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WSJ: ‘Meet the NFL’s Most Interesting Man’

In today’s Wall Street Journal there is an article about Zoltan Mesko, the new punter for the New England Patriots, entitled Meet the NFL’s Most Interesting Man. And this article delivers on the promise. Whether it was his upbringing and background, a mention of the Buffalo Bills in the article, or even just a commonsense quote from Mesko – “You only have this type of income for so many years. After that, you’ve either got to fall back on your education or live off the interest.” – this is a fun portrait of a very interesting football player.

Differentiation in Lego Sets

I was going through some old papers in my office recently and I came across a paper entitled Scaling of Differentiation in Networks: Nervous Systems, Organisms, Ant Colonies, Ecosystems, Businesses, Universities, Cities, Electronic Circuits, and Legos. Crazy collection of systems aside, let’s focus on the last one. These scientists studied Legos to understand networks! It’s great.

The argument of the paper is essentially that when a system is under some form of selection (and in the case of Lego, they argue for some form of economic selection), the number of distinct types of components in a system rises along with the size of the system itself. However, they find that there are fewer types of components in natural systems than in human-created systems and make an evolutionary argument to explain that.

But back to the Legos: using a dataset of 389 Lego sets (this was done back in 2002, so if anyone can download the data easily, I would love to see if the results hold up with a richer dataset), they examined the number of distinct types of pieces in a set versus the total number of pieces. And they found that it could be fit nicely to a power law. Here it is on a log-log scale:

I have seen other research that uses Lego pieces as building blocks, but this is the first study I have come across that actually examines pre-existing Lego sets as systems themselves.

Appropriate Media Choices

Choosing media is no easy task. What songs go into a mix tape? What movie am I in the mood for right now? What movie should I take a date to? What book makes for good beach reading? These are not simple questions to answer. This conundrum came to mind recently, after an exceedingly inappropriate media choice I made this past week.

I got married a little over a week ago. Along with all the excitement and adventure, comes the opposite, in the form of thank-you notes. In order to make the process of cranking these out easier on my wife and me, I decided to get some movies to watch while writing thank-you notes. I went to the library and grabbed a stack of DVD’s. Most were probably not the best choices for this partial attention task, but one sticks out like a sore thumb: a French comedy with English subtitles. And neither of us speak French.

Upon reflection, I recalled that this was not the first such incident. When I was in middle school, I was given the job of choosing books-on-tape for a family road trip. I returned with Beowulf. This was the last time I was asked to do this.

What is the moral? Your inappropriate media choices can always be worse.

The Wishing Well: A Fairy Tale for Scientists

My friend Sarah Covshoff, a postdoc at the University of Cambridge, has a great piece over at the Science Creative Quarterly entitled The Wishing Well. It’s a fairy tale for scientists, a demographic that for far too long has gone without such stories. And Sarah is working on more fairy tales and bedtime stories for scientists, so keep an eye out for her writing.

In the meantime, gather the lab group together on the floor, and read the story aloud to everyone. This should be immediately followed by nap time and PCR.

Button-Clicking and the Marshmallow Test

I recently downloaded the useful program Alfred for the Mac. When I was fiddling with the preferences, I discovered that there is a button labeled ‘Do not press this button.’ Naturally, I clicked it.

And it took me to a video of the well-known Marshmallow Test, which you might know from an article showcasing its measurement of self-control, by Jonah Lehrer in the New Yorker.

You win this round, Alfred.

The Progression of Metric Prefixes Over Time

In 1991, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures approved the largest and smallest metric prefixes, which are respectively yotta- (10^24) and yocto- (10^-24). It turns out that the addition of prefixes over time follows roughly an exponential curve, as seen below:

The red points are for prefixes less than one (and therefore decrease), and the blue points are for prefixes greater than one (and therefore increase).

This should not be surprising, because technological increases, such as Moore’s Law, allow for science that requires measurements that are exponentially larger (such as energy usage) or more precise (such as in measuring resolution). Nonetheless, it is intriguing to observe, as it provides evidence of the continuing progress of science (even if sometimes discoveries might be getting more difficult). And it means we’re probably due for a few new prefixes anytime now.

Update: There apparently is already a whimsical campaign underway by UC Davis student Austen Sendak to make the prefix for the 24th power “hella”. (thanks, Steve)