Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tales from the arXiv: Quantum Robot edition

Date: Thu, 25 Dec 2008 16:31:05 GMT (161kb)

Title: I, Quantum Robot
Authors: Paola Zizzi
Categories: quant-ph
Comments: 12 pages
Quantum robots, defined as mobile quantum systems with an on-board quantum computer and any needed ancillary systems, interact with other quantum systems which are part of the environment. The logic which describes quantum robots is not orthodox quantum logic, but a deductive calculus which reproduces the quantum tasks (computational processes, and actions) taking into account quantum superposition and quantum entanglement. The logical object-language cannot be viewed as the reflection of the usual classical metalanguage: a quantum metalanguage is needed. Quantum robots can, in principle, become aware of the environment, take decisions, and make experiments. In principle, quantum robots can become intelligent machines. In this case, it is believed they might learn much faster than classical machines, because of quantum speed-up. Then, quantum robots, once they will be built, might result to be those hyper-intelligent machines which will lead to the so-called technological singularity. Such a singularity might be dangerous if quantum robots become self-aware and take advantage on humans. To avoid such a problem, it would be useful to adopt a quantum metalanguage to control quantum robots in a dialectic way, that is, without lowering their capabilities by quantum measurements. A physical implementation of a quantum metalanguage might be the use of coherent states in brain signals. In this way the external agent virtually acts as he
was in a composite quantum system together with the quantum robot. This is the quantum version of non-invasive BCI (Brain-Computer Interface). In this case the observer can be considered internal by the use of a quantum metalanguage, resulting in an obviously conscious Quantum Brain-Computer.

\\ ( http://arxiv.org/abs/0812.4614 , 161kb)

Or maybe this should be called the spooooooky robot edition? (Actually, some of the papers by this author that he cited in the bibliography seem legitimate even though this paper seems strange.)

New Year's Resolution as determined by iTunes (Take 4)

Just like I did last year, the year before that, and the year before that, I am going to determine my New Year's resolution using the iTunes Oracle. It is a bit early to do this, but it's already the 31st in Oxford, so we'll just deal with the fact that it's still really early morning there.

Here is what the iTunes Oracle says about my 2009:

1. The Covering: Lisa Stansfield, Someday (I'm Coming Back)
2. The Crossing: Madonna, Nothing Fails (Jason Nevins Radio Remix)
3. The Crown: Madness, Baggy Trousers
4. The Root: David Bowie, Golden Years
5. The Past: Icehouse, Don't Believe Anymore
6. The Future: Squeeze, If I Didn't Love You
7. The Questioner: Mariah Carey, To Be Around You
8. The House: Paul Simon, Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes
9. The Inside: Neil Hannon, So Long & Thanks For All The Fish (Reprise)
10. The Outcome: John Lennon, The Ballad Of John And Yoko

Bonus song: Simon & Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water

Last year's prediction that waves would be important to me in 2008 was hardly surprising, given that I study nonlinear waves. Given my musical tastes, the iTunes Oracle has brought me yet another overwhelmingly positive prediction for this year. Apparently, the current issue involves my worrying that something or someone might be coming back and possibly stalking me. (I certainly hope not.) Also, the current problems involve nothing failing. Well that's hardly realistic! Maybe it means that there will be problems if I don't fail any of my students? Also, the best that I can achieve from how things currently are is baggy trousers, which isn't actually so bad. Some aspects of all this have arisen from my skepticism, but it sounds like I'm getting over that. What will replace it are bipolar feelings about something. (OK, you need to know the lyrics of the Squeeze song to see where that interpretation comes from.) The questions around this come from whether or not I am around whatever object or creature is in question, or perhaps they really arise from the fact that I have some Mariah Carey songs on my playlist? Other people apparently view this object or creature as somehow luxurious or possibly (if a person) as having had some sort of privileged background. My hopes for the situation are just that things will go away. (We shall see. Let's see what materializes first.) The outcome will be my railing about others (figuratively) crucifying me---also bloody likely, given how much I care about how others think. ;) And as a bonus, the Oracle ended on a rather melancholy song.

In sum, the Oracle has made about as little sense as usual. :) But it's a fun exercise nonetheless. Happy New Year!

Online Steve Strogatz Lecture on Synchronization

Courtesy the website of the Society for Industrual and Applied Mathematics, here is a online lecture on synchronization by Steve Strogatz that has been posted on the Exchange Morning Post website. I haven't watched the lecture yet, but it is intended for public audiences, and Steve is one of the most inspiring speakers I've ever watched. (By the way, as some of you know, he was on my Ph.D. thesis committee.)

Anyway, enjoy!

Monday, December 29, 2008

This is why I am "awesome"

I had another bout with awesomeness today...

I am at my parents' house and wanted to order from a local Chinese place that I really like but from which I hadn't ordered in several years.

My parents had a menu at home, but I knew what I wanted and I stubbornly just googled to find the phone number so I wouldn't have to leave my room and deal with their ill-tempered dog who would attack me (when it's not contained) if I left my room. I also didn't want to bug someone else to get the menu even though that was offered. I called the place and they no longer carried what I really liked, but it had been a few years, so I shrugged and ordered something that offered as an alternative. When they came to the door, I realized my mistake and paid a small delivery charge because this place is much farther than the other one. Ah well, at least I ordered from a place with the same name (which is apparently owned by the same people, if I understood correctly).

I'm such a champ.

(Oh, and the other place still has the menu item I really like...)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Observation of the Day

I love having a career in which many of my colleagues respond to e-mails within about 15-30 minutes of my sending them even when it's the day after Christmas, it's Friday night, and it's 8pm their time. :)

How about those Republicans?

I just read this story on CNN.com.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

New to the Blogroll: Science Groks

I have added a link to the blog that goes with the Groks Science Radio Show and Podcast, which is brought to you by the creative energies of Charles ("Chuckles") Lee '96 from Lloyd House and Frank Ling '97 from Page House.

Last week, we recorded another show with a guest appearance by me. As usual, I made a few "awesome" comments. :)

2008: The Year in Review

OK, so here is my year-in-review blog entry.

I've gotten increasingly lazy about these blog entries over the past few years and, frankly, I'm not particularly interested in writing them at the moment. (They're very long, not usually that creative, and if I'm going to finish the final one in March like I did for 2007, there doesn't seem to be much point in dragging them out.)

So let me just summarize 2008 with the catchphrase of the year: And that happened!

By the way, I will still be doing my iTunes New Year's resolutions this time around, but I'll write that blog entry in a few days.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Quote of the Day

Today's quote comes from the art submission guidelines from the J!NX catalog in their solicitation (with potential monetary reward) for new t-shirt ideas:

"3. We have disabled BMP files in the art upload. If you are using MS Paint, you probably don't need to be submitting art."

Comment: I approve! (As a side note, some of you reading this may be aware of my numerous rants at students who submitted drafts of papers to me in which the figures were in .bmp format. In the MTBI REU program in particular, that a was well-known way to make me go ballistic.)

Did I mention that I hate the Yankees?

Apparently, the Yankees just signed Mark Teixeira. Fuckers.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sliding up that hill...

Here is an awesome video (complete with Benny Hill music) of cars attempting to make it up an icy slope in Portland. It's funny in general, but if you look closely, you can find some pretty hilarious things in there. Also, some of the cars were really persistent.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Names for my children?

This comment comes from one of my former Caltech SURF students:

P.S. One last random comment--I always thought your name should be a type of beer, like a porter that you drink out of a mason jar? (I'm still working out the kinks) so I tried googling "Mason Porter" but all I could find were your websites and some mediocre folk band. Anywho, when you have children I think you should name them so that it matches with your last name, something like "Stout" or "Double" or maybe "Telly". During rotation this year I found an unused nametag at a Ricketts lunch with the name "Ernest Lee". It made me really happy.

Comment: I'm amused.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dodgers resign Rafael Furcal

The Dodgers have apparently resigned shortstop Rafael Furcal to a three-year contract. It was reported a couple of days ago that Furcal had signed with the Braves (his original team), but apparently there were some shenanigans (on the part of his agent) involved in those negotiations.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Some words from Vin Scully

Courtesy Rob Neyer's blog, here is a short video blurb from Vin Scully in which he talks about past, present, and future.

Dali, Topology, and Catastrophe Theory

Courtesy Cat, I just found out that Dali had some connections with Rene Thom and put some catastrophe theory and topology into some of his art. In particular, he pointed out The Swallow's Tail and Topological Abduction of Europe - Homage to René Thom.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tales from the arXiv: Online and Offline Gangs

Here is a new paper--just posted on the arXiv preprint server--by one of my collaborators that you might find interesting:

Title: Human group formation in online guilds and offline gangs driven by common team dynamic

Authors: Neil F. Johnson, Chen Xu, Zhenyuan Zhao, Nicolas Ducheneaut, Nicholas Yee, George Tita, Pak Ming Hui

Abstract: Quantifying human group dynamics represents a unique challenge. Unlike animals and other biological systems, humans form groups in both real (offline) and virtual (online) spaces -- from potentially dangerous street gangs populated mostly by disaffected male youths, through to the massive global guilds in online role-playing games for which membership currently exceeds tens of millions of people from all possible backgrounds, age-groups and genders. We have compiled and analyzed data for these two seemingly unrelated offline and online human activities, and have uncovered an unexpected quantitative link between them. Although their overall dynamics differ visibly, we find that a common team-based model can accurately reproduce the quantitative features of each simply by adjusting the average tolerance level and attribute range for each population. By contrast, we find no evidence to support a homophilic version of the model, nor does conventional time-aggregated network analysis help unravel the dynamics.

