Archive for 'Arts and science'

Podcast #22: The hardness of security Guards

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

“Gluteal Hardness is simple to gauge, at least in security guards. The parameters of interest are: gender; age; fullness of uniform; visibility of scalp; and belt-width and -trappings. The values of these parameters reliably distinguish a guard who is basically strolling over to say hello in case his supervisor is watching, from a guard who’d shoot you if he could.” Private security guards — of many kinds — turn up  in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

Click on the “Venetian blinds” icon — at the lower right corner here — to select whichever week’s episode you want to hear:

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This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, both on the new CBS web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).

BONUS: Here’s an earlier depiction of a private security guard: W.C. Fields in the movie The Bank Dick:

Premiere — Homosexual necrophiliac duck opera, with scientist, at King’s Cross

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

You are invited to the grand public premier of Kees Moeliker (scientist, discoverer of the actual duck) and Dan Gillingwater (composer)’s Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera. Based on Kees Moeliker’s 2003 Ig Nobel Prize-winning study “The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard“.

The performances will take place on 8th and 9th August 2015 at Kings Place, London, as part of the Tete a Tete Opera Festival. Here’s how to get TICKETS.

Starring Sarah Redmond as Kees Moeliker, with a sung chorus and contemporary dancers portraying the ducks in question, accompanied by the Edge Ensemble and introducing Kees Moeliker (in person) playing the duck call.

Here’s a preview, in The Times.


And here’s a bit of opera history: The opera had a test run last year — a single, spectacular performance at Imperial College London, as part of the 2014 Ig Nobel Tour of the UK. The composer has drawn on the lessons learned that night, tweaked the duck, and cooked up an even more splendiferous offering for this grand public premiere.

What, exactly, is homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck, and how did it all come to this? Kees Moeliker answered those questions in his notorious TED Talk:

Testing the Green-Cheese Theory of the Moon

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Edward Schreiber and Orson Anderson once tested whether the Moon really could be made of green cheese. Caltech planetary scientist David Stephenson discussed that achievement, in Box 1 of his article in Physics Today in November 2014. In their 1970 article in the journal Science, Schreiber and Anderson compared the speeds of sound waves in rocks that were returned from the Moon with measured sound speeds of various terrestrial materials, including various types of cheese. (Sound speeds correlate highly with density and are thus often used to try to infer the composition of rocks.)

Table from E. Schreiber and O.L. Anderson (Science, 1970) comparing the sound speed of various Moon and terrestrial materials.
Table from E. Schreiber and O.L. Anderson (Science, 1970) comparing the sound speeds of various Moon and terrestrial materials.

According to these data, the sound speed from lunar materials seems to be much closer to those of terrestrial cheeses than of terrestrial rocks. However, one should look at Stephenson’s excellent article to read about more serious hypotheses about the origin of the Moon.

Is sarcasm the highest form of intelligence?

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Well, is sarcasm the highest form of intelligence? According to a new study in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, it may be.

The study, called “The highest form of intelligence: Sarcasm increases creativity for both expressers and recipients“, was published by Li Huang, Francesca Gino, and Adam Galinsky.

[CAUTION: A different, also recent, study indicates that walking increases creativity. Be careful about expressing sarcasm while walking — the combination could, perhaps, induce unpredictable levels of creativity.]

The contents of Appendix A of the article.

The contents of Appendix A of the article.


As with all other recent papers in journals by world-renowned publisher Elsevier, the study has five self-reported highlights:

(1) Sarcasm is an instigator of conflict but also a catalyst for creativity.

(2) General forms of sarcasm promote creativity through abstract thinking for both expressers and recipients.

(3) Expressing sarcasm to or receiving sarcasm from trusted others increases creativity without elevating conflict.

(4) We manipulated sarcasm via a simulated conversation task and a recall task.

(5) We employed three different creativity measures and a well-established measure of abstract thinking.

I feel like this study has justified the last 39 years of my existence. (Thanks to investigator Taha Yasseri for pointing us to this study.)

Note: Absolutely no sarcasm was employed in the writing of this blog entry.

‘Malaforms’ – pronunciation through the mangle

Monday, July 27th, 2015

kaiser-about“You won’t find the word ‘malaforms’ in the dictionary, but it most certainly ought to be there.” – explains Scott Kaiser, the Director of Company Development at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

“What do I mean by a malaform? A malaform is the unintended creation of a new word by a speaker who has mangled the pronunciation of a perfectly good existing word.”

He not only coined the word, but also provides an explanation of how they are distinguished from malaprops (or malapropisms).

“[…] where a malaprop is the imperfect use of perfectly good words, a malaform is the mangling of perfectly good words into imperfect ones.”

A quasi-contemporary example is provided:

George W. Bush: ‘They misunderestimated the compassion of our country. I think they misunderestimated the will and determination of the commander-in-chief, too.’
(He means underestimated)

See Mr. Kaiser’s essay on the subject of malafroms in: Voice and Speech Review, Volume 5, Issue 1, 2007, Rebusing the Fartuous Word: Malaforms and Malaprops in Shakespeare