Sunday, December 27, 2020

Brilliant Headstones

There are some brilliant epitaphs on these tombstones. I have seen a few of them before (such as "I Told You I Was Sick", which is a favorite), but there are a lot of great ones I hadn't yet seen.

RIP Phil Niekro (1939–2020)

The great knuckleballer and Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro died in his sleep last night.

Yet another great baseball player has left us this year.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Gollum's Cover of "Nothing Compares 2 U"

This deepfake of Gollum covering the song "Nothing Compares 2 U" is wrong on many, many levels. It's also glorious.

Witness the power of deepfakes! If I ever again speak at a workshop about deepfakes, I am whipping out this video.

(This cover needs to be used as a Ride chaser.)

(Tip of the cap to Jennifer Ouellette.)

RIP Peter Neumann (1940–2020)

This morning, I saw the terrible news that my former Oxford colleague Peter Neumann died today, supposedly due to complications from COVID-19 (although I can't verify if that is the known cause of death). Here is is Peter's Wikipedia entry.

I had the chance to interact with Peter quite a few times at Oxford. When I knew him, he was concentrating on mathematics history, and I contacted him with a query about some mathematical linguistics (concerning, for example, the use of "topological" only versus both "geometric" and "geometrical"). I knew that Peter was the right person to approach when I wanted to dive deeper than what I was able to do via Google. Here is my 2013 blog entry about that.

Peter was one of the people in Oxford who was always so kind and supportive of me (and, from what I can tell, of many others as well). When I got some pointed negative teaching evaluations, Peter invited me to The Queen's College to dinner to chat about things (and to give gentle advice and so on). But if I am getting rewarded with a dinner like that for messing up, it does create strange incentives. My students in my courses now are certainly benefiting from advice Peter gave me over the years. He also supported me in various fights on committees (we were on Teaching Committee together) and particularly in efforts that I made against "We've always done it this way." comments to try to change things in Oxford's Mathematical Institute.

(Tip of the cap to Card Colm Mulcahy.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

"Inference of Edge Correlations in Multilayer Networks"

A new paper of mine came out in final form today. Here are some details.

Title: Inference of Edge Correlations in Multilayer Networks

Authors: A. Roxana Pamfil, Sam D. Howison, and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: Many recent developments in network analysis have focused on multilayer networks, which one can use toencode time-dependent interactions, multiple types of interactions, and other complications that arise in complexsystems. Like their monolayer counterparts, multilayer networks in applications often have mesoscale features,such as community structure. A prominent approach for inferring such structures is the employment of multilayerstochastic block models (SBMs). A common (but potentially inadequate) assumption of these models is thesampling of edges in different layers independently, conditioned on the community labels of the nodes. In thispaper, we relax this assumption of independence by incorporating edge correlations into an SBM-like model. Wederive maximum-likelihood estimates of the key parameters of our model, and we propose a measure of layercorrelation that reflects the similarity between the connectivity patterns in different layers. Finally, we explainhow to use correlated models for edge “prediction” (i.e., inference) in multilayer networks. By incorporating edgecorrelations, we find that prediction accuracy improves both in synthetic networks and in a temporal network ofshoppers who are connected to previously purchased grocery products.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Cleveland Baseball Team

The Major League Baseball team that is situated in Cleveland will no longer be called the Indians. Finally! This is long past due. Hopefully, the Atlanta Braves will eventually follow suit.

Tales from the ArXiv: "A Nudge Framework"

A new paper that just appeared on arXiv this evening is called "Steering the aggregative behavior of noncooperative agents: a nudge framework". I come from a Jewish family, so I am very familiar with this strategy.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

RIP Jean-Paul Revel (1931–2020)

Cellular biologist Jean-Paul Revel, who was Caltech's Dean of Students for several years (including during some of my undergraduate time), died a few days ago.

À bientôt, Dean Revel.

Update (12/09/20): I am aware of what "À bientôt" means. I used that line because Dean Revel ended all of his articles with it. (So, in case you were worrying about me, there is no need to worry!)

What Happens on Zoom Stays on Zoom

I'm not traveling these days, so I figure this is how this type of post needs to go nowadays.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

XKCD: Linguists (and Probably How My Coauthors Feel)

I deeply understand today's XKCD about linguists. Also, given my linguistic tendencies, I think the person in the hole probably has feelings that are similar to those of my coauthors. ;)

And don't forget to read the mouseover text.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

A Visual Illusion: Game-and-Watch Style

Here is a visual illusion (in game-and-watch style) for you. The illusion is of the forward motion. It arises from a border of about 1 pixel that lags/leads the dominant color. (Tip of the cap to Sydney Padua.)

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Revenge of the Oxford Comma: 2020 Edition

Truth is stranger than fiction. Always.

(Tip of the cap to Jan van den Heuvel.)

Thursday, November 12, 2020

2020 Most Valuable Player Awards

Major League Baseball's 2020 Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards were announced today. José Abreu of the Chicago White Sox has been named the American League MVP, and Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves was named the National League MVP. These two were the winners that I expected.

The top-10 vote-getters in each league are available at the above hyperlinks, and the entire list of vote-getters is available at this web page.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

2020 Cy Young Awards

Baseball's 2020 Cy Young Awards have now been announced. Unsurprisingly, Shane Bieber of the Cleveland Indians was the unanimous winner in the American League. Free agent Trevor Bauer (who spent 2020 with the Cincinnati Reds) won the National League Cy Young Award over Yu Darvish (of the Cubs) and Jacob deGrom (of the Mets).

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

2020 Managers of the Year

Baseball's 2020 Managers of the Year have been announced, and both winners are the expected ones: Kevin Cash of the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League and Don Mattingly of the Miami Marlins in the National League. Cash received 22 of the 30 first-place votes, and Mattingly received 20 of the 30 first-place votes. (I expected Mattingly to win unanimously.)

Monday, November 09, 2020

2020 Rookies of the Year

This year's American League Rookie of the Year is Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis (who won unanimously), and this year's National League Rookie of the Year is Brewers reliever Devin Williams.

Update: The above page about the NL award doesn't (yet) include the vote totals; you can find them on this page.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

RIP Alex Trebek (1940–2020)

Alex Trebek, the longtime host of the game show Jeopardy!, died earlier today.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

"Forecasting Elections Using Compartmental Models of Infection"

One of my particularly exciting papers just came out in final form. Here are some details (and a convenient tweet for you to spread it on social media).

