Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hobology: Why use a bindle?

Q: Hobos* are often depicted carrying a bindle. What's so great about tying a bundle to a stick instead of just slinging it over your shoulder?
*or hoboes, if you prefer - the romanticized Depression-era rail-riding tramps who have a fun ol' time bein' homeless! Substitute "swagman" if you're Australian (also "tucker bag" for "bindle" and "jumbuck" for - wait, is that even a thing?).

A new challenger approaches

A: What's not to like? It appears that the hobo, nature's physicist, uses something we no-bos call a "lever" to make his beans, bedroll, and other hobo paraphernalia easier to carry. If he uses the bindle as pictured, though, with half of the stick behind his shoulder and half in front, it won't provide any mechanical advantage - he'll use no less force than he would carrying the bag in his hand. In that case, all the bindle will do is shift the direction of the required force. A sack would do pretty much the same thing.

But! If that hobo moved the bindle so that the stick stuck out farther in front of the hobo's shoulder than behind it, then . . . well, let's look at the bindle as a lever with the hobo's shoulder as the fulcrum.

Just because it was drawn in Paint doesn't mean it's not scientific.

We've got the weight of the polka-dotted kerchief bundle, W, on the left. There's the force of the hobo's be-fingerless-gloved hand pulling the end of the stick down, FH. In the middle, there's the hobo's shoulder holding the whole thing up with force FS. Somewhere in there, we should probably include the weight of the stick, but ehhhh, whatever. We'll call the distance between the bundle and the shoulder X1 and the distance between the shoulder and the hand X2. So, say that the weight is 20 pounds and that X1 is 1/4th the distance that X2 is. Then . . .

Skip this part if you hate math and/or science!
There are two principles at work here: conservation of linear momentum and conservation of angular momentum. This bindle 'n' shoulder setup is static, so we only need a couple equations to balance forces and torques. Don't worry too much about forces and torques being vectors - the forces are all straight up or straight down, and the distance ratios are set up so that the problem's the same whether we calculate distances normal to the forces or just use the distances measured straight along the bindle stick.
Now, let's substitute in the knowns: W=20 lbs and X1=.25*X2
.25*X2*(20 lbs)=X2*FH
which simplifies to
FH=.25*(20 lbs)=5 lbs
Now, back to the first equation:
FS=W+FH=20 lbs + lbs = 25 lbs.

. . . the hobo will only have to push down with 5 pounds of force to carry that weight. Not bad! And there will be 25 pounds of force on his shoulder. And if X1 is even smaller compared to X2, then less force will be required to hold the bindle, and less force will be applied to the hobo's shoulder (it'll never be less than the weight of the bundle, though). How does that compare to a sack? Go-go-gadget-free-body-diagram!

This is . . . this is a diagram, really.

Yep, a hoisted sack is more or less a rope and single pulley supporting a load. This diagram represents the sack as a rope tied to a crate of beans, the traditional food of the hobo people, with the hobo's shoulder acting as a pulley. The bean-crate has three forces acting on it: the tension in the rope, which is the same as the pulling force of the hobo's hand, Fh; the force of the hobo's stooped-over back supporting the crate (in a direction perpendicular to the back), Fb; and the weight of the crate itself, W. θ1 is the angle that the hobo's back is away from vertical - the degree of stoop. So, say that the weight carried is 20 lbs. In the simplest (and least possible) case, where the hobo's back carries none of the load, the sack is equivalent to the ridiculously misused bindle pictured at the beginning - the hobo needs to exert 20 lbs of force to carry it, and 40 lbs of force is plunked down right on his shoulder. But if the hobo stoops over by 30 degrees . . .

More skippable math/science! Another static problem involving conservation of linear momentum. Let's simplify the problem by writing the forces as combinations of two perpendicular components, instead of as vectors. And let's make those components parallel and perpendicular to the hobo's back, so that Fh and Fb don't have to be split up. W will be split into Wy, the component of the beans' weight parallel to the hobo's back, and Wx, the perpendicular component.
Fb=Wx=W*sinθ1=(20 lbs)*sin(30 degrees)=10 lbs
Fh=Wy=W*cosθ1=(20 lbs)*cos(30 degrees)=17ish lbs

. . . the hobo will pull on the rope - er, sack - with about 17 pounds of force, and a load of 10 pounds will rest on his back. The force on his shoulders will vary depending on how he holds the sack (don't make me draw another diagram), but won't exceed twice the tension in the rope plus the . . . you know what, let's not do more math here. Let's say it'll probably be around 17 pounds of force, but it could be more like 32 pounds. Change the angle to 45 degrees, and the hobo will have about 14 pounds of force on his hand and on his back. And less force on his shoulders, probably. You could calculate for greater angles, but those would be ridiculous, super-Grinchian levels of hunch.

