning, of course.)

XKCD on Human Subjects

I like the new xkcd on human subjects. I am amused.

(Tip of the cap to Bruno Gonçalves.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mapping Locations with Three Words

If I matched things up correctly, my Mathematical Institute office is located at "twist.learn.curiosity" (and other nearby coordinates).

And if it's not me, then my three Ph.D. students next to me have those coordinates.

The entrance to my flat in Somerville is roughly at the location "accent.slim.inspector". (Now where was that diamond...)

(Tip of the cap to Sam Howison, who apparently now has much more time on his hands since he stopped being department head on 1 October.)

Recap of Somerville College's Ada Lovelace Bicentenary

Here is a recap from the Ada Lovelace Bicentenary that we held at Somerville College last Friday. Planning started in 2013, and last Friday was the big day.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Differential Geometry and Soft-Serve Ice Cream

On this ultimate Way Back Wednesday (#wbw), I'll go back 20 years rather than 30.

Dig, if you will, the picture*: A sophomore (second-year students, for the locals) in his differential geometry lecture, assiduously taking notes with his right hand while consuming his (stage 1, hopefully) soft-serve ice cream with cone in the other --- the very paradigm of sophistication. :)

* I don't have actual photographic evidence, even though a scene like this occurred numerous times during my undergraduacy and several times as a PhD student.

Tongue-in-Cheek Play-by-Play

In terms of style, the tongue-in-cheek play-by-play in the new XKCD reminds me very much of some of Zifnab's play-by-play over the years. (I don't think this xkcd is particularly funny, but the unintentional homage --- not that that is technically possible, as I think it's supposed to be intentional by definition --- and the resulting nostalgia are the reason I am posting a link to it.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tracing the History of "Tom's Diner"

Well, clearly after seeing an article about the history of the song "Tom's Diner", I feel compelled to bring it up here.

Also see the brief comment on Suzanne Vega's website.

Monday, October 19, 2015


This is a great word!

Especially in verb form --- I love the fact that the dull sound is part of the definition.

And I played it with 'Dex' in Scrabble. Usage: "I might not have been so soundly dunted by the paladin's mace if my half-orc had a higher dex."

Fun Fact: A dunt is the sound made by a boot to the head.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Horror or General Fiction?

When I was a grad student at Cornell, a short-lived coffee + book place in Ithaca put one of John Hubbard's textbooks in a section called "General Fiction". But maybe the Horror section would have been better?

Actually, I thought (and still think) that the book in question has some good stuff in it, but I am amused on general principles --- and the fact that it was one of Hubbard's books added to my amusement at the time.

(Tip of the cap to Carlos Castillo Chávez.)

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Women in Computing" Playing Cards

You can buy (or freely download) these Notable Women in Computer Science playing cards.

(Tip of the cap to the Eight of Spades, who was our opening speaker in Somerville College's event today to celebrate women in computer science.)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Images of a Microscopic World

These images of a microscopic world are gorgeous (well, most of them).

(Tip of the cap to Alexander Morisse.)

10 Years Later

Things have been so crazy lately that the 10th anniversary of my first entry in this blog has come and gone. The present entry is number 3984.

I knew the anniversary was coming this month, and I had meant to check which exact day I started. But then I got ridiculously busy and forgot all about it until I had a moment to breathe today, and then I remembered.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Tales from the ArXiv: A Population with Two Genders

The English language has reared its ugly head again.

In the paper Constrained evolution algebras and dynamical systems of a bisexual population, the authors actually mean a population with two genders (as one can see from the abstract). This is one of those cases where the direct translation of their desired word into English happens to have a very different meaning.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Vladimir Arnold on Russian Versus American Mathematicians

Not only are these comments about Russian versus American mathematicians vintage Arnold, but there is also a very fundamental truth in his comment: spending time working to produce new results versus spending time talking about prior stuff that you did.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Literature and Googly Eyes

Googly eyes definitely improve the covers of literary works.

They also improve Caltech's campus.

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Trailer for Jaws 19

There is now a trailer for Jaws 19, the fake installment to the franchise from Back to the Future II. The trailer is funny; you should watch it.

(Tip of the cap to Jonathan Adams and others.)

Monday, October 05, 2015

"Parasitic Disease Scientists Win Nobel"'s tagline to their article about today's Nobel Prize doesn't distinguish between "parasitic disease-scientists" and "parasitic-disease scientists".

