Sunday, May 31, 2009

Jamie Moyer wins 250th career game

Jamie Moyer was a late bloomer. I remember him when he was just trying to establish himself in the Major Leagues in the late 80s and early 90s (he made his big league debut in 1986). If you had asked me back in the day to provide a rank ordering of which Major League pitchers would get at least 250 wins, I would have placed Jamie Moyer near the bottom of the list. Once he got to the Mariners, though, Moyer learned how to win and he just kept on doing it long after just about all of his more highly-lauded contemporaries had left the game. Well, today 46-year-old Jamie Moyer won his 250th career Major League game. Congratulations! Moyer appears to finally be nearing the end of the line, but people have said that numerous times before, so let's see how long he can last. He's certainly an unusual player.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sportscenter's Top 10 Baseball Meltdowns of All Time

Here is a video clip of Sportscenter's Top 10 Baseball Meltdowns of All Time. I don't completely agree with their choices, but they definitely included some classics. The funniest one---and one of the main reasons I am blogging about this---is Carlos Perez versus the dugout watercooler at number 7. I've been wanting to post a link to that video for years, so I'll have to settle for the small part of it here. (They don't show the entire thing, but what they do show is bloody awesome.) Priceless.

A Differential Equation in the New York Times

Here is Steve Strogatz's second guest article in Olivia Judson's New York Times blog. He lifted some of his discussion from his textbook, but it just warms my heart to see differential equations discussed in a venue like the New York Times and even more to see one (even a simple one) actually appear there.

My guess is that Strogatz's third guest article will be about synchronization and networks.

(Tip of the hat to Samuel Lee.)

"Electron Band Structure In Germanium, My Ass"

Here is an extremely funny fake research report called Electron Band Structure In Germanium, My Ass. I approve!

(Tip of the hat to Jing Xu.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"I shot an arrow in the air / It fell to earth I know not where..."

There a couple of big wins in the new issue of Mini-AIR. For example, here is an article called Can a Falling Bullet Be Lethal at Terminal Velocity? Cardiac Injury Caused by a Celebratory Bullet. The abstract is also excellent:

This is a case report of rare cardiac and abdominal organ injuries sustained by an innocent bystander from a New Year’s Eve celebratory gun shooting. The force and velocity of a projectile fired into the air as it ascends and returns to earth, along with its potential for bodily injury will be reviewed.

Another paper, called Transcranial Arrow Injury: A Case Report, thinks about the problem a little bit more literally. Here is a portion of its abstract and conclusion:

In this report, a 37 year-old male patient, who was shot by an 'arrow' accidentally, was evaluated regarding clinical
presentation, treatment and clinical progress.... CONCLUSION: Management of such cases are still beyond the textbooks and
guidelines and it is depending on the surgeon's skill and experience in general neurosurgery.

I think what amuses me most are the quotations around the word 'arrow'.

On a complete separate note, this issue of Mini-AIR mentioned a paper that had something to say about the Apple versus IBM logos. Here is a blurb (which I assume is the abstract, though I didn't check):

This manuscript first examines whether brand exposure elicits automatic behavioral effects as does exposure to social primes. Results support the translation of these effects: Participants primed with Apple logos behave more creatively than IBM-primed and controls; Disney-primed participants behave more honestly than E!-primed and controls.

I am extremely amused.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Math and the City

Here is a guest article by Steve Strogatz that appears in the New York Times. Strogatz is guest-blogging for Olivia Judson in the next three weeks. The first article is called "Math in the City" and it discusses Zipf's Law and the work by Geoff West and collaborators. (However, unlike West in his seminar yesterday, Strogatz does not discuss what I have come to call The Power Law OF DOOM.)

(Tip of the hat to Hilary Ockendon.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Today I am ashamed to be from California.

Come on, people. This is lame. Let people live their lives as they see fit when it does no harm to anyone else.

New Supreme Court Justice Nominee

Barrack Obama has nominated federal appellate Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.. If confirmed, she would become the first Hispanic and third woman to take a place at the Supreme Court bench. I wouldn't usually blog about this, but her name is actually a familiar one to me, as it was her ruling that led to the end of the 232-day baseball strike in 1995. If she can help bring baseball back after a cancelled World Series, then surely she can do well on the highest court in the land (even though she's a Yankees fan). :)

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Rags-to-Riches Baseball Story

One never knows how these things will end, but here's a very cool rags-to-riches baseball story starring Diamondbacks pitcher Clay Zavada and his handlebar mustache (dude!).

