📅 The Calculus of Comedy: Math in The Simpsons, Futurama, and The Big Bang Theory at UCLA’s IPAM on 10/25

Bookmarked The Calculus of Comedy: Math in The Simpsons, Futurama, and The Big Bang Theory (IPAM (Special Events and Conferences))
When: Wednesday, October 25, 2017, from 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM PDT Where: UCLA California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), 570 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90095 While there is no mathematical formula for writing television comedy, for the writers of The Simpsons, Futurama, and The Big Bang Theory, mathematical formulas (along with classic equations and cutting-edge theorems) can sometimes be an integral part of those shows. In a lively and nerdy discussion, five of these writers (who have advanced degrees in math, physics, and computer science) will share their love of numbers and talent for producing laughter. Mathematician Sarah Greenwald, who teaches and writes about math in popular culture, will moderate the panel. The event will begin with a lecture by bestselling author Simon Singh (The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets), who will examine some of the mathematical nuggets hidden in The Simpsons (from Euler’s identity to Mersenne primes) and discuss how Futurama has also managed to include obscure number theory and complex ideas about geometry. Tickets: Tickets are $15 each and seating is limited, so reserve your seat soon. Tickets can be purchased here via Eventbrite (ticket required for entry to the event). A limited number of free tickets will be reserved for UCLA students. We ask that students come to IPAM between 9:00am and 3:00pm on Friday, October 20, to present your BruinCard and pick up your ticket (one ticket per BruinCard, nontransferable). If any tickets remain, we will continue distributing free tickets to students on Monday, Oct. 23, starting at 9:00am until we run out. Both your ticket and BruinCard must be presented at the door for entry. Doors open at 4:00. Please plan to arrive early to check in and find a seat. We expect a large audience.

Okay math nerds, this looks like an interesting lecture if you’re in Los Angeles next Wednesday. I remember reading and mostly liking Singh’s book The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets a few years back.

The hard core math crowd may be disappointed in the level, but it could be an interesting group to get out and be social with.

My review of The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets from Goodreads:

I’m both a math junkie and fan of the Simpsons. Singh’s book is generally excellent and well written and covers a broad range of mathematical areas. I’m a major fan of his book Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe, but find myself wanting much more from this effort. Much of my problem stems from my very deep knowledge of math and its history as well as having read most of the vignettes covered here in other general popular texts multiple times. Fortunately most readers won’t suffer from this and will hopefully find some interesting tidbits both about the Simpsons and math here to whet their appetites.

There were several spots at which I felt that Singh stretched a bit too far in attempting to tie the Simpsons to “mathematics” and possibly worse, several spots where he took deliberate detours into tangential subjects that had absolutely no relation to the Simpsons, but these are ultimately good for the broader public reading what may be the only math-related book they pick up this decade.

This could be considered a modern-day version of E.T. Bell‘s Men of Mathematics but with an overly healthy dose of side-entertainment via the Simpsons and Futurama to help the medicine go down.

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👓 Here’s a hack so you can tweet with 280 characters right now | The Verge

Read How to tweet with 280 characters right now by Tom Warren (The Verge)
Twitter doubled the character limit of tweets to 280 in a surprise move yesterday, but not every Twitter user will be able to use the new limit just yet. Twitter is rolling out the long tweets feature to select accounts as a test, but Twitter user Prof9 has discovered a workaround to get longer tweets a little early. Here’s how to tweet with 280 characters instead of 140: Download Tampermonkey for your browser of choice (Chrome webstore link) Visit this Github repository, click the “raw” button, then tell tampermonkey to “install” the script (or copy and paste the code into a new script in Tampermonkey) Now visit twitter.com, make sure the script in running in Tampermonkey, then tweet away It’s a simple workaround that will work automatically on Twitter.com every time you use the web client to tweet. Tampermonkey is a widely used userscript manager, and the javascript is a harmless workaround that simply bypasses the tweet button limit. Twitter is slowly testing its 280 character tweet limits with a variety of accounts, so if you don’t want to install Tampermonkey then you might get randomly selected for the test in the coming weeks or months.

Sadly Twitter has figured out the work around and disabled it so it doesn’t work anymore. Fortunately I can always write on my own site without character limits.

