Thursday, January 29, 2015

Awesome Maps!

This webpage has some really sweet maps. The US fails (epically) on the map showing which countries have not adopted the metric system and on the map of paid maternal leave. Another depressing US map is the one that depicts the highest paid public employees in each state.

My favorites include the 22 countries that Great Britain has not invaded and the most common surnames in Europe by country. The map of timezones in Antarctica is also pretty amusing. :) And the map of all earthquakes since 1898 is simply fascinating. And perhaps my #1 favorite in this collection is the map of the flow of rubber duckies, which I suppose we're allowed to assume are passive scalars? The map of the literal translation of Chinese names for places is also highly amusing.

Naturally, this collection of maps reminds me of Katy Börner's science maps.

(Tip of the cap to Maria Satterwhite.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

"Think Locally, Act Locally: Detection of Small, Medium-Sized, and Large Communities in Large Networks"

It's been a very long and stressful (and, at times, emotionally trying) day, but at least one of my papers came out in final form today. This paper is a beast. Here are the details.

Title: Think Locally, Act Locally: Detection of Small, Medium-Sized, and Large Communities in Large Networks

Authors: Lucas G. S. Jeub, Prakash Balachandran, Mason A. Porter, Peter J. Mucha, and Michael W. Mahoney

Abstract: It is common in the study of networks to investigate intermediate-sized (or "meso-scale") features to try to gain an understanding of network structure and function. For example, numerous algorithms have been developed to try to identify "communities," which are typically construed as sets of nodes with denser connections internally than with the remainder of a network. In this paper, we adopt a complementary perspective that communities are associated with bottlenecks of locally biased dynamical processes that begin at seed sets of nodes, and we employ several different community-identification procedures (using diffusion-based and geodesic-based dynamics) to investigate community quality as a function of community size. Using several empirical and synthetic networks, we identify several distinct scenarios for "size-resolved community structure" that can arise in real (and realistic) networks: (1) the best small groups of nodes can be better than the best large groups (for a given formulation of the idea of a good community); (2) the best small groups can have a quality that is comparable to the best medium-sized and large groups; and (3) the best small groups of nodes can be worse than the best large groups. As we discuss in detail, which of these three cases holds for a given network can make an enormous difference when investigating and making claims about network community structure, and it is important to take this into account to obtain reliable downstream conclusions. Depending on which scenario holds, one may or may not be able to successfully identify "good" communities in a given network (and good communities might not even exist for a given community quality measure), the manner in which different small communities fit together to form meso-scale network structures can be very different, and processes such as viral propagation and information diffusion can exhibit very different dynamics. In addition, our results suggest that, for many large realistic networks, the output of locally biased methods that focus on communities that are centered around a given seed node (or set of seed nodes) might have better conceptual grounding and greater practical utility than the output of global community-detection methods. They also illustrate structural properties that are important to consider in the development of better benchmark networks to test methods for community detection.

Unofficial subtitle: "Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Expander Graphs"

XKCD on P-Values

This new xkcd should be required reading for our new 'introduction to data analysis' module that will be available for the second-year students starting next year.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

RIP Ernie Banks (1931–2015)

Baseball lost one of its all-time greats yesterday: Ernie Banks died at the age of 83. Banks, who was given the monicker "Mr. Cub", was of course also known for the phrase "Let's play two!"

Here is Banks' wikipedia page.

(I first noted the news this morning via my friend Greg Fricke's use of "#letsplaytwo" in a short post on Facebook, and I figured that that probably meant that Banks had died.)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Video of My Seminar: "Cascades and Social Influence on Networks"

Here is a video of a seminar on cascades and social influence on networks that I presented at UNAM last October.

The associated slides (or at least a set of slides that are almost exactly the same) are available on Slideshare.

Thanks to my UNAM host Carlos Gershenson for posting the video.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Data Fairy

I greatly prefer terms like "Data Science" and "Data Analytics" to the ubiquitous "Big Data".

"Big Data" makes me feel like you put the data under your pillow in the hope that the Data Fairy comes during the night and leaves an answer there.

The point is that there is supposed to be actual science along with the data.

(See also an older blog entry of mine as well as one to which it links.)

Monday, January 19, 2015

"The Tale of a Post Doc": A Parody of "Bohemian Rhapsody"

This parody of "Bohemian Rhapsody" waxes poetic about the life of a postdoc. It's funny because it's true. :)

PacMap Fever

PacMap, a live-action, smartphone implementation of Pac-Man, sounds so cool (simply because it appeals to my inner geek)!

