Archive for the ‘fun’ Category

Some trivia on presidents and President-Elect Obama

Well, Senator Barack Obama is now President-Elect Barack Obama, albeit unofficially until the electoral votes are counted in a joint session of Congress on January 6th.  Obama will be the second U.S. President from Illinois; the first, of course, being Abraham Lincoln.  But here is some useless presidential trivia that you may not know.

He is also the first president to be elected from outside the Sun Belt since John Kennedy in 1960.  (Note that Michigander Gerald Ford was appointed, not elected.)   When he assumes office at noon on 20 January 2009 he will be 47 years, 5 months, and 16 days old; that will make him the fifth youngest person to become president, after Theodore Roosevelt (42 years, 10 months, 18 days); John F. Kennedy (43 years, 7 months, 22 days); Bill Clinton (46 years, 5 months, 1 day); and Ulysses S. Grant (46 years, 10 months, 5 days).  He is the fourth youngest person elected to the presidency, since Teddy Roosevelt, as Vice President, took office upon the death of President William McKinley.

Perhaps surprisingly, Obama is just the third sitting U.S. Senator to be elected president.  The other two were Warren Harding and John Kennedy.  Thirteen other presidents had previously served as a U.S. Senator, but not immediately preceeding their becoming president.

Obama is the first Democrat to win a majority of the popular vote in 32 years; the last one to do so was Jimmy Carter, who won 50.08% of the popular vote in 1976.  (Due in part to the participation of Ross Perot, Clinton received only 43% and 49.24% of the popular vote in his two winning campaigns.  Though Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, he also didn’t get an absolute majority, securing only 48.4% of the vote, due to Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan being in the race.)

Had John McCain won, he would have been the second U.S. President to have spent time as a prisoner of war; the first was Andrew Jackson.  McCain, who is from the Sun Belt state of Arizona, would have been the oldest president to assume office, beating out Ronald Reagan by over two years.

2008 Ig Nobel Prize winners

The winners of the 2008 Ig Nobel Prizes have been announced and the awards ceremony was held yesterday at Harvard. The Ig Nobel Prizes, obviously punning on ignoble and the Nobel Prizes, are given out each year for research that “first make[s] people laugh, and then make[s] them think.” Many of the categories mirror the Nobels: physics, chemistry, physiology/medicine, literature, and peace, but awards are also often given out for accomplishments in the fields of public health, engineering, biology, et cetera.

A full list of this year’s winners is available here, but here are some highlights from this year’s prizes:

ARCHAEOLOGY PRIZE. Astolfo G. Mello Araujo and José Carlos Marcelino of Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, for measuring how the course of history, or at least the contents of an archaeological dig site, can be scrambled by the actions of a live armadillo.

BIOLOGY PRIZE. Marie-Christine Cadiergues, Christel Joubert, and Michel Franc of Ecole Nationale Veterinaire de Toulouse, France for discovering that the fleas that live on a dog can jump higher than the fleas that live on a cat.

ECONOMICS PRIZE. Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan of the University of New Mexico, USA, for discovering that a professional lap dancer’s ovulatory cycle affects her tip earnings.

I’m usually most interested in the Ig Nobel Peace Prize, the first of which was given to Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, “for his lifelong efforts to change the meaning of peace as we know it.” Last year it went to The Air Force Wright Laboratory “for instigating research & development on a chemical weapon—the so-called ‘gay bomb’—that will make enemy soldiers become sexually irresistible to each other.” (Don’t worry, the presumably non-lethal weapon never got beyond the concept phase.) This year’s peace prize winner?

The Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology (ECNH) and the citizens of Switzerland for adopting the legal principle that plants have dignity.

Enshrining the dignity of plants in law? Funny, but it doesn’t come close to the most hilarious award citation ever. That distinction, in my view, is that for the 2005 literature prize. That award went to

the Internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria, for creating and then using e-mail to distribute a bold series of short stories, thus introducing millions of readers to a cast of rich characters—General Sani Abacha, Mrs. Mariam Sanni Abacha, Barrister Jon A Mbeki Esq., and others—each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled and which they would like to share with the kind person who assists them.

The winners are invited to the awards ceremony to accept their awards in person (last year, no one from Wright Laboratory showed up to claim the “gay bomb” prize, no Nigerians attended either); actual Nobel Prize winners serve as presenters. It used to be traditional for attendees to throw paper airplanes onto the stage, but that was discontinued in 2006 over “security concerns.” Apparently they are worried that al-Qaeda might hijack one of the paper airplanes or something. I guess.

Anyway, the winners of the Nobel Prizes will be announced soon. In the meantime, I’ll close this blog post the same way the Ig Nobel Prize awards ceremony is traditionally concluded: “If you didn’t win a prize—and especially if you did—better luck next year!”

Food Court Musical, courtesy of Improv Everywhere

In advance of tonight’s vice presidential debate, which only might produce humor (if either candidate says something really dumb), here is a fun video from Improv Everywhere.  Just imagine if this happened the next time your at your local mall’s food court:

I love the reactions at the end.

If you enjoyed this, check out Improv Everywhere’s YouTube channel for more like it.  I think this is their best work, but some of the others are really good too.  Also, some of you guys know that Anton Chekov is dead, right?

Bill and Jerry’s Microsoft ads

Microsoft has an interesting new series of ads featuring company co-founder and chairman of the board Bill Gates hanging out with Jerry Seinfeld. Here’s the first spot:

In the best Seinfeldian tradition, they’re basically ads about nothing: no Microsoft products are mentioned and computers are never seen.  The ads center around Gates and Seinfeld trying to “connect” with “real people.” And I think they’re funny. Check out the second, longer spot:

I think this is a very interesting advertising approach. It seems the basic goal is to simply get customers thinking positively about Microsoft and their frontman, who haven’t always gotten the best press. The spots couldn’t have cost much to produce (beyond Seinfeld’s fees), and each has been viewed almost a million times each in the past few days on YouTube alone, though they’re also being televised.

