Sunday, May 29, 2011


As I wrote in the first demotivational poster that I constructed, you're doing it wrong.

I amuse myself sometimes. :)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Quote of the Day

"The lecture, to me, was like finally catching the name of someone who I felt attraction at the first sight but never had chance to talk with, so thank you."

This was part of an e-mail from an Oxford student who saw my public lecture on networks. The effort to prepare that lecture was definitely worthwhile... (Well, I thought that already, and I think so even more strongly now.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Could Be Happy. I Could Be Happy.

Apparently, some experts think that happiness should be classified as a medical disorder. I can't say I blame them.

Here is the abstract:

It is proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder and be included in future editions of the major diagnostic manuals under the new name: major affective disorder, pleasant type. In a review of the relevant literature it is shown that happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities, and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system. One possible objection to this proposal remains--that happiness is not negatively valued. However, this objection is dismissed as scientifically irrelevant.

(Tip of the cap to Frank Ling.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A, E, I, O, U (and sometimes Y?)

Eunoia by Christian Bök is a five-chapter book in which each chapter purposely uses exactly one vowel. A cool thing is to compare the resulting tones of the sentences in the different chapters, as they are wildly different.

In the 'o' chapter, for example, one of the sentences is: "Profs from Oxford show frosh who do postdocs how to gloss works of Wordsworth."

I have only one question: What do they show the frosh who don't have sex with postdocs?

By the way, "eunoia" is the shortest word that contains all five vowels.

(Tip of the cap to Bernie Hogan.)

Quote of the Day: Snowbird Edition

About half an hour ago, at the spur of the moment, I came up with the following gem: If it has a name, there's probably a theorem about it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)

After finding out that I am a mathematician, the customs officer at O'Hare airport asked me "Is today the end of the world?"

We then discussed the end of the world and quantum mechanics for a couple of minutes before he let me go.

Surely my non-philosopher friends in the humanities don't get asked things like this?

My answer to the original question was "I don't know." And that's when quantum mechanics came in, because the customs officer's answer to that was the alternate-worlds picture and that the world might have ended in one of those.

By the way, the other possible answer to this whole business is "Yes, and I feel fine." (It's time I had some time alone.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

What Happens in Snowbird Stays in Snowbird (2011 edition)

I am awake at this obscene hour of the morning because I am going to the 2011 version of the SIAM Conference on Applications of Dynamical Systems, which is known colloquially as the "Snowbird conference." This is my favorite series of conferences and I am very much looking forward to it (even though I am exhausted).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dodger Fans and Facebook Friendships

Facebook Data Team wrote an interesting post about some statistics of Facebook users who are fans of certain baseball teams. (It appears that one must login to Facebook to view that page.)

The most interesting (and amusing!) part of the post is that self-proclaimed Dodger fans have the fewest average number of friends than do fans of any other team. In fact, I think we're something like 10% "better" than fans of the next team!

Quote of the Day: Bitter Baseball Veteran Edition

I love the quote "Hell hath no fury like a Bash Brother scorned.", which Jerry Crasnick used to describe José Canseco and his tell-all book about steroids in baseball.

I think that particular phrasing is wonderful.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Chaste Mathematics Event

Apparently, the Mathematical Institute is going to have a CHASTE event. No, really. The acronym form the event is CHASTE. I thought that all mathematics events were chaste events, so what's the big deal?

(Admittedly, I am curious about the topic. The choice of acronym seems a bit suboptimal.)

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I just joined a Planescape campaign. Well, it uses the Planescape world, but it uses the Fate system and 'fudge' dice. I am happy to play with an easy mechanical system in a world that I love.

I am a bariaur, "wanderer" (Ranger is the closest class equivalent, if one wants to think in such terms), member of the Sign of One faction (the ones who believe that they are the centers of the universe and everyone else is just a figment of their imagination), and a psionic wild talent with metacreation. Oh, and I'm also chaotic neutral. :)

This character won't cause any trouble at all. I swear...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Yup, That's Pretty Accurate

This particular issue of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal sure hits the nail on the head.

Not that I would ever artificially force my body to stay up late just so I could keep working on my research...

(Tip of the cap to Tim Elling.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Translating Between British English and Other Forms of English

Here is a nice translator between British English and other forms of English.

This hits the nail right on the head. What amazes me most is that the Brits wonder why I almost never understand what they actually mean...

(Tip of the cap to Alexander Morisse.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Slides from my Public Lecture on Networks

Here are the slides from the public lecture I gave on Monday about "The Physics of Social Networks".

Obviously, it's not the same as seeing the talk in person, but I hope you find it interesting.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Goodhart's Law

My new favorite law is Goodhart's Law: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

Although I just read this in an article about impact factors, the fact that this law was named after comments on UK policy is something to note.

And as with all good laws, it was named after somebody who did not invent it.

Was the Trapezoid Rule Invented in 1994?

Well, no.

But this 1994 paper claims to have invented this method, and it has 143 citations according to google scholar.

I tried quickly via google to figure out the earliest use of the trapezoid rule, but I was unable to do so. Let me know if you happen to know how old the rule actually is. I will remark, though, that I used the rule in high school in 1993. :)

(Tip of the cap to Karen Daniels.)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Homemade Dice

Today I got an e-mail about a blog where the blogger discusses his homemade dice. Sweet!

The blog also includes a link to the guy's e-bay page where one can buy the dice.

(Tip of the cap to Mark Jenkins.)

Tarzan Boy

Until just now, I had never actually seen the music video for Tarzan Boy. The only word that I can use to describe the video is "awesome", and the quotes have to be included with that statement. That song typifies the 80s even more than I thought it did.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

War-Room Raid Photograph

The situation room photograph from the raid of Bin Laden paints a rather fascinating picture. For example, look at how intense Obama looks.

You've probably already seen this picture, but I still wanted to write a brief comment about it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

TWSS (That's what she said.)

Now there is a computer algorithm whose purpose is to analyze algorithmically whether '(That's what she said.)' (TWSS) would be funny if added to the end of a sentence. I shit you not.

Sometimes I love computational linguistics...

(Tip of the cap to Puck Rombach.)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

"Dynamic Reconfiguration of Human Brain Networks During Learning"

My new paper on braaaaaaains came out in the early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences two weeks ago, and I am finally blogging about it and posting a link because the page numbers have finally been assigned.

Title: Dynamic Reconfiguration of Human Brain Networks During Learning

Authors: Danielle S. Bassett, Nicholas F. Wymbs, Mason A. Porter, Peter J. Mucha, Jean M. Carlson, and Scott T. Grafton

Abstract: Human learning is a complex phenomenon requiring flexibility to adapt existing brain function and precision in selecting new neurophysiological activities to drive desired behavior. These two attributes -- flexibility and selection -- must operate over multiple temporal scales as performance of a skill changes from being slow and challenging to being fast and automatic. Such selective adaptability is naturally provided by modular structure, which plays a critical role in evolution, development, and optimal network function. Using functional connectivity measurements of brain activity acquired from initial training through mastery of a simple motor skill, we investigate the role of modularity in human learning by identifying dynamic changes of modular organization spanning multiple temporal scales. Our results indicate that flexibility, which we measure by the allegiance of nodes to modules, in one experimental session predicts the relative amount of learning in a future session. We also develop a general statistical framework for the identification of modular architectures in evolving systems, which is broadly applicable to disciplines where network adaptability is crucial to the understanding of system performance.