That's about 45 degrees, there. Don't try this at home.

But the slight reductions in force on the hobo's hand and shoulder come because of an increased load on a stooped-over hobo spine. It's OSHA's worst nightmare**.
**Or would be, if OSHA thought that back problems from hoboing or bean-toting were occupational hazards. As it is, OSHA has no idea of the solution to these problems.

So, yes! Bindles are great! Use one! Or go nuts and use one of those yoke-like things with a load on each side so that you don't have to apply any force at all with your hands.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

How poisonous is a platypus?

Q: So, I've heard that platypuses are venomous. Can you rank them in venomousness compared to some poisonous spiders, snakes, jellyfish, and little frogs?

A: Nope!

But I'll answer this anyway. Venomousness, if that's a word, is usually ranked by comparing how little of an animal's poison it takes to kill you. Like, when some guy wants to consider what the most venomous snake is, he looks at LD50 tables (which say how much poison, as a fraction of a test subject's mass, it takes to kill half of a group of test subjects - the Lethal Dose for 50%) for different methods of injecting poison into mice, and he compares the rankings of the lethality of the poison from different animals in those tables. Try not to think about the mice too much. There are also extensive LD50 listings for scorpions and other nasty critters, if you don't mind looking at an old Tripod page to find them.

Platypus venom, though, just isn't meant to kill. A male platypus has little spurs on its back legs (like foot-thumbs made of pain) that can inject venom into other animals, and it probably uses these spurs to drive off other males competing with it to mate.

Keep this end of the platypus pointed away from you at all times.

Platypus venom could kill mice, sure, so there's no reason it couldn't get onto an LD50 table - but given that it has never killed a human being, scientists have no motivation for testing it on bunches of mice. Instead, scientists study the mysterious, excruciating pain that platypus venom causes. Listen to these horror stories:
"Pain was immediate, sustained, and devastating; traditional first aid analgesic methods were ineffective. [...] Significant functional impairment of the hand persisted for three months, the cause of which is uncertain.[...] [The venom] produces savage local pain  . . .  No antivenom is available."  - The Medical Journal of Australia
"... the pain was intense and almost paralysing. But for the administration of small doses of brandy, he would have fainted on the spot: as it was, it was half and hour before he could stand without support: by that time the arm was swollen to the shoulder, and quite useless, and the pain in the hand very severe." - W.W. Spicer (1876)
"Warning signs should therefore be erected at air and sea ports warning tourists of the dangers of these venomous Australians."  - The Department of Hand Surgery, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, Australia
Way ahead of you, hand surgeons. Behold, to gauge the severity of Australian threats, the Steve Irwin Memorial Crikeyometer:

This is pretty much the worst joke I could come up with.

Anyway, there are two points to take away from this investigation:
  1. Australia is weird and terrifying.
  2. Platypuses are weird and terrifying.

The platypus has an Apparent Harmlessness / Actual Hazardousness Ratio of 1.5 deceptihippos

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Do parodies ever outsell originals?

Q: Have any parody songs or movies ever outsold the original works they were based on?

A: Yes, actually, although it seems like every example of this needs some sort of disclaimer. Assuming it's fair to describe Shrek as a parody of Disney fairy-tale movies, the Shrek series looks like the biggest winner in this category. The first Shrek movie outdid every Disney princess movie (and every other Disney cartoon except The Lion King) in U.S. ticket sales, and the second movie, which made over $900 million worldwide, outsold every Disney movie, period, until the worldwide sales of the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie (over $1 billion) surpassed it.

Scary Movie, with a box office gross of nearly $157 million, clearly qualifies, having earned more than Scream ($103 million), The Blair Witch Project ($140.5 million), or any of the other movies it spoofed (with the exception of The Matrix, at $171 million, since there was an obligatory bullet time gag). The Austin Powers series works, too, as long as you look at U.S. ticket sales: the two sequels took in over $200 million each, better than any Bond film. However, the Bond films of the '90s and 2000s absolutely clobbered those figures when worldwide ticket sales are taken into account: Tomorrow Never Dies made over $330 million; Goldeneye and The World is Not Enough each made over $350 million; and Die Another Day earned almost $432 million worldwide. Isn't that long series of numbers terribly interesting?