Based on the format of the paper, it may have been submitted to Nature or Science.

Friday, December 12, 2008

History Repeats Itself

I was googling myself and found a December 2008 article about Christmas cards that some little kids had made in an art class. The reporter asked the kids who they were going to give their cards to and other things like that. And then came the following indication that perhaps history repeats itself.

The reporter asked one particular student about who he was going to give his cards to. Here is what the article says about how he reacted:

Mason Porter, 7, hadn't thought that far ahead. He was too busy thinking about what he wants for Christmas.

"I want a Nintendo," he said. "My brother broke mine."

If you substitute the specific names of the video game systems involved, that could have been me (especially the way I was back then)! Wow!

What happens in the Greater LA Area stays in the Greater LA Area

I am flying home to Los Angeles tomorrow and will be splitting my time between Caltech and Beverly Hills to visit friends, family, and collaborators. I arrive tomorrow evening and my plan for Sunday is to hang out with friends and eat meat.

Ooh.... Matlab is a place on Earth!

Over twenty years ago Belinda Carlisle insisted that Heaven is a Place on Earth.

Maybe that's true, but thanks to a tidbit of information I just received from my collaborator Peter Mucha, I have just found out that Matlab is also a place on Earth. (Come on: You know you want to record this parody.) I approve!

I can't wait until the long-awaited Where in Bangladesh is Carmen San Diego? game finally comes out! (It will presumably be before this game does.)

This just totally rocks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Money, Money, Money

I recently got some money to continue my research on network analysis in U.S. Congressional networks. This grant, which comes from the McDonnell Foundation's complex systems initiative, is joint with James Fowler of UC San Diego's political science department. The funds are awarded in units of Boeing stocks.

Life Imitates Weird Science (and Buffy)

Every so often there's a news story that reminds us how life sometimes imitates the things we see in movies and television.

Well, this time around life seems to be imitating Weird Science (and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if you prefer), as a Japanese inventor has built his own girlfriend.

Money quote: She has all senses except for smell.

Money quote #2: Aiko actually means "love child" in Japanese but the software engineer denies he has created the robot for sex.

As some of you will no doubt recall, this didn't exactly work out well for the character in Buffy. We'll see what happens in this case.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

BCS Declares Germany Winner of World War II

Courtesy Justin Howell, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has declared Germany to be the winner of World War II. You know, this wouldn't have happened if they had used random walkers instead.

Dodgers sign Mark Loretta

It's not exactly world-breaking news, but the Dodgers have apparently signed free agent Mark Loretta. Loretta is a solid spare part who knows how to get on base and can play all over the infield. He should no longer be an everyday player (though he had a couple of excellent seasons as a starter back in the day), but as a part-timer and occasional platooner he's a good player to have around. Also, he's one of the best baseball players ever whose last name is a woman's first name.

There is an article on epsn.com that seems to be about the Dodgers general manager claiming that C.C. Sabathia wants to play for us. Ladies and gentlemen, this means it's a slow news day. We'll see if that changes. Baseball's winter meetings are going on right now, after all, so something interesting could happen.

Update: The Dodgers have apparently resigned Casey Blake to a 3-year deal. I approve! (By the way, you can use this as a hint to try to figure out the rest of the woman's-first-name-as-last-name all-star team.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Spread of Acne, Headaches, and Height in Social Networks?

One of my collaborators, James Fowler, has been in the news lately (yet again!) for his work on the Framington Heart Network. This time, he and his collaborator Nicholas Christakis (who is an excellent speaker and a nice guy, by the way) have looked at the spread of happiness in social networks. They previously published papers about the spread of smoking (and non-smoking) and obesity in these networks. (I was thanked in the obesity paper, as I had read and commented on a draft of it a year before the final version came out. When Nicholas gave this talk, I loved how the obesity level of a person was indicated by the radius of the corresponding node.)

One thing I just found out by taking a look at improbable.com is that another relevant study, that gives a warning about the dangers of overinterpretation, appears in the same issue of the British Medical Journal. As improbable.com states, it's highly amusing that the journal issue includes [a] strange juxtaposition of a study and a study mocking it. You can read the BMJ's editorial here.

The social networks literature from the social science side of things is extremely interesting, but one thing that I do see in a lot of that research is a tendency towards overinterpretation. My side of the scientific literature has its own set of faults, and in all of these cases, it's good to be reminded about these dangers now and then. We all need to make sure to keep our feet on the ground. (By the way, I am in no way denigrating the study. I think that it's a very nice piece of social network analysis. I'm just pointing out the need for vigilance and the excellent point also made by the other paper.)

I couldn't find a link to get this individual blog entry from improbable.com, so I have copied the text below:

Much excitement in the news about a study just published in BMJ (British Medical Journal):

“Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study,” James H Fowler and Nicholas A Christakis, BMJ 2008 337: a2338. The conclusion: “Peoples happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected.”

Which, of course, is a causal conclusion.

But lesser attention appears to have been paid to another study published simultaneously in the same issue: “Detecting implausible social network effects in acne, height, and headaches: longitudinal analysis,” Ethan Cohen-Cole and Jason M Fletcher, BMJ 2008;337:a2533

They found that a friend´s acne problems increased one’s own acne problems, a friend’s headaches increased one’s own headaches, and a friend’s height increased one’s own height. Given the first two, it seems one is better off without friends.

Their conclusion: “Researchers should be cautious in attributing correlations in health outcomes of close friends to social network effects, especially when environmental confounders are not adequately controlled for in the analysis”

Now see the first study again.

The same issue of BMJ also contains an editorial that gives further insight into this strange juxtaposition of a study and a study mocking it.

CNN article on Oxford and Cambridge admissions questions

CNN has posted an article on Oxford and Cambridge admissions questions. Personally, I think the following one is pretty awesome:

"How would you poison someone without the police finding out?"

There is a video version of the report that also has some interesting questions. Some of them are definitely pretty weird. Questions I have used and plan to use won't be discussed in this spot, but let's just say that I can be pretty evil. (This year I'm not interviewing anyway, which is why I can fly home this Saturday.)

Joe Gordon elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall-of-Fame Veterans' Committee has elected former Yankee second baseman Joe Gordon to the Hall of Fame. They probably did this because the Yankees are underrepresented in the Hall.

The results of the regular ballot (which, notably, includes Rickey Henderson) will be announced in January. I'll make two points here: (1) Bert Blyleven better fucking make it this year. I know I rant about this every year, but it's criminal that he's not in the Hall yet! (2) I am really looking forward to Rickey's acceptance speech (and I bet he is too).

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Mobiüs Transformations Revealed

In November, the Notices of the American Mathematical Society published an article by mathematicians Douglas Arnold and Jonathan Rogness describing how they made their fantastically successful YouTube video called Mobiüs Transformations Revealed. (The article shares the video's title.) The video has now been viewed by 1.5 million people, becoming an inspiring and absolutely stellar success in mathematical education. (It was this effort that inspired me to contact the editor of Chaos to convince him--successfully--to put the video portion of the Nonlinear Science Gallery that the journal runs on YouTube. Unsurprisingly, there haven't been close to 1.5 million viewers in this case, but the more YouTube is used for creative endeavors in scientific education, the better!)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Greg Maddux to Announce Retirement

I'm sorry to have to report this, but I have just read a headline on ESPN.com that Greg Maddux will shortly hold a news conference to announce his retirement.

Just look at these Hall-of-Fame numbers. Greg Maddux was an absolute pleasure to watch. He was an artist on the mound, and I'm glad to be able to say that he spent a short amount of time pitching for my team. I know he's not what he used to be, but I was hoping he'd stick around for another year so that I could continue watching him pitch.

I have two important things to say to close this entry:

(1) Maddux finished with more wins than Roger Clemens, and I am very pleased about this.

(2) Not that Maddux will ever read this (and this is a ridiculous cliche), but thanks for the memories! This is simply an irreplaceable player who I got a lot of pleasure in watching over the years.

End of Term!

I had my last tutorials of the term today, and now that my lecture and tutorial teaching for the term are both over, I feel like an incredible load has been lifted. I still have some admin to do, but that falls off the table as well with the end of Week 8. (We count the term of term by the week number. The main weeks are 1-8, but Week 0 usually has a lot of work and Weeks 9 and 10 often do. This time around, most of the non-research stuff is done for me. I have seen people refer to labeled weeks as low as -3 and as high as 13.) In celebration, I had a party at my flat tonight.

Now I'm going to concentrate on some paper-writing and research. I'll be mark up a student's draft tomorrow---she's writing her first journal article with us (this is a three-headed monster DPhil advising team) and she just finished the rough draft---and I also have other papers at stages where I am going directly through LaTeX files. (My student's paper is not yet at that stage.) Physical Review Letters just bounced one of my papers without review because it apparently doesn't count as physics (except for the fact that it is). My vote is to attempt to submit it to PNAS instead (with only adjusting things for the format and to add the type of polished cover letter that this venue requires), but we'll see what my coauthors think.

Additionally, when I did my last asymptotics lecture of the term on Tuesday, I got applause from my audience. Many students at Oxford will applaud their lecturers for classes that they feel are well-taught. Thus far (with my admittedly-limited sample size), I always get applause when I teach the asymptotics course and I never get applause when I teach any other course. I'll keep you posted on whether this trend continues.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Tracking Diseases Using Web Search Engines

Courtesy Nick Jones, here is a commentary on a very cool new article on using web search engine data to see trends such as influenza outbreaks before other indicators (such as the stuff from the CDC) can catch it. This is a sweet application of network science!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Random Walker Rankings: The Blog

As many of you know, Peter Mucha, Thomas Callaghan and I produced the random walker ranking system for ranking college football teams several years ago. Here are our 2008 rankings right now.