The power of the hyphen. :)

Friday, October 02, 2015

What Does Probability Mean in Your Profession?

Here are some drawings about the meaning of probability in various professions.

The one for philosophy is fantastic! Several of the others are also funny.

The so-called "actual meaning" among the drawings is not correct: "definitely" requires a probability of exactly 1, and "definitely not" requires a probability of exactly 0.

I would have loved to have seen a mathematical one, as then we would need to use "almost always", epsilons, and measures.

(Tip of the cap to Karen Kustedjo​.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Dodgers Clinch National League West!

With today's victory over the Giants (it was a particularly dominating performance by Clayton Kershaw), the Dodgers have clinched the National League West!!

We've now won the division three years in a row, and surprisingly this is the first time in franchise history that we've ever made the postseason three years in a row. (Hopefully, we'll do a bit better in the postseason this year than we have during the past couple of decades.)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Controlling Our Bladders Makes Us Better Liars

As I describe in my most recent blurb for the Improbable Research blog, a new study suggests that people are better at lying when they are controlling their bladders.

(Tip of the cap to Karen Kustedjo.)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Few Good Highlights from #OverlyHonestMethods

I really like the meme #overlyhonestmethods, and here are a few highlights from it.

I especially like the third one: "Reagent became became unavailable in 2002 because nobody wanted to order more and risk being added to terrorists watchlists."

(Tip of the cap to Greg Fricke.)

Friday, September 25, 2015

What Happens in the Bay Area Stays in the Bay Area

I am heading to the Bay Area to hang out with some of my peeps this weekend!

Birds on a Wire

On the taxi ride to the airport, I saw a set of three power lines that were parallel to each other and arrayed vertically.

The bottom one had 1 bird perched on it, the middle one has 3 perched birds, and the top one had a large number of birds on it (too many for me to count).

Any ideas what the mechanism is for this? Is there a preference for height? Does it have a bit of a DLA-like flavor in that a bird lands on the first available wire from something like a random walk or Levy flight such that it's more likely to "stick" on the top one? Does anybody know if somebody has tried to model this?

Also: Mine.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What Happens in Los Angeles Stays in Los Angeles (2015 Edition)

I just arrived at my hotel in LA, where I will based for most of the next week and a half. I'll be giving math colloquia at UCLA and USC (and will be visiting UCLA during this trip).

RIP Yogi Berra (1925–2015)

Legendary philosopher (and baseball player) Yogi Berra died yesterday of natural causes.

Yogi Berra was a legend among legends and was known not just for baseball but also for his "Yogi-isms". The ESPN article above mentions several of his famous ones, but here is another one I like: "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice, there is."

You can read more about him at his Wikipedia page.

(Tip of the cap to Gregg Schneider.)

Update: Here are several of Yogi Berra's one-liners. Here is one sportswriter's top-10 list of Yogi-isms.

Update 2: Rob Neyer has compiled some links commemorating Yogi Berra. (It includes one link that shows a headline about the death of "Yogi Bear" --- which was an inevitable boo-boo. [rimshot!])

Update 3 (9/24/15): Rob Neyer has written another piece about Yogi Berra. This piece includes a link to his old commercial for Aflac (where Yogi absolutely confounds the Aflac duck). Yogi was awesome. I can't stand the Yankees, but --- like many people who can't stand the Yankees --- still find Yogi Berra (who is very obviously most associated with the Yankees) to be absolutely awesome.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Liquid Nitrogen and Ping Pong Balls

Do you know what happens when you place 1500 ping pong balls in a container with liquid nitrogen? Take a look at the bottom video in this IFLS blurb to find out. It is really damn cool! (The top video will help prepare you for the physics.)

What Happens in Ann Arbor Stays in Ann Arbor

My next stop os University of Michigan, where I'll be visiting the Center for the Study of Complex Systems for a few days.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Some Amazing Pictures

Many of these pictures are amazing and/or gorgeous.

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Dumbed-Down Ph.D. Dissertation Summaries

These dumbed-down Ph.D. dissertation summaries are pretty amusing.

If you want to practice doing that yourself, you can use the Up-Goer Five Text Editor to help.

(Tip of the cap to Jaideep Singh and Maria Satterwhite for the thesis summaries and to Karen Kustedjo for the text editor.)

Computer Scientists Versus Computer Engineers

Yup, SMBC has illustrated the difference very nicely indeed.

