Readings

Shing-Tung Yau and Steve Nadis, The Shape of Inner Space — This book was about the Calabi conjecture, Calabi-Yau manifolds, string theory, and all that jazz. It’s supposed to be for a general/lay audience, but I found it rather daunting and often confusing. Perhaps I know just enough math to get confused, whereas other readers might gloss over things. I definitely would not recommend it to those without some serious mathematical background (like a few college classes). That being said, I found it pretty interesting, and now I know (kind of) what a Calabi-Yau space is.

Donald G. Saari, Decisions and Elections : Explaining the Unexpected — This sums up a large chunk of the analysis of social choice problems and voting systems done by Donald Saari. It’s a bit overwritten for my taste and veers between some mathematical formalism and a chatty form of argumentation. I don’t think I fit in the right “audience” for this book, which is part of the problem. It discusses Arrow’s Theorem and Sen’s Theorem via a bunch of examples and spends a fair bit of time on the “paradoxes” and perversities of different choice systems. The chattiness makes it feel less than systematic. Towards the end Saari puts on more of an advocate hat and argues that symmetry (in a particular sense) is a desirable property of election systems and puts out a case for the Borda count. That in a sense is the least convincing part of the book. This might be a good present for a precocious high school student, since the math is not so complicated but there are a lot of ideas to chew on in there.

Hannu Nurmi, Voting Procedures under Uncertainty — This also fits into the “slightly math-y books for political scientists” genre, so I found it insufficiently math-y. It’s a survey of different models of uncertainty in voting procedures and a survey of the work in that area. As such, it discusses alternatives to “traditional” social choice theory including Euclidean models of preference and so on. There’s a little more “survey” and less “integrating the different perspectives” but that’s ok. I am not sure who should read it, but it did point out some new literatures of which I had previously been unaware.

Moez Draif and Laurent Massoulié, Epidemics and Rumors in Complex Networks — A nice and compact introduction to rumor-spreading processes, including branching processes, small world graphs, SIS/SIR type models, and concluding with some models for “viral marketing.” I really liked this book because it was concise and to the point, but others may find that it lacks some context and connections to literature with which they are familiar. It doesn’t feel like a tutorial in that respect, but it’s self-contained and great for someone who has seen some of the material before but not all of it.

John Mortimer, Rumpole and the Primrose Path — Reading Rumpole short stories is kind of like relaxing in a pair of old slippers. Enjoyable, but probably not his best work.

Linkage

Via Jay P., a pretty amazing dance video.

Via 530nm330Hz, a very interesting tidbit on the history of the one-time pad. A free tech report version is available too. The one-time pad XOR’s the bits of a message with a i.i.d. random bitstring of the same length, and is credited to Gilbert Vernam and Joseph Mauborgne. However, as Steven Bellovin‘s paper shows,

In 1882, a California banker named Frank Miller published Telegraphic Code to Insure Privacy and Secrecy in the Transmission of Telegrams. In it, he describes the first one-time pad system, as a superencipherment mechanism for his telegraph code. If used properly, it would have had the same property of absolute security.

Although in theory Miller can claim priority, reality is more complex. As will be explained below, it is quite unlikely that either he or anyone else ever used his system for real messages; in fact, it is unclear if anyone other than he and his friends and family ever knew of its existence. That said, there are some possible links to Mauborgne. It thus remains unclear who should be credited with effectively inventing the one-time pad.

Another fun tidbit : apparently mother’s maiden name was used for security purposes way back in 1882!

I really like shiso leaves and their cousins. I had a shiso plant but it did not survive the California sun / I have a black thumb. One of my favorite meals at ISIT 2009 was with Bobak Nazer, where we found an out-of-the way BBQ joint where they brought us a long box filled with 7 varieties of leaves, including perilla leaves. It makes me hungry just writing about it.

Kudos to Adrienne for the amazing photo.

There’s Only One Sun, a short sci-fi film by Wong Kar-Wai.

Quote of the day : squabbles

I am writing a paper at the moment on some of my work with Steve Checkoway and Hovav Shacham on voting, which has involved a pretty broad literature search in social choice theory. I came across this quote about approval voting (AV) as an alternative to plurality voting (PV) in the paper Going from theory to practice: the mixed success of approval voting by Steven J. Brams and Peter C. Fishburn (Soc Choice Welfare 25:457–474 (2005)):

The confrontation between theory and practice offers some interesting lessons on “selling” new ideas. The rhetoric of AV supporters has been opposed not only by those supporting extant systems like plurality voting (PV)—including incumbents elected under PV—but also by those with competing ideas, particularly proponents of other voting systems like the Borda count and the Hare system of single transferable vote.

