Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain picks Sarah Palin as running mate

I just saw on that John McCain has picked Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate for his presidential campaign.

My immediate reactions came in the following order:

(1) First came the cynical reaction: This is a brilliant choice because now Obama loses some of the political-correctness advantage of his attempt to become the first African American in the White House and because of this choice the Republicans are now more likely to win than they were before. Fuck!

(2) Next came the positive reaction: No matter what happens, some history will be made because we'll either get an African American president or a woman vice president. Each of these could---and should---have enormously positive long-term ramifications no matter which party gets into office. Hell, it's already extremely positive (and historical) that they're running for these offices in the first place.

(3) Then came the debate of (1) versus (2): No matter how much I care about point (2)---which actually is quite a bit---I care a lot more about point (1) because I don't want anything to happen that increases the chances of the next president being a Republican, and this includes things like this one with extremely positive long-term ramifications.

(4) Then came a question: Who is Sarah Palin?

Future Ig Nobel laureate?

The following blurb appeared in the issue of mini-AIR I just received by e-mail:

"Bikinis Instigate Generalized Impatience in Intertemporal Choice," Bram Van den Bergh, Siegfried Dewitte and Luk Warlop,
Journal of Consumer Research, June 2008, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 85-97.

I googled the paper because I was curious what they actually did (especially given that I couldn't tell what they meant by "intertemporal choice" and---to be honest---after reading the abstract I still have no idea what that means). The abstract adds to the amusement:

Neuroscientific studies demonstrate that erotic stimuli activate the reward circuitry processing monetary and drug rewards. Theoretically, a general reward system may give rise to non-specific effects: Exposure to ‘hot stimuli’ from one domain may thus affect decisions in a different domain. We show that exposure to sexy cues leads to more impatience in intertemporal choice between monetary rewards. Highlighting the role of a general reward circuitry, we demonstrate that individuals with a sensitive reward system are more susceptible to the effect of sex cues, that the effect generalizes to non-monetary rewards, and that satiation attenuates the effect.

I think this is clearly a strong contender for an Ig Nobel prize. Maybe the peace prize? (Either that or physics.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Headline: Instant Replay in Baseball

I only have a couple of comments to add to the raging debut, but I nevertheless want to provide an announcement that instant replay officially comes to baseball starting tomorrow. (There's supposedly some sort of test drive in today's Pirates-Cubs game, but I don't know what that actually means.) I believe that it will be limited to fair versus foul calls on homeruns at first, but we can obviously (despite what official baseball people state) expect its use to be expanded in the upcoming years. I think only a few of this weekend's series will include it. Whether or not baseball should have instant replay has been debated on-and-off over the years, but discussions really heated up this year and now it's reality.

My main hope, by the way, is that this doesn't reduce the fantastically amusing arguments between managers and umpires. The people against instant replay often talk about "the human element" of the game (which is a euphemism for making more mistakes), but the thing I would actually miss the most are things like Lloyd McClendon stealing first base. For what it's worth, the argument against instant replay that I do buy is the concern over game length if it's used too often. I think umpires and managers will still go jaw-to-jaw quite a bit even when instant replay is fully established, but I'm just saying that that's what I'd miss if it went away.

Vintage Mason

Most of you have probably witnessed what I consider to be vintage examples of my sarcastic wit. One MTBI student (Carlos Torres) even came up with the term "Mason moment" to describe verbal instances of such incidents in the context of scientific discussions (such as seminar questions and comments), although those were intended to be pointed but not necessarily sarcastic. (Admittedly, some of those comments have occasionally ended up being less mild than I intended.) Several of you probably have also witnessed the depths that my sarcasm can reach more often than you'd like. :) Here is the latest in a continuing series:

A few months back, one of my collaborators passed a paper on to me that was sent to him by his former Cornell advisor (who is on the editorial board of the journal that published the paper), who I also know pretty well. The reason that paper was brought to my collaborator's attention was that it concerned a nonlinear oscillator model of bipolar disorder, about which we wrote a paper in 2003. We never were actually able to publish this paper (though a few people have cited it anyway and at least a couple of psychologists seemed to be interested in it), but we posted the paper on the arXiv preprint server in 2003.

