Archive for 'Arts and science'

A favorite Ig Nobel moment: The prize for inventing karaoke

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Here’s a look back to one of our favorite moments from the first 23 Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies: The awarding, in the year 2004, of the Ig Nobel Peace Prize to Daisuke Inoue, of Hyogo, Japan.

Mr.  Inoue was honored for inventing karaoke, thereby providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other.

Here’s video of that prize announcement, and Mr. Inoue’s acceptance speech, and what happened immediately after that.


Later, Mr Inoue looked back at that moment, in an interview republished last year in The Appendix (which came to wider attention via an appreciation in The New Yorker).

This year’s Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, the 24th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, will happen on Thursday evening, September 18, at the usual location: Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre. We hope you will join us, either in person at the theater or via the live webcast.

NOTE: Tickets for Sanders Theater are sold out. There’s a chance that a very few seats will become available shortly before the ceremony. If that happens, we will announce it via the @ImprobResearch twitter stream and on the Improbable Research Facebook page.


Artificial eyes – a look back

Monday, August 4th, 2014

If the history of ocularistry (artificial eye implementation) is of interest to you, may we recommend an article by retired ocularist Clyde W. Andrews, published in the fall 2005 issue of the Journal of Ophthalmic Prosthetics, My Work as an Eyemaker: The First 55 Years :

Eyes_n_hammerI have passed on my favorite (Windsor Newton) brush to the younger generation. I have found that it is not easy to retire as an ocularist. I still wonder why someone would wear a black patch out in public, and I cringe when I hear a tasteless or insensitive joke about glass eyes. If they only knew the beauty of our unique profession or the pain and isolation our patients sometimes feel. When I reflect on all of these things that have evolved over time it is no wonder that eyemaking will always be with me.“

More information about the fabrication and the art of hand-painting artificial eyes is available here – and there are more historical notes here. (from which the photo above is taken)


How to interpret a new discovery

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Wolter Seuntjens, in exploring yet another frontier that few have examined, made a discovery. In a newly published study, Seuntjens gives a clear explanation of how to interpret his  or anyone’s new discovery about anything. The study is:

Mary Symmetrical and Mary Nonsymmetrical – A Hitherto Undetected Difference in the Iconography of the Two Most Important Women in the New Testament?JUnQ, 4, 2, 18–27, 2014. Seuntjens first summarizes his research:

“In the history of Christian art the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene are undoubtedly the two most frequently depicted women. Contrary to expectation, the praying postures in which the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene are depicted are not random. The Virgin Mary prays most often symmetrically whereas Mary Magdalene prays predominantly nonsymmetrically…


Later comes this instructive passage:

“Assuming that the observed pattern is indeed a new fact, it is difficult if not impossible to see in advance where this new fact will lead. But, if it is a new fact, then its interpretation and its possible connections with other facts and interpretations old and new should be addressed. If, however, the pattern is a fluke, then that is also interesting.”

blinkeyeTwo of Seuntjens’s previous discoveries achieved some eminence:

Seuntjens also investigates blinking and winking. The blinking or winking eye you see here is from his web site.

Seuntjens’s new study appears in the journal JUnQ, the Journal of Unsolved Questions.

Mathematicians’ Romantic Yearning for Love and Chaos

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

Here’s the latest chapter in a possibly endless series of papers by different mathematicians fancifully using the metaphors and mathematics of chaos to tell and re-tell tales of love:

 “Love stories can be unpredictable: Jules et Jim in the vortex of life,” Fabio Dercole and Sergio Rinaldi, Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science, vol. 24, 023134, 2014. (Thanks to investigator Mason Porter for bringing this to our attention.) The authors are at Politecnico di Milano, Italy. Here is a photo of the top portion of Fabio Dercole. The object behind him is a blackboard.


Decole and Rinaldi write:

“Love stories are dynamic processes that begin, develop, and often stay for a relatively long time in a stationary or fluctuating regime, before possibly fading. Although they are, undoubtedly, the most important dynamic process in our life, they have only recently been cast in the formal frame of dynamical systems theory…. [We] conjecture that sentimental chaos can have a relevant endogenous origin. To support this intriguing conjecture, we mimic a real and well-documented love story with a mathematical model in which the environment is kept constant, and show that the model is chaotic. The case we analyze is the triangle described in Jules et Jim, an autobiographic novel by Henri-Pierre Roche that became famous worldwide after the success of the homonymous film directed by Francois Truffaut.

“[This figure shows a] graphical representation of two hypothetical love stories. (Left) Feelings’ time series. (Right) Trajectories in the plane of the feelings.”


Here’s a snippet from the film Jules et Jim. We leave it as an exercise for the reader (i.e., you) to analyze the chaotic dynamics on view:

Hair and Moustaches in the Far West (1873 to 1899)

Friday, August 1st, 2014

moustache-and-wavy-hairImprobable can find only one academic paper which examines men’s head and facial hair styles in the far western United States between 1873 to 1899. It’s the work of Elaine Pedersen, who is an Associate Professor at the School of Design & Human Environment of Oregon State University.

See: Men’s Head and Facial Hair in the Far West: 1873 to 1899 (Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, September 2001 vol. 19 no. 4, pp. 158-170)

A examination of 475 photos of politicians in Nevada (1873 to 1899) showed (amongst other things) that 45% had a moustache only, 21.9% had a beard and moustache, 8.4% had no facial hair, and 0% had sideburns only*.

“Primary and secondary sources were analyzed to investigate factors that may have influenced the hair styles, including the question of individual or group behavior. Findings were not consistent with the literature. Differences were discerned in facial and head hair styles among the decades. During the decade known for nonconformity greater variation was found, particularly among facial hair styles. Whereas personal independence appears to have influenced hair style choices somewhat, political independence did not.“

* Note: If any readers have (photographic) evidence of a ‘sideburns only’ hairstyle, please let us know.