Archive for May, 2011

Please Take a Math Class

Americans say ‘no’ to electrics despite high gas prices

Nearly six of 10 Americans — 57% — say they won’t buy an all-electric car no matter the price of gas, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll.

That’s a stiff headwind just as automakers are developing electrics to help meet tighter federal rules that could require their fleets to average as high as 62 miles per gallon in 2025. And President Obama has set a goal of a million electric vehicles in use in the U.S. by 2015.

I’m assuming that journalism school covered metaphorical statements and the author used “stiff headwind” as he meant to.

That statistic presumably means ~40% are open to the idea. The US adult population is more than 200 million people, so in what world is a group of 80 million potential electric car drivers less than the 1 million needed to reach that goal, thus representing that stiff headwind?

Way down at the end, it is noted that

Nissan interprets the poll numbers as a good sign, pointing out that “as many as 40% are considering driving electric vehicles.”

While math is the obvious problem here, I don’t think it’s the larger issue, which is that of spin. The author/headline writer wanted to cast the story in a negative light and so they leveraged the existence of a slim-margin majority to make a statement. People resisting change really isn’t news. I wonder if they had done a poll around 1900 about the enthusiasm for driving an automobile, what kind of results they would have gotten.

Putting it in Your Mouth Does Not Make it Food

Chad’s been doing a series on non-adademic careers for scientists, and the first in this year’s batch: PNAS: Amy Young, Saponifier

It’s a noble effort , reminding people that there are many options outside of the professor-begetting-another-professor path, which is not sustainable, but the reason I really took notice was that this brought another topic onto some sharper focus, namely my position that everyday cooking/baking — when one simply follows the recipe in the cookbook — is not science. A lot of cooking, I think, doesn’t get past the level of I cooked too long and it’s burned/dried out, which is barely dipping your toe into the soufflé of science. (And Jennifer seemingly disagreed with this position, but it turns out it was mostly semantics — that cooking, done properly, is not about blindly following recipes is something with which I agree. The issue is blindly following recipes.)

Here’s the relevant part of Amy’s soap cooking approach that isn’t always followed in food preparation

If I hadn’t had the importance of keeping a proper lab notebook drilled into my head in my formative years, I would never in a hundred years be able to keep up with all the product lines I’ve got now. (Which colorant did I put in this one, again? And how much? Wait, wasn’t this the fragrance that made the soap seize up on me last time? I should probably try a lower temperature. And so on.) It may be six months or more between making batches of a given kind of soap, so keeping track is vital. Not to mention the product development phase, in which the thing just doesn’t work right, and I have fifteen different things to try varying; I’ve talked with colleagues who run similar businesses, and they seem to operate in a “just change stuff until it works” mode, rather than changing one element at a time (even if I run a dozen or more iterations simultaneously) so as to know which thing or combination of things created the desired effect. It’s invaluable in crafting the more complex items.

This really shows the systematic approach; it’s important to know what cause leads to which effect, and to quantify what you’ve done.

Becoming a Fan o' Flow

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Dance it Up, Furball!

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Every year the Disney theme parks host a Star Wars weekend, which means one thing: more demented “Dancing with the Star Wars Cast” videos. But 2011 may be our new favorite. We give you Chewbacca grinding to Guns N’ Roses.


The Drop Thickens

Eau, water picture! Artist makes a splash with his amazing portfolio of liquid droplets

By thickening the water with guar gum he was also able to alter the shape of the splashes, making some of them take on the bizarre look of something from a science-fiction film or a nuclear mushroom cloud.

The shapes, which varied from 3cm to 15cm, were altered even further by adding sugar and, by putting rinse aid in the dish, he was able to increase the height of the droplet splashes.

However, were it not for the advancements of high-speed photography, these images would not exist as they are impossible to see with the naked eye.

flickr: Liquid Splashes

It's Mathemagical

Mathematical card trick

Eggs Slowly Over Easy

Breakfast Interrupted, A Perfect Breakfast Meets Slow Motion Mayhem

“Breakfast Interrupted” is a whimsical slow motion ode to breakfast. The video begins with luscious imagery of a lavish breakfast spread, before slow motion mayhem begins at the 25 second mark. “Breakfast, Interrupted” is the creation of Bruton Stroube Studios, a St. Louis production company with a focus on food and beverage commercials. They’ve also posted a making of video for the slow mo curious.

Water Helps Them Relax


cm-scale origamis unfolding when placed on the surface of water, as the paper absorbs the water from capillary action.

What We Need is More Stats

In honor of Dirk: ‘Points Per Miss’ and his spot among the NBA’s all-time greats

As Bill Simmons tweeted: “48 points, 3 missed shots total (FG + FT). We need a stat like ‘points per miss’ to see if that’s a record for a 40+ point game.”

And as I went to bed last night, Simmons’ tweet had me thinking. Just how useful of a stat would PPM be? So I decided to get up this morning and investigate it a little further.

I like it, because it’s a measure of offensive efficiency. Raw statistics, such as points scored don’t differentiate between good shooting and poor shooting, incorporates points scored or squandered on the free-throw line, and normalizes, to some extent, the increased risk and reward of three-point shots for which shooting percentage fails to account. Efficient shooting leaves more opportunities for teammates, which the author recognizes:

Points per game is an oft-cited stat, but it provides little in the way of efficiency. A player could score 40 points per game and lead the league, but if he just does it because he chucks up half of his team’s shots, his team probably is not very good or balanced on offense. Another player who scores only 25 points per game but who is highly efficient at turning shooting opportunities into points is maximizing his own scoring chances while, theoretically, not wasting his team’s scoring opportunities shooting lower percentage shots (by comparison) than what his teammates could get

Say Cheese

SLR simulator

Practice using an SLR by adjusting the settings, lighting and distance to see how they affect the resulting picture.

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