It turns out to be a very good thing that we posted the paper publicly in a manner that includes a time-stamp, because the article that was forwarded to us had a lot of very familiar ideas, analysis, etc. Once we saw this, we contacted the author to let him know about our paper and asked for his thoughts and to add a reference to it if at all possible. (His paper is already published online, but it's "in press" in the sense that it has not yet been assigned volume, issue, or page numbers.) We waited around a month or so and got no response, so we contacted the editor of the journal and gave him the link to our paper (and indicated the time stamp). To his credit, the journal editor immediately saw a problem and e-mailed the author later that day and asked him to comment on the differences between the two manuscripts. Another month (roughly) passed and the author still hadn't responded, so we asked the editor what we should do. Based on consulting with him, it was agreed that we should write a Letter to the Editor. Perhaps the final version will be edited by the folks at the journal, but here is the way it currently reads. Pay special attention to the last two sentences. As I mentioned, it's vintage Mason.

Anyway, sometimes one has to fight the good fight.

Update: The receipt of our Letter to the Editor was acknowledged at 3:54 pm (pacific time) and it was accepted without comment at 3:55 pm. I'm still waiting for my first negative-time paper acceptance. :)

Coupling Between Coffee Places

Today's barrista at my usual coffee place was the former owner of a coffee place I used to be a regular (and occasionally still go to). Actually, I didn't know until today that he didn't still own that other place, where he often served as barrista. He now owns the current usual coffee place. (Actually, the current one was my usual place first, but then they didn't have ice for several months, so I frequented the other place for a while. This one has better coffee.) It's a bit weird to see a person I associated with one place with another one (and I also felt a bit compelled to explain my coffee switch, although I guess that is just my own insecurity or something).

I have seen a couple of things like this before but not too many. All of the ones that come to mind are in Ithaca. (Naturally, it happened in the smallest town in which I've lived.) There were 3 examples (and arguably a 4th, on one occasion) that come to mind. The one I'll mention is one barrista who worked at one of my regular coffee places, then another one, and then back to the original one. Maybe it's weirder for them to see me as a regular at two different places (in addition to it being weird to see me in the first place).

I hope to wake up in a few minutes. I'm trying to gradually work up my mind to edit my Facebook manuscript some more.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A message to librarians

Attention: In mathematics, the fact that a book has a new edition by no means whatsoever should be taken to imply that the old edition should be discarded! (Just because it works that way in some subjects doesn't mean that it works that way in every subject. Some of them haven't exactly changed much in a while...)

The Somerville library ("Library!") was discarding some old mathematics books in the interest of space (which I appreciate is necessary). I took some of these myself because I think that there is a chance that I might have some use for them (even if it's only on a rare occasion) and a few of them I insisted that they put back because the student demand for them already outstrips the supply. (A couple of the books I rescued are ones I don't expect to use at all, but I have historical interest in them for various reasons.) Throwing these away would then exacerbate a problem that already exists. One of the books that I so rescued was this one (technically, the same edition but under a different publisher). Unbelievable...

Maybe they should try crowd control next?

At 10:15 this morning, everyone in my College was sent an e-mail (that was clearly not spam) titled "Please log off immediately
" from our IT support staff. It included the following very terse message (along with the usual greeting, etc):

Please log off until further notice as you are at risk of data loss. This also applies even if you believe that your computer is o.k.

Naturally, this made me feel some sense of panic. I was at the office. I considered delaying an imminent meeting so I could go and make sure my computer wasn't connected to the internet. (I didn't really know what they meant by "log off.") However, I had just backed everything up yesterday, so I figured I'd just recover everything that way in the event that something weird happened. Also I had no clue what the cause might have been or in general anything of what was apparently going on. Were we under attack? Was the world about to end, taking all of our data with it? I had no idea. The content of the message that I quoted constituted the entirety of the message body (aside from the greeting, etc.). Then my student came and we met for an hour, after which I sent the following e-mail at 11:22 to the IT folks in response to their message:

I am not at home and hence unable to log off at such short notice. (I
realize this is apparently beyond your control in this case.)

Could you let us know what's going on?

After my next meeting, I went home at 12:30 and unplugged my ethernet cable and went to lunch. I would then deal with a couple of things at the office and call up the IT folks to see what was going on if I didn't hear from them at that point.

At 2:11 pm, just before I was going to call, I received the following private e-mail from them:

There is no need to worry, there was a problem with the administration staff's
computers earlier today and an email was sent out to everyone rather than just
the admin by mistake.
If upon your return to Somerville there seems to be any problem with your
ability to log on to your computer or with the email, please reboot your
machine as this should clear up any remaining issues.

