1. 2023

    arXiv Fool's Day 2023, now with more chickens

    I had a feeling I’d be writing this post. Last week I only found six joke papers to add to my list, but today’s arXiv feed delivered a very strong update, with eight more, bringing the 2023 total to fourteen, tying last year’s record.

    I did not, however, have a feeling I’d be reading the phrase “large overdensity in the overall distribution of chickens”. One of the highlights of today’s feed is this extremely well-researched survey of bounds on the chicken density function (CDF) of the universe. While a lower bound is well established, the paper makes the first case for an upper bound as well, \(10^{23}\) chickens per cubic parsec. Fortunately (for the chickens, if perhaps not for science), that probably falls short of the gravitational binding threshold for small animals, but if the density fluctuations are large enough, who knows. I definitely want to see followup studies on this one.

    (Loosely) speaking of birds, we also have the creatively titled “ChatGPT scores a bad birdie in counting gravitational-wave chirps”, which pretty firmly establishes that ChatGPT is not as good as actual scientists at counting gravitational wave events. (With some neat visualizations, too …

  2. 2023

    From Minecraft to memes: arXiv Fool's Day 2023

    That’s right, it’s time for this blog’s annual tradition: an update to the list of April 1 arXiv joke papers! It started six years ago on Academia Stack Exchange and since then has grown into the most comprehensive list of joke papers on arXiv that I know of.

    It’s slim pickings this year, though, with only six joke papers (maybe five) posted so far. Maybe it’s because April 1 is on a Saturday, when arXiv doesn’t update. I’ll be watching the feeds on Monday to see if there are more.

    Until then, here’s what we’re looking at: as is typical in the modern era, exoplanets are a hot area of joke research. Or… could it be the lack of exoplanets? There is a brilliant theoretical study of cuboid stars, or squars, showing how they can neatly explain the light curves that have been claimed to provide evidence of exoplanets without the need for any additional celestial bodies, and touting the virtues of Minecraft for astronomical simulation. On the other hand, another group at the same institution has made a counterproposal that everything is exoplanets! (This is the first instance I know …

  3. 2023

    Automated pushes to PyPI

    For the last year and a half, I’ve been (co-)maintaining a handy little Python project called pytest-localserver.

    Naturally, I completely neglected to mention this on the blog. (Surprise!)

    Anyway… I just released a new version which has a nifty feature that I’ve been looking forward to for a while: the ability to build packages and upload them to PyPI as part of our automated build and test pipeline. That means we can release a new version by clicking buttons in GitHub’s web UI rather than manually running twine and other commands.

    Normally I’m all for running things on the command line rather than clicking buttons, but when you’re maintaining a piece of software, repeatability and consistency are key. You don’t want some quirk of your local environment corrupting a build or sneaking some sensitive information into the package that’s going to be distributed to thousands (or let’s be honest, dozens) of people. During my time at SoundHound I developed a bunch of internal Python packages, some of which were shared outside the company, and leaking confidential info was always something to be very careful about.

    Plus, with months between releases, a …

  4. 2023

    Goodbye SoundHound

    Unfortunately my first post for 2023 is a bit of a downer. My five-and-a-half year journey with SoundHound has come to an abrupt end, as I was among nearly half the company affected by a massive layoff and restructuring earlier this month. Honestly, though, I don’t feel too bad about this (at least not for myself) — stick around and I’ll tell you why.

    To be clear, working at SoundHound was an amazing experience, and my coworkers there are, I’m convinced, the best a person could possibly ask for. From day one I felt welcomed as part of a community who are extremely talented while also being humble, kind, and collaborative. Whether I was engaging with other developers, language specialists, IT/ops support, the talent acquisition team, data engineers, the office managers and front desk staff, or even the executive team, I consistently felt appreciated, supported, challenged, and enabled to do my best work. And a lot of those coworkers are my closest friends. There’s a reason why many of us still hang out together, even people who have moved on to other workplaces years ago.

    Beyond that, SoundHound was a fantastic place to grow into my …

  5. 2022

    Giving Back

    Yeah, I’m just running with the most cliché possible title for this post.

    One of the things I’ve always liked about Stack Overflow is their “Stack Gives Back” program. Each December, they donate some amount of money to open-source software projects that the Stack Exchange sites use, as well as to five or so charities with the allocation chosen by the site moderators. I always thought that was a really nice thing to do: when you benefit from the work of volunteer open-source developers, it’s only fair to support them if you have the means to do so. And back when I was a moderator on Physics Stack Exchange, it was nice to be effectively given the choice of where to donate $100 so I could support organizations that were meaningful to me, especially at times when I couldn’t really justify making a donation from my own money.

