Further dramatic readings from bizarre studies, Friday night

September 23rd, 2014

porter-squ-booksWe’ll be doing some more Improbable Dramatic Readings — brief public readings from bizarre — yet genuine — scientific studies, this Friday night, September 26, at Porter Square Books, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, starting at 7:00 pm.

The guest readers are:

Robin Abrahams (“Miss Conduct” columnist, and assistant opera director at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony)

Jean Berko Gleason (Boston University Professor Emerita of Psychology, creator of the Wug Test, and deliverer of the “Welcome, Welcome” speech at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony)

Gary (pork-up-his-nose) Dryfoos (Majordomo at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, and new Internet celebrity and press darling because of his photogenic demonstration, at the recent Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, of how and why doctors stuffed cured pork up a patient’s nose)

The studies are some of the studies I wrote about in my new book This Is Improbable Too.

Here’s video the WGBH Forum Network made of our most recent Improbable Dramatic Readings event. The readers that night were Robin AbrahamsMelissa Franklin (Harvard professor of physics, and frequent Ig Nobel performer), Corky White (Boston University professor of anthropology, and author of Cooking for Crowds and co-author of The Ig Nobel Cookbook, volume 1), and Gus Rancatore (proprietor of Toscanini’s Ice Cream,and co-author of The Ig Nobel Cookbook, volume 1)

this-is-improbable-too-COVER-450-ix

Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris explains the clockwork saw

September 23rd, 2014

Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris savors the clockwork saw, in this brief video:

(Thanks to Adam Rutherford for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: Additional detail, from someone else who saw the saw

The Dilemma-Zone Calculation

September 23rd, 2014

Yellow traffic lights posed and provided an opportunity for applied mathematicians. Witness this study, published more than a half century ago:

The Problem of the Amber Signal Light in Traffic Flow,” Denos Gazis [pictured here, reportedly thrilling an audience],  Robert Herman,  and Alexei Maradudint, Operations Research, vol. 8, no. 1, 1960, pp. 112-132. The authors, at General Motors Corporation, Warren, Michigan, explain:

dgazis“A theoretical analysis and observations of the behavior of motorists confronted by an amber signal light are presented. A discussion is given of the following problem: when confronted with an improperly timed amber light phase a motorist may find himself, at the moment the amber phase commences, in the predicament of being too close to the intersection to stop safely or comfortably and yet too far from it to pass completely through the intersection before the red signal commences. The influence on this problem of the speed of approach to the intersection is analyzed. Criteria are presented for the design of amber signal light phases through whose use such ‘dilemma zones’ can be avoided, in the interest of over-all safety at intersections…

“Many  drivers take the  attitude  that  there is nothing sacred about the speed  limit!… From [simple calculations] we see that  even if the driver is willing to  accelerate to speeds greatly  in excess of the speed limit,  he still cannot eliminate the dilemma zone.”

BONUS: A modern use of that research

Win 2 Tickets to the 2015 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony?

September 22nd, 2014

Ig-AIR Subscription promotion

Buy or renew a subscription to our magazine, The Annals of Improbable Research (AIR) by September 30th, and use the special code word when you do, and you will be entered in a drawing for 2 free tickets to the 2015 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony!

What’s the code word? It’s the theme of this year’s prize ceremony: FOOD.

NOTE: The exact date of the 2015 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony has not yet been announced – it will be held in Cambridge, MA in September or very early October. There is some additional fine print connected to this promotion. You can find that below.

NOTE ALSO: We hope that, by giving you the code word in this post, we can help you avoid the following sort of situation:


Some Fine Print: No purchase necessary to enter or win. Void where prohibited by law. Entry eligibility begins September 18, 2014 and ends September 30, 2014. Subscriptions using the special paper form or the code word “FOOD” on the online subscription form during the promotion dates are automatically entered. To enter without subscribing to AIR, please print your name and mailing address along with your phone number and/or email address on a 3″x5″ card or facsimile and mail it to Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony Ticket Drawing, Improbable Research, PO Box 380853, Cambridge, MA 02238 USA, postmarked by September 30, 2014. Accompanying limericks welcome, but not required. Winner will be notified by Friday, November 28, 2014, the day Ira Flatow hosts his annual recap of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony on public radio’s Science Friday. One set of 2 tickets to the 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony in 2015 will be awarded; the winner will chosen by random from the entries. Prize value: ~$150. Expenses not specifically included in prize description and all taxes are the sole responsibility of the winner. The exact date of the 2015 ceremony is TBD. Chance of winning depends on the number of entries. One entry per person. This “past & future issues of AIR” promotion is sponsored by Improbable Research, Inc., publisher of the Annals of Improbable Research.

Big Data is, but not unquestioningly, the answer, he says

September 22nd, 2014

“Big Data,”  a phrase that’s often said aloud with lots of vim (“Big Data!”), is just a heap of junk — until you know what you’re looking for. Jake Porway, writing in the Harvard Business Review, points this out more clearly than many others have:

“We have a lot of data, but we have no idea what we should do with it.” The director of the foundation looked plaintively across the table at me. “We were thinking of having a hackathon, or maybe running an app competition,” he smiled. His co-workers nodded eagerly. I shuddered.

I have this conversation about once a week….

So begins another Improbable Innovation nugget, which appears in its entirety on BetaBoston.