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.
\\ ( , 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.