Title: Forecasting Elections Using Compartmental Models of Infection

Authors: Alexandria Volkening, Daniel F. Linder, Mason A. Porter, and Grzegorz A. Rempala

Abstract: Forecasting elections---a challenging, high-stakes problem---is the subject of much uncertainty, subjectivity, and media scrutiny. To shed light on this process, we develop a method for forecasting elections from the perspective of dynamical systems. Our model borrows ideas from epidemiology, and we use polling data from United States elections to determine its parameters. Surprisingly, our model performs as well as popular forecasters for the 2012 and 2016 U.S. presidential, senatorial, and gubernatorial races. Although contagion and voting dynamics differ, our work suggests a valuable approach for elucidating how elections are related across states. It also illustrates the effect of accounting for uncertainty in different ways, provides an example of data-driven forecasting using dynamical systems, and suggests avenues for future research on political elections. We conclude with our forecasts for the senatorial and gubernatorial races on 6 November 2018 (which we posted on 5 November 2018).

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

2020* World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers!!!

The Los Angeles Dodgers have won the World Series

 Of course, the whole year gets an asterisk (not just the Baseball season). 

 I have been waiting for 32 years, but under the dumpster-fire circumstances of everything, I am much less excited than I would normally be. I'm still very happy about it, but the excitement is less than it would be in normal times. Still, it's great! 

 Let's do this again next year when I can enjoy it more! 

There was some late-breaking news right after the game, and it turns out that Justin Turner was removed from today's game because of a positive COVID-19 test. 

So far, I have received two congratulatory e-mails from undergraduate students of mine and one from a friend. Corey Seager is the World Series; he was also the NLCS MVP. 

Clayton Kershaw has exorcised his demons a bit, and he now has more strikeouts than any other pitcher in postseason history. Obviously, he has benefited from playoffs with many more rounds than used to be the case. 

I need to get a plush COVID-19 with a Dodger cap.

Monday, October 19, 2020

"Songs and Lyrics by Tom Lehrer"

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Dodgers are Heading to the World Series! (2020 Edition)

The Dodgers have come from behind from a deficit of 3 games to 1 to defeat the Atlanta Braves in game 7 of the National League Championship Series. We're heading to the World Series! 

(It hasn't been announced yet as I write this, but I assume that Corey Seager is going to be named the Most Valuable Player of the NLCS.)

Update: As expected, Seager has been named the MVP.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

"Stochastic Block Models are a Discrete Surface Tension"

A paper of mine that was published in advanced access in spring 2019 has finally received its final journal coordinates, so I am blogging about it now (even though it is old news). Here are some details.
Title: Stochastic Block Models are a Discrete Surface Tension

Authors: Zachary M. Boyd, Mason A. Porter, and Andrea L. Bertozzi 

Abstract: Networks, which represent agents and interactions between them, arise in myriad applications throughout the sciences, engineering, and even the humanities. To understand large-scale structure in a network, a common task is to cluster a network’s nodes into sets called “communities,” such that there are dense connections within communities but sparse connections between them. A popular and statistically principled method to perform such clustering is to use a family of generative models known as stochastic block models (SBMs). In this paper, we show that maximum-likelihood estimation in an SBM is a network analog of a well-known continuum surface-tension problem that arises from an application in metallurgy. To illustrate the utility of this relationship, we implement network analogs of three surface-tension algorithms, with which we successfully recover planted community structure in synthetic networks and which yield fascinating insights on empirical networks that we construct from hyperspectral videos.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

"The Multiplex Nature of Global Financial Contagions"

Our new article came out today. Here are some details.

Title: "The multiplex nature of global financial contagions"

Authors: R. Maria del Rio-Chanona, Yevgeniya Korniyenko, Manasa Patnam, and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: As illustrated by the 2008 global financial crisis, the financial distress of one country can trigger financial distress in other countries. We examine the problem of identifying such “systemically important” countries (i.e., countries whose financial distress can trigger further distress), which is important for assessing global financial stability. Using data on bilateral financial positions that are split by asset type, we build a multiplex global financial network in which nodes represent countries, edges encode cross-country financial assets of various types, and layers represent asset types. We examine the temporal evolution of a measure of node importance known as MultiRank centrality, and we find that several major European countries decrease in rank and that several major Asian countries increase in rank since 2008. We then develop a multiplex threshold model of financial contagions in which a shock can propagate either within a layer or between layers. We find that the number of systemically important countries can be twice as large when we take into account the heterogeneity of financial exposures (i.e., when using a multiplex network) than in a contagion on an associated aggregate global financial network (i.e., on a monolayer network), as is often examined in other studies. We also study the extent to which buffers can reduce the propagation of financial distress. Our analysis suggests that accounting for both intralayer and interlayer propagation of contagions in a multiplex structure of financial assets is important for understanding interconnected financial systems of countries.

Monday, October 12, 2020

RIP Joe Morgan (1943–2020)

The baseball world has lost another great one. Second baseman Joe Morgan died today. We have lost a lot of Hall of Famers in the past few weeks (most recently Whitey Ford, before today).

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Dodgers Advance to the National League Championship Series!

The Dodgers have just finished sweeping the San Diego Padres in their National League Division Series matchup and are heading to the National League Championship Series, where they will face (and hopefully defeat) the Atlanta Braves.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Some Notable American Physical Society Spring 2021 Prizes

The American Physical Society (APS) has announced its Spring 2021 prizes. It includes some awards to some great people in topics of interest to me. Here are ones that I want to highlight.

2021 Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics
Joel L. Lebowitz, Rutgers University
For seminal contributions to nonequilibrium and equilibrium statistical mechanics, in particular, studies of large deviations in nonequilibrium steady states and rigorous analysis of Gibbs equilibrium ensembles.

2021 Leo P. Kadanoff Prize
Sidney Redner, Santa Fe Institute
For leadership in transcending traditional disciplinary boundaries by applying and advancing deep concepts and methods of statistical physics to gain novel insights into diverse real-world phenomena.

2021 Lars Onsager Prize
Lev P. Pitaevskii, INO-CNR BEC Center, University of Trento; Kapitza Institute for Physical Problems, Russian Academy of Sciences
For originating the Gross-Pitaevskii theory of non-uniform Bose-Einstein condensates and subsequent extensive contributions to the theory of quantum fluids, especially as applied to ultracold atomic gases.

2021 Early Career Award for Soft Matter Research
Eleni Katifori, University of Pennsylvania
For the seminal use of physical principles in understanding living transport networks.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

2020 Nobel Prize in Physics

The 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics was announced today.