Austin Powers and Shrek, two highly successful parody franchises. Who knows what Mike Myers's infallible comedic talent will bring us next?

Another couple of winners would be Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. Young Frankenstein earned $86.4 million, waaaay more than any of the actual Frankenstein films, and Blazing Saddles earned $119.5 million - much more than the old Westerns it spoofed.  Here's the thing, though: it's kind of unfair to compare Shrek to Snow White, or Austin Powers: The Spy who Shagged Me to The Spy who Loved Me, or, especially, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles to the 1930s Frankenstein movies and '40s and '50s cowboy movies they parodied. Those earlier movies were shown on fewer screens and at cheaper ticket prices. Clearly, it's necessary to make some adjustments, otherwise even High Anxiety would count, since it outsold Vertigo. If you adjust for inflation, then Snow White, for example, outsold Shrek 2 in the U.S. by over $270 million. So even a movie that made more than $900 billion worldwide isn't necessarily a clear example of a parody outselling an original.

One movie that doesn't have this problem is Airplane!, which directly copied much of the campy 1957 movie Zero Hour!, but is principally targeted at the Airport series of disaster movies. Airplane!, which was released in 1980, was mostly a spoof of the sequel Airport 1975, but grossed $83.4 million to Airport 1975's $25 million. It also outdid Airport '77 and The Concorde ... Airport '79. Still, it didn't catch up to the massively successful original Airport, which grossed over $100 million, nor did it generate as much rental revenue.

"What's Airplane's box office gross?"
"It's the total revenue from Airplane's ticket sales.
But that's not important right now."

Two other possible contenders were clear winners at the box office, but have the bizarre distinction of being released before the originals they spoofed. First, there's Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Being, as it is, a Kubrick war movie, this is probably the most critically acclaimed spoof you will ever see. It grossed over $9 million, more than 5 times its budget. Now, while Dr. Strangelove, which was a comedy adaptation of the serious novel Red Alert (also known as Two Hours to Doom - what a great name)  was in production, Sidney Lumet was making a drama based on the book Fail-Safe, a novel so similar to Red Alert that its authors had to settle a plagiarism suit out of court - a suit instigated in part by Kubrick (read about it in an old LIFE magazine article entitled "Everybody Blows Up!"). Because of this lawsuit, Columbia Pictures, which was producing Dr. Strangelove, won the rights to Fail-Safe - and pushed it back to a much later release. As a result, the stern drama was released ten months after the zany comedy, and it flopped. Now, Kubrick never meant Dr. Strangelove to be a parody of Fail-Safe, but the aforementioned similarities would make it a de facto spoof . . . except that spoofs, like nuclear strikes, aren't meant to be preemptive.

The other parody-that-is-not-a-parody (parodox?) is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Before the 1990 movie of the same name, TMNT began as an indie comic parodying (among other things) the superhero Daredevil and his grim, gritty, Frank Miller-created battles with the evil ninja clan The Hand - hence the Foot ninjas in TMNT.

 Foot. Soldiers. Foot soldiers.

Soon after, it became the cartoon/action figure/toy/merchandise/movie juggernaut we all knew in the '90s - and that's when the first Turtles movie raked in $135 million at the box office. Thirteen years later, after the success of Spider-Man and X-Men, Marvel cashed in on another of its properties by making a Daredevil movie with Fox. It did pretty respectably, earning $102.5 million, but it was nowhere near as successful as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which had collected more revenue, even without inflation adjustment, with about one sixth the budget. But Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, being a movie adaptation of a comic book parodying another comic book that later also came out with a movie, doesn't really count as a movie parody. Unless Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird saw Daredevil, went back in time to prevent Ben Affleck's parents from ever meeting, and then decided it would be easier to make a successful movie franchise instead.

But what about songs? Did Weird Al, for example, ever write a hit bigger than the songs he copied? Well, no - Weird Al did get a platinum record with "White & Nerdy," but Chamillionaire's "Ridin'" went quadruple platinum. Nor can I find an example for any of the successful parodists of the past. Spike Jones fans make a big deal of "Cocktails for Two" being principally remembered as a novelty song, but Jones's 1944 version charted at #4, whereas Duke Ellington's 1934 version reached #1 and stayed there for five weeks.