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Weirdness of the Day

I just took a look at an interesting author solicitation for a "Visions of the Future" issue of Philosophical Transactions A. I am considering writing such an article on granular crystals. Additionally, I am rather intrigued by the following sentence: All authors will receive a print copy of the issue as well as 50 electronic reprints.

Reaction: Um, I'm not so sure I want 50 electronic reprints. I assume the numbers in the two options were (pretty amusingly) flipped. And if this is purposeful, then that's just bloody weird.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Overview of the 2009 Snowbird Meeting

I just completed my network survey of the meeting and once the data is available, I am curious how much my experience as a 'tree' in this conference coupled with network science methods (which study the 'forest') such as community detection will break some of the theoretical anonymity in the survey. (This will be an interesting test of some of the methods and give some insight into how much network methods alone might be able to do in such contexts. Let's see if I actually end up having the time to take a look at the data once it's ready.)

I'm not really going to write a proper overview here. Rather (and, as usual), I'm just going to give a few thoughts.

1. The Snowbird meeting is still perhaps the best one at following my career trajectory. Not only did I know tons of people at the meeting (well over 100 and possibly over 200) but most parts of my career path since I started Caltech as an undergrad in Fall 1994 were covered. Including me, there were 4 people who were all undergrads at Tech at the same time (3 Lloydies + 1 Mole + 0 Flems) and there was at least two more who was a grad turkey then (including one with whom I took a class). There were also near-misses among the grad turkeys, which is one reason I wrote 'at least' (I'm not sure in all cases). There were a couple of people with whom I went to grad school, though not as many as there used to be at this conference. (Some people have left academia, others have different academic interests then before, and some of them are at small universities and simply don't have the travel money.) There were a ton of fellow postdocs from Georgia Tech, a small number of overlaps from my second tour of duty at Tech, and a few others currently at Oxford. From my pre-faculty era, I have not included any faculty in the above summary. There are quite a few of those at the conference with whom I overlapped as well.

2. Within the dynamical systems community, I might be known as much for my t-shirts and personality as for my science. (Some people have been known to make it a point to find out what shirt I am wearing on a given day.) That said, I did notice the audience in my session increase in number by a reasonably substantial amount when it was my turn to speak. That's kind of nice for the ego, though I do wonder about the audience's tastes. :)

3. Cooking bacon was used as an example of mechanical buckling in one of the plenary talks. Sweet! I celebrated the next morning by eating lots of bacon. (Proper bacon is definitely one of the culinary things I miss when living in England. I also miss really crispy friend chicken, so I got some food from Popeye's at the Dallas airport on the way back.)

4. As usual, there were a ton of current and recent CAMsters at the conference. (Cornell has been quite well-represented in dynamical systems for many years.) I don't think any of them knew that I used to be one of them, but then again several of them went to my talk, so maybe they have heard some whispers on the wind.

5. In another fine Snowbird tradition, I once again got a nosebleed. I have yet to succeed at going to this conference without getting one. Maybe in 2011...

6. Number of people at the conference who I had not previously met who told me they read my blog: 1 (I should check and see how large the readership actually is. Maybe I should start a somewhat more benign---by which I mean rated G---blog about dynamical systems to complement this one?)

7. Number of people at the conference who told me they read my papers: 0 (I know that some of them do, but the point is nobody told me that they do.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dodgers stretch lead to 8.5 games!

The Dodgers now have an 8.5 game lead in the National League West. We have the best record in baseball, the largest lead in baseball (the second largest is 3 games---Texas over the Angels in the American League West), the best run differential in baseball, and all sorts of other excellent qualities. I can't expect us to maintain this pace, but I'm sure as Hell enjoying it!

Friday, May 15, 2009

What happens in Snowbird stays in Snowbird

My friends just left, and I feel much more decompressed after having had the chance to hang out with them. Tomorrow morning, I am heading to Heathrow to fly to the Snowbird dynamical systems conference (that's not the official title), which is my favorite conference. I'll be bloody exhausted when I get there and I am pretty tired now, but that's alright. In addition to all the great talks, I'll see several collaborators and also some old friends that I haven't seen in a while. (That's one of the best parts about conferences, actually. It's nice to see old friends.)

