April 26, 2007
The month of May
The month of May is a busy one for me. For some reason, it's when most of the big networks-related workshops and conferences happen, so I end up spending most of it on the road. This year, I'm attending four conferences, in four states, two of which are on opposite coasts. The agenda:
Algorithms, Inference, and Statistical Physics (AISP), run by CNLS of Los Alamos National Lab and hosted in Santa Fe. This workshop runs May 1 - 4, and I'm giving a short talk on power-law distribution in empirical data.
I get a short reprieve, and then its off to New York City for the over-named International Conference on Network Science (NetSci), which is trying to position itself as the main event in the field of complex networks each year. Given the number of physicists that present work at the APS March Meeting, that's going to be quite a task. But, at least NetSci attracts some folks outside of physics, such as a few folks in sociology, ecology and microbiology.
And then finally, it's over to Utah for the SIAM's conference on Applications of Dynamical Systems (DS07). There I'll be giving a talk on the hierarchical organization of networks at a mini-symposium on complex networks organized by Mason Porter and Peter Mucha.
Then, I'll return to Santa Fe exhausted, but enlightened from interacting with my esteemed colleagues, and seeing a few friends that live in faraway places. Ah, conference season. How I love thee. How I loathe thee.
April 15, 2007
A rose is a rose
Warning: Because I'm still recovering from my catastrophic loss last Monday, blogging will be light or ridiculous for a little while longer. So, without further ado...
A few weeks ago, I inadvertently initiated a competition in the comment thread of Scott Aaronson's blog on how to identify physicists. It all started with Scott claiming that he was not a mathematician (as New Scientist claimed he was in an article about D-wave's press releases about quantum computers). As various peoples weighed in on Scott's mathematicianness, finally Dave Bacon proposed a sure fire way to settle the question:
Place yourself and a large potted plant in a huge room together. If you get tangled up in the plant, you are a mathematician. I draw this test from careful observation of the MSRI in Berkeley.
I then wondered aloud how to identify physicists, and I was returned a laundry list of characteristic behaviors:
- Hearing the word “engineering” causes a skin rash. [John Sidles]
- Writes “a”, says “b”, means “c”, but it should be “d” [Polya]
- Frequently begins sentences with “As a physicist…” (as in “As a physicist, I care about the real world, not the logical consequences of the assumption I just made”) [Scott Aaronson]
- When told he is actually a mathematician he thinks: “LOL” and all the mathematician go: “OMFG”. [Peter Sheldrick]
- They think that, since walking forwards gets them from their house to work, walking backwards in the opposite direction must have the same outcome. (Re: the replica method) [James]
- Is interested in creating just one job. [John Sidles]
- Considers chemists to be underqualified physicists, and biologists to be overqualified philatelists. [anonymous]
Amusingly, I know many people (physicists, mostly) who are walking, talking caricature of these. I also know some excellent people in physics departments who certainly are not, and I'm not sure what they do is "physics". I wonder if they think of themselves as physicists...
I know I promised to keep this ridiculous, but I can hardly help myself. So, if you'll permit me a lengthy navel-gazing digression, there's an interesting question here, which has to do with the labels communities of people choose to adopt, and how they view interlopers. For instance, I have no idea whether to call myself an applied mathematician (maybe not), a physicist (almost certainly not, although most of my publications are in physics journals), a computer scientist (still not quite right even though my doctorate is in CS), or what. Informatician sounds like a career in oratory, no one knows what an "applied computer scientist" is, and none of Complex systemsatist, "compleximagician," or statico-phyico-algorithmo-informa-complexicist have that nifty ring to them. (And, for that matter, neither does plecticist.)
With my recent phase change, when people ask what I do, I've taken to simply saying that I'm a "scientist." But, that just encourages them to ask the obvious follow up: What kind of scientist? In some sense, applied mathematician seems colloquially, kind of, maybe, almost like what I do. But, I'm not sure I could teach in a mathematics department, nor would other applied mathematicians call me one of their own. Obviously, these labels are all artificial, but they do matter for hiring, publishing, and general academic success. The complex systems community hasn't achieved a critical-enough mass to assert its own labels for the people who seem to do that kind of work, so, in the meantime, how should we name the practitioners in this field?
Update, 16 April 2007: One colleague suggests "mathematical scientist" as an appropriate moniker, which I tend to also like. Sadly, I'm not sure other scientists would agree that this is a useful label, nor do I expect to see many Departments of Mathematical Science being created in the near future (and similarly for "computational scientist") ... End Update
April 10, 2007
Blogging will be on hold for a little while on account of my laptop having been stolen yesterday (out of the locked trunk of my car, no less). With a newfound appreciation of the mortality of my data, let me exhort you all to back up early and often!
April 01, 2007
Visting U. Maryland Physics
This week I'll be visiting Michelle Girvan, who is now on the faculty of the Physics Department at the University of Maryland - College Park. Michelle tells me that UMD Physics is one of the largest departments in the country, and, looking at their research pages (for instance, here and here), that's not hard to believe.
For those of you in the greater-DC area: in exchange for a week-long suppy of muffins and coffee, I've agreed to give a lunch talk on Thursday, April 5th. I'll post more details closer to the date.
Update, 3 April 2007: My talk will be at 12:15pm in Room 1207 Energy Research Facility (directions), The seminar series' webpage is here. My talk is entitled "Hierarchical decomposition of complex networks," and the abstract is here. End Update