Monday, May 25, 2015

An Ambiguous "Scientific" Breakfast

Steak with scrambled eggs (made with milk and diced tomatoes), a corn muffin with butter, and coffee and/or tea sounds like a great breakfast. But as an article from Vox reports, all of those ingredients have published studies finding that they both cause and prevent cancer. Of course, I left out the wine. Perhaps it could counteract the rest of the breakfast!

Plotted above is the relative risk of cancer, that is, the probability of cancer by consuming one of the ingredients divided by the probability of cancer by not consuming it. A relative risk greater than one indicates that the cancer risk is greater with the ingredient. A relative risk less than one indicates that the cancer risk is less with the ingredient. As it is clear, in a collection of such studies, variability is large. Poor design, small sample size, small effect sizes, etc. can deceive, making us too quick to label, and publish, a cause or celebrate a prevention. Be careful following any new finding.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Concrete Diffusion

Here is pattern I have seen often on concrete sidewalks. Wear that often begins in a crack in the sidewalk spreads out (horizontally in this picture) in a pronounced bell-shaped pattern. Here is another example.
I was  told by one colleague that this is simply the basic result of a diffusion process, as wear tears up the opening and propagates through with walk. I'm not fully clear on the physics involved, but it is quite reminiscent of my very first posting on this blog back in 2007.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Find Your Mom

The folks at DORKLY have yet again scatter-plotted pop culture icons. This time it's Moms, offered here as a  belated Mother's Day tribute. Horizontally, we see a scale from "Couldn't hurt a fly" to "Kick-Ass," a tenderness/toughness scale. Vertically, from the bottom, we see "Where are child protective services?" to "Mom of the Year," this must be the nurturing scale. I hope your Mom sits in the first quadrant with mine: A "Mom of the Year" who let no one push her around. I love you Mom.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Mathematical Models that Inspired Artist Man Ray

This is the final week of the Phillips Collection exhibit Man Ray: Human Equations showing photographs and paintings by American artist Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) (1890-1976). At one point in his career he was inspired by late 19th century plaster, wood, papier-mâché, and string mathematical models from the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris. Man Ray photographed the models as a basis for his Shakespearean Equations paintings. The exhibit shows various mathematical models, the photographs, and paintings together side-by-side. Although these are not at all statistical, the models are great visualization tools for the deep mathematical concepts from over a century ago.

As the exhibit mentions: "Placed in context with his other paintings, photographs, and objects, these works illustrate the artist’s proclivity to create art that objectifies the body and humanizes the object, transforming everyday materials into novel forms of creative expression." The exhibit titles on the photographs are all just "Mathematical Model" with no explanation or context.

The exhibit also displays modern mathematical models and photographs by Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. The exhibit is collecting Instagram pictures of these models taken by visitors themselves.

Monday, April 27, 2015


Yet Another Door Distribution Again this one from Sonny's BBQ in Sanford, Florida near my late parents home where I grew up. On this door, we see a thin stretch of wear just above the metal latch handle. This is the result of many hands opening a door, with few hands pressing on the left, few on the right with many more pressing in between and wearing away the brown paint on the door. This results in a bell-shaped wear pattern we've seen often on doors.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Weekly View of Your Life

Here is one of last year's posts from the site Wait But Why. Tim Urban has shown in a table of boxes, a typical life span in years, months, and above in weeks. Viewed this way, you have to wonder: What did I do this past week?

Monday, April 13, 2015

E-Evil Almonds

Almonds have lately become the enemy of freshwater, thanks to comparisons published by a Mother Jones article, "California's Almonds Suck as Much Water Annually as Los Angeles Uses in Three Years". It seems we should all feel guilty for enjoying them. Prompted by these surprising comparisons, the LATimes maps out other foods "From steak to mangoes, here are some water-hogging foods."

Amazingly, they left out almonds! Nathan Yau at Flowingdata puts almonds on the map saying:
The LA Times article quotes about one gallon of water per almond. According to the Google, the average almond weighs 1.2 grams, which translates to about 24 almonds per ounce. Therefore, 24 gallons of water per ounce, placing almonds between mangos and asparagus from a per ounce perspective. 
Looking at this graphic,  it's perhaps beef that we should stay away from!