Friday, February 29, 2008

Happy Leap Day

This day is so rare that we should celebrate it.

I wonder if that woman who was born on Feb 29th had her baby today. The article simplistically said that only 1 in 1461 people are born on Feb 29th. The author was flashing their intelligence by realizing that the chance was 1 day in 365+365+365+366=1461. This is only true if you don't cross centuries. Since the Gregorian calendar with leap years was issued on the 24th of February, 1582 and instituted on October 15th, 1582, over the 400 year cycle the actual chance is 97 in 146,096 or slightly less than 1 in 1461. Remember that the centuries are not leap years unless divisible by 400.

The above analysis assumes that you have babies randomly, but in this day of induced births there is some choice in the matter. People tend to avoid some days and weekends, but not Leap day, apparently.

You have Pope Gregory XIII and maybe Julius Caesar before him, for not getting paid yesterday but today.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ph.D. Thesis Interpretive Dance Competition

Back in graduate school, as the pressures of getting ready to defend my thesis grew, my lab partner and I would come up with more and more fanciful ways to avoid working on it. One of our best suggestions was to forgo the traditional thesis defense in favor of using interpretive dance to convey my thesis topic "Solid Dispersions in Surfactant Solutions". Think of the possibilities of dancing wormlike micelles and particles in rainbow colored colloidal crystals. Add lasers for the laser light scattering and shooting soap foam and bubble machines for the surfactants and it would have been quite a production. Alas it never came to be.

Almost a decade later John Bohannon sent out a request for students, scientists and postdocs to interpret their Ph.D. Thesis using only dance, no words or images. The results of the contest with videos are available at Science. Participants were given 60 seconds before the performance to summarize their Ph.D. thesis topic for the judges, so it wasn't a complete free-for-all. The judges really were looking to see if the performance really represented the research.

The dances are all very charming and some are quite good and everybody looks like they had fun. I can't directly link to the videos because they are on the Science magazine site, but scroll down the article page to see them for yourself.

The winner, Brian Stewart, wore a loin cloth and enacted in dance the hunting of an antelope (played by a colleague, archaeologist Giulia Saltini-Semerari) and then topped it off with the touching gift of the hide to a tribe member to present "Refitting repasts: a spatial exploration of food processing, cooking, sharing and disposal at the Dunefield midden campsite, South Africa".

Some other fun performances were:

"The eventful life of galaxies in low density environments" by Ruth Gruetzbauch was charmingly portrayed as a tango ending with the two dancers (as galaxies) locked in an embrace.

How would you perform a thesis entitled "Analysis of thymic nurse cells in the chicken"? Professor Josef Penninger did the chicken dance, what else!

Nicole-Caudia Meisner won the postdoc catagory by tap dancing her way through "mRNA Stability Regulation as a Drug Target: mRNA Stability Cross-Screening and Molecular Mechanisms in Post-Transcriptional Regulation resolved bu Quantitative Biology."

There are many more and all are worth watching.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Does Beaker make me look too hipster

Scored this Beaker t-shirt at the very amusing Muppets in 3D ride/show at Disney Hollywood Studioes (formerly Disney/MGM) in Orlando. Readers who know me will think that I should have gotten a Professor Bunsen Honeydew t-shirt instead, but alas there was no Bunsen Honeydew merchandise of any sort available. I was a graduate student along the way to the doctorate and graduate students are lab assistants of a sort just like Beaker, so I feel that I know his pain and can justify wearing the shirt.

Muppets 3D was really a blast from the past. I remember my whole family watching the Muppet Show when I was a kid and everyone, adults and kids, loving it. We really liked the kvetching old guys in the balcony and the part where everybody danced and told jokes. I should go see if I can get them on DVD.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Snow on the Shellpot Creek

I always like this snow scene of the Shellpot Creek waterfall behind the house after a snowfall. The contrast between the white white snow and the dark wet rocks and the dark stream provides visual interest. Can you almost hear the babbling stream and the tiny bell like crinkle of the falling sleet on the branches above?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

United States shoots down its own spy satellite

The United States has successfully shot down an errant spy satellite, ostensibly to protect us on the ground from the dangers of a toxic hydrazine fuel spill, but other reasons posited have been to destroy any top secret material on the satellite or just to show the world (especially China) that we can do it.

The Department of Defense has released some cool photos of the missile in flight and of the explosion that they say probably destroyed the tank of hydrazine that they were aiming at. The missile looked like it was two stage, which pretty much makes it a real live spaceship.

The press has made a big hoopla about the speed of the impact and the difficulty of hitting the satellite, but how is this different from any other orbital rendezvous? You may recall that the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on February 7th and successfully rendezvoused with the Space Station. Isn't this missile test just a space rendezvous gone wrong? The Shuttle and Space Station had to be going the same speed and orbit before they could dock, the missile and satellite just had to cross. Now, I couldn't do this myself, but the United States military and civilian space programs have demonstrated this capability on many occasions. Even Tom Clancy has an Aegis guided missile destroyer take out a ballistic missile in his novel, The Bear and the Dragon.