So I have a question: If the original e-mail was sent out to everyone by mistake (and ask you can see that e-mail was titled and worded in a way that could reasonably be expected to cause panicky reactions in people), why wasn't there an immediate follow-up letting them know that they could safely ignore it because it didn't apply to them?

Thanks a lot, guys. Way to run a tightly-oiled machine.

(Am I being unreasonable here? It seems to me that this could have been handled much better than it was in almost every respect. Maybe I'm just missing something entirely.)

Update: Errr..., I mean a "tight ship" or "well-oiled" machine. I'm not quite sure what it means for something to be tightly-oiled, although I do recognize the term as a compound adjective...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Grrr.... I'm annoyed

In addition to my general grumpiness from being exhausted (I took a red-eye flight from Montreal), I seem to have misplaced about 100 pounds worth of bills that I had with me. They must have fallen out of my wallet at some point. I hope that whoever picked them up is a poor person who can really use them. This could have happened as much as a week ago, but I only just noticed upon my return (as I had been using Canadian currency for the last week). Basically, this is not enough to affect my life in any way, but it is enough to annoy me.

I'm writing this entry because I needed a small rant. It's my own fault because whether it was technically lost or stolen, it was absolutely carelessness on my part. Maybe I should pretend this was caused by a previously-unheard-of form of Canadian taxation?

Se la vie. If this is the worst thing that happens to me in the next (say) year, then I think I'm in pretty good shape.

What is... JPEG?

Here is a belated post of an expository article from earlier this year that I have been meaning to point. This article, which gives the mathematical basics behind JPEG, is part of the "What is..." series in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society.

There are a few more of these that have built up about which I will eventually blog, and I'll even zip through my media review backlog at some point. :)

Averaging of Nonlinearity Management with Dissipation

My paper called Averaging of nonlinearity management with dissipation just appeared in Physical Review A. My coauthors are S. Beheshti, K. J. H. Law, and P. G. Kevrekidis (all from U. Mass. Amherst).

This paper is a short but interesting bit of research whose motivation is best described with its abstract:

Motivated by recent experiments in optics and atomic physics, we derive an averaged nonlinear partial differential equation describing the dynamics of the complex field in a nonlinear Schrödinger model in the presence of a periodic nonlinearity and a periodically varying dissipation coefficient. The incorporation of dissipation in our model is motivated by experimental considerations. We test the numerical behavior of the derived averaged equation by comparing it to the original nonautonomous model in a prototypical case scenario and observe good agreement between the two.

Basically, the point is that the theoretical research involving "nonlinearity management" (which typically means using temporal and/or spatial adjustment on one or more of the nonlinear terms in a partial differential equation) uses an entirely conservative setting. However, one one applies one of these strategies experimentally, there is typically an additional dissipation mechanism that gets introduced. (We saw this in our work with experimentalists on nonlinearity management in the setting of nonlinear optics. This short paper was especially motivated by the associated series of experiments, though it's relevant for some Bose-Einstein condensate stuff as well.) Our paper take some theory for the conservative case and works it out for the periodic dissipation case that we saw in our optics experiments as an example of how one would do this more generally.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Indie movies and pretentious coffee bars

The study group with industry ended a bit after 1pm today, which gave me most of today, all of tomorrow, and part of Sunday to explore a bit (or, more precisely, to continue my Montreal escapades from 2003 and 2004). Accordingly, I headed to downtown after we were done to explore the eastern half of St. Catherine's street. (This is the main happening street downtown.) The metro station I went to was the one that turned out to connect to their grand central station and is where the buses from the airport go if one is heading downtown. (This time, I just took a cab because University of Montreal is paying for my travels. Hence, I didn't want to deal with the luggage-dragging---and the having to figure out where I actually needed to go at various stages---that the bus + metro option would have entailed.) This therefore touched me down amidst the familiar hotels from 2003 and 2004.