Being a student at Caltech was like this. (Bring back the Lloyd Coke Machine!)

2015 Ig Nobel Prizes

The 2015 Ig Nobel Prizes have now been announced.

(Georgia Tech people took home the physics prize for their work on urination duration, and I also noticed a Somervillian as one of the recipients in the prize for diagnostic medicine. Also, the economics and mathematics prizes are fantastic.)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Clocks and Bombs

I like this picture.

And, obviously, I am very much in favor of people developing their scientific skills (e.g., by making their own clocks). I'm a theorist, and practical things were never my forte, but so many of my Caltech peeps got their start this way.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

"As Whacky As They Come"

According to some Reddit user (with a rather unsophisticated handle), I am "as whacky as they come".

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pictures from Salina, Sicily

Here is my 2015 album of photos from Sicily.

And, in case you're interested, here is my 2014 album from Sicily.

Utilitarian Judgements

Today's SMBC is highly amusing. Also, it hits close to home. :)

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Man Shoots Armadillo; Bullet Ricochets Back into his Face

This is what we call instant karma.

I first learned about this sort of thing with bullets and armadillo-like creatures by playing Super Mario Brothers.

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

What Happens in Malfa Stays in Malfa

I am on the airport and making the circuitous trek to the remote Mediterranean island of Malfa to give a lecture in a summer school on networks, otherwise participate in the school, get some math done in a peaceful environment, and have some granitas. Bring it on!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Evolution of Ankylosaur Tails

Some new research has shed new light on the evolution of ankylosaur tails.

Ankylosaurus has always been my favorite dinosaur. And, really, is it such a surprise that I would be into a creature that was hard to munch and defended itself like that?

As a child, I never did see a plush ankylosaurus to buy, and perhaps the people who worked at the gift shops at the L. A. Natural History Museum and the La Brea Tarpits eventually got annoyed at my asking if they had one. I was, however, very pleased when I first saw a plush dimetrodon. That was an obvious purchase.

14th-Order Differential Equations

The setup of today's SMBC takes a while, but the punchline is worth it --- and, um, way too close to the truth.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Vin Scully Will Broadcast Dodger Games in 2016!

Oh, Hell yes! Vin Scully will continue broadcasting Dodger games in 2016. Scully has been year-to-year on his broadcasting plans for several years now, and obviously I am very pleased that Vin will be back in 2016!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Evaluating Fake Lecturers

Clearly, we need to repeat a recently-published set of experiments by inserting fake lecturers into the evaluation forms that we give to students.

Here is a quote from the paper's results blurb: "Without a portrait, 66% (183 of 277) of students evaluated the fictitious lecturer, but fewer students (49%, 140 of 285) did so with a portrait (chi-squared test, p < 0.0001)."

(Tip of the cap to the Improbable Research blog.)

Tenure, She Wrote

Tenure, She Wrote looks like a really useful blog by and about women in academia.

Here is the description on their website: Tenure, She Wrote is a collaborative blog devoted to chronicling the (mis)adventures of women in academia, from undergraduate to Full Professor. We’re a diverse group representing many walks of life, career stages, institutional affiliations, disciplines, and opinions.

(Tip of the cap to Rachel Levy.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Quantum Political Science

I love this new article in The Onion.

The headline is "Quantum Political Scientists Hypothesize Country Headed In Both Right And Wrong Directions Simultaneously", and there are also other highly amusing comments in the article.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Self-Citations of Men Versus Women

According to a new study, male scientists self-cite more than female scientists. One of the authors of the study is Carl Bergstrom, so naturally I am wondering if the paper includes a citation of a Rosvall–Bergstrom paper on community detection.

(Tip of the cap to Oxford Mathematics Good Practice.)

A Sociological "Study" of Comfort Zones

Here is an article published three years ago in The Onion about a "study" of social comfort zones. I approve!

Choice quote: "Your comfort zone is there for a reason," Gamble said. "It's so you can stay comfortable. If someone breaches that by saying hello to you, that person is the asshole, not you. Remember that."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bumps in a Carpet

Here is my latest post for the Improbable Research blog. You'll notice that I was discussing work by a few of my Oxford colleagues.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Oldest Known Message-in-a-Bottle

Recently, the oldest-known message-in-a-bottle resurfaced. It's a really cool story---including the reasons for releasing a bunch of bottles a century ago.