In order to open discussion with people who read the project's web page, we are adding a Random Walker Ranking blog. Naturally, I have added this to my blogroll.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Physics of Networks

My collaborator Mark Newman just published a very nice expository paper called The Physics of Networks in Physics Today. Newman's paper gives a big-picture introduction to networks, and I highly recommend reading it.

Here is a blurb from the article that relates to some of the stuff on which I have been working:

The development of methods for finding communities within networks is a thriving sub-area of the field, with an enormous number of different techniques under development. Methods for understanding what the communities mean after you find them are, by contrast, still quite primitive, and much needs to be done if we are to gain real knowledge from the output of our computer programs.

One of the things on which I have been concentrating has been the attempt to do something with communities after you find them. In particular, I think that my Facebook paper makes a really nice contribution in this direction.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I approve!

What do you think of the name Citi/Taxpayer Field for the Mets' new ballpark? I wholeheartedly approve of it!

In case you don't click on the link, two New York politicians want the name above instead of Citi Field because the billions of dollars in federal aid that Citigroup is getting.

Friday, November 21, 2008

All the Quotes You Ever Wanted

Courtesy a link Ken Kharma posted on Facebook, here is an "amusing" website called The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks that collects "pictures" of signs with "head-scratching" quotation marks. It's not as cool as Sad Guys on Trading Floors, but some of the pictures are pretty damned funny.

Tales from the arXiv: the SLAP technique

The following abstract makes me giggle:

Date: Thu, 20 Nov 2008 20:39:04 GMT (1009kb)

Title: Coherent Patterning of Matter Waves with Subwavelength Localization
Authors: J. Mompart, V. Ahufinger, G. Birkl
Categories: quant-ph
Comments: 5 pages, 5 figures
We introduce the Subwavelength Localization via Adiabatic Passage (SLAP)
technique to coherently achieve state-selective patterning and addressing of
matter waves. The SLAP technique consists in coupling two partially overlapping
and spatially structured laser fields to three internal levels of the matter
wave yielding state-selective localization at those positions where the
adiabatic passage process does not occur. We show that by means of this
technique matter wave localization down to the single nanometer can be
achieved. We analyze in detail the potential implementation of the SLAP
technique for nano-lithography with an atomic beam of metastable Ne* and for
coherent patterning of a two-component 87Rb Bose-Einstein condensate.
\\ ( http://arxiv.org/abs/0811.3409 , 1009kb)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mike Mussina has decided to retire

Mike Mussina has just decided to retire from baseball after winning 20 games in a season for the first time in 2008. Next stop: Cooperstown, NY.

Dr. Porter Goes to Washington

Subtitle: What happens inside the Beltway stays inside the Beltway.

I just arrived in Washington DC about an hour ago for the 2008 Sigma Xi Annual Meeting & Student Research Conference. I am giving a plenary talk at this meeting as a prize lecture for the Sigma Xi Young Investigator Award that I got for 2008 (though it's not been close to a year since I was told I won the 2008 prize). I will be giving a general talk on communities in networks, and the bulk of the audience (or at least a very large percentage of the audience) will consist of undergrads from all fields. I am hence going to need to make this very general, and that also means I am going to need to make some new slides. (Because I've been so busy lately, I haven't yet had a chance to start preparing this talk at all aside from gathering the old .ppt talks from which I'll draw some of the slides.) Ideally, organizing this talk can also help me write a layperson's article on networks and communities in networks, though I'm planning to write my survey article on the topic first. (The survey article will be for a general audience of mathematicians.)

When I was here, I also noticed that a Society for Neuroscience meeting was occurring in the same hotel. I then e-mailed Steve Van Hooser to see if by chance he was here. I wasn't too off-base, as he responded immediately and let me know that he had just landed back in Rayleigh-Durham from his flight from here. He gave two posters at this hotel this morning. It would have been nice to see him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dustin Pedroia wins American League Most Valuable Player award

In a scattered vote, Dustin Pedroia has won the American League's Most Value Player award.

This is the last of the 2008 baseball awards to be announced, and the Hot Stove League (referring to all the offseason trades and free agent shenanigans) is already in full swing. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Albert Pujols wins National League Most Valuable Player award

The National League MVP results were announced today, and Albert Pujols won for the 2nd time. Pujols was the correct selection, though a lot of people who garnered a lot of support really should have gotten much less than they did. The pundit predictions that Pujols would (deservedly) win the award because those other folks would pretty much split a lot of voting is pretty much what happened (though I think Pujols ended up with more first-place votes than the pundits predicted).

The number of pirates seems to have gone up.

I keep seeing all these recent news reports about pirates, and I can't help thinking that maybe global warming isn't as serious a problem as I previously thought. Maybe it's just me...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Who says I'm not abrasive!?!

Bruce Charlton, a Reader in Psychology at University of Newcastle, published an article called "Why are scientists so dull?" in Oxford Magazine (5th week, MT 2008, issue 281). I couldn't find a link to it online, so I hope I can add that later. I just sent an extremely sarcastic response letter to the magazine's editor. It would be easier to "appreciate" [ :) ] my response if you read the original article first, so maybe I'll be able to find a link to it later. The article, by the way, refers to our dullness both in terms of being boring ("But we were never being boring.") and in terms of being stupid because extreme intelligence is apparently (in his view) selected against by the sheer years of training we're required to have to get a permanent position. (While I don't agree with that conclusion, he does have a valid point that many really smart people leave academia because it's such a pain in the ass to go through what it takes to get a permanent position.) Anyway, here is my snide response:

I read with great interest Dr. Charlton's essay about why scientists are so dull. While my successful perseverance through countless years of postgraduate and postdoctoral training indubitably indicates that I am too dim-witted to grasp his subtler points, I think I can manage enough coherent thoughts to figure out at least some of the points he's trying to make. For example, I assume based on his essay that his home field of psychology has no trouble hiring practitioners (or at least essayists) who are "awkward" and "abrasive" and perhaps does not have the unfortunate circumstance of encompassing too many people who are saddled with the unconscionable "personality attributes of conscientiousness and agreeableness?" Of course, my IQ is probably so low that I might be completely missing his point.

P.S. While it's hard for me to make unbiased comments about the quality of my science, I can assure Dr. Charlton -- as I hope my letter indicates -- that I am capable of offering no shortage of abrasiveness. I'd also like to think I'm pretty damned interesting, but I'll let other people decide that one. I haven't bothered to provide any evidence of that here, but then I suppose that's just something else that Dr. Charlton and I have in common?


Mason A. Porter
University Lecturer
Oxford Centre for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Mathematical Institute

T-shirt of the day (epic fail)

No really, this is a t-shirt about an epic fail.

The shirt is ok; I'm basically blogging about it because I really like the term 'epic fail'. I've been spreading this term around here, along with other phrases I like such as "tool".

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bad Math Joke

We're currently having a bad math joke thread (with pretty frequent e-mails) on the Project NExT list. My contribution was basically to provide a link to an article that appeared a few years ago in Notices of the American Mathematical Society that collected a bunch of them.

Most of the jokes in the current thread have been bad and a few of them have been so horrible that they've made me groan, but here is a slightly reworded one that I actually really like:

Question: How can you tell that a guy is a topologist?

Answer: He can't tell his ass from a hole in the ground, but he can tell his ass from two holes in the ground.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My home precinct is lame.

I'm so ashamed.

I'm looking at today's issue of Beverly Hills Weekly and found the following statement in their article about how various Beverly Hills precincts voted in the recent US election:

"Precinct eight, which includes Hawthorne School, voted 256 to 191 [in favor of McCain]."

I went to Hawthorne School for nine years (Kindergarten through 8th grade). Unless I am seriously mistaken, that means that's my home precinct. Lame! Moreover, we apparently have a history of lameness:

"In 2004, seven precincts largely in the north (3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 16, 46) voted for President George W. Bush in the presidential
election over Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry.

Thankfully, precinct 8 voted against Proposition 8, so maybe there is some hope for them.

Cliff Lee wins American League Cy Young award

In a completely unsurprising announcement, Cliff Lee has won the American League Cy Young award.

It's worth noting, however, that one can make a reasonable argument that Roy Halladay (who finished second in the balloting) actually had a better season.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Biographies of Women Mathematicians

Here is a list of biographies of women mathematicians that has been compiled at Agnes Scott College. The biographies are written by former students of the college.

Here is another set of biographies of mathematicians that I have occasionally examined since I was in grad school. I never remember the website, so I always find it via a quick googling, and today's fortuitous accident was finding the other biography list of which I was previously unaware.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tim Lincecum wins National League Cy Young award

Tim Lincecum has won the National League Cy Young award. This honor was richly deserved, and Lincecum is absolutely a pleasure to watch pitch. He's going to be one of the best for a very long time.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Evan Longoria and Geovanny Soto win Rookie-of-the-Year

Unsurprisingly, Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays and Geovanny Soto of the Chicago Cubs won the 2008 Rookie-of-the-Year awards hands down.