Upon exploring the eastern part of St. Catherine's (a street which goes on forever and is basically open all night), I ran into the Montreal film festival, which I didn't realize was happening now. (It started last night.) This is excellent, because it allows me to see some indie films long before they come out in theatres. (Some of these probably won't come out in UK or US theatres at all.) I saw a really good Japenese film called something like "The 100 Million Yen Woman." Various types of social awkwardness play pretty important roles in it, so while it was a bit too heavy-handed and predictable at times, it definitely resonated with me somewhat. (There were also some brief comedic moments, like a judge's/police official's voiceover proclaiming how bad it was to throw out a person's "Nintendo DS, as well as his other possessions" (the quote is approximate). I'll bring up the film again in a very belated entertainment review blog entry that will include films, theatre, etc. from the past several months. There are quite a few other films I'm interested in seeing (though only a fraction of those are playing while I'm still in town), so my current plans are to see 1-2 tomorrow. (I have already walked around a decent bit and I don't typically do things like museums unless I'm doing that with someone else. I just don't typically like going to museums on my own.) I was going to see a regular movie tonight, but once I found out that the film festival was going on, I threw out that option. (P.S. As far as I can tell, Philip Seymour Hoffman is not in any of the films being shown at this festival.)

As I have mentioned in the past (though maybe not in this blog), Montreal has tons and tons of very good coffee places. One of the ones near the university is in fact among the most pretentious coffee places I've ever been. (It's name is stupid---"Java U"---but its espresso drinks are fantastic! Ergo, I approve!) It might even be the 2nd most pretentious coffee place I've ever been to, although it is nowhere close to as pretentious as the venue occupying the top spot on the list (Equator Cafe in Pasadena). However, it has much better coffee than Equator (which has good coffee), which is what really counts. I went to another pretentious coffee place as well today---its barristas also seemed to range from dressed-in-black to very goth. I was also going to have crepes today, but it didn't work out. There's a crepes place near the theatre I went to and one or both of the films I'm seeing tomorrow are at that specific theatre as well, so I'll definitely make up for that tomorrow. It would be a crime to have my third trip to Montreal without having had a crepe in any of the three.

Fun fact: In high school, I was voted most likely to see independent films and drink pretentious coffee drinks while having crepres. (OK, not really---but I would have been if we had that category.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Greg Maddux is heading back to the Dodgers

After a month or so of rumors, it appears that Greg Maddux has been traded again to the Dodgers. Awesome! Hopefully he'll help us win, and he'll pass Roger Clemens on the career win list in Dodger blue. Maybe we'll even keep him next year this time. (Although Maddux is geriatric and obviously a far cry from the pitcher he used, he's still solid and incredibly fun to watch. I'd love to see him remain on the team next year.)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Clever solutions to problems

I wasn't able to see some videos that one of my students sent me and I haven't had the time (or the desire) to deal with downloading software during the last couple of days---I was too busy revising a manuscript and now I'm out of town---so he cleverly solved the problem by posting his videos on YouTube. Here is one of his degree distribution movies. Although it doesn't have many hits, it does have quite a few more than I expected it to have.

Oh, and greetings from Montreal. I had forgotten how cheap good food can be in North America. :) I think I appreciate that much more than I used to---or at least certain food prices feel less expensive than they used to.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What happens in Montreal stays in Montreal

Tomorrow morning I am heading on a bus to the airport for my flight to the land of maple leaves, Celine Dion, and Tim Horton's. (Tim Horton's is apparently a big deal to many Canadians, but I must admit that I don't really get it. I've been to one and it was quite generic. Maybe some of the local Canadian folks want to educate me on this one?) In particular, I'm going to Montreal, which has various levels of association with all three (especially Celine Dion). Another big Montreal thing is smoked meat, which one can find ubiquitously in many restaurant menus there.

The reason for my travel is a fully-funded invite---that originally went to a more senior Oxonian, but he was busy and asked if I'd go---to a study group with industry. I went to one of these in Edinborough in April and it was fun but very exhausting. (I didn't end up walking around through Edinborough and seeing it properly, which is quite a shame given how cool a city it seems to be---and is, according to those who have truly experienced it. Hence, I will need to go back there and have a proper look around instead of just wandering the infinite corridors of Herior-Watt University.) At the Edinborough study group, I worked on a problem on item recommendation systems, which the industry presenters formulated as a probability problem but which our group recast as a bipartite network problem. (Funny, one wouldn't expect me to do that. :) ) The list of problems in Montreal includes one that is very TSP-like, and that's the one that seems the most interesting to me based on the short descriptions that have been published online. (The way it works is that on the first day, the industry folks present the problems---which are typically ambiguous and otherwise ill-formed---and the academics spend the rest of the week trying to get as far as they can with them, which for many problems can amount to just figuring out what the problem actually is.)

