Archive for November, 2008

ArXiv Filtering

While of course I endorse as diverse a reading of the preprint archives as is possible, we all know that there’s simply too much that goes on there for every paper to get even the most cursory of glances, let alone a proper viewing. My strategy has been to reduce the daily postings to a manageable number using a perl script that weights by keywords in the title and abstracts of papers. This is a technique first implemented by Richard Edgar, that was brought to my attention indirectly by R. J. Massey, when one of my papers appeared in his list, which was in turn linked from Google.

I have modified Edgar’s original script to bring it to what passes in my mind for being up-to-date. This post describes the filtering script and gives instructions for running it yourself, should that be desirable, or for modifying it to your own taste, should it not. (more…)

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Returning to Edinburgh

A profitable visit to MPE and a pleasant time in Munich behind me, I have an exciting week of idea refinement ahead. Of course it is nice to be back in Edinburgh, and the city was doing its best today to look bright in the fewer hours of daylight. One snapshot from the journey home below, reproduced from memory; the m-code is below the fold.

A reproduction of the seat cover pattern used in Easyjet aircraft

A reproduction of the seat cover pattern used in Easyjet aircraft, created in Matlab; the colours and number distribution of lines and squares is from memory, but I think it a good match. Of course, I can't find an image of the real thing on-line, so you'll have to compare it yourself next time you fly with them!


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Shocking news this morning that influential cosmology bloggers Cosmic Variance are shacking up with the Discover Magazine coterie, for reasons that simmer down to economies of scale. In the spirit of hyperbole, it seems sensible to link to Nick Carr’s recent post on the death of the blogosphere (h/t Sullivan), as well as Sullivan’s own short-form rationale for the blog post as a literary form.

I endorse independent collaborative blogging, which is not so much the half-way house between a single blogger and a community of diarists as it is that corner, best exemplified by Crooked Timber and aFoE, of the plane spanned by axes quantifying freedom of form and diversity of voice. It isn’t clear, though, whether the mock-deleterious effects of Big Blog are boon or bane to nodes like these; perhaps neither.

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So this morning was unusual not in my having an interesting idea, but in pursuing it. This idea, not likely to be wholly or even partly original—I don’t want to search through journal articles only to disappoint myself just yet, & wouldn’t know where to look anyway—is about the clustering of points.


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While spell-checking this word during the writing of that last post, I happened across the poem by Baudelaire, which seems apt, and if not, at least very nice. First the French:


La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.

Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.

II est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
— Et d’autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,

Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit et des sens.

Charles Baudelaire

Then the Anglais:


Nature is a temple in which living pillars
Sometimes give voice to confused words;
Man passes there through forests of symbols
Which look at him with understanding eyes.

Like prolonged echoes mingling in the distance
In a deep and tenebrous unity,
Vast as the dark of night and as the light of day,
Perfumes, sounds, and colors correspond.

There are perfumes as cool as the flesh of children,
Sweet as oboes, green as meadows
— And others are corrupt, and rich, triumphant,

With power to expand into infinity,
Like amber and incense, musk, benzoin,
That sing the ecstasy of the soul and senses.

— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

That’s what I’m talking about.

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Cognitive art

This is a good term that I haven’t heard before. It arises in an actual letter to Nature (access may be restricted) from K. R. Jolls:

Graphic artists who collaborate with scientists have often been shaped by the other of C. P. Snow’stwo cultures‘. Although well-intentioned, many artists’ understanding of basic science is inadequate for meaningful participation in high-level technical work. Cognitive art is like commercial art and technical writing: it has never garnered respect from the artistic establishment, and its practitioners are left to fend for themselves.

Discussion about the validity of Snow’s dichotomy abounds, and I’m not interested in commenting on that now (see the links above and the books cited therein). There have been a few examples recently of folks trying to push data beyond ‘good presentation’ to actual art.


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Boyer Lectures

From an email I just sent to S. O. Killmier:

Was just listening to the first of this year’s Boyer Lectures. They have Rupert Murdoch doing them this year, so he brings his own peculiar brand of Australian nationalism to the table. Mostly this first lecture was just an overview, so there wasn’t much detail, and most of his statements were pretty generic and inoffensive: business and free markets are good, immigration is good, the education system needs to be reformed and NATO should be expanded to include all liberal democracies. Oh, and everyone has to work harder. Still, he comes across as a little blinkered on some issues, particuarly foreign policy: he mentions the Russian-Georgian conflict in passing at one point, with Russia as the menace; but it’s a bit difficult to make that case compellingly without resorting to Russophobia or some imagined reawakening of the Soviet bloc—the BBC is detailing how things are much murkier than this.

Just to clarify: that statement about NATO strikes me as anything but bland and inoffensive, so I didn’t really structure that sentence well. Murdoch brought it up toward the end of the lecture, after talking for the most part about those first three issues, which were basically platitudinous. Still, he promises to address them in much more detail in the remaining five lectures, so he gets the benefit of the doubt for now. (h/t Daniel Larison about that BBC report on Georgia.)

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