Statistics Saturday: Reuters’ Science Headlines All Jumbled Up


  • Kepler telescope finds tiny Utah human origins
  • Moroccan fossils provides new technique to size up skin, hair in pigs
  • Einstein’s theory making ‘preliminary’ preparations for NASA astronaut corps
  • In major breakthrough, firm for manned lunar mission makes breakthrough
  • China’s quantum satellite regenerates Mars rover scientist, SpaceX engineer
  • China shake up understanding of life-friendly planets
  • 10 more possible stars in secure communications
  • Join

OK, that last one doesn’t make sense but I had the word left over and it seemed like cheating not to use it.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped twelve points which was so much of a relief that it jumped back up another six points again, and then slacked off two points since it was so close to the end of the day.

266

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In Which I Am Amused By Fish Lip Research


Before I get to it, here’s my mathematics blog with last week’s comic strips. Thanks.

Now, amusing me is this Reuters article about a kind of fish I never heard of before, the “tubelip wrasse”. It lives in the Indian Ocean and the central-western Pacific, which seems to narrow its existence down to one-eighth of the globe. I suppose that’s enough detail for a news report anyway. It’s not like I was going to go visit them anyway, not without more research. What’s interesting is that it eats corals, which are hard to eat, what with how they’re all coral-y. The secret is in their mouths: they have mouths that let them eat coral, and once you have that, eating coral is easy. Anyway, they have this quote in:

“To our knowledge, this type of lip has never been recorded before,” James Cook University marine biologist David Bellwood said.

It’s a beautiful sentence and I want everyone to take a moment just to admire that. But it’s also a beautiful sentence with this beautiful implication: there’s some record of all the adequately studied lips out there. There are people whose jobs include the task of overseeing and keeping up-to-date some portion of the world’s record of lips. Maybe even someone who oversees all the lip records known to humanity. Suppose there is. Then that is a person who either grew up wanting to be the master of humanity’s record of lips, or else it’s someone whose life went through twists and turns to bring them there. Either way, is anything about this not delightful? No, it is not.

If that were not enough for you, somehow, Víctor Huertas of the James Cook University in Australia offered this detail about the coral-eating process:

“It looks exactly like a quick kiss with a distinctive ‘tuk’ sound,” Huertas said, “often leaving a coral ‘hickie,’ which is actually a patch of flesh sucked off the skeleton.”

Never mind the stuff about flesh ripped off skeletons since that isn’t so jolly as I’d hoped. Think of fish giving hickies to coral and making a little ‘tuk’ sound doing it. You’re welcome.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose eighteen points today as investors thought it was just too hot to short any contracts, however obviously they’re set to fall. It sounds good for everyone who’s going long but, you know, heat snaps end. Just saying.

221

Perspective


According to Reuters, Abraham Poincheval, a French artist, has successfully hatched nine out of ten chicken eggs which he had been incubating by sitting on for three weeks. He had been sitting in a glass vivarium at the Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum in Paris. He sat on a chair, in an insulating blanket, over the egg container, leaving for no more than thirty minutes a day for meals. Meanwhile I’m in the early stages of an e-mail dispute with coworkers about whether the password for a server was, in fact, changed. I’m not saying he necessarily has used his past month at work better than I have, but he did spend two weeks living inside a hollowed-out bear sculpture in 2014. So he’s got something figured out which I don’t.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell one point back to 126. Rumor is one group thought this would be really funny because of all the “I’m turning this index around and going right back home” jokes it would let them make. This seems silly even for this bunch.

126

In Which Reuters Spoils My Weekend Plans


From the science news:

Crustacean revelation: coconut crab’s claw is stunningly strong

By Will Dunham | WASHINGTON

It may not be wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab. Its claw is a mighty weapon.

Scientists on Wednesday said they measured the pinch strength of this large land crab that inhabits islands in the Indian and southern Pacific oceans, calculating that its claw can exert up to an amazing 742 pounds (336.5 kg) of force.

