My first co-op placement was in a research lab, four and a half thousand kilometres away from my home university. For the first week or so, it was like taking a really intense lab for a university class, except the prof was just judging me instead of grading me. He would ask me questions to probe my knowledge and get me to think hard about things, but the environment and topic were so new that this usually just made me feel silly and lost. I did learn things, but not very quickly.
Soon enough, I was set up to do cell culture on my own. In a biology lab, this means sitting in front of a metal table with a box over it, all sterilized and ventilated, with room to put your hands in and manipulate things as you look in through a glorified sneeze guard. This is where you grow cells in petri dishes. But no one really calls them petri dishes anymore. You sound really foolish if you call them that. They all just called them plates.
The idea was simple enough. Put the cells on the plate, and cover them with a pink nutrient-rich liquid, and put the lid back on. Then put them back in the incubator. A few days later, if you looked under a microscope and saw that there were a lot more, you could take them back off the plate with chemicals, dilute them in more pink liquid, slaughter most of them, and put the rest on a new plate. You can do this with cancer cells pretty much forever.
Every day, I would stress over these tiny, loathsome critters. Most of them were actually human cells, but you don’t think of them that way. You’re too busy feeling like a ham-fisted klutz to think about it. My arms were too short to reach the back of the workspace, my hands would tremble, and sometimes I’d almost, almost forget not to put bleach in the yellow bag, because I still hadn’t internalized the fact that a tiny garbage mix-up could literally kill me and all of my coworkers. Shit’s intense.
Mercifully, finally, I started getting the hang of it. It was now about two months into my placement, and at this point I felt comfortable enough in the lab to show up feeling mildly grumpy on Mondays. I was settling in nicely, and so far, nothing horrible had happened.
Anyway, on one particular Monday morning, I was getting ready to start growing a new kind of cells – the same type of cancer, but a different cell line, so it had different nutrient requirements. I dug around in cupboards briefly for supplements, before remembering that a previous student had grown these cells before. He had finished his honours thesis and left shortly before I started, so his stuff was still in the fridge.
This is the thing about cell culture… you’re basically putting sugar and vitamins on a plate. We keep these nutrient liquids in plastic bottles in a fridge, sealed up, and only open them in sterile containment, because there are a lot of tiny things that would be happier than a pig in shit if they found themselves in there.
Evidently, something got into this one.
The next part is a bit of a blur. As I pulled the bottle from the back of the fridge, I held it to the light to see if there was any mold growing in there. That’s typically what we’d find… mold. I don’t think that’s what this was. It was almost a perfect sphere, maybe a bit oblong like an egg, and a bit yellowish in colour. It was about the size of a tangerine – I’m not kidding. It seemed solid. I shook the bottle a bit, and it bounced off the sides.
All I could think was… oh god. It’s human.
Listen, I’m sorry. I know it’s gross. That was honestly my best guess, because the bottle was last used to feed a human cell line, and sometimes if people aren’t paying attention they’ll put the glass pipette back in the bottle after touching the plate. That’s all it takes to move cells around. This thing had been growing undisturbed for at least two months, probably more. Bacteria would make the liquid cloudy. Fungus would probably look like tendrils through the bottle. I don’t know. I panicked. It looked like a damn kidney.
So, here I am, Monday morning, holding a tumor in a bottle in one hand and spinning in circles to see if anyone else was around. It never registered in my mind that this wasn’t my fault. Really, the last guy was the most likely culprit, but I was still new enough that I was convinced I would get blamed. That’s kind of how it works in labs: the lowest on the pecking order gets blamed if no one else can be directly implicated. So, having accepted that this was now my problem and I only had moments before other people started arriving for work and discovered me, I did the only thing I knew to do when dealing with a biological contamination.
I got the bleach.
I poured off some of the liquid into the sink and bleached it a bit, then topped up the bottle with more bleach.
And then I shook it. Hard. For quite a while.
This thing was so big that it wouldn’t have come out of the opening on its own. And there was no way I was about to stick something in there to break it up. I wanted to kill it, fast, not risk pissing it off.
I shook, and shook, and sweated profusely, and hyperventilated a bit, and shook. I’d pour off a bit, rinse, bleach, repeat. Until, at last, I had broken it up into a suspension, bleached the last of it, and poured it all down the drain. I was shaking worse than at senior prom, but at least this time no one was around to see it.
