Our Days Are Numbered

Midweek since the time change, I’m still not sleeping properly, waking in the middle of the night and dozing until suddenly it’s later than I should be up, and I drag out of bed, logy and bleary-eyed. Yesterday was 3-14, a calendar quirk that’s labelled Pi Day on our Gregorian-driven pages, a day of no significance but a fun day for the mathematically-amused.
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In movies, clocks show time passing, calendar pages falling, seasons changing with sped-up elapsed time. Why don’t we see other metaphors—for example, how often are rulers used or tape measures? We move through time and space, but we seem to take no notice of space. We are comfortable with granting the importance of spatial distances, but when it comes to time, we want to see it measured.  By instinct, we feel time all around us, whether we are forever noting the digital clock readout of our phones all day, feeling the seasons pass, or obsessing about our age, it’s as if time sits like a bird on our shoulder.

If we are saving daylight, when do we get to spend it?
Many of us grew up with Daylight Savings Time, so it’s hard to imagine that the practice is relatively recent and didn’t catch hold in the mid-1970s U.S. Energy Crisis. Even then, some places like Arizona still choose not to participate, and the starting dates have shifted around nationally, moving to a different day in the year just a decade ago. While the extra hour of daylight in the evening favor those who work inside all day, farmers and those who put on evening entertainment oppose the process. For example, dairy farmers know that the cows don’t want to be milked an hour earlier just because that’s what the clock says. Continue reading “Our Days Are Numbered”

Moving to Healthy

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Combined map of Healthiest cities, Kaj courtesy of Easy Map Maker

I want to be healthier. I should probably move to Gunbarrel, Colorado. Or Portland Oregon; Rochester, Minnesota; or Highlands Ranch, Colorado. These are all the healthiest places in America, according to multiple ranking studies published within the last year. Being healthier is good, but whenever you look at these Healthy Places studies, you come to some quick conclusions. The studies seem to have issues with their methodology of places or factors, come to very different conclusions, or intermix causal reasons with results. Beyond a slightly interesting headline, most of the rankings as individual places to live aren’t interesting except as a curiosity. But there are conclusions to draw, if you look past the rankings themselves.

I almost feel nervous doing data analysis in this column TWO WEEKS IN A ROW, after the analysis of the Best Actresses last week. But a ValuePenguin study came out over the weekend, and I couldn’t help it. I had to peek at it and got irritated, went digging at the data, and voila! Fodder for an argument!  When I started looking at other similar studies, the need to quarrel with the information got even bigger, and the need to vent even greater. Let’s consider it a public service. Continue reading “Moving to Healthy”

Youth-anizing the Oscars, a Fact-based Analysis

I hesitate to claim that I am the first person ever interested in reviewing the age of Oscar winners. The idea has been tried before, but it is a worthy subject. The topic cropped up again this year as I was looking at a local film critic’s predictions prior to this past weekend’s Academy Awards. The argument he made was that the Best Actress winner would be under 35 and, furthermore, that Emma Stone would be chosen over Ruth Negga because Negga had just passed her 35th birthday. A magic wall of 35?  That seemed like a prediction worth investigating, so I set out to explore the data and see what fascinating analysis™ might turn up.

First, it’s worth noting that the newspaper critic decided that he could handicap the winner to be under 35 based on the percent from “the last 13 out of 19 years”. It always gives me pause when someone uses a statistic involving an oddball number (like 19); you know that they’re cherry-picking the data. For non-statistical people that means they went out of their way to self-select the best set of facts to fit their hypothesis. Without even looking, I could tell you that if they select 20 years, or 25, 10, 12, or 15 years, the percentage wouldn’t be as high.

For the record, the percent of Best Actress Winners under 35 in the last 19 years is 68%, while the 20 year and 25 year were 65% and 64%, respectively.  Why cherry-pick when if you look at actual data and use round numbers, 64% is just as compelling. However, since any given actress has a 20% chance of winning randomly, and even a 20 or 25 year sample is pretty small and kind of lazy, we should really look at a much bigger set of data to understand the interplay of youth and winning. Continue reading “Youth-anizing the Oscars, a Fact-based Analysis”

The Gospel Tumbled Rhythmic in the Dryer

Today is a week from Ash Wednesday, six days before Shrove Tuesday for the English, a day before Schmotziger Donnerstag (Greasy Thursday) for the Germans, and a few days after Quinquagesima Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent. Shrovetide starts roughly after the Christian Feasts of the Epiphany, the Epiphany marking the day when the Magi visited baby Jesus.  Ash Wednesday then begins the days of fasting and self-denial for Lent.  The forty days of Lent represent the forty days that Jesus wandered in the desert which lead into Easter, the day of Resurrection.

All of this marks the week leading up to Mardi Gras, a celebration where the Germans have sausages and sauerkraut for luck, the Lithuanians burn an effigy of winter, the women of Bourbon Street throw beads, and the samba music in Rio cranks up to full rhythmic energy for Carnival. Continue reading “The Gospel Tumbled Rhythmic in the Dryer”

Where Fancy is Bred

Where, oh where, is fancy bred?
In the heart or in the head?
–Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice

The heart is a powerful muscle, delivering nourishment and energy throughout the body, second by second and minute by minute. The sound of a heartbeat signifies life, fear, elation, and anxiety – the approach of a leopard and the approach of a beloved. One of the most joyous sounds is of a heartbeat in a mother’s womb; the joyous picture is the sonogram of that beating heart. The heart has been described since ancient times as the seat of emotions, though 20th century scientists in the age of “better” information designated the brain as the true ruler of emotions rather than the heart. How did the ancients get it wrong? Or did they?

Blame it on Aristotle. Blame it on the Catholic and the Lutheran Church. Blame it on the Cro-Magnons.

For Valentine’s Day, I set out to find out where the scalloped heart shape came from and why the heart was identified as the seat of emotion. As with all investigation into historical and scientific evidence, the answer is … complicated. Continue reading “Where Fancy is Bred”