The coconut crab’s pinch strength even matches or beats the bite strength of most land predators.

“The pinching force of the largest coconut crab is almost equal to the bite force of adult lions,” said marine biologist Shin-ichiro Oka of Japan’s Okinawa Churashima Foundation, who led the research published in the journal PLOS ONE.

OK, so, I admit I was looking for an excuse not to wrestle any coconut crabs this weekend. Call me a coward if you will. I’ll be over here calling a Patagonian Cavy names until it starts whining.

But three things caught me by the end of that third paragraph. The first: next time I make a mind-bogglingly stupid science fiction move set in the dystopian future I’m going to name something in it PLOS ONE. Maybe the megacity everyone’s trying to escape. Maybe the computer-god-supercorporation ruling everyone. Maybe the spunky talking motorcycle the hero rides to save the day. But something.

Second: the dateline. Reuters wants us to know that Will Dunham reviewed PLOS ONE while writing for the Washington office, I suppose. It would have totally different connotations if the story were filed from New York, or Lisbon, or New Delhi, or Buenos Aires.

Third: “It may not be wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab”. May not. May not. Dunham is willing to concede there are circumstances in which it is wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab. He can’t think of any himself, but he’s aware of his fallibility. He grants there are people whose lives bring them to the point of scrapping with coconut crabs, which are ten-legged monstrosities as much as three feet long. And he’ll allow there are people for whom that is a wise and even good path for their lives to take. I appreciate the open-mindedness. Someone might look back on their life and say, “It all turned around for me when I wrestled that giant crab”, and wouldn’t you like to know how that came about? I mean, you don’t want to know that so much as you feel you feel you ought to find out how Norman Borlaug had the idea of ending world hunger. (“Well, what if people had something to eat? I thought that might help.”) But still you’d like to know. I’m still using the excuse to avoid Saturday’s scrap myself.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index, the mainstream one, rose sharply six points today. And that would be fine and dandy except for once the alternate index did something different, rising only five points to 105 and that’s scrambled all the plans to merge the mainstream and alternate indices back together. Seriously, the two indices were doing the exact same thing for like ever and now that it doesn’t matter anymore it breaks? It’s not right, that’s all there is to it.

106

And In Elephant Traffic Control News


The easy thing to do is be thrown by the lede of this Reuters “Oddly Enough” feature. Let me prove it:

Chilli-powder condoms, firecrackers boost Tanzania elephant protection

Conservationists in Tanzania are using an unorthodox way of keeping elephants from wandering into human settlements — by throwing condoms filled with chilli powder at them.

The method has proved effective and Honeyguide Foundation, which hit upon the idea several years ago, with U.S.-based Nature Conservancy has stepped up its promotion, training volunteers in villages in north Tanzania to use a non-violent four-step way of protecting their homes and crops without hurting the animals. Previously many used spears to defend themselves.

[ Skipping ahead a bit. ]
Chilli powder mixed with soil is packed with a firecracker into a condom, its end is twisted shut with just the fuse exposed. When lit, the condom bursts open with a bang, spraying a fine dust of chilli powder into the air. One whiff is usually enough to send an elephant the other way.

OK, so that’s all good merry fun that helps us feel a tiny bit less guilty about how everybody likes elephants and we still treat them like humans treat elephants regardless. But here’s what I wonder. Given that apparently condoms filled with chilli powder and firecrackers are an effective means of elephant direction, how long is it going to take before this is the orthodox way to do it? At some point somebody will propose a way to shoo elephants out of the village and people will say, “That’s daft talk, Chad!” (He’s only nicknamed Chad, but nobody remembers his original name anymore.) “Now be sensible and stuff chilli powder and fireworks into these condoms! We’re counting on you!”

And yet a future generation will acknowledge that Chad was right, just … right too soon.