So, there you have it. Terror. Stupid, weird, messed up terror – not the kind that will get you a book deal after the fact, but definitely the kind you get to inflict on other people over beers.
Click on the image for larger graphic.
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(CLICK HERE FOR PIN-UP POSTER – pdf file ~1Mb)
– We suggest photocopying at 129% – LTR to 11×17 –
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The “Candy Hierarchy” represents a thoroughly authoritative attempt to scientifically measure and classify Halloween Candy by assessing “joy induction.” More or less. Since 2006, Cohen and Ng have curated these rankings as an ongoing longitudinal study, one which reassesses itself through the use of the newest technologies (often teeth and jaws) and robust scientific peer review (comments). This article therefore presents the latest rankings with insight into the complex cultural underpinnings of “sweet” things. Specific notes of interest are two fold: (1) the emergence of a child-centric sucro-fructo-tastic gummi/chewy/taffi layer into the upper strata and (2) the recent prominence of corporatized corn fructose agents potentially, but we doubt it, influencing the hierarchy. Speaking of corporate influence, we are proud to be sponsored by Sweetum’s this year. Sweetums!: When fructose jitters can’t wait, try Sweetums, an American delight! In conclusion, these findings continue to demonstrate the enormous challenge in monitoring the constantly changing landscape of candy joy induction. Except, of course, for Whoppers – Whoppers still blow. And, good god, if I get one more box of Nerds. They’re gone. It’s done. Boom. Drop the mic.
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This year, we had money. Gobs of money. Like lots and lots. If Everlasting Gobstoppers were money and not gobs used to stop things, we would be that. So much money it was crazy town for a while. It’s like, this year for Halloween we’re not going to be giving out Toblerone; we’re going to be giving out 3D printers that make Toblerone. But don’t let’s get all braggy. Our point is this: we got big cash and we did fancy research.
And what did this research look like? Well, all sorts of scientific things—things like booking time at CERN to collide candy corn and chocolate bars together in an attempt to explain why some fundamental particles (bodies) have (more) mass; things like using next gen sequencing methodologies to elucidate the genetic variation within populations of same-flavored and different-flavored Starbursts; things like setting up a Dancing-with-the-Stars-like competition where we had animated FTIR machines (which we printed with our disposable 3D printers) spit out competing glucose fingerprint codes to see which danced the best. Was most of this wasted time, effort, and money? Sure, maybe…the CERN data showed that colliding candy together at high speeds resulted in smaller bits of candy (intriguing); the Starburst genome project essentially suggested that Starbursts don’t, in fact, have genomes (curious); and it’s not clear that Dancing FTIR thing even made sense. But it’s not for us to decide the findings’ value. That’s what the peer community is for. Who knows how this knowledge might one day be applied? Besides, the stuffed coats at Sweetum’s tell us we can’t actually make the good data public until Sal in marketing vets it. I think this discussion is supposed to be redacted, actually. Rob, can you go check on that before this runs?
Regardless, we can state this: lo and behold, this year’s hierarchy reveals a bi-modal fracturing at the top strata. Previous rankings had found chocolate dominance at the top. The new hierarchy reflects discoveries made in the last year whereby some kids don’t think chocolate is top tier. Seemed like bullshit at first—because, really? Non-chocolate? But data don’t lie. So check out the graphic above.
Know what else? After years of failed get-it-right fast schemes, in this scheme we got it right. And fast. With some methodological retooling, more data sets, further research, and hundreds of additional peer review comments, the hierarchy is now entirely correct. There will be no need for comments. You can turn the internet off now. Yes yes, we said that last year, and the numerous years before. But that was before Twitter was big so nobody really read this. People always say they’re super confident, and you can never believe them, and don’t ever trust who ever acts like they’re one hundred percent certain. It’s just, if someone says something is entirely correct, you have to be a bit skeptical, right? But this time we are one hundred percent confident; this hierarchy is entirely correct. Why? Because of that corporate sponsorship. That’s why we’re proud to thank Sweetum’s Good Times High Fructosery for funding this year’s hierarchy. Sweetum’s, the quicker picker upper. Anyway, the scientific process is largely structured by corporate mechanisms and economic considerations, we’re told. Scientific research is underwritten by commitments to those problems our funders deem worthy of study. Right? And so here we are. Lots of sugar. Eventual diabetes. Meager dentistry. Yum.