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🎧 This Week in Google 426 Vulnerable to Journalism | TWiT.TV

Listened to This Week in Google 426 Vulnerable to Journalism by Leo Laporte, Jeff Jarvis, Mike Elgan, Kevin Marks from TWiT.tv
Facebook, Twitter, and now Google have discovered that Russia bought political ads during the election. Kaspersky is spying. So is the Google Home Mini. Google buys 60db. Project Loon may give Puerto Rico Internet while Elon Musk gives them power, and Zuckerberg looks on in VR. Don't try to rob a bank using information you find online. YouTube bans bump stock videos. Carl's Jr begs Amazon to buy them in bizarre Twitter campaign. Oculus announces a standalone VR headset. Google Assistant has a higher IQ than Siri.

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Wilson Fire in my front yard

Apparently the forest fire started around 4 am on Mount Wilson and has been burning relatively steadily since.

This isn’t the closest fire to the house–that award goes to a medium sized brush fire about 8 doors down when I lived on Adams Hill in 2012, which was out in just a few hours–but it is the closest and the largest thus far. While it would take me about 3.5 hours to hike to the location of the fire, it’s because it’s located on a mountain and would take some winding mountain paths as well as a 4,700 foot climb. Sadly, most everything between us and the fire is all dry brush.

Fortunately today it’s not as hot or as windy as it has been here for the past month. Typically the winds have been to the North West this month, which would potentially serve to protect the house. The fire isn’t very close to residential neighborhoods (ours is the closest though), but there is an estimated $500 million in infrastructure and assets at the top of the hill as it is the home of the Wilson Observatory as well as a multitude of broadcast equipment for all of the major LA television and several radio stations.

Since at least 9am, I’ve been seeing a rotation of at least three helicopters and a large plane (747?) doing water drops on the hillside to battle the fire. Some of the photos above have these aircraft visible.

I still vividly remember the massive Station Fire in this area from August 2009 that still stands as one of the nation’s largest and significantly threatened the Observatory at the top of the hill above us. I was in San Diego the day the fire started and still remember the massive pyrocumulus cloud that I could vividly see the entire drive back home to Los Angeles.

Sadly, site deaths (thanks FriendFeed) have not preserved the photos, but here are a few tweets almost a week apart about the original:

Updates

4:00 am Fire reported
8:00 am 26 acres burning and 0% contained
9:00 am the blaze had burned about 30 acres and and was 5 percent contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service
4:00 pm No visible smoke apparent from the Pasadena side facing North, but the fire is still blazing
9:00 pm No visible fire from the Pasadena side still, but fire is still at 30 acres and 25% containment

News articles

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Docteur Jerry et Mister Love ❤️⚗️👓🎬

Docteur Jerry et Mister Love ❤️⚗️👓🎬 I found this original French one sheet 47" X 63“ after the move. Will have to get it mounted and framed for the office. #nuttyprofessor #jerrylewis #science #love #comedy #france
riginal French one sheet 47″ X 63“ from the movie Docteur Jerry et Mister Love (aka The Nutty Professor) starring Jerry Lewis
Docteur Jerry et Mister Love ❤️⚗️👓🎬  I found this original French one sheet 47″ X 63“ after the move. Will have to get it mounted and framed for the office.

Instagram filter used: Clarendon

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👓 Another USC medical school dean resigns | Washington Post

Replied to Another USC medical school dean resigns by Susan Svrluga (Washington Post)
The University of Southern California announced Thursday that Rohit Varma has resigned as dean of the Keck School of Medicine. He had replaced a dean who was banned from campus after allegations of drug use and partying.

I’ve been so busy in the last month, I had to do a double-take at the word ANOTHER!

The statement USC released seems highly disingenuous and inconsistent to me.

“As you may have heard, today Dr. Rohit Varma resigned as dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC,” the school’s provost, Michael Quick, wrote in a message to the community.

“I understand how upsetting this situation is to all of us, but we felt it was in the best interest of the faculty, staff, and students for all of us to move in this direction. Today we learned previously undisclosed information that caused us to lose confidence in Dr. Varma’s ability to lead the school. Our leaders must be held to the highest standards. Dr. Varma understands this, and chose to step down.”

First they say Varma resigned as dean which makes it seem as if he’s stepping aside of his own accord when the next paragraph indicates that the University leadership has lost confidence in him and forced him out. So which is it? He resigned or was fired?

Secondly they mentioned “undisclosed information”. This is painful because the so-called undisclosed information was something that USC was not only aware of, but actually paid off a person involved to the tune of more than $100,000!