Anyway, I am very excited to have the chance to go to Montreal again. It's on the short short list of my favorite cities in the entire world (and, in this case, I am able to make that claim without any emotional bias due to the people or institutions in that city---well, except possibly for Youppi!), and I should have at least some time to go around and do cool things. (One big difference from Edinborough was that Heriot-Watt was away from the city center and in this case I should be able to just walk to where things are happening. If nothing else, the metro system in Montreal is really good, so I can haul ass over to St. Catherine's Street easily enough. There's an RPG store there that I might visit and I also want to pick up N+. Nope, I'm not going to be able to pick up N+ because it's been delayed another two weeks, so it's now slated to come out the day after I return to the UK. Bloody Hell. I was going to pick it up in Pasadena in January. I'll also be partaking in Montreal's many excellent cafes and restaurants. So I'm looking forward to going!) The last time I was there (March 2004), I tested Newton's laws of by running into a glass wall (they work) and had a butterfly give birth on my jacket while I was wearing it. (I have a picture to prove this. I think several of you have seen it before. There was also a Housequote related to this incident, but it was Jing Xu rather than me who uttered it.) The one time before that was in June 2003, and I can confirm that the weather in Montreal is much nicer during the summer than it is in March. :)

Oh, and in preparation for my upcoming exhausting study group with industry, I spent most of today (about 12 hours) revising a 40+ journal-page manuscript from top to bottom. I can overstate how painful this was! Now my collaborator has it and the hope is to submit it after his next pass. (It's conceivable that he'll ask me to go over specific parts again, but I hope he'll agree that we can submit it and post it on the arxiv. We'll then make more changes later when we deal with the referee reports and have had time to recover from the present ordeal.) One of my network science colleagues (and a fellow community-detector, no less) for whom I have a great deal of respect really liked it, which makes me feel very good about the paper.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Overheard (errr... written) while Manuscript Drafting (aka, Quotes of the Day)

Here is the first quote:

"The history of statistics is replete with measures of association and correlation. Just because a measure has plausibility at face value, ranges from 1 down to 0, and has a known sampling distribution under an extreme null hypothesis of total randomness is no guarantee of its usefulness or interpretability." (David L. Wallace, 1983)

Comment: Amen, Brother!

Here is the second:

"In summary, this paper is fucking long. Therefore, it ought to be published in a mathematics journal because nobody reads those anyway."

Comment: I wrote that one in a recent draft of a paper I am about to submit for publication that is now over 40 journal pages long. Sigh. I should have written "way too fucking long" instead.

There is actually a recent e-mail exchange that I'd also like to post, but I'll have to send that one privately.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Billboard of the Day

Jaideep Singh posted an awesome billboard on his Facebook page.

I understand the point of the billboard, but they managed to do this in a way that is truly "awesome". Maybe Caltech should adopt the billboard's catchphrase as its new slogan?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mathematics Job Wiki

Following in the fine tradition of the condensed matter/atomic physics job rumor mill (and similar web pages in other physics subfields), there is now a wiki devoted to the mathematics job rumor mill. Not that it matters for me anymore, but I do like to gossip about this stuff (as Lemming knows quite well). :)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Say it ain't so!

Apparently, there is now a remake of the piece of shit known as Beverly Hills 90210.

The reason the old show annoyed me is that it propagated annoying stereotypes about my high school. It never even occurred to me that there would be a remake. Damnit!

And for what it's worth, there is only one Beverly High and it's in the 90212 area code! (Let's ignore the fact that my parents' home is in the 90210 area code.) Sheesh.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Recap from Rome

I'm blogging on this a bit belatedly, as is my habit. (I was going to be prompt, but then the whole laptop incident occurred.)

I've already posted the pictures my friend took. I still don't have a digital camera (I'll get one eventually... I'm being very bad about this) and I haven't developed my pictures yet, though the ones I showed you covered most of the visual stuff I wanted to pass along anyway.

My memory of things is a bit hazy at this point, but such is life.

General: While in Rome, I unsurprisingly had lots of good pasta and gelato. Mmmm... gelato. There was a really good gelato place near the hotel (which was somewhat in the boonies, as I mentioned). It had good, thick whipped cream and one of the people working there one time gave me double with the official portion was.

Italian driving: Basically, you have to just cross the street and hope they don't run you over. Right of way doesn't exist. If you stand on the sidewalk waiting for them to stop so you can cross safely (even if the traffic lights favor you, in the corners where there actually are traffic lights), you'll be waiting there a very long time. This was quite a nerve-wracking experience, and for an Angelino like me, walking in front of a car while it's moving counters multiple decades of muscle memory, intuition, and survival instincts. I definitely didn't like the de facto driving habits in Rome.