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PLEASE CONTRIBUTE TO THE PEER REVIEW BY GOING HERE (UNTIL NOV. 3rd, 2013), OR BY TWEETING WITH THE HASHTAG #CANDYHIERARCHY
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1. Because like, score! (Bcsizemo, 2010)
2. a.k.a. God’s Candy
3. These may be rolled to a friend.
4. Not sure if this should be included. Systematics are still on going – denomination appears to be key.
5. Like that fish you’ve seen on television. You know – the one which looks like it can breathe air and stuff.
6. Appropriate ranking may depend entirely on date of purchase versus date of opening. Experts in this field often refer to this dichotomy as “fresh CCE” versus “stale CCE,” or FCCE versus SCCE (Beschizza, 2011). Note that its interior has also been described as “pustulent.” (Petersen, 2010)
7. Sometimes spousal influence forces these placements as with, ahem, this primarily southern delicacy.
8. Blame the children on this one, Canadian children too. Also, sponsored by Sweetums (“Sweetums!: When fructose jitters can’t wait, try Sweetums, an American delight!”) whose corporate dollars may or may not be messing with your heads.
9. Always a contentious subject with a rich history of controversy. Briefly: Candy Corn, as of 2006, remained unclassified, but as of 2007 had been tentatively placed in the Upper Chewy/Upper Devonian. 2008: no sighting. This year, we have elected to place in a new tier, although what this means exactly has yet to be determined.
10. Includes comparable Commonwealth version of “Smarties.” (Devo, Legionabstract, gadgetgirl et al, 2011)
11. Although has also been classified as packing material (Cunning, 2010)
12. Placed solely to acknowledge, make fun of, and possibly undermine British opinions. Google it, but be careful when you google it (2012).
13. This is from EU pressure, known in diplomatic circles as the “Hornby Concession” (see his many footnotes from the 2012 version).
14. In which we acknowledge the complex underpinnings of this here Candy ranking exercise: apparently, the wrapper of the Ferrero Roche gets a higher ranking than the candy itself (due to high artwork potential). (Son of Anthrodiva 2012)
15. Whoppers blow.
16. The authors are curious as to which neighborhoods you belong to.
17. Also a hot mess of debate. Not to be confused with hot messes involving actual persons named “Mary Jane.” (Girard, franko, lexicat, Easton, Petersen, Halloween_Jack, 2012)
18. The discontinued candy, not the equally rankable discontinued board game.
19. Oh smack, can you even imagine if you got Fritos?
20. You know, we don’t even know what this is, but, hell, your sister marries an Australian, they have a kid, now you’ve got a niece, and you want a nice life for her, you want her to have a stake in the hierarchy, so okay, Aussie Lollies — Picnic bars, cherry ripe, Frys Turkish delight, probably something Chazzwozzer-based too, knock yourself out.
21. In a word, surreal… Plus grandpas with eyepatches always make everything better. Pretty sure, this is reproducible. (Gyrofrog, petertrepan, Koerth-Baker, Olsen 2012)
22. By some accounts, these two are actually one and the same (Gadgetgirl, 2010)
23. Yet some would be just as well to be left off. Bit-o-Honey, for example, might be called a lower tier member, but why bother? It says to your trick-or-treaters, “Here, I don’t care, just take this.” The lesson of Bit-o-Honey is: you lose. Doorstep offers of lectures in civics, too. You’re making a social statement–”I hate you and everything you represent”– when you give these out.
24. Yes, we really meant fruit that is healthy, clean-cut upstanding fruit that takes time from its gym membership and all the demands that come with it to contribute a positive message of citizenship and camaraderie to the community. This isn’t a typo of healthy for healthful. (see U.M.H. 2011)
25. Research has further defined this relationship. Currently, it has been suggested that Blackwing Pencils > Hugs > Creepy Hugs > Pencils. (Lobster, Prufrock451, and Warreno, 2010)
26. Unless it’s something caramel, pronounced “caramel.”
27. Unless you eat them properly. To quote Anonymous, 2010: “The trick to realizing how brilliant and delicious Now ‘n Laters are is a two step process. The first step is to carefully read the name of the candy. “Now ‘n Later.” What does it mean, you ask? Well, it implies that the candy will be different “now” (when you put it in your mouth) and at some point “later” in time. A small leap of logic takes us to the second step: be patient. You need to suck on it for a while until it softens. If you skip this step, the Now ‘n Later will be an inedible, rock-like colorful brick quite worthy of the low end of the hierarchy. But if you are patient in your candy-eating process, oh the rewards you will reap!”