The first thing that I noticed was that my Mathematical Institute (Unversity of Oxford) colleague Roger Penrose got half the prize. Additionally, Andrea Ghez from UCLA's physics department shared the other half of the prize with Reinhard Genzel. Ghez also got a Ph.D. from Caltech in 1992, so several of my institutions (and my former home department at Oxford!) did very well today. Congratulations!
Here is the terse citation: 

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics 2020 with one half to Roger Penrose "for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity" and and the other half jointly to Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez "for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy".

Some other websites to look at are the popular blurb and more advanced information from the Nobel page. Additionally, here are UCLA's press release and a blurb from University of Oxford's Mathematical Institute.

Friday, October 02, 2020

RIP Bob Gibson (1935–2020)

Baseball has lost yet another immortal. Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson died today at the age of 84. (Tip of the cap to Gregg Schneider.)

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Dodgers Advance to the Division Series!

Clayton Kershaw had his most dominant performance of 2020, advancing the Dodgers over the Brewers in their "Wild Card Series". This advances us to a Division Series against the winner of the Cardinals–Padres series. The Padres are a more dangerous team, but they're also a more interesting one, so I hope that we play them.

Monday, September 28, 2020

RIP Jay Johnstone (1945–2020)

Baseball player and noted prankster Jay Johnstone died today. Here is ESPN's article about it.

Also, read his books. They're hilarious.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Personal Dice

Thursday, September 17, 2020

2020 Ig Nobel Laureates

This year's Ig Nobel laureates were announced in today's ceremony

 I have some fondness for the Physics prize (for exciting Faraday-like waves in earthworms), given that nonlinear dynamics and pattern formation are involved, and several of the other ones are also very amusing, but I think that my favorite one this year is the one in Management:

(奚广安) Xi Guang-An, (莫天祥) Mo Tian-Xiang, (杨康生) Yang Kang-Sheng, (杨广生) Yang Guang-Sheng, and (凌显四) Ling Xian Si, five professional hitmen in Guangxi, China, who managed a contract for a hit job (a murder performed for money) in the following way: After accepting payment to perform the murder, Xi Guang-An then instead subcontracted the task to Mo Tian-Xiang, who then instead subcontracted the task to Yang Kang-Sheng, who then instead subcontracted the task to Yang Guang-Sheng, who then instead subcontracted the task to Ling Xian-Si, with each subsequently enlisted hitman receiving a smaller percentage of the fee, and nobody actually performing a murder.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

"Spatial Applications of Topological Data Analysis: Cities, Snowflakes, Random Structures, and Spiders Spinning Under the Influence"

One of my papers was just published in final form today. Here are some details.

Title: Spatial Applications of Topological Data Analysis: Cities, Snowflakes, Random Structures, and Spiders Spinning Under the Influence

Authors: Michelle Feng and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: Spatial networks are ubiquitous in social, geographical, physical, and biological applications. To understand the large-scale structure of networks, it is important to develop methods that allow one to directly probe the effects of space on structure and dynamics. Historically, algebraic topology has provided one framework for rigorously and quantitatively describing the global structure of a space, and recent advances in topological data analysis have given scholars a new lens for analyzing network data. In this paper, we study a variety of spatial networks—including both synthetic and natural ones—using topological methods that we developed recently for analyzing spatial systems. We demonstrate that our methods are able to capture meaningful quantities, with specifics that depend on context, in spatial networks and thereby provide useful insights into the structure of those networks. We illustrate these ideas with examples of synthetic networks and dynamics on them, street networks in cities, snowflakes, and webs that were spun by spiders under the influence of various psychotropic substances.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Usage of the Word 'Oy'

Friday, September 11, 2020

"{Location, Location, Location}"

I am amused by today's xkcd.

I am going to steal the mouseover text for other nefarious purposes: "The most important attributes of a vector in 3-space are {Location, Location, Location}"

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

RIP Paul Steen (?? – 2020)

I received the sad news early today that Cornell Professor Paul Steen died on Friday.

I took a class on bifurcation theory from Paul, who was very supportive. My class project, in which I needed to use AUTO (an important aspect of the course), led to this publication.

Here is an excerpt from the Acknowledgements section:

Additionally, we express our gratitude toward Alan Champneys for several productive suggestions regarding the numerics, Alejandro Rodríguez-Luis for providing a preprint of his manuscript, and Paul Steen, whose guidance for this work as a project for ChE 753 (on which this paper is based) was particularly valuable.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

RIP Lou Brock (1939–2020)

We've lost another one of the great ones: Hall-of-Famer Lou Brock died today at the age of 81. You can see his statistics at this web page.

(Tip of the cap to Gregg Schneider.)

Tales from the ArXiv: "Dandling" Ends in Networks

The typo in this paper is pretty amusing, and I think that the authors should go with it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

RIP Tom Seaver (1944–2020)

Baseball Hall-of-Famer and pitching legend Tom Seaver has died. You can marvel at his career statistics on this page.

(Tip of the cap to Gregg Schneider.)

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

UCLA's New Undergraduate Major in "Data Theory"

UCLA has a new undergraduate major in Data Theory. Here is its catalog entry.

Update: Also see some hyperlinks in my previous blog entry about our new major.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

"Networks of Necessity: Preventing COVID-19 Among Disabled People and Their Caregivers"

We have a new white paper. Take a look at it. Eventually we'll also be posting an academic paper related to this project.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Ice Cream: Essential Ingredients for Marking Exams

Thursday, August 20, 2020

August Madness

Fill our your brackets! Which school will be the last to go fully online?

I am laughing to keep from crying. It's always been an important survival skill for me.

Also, I wish I had thought of this particular piece of snark.

(Tip of the cap to Barry Wellman.)

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Establish Dominance in Academia

"If [fill in] wants to establish dominance, they can just pee in the corner." is going to be my new go-to line in academia.

"Rotating" Cubes: An Impressive Visual Illusion

This visual illusion is very impressive. (I was skeptical and stopped and restarted the animated gif many times to look at the angles.)

(Tip of the cap to Philip E. Tetlock.)

Friday, August 14, 2020

A Four-Base Error

The Dodger broadcasters were just describing this play. This is the 15th four-base error on record in Major League Baseball history.

It is the 1st of these that went over the wall.

(Note: The ball that went off of José Canseco's head was ruled a home run.)

Friday, August 07, 2020

New XKCD: "Mathematical Symbol Fight"

XKCD understands me.

By the way, I don't agree with this ordering.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

When a Math Problem Comes Along, You Must Whip it!

Be Both the Doctor and the Kid


(Tip of the cap to Sydney Padua.)

