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Work in the media? Struggle with statistics? Stan's irreverent (and often irrelevant) review of the latest media reports, news and gossip may not help at all... Stan the Statistician

Stan # 41: Perpetual Motion December 2000

Mavis has sent me this gem: Subject: Perpetual Motion

When a cat is dropped, it always lands on its feet, and when toast is dropped, it always lands buttered side down. Therefore, if a slice of toast is strapped to a cat's back, buttered side up, and the animal is then dropped, the two opposing forces will cause it to hover, spinning inches above the ground. If enough toast-laden felines were used, they could form the basis of a high-speed monorail system.

........and then this mail got this reply from one of the recipients:

I've been thinking about this cat/toast business for a while. In the buttered toast case, it's the butter that causes it to land buttered side down - it doesn't have to be toast, the theory works equally well with Jacob's crackers. So to save money you just miss out the toast - and butter the cats. Also, should there be an imbalance between the effects of cat and butter, there are other substances that have a stronger affinity for carpet.

Probability of carpet impact is determined by the following simple formula:

p = s * t(t)/tc


is the probability of carpet impact

is the "stain" value of the toast-covering substance - an indicator of the effectiveness of the toast topping in permanently staining the carpet. (Chicken Tikka Masala, for example, has a very high s value, while the s value of water is zero.)

indicate the tone of the carpet and topping - the value of p being strongly related to the relationship between the colour of the carpet and topping, as even chicken tikka masala won't cause a permanent and obvious stain if the carpet is the same colour.

So it is obvious that the probability of carpet impact is maximised if you use chicken tikka masala and a white carpet - in fact this combination gives a p value of one, which is the same as the probability of a cat landing on its feet.

Therefore a cat with chicken tikka masala on its back will be certain to hover in mid air, while there could be problems with buttered toast as the toast may fall off the cat, causing a terrible monorail crash resulting in nauseating images of members of the royal family visiting accident victims in hospital, and politicians saying it wouldn't have happened if their party was in power as there would have been more investment in cat-toast glue research.

Therefore it is in the interests not only of public safety but also public sanity if the buttered toast on cats idea is scrapped, to be replaced by a monorail powered by cats smeared with chicken tikka masala floating above a rail made from white shag pile carpet.

It’s nice to know I am not alone......

Two news items attracted my attention recently: Police rescued a man from a portable toilet at Elkins Field, Pennsylvania, after he climbed into the device’s lower chamber to search for his keys and became stuck at the hips. The man, who was not identified (and who can blame him for that) had removed his shoes and trousers for the task. Doctors had to separate him from the toilet seat which was wedged around his torso. Simon Lambert (who clearly does not mind being identified), a 43-year-old carpenter, claimed a place in the Guiness Book of Records after devouring nettles that measured 76 feet when laid end to end in a contest at Marshwood, Dorset, England. So, who is the braver man? Who is the more foolish? What particluarly bothers me about the latter story is that it was a contest. At first, I thought it must be some sort of illness (well, maybe it is), but there were other people lining up voluntarily to eat nettles. Very worrying.

Report from Colne Times (Lancashire, England) 21 July 2000:

Cash and Carry Blaze Fire destroyed a quantity of pallets and damaged roofing at cash and carry premises in Nelson on Friday night. The blaze ...was spotted just after 8pm and Firefighters used a jet and a 10.5 metre ladder to extinguish it. Station Officer Nick Isherwood said: "The fire was in the bottom corner of a loading bay area and took about half an hour to put out."
As far as I am aware, there is no drought in Nelson, so why the fearless firefighters didn’t use more traditional methods to extinguish the blaze, such as water, I really don’t understand. They clearly have a big budget to use jets (presumably to blow the flames out) on such a small fire. Did they use the ladder to beat the flames out? All very odd.

As we approach the festive season, a little quiz for you. Can you name the nine orders of choirs of angels? Answers on my next desk top.

Check in again at my desk soon!

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