This story necessitates an obvious joke that refers to The Police, and indeed the author of the article to which I linked dutifully included it.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dice for Visually-Impaired RPGers

Take a look at this 20-sided die for visually-impaired gamers. This is awesome.

Dice: Choose Your Weapon

Yes, my main dice bag was originally purposed to contain bags of coffee beans — what could possibly be more appropriate for me?

I have lost and gained a few dice over the years, but here is the current collection. The boring lavender set is the first set I bought specifically for RPGs.

The d20s that are meant especially for fire and poison are obvious. There are one or two I can argue for acid. I ought to get one for lightning (and for ice, for that matter).

Some Curse Words: Old-School and New-School

Some of our body-oriented curse words have been around for a very long time.

Seeing these charts makes me think of George Carlin's skit Incomplete List of Impolite Words.

I think I may never think about the word "ultimatum" in the same way again. I don't remember ever seeing that usage of that word before.

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Pac-Man in the 1850s

Oh, Hell, yes!

"Shovel more coal, Boy! I am pursued by spectres!"

Friday, August 21, 2015

Official Congratulations to Drs. Sofia Piltz and Marta Sarzynska!

My doctoral students Sofia Piltz (co-supervised with Philip Maini), who started a postdoc in ecology at DTU in June 2014, and Marta Sarzynska, who will be working at Bain & Company starting next month, both have gotten the revised versions of their doctoral theses approved in final form. Thus, they are now both officially done! Sofia's thesis is called "Models for Adaptive Feeding and Population Dynamics in Plankton", and some of her thesis work (with a couple more papers on the way) was published in SIADS. Marta's thesis is about "Spatial Community Structure and Epidemics", and you can read about some of it in this paper (whose sequel is on the way).

"I Could Go Without Smugness if I Chose To."

I choose not to.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Are Mathematicians "Invading" Physics?

Are mathematicians "invading" physics?

I link (and comment). You decide.

Pictures from Dresden: 2015 Edition

Here are some pictures from my trip to Dresden last month for the multilayer-networks workshop that Alex Arenas and I organized.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

"Brimstone Angels" Series of Forgotten Realms Novels

This evening I just finished the 4th book in the Brimstone Angels series of Forgotten Realms novels.

I read the 3rd book on the series last fall as part of my read of The Sundering series (which is the main track covering the transition from 4th edition Forgotten Realms to 5th edition), and I bought the first two books to introduce myself to the characters in that book. However, I decided to read the book, The Adversary, to go through the whole Sundering series (though with occasional break to read other books, such as following Drizzt Do'Urden and one or two things from other genres, as some of the books in The Sundering series weren't all that great) before getting back to the first two books.

I found that I enjoyed "The Adversary" a great deal. It was one of the best D & D novels I had read in a long time. It is well-written, and the characters are interesting --- and I also do enjoy Planar beings and politics in my novels. (I really dug the Planescape setting back in the day.) The occasional draconic swearing mixed in with the English also reminds me of Firefly, so that is a nice touch too. To keep this track going, I decided to read the 4th book first and will treat books 1 and 2 as preludes. (Book 4, called Fire in the Blood is also very good.) I'm not sure if I will get through them both before the 5th book comes out in December (and I would like to jump to that to keep the story going), especially as I want to read the next Do'Urden book that comes out next month.

Every time I go on sabbatical and have some more time or it's the summer and I have more time, if I find a good fantasy novel, I am reminded how much I enjoy them --- even though during the school year, it's hard to spend much time at all reading novels. Around the last month or so, I have tried to make it a point to at least read a little bit of a novel on most days. (It would be really nice to keep that up; it makes me happy.) I also really miss playing in a D & D campaign, so between wanting to find a way to play RPGs regularly again and enjoying a really good D & D novel, I have been thinking about D & D a lot lately (including reminiscing about adventures from days gone by, browsing a bit through some 1st edition books, etc.). I used to have so much more time for reading novels and playing D & D, and it would be really nice to recover that. I have become so busy in the last few years.

So, this is my book recommendation for the day. I think it's been quite a while since I blogged about a novel!

Anachronisms, Anatopisms, and "Anamegethisms" (or possibly "Anadiastasisms")

We all know about anachronisms (things that misplaced in time), and I looked up that an analogous word for space (anatopism) indeed exists. However, the word I really want for things like Dungeons and Dragons --- and maybe even for a convenient or possibly snarky use in mathematics --- is to be misplaced in dimension. In the context of Dungeons and Dragons, this would be something that is the wrong plane of existence.