Dogs Make News By Acting Like Dogs


You might have seen this on Reuters in which case I’m sorry but you probably already thought of my jokes about it. I hope we can still be friends. Anyway at England’s Manchester Airport they’re reviewing their team of drug-sniffer dogs just because in seven months of work they never found any smuggled drugs. To be fair this compares well with my track record of finding illicit drugs.

And it isn’t like they found nothing. According to a review the dogs did manage “multiple accurate detections, but most were of small amounts of cheese or sausages, wrongly brought back by returning British holidaymakers and posing minimal risk to UK public health”. And they’re reviewing how it is the project spent £1.25 million on dogs who recovered somewhere around 181 kilograms of meats. I’m a bit unsure about it myself. I would think you could train dogs to sniff out smoked meats and cheese without much more advanced training than saying, “Who’s a good doggy?” while waving a slice of pepperoni. You could do this in an empty room and a good doggy would appear, and then follow you around, pleading for more. I suppose they did get six dogs, and that’s got to be more pricey than one. Still, it seems like there’s something missing here.

I guess the surprising thing is that in seven months British holidaymakers only bring something like 181 kilograms of illegal meat back home through Manchester. I mean, that’s not nothing. The Apollo 17 mission only brought 110 kilograms of moon rocks back. But there were just the two astronauts on the moon, and the whole trip took less than two weeks, and there was just the one of it. Also they probably declared their rocks and didn’t land in northern England. And for another comparison, the early “Schreibkugel” model typewriter which Friedrich Nietzche owned weighed only 75 kilograms. But if the British holidaymakers are sneaking a lot of other meats in, then how are the dogs missing them? Definitely a scandal here.

Megacolors, go! Go! No, Farther!


I thought I saw something silly on Reuters. I thought the headline to this article read “Could This Megacolor Carry People?” and of course I had to figure no. I can’t see how a megacolor could carry even one person, let alone two or more. For that matter, I couldn’t even figure what a megacolor would be. An extremely intent color, I suppose, that you can see even when you aren’t looking at it? It would be a wonder, is what it would be, if it were anything.

But I’d read the title carelessly. It actually asks “Could This Megacopter Carry People?” and that seems much more like something that could actually happen. If there’s anything copters are for, it’s carrying people. And a megacopter would seem just the thing to carry megapeople around. (You know megapeople. If you don’t, just look up. No, farther up. Keep looking up until you make eye contact. That’s a megaperson. To her side is another, and those are some of the megapeople.) So obviously this would be answered “sure, why the heck not?”

The heck not is because they’re not talking about copters. They’re talking about strapping a bunch of those little drones together and carrying people with those. And yeah, it seems like they ought to be able to carry people around eventually. For now, though, the record is carrying 61 kilograms, or about 135 pounds. 135 pounds isn’t enough to carry around “people”. That wouldn’t even carry a “person”, if by “person” you mean “me”, unless you caught me before I was about nine years old. (I was heavy for my age, owing to my discovery at age seven that it was always possible to eat two more bagels.)

In short, everything about this article is less exciting than it sounds like. Megacolor me disappointed. Letter of protest to follow.

And second?


So Reuters had this headline yesterday:

Russia Builds World’s Largest Helicopter Made Of Horsemeat Sausages

It’s not a tactically deployable helicopter. That fact should relieve everyone worried about the impact it might have on NATO’s NH90 materiel-support quinoa helicopter. It’s just a helicopter made of 120 kilograms of sausage created to mark an anniversary for … I’m not positive. The video suggests it’s the town of Kumertau, which is apparently somewhere in Russia, although because this is an amusing little “people do something silly” article it ignores basic journalism standards like having a clear dateline or providing instructions for people who’ve got a couple pounds of Tofurky kielbasa and an interest in making replica flexible-wing aircraft. Also, no reaction from the people who now hold the record for merely the world’s second- or even third-largest helicopters made of horsemeat sausages? They must think we’re so dazzled by the headline that we’re not interested in more detail. Mind, it is a pretty dazzling headline.

