Relationship Quotient

In the previous article on Quantitative Philosophy, I discussed the nature of humor and how, once defined, we can quantify how funny something is.  Humor is one of the most human concepts that I can think of, so adding to this theme, I will break down what it means to have a good long-term romantic relationship, mathematically.  Because we as humans have a number of emotional and intellectual needs, determining a person’s viability as a mate requires that this person contribute to these needs.  But what are these needs?  To answer that question objectively, I polled the largest sample size of coworkers I could without being called into Human Resources.  Based on the results of that poll, I have narrowed the criteria to 10 such needs:

  1. Degree of sexual attraction to the person
  2. Degree of importance placed on the person’s financial income
  3. Degree of similarity of moral views with the person
  4. Degree of similarity of political views with the person
  5. Degree of equality regarding reciprocation
  6. Degree of similarity of hobby interests
  7. Number of years already spent with the person
  8. Degree of shared importance of pets in the relationship (or perceived future importance, if no pets yet exist)
  9. Degree of shared importance of children in the relationship (or perceived future importance, if no children yet exist)
  10. Degree of ability to consistently maintain conversation without active effort

Naturally, I will explain each of these as some sound a little abstract.  Also, based on their frequency in the poll results, they are not all of equal importance.  Therefore, they have an assigned multiplier which will be explained as well:

Degree of sexual attraction to the person

This primary requirement certainly isn’t unique to humans.  Rather, it is a prerequisite for a more basal need: survival of the species.  A physical reaction to another person is an evolutionary response to their reproductive viability–presumably the primary reason for forming a relationship to begin with.  And, while a relationship can exist without attraction, even anecdotally, I’ve never encountered a single example where it has.  Certainly we could discuss alternate forms of sexuality, but for the sake of the article I’m sticking to common heterosexual relationships.  Is due to this criteria’s biologic roots and ubiquity that it is assigned a 10X multiplier.

Degree of importance placed on the person’s financial income

Ah yes, the elephant in the room, yet still not as important as we are led to believe.  There are studies which conclude that incremental increases beyond a reasonably comfortable standard of living do little to impact the health of a relationship.  Still, money is a chronic point of stress in a relationship, and a certain minimum baseline is needed for general happiness, so it’s no surprise that for general happiness to carry over to a relationship, finances are required.  It is because of this general requirement that it has been assigned an 8X multiplier.

Degree of similarity of moral views with the person

Peter Wiggin’s pal

And now we begin to touch upon the human-specific criteria.  Morality in this context is social conduct.  This is more obvious than it sounds.  Say, for instance, if my wife began torturing animals and throwing rocks at people (well, I might laugh at the latter, depending on the victim), I would translate those senseless acts of aggression to a future prediction of her conduct towards me.  It’s an extreme example, but relevant.  Relationships cannot exist with moral dissonance, so it is therefore rated a 10X multiplier.

Degree of similarity of political views with the person

However, there are extreme examples

Politics serve two purposes: they are the public’s collective perception on the state’s economic direction, and an extension of morality.  Inevitably, the two are at odds.  Specifically, it is the attempt to resolve this conflict as a group that defines politics.  Because of its moral aspect it should be rated high, but due to its volatility and infinite complexities, it’s impossible to ever share an exact political view with another person, so it is ranked a modest 7 multiplier.

Degree of equality regarding reciprocation

Obviously if a person doesn’t get anything out of a relationship, then there’s no need to be in one.  There is no explanation for this category, as it’s based on the perception of feeling.  But anecdotally, many a loveless relationship has been attributed to giving too much and receiving too little, or not sharing chores fairly, so based on this frequency, it is given a 9 multiplier.

Degree of similarity of hobby interests

All things considered, you need something to do with your mate for recreation (besides that implied in the first category).  But, with so little time available in established relationships to spend on shared interests, there doesn’t need to be many, and often the simple and common pastimes suffice.  It is therefore rated a 3X multiplier.

Number of years already spent with the person

This category serves two purposes: First, we have what is called the “emotional investment” factor.  While many argue that this causes loveless marriages to persist, in a broader sense it simply places value on time.  As mortals, time is the enemy.  Second, while you may not agree with the first point, there is a demonstrable correlation between newer couples rating their partners higher than older ones, simply out of infatuation.  This category accounts for bias, and it is assigned a 10X multiplier.