Postscript (5/16/09): Wow, I just realized that if one reads the above paragraph quickly, then "decompressed" might come out as "depressed" and give entirely the wrong meaning as a result. English language, oh how I love thee. (Granted, 'more decompressed' isn't exactly textbook English...)

Mistaken Identities on Cardboard

Here are some mistaken identities that have been immortalized on baseball cards, as compiled by the blog Home Run Derby. A couple of these are absolutely awesome.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Congratulations to Ben Williamson!

On occasion, when something special warrants it, I put the blog spotlight on one of my friends. In this case, my old friend Ben Williamson (who actually turned 29 yesterday, though I naturally still remember his days as a 14-year-old Caltech freshman) graduates from Law School with High Honors today. He has a 2-year gig waiting for him as a judicial law clerk in his home town of Pensacola, Florida. Excellent!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Good Friends + Good Desserts = Big Win

I'm having a party tomorrow, some close friends will be coming, I've already bought some very good but expensive desserts, and there should be some gaming on the docket. That's about all I have to say.

Monday, May 11, 2009

That's creepy.

I was walking back from our networks journal club meeting just over an hour ago, and I noticed as I was crossing the St. Giles graveyard that two people were sunbathing among the tombstones. That's a bit much for me, and I find the constant picnics that the locals have among the tombstones when the weather is nice to be creepy enough as it is. Of course, the latter did lead to one of the most priceless comments that I have ever heard from one of my students when them informed me that she had lost her notes "either in Somerville or in the St. Giles graveyard". Brits are strange.

Friday, May 08, 2009

I think I want this on my tombstone.

Today I'd like to blog about the editorial by American Scientist Editor-in-Chief David Schoonmaker in the May-June issue of that magazine. This is the issue in which my article on the origin of the FPU problem appears, and David spent a lot of his editorial writing about our memorable in-person editing incident when I was visiting Peter Mucha, a collaborator at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I had spent the entire day working on network science research with Peter and then we started our marathon meeting at 6pm. As David writes:

... Still, as someone who has lived through the advent of television and dial phones and the invention of fax and the Internet, I recognize that there also have been losses. A recent evening spent with the first author of "Fermi, Pasta, Ulam and the Birth of Experimental Mathematics" (pages 214--221) really brought that home (he visited here, much as I would have enjoyed visiting him in Oxford, England).

Mason Porter, contributing editor David Schneider and I sat for almost four hours fussing over the details of the text, captions and figures for the article. Refreshingly, Mason is a young scientists---indeed the recipient of the 2008 Sigma Xi Young Investigator Award---who cares deeply about language. He felt no compunction about challenging our choices in wording, yet was perfectly willing to be reasoned out of his own preferences. (Thank goodness there were two of us editors!)

The result could not have happened in an e-mail exchange. Together, the three of us found solutions that wouldn't have arisen without the spontaneity of human contact. It was not lost on me that Enrico Fermi, John Pasta and Stanislaw Ulam made their "little discovery" at a time (1955) when personal communications were rarely more electronically enhanced than the telephone. Would they have found what they did using e-mail?

In the aftermath of that stimulating but exhausting evening, I have reflected on my working relationship with other
American Scientist authors. ...

After we were done, it was too late to get dinner and I had some other urgent work to do (and a talk to prepare from scratch for the next day). I spent about 3 more hours on various bits of urgent work that night before I needed to crash because my body was starting to shake somewhat uncontrollably. I didn't even have time to start preparing my slides, so I did that the next morning. (I somehow managed to give a really good talk on some results that I had never presented before, so I guess I am able to do a reasonable job under that kind of time crunch---though I don't want to do it again!)

In some ways, David's editorial would be appropriate for my tombstone---though there are other things I would actually prefer there; for example, I really like the one that says, "I told you I was sick."---though it's perhaps more accurate to say that I want to be remembered as someone who is really, really anal. Since this article came out, I have received a small number of compliments by e-mail both from people I know and from those I don't, and one of the ones I know even mentioned especially enjoying the editorial comments about that incident. I won't be surprised if others who know me bring it up as will, because I think it will ring rather familiar to them.

