Category Archives: interesting

The Wadsworth Constant: Ignore 30% of Everything

I’ll start with a story.

Last year my girlfriend and I watched the pilot episode of a new TV show and were immediately hooked. The pilot episode was refreshingly complex and forced us to guess missing plot details continuously: it’s adventurous to make your audience work so hard during a pilot, we surmised.

We later discovered that, due to a technical glitch, we actually missed the first fifteen minutes of the show (about 30%). The ‘complete’ version of the episode was less satisfying.


Last year Steve Yegge wrote about life at Amazon.com and what it’s like working under Jeff Bezos. On the topic of presenting to Bezos, Yegge gave this tip: delete every third paragraph.  Why?

Bezos is so goddamned smart that you have to turn it into a game for him or he’ll be bored and annoyed with you. That was my first realization about him. […]

So you have to start tearing out whole paragraphs, or even pages, to make it interesting for him. He will fill in the gaps himself without missing a beat. And his brain will have less time to get annoyed with the slow pace of your brain.


Around the same time as Yegge’s posting, a Reddit user known as Wadsworth pointed out that the first 30% of “nearly every video in the universe” can safely be skipped. As such things go, this soon became a YouTube URL parameter: just add &wadsworth=1 to skip the first third of the video.

This ‘law’ soon became known as the Wadsworth Constant. It works.

Together, Unconscious: We All Sleep

One constant that connects us all in some way is that–at the end of our day–we lie down and slowly slip into a state of reduced or absent consciousness and become at the mercy of our fellow man. Every day we fall asleep: we have done so for millions of years and will continue to do so.

This humbling thought was inspired by David Cain’s short disquisition on how the act of sleeping is something that unites us together, all around the world. David’s post didn’t quite take the route I was expecting after reading the (wonderful) excerpt below1, but is still definitely worth a read.

It’s an interesting quirk of Mother Nature — that she insists on taking us down to the ground like that, every day, no matter who we are. For all of us, the act of leaving consciousness is the same, it’s just our settings and situations — which bookend that unconsciousness — where we differ.

via Link Banana

1 I was expecting the post to concentrate on the first sentence (leaving consciousness), rather than the second sentence (sleep as a connector).

The Intricacies and Joys of Arabic

I imagine that most people with a passing interest in linguistics read Maciej CegÅ‚owski’s short essay in praise of the Arabic language when it was ‘rediscovered’ by popular social networks a few months ago.

As one who has studied Arabic (albeit MSA and only for nine months or so), the essay brought back fond memories of struggling to comprehend the strange-yet-wonderful intricacies of the Arabic language. Here are just a few the ways that Arabic “twists healthy minds”, according to CegÅ‚owski:

  • The Root/Pattern System: Nearly all Arabic words consist of a three-consonant root slotted into a pattern of vowels and helper consonants.
  • Broken Plurals: Most of the time to make a plural you have to change the structure of the word quite dramatically.
  • The Writing System: The Arabic writing system is exotic looking but easy to learn, which is a rare combination.
  • Dual: Arabic has a grammatical dual — a special form for talking about two of something.
  • The Feminine Plural: Formal Arabic distinguishes between groups composed entirely of women and groups that contain one or more men.
  • Crazy Agreement Rules: e.g. [Maciej’s] absolute favorite is that all non-human plurals are grammatically feminine singular
  • Funky Numbers: Ù© Ù¨ Ù§ Ù¦ Ù¥ Ù¤ Ù£ Ù¢ Ù¡ – The names of the numbers come with truly terrifying agreement rules, like “if the number is greater than three but less than eleven, it must take the opposite gender of the noun that it modifies”.
  • Diglossia: This is where it really helps to love language study.

Illness Susceptibility and Sleep Quality

I’ve been ill for a few weeks and I was fairly sure (in my amateur opinion) that it was related to a significant lack of sleep over the last couple of months. Upon returning to full health I decided to do some quick research on my favourite topic: sleep.

In one recent study looking at sleep habits and resulting susceptibility to the common cold it was found that both sleep length and sleep quality were “important predictors of immunity and, in turn, susceptibility”.

Specifically, “those who slept an average of fewer than seven hours a night […] were three times as likely to get sick as those who averaged at least eight hours”. Furthermore, people who had 92% sleep efficiency were five and a half times more susceptible compared to those with 98% sleep efficiency (defined as the percentage of time in bed actually asleep).

The New York Times article that led me to this study continues:

Sleep and immunity, it seems, are tightly linked. Studies have found that mammals that require the most sleep also produce greater levels of disease-fighting white blood cells — but not red blood cells, even though both are produced in bone marrow and stem from the same precursor. And researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have shown that species that sleep more have greater resistance against pathogens.

The more you know… (the more you sleep?)

Update: I’ve briefly mentioned this study on Lone Gunman before, but I think the cognitive impact was the most interesting titbit in that Jonah Lehrer article.

Size and Complexity: Why Animals Are the Way They Are

From bone strength and oxygen absorption in larger animals, to the perils of surface tension and poor eye design in smaller ones: just some ideas to consider when studying comparative anatomy and why animals are the way they are.

A perfect take on the topic is J. B. S. Haldane‘s 1928 On Being the Right Size. In this absorbing short essay, Haldane looks at why rhinos have short, thick legs; why the smallest mammal in Spitzbergen is the fox; and, primarily, how the size of an animal determines almost everything about its anatomy.

There is a force which is as formidable to an insect as gravitation to a mammal. This is surface tension. A man coming out of a bath carries with him a film of water of about one-fiftieth of an inch in thickness. This weighs roughly a pound. A wet mouse has to carry about its own weight of water. A wet fly has to lift many times its own weight and, as everyone knows, a fly once wetted by water or any other liquid is in a very serious position indeed. An insect going for a drink is in as great danger as a man leaning out over a precipice in search of food. If it once falls into the grip of the surface tension of the water—that is to say, gets wet—it is likely to remain so until it drowns. […]

The higher animals are not larger than the lower because they are more complicated. They are more complicated because they are larger. Just the same is true of plants.

As is typical of Haldane, he finishes with something a bit more political than anatomical, stating that “just as there is a best size for every animal, so the same is true for every human institution”. Something to consider.

via The Browser