Attempts to get iced lattes/capuccinos: As I had been warned, this didn't work particularly well. I ultimately figured out how to get cold coffee drinks, but getting them truly iced (and hence ones that would actually stay really cold more than a trivial amount of time) didn't work very well. My shining moment of "awesomeness" came at lunch on one of the last days. A couple of days before I had accidently gotten an iced espresso and unlike in the US, one can't just add the milk oneself at a counter if one screws up that way. (At that place, one had to order in a different spot than one picked up the drink, and I didn't want to wait in line again, so I added some sugar and sucked it up.) However, I had learned from that experience that the Italian word for cold is "freddo" so I was thinking that I was getting somewhere. The next time I tried, I wanted to make sure my cold espresso drink wasn't actually an espresso, so I very confidently ordered a "latte freddo" and the waiter just as confidently gave me the cold milk I had ordered. Oops. I was so used to saying "latte" as a shortcut for "cafe latte" (as that is what's done in both the US and UK) that it didn't occur to me that without the "cafe" in Italy I would be taken literally. Bloody Hell! After that I just ordered capuccinos to be safe, but even on one menu that described the damn thing as "iced" it never got more than cold (and then not for long). Thankfully, gelato provided a nice way to get something that was truly cold and refreshing.

Day 1: This was my tourist day in Rome. My friend and I went to the Colosseum, where I managed to get very slightly bloody (there was a very sharp piece of plastic in an unfortunate spot). Sadly, I didn't have any of the 4th edition abilities that gave me bonuses in that situation. At least it was poetic. After this we walked to the city center and explored a lot. I learned my lesson from Zurich in summer 07 (and heeded the warning of how hot and humid Rome is in the summer) and made sure that I stayed hydrated. (I had a rough time in Zurich because of that.) Occasionally, this meant really overpaying for cold drinks, but sometimes you do what you have to do. I took either all (or perhaps nearly all) of my pictures on this day, and I covered lots of ground. When I travel to an interesting place, one of my pleasures is to just walk around a lot and see what's up. I like to get a flavor for the city and soak things in. Usually I get lost along the way, but at least I can also do some exploring as I try to find myself again. During this exploration, the sites included "Via Propaganda" (with the McDonald's sign, as I showed you pictorially) and a zombie mime. (What's the sign for "braaaaaaains...?")

The conference: It was productive and interesting, as expected. I actually went to the activity group's business meeting this time. I had considered going on some previous occasions, but I always had something else to do---either a meeting with a collaborator, dinner with friends, or whatever. (I didn't consider going when I first went to conferences, but after I had established myself a bit and become a regular, it started making sense to go to that stuff.) Anyway, one of the ideas I proposed was a resounding success, though it will need to go through the regular hoops to become official. Namely, there is going to be a nonlinear waves dissertation prize. Hopefully I won't end up on the committee that actually has to read these, but I believe in the cause sufficiently that I needed to risk that to try to make it happen.

Interesting factoid: This blog entry is 1337. I'm just awesome that way, and I'm not sure when the next interesting number is coming along.

Open source science

Courtesy Dave Richard, here is a New York Times article about open source science.

(By the way, yesterday we had a small Lloydies in Oxford day with Dave, Tom Maccarone, and me.)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Amusing t-shirt

In honor of gnomes being removed from the set of PC classes in 4th edition D & D, J!NX is now selling this amusing t-shirt. The idea is sweet and I was prepared to order one immediately after I saw the blurb in the J!NX e-mail, but unfortunately I don't actually like the graphics that much. I might still get one eventually because the idea is just that cool, but for now I'll wait.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Amazing Brad Ziegler

I meant to blog about this a while ago, but I have a few minutes now, so let me belated mention the amazing rookie season of Oakland reliever Brad Ziegler.

As I write this, one thing you'll notice among Ziegler's statistics is that he hasn't yet allowed a run (earned or otherwise) in his 35-inning Major League career.

As discussed in his wikipedia entry, Ziegler now holds the Major League record for most scoreless innings at the beginning of a career. The previous record had been set in 1907.

While this hasn't been the most prominent story in baseball this year, in my humble opinion, this is one of the best and most interesting ones.

