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Archive for the ‘Numbers in the News’ Category

One of my favorite comics on the web is xkcd.

In addition to its use of math, language, and sarcasm, this comic often introduces me to things in popular culture that I would not have tripped over on my own.

The popular block-building game Minecraft was on my radar thanks to xkcd.

This comic alerted me to the fact that there is a discussion about a replacement value for pi.

Also, the genius of Randall Munroe was my first inkling that there was a game called Kerbal Space Program.

With the above being said, xkcd has now brought me awareness about the game 2048.

This game, 2048, has now become my new addiction. It is simple and maddeningly tought to put down.

I am, however, happy to state that I was able to create the 2048 tile. Yeah, me! My high score stands at 20,264 (there’s your number for the day). How’s your 2048 score?

But now, the game hits my pleasure center by daring me to uncover the 4096 tile. Curse you, creators of 2048!

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I had always wanted to make this a recurring blog theme, but it always seems to slip my mind to actually do it. Well, regardless of my excuses, here is my latest blathering based on what I have found while tripping through the websites of the Cabinet departments of the United States government.

(Aside: Previous entries have focused on the Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, and Department of Agriculture.)

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the 38th (there’s your number for the day) country that became part of the government’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP is a government program that allows visitors from participating countries to enter the United States without a visa and stay for ninety days. There are a few more requirements, but the VWP means that a citizen from a participating country who wants to visit the Big Apple (or the Windy City or the Emerald City) does not have to go through the process (which usually involves a great deal of waiting) of obtaining a visa.

Before the latest announcement, there were thirty-seven countries that participated in the VWP. Of those 37, 30 were from Europe and 7 were from Asia.

From the above listing, you will have perhaps noticed two missing continents. One of them is South America. Of that continent’s thirteen countries, none were members of the VWP.

Until now.

Starting in May, the citizens of Chile can now enter the United States without a visa (so sayeth this press release from DHS).

Bienvenidos to the VWP, citizens of Chile! Enjoy the chili of Texas, the Chili’s found everywhere, the chiles found in most supermarkets, and the chilly weather that hits parts of the northeastern part of the United States every winter.

Chile’s admission into the VWP means that the only continent without a participating member is Africa.

From laughs, I should research how many countries require American tourists to possess a visa and how many do not.

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Please file the following under: TMI

On this date, twenty-five years ago (there’s your number for the day), I lost my virginity.

On May 13, 1988, I had sex for the first time. My partner in this inaugural nocturnal endeavour was my girlfriend at the time who has since gone on to become my lovely wife.

And who says guys can’t remember an anniversary?

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The news continues to be full of stories about rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula with the regime in North Korea issuing dire threats and the United States requesting dialogue with conditions Commentators wonder when war will break out.

However, I will offer up the following indicator that shows that the folks over in Pyongyang will not purposefully start a military conflict.

As long as this event – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Amateur Golf Open – is still being advertised as up and running, then one can be assured that the new leader of the DPRK will not let slip the dogs of war.

Because nothing cools the enthusiasm of an amateur duffer (or thier hosts) than rockets falling on the back nine.

In case you have no plans for May 25 – 27 of this year, this is how you can enter.

This tournament will be held at North Korea’s only golf course, Pyongyang Golf Complex, which was opened in 1987.

Present at the grand opening was the then-leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, who baptized the course by scoring a blistering 38-under par including a mind-boggling eleven (there’s your number for the day) holes-in-one.

(Please note that the TIME article that I linked to says that the Dear Leader only hit five holes-in-one, but that’s only because it’s a magazine that prints all the imperial pig lies.)

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Following on the news that President Obama has named Ernest J. Moniz to be the new head of the Department of Energy, I thought I would take this opportunity to traipse through the DoE website.

One of the items I found on the Department’s “Maps” section was the Alternative Fueling Station Locator.

If perhaps you are interesting in purchasing an electric car and want to see how many charging stations are in your ZIP code, this map will help out. In my old stomping grounds of Northern Virginia, this map shows that there are ten battery recharging stations within ten miles.