The thing I want to know is how Edinson Volquez , who is not even eligible for the award based on having too much prior Major League experience, managed to get votes! Sure, Volquez had a fantastic season. But he pitched too much in the Major Leagues before 2008 to be a rookie. I don't know if the writers in question think the specific rules should be changed or just didn't know that Volquez isn't actually a rookie. Shouldn't the votes for him get automatically nullified?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

"Stick" joins National Toy Hall of Fame

In very important news, the stick has become one of three new inductees into the National Toy Hall of Fame. The full list of members includes the Atari 2600, Silly Putty, Monopoly, Scrabble, G.I. Joe, and Cardboard Box.

The CNN article praised the stick as "a universal plaything powered by a child's imagination." (I would argue that it can also be powered by an adult's imagination, but let's not go there---though that kind of makes it even more universal...)

Friday, November 07, 2008

I have joined the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS)!

In news of extraordinary importance, I have joined the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists! In life, one needs to have at least a few important accomplishments, and this is about the best that I've managed so far...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Community Structure Limerick

By semipopular demand (of just a few people, most of whom are in the humanities), I hereby present The Community Structure Limerick:

When detecting a network’s communities,
Try not to do it with impunity.
For it is not enough
To stop with that stuff.
Be sure to think about functionality.

It took me an hour to write this (and I really should have been working on other parts of the talk), and I note that I did not sacrifice any accuracy in my talk's conclusions to present them in limerick form. (That's why I have a slant rhyme with the first line. Had I made it singular, I would have lost some accuracy.)

For the network science folks out there, I spent a bit of time trying to find a good way to end a line with modularity, but I decided that both the poem and message worked better than it did in any of the ways I was able to incorporate it.

What happens in Limerick stays in Limerick

I am writing this from a very nice hotel in Limerick, Ireland. (This is my first time in Ireland.) I will be giving a talk on community detection tomorrow at the University of Limerick, and I will be presenting my conclusions in limerick form. (Also, to this day, I can't see or hear the word "limerick" without thinking of Kerry Ryan's limericks at Lloyd House dinners or, especially, her announcing it with a screeching yell of "I have a limerick!")

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Bring on the Fireworks

There are several reasons for celebration today.

On the familial side, my brother Adam turned 40 today (using decimal numbers). This round number is definitely worth a blog entry.

The official fireworks tonight were in honor of Guy Fawkes night, and like last year we had them in the Somerville quad. As I wrote last year, it's absolutely incredible to have fireworks in one's own backyard like this.

There were apparently also fireworks right after McCain's concession, but I was fast asleep and it didn't wake me up. After some conversations today, it became evident that the parties last night were in large part because of the expected outcome. The consensus over here is best summed up by a comment from one of my colleagues (which I am paraphrasing slightly because I can't remember the exact wording) during those conversations: "This election was a big victory for worldwide democracy." The general reaction here was one of elation, and that was from people from all sorts of cultural and world origins.

The one thing that seems to have gone wrong is the Prop 8 business in California, though I guess it's not officially sunk yet. (Hello, People? Others should be able to boink whomever they want and get the same legal benefits because it doesn't hinder your life in any way! Let them be!.)

Republicans are out of there!

Barrack Obama got his expected victory and the House of Representatives and Senate will also both be under Democratic control. It's about fucking time that the Republicans are out of the White House!

Here's an appropriate song to celebrate the occasion.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

2008 Election Cartograms

Mark Newman, one of my coauthors, is again posting cartograms for the election. At the moment, the site has his educated guesses for who is winning what, but as things progress, the cartograms will include actual results (and, eventually, will give the results by district).

Video Introduction to Network Science

Here is a link to a BBC documentary about network science. I haven't watched it yet, so I can't tell you whether it's any good.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Foot-in-Mouth Disease

I need to keep my mouth shut.

This morning, something that I intended only as a marginally snarky comment came across as a bitter hatred (that I don't feel, by the way). The reason I suspect this was because of the shocked reaction of the others in the room, when the worst I thought I'd get was people disagreeing and thinking the joke was stupid. (Well, I'm sure they think that as well.) Then I spent some more time during the day going back over how the phrasing actually came out, and I can see what the unintended interpretation was. Clearly, I critically failed my perform check. I decided that attempting a real-time explanation would only dig a deeper hole, so I at least had enough thought processes going to quit while I was "ahead". So that's why I'm writing this. The one consolation I have is that many people who are still close friends of mine have had visibly similar reactions to my comments on occasion. (Still, I feel like this was a bit of a kender saying 'Oops!' moment.)

Let's see if I do better on my charisma check next week.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My new D & D character

I've been playing in a 3.5 edition D & D game since the new school year started.

I am playing a (necessarily) lawful neutral goblin druid/monk. I currently have 2 levels of druid and 1 level of monk. I am only 5 xp from 4th level, so I have a decision to make.

I impressed a ghostly paladin with my massive fortitude, my massive will, and my lawful neutralness. (The party consists of me + a bunch of elves, and my character is by far the most disciplined of the lot. This shocked the ghostly paladin, given my race's reputation.) My saves are quite excellent. (I rolled well with my stats, but not anywhere close to my kobold that I played in Doug's one-shot, for which my rolls were absolutely insane.) I don't have huge attacking power (thankfully, my companions take care of that), but the combination of produce flame, flurry, and casting spells through my riding dog animal companion (on whom I ride into battle; I decided to go that route because goblins have crazy bonuses to ride and other relevant skills for that direction) is actually quite potent.

Quote of the Day (another one)

After an unintentional bit of "awesomeness" in a paper I refereed today, I think I might have to replace the previous quote of the day. This whole situation started because of an unfortunate substitute for the word "data". Here is the quote:

"For many cases a localized date breaks up into a finite collection of solitary waves."

Indeed! I couldn't have said it better myself!

Quote of the Day

I love this quote, which I heard from one of the guests on "Real Time" with Bill Maher: "George Bush is a guy who was born on third base and thought he hit a triple." That is exceptionally well-phrased.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Quote of the Day

Today's quote comes from last Thursday's issue of Oxford Student, one of the two weekly student magazines here. In an article about the apparently-controversial new interview training (which includes a video example) for Oxford tutors, Professor Alan Ryan (Warden of New College) stated:

If mathematicians were admitted on personality it would be the end of the mathematical world. Students can be shy, awkward, even pick their noses in tutorials, we are really interested in their brains.

First, I seriously need to invite this guy to a party at my place. Second, I think I might have to drum up the troops on this one. Third, not a single student of mine has ever picked his or her nose in tutorials.* I'll grant that there is some truth behind this guy's comments, but he's the head of an Oxford College, so I am a bit surprised at his lack of discretion and some response is clearly merited. (I think I'll solicit my Somerville students for their opinions about what to include in a sarcastic response and reward the person who gives me the most amusing comment with a seat as my guest on High Table.)

* As far as I know.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Meanwhile, in the same issue of Nature...

Tn the same issue of Nature as Steve Van Hooser article was an awesome article about how unrolling tape can produce X-rays! Here is a popular article about the research. I think these researchers might have Ig Nobel Prizes in their future... (And their findings are just fucking cool!)

Negative-Time Blogging

I noticed that Blogger was having a bit of an issue with my 1:14 post for a while because it insisted that that was a pending post and didn't publish it immediately. That made me realize that we were about to turn back the clocks, and I guess Blogger wasn't yet in tune with the time change. I did eventually get the post to actually show up and now that it's 1am again, I figured I should do some negative-time blogging.

Is the US going to fall back in a few hours? Here's hoping for that not happening for a couple of weeks so that the remaining World Series games can start an hour earlier local time...

Also, I need to figure out a local place to do a negative-time run next year.

Update: Ah, bloody Hell! Is there no easy way to have both the time-stamp and the ordering I want? Fail!

Caltech Friends in Nature

As has happened pretty often by now, another of my friends from Caltech has gotten an article published in Nature. In this case, the big winner is Steve Van Hooser. (Van Hooser? But I just met her! --- Note: I know the joke is really bad on the surface, but I'm actually alluding to something very specific with it that only a few of my readers have a chance to get. In fact, I'm alluding to two things from back in the day. A few people have a chance to get the first, and you'll have to remember another Caltech friend's old web page to get the other one.) Congrats!

The Sabermetrics of Health Care

Steve Van Hooser posted (an Facebook) a link to an interesting opinion article. This piece, which was published yesterday in the New York Times, was co-authored by Newt Gingrich, John Kerry, and (Oakland Athletics general manager) Billy Beane. Their point is a simple one: Let's use more statistical evidence to support the canonical reliance on 'expert opinions' (analogous to scouts) that essentially just call things as they see them. What one really needs is both of these things. (Yes, the US Health Care system was just compared to teams like the Baltimore Orioles that spend a lot of money but don't get very much for them. Or, to put it another way, our Health Care system has done a lot of things that are morally equivalent to overpaying for stiffs like Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre. It's an obvious observation, but I never really framed it using precisely that analogy before. Clearly, I should have.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A recent tribute to the original "Enjoy the Silence" music video

The alternate version of the music video for Coldplay's 2008 song "Viva la Vida" was specifically meant as a nod to the Enjoy the Silence music video. I approve! ("Enjoy the Silence" is one of my favorite songs of all time, and its music video is one of my favorite music videos of all time.) The Coldplay song is actually pretty good too.

It's coming!

That's right, friends: A new Depeche Mode album is slated to be released on April 20th, 2009. There will also be a world stadium tour to promote the album, including a performance in London. Hell yes!

In the meantime, I am going to order David Gahan's second solo album.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Violent Chess Claymation

David Fang posted an awesome video of violent chess claymation on Facebook. I especially like the first fatality!

(Yes, it is fair to think of Battle Chess.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Inspiring Research Papers

The title of this blog entry can purposely be read in multiple manners.