Thursday, July 30, 2020

"How to Move a SIAM Minisymposium Online from the Comfort of your Home"

Several of us wrote a paper, from the perspective of both organizers and speakers, for DSWeb about our efforts to move a SIAM minisymposium online.

Authors: Heather Z. Brooks, Yuxin Chen, Michelle Feng, Yacoub H. Kureh, Mason A. Porter, Alexandria Volkening

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Play Ball!

Today it's time to start the weirdest Major League Baseball season ever!

Given the circumstances, I'm much less excited than usual about the baseball season. But, anyway: Play ball!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Mookie is Here to Stay!

The Dodgers have signed Mookie Betts to a 13-year contract (with 2020 as the first year), so he's going to be with us for a long time. Maybe he'll wear a Dodger hat on his Hall of Fame plaque?

Monday, July 20, 2020

Cardboard "Fans" at Dodger Stadium

Sunday, July 12, 2020


This is your occasional reminder about the mantra known as "FIPO" ( = "Fuck it. PLOS One.")

It is best used in verb form.

Example usage: "My paper got rejected from more than half a dozen journals and I wanted it out of my life, so I decided to FIPO it."

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Princess Bride: The Home Movie

I just finished watching the last installment of The Princess Bride: The Home Movie, and there are quite a few amazing appearances in it.

As it turns out, this movie also includes Carl Reiner's last screen performance.

If you have seen The Princess Bride, you definitely need to watch this version.

(And if you haven't seen the original version of The Princess Bride, you have some catching up to do!)

P.S. I have the right hair for Inigo Montoya (but I think that I would make a great Dread Pirate Roberts).

Update (7/11/20): I really enjoyed this version of the movie. It is kitschy, of course, but it's supposed to be. There are some really cool performances and choices of actors in it. And some cool bits of humor with improved props. It's definitely worth watching. Obviously, it's not polished like the original, but it isn't supposed to be.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

"I Am Here to Help"

My tweet went viral.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Congratulations to the 2020 Graduates from Our Research Group! (Humans First; Mathematicians Second)

We had our commencement ceremony.

CONGRATULATIONS to the Class of 2020 from the research group!

And thanks to Prof. Chad Topaz for a wonderful commencement speech (one of the best I ever heard and so meaningful to me). Thanks to the guests who joined us.

The graduating class of 2020:

Postdoc: Heather Zinn Brooks

Undergrads: Qinyi Chen, Unchitta Kanjanasaratool, Tony Liu

PhD students: Michelle Feng, Yacoub Kureh, William Oakley


Here are a couple of pictures.

And here is the text of Chad's speech.

"Are mathematicians human?"

I was very unsure of how to begin this speech, and so I did the natural thing: I Googled “graduation speech opening” and I found a site with the following advice, which I am going to obey.

1. Offer formal words recognizing the honored guests.
I hereby decree that this honored group seems familiar; have we met before?

2. Use humor. If you are confident that your humor will work, making everyone laugh will be a great start.
I am confident. Please go ahead and laugh now.

3. Enthusiastically congratulate graduates on their success.
From my heart, congratulations.

4. State the topic of your speech.
Those of you who know me know that I often go against the crowd. Some graduation speech themes are all too common, so I’ll be avoiding the following messages in this speech:
- Challenges are opportunities
- Be yourself
- The world is your oyster
- Love will triumph over all
- With great power comes great responsibility

So, for this speech, I have chosen the topic “Are mathematicians human?"

I was a postdoctoral fellow in this department from 2003 - 2006. During the last year of my postdoc, and wanting desperately to stay in academia, I applied for tenure track jobs. While I was lucky to get a couple of offers, none of the offers would have resolved my dual career couple issues. It seemed reasonable that I'd have a better chance of finding work in Los Angeles than my husband would in rural Maine. So I made one of the hardest decisions of my life: I stayed in Los Angeles and, in doing so, quit being a mathematician. But not before, in a moment of extreme frustration and angst, I committed the only physically violent act of my adult life by hurling a bowl of oatmeal at the wall of my apartment.

Sometimes we don't realize what part of our identity means until we don't have it anymore. I didn't see this coming, but when I could no longer call myself a mathematician, or at least not professionally, I wasn't sure what I was anymore.

The next year of my life began fairly miserably. I worked as a college administrator on another campus in a unit that was a poor fit for me. I had few personal goals other than feeling sorry myself. Gradually, though, things turned around. I slowly built stronger relationships with friends. I got involved in service work related to issues I cared about. I rediscovered how much I loved playing chamber works with other musicians. I reconnected with all of the parts of myself that I had let shrink.

I stopped identifying principally as a mathematician and started identifying principally as a human.

But what makes us human? Characteristics and abilities once thought to distinguish us from other animals -- the use of tools, the ability to recognize ourselves, the size of our brains, and much more -- turn out to be found in various corners of the animal kingdom. Some evidence from the natural sciences, though, does suggest what makes humans unique.

First, we are human because of the degree to which we are wired to help each other. In psychology experiments, children as young as 14 months will spontaneously help a person who is struggling or who looks worried or who drops an item. At age two years, children will help someone who isn't even aware of their own need for help, say, because they didn't realize they had dropped an item. And rewards don't seem to play a role. In experiments on 20 month old toddlers, those who had previously received rewards for being helpful acted equally helpfully as a control group that hadn't received rewards. Other species certainly have been observed to engage in helping behavior, but within different parameters. For instance, close by on the evolutionary tree, chimpanzees will share food. Chimps, however, appear to be far more selective about their helping behavior, sharing only with close relatives or potential mates. In short, humans appear to be wired to be indiscriminately cooperative.

Second, we are human because of our ability to imagine and know things beyond our senses. Take the famous psychology experiment called the Sally-Anne task. In this task, there are two dolls named Sally and Anne. A young child, who is the subject of the experiment, sees Sally putting a marble in a basket while Anne watches. Then Sally leaves the room. While she's gone, Anne removes the marble from the basket and puts it inside a box. Then Sally comes back into the room. The experimenter asks the child where Sally will look for the marble, most children answer that Sally will look in the basket, where she had originally left it. The child knows that the marble is not there, but understands that Sally will have a different thought. Let me emphasize this: it's not merely that the child knows that the marble moved. The child can put themself in the mindset of another person and imagine what that person thinks. On the other hand, in a version of the experiment designed to assess chimpanzees, the chimps generally failed the test.

So two possible answers to "what makes us human" are our level of radical, selfless cooperation and our capacity to put ourselves in the shoes of another, a quality we sometimes refer to as empathy.

