Students Take a Stab at Sword Swallowing Sword swallowers are on edge as TV and the Internet spur neophytes to guide sharp objects down their throats
Don’t try this at home, the master of ceremonies of the Coney Island Circus Sideshow cautioned, and with good reason.
One performer was reclining on a bed of spikes. Another danced on a pile of broken glass. And his own “human blockhead” act involved hammering a nail into his nasal cavity.
Then there was Betty Bloomerz, who wore a black skirt and fishnet stockings as she moved playfully in time to Louis Prima’s swing classic “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
As about 30 spectators looked on in a small Brooklyn theater, Ms. Bloomerz tilted her head back, placed a foot-long blade into her mouth and, using her tongue, began to move it in time to the music. She let the sword drop downward until its metallic gold hilt came to rest near her bright red lips. Then she pulled it out with a flourish.
A study [Dan] Meyer co-wrote with Brian Witcombe, a British radiologist, found that “sword swallowers run a higher risk of injury when they are distracted or adding embellishments to their performance.”
The authors got information for their research from 46 practitioners. The study was published in the British Medical Journal in 2006 under the title “Sword swallowing and its side effects.”
We conducted experiments during trick-or-treating on Halloween in a predominantly liberal neighborhood in the weeks preceding the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. We decorated one side of a house porch with McCain material in 2008 (Romney material in 2012) and the other side with Obama material. Children were asked to choose a side, with half receiving the same candy on either side and half receiving more candy to go to the McCain/Romney side. This yields a “candy elasticity” of children’s political support. Results vary by age: children ages nine and older were two to three times more likely to choose the Republican candidate when offered double candy for voting Republican compared to when offered equal candy, whereas children ages eight and under were particularly sticky and did not waver in their choice of candidate despite the offer of double candy….
Children’s responses to the candy incentives varied by age, however. Younger children’s preference for Obama was sticky with respect to price, but older children’s preference for Obama was elastic. This result was first observed in 2008 and then successfully replicated in the 2012 experiment. We discuss several interpretations in the conclusion, including a differential response to symbolic versus monetary rewards, a parental-contamination story for the younger children, and the simplest possibility: that younger children just didn’t understand the task as much and so made the political choice they did understand.
Cambridge company born in Internet’s ‘big bang’ has lasting impact
Viaweb co-founders (from left) Trevor Blackwell, Robert T. Morris, and Paul Graham in the company’s original office in Cambridge, circa 1995.
The summer of 1995 was a “big bang” moment for the Internet. Amazon.com switched on its servers two decades ago this month, and the founders of AuctionWeb — later renamed eBay — were busily preparing to launch their site on Labor Day weekend. Browser-maker Netscape went public in August. And a company you likely haven’t heard of, Viaweb, was founded in a triple-decker in Cambridge.
Viaweb never became as well-known as the others, but it played a pivotal role in the evolution of e-commerce, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The founders were a trio of Harvard University computer science alumni and graduate students who saw that selling things on the Web was going to be huge, at a moment when most people were still apprehensive about typing a credit card number into a Web browser. They also realized that rather than businesses buying their own servers, connecting them to the Internet, and taking orders that way, “etailers” might want to pay someone else to operate their online catalogs, shopping carts, and cash registers….
Our repeated and continuing thanks to Robert, Trevor, Chris, and especially Margo, for making that first webcast happen. We have webcast the ceremony every year since. In the early years, our engineers (the aforementioned Robert, Trevor and Chris) had to invent/cobble major parts of the technology. In recent years, webcasting has of course become easier to do.
1995-10-05 Other Ig Nobelliana
1. This year's Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony was, as we had hoped,
televised live the Internet MBONE facility. We were pleased to
hear from people in a number of countries who witnessed the events
as they folded and unfolded. The unfortunate part was that the
ethernet cable into the hall was installed only two days before
the ceremony, too late for us to get out a special issue of mini-
AIR in time to notify most of you. Next year, all the technical
aspects should be in place in plenty of time.
2. The theme of this year's ceremony was "DNA, the stuff of life
and legend." DNA was celebrated throughout the evening in a
variety of ways by everyone from 12-year old Kate Eppers to DNA
pioneer James Watson to Sally Yeh, president of Bijan Fragrances,
the creators of DNA Fragrances for Men and Women.
3. If you were at the ceremony, or if you saw it over the
Internet, you witnessed the work of an extraordinary group of
people, many from Harvard and MIT, many from elsewhere, who
labored mightily and mighty lovingly to make this ceremony happen.
Extremely special thanks to producer igstaordinaire Sip
Siperstein, literary mathematician Stanley Eigen, stage manager
Roger Kautz, organigzer igstraordinaire Christopher Thorpe and the
Harvard Computer Society, Christopher Pimlott and Tangents,
choreigrapher Nicola Hawkins (and the Nicola Hawkins Dance
Company), lichtmeister and propologist Eric Workman,
scientist/supermodel Symmetra (Deb Kreuze), jazz harpist and stage
presence Deborah Henson-Conant, videontologist Steph Gainer,
audiogrammatographers Dave Goodman and Jeff Bryant, Joe Wrinn and
the Harvard News Office staff, Brian Yankee and the Sanders
Theater staff, the Holyoke Center ticket office, the Harvard
Parking Office, John Mather and the Harvard Science Center
magicians, Alan Symonds, Tatiana Divens, Brett Neubig, Frank Wu,
Focus Magazine, the incomparable and elusive R.T. Morris, Chris
Small, Jerry Lotto, Trevor Blackwell and Prof. Margo Selzer &
company, our friend Tom, our radio friends Thomas and Raymond, the
Nobel and Ig Nobel Laureates and their families, and many other
people whom -- most unfortunately! -- we do not have room to list
here. And let us not forget Lucky the flying dog.
“Why do we like the music we do? Research has shown that musical preferences and personality are linked, yet little is known about other influences on preferences such as cognitive styles. To address this gap, we investigated how individual differences in musical preferences are explained by the empathizing-systemizing (E-S) theory. ”
BONUS: Some researchers suggest there is no clearly definable thing that ought to be called a “cognitive style”.
How many universes are necessary for an ice cream to melt? Asks Professor Milan M. Ćirković[pictured] of the Astronomical Observatory Belgrade, Serbia, in the Serbian Astronomical Journal, Vol. 166, page 55-59. His paper considers the possibilities of other universes where a soft ice cream, left to its own devices, might be generally more likely to freeze rather than to melt. In other words one (or more) where the arrow-of-time might point in a different direction than it does here. But although the author goes into substantial cosmological and mathematical detail, those readers hoping to find a purely numerical answer to his question (viz. expressed as an integer, e.g. 42) will probably, in this universe at least, be disappointed. Rather:
“Only on the truly global scale – i.e. in the multiverse – there is no thermodynamical asymmetry, no arrow of time. Only through an anthropic selection effect do we perceive one in our own cosmological domain. In a sense, the ice cream melts because such [a] state-of-affairs is necessary for life and intelligence (no to mention ice-cream makers!) to occur.” [author’s emphasis]