Archive for December, 2014

Statistic of the year: Americans busy buttering up

According to today’s Wall Street Journal, USA citizens on average consumed 24 sticks of butter in 2014.  Wisconsinites would be careful to differentiate whether this was really “butter” or actually “oleo”—aka margarine.  By State law* restaurants will only serve the non-dairy “yellow stick from Satan himself” (as a Governor deemed it) if a customer specifically orders it.  Until 1967 margarine was not allowed to be sold at all in Wisconsin—it had to be smuggled in from Illinois.  Meanwhile in Minnesota only sickly white oleo could be purchased.  To make it look buttery consumers had to knead in a capsule of yellow food color.  I remember those days and my wife Karen recalls going on smuggling runs for pre-yellowed margarine from Iowa.  Those were some messed up times!

Butter, preferably from grass-fed cows (margarine being ‘udderly’ eschewed), is now the rage as a health food thanks to The Cult of the Bulletproof Coffee Diet. At up to 2 tablespoons of this bovine grease per cup I presume 2015 will see an increase in per capita consumption.  Yuk!  These are some messed up times!

*See this detailed along with other strange Wisconsin State laws here.

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The best accidental inventions of all time

I learned from my latest issue of Chemical and Engineering News that Stanley Stookey of Corning Glass Works died last month at age 99.  In 1952 he mistakenly heated an alumino-silicate glass to 900 degrees C meaning only to top out at 600.  After much cursing, according to the CEN story, Stookey found that instead of the molten mess expected, the material crystallized into a new type of material called a glass ceramic that proved to be “harder than carbon steel yet lighter than aluminum—shatterproof.”

Being in the business of planned experimentation it always amazes me to come across stories like this of serendipitous science.  Obviously chance favors the prepared mind because most of the momentous discoveries are made by world-class chemists such as Stookey and others of his kind in the fields of physics and so forth. 

I am a huge fan of 3M Post-It® Notes, not only due to their incredible usefulness, but also because it delights me to think of my fellow Minnesotan Art Fry coming up these by accident. For a list including him and a dozen other experts in their field who made the most of mishaps into inventions see 13 Accidental Inventions That Changed The World by Drake Baer of Business Insider.  The one I like best is George Crum (great surname for a chef!) who reacted to customer complaining about his French fries by slicing them into ridiculously thin and hard-backed pieces.  Never mind that it probably was his sister Katie who made the accidental discovery according to this Snopes investigation.  Either way this works out to be a delicious story.

My advice to our clients is to keep a close watch for any strange results that crop up as statistically deviant in the course of a designed experiment.  They may turn out to be really Crummy!

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Fewer fatalities but not skidding fast enough

It always surprises me how the same stats create completely opposite reactions.  For example as I was reading Wall Street Journal’s breakdown of “Safety Gains” and feeling good about it my wife exclaimed at seeing “Traffic Deaths Fall” in Saint Paul Pioneer Press that she could not believe that over 30,000 Americans died in 2013 from car crashes.  I suppose the differing headlines were the main cause for the dissonance because after looking at the data her way I had to agree that it does remain appalling.  WSJ homes in on a big drop in deaths of those driving new cars to 3.4 per 100,000 automobiles built in 2013—a third less than new vehicles in 2008.  US Transportation Secretary attributes this largely to better stability controls that prevent cars from overturning.

On a related note, CarInsuranceComparison.com just came out with their latest Worst Drivers by State map.  See here how Minnesota stands out in glorious green as the safest steerers in the whole country.  Our main threat comes from roustabouts in Montana (tied for 1st of the worst states for bad drivers) barreling in from the east and convoying with the fellow fracking North Dakotans (4th on the hit list) for a blowout in the Twin Cities.

Buckle up, keep an eye out and drive carefully over the holidays so you do not add to the 2014 statistics.  Also, ask Santa for a new car.  That is your safest bet.

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Pianogram of Piano Man

With its bizarre German-captioned photo of a full shopping cart cut in half, this literally off-the-wall Flowing Data blog on physical infographics got me going on displaying data using apropos figures or objects.

Just to show that it’s not just das deutchlanders who apply figures in clever ways see the clever “colour” matching guide inside this suckUKtm (!) tea mug.

Further internet-searching on “infographics” brought me to these intriguing ‘pianograms’ including one, appropriately enough, of Piano Man by Billy Joel.

P.S. Coincidentally Billy Joel (not my cup of tea) just announced yesterday his return to Minneapolis for a concert, despite swearing off any further touring.  Check out a wicked Starcastic graph of his many marriages and their progression toward younger and younger women.  Then, to be fair, see this story about how Billy Joel’s three wives stole his heart and his money.

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