Category Archives: random

Cool mirrors

My alma mater (I always feel a little weird calling the place where I learned a ton of facts the mother of my soul – certainly there have been more formative presences in my life!) has set up a pretty neat display of how physics, computers, and precision machining can create beauty: prima facie unremarkable mirrors that create pictures by reflecting sunlight onto concrete.  It’s worth the two minute video, though the first ten seconds will give you a good idea of what it looks like.

Baby pool IV: the results

Eleonora Margaret Stücklin is here, and decided to come a few hours past the astronomical solstice, but still on the 21st of June, the best Father’s Day present I’ve ever received.  Combined with her dimensions and gender she also gave me a less relevant Father’s Day present: winning the baby pool IV.  Because it feels rather goofy to award myself with sweets, I’ll be sending them to the participant who scored worst in every single category.

Here’s how to read the table: Ellie’s data is in the row labeled “actual.”  The row “average” represents the average of all guesses.  All other rows are actual guesses, sorted in order of ascending points.  Every category shows the number of points with which the guess is penalized, and next to it the percentage of the total points contributed by this category.  The coloring scale of the points is relative to the other participants (how well did I do compared to X’s guess?), but the coloring of the percentages is relative to the other categories (how much damage did I do in this category?).

For example, I guessed both the gender and length right, giving me zero points.  Everything is green: I scored best relative to everyone else, and contributed the least to my point total.  However, in the weight category, I was over 200 grams off, so I scored -1.05 points.  Compared to everyone else, that was an ok score: yellow points.  But compared to my point total, this was by far the largest chunk – 85% of my score – and therefore deep red.  The color coding lets you see where you can improve your guessing, and it shows me that the formula probably gives the date too much weight.  If there is ever another pool, I’ll reduce the penalty to 1 point per two days off.

As for the category winners: Sandra and I win the length category, Noah edges out Sandra and Kathy in weight, and I win the date category.  Except for the date, Sandra did a terrific job of getting Ellie’s vital stats – but I checked, even with the reduced date penalty I’d still win the pool.

So here they are: more numbers than you can shake a stick at.

Baby Pool IV

I’m not quite as early in setting this up as last time, or the time before that, but still well ahead of the initial pool.  Little One is due June 15, but Janet’s feeling big already and despite her pick is hoping for an early arrival.  Here’s how to play: leave a comment with your prediction of Little One’s birth date, time, size, weight, and gender, and whoever gets closest on average to the truth wins a sweet prize.

Rules for determining the grand winner:
1. If you get the gender right, you receive 0 points; if you get it wrong, or don’t state it, -5 points.
2. For every day you are off, -1 point.  Not stating day or time scores -5 points.
3. For every centimeter you are off, -1 point.  Not stating anything scores -5 points.
4. For every 200 grams you are off, -1 point.  Not stating anything scores -5 points.
5. The person with the highest total wins.
6. Entering after Little One’s arrival voids the entry.
Go to digitaldutch for a useful unit conversion link, or have a look at the Google spreadsheet I made for converting weights!

I guess having three kids running around makes for fewer photographs, as I don’t have a current picture of Janet’s baby belly.  She looks a lot like the photo in the third baby pool post, except perhaps a little bigger.  We are, of course, two weeks later.

Historical data, for those who need it for their pick: First baby 6 days early, 51cm, 3590g; second baby four days late, 53cm, 3840g; third baby eight days late, 53cm, 4300g.

Good luck!

National Paper Airplane Contest

So, if you remember, I backed the PowerUp 3.0 project on Kickstarter and got myself a fancy motor for paper airplaine.  Shai, who ran the project, has sent out an e-mail that John Collins, the world record holder for distance flying, has launched a Kickstarter project for a National Paper Airplane Contest.  I dare you to look me in the eyes and tell me there isn’t a little kid inside you that would totally participate at the local preliminaries…

Scroll down on the Kickstarter page to see Conan O’Brien interview Mr. Collins, who demonstrates a few planes on the show.  They also show the world record throw.

As for my paper airplane propeller, I still don’t have a phone that can run the app, so I handed it to our apprentice for Christmas break.  He had some fun with it, though he recommends using it outside.  Relevant quote: “Minus two ornaments.”

Teamwork and Personality

LinkedIn led me to an interesting article on teamwork and how to assemble a great team.  It’s long (compared to the average internet attention span), but worth reading in full – if you have the time.

For those who don’t, here’s the summary: Personality tests are not enough, nay, they are even misleading, because humans are rarely consistent enough in their actions across time and different social settings for the tests to have any useful predictive power.  A pretty good predictor on how well a team will work is what the author calls Factor C, which is in turn made up of three measures of the individual members.  Those are fairly simple: People who can read non-verbal communication (body language, eyes, etc.) well strengthen a team, as do women.  People who dominate the conversation drag down team performance.

