Friday, June 24, 2011

Zoom Minus Zero, No Limit

Marketers love to boil the nuance away, and reduce a product’s specifications to a single number, which they can then use as a proxy for “quality.” See megapixels, megahertz, and watts.

In compact cameras, the zoom ratio reduces two useful numbers to a single dubious number. It is the ratio of the lens’s longest focal length to the shortest focal length. For example, a 28–280 mm lens has a 10x zoom ratio.

So what the hell is a “0x” zoom, as shown in this Best Buy circular?

0xZoom(Click to, um, zoom)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Risk or selection effect?

Kaiser Fung at Numbers Rule Your World, on the European E. coli outbreak:

One other point: the level of risk is not the same for everyone. Most E-coli fatalities in past outbreaks have been elderly women or children with already compromised immune systems. In this case, 13 of 19 deaths were adult women, a little unusual but still a concentration of risk among a subset of the population. (link)

Just like a lot of situations, the "average" risk is not useful here. It's important to know if you are in the high-risk subgroup or not.

Are women more susceptible to the infection, or do they just eat more sprouts? My anecdotal experience (also, admittedly, on a different continent) suggests the latter.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


In which the FAIL Blog fails to recognize a Clerks reference.


Vanity Fair has a nice interview with Jaleel White, who played Steve Urkel on Family Matters:

Is it true that you were originally cast as Rudy Huxtable on The Cosby Show?

Yep, that’s why the character was named Rudy—it was intended to be a boy.

OK, I’ll confess: Largely due to the Cosby Show, I had never known before reading this that Rudy was a boys’ name. I mean, I noticed men like Rudolph Giuliani going by “Rudy,” but since I grew watching the show, and didn’t know any Rudys in real life, I just thought it was a girls’ name, or a name used for both sexes.

Reading the interview, I figured that at the very least, some girls would be named Rudy as a result of the show. Wrong.


“Rudy” has never been a top-1,000 girls’ name.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lyric of the day: Unit conversion edition

Kris Allen, Live Like We're Dying:

We only got
86,400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell 'em that we love 'em
While we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we're dying

Familiarity with this song will be a boon to freshman astronomy majors. Now we just need a song about 202,265 arcseconds in a radian.

Friday, June 10, 2011


is the new thing.

Local journalism today

The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat reports:


I’m a descendent of Joseph Johns, so his ancestors are my ancestors, too. I would have enjoyed the opportunity to meet them. I’m surprised, however, that any of them are still alive, since Joseph lived from 1749–1813.

(Note: The web headline was corrected by the time I wrote this, though the error lives on in the URL.)

Meanwhile, on the TV side of things, WJAC reports:


Well, somebody sold me strawberries and herbs last week. And they sure looked like farmers, but now I’m wondering.

Oh, OK. The Johnstown Farmers’ Market opened May 20, three weeks ago. Whew.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sentence of the day: This prose makes me temporally mental

Ars Technica on Xeon vs. Itanium:

Let's take the last one first, since it came first temporally.

This comes after the part where the author compares an annual revenue figure to a quarterly revenue figure, then just gives up, and stops bothering to even say whether figures are annual or quarterly or product-lifetime or fortnightly.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

On photorealism

Via Mental Floss, a Web Urbanist article on hyperrealistic painting, like this Steve Mills painting:


I confess that I don’t really get it. The paintings are not realistic, they’re photorealistic. They show traits typical of cameras and lenses, like limited depth-of-field. For all I know, the paintings are painted from photographs.

As a technical achievement, the results are astounding. I’m honestly amazed that humans can do this. But what does the painting add that a photograph lacks? It seems to me like a great deal of extra effort, without an artistic payoff.

Photograph by yours truly. It didn’t take 500 hours. Does it make a difference?

Your daily dose of engineering humor

A classic on missile guidance.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

That’s one way to pay a debt

Lifehacker on reducing your monthly bills:

If you have a few friends who want to lower their cellphone bills as well, you can get a family plan together and share. Just make sure you pick responsible friends otherwise you can end up screwing if they pay late or cause overages.