While the prospect of Russian sausage helicopters float around your head, though, why not peek over at my mathematics blog, which had another round of comic strips to talk about recently? If you don’t like that you might also like the A-to-Z challenge I’m doing, in which I take mathematics terms and try to explain them without too many other mathematics terms.

You know, it’s not even a sausage helicopter anybody can eat. That seems disrespectful to the sausage-makers as well as the horses.

Cleaning Up Hamburg’s Nightclub District


If I did not occasionally check in on Reuters I would have no thoughts, one way or another, about the problems of public drunken urination in the nightclub district of Hamburg. I don’t think I’m being shortsighted in this, what with my not being in or near Hamburg and having no particular responsibility for the nightclub district. I suppose we’ve all got some responsibility for public drunken urination, supporting or opposing, but I come down on the opposing side because I’ve never figured how you would wash your hands properly afterward, using warm water, soap, and a good lather. The best I can figure is go in somewhere that has a bathroom and then the public-drunken-urination part of things seems like pettiness rather than real need.

But according to Reuters the drunken public urination problem in Hamburg has been getting worse, and I’m going ahead and assuming that’s because modern liquids are so much more moist and damp than old-fashioned ones are. I’m assuming we’re making liquids more liquidy than we used to, what with advances in materials science and how much blenders have come down in price. Apparently Germans even have a great name for people who go drunkenly urinating in public, “Wildpinkler”, which makes the whole phenomenon sound like it’s an aggressively whimsical musical microgenre, possibly including pianos.

So according to Reuters, Julia Staron, who organized a local interest group that I am from context assuming opposes the public drunken urination phenomenon, said, “Wild peeing has been a problem here for a long time”, which delights a side of me that’s more immature than even I imagined. In fact, this whole essay I know is going to ruin some people’s image of me as a rather mature, faintly stodgy person sitting in the corner and not wanting to get to close to all that foolishness over there. They’re never going to go back to seeing me as a person who literally and unironically responds to some things by going “teehee”.

Staron’s group thinks they’ve got a solution to the Hamburg public drunken urination problem, and it’s in what the article calls super-hydrophobic and oleophobic nano-coating, which isn’t a terrifying pile of words to throw against one another like that at all. But that’s because you’re making an understandable mistake: the oleo they’re phobic of is not the short bits vaudevillians did in front of the curtain while more complicated acts were set up behind. I’m glad to clear that up. Still it does sound like this is a kind of paint that just can’t get along with anybody. I hope it likes bricks at least.

But the result of all this hydrophobic oleophobic stuff is that it’s a kind of paint that liquids splash back off of almost perfectly, so someone trying to piddle on the wall ends up piddling right back on themselves. I can’t see any unwanted consequences arising from turning groups of drunken revelers piddling on buildings into groups of drunken revelers who tried to piddle on buildings and instead urinated on their own legs. And in fairness the plan is to have signs around the hydrophobic buildings that warn “Do not pee here! We pee back!” in all the key languages of drunk people in Hamburg’s nightclub district, so the drunken revelers will be able to use their good judgement about where to urinate after receiving a warning and threat from the local signage. My suggestion would be, maybe a step or two farther back from the building.

It’s a fairly expensive paint, coming in at about eight dollars per square foot, so I guess we’re not going to see water towers painted with it just for the fun of making the city’s water supply feel insecure. And the news article reports that the urine-reflecting paint was developed by Nissan, in a research project that I feel must’ve been pretty far under way before someone asked, “Paint to make German nightclubs less attractive to drunken revelers? Aren’t we supposed to be making cars?” And then everyone slaps their head and says, “Cars! Oh! Right! We were confused.” But by then they were far enough along it was silly to stop. If I’m wrong I don’t think I need to know.

In Which Suddenly I Know Anything About Rugby, Belgium


A Reuters article filed under “Oddly Enough” makes me aware that a Belgian rugby club is appealing to have a weekend match annulled, on the grounds that the referee arrived more than an hour late. I’m surprised by all that because I had just assumed rugby was organized enough that it didn’t have problems with referees not being around.

