We’re Already Giving You Money 

Monday, May 20th, 2019

Buying a subway ticket really, really shouldn’t require you to sit through an ad.

Mouth-to-Beak Resuscitation 

Friday, May 17th, 2019

Recently, I read the bizarre story of a Canada goose groan-inducingly named Pierce:

Photo of the goose, with an arrow through his chest
That’s Pierce. Get it?

After being shot with an arrow by an unknown assailant, the goose eluded capture attempts by animal control offices for quite some time. Eventually, he was caught and given emergency surgery to remove the arrow.

It was there that veterinarians discovered that the goose had previously broken one of his legs, had been shot with a hunting pellet, and had elevated levels of lead in his blood.

That’s pretty bad, but it gets even more ridiculous.

Dr. Greg Mertz, the chief medical and program officer for the New England Wildlife Centers, said the goose died twice on the operating table and had to be resuscitated.

Maybe we should just let Death have this particular goose. It obviously wants it pretty badly.

The Worcester Bravehearts Should Listen To Jimmy Dugan

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

This is a very, very bad slogan.

Billboard for a local baseball team announcing 'The clap is back!'
[Link]

However, the prevalence of STDs on college campuses coupled with the fact that this is a collegiate league means it’s probably also true.

More on Siri and Numerical Days of the Year

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

When writing about Siri and the Kilomile last week, I noted some strange and useless responses the virtual assistant provided when trying to determine what numerical day of the year it was. Shortly thereafter, I received multiple replies from folks who noted that at least my last query (“How many days until 2020?”) worked for them. I don’t know what changed on the Siri side since my first tests, but this does indeed work for me as well:

Answer: It's two hundred thirty one days until then.

With this answer, we’re at least getting somewhere in the quest to determine what numerical day of the year it is. If we take 365 days and subtract that answer of 231, we get 134. Today (May 15th, 2019) is actually the 135th day of the year, so perhaps Siri isn’t counting today in this. We have to add 1 at the end (or subtract from 366), but we can at least use this to work out the answer we want.

Having finally gotten something useful from Siri, I set out to see if there was an easier method. First, I again tested the real head scratcher from my first post. Regardless of the day of the year, when asked “How many days are left in this year?”, Siri thinks there are three hundred sixty-four days left. That issue persists:

Answer: It's three hundred sixty-four days.

Experimenting further revealed additional problems. I got another weird reply when I asked “How many days into 2019 are we?”:

Answer: It's two hundred thirty days until then.

This phrasing seems to indicate Siri is still living in 2018. On a hunch, I then asked “How many days from 2020 are we?”, and got this:

Answer: It's three hundred sixty-four days.

A quick check reveals that this was the exact number of days from 2020 on May 15th, 2018. Why is Siri living in the past? What sort of off-by-one error have we hit?

Eventually, however, I figured out the exact right question to ask. Reader Michael L. put me on the right path, suggesting “How many days since the first of the year?”

Answer: It was one hundred thirty-four days ago.

This is very close, and doesn’t require subtracting from 365. Still, it’s off by one day, requiring us to remember to add one. What if we instead ask “How many days since December 31st, 2018?”:

Answer: It was one hundred thirty-five days ago.

Success! This gives us today’s numerical day, with no additional math required.

It’s good to know that Siri is indeed capable of doing calendar math. Now the trick is remembering how exactly to ask this question to avoid multiple different weird or wrong answers.

Turning Things Around 

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

Ed Kressy was addicted to meth for 11 years, but he eventually managed to turn his life around.

That’s 138 Million Misspellings 

Monday, May 13th, 2019

It seems someone in Australia shirked their “responsibilty”, and as a result, the latest Australian $50 note has a typo repeated three times in its microprint. With 46 million notes out there, it’s not likely to reach the collectible state of something like an Inverted Jenny. It is, however, rather embarrassing.