In closing, I must admit that I am pondering at the moment whether I should e-mail David to let him know that his editorial doesn't have any Oxford commas. Sadly, however, it is American Scientist policy not to include them.

The Magic of Google Calculator

I probably should have known about this trick a long time ago. Nice!

(Tip of the cap to Thomas Woolley.)

Nine Famous Baseball Vendors

Mental Floss has posted brief descriptions of nine famous baseball vendors. Eccentric vendors are, in fact, quite an important part of the ballpark experience. ("Nuts! Nuts! Nuts!")

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Say it ain't so!

Um, apparently Manny has been getting some help to be Manny just a little bit better. Major League Baseball is expected to announce that he is being suspended for 50 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. I guess this means that the honeymoon in LA is over? We have him through 2010 based on his current contract (which I admittedly suddenly have an urge to wish didn't exist), so it's really good that we didn't give him the longer-term deal he wanted. You know what else really sucks about this: Juan Pierre is probably going to be playing every day again. Fuck. At least we have a very large cushion that should be able to hold up while he's out of the lineup. I can't say I'm surprised, though I wasn't predicting in advance that he was doing this stuff. Part of the reason that I am not surprised is that it's hard to be surprised by anybody getting caught, and part of the reason is that he was never exactly considered angelic in the first place.

(Tip of the hat to Scott Porter.)

Update: Officially, Manny was apparently caught because of the use of a female fertility drug. (There's more to the story than that, as you can see in the various articles that have appeared in the last couple of days.) I suppose he was just having trouble ovulating?

Dodgers set home win record

With last night's win (or this morning's win, for those of us in the UK) against the Nationals, the Dodgers are now 13-0 at home this year. These 13 consecutive wins at home to start the season have set a new modern (post-1900) Major League record. With last night's win, the Dodgers are now have a 6.5 game lead in the National League West. Hell yes! We have never had a season start so well during my lifetime, so while admin and bureaucracy might be causing problems in my life, at least Dodger baseball is working out the way I want. Go Dodgers!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Pitchers who can't hit

Well, most pitchers this side of Micah Owings can't hit, but Jerry Crasnick wrote a very nice article about nine pitchers who really can't hit. Highly recommended.

Stay Tuned

Many years from now, when I am no longer employed by Oxford, I swear I should write a fucking tell-all book about how Examinations and assessment really seem to work. In the meantime, I hope you can be patient. (And maybe by the time I leave, I'll even figure things out enough to make my descriptions coherent.) Not that the book would be interesting, mind you, but at least it would satisfy my deeply-seeded need to rant when things infuriate me.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Unwanted People

The UK Home Office has created a "Least Wanted List" of people who are apparently not moral enough to enter the country. I have a couple of comments:

1) It does seem that the people discussed in the article hold views that I find abhorrent. But see (2) for my far more important point.

2) I am exceptionally uncomfortable (to put it mildly) with the idea of not allowing people into the country on the grounds that they have ideas that I find abhorrent. In fact, several of the things that they apparently do are quite disgusting, but in my opinion, the things described in the article are not grounds for banning them from visiting a country. That sets a horrible precedent and, in my opinion, is quite a disgusting act itself.

3) Whenever I see the term 'Home Office', I always think of Angel.

(Tip of the cap to CNN.)

Starting the day off well

I set my alarm for 8:30 am this morning, so that I could get up, take a bath, get coffee, and go through e-mail in plenty of time for my 10:00 am Examiners meeting. I walked over to the Mathematical Institute and went to the room in which we were having our meeting. I needed to kick out the random old math faculty member who was in there. Nobody showed up for 10 minutes and I finally lost patience, wondering if I had the wrong room or perhaps the wrong day. Yup. (Also note that I went to the MI common room to check the e-mail message quickly, and of course the guy who I kicked out of the other room is now in this one. Maybe he didn't notice me?) The meeting is actually 10:00 am on Thursday in that room. I have a long day ahead of me---with the need to probably skip lunch because of a meeting that somebody really wanted to have today that I was convinced I couldn't schedule at any other time---and it turns out that I didn't need to set my alarm this morning. Bloody Hell! I'm such a champ. (I do stuff like this way too often.) Oy vey.

