How to succeed in business without really dying

The New York Times reports that people with a longer workweek have more strokes.

People who work 55 hours or more per week have a 33 percent greater risk of stroke and a 13 percent greater risk of coronary heart disease than those working standard hours, researchers reported on Wednesday in the Lancet.

The new analysis includes data on more than 600,000 individuals in Europe, the United States and Australia, and is the largest study thus far of the relationship between working hours and cardiovascular health.

If for some reason you’re looking to write a contrarian “opposition to universal healthcare from the left” editorial, start right here!  When health insurance is tied to employment, as in the US model, businesses have some incentive to avoid workplace environments that leave their employees broken husks likely to require expensive long-term late-life care.  Once you break that link, businesses are free to work people until they stroke out, with the cost externalized to the health care system.

(Of course, an actual left take on this would no doubt involve heavier regulation on businesses to mitigate unhealthy workplace practices, expanding on things like OSHA, child labor laws, etc., but let’s not let that get in the way of a contrarian spin!)

“Losers often grow up to be writers”

My first cousin once removed Marilyn Sachs, on writing:

One final word of encouragement to those of you who are cowardly, cry babies, and liars, as I was. These are extremely promising qualities for future writers. If you are a coward, you will probably spend more time at the library than you would ordinarily, and if you tell lies, it just shows that you have an imagination even if others don’t always appreciate it. Cry babies tend to be sensitive, which is also a plus for writers. When I grew up, I found that I had become a great expert on bullies, and my books are full of them.

So, don’t feel you have to be smart, beautiful, brave and popular to become a writer. Or even to be a good speller. Losers often grow up to be writers, which means we have the final word.

Her books are mostly for kids.  Have you read them, parents?  Some of the classics:  Laura’s Luck (1965), my favorite alienated-kids-at-summer-camp book.  The Fat Girl (1984), a truly creepy YA novel about brutal psychosexual guerilla war in high school.  The Bear’s House (1972).  I remember almost nothing about this but just hearing the title makes me choke up so I know it was really sad.

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Mariners 6, Orioles 5

I took CJ with me to Seattle, where I was giving a talk at the American Statistical Association meetings, and what luck — the Orioles were in town!  So we took in this game.

Observations:

  • I’ve never seen so many Orioles fans at an away game.  In fact, I kept seeing people in O’s gear all over Seattle.  Are they strangely popular in the PNW?  Or is it just that four years of winning has made it safe to wear orange and black in public?
  • First trip to SafeCo, a great field on the underrated Miller Park model.  The retractable roof here doesn’t open and close; it slides over the top of the stadium like an umbrella.  When it’s open, the roof hangs over the railroad tracks adjoining the park, and when a train comes by, the whistle echoes off the roof into the stadium, and it is awesome.
  • The Mariner dog is an unusually good ballpark dog.  As big as a brat, nicely blackened, good snap.  Well worth seven dollars.  The signature SafeCo food — at least, everyone around us had it — was garlic fries.  I’m sorry Seattle but these are not that good.  Huge heap of fries with a bunch of minced garlic and parsley on top.  Impressive to look at, but impossible to keep the garlic on the fries as you eat, and the fries get cold and depressing very quickly.
  • Nice sunburned-looking blond couple in front of us turned out to be Dutch people whose son, they said, played for the Orioles in the Netherlands.  What could they have meant?  I think maybe he plays for these guys? But are they actually affiliated with the Orioles?  Mysteries of honkbal.
  • “Dad has to catch a fly ball in a cowboy hat to win him and his kid Mariners tickets” is a great pregame promotion.  Every team should do this.

The game started out looking like a laugher; terrible defense and baserunning on both ends and the first inning ended with the Mariners up 4-2.  Then nothing happened for a long time.  Seattle’s Taijuan Williams wasn’t really dominant but the Orioles couldn’t really get a big hit.  Tillman got hit in the arm with a batted ball, and was bad anyway, and was out after 2 1/3, but the usual succession of long relievers shut down Seattle.  I told CJ “this team has an explosive offense and can score a bunch of runs at any time” and just then Adam Jones sneaked one over the left field fence to make it 5-4 and then Chris Davis came up.  He has grown a super-weird mustache, which CJ and I had been admiring on TV at the end of the previous night’s contest.


Davis says it helps him hit home runs and I guess so because he immediately launched a no-doubter so far into right it could have beat Ted Cruz in a primary. Maybe the best home run I’ve seen since the grand slam Jim Thome hit against the Orioles at U.S. Cellular. Did I blog that? Oh yeah, I did.

So we’re tied at 5, and we go into extras, T.J. MacFarland coming in for his third inning of work.  He faces the bottom of the order and loads the bases with one out.  Britton pitched 1 2/3 the previous night and is unavailable.  But you have O’Day warmed and ready.  Yes I know you want to save him to close, but at what point do you bring him in?  Would you rather lose with your best reliever waiting in the bullpen?  That’s what happened; McFarland stayed in to face Austin Jackson, who lashed a ball that landed about a centimeter inside the foul line and that was the ballgame.

