Category Archives: Nerdiness

Inky, the Houdini-esque Cephalopoda

Inky the Octopus escaped from his enclosure in the National Aquarium of New Zealand by sneaking out via a hole in his tank, then fortuitously finding a drain pipe that leads to the ocean.  (Story.)

Octopodes are famously adept at being able to escape through tiny holes – anything over the size of a quarter is fair game.  They play games, use tools, and predict the results of sporting matches (okay, not so much to the last one).


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The New, and Not Improved, Starbucks Rewards

My Starbucks Rewards operates on a fairly simple premise: go to the store and buy things 12 times, and earn a freebie (coffee, food, pastries, etc.).  The programme has changed a bit through the years – you used to be able to get free syrups in your drinks if you were a Gold member, but only got a freebie every 15 visits – but it’s always been about frequency of visits, not how much you spend.

Now that is changing.  The new Starbucks Rewards, according to an email sent out today, works as follows:

You’ll earn 2 Stars for every $1 you spend on coffee, food, drinks, mugs–and more. As a Gold member, once you earn 125 Stars, you’ll be able to redeem them for anything on the menu.*

Doing some quick math, you earn a free reward for every $62.50 spent at Starbucks.  Over 12 visits, that would average out to $5.21 per visit – which is far more than the average “handcrafted espresso beverage,” and, actually, more than almost any item on the menu excepting food items.

What does this mean for you?  If you typically go to Starbucks and order multiple items, you will earn freebies a bit faster.  For everyone else, it will take about 18 tall cappuccinos or mochas to earn a reward.

While this is being billed as a bonus for those who buy coffees for the whole office and now get extra stars for it, most customers will spend a lot more money to get the same rewards.

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Animal Encounters – New Hampshire

In a new twist on a GOTV operation, a six hundred pound pig in New Hampshire wandered into the polling stations.  No word yet on which candidate recruited the animal for the trip, or whether his lack of photo ID precluded him from voting.

Justice Kennedy was reached for comment and stated, “Pigs are highly intelligent animals.  Our living, breathing Constitution certainly protects the pig franchise under the penumbras of the XIX and XIII Amendments.  If our forefathers were not choirosphobes, pigs would have the franchise.”

Wilbur v. State of New Hampshire will be heard in OT 2017.

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As Mark Twain said, there’s lies, damn lies, and social science

Okay, he didn’t quite say that, and “lies” is harsh.

I came across this article in the Harvard Business Review, citing a study which proves that wearing high-status brands signals to potential interviewers that you are more qualified and should be paid more money. (Story here.)  Put on a Burberry and, voila!, people will think that are qualified and worth extra money.

The set-up itself was good: videos of the same interview, but some of them were edited to add a conspicuous logo to the interviewee’s attire. The problem is that the people analysing the interview are college students.  Not only are they all barely legal to drink, at best (and therefore entirely unrepresentative of what a fifty-year-old interviewer may think), they have never hired someone for a position before.

The research is intriguing, but the proper conclusion may well be that young people with little experience rely heavily on outward indicators of success and status.  It is entirely possible that older, more seasoned interviewers would dislike status signalling (and, anecdotally, I know a few who prefer hungry and ambitious to spoiled and wealthy).

Thoughts, readers?

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Cat Owners Survival Guide

Cat Owners Survival Guide.

I’ve just given up on my carpet. At this point, I cover my bedspread with a blanket so that Sir Pukes A Lot will throw up on something easily washable.

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Green Burials, Ancient Chinese Style: Buddha Statue Holds Mummified Remains of Monk

A Chinese Buddha statue that dates from approximately the 11th or 12th century was found to have a mummified monk inside of it as well as even older pieces of rolled textile carpet, covered in Chinese text.  (Story from

The Buddha statue itself is made of gold-plated papier-mâché and, according to the carbon dating performed on it, was created around the eleventh or twelfth century. The monk inside of the statue may have performed self-mummification, wherein he slowly starved himself to death in a way that would promote mummification and reduce decay.  His body was then placed in a lotus position inside of the statue.

It’s interesting that we think of this as a mummified monk who was surprisingly found inside of a Buddha statue, rather than viewing the statue itself as a part of the mummification.  Here is the CT scan of the mummy:

Given that the Buddha statue seems to have so precisely matched the contours of the monk’s remains, it appears to be an artistic, elaborate coffin, rather than a statue that just happens to have a corpse hidden inside of it.  (Just bear in mind that my study of the classics was limited to Greece, Rome, and a smidge of Egypt, and ended sometime around 400 AD.)

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Shadow Selfies from Space

The Rosetta spacecraft inadvertently took a picture of its own shadow when it snapped a high-resolution image of Comet 67P.  (Story.)  Because this is the twenty-first century, wherein spacecraft take their own pictures on comets, the European Space Agency tweeted thus:

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I see no disclaimer on dollar bills about only being ‘legal tender if not folded’

Timothy Norris of Wichita, Kansas attempted to pay his $600 property tax bill in one dollar bills that were folded so tightly that it took personnel six minutes to unfold each of them.  Rather than spend approximately two and a half days of man-hours unfolding the bills, the tax agency requested that Mr. Norris depart the premises.  When he refused, the police were summoned.  Norris resisted arrest and was charged with criminal trespass and resisting arrest.  (Story here.)