Degree of shared importance of pets in the relationship (or perceived future importance, if no pets yet exist)

This one was surprisingly common.  People as a whole are very concerned with pets.  Draw your own conclusions, but since it’s only on this list due to its frequency in the poll, yet cannot be correlated to the success of a relationship, I ultimately settled on giving it a 3X multiplier.

Degree of shared importance of children in the relationship (or perceived future importance, if no children yet exist)

Children, on the other hand, can and will make or break a relationship.  This should require no explanation.  If the couple doesn’t agree on the status of children, there is a high probability of that relationship failing.  Chalk this one up to evolution and directly related to sexual attraction.  It is given a 10X multiplier.

Degree of ability to consistently maintain conversation without active effort

This one was difficult to define, being more a feeling of emotional contentment.  So to assign it an empirical value, I’ve correlated it to the ease of intra-couple communication.  If talking comes easy, it demonstrates a lack of tension between the individuals, which means they have a bond.  I’ve also found that the age of the relationship has no impact on this category.  A couple either has a connection or they don’t.  And since this state of mind is vital to emotional health, it is a 10X multiplier.

How the formula works

To simplify the equation, I will replace the numerical categories 1-10 with alphabetic variables, respectively A-J.

Assign a value to each of the categories of 0-10, with 10 being the highest.  The only exception is the number of years together, which is the actual number.  Still, this category caps at 10, as the benefits of investment reach a point of diminishing returns (anecdotally, from the poll).

The math is scaled for a simple 0-100 range, with sub-ranges representing various levels of compatability.  The formula is as follows:


As before, here is a link to to download the calculator yourself:

In practice, I have been told that the results of this calculator were uncannily accurate, which makes me nervous.  Perhaps it’s a number, like your IQ, that does you no good to know.

But before you ask, I will say that I will wisely not be providing an analysis of my own marriage as an example, although so as not to be hypocritical, I will say that the calculator is still in favor of me staying with my wife, so whew.  Good luck, and probably don’t show the results to your spouse; or do, if you want to stir things up at home, or have evidence of irreconcilable differences for your divorce lawyer.


Password Entropy

Passwords, ugh.  The very word causes pain.  It invokes feelings of aggravation and despair, memories of fighting computers and IT admins.  And still, despite their flaws, we have yet to universally assign any other means of simple authentication, so we’re stuck with them.

And, we constantly argue over what makes a good password.  In the midst of this debate, one man and his famous comic surged through the internet:

XKCDIf you don’t know of XKCD, shame on you.  Go there now and revel in its wonderfully sophisticated humor.

In summary, the argument’s premise is that words, being easier to remember, are better suited for passwords as their method of authentication relies upon human memory.  And indeed they would be, but it would take significantly more words than could feasibly fit into a password field.  Why?  Because of dictionary attacks.

A dictionary attack works by guessing known words.  Even if the words are obscure, they are known.  I will elaborate:

For this example, I will use the word hello.  Hello is 5 letters.  The logic behind using words for passwords is their per character entropy.  5 letters, all lowercase, represents 26^5 possible combinations, or 11,881,376.  With dictionary attacks, however, the word in itself becomes a single “character”.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are 171,476 in-use words in the English language.  This translates a password, consisting of one word, to having one of 171,476 possibilities–significantly less than the 11,881,376 previously mentioned.

So why not stack random words?  Well, in the comic’s given example of correcthorsebatterystaple, there are 4 words.  171476^4=864,596,308,417,753,000,000 (approximately, since Excel is truncating numbers to 15 significant figures).  So we’ll say 8.65E+20 (using Excel notation).  How secure is this?  I honestly have no idea.  This is where the argument turns ugly.  So I will pass on forcing an opinion upon you and instead stick to providing information.

Looking at the ASCII chart, there are 95 usable characters.  Taking 95^X then, the tipping point is 11 characters.  This, compared to the above example, has 5.69E+21 possible combinations, significantly more entropy, yet significantly fewer characters (11 vs. 25).

The argument then would be to add more words to the password.  And I would agree, except all too often we encounter password field limits.  And besides, how many random words for how many websites could you remember anyway?  Once you fail to remember one, you completely lose the benefit of the word method, in which case why not make a higher-entropy password instead?

