The Taming of the Screw

I found myself looking for something in the basement workshop while I was home for the holidays: an adjustable slide clamp (if that’s what it’s called), so that I could hold a piece of laminate in place after I had glued it. The front of the TV table was peeling away and needed to be fixed.

I couldn’t find one. I didn’t even know if my mom owned one, but most of my dad’s hand tools are still in the workshop, so if there was one it should have been there. But the only clamps I could find were smaller C-clamps and wood clamps (the kind with two threaded rods) but nothing that would fit over the depth of the TV table. This dredged up memories of looking for tools on orders from my dad, when I had been conscripted into Saturday morning repair work, which I resented, because it ate into play time; I wasn’t getting to use any of the fun tools, so what was the point? Of course, I sucked at using those tools, even if they were the ones that were relatively safe for me to use, but at the time that was completely beside the point.

So my job was holding the flashlight and being reminded every attention-span-interval to point it at the target, and fetching the new tool that was needed when an unexpected problem arose. The trouble with this is twofold: tool taxonomy, and spooky tools. I knew the names of very few tools as an eight year-old — the difference between a regular and phillips-head screwdriver, different kinds of pliers and wrenches (why is an Allen wrench considered a wrench? It breaks the paradigm of fitting over the head of the bolt), even hammers (what the heck is a ball-peen?) were not innate knowledge, and since I wasn’t actually using them, I didn’t have a lot of motivation to learn. Even if I knew the name of it, it had the ability to cloak itself like a Romulan warbird, as if the tool were the embodiment of Lamont Cranston, able to cloud my mind so I couldn’t see it. Whatever tool I was sent to find, I simply could not see it some significant fraction of the time, but it would pop back into view once my dad approached the pegboard. The same effect persists in looking for tools in the lab, when they aren’t in their lair (if they are, I know where to look). They have a chameleon-like ability to blend in on the lab bench until you ask someone else where the widget is, at which time they turn fluorescent orange and stands out like a fluorescent orange widget.


Error 404: File not found

Posted in TMI

Science-Talky Stuff

Why effective scientific communication is crucial, and sometimes lacking

Isn’t it true, she asked, that it’s better to appear ‘formal’ and intelligent in the eyes of the audience than to ensure that the audience understands clearly? I was surprised that she’d asked this, but I was more surprised that other students in the audience were either in agreement with her or silent. In fact, the point this student made was the exact opposite of the truth. The first priority is conveying an understanding of the points involved. Overly florid writing may seem more formal, but it’s also more pretentious, less clear, and much less accessible to the audience.

A reminder that what is obvious to one person is not obvious to another. If your goal is to appear smart and intimidate people with your intelligence, then talking over their heads will probably accomplish that goal. But that’s not such a great tactic if you wish to actually communicate. It shouldn’t need to be pointed out, but there you go.

The Epochal Top-Ten List

Consequences of Having Evolved

2. Hiccups
The first air-breathing fish and amphibians extracted oxygen using gills when in the water and primitive lungs when on land—and to do so, they had to be able to close the glottis, or entryway to the lungs, when underwater. Importantly, the entryway (or glottis) to the lungs could be closed. When underwater, the animals pushed water past their gills while simultaneously pushing the glottis down. We descendants of these animals were left with vestiges of their history, including the hiccup. In hiccupping, we use ancient muscles to quickly close the glottis while sucking in (albeit air, not water). Hiccups no longer serve a function, but they persist without causing us harm—aside from frustration and occasional embarrassment. One of the reasons it is so difficult to stop hiccupping is that the entire process is controlled by a part of our brain that evolved long before consciousness, and so try as you might, you cannot think hiccups away.

Not a Single Eff Was Given That Day

Computer Calculates April 11 1954 Most Boring Day In History

“For fun we wrote the program and set it going. When the results came back the winner was April 11 1954 – a Sunday in the 1950’s. Nobody significant died that day, no major events apparently occurred and although a typical day in the 20th century has many notable people being born, for some reason that day had only one who might make that claim: Abdullah Atalar – a Turkish academic.”
“The irony is though, that having done the calculation, the day is interesting for being exceptionally boring, unless that is you are Abdullah Atalar!”

Sacking Some Statistics

Thanksgiving and Football: Why you should always go for it on 4th and short

[I]f teams that decide to kick when they are on their opponents’ 30 yard line make the field goal an average of 33% of the time, then the benefit of kicking is assigned a point value of 1 (since a field goal is worth 3 points, and 33 percent of 3 points is 1 point). Since teams that only have one yard to go when they are on the 30 yard line convert for a first down 64% of the time, and teams that are inside the 30 yard line score a touchdown about 40% of the time, the benefit of going for a first down is assigned a value of 1.8 (0.64 x 0.40 = 0.24, or a 24% chance of scoring a touchdown by going for it on 4th and 1, and 0.24 x 7 points = 1.8 points). This means that “going for it” should result in scoring almost twice as many points than kicking

One problem is that the chance of making a 47-yard field goal is about twice the value used here. It varies from year to year, of course, but field goals from 50+ yards are made at about a 50-50 clip (almost 53% last year), and 40-49 yards is north of 60% (73% last year). Which makes the expected gain from a field goal attempt from that distance about the same as from going for the first down, and perhaps slightly higher.

Also, the distribution of the abilities of offenses and defenses play a role. The average chance of scoring might be 40%, but I’ll bet that the e.g. Colts, Patriots and Saints are higher than that, and teams trying this against the Ravens are lower. And add to that situational details, such as whether a field goal increases your lead to more than one score, or it gives you a lead or ties the game.

Statistics are all well and good, but there’s a problem with looking at them without context, and not understanding what they mean. It’s also not a good idea to just retrieve a number from a dark place in order to make your conclusion look good, when the correct numbers are available.

Those Wheels are Hot

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Commentary from Gizmodo

What you’re watching is a piece by artist Chris Burden called Metropolis II, in which every hour 100,000 cars pass through the city of wood block, tiles, Legos and Lincoln Logs. It’s a follow up to Burden’s Metropolis I, which was built on a similar concept but employed only 80 cars. Metropolis II is currently being constructed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.