Archive for the ‘Numbers & Statistics’ Category

During World War II, British Airforce was sending hundreds of planes every day to the continent to combat Germans. Not many of them were returning home.

Most of the planes that were returning to the bases were badly damages by bullets and shell splinter. British engineers were carefully analyzing the data, trying to find any patterns. They observed that, statistically, planes were most likely to receive damage in the wings and tail areas. They also observed that damages to the fuel tank and the pilot cabin were quite rare.

Based on this data, they decided to add more armor to the wings and the tail section.

It didn’t help.

Their logic was right, but they failed to consider one vital thing: they were analyzing the successes, and not the failures. The most useful information was on the planes that didn’t return. It was actually the damage to the fuel tank and the pilot cabin that was fatal. And those planes that received bullets in all the other sections were just lucky.

Always try to analyze your failures! It’s important to know not only what works, but what doesn’t work as well. Avoiding mistakes is crucial during any project!

If you did bad on an essay, take it apart and see what went wrong in order to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

Don’t hesitate asking people for feedback. And try to give feedback to others as well. A rational critique is always helpful (though I often can’t get it from people… Australians seem to be excessively polite and tell people only the things they want to hear, avoiding giving unpleasant (though necessary) feedback and judgment)…

Remember how in Hollywood movies they always show submarines, which use red light to illuminate their control rooms?

Well, that’s not far from the truth, actually. Military submarines always use red light during night time, when it’s dark outside. But why red?

The answer lies in the physiology of the human eye.

There are two major types of color receptors on human retina: rods and cones.

Rods work only in dim light, allowing people to see in the dark (scotopic vision), while cones require bright light to function and are used for colour vision (photopic vision). In most cases, they can’t function at the same rate simultaneously (simply because colour-capturing cones need bright light to perform, while rods get screwed by excessive amount of light (the process known as bleaching)). It might take up to 30 minutes for a person to switch from photopic vision to scotopic vision.

Submarine crew has to keep both photopic vision (in order to be able to read all the control panels) and scotopic vision (in case if they have to look into a periscope during night time).

Now, lets look at the electromagnetic wave frequencies, which activate certain photorseptors on the human retina:

As you can see, 3 types of cones cover the entire visible spectrum (400-700 nm), while rods are only capable of getting turned on by the light waves, which are not longer than 640 nm. That leaves L-cones with approximately 60 nm long piece of visible spectrum, which can be handled without any overlapping with other photoreceptors.

640-700 nm electromagnetic waves appear red to us.

Night-vision rods are insensitive to red light, therefore they can not be bleached by it. So, using red light in dark conditions allows people to keep both photopic and scotopic visions without any overlaps and conflicts between these two systems. Pretty cool, eh?

Red light is also used during nighttime by pilots, tank crew members, old-school astronomers and some lab-workers, who experiment with photosensitive materials.

This 1958 video about the bright future of American roads and transportation systems is Epic!

I LOLed so hard at the punch card with programmed destinations, as well as the “sun powered electro-suspension cars”! This is a must see!

It’s pretty interesting to observe what kinds of wild fantasies people usually have about things that only started to appear. For example, back in 1960’s, during the Space Race, when Humanity suddenly jumped from the first barometer in space to a full capacity space station just in 10 years, there were many thoughts and plans associated with Cosmology and Astronomy. People were making prognoses that by 2000’s we would be able to colonize Venus!

Similar thing was happening with automobile industry back in 1950’s, when cars started to become more affordable in US. Different auto-moto companies were running in a race against each other, inventing new features and designs, same way as it is happening now with all these big IT companies that make smartphones and tablet PC’s. Take this humorous 1953 cartoon as a proof.

Ah… you can’t stop enjoying this retro-futurism! :)

Compare these toothbrushes:

Look at the designs of the actual brushes. Which, do you think, is more efficient at cleaning your teeth?

The truth is that they are both the same. All the additional structures on the head of the Colgate toothbrush are good for nothing but decreasing the production cost for manufacturers.

The handle of a toothbrush usually costs around 2 cents to produce, in comparison to the actual brush (these small plastic fibers that suppose to do all the cleaning), which costs around 10 cents. To save the money, the designers try to reduce the total surface area of a brush by putting these small pieces of rubber, and then the people who sell these toothbrushes advertise these structure as something that massages your gingiva, or something.

So, these additional rubber structures are not improving the efficiency of your toothbrushes, but rather help to save some money for the people who design and produce them.

That’s another dirty trick that can be played by designers and product promoters.

I was watching a documentary on Channel 7TWO yesterday. It was about Vesuvius, the volcano near Naples, Italy , which destroyed the city of Pompeii in 79 AD.

The program was quite interesting and informative. They were talking about geological aspects of this volcano, how often it erupts, the history of its activity, what are the worst possible case scenario if it becomes hyperactive in modern day Italy, how the government designs strategies for evacuation, etc. Very interesting stuff.

But, I didn’t like one aspect of it. Throughout the entire running time, the authors were implying that people who build cities near Vesuvius and live there are just a bunch of ignorant idiots who put themselves in purposeless danger and don’t even think about their future.

Now, let’s just try to understand why people come to these regions in the first place. It would seem quite irrational to ignore the fact that you’re living next to a bad-ass volcano, which ejaculates titanic amounts of deadly ashes once every 1.5 generations, burning everything in the 5 km radius. So, is there a rational reason for people to endanger themselves by inhabiting these ares? Yes, there is.