Searching the Internet for consensus on password size, I find the general rule is to use 12 characters.  This equates to 5.40E+23 combinations for ASCII, which means we need five words to achieve at least that number of combinations with the word method.  That’s a lot of words to remember for every website.

Another point that bears mentioning is that we need to consider the lowest possible entropy denomination, so word length does come into play, although not significantly.  Specifically, a word has to be at least 4 letters long, otherwise its number of combinations falls below 171,476 (26^3=17,576).  Therefore, if you think you can get away with stringing together 5 short words, you’re only getting the combined strength of the letters themselves, meaning you’d need 17 letters to at least meet the entropy of a 12-character ASCII password.  And remember, you don’t get more entropy by using longer words, so correcthorsebatterystaple is 8.65E+20, not 2.37E+35.

We’re gonna need a bigger column

And no, mixing lowercase and capitalized letters, or even number substitutions, does not impact a word’s entropy in a meaningful way, as dictionary attacks are aware of this trick.

Finally, the word method is assuming any word in the OED might be used, when in practice there are estimated to be only 100,000 common English words.  I was erring in favor of the word method, but in practice it’s much weaker than this math suggests.

Conclusion: in order to supply enough random words to a password chain to achieve the minimum industry-recommended level of entropy, you would need to supply 5 uncommon words, which will likely defeat its own purpose of being memorable, not to mention it will likely exceed the password length limit of many servers.

Whatever method you choose to use, I think it’s safe to say that we can all agree that passwords just plain suck, and with the exponentially increasing computational power of Moore’s Law, it’s only going to get worse.


Doppler Radar Website

If you’re like most people, when you decide to check the weather, you look at a forecast, likely supplied by your mobile device.  If you’re more inquisitive and want a visual aid, you visit a website and check the radar.  That probably satisfies your curiosity and you quickly move on to significantly more important aspects of your life.

This–this sucks

But if you’re like me, you become irrationally irritated because, well, there seems to be no good way to view the radar.  Chances are, if you go to your local news’ website, they have a poor quality, buggy, slow to load page with the current national or regional radar.  Why this is so difficult to pull off baffles me.  It’s probably due to the extraneous features that no one will ever use, like the option to view the last 24 hours.  Who the hell cares what the weather was like 24 hours ago?  Also there’s probably a plethora of scripts that have to load on the page, adding to the already script-laden overhead from 3rd party served advertisements.  Often do I miss the days when websites contained text, images, hyperlinks, and nothing else.

But nostalgia aside, I considered what I wanted such a radar page to do.  My list was short: I wanted it to show the current radar as of the last update and not the interactive history, not the last 30 minutes that always cycles through on infinite loop with no way to disable.  I wanted nothing else on the page, and I wanted it to take up the full page.  Finally, I wanted it to update as the new radar become available.

NOAABut first things first–and a question that always bothered me: where do news stations get their national radar, because surely that has to be a shared network?  Fortunately, it didn’t take long to figure out.  If it was a nationally-shared network of data, then it had to be government-owned.  It had been around too long and was too big for it not to be government-controlled (look at where national internet access is headed).  I didn’t even have to Google this, for I already knew of this governmental entity: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

Digging through this site, I discovered that the national Doppler radar was indeed freely available for public access, and updated automatically:

As I write this post I notice that it’s even https now, go figure.

I found the image I was after, the national real-time Doppler image:

But, problems still remained.  For one, the image is too large for a normal browser window.  Also it contains the NOAA logo that uses up space.  And, the image is static and doesn’t update unless the page is refreshed.

Fortunately, with a little bit of web-development know-how, it is quite possible to link to the image externally, as the gracious NOAA has not disabled image-linking.  Looking at the page’s source code, I saw that the radar image was delivered from this URL:

Easy-peasy.  I simply just inserted that image with one line of code into my own page’s body:

<p align=”center”><img src=”” height=”650″ width=”1157″ align=”center”></p>

I also centered and resized it to my liking.  Then it occurred to me that I really don’t need to see the national radar.  I was more interested in the regional radar.  This became slightly more involved, but still doable with a little CSS, so I inserted this little bit of styling information into my page’s head, forgoing adding the image to the body:

<style type=”text/css”>
background: url(“”) no-repeat left center white;
background-size: 4500px 2400px;
background-position: -2500px -550px;

I set the image to be the page’s background, then through trial and error resized it to zoom, then offset it so as to center approximately upon the Midwest.

