Archive for 'Improbable investigators'

Time Travel and Journal Publishing

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Can journal publishers travel backwards in time? You may think the answer is no, but consider the following case.

Along with Ginestra Bianconi of Queen Mary University of London, I edited a special issue of European Journal of Applied Mathematics on “Network Analysis and Modelling.”

To introduce the special issue, Ginestra and I wrote an editorial. As you can see from this screenshot, our editorial involved a very speedy review process (perhaps including time travel). It helped, of course, that we did know that the editorial for our invited special issue was going to be accepted.

This editorial was accepted even before it was received. (“Received 13 July 2016; accepted 12 July 2016”) The journal was fast!

P.S. No actual time travel occurred in this adventure (as far as we know). :)

“Nuts!” (of/and goats, and dogs, etc., and people), the film

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

220px-dr-_john_r-_brinkley“In 1922, Brinkley traveled to Los Angeles at the invitation of Harry Chandler, owner of the Los Angeles Times, who challenged Brinkley to transplant goat testicles into one of his editors.”

That’s just one nugget from the Wikipedia biography of “Doctor” John R. Brinkley, who lived a colorful life. Implanting goat testicles into strangers was not the half, or even fifth of it. Well, maybe the fifth of it.

A new documentary film called “Nuts!” chews over the life and claims and accomplishments of the not-so-good non-doctor. Here’s the trailer for the film:


(Thanks to Erwin Kompanje for bringing this to our attention.)

Scientists with action-hero names: Hudson Freeze

Thursday, September 8th, 2016


Another scientist with an action-hero name is Hudson Freeze, Ph.D. Or, phrased alternatively:  Hudson Freeze, Ph.D, is another scientist with an action-hero name.

Dr. Freeze says (on his website, and presumably elsewhere):

“Getting a cure is pretty difficult, but it starts from doing research. It starts from understanding the basic processes, the scientific processes, the physiological processes. So what we try to do is to uncover enough basic science that we gain insights into how the human body…works.”

(Thanks to Ivan Oransky for bringing this to our attention.)

Up in the air, junior bird man: from Ireland to Africa, lawnmower-ly

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

With a spirit somewhat akin to that of Ig Nobel Prize winner Troy (built a suit of armor to protect against grizzly bears) Hurtubise, comes “One man’s dream project to fly from Ireland to Africa by lawnmower gets under way this week“. The story is reported, with that headline, in The Journal:


A FEW MONTHS back, we brought you the story of 52-year-old Oisín Creagh – the Dublin-born, Cork-based architect with a slightly-odd project on the go.

Yes, Oisín is a paramotorist – a form of aviation basically involving the equivalent of a lawnmower engine and a parachute and precious little else. He’s planning to fly one of these things to north Africa, a trip-distance of 3,000 kilometres, to raise money for Gorta-Self Help Africa and its operations in drought-ravaged Ethiopia.

And it all kicks off this week.

Oisín is set to fly his ‘wing’ (as a paramotor is known within the sport) across the English channel before turning south and heading across the Straits of Gibraltar to Africa.

The entire trip should take him a month, flying at an average of 1,500 feet, in three-hour, 150 km bursts.

BONUS: A performance of the beloved song “Up in the Air, Junior Birdmen!“:

Mathematics, Failure, and the World’s Most Famous Walking Event

Friday, August 12th, 2016

Have you ever calculated your chances of being allowed to participate in an event? As at least one study demonstrates, you might be surprised.
The 100th International Four Days Marches Nijmegen, the world’s most famous walking event, took place last month. Over 40,000 people participated, and there are various ways that somebody can be allowed to participate in this march in a given year. As Antoine AmarilliMarc BeunardeauRémi Géraud, and David Naccache demonstrated mathematically using probability theory (see their recent preprint) when pondering the rules in 2013, until a recent rules change, the best chance of being allowed to participate in the 100th event would occur if one failed that year’s event. See the transition graph below from Fig. 1 of their paper.