USC paid her more than $100,000 and temporarily blocked Varma from becoming a full member of the faculty, according to the records and interviews.

“The behavior you exhibited is inappropriate and unacceptable in the workplace, reflects poor judgment, is contrary to the University’s standards of conduct, and will not be tolerated at the University of Southern California,” a USC official wrote in a 2003 letter of reprimand.”

Even the LA Times reports: “The sexual harassment allegation is well known in the upper echelons of the university, but not among many of the students and staff.” How exactly was this “undisclosed?!”

So, somehow, a person who was formally reprimanded years ago (and whose reprimands were later greatly lessened by the way) was somehow accidentally promoted to dean of an already embattled division of the university?? I’m not really sure how he even maintained his position after the original incident much less subsequently promoted and allowed to continue on to eventually be appointed dean years later. Most shocking, there was no mention of his other positions at USC. I take this to mean that he’s still on the faculty, he’s still on staff at the hospital, and he’s still got all the rights and benefits of his previous positions at the University? I sincerely hope that he learned his lesson in 2003, but suspect that he didn’t, and if this is the case and others come forward, he will be summarily dispatched. For the University’s sake, I further hope they’re looking into it internally with a fine-toothed comb before they’re outed again by the Los Angeles Times reporting staff who seem to have a far higher level of morality than the USC leadership over the past several years.

During a month which has seen an inordinate amount of sexual harassment backlash, I’m shocked that USC has done so very little and has only acted (far too long after-the-fact) to sweep this all under the rug.

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📖 Read pages 63-88 of Abstract Algebra: An Introduction by Thomas W. Hungerford

📖 Read pages 63-88 of Abstract Algebra: An Introduction (First Edition) by Thomas W. Hungerford
Chapter 3: Rings, Section 3 – Chapter 4: Arithmetic in F[x], Sections 1 & 2

Reviewing over some algebra for my algebraic geometry class

Abstract Algebra: An Introduction

The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis by Alan Turing

Reposted a tweet by Michael Nielsen (Twitter)

Looks like Alan Turing, like Claude Shannon, was interested in microbiology too! I’ll have to dig into this. [pdf]

📖 Read chapter one of Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil

📖 Read chapter one of Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil

I don’t think she’s used the specific words in the book yet, but O’Neil is fundamentally writing about social justice and transparency. To a great extent both governments and increasingly large corporations are using these Weapons of Math Destruction inappropriately. Often it may be the case that the algorithms are so opaque as to be incomprehensible by their creators/users, but, as I suspect in many cases, they’re being used to actively create social injustice by benefiting some classes and decimating others. The evolving case of Facebook’s involvement in potentially shifting the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election especially via “dark posts” is an interesting case in point with regard to these examples.

In some sense these algorithms are like viruses running rampant in a large population without the availability of antibiotics to tamp down or modify their effects. Without feedback mechanisms and the ability to see what is going on as it happens the scale issue she touches on can quickly cause even greater harm over short periods of time.

I like that one of the first examples she uses for modeling is that of preparing food for a family. It’s simple, accessible, and generic enough that the majority of people can relate directly to it. It has lots of transparency (even more than her sabermetrics example from baseball). Sadly, however, there is a large swath of the American population that is poor, uneducated, and living in horrific food deserts that they may not grasp the subtleties of even this simple model. As I was reading, it occurred to me that there is a reasonable political football that gets pushed around from time to time in many countries that relates to food and food subsidies. In the United States it’s known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka SNAP) and it’s regularly changing, though fortunately for many it has some nutritionists who help to provide a feedback mechanism for it. I suspect it would make a great example of the type of Weapon of Mass Destruction she’s discussing in this book. Those who are interested in a quick overview of it and some of the consequences can find a short audio introduction to it via the Eat This Podcast episode How much does a nutritious diet cost? Depends what you mean by “nutritious” or Crime and nourishment Some costs and consequences of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program which discusses an interesting crime related sub-consequence of something as simple as when SNAP benefits are distributed.

I suspect that O’Neil won’t go as far as to bring religion into her thesis, so I’ll do it for her, but I’ll do so from a more general moral philosophical standpoint which underpins much of the Judeo-Christian heritage so prevalent in our society. One of my pet peeves of moralizing (often Republican) conservatives (who often both wear their religion on their sleeves as well as beat others with it–here’s a good recent case in point) is that they never seem to follow the Golden Rule which is stated in multiple ways in the Bible including:

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.

