The PIZZA & POPCORN issue of the Annals of Improbable Research

March 17th, 2018

The special Pizza & Popcorn Questions issue (vol. 24, no. 1) of the Annals of Improbable Research is now available.

The issue’s table of contents is online. And you can obtain, for a pittance, the full issue. The magazine is in splendid PDF form, packed with info yet lighter by far than a feather or a popcorn kernel.

The Evolution of Popcorn” is a featured article. Lead author Russ Hodge will discuss the evolution of popcorn, when he joins the Ig Nobel EuroTour. Hodge will be part of the events in Berlin (March 19), Langen (March 21), and  Heidelberg (March 23). Come see and hear him!

Emily Hofstetter joins Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Social Scientists

March 17th, 2018

Emily Hofstetter has joined the Luxuriant Flowing, Former, or Facial Hair Club for Social Scientists™ (LFFFHCfSS). She says:

While considering an academic career, I quickly realized that an ability to afford hair cuts was a necessary sacrifice, and have been practicing said asceticism ever since. As of 2018 my hair reaches my knees, and I can but pray my wisdom grows with the same dogged persistence. My locks hide tidily in a bun most days, allowing me to reveal my hair in a highly effective display whenever I wish to astonish students and emphasize the effects of Goffmanian front and performance in everyday life.

Emily Hofstetter, Ph.D., LFHCfS
Interactional Researcher
Loughborough University, Loughborough Leicestershire, UK
and University College, London, UK


Harvesting Midges for Fertilizer (research study)

March 15th, 2018

In many parts of the world, e.g. N. W. Scotland, New Zealand, British Columbia and Nova Scotia (etc etc) there are almost incalculable numbers of pesky biting midges. A colossal nuisance to tourists and locals alike. But perhaps they could be put to good use – by capturing them and then using them as fertilizer? Researcher Amer Aldahi at the University of Sheffield, UK, believes so. In an experimental setup, he used a ‘Predator’ octanol-based midge collector and collected midges in prodigious amounts.

[…] wet midge biomass was evaluated here for its fertilizer potential. Such biomass could be applied to soils directly or after a period of composting and could be used alone or together with waste plant materials. One could envisage large amounts of such biomass being produced by individuals or perhaps council-run midge collectors (and co-operatives) and, as a result, relatively large amounts of material could be made locally available to farmers and the public. Transport costs might however, limit the wide-spread collection and use of midge biomass on an industrial scale. Certainly however, an individual octanol-based collector, when located in a high midge area, could supply useable nitrogen fertiliser to homes, allotments, and even small to medium sized fruit and commercial fruit and vegetable growers. The production costs of midge biomass could be offset by local authorities, hotels or other tourist locations, where the waste is produced when attempts are being made to reduce the tourist-nuisance potential of vast numbers of midges or mosquitoes.”


Note: The midge mountain photo is provided courtesy of MidgeBusters of Dunoon, Argyll, Scotland, from whom you can purchase a Predator.

Acoustical Analysis of Shouting Into the Wind

March 14th, 2018

The physics of shouting into the wind are now slightly better plumbed.

Details emerge in the study “Effects of flow gradients on directional radiation of human voice,” Ville Pulkki [pictured here, performing the experiment], Timo Lähivaara, and Ilkka Huhtakallio, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, vol. 143, no. 2, 2018, pp. 1173-1181. (Thanks to Lauri Savioja for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Aalto University and the University of Eastern Finland, report:

“In voice communication in windy outdoor conditions, complex velocity gradients appear in the flow field around the source, the receiver, and also in the atmosphere. It is commonly known that voice emanates stronger towards the downstream direction when compared with the upstream direction. In literature, the atmospheric effects are used to explain the stronger emanation in the downstream direction. This work shows that the wind also has an effect to the directivity of voice also favouring the downstream direction. The effect is addressed by measurements and simulations. Laboratory measurements are conducted by using a large pendulum with a loudspeaker mimicking the human head, whereas practical measurements utilizing the human voice are realized by placing a subject through the roof window of a moving car.”

This video shows the road work:

SIL e-Books – the bees’ knees for rhyming jingles (linguistics study)

March 12th, 2018

If you’re after in-depth information about hanky panky, tittle tattle, or even argy bargy then where better to look than the pages of SIL e-Books ? In particular, chapter 16 of ‘A Mosaic of languages and cultures: studies celebrating the career of Karl J. Franklin*‘ – ‘Helter skelter and ñugl ñagl: English and Kalam Rhyming Jingles and the Psychic Unity of Mankind’ 

Wherein Professor Andrew Pawley BA (NZ), MA, PhD (University of Auckland), FRSNZ, FAHA (Department of Linguistics College of Asia & the Pacific, Australian National University) examines English rhyming jingles such as dilly dally, rumpy pumpy, hocus pocus, nitty gritty and topsy-turvy.

He then compares them with those of Kalam, a language spoken by about 20,000 people living in the Bismarck and Schrader Ranges in SW Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. For example ;

Godey Bodey (to swing round like a propellor)
Gadal Badl (higgledy piggledy)
Cnaŋ Mnaŋ (to wear strings of beads that cross the chest and back diagonally) and, of course,
ñugl ñagl (resound, of the evening chorus of insects, frogs, etc. in the grasslands).

* The entire e-Bbook (476 pages) may be downloaded, for scholarly purposes only, from here.

Note: The bees’ knees means roughly the same as “the cat’s pajamas” i.e. the height of excellence.

BONUS (musical) : Rootin’ tootin’ Hurdy Gurdy music from Andrey Vinogradov.