It is funny that they felt they needed to do it and don't seem to be concerned about the debris in orbit. I suppose most of it reentered the atmosphere and burned up. They had harsh words when the Chinese did a similar thing last year. Now the Chinese have harsh words for the US for weaponizing space. Both governments are a bit hypocritical on this topic. I don't recommend a space war started by destroying anyone's satellites anyway. It is easy to start and hard to stop, you stop the missiles but the debris just keeps on going, and would leave us without some very needed technology.

Total Lunar Eclipse pictures from northern Delaware

I was able to capture the first half of last night's total lunar eclipse with my camera. The moon was at such a good angle that I didn't have to go outside, which probably contributed to the number of pictures I took, if not to their quality. The angle was so good that if I slept with my head at the foot of my bed I wouldn't have even needed to get up to watch it. That's my kind of astronomy.

Here is a composite of the first half with the moon being covered. The second half with the moon being revealed was after my bedtime. I did change some exposure setting during the eclipse as the moon became less bright, and the last was taken with the tripod finally and was a much longer exposure to bring out the red of the moon. I think they turned out well considering the equipment and the photographer, the next step would be a much more expensive camera, lessons on how to use it, mounted outside on a tripod.

This picture, taken at the height of the eclipse, was taken with an 8 second exposure with me holding the camera as still as possible braced against the window frame. I wanted this one because I couldn't get an angle with the tripod with the moon, Saturn and Regulus from the consetallation Leo all in the same shot so I had to hold the camera myself. I still jiggled a little but you get the gist of it. Saturn is to the left and Regulus above (I think? Any comments or corrections?), click for a bigger picture.

Include links to your lunar eclipse pictures in the comments. Howard was watching too, maybe he has pictures.

(learn about Saturn, and Regulus in Leo)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Fallen tree in the Shellpot Creek

While we were away this pine tree must have fallen in the creek. I know that last week had cold, high winds, and flash floods so who knows what did it.

The tree is across the creek from the house and looks like it would have taken out the hanmock if it was still up. I might guess that the tree fell almost straight across the creek but that subsequent rains that swelled the creek led to it being pushed aside.

It's too bad, this was the only evergreen along the creek for a long way. I wouldn't have guessed that this one would have fallen.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day prisoners dilemma

Our real Valentine's gift to each other is the trip to Disney World that we are on right now. Thus we said no other gifts for Valentine's Day. However, did she get me something else?

She is not to much of a card person, but so as not to risk getting in trouble I asked if she got me a card. Oops, she did, so I had to get one at the Walgreen's where we were having the conversation yesterday. That was some close timing.

So the Valentine's Day prisoner's dilemma is this - If neither of us get a card we both come out ahead, saving the cost of the card and the worry of getting one. If one of us gets a card for the other doesn't then she gets credit for thoughtfulness and he (me) is a cad for forgetting. What happened is we both got cards fearing the other did in spite of the big Disney World trip. Thus we are out card cash and time spent picking so we both "lose", but at least I am not a cad.

The cards were nice and we had a laugh about the game theory approach to Valentine's Day. Since for us every day is Valentine's Day (except those that are Christmas) it's no big deal and we are really enjoying our Valentine's trip.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Does this map look like a salamander

We voted this past Tuesday in Delaware. In case you have been under a rock. Obama won for the Democrats and McCain for the Republicans.

On my way out I snapped this picture of the voting district. Do you think it looks like a salamander? I wonder if some gerrymandering has happened here. It is a strange shape.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Filling in your Super Bowl XLII Challenge Sheet

My sister, one of the commissionioners of RKB Fantasy Football, has a fun Challenge sheet that her fantasy football league plays for every Super Bowl. You get points for each correct question, some of which are random and some of which might require knowledge of the teams. She claims it is all random, but I went to Superbowl history to compile the statistics I could to try to improve my odds. Here is the list of questions with some analysis:

These first three questions are fifty/fifty random questions. I suggest just picking them:

Coin Toss Heads/Tails (5 pts)
Coin Toss Winner (5 pts)
First Play (not kickoff as seen on TV) Left to Right or Right to Left (5 pts)
First team to take a timeout
(5 pts) - Not recorded in the stats, probably 50/50
First team to score
(5 pts) - This one depends on how good the teams are. Over the 41 Superbowls, NFC leads AFC 21 to 20. First to score wins the game 27 out of 41 times. This year I think the Patriots are a safe bet to win, since the oddsmakers have given New York 12 pts.

First play to score Def/Pass TD/Rush TD/FG (10 pts) - This is recorded in the stats, and is displayed in the chart below. Overwhelmingly field goals (FG) are the first to score. But that still only occurs 50% of the time over the history of the Superbowl, still that's better than a 1 out of 4 guess.

First FG distance 0-19/20-29/30-39/40+/noFG (5 pts) - The first field goal distance is spread more evenly over the options. Eliminating no field goals and less than 19 yds improves the chances, but it is a tossup among the last three options.

