cool research

Microanalysing the World Cup

It turns out world cup success does not depend on the ability of the players a team fields – but rather the presence of a particular parasite within their home country. This parasite, Toxoplasma Gondii (which sounds like the name of a footballer), may influence the natural dopamine levels of those infected. This diagram (from wikipedia) shows its life cycle, though it omits the bit where it helps win a World Cup for its host.

From Slate:

If we set aside the qualifying rounds (in which teams can play to a draw) and focus on matches with a clear winner, the results are very compelling. In the knockout round of this year’s tournament, eight out of eight winners so far have been the teams whose countries had higher rates of Toxo infection. If we go back to the 2006 World Cup, seven out of eight knockout-round winners could be predicted by higher Toxo rates. The one exception to the rule was Brazil’s defeat of Ghana, a match between two nations that each have very high rates. (Aside from having the winningest team in World Cup history, Brazil has quite a few cases of Toxo: Two out of three Brazilians are infected.)

It gets better. Rank the top 25 FIFA team countries by Toxo rate and you get, in order from the top: Brazil (67 percent), Argentina (52 percent), France (45 percent), Spain (44 percent), and Germany (43 percent). Collectively, these are the teams responsible for eight of the last 10 World Cup overall winners. Spain, the only one of the group never to have won a cup, is no subpar outlier—the Spaniards have the most World Cup victories of any perpetual runner-up. “

Coincidence? Perhaps. But I wish I’d read this before tipping a World Cup winner.

Pacmania: Google’s Pacman costs world billions

As reported the other day, to celebrate Pacman’s 30th birthday Google created a playable Pacman version of its logo. It’s now permanently available. The playable logo is estimated to have consumed 4.8 million man hours globally.

RescueTime is a program that monitors online usage. They extrapolated their data to reach that figure.

Here’s the baseline:

Our average Google user spends only 4 and a half active minutes on Google search per day, spread over about 22 page views. That’s roughly 11 seconds of attention invested in each Google page view. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but next time you do a search, count to 11- it’s a long time.

Here’s what the study found:

The average user spent 36 seconds MORE on on Friday.. Thankfully, Google tossed out the logo with pretty low “perceived affordance” – they put an “insert coin” button next to the search button, but I imagine most users missed that. In fact, I’d wager that 75% of the people who saw the logo had no idea that you could actually play it. Which the world should be thankful for.

If we take Wolfram Alpha at its word, Google had about 504,703,000 unique visitors on May 23. If we assume that our userbase is representative, that means:

  • Google Pac-Man consumed 4,819,352 hours of time (beyond the 33.6m daily man hours of attention that Google Search gets in a given day)
  • $120,483,800 is the dollar tally, If the average Google user has a COST of $25/hr (note that cost is 1.3 – 2.0 X pay rate).
  • For that same cost, you could hire all 19,835 google employees, from Larry and Sergey down to their janitors, and get 6 weeks of their time. Imagine what you could build with that army of man power.
  • $298,803,988 is the dollar tally if all of the Pac-Man players had an approximate cost of the average Google employee.
  • The quick are the dead

    Have you ever paid close attention to duels in Westerns? The guy who gets his gun out first always loses. A scientist decided to “mythbust” this phenomena.

    It turns out you do actually move quicker if you’re reacting rather than acting.

    Bohr was seemingly unhappy with the Tinseltown explanation that the good guy, who never shoots first, always wins. Legend has it that he procured two toy pistols and enlisted the aid of fellow physicist George Gamow. In a series of duels, Bohr never drew first but won every time. The physicist suggested that the brain responded to danger faster than it carried out a deliberate intention.

    A UK scientist named Welchman put the theory to the test.

    Welchman’s team organized simulated “gunfights” in the laboratory, with pairs of volunteers competing against each other to push three buttons on a computer console in a particular order. The researchers observed that the time interval between when players removed their hands from the first button and when they pressed the final button was on average 9% shorter for the players who reacted to an opponent moving first. However, those who reacted to a first move were more likely to make an error, presssing the buttons in the wrong order. Welchman speculates that this rapid, if somewhat inaccurate, response system may have evolved to help humans deal with danger, when immediate reaction is essential and the risk of an error worth taking.

    On a wing and a prayer

    We all know Santa couldn’t possibly exist because of the sheer workload involved in delivering so many presents (here’s a study)…

    But apparently Angels, as we understand them – based on representations in art, and on top of Christmas Trees – are anatomically unable to fly.