I understand that in the early days of a major sport you can have embarrassing lapses of organization. Baseball’s first attempt at a major league, in May of 1871, flopped when the Cleveland Nine and the Fort Wayne Nine both thought they were the home team and so were hundreds of miles apart. The lapse in planning is obvious, once you’ve seen the accident, but beforehand who could guess that both teams would need names? And after the NFL was first organized in a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio, in 1920, the Akron Pros won the first championship because the runner-up Decatur Staleys just couldn’t make themselves believe there was such a thing as a “Hupmobile”. Their skepticism was justified, although the Hupmobile dealer asked some pointed questions about the so-called “Staley”. The NBA is still trying to work out its pre-season challenge between the upper and lower divisions, owing to a failure of many venues to build two-level basketball courts.

Anyway, the referee didn’t turn up for the match between the Soignies (pronounced “quinoa” incorrectly) and the Kituro (ditto), and as far as I can tell from Reuters he still hasn’t been accounted for. I hope he’s all right and the problem is just that he was busy playing something on his iPad or maybe he went to the wrong city and thinks everybody else bailed on him. But they found a substitute referee, who got there more than an hour after the game was to start. I don’t think that’s doing badly. If you called on me to substitute-referee a Belgian rugby game I’d need more time than that to get fully ready. Oh, now I hope they don’t think I was the original referee; I’m pretty sure they would have said something to me before the game if I was supposed to oversee it, but you never know. I might have lost the invitation and they might have figured I’d say something if I couldn’t do it.

The game finally got under way, although Stephan Carnol, the club secretary for Soignies complained, with only 17 players instead of the normal squad of 22, which makes me wonder what those five were up to that they couldn’t hang around until a referee got there. I have no idea how long Belgian rugby matches take but I’d imagine it runs longer than an hour, so they probably didn’t have to get somewhere all that quickly. Maybe they were refereeing other games later in the evening, except then why couldn’t one of them referee the game he was at? Sure, any call he made would immediately escalate into a quarrel about his fairness, but that just adds a level of excitement because you know both his team and the opponent feel passionately about bludgeoning him.

Soignies went on to lose by 356 to 3, as Kituro ran in 56 tries, which sounds like a pretty lopsided score if you have no idea that a score in rugby is called a try, apparently. I’m supposing it is because it would be dastardly of Reuters to go telling people that Kituro “ran in 56 tries” if that doesn’t actually mean anything. Also a try is good for five points, which they say directly, which means that Kituro didn’t just run in 56 tries but also picked up 76 points from somewhere, possibly fallen behind the couch cushions. I have no explanation for Soignies’s three points; maybe they reflect poise or good comportment? Maybe they picked up a couple points playing soccer in a side match. Despite the loss, Reuters reports, Soignies is still third in the league, and a point ahead of Kituro in the standings.

The former worst rugby blowout was in 1984, in the French league, when Lavardac beat Vergt by a score of 350 to 0, with 66 tries that got run in. But back then a try was four points, so Lavardac also brought in 86 points from maybe a basketball game that wasn’t using them anymore. Vergt wasn’t competing, though, in protest of some player suspensions, which makes me wonder why Lavardac had all those non-try-based points. There must be something to it I’m not following.

The State of Snacking, 2014


Maybe you remember New York State getting into some comic parliamentary-procedure hissy fits over whether to declare an Official State Snack, since it was pretty funny as state legislators get in declaring Official State things plus The Daily Show and I think The Colbert Report featured it a couple nights running. Certainly I remember it when I think about shortly before deciding not to snack on yoghurt. Apparently everybody in Albany got tired with the issue because they approved it last week and now New York has an Official State Snack, in case you want to snack in a stateishly official way.

According to the Reuters report on it, there are other states with Official Snacks, some of which make good sense: Texas has tortilla chips and salsa and Illinois has popcorn, both of which I have to agree are unmistakably states. Utah, apparently, declared Jell-O its official state snack, taking the Jell-O corporation almost completely by surprise. You can almost hear the ghost of Jack Benny going “What?”

