Archive for 'Arts and science'

Professional Football Player by Day, Spectral Graph Theorist by Night

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

urschelJohn Urschel is not your ordinary National Football League offensive lineman. He may be a professional football player by day, but by night he is a spectral graph theorist (and numerical linear algebraist). His latest paper has now been accepted for publication in Journal of Computational Mathematics. Urschel announced via Twitter that his paper had been officially accepted for publication. (Based on my googling, the final version of the paper hasn’t yet appeared.)

Here is the paper’s abstract as it appears in the preprint:

In this paper, we develop a cascadic multigrid algorithm for fast computation of the Fiedler vector of a graph Laplacian, namely, the eigenvector corresponding to the second smallest eigenvalue. This vector has been found to have applications in fields such as graph partitioning and graph drawing. The algorithm is a purely algebraic approach based on a heavy edge coarsening scheme and pointwise smoothing for refinement. To gain theoretical insight, we also consider the related cascadic multigrid method in the geometric setting for elliptic eigenvalue problems and show its uniform convergence under certain assumptions. Numerical tests are presented for computing the Fiedler vector of several practical graphs, and numerical results show the efficiency and optimality of our proposed cascadic multigrid algorithm.

You can read a draft of Urschel’s paper, called A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians, on the arXiv preprint server. I just wish that he used his current affiliation on the paper, because that would have been fantastic.

(Thanks to investigator Francis Su for bringing this to our attention.)

Bonus: Many other famous people who are more traditionally associated with non-scientific walks of life have also contributed to science. The people on this list include Danica McKellar, Natalie Portman, Mayim Bialek, and Hedy Lamarr.

Another Bonus: Using the MathSciNet website for examining publication paths between mathematical scientists, you can see that John Urschel’s Erdős number is at most four.

A Third Bonus: Here is Urschel’s academic website at Penn State. He previously published a paper about a topic in celestial mechanics. Urschel also has at least one more paper on spectral graph theory.

Strategies and tactics for ironic subversion

Friday, March 20th, 2015

If you’ve ever made use of the simile “About as useful as knickers on a kipper” then, knowingly or not, you could have been indulging in a spot of ironic subversion. Dr Tony Veale BSc MSC PhD, who is a the Principal Investigator of the Creative Language System Group at University College Dublin School of Computer Science and Informatics, discusses such phrases in a chapter of the 2013 book Developments in Linguistic Humour Theory, xiv, pp. 321–340, Dynel, Marta (ed.) part III, New theoretical approaches to established forms of humour. It’s titled : ‘Strategies and tactics for ironic subversion’

Dr-Veale-UCDIronic descriptions subvert the norms of descriptive language. Norms have highly salient exemplars – shared stereotypes – on which speakers can draw to create a vivid description, but ironic speakers instead construct their own counter-examples, often identifying exceptional cases where the standard inferences do not hold. One can thus hone one’s facility for irony by studying the ironic descriptions of others. Indeed, specific tactics for implementing a particular strategy for irony can be acquired by observing how others use words to subvert our own expectations. In this chapter we provide the computational foundations for uniting these ideas into a single analytical framework.”

As part of the chapter, Dr. Veale provides an extensive list of similes which take the form “About as useful as […]”, some familiar, some not quite so :

Some examples (from an original list of 20,299) “About as useful as :

● A chocolate teapot
● A fish on a bicycle
● Knickers on a kipper
● Handles on a banana
● An inflatable dart board
● Knees on a fish
● An ashtray on a motorcycle
● A coalman on a maglev monorail

Ironic subverters (and others) will find many many more in the chapter, which can be read in full here :

BONUS: Dr. Veale and colleagues have also created an online facility called ‘Idiom Savant’ – which is “a linguistic magnet for finding the sharpest needles in the haystacks of the internet.” Go here and input your query…

A complete list of the group’s current projects can be found here.

Ig Nobel show at Imperial College London, Fri eve

Friday, March 20th, 2015

The 2015 Ig Nobel EuroTour descends Friday evening, March 20, on Imperial College. Here are details:

Tickets have been fully booked for a while now. But… there is always the chance that a few ticket holders will not turn up, freeing up their seats. So if you have not booked a ticket, you might want to take your chances and turn up fifteen minutes or so before the event begins, and perhaps, perhaps you will be able to get a ticket.

BONUS: Dr. NakaMats discusses his ideas for better ideas

BONUS: The complete tour schedule.


“Morning People” Are More Punctual in the Morning, Sometimes

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Do “night owls” arrive late to evening events less often than “habitual early risers” do? That has has yet to be tested.

A seemingly opposite question drives a new study — that tested who is punctual for morning events and who is not:

Morningness as a Personality Predictor of Punctuality,” Laura Werner, Jennifer Geisler, Christoph Randler, Current Psychology, March 2015, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 130-139. The authors, at the University of Education, Heidelberg, Germany, explain:

“Punctuality depends on situational factors but seems also a personality trait. Here, we assessed arrival time at a university course (behavioural measure) and punctuality with a self-report measure in relation to morningness-eveningness. We observed arrivals of students in their courses during the first lessons (starting at 8:15). 267 students (43 men, 222 women, 2 not specified) with a mean age of 22.76 ± 3.89 years participated in this study…. Morning oriented and conscientious students scored higher on punctuality.”

BPS Research Digest has a short essay about this new study.

Improbable Research Podcast #3: Michael Jackson Surgery

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

improbableresearchSurgery to make someone look like Michael Jackson dominates this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

The podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — research about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that’s good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, both on the new CBS web site, and on iTunes.

Podcast #3: Michael Jackson Surgery

  • LISTEN on iTunes or (Or DOWNLOAD it, and listen later)
  • SUBSCRIBE (to receive a new episode, FREE, every week) on iTunes or

This week, Marc Abrahams tells about: