7 Quick Takes (7/12/13)

— 1 —

The world is an unaccountably delightful place. This should be enough to prove my point, but I do have six additional takes.

There is an opera about the jurisprudential relationship between Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg

It includes the following lyrics for Scalia:

The justices are blind — how can they possibly spout this?
The Constitution says absolutely nothing about this!
This right that they’ve enshrined — when did the document sprout this?
The Framers wrote and signed words that endured without this;

Quoth the con-law and opera loving gentleman caller, having one of these moments:

They need to score Ginsburg in a Bel Canto style so her singer can insert malismas that aren’t in the score into the music (with the orchestra just stopping to let her do it) because obviously, the score has to evolve


— 2 —

Meanwhile, my inner curmudgeon is delighted by all of Emma Thompson’s winces in this trailer:

— 3 —

That movie pits P.L. Travers’s British propriety against Walt Disney’s irrepressible, populist joy, but I have a more elemental match up below.  Some scientists poured lava onto ice.  Because empiricism.

— 4 —

And in one more marriage of opposites story, engineers compete annually in a National Concrete Canoe Competition.  It’s exactly what it sounds like.

To do so, they replace the gravel and sand of conventional concrete with exotic materials like glass spheres. The result, to judge by the finals of this year’s competition, where 23 teams of 10 or more students gathered at the University of Illinois here, is a concrete that is exceedingly light and, with added fibers, strong as well.

But it turns out they end up getting a little fancy:

San Luis Obispo does a lot of sanding — 350 hours, Mr. Wong estimated, out of a total of 6,000 spent on the project — and it shows. Their canoe, called Sentinel after the famous domed rock at Yosemite National Park, looked like it was made of porcelain rather than Portland cement.

It had plenty of other advanced features as well — including seven post-tensioned cables running the length of the hull, to give the concrete more strength. And in keeping with the canoe’s theme, the team had created bas-reliefs of the Yosemite landscape on the inside, and cast a pine cone and branch on one of the gunwales.

— 5 —

And speaking of delightful engineering… there’s a 3D-printed prototype cast that helps immobilize a broken arm without cutting your flesh off from the outside world.  It looks like this:

I remember how uncomfortable and airless my cast was when I broke my arm in nursery school.   For me, it’s most exciting to see how 3D printing lets us rework objects and innovations we thought were good enough.

— 6 —

In the realm of slightly more offputting but intriguing reworkings of common ideas, someone persuaded a human subjects committee to contrast the responses of prisoners with non-prisoners on the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

We report insights into the behavior of prisoners in dilemma situations that so famously carry their name. We compare female inmates and students in a simultaneous and a sequential Prisoner’s Dilemma. In the simultaneous Prisoner’s Dilemma, the cooperation rate among inmates exceeds the rate of cooperating students. Relative to the simultaneous dilemma, cooperation among first-movers in the sequential Prisoner’s Dilemma increases for students, but not for inmates. Students and inmates behave identically as second movers. Hence, we find a similar and significant fraction of inmates and students to hold social preferences

— 7 —

No transition for the clever idea and execution in the video below.  This music video projects images onto the clouds of water vapor the musicians exhale:



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  • grok87

    #6-“a significant fraction of inmates and students hold social preferences”
    For those interested, here is background on the prisoner’s dliemma:

    “social preferences” = altruism- i.e. a preference for increasing the greater good of others at the expense of your own good. As the wiki says the “rational” (i.e. own-self-good-maximizing) strategy in the simultaneous Prisoner’s dilemma is always to defect.

    Today’s gospel is on the altruism/self-sacrifice of the apostles (not just the 12 i think) in preaching the gospel:

    “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans.”

    It’s very interesting that prisoners were more altruistic than students. The gospel today refers to the apostles as prisoners (“they will hand you over to courts”) as well. One wonders if altruism and being persecuted are related and which comes first?

    The wiki article is also very interesting as it identifies being “nice, forgiving, and non-envious” as conditions necessary for an optimal strategy in the sequential/iterated prisoners dilemma game. I read once that forgiveness is thought to be the defining characteristics of Christianity (for Islam it was submission, I forget what it was for Judaism- faithfulness?)

  • Nicholas Haggin

    From the concrete canoe article: “With the help of students from other teams, they spliced it back together with large amounts of duct tape.”

    Engineering at its finest.