Mr. Norris claims that most of the bills were one-dollar bills that were banded together, along with 150 origami-folded bills and $250 worth of unfolded $5, $10, and $20 bills.  (The tax bill was $497.17.)  Norris says,

“They didn’t make it convenient for me whenever they raised the taxes every year,” he said. “Why should I make it convenient for them?”

After unfolding $25-worth of money, Norris said he changed his mind and took the money back once the clerk started ripping and tearing the bills to get them flat. This also prompted him to abandon his plan, and he said he had no intention of using the folded money when he returned Jan. 28.

However, Norris said he also had to pay for a vehicle registration tag that day, costing him an extra $180 he did not expect. Because of this, he was left with only $450 for his property bill in unfolded money, forcing him to pull $50 out from the 150 folded one-dollar-bills he still had with him.

Sheriff David Duke claims that there was far more than $50 in folded bills, since it took his officers 2.5 hours to unfold them.  The deputies had to unfold the bills because a person’s possessions are inventoried at the time of arrest.

Some of the confusion is likely between what Duke had on him at the time (i.e. $150 in origami-folded bills) and what he intended to pay with (i.e. many of the unfolded bills).  I admire the man’s initiative and persistence, but can see how government officials would find such stunts a bit boring after a while.  Perhaps Wichita and other municipalities ought to offer some sort of ‘discount’ to those who pay in convenient form, which is really just a surcharge on those who pay in pennies, folded bills, etc.

Thoughts, readers?


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#DeflateGate? #BallGate? #ColtsAreSoreLosersGate?

After the Patriots shellacked the Colts last night, 45-7, allegations surfaced that the Patriots cheated to win by… [drumroll]  deflating the footballs.  As a deflated football is easier to handle in the rain and 40-mph wind, the Patriots gave themselves an advantage by deflating the ball.  (The Colts did not reap any benefit from said deflated football, because they never actually managed to hang onto the ball for more than a millisecond.)  The allegations came because the referees were seen weighing the football.  Thus was born this bit of awesomeness:


Now that we have the lowbrow humour out of the way, let’s examine this whole premise of weighing a football to determine its internal pressure.

A football holds approximately 4.237 L of air and that air has a mass of approximately 10 grams.  The football itself weights approximately 400 grams.  The football is inflated to a pressure of between 12.5 and 13.5 psi. The referees inspect about three dozen footballs before the game to determine if they meet regulations.  What the #DeflateGate supporters allege, essentially, is that the footballs were underinflated because instead of having a mass of approximately 410 grams, plus/minus 5 grams, the football had a mass of, perhaps, 408 grams.

(I’ll let that one sink in.)

You don’t measure inflation by weight, especially not when that something is wet and has been bouncing around in the mud.  You measure inflation of a football the same way you measure the air pressure in your tires: with one of those nifty gauges that tells you the pressure.

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Ten minutes and thirty-three seconds later

I fixed an engine problem in my Volvo.  Sort of.

To clarify: the problem is completely fixed.  Last week, , for as I was turning into my driveway, my car started shaking and vibrating.  I pulled into the driveway, and, instead of taking the Volvo straight to the mechanic like a normal young woman, used this as an excuse to purchase a Bluetooth OBD II reader.  (The one I chose is a BAFX Elm, $23.99; it was called a “magical impulse buy” by a car magazine.) Anyway, the check engine light (CEL) was not on, but my car didn’t have any stored codes, either. I took a wild guess that the spark plugs needed changing (and were, cough, about fifty thousand miles overdue for this).

Mr. Velociraptor helped out with this project.  After three hours of peering under my hood, scratching our heads, and making two separate trips to the hardware store (for a 10 mm socket wrench and a torque wrench), we got exactly one cylinder fixed.  We also had to gap the “pre-gapped” spark plugs, because when you buy cheap spark plugs, they are properly gapped, but the nice platinum ones that last for a hundred thousand miles don’t come pre-gapped. (They also require a different tool to gap them.) The second cylinder was faster, but by that time, it was dark and cold.  We threw in the towel, then continued the project yesterday.

After all five spark plugs were changed, I turned on my car and, amidst the rumbling, voila! the check engine light came on.  Let me tell you, I’ve never been so happy to see “Check Engine” lit up in orange. My nifty BAFX told me that the problem was a misfire in cylinder 1. Thanks to the wonders of and their new “garage” feature (which enables you to store your vehicle so that it can automatically check parts for compatibility), I got an ignition coil overnight shipped to me.

This afternoon, I installed it in ten minutes and thirty-three seconds flat.   My car now works properly!

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