September 30, 2009


I think I can scoop Strange Maps for once. Wired posts these infographics of what Kansas State geographers consider maps of the 7 Deadly sins. (Red is sinnier, Yellow is more good)

Average income compared with number of people living below the poverty line.

Total thefts (robbery, burglary, larceny, and grand theft auto) per capita.

Number of violent crimes (murder, assault, and rape) per capita.

Expenditures on art, entertainment, and recreation compared with employment.

Number of fast-food restaurants per capita.

Number of STD cases reported per capita.

Aggregate of the other six offenses—because pride is the root of all sin.

So this is sort of a cool little thought experiment, but the methodology doesn't seem right for all of these. Greed, envy, wrath, and lust make sense. But what is the deal with gluttony? Aren't we one of the fattest countries? Why didn't they just do obesity rates? I'm pretty sure there should be more gluttony. And I don't really agree with the criteria for sloth. They should have done something a bit more sloth-related than entertainment spending. How about density of delivery restaurants, or cable subscriptions versus income? Not to mention the laziness of just making Pride the composite one. It would have been better to just use Porsche ownership or bloggers per capita. Not bad though.

As usual, those hypocrites in the bible belt stick out as the region least able to live by the rules they're always telling us we don't follow...

Kansas State University Geography/USACE

How many roads again?

I remember hearing a while ago that Bob Dylan, of all people, was considering recording the voice for a GPS navigator. If his speaking voice is anything like his singing voice, a lot of people are going to end up in ditches.

So I was surprised to find out that there are actually already a bunch of these celebrity voiced gps units. Mr. T (I think he just yells at you)? Gary Busey? Knight Rider? And last of all, and for reasons no one can understand, Curt Schilling.

September 28, 2009


The Freakonomics Blog points out some graveyard humor, describing the origin of this clever headstone juxtaposition.

They belong to chemists buried in the Yale's cemetery. The one on the left of a John Kirkwood, while the right is Lars Onsager, both of whom were brilliant statistical and fluid mechanics. At first glace this looks like the absolute apex of academic one-upsmanship, but as usual, there is a buzzkilling explanation that involves these two guys not hating each other. Kirkwood died pretty young and his widow basically decided to make his headstone a curriculum vitae for some reason. Most people who knew him thought it was a bit odd, but Onsager's wife wanted to do the same for him when he died, but her family talked her out of it. His son Erling wanted to put an asterisk on there, but she vetoed it as being mean-spirited.

But the idea of the asterisk stayed in Erling’s mind, and years later, when the children were adding their mother’s death date to the monument, they also added the asterisk and the “etc.” footnote. “When my mother died, my brothers and sister and I, we all agreed it was the right thing to do,” said Erling.

Erling wanted to set the record straight on his family’s motive for including the notation:

The idea was very tongue-in-cheek. It wasn’t done maliciously. It was triggered by the neighboring headstone, but it was not aimed at it.

And all the people involved seem to agree that both of these gentlemen would have found it hilarious. So revenge downgraded to gentle comedy. It kind of reminds me of Jefferson's headstone, that mentions only that he was the author of the Declaration of Independence, and Virginia Statute of religious freedom and that he founded the University of Virginia -- without bothering to point out that he was the President. Which, if you think about it, seems to say to all the other presidents "Oh, you were the president too? That's sort of cool I guess. I didn't think it was worth making a big deal out of..."

September 24, 2009

Expectation Value = Nerd Humor

Via the other people in my department: these bookends, for the quatumly disposed. A handsome addition to any bookcase.

The folks who made these wrapped rigid paper around some bricks. That seems like kind of a tough method, but throwing one through a window would be a great way of intimidating a physicist.

The Office Doesn't Make Any Sense

The Office makes no sense. The show itself. I can't believe I didn't realize this until just now.

The premise of the show (even though they never explicitly say so) is that a film crew is documenting the everyday life in the office of a paper company. This is, in and of itself, sort of amusing, but it makes for a good comedy format because you can cut in between interviews and you have interesting herky-jerky handheld camerawork. The fact that it is very easy to forget about the mechanism of the show, despite the frequency of characters addressing the cameras, is sort of disturbing since it seems to indicate that we're all so familiar with the style of reality television that we don't even notice it anymore. Nonetheless, the whole idea is that they're being filmed all the time, and there are plenty of instances where someone acknowledges the cameramen, or there is a boom mic, or the characters are trying to get away from the crew or whatever. And Michael Scott definitely acts the way he does because he is on camera. Plus, there are plenty of lines that are responses to obvious questions in the interview scenes, like when they start a line by repeating a question ("Where do I see myself in 5 years? Well..."). Still though, the idea is to make it a fairly subtle thing, to the degree that it isn't clear whether they're being filmed for a documentary or a reality show, and they've certainly done it well enough that we hardly think about it anymore.

Except that it's now so subtle that the premise no longer makes sense. Since they never explain the purpose of the documentary we don't know whether it's for a documentary film or for a reality show. If it was only supposed to be a documentary it would be over by now -- they definitely wouldn't have followed these people around for 5 years and produced like 30 hrs of programming. On the other hand, if it is a reality show, they've been on TV since 2005, why haven't the characters on it gained any notoriety at all? Any show on for that long would have to have amassed some degree of popularity. Plus, even if we're supposed to believe it is a very unpopular show on some low-rent basic cable channel, or that they edit out any references to the program, I'm sure that the people on the show would at least watch it themselves -- which means that by now, they would have found out about all the stuff from previous seasons that they didn't know about their coworkers. Which also hasn't happened. For instance, Ray or Karen would have known about Jim and Pam far earlier than they did.

The British version avoided this of course, because they only made 12 episodes. Ricky Gervais was extremely afraid of "spoiling" his creation. (How it got to be that every decent UK show is like that is beyond me.) Nonetheless, he wasn't so worried about franchising it out to nearly any country that makes TV programs. Everyone knows there's an American duplicate but you will impress people at parties by informing them of the existence of French, German, Chilean and Quebecois versions. That's right, Quebec. Here's they are playing hockey. So I'm not so sure that Gervais' "I don't want to water down my beautiful creation" stance makes any sense. Oh, and the titles of the other shows are great.*

France: Le Bureau
Germany: Stromberg
Chile: La Ofis
Quebec: La Job
Once again, Quebec comes out on top.

Anyways, I don't know how this post ended up getting this long. I guess I just find it amusing that the show is pretty popular, yet no one seems to have noticed that the entire format of the program is no longer reasonable.

*This Slate article from a few years ago about the differences with the non-English speaking versions is pretty interesting.

September 15, 2009

Don't know much biology

...But I do know that I like these glass sculptures of diseases. The one above is a close-up of a single E. coli (is that how you say that?). Luke Jerram created a number of them depicting viruses and bacteria. The microscopic world is truly a weird-looking place.

"It's great to be exploring the edges of scientific understanding and visualisation of a virus. Scientists aren't able to answer many of the questions I ask them, such as how the RNA is exactly fitted within the Capsid? At the moment, the technology isn't there to answer all these questions for certain. I'm also pushing the boundaries of glassblowing. Some of my designs simply can't be created in glass, Some are simply too fragile and gravity would cause them to collapse under their own weight. So there's a very careful balancing act that needs to take place, between the limitations of current scientific knowledge and glassblowing techniques."
That last sentence isn't a phrase you hear too much.

via Backreaction