Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pictures of Amusing Coincidences

Several of the coincidences among these pictures are highly amusing.

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Overheard in Somerville

My Somerville Colleague Quentin Miller passes along this vignette from today's Open Day...

Overheard as I left college by the front gate ...

Somerville helper to gaggle of students walking north briskly past the college: "Going to the Maths Institute?"

One of the students, without looking up or breaking pace: "Yeah."

Helper, shouting after the students as they bustle away: "56 seconds from your bed to the lecture! Come to this college!"

I never timed it myself, but I will certainly miss more than half of my commute to my office occurring after I enter the mathematics building.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Lots of Discussions, But Which of Them Were Useful?

This paper has a gem in its acknowledgements.

(Tip of the hat to Robert Garisto for his tweet, which provided enough fodder for Google.)

Sunday, June 26, 2016

"A Gazelle is Just a Giraffe, Plotted Logarithmically."

Today's SMBC is bloody brilliant!

Rick Astley for U.K. Prime Minister?

The reason is obvious, isn't it?

(Tip of the cap to Alan Champneys.)

We All Fall Down

So unlike the actual vote (I don't get one), this petition for a 2nd referendum I am apparently actually allowed to sign. So here it is.

As much as self-inflicted economic suicide (and deciding to do that on account of xenophobia and nationalism, no less) and giving us a run for our money — and currently ahead of us, by the way, which is a rather "impressive" accomplishment! — in the world stupidity-contest amuses me in some perverse way (especially in my darker moments), because that's just how my sense of humor tends to work, that's really not a good idea for any of us and ought to be reserved for fantasy, science-fiction, and the like. (Here is the wikipedia entry for the Brexit referendum, in case you want to look it up.)

Mood music by Ultravox. (Warning: It is very dark, though the song is awesome.)

Thanks to my colleague Fiona Stafford for forwarding me a link to the petition, along with a very useful explanatory e-mail (from somebody who contacted her) that indicated that I am indeed eligible to sign it as a UK resident.

Update: Wow, and then there is delicious irony. (Tip of the cap to Sam Cohen.)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Why Did the Blob of Conscious Matter Cross the Road?

I am, for good reason, feeling rather cynical today.

Today's SMBC strikes the right mood.

My 'Leaving Speech' for Somerville College

This is my short leaving speech in the SCR last night. I forgot to mention a couple of things --- e.g., about thoughts on trying to convince me to do something with the argument of "convention", my inability to pick up social cues in a place that relies on them so much and the hilarity that would subsequently ensue, and especially about how wonderful it has been to work so closely with such talented students in Somerville! --- but I didn't prepare anything either, because I figured I would just say what was on my mind.

Also there were some nice comments from our Senior Tutor first.

(Thanks to Jonathan Marchini for recording this and circulating to Somerville's governing body today.)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Today's Theme Song: "Should I Stay or Should I Go"

The UK had the vote on Brexit today, and there is an obvious theme song (and a clash of opinions too!).

I posted it on Facebook this morning, and Mariano Beguerisse Díaz subsequently tweeted about it. (We had already discussed the apt theme song several weeks ago, so I knew what I wanted to post this morning for quite a while.)

I am including Mariano's tweet in this post.

Update: The UK has voted to leave the European Union.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Great British Public Toilet Map

In case, you are in the UK and want to find the nearest public toilet, ESRC just retweeted the tweet that I embed below. (I am glad that the ESRC is around to tell me where to find a nearby toilet. This is genuinely good, but I also can't help feeling a certain sense of irony.)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hannah Fry: Mathematician, Science Presenter, and All Around Badass

Hannah Fry, who I describe in this entry's title by adopting her apt description on the top of her website, does some very interesting research in complex systems and is absolutely spectacular at outreach and public engagement. Here is a new Guardian article about it (including recent and upcoming things).

I've invited Hannah over to Oxford a couple of times (an IAM seminar and a workshop I organized) to talk about the more traditional scientific end of her work. We've also had her over once (that I know of) for an outreach talk.

If you haven't encountered Hannah's stuff before (and probably even if you have), you should go and take a look at the Guardian article. She does a lot of very cool stuff.

(Tip of the cap to Jennifer Ouellette for her tweet.)

