Monday, May 30, 2005

Freakonomics and name trendiness

I just finished reading the book Freakonomics, where Steven D. Levitt, rogue economist, applies the economist's toolset to questions like, "Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? What kind of impact did Roe v. Wade have on violent crime?" Levitt uses data mining and regression analysis to really tease out some fascinating answers to these questions. I highly recommend it.

In the last chapter, Levitt studies baby name trends, and predicts the most popular baby names of 2015. I have a friend who has just had his second child, and both of his children have names off of that list; I'll have to let him know he's ahead of the curve.

The study of name trendiness reminded me of the strangely engrossing java-based "Baby NameVoyager", which lets you interactively browse the Social Security baby name popularity data through the years. NameVoyager even has a "name trends" blog, if you just can't get enough.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

47, 37, and all the other numbers, too.

The season finale of Lost mentioned the number 47 again, this time as the number of people stranded on the island. The number 47 shows up on the shows Lost and Alias all the time, because it's a favorite number of writer/producer, J.J. Abrams. The number 47 is the 'secret' number of Pomona College alums, and if you see the number on a television show or movie, it might mean that an alum is a writer and is winking to his fellow graduates. (According to the wisdom of the internet, J.J. Abrams is not a Pomona alum; the guess that he just noticed 47 showing up a lot in Star Trek, and took it as his own. A lot of people just like the number 47, I guess.)

My own favorite number is 37, probably because of Tom Magliery's 37 Heaven web site, where he collects sightings and odd facts about the number 37, such as:
  • There are 37 holes in the mouthpiece of a telephone. (Back in the Ma Bell days)
  • In Cool Hand Luke, Lucas Jackson's (Paul Newman's) prison number is 37.
  • There are 37 genes in the mitochondrial genome.
  • And more than 37 other facts!
If you took a survey and asked for a "completely random number", I bet 37 and 47 would be the most common answers.

I don't want to leave all the other numbers out, so I'll mention that I just got the book The Universal History of Numbers : From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer. I haven't had a chance to read it since I've only owned it for one hour now, but it looks jam-packed with juicy number goodness. (And it's not a general "history of mathematics" book. Just numbers!) One of the Amazon reviews criticizes the book as being "like an encyclopedia." To that, I say, "Hells yeah!"

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Closed captioning and Google.

Hypothetical Google-sponsored Closed Captioning
Originally uploaded by IvyMike.
Virtually all televisions manufactured after 1993 decode closed captions. A long time ago, I got in the habit of leaving the captioning feature turned on. I've noticed that the color capability of the system is rarely used, at least in this country. (The only example I've seen of good color use in captioning is the Alanis Morissette "Ironic" video; there's a car with four versions of Alanis, and the lyrics are colored to indicate which of the Alanises is speaking.)

Google uses the closed captioning feature in their video search feature; search. Enter "trampoline-related injuries", and you'll get back a list of newscasts that contain those words.

On most shows, as the credits roll, the captions are used to advertise the captioning company ("CAPTIONS BY VITAC") and a sponsor.

You can probably see where this is all leading. As far as I know, Google doesn't advertise on TV, but if they ever choose to, they should make sure to sponsor the closed captioning. Not only because they use that data for their video search, but because what other company's logo would be so uniquely suited to the closed-captioning color feature?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Cool SoundBlaster Audigy2 ZS Front Panel Hack

My friend Anthony recently created a cable that allowed his sound card to be hooked up to the front panel audio connections in his new computer, and he thoroughly documented the whole process in a blog, complete with photos and Digikey part numbers. (I'm the "friend with digital calipers" mentioned on the page!)

I thought it was a pretty cool hack, and wanted to give him props.

At "La Salsa" right before Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

At "La Salsa" right before Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
Originally uploaded by IvyMike.
I went to go see "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" on Friday, and we ate at La Salsa right before the movie. Here's the food claim number they gave me.

Friday, May 13, 2005


Crossword puzzle clue: "The symbol of the Girl Scouts" Answer: "Trefoil"

Me: "What exactly is a trefoil anyways? Besides a cookie, that is."

The answer itself isn't all that interesting ("an ornament or symbol in the form of a stylized trifoliolate leaf") but in the process of looking, I also discoverd this mathworld page with an animated trefoil knots comprised of gears, the origin of the radiation warning symbol, and girl scouts with trefoil tattoos! (No photos, unfortunately.)

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Are Apprentice?

Now there's something I never thought I would say, at least not without making a joke.

I was relieved when the answer was "Yes, I am." Because had I been wrong, "Are you an Apprentice?" just sounds like the lamest pickup line ever.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Right From The Start

In the tradition of "Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism by Sean Hannity", "The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Schools, Faith, and Military by Michael Savage", and "Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism by Ann Coulter", I came up with my own republican book title:

Right from the Start: Raising Your Children Conservative and Protecting Them from the Lies of the Left

Note the (triple!) pun on the word "Right", the standard "Clever Phrase: Lengthier Invective" construction, the two uses of alliteration, and the requisite demonization of the left.

I'm not sure who gets to author the book. Maybe it could be a superstar collaboration between Hannity, Savage, and Coulter. I do know who writes the foreword: Bill O'Reilly, who will be credited as "author of 'The O'Reilly Factor for Kids: A Survival Guide for America's Families'".