Siri and the Kilomile

Friday, May 10th, 2019

When I first took up serious distance running in 2001, I also began a log of each of my runs. I first measured my routes ahead of time by driving them with a car, and later with tools like MilerMeter (formerly GMap-Pedometer). Much more recently, the Apple Watch’s GPS has made it especially easy to know how far I’ve run, with no manual measuring required. At some point in the past few years, I also created an ongoing tally of my lifetime distance run.1

Obviously, I’m a nerd for running data. So I was amused when I learned about the distinctly non-metric measurement called the “kilomile”. A kilomile is simply a thousand miles, and while I’ve run almost seven of those in my adult life, friend-of-the-site Kelan C. managed an entire kilomile in just the year of 2018 alone.

Reviewing my running logs, which of course include annual totals, I saw that I had just missed a kilomile in the year 2017. That year I ran 980.4 miles, and if I’d known how close I was, I’d certainly have gotten off my ass a few more times in December. In 2019, I decided I’d conquer this goofy goal.

Once I began this effort, I soon found myself repeatedly checking my progress. To do that, I just need to know what number day of the year it is, then multiple that by the ~2.74 miles2 I need to average each day. That tells me what my total distance so far should be. For example, if I’ve run at least 27.4 miles by January 10th, I’m on or ahead of pace. Simple.

But why keep things simple, when one can instead make an overly-involved spreadsheet? I wanted to see more exact numbers, and also avoid repeating the same calculations constantly. Here’s a quick look at what I came up with:


I’m slightly behind schedule, but I remain confident.

The biggest issue with this is that we don’t generally know what number day of the year it is. Thankfully, that’s where computers can help. Calendar math is the foundation of lots of computer code, and it’s simple for machines to do. A Google search will get you to a site like EpochConverter which tells you that May 10th is the 130th day of the year. And surely my helpful virtual assistant Siri can tell me as well, right?

Long-time readers likely already know the answer to the above question. Some of the most popular posts on this site have covered the failings of Apple’s virtual assistant. From callousness, to over-promising and under-delivering, to outright sexism, Siri has had its issues.3

And yet, for some reason, I continue to try to make Siri work for me. It has improved over time, and because it’s always being updated, hope springs eternal. Maybe it shouldn’t though. Please enjoy this a story of futility in three images.

A Story of Futility in Three Images

First I asked Siri “What day of the year is it?”:

Answer: It's Monday, May 6, 2019

OK, that’s accurate enough, even if it’s not what I was after.

Next, I tried to get what I was after by some basic math, by asking “How many days are left in this year?”:

Answer: It's three hundred sixty-four days

I…uh…what?! This answer could only make sense in very early January, yet it seems to be the standard response to this question, no matter when it’s asked. Try it yourself.

Finally, I tried asking a very specific question: “How many days until 2020?”:

Answer: It's three hundred sixty-four days

Can’t, or won’t, Siri?

Compared to some of the previous failings I’ve noted, this one is somewhat obscure. Still, that second answer really got to me. Siri ought to be able to do this basic calendar math, but if it can’t, it certainly shouldn’t provide that kind of nonsense.

Update (May 15th, 2019): Don’t miss the follow-up post, “More on Siri and Numerical Days of the Year”.


Footnotes:

  1. 6,954.61 miles and counting! ↩︎

  2. That’s 1000 miles / 365 days, to get exactly 2.739726027 miles per day. I’m comfortable rounding up, because 0.000273973 miles is about a foot and a half.↩︎

  3. Early on, I referred Siri with feminine pronouns, as it had only one female voice. More recently, I’ve taken to calling Siri “it”, both because it has male and female voices, and because it of course doesn’t actually have a gender. ↩︎

The Purest Aptonym Yet Seen 

Thursday, May 9th, 2019

“He He” is the name of a data scientist, and it’s pronounced much like the sound of someone laughing. Naturally, He is working on training computers to write puns.

Low-Budget Fire Prevention 

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Goats are pretty great.

A Brief, Foolish Moment of Hope 

Tuesday, May 7th, 2019

Last week, I wrote about the shameful wastefulness of vampire facials, a ridiculous procedure popularized by Kim Kardashian. While researching this further, I learned that Kardashian regrets getting the procedure. For a brief moment, I thought she might have learned a valuable lesson. Perhaps she regrets her vampire facial because she helped popularize junk science? Or because it ultimately led to multiple people getting life-threatening illnesses? Or even just because it’s just really gross?

Nope to all of the above! Instead, Kardashian regrets the procedure because it hurt.