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Originally published at Boingboing.net.
Hello! Nice to meet you. Before we begin this conversation, I have to ask: are you a scientist?
Oh. Okay. This might be hard, then. You see, I am a scientist, and it will be difficult for me to talk to you, a layperson, without seeming like I am tooting my own horn, as you laypeople are fond of saying.
Why, you ask? I am assuming that is a rhetorical question, but I am happy to answer, rhetorically. For starters, I am endowed with an incredible intellect, so at least half of what I say will be completely unintelligible to you. You might be able to understand the other half, but by that point you will feel so hopelessly insecure that you will run away and resume familiar, comfortable activities, such as watching television, drawing flowers, or eating brightly colored food.
Also, I do not need to mention that, as a scientist, I am filthy rich. In my home, for example, I own a very expensive time machine. This is not what you think it is. If you think this is a device that will send me backward or forward in time, then I will shake my head and laugh at you, because laypeople watch many movies that star Michael J. Fox, and this is where they get so many wrong ideas about science.
No, what a real time machine does is create time. If we, as a species, ever come upon a situation in which we need more time, this machine will simply make that happen. So far, it has only been tested with a small group of acquaintances my wife and I feel compelled to invite for dinner every few months for reasons too tedious to explain. Obviously, in this case we hit a red button on the machine labeled “Erase” and actually take time away so they leave faster.
Scientists are also renaissance in nature. This is because scientists do not need to distinguish between different kinds of science. In other words, my specialty is everything. Whether I am mapping the distance between two stars or two bunions, I will always know the correct result. Watch any movie with a scientist in it, except the Christopher Lloyd ones of course, and you will see what I mean.
Speaking of fake scientists, there is a reason why the smartest characters in movies and on TV are all scientists. If you are thinking it is because real scientists are smart, then you are wrong! While that is certainly true in and of itself, that is not the reason. The reason is because real scientists are incredibly sexy.
When a person hears the word “scientist”, or sees someone dressed in a full-length lab coat, they will instantly find themselves in an agitated, vulnerable state and do crazy things that they will later regret. In order to balance that irresistible hotness, TV and movie writers need to make their scientist characters extremely smart. This allows laypeople to concentrate on things like dialogue and plot, and not just on how unbelievably good scientists look.
Another reason laypeople feel powerless when talking to scientists is because scientists are unpredictable. If you ever run into a scientist, first bow to him, but afterwards make sure you keep a respectful distance of about three to five yards. Who knows what he is going to do? He may have a death ray in his pocket. Do you doubt the existence of death rays? Well, let us just say I will doubt your existence after you are vaporized by one. So there.
But please, do not feel threatened — all scientists are still genuinely kindhearted people. We take pity on the rest of the world’s ignorance and work hard to improve the lives of millions of lab rats. For all the talk of how smart, rich, powerful, and hot scientists are, the most important thing to know is that we are essentially good, decent folk, just like laypeople.
Now leave my presence. You are boring me.
It (hypothetically*) goes like this:
* Like all good science, this needs some testing…
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When news hit that Disney bought the rights to Star Wars, and that J.J. Abrams would be manning the first movie of a new trilogy, my inner geek went into giddy overdrive. This was because it gave me a chance to revisited my bucket list, which had previously scratched off “be an extra in a Star Wars movie” as something that was unattainable having presumed the prequels were my last chance. But now, there is (literally), A NEW HOPE. Even better, is the fact that my kids are old enough to also want this.
And so, being a science-y sort and all, I figured the first step would be to actually try and come up with a way to calculate the odds of such a thing happening, and hence you see the above – or what I have termed the Abrams’ Stormtrooper Axiom. In effect, this is an equation that aims to calculates the odds of you (or anyone) being cast as a stormtrooper in one of these new movies1.
Here’s how it works. We’ll first look at (1) which expresses the equation in its most obvious form.
When you look at this equation, there are three main components: two in the numerator: WkSblaster and bmiopthopt
And one in the denominator: 5.4^(1+bop+bow).
The denominator is an expression designed to address the likelihood of being cast, as having a dependence on the individual’s chance of contact with J.J. Abrams. Specifically, bop refers to the degrees of personal separation the individual is from the Director, whereas bow refers to the degrees of internet separation the individual is from the Director. The base of the exponential relationship is, of course, the standard May The Force Be With You Constant (or 5.4).
