Einstein and Toast

The numbers on a toaster indicate duration of toasting in minutes, and not a “degree of toastiness.”—Albert Einstein

False rumors seem to happen more frequently and get sillier these days. Maybe our dependence on social media causes it; maybe our “too busy to look things up” lifestyle. It seems at times like we’re being homeschooled by the neighbors. Like we’re at a backyard barbecue at our cousin’s, and as we’re waiting for a burger, some strange guy with a half drunk beer and a twinkle in his eye — or gal, ignorance is not a gender-based phenomenon — steps up, says, “did you know…?” and proceeds to feed us a load of malarkey. And we buy it.

The political season is rampant with half-truths, innuendo, and plain boldfaced lies. But even strange rumors are created about everyday topics and quotations routinely misrepresented. In this Information Age, when the correct information is a few mouse-clicks away, the wrong information is available and deployed even faster. The truth is at our fingertips but the lies are jumping in the way.

As Einstein did not say…
People are fond of quoting smart people. An idea can carry more authority if delivered by a knowledgeable figure rather than li’l ol’ us. As a result, quotes are frequently misattributed to smart and clever people, especially to Lincoln, Twain, Franklin, and, most of all, Einstein. If you look at the site BrainyQuotes.com, they have an entire Einstein page and a good portion of those quotes appear to be things Einstein did not say. Continue reading “Einstein and Toast”

Medal Counts — Bogus and Real

I’m as big a supporter of national pride as anyone, but the constant blaring of Olympic Medal Counts reminds me of that phrase “ugly American.” Since we fielded the biggest team by about 20%, and devote massive resources to sports, the statistic seems pretty crass. Raw volume numbers under those conditions are rarely a reflection of anything beyond size. I wondered whether there might be more fair ways to address medal performance.

As of Tuesday, the U.S. had won 85 medals, 28 gold. But how about if we adjust for the number of athletes, population, or resources? Numbers people would want to know these things. Craig Nevill-Manning has created a lovely site, medalspercapita.com, which did much of this work for me.

Medals Per…
When you start looking on an adjusted basis, small countries—with a small denominator—pop up at the top. (Also, note that a weighted medal count, with points for medal type, is most useful). Grenada with its one medal, a silver by the amazing Kirani James, leads with that one medal in medals per capita, per team size, and per GDP. Kirani won the 400 in London and was heavily favored; in one of the great races of these games, Wayde van Niekierk of South Africa blazed ahead of him and former Beijing champion LaShawn Merritt in world-record time, the only medal ever won by a runner in the outside lane, unable to see anyone behind him the entire race. James’s silver medal puts Grenada “tops” in several medal counts, when adjusted for size. Continue reading “Medal Counts — Bogus and Real”

The Past Is Not What it Used to Be

Suppose you are looking at dinosaurs…

What do you mean you have not seen any dinosaurs recently? Do you not have any children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or little neighbors, or do you not know someone else who has children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or little neighbors? Surely, you know someone who has access to a young person, and it is summertime, therefore, you can take them to a science museum or natural history museum or for heaven’s sake a Toys-R-Us to look at some dinosaurs.

As I was saying…

The collection you are looking at is probably not all, in fact, dinosaurs. As a general rule, dinosaurs in the Mesozoic age, aka the “Age of the Dinosaurs,” did not swim or fly. Those giant things in the water that looked like a turtle crossed with a giraffe? Or had teeth and flippers bigger than your head? Not dinosaurs. The thing with the membrane stretched across one finger, depicted gliding across the hundred foot fern trees? Not dinosaurs.  This is true, even though most museum exhibits and reference books will include pterosaurs, plesiosaurs, and mososaurs.  They might as well have included crocodiles or gekkos while they were at it. Continue reading “The Past Is Not What it Used to Be”

Is it Hot in here or is it just a Matter of Opinion?

I try to be open-minded. It’s a big, complex, diverse world of ideas out there and even though everyone else is not as correct as me, they might have something interesting to share.

I did make the mistake of reading the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal. I opened it because I do respect the general journalistic approach of the paper – compared with what passes for journalism these days – and because I was lured in by the article on, what else? basketball. I mused over the opinion piece by Pfizer’s CEO that it’s disadvantageous for them to be prevented from merging in order to shelter profits offshore from US taxes. I was confused by the blurb that seemed to urge people with gluten allergies to be tested, since it ended by saying the gluten free paranoia would turn out to be fake, just like the fear of fat.  The piece that really got me was on climate change.

Continue reading “Is it Hot in here or is it just a Matter of Opinion?”

A History of Fools

The origin of April Fools’ Day is kind of like April Fools’ pranks themselves. If you read through the history, it’s hard to tell truth from fiction. The celebrated tradition of pranking might have started as part of a festival to praise the humble OR it might have been a way to ridicule a captured enemy before his execution or – no, wait – it was because some people got confused about when to celebrate the new year.

It might have started in France. Or maybe England. Or Rome. For certain. Maybe. It’s kind of hard to say…

12mrtAccording to Infoplease, one convincing explanation was provided by Joseph Boskin, a Professor of History at Boston University. He linked the practice to the Roman emperor Constantine, when a group of court jesters told Constantine that they didn’t get enough respect and could do a better job ruling the land. The emperor decided to appoint a jester named Kugel as king for the day, and Kugel took the opportunity to pass an edict created an annual absurdity day. When Boskin’s story was widely reported in 1983, it sounded convincing. But, as it turned out, he was just being feisty with an Associated Press reporter who wouldn’t take “I dunno” for an answer to “Where’d the tradition start, professor smartypants?” So as a joke he’d made up the story and used the reference to “kugel” because the reporter was in New York and he thought, well, everyone in New York eats kugel, don’t they?… When the AP fellow asked him to spell “kugel,” he wondered if the joke would be taken seriously. It was.

Continue reading “A History of Fools”