Friday, December 31, 2010

Best of the Year

For this last post of 2010, I have decided to mention the posts that, in my opinion, were the best of each respective month. Here's what I think:

Capital Punishment -- This was my first post that I wrote. I spent a lot of time writing and re-writing this one. And it was also the first time that a random person left a comment on my blog. I felt pretty famous.

Abstract Art - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 -- This was a very fun series for me to write. Every time I see a Jackson Pollock, I think about what I wrote here. To write these posts, I first pulled out my old Art History book to find things to write about when I realized that there was enough material there to make it into three posts. It was pretty nice.

Malaria -- This post was pretty interesting. I wrote it after a guest speaker came to my microbiology class. I wrote a followup post here about what one could do about the problem.

Seeing in 3D --  If you click on the link on the blog those pictures will be placed side by side and you can see the 3D image if you look hard. It's cool.

The Uncanny Precision of the Collective Uninformed -- I heard about this concept from an episode of Radio Lab. Basically, it says that if you get a group of uninformed people to guess something in a subject they don't know about, they will be more precise than a professional. Pretty neat, huh?

Prosopagnosia -- This is an illness that I've been thinking about a lot. If you suffer from prosopagnosia, or face-blindness, you can't recognize any faces. You can take a free test from a link on that post. I think one of the most amazing things is that 3% of the population suffers from this.

Meeting the Cadavers -- This was an interesting time for me. It was the first time that I came across a dead body.

Ant Head Stitches -- This is an awesome concept that I learned from a great book that I read. Basically, you use huge monster ants to bite a cut closed then twist off the body so the head keeps the wound closed.

Gambling Simulator -- This is a pretty cool simulator. It shows how likely you are to win the lottery. And in case you didn't know, it's not very likely.

F-pyrosharpiongun  -- This was pretty fun. I kept thinking about what the most dangerous creature would be. It started out as a mix between a shark and a scorpion and then just went on from there.

Shearing the Sheep -- I liked the picture that I drew for this post. That's about it. I guess November was a king of slow month...

Stone Coin at the Bottom of the Sea -- I really liked this podcast. I think about it when ever I cash or write a check.

Well, there you have it! It's been a long year, and there are only 5 days left for my year long goal.

Password generator

Ever having a tough time choosing a password? Just use this handy dandy password generator!

It's completely random, so there's no chance of anyone just guessing it. However, there's no way of memorizing the password, so you better have it saved somewhere.

You could also use this to create a throwaway email account, you know, if you want to create an account on some website but don't want to use your real email account. Or you can use it to give to people for keeping in contact with you if you are on vacation and don't want to check your normal email or something.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Class Crossover

Because my major (Construction Management) and my career path (Optometry) are quite different, there is hardly any crossover between the classes I take for my major and the prerequisites that I had to take to get into optometry school.

However, I can remember as specific time when there was crossover between my two college worlds:

It was between Construction Safety and Human Anatomy. I went to my Human Anatomy lab early one morning and learned about the circulatory system. We discussed and looked at all the veins and arteries in he body. My TA pointed out the femoral artery, which is huge. On the cadaver it was about as thick as my pinkie. He said that if that just punctured or pinched, you could die within an hour.

Later, I had Construction Safety, and we talked about fall harnesses. My professor explained that once you have fallen, the little loops around your legs pinch tightly and pinch your femoral artery closed. He said that you have about 30 minutes to rescue someone who has fallen from a roof or scaffolding before they completely blackout and then 10 more minutes until they die. To show is that this is true, we actually did a fall test. I thought they would do it on a dummy, but they asked for volunteers from the class. Rather than jumping off a roof (which can lead to some nasty leg breaks from the harness) we had a mechanical crane lift the guys up and hold then about 2 feet above the ground. Almost instantly their legs fell asleep and then started aching. By the end of it their legs were shaking and hurting, and they were only in the air for one minute. It was pretty crazy and it was pretty well ingrained in my mind that I really don't want to fall off of a roof.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy Third!

Today's post will be short because I'm tired. But it's mine and Katie's anniversary today! Woo hoo! And I only have to write for 8 more days!