    Prof Roger Wotton, from University College London, found that flight would be impossible for angels portrayed with arms and bird-like feathered wings.

    Even a cursory examination of the evidence in representational arts shows that angels and cherubs cannot take off and cannot use powered flight,” said Prof Wotton. “And even if they used gliding flight, they would need to be exposed to very high wind velocities at take off – such high winds that they would be blown away and have no need for wings.

    Cutting a pizza – it’s easy as pi

    A bunch of mathematicians (no doubt uni students) have attempted to solve the dilemma of distributing pizza slices evenly to people who have made equal contributions to the pizza buying cause. This article explains.

    The problem that bothered them was this. Suppose the harried waiter cuts the pizza off-centre, but with all the edge-to-edge cuts crossing at a single point, and with the same angle between adjacent cuts. The off-centre cuts mean the slices will not all be the same size, so if two people take turns to take neighbouring slices, will they get equal shares by the time they have gone right round the pizza – and if not, who will get more?

    It’s complex. Apparently. If you have two diners, and the pizza is cut an even number of times, the trick is to take alternate pieces.

    It has been known since the 1960s that when N is even and greater than 2, an answer to the first question is for Gray and White to choose alternate slices about the point P of concurrency.

    The conclusion – from the paper that’ll cost you $20 to buy – was this:

    It was conjectured by Stan Wagon and others, that for N=3,7,11,15,…, whoever gets the center gets the most pizza, while for N=5,9,13,17,…, whoever gets the center gets the least. We prove this Pizza Conjecture by first showing its equivalence to a (pretty wild) trigonometric inequality. This inequality is proved with the aid of a theorem that counts lattice paths. Our main theorem is sufficiently general that, as a bonus, results concerning the equiangular slicing of other dishes are obtained.

    One can only assume all this would be easier with one of these plates.

    A unified theory of Supermanness

    A scientist have finally figured out Superman. He was, until this point, a riddle wrapped in an enigma. A blue and red enigma. Why do superheroes wear tights? Is it for mobility or aesthetics?

    This new study, by a guy named Ben Tippett, started by debunking commonly held misconceptions about the Kryptonian.

    “Siegel et al. Supposed that His mighty strength stems from His origin on another planet whose density and as a result, gravity, was much higher than our own. Natural selection on the planet of krypton would therefore endow Kal El with more efficient muscles and higher bone density; explaining, to first order, Superman’s extraordinary
    powers. Though concise, this theory has proved inaccurate. It is now clear that Superman is actually flying rather than just jumping really high; and his freeze-breath, x-ray vision, and heat vision also have no account in Siegel’s theory”

    The report found that Superman does not have many powers – he in fact has one power that manifests in different ways.

    “We conjecture that all of Superman’s powers come from His ability to alter the inertial mass of objects in his immediate vicinity or with which he is in personal contact.”

    The findings were supported by convincing diagrams.

    Reality bites

    Simone and Ben are continuing their love affair with vampires.

    I’ve got bad news for them… Vampires are mathematically impossible.

    Problem solved.

    Seriously, these researchers have conclusively demonstrated (PDF) that vampires would wipe out the human population in just two and a half years… It’s pretty similar to the zombie study I posted a while back.

    Let us assume that a vampire need feed only once a month. This is certainly a highly conservative assumption given any Hollywood vampire film. Now two things happen when a vampire feeds. The human population decreases by one and the vampire population increases by one.

    Sounds like a reasonable assumption right… Here’s the conclusion…

    “We conclude that if the first vampire appeared on January 1st of 1600 AD, humanity would have been wiped out by June of 1602, two and half years later.”

    It seems this study was deemed quite controversial by other mathematicians and an economist who argued that other factors should have been considered. You can read about that where I found it – here.

    Be a blockhead

    Tetris makes you smarter. Which makes Robyn the smartest of all my Facebook friends.

    This is a scientifically proven fact (well, almost) backed up by proper medical research… Here’s the study.

    Here’s the summary from wired

    “The study, funded by Tetris‘ makers and authored by investigators at the Mind Research Network in New Mexico, shows that playing the classic puzzle game had two distinct effects on the brains of research subjects: Some areas in the brain showed greater efficiency (the blue areas in the diagram above), and different areas showed thicker cortexes, which is a sign of more grey matter (red).”

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