Apparently, there isn't a literal Greek translation of the word "dimension" in the way that we would say that time and space are examples of dimensions. Of the two choices, διάσταση (pronounced "diástasi̱") and μέγεθος (pronounced "mégethos"), the latter has an analogous form as the Greek words for time (χρόνος; khronos) and space (τόπος; place), so I have chosen to use the latter. This leaves me with the word "anamegethism". (However, from my Googling, it seems like "mégethos" would translate more to "greatness", so using a term like "anadiastasism" would probably be a more appropriate way of saying that something is displaced in dimensions, even though the form of the original Greek word is different from those for time and space.)

Context (using an example that really annoyed me from a novel that I read about 25 years ago): "The kender in the Dragonlance novel whispered that their captor obviously had some orc blood, but that is a anamegethism, because orcs do not occur naturally on the world of Krynn. So even if an orc somehow got there at some point --- perhaps via spelljamming --- it still wouldn't have been something that would be construed as obvious (especially from a low-level character).

If anybody who actually knows Greek --- Hell, I'm in Oxford, so I certainly have access to experts --- will let me know if I did this right, that would be great. In fact, I am going to e-mail one now.

Update: I also very much like the notion of "displaced in greatness", even though I wasn't thinking of that when I started down this rabbit hole.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Tetris and the Reduction of Cravings

Video games compelling me to skip meals... NEVER! :P

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Old-School Technical Support

Yup, I imagine that old-school technical support worked somewhat like this.

The Gaming Graveyard


(Tip of the cap to some musician who goes by the stage name of Guinevere and to somebody --- I didn't catch whom --- shared Guinevere's post to one of the Dragon*Con groups (I forgot which one) on Facebook. I tried to find a Wikipedia link for the musician Guinevere, and I am amused that Wikipedia's disambiguation page for Guinevere also includes a certain panther from Forgotten Realms.)

Pixels (Long) and Pixels (Short)

I just saw the big-screen movie Pixels (which I previously blogged about). It was fun and nostalgic, though of course very cheesy (no surprise), and it was not the disaster I was worried that it might be. I also just re-watched the short 2010 "film" Pixels (which clocks in at 2 minutes and 34 seconds), which is just as awesome now as it was five years ago. (I also previously blogged about this short film.)

The big-screen Pixels had some very nice bits of nostalgia (and good homages), though its use of a time-capsule of 1982 arcade action has an anachronism with Tetris. It also has some picky points that it got wrong --- for example, a power pellet in Pac-Man lasting way too long for how high a level was being shown. (It is also very conveniently ignored the fact that Donkey Kong has patterns by simply pretending that it doesn't.) The character Q*Bert amused me on a couple of points, such as being there to dodge barrels amidst a level of Donkey Kong. And also the litter at the end.

For some movies that are both awesome and bring out major nostalgia for 1980s video games, I highly recommend The King of Kong and (obviously) Wreck-It Ralph. I previously blogged about The King of Kong, but I couldn't find a blog entry about Wreck-It Ralph, so I assume I didn't do it. (I blog much less often about movies than I used to --- even when they're awesome. Wreck-It Ralph even included a theme song written by Buckner & Garcia! Now that made me feel really nostalgic!)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Ludicrous Spelljamming

This infographic about the estimated speeds of ships from science fiction makes me want to Spelljam.


Kit Yates has come up with an excellent suggestion: To help combat stereotypes, mathematical scientists should tweet a picture of themselves with the #realfaceofmath hashtag. I approve! (Not that my picture will end up helping to combat the stereotype...)

(Tip of the cap to Oxford Mathematics Good Practice.)

Update: OK, here is my #realfaceofmath tweet.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Ice Screamers!

Yes, really, I have Ice Screamers in my latte!

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Friday, August 07, 2015

Water Phase Diagram: Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

Clearly, I need to use XKCD's water phase diagram the next time I am teaching statistical physics.

When my students are too loud, I'll tell them to stop, collaborate, and listen.

Also notice the really great pun at the bottom. I really love that!

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Beware: Protein Shakes are Dangerous

This trending Facebook headline is absurd, and it thus amuses me.

Early-Career Research Positions Available at the New Alan Turing Institute for Data Science

The UK has a new "Alan Turing Institute" for data science, and there is a call for expressions of interest from early-career researchers.