Unusually bearable loss; much easier to take than if the Orioles had laid down and accepted that they were going to get beat by the runs they allowed in the first.

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August 2015 linkdump

  • There’s a new biography of Grothendieck, this one in French.  Any chance it’ll be translated?
  • Let felons vote and let them carry guns — the ultimate left-right compromise reform?  Why not?  Everybody believes there’s some core of constitutional rights an American doesn’t give up, no matter what they do.  Felon or no felon, you have the right to free speech and the right to a trial by jury.  I think voting belongs in that inner circle.  I don’t really feel that way about gun ownership, but I get that a lot of people do.  And — purely as a practical matter — the typical felon who’s served his time is surely more correct in feeling he needs a firearm to protect himself than, say, I do.
  • “Pinch my cheeks and call me gorgeous — it’s Raven!”  This panel has been floating in my memory for about thirty years.  CJ really likes the Teen Titans show that’s on Cartoon Network now, and watching him watching it inspired me to see if I could actually find an image.  Thanks, tumblr.
  • Indietracks Compilation 2015.  As always, a great collection of songs.
  • At some point I will try to find time to think more seriously about the claim by Josh Miller and Adam Sarjurjo that the famous Gilovich-Vallone-Tversky study finding no evidence for the hot hand in basketball actually found strong evidence for the hot hand in basketball.  The whole thing comes down to screwy endpoint problems when you average results of a bunch of short trials.  It has some relation to the perils of averaging ratios.
  • Pretty sure this cartoon calculus book is the very one that was sitting on the shelf in Mrs. Levin’s 6th grade classroom, which I became absolutely obsessed with.
  •  Do you think the most Shazammed songs are the most popular songs, or songs that best combine popularity with being a song no one knows the name of?  I like that you can see the country-by-country charts:  here’s Thailand, where they love Meghan Trainor, or don’t know her name.
  • Good-looking conference at the Newton Institute about large graphs.
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Configuration spaces of manifolds with flows (with John Wiltshire-Gordon)

New preprint up on the arXiv:  “Algebraic structures on cohomology of configuration spaces of manifolds with flows,” a short paper joint with John Wiltshire-Gordon.

John is a student at Michigan, finishing his Ph.D. this year under David Speyer, and he’s been thinking about stuff related to FI-modules ever since his undergrad days at Chicago hanging out with Benson Farb.

But this paper isn’t actually about FI-modules!  Let me explain.  Here’s the motivating question.  When M is a manifold, and S a finite set, we denote by PConf^S M the pure configuration space of M, i.e. the space of injections from S to M.  If S is the set 1,…,n we write PConf^n M for short.

Question:  Let M be a manifold.  What natural algebraic structure is carried by the cohomology groups H^i(PConf^n M,Z)?

Here’s one structure.  If f: S \rightarrow T is an injection, composition yields a map from PConf^T M to PConf^S M, which i turn yields a map from H^i(PConf^S M, Z) to  H^i(PConf^T M, Z).  In other words,

H^i(\mbox{PConf}^\bullet M, \mathbf{Z})

is a functor from the category of finite sets with injections to the category of k-vector spaces.  Such a functor is called an FI-module over k.  A big chunk of my paper with Benson Farb and Tom Church is devoted to figuring out what consequences this structure has for the Betti numbers, and it was by these means that Tom first proved that the unordered configuration spaces have stable cohomology with rational coefficients.  (This is actually false with integral coefficients, or when the coefficient field has characteristic p, but see the beautiful theorem of Rohit Nagpal for the story about what happens in the latter case.  How have I not blogged about that already?)

So it turns out that H_i(PConf M) is a finitely generated FI-module (the definition is what you expect) and this implies that the Betti number h^i(PConf^n M) agrees with some polynomial P_i(n) for all sufficiently large n.  For example, H_1(PConf^n S^2) has dimension

(1/2)n(n-3)

for n >= 3, but not for n=0,1,2.

If you know a little more about the manifold, you can do better.  For instance, if M has a boundary component, the Betti number agrees with P_i(n) for all n.  Why?  Because there’s more algebraic structure.  You can map from PConf^T to PConf^S, above, by “forgetting” points, but you can also add points in some predetermined contractible neighborhood of the boundary.  The operation of sticking on a point * gives you a map from PConf^S to PConf^{S union *}.  (Careful, though — if you want these maps to compose nicely, you have to say all this a little more carefully, and you really only want to think of these maps as defined up to homotopy; perfectly safe as long as we’re only keeping track of the induced maps on H^i.)

We thought we had a pretty nice story:  closed manifolds have configuration spaces with eventually polynomial Betti numbers, manifolds with boundary have configuration spaces with polynomial Betti numbers on the nose.  But in practice, it seems that configuration spaces sometimes have more stability than our results guaranteed!  For instance, H_1(PConf^n S^3) has dimension

(1/2)(n-1)(n-2)

for all n>0.  And in fact EVERY Betti number of the pure configuration space of S^3 agrees with a polynomial P_i(n) for all n > 0; the results of CEF guarantee only that h^i agrees with a polynomial once n > i.

What’s going on?

