Posts by Mason Porter:

I Would Code Anything for Love (but I Won’t Code That)

Taking the term “Rockstar Programmer” to a new level—well, perhaps they’re half way there?—Dylan Beattie has developed a programming language called Rockstar that allows people to live their wildest dream of writing code that resembles a 1980s rock song: Rockstar is designed for creating computer programs that are also song lyrics, and is heavily influenced by the lyrical […]

University Course Proposal: “Calling Bullshit”

Professors Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin West from University of Washington have developed a new interdisciplinary course with the compelling title of Calling Bullshit. From publication bias to fake news, bullshit is everywhere. And it’s important to be able to navigate it, separate delusion from reality, and call out bullshit when we see it. In a post-truth world, […]

Galam’s Work on Galam Models (Reviewed by Galam)

In 2008, French physicist Serge Galam wrote a review article about “Galam models,” in which he cited 71 papers, all of which were written or cowritten by him. Galam specializes in a topic known as “social physics” (or “sociophysics” for short), an area of complex systems that concerns the use of ideas and tools from physics to study collective social […]

Time Travel and Journal Publishing

Can journal publishers travel backwards in time? You may think the answer is no, but consider the following case. Along with Ginestra Bianconi of Queen Mary University of London, I edited a special issue of European Journal of Applied Mathematics on “Network Analysis and Modelling.” To introduce the special issue, Ginestra and I wrote an editorial. As […]

Mathematics, Failure, and the World’s Most Famous Walking Event

Have you ever calculated your chances of being allowed to participate in an event? As at least one study demonstrates, you might be surprised. The 100th International Four Days Marches Nijmegen, the world’s most famous walking event, took place last month. Over 40,000 people participated, and there are various ways that somebody can be allowed to participate in […]

The Hercules Number: How a Dimensionless Physical Parameter Got Its Name

I did not conceive or give birth to the Hercules Number. But I did name it. Here’s the story. In science and mathematics, we often get to name things. To help with exposition, sometimes we essentially have to name them, because it can help us do a better job of explaining things. In fact, we also enjoy […]

Pedestrian Potential-Collision Standoffs, and Symmetry Breaking

We’ve all experienced this phenomenon: you and someone else are walking towards each other in opposite directions, and you don’t want to collide. Do you shift to the left or to the right? And how should you shift to avoid a standoff? In a new paper on the arXiv, physicists Nickolas Morton and Shaun Hendy […]

Algorithmic Distinguishing of Novelists from their Punctuation Patterns

Adam J. Calhoun has written a wonderful blog entry that illustrates, with some great data visualization, that it is possible to algorithmically distinguish different novelists based only on  their punctuation habits. The idea is simple: just remove all words from a corpus of text and look at the patterns of the punctuation. Here is an illustration.   […]

The Acoustics of Breaking Chopsticks

What are the acoustics of breaking a bamboo chopstick? According to a new paper by physicist Tzay-Ming Hong and his colleagues at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, it’s kind of like the acoustics of breaking a bundle spaghetti: they both apparently resemble the Gutenberg–Richter scaling law, which relates earthquake magnitude to the frequency of earthquakes with at […]