A partial history of parliamentary fistfighting

April 18th, 2015

The NewsLens news site gives a pictorial partial history of fistfights in parliaments in various countries, with a knowing nod to the 1995 Ig Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to the Taiwan National Parliament, for demonstrating that politicians gain more by punching, kicking and gouging each other than by waging war against other nations.

Sonifications in the control room

April 17th, 2015

Those whose work involves monitoring highly complex industrial procedues sometimes have difficulty attending to several concurrent processes (at the same time). To this end :

85094_webComputer scientists at the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interactive Technology (CITEC) at Bielefeld University and the University of Vienna have developed a method that allows control room staff to monitor several processes at the same time”

Their answer, in a word, is ‘sonification’. The scientists, whose paper ‘A Sonification System for Process Monitoring as Secondary Task’  is published in Proceedings of the 5th IEEE Conference on Cognitive Infocommunication,
provide a sonificated example of what it might be like to work in such a control room. [mp4 format] Further research is required though say the investigators :

“First pre-tests suggest that with the developed system, users are indeed able to infer states and the need to intervene, however, whether it improves performance over visual-only and simple auditory-warning based systems in a significant manner still has to be proven.”

What is your favorite dinosaur, and why?

April 16th, 2015

Darrin Pagnac, of the Museum of Geology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, teache sthe course GEOL 372, Dinosaurs, every spring. He writes (in the Transforming Time Into Space blog):

The course is geared toward sophomore majors and upper-level non-majors.  I specifically keep it light and utilize it less to instruct the intricacies of paleontology and more as a tool to instill skepticism and critical thinking skills.  It’s a very popular course and, most likely because of the content, I generally get very good teaching reviews. After the systematics portion of the course where I outline the various types of dinosaurs, the exam includes the question, “What is your favorite dinosaur and why?”  I’ve been tabulating the answers for five years and the results are intriguing.


Above is a pie chart of the total percentage of answers to this question.  I find it interesting that there is a 50/50 split between Saurischia (theropods and sauropods) and Ornithischia (all other groups).  In terms of totals, theropods are the clear leader for obvious reasons; they have sharp teeth, claws, are fast, agile, and awe inspiring.  I do take note of subdivisions of theropods as well, and, as expected, “raptors” are generally the front-runner with Tyrannosaurus a close second.

The next most common favorite is sauropods, but for completely different reasons.  Students who like sauropods are drawn to their ubiquitous nature.  Sauropods seem to be the “go-to”, iconic dinosaur and are found everywhere from old cartoons, to gas station signs, to displays in major airport terminals, to cheesy tourist traps.  Sauropods have been these students’ favorites since childhood

Ornithischians are a more mixed lot.  Because ornithischians contain six groupings as opposed to saurischia’s two, simple statistics dictate that responses to these groups will be more dilute, and this is indeed the case.  Below is a bar chart illustrating the breakdown of favorite dinosaur group by year, as well as the totals.  As you can see, it varies a great deal by year which ornithischian group comes out on top.


Ankylosaurs are the leader for favorite ornithischian group due to their distinctive appearance and “weaponry”.  The same attraction draws students to ceratopsians and stegosaurs; horns and spikes apparently appeal to repressed blood-lust.  Pachycephalosaurs appeal for similar reasons.  Despite the fact that my pachycephalosaur lecture is devoted to debunking the head-butting myth, students still seem to relish the idea of dinosaurs running full-tilt into each other’s thickened crania.  Finally, the students who are drawn to hadrosaurs generally hearken back to a favorite childhood movie or cartoon.  Iguanodonts get no love, which is too bad.  How can you hate a dinosaur that’s constantly giving you the “thumbs-up”?

I constantly refer to paleontology as the “gateway drug to science”.  Paleontology is a fantastic tool for STEM education and for fostering curiosity and passion for science.  Dinosaurs work gloriously in this capacity as they provide an approachable way to illustrate scientific concepts and critical thinking applications.  After I’ve destroyed childhood viewpoints with my pachycephalosaur lecture, I often find many students openly angry at the idea that no head-butting likely occurred.  When I ask them why they are so angry, they generally state in some way that they’ve become emotionally attached to this imagery or idea.  I then tell them to think about this next time they hear a debate about climate change, or creationism, or anti-vaccination, or GMOs, or any politically heated argument.  It’s difficult to change your mind about something you’re emotionally invested in.  I encourage them to keep an open mind.

Sixty-five million years later, dinosaurs can still have a lasting and positive effect on the world…

Podcast #7: Trinkaus, a further look (at things that annoy him)

April 15th, 2015

Continuing what we started last week (in Podcast #6) the happily annoyed works of Professor John Trinkaus — who counts things that annoy him — bubble further forth in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

LISTEN on Play.it or iTunes (or DOWNLOAD it, and listen later).
SUBSCRIBE on Play.it or iTunes, to get a new episode every week, free.

This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler did the sound engineering this week.

The podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — research about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that’s good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, both on the new CBS Play.it web site, and on iTunes.

Critical Studies in Men’s Underwear

April 15th, 2015

2050070XIssue number 2, volume 1, of the journal Critical Studies in Men’s Fashion, might be loosely described as “The Underpants Issue”. See for example the paper ‘What lies beneath? Thoughts on men’s underpants’ by Dr Prudence Black, BA SACAE Hons Macquarie MA UTS PhD Sydney, ARC DECRA Fellow, and colleagues.

“This article consists of a number of thoughts about and meditations on men’s underpants. Beginning with a ‘day in the life’ of a standard pair of underpants, it moves on to explore some of the specific characteristics that accompany the wearing of this particular garment. There follows a consideration of the role played by underpants in the creation of male characters for screen and television. A brief look at Homer Simpson’s Y-fronts is followed by the examination of a crucial moment in the history of Australian undergarments, […]”

Or perhaps, instead, (or as well as) :’Revealing myself: A phenomenological approach to my underwear choices through the years‘ by Professor Jose Blanco F.

“In this article I apply a phenomenological approach to discuss my personal lived experience and creative authorship in selecting my underwear, thus, explaining the meanings created by my interaction with my underwear and how this clothing object has been shaped by my cultural context, socio-economic factors and my relation to my own body and sexuality. Underwear can be directly linked to questions of identity and a person’s location within a social context. Since identity can be read as imbedded in social relations and situations, it can be assumed that underwear is a dynamic tool in the construction of multiple identities. […]”

To peruse the journal’s entire table of contents go here.