In the new paper, John and I write about a different way to get “point-adding maps” on configuration space.  If your M has the good taste to have an everywhere non-vanishing vector field, you can take any one of your marked points x in M and “split it” into two points y and y’, each very near x along the flowline of the vector field, one on either side of x.  Now once again we can both add and subtract points, as in the case of open manifolds, and again this supplies the configuration spaces with a richer structure.  In fact (exercise!) H_i(PConf^n M) now carries an action of the category of noncommutative finite sets:  objects are finite sets, morphisms are set maps endowed with an ordering of each fiber.

And fortunately, John already knew a lot about the representation theory of this category and categories like it!  In particular, it follows almost immediately that, when M is a closed manifold with a vector field (like S^3) the Betti number h^i(PConf^n M) agrees with some polynomial P_i(n) for all n > 0.  (For fans of character polynomials, the character polynomial version of this holds too, for cohomology with rational coefficients.)

That’s the main idea, but there’s more stuff in the paper, including a very beautiful picture that John made which explains how to answer the question “what structure is carried by the cohomology of pure configuration space of M when M has k nonvanishing vector fields?”  The answer is FI for k=0, the category of noncommutative finite sets for k=1, and the usual category of finite sets for k > 1.

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The adventures of Terry Tao in the 21st century

Great New York Times profile of Terry Tao by Gareth Cook, an old friend of mine from Boston Phoenix days.

I’ve got a quote in there:

‘‘Terry is what a great 21st-­century mathematician looks like,’’ Jordan Ellenberg, a mathematician at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who has collaborated with Tao, told me. He is ‘‘part of a network, always communicating, always connecting what he is doing with what other people are doing.’’

I thought it would be good to say something about the context in which I told Gareth this.  I was explaining how happy I was he was profiling Terry, because Terry is at the same time extraordinary and quite typical as a mathematician.  Outlier stories, like those of Nash, and Perelman, and more recently Mochizuki, get a lot of space in the general press.  And they’re important stories.  But they’re stories because they’re so unrepresentative of the main stream of mathematical work.  Lone bearded men working in secret, pitched battles over correctness and priority, madness, etc.  Not a big part of our actual lives.

Terry’s story, on the other hand, is what new, deep, amazing math actually usually looks like.  Many minds cooperating, enabled by new technology.  Blogging, traveling, talking, sharing.  That’s the math world I know.  I’m happy as hell to see it in the New York Times.

 

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I can’t even tell when I’m on the Internet anymore

I asked the barista in the Starbucks in Target to settle an argument between CJ and me — should it be referred to as “Tarbucks” or “Starget?”

Barista:  I don’t know, I think both.

Other barista:  No, it’s Tarbucks.

Barista:  It’s Tarbucks?

Other barista:  That’s what they call it on Reddit.

It’s true!

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The dime of America

I take it as a near-certainty that, assuming we’re still using physical currency throughout my life, some denomination of that currency will eventually feature Ronald Reagan.  But where will he go?  You can’t really evict Jefferson or Washington or Lincoln.  Alexander Hamilton and Andrew Jackson seem more vulnerable, but somehow it’s the coins that really read as “inner-circle President” — would Reagan’s boosters really settle for grubby green pieces of linen, that get filthy and torn?

But here’s what would work.  Put Reagan on the dime.  Instead of Roosevelt?  No — in addition to Roosevelt.  Nobody cares about the shrubbery on the back of the dime.  Roosevelt on the obverse, Reagan on the reverse.  The two radical revisions of the American idea that shaped the 20th century, separated only by a thin disc of copper.  A government big enough to crush Hitler versus a government small enough to drown in a bathtub.  Now that’s a coin.  Flipping that coin has stakes.

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Dane County Fair: Flippin’

1.  I realized today that the Dane County Fair might be the only place my kids ever go which is reasonably representative of the socioeconomic and demographic mix of Madison.

2.  The usual:  funnel cake, Ferris wheel, etc.  But something special this year was Flippin’, a steampunk-themed acrobatics show.  Boy does that sound unpromising.  But it was actually kind of amazing.  Especially the Wheel of Death.

I didn’t think the Wallendas, who we saw at the fair a couple of years ago, could be beat.  But these guys might have done it.  There’s a bizarre optical illusion when one of the wheelers leaps as the wheel reaches its crest; his motion is almost in sync with that of the wheel, so it feels to the eye like you’re watching something happening in slow motion.  I was floored.

Three of the four members of Flippin’ are Españas, members of a family that’s been in the circus for five generations.  The dad, Ivan, is in the video above with his brother.  His two kids were in the show we just saw.  The mom, in 2004, fell 30 feet doing a routine and was killed.  I think that’s kind of how it is in these families.

 

 

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Rolling the dice on Iran

David Sanger in today’s NYT on the Iran deal:

Mr. Obama will be long out of office before any reasonable assessment can be made as to whether that roll of the dice paid off.

Which is true!  But something else that’s true: not having a deal would also be a roll of the dice.  We’re naturally biased to think of the status quo as the safest course.  But why?  There’s no course of political action that leads to a certain outcome.  We’re rolling the dice no matter what; all we get to do is choose which dice.

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