In this case, I am referring to an article published earlier this year that apparently drew some inspiration from one of my 2006 articles.

At any rate, this is the only article of which I am aware that cites one of my papers in its abstract, so I figure I should highlight it in this spot. I found out about the paper a while back, but I am only blogging out about it belatedly because I don't have anything particularly interesting to blog about today and it's been a few days since I posted anything. (Things have been quite hectic the last few days.)

The paper's title is: Onset of diffusive behavior in confined transport system

The authors are: Owen G. Jepps, Carlo Bianca, and Lamberto Rondoni

The abstract is: We investigate the onset of diffusive behavior in polygonal channels for disks of finite size, modeling simple microporous membranes. It is well established that the point-particle case displays anomalous transport, because of slow correlation decay in the absence of defocusing collisions. We investigate which features of point-particle transport survive in the case of finite-sized particles (which undergo defocusing collisions). A similar question was investigated by Lansel, Porter, and Bunimovich [Chaos 16, 013129 (2006)], who found that certain integrals of motion and multiple ergodic components, characteristic of the point-particle case, remain in “mushroom”-like systems with few finite-sized particles. We quantify the time scales over which the transport of disks shows features typical of the point particles, or is driven toward diffusive behavior. In particular, we find that interparticle collisions drive the system toward diffusive behavior more strongly than defocusing boundary collisions. We illustrate how, and at what stage, typical thermodynamic behavior (consistent with kinetic theory) is observed, as particle numbers grow and mean free paths diminish. These results have both applied (e.g., nanotechnological) and theoretical interest.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Picture of the Day

Here's the picture. You provide the caption.

(Tip of the cap to Jenny Fang, who posted this picture on Facebook. Part of me thinks it's fake, but it does seem to be on a legitimate BBC news website... Maybe Photoshop + hacking? Another theory that has been espoused is that BBC used a photo that it thinks is real but was photoshopped. Then there's the theory of the photo actually being real.)

Here's one (though one can get much, much worse): "I am sooooo hungry."

Look Around You -- Maths

My student Neil Lees pointed me to an awesome video on YouTube called Look Around You - Maths. This video is (a) awesome, (b) "awesome", and (c) because of it's style really brings back the memories of some of the videos I used to watch in high school. In fact, points (a) and (b) rely heavily on (c).

Neil also mentioned that Look Around You -- Water is supposed to be really good, but I haven't watched that one yet.

Wait 'til Next Year

The Dodgers fell to the Phuckin' Phillies last night. That gave us a 3-1 loss in the National League Championship Series. (I think the fact that I own a stuffed Phanatic must have been bad karma.)

At least we won one postseason series this year, but we have more work to do. I hope we don't resign Manny because while Happy Manny is awesome, he will eventually become Petulant Manny, which would provide a major distraction. Also, our money would be better spent elsewhere---like on CC Sabathia (to thrown out one name at random).

I hope the Rays beat Boston and then win the whole thing, but my heart is now broken and thinking about 2009.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New year and new students

Last week was "Week 0" of "Michaelmas Term" (fall term... in U.S. language, we're on the 'quarter system'). Somerville's awesome new mathematics students arrived, and we tried to give them a bit of a preview of what they're in for in the first formal dinner ("Fresher's dinner") and the ice cream/cookies/setup tutorial meeting the next day. Today they each had their first tutorial sessions with me, so if they didn't know what they were in for before, they sure as Hell are now. ;) I think they went quite well, and hopefully the feeling was mutual.

Today was what I believe (and hope!) will be my roughest teaching day of the entire year. I am teaching a course that has 6 hours of lecture this week that counts for an entire half course. Yesterday, I taught two of those hours as well as an hour of asymptotics. Today I taught an hour of asymptotics, three hours of tutorials, and two hours from the aforementioned half course. I taught the last 5 hours consecutively, with only a 5 minute break to walk from Somerville to the Mathematical Institute. I am now brain-dead.

Naturally, I made lots of snarky comments in my tutorials and my lectures. I think that's why my students like me. :) Spending time with me is sort of an experience in its own sake---maybe not one that most want to duplicate, but an experience nonetheless.

Tomorrow I have an Examiner's meeting and a Governing Body meeting, but at least I won't have to talk very much. I need the rest.

Monday, October 13, 2008

New Game: Finding Constellations in Economic Graphs

In these days of financial crises and universal brouhahas, I think we should adapt our old practice of finding patterns in stars to discovering similar constellations in economic graphs.

For example, here you can see something like The Big Dipper.

Maybe this can be a new meme?

(Or perhaps we should just use the iTunes Oracle to determine economic policy?)

One of my best blackboard slip-ups ever?

In the latest installment of 'the mouth is faster than the chalk,' I managed in B568a (intro to applied math and mathematical modelling) to [correctly] say "Assumption: No spatial dependence" but write "Assumption: No assumption" on the board. (In the British applied mathematics community, such things are known Colemanballs. They work kind of like "House quotes.")

There must be something deep contained in that statement. Surely. If nothing else, one should appreciate what I wrote for its metaphysical content.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lord British in Space

You don't believe me? Just take a look at this article.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mathematics and Voting

As this article by Donald Saari in the April 2008 issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society eloquently discusses, one can uses mathematics to examine the arbitrary brokenness of voting rules.

Here is the abstract: The mathematical analysis of voting systems, and of aggregation rules in general, shows that they can yield paradoxes as well as preferences. In this article, featured here for Mathematics Awareness Month, the author explains what kind of problems can arise and how they can be mathematically understood.

Saari has written numerous articles and multiple books on the topic, and this particular expository piece is a good place to start. (Notice that I'm a bit late in writing this post... )

Friday, October 10, 2008

Maybe Jesus was a Shark?

You don't believe me? Just take a look at this article on cnn.com.

I'd love to put a jumping the shark joke here, but I just can't think of one at the moment and the Dodgers are now batting.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

WTF of the Day

Apparently, an Ohio inmate tried unsuccessfully to get out of a death sentence using a too-fat-to-execute argument.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Alternative lyrics for "Take On Me"

Courtesy Lemming--who got it from Jonathan (who got it from... Agnes?), here is video for "Take on Me" with some alternate lyrics. I approve! That video also included a link to a brief spoof of the video from Family Guy. Once again, I approve!

As many of you know, "Take On Me" is on the short short list of my favorite songs ever, and it's music video is also on the short short list of my favorite music videos ever. (I have harped on it on many occasions.)

Also, one of my Somerville colleagues talked about how "stuck in the 80s" was for me to use Pine---this from somebody who has absolutely no clue just how apt his comment truly was! :) Slowly but surely, I'm making my presence felt here...

2008 Ig Nobel Prizes

The 2008 Ig Nobel prizes were recently announced.

The Nobel Prizes thus far haven't been overly interesting this year (though I suppose I have a bit of partiality towards physics nobel in honor of spontaneous symmetry-breaking that went to Nambu and two others), but thankfully I can proudly announce that Charles Spence, one of my Somerville College colleagues, is one of this year's Ig Nobel laureates! (One of last year's was L. Mahadevan, an applied mathematician who visits Oxford's applied math group a lot.) Here is the citation for his Ig Nobel prize in Nutrition:

NUTRITION PRIZE. Massimiliano Zampini of the University of Trento, Italy and Charles Spence of Oxford University, UK, for electronically modifying the sound of a potato chip to make the person chewing the chip believe it to be crisper and fresher than it really is.
REFERENCE: "The Role of Auditory Cues in Modulating the Perceived Crispness and Staleness of Potato Chips," Massimiliano Zampini and Charles Spence, Journal of Sensory Studies, vol. 19, October 2004, pp. 347-63.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tales from the arXiv: a new attitude

Date: Sun, 5 Oct 2008 14:23:21 GMT (227kb)

Title: Sine function with a cosine attitude
Authors: A. D. Alhaidari
Categories: quant-ph
Comments: 11 pages, 4 color figures
Journal-ref: J. Phys. A 41, 175201 (2008)
We give a revealing expose that addresses an important issue in scattering
theory of how to construct two asymptotically sinusoidal solutions of the wave
equation with a phase shift using the same basis having the same boundary
conditions at the origin. Analytic series representations of these solutions
are obtained. In 1D, one of the solutions is an even function that behaves
asymptotically as sin(x), whereas the other is an odd function, which is
asymptotically cos(x). The latter vanishes at the origin whereas the derivative
of the former becomes zero there. Eliminating the lowest N terms of the series
makes these functions vanishingly small in an interval around the origin whose
size increases with N. We employ the tools of the J-matrix method of scattering
in the construction of these solutions in one and three dimensions.
\\ ( http://arxiv.org/abs/0810.0827 , 227kb)

I just like the idea of a sine function with a cosine attitude...

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Ranking universities using polytopes

Courtesy Peter Mucha, here is an article in Science News covering a new arXiv paper by Peter Huggins and Lior Pachter that uses polytopes to examine the US News and World Report rankings of US universities. (Some of you may be aware that Lior Pachter is yet another Techer. He was a Rudd, who I believe graduated in 1994. He's currently on the faculty at UC Berkeley and is one of the pioneers in the new field of "applied algebraic statistics." Actually, algebraic statistics is pretty much a new field of mathematics even before one considers applications.)

One of the ideas I've been bouncing around for several years is the idea of using network science to rank universities. One of these days I'll do that... (My current ranking system project, by the way, involves ranking baseball players using the bipartite graph of pitcher-batter interactions. My collaborators and I don't have any results yet, but stay tuned...)

