7 Quick Takes (1/4/13)

7 Quick Takes (1/4/13) January 4, 2013

— 1 —

Jen Fulwiler of Conversion Diary (who runs this blog carnival) was in the hospital yesterday with two pulmonary embolisms, and treatment is complicated, since she’s pregnant.  Happily, she was discharged last night and is stable enough to be treated/monitored at home.  If you’re part of the religious subset of readers for the blog, please keep her in your prayers.

And, if you’re looking for someone to pray to, Jen keeps a random saint generator running, so you can learn more about the saints and possibly take one of them on for the year to get to know better.  I got St. John Neumann to watch over my first calendar year as a Catholic.  (His feast day is tomorrow).

— 2 —

I’m glad Jen is doing better, but it’s been a frightening week, so let me cheer you all up with one of the cutest proposals I’ve ever seen:

It’s precisely cut DNA run through gel electrophoresis!  Awwwww.

— 3 —

The next link comes to you via my brother, who has learned that I tend to only be interested in sports when there are puns (a la roller derby), abuses to oppose (football) or math, and he sent me a fascinating story from Grantland on “The Kobe Assist.”

Although the smartest basketball analysts evaluate success by possessions, for the most part the temporal extent of basketball analysis remains too narrow. Anyone who has ever acknowledged that the “assist” has some value has therefore admitted that basketball outcomes exhibit sensitive dependence on the events immediately preceding them. But this concept goes well beyond passing, is central to basketball strategy, and is part of what separates basketball from other games we love to measure. Baseball analytics had its epiphany in part because Bill James and others realized that baseball was only barely a team sport, and really could be reduced to a discrete sequence of outcomes that involved singular players competing in sequences of one-on-one scenarios. But basketball achievements do not occur in a vacuum; just as it is rare for one player to be solely responsible for a made basket, it is similarly rare for one player to be solely responsible for other types of events, including rebounds and put-backs.

— 4 —

Everyone I know has been sending round the New Yorker profile of Apollo Robbins, the theatrical pickpocket. but it really is so good I can’t resist sharing in case any of you haven’t seen it.  This part is amazing:

A few years ago, at a Las Vegas convention for magicians, Penn Jillette, of the act Penn and Teller, was introduced to a soft-spoken young man named Apollo Robbins, who has a reputation as a pickpocket of almost supernatural ability. Jillette, who ranks pickpockets, he says, “a few notches below hypnotists on the show-biz totem pole,” was holding court at a table of colleagues, and he asked Robbins for a demonstration, ready to be unimpressed.

Robbins demurred, claiming that he felt uncomfortable working in front of other magicians. He pointed out that, since Jillette was wearing only shorts and a sports shirt, he wouldn’t have much to work with.

“Come on,” Jillette said. “Steal something from me.”

Again, Robbins begged off, but he offered to do a trick instead. He instructed Jillette to place a ring that he was wearing on a piece of paper and trace its outline with a pen. By now, a small crowd had gathered. Jillette removed his ring, put it down on the paper, unclipped a pen from his shirt, and leaned forward, preparing to draw. After a moment, he froze and looked up. His face was pale.

“Fuck. You,” he said, and slumped into a chair.

Robbins held up a thin, cylindrical object: the cartridge from Jillette’s pen.

But what I loved best is when Robbins talked about how he taught himself thieving and mentioned he drew on aikido and ballroom dance. When he demonstrates one technique on the reporter, I recognized the seed of the move from aikido class and a way to get into shadow position in rumba.  Huzzah!

— 5 —

Earlier this week, when I was reviewing a book about Mormonism, Michael H, a practising Mormon and a college friend of mine did yeoman’s work in the comment threads — answering questions, talking about his experience, and always raising the tone of the conversation.  He has a blog of his own, and all y’all may be interested in his recent post on what he makes of the secrecy of certain rituals in his faith.