One last problem remained, and that was the automatic updates.  This was solved with a simple meta refresh:

<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”60″>

Now the page refreshes every minute, which automatically pulls the latest radar image at that time.

Now, at long last, I can have real-time Doppler radar imagery delivered without fluff, and automatically updated.  Plus, if I put the window in kiosk mode, it covers the entire monitor so I can feel like a meteorologist!  Or…old man, depending on who sees me doing this.

Here are the sites if you wish to use mine and forego any coding:

Now place a wireless thermometer next to your monitor and you won’t even have to open the curtain to determine the weather is not to your liking!


Humor Quotient

If you tuned in for my post on Quantitative Philosophy, you may recall my promise to provide mathematical models for segments of the human experience.  This is indeed once such model.  If you’re here looking for another post on how I find the business world’s systems of reinforcement incongruous with the results they ultimately condition, this is not that post.  Although, perhaps later I’ll dive into how the merit raises work.

But nay, I shall start with a model based on the most human of characteristics–one which requires the highest of brain function–humor.  Indeed, I found the concept difficult to describe, as its existence relies upon the prerequisites of feeling and emotion–two other concepts difficult to comprehend, though simple to attribute to species survival.  Quite simply, humor is but an extension upon these concepts, so we can begin there.

Emotions are, in their most primal form, reactions to stimuli, which influence actions geared to keep us alive.  Survival requirements, and their respective order of requisition, were famously defined in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

  1. Air/Water/Food (physiological needs)
  2. Physical safety
  3. Social belonging/love
  4. Self-esteem
  5. Self actualization/Purpose

With the heightened awareness that sentience allows, humanity needed a coping mechanism for when one of these needs is threatened, so as to keep the brain from experiencing a stress-related shutdown.  Enter: humor–a positive emotional reaction of levity as a reaction to understanding a perceived threat to one of these needs.  I say perceived, because once a need is actually threatened, we need a stress reaction to manage the crisis quickly–something that is demonstrably not a positive feel-good reaction.

How do I know this?  For one, I am human (though others may debate this claim).  And two, because the substance of a joke invariably falls into two criteria: Social Commentary and Historical Reference.  These two concepts, by definition, invoke failures of humanity, not triumphs.  Granted, a joke may contain widely variable substance in these categories.

Let’s analyze a joke for context:

‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’


‘To get to the other side.’

ChickenThe joke, most simple in form evokes feeling.  The recipient of the joke wonders about that chicken.  The chicken has an objective.  The chicken has become anthropomorphized.  We feel for that chicken.  We want to know about that chicken and why it felt the need to cross that road.  This is social commentary.

Also, it contains historical reference.  We need to understand what a road is–an invention of humanity based on the need to service other inventions.  And, historically, we all know that animals crossing roads may be perilous to their health.

And that, is the threat necessary for the humor trigger: the chicken is having one of its needs jeopardized.  Its physical safety is in danger.

Say What
Say whaaat?

Alas, no harm befalls this chicken.  We never learn why it felt compelled to cross the road, nor do we learn of its fate.  We laugh over these unresolved questions, while understanding that the hook of the story relied upon that chicken’s mortality, and by extension, our own.

But this alone does not make the joke.  It is merely a story.  To become a joke, it requires two other aspects: Delivery, and Satirical Value.  We wait, momentarily on edge, eagerly seeking the story’s climax.  So the wording of the joke affects it’s delivery.  It’s phrased in a question to invoke the listener’s interest and encourages his/her reaction.  Secondly, the conclusion of the joke is mere satire, or in this case specifically, irony.  It’s ironic that the story’s conclusion has nothing to do with the actions of the perceived feelings of the chicken.  It simply wanted to get from point A to point B–something completely uninteresting.  We are left without any compelling narrative, despite the initial impression of one, and that’s ironic.