    So now that I have the means, I’m going to do my own round of “giving back”. In the past few days I’ve made donations to the following projects:

    • €50 to KDE, the desktop environment that I use every day at home and work and the …
  6. 2022

    Celebrating arXiv Fool's Day 2022!

    Academia, sometimes you amaze me. This year produced a record-breaking fourteen new entries to my list of April 1 arXiv joke papers, which I’ve been “diligently compiling” for several years (and “definitely not” just reading and repeating from Twitter and Stack Exchange).

    As usual, astro-ph carries the pack, accounting for twelve of the papers (though several are also cross-listed in other categories). Exoplanets continue to be a hot area of research, both on the experimental side, with a flurry of new exop(lan)et detections, and on the theoretical side, with a startlingly precise prediction of when exoplanets will be discoverable inside our own solar system. The latter paper smartly raises some concern about runaway growth in the exoplanet discovery rate and proposes the solution of sending astronomers to the exoplanets for further study. Fortunately, science has covered the need for parking lots. Cosmology is also well represented, with an inspired new measurement of the Hubble constant and a proposal for the nature of warm dark matter.

    Of course, more terrestrial matters are also well represented. I think we’ve all been waiting for the definitive answer to whether a hot dog is a sandwich. And there’s an …

  7. 2021

    Happy arXiv Fool's Day!

    When scientists the world over turn their attention to the floofy objects on their keyboards and Taylor Swift’s emotional state, that means only one thing: time to make an update to the list of arXiv joke papers! That’s right, it’s April Fool’s Day 2021, academia style. Here’s my wrapup.

    This time, with some help from Twitter, I found eleven submissions covering a wide range of fields. Representing the stalwart astro-ph, we have the aforementioned floofy object rotation paper and an infectious model of dark matter. From high energy theory, we have a prediction of when publication of conjectures is going to bring on the heat death of the universe. In the category of popular physics, there’s an investigation of curious behavior involving a laster pointer — with one of the best paper titles of all time — and a very practical study of how certain tasks always take longer than we think (and why I never finish writing blog posts). There are also two excellent artificial intelligence studies that definitively settle whether Jaffa cakes are cakes and tell you which Taylor Swift song you should be listening to. Taking an interesting “meta” perspective on arXiv Fool …

  8. 2020

    Hope Is Born Again by Jim Brickman and Point Of Grace

    For the coveted final spot on my list, I’ve made a choice that surprised even me when I first considered it. Hope Is Born Again combines the exquisite piano ornamentation of Jim Brickman with an uplifiting melody sung by Point Of Grace. And to top it off, the string and percussion accompaniment beautifully complement the piano and vocals, all parts blending together without overwhelming each other. No other piece of music better captures the idealism of the holiday, making this the perfect song for Christmas Day itself.

    May you all find something that brings you hope this holiday season. Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

    You can now get the entire series of songs as a Spotify playlist.

  9. 2020

    Hallelujah by Mannheim Steamroller

    Today’s post is a bit sentimental because Hallelujah From “The Messiah” is perhaps the song that was most instrumental (haha) in making Mannheim Steamroller my favorite band.

    When I was a kid, my favorite radio station played Christmas songs nonstop from the day after Thanksgiving until December 26. I liked Christmas music well enough, but most of it was kind of forgettable. Every once in a while, though, I’d hear a song that stood out from the pack, something that captured my interest so much that I’d stay up late every day listening for that song in the hope that the DJ would announce its name. Several of those childhood favorites are on my list; even among them, though, Hallelujah was special. It was the first Mannheim Steamroller song I’d ever heard; it was so different from all the traditional carols I’d heard before, so much more exciting and vibrant and full of holiday energy, that I just had to know what it was and who performed it. For years it was my white Christmas whale. And when I finally found out the name and the artist, I knew I’d be a fan for …

  10. 2020

    Sleigh Ride by the Boston Pops

    Today’s Christmas song is an all-time classic. The Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler were the first to perform Sleigh Ride, back in 1949, and since then it’s become one of the most frequently performed holiday songs ever. This particular recording is from ten years later, but it’s probably as close as you’ll get in digital form to the original.

    As much as I love the modern pop version of Sleigh Ride, the Boston Pops’ orchestral version is unmatched in its elegance. Between the ever-present sleigh bells and the consistent beat, it really captures the feel of adventuring through a wintery landscape. And to top it off it includes the distinguishing feature of Sleigh Ride, the trumpet horse whinny at the end. This song definitely deserves a spot in any holiday music collection.

    You can now get the entire series of songs as a Spotify playlist.