Monday, December 27, 2010


I have just discovered Iotacons (that's with an "i" as in "iota") drawn by Andy Rash and it's pretty cool. Here are some samples:

Click here for more!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Monkey on a typewriter

I got some sweets books for Christmas this year. One of those books is called "50 mathematical ideas you really need to know." It's really neat. Olivia has been sick today, so I stayed home from church with her and read a chapter on probability. It talked about the classic case of the monkey and the typewriter, saying that given enough time, a monkey could produce a work of Shakespeare by randomly hitting keys.

But how much time would he need?

Here's the short answer: a lot.

Here's the longer answer: let's say there are 30 keys on a typewriter (26 letters, a period, a comma, a question mark, and a space). Let's also assume that the monkey won't have to write an entire sonnet, but just the first three words of the famous soliloquy in Hamlet:


That's eight keys that the monkey will have to hit in the correct order (including the spaces). How do you calculate that probability? Well, the monkey has a 1 in 30 chance of hitting the "T", and an 1 in 30 chance of then hitting the "O", and so on. So you multiply them all together:

30 x 30 x 30 x 30 x 30 x 30 x 30 x 30 = 6.561 x 10^11

Now, if you assume the monkey can hit one key per second, without taking any breaks for eating or sleeping, the monkey will have to type for about 20,000 years for there to be a "reasonable expectation" that it would have typed "TO BE OR." But if that ever happened, I think the monkey would be more famous for living that long.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas present to YOU!

Merry Christmas!

As a Christmas present to the general blogging world, I decided to post the PDF version of the new book that I published! It's called "The Lewis Family Tragedy and Other Stories"!

Click here to enjoy!

Friday, December 24, 2010


Kiva is a pretty awesome organization. I took a Business Finance class this past semester at BYU and my favorite section was about micro-finance. I think I enjoyed it so much because it was something that I understood and could grasp. Global markets are too big and complex, but small $25 loans is something that I can relate to.

Here's a video that explains the idea behind Kiva:

How Kiva Works from Kiva Microfunds on Vimeo.

Pretty neat, huh? And it's not a hand out! You are actually not losing any money at all. It's a win-win situation.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Population Density

Click to embiggen
Here's another infographic that I found. It's made my Time Magazine and it shows where people live in the United States. It's crazy to see how the population makes a distinct line through Texas and Oklahoma and then between Minnesota and North and South Dakota.

And then it's basically blank after that. Except for the coast and some token cities out there. And it's also crazy how many people live between Boston and Washington DC. And look at the size of New York! I love maps like this.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Could you be a failure?

I saw this infographic and thought it was hilarious.

I found it here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

When zombies attack

I was learning about responses to zombie attacks the other day. It was pretty intense. Basically, some statisticians and pathologists who work for the Center of Disease Control have run some simulations about the spread of the "zombie disease" (if one ever stuck). If there is any sort of hesitation on anyone's part in regards to killing any zombie will result in a massive outbreak of the zombie virus and will take over the world. The only way we would be able to control zombies is to immediately remove the zombie head from the zombie body as fast and in any way possible. If there is any sort of conference on ways to "save" them or a humane way to treat zombies, modern civilization as we know it will collapse.

So just remember that. You should probably mentally prepare yourself to attack when you see someone with zombie-like characteristics.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Knife Hunting

Knife hunters consider knife hunting the "fairest way to hunt." Knife hunters are pretty intense. They usually hunt wild boar. They go out in the forest with their hunting dogs, and the dogs chase the boars to make them run pretty fast. Then the hunters run after the boar to chase them down and tackle the boar. Once tackled, the hunter proceeds to stab to boar until it is dead. And then he eats it raw.

Just kidding about the hunter eating it raw. I'm sure he cooks it by breathing fire on it first.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Liquid Body Armor

I was listening to a podcast the other day about body armor. It was pretty sweet. It kind of tied in with what I was learning about in my molecular biology class, namely that scientists are trying to get bacteria to grow genetically engineered spider silk and use that material for armor or rope or whatever you want a super-lightweight and super-strong material for. Spider silk has some pretty amazing mechanical properties. Maybe I'll write about that one day...

Anyway, they were talking about body armor and how there is a problem with it. If it's really strong, you can't move--but if you make it so you can move easily, it's not so safe. And they have a solution. They have suspended silica particles in a type of oil that is really easy to move in, but once it's hit by a fast moving object (like a bullet) it stiffens up and makes a hard shell.

