Since we’ve been talking about dogs and cats this week:
Hat tip to my sister Barbara.
By the standards of history, you, I, and (unless you’re a very atypical blog reader) pretty much everyone we’ve ever met is fabulously wealthy. How wealthy? One good measure is our ability and willingness to support the frivolity of others. Here are two recent technological innovations that give eloquent testimony to just how well off we are.
First, the Oreo separating machine. (Yes, I realize that every other blogger on earth has already linked to this one, but if you haven’t actually watched it yet, you really should click through):
A few years back, the British Office of Government Commerce wanted a new logo for etching on (among other things) mousepads and pens, and paid a graphic design firm over $20,000 to come up with this:
Apparently it never occurred to anyone that mousepads and pens are frequently turned on their sides.
The average economist would sacrifice 1.02 years of life to avoid losing a thumb, or .77 years of life to get a paper published in the American Economic Review. An AER publication, then, is worth about 3/4 of a thumb.
We learn this from a study by three economists who sent out 1300 questionnaires, all to economists who had recently published in one of six major journals. They received 85 responses. Of these, 7 were discarded because they claimed to value their thumbs more than their entire hands, or their hands more than their entire arms, and another four were discarded because they indicated they were willing to sacrifice life-years for the privilege of losing a body part. The remaining 74 respondents valued their body parts as follows:
I didn’t think anyone would get it. I was completely stumped myself until I got help from my friends. But Neil got it.
In his words, “We have onomatopoeaic words for the sounds made by all of the animals on the right.”
Or, as I prefer to think of it, the animals on the right all have vocabularies (consisting, in most cases, of a single word) while those on the left do not.
A donkey brays, and when it brays it says hee-haw. The donkey makes it to the right of the line not by virtue of braying, but by saying hee-haw. Thus the elephant, which trumpets, but thereby merely makes a noise (as opposed to saying a word) is consigned to the left.
Lions, tigers, and jaguars all roar, but to the best of my recollection from extensive reading (mostly at about age 5), lions and tigers, when roaring, actually say the word “roar”, while a jaguar merely roars incoherently. Chickens say “cheep”. Hens say “buck-buck-buck” (the act of saying this is called “clucking”). Roosters can crow in either of two dialects: Some say “rrr-rr-rrr-rr-rrrrr” while others (who my five-year-old self considered unbecomingly pretentious) say “cock-a-doodle-doo”. Pretentious they may be, but as a scientist, I am here to record the facts, not to judge them.
It was said of me in graduate school that “He’s never happy unless he’s making a list”.
My compulsion to make lists has abated over the years, but it lasted long enough that I still find occasional relics lying around.
Recently I ran across the list reproduced below, dating, apparently from my zoology phase, when I was making lists that classified animals according to various criteria. But I was completely unable to recall what criterion had governed this particular list. What rule places the giraffe on the left and the dog on the right?
WordPress (which provides the software that drives this blog) provides me with a button that says “delete all spam”. I keep pushing the button, but I’ve noticed that there’s still spam on the Internet. Do I just have to push harder, or what?
My favorite news story of 2010, from the “Police News” section of the Hudson Hub Times:
Hudson — A Sullivan Road resident called police to report a “suspicious package” on his front porch Nov. 2 at 3:20 p.m.
The resident said he observed an unknown person leave the package and called police, according to the police report.
The officer said he could see the package was clearly labeled with the Amazon.com logo and asked the man if he had ordered anything from the firm recently.
The man reportedly said “Why yes, I did.”
The officer told the resident his order had arrived. The resident then said he was comfortable opening the box. The officer then left the scene, according to the report.
Hat tip to my sister.
It has come to my attention that the word astasia refers to both
a. a colorless euglenoid that does not have plastids or a light-sensing spot
b. a lack of motor coordination which leaves the patient unable to stand or walk unassisted.
Where is the doggerel that plays off this double meaning? Where are the ironic little vignettes in which the hero (or heroine) is led charmingly astray through the confusion of one meaning with the other?
It’s not like the literary potential of other English double meanings has gone unexploited. (Think “pussy”.) Here is your opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a whole new subgenre. Give me your best astasia wordplay!
(Extra credit: Which chapter of The Big Questions inspired me to look up the word astasia?)
You might ask: How does David Koch happen to have the wealth to be so generous? Well, let me tell you a story. It all started when I was a little boy. One day, my father gave me an apple. I soon sold it for five dollars and bought two apples and sold them for ten. Then I bought four apples and sold them for twenty. Well, this went on day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, until my father died and left me three hundred million dollars.
Now on the one hand I love this story. But wouldn’t it have been more plausible if he’d sold the first apple for, say, a nickel?
Well, maybe not much more plausible. Doubling your money every day, it takes just a little over a month to grow a nickel into three hundred million dollars.
I still like the story though.
One year ago today, somewhere in the Phillipines, a reporter checked his web logs and wondered where all the new readers were coming from. Today we celebrate the first anniversary of one of the most unfortunately worded headlines in the history of journalism.
I’ve landed a consulting gig doing real-time optimal path computations for a gentleman who is planning to tour a graph with several hundred million nodes this evening, so I’m taking tomorrow morning off. To tide you over, I leave you with this literary composition, which can be read multiple times for added enjoyment.
—Three quarters of an infinite number of monkeys
Do have the best of all possible Christmases.