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 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