"How to Publish a Scientific Comment in 1 2 3 Easy Steps"

Physics professor Rick Trebino of Georgia Tech has written a hilarious diatribe called "How to Publish a Scientific Comment in 1 2 3 Easy Steps". There are actually far more steps than this, and I have heard similar stories from collaborators about the ordeal of trying to get a scientific comment published to correct a major mistake in a prominent paper.

Note: This story is not for the faint of heart or the easily depressed. (Especially if you might get depressed about the current state of affairs of self-correction in science.)

(Tip of the cap to Alex Vespignani.)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

"Why Classic Rock Isn't What It Used To Be" has an interesting analysis of regional variations in classic rock, and how more contemporary songs have snuck into it (in some regions more than others).

One could also do a similar analysis of others "genres" (or "radio formats", if you prefer), such as adult contemporary. I remember being surprised (many years ago now) the first time I heard Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" on an adult contemporary station.

What Happens in Aveiro Stays in Aveiro

Tomorrow I am taking my first ever trip to Portugal. I will be participating in the 2016 "Summer Solstice" International Conference on Discrete Models of Complex Systems.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tales from the ArXiv: "First-level NUTS of the European Union"

I can't make this stuff up. There is something called "First-level NUTS of the European Union". The acronym NUTS stands for "Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics", and it seems that there are three different levels of European NUTS.

I found out about this from the paper The winter day as a constraint for human activity in Western Europe, which I saw in an ArXiv mailing this morning.

Now where did I put my nut cracker? :)

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Mathematics and Art: Some of My Personal Experiences

After spending far longer this evening fighting scanners than I was hoping, here is the article on mathematics and art (especially as concerns my own experiences and relationship with it) that I was asked to write for the 2016 issue of my College’s magazine. Visual arts is the theme of the issue. (I hope this is readable. You may need to zoom. The version on my Facebook post is somewhat larger.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

How Many Peachtrees are There in this City?

Those of us who have lived in Atlanta understand this ad very well.

Quantifying the Smell of Urban Areas

My latest post in the Improbable Research blog is about using data analysis to quantify the smell of urban areas.

Lab Wars

The science-themed game Lab Wars sounds very amusing, though possibly a bit too close to home.

On a similar note, Dreaming Spires is a board game that allows one to take control of an Oxford College's governing body and drive the College into the ground. Oh wait...

Monday, June 06, 2016

A Video of My Seminar on "A Simple Generative Model of Collective Online Behavior"

On Friday 27 May, I gave a talk at the Oxford Internet Institute on "A Simple Generative Model of Collective Online Behavior". The video was posted online today. My talk, which took place at the Oxford Internet Institute, was part of an event for the Computational Social Science Initiative London.

I spoke about this paper, which I like to call our "Small Data" paper.

You may also be interested in videos of some of my other presentations.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Comic Caption: "Funtime Activity: Forcibly converting pure mathematicians into applied mathematicians."

The caption on today's SMBC comic is wonderful: "Funtime Activity: Forcibly converting pure mathematicians into applied mathematicians."


(Tip of the hat to Bruno Gonçalves.)

Levels of Super Mario Brothers Can be PSPACE-Hard

Erik Demaine of MIT and his collaborators have demonstrated that one can use the raw materials of the game Super Mario Brothers to construct levels that are PSPACE-hard.

The new paper follows up on prior work that includes a subset of the authors that demonstrated that Super Mario Brothers is NP-hard.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Naming a Dimensionless Parameter

The June 2016 issue of Physics Today includes a 'Quick Study' on why it is hard to separate two interleaved books.

The phenomenon involves a dimensionless parameter that is now called the "Hercules Number", a term that I invented in a blog entry for the Improbable Research blog. I wrote the line "Restagno and colleagues also fit the data to a curve of force versus a dimensionless amplification parameter –– following the continuum-mechanics tradition of using cute names for dimensionless parameters, let’s call it the "Hercules number" –– that depends on the number of pages, the page thickness, and the size of the overlap region between the books." (I was motivated in part by the "Repunzel number" that Ray Goldstein and his collaborators named in their study of the physics of ponytails.)

The researchers really liked the term "Hercules Number", so they decided to adopt it and use it in their subsequent papers (which I appreciate).

I continue to try to contribute to physics and mathematics with my wit and snark.

Update (6/14/16): I was asked to write about this for the Improbable Research blog.