Dodgers sweep Cubs to win NLDS!

As you can see from this article, the Dodgers swept the Cubs in the National League Division Series to advance to the National League Championship series against either the Brewers or the Phillies (probably the Phillies). Sweet! This is the first postseason series that we've won since 1988, when we won it all! Go Dodgers!

(Of course, the bad side of things is that the games are on so late at night---especially the last two, which started after 3am my time---that it's hard for me to actually watch it. I caught about 2/3 of the first game and otherwise I needed to rely on the box scores. I was feeling too sick to push myself and stay awake, so I hope I can get better soon so that I can screw up my sleeping schedule a bit and catch some of the games.)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

2008 Random Walker Rankings

They're baaaaaaack.

By now, I assume that most of you know that this ranking system is for NCAA American Football. You can see how our systems (RW and RWFL) are doing on Kenneth Massey's comparisons page.

OJ finally found guilty

As you can see from this article on CNN.com, the justice system has finally found OJ Simpson to be officially guilty of something.

(Whenever I see comments about OJ and 'guilty', I always think of the old menu at Caltech's Coffeehouse...)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Fearless baseball postseason predictions

Now that all of the teams in Major League Baseball's postseason tournament have been determined, it is now time to give my fearless postseason predictions.

National League:

NLDS: Cubs over Dodgers in 4 games (I'm sorry to say, but my mind just won't let my heart predict a victory for the Dodgers) and Phillies over Brewers in 5 games

ALDS: Angels over Red Sox in 5 games and Rays over White Sox in 4 games.

NLCS: Phillies over Cubs in 6 games (NLCS MVP: Jimmy Rollins)

ALCS: Angels over Rays in 5 games (ALCS MVP: Torii Hunter)

World Series: Angels over Phillies in 6 games (World Series MVP: Mark Texeira)

However, I wouldn't really trust my predictions given some utter failures in my preseason predictions.

I got two of the NL playoff teams right (Dodgers and Brewers), though I thought the Brewers would actually win the division. My other two (Mets and Diamondbacks) competed until the very end. My NL MVP (David Wright), Cy Young (Johan Santana), and Rookie of the Year (Joey Votto) predictions all produced solid choices who won't actually win. Though my Cy Young choice will probably finish third in the voting (he deserves to finish second) and my ROY choice will finish second. (My MVP choice probably should finish second but will probably be in the lower reaches of the top 10.) My NL team on the rise was the Brewers, so I was solid there. My choice was Giants as team on the decline was reasonable, though some of their young players definitely matured slightly faster than I thought, so they may well be my NL team on the rise for 2009.

In the AL, I got two very obvious teams right for the playoffs: The Angels and Red Sox. My other two were the Yankees (giggle), who I thought would be the Wild Card team, and the Indians. My AL team on the rise was the Rays, so I was spot on with that one. (Hell, they did even better than I thought.) My team on the decline was the Twins, though I considered choosing the Orioles, which were my "honorable" mention here. I failed on that one. Also, my MVP (Travis Hafner) and Cy Young (Erik Bedard) choices were epic failures. Ouch! My ROY prediction of Daric Barton also failed miserably, though at least my honorable mention Evan Longoria will actually win the award.

Anyway, I certainly hope I'm wrong about the NL playoffs. The Cubs are a better team than we are, but let me raise my latte cup in a toast to small sample sizes!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What happens in Nottingham stays in Nottingham

I am spending the night in Nottingham to give a mathematics seminar tomorrow to the theoretical mechanics group at the University of Nottingham.

I hadn't previously been here, but obviously this is one of the UK cities about which I heard a very long time ago.

It looks like there are things to do in the city (and the castle is supposed to be cool), but the university is a bit away from the main action, I'm not feeling well at all, and I need to go through the draft of a student's report, so any exploration is going to be punted until a subsequent visit.

By the way, since I've been here, I haven't seen any sign of either Robin Hood or his fagelas (except for street names, tourist attractions, etc.).

Monday, September 29, 2008

New Math: Stolen Base Edition

One of the (very annoying) White Sox announcers just mentioned how impressive it was for Curtis Granderson to steal 26 bases in 21 attempts last year. I'll say! (He slipped and meant to say 26 out of 27.)

My Night at the Vienna Opera House

As I mentioned earlier, I got a chance to see a Wagner opera at the Vienna Opera House. I'm sure some of your minds went in a certain direction, but in fact the show I saw was The Flying Dutchman. (There wasn't even a valkyrie in sight.)

The outside of the Opera House looks very nice, but the inside looks spectacular. I didn't have my camera with me that night because I wasn't sure if I'd need to leave it somewhere to enter the seating area, though in retrospect given just how many people were taking pictures in various spots before the shoe, I really ought to have known. Luckily I went to the opera with someone else (Dmitry Pelinovsky, a collaborator of mine), so once it's sent to me, I'll be able to post a picture of me inside the Opera House.

We had what are sometimes known as "Bob Uecker" seats, but thankfully that only affects the visuals. The music was good (I was basically in this for the whole experience of going to the Vienna Opera House, which is very much worth doing), although I liked Carmen much better. The show the night before was Romeo and Juliet, which I didn't want to attend because I never really liked that story. It's got way too much pathos, though The Flying Dutchman certainly had it's share of that. We saw a version without any intermission, which apparently is the traditional way of seeing it. (It's sometimes performed in three acts, however.) The lyrics or story weren't particular impressive, but the former at least often tend to be afterthoughts anyway for operas (as far as I can tell).

SPOILER ALERT: As a service to you, gentle readers, let me give you a brief synopsis of the opera:

There's a captain who is trying to sail his ship home but can't quite make it because of a sudden major storm, so he lands on some shore nearby (an uncharted desert isle?), having sustained some damage to his ship, and awaits for the winds and seas to calm before heading home so that he can see his doting daughter and his crewmen can get some action. (Here we are also introduced to his helmsman, who as far as I can tell is only in the opera for later comic effect---though admittedly I'm not quite sure if the particular incident was part of the original performance.) During this and some other scenes, I was waiting to see if I would hear some of the songs I've heard during storms in, say, Bugs Bunny cartoons, as I'm almost positive that several of those come from operas. Unfortunately, I didn't recognize this one from those days of yore. (I also naturally thought of the Song of Storms, but that probably would have hurt the mood.)

Meanwhile, back in his evil lair (errr... ship), the Flying Dutchman (the person) is busy lamenting his fate. He is quite pale and he as well as his entire crew look a bit like zombies. They are definitely undead, though the Flying Dutchman seems to be far more interested in love than braaaaains. His ship is doomed to sail the seas for all eternity unless he can find someone who will love him faithfully until her death, and coincidently, this is the one brief time that occurs every 7 years in which he can actually go on land (or something like that). [I think it was 10 years in the Pirates of the Carribean movies.]

Anyway, the Flying Dutchman (the ship) sails off and ends up at the same place where our captain (remember him?) was. They talk a bit and despite the Dutchman's pallid complexion (and the fact that his ship sustained no damage... nothing suspicious here...), he decides to trade his daughter's hand in marriage for the centuries of wealth the Dutchman has accumulated during his voyage. (The captain does indicate that his daughter's approval is required, but she dotes on him, so he has no doubts that she'll agree.)

Back on land, all the women are busy knitting because only by doing a good job with that will they impress their men when they return from sea. (Coincidentally, all of their significant others are sailers on the same ship. Amazing!) This, by the way, was my favorite song from the opera. It sounded vaguely familiar, actually had some meta in the lyrics, and in general was quite pleasing to the ear. Unfortunately, the captain's daughter Senta is so sad because of the very pale, sad-looking portrait of the Flying Dutchman that she has obsessed over for apparently many years. She feels quite a bit of pity for him, actually. (So, can you figure out the rest of the story yet?) She sings about his pathetic plight, and so none of the women can get any work done. Then her boyfriend (who is a hunter, which is apparently considerably less prestigious than being a sailor) catches her obsessing over that picture of the Dutchman again and tells her about his dream in which pretty much reveals the entire remainder of the story so that we now can predict not only the big picture but also most of the important smaller details (but I digress).

The captain and the Flying Dutchman land and Senta meets them at the docks. Unfortunately for the Dutchman, Senta is slightly plump and has sagging breasts. Nevertheless, he falls madly in love with her at first sight anyway, and feels in his heart that she will be the one to end his curse. (Aside: Why do all these artists confuse love with lust? It's annoying. The Dutchman knows nothing about her personality. She could be psychotic. After all, she's obsessing over his picture instead of happily weaving like the rest of the girls. But I digress.) Despite her promise to the hunter to not fall in love with him, she does so anyway, just as he predicted she would from his dream (though to me it actually looks like pity rather than love). Also, without any hesitation and despite her promise of fidelity, Senta decided to go with the ugly undead guy instead of the young hunter with whom she was already at least somewhat intimate. How fickle. The captain, having left Senta and the Dutchman to be alone for a few minutes, returns and tells the Dutchman that he's had more than enough time to court his daughter. Then Senta's boyfriend goes up to Senta after the others have gone and they exchange some awkward words. The Dutchman walks in on them and laments that she has already betrayed him and now he is doomed forever. (This flagrantly ignores the fact that his poor luck with women from past excursions in the seven-year windows has been discussed explicitly in the opera.) Fortunately, Senta is still faithful to the Dutchman (it hasn't exactly been that long), so in the opera's climactic conclusion, while others are arguing and/or lamenting their fate, she lights a candle and throws it to the ground to create an open flame (this was pretty impressive, actually). She then walks into the open flame and dies a faithful women who loves the Dutchman. Then the opera ends without technically stating if this is sufficient to break the curse---there were earlier implications that Senta would have to actually spend the rest of eternity sailing the seas with the Dutchman.