It's pretty much like an enhanced version of oobleck (cornstarch and water). You can roll it up in a ball, but when you set it down, it turns into a liquid again.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My first phone call

Do you remember the first time the phone rang and it was for you? I sure do. It was a big day. I think it was the first time that I felt like I was part of the world. It was neat.

I was six years old when I got my first phone call. It was my first grade teacher, calling me before school started in the fall and letting me know what her name was and how excited she was to meet me. I know--what a nice teacher, right? Do you know what I did while talking to her? I went to the fridge and got a soda and lounged on the couch with my legs crossed in front of me. I think I thought that was what you where supposed to do when you talk on the phone. Too much TV, I guess.

Provo Tabernacle is gone

The Provo Tabernacle burned down today. This is what it used to look like:

And this is what it looks like now:

The entire roof caved in. Isn't that crazy? It seems that the fire started early this morning. I don't think anyone knows what caused the fire yet. It just seems so weird to imagine that yesterday the building was fine, but now the building is pretty much gone. I hope they are able to repair it, or at least rebuild it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Taiwanese Health Care

I like the health care system they have in Taiwan. It's universal and both doctors and patients like it. It used to be fee-for-service, but then doctors were abusing the system by over-prescribing stuff. To avoid losing all their money, the Taiwanese government switched over to a global budget in 2002.

The think I like most about the Taiwanese health care system is that everyone is given a smart card that has all the medical history on it, and you make payments using the card, too. I'm pretty sure it looks exactly like this one:
The great thing about the smart card (besides not having to transfer medical records from one doctor to another) is that it cuts out all of the middle men and all the paper work. They have the lowest health care administration costs in the world: less than 2 percent of the total health care costs.

And they only spend about 6 percent of their GDP on health care. Compare that to the United State's 16 percent. Sweet.

You can find out more by Googling it. Hahaha. I love using "let me Google that for you."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A huge stone coin at the bottom of the sea

 The idea for this post came from an awesome podcast from Planet Money. I have embedded the podcast at the end of this post. I highly recommend listening to it. Your mind will be blown. Guaranteed.

Money is such a strange concept. It seems as if we all just  arbitrarily agree that a dollar is worth something and that we all accept it its worth as a universal truth.

It wasn't always so. And to illustrate this fact, I would like to talk about the island of Yap. People in Yap use huge stone disks as currency. At least they used to, until recently. They actually use the dollar now. The huge stone disks or coins look something like this:

These things are huge--probably 8 to 12 feet tall and weigh thousands of pounds. Why do they use stone money? Well, that's an interesting story. There was an islander many years ago who paddled his canoe many miles away from the island of Yap and found an island that had some awesome limestone. He decided that he would make a huge piece of artwork that looked like the moon.

When he came back with this huge "coin," everyone loved it. And everyone wanted one. So they got some more moon coins and people would have these huge coins in front of their homes. They came to signify wealth and prosperity. The more you had, the more wealthy you were.

There was just one problem: they were too heavy to move.  So what ended up happening is that instead of the coin actually switching hands or locations when you bought something, people just knew which coin was theirs. If you bought a new house, to give him your money you would just say "OK, you see that stone to the left over there? That used to be mine, but it's yours now."

This makes sense, right? No need to move the heavy coins, everyone agrees which one belongs to them. But it's crazy, right? I don't know why, but it just seems crazy in my head. But it gets even crazier. There was this one canoe carrying a huge stone coin that sank a few miles off the coast. When the people in the canoe came back and told the villagers what happened, they said "Don't worry about it! We all know it's there and we can still count it!"

And do you know what's crazier?! We do the same thing! We don't actually trade gold bars. We just trade ownership over the gold bars! (Well...not really. But not so long ago we used to.)

I mean, think about writing a check. The physical money doesn't actually move. If I write you a check for $100, the guy at the bank doesn't pull $100 out of my slot and put it in your slot. No, it's just the ownership of that money that transfers.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why pirates wear eye patches

Did you know that pirates didn't wear eye patches because they were blind in one eye? I always thought they wore them because they didn't want people to be grossed out by their blind eye. But that isn't true. (Probably) Have you ever heard of a considerate pirate? I didn't think so.