To quantify humor then, we take the base substance of a joke, the Social Commentary and Historical Reference, and add them.  We take this combined substance, and append the joke’s Delivery and Satirical Value as multipliers:

(Delivery*Satirical Value(Social Commentary+Historical Reference))/20

In this manner, we find jokes can have varying degrees of each category, but the funniest jokes always find ways to maximize each.  Additionally, no criteria can be rated to have a null value, as any joke will always contain even the smallest quantity of each, and each criteria can receive a maximum score of 10.  The total score ranges from 1-100 (technically 0.1-100), so we scale for the theoretical maximum by dividing by 20.  For the above referenced joke, I have rated it a 10:


Granted these are arbitrary scores, but I find that gut reactions in this instance are the most accurate, seeing as, after all, we are attempting to quantify an emotional response.  I’ve included a link to download the calculator, which further explains how to score a joke as well as automatically completing the math:

Are our bio-mechanical systems so readily quantifiable?  You be the judge.  And if nothing else, I hope you found this post funny.


Get Off My Lawn!

Our house is neighboring the house on the corner.  On the perpendicular road from this intersection, one house down from this same house, is a house filled with feral children.  These children, in their angst to visit the park, save precious moments by bypassing the intersection altogether and instead blaze a trail through my backyard, driveway, and front yard.

As any self-respecting old man suburban homeowner would do, I’ve conspired in secret to find subtle ways of mitigating the problem.  I laughed evilly to myself as I fantasized over hedgerows of blackberries and poison ivy.  But these are mere irritations.  What I needed was something extreme: Unnecessary escalation to get my point across.

So I pondered the archives of knowledge I spent years of college acquiring–knowledge others have since called useless.  I scoff at their uneducated masses of business degrees.

Not on my watch

A vision of Romans and Gauls flashed through my mind, and I recounted the Battle of Alesia–the first major battle to earn the booby-trap notoriety.  Introducing, the Lilly.  Interestingly, Googling the Lilly Trap returned an odd amount of pornographic images.  I perused the thumbnails for a few minutes out of sheer curiosity before returning to my writing, naturally.  My point is, I have no appropriate visual aid to append to this paragraph, so I will describe:

It’s a trap!

The Lilly Trap was a small pit with a sharpened stick in the center.  The stick was deeply secured, and the pit was either covered with brush or filled with water.  The idea was to hide the trap, so that an unlucky infantryman would step upon it, impale his foot on the stick, and be subsequently immobilized.  Yes, this would subtly get my point across, muahaha.  I began digging.

Okay, enough of that.  This is the part where I tell you that maiming children is not my objective, although chasing them away with a 20 gauge certainly has crossed my mind.  But I had other problems to contend with, namely the drainage situation from the downspouts.

The prior owner had installed extensive waterproofing measures in the basement.  The perimeter had been trenched, and a sump pump installed.  And when we were viewing the house, there had indeed been water in the sump.  But, that was the last time it’s ever held water.

Shortly after moving in, it became obvious that the problem lied in the rainwater’s current drainage paths.  Downspouts, dutifully installed, channeled their contents directly against the house.  These areas had not been graded, so the water simply sat against the foundation.  After the first heavy rain, I deduced something was amiss when I saw the house adjacent to several small ponds.  That, I cleverly declared to myself, holding an authoritative finger of pronouncement to the sky, was not right.

So I began trenching.  But the problem with this particular corner was that the grade went up before down.  So in order to get the water away from the house, I’d have a very deep trench.  Also, the remnants of a stump were between the downspout and the far side of the rise, and I was not keen on chopping through many feet of roots.

TrenchIntroducing, the water garden.  I would trench as far as possible, then dig a deep hole, fill it with permeable material, and surround it with plants that tolerate flood/drought cycles.  The cold weather broke and we were blessed with a beautiful weekend.

And sure enough, I started hitting roots, so I ended the trench in said deep hole.  I lined the trench with bricks to provide a solid bottom, then planned to fill the remaining trench and hole with river stone, as I had on the drainage trench in the front yard.  Then it got really cold again, and we were hit with our first spring storm that flooded the project.

So good news: the water goes where it’s supposed to now and doesn’t pool near the house.  When the hole filled with water, it overflowed down the hill and away from the house.  Success!

Unfortunately, now the rain garden is a hole of muddy water almost two feet deep.  But, I have appeased the laws of hydrodynamics, and hopefully in the meantime I’m frightening the children away with my bizarre hole-digging project.  Next step: caltrops!