The startling thing is that South Carolina has an Official Snack of boiled peanuts. I’ve read the article multiple times and read it out loud to make sure I haven’t got it wrong, but there it is: boiled peanuts. I would guess they had translated something wrong, maybe going from roasted peanuts or peanut butter through Google Translate and coming out with something obviously nonsense like “marsupial cactus”, and taking their best guess at fixing it knowing it should be something-or-other peanuts. But the article was posted by Reuters and I’m pretty sure they have English speakers over in Reuterland. So as ever, learning something new causes me to feel like I know less about the world.

Taxing the Meter


Reuters reports — well, Reuters reports a lot of things, especially if you let them go on — but here, Reuters reports that Finland’s tax agency has decided to try encouraging businesses to file their tax documentation electronically by writing poems of encouragement. An example, as they translate it:

Pencil and eraser,
No longer a racer.
Electronic is in — a clear win!
Come and experience,
Drop your resilience!

I think this is the most prominent example of governmental tax poetry since Britain’s “People’s Budget” of 1909/10, which imposed fresh limericks on the upper classes but freed verse for villagers who lived in a city at least a year and a day. Could be an exciting time for fiduciary dactyls.

News From Beyond The Weird


I hope you won’t think worse of me for admitting that I read stuff like the BBC’s “Also In The News” page of stories that are maybe unimportant but are interesting and odd, often about eggplants having surprising uses in automobile manufacture or galaxies being found to be akin to peanut butter or, if it’s been a slow-quirky-news day, something got noticed about Genghis Khan. Something that’s had me fascinated popped up on Reuters’s “Oddly Enough” page back on the 4th of March, and I’d like you to savor the piece:

Oops, Congress asked to fix slip-up in Myanmar aid bill

BY ANNA YUKHANANOV

WASHINGTON Tue Mar 4, 2014 7:47pm EST

(Reuters) – The Obama administration is asking Congress to fix a 2012 bill that left a World Bank agency out of a list of 12 international financial institutions that could receive U.S. support to promote development in Myanmar.

The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) promotes foreign direct investment in emerging markets by protecting private investors from various forms of political risk.

“Because of this technical problem, the United States is still required to oppose guarantees provided by MIGA for private investment in Burma,” the Obama administration said in its budget request submitted on Tuesday to Congress for fiscal 2015, which begins October 1.

Now I realize that you’re all chuckling heartily from that opening, but the article carries on in that vein, explaining how MIGA, with 130 employees, is — brace yourself — one of the World Bank’s smallest institutions, and that the error would if uncorrected prohibit MIGA from carrying out several of its projects in Myanmar, and that relations between the United States and Myanmar have improved rapidly since the military government stepped aside and economic and political reforms began.

I admit I’m just fascinated trying to work out how the article got put into the Quirky News folder and who wrote the headline that promises a giggle at the folly of humanity. But who reports on how that sort of thing happens?

Bridged Gapping


This was a while ago but I was thinking of a Reuters article that said police in Russia accused a man of stealing a bridge from a river crossing in the Ryazan region east of Moscow. (I know that’s a lot of setup to a sentence. I’m sorry.) And I realized that I hope he did it. Imagine being accused of something like that if you hadn’t done it. It could take hours to even understand the accusation. You can try yourself to see how hard it is to answer by going to anyone you happen to know has not stolen any bridges from the Ryazan regions near Moscow lately and accusing them. (Be careful. Many people thinking they’re joking will confess on the accusation. Insist they show you the stolen bridge before calling the authorities.)

I bet they accused him first thing in the morning, too, when he was barely awake and hadn’t even got all the drops of toothpaste goo out of the corners of his mouth. I just know that’s how they’d accuse me if they ever wanted to accuse me of stealing a bridge, and I’ve never even been to Russia.

Continue reading “Bridged Gapping”