One should click on "Research Positions" in the yellow panel on the right for the instructions regarding expressions of interest.

Quoting the website (see the site for more info): Prospective applicants are invited to submit a curriculum vitae and a one-page covering note explaining how their expertise is relevant to data science and the mission of the Institute via email to Full details of the application procedure will be sent in the autumn to those who register their interest.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

New Dungeons & Dragons Film

I have my fingers crossed that the newly announced big-budget D & D movie will work out a bit better than the previous attempts I witnessed. (At some point, I should actually watch the animated film that was based on the first book in the Dragonlance Chronicles. I do own a copy of it, after all.) Supposedly this new film will be based in Forgotten Realms, which is a good sign. Dragonlance would have been even better.

I am cautiously optimistic. I did find some entertainment in the 2000 film, but clearly there needs to be a D & D film that is much better than that. It did have a few good moments, but it had a lot more not-so-good (or even worse) moments.

But past experience compels me to remain cautiously optimistic until further notice.

I never saw the tv show, but I have heard good things about it. Also, I have heard excellent things about The Gamers, which I really need to watch one of these years. I should also watch its sequel.

Awesome Ballpark Promotion: Free Jayson Werth Chia Pets

The Washington Nationals are giving away Jayson Werth Chia Pets at their baseball game tonight. I approve! Note: I don't know how well Chia Pets are known these days, but I remember seeing tons of commercials for them when I was a kid.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Trending Hashtag: #fieldworkfail

The hashtag #fieldworkfail has been trending lately. (However, the ones in the IFLS article aren't particularly funny.)

Because I am a theorist, it is a bit difficult for me to figure out how to contribute to it. I could perhaps discussing my escapades in my lab classes during my Caltech undergraduacy, though I would rather find something interesting from my scientific career. I'm sure I have done something as a theorist that merits this hashtag. I'll let you know if I think of something.

(Tip of the cap to Katie Mack and Jaideep Singh for their recent Facebook discussion, which alerted me to this hashtag before the new IFLS article.)

The Entropy Zoo

I am going through the draft of a chapter that includes a survey of similarity measures (and I'll need to see if an appropriate survey exists, as we should use this material to help write one if it doesn't), and the appearance of information-theoretic measures naturally made me think of the Entropy Zoo, which I saw yesterday on the Quantum Frontiers blog.

(Who's down with en-tro-py?!?)

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Scholarly Journals: Screwing Over Authors for 150 Years and Counting

Hey, look: Scholarly journals were screwing authors over 150 years ago, and scholars were expressing their indignation about it.

Some traditions are alive and well...

(Tip of the cap to Ursula Martin​.)

"Structure of Triadic Relations in Multiplex Networks"

One of my papers, which my collaborators and I first posted on the arXiv and submitted to a journal two years ago, has finally been published in final form. Here are the details.

Title: Structure of Triadic Relations in Multiplex Networks

Authors: Emanuele Cozzo, Mikko Kivelä, Manlio De Domenico, Albert Solé-Ribalta, Alex Arenas, Sergio Gómez, Mason A Porter, and Yamir Moreno

Abstract: Recent advances in the study of networked systems have highlighted that our interconnected world is composed of networks that are coupled to each other through different 'layers' that each represent one of many possible subsystems or types of interactions. Nevertheless, it is traditional to aggregate multilayer networks into a single weighted network in order to take advantage of existing tools. This is admittedly convenient, but it is also extremely problematic, as important information can be lost as a result. It is therefore important to develop multilayer generalizations of network concepts. In this paper, we analyze triadic relations and generalize the idea of transitivity to multiplex networks. By focusing on triadic relations, which yield the simplest type of transitivity, we generalize the concept and computation of clustering coefficients to multiplex networks. We show how the layered structure of such networks introduces a new degree of freedom that has a fundamental effect on transitivity. We compute multiplex clustering coefficients for several real multiplex networks and illustrate why one must take great care when generalizing standard network concepts to multiplex networks. We also derive analytical expressions for our clustering coefficients for ensemble averages of networks in a family of random multiplex networks. Our analysis illustrates that social networks have a strong tendency to promote redundancy by closing triads at every layer and that they thereby have a different type of multiplex transitivity from transportation networks, which do not exhibit such a tendency. These insights are invisible if one only studies aggregated networks.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Internet of Stuff

In honor of George Carlin, the Internet of Things really ought be called the "Internet of Shit" (or possibly the "Internet of Stuff").