We conclude that academics probably are not the best sales people for two reasons: (1) they lack the skills and resources, including time, to market their ideas, even when they are practicable; and (2) they squabble among themselves. Because few if any ideas in the social sciences are certifiably “right” under all circumstances, squabbles may well be grounded in serious intellectual differences. Sometimes, however, they are not.

I don’t think it’s particular to the social sciences…

On another note, the IEEE adopted AV at some point but then abandoned it. According to a report on the (very partisan) range voting website, there are shady reasons.

Readings

The Gangster We Are All Looking For (lê thi diem thúy) — This is a fragmented and short narrative of a young Vietnamese immigrant to the US and her time growing up in various neighborhoods in San Diego. It’s the KPBS One Book, One San Diego selection so there were 25 copies at the library. The little vignettes are fleeting but touching, but in a sense you don’t feel that the narrator is particularly introspective, at least not in a direct way. However, I think it was definitely worth reading, if for no other reason than to hear her unique perspective.

The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim (Jonathan Coe) — A satirical novel which came recommended but which in the end I felt cheated by. Maxwell Sim embarks on a new job after a recent divorce and few months off for depression, and ends up learning new things about himself and his family. He’s a bit of a loser, to be honest, but in the end you kind of feel for him as he muddles through emails, old letters, facebook, and the like. What is a big cheat is the ending, in which the author (!) appears. Blech.

Symmetry and Its Discontents (Sheridan Zabell) — A lovely collection of essays on the philosophy, history, and mathematics of symmetry assumptions in problems of induction. The last two chapters are especially good as they discuss a bit of the history and background of such things as Good-Turing estimators and exchangeable partition processes. I learned about this book a while ago from Susan Holmes at the AIM Workshop on estimating probability distributions.

Electronic Elections (R. Michael Alvarez and Thad E. Hall) — A short but dense book that makes the case for a “risk management” approach to assessing the value of electronic voting machines. Electronic voting machines have all sorts of benefits, including better accessibility for the disabled, no “hanging chads,” and so on. But they are also woefully unsecure and hackable, as has been demonstrated time and again by computer security folks. Alvarez and Hall feel like the CS folks are being unfair and think (in a very nebulous way) that the benefits outweigh the risks. I found the data about voter confusion and error rates, etc. interesting, but I think the authors completely miss the point of the security community’s critique of electronic voting systems. Designing a shoddy electronic voting system is bad, regardless of the purported benefits.

Linkage

Cosma reviewed Networks, Crowds, and Markets by Easley and Kleinberg for the American Scientist. I have had the book for a while and just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but I should. Its a weighty tome, perhaps a bit too weighty to take to the beach (or on a plane, or…). Alex Dimakis said he reads a little bit before going to bed at night. That’s a heavy glass of warm milk. A fun quote from the review:

What game theorists somewhat disturbingly call rationality is assumed throughout—in other words, game players are assumed to be hedonistic yet infinitely calculating sociopaths endowed with supernatural computing abilities.

Ah, game theory. I anticipate experiencing the unease Cosma feels about the “realities behind the mathematics.”

MIT wants to teach math writing. I thought I learned how to write math by having my Phase II paper draft doused liberally in red ink by Prof. Kleiman. But this is something else entirely. I think a more important thing is to help those who work in mathematical fields or who use mathematics. Perhaps this will be a resource that engineering graduate students can use to improve their own writing.

The Connected States of America, including an interactive map showing how much people in place A talk to people in place B. Via MeFi.

Since I am moving to Chicago this fall, it’s time to get familiar with the L.

Our Paperwork Explosion – an add for IBM. Very weird. Also, vaguely menacing. I love the music though! AVia MeFi.

A mountain-climber’s axe! A mountain-climber’s axe! CAN’T YOU GET THAT THROUGH YOUR SKULL? (Trotsky dies. Bell.)

Two takes on preferential attachment graphs

I recently read a paper from STOC 2011 by Doerr, Fouz, and Friedrich on rumor spreading in preferential attachment graphs: Social networks spread rumors in sublogarithmic time, and it cites a 2004 paper by Bollob´s and Riordan from Combinatorica on The diameter of a scale-free random graph (i.e. a preferential attachment graph). The latter paper has a characterization of the graph growth process which is fun and geometric, so I thought it might make a good topic for a post.

Continue reading