I needed a passport photo. Beyond my usual photographic concerns (the fact that photos of me all seem to bear an unfortunate resemblance to me), I was required to ensure my photo’s conformity with State Department standards. They photo must be two inches in each dimension, featuring a correctly-proportioned forward-facing non-tilted expressionless face.

To provide guidance, the Department of State offers pictorial guidance, complete with multiple “incorrect” photos, associated “correct” versions, and suggestions for converting the former into the latter.

Guidance like this:

Silly Dept. of State passport photo guidelines

Because if you discover that your square photo is sideways, the easiest thing to do is to fire up your computer, rotate the photo in your editing software, reprint it, and then handle it carefully lest you accidentally rotate it again.

My wife regularly contends that while my abstract inapplicable research is pursued entirely for self-gratitude, her chosen field leads to practical, human-benefiting innovation. Economists, you see, are motivated by results that are “cool” but useless, while engineers (clearly not motivated by coolness) pursue practicality.

A counter-example:

fluid mechanics wine glass

The glass tank is a purported marvel of fluid mechanics:

when the amount in the glass decreases, a constant amount is poured from the tank into the glass. never overflowing from the glass because of air pressure and water pressure.

That’s all well and good, but what happens when I swirl this monstrosity?

Ranking journals is a popular pastime among academics. Each of us has a favorite ranking, largely chosen by the results fitting with our favorite publication outlets. There are more debates over the methodology of journal rankings than of ranking business schools. There may be no universal agreement on the right method but there certainly is a wrong one.

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The setup: The Associated Press reported today that Minnesota is experiencing temperatures of forty degrees below zero!

The punchline: Is that Fahrenheit or Celsius?

If you laughed, you are (like me) a geek.

Whatever the scale, Minnesotans may be asking for a bit of that Global Warming to come their way.


We all have days where a small thing makes us unaccountably happy. One of those days, for me, was when we acquired a commercial-grade blender. It had but one speed: “on.” After all, when I put something in the blender I just want it to come out, after a few whirling seconds, blended. This marked the end of unnecessary confusion with an old fourteen-speed blender, which always forced me to ponder whether the button labeled “whip” resulted in faster, slower, or roughly equivalent blending action to the one labeled “frappe.” Why could it not simply be labeled “Speed 8”? After all, eighth gear on a ten speed bike is not called “expeditious” but simply 8th, comfortably nestled between 7th and 9th and respecting the natural order of integers.

How did Starbucks determine that “grande” is smaller than “venti” but bigger than “tall”? Even my four year old comprehends that “large” is bigger than “small,” but understandably can’t differentiate between subtle cross-cultural size differentials in translation. Why is Super High a higher frequency than Ultra High but lower than Extra High?

Yet, I have persevered and mastered the stand-ins for what should be facile ordinal comparisons. Until now.

I am confronted with another simplicity-defying reclassification.

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