These next few questions are data not compiled in the stats, and seem to be answers that could be fifty/fifty either way. A glance further down at some of the stats from fumbles, interceptions and penalties suggest that choosing neither is a low probablity response and will cost you the points, choose a team here.
First team to Fumble (Patriots, Giants or neither) (5 pts)
First team to throw an interception (Patriots, Giants or neither) (5 pts)
First team with a penalty (Patriots, Giants or neither) (5 pts)
First Penalty is on (Offense, Defense or neither) (5 pts)
First Team to Challenge a Play (Patriots, Giants or neither) (5 pts)

Point Scoring seems to be a function of how good the teams are and requires some knowlegde of football, which usually means I will not get it right. It seems that ties happen as often as one team having more points. These are tricky question and hard to get from the data. 11 out of 41 Superbowls the 1st quarter was tied, the next three quarters were more likely to be won by one team or the other.

Team to score the most points by quarter
1st Quarter (Patriots, Giants, Tie) (5 pts)
2nd Quarter (Patriots, Giants, Tie) (5 pts)
3rd Quarter (Patriots, Giants, Tie) (5 pts)
4th Quarter (Patriots, Giants, Tie) (5 pts)

The following questions all have collected data associated with them.

Total fumbles (5 pts) - Almost half the time it is 2 or 3, as demonstrated in the chart below.

Total interceptions (5 pts) - The same is true with interceptions, in half the 41 Superbowl games there were 2 or 3 interceptions.

Total TD (5 pts) - It seems from the chart below that we should pick either 4 or 5 or 6 & up. We do have another bit of information and that is that touchdowns are correlated with the total score of the game.

If we examine a chart of the score of the game as a function of touchdonws over the 41 Superbowls and use the over/under prediciton of about 54 points for the total number of points for the game, it seems that 6 touchdowns and up is the best pick for this category.

Total FG (5 pts) - Field goals are less correlated with the score of the game than touchdowns, they represent the error in the chart above. It also seems that over the history of the Superbowl that 2 or 3 field goals occur half of the time.

Total Sacks (5 pts) - More than 6 sacks is the most likely outcome according to the chart below, but it still only happens less than half of the time. Still the comparison we are making is against a random choice, so any information helps.

Total penalties (5 pts) - More than 11 penalties occurs in almost half of the Superbowl games played. I wonder if this statistic would benefit from more data from other games in the season.

Total punts (5 pts) - As demonstrated by the chart below, half the time in the 41 Superbowl games played there are 8,9,10 or 11 punts.

Total points (at the end of the game) 0-35, 36-45, 46-55, 56+ (10 pts) - For this one I suggest using the over/under to utilize the knowledge of the bookies and the betters. I have seen 54 1/2, but I have also seen AccuScore predict a score of 52 from 10,000 simulations of the game. I think 46-55 might be an OK bet here.

Winning Team (5 pts) This one is self explanatory. Earlier I mentioned the Patriots will probably win based on the spread. Pick them this year, everybody else is.

MVP position QB/K/WRTE/RB/DEF (10 pts) - As shown in the chart below, Quarterbacks are overwhelmingly most likly to be the MVP, at least half of the time. With Tom Brady playing, this seems to be a safe bet.

Tie Breaker
The Total Amount of Points You Predict You Will Score
(Out of a possible 145 points) - A glance up through the questions above shows that 70 points are a 50/50 random shot so we should take half of those (35 points) and add them to our sure shots (75 points) as determined by our statistical compilation and analysis. I think my winning score this year will be 110 points.

Was this data helpful or interesting to you? Do you agree with my methods and conclusions? Please leave a comment below. I have the data compiled in a spreadsheet. If you would like it leave a message in the comments.

Enjoy your Super Bowl

Happy Groundhog's Day

You all know of my love of this day and the movie. I can't say much more than I have said, might I suggest that you reread an earlier post on this great day?

Want some new trivia? Groundhog's Day is probably linked to Candlemas, which is 40 days after Christmas. We are halfway to Spring, it really is around the corner, or 6 more weeks of winter, take your pick. Official site is here if you want to keep track by webcam.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Tried out for Jeopardy

This was the Jeopardy tryout week on the web. I missed it last year and I wanted to participate this year. The mechanics were simple enough but some of the questions were obscure.

The timer counts down to zero and you begin. You have 15 seconds to answer a question. You get the catagory, but in this test you don't need to give your answer in the form of a question. They even said that spelling doesn't have to be perfect.

I hope I did well. The next part of the process is still a random selection from the best of the web to go to one of the tryout cities and answer the 50 question written test and then if you "pass" that test you might get to try a mock jeopardy game. Then you get on the list and you might get to go to California to be on the show. I don't expect to be called just because the odds are against it.

Big silver truck balls

I understood when the Overcompensating webcomic complained about people hanging plastic "balls" from the back of their big trucks that these things must exist. I never thought I would see them.

I suppose they have them to compensate for some lack of masculinity though I am sure they think they are proclaiming their big balls to all. I saw these in Nashville and had to share them with you.