Pirates wore the patches so that they can quickly uncover their eye in a dark place and be able to see. It works--try it out yourself! If you think about it, it makes sense. The pirate would jump on the deck of the ship he was taking over and take care of everyone on the deck. Then he would have to go below deck in almost complete darkness and it could take a minute or to for the pirate's eyes to adjust. He was fighting in the bright Caribbean sunlight, after all. This way the pirate could storm dark rooms with his guns blazing.

This hasn't been supported by any historical data, but that just means the pirates didn't keep a diary. Of course they didn't keep a diary! They're too busy taking over ships to write down why they use an eye patch.

I've actually used this technique myself when I go the bathroom in the middle of the night. When I turn on the light in the bathroom, I keep one eye shut. When I'm done and I'm heading back to bed, I open the other eye that is used to the darkness. That way I don't trip over Olivia's toys or step on anything. It's pretty great.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Slow Motion Video from a Train

This video was shot by a high speed camera from a train as it approached a stop. The camera took 210 frames per second, so he slowed it down. That's why everyone looks frozen. It's pretty neat.

The reason why people seem to move faster near the end of the video is because the train is slowing down to a stop. Anyway, I think this is pretty mesmerizing.

A Work in Progress

Two years ago I got a canvas from Chris and Anna for Christmas. It was an awesome present, but rather intimidating. The stuff you draw on a canvas is so permanent and you feel pressured to make it look good. I tried drawing some avocados on the canvas soon after I got it, but it just looked dumb. I set it aside and waiting for inspiration to strike.

Last week, it struck.

Here's how it is coming along:

Does the picture look familiar? I'm pretty happy with the way it has turned out so far. I think I'm going to just paint the background a solid color and keep her black and white.

And I'll probably spend three more hours shading her upper lip...

Also, I saw this art competition that is going to be held by the Church. I think I want to enter. I'll just wait for inspiration to strike again.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Play Hnefatafl

Remember this post I wrote a few days ago about hnefatafl? I found a site that lets you play against a computer or another person. It's pretty neat. I like that the games usually last only a few minutes, as opposed to chess. I remember one time I played chess against Chris when I was younger and the game took three days. Bleh.

Anyway, HERE is the link. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Surviving Piracy

I found a great bbro-shure the other day put out by European Union Naval Force. It explains how to survive being taken hostage by Somali pirates. For some reason, I thought that Anna would appreciate this information a lot. Here are some great tips I learned:
  1. Reassure the pirates that you won't be a cause of concern for them.
  2. Develop a physical exercise program to relieve stress.
  3. Negotiate the best possible living conditions on-board for yourself and your crew mates. (I don't know...this seems like a bad idea to me. I figure I will let the guy with the shoulder mounted missile launcher get to pick which bunk he gets to sleep in.)
  4. Accept the fact that you will be a hostage for 6 to 12 weeks.
  5. Perhaps my favorite tidbit of advice: if the pirates offer you a drug called "khat," don't take it. You will get addicted and experience cravings and tension that might cause "undue violence from your captors."
So there you go. Read through the entire bbro-shure HERE.

And practice saying "I'm not afraid of you" in the mirror at least twice a day.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Most Unwanted Song in the World

There seems to be a general consensus among the population about what defines a terrible song. Scientists did some research and they made a list of things in music that we hate. Here are things that top the list:
  • Holiday music
  • Bagpipes
  • Organs
  • A children’s chorus
  • Cowboys
  • Oompah tubas
  • Opera
  • Rap
So these sick, sick people decided to make a song combining all of these pieces together. I got to 2:30 before I had to turn it off. I DARE you to listen to the whole thing. 

Most boring day

Researchers have discovered the most boring day in the 20th century.

That day is April 11, 1954.

Nothing happened on that day. They searched 300 million facts for major news events, births, deaths, and other important things and have discovered that NOTHING happened on that day.

Well, at least nothing important. The highlight of the day was the general election of Belgium.

And I apologize to anyone who was born on that day.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tutorial: Chess Board

A few Christmases ago I made some chess boards as presents. I worked at an architectural mill at the time, so I was able to use the scrap materials and equipment for free. It was great. I thought I would write up a little tutorial on how I made the chess boards because I came up with this method all on my own and I think it was pretty clever of me.