Matthew 25:45

In a country that (says it) values meritocracy, much of the establishment doesn’t seem to put much, if any value, into these basic principles as they would like to indicate that they do.

I’ve previously highlighted the application of mathematical game theory before briefly in relation to the Golden Rule, but from a meritocracy perspective, why can’t it operate at all levels? By this I’ll make tangential reference to Cesar Hidalgo‘s thesis in his book Why Information Grows in which he looks not at just individuals (person-bytes), but larger structures like firms/companies (firmbytes), governments, and even nations. Why can’t these larger structures have their own meritocracy? When America “competes” against other countries, why shouldn’t it be doing so in a meritocracy of nations? To do this requires that we as individuals (as well as corporations, city, state, and even national governments) need to help each other out to do what we can’t do alone. One often hears the aphorism that “a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link”, why then would we actively go out of our way to create weak links within our own society, particularly as many in government decry the cultures and actions of other nations which we view as trying to defeat us? To me the statistical mechanics of the situation require that we help each other to advance the status quo of humanity. Evolution and the Red Queeen Hypothesis dictates that humanity won’t regress back to the mean, it may be regressing itself toward extinction otherwise.

Highlights, Quotes, & Marginalia

Chapter One – Bomb Parts: What is a Model

You can often see troubles when grandparents visit a grandchild they haven’t seen for a while.

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Upon meeting her a year later, they can suffer a few awkward hours because their models are out of date.

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Racism, at the individual level, can be seen as a predictive model whirring away in billions of human minds around the world. It is built from faulty, incomplete, or generalized data. Whether it comes from experience or hearsay, the data indicates that certain types of people have behaved badly. That generates a binary prediction that all people of that race will behave that same way.

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Needless to say, racists don’t spend a lot of time hunting down reliable data to train their twisted models.

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the workings of a recidivism model are tucked away in algorithms, intelligible only to a tiny elite.

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A 2013 study by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that while black and Latino males between the ages of fourteen and twenty-four made up only 4.7 percent of the city’s population, they accounted for 40.6 percent of the stop-and-frisk checks by police.

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So if early “involvement” with the police signals recidivism, poor people and racial minorities look far riskier.

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The questionnaire does avoid asking about race, which is illegal. But with the wealth of detail each prisoner provides, that single illegal question is almost superfluous.

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judge would sustain it. This is the basis of our legal system. We are judged by what we do, not by who we are.

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(And they’ll be free to create them when they start buying their own food.) I should add that my model is highly unlikely to scale. I don’t see Walmart or the US Agriculture Department or any other titan embracing my app and imposing it on hundreds of millions of people, like some of the WMDs we’ll be discussing.

You have to love the obligatory parental aphorism about making your own rules when you have your own house.
Yet the US SNAP program does just this. It could be an interesting example of this type of WMD.
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three kinds of models.

namely: baseball, food, recidivism
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The first question: Even if the participant is aware of being modeled, or what the model is used for, is the model opaque, or even invisible?

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many companies go out of their way to hide the results of their models or even their existence. One common justification is that the algorithm constitutes a “secret sauce” crucial to their business. It’s intellectual property, and it must be defended,

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the second question: Does the model work against the subject’s interest? In short, is it unfair? Does it damage or destroy lives?

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While many may benefit from it, it leads to suffering for others.

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The third question is whether a model has the capacity to grow exponentially. As a statistician would put it, can it scale?

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scale is what turns WMDs from local nuisances into tsunami forces, ones that define and delimit our lives.

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So to sum up, these are the three elements of a WMD: Opacity, Scale, and Damage. All of them will be present, to one degree or another, in the examples we’ll be covering

Think about this for a bit. Are there other potential characteristics?
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You could argue, for example, that the recidivism scores are not totally opaque, since they spit out scores that prisoners, in some cases, can see. Yet they’re brimming with mystery, since the prisoners cannot see how their answers produce their score. The scoring algorithm is hidden.