I think it is fun to see Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world (current networth: $58 billion), making fun of himself.  He comes across as very likable in the two ads and he seems to have a good sense of humor.  If you look closely in the first ad, you can see that the picture on his Shoe Circus Clown Club membership card is his mugshot from a 1977 arrest (for a traffic violation in Albuquerque).

The ads also tie Jerry Seinfeld, a very well-liked guy, to the Microsoft brand; no doubt the software giant hopes that people’s warm feelings about the comedian to rub off on their software products.  Hey, if Jerry Seinfeld is in an ad with Bill Gates, Microsoft can’t be that evil of an empire, right?

The Earth has been destroyed

Those of you who have been monitoring the International Earth Destruction Advisory Board’s Earth Destruction Alert level, mentioned in my previous blog entry, know that the Earth has been destroyed. The IEDAB has incremented their Geocide count to 1 and we are in condition red:

Current Earth-Destruction Status

The IEDAB indicates the following:

It is our duty to inform you that as of 7:35:05am UTC on September 10, 2008, the Earth has been destroyed.

The destruction of Earth was first reported by Mr Jonathan Barber of Wisconsin, United States, who spotted that his home-made seismic Earth Detector had ceased to give readings at around 8:00am (2am local time). Several other amateur geocide spotters noticed this at the same time but Mr. Barber was the first to place a telephone call to the IEDAB’s Geocide Hotline (+44 115 09Ω 4127, ask for Other Dave) at which point IEDAB officials performed an emergency check of their own instrumentation and verified Mr. Barber’s report, as well as fixing the exact time of geocide.

Evidence is still being collated, but preliminary results suggest that the Earth was destroyed pre-emptively by scientists at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Geneva, Switzerland, before the commencement of their experiments to locate the Higgs Boson, as a precautionary measure to ensure that the experiment itself could not result in the destruction of the Earth.

Whatever you do, don’t panic! The IEDAB has a helpful FAQ that I’d suggest you consult. Also, no doubt more news will be forthcoming shortly. I would also anticipate that there will be a memorial service for the Earth. I’ll forward information as it becomes available.

LHC about to come online

MSNBC’s science editor, Alan Boyle has a good story on the soon-to-be activated Large Hadron Collider, “Super-smasher targets massive mystery.”  It explains what scientists hope to find with the LHC in a bit more detail, albeit less musical aplomb, than the LHC rap.

Within a few years we might know why matter has mass, why there isn’t more antimatter in the universe, and whether or not there are more than three spacial dimensions!  Multiple spacial dimensions have long been predicted by string theorists, with nine or 10 being the most commonly hypothesized number of dimensions, but some think the number could be over 20. 

To date, there has been no experimental confirmation of string theory, which actually makes it a hypothesis and not a theory, as the terms are used by scientists.  It has proven to be very elegant mathematically and on paper, but has not made any empirically verified predictions that weren’t also predicted by other theories.  The discovery of other spatial dimensions would lend significant support to string theory.

Boyle mentions concerns that some people have that the LHC might destroy the Earth.  Scientists have determined that this is not possible, for a variety of reasons.  But if you still have concerns, the International Earth Destruction Advisory Board (IEDAB), an independent scientific institution which monitors the current status of the Earth and the number of times it has been destroyed, will be monitoring the situation.  On their site you can sign up to be alerted via e-mail if the Earth is destroyed, or you can check the current Earth Destruction Alert level.   Current status:

Current Earth-Destruction Status

As of this writing, we are in code green, indicating the Earth has not been destroyed.  In the event that it is destroyed, the EDA will change to code red.

Boyle will have more to say about the LHC in the coming days; if interested, be sure to check it out.   This is an exciting time for science and our understanding of the universe!

Word clouds

I have just discovered word clouds. They are distilled versions of a block of text that picks out the words that appear most commonly in said text and display them graphically, making the more commonly used words larger. They don’t serve any unique purpose, but they can quickly show you the emphasis of a text and can be kind of fun and distracting. You can make your own at Here are some examples that I created (click on them for full size):

Word cloud of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) in New International Version

Word cloud of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) in New International Version

Word cloud of 1st Corinthians 13 (NIV)

Word cloud of 1st Corinthians 13 (NIV)

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech

United States Constitution

United States Constitution

This is the concluding chapter of "On the Origin of...", well, you figure it out

This is the concluding chapter of "On the Origin of..." well, you figure it out.

The site allows you to save your word cloud and make it available for other site visitors to see. I was very surprised to see that my ideas were actually not very original at all. At least three other people in the past three hours entered King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, another guy had already uploaded the U.S. Constitution, and passages from the Bible are very well-represented: I saw portions of three of the four canonical gospels, including the Sermon on the Mount; 1 Corinthians 13; parts of Isaiah; passages from Revelation; and what I think was Genesis, but it was in French so I’m not sure. And I thought I was really clever entering passages from the Bible.

On the other end of the spectrum, recent political speeches are also popular subjects. This use is very interesting; it can quickly point out the main themes of a speech. Many people have entered the recent convention speeches of Obama, McCain, and Palin, but not Biden.

So, make your own cool word clouds and see how neat it can be. Here’s one more I maid, I’ll give a tilde to whoever can identify the original text used (this is very possible if you’re familiar with the work).

Identify the original work behind this word cloud and win a tilde! Submit guesses by commenting below.

Identify the original work behind this word cloud and win a tilde! Submit guesses by commenting below.