This speech would not be authentic if I did not call out that we are living during challenging times. Now let's be real: epidemic disease has been with humankind for a long time, with the earliest records of an influenza-like epidemic coming from central and Southern Asia around 1200 BC. Racial injustice has been with us in the United States since before we even WERE the United States. Still, we seem to be in an especially challenging moment right now, with bungled public health efforts and the continued killing of Black people by the police. It can be hard to believe that cooperation and empathy are our nature. So I take solace in the aforementioned scientific evidence and I say thank goodness for lab experiments.

It's not just on the national and international stages that the better parts of human nature can be obscured. You will have moments in your professional and personal lives when you will have the opportunity to put your humanity second to more immediate or more tangible or just plan easier ends. My message to you today is simple: always, first and foremost, be a human.

I asked Mason to give me a few very brief words about the human qualities of each of you, graduates. Mason respected my request... except for the brevity part! So please know that when I mention each of you, the brevity is mine, not his.

Heather, you are a valued and highly respected source of wisdom.

Michelle, your creativity and passion are inspirational.

Yacoub, you are driven to help, from each individual student up to saving the world.

Will, your good cheer powers not only your own efforts, but lifts those around you.

Quinyi, you have a rare blend of determination and humility.

Unchitta, you have limitless compassion.

Tony, you fearlessly reach out to those in need.

By the way, while today is mostly about you, graduates, it is also a little bit about Mason. It doesn't escape my notice that your advisor displays stellar human qualities as well, which is perhaps why we are drawn to him.

To the seven honored and accomplished celebrants, I wish you hearty congratulations and all the best for the future. Thanks to your hard work and dedication, you are outstanding students, scholars, teachers, mathematicians, thinkers. But most of all, you are outstanding humans.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

"Spatial Strength Centrality and the Effect of Spatial Embeddings on Network Architecture"

One of my papers came out in final form today. Here is a link to the paper, and here are some details.

Title: "Spatial Strength Centrality and the Effect of Spatial Embeddings on Network Architecture"

Authors: Andrew Liu and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: For many networks, it is useful to think of their nodes as being embedded in a latent space, and such embeddings can affect the probabilities for nodes to be adjacent to each other. In this paper, we extend existing models of synthetic networks to spatial network models by first embedding nodes in Euclidean space and then modifying the models so that progressively longer edges occur with progressively smaller probabilities. We start by extending a geographical fitness model by employing Gaussian-distributed fitnesses, and we then develop spatial versions of preferential attachment and configuration models. We define a notion of “spatial strength centrality” to help characterize how strongly a spatial embedding affects network structure, and we examine spatial strength centrality on a variety of real and synthetic networks.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

The COVID-19 Graduating Class

Thursday, June 04, 2020

A Great Ph.D. Defense by Dr. Will Oakley

Congratulations to my Ph.D. student Will Oakley on an excellent defense of his thesis!

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

"Fitting in and Breaking Up: A Nonlinear Version of Coevolving Voter Models"

A paper of mine came out in final form today. Here are some details.

Title: Fitting in and Breaking Up: A Nonlinear Version of Coevolving Voter Models

Authors: Yacoub H. Kureh and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: We investigate a nonlinear version of coevolving voter models, in which node states and network structure update as a coupled stochastic process. Most prior work on coevolving voter models has focused on linear update rules with fixed and homogeneous rewiring and adopting probabilities. By contrast, in our nonlinear version, the probability that a node rewires or adopts is a function of how well it “fits in” with the nodes in its neighborhood. To explore this idea, we incorporate a local-survey parameter σ_i that encodes the fraction of neighbors of an updating node i that share its opinion state. In an update, with probability σ^q_i(for some nonlinearity parameter q), the updating node rewires; with complementary probability 1 − σ^q_i, the updating node adopts a new opinion state. We study this mechanism using three rewiring schemes: after an updating node deletes one of its discordant edges, it then either (1) “rewires-to-random” by choosing a new neighbor in a random process; (2) “rewires-to-same” by choosing a new neighbor in a random process from nodes that share its state; or (3) “rewires-to-none” by not rewiring at all (akin to “unfriending” on social media). We compar eour nonlinear coevolving voter model to several existing linear coevolving voter models on various network architectures. Relative to those models, we find in our model that initial network topology plays a larger role in the dynamics and that the choice of rewiring mechanism plays a smaller role. A particularly interesting feature of our model is that, under certain conditions, the opinion state that is held initially by a minority of the nodes can effectively spread to almost every node in a network if the minority nodes view themselves as the majority. In light of this observation, we relate our results to recent work on the majority illusion in social networks.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

"Nonlinearity + Networks: A 2020 Vision"

Here is the final, published version of my forward-looking book chapter about where network science and some directions that it is heading. It appears in the book Emerging Frontiers in Nonlinear Science.

Title: Nonlinearity + Networks: A 2020 Vision

Abstract: I briefly survey several fascinating topics in networks and nonlinearity. I highlight a few methods and ideas, including several of personal interest, that I anticipate to be especially important during the next several years. These topics include temporal networks (in which a network’s entities and/or their interactions change in time), stochastic and deterministic dynamical processes on networks, adaptive networks (in which a dynamical process on a network is coupled to dynamics of network structure), and network structure and dynamics that include “higher-order” interactions (which involve three or more entities in a network). I draw examples from a variety of scenarios, including contagion dynamics, opinion models, waves, and coupled oscillators.

And in case you want to help spread the word, here is my recent tweet.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Topography Will Tear Us Apart

I feel like this tweet was written just for me.

(Tip of the cap to Dave Richeson.)

Thursday, May 28, 2020

An Awesome Ph.D. Defense by Dr. Yacoub Kureh!

Congratulations to my Ph.D. student Yacoub Kureh on an awesome defense of his thesis!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Starting Out the Hard Way

I was the TA in the first course that Alex Vladimirsky (now the Director of the PhD program of my graduate alma mater) was ever in charge of.

Two decades later, I am still the most opinionated TA that he's ever had with respect to how to teach a course. People should get the most difficult person out of the way at the beginning, right?

Thursday, April 30, 2020

"Community Matters"

Some art that arose from our research was published recently in the collection The Art of Theoretical Biology. Here are some details about our contribution.

Title: Community Matters

Authors: Anna C. F. Lewis, Nick S. Jones, Mason A. Porter, and Charlotte M. Deane

"A Framework for the Construction of Generative Models for Mesoscale Structure in Multilayer Networks"

We first posted a version of this article (now known as "The Beast") on arXiv in 2016, and (as of today) we are finally completely DONE! Here are some details.