First, find a bunch of scrap pieces of two different types of wood. I liked using mahogany and maple. Glue the pieces together to make to big sheets.

Even out the ends if you want, and then cut the sheets into 5 equal width strips.

Then glue them together alternating colors.

After it is glued, turn the board 90° cut it up into 8 equal strips.

Then shift the pieces by one square and glue it up again.

Use saw to cut off the overhanging pieces and a router or joiner to smooth off the edges. Now you can stick some pencil molding or use a router to make the edges all nice.

And there you go! I tried to carve chess pieces too...but those turned out SO BAD. So I would recommend just stealing some pieces from a board you have lying around the house.


Hnefatafl is Viking chess. It's pretty simple, and it looks pretty neat. It is also one of the only games where the two sides are uneven. Here's what the board looks like:

The big middle white piece is the King, and the purpose of the game is for the White Team to get the King to one of the four corner pieces, while the Black Team tries to kill the King.

Every piece moves like a rook and you can't jump over any pieces. You kill pieces by "sandwiching" them. Like this:

I kind of want to try it out. Anyway, it looks pretty cool.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fake Entries

I found out yesterday that dictionaries, encyclopedias, and maps sometimes add fake entries. Why? To see if anyone is plagiarizing their work. If some map includes the same fake street as the map you made, you know they just copied you instead of doing the surveying themselves.

One of the more better known fake entries is "Lillian Virginia Mountweazel" from the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia.  The New Yorker wrote an article about this fake woman. This is what they said about her:
Turn to page 1,850 of the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia and you’ll find an entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, a fountain designer turned photographer who was celebrated for a collection of photographs of rural American mailboxes titled “Flags Up!” Mountweazel, the encyclopedia indicates, was born in Bangs, Ohio, in 1942, only to die “at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine.”  If Mountweazel is not a household name, even in fountain-designing or mailbox-photography circles, that is because she never existed. “It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright,” Richard Steins, who was one of the volume’s editors, said the other day. “If someone copied Lillian, then we’d know they’d stolen from us.”

Pretty interesting, huh? These fictitious entries are quite old and have since been adopted in many reference works, such as zzxjoanw (1905) and some of them are quite recent, such as the word esquivalience (2005). It makes you wonder how many fake entries are in the dictionary nowadays.

Free Classes

I used to work for BYU Continuing Education many years ago. My job was to register people for classes and to look good as a model. I was poking around on the Independent Study website the other day because I had to sign up for an online class, and I noticed that Independent Study offers free classes! How cool is that?!

Granted, they are kind of lame, but still!

Here's a list of the "recommended free courses":
I signed up for the Citizen's Guide to American Politics and within minutes I was learning about the national budget and stuff like that.

A full list of all the classes available can be found here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Plastering an Ant Colony

Have you ever wondered what an ant colony looks like below the earth?

 Now you know.

This guy, Walter Tschinkel, poured plaster down an ant colony, excavated all around it, and the pieced the entire thing together again. Super cool, if you ask me. Kind of bummer for the ants, though. Here's the paper that he wrote about it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I bet I could do this

This is one of the most amazing landings I have ever seen. Check it out.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The 18th Camel

This is a story that I listened to this morning from a TED talk given by William Ury.

"There once was an old father who had 3 sons and 17 camels. When the old man died, he left 1/2 of the camels to his oldest son, 1/3 of the camels to the middle son, and 1/9 of the camels to the youngest son. They realized that you can't divide 17 by 1/2, 1/3, or 1/9, so the began arguing and tension started to rise.

They found a wise old woman and asked for her help. She thought and thought and finally said, "Well, that's a difficult situation, but if it helps any, you can have my camel."

So the three brothers took the old woman's camel and now had 18 camels. The first son took 1/2 of the camels (which is 9), the second son took 1/3 of the camels (which is 6), and the third son took 1/9 of the camels (which is 2), which comes to a total of 17 camels.

So they returned the 18th camel back to the woman."

Interesting story, isn't it? He used this story to explain how many problems to our solutions come from sitting back and trying to look at the whole picture.