However, the LSAT and other standardized tests demonstrate that there are circumstances in the non-Mormon world with secrets as closely and zealously guarded as the verbiage of the Mormon temple ordinances – perhaps even more so, for the questions change for each test, whereas temple ordinances seldom change and have been published far and wide on the internet. Maybe some of the reasons for the parallel norms of secrecy are similar: the significance of the LSAT and similar tests lies in the presumption that the candidates are encountering those specific questions for the first time. Though they could be informed of the format of the exam, the types of questions they could find, and strategies for interacting with the questions that they will eventually be required to answer, if they had seen their particular test booklet previously, the resulting experience would be fundamentally altered. It is requisite to encounter the test at the right place, at the right time, and in the right manner, or it loses much of its purpose. For this reason strict secrecy is implemented thereafter: test administrators wish to prevent those who have taken the test from corrupting others’ experience. While us veterans can speak in generalities because we understand the implications of specific words (“Ugh, three logical reasoning sections?” or “What about that question with Iturbe, Hong, and Franco?”), we are enjoined to say nothing more.

— 6 —

Via Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, a map of isolines of travel distances to various parts of the US in 1857.  The mapmakers back then assumed you were setting out from NYC, natch.

— 7 —

Also, I just want to remind you to get in contact with me if you think you might be interested in joining the February Math & Theology bookclub/guestblogging extravaganza.  So far, eleven of you folks have told me you’re getting the book and want in.  Don’t forget to comment or email me if you want in!


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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  • I love 19th Century infographics!

    Also, 1857 is an interesting year in Mormon history, when one fourth of the US Army was deployed to put down a presumed rebellion. Anticipating the imminent arrival of federal troops (apparently, in about three weeks!) with anti-American paranoia, Mormons in Southern Utah (including, as I recently learned, an ancestor of mine with the crazy surname Klingensmith) attacked the Fancher wagon company in the Mountain Meadows massacre. Strangely relevant map!

  • keddaw

    “If you’re part of the religious subset of readers for the blog, please keep her in your prayers.”
    But… You’ve seen the studies, prayer has never been shown to have an effect. Surely people could do something more productive with the few seconds/minutes?

    “if you’re looking for someone to pray to”
    This is kinda old, but it always strikes me as being one of the most ridiculous* aspects of Christianity. It’s such an obvious pander to the polytheistic/spiritual religions Christianity was supplanting. It also goes strongly against the commandments – not least because, for all you know, you might be praying to someone in hell…

    *Okay, I take that back, one of many ridiculous aspects – but this one is just so blatant (a patron saint of actors, lost causes, finding things, against ants, moles, come on…)

    • Anonymous

      I’ve seen the studies that test whether I can give a homeless person on the street $10. Statistically, I don’t. Therefore, I cannot.

    • deiseach

      What have you got against poor Ss. Genesius, Jude, Anthony (badly over-worked by my family finding our lost stuff, lemme tell you) and the others I don’t know?

      We have saints to invoke against ants and moles? This I did not know before – thank you for informing me, keddaw 🙂

    • R.C.

      I wonder whether it would ultimately be productive, or counterproductive, from the Christian point-of-view, were God to answer prayers in such a way as to represent an irrefutable display of world-altering power. People who win the lottery sometimes complain that it changes the dynamic of relationships and that it’s difficult to know who their friends are. The practical psychology of this is obvious to anyone who knows humanity well. But Christianity’s God has won the lottery (and then some) in the sense of holding world-altering power. And of course Christians expect Him to know humanity perfectly well, to be a master of practical psychology. I suspect that to prevent the power dynamic from corrupting the relationships He wishes to form, He’s obligated to play His power very close to His vest with anyone for whom the relationship is not yet in place.

      As for the inappropriateness of praying to saints? In Christianity that depends on whether one treats the saint as powerful in-and-of-themselves (which is polytheism) or as a righteous person whose prayers to God one wishes to have on one’s side (which is letting your family get involved in your problems). Christians ask one another for prayer all the time, and do not regard those who have died and gone to heaven to be “dead” in the sense of insensate, but “absent from the body and present with the Lord.”