Anyway, it's best not to sweat the details. The music was good and the Opera House itself was really awesome to see from the inside.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Greg Maddux passes Roger Clemens in wins!

In yesterday's Dodger game, Greg Maddux got his 355th career win, to move him past Roger Clemens on the all-time win list. I don't know if Maddux will play next year---though I certainly hope he does!---and I am extremely pleased that whether or not he does that he has passed Clemens. I simply like Maddux a lot better. Amen.

In other baseball news, there AL Central and NL Wild Card races are still going. Today is the last official day of the baseball season, though there may be short playoffs to decide these races and the White Sox also have a rained-out game to make up.

In still other news, CC Sabathia is tied for the league lead in shutouts in each of the two leagues. That's just bloody awesome! I doubt that's ever happened before, though I haven't checked to make sure.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tonight's Plans

The plans for tonight include seeing a performance in the Vienna Opera House. The opera I'll be seeing is by some guy named Wagner... :)

200 strikeouts in a season!

Yesterday, the Diamondbacks' Mark Reynolds struck out for the 200th time this season, becoming the first Major Leaguer to accomplish this "feat." As you can see here, several players have come close during the last few years and the Phillies' Ryan Howard might be joining Reynolds in a couple of days...

In other baseball news (besides the most important one about the Dodgers' clinching), the Brewers won in dramatic fashion to remain in a tie with the Mets for the NL wild card and the Twins finished a sweep of the White Sox to take over first place in the AL Central. I would definitely prefer for both the Twins and Brewers to make the postseason. I would love to have an Angels-Dodgers World Series (a so-called "Freeway Series"), and for the Dodgers to kick some ass!

The Dodgers have won the National League West!

With the Diamondbacks' loss to the Cardinals yesterday, the Dodgers have now clinched the National League West! Go Dodgers!

Of course, now we have the major stumbling block of trying to actually win the first round of playoffs, which we haven't managed to do for quite a while. In fact, we haven't won a single postseason series since 1988, when we won the World Series. In fact, we've only won one postseason game since then, and Jose Lima of all people was the winning pitcher in that game...

Let's see how far we can get this year...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Kickin' it old school: Knight Rider is back

I just saw an advertisement that a new version of the series Knight Rider premiers tonight. My brother was a fanatical follower of that show back in the day, so I watched a few episodes. (My favorites were the battles between KITT and KARR.) I remember hearing a few years back about a movie version. Maybe that's still happening?

Anyway, right now I need to turbo boost into some more work before I do some more exploration later.

RIP New York Yankees (1995-2008)

Well, the Yankees have officially been eliminated and won't be playing in baseball's postseason this year. About fucking time.

(Note: I had the RIP idea on my own, but apparently the folks at ESPN had similar ideas, given the graphics they're using for their headline for an article by Buster Olney.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hello from Vienna

Today I was walking some of the coldy-efficient streets of Vienna. There's actually a nice pretenious coffee place right next to my hotel and, as a big added bonus, it actually has iced espresso drinks on the regular menu (unlike the coffee bars in some of the really nice European cities I've visited...also unlike the other coffee bars here, as far as I can tell). I also found two gelato places and---here's a big shock---lots of restaurants that serve schnitzel. (I had a good weinerschnitzel today. My mother made that for me many times as a child, and I definitely have a particular fondness for that dish. Finding good examples of it will be pretty easy for the next few days.) None of the menus have had any English translations so far, so I'll need to figure out which words correspond to which other types of meet.

I walked a few miles, but I didn't get to the city center. I also had an early flight this morning so given the need to get a bus from Oxford to Heathrow, I only got about 4 hours of not-too-restful sleep last night. Hence my explorations today weren't very expansive and much more will have to come later. I have all of Saturday, for example.

Madonna seems to be following me around. She had a concert in Montreal during my visit and has one here tonight. I like some of her music quite a lot, but I'm still cross from her performance at Coachella and I'm tired anyway (as I mentioned). On the bright side, Leonard Cohen is performing here both tomorrow and the day after, and I might very well go see him.

Finally (for now), the damn Y and Z have been swapped for the keyboards here (I don't currently have internet access from my own computer), and this is causing me grief in my typing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Vienna Calling (aka: What happens in Vienna stays in Vienna)

I seem to be doing just about everything possible (including finishing unpacking from my recent apartment change!) to avoid finishing the .ppt slides for my talk on Wednesday. I really ought to be much better about this, because I leave tomorrow morning for Vienna and if I don't finish the talk today, I'll need to eat into some of my exploration time tomorrow. (Granted, I'll have plenty more exploration time on other days...)

I am attending a workshop at the Wolfgang Pauli Institute called The Gross-Pitaevskii equation and its application for Bose-Einstein condensates in optical lattices. There are only 9 talks, though I think there were originally going to be around 25 of them. This could make the workshop either really good or really bad. Lots of discussion time has been allocated, and with the small number of people I suspect we'll even be able to calculate some stuff and get going on some projects. That would be really great! However, I can also envision things backfiring by everybody just going their own way and not interacting enough. Let's see how it goes. Even in the worst case, it would also just mean more time to explore Vienna, which isn't such a bad thing either (to say the least).

Anyway, my hope is to have a very exciting trip both academically and culturally. I am particularly excited about exploring the city's fine musical tradition! If I get a chance, I might even try to make my way here to pay my respects.

This will be my first trip to Austria. As for when I get back to Oxford, on Sunday I'll be back (so to speak).

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I recently read a very interesting article called "Calculemus!" in American Scientist. It was written by Bryan Hayes, who maintains the blog bit-player.

In this article, he discusses what he calls "inquisitive computing" and the types of programming environments that best promote it. (At the end of the article, he enumerates the features he considers desirable. I won't discuss them here, but I don't know if there is anything horrible surprising on the list. It might be interesting to discuss that as well, but I'm going to go in a different direction in this entry.)

Some of the example problems Hayes discusses remind me a great deal of the programming nuggets Lemming was mentioning to me a while back. (In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if these showed up in the list Lemming was following.)

One of them involves "more sums than differences" (MSTD) sets: Take a set of integers (both signs are possible) and calculate first all possible sums from pairs of integers in that set and second all possible differences from pair of numbers in that set. For which sets of integers does the set of unique sums have more entries than the set of unique differences?

Another involves what are called ABCs: Consider the equation a + b = c, where a, b, and c are all positive integers that have no common divisors (besides 1). Now consider the product abc and find all the prime factors of this product. Get rid of duplicates so that each prime that you find occurs exactly once. The product of these remaining primes, denoted rad(abc), is called the radical of abc. (Dude!) The question is the following: When is c > rad(abc)? Also, how much greater can c be than rad(abc)?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Brief summary o' today

Today, o' course, be International Talk like a Pirate Day. Despite me promise, I didn't conduct any o' today's oral examinations in pirate. Sorry!

I finished helpin' out with t' oral exams for Masters students today. Then t' other Examiners and I needed t' determine their fate, which be not somethin' that I be particularly comfortable doin'. Then we gave them their results in person one-by-one, which o' course includes both good and bad moments. (T' amusin' incident was when we forget t' give somebody information and then needed t' call him aft. Then we called him aft yet again t' give him another piece o' information that we forgot t' give him, though t' second call-aft was done partially because it was funny. I was crackin' up and couldn't keep a straight face at that point; all t' students---includin' t' one in question---seemed t' enjoy this bit too.) After that I was finally able t' go home and change out o' sub fusc (sorry, no pictures---but eventually I'm aye someone will take pictures o' me in that get-up). We had t' leavin' party for t' students a little while later; this may well be t' first and last Masters leavin' party I attend because one o' t' students decided that that would be a good time t' come up t' me and tell me off. This has port a pretty bitter taste in me mouth, so I think next time I will just not be part o' t' troupe sayin' I'm shovin' off t' t' students. (I have a year t' get over this, so don't hold me t' not showin' up.) I think most o' them didn't want t' see me thar anyway, so I might as well oblige them.

Later in t' evenin' I had a party at me place t' celebrate t' fact that t' Yankees be not goin' t' make t' playoffs this year. (T' secondary reason was that it was a house-warmin' party and t' tertiary reason was that I was done markin' dissertations and examinin' students for quite a while. I've become too fatalistic about t' Dodgers these days t' celebrate a National League West division victory until it's a done deal.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lyman Bostock

Tuesday September 23rd will mark the 30th anniversary of the murder of Angels outfielder Lyman Bostock. I first found out about this incident many years ago when I read Rod Carew's autobiography. Today, ESPN.com posted a fascinating article by Jeff Pearlman on the subject. It's well worth a read, though obviously the story is far from a happy one.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New apartment

I have moved one floor down to the 0th floor of Penrose (the 'garden set') in Somerville. I have 50% more space now. I started packing yesterday and finished it up in real-time while things were being moved down here. With the help of a couple of porters [bringing the total number to 3 :)], everything got moved today and I have actually unpacked a good bit of stuff.

Among the things I inherited from the previous resident (besides a dirty apartment, which will be remedied soon enough) were two unused pale green candles. I have used these to help create an altar for Summer Fun Cthulhu above the center my living room bookshelves. I don't have a digital camera, but I am having a party on Friday, so I'll get one of the attendees to take a picture so that I can post it. I must say that this is the best altar I have ever created.