Hopefully they have the 'exits' (what would that correspond to in real life?), and they damned well better have preserved the trick of being able to go through the ghosts without dying when they ever-so-briefly turn their eyes away from you. (Not that I am a snob when it comes to features of the Pac-Man games...)

(Tip of the cap to The Physics Arxiv Blog.)

Update: I just noticed that the article in Technology Review and the arXiv paper both spell "Pac-Man" incorrectly.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Mathematical Modeling Problem: Just How Many Suckers Are There Right Now?

The phrase "There's a sucker born every minute." was allegedly uttered by a famous person during the 19th century. Assuming it was true and estimating the year based on the possible people to whom the phrase has been attributed, and birth and death rates at appropriate times, estimate how many suckers occupied Earth on 1 January 2015. Be sure to state all of your assumptions explicitly and clearly.

Note: Considerations could include, e.g., whether the rate of births resulting in suckers has changed over time, whether somebody who was born a sucker must necessarily remain so, etc.

Extra credit: Derive from physical principles how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.

If you look at the Wikipedia entry, you'll see that the quote is of unknown origin and that the attribution to P. T. Barnum is apparently almost certainly wrong.

My Network Course: 2015 Edition

You can follow the escapades of my networks course on this website. Well, technically you possibly can follow only a subset of its escapades (such as what I write on the course blog and the review articles to which I link) unless you have an Oxford account, as some of the links probably want you to have an Oxford account. But this will give you some idea of what is going on.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Origin of the Word "Jam"

University of Oxford has asked a pressing question in Oxford Today. Just what is the origin of the word "jam"?

And why is this so important? (Or at least I am imagining that you are asking this question.) Well, obviously it's because of the movie Spaceballs. With the word "jam", we wouldn't have memorable quotes like the following ones:

Raspberry. There's only one man who would dare give me the raspberry: Lone Star!

Radar about to be "jammed."

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Urban Bacon Network: Can I Publish my Study in an OUP Journal?

Really, Oxford University Press? What a horrifying and depressing type of censorship. (Tip of the cap to Katy Remy.) Then again, it seems that pigs are not actually banned from OUP publications, though they might not make the cut in, for example, the choice of what animals to put in a background picture sometimes. (I am bothered by that statement in the explanation in the Guardian article, though I'm glad to hear that the reported censorship was exaggerated rather than factual.)

OK, now my collaborators and I really need to analyze the shopping data set (the "Stanford Basket Data") with the urban bacon network (and also a suburban bacon network) so that we can find something scientifically interesting enough to publish. And clearly we need to submit this paper to an Oxford University Press journal.

Also, you might not want to work on topics like Graham Higman's PORC conjecture. (Thanks to Ursula Martin for passing that link along.)

Meanwhile, for your viewing pleasure, here is a visualization of the "Urban Bacon Network" from the Stanford Basket Data.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lt. Morgan Freeman?

Today I received a spam e-mail from "Morgan Freeman", so I opened it and read the first couple of lines:

"Pardon my intrusion; my name is Lieutenant Morgan Freeman, presently I'm on active duty in Iraq. Please, I have an obscured business proposal that will be of mutual benefit to both of us."

The correct response is, of course, no response. But the second best response is "You were great in Bruce Almighty."

I didn't bother reading the rest of the long e-mail.

Momentum Sharing

I agree with xkcd: one shouldn't reveal his/her momentum to a website if one has already revealed location.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What Happens at the Joint Mathematics Meetings Stays at the Joint Mathematics Meetings

After a longer-than-expected journey, I made it to the 2015 Joint Mathematics Meetings today. I am here to cheer on our Mathematics Research Community participants for the session they've organized on network science. (Network science is the subject of the MRC.) To find details of the two-part session, go to this website and search for 'network science'.

And to use a pun that I have been waiting to use for years, the AMS is gonna' be the witness to the ultimate test of cerebral fitness.

Quote of the Day: Sweatpants Edition

Today's quote was apparently uttered about half a year ago by Christine Klymko (just after I left a room), who repeated the line today for my benefit: "On a scale from Mason Porter to Kanye West, what kind of sweatpants were they?"

Friday, January 09, 2015

Airport Liveblogging: 2015 Edition

Friday, 1/09/15, 14:30 pacific: Well, you know things aren't going well when you feel the need to liveblog from the airport.

Well, Supershuttle picked me up from my "home" in Palo Alto before the beginning of their 15 minute window (which started at 1pm). They had previously mistakenly called me a full 15 minutes before the start of the window to express annoyance that I wasn't outside, and it turns out that they meant to call somebody else.