All told, if you have very little connection to the director, your odds can dwindle significantly, about 5.4(1+6+6) times, or roughly one in 3.3 billion! It also infers that even if you know JJ Abrams personally, it does not guarantee being cast – mathematically, the closest association would still work out to 5.4(1+1+1), or roughly a chance of one in 158. This is because there are other factors that need to come into play when determining whether an individual is right for a stormtrooper part.
Which is where the numerator expressions exert their influence. We can first begin with the bmiopthopt element, which essentially considers the physicality of the individual vying for a stormtrooper part. The bmi portion considers body shape, whereas the h portion considers height.
Each element can be further derived as:
Where (2) calculates divergence from an average body type (as expressed by an individual’s body mass index with m equals to the individual’s weight in kilograms, and h is equal to the individual’s height in metres). You’ll note that the more you veer away from an “average” body type, the greater the modification of the bmiopt number to a number less than one (and therefore further lowering your odds).
In the same manner, (3) calculates divergence from an optimal height (deemed 1.8 metres as determined from casual examination of Star Wars’ trivia – i.e. calculating Mark Hamill‘s height and noting the “Aren’t you a little short to be a Stormtrooper?” comment). Like the BMI calculation, the more you deviate from the optimal height, the greater the modification of the hopt number to a number less than one (and therefore further lowering your odds).
Note that both (2) and (3) are included in the overall equation for pragmatic prop design reasons (not every extra can have a custom made set of armour, so it makes sense if casting aimed for similar body types). Then, of course, there is the whole clone army narrative which might also presume the troops having similar physical features. (Also note that in case you weren’t familiar with the symbol, the straight up and down lines enclose a value where you only use the absolute number – i.e. remove the plus or minus sign).
Anyway, when you put it all together you get the expression (4).
Which only leaves Wk and Sblaster to be defined. Here, these two variables relate to two specific personality traits that are deemed important for the stormtrooper casting decision.
For instance, I don’t think I’m the only Star Wars fan who notices the incredibly poor marksmanship exhibited by the stormtroopers. There are many instances in the movies where there are many of them (with their weapons – presumably high tech in nature), in close proximity to the target, and yet, they still always fail to hit their target.
Given this observation, I’m left to assume that Stormtroopers, as a whole, have a deep distrust of guns, and with that discomfort tend to misfire (perhaps subconsciously). This also leads me to hypothesize that not only are they not very skilled, but that they are probably the sort that are not at all familiar with gun culture in their private lives.
Consequently, Sblaster is a number assigned to measure the individual’s relative experience wth guns, whereby a value of 1.0 represents full disconnect from the use of guns in their personal lives, and a number closer to zero represents an individual who is very familiar with gun culture.
Of course, perhaps the most important tangible characteristic (that could translate to a positive casting decision) is relative fandom itself. In other words, casting may be partly governed by how “into Star Wars” an individual is. Here, and in honor of Chewbacca’s reference of “pulling arms out of their sockets when they lose,” I’ve decided to use Wookie knowledge, or Wk as an indicator that can further increase casting chances. Essentially, this is a scale that ranges from 1 to 10, whereby 10 represents fanatical knowledge on all things Wookie, and 1 represents no knowledge at all. In effect, if you’re nuts about Star Wars (and wookies specifically), you can increase your chances of being cast by 10 fold.
In conclusion, I want to stress that this is the Abrams’ Stormtrooper Axiom, and by its very definition, an axiom is just a starting point. This means the equation will need more work, and it would be great suggestions to make it better. As it stands, it works as a general guideline using a number of test values2. As well, there is also the very real caveat of whether J.J. Abrams will even have stormtroopers in the new movies – never mind the fact that if he does, they may come in a different size, or be better at shooting, etc. In some respects, this reminds me a little of Schrödinger’s cat (we can call our version Abrams’ Stormtrooper): we won’t really know what he has in mind until he lets us open the box.
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1. In general, I’ve used information from the original trilogy for points of reference.
2. For instance, an individual with no connection at all will result in a number that works against the backdrop of the total human population numbers. For J.J. Abrams, himself, where bop and bow are equal to zero, and his Wk is likely quite high, the equation would further calculate that he has practically perfect odds of being cast as a stormtrooper (which makes sense given his role in the movie). For the sake of comparison, I’ve calculated my own odds to be approximately: 0.00000519 or about one in 19,000.