This is similar to anti-class action laws and arbitration clauses that prevent classes from realizing they’re being discriminated against in the workplace or within healthcare. On behalf of insurance companies primarily, many lawmakers work to cap awards from litigation as well as to prevent class action suits which show much larger inequities that corporations would prefer to keep quiet. Some of the recent incidences like the cases of Ellen Pao, Susan J. Fowler, or even Harvey Weinstein are helping to remedy these types of things despite individuals being pressured to stay quiet so as not to bring others to the forefront and show a broader pattern of bad actions on the part of companies or individuals. (This topic could be an extended article or even book of its own.)
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the point is not whether some people benefit. It’s that so many suffer.

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And here’s one more thing about algorithms: they can leap from one field to the next, and they often do. Research in epidemiology can hold insights for box office predictions; spam filters are being retooled to identify the AIDS virus. This is true of WMDs as well. So if mathematical models in prisons appear to succeed at their job—which really boils down to efficient management of people—they could spread into the rest of the economy along with the other WMDs, leaving us as collateral damage.

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Guide to highlight colors

Yellow–general highlights and highlights which don’t fit under another category below
Orange–Vocabulary word; interesting and/or rare word
Green–Reference to read
Blue–Interesting Quote
Gray–Typography Problem
Red–Example to work through

I’m reading this as part of Bryan Alexander’s online book club.

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👓 Going Indie. Step 2: Reclaiming Content | Matthias Ott

Read Going Indie. Step 2: Reclaiming Content by Matthias Ott (Matthias Ott | User Experience Designer)
We have lost control over our content. To change this, we need to reconsider the way we create and consume content online. We need to create a new set of tools that enable an independent, open web for everyone.

A nice narrative for the IndieWeb movement by Matthias.

Some of my favorite quotes from the piece:

Having your own website surely is a wonderful thing, but to be relevant, useful, and satisfactory, it needs to be connected to other sites and services. Because ultimately, human interactions are what fuels social life online and most of your friends will still be on social networks, for now.

…what the IndieWeb movement is about: Creating tools that enable a decentralized, people-focused alternative to the corporate web, putting you back in control, and building an active community around this idea of independence.

Tim Kadlec reminded us of the underlying promise of the web:

The web is for everyone.

Wilson Miner put it in his 2011 Build conference talk:
“The things that we choose to surround ourselves will shape what we become. We’re actually in the process of building an environment, where we’ll spend most of our time, for the rest of our lives.”

 

This also reminds me that I ought to swing by room 3420 in Boelter Hall on my way to math class this week. I forget that I’m always taking classes just a few floors away from the room that housed the birth of the internet.

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👓 Two alternatives to #WomenBoycottTwitter that don’t rely on women’s silencing | Another Angry Woman

Read Two alternatives to #WomenBoycottTwitter that don’t rely on women’s silencing by Zoe Stavri (Another Angry Woman)
After Twitter extending their risible “abuse” policy to a suspension of a celebrity white woman speaking out against sexual violence, the problems in their model have been laid bare, and to my pleasant surprise, people are talking about taking action (I’d been pessimistic about this). Unfortunately, it’s entirely the wrong kind of action: a women’s boycott. This is a problem, because once again, it forces us to do the heavy lifting. And once again, it forces us to silence ourselves: the very opposite of what we should be doing. So, here’s two things that can be done. One is an activity for men who consider themselves allies. The other is for all of us. Especially women.

I took part in #WomenBoycottTwitter today and it honestly wasn’t too difficult, though I did miss out on some of the scientific chatter that crosses my desk during the day. Since I post mostly to my own website more often and syndicate to Twitter only occasionally, the change didn’t feel too drastic to me, though there were one or two times I almost accidentally opened Twitter to track down people’s sites. Fortunately I’ve taken control of more of my online experience back for myself using IndieWeb principles.

This particular post has some seemingly interesting methods for fighting against the status quo on Twitter for those who are entrenched though. The first #AmplifyWomen sounds a lot like the great advice I heard from Valerie Alexander a few months ago at an Innovate Pasadena event.

Some of the others almost seek to reverse-gamify Twitter’s business model. People often complain about silos and how they work, but few ever seek to actively subvert or do this type of reverse-gamification of those models. This is an interesting concept though to be as useful tools as they might be, it may be somewhat difficult to accomplish in some cases and may hamper one’s experience on such platforms.  This being said, having ultimate control over your domain, data, and interactions is still a far preferable model.

And while we’re thinking about amplifying women, do take a look at some of Zoe’s other content, she’s got a wealth of good writing. I’ll be adding her to my follow list/reader.

h/t Richard Eriksson

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