Once I was picked up only a couple of minutes before the beginning of the window, things went smoothly on the way to SFO airport and I arrived. There was no line, which is good. Unfortunately, my 3:50 pm flight to Phoenix, from which I would head to San Antonio, was cancelled and the earliest flight I could be put on was a 12:30 am one that goes through Dallas (which is my favorite airport). I tried to do something about this, but unfortunately I was shit out of luck. I am slated to arrive in Dallas at 5:39 am and then to leave there at 9:00 am. That makes about 14 hours of airport time for me today and tomorrow, in case you're counting. I'll now miss some talks from the first day of the Joint Math Meetings that I wanted to see (especially Carl Dettmann's talk at 8am). Given that I now have an all-nighter in store, I will be in no shape for any talks tomorrow, so I think I will punt all of the talks tomorrow, except possibly for Dan Spielman's plenary at 8:30 pm (if I can stay awake that long). Maybe I'll go through the exhibition room a bit and see if I can find people I know and pick up my Project NExT dot.

Now, the 12:30 am flight is from American Airlines, and I was going to be on US Airways. I thus dragged my (overweight) luggage from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 (which wasn't so bad, to be honest). Also, there seems to also be some issue with my outbound flight on the 14th. (Times changed, and the airlines booked me on two different flights. Like with today's flight, they had not informed me of any change by e-mail. I was booked on two different flights for the same leg of the journey. I think I have now dealt with this, based on my interactions with AA customer service.) By the way, one of the people at AA customer service was an obnoxious bitch. She scoffed at my notion of the airlines informing me by e-mail with the following comment (which was stated with utter derision and was dripping with sarcasm): "What, do you expect to be able to read your e-mail on the way to work?" Why, yes, yes I do. It's 2015, for fuck's sake. This bitch was surprised by the notion that people read e-mail all the fucking time. No, both US Airways and AA need a phone number to be able to contact me if something changes on the same day because apparently it is beyond their capabilities to send automatic e-mails for such things.

I got through security without a problem. While getting coffee at Peet's, I saw somebody waiting for a flight who looked like one of my friends. I suspect it was not her, and in any event I wasn't sure and I had enough doubt that I really didn't want to be going up to a total stranger whose flight was about to board to say 'hello'. At some point, I'll ping my friend to find out whether it was her, and presumably she'll confirm that it wasn't. (Or alternatively I'll be wrong that it wasn't her and will feel stupid for missing my chance to say 'hi'.)

So now I have my iced latte, and I guess I'll be getting much more work done today than I thought I would. And tomorrow I will be in no shape to do anything. (I am currently near Peet's next to gates 54B and 55.)

So, if you happen to be going through Terminal 1 at SFO airport today, stop by so we can hang out. I'm having a party!

Friday, 1/09/15, 14:53 pacific: PARTY IN TERMINAL 1!!!

Friday, 1/09/15, 16:07 pacific: Did I say "Terminal 1"? Oops, that was an error on my part. I did in fact start my internship here in Terminal 1, but then I walked over to Terminal 2. So... PARTY IN TERMINAL 2!!!.

Also, I unfortunately packed my camera in my check-in luggage. Terminal 2 has some cool "wormhole" sculpture-like objects that I have been meaning to photograph during my last couple of times here. Unfortunately, in those cases, I either didn't have time or had other things I wanted to do or was in a rush to get home. Now I don't have my camera handy, and I think I might get some very strange looks if I do a selfie with my laptop to snap the photograph.

Friday, 1/09/15, 17:35 pacific: Well, I have certainly gotten a lot farther on the second round of page proofs for this paper than I was anticipating today. I'll still need to iterate with my coauthors (especially the first author), but it looks like I will be able to get through my pass and circulate things to them. It was probably going to be very hard for me to get very far on this while at the JMM, so at least my current escapade should accelerate our sending this round of corrections to the journal. I am running out of steam right now, so I should probably get some dinner soon.

Friday, 1/09/15, 17:46 pacific: From the PA system a couple of minutes ago, some guy was paged with the message "Your friends are totally leaving without you if you don't get there soon."

Friday, 1/09/15, 17:49 pacific: Well, my 12:30 am flight appears to be on time at the moment. (I have no confidence in these people anymore.)

Friday, 1/09/15, 18:31 pacific: I finally tried the Japanese sushi and noodle place in this terminal. The person behind the counter was very nice. I got some beef udon soup. During my meal, I realized that I needed to call my hotel to let them know that I was arriving tomorrow instead of today because of my ordeal. I didn't want to lose my room. They are overbooked, so it's a good thing that I did this. In order to check in when I arrive instead of waiting another 5 hours before I can get a room (check-in is normally at 4pm), I may end up in the hotel around the corner. (The hotels are connected to each other and are owned by the same company.)