Monday, May 04, 2009

25 Rickey Henderson stories

Here are 25 Rickey Henderson stories. I've heard almost all of these before (maybe even all of them), but they are awesome nonetheless. It's just a big win. (Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Go Dodgers!

The Dodgers now have 10-0 record at home and have tied the National League record for most consecutive home victories to start the season:

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this streak is the longest by any NL team since 1983, when Torre's Atlanta Braves won their first 10 games at Fulton County Stadium to tie the modern league record shared by the 1918 New York Giants and 1970 Chicago Cubs.

The Dodgers record now stands at 18-8, which is the best in the Majors and gives them a 4.5 lead over the Giants. This is the biggest lead among all of the division leaders, and the Dodgers +41 run differential (runs scored - runs allowed) is also the best in the Majors. Hell yes!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Some perspective on our place in the universe... contained in this picture. (Click on it to make it bigger.)

(Tip of the hat to Rob Neyer. Also, I don't vouch for any accuracy or inaccuracy in the picture on the other side of the link.)

Journal Authorship Policies

As some of you might realize, I have been in a pretty shitty mood for most of the last week (though there were a few spurts of happiness as well, so at least I've had my moments). It's been more of a general feeling of being down rather than, say, rantiness (that ought to be a word, even though it appears not to be one) or something more extreme like bitterness. However, a small bout of mild depression (without any specific cause, by the way, so it's likely that I just need to do better with sleeping, eating, and getting people to distract me to get back to my version of normal) doesn't mean that I am not going to try to satisfy my deep-seeded desire (need?) to rant:

Today my collaborator Peter Mucha e-mailed me to pass along Nature's new authorship policies.

Previously, Nature "strongly encouraged" statements of what each author did. Now they are following the practice of other journals---an increasing number of them, I think?---and requiring the listing of such contribution statements. I object to this rather strongly for a very simple reason: One of its big effects is to increase the potential for bad blood between people. There can be a ton of intra-group strife in science as it stands, and as far as I can tell, enforcing things like this exacerbates the problem. When I submit to a journal that requires such statements, I grudgingly include them, but whenever it is optional, I have a very strong preference for not including them. People's understanding of their own papers (and knowledge of the contents therein) will be judged when they give a talk on the bloody thing (or otherwise demonstrate it firsthand)!

To be fair to Nature---though since when was I ever fair to nature?---I should mention that there are other things in the new policies that I support. Those do take the form of box-checking, but the ideas behind what checking the box is supposed to represent are ones I support. I just have major problems with the enforcement of policies with so much potential to add to jealousy and intra-group strife. What is supposed to be gained by doing this? I know my opinion on this matter is far from universal and is reasonably likely to be in the minority (maybe even a rather small one?), but frankly I just don't get it. Nature wants to make author contributions more explicit, but to what end? If somebody is out to screw a coauthor, one can just game that anyway, so I don't see how it can discourage those kinds of hideous practices. Oh, one other thing I should mention on Nature's behalf: They do seem to be more flexible than some of the other journals in the format of contribution listing. (Some of the biology journals, for example, seem to be so experimentally oriented that they do not include any fields that allow one to give author contributions for things like "designed algorithms" or "wrote code". One is only allowed to use the categories they provide, and at least in some cases, this misses some very fundamental ways in which authors might have contributed!)

It's not realistic for things to be changed in the various scientific fields, but when it comes to paper coauthorship, there is one thing that I think the pure mathematician got exactly right: Always make it alphabetical. (And then one's knowledge can be judged when giving presentations, etc.)

Grumpily Yours,


Inaugural Class of SIAM Fellows

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics has announced its inaugural class of 183 Fellow in its brand new Fellows program. (The American Physical Society has had such a program for a long time, and the American Mathematical Society membership has voted down at least a couple of attempts to institute such a program.) Among this initial group are 3 of my colleagues at Oxford, 1 person (the expected one) currently at Caltech, and a whopping 8 people currently at Cornell. The last list includes two members of my thesis committee. As discussed in the press release, the initial list was chosen using very specific criteria (people who had won certain major awards, etc.), so this class of Fellows was perhaps a little more predictable than perhaps some of the future classes will be.