Tales from the arXiv: Categories are just like animals

Here is a new abstract that just showed up on the arXiv:

Date: Thu, 7 Aug 2008 14:15:28 GMT (2695kb)

Title: Introducing categories to the practicing physicist
Authors: Bob Coecke
Categories: quant-ph math-ph math.CT math.MP
Comments: 30 pages and 19 pictures
Journal-ref: What is category theory? Advanced Studies in Mathematics and
Logic, volume 30, pages 45-74, Polimetrica Publishing, 2006
We argue that category theory should become a part of the daily practice of
the physicist, and more specific, the quantum physicist and/or informatician.
The reason for this is not that category theory is a better way of doing
mathematics, but that monoidal categories constitute the actual algebra of
practicing physics. We will not provide rigorous definitions or anything
resembling a coherent mathematical theory, but we will take the reader for a
journey introducing concepts which are part of category theory in a manner that
the physicist will recognize them.
\\ ( , 2695kb)

The reason I am including this entry is that it reminds me of a certain incident in the graduate abstract algebra course I took at Cornell. The professor was introducing the idea of 'category' and decided he wanted to do it without a precise definition. None of us were really following him, so we asked him kindly if he'd give him a definition and he said something along the lines of 'You're going to learn what a category is the way you learned what an animal is: by seeing examples of them.' He then gave another one or two non-illuminating (at least without the definition) examples to us, at which point a brave student (not me) asked him "What is a category?" The professor went slightly ballistic at that question given the prior exchange.

To this day, all I remember about categories is that they're important in abstract algebra and that they're apparently like animals. (I suppose if I tried reading the above article, I could fix that, but I don't really care enough to do so.) That was one of my more memorable classroom experiences.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Doc Ock is now Prof Ock

Congratulations to OCIAM's illustrious Research Director formerly known as Doc Ock! As of about a week ago, he is now officially Prof. Ock.

To be honest, the only reason* I am writing this blog entry is that I wanted to post a link to this picture, which bears an uncanny resemblance to what Ock looks like in real life.

* OK, it's not the only reason. The other reason is that by writing this blog entry, I am avoiding revising a certain grant proposal just a little bit longer.

Anyway, enjoy!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Pictures from Netsci 2008

The NetSci conference organizers have just posted some pictures.

There are 106 of them, so let me draw a few particular ones to your attention.

In pictures 4 and (especially!) 5, you can tell just how closely I was paying attention to things by the final talk of the conference. (I think that picture 5 may well help contribute to my burgeoning legend...) This was a panel session that could have been useful--the moderator was asking good questions--but the panelists just showed hokey prepared slides instead of saying anything useful. I left before that session ended because it was a waste of time. If you can, try to find me in picture 82. (I am all the way on your left, somewhere the camera didn't reach.) Can you identify the mafioso in picture 81? (Seriously, who the fuck is this guy? I was never able to figure it out during the entire conference.) Also, picture 60 shows the trivial solution.

I need to figure out who took pictures 4 and 5. Vengeance will be mine!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Ooh, they're including Squeeze...

The fact that "Cool for Cats" is included among these songs is really, really tempting. (OK, sorry for that pun.) I definitely want to play that song (and a few of the others on the list, though I don't care about most of them). There's apparently going to be a Wii version, though I'm a bit afraid of the shipping costs that would be involved (and the potential customs headaches because I suspect that this stuff would get noticed, unlike just shipping a game with conventional controllers). But anyway, I'm really looking forward to rocking out to "Cool for Cats" (and "Eye of the Tiger", "Alex Chilton", and a couple of other songs). I wonder if people singing "Cool for Cats" will try to duplicate the Cockney accent that the artists specifically used for it... (I won't exactly be demanding it, because I certainly won't be singing.)

RIP Skip Caray (1939-2008)

I just saw this article that Braves broadcaster Skip Caray has died. While his father Harry Caray was famous for his informal broadcasting style (especially his singing of 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game'), Skip was known for his sarcastic wit in the broadcast booth. He was an excellent announcer---one of the best. He had been having lots of health problems (diabetes, etc.) and was on a reduced broadcast schedule this year.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Up and Running (mostly)

My computer is up and running, and I have installed most of the essential software that I need. ("It's my industrial-strength hair-dryer, and I can't live without it!") I have also recopied my back-up data onto my computer as well as the stuff that I had saved in my Oxford math account only during my time without a functioning laptop. There is some issue with Oxford's Matlab license (the key file I was sent doesn't have the right code), but I'll just have to deal with that after I get an e-mail response on Monday. (I was using a Caltech license before my computer crashed and burned.) Aside from Matlab, I think I'm pretty much good to go. (I am about to try Mathematica, and then I will be done with setting things up for the day and mostly done overall.) Then I can hopefully catch up on some of my work... (The last couple of days I was productive anyway because I was in my office revising papers that I had handy and just wasn't trying to fight computers.)