Remember, them be stats.  I’m sure you can find counter-examples of great male team-players or women who make teamwork trying.  I can without hardly thinking.  And the author cautions that the gender advantage may simply be another way of pointing out that on average, women are better at reading non-verbal communication.  He also points out that this Factor C matters most in face-to-face interaction, and far less in remote collaboration on projects that can be divided into chunks of independent work.

So it’s all more complicated, as you might have expected, but one thing seems certain: Myers-Briggs stinks.

Male spirituality

The whole notion of male spirituality has bothered me ever since the “Wild at Heart” phenomenon.  I’ve heard many greet that adventurer’s manifesto with enthusiasm, while I myself felt misrepresented and misunderstood by it, and resisted it as something that appeared to force all men into the daredevil mold.  (Must I add that bravado isn’t me?)

So when the June 2012 magazine VBG-Bausteine of the Swiss InterVarsity equivalent contained a report on a course on male spirituality, I read it with interest and apprehension.  Felix Ruther summarized his own course on the topic: I’ll attempt a summary of the summary here as a reminder of what stood out to me.

  • Men tend toward liturgy, Ruther says.  Fewer words, more ritual, and knowing what is to be done make most men feel more at home.
  • Praying is unmanly: it’s an admission of weakness, after all.  But it’s also a great way to get the continually busy man to stop, look around, and ask the deeper questions: what does God want of me?  What do I want, and where do I stand?
  • Men prefer to model themselves after myths and mythical beings, not the psyche (I don’t understand the psyche part, but I’m leaving it in).  There are four essential mythical archetypes:
  1. Responsibility (Father/Patriarch/King)
  2. Competition (Warrior)
  3. Vulberability (Lover)
  4. Independence (Prophet/Jester/Magician)

Ruther says that if one of these archetypes is preferred without counterbalance, men descend into a skewed masculinity: the king becomes a tyrant or weakling, the warrior a sadist, the lover an addict, and the prophet a hurtful nag.  He calls men to integrate all archetypes: to fight for the good, to be captivated by beauty, to create safe havens for others, and to seek and speak truth.

This multidimensionality – whether fully accurate or not – is what I felt was missing from “Wild at Heart,” which I thought reduced manliness to a one-dimensional adrenaline quest.  If Eldredge had stepped back from his own frustration with the church to see the bigger picture, his wake-up call could have been much more effective.

Giant Pumpkins

I’ve previously posted about my chemist’s brother’s giant pumpkins, for instance last year, when a tiny hole kept his pumpkin from being the first to make the metric ton.  Better luck this year: Beni Meier set a world record in Berlin, beat it in Jona, and beat it again in Ludwigsburg at the European championships, where his baby became the first official pumpkin to weigh over a metric ton.  Click through the pictures: the last two in front of the castle are quite impressive.

Percentages

Over on sursumcorda’s blog, there’s a post about noticing the numbers we read. I’ve recently noticed wrong numbers in two otherwise excellent books – errors that I think are frequent enough that mentioning them here won’t hurt.

The first instance comes in “Switch,” the Heath brothers’ fascinating examination of what helps and what hinders change both in personal and organizational practice. In their tenth chapter, “Rally the Herd,” they discuss how apt reporting of peer behavior can be used to spread proper behavior. They tell the story of a review time turnaround at a peer-reviewed journal called MSOM:

When Gerard Cachon took over MSOM, most peer reviews were taking from seven to eight months… …Cachon announced that MSOM would review papers within sixty-five days – that was 72 percent faster than its previous average!

Now, the 72 percent don’t appear out of nowhere: 65 days are roughly 28 percent of seven to eight months, so it’s correct (albeit oddly accurate) to say Cachon wanted to reduce the average review period by 72%. However, “faster” implies speed, not duration: and then the Heath brothers understate their case. The original review cycle ran at a speed of about 1.6 reviews per year; Cachon wanted to raise the speed to 5.6 reviews per year. The difference – 4.0 reviews per year – is a whopping 250%!

The second instance comes in “Built to Last,” the business book by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras which investigates what attributes determine the long-term fate of a company.  In their eighth chapter, “Home-Grown Management,” they write:

Of 113 chief executives for which we have data in the visionary companies, only 3.5 percent came directly from outside the company, versus 22.1 percent of 140 CEOs at the comparison companies.  In other words, the visionary companies were six times more likely to promote insiders to chief executive than the comparison companies [emphasis theirs].

While it is true that 22.1 is roughly six times 3.5, that factor represents the relative likelihood of hiring an outsider, not of promoting an insider.  For insider promoting, the factor is far less majestic: 96.5 percent is only 1.2 times more than 77.9 percent, making the visionary companies only a good fifth more visionary than their peers…