The Silent Majority Will Rise Up on Election Day

Yes, yes it will. :)

And from looking at the Online Etymology Dictionary, the origin mentioned by SMBC does indeed appear to be accurate.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Wow, this press release from Cornell University has made me realize that there is another meaning of the term "redshirt" besides the one that comes from Star Trek.

Given the meaning that originated in Star Trek, the press release's title amused me considerably.

Testing the Green-Cheese Origin Theory of the Moon

As I write in my latest post for the Improbable Research blog, the green-cheese origin theory of the Moon has been tested before. Well, sort of: a 1970 paper in Science includes sound-speed measurements of lunar rooks, terrestrial rocks, and terrestrial cheeses.

Monday, July 27, 2015

2015 Baseball Hall of Fame Speeches

Yesterday, the new Baseball Hall of Famers (Craig Biggio, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martínez) gave their acceptance speeches. Pedro Martínez stole the show and(unsurprisingly) was particularly charismatic, although he did take a brief shot against the Dodgers.

You can watch all of the induction speeches on this website.

I love the pictures of the four new Hall of Famers side-by-side, because Randy Johnson is just about a head or more taller than the other three guys.

The Facebook page posted a picture from this weekend with Pedro Martínez and Tommy Lasorda together. Martínez is smiling broadly, and Lasorda has a look on his face that seems to say, "I can't believe we traded Martínez for Delino DeShields!" (I tried to find that picture on a public page, but I wasn't able to find it with a search on Google Images.)

Is Sarcasm the Highest Form of Intelligence?

According to a new study in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, it may well be.

The study, called "The highest form of intelligence: Sarcasm increases creativity for both expressers and recipients", was published by Li Huang, Francesca Gino, and Adam Galinksy.

As with all other recent papers in journals by world-renowned publisher Elsevier, the study has five self-reported highlights:

(1) Sarcasm is an instigator of conflict but also a catalyst for creativity.

(2) General forms of sarcasm promote creativity through abstract thinking for both expressers and recipients.

(3) Expressing sarcasm to or receiving sarcasm from trusted others increases creativity without elevating conflict.

(4) We manipulated sarcasm via a simulated conversation task and a recall task.

(5) We employed three different creativity measures and a well-established measure of abstract thinking.

I feel like this study has justified the last 39 years of my existence.

Note: Absolutely no sarcasm was employed in the writing of this blog entry.

(Tip of the cap to Taha Yasseri.)

Update: A modified version of this post is now on the Improbable Research blog.

Update: Hmmm... I have pondered a bit, and I am now wondering if there are Elsevier journals --- such as ones that publish review articles? --- in which the five self-reported highlights are not required? It is possible that it should technically be "most other" or "almost all other" rather than "all other". I will leave an exhaustive check, or a search for a counterexample, as an exercise for the diligent reader. (My best guess is that it is policy for all research article, but I am not sure if it is also true for review articles, so "all research articles" is another potentially viable tweak to the phrasing.)

Update: Here is a blurb about the research in The Harvard Gazette. (I found this link via Francesca Gino's Twitter account.)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Iceland Repeals Anti-Blasphemy Laws

Fuck yeah!

Also: Yarrrrrrrrr!

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Headline: Michigan School District's Air Conditioning Controlled by Amiga Computer for 28 Years

Yup, that's right: a Commodore Amiga has controlled the air conditioning in a Michigan school district since it was installed in the 1980s. That's pretty spectacular (and also "awesome").

(Tip of the cap to Myah Evers.)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Pixar: Another Big Win

On extremely rare occasions, I see a movie (or read a book or play a game...) that shows me a new perspective on things and fuels my imagination (and my Abstract Thought). Pixar's Inside Out is one of those movies. Wow, just wow.

I had heard excellent things about Inside Out and was really looking forward to it after watching a trailer after seeing a colleague gush about the movie on Facebook, and I have to say that I am amazed. I wouldn't say that movies amaze me very often, but this one did. I'll have to think about whether it has surpassed The Incredibles as my favorite Pixar movie of all time --- I haven't decided yet, but it's possible --- and "best Pixar film ever" is very high praise indeed. (The short film before the main feature could have been much better, however.)

Anyway, if you haven't seen Inside Out yet, I suggest that you go see it. Perhaps even stop what you're doing and go see it? It's that good.