Tampa Bay Rays = Muppets?

According to Bugs & Cranks, the Tampa Bay Rays are muppets.

To be honest, I can't see much of a resemblance except for one case which is so awesome that I have to do this post: Check out Matt Garza versus Sam the Eagle. Separated at birth, Man!

(Tip of the hat to Rob Neyer, who posted the link on his blog.)

My vote is in the mail.

I was worried when I didn't get any response from the bureaucrats when I filled out my overseas voting form, but I found my ballot in my mailbox this morning and I have now voted and sent things out.

If the Democrats don't win California (and we're in very big trouble if that happens!), it won't be my fault. (Well, unless the ballot gets lost in the mail or something, but we won't talk about such things.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Palin Numbers

There is currently an active discussion on SOCnet (a social networks listserv) about Palin numbers. Shudder.

I didn't have the heart to bring up either Schroder numbers (which apparently bear a small bit of similarity in the definition of links) or connections to Monica.

That discussion started becoming political, so it's probably over---though I think I'll be shuddering for a little while.

Monday, September 15, 2008

'Overseen' in Oxford

In this blog entry, I'll incorrectly use the term overseen as a visual analog of overhead. But I like it, so I'm going to do it anyway.

As many of you---perhaps most of you---know, I've spent the majority of my days since Monday September 8th marking Masters dissertations. Today I got down to the last two ("Not more than two...") dissertations and the final one, which I just finished, had a very pleasant surprise. Namely, it included the invention of a new chemical element: criterium.

Words of Warning

Whatever you do, don't fall asleep for 10 minutes in the Shea Stadium bleachers. Wow.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer, who posted the link on his blog.)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Annoying experience in Super Mario Galaxy

I was playing some Super Mario Galaxy after yet another grueling day of reading Masters dissertations. I decided to start with the 'secret' star on the second level of the Toy Box galaxy, which involves going to a secret planet and turning all the blue question mark panels into yellow exclamation point panels and then picking up the star you're allowed to get once you do so.

I find this particular part of that level annoying because I find the game's camera very annoying in this particular spot. (I find it annoying in some other spots as well, but this one really irks me. In fact, the parts where the game's camera goes a bit nuts make me dizzy in real life when I play them. This is one of the spots in the game that does that.) OK, so I fought the camera and turned all the blocks in a way that would make Q*Bert proud and then I tried to make my way to the star (while fighting the camera again). Certain spiky platforms no longer move after all the blocks are turned. I got greedy and decide to get some star bits and I accidently bumped into the edge of a non-moving spiky platform because of my carelessness. The deflection from this knocked Mario prone in between two of the turned platforms. He tried to get up, but was caught in between so automatically ended up prone again. This turned out to be an infinite loop, as no form of jumping registered. Fuck. I thus needed to leave the level without my coveted star, and now I'll need to redo my efforts for this particular star. Bloody Hell! I'm not doing it now though because I play such games to reduce frustration, not to add to it. I'm just going to go read or something, but this will be pleasure reading rather than another dissertation.

K-Rod breaks Bobby Thigpen's single-season save record

Yesterday, the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez ("K-Rod") recorded his 58th save of 2008, breaking Bobby Thigpen's single-season mark. Bobby Thigpen---who has an awesome last name, by the way---was a decent reliever who had a couple of very good seasons, but given how many significantly better closers there have been (including Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner, and Dennis Eckersley, to name just a few), it's nice that a much better reliever now has this record. (Just thing what it would be like if Juan Pierre held the record for most consecutive games with a hit. It's kind of like that, though not quite as bad.) Obviously a lot of luck is involved---being on a good team really helps for this particular record, for example---and the save statistic is rather problematic anyway.

Given this blog entry, the other thing I wanted to mention is the origin of K-Rod's nickname. Alex Rodriguez had the nickname "A-Rod" going back to before he entered professional baseball and because of him, basically every baseball player with the last name of Rodriguez was dubbed "\alpha-Rod", where \alpha denotes the first letter of their first name. However, K-Rod is the one exception to this rule and the only one of those nicknames that is in any way creative. K-Rod came up late in 2002 during the Angels' Word Series run and blew everybody away with lots of strikeouts (which are denoted "K" in box scores), and that's where the K comes from.

Anyway, with all due respect to Bobby Thigpen, I'm pleased that somebody appropriate now holds this record.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Massive Media Roundup

Time for the long-promised set of massive media reviews, which will mostly be short and sweet. I kept the tickets so that I could actually remember what I saw. The order below is simply the order in which I pick up the ticket.

Hellboy II: Great movie! I approve. The German phastasm was amusing. Was the elven princess in Stardust? (Apparently not, but for some reason she seemed similar to me.)

The Wind in the Willows (theatrical version): I saw this at a small theatre and I enjoyed it very much. Now I finally understand where Disneyland's Mr. Toad's Wild Ride attraction comes from... Highly recommended!

Bugsy Malone: In this play, British teenagers (and sometimes younger) attempt to do gangster noir. It was very good overall, but it definitely didn't work at times.

Get Smart: I had been waiting for this film to come out ever since I first heard about it something like 2.5 years ago, given that I really enjoyed watching reruns of the original series as a kid. The casting was excellent! Steve Carrell was the obvious choice to play Maxwell Smart (Agent 86), although nobody will ever duplicate Don Adams in that roll (not even Inspector Gadget, who was based on Agent 86 and was voiced by a Don Adams sound-alike). Anne Hathaway did well as Agent 99, though the dynamics between Agents 86 and 99 in the movie were a bit different than in the show (where 99 was madly in love with 86, who was completely oblivious to the whole thing---at least at first; by the time of the failed return of the series, I believe the characters were married). Duane Johnson and Alan Arkin were also excellent. The film included several catch phrases (which I appreciated) and in general was quite good, even though I prefer the original series (which was a Mel Brooks creation, by the way, so it shouldn't be a surprise that I like it so much). Also, the shoe phone played a prominent role in the film. That was extremely important.

Hello Dolly (musical): Unfortunately, I was not very impressed, though I admit that it did have its moments. However, once I saw Wall-E, I became happy that I saw the musical given that it played an important role in that film. (The clips being shown in the movie were from Hello Dolly.)

Wall-E: Another excellent Pixar film. I'm shocked. It's amazing how they conveyed such emotion in the characters with so little dialog.

Kung Fu Panda: I really liked it! I tried unsuccessfully to get people to see it with me, but se la vie. They thought it would be silly---their loss. (Or maybe it's more precise to say that they assume that "silly" means not worth watching?)

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: I enjoyed it, although I was a bit annoyed that they were hitting harder with the religious overtones in the film than they did in the prequel. The older daughter was a frosh (or "fresher", as it's called here) at Oxford last fall. I forgot which College.

The Pirates of Penzance: This was awesome! I recognized a very high percentage of the songs, which is not surprising given that many of the songs in there show up all over the place. I am the very model of a modern applied mathematician---or something like that. It could have been worse: I've been planning since I saw the musical (for the first time, amazingly enough) to write a parody of a certain song that I plan to call "Condensed Matter". Stay tuned...

The Forbidden Kingdom: I really liked this film as well. I could have done without the token white boy, but it didn't detract too much from what I actually paid to see (so I guess this is sort of like a milder version of AG's opinion on this point).

Oklahoma! (musical): This was a production by Oxford students that I saw at a small stage in Wadham College. I should have blogged about this earlier because then I could have mentioned that I ran into Lloyd alum Joe Jewell '04 (I think that's the right year), who was also in the audience. He will be starting as a grad turkey at Tech in the fall. I think he'll be in aeronautics. Oh, and the musical was really good! There was a recognizable vignette that I didn't realize came from this musical that I had seen parodied in a cartoon (I think in an episode of Bugs Bunny). There was also a very recognizable song ("Oh, what a beautiful morning") that I had no idea came from this musical.

Two Hobbit-Sized Parodies: Harry Potter and the Generic Adventure and Swords & Saucery: The second of these had a Lord of the Rings Theme. These plays were also performed by Oxford students and many audience members knew some or all of the people in the plays, so there was some audience participation at appropriate points. The Harry Potter parody was first. One of my friends played Snape, although I was already planning to go even before I found out about that. The guy who played Valdemort was booed lustily every time he came on "stage" (the performance was in the Wadham Gardens), including when he played a different character (a good guy) in the second parody. That was awesome! There were also lots of private jokes, and I even caught a couple of them. Think of these things as roughly like Lloyd movies, but as live performances. That was the basic ambience, which I liked very much.

Stuff at the Montreal film festival: I'm now wishing I could have gotten tickets for the new Woody Allen film (they sold out, so my debate whether I should go to that one versus having dinner at a normal time ended rather quickly) because I really want to see it and the UK is not presently listed in its IMDB entry as somewhere it's being released. Damnit! Satellites & Meteorites was an excellent Gondrey-esque film was an Irish director, who was there to answer our questions after the film ended. (A short film called The Ranger was shown before the main film. This was meh.) It was a bit rough around the edges and in a couple of situations could have been more subtle, but it is definitely on the short list of my favorite films of the year.) The Japanese film One Million Yen Girl was enjoyable, but it was merely good. Lissi and the Wild Emperor was a very funny German cartoon (with very high animation quality) which would probably get a PG-13 rating in the US. It made fun of Emperor Ferdinand. (For what it's worth, I picked the order randomly except for the ones at this film festival. I did these last on purpose.)

Alright, now I've finally caught up on one of the entries I had been meaning to write for a while.