Once a volcano erupts, the ashes that contain all kinds of interesting chemical elements and compounds, mix with the soil and turn the region into one of the most fruitful grounds on the planet for generations ahead. Agricultural business thrives in seismo-active regions. Just in 5-10 years of collecting the reach harvest, people make more money than needed to recover from a disaster. Economy is booming because of that.

I believe that people should always use the potential of their surroundings at a maximum rate, for the sake of Civilization development (in a way that doesn’t permanently damage the ecosystem, of course).

Taking an advantage of dangerous conditions is a good skill to have, and I respect people of Naples for that.

I was thinking here lately: why do people find a need to worship something?

If you look into our history, you will find that in all Eras, across all the different cultures, people were constantly idolizing things. At first, those things were different Earth/fire/wind/water spirits, pagan gods, ancient ancestors, etc. Then, when religion became more organised, Humanity had all sorts of supreme beings and prophets (e. g. Jesus, Muhammad… Buddha, etc) to worship. It’s like all people are addicted to the concept of raising someone (or something) and following them as something superior.

Even in Contemporary History, when religion is in decline, we still create idols and follow them. Some people praise political figures and their ideologies (Lenin, Hitler, Gandhi), some idolize fictional characters and create strong fanbase around them (Superman, Spider-man, Batman, Jedi, Harry Potter, Master Chief), some dream to have the same power as certain super-star business tycoons (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Donald Trump, Richard Branson), and some go to the concerts and look up with love and admiration at their favorite artists and performers (Lady Gaga, Tiesto, Black Eyed Peas, Rammstein, Metallica, Usher, Armin Van Buuren… just to name a few. And, what’s interesting. many people go beyond the production of their favorite artists and start digging into their personal life. This kind of fans can buy an old toothbrush that was used by [insert an artist’s name] a few years ago on Ebay for $20 000).

So, why is this happening? Why do people feel comfort when they have something superior to look up to? What psychological mechanisms stand behind this concept and drive people into creating worship targets?

I think that one possible explanation can be derived from the Evolutionary perspective (I want to warn you that these are just my thoughts, and that they aren’t really backed up by any real research… are they?).

As we all know, humans are social animals. People were always tended to join into groups in order to maximize their chances of survival. If you ask a zoologist, they will tell you that almost all group animals who are blessed with cognition of some sort (e. g. wolfs, lions, chimpanzees) have a defined group structure, or, in other words, a hierarchy within their social groups. Every pack has a leader, an alpha-male, whose primary role is to defend his group against other animals and (sometimes) resolve internal conflicts (for example, two lion cabs are fighting over food that is left over after a successful hunting, the noises they’re making wake up an alpha-male, who doesn’t hesitate to roar them away and eat all the food by himself – problem solved).

Homo sapiens’ social structures are far more sophisticated than that, but, nevertheless, the basic concept of a pack leader remains the same. And that can be very beneficial. Different people have different view on things and different ways to act, therefore, a good leader, who is capable of selecting the best ways and direct its group, is a vitally important figure to have.

So, here we have a basic group structure: an alpha-male (who is a leader, an innovative thinker and director) and all the other individuals who follow him. Simple, but efficient.

Evolutionary, it happened that humans have certain biological aids to form social structures like this. For example, not so long ago, it was discovered that our organism produces more endorphin when we work in a team, therefore, it’s natural for a human being to seek a cooperative activity with others of its kind. And, it seems that this principle extends to religion and other sorts of activities when we have to worship someone or something. We just get more satisfaction, due to biochemical processes, when we think that we follow something strong and superior. So, it’s like a by-product of those biological mechanisms that helped us to survive during the formation of our species.

And, of course, there is a relatively small number (around, maybe, 5% of all people) of those who find no need in worshiping others. They have their own ideas and very strong personalities, and they prefer changing their surrounding rather than conform and adapt to it. These people are the leaders and innovators (just like alpha-males and pack leaders back in prehistoric times). This small percentage of people, who stand out of the crowd and initialize the action, is composed of those who move our society, either back of forward. And all the other 95% just follow them.

So, to sum up, my point is that people’s tendency to create idols and worship them is just another psychological/biochemical mechanism, a by-product of our Evolution that helped (and still helps) our species to survive.

Again, these are just my personal thoughts. They could be wrong. You’re welcome to comment and discuss this topic, either here or on Facebook (under the redirect Wall post).

This 1980’s map shows the primary targets for Soviet nuclear missile attacks that were strategically planned in case of Nuclear war breakthrough.

The dark regions represent the areas of lethal radiation doses. All the targets were strategic military bases, the locations of which were known to Soviet intelligence services back in those days.

Hmm… turns out that, back in 1980’s, the safest places in United States were Oregon and Arizona.

Interestingly, Pentagon had a similar map with about 330 (!) targets on USSR territory, which included military airbases, naval bases, rocket launching sites (including Baikonur Cosmodrome) and some cities with large population.

That was 25 years ago. Nowadays, these maps are still present on both sides, carefully planned and updated every few years. This information is classified, of course.

Don’t forget that, even today, both USA and Russia have thousands of nuclear missiles in strategic reserves. More than enough to wipe out the entire Earth’s population just in a few hours.