And now, as usual, it's time for me to spend some more time in Abstract Thought and Imagination Land (two of my favorite places). :)

Exoplanet Names

XKCD has revisited their suggestions for Exoplanet names.

For the newly discovered planet, I am in favor of "Emergency Backup Earth". Or possibly "Pluto". :P

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Model of Motion Sickness

In my latest blog entry for the Improbable Research blog, I report on a model for motion sickness. (This, of course, is an example of a Rotating Hell.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Layout Fail on

That's quite a layout fail,

One of the things we learn about in journalism concerns the relative placement of different articles---including if one headline might be confused as the tagline for the other., I think that one of your employees probably needs to brush up on this lesson.

Bring Your Pet to School Day: Caltech Edition

I don't remember ever hearing about the young lioness that got to hear a freshman physics lecture at Caltech, although it's possible that I simply forgot about this story (with picture proof from a very familiar lecture hall). Wow!

Fake Customer Service Trolling on Facebook

Some of the fake customer service trolling on Facebook is really funny. I especially like the answer in the Starbucks complaint.

(Tip of the cap to Iain Macmillan.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"Topological Data Analysis of Contagion Maps for Examining Spreading Processes on Networks"

Our Nature Communications paper just came out today! Here are the details.

Title: Topological Data Analysis of Contagion Maps for Examining Spreading Processes on Networks

Authors: Dane Taylor, Florian Klimm, Heather A. Harrington, Miroslav Kramár, Konstantin Mischaikow, Mason A. Porter, and Peter J. Mucha

Abstract: Social and biological contagions are influenced by the spatial embeddedness of networks. Historically, many epidemics spread as a wave across part of the Earth’s surface; however, in modern contagions long-range edges––for example, due to airline transportation or communication media––allow clusters of a contagion to appear in distant locations. Here we study the spread of contagions on networks through a methodology grounded in topological data analysis and nonlinear dimension reduction. We construct 'contagion maps' that use multiple contagions on a network to map the nodes as a point cloud. By analysing the topology, geometry and dimensionality of manifold structure in such point clouds, we reveal insights to aid in the modelling, forecast and control of spreading processes. Our approach highlights contagion maps also as a viable tool for inferring low-dimensional structure in networks.

Instead of trying to explain our work in layperson's terms here, I'll point you to the press release from University of Oxford.

You can also download our data and our code.

Friday, July 17, 2015

What is the Most Exciting New Research in Mathematics?

About three weeks ago, I wrote an answer to the question "What is the Most Exciting New Research in Mathematics?" on Quora.

Take a look at what I wrote, and pipe in with your own thoughts.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Humans as Random-Number Generators

I could really use a good random-number generator. :)

Custom Baseball Gloves

I need to find a way to play some softball so that I have an excuse to buy myself a custom glove!

One can put some really garish colors on the gloves. :)

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Reaction of Different Fields of Scholarship to Babies

The latest "issue" of SMBC comics is priceless, and the punchline is absolutely fantastic! (This time, the philosophers are the brunt of the joke.)

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Overly Honest Slogans For University Majors

These overly honest slogans for university majors are bloody awesome!

It's tough to pick a favorite, but right now I think the one for communications is perhaps the funniest. We'll have to make our own for mathematics, which didn't make the cut for this article.

I know I've seen a bunch of these before, so I also wonder if I have seen (or even posted on my blog?) this exact list before?

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

What Happens in Dresden Stays in Dresden (2015 Edition)

Today I am flying to Dresden, Germany for the MAPCOM15 workshop (on the Mathematics and Physics of Multilayer Complex Networks) that I am co-organizing with Alex Arenas.

A certain highly coveted Karate Trophy will also be there, so let's see if it will be passed along to the next recipient.

Friday, July 03, 2015

"What is the Most Exciting New Research in Mathematics?"

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an answer on Quora to the question "What is the Most Exciting New Research in Mathematics?"

Take a look at what I wrote, and please add your thoughts on what areas you think are exciting!

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Fastest Tongue in the West

Yup, the tongue of a chameleon is pretty damn fast. Just ask Rango.

"SMUG": Generating Music and Lyrics from Academic Papers

Yes, that's right. Using a new tool called "SMUG: Scientific Music Generator", one can now generate music and lyrics from academic papers. I love the acronym. :)

I also decided to try SMUG. I generated this work of art from my review article on multilayer networks.

Update: The paper's bibliography includes a citation of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I am amused. :)