Title: A Framework for the Construction of Generative Models for Mesoscale Structure in Multilayer Networks

Authors: Marya Bazzi, Lucas G. S. Jeub, Alex Arenas, Sam D. Howison, and Mason A. Porter

Software: You can find code for the model, as well as the outputs of the computational experiments in our paper, at this page.

Abstract: Multilayer networks allow one to represent diverse and coupled connectivity patterns—such as time-dependence, multiple subsystems, or both—that arise in many applications and which are difficult or awkward to incorporate into standard network representations. In the study of multilayer networks, it is important to investigate mesoscale (i.e., intermediate-scale) structures, such as dense sets of nodes known as communities, to discover network features that are not apparent at the microscale or the macroscale. The ill-defined nature of mesoscale structure and its ubiquity in empirical networks make it crucial to develop generative models that can produce the features that one encounters in empirical networks. Key purposes of such models include generating synthetic networks with empirical properties of interest, benchmarking mesoscale-detection methods and algorithms, and inferring structure in empirical multilayer networks. In this paper, we introduce a framework for the construction of generative models for mesoscale structures in multilayer networks. Our framework provides a standardized set of generative models, together with an associated set of principles from which they are derived, for studies of mesoscale structures in multilayer networks. It unifies and generalizes many existing models for mesoscale structures in fully ordered (e.g., temporal) and unordered (e.g., multiplex) multilayer networks. One can also use it to construct generative models for mesoscale structures in partially ordered multilayer networks (e.g., networks that are both temporal and multiplex). Our framework has the ability to produce many features of empirical multilayer networks, and it explicitly incorporates a user-specified dependency structure between layers. We discuss the parameters and properties of our framework, and we illustrate examples of its use with benchmark models for community-detection methods and algorithms in multilayer networks.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A Spectacular Ph.D. Thesis Defense by Michelle Feng!

Congratulations to my Ph.D. student Michelle Feng on a superb defense of her thesis!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Sunday, April 26, 2020

"And Then the Dragons Arrived."

I am amused. :)

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Dramatic Readings of Academic Research and Other Scholarly Works

Monday, April 20, 2020

A Paper Called "Lunch Menu" on Google Scholar

I love it!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

"A Model for the Influence of Media on the Ideology of Content in Online Social Networks"

One of my papers has just appeared in final form. Here are some details.

Title: A Model for the Influence of Media on the Ideology of Content in Online Social Networks

Authors: Heather Z. Brooks and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: Many people rely on online social networks as sources of news and information, and the spread of media content with ideologies across the political spectrum influences online discussions and impacts offline actions. To examine the impact of media in online social networks, we generalize bounded-confidence models of opinion dynamics by incorporating media accounts as influencers in a network. We quantify partisanship of content with a continuous parameter on an interval, and we formulate higher-dimensional generalizations to incorporate content quality and increasingly nuanced political positions. We simulate our model with one and two ideological dimensions, and we use the results of our simulations to quantify the “entrainment” of content from nonmedia accounts to the ideologies of media accounts in a network. We maximize media impact in a social network by tuning the number of media accounts and the numbers of followers of those accounts. Using numerical computations, we find that the entrainment of the ideology of content that is spread by nonmedia accounts to media ideology depends on a network's structural features, including its size, the mean number of followers of its nodes, and the receptiveness of its nodes to different opinions. We then introduce content quality—a key novel contribution of our work—into our model. We incorporate multiple media sources with ideological biases and quality-level estimates that we draw from real media sources and demonstrate that our model can produce distinct communities (“echo chambers”) that are polarized in both ideology and quality. Our model provides a step toward understanding content quality and ideology in spreading dynamics, with ramifications for how to mitigate the spread of undesired content and promote the spread of desired content.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Los Angeles Without Smog

This picture is amazing!

(Tip of the cap to Predrag Cvitanovic.)

Sunday, March 29, 2020

RIP Philip Anderson (1923–2020)

The extraordinary condensed-matter physicist Philip Anderson died today.

I can't yet find an obituary to include as a hyperlink.

Update (3/30/20): The New York Times has published an obituary.

Update (3/30/20): Here is an obituary from Princeton University.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

RIP Nate 'n Al Delicatessen (1945–2020)

It looks like Nate 'n Al Delicatessen (i.e., "Nate 'n Al's") is going to be closing its doors for good tomorrow. The article left a small opening, but it looks bleak.

I have been getting food from there for more than 40 years, and it has my favorite corned-beef sandwiches.

Well, I guess I ordered my last two corned beef sandwiches from them last night. :( I got it delivered. (I'll nuke the second one for dinner today or tomorrow.)

I was going to eat dinner there with some of my students on 14 March, but I necessarily cancelled that dinner. Some of them have tried it before, and I have now informed the one who mentioned last night that she might try it that today is the day for her if it's ever going to happen.

I'll share a different one of my childhood restaurants with my students. (The Apple Pan is a difficult choice when things get back to normal, though, given the way that seating works there.)

Update (3/29/20): Nate 'n Al's isn't quite dead yet. Hopefully, they'll make it through this crisis and come back around when we get past it.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Cooking: Yet Another Sign of the Apocalypse

I remember telling people that it would probably take an apocalypse for me to start cooking...

And, well, here we are.

(The picture above is the first in a sequence of five pictures. I ate those noodles out of sheer stubbornness.)

Another Sign of the Apocalypse: Oxford has Cancelled its Conventional Exams

And we are definitely in the end of times: University of Oxford has cancelled its conventional exams this year and is replacing them with alternative forms of assessment.

Thankfully, Coffee is an Essential Service.

Even with the 'stay at home' executive order, Peet's is still open for takeout. Thankfully, coffee is considered an essential service.

Time has no Meaning.

Time has no meaning.

Also, space has no meaning.

Also, spacetime has no meaning.

(In addition to the fact that now I end up using the same technology to talk to somebody who is 1 mile away as somebody who is on the other side of the world, and that I can be anywhere in the world when I teach my courses online — which is inspiring these "delightful" thoughts — I naturally thought of a line from this sketch. One of my friends has subsequently reminded me of the quote "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime, doubly so.")

My mood is also captured by this video.

It's (Probably Not) the End of the World as we Know it (and I Feel Fine)

According to this article, "This is not the end of the world, according to Christians who study the end of the world". What a relief!

