Monday, December 30, 2013

End of the Year Lists

I’m sure you’ve seen all the Top Whatevers of 2013 lists on various Web sites, in newspapers and magazines and on TV. The problem, of course, is that they start this a week or two before the year is actually over.

If I were a terrorist, I would strike on December 31, too late to make it into any of the end-of-the-year top something lists that the media are so fond of. That way, in addition to whatever havoc I had wreaked, I would have the added satisfaction of knowing that I had proven all the news media wrong.

That said, these lists do serve another important function … that of wasting that generally unproductive time between Christmas and New Year’s.

Top things I totally don’t want to hear about in 2014 (in no particular order [well, alphabetical, but let’s face it … the alphabet is in pretty much random order]):
  • Alec Baldwin
  • Benghazi
  • Billion dollar buy-outs of some kid’s middle school science project
  • Boston Strong
  • Breaking Bad
  • Candy Crush Saga
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Fiscal cliffs, sequesters and government shutdowns
  • HealthCare.gov
  • Nuclear weapons made entirely on 3D printers
  • Edward Snowden
  • Twerking
  • Anthony Weiner

Friday, December 27, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

News in Review

Mandela’s Funeral

Senator Ted Cruz, in a remarkable display of fortitude, walked out of Nelson Mandela’s memorial service to protest a speech by Cuba’s Raoul Castro. Cruz also signaled his disapproval by placing gum on the Cuban leader’s chair, and drawing a mustache and glasses on his picture.

The Budget

The Senate, anxious to begin recess so the members can shop for their wives, lovers and other partners on their lists, is moving forward on a compromise budget amid arguments over who is most unhappy with it. Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner, in a remarkable display of fortitude, vowed not to cave to the same extreme groups he has always caved to in the past.

The NSA

Facing congressional investigation, the NSA has said in its defense: “Hey! We’re not snooping on everyone. We didn’t know what Snowden was up to!”

Health care

Americans can rest assured that the beleaguered Obamacare Web site is now safely in the hands of the former head of Microsoft Office. Users can expect the same reliability and user-friendliness that has characterized that product.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Measuring Fame


Famometer? Fame-o-Meter?1 Fameter?2

Fame and fortune are the most important measures of human worth. But how do we quantify these things? Fortune is easy, as it can be measured by the number of houses or garage elevators you own. But what about fame?

In Human Accomplishment, Charles Murray uses comparative space in reference works as a way of measuring relative significance of historical figures and events. The more ink you get, the more notable your contribution. Eric Schulman relies on search engine hits as a measure of fame, and Leslie Lamport takes a variation on this to measure celebrity.

Of course, measurements based on search engine results are going to be biased in favor of geekier celebrities. How else could Steve Wozniak have been picked as a contestant on Dancing With the Stars?3

So what measurements are we to use? I’m afraid I don’t have a conclusive answer to report at this time. However, the following metrics might be useful.
  • Journalistic attention, measured in centimeters4
  • Auction price of creative detritus (scribblings/doodles/outtakes) (A mediocre Jane Austin watercolor portrait just sold for $270,000; Christopher Tolkien seems to have published every scrap of paper his dad ever wrote on.)
  • Number of days of news dominance after death (Nelson Mandela is going on his second week, not counting spin-off stories about Barack Obama’s selfie, Ted Cruz’s walk-out and some unknown sign language imposter.)
  • Frequency of copyright infringement
  • Likes or Followers on Facebook? Twitter?
  • Appearances on The Tonight Show or Saturday Night Live
  • Paternity suits (or, in this egalitarian age, maternity suits)
  • Short list for Dancing With the Stars
  • Pictures with wrongly attributed quotes on Facebook

Research is ongoing, and results will be posted here as available.


1 “Fame-o-Meter” sounds like an amusement park attraction.
2 “Fameter” sounds like a measure of how hungry you are.
3 If you know who Steve Wozniak is, you know what I mean. If not … well, see what I mean?
4 To be scientific, we use centimeters instead of inches.5
5To be really scientific, use centimetres.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Monday, December 9, 2013

How to Win Any Argument


Continuing our series on how to survive the holiday season, it's time to address an issue likely to arise at any family gathering. Here are our tips on how to win any argument. If cornered, feel free to use any or all of these.

TechniqueExample
Correlation equals causation“I drink coffee all the time because I get my best ideas when drinking coffee.”
Godwin’s Law“That’s like something Hitler would say!”1
The Outlandish Analogy“Allowing bikes on the highway would be like surfing the Web with a Swiss Army knife.”
The Slippery Slope“If we allow any regulation of guns, next thing you know we'll have jack-booted government agents to searching our homes at random.”
Made-up Statistics“Actually, 97% of people don’t want to watch Amazing Race.”2
Ad Hominem“What do you know? You watch Amazing Race!”
Overgeneralization“Suppose everyone did that? We’d have a nation of people wearing mismatched socks.”


Don’t argue with anyone who has read this list.


1 Except he’d say it in German, and it would pertain to the Third Reich, and … well, he’s dead.
2 Actually, 73.1% of statistics are just made up.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Theory of General Relativity

With the holiday season at our throats once again, we thought it would be a good time to explain how family relationships work. This simple guide will help you through any seasonal gathering.

Basically, first, second, ..., nth cousins have common ancestors n+1 generations ago. First cousins have common grandparents ... two generations back. Second cousins have common great grandparents, three generations back. This is illustrated in the following diagram.


As you can see from this, siblings (common parents) are really 0th cousins. Grandparents, then, would be -1st cousins, and so forth back through the generations.

Once removed means one level of generation skew. Twice removed means two levels, and so forth.

If Grandchild D and Grandchild E are cousins, then Grandchild D and Great Grandchild K are first cousins once removed. Your first cousin's children are your first cousins once removed. (But they're your children's second cousins.) Your first cousins' grandchildren are your first cousins twice removed (and your children's second cousins once removed, and your children's children's third cousins.) Of course, this means that Child A and Grandchild E are 0th cousins once removed, or siblings once removed. We'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

See? It's easy? In a future post, we'll talk about special relativity.


Special thanks to Ken Davis, my 0th cousin.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Agony of the Klutz

Recent studies suggest that one in five Americans suffer from klutziness … double the number previously believed. Yet most people have no idea what it’s like to endure this painful condition … to live in a world where inanimate objects suddenly become willful and fly around of their own accord. Where the entire landscape shifts just for the purpose of interposing a wall or a tree in your path. A world where the laws of physics are suspended so that moving bodies fall at a rate proportional to how valuable they are, and inversely proportional to how much time you have.

Yet klutz sufferers must face these hardships every day. I myself have endured klutziness for years, but recently, the disorder seems to have progressed. I’ve had to adapt my lifestyle in various ways, and may have to do more.

Here are some of the measures I’ve taken.
  • I always wear a red shirt when eating Italian cuisine. (I may have to get red pants also.)
  • I wear big puffy winter clothes and a bike helmet all year round, indoors and out.
  • I double-, triple-, and quadruple-check email messages for typos before hitting Sned. (Also, I’m campaigning to have words like “teh” and “hardward” added to the dictionary.)
  • When hammering a nail in something, I hold the nail with a long pair of pliers instead of my fingers. Then I wind up gluing it instead.
  • I keep plenty of glue remover around.
Remember, be kind to your klutzy friends. There is no cure.