      I have some sympathy for the view that the Catholic and Orthodox emphasis on asking for the saints’ intercession can and does become disproportionate. But the popular prayer which most grates on the sensibilities of those Christians who don’t ask the saints for intercession is the “Hail Mary”…and yet even that prayer, after some flowery introductory phrasing which is entirely copied-and-pasted from the Bible, basically amounts to: “Hey, Jesus’ mom, please pray for us.”

      • keddaw

        Yeah, because certain saints are better at removing moles from the garden than others… Sorry, better at asking God to remove moles from the garden than others. Except they aren’t because God has to play his power close to his chest – just like He did with the burning bush, Egypt’s plagues, walking on water, raising Lazarus from the dead and coming back from the dead himself. Real subtle.

        As for praying to saints, however you frame [pun partly intended] it, there is a false idol there…
        “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above”.

  • grok87

    “If you’re part of the religious subset of readers for the blog, please keep her in your prayers. And, if you’re looking for someone to pray to, Jen keeps a random saint generator running, so you can learn more about the saints…”

    I will keep Jen in my prayers-such a scary situation…

    I love the idea of a random saint generator! Today is the feast day of Elizabeth Ann Seaton, the first American born saint, who is claimed by both NYC (where she was born and converted) and Maryland (where she did her work). From today’s Divine Office Office of readings

    “Second reading
    From a conference to her spiritual daughters by Elizabeth Ann Seton
    Our daily work is to do the will of God

    I will tell you what is my own great help. I once read or heard that an interior life means but the continuation of our Savior’s life in us; that the great object of all his mysteries is to merit for us the grace of his interior life and communicate it to us, it being the end of his mission to lead us into the sweet land of promise, a life of constant union with himself. And what was the first rule of our dear Savior’s life? You know it was to do his Father’s will. Well, then, the first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly, to do it in the manner he wills; and thirdly, to do it because it is his will.

  • Great pick for a first year’s saint! If you get an itch to visit his shrine (and incorrupt body), my wife and I would love to show you the spot personally. Drop me a line. 🙂

  • isolines of travel time, surely (distance would imply radiating rings). Indeed, clicking the link reveals that this is so.

    The above will look a bit strange once Leah corrects the error; originally, the post described the map as a “map of isolines of travel distances to various parts of the US in 1857.”

    • Well, to be more precise, it would require approximate radiating rings if it were depicting as-the-crow-flies distances and the projection approximately depicted great circles as straight lines. A map that showed isolines of distance along then-extant roads/rails, for instance, would not show radiating rings. That said, it also would require a very odd road/rail system indeed to look like the above map does!

    • leahlibresco

      Actually, Squelchtoad, whether because I don’t drive or what, I tend to use time as the default metric for distance in my head. When I ask, “How far away is X” I’m frustrated if someone tells me miles. So, I didn’t think of the interpretation you hit on.

      • Darren

        I wonder if everyone does, or if we are a subset of humans.

        Growing up in Kansas, a 30 minute trip was roughly 30 miles. Then when I moved to Cambridge, a 30 minute trip was 5 miles…

      • Actually, Squelchtoad, whether because I don’t drive or what, I tend to use time as the default metric for distance in my head.

        Some physicists might quibble (though certain friends of yours probably wouldn’t).

        • ACN

          Not only is it not proven experimentally, it also appears to be indistinguishable in principle from any of the other less fun interpretations of QM. That is to say, it makes ALL of the same predictions.

  • Darren

    Loved #4, thanks. Gotta love anyone who can show up Penn Jillette. Also appreciated the cognitive science tie in.

    Speaking of cognition, have you seen the article in this month’s Atlantic? Warning! It starts as a rather squick inducing discussion of surgical awakenings, then moves on to some pretty interesting discussions about just what it means to be conscious and the scientific quest to quantify it.