High Variance

In the Age of the Internet, Original Ideas Are Hard to Come By

I think of myself as a reasonably creative guy. I’m not always coming up with particularly useful or imporant ideas, but I like to think they’re fairly unique. Unique in a small town or among your friends is one thing, but unique on the Internet is quite another. I thought it would be fun to share some ideas I had for posts that turned out be less original than I first thought.

Is height normal?

Adult height is one of the prototypical examples of a naturally occurring normal distribution, but if you look at real data, it’s not perfectly normal. First off, it’s a mixture of men and women who individually have pretty normal heights but quite different means (by about 5”). Second, the tails of the distribution are fatter than normal. That is, extremely short and tall people are far more common than predicted by a pure normal distribution. All this is explained very nicely explained in two 2008 posts (here, here, and here) by John D. Cook at The Endeavor.

Nietzsche and pop music

There aren’t very many 19th or 20th Century philosophers that inspire pop songs. The Cure turned Albert Camus’ The Stranger into “Staring at the Sea”, but up until a few weeks ago I thought that was it. How wrong I was! Kelly Clarkson’s “What Doesn’t Kill You” has been getting tremendous airplay on pop stations and it’s not much different from Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter” which also talks about how being beaten down just makes her “stronger”, “harder”, and “wiser”. And it turns out tons and tons of songs have been inspired by this Nietzsche quote. I thought it would be fun to see how many more of Nietzsche’s ideas (e.g., the Superman) have been translated into pop music (maybe “Sunshine Superman”?). Turns out Craig Schuftan has written a whole book about this called Hey! Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone!: The Romantic Movement, Rock & Roll, and the End of Civilisation as We Know It.

The environmental impact of cleaning the Augean stables

The Fifth Labor of Heracles was to clean the Augean stables. They were so dirty and filthy that he had to divert two rivers through them to wash out the manure that 1000 cattle had produced over thirty years. This reminded me of what happened when hurricanes hit North Carolina a few years ago and pushed massive amounts of pig waste into the water supply. Wouldn’t it be interesting to write a quick environmental impact statement for Hercules’ act? A few people have noticed that the effects were probably pretty serious (The Punnery, this homework assignment for a class on Hazardous Waste Management) but no one has actually done any calculations to show how serious. Hmm….maybe I can contribute something here!

A sitcom about a woman with cancer.

Last month I had a strange dream about developing a sitcom that starred a woman who is diagnosed with cancer and goes through the whole treatment process. The story would have a full three year arc with cliff-hangers every year when she (or her new best friend who also has cancer) goes in for testing. The final episode would be her saying goodbye. The show would have lots of funny kids, hair loss jokes, and nausea jokes. She could also start a romantic relationship in the middle of the run. An awfully large number of people have either had cancer by now or had someone very close go through it. I really believe that a show like this would have a big audience of people who want to laugh about a serious thing. Showtime also believed this and started “The Big C” in 2010 and it’s entering its third season now. According to Wikipedia, it’s been very successful since the beginning!