Friday, 1/09/15, 20:04 pacific: Well, I got through my page proofs and sent them to the lead author so that we can iterate. I thought I would have to work on this a bunch while at the JMM, but the extra time in airports has accelerated the process. Granted, once I hear back from him, I will be going over them again.

Friday, 1/09/15, 20:41 pacific: I just got some Pinkberry frozen yogurt. The flavor is white chocolate raspberry, which is better than the yogurt I have had from them before. (I tried it once or twice over the years but didn't like it.) The person behind the counter asked if I wanted a cover in case I didn't have time to finish it. Oh, I have time. Believe me.

Friday, 1/09/15, 20:55 pacific: Well, I've managed to get a few brain freezes from the frozen yogurt.

Friday, 1/09/15, 21:46 pacific: I sent some comments on trying to clarify the final points of a paper draft back to my collaborators. Being stuck at the airport is causing me to be superproductive. I suppose that means I'll be able to focus more on the JMM once I actually manage to get there and become vertical again after crashing.

Friday, 1/09/15, 21:49 pacific: I just looked over some of the comments in my Dallas airport liveblogging, and those look a lot more amusing than this one. Maybe because I am less loopy now than I was then? Or I am a much busier person and lamer than I was before? Today I am mostly just being productive. What happened to me? Or maybe it's that I am on my own and none of my friends are suffering with me this time? Terminal 2 is actually not that crowded a terminal, which is good. There have been some times when things have seemed positively desolate, though there was just a bit more activity as some people entered the terminal as they departed from an airplane.

Friday, 1/09/15, 22:10 pacific: I am now starting to feel significantly tired and grumpy. The energetic effects of the yogurt appear to have worn off, and some of the things that have occasionally bothered me during the past couple of weeks are annoying me now as the grumpiness sets in. It's funny how that works. (I'm not sure if it's ominous that the live bongo version of the song 'Psychokiller' started playing as I was finishing typing this blurb.)

Friday, 1/09/15, 22:14 pacific: The person sitting across from me seems like a douchebag.

Friday, 1/09/15, 23:35 pacific: After sitting near plugs for a while (especially one near gate 58B), it is finally close enough to the boarding time that I am sitting at my gate. I could plug my computer in, but I want to be able to put things away slightly more quickly when we finally start boarding. In the other place that I sat for a while, for a good period of time there was also a lady who seemed to be a friend of the douchebag. Even when he left, she sometimes was not paying enough attention to her surroundings, so until he came back or she started paying more attention I figured I should stay to make sure that nobody took her stuff.

Friday, 1/09/15, 23:51 pacific: We just got a chance to check in our carry-on luggage for free at the gate. I will see it again at the luggage carousel in San Antonio. It's great that I don't have to take it with me for the rest of the time my journey is in progress. Meanwhile, the guy three seats to the left of me smiled at me very creepily. Not good.

Friday, 1/09/15, 23:57 pacific: We're starting to board! Yay! (I have a 'priority' ticket, so I am guessing that I'll be boarding soon even though I have not yet been invited to board.

Saturday, 1/10/15, 06:16 central: Well, I have made it to DFW airport (about 30 min late), and now there are a couple of hours before I board the next plane. The person next to me on the SFO->DFW flight kept invading my personal space throughout the entire flight, so now I am really read to chew off heads. The bastard did things like flicking off his seatbelt such that it landed on me (twice) and was easily more than 2 inches over the armrest into my seat. His jacket was sometimes 6 full inches into my seat. Bloody Hell.

Saturday, 1/10/15, 06:35 central: Walking past certain places (like Chili's, which I think is where we ate) in this airport brings back painful memories of getting stuck overnight here in 2007. I am now sitting at my gate, because where else would I go? I'm too tired to eat much, though I got an iced latte from a Starbucks. (I passed 2 of them on the way here.) Maybe I'll get some soup from Au Bon Pain before the flight if I get a bit hungry. I also passed a couple of ads from Baylor's medical school (associated clinic?) about doing something about scoliosis if one has that. I haven't seen such advertisements before.

Saturday, 1/10/15, 06:45 central: At times like these, I sometimes notice how the volume level of my music increases as a function of time. (This is to keep the pressure low... and also to keep me awake.)

Saturday, 1/10/15, 07:22 central: I am going through some notes from one of my doctoral students. There are many ambiguities in it that make it hard to follow.

Saturday, 1/10/15, 07:25 central: It's time to listen to my disco remix of "Rubber Ducky"! (iTunes chose this song for me, but clearly that is appropriate listening fare when one is in DFW after an all-nighter.)