I am quite pleased with my experience with the Southampton Apple Store. Getting there was annoying, but I dropped off my computer on Thursday and I got the call at 1:30 pm today that it was ready with its new harddrive. Having to take a 1.5 hour trip each way on two occasions was annoying, but the service was great/prompt and I wasn't charged anything for it (though the train trip cost a bit). Note also that I explained to them the various diagnostics I had done (with help) on my computer and they didn't make me watch them do all the same things again. Between dropping off my computer and picking it up, the total amount of time I spent in the Apple Store was maybe 20 minutes and most of that was waiting for 10 minutes while somebody else was being helped (as I had come early; I was taken before my official appointment---this was one reason I purposely went bright and early in the morning; I also wanted to make a meeting and get work done in general). I rant a lot about bad service, so I also want to point out situations like this when I got excellent customer service.

Oh, and I have a new harddrive name: Hourglass.

This is in honor of a certain wizard, who came to mind particularly because a book about him for which I have been waiting for a year has been delayed from last month (when it was supposed to come out) until July 2009. So much for having a more positive alignment, but at least I'm now down to Neutral Evil (or just Evil, if you prefer the alignment systems in either 4th edition D & D or first edition Dragonlance Adventures AD & D).

By the way, the double meaning in the harddrive name (in terms of its life clock already ticking) is completely intentional. I happen to be feeling rather fatalistic. The reference to the song by Squeeze, however, is entirely unintentional.

Until the next traumatic blog post about one of my computers... (which I hope is a long time away!)

Friday, August 01, 2008

Pictures of Rome

Here are some pictures of my travels in Rome that Martin Centurion (with whom I was hanging out) took on his digital camera.

The first picture in the batch, taken at the Colosseum, is one of my favorites---as is the 'Via di Propaganda' with the McDonald's sign next to it.


(I'll give some text on my Roman travels later. Posting pictures takes less time, so I'll stick with these for now.)

Update on invasion of privacy

Courtesy Justin, here is some information on some very scary US Customs policies.

Comment: Way to go, guys! Friends, I think we're in the process of witnessing the slow, painful fall of an empire. (In fact, I can very easily picture President Bush in the White House playing a fiddle.)

Sigh... I guess I ought to get my laptop back first before I worry about it being seized unfairly at the border. Though apparently, it's anything that can be seized for no reason whatsoever. Maybe I ought to be more careful about my "unpatriotic science"?

Did I mention that Doug Glanville is awesome?

Here is former baseball player Doug Glanville's latest op ed piece in the New York Times.

(I saw the link to this article on Rob Neyer's blog.)

I'll have some other entries coming reasonably soon (I hope). This includes the Rome summary and some long-awaited stuff.

An academic version of the Arbesman-Strogatz Monte Carlo study of hitting streaks

Samuel Arbesman and Steve Strogatz have now posted an arxiv paper that extends their earlier New York Times op ed piece on baseball hitting streaks. I asked Steve at the time whether there would be a technical article as well. He had said he wasn't sure they'd bother, so I'm glad that they decided to put something on the arxiv (and presumably submit it for publication as well). Here is the reference:

Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2008 14:40:15 GMT (1064kb)

Title: A Monte Carlo Approach to Joe DiMaggio and Streaks in Baseball
Authors: S. Arbesman, S. H. Strogatz
Categories: physics.pop-ph
Comments: 14 pages, 10 figures
We examine Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak and look at its likelihood,
using a number of simple models. And it turns out that, contrary to many
people's expectations, an extreme streak, while unlikely in any given year, is
not unlikely to have occurred about once within the history of baseball.
Surprisingly, however, such a record should have occurred far earlier in
baseball history: back in the late 1800's or early 1900's. But not in 1941,
when it actually happened.
\\ ( , 1064kb)

I don't have time to read the paper for now, but I'm printing it out and will get to it in the next few days. (I'd normally put this farther back in the queue, but it's about baseball, so I'm going to make a point to read it earlier than I otherwise would.) I don't actually like the style of the abstract. I think it makes sense to make it informal, but I think it could use some polishing.

I want to write a scientific article about baseball! I do have a project in the works, but my collaborators and I are very far away from posting anything at all...