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Real-World Devilish Wish

What this feels like is that I made a deal with a devil for people to actually be actively encouraged to be like me (avoid other people, wear sweatpants and t-shirts, etc.) instead of being made fun of for it, and of course when the devil granted my wish, it created a pandemic to accomplish my wish.

It is very strange to wake up in that kind of world. Most people are trying their best to do more extreme forms of many of the things that I try to do anyway in my normal life.

This is the type of thing that I would do as a Dungeon Master to a wish-maker who didn't phrase their wish very carefully.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Way Ahead of My Time

I hear people talking about just wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt all the time and not properly getting dressed to go out, and I'm like: I have already been doing this for decades.

I was way ahead of my time.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

A Song for Today's Era of Social Distancing

First: How did I not think of Don't Stand So Close To Me (by The Police) as a snarky thing to pass along in today's efforts at social distancing?

Second: I am proud that one of my PhD students brought up this song in his e-mail just now. Between that and the fact that another of my PhD students has The Princess Bride as one of her favorite movies.

(In case you needed even more evidence that I have awesome students...)

Preparing to Teach Classes in Cyberspace

Friday, March 13, 2020

Behind-the-Scenes Pictures of Professors Suddenly Transitioning to Online Teaching

Played to the tune of "March of the Toreadors" or the theme to "The Benny Hill Show", surely?

A Sign of the End of Days

I saw in an e-mail that Oxford has given blanket approval for vivas (i.e., thesis defenses) by video conference.

Now we know that we've reached the end of days.

(That said, they were faster than UCLA for blanket approval.)

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Major League Baseball Season is Delayed

Major League Baseball has suspended Spring Training and delayed the start of the season by at least 2 weeks. And I am sure that it's going to be a lot more than 2 weeks.

This is perhaps the first time in my life that I have ever been strongly in favor of baseball being cancelled. Simply, it's the right thing to do.

Baseball is one of my coping mechanisms, but I will find others.

Glora Gayner Demonstrating Thorough Hand-Washing by Singing "I Will Survive"

This video is pretty fantastic because it's wonderfully meta.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

My Personalized Pandemic Card

In case you're interested, you can find templates on this website.

Friday, March 06, 2020

"Dominance, Sharing, and Assessment in an Iterated Hawk–Dove Game"

A new paper of mine — mercifully — came out in final form today after a nightmarish experience with the typesetting.

(I write this even though they pulled the trigger without showing us the final version — despite our explicit request — and a couple of minor glitches with the references reflect this. Following instructions was consistently very difficult for these typesetters.)

Anyway, I really like this paper, and I think there are some very cool avenues to pursue with it as a starting point. Our public code will hopefully help encourage such efforts. Here are some details.

Title: Dominance, Sharing, and Assessment in an Iterated Hawk–Dove Game

Authors: Cameron L. Hall, Mason A. Porter, and Marian S. Dawkins

Abstract: Animals use a wide variety of strategies to reduce or avoid aggression in conflicts over resources. These strategies range from sharing resources without outward signs of conflict to the development of dominance hierarchies, in which initial fighting is followed by the submission of subordinates. Although models have been developed to analyse specific strategies for resolving conflicts over resources, little work has focused on trying to understand why particular strategies are more likely to arise in certain situations. In this paper, we use a model based on an iterated Hawk–Dove game to analyse how resource holding potentials (RHPs) and other factors affect whether sharing, dominance relationships, or other behaviours are evolutionarily stable. We find through extensive numerical simulations that sharing is stable only when the cost of fighting is low and the animals in a contest have similar RHPs, whereas dominance relationships are stable in most other situations. We also explore what happens when animals are unable to assess each other’s RHPs without fighting, and we compare a range of strategies for contestants using simulations. We find (1) that the most successful strategies involve a limited period of assessment followed by a stable relationship in which fights are avoided and (2) that the duration of assessment depends both on the costliness of fighting and on the difference between the animals’ RHPs. Along with our direct work on modelling and simulations, we develop extensive software to facilitate further testing. It is available at

A Physical Hand-Washing Mnemonic

My favorite is "grant offering"! ;)

(Tip of the cap to Eva Miranda.)

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

A Great 'Team' Page

The 'team' page at the Institute for Disease Modeling is spectacular!

Take a look at it for the short video clips!

(Tip of the cap to Carl Bergstrom.)

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Attention, Reuters: Proper Use of Colons is Important

(Tip of the cap to Calling Bullshit.)

Update: Well, from the link (below) that Gregg Schneider just sent me, it appears that Reuters may have a writer who does not understand how to use colons properly.

Friday, February 28, 2020

An Otter's "Careless Whisper"

(Tip of the cap to Card Colm Mulcahy.)

Monday, February 24, 2020

"Automatic Generation of School Bus Routes in Los Angeles"

Our report for the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies from our collaboration with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is now publicly available. Here are some details.

Title: Automatic Generation of School Bus Routes in Los Angeles

Authors: Mason A. Porter, David J. Spender, and Cu Hauw ("Willy") Hung

Abstract: The goal of our project is to automatically generate school bus routes for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). We examined four algorithms, including two from the existing literature and two new ones that we developed. A major focus of our work was the construction of “mixed-load routes,” which transport students from multiple schools. Based on our measurements (whose imperfections we discuss), three of the four algorithms perform at least as well as the existing route plan, and one of those three performs better than the existing route plan. We also delivered a user-friendly routing program to LAUSD that uses one of these algorithms, and we have made our software publicly available. Our insights and results are also applicable to other school districts that permit mixed-load routing.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

A Comic-Book Café in Korea


I want to go and hang out in this café.

(And I want to play "Take On Me" as background music while I am there.)

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Stay Tuned for My Mathematics Opinion Piece :)

In case you're wondering, the correct analogy (which you'll understand if you are familiar with Dragonlance) is "Tasslehoff was bored." (Nothing on Krynn is more dangerous than a bored kender.)

A sudden thought: I wonder if this counts as an Invited Tirade?

Saturday, February 15, 2020

"Contributed Tirades"

My contribution is "Contributed Tirades". I wonder if I have ever had any Invited Tirades?

Thanks to Dan Larremore for the inspiration!

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Dodgers Acquire Mookie Betts (and David Price)!

The Dodgers have acquired Mookie Betts in a trade with the Boston Red Sox! In addition to Betts, we get David Price, who is still a good pitcher (although he is worth much less than his hefty salary these days). Alex Verdugo goes to the Red Sox and Kenta Maeda goes to the Minnesota Twins, who are sending prospect Brusdar Graterol to the Red Sox.