Saturday, 1/10/15, 08:11 central: At the entrance to the nearest men's bathroom, there is a small sign with the words "severe weather area" and a cartoon of a tornado. Clearly, it is turbulent in there...

Saturday, 1/10/15, 08:13 central: I just saw a pair of people (a couple?) wearing matching Minion shirts. Minions!

Saturday, 1/10/15, 08:30 central: My flight to San Antonio has just started boarding.

Saturday, 1/10/15, 10:10 central: I have finally made it to San Antonio. I am currently waiting for my luggage and am looking forward to getting to my hotel room and crashing for a bit.

Saturday, 1/10/15, 10:41 central: I made it to my hotel room. It is in the backup hotel, which is around the corner from the original one and is operated by the same people. (It is kind of like an overflow hotel.) This is what I was told last night would likely be necessary for me to be able to get a room before the standard 4pm check-in time at the original hotel. I'm tired and I need to rest, so that's fine. Now I just need to settle myself a bit and rest for a few hours before heading to the conference.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A Magical Land Called the 70s

Tonight, at dinner, I accidentally invented a new euphemism for death: "He went to a magical land called the 70s."

(I needed to think quickly when a child asked me a question following something I was discussing with another adult, and that was what I came up with. A couple of us had been talking about our grandfathers.)

Oxford: Beyond Limits

Yup, Oxford is lost in time and space.


Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 2015

Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio are in!!!

Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez are "inner circle" Hall of Famers and got huge numbers of votes and deservedly so. They both cleared 90%, and Johnson cleared 97%. (They both ought to be unanimous, but that is not how things work.) Biggio and Smoltz both got more than 80% of the vote --- at least 75% is what is required and made it easily as well. Smoltz deserves to be in the Hall of Fame but until I saw the early pre-announcement returns I didn't expect him to make it in his first year of eligibility. Biggio was in his third year of eligibility (and missed by 2 measly votes last year) and should have made it two years ago. (I am wearing my Plunk Biggio shirt today, of course.) Mike Pizza made major gains (garnering just under 70% of the vote), so I expect that he'll make it in 2016 along with Ken Griffey Jr. and maybe Trevor Hoffman. (The latter two make their debuts on the ballot next year.) Hopefully, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, et al will continue to make some gains. Now with Smoltz in, things should bode well for Schilling and Mussina. Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines will likely have a more difficult time, but we'll see how things go.

You can find a couple of 2015 pre-announce ballot-counting efforts here and here.

ESPN now has a soon-to-be-expanded article on the results.

Update: The vote percentages for each player have now been posted. Surprisingly, Sammy Sosa got enough votes to stay on the ballot for 2016. I thought he was going to drop off. Nomar Garciaparra also surprisingly got enough votes to stay on next year's ballot. (Garciaparra had a superb career peak but not close to enough other good seasons to be a Hall of Famer.) Unfortunately, Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Curt Schilling, and Mike Mussina didn't gain as much as the early ballot polling suggested that they might. Schilling did make a big jump, but it was smaller than it at first seemed like it would be. Raines also had a nice jump, but again it was not as large as I was hoping.

A Book on Data Culture in Industry

Snowbird alum (and data scientist galore, and a major player in such things) DJ Patil has coauthored a free online book about data culture in industry. Go take a look at it!

Monday, January 05, 2015

Tales from the ArXiv: A Poetic Opening

This paper's topic isn't my cup of tea (or, rather, coffee), so to speak, but its abstract has among the best opening sentences that I have ever seen in a scientific paper: When drinking a cup of coffee under the morning sunshine, you may notice white membranes of steam floating on the surface of the hot water.

I approve!

Update: I do actually find fluid mechanics fascinating --- and this was true even before I joined the applied math group at Oxford --- even though it is not a topic on which I have (yet) published. However, the 'cup of tea' pun still applies and absolutely had to be part of this blog entry. (Also, in general, I am fond of papers that just start with some everyday phenomenon and try to figure out what's up.)

"The Ability To Play As Bowser Has Made Our Society More Evil"

Yes, yes it has!

(Anybody who has played as Toad while somebody else was playing Bowser in the N64 version version of Mario Kart most certainly knows this very well.)

And there are some choice quotes in this article. One example is the following: "Just consider for a moment that young people under 22 years old today have lived their entire lives with Bowser as a playable character. They have known nothing else."

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Where is My Damn Hoverboard!!!???!!!

Seriously, where is my damn hoverboard???!!!???.

Update: Also see this article. (Tip of the cap to Jonathan Adams for the article.)