No, the biggest parody successes were by already-huge artists stooping to parody others' hits. In 1996, Tupac Shakur parodied the chorus of Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s single "Get Money" in his diss song "Hit 'Em Up," aimed at Junior M.A.F.I.A. founder Biggie Smalls. As the B-side to 2Pac's "How Do U Want It," which hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it outsold "Get Money," which peaked at #17. In 2000, Eminem parodied Tom Green's "Lonely Swedish (The Bum Bum Song)" in the middle of "The Real Slim Shady," which reached #4 on the Hot 100.

Tom Green: envied for his mad flow;
dissed for his moose-humping

So there you have it. Parodies can outsell originals, as long as you ignore how they don't fit the definitions of "parody" or "outsell."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

May I offer you some Falcon Punch?

Q: Captain Falcon. Meme. Myth. Legend. How do you spell the catchphrase he yells during his signature attack, the Falcon Punch?

Captain Falcon. Punching.

A: To find this, we will need to determine how many o's there ought to be in falcon (FALCOOOOON?) and how many u's in punch (PUUUUUNCH!?). Fortunately, Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics has already detailed the methodology for finding how many times to repeat one character in a single phrase using the example "excuuuuuuuuuuuse me, princess!" - meaning that all that's left to do is to repeat that procedure for two variables. Science! Too bad whoever wrote the Khaaaan! Machine script didn't make something for such an instance, or this would be really easy.

Here's the spreadsheet I used to repeatedly search Google for the phrases "Falcon Punch" through "Falcoooooooooon Puuuuuuuuuunch," and here is the lovely Excel graph those results yielded:

This graph is . . . not so good. "Falcon Punch" dominates everything else, and there's a slight bump for "Falcooon Punch," which, at the time I searched for it, had 9,230 results. Also, Excel insists on color-coding the z-axis.

why must you mock me, Clippy

Let's see what the graph looks like when we ignore everything above 1000.

A-ha! Besides the abundance of boring results that insist on a single O in FALCON or a single U in PUNCH, there are two clear peaks. One, FALCOOOOOON PUUUUUUUUNCH, is from repeated copying of a Pokemon theme parody (gotta smash 'em all, etc.), and hence does not count. The other, FALCOOON PUUUUNCH, is a heterogeneous mixture of Smash Brothers fans, meme repeaters, and writers of crossover fanfiction. This, like the FALCOOON PUNCH spike, is a genuine result.

In conclusion: please spare yourself the indignity of spelling this exclamation as "FALCON PUNCH!" Instead, choose either the popular "FALCOOON PUNCH!" or the overenthusiastic "FALCOOON PUUUUNCH!" I leave it to your discretion whether to substitute for PUNCH "PAWNCH" (half as popular as PUNCH) or "PAUNCH" (one quarter as popular).

also how can there be only one result for "falcooon brunch" I mean come on

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Which logos look like they belong in Robocop?

Q: Ironic Sans pointed out that the Congressional Budget Office logo looks a little bit too much like the logo for the Omni Consumer Products megacorporation from Robocop. Compare:

Also, I just saw this logo on the side of a truck - I guess it's for a really great nonprofit, actually, not an evil robotics manufacturer  - and thought there was a certain resemblance:

Are there other logos with this somewhat creepy concentric-letter style?

A: Yep. There are quite a few organizations who had the clever idea to nest their initials like that, resulting in logos that are as memorable as they are distinguishable. Try to guess what these companies actually do:

If you guessed, respectively:
Instruction manuals, art collections, milk products, plastic containers, some kind of can, cardboard containers, laboratory services, antennae, long distance telephone service, apparel, cutlery, microcomputers, a department store, electrical connectors, enamel cookware, clothing, bingo equipment, air conditioning, and magnetic tape . . .
 . . . then congratulations.

Q: Most of those lack a certain je ne sais quois. Are there some logos that don't  adhere quite as well to the OCP mold, but would still look right at home in a dystopian future?

A: Thanks for that convenient leading question. Take a look at these:

Health care, auto part casting molds, buggies, music production, pumps, shoes, sewing equipment, and due diligence, in case you were wondering.

If you want more of these, search the United States Patent and Trademark Office site.