I also found out that in my older stomping grounds (Southern California), there are only eight places to refuel in all of Los Angeles and Orange Counties if your vehicle runs on liquified natural gas (LNG).

However, if your car of choice runs on hydrogen, then you only have ten (there’s your number for the day) stations throughout the entire country.

Take your pick of these ten

Take your pick of these ten

So, please, plan your trip with your hydrogen car carefully.

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I have trod the soil before of how I lament the dearth of originality in today’s American cinema (see here and here for previous examples). For those expecting another blog post about how Hollywood has lost its creativity, I can only say you will be disappointed.

I realize that my original thesis about the death of originality in Tinseltown is wrong.

(And honestly, when is the last time you read a blogger admit an error?).

While doing some research to bolster my original point, I looked at the top ten grossing films of 2011. Of that dozen-minus-two collection of film (full list here), nine of them were sequels and the remaining one (The Smurfs) was based on prior material (in the case of the little blue creatures, it was the comic strip created by Belgian artist Peyo).

Of those sequels (and only because I love diving into numbers), three were the immediate sequel (Cars, Hangover, Panda), one was the 3rd installment (Transformers), three were the 4th flick (Mission:Impossible, Pirates, Twilight), one was the 5th movie (Fast), and one was the 8th incarnation (Potter).

I decided to look back thirty years and see what audiences flocked to in 1981. Of the top ten grossing movies three decades ago (see full list here), there are only two sequels (Superman II, For Your Eyes Only) and one based on prior material (On Golden Pond). Those of you with good math skills will recognize that this means that seven of the top ten grossing films were original (Arthur, The Cannonball Run, Chariots of Fire, The Four Seasons, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Stripes, Time Bandits).

All of that data is interesting, but looking deeper into those movies is where I did a mental hiccup.

The top ten grossing films of 1981 won a combined twenty-one (there’s your number for the day) Academy Awards. Of what I consider to be the Big Six of Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress), these ten movies won four (Chariots: Picture; Golden: Actor, Actress; Arthur: Supporting Actor). The other two of my Big Six (Director, Supporting Actress) was won by Reds, which (by the way) came in 13th place of the highest-grossing films.

Not only did 1981 produce high-quality cinema, but the audiences flocked to those movies.

Leap forward thirty years and the top ten grossing films of 2011 took home a combined grand total of three Academy Awards which were all won by Transformers: Dark of the Moon and they were all for technical merit.

I have discarded my original thesis because Hollywood in 2011 did produce some highly original fare. That year saw the release of The Artist, The Help, The Iron Lady, and Beginners, which were the movies that won the Big Six of Academy Awards that year. However, none of those films – nor any of other original films that year (including Sucker Punch, Source Code, or Midnight in Paris) – came close to the box office tally ($559 million) earned by the movie that clocked in at number ten on the highest-grossing list, Cars 2.

I revise my original statement and now assert that Hollywood does indeed make quality original fare. It’s just that the audience doesn’t go see it. The masses vote with their wallets and they want sequels and movies made from books or comics. The film industry, like any good profit-seeking business, is only provided what the buying population has shown they want.

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After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States embarked on the Global War on Terror (GWOT). On September 20, nine days after the attacks, President George W. Bush said this

Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.

When those remarks were made, the Department of State listed twenty-six foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs). They ranged from the Abu Nidal Organization to HAMAS to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party to al-Qaeda to the Shining Path.

In 2003, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wrote a memo that posed this question…

Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror

I would offer up the following metric: How many FTOs exist today when compared against the number of FTOs in 2001.

According to the Department of State, as of September 28 of this year, there are fifty-one FTOs.

That list is slightly out of date as the Department of State, earlier this month, listed the al-Nursa Front in Syria as a FTO.

That brings the number of FTOs to fifty-two (there’s your number for the day).

In just over a decade since the GWOT began, the number of FTOs has doubled.

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