Update: And right after the big trade above, the Dodgers traded Joc Pederson to the Los Angeles Angels for infielder Luis Rengifo.

Update (2/09/20): After the original version of the trade hit a snag (because of a medical test on Brusdar Graterol), the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Twins have now officially agreed on a trade (so it's now a done deal). Our trades with the Red Sox and Twins are now two separate deals, and a couple of other Dodger prospects (shortstop Jeter Downs and catcher Connor Wong) are now also going to the Red Sox.

Update (2/09/20): The Dodgers also get another prospect and a draft pick from the Twins, and (according to David Schoenfield) the trade of Joc Pederson to the Angels (which apparently was contingent on the trade for Betts) appears to be a casualty of the delay in finalizing the trade for Betts.

Monday, February 03, 2020

"Online Reactions to the 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ Rally in Charlottesville: Measuring Polarization in Twitter Networks Using Media Followership"

A new paper of mine came out in final form a few days ago. Here are some details.

Title: Online Reactions to the 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ Rally in Charlottesville: Measuring Polarization in Twitter Networks Using Media Followership

Authors: Joseph H. Tien, Marisa C. Eisenberg, Sarah T. Cherng, and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: Network analysis of social media provides an important new lens on politics, communication, and their interactions. This lens is particularly prominent in fast-moving events, such as conversations and action in political rallies and the use of social media by extremist groups to spread their message. We study the Twitter conversation following the August 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA using tools from network analysis and data science. We use media followership on Twitter and principal component analysis (PCA) to compute a ‘Left’/‘Right’ media score on a one-dimensional axis to characterize Twitter accounts. We then use these scores, in concert with retweet relationships, to examine the structure of a retweet network of approximately 300,000 accounts that communicated with the #Charlottesville hashtag. The retweet network is sharply polarized, with an assortativity coefficient of 0.8 with respect to the sign of the media PCA score. Community detection using two approaches, a Louvain method and InfoMap, yields communities that tend to be homogeneous in terms of Left/Right node composition. We also examine centrality measures and find that hyperlink-induced topic search (HITS) identifies many more hubs on the Left than on the Right. When comparing tweet content, we find that tweets about ‘Trump’ were widespread in both the Left and Right, although the accompanying language (i.e., critical on the Left, but supportive on the Right) was unsurprisingly different. Nodes with large degrees in communities on the Left include accounts that are associated with disparate areas, including activism, business, arts and entertainment, media, and politics. By contrast, support of Donald Trump was a common thread among the Right communities, connecting communities with accounts that reference white-supremacist hate symbols, communities with influential personalities in the alt-right, and the largest Right community (which includes the Twitter account FoxNews).

Note: And only now after several rounds of page proofs, right after it's too late, do I notice that the typesetters changed "Right" to "right" in the paper title, even though it is a proper noun. Well, we had plenty of chances to notice this typo that they introduced, so it's frustrating that this is another one of those that I notice immediately as soon as it's published (while not catching it in my numerous chances to see it).

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Boycotting a Coin Over a "Missing" Oxford Comma

Perhaps Philip Pullman is overreacting in his boycott of a coin over a missing Oxford comma, but this does pull at my heart strings. :)

(Tip of the cap to Sam Howison.)

Monday, January 27, 2020

"Quantifying “Political Islands” with Persistent Homology"

Here is a new expository article (in SIAM News) by my Ph.D. student Michelle Feng and me about our work on spatial topological data analysis.

You may also be interested in our associated research article and our recent follow-up article.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

New 2020 Baseball Hall of Famers

I am a bit late with this post, as I have been traveling and very busy during the past few days.

Anyway, the new Major League Baseball Hall of Famers that were just elected by the writers are Derek Jeter (in his first year of eligibility) and Larry Walker (in his 10th and final year on the writers' ballot). I'm really pleased that Larry Walker was voted in by the writers! He should have made it years ago, but thankfully he made huge gains in each of the last three years (and especially in each of the last two years). For Jeter, the only question was whether he'd be unanimous; one person left him off of their ballot. Jeter and Walker join Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller as 2020's inductees into the Hall of Fame.

This year's vote totals are available at this website, and you can also take a look at the Hall of Fame Voter Tracker, which I was following assiduously in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the new inductees.

Scott Rolen was polling at close to 50% before the results were announced. He gained a ton of votes, but after seeing where he was before the announcement, I was a bit surprised to see the final total at "only" about 35%. Todd Helton made major gains to almost 30%, perhaps because he's no longer on his first ballot. They're in good shape, but it will take a while.

Curt Schilling got to 70%, so he'll make it in 2021. Nobody who has a shot is debuting on the ballot next year (well, maybe Tim Hudson will make it eventually), so 2021 is Schilling's year.

Rogers Clemens and Barry Bonds crept over 60%. I'll be very surprised if the writers elect them, as people have drawn lines in the sand, but one of the current incarnations of the Veterans Committees will put them in the Hall someday.

Omar Vizquel (sigh) broke the 50% barrier, and his eventual election is inevitable.

Billy Wagner, Gary Sheffield, and Andruw Jones made big gains. (I wonder if the latter two were helped not only by there being only one obvious newcomer but also by Harold Baines now being in the Hall? Both Jones and Sheffield were much better players than Baines.) We'll see how much Wagner gains over the next years.

Jeff Kent also made major inroads, and he'll likely make it eventually via one of the Veterans Committees.

A bunch of others (such as Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa) also gained a decent amount, but I doubt they'll go much of anywhere on the regular ballot (and Sosa has achieved around this many votes in some past years as well, I believe).

Bobby Abreu managed to get just enough votes to stay on the ballot next year. That's good.

And the latest entries in the exactly-one-vote club are Adam Dunn, Brad Penny, Raúl Ibañez, and J. J. Putz (who once hit Kevin Mench with a pitch, marking the only time in Major League Baseball history that a Mench got hit by a Putz).
There aren't any Hall-of-Fame-caliber standouts debuting on the 2021 ballot, so perhaps it will only be Curt Schilling from the regular ballot next year.

David Schoenfield wrote about this year's winners and losers in the Hall of Fame voting.

Here is my blog entry about the result of last year's writers' votes.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What Happens in Kuala Lumpur Stays in Kuala Lumpur

I just arrived in Kuala Lumpur for a friend's wedding!

I am very tired. :)

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Quote of the Conference: Geodesic Spaces of Normal Shrinkage

"I call it 'geodesic spaces of normal shrinkage', in honor of George Costanza."

This may be the quote of the conference. The talk in question is this one.