Paul Murray's weblog, with news you may have missed and my $0.02 worth on a number of topics.

"You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."
- Art Buchwald

I bet you don't have a friend who's an acupuncturist

E-mail me: pmurray63 [at] (Be patient, I don't check it often.)

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Thursday, July 27, 2006
NASA's "new" spaceship.
You may have heard that NASA will be drawing upon the Apollo design (I'm paraphrasing) for its next major project. Boy, is that an understatement. Go here and click on the "To infinity the moon and beyond" animation button (QuickTime req'd). As Yogi Berra would say, it's deja vu all over again.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Visit a Russian submarine base.
A defunct Russian submarine base, that is. The text is in Russian, but the photos are quite interesting. Someone has commented that they look like videogame backgrounds; while I don't play videogames, I can see what they mean. (via Boing Boing)

Sunday, July 23, 2006
Applied statistics.
I love running across stories of inspired applied logic ... like how the Allies estimated German tank production during World War II.
The statisticians had one key piece of information, which was the serial numbers on captured mark V tanks. The statisticians believed that the Germans, being Germans, had logically numbered their tanks in the order in which they were produced. And this deduction turned out to be right. It was enough to enable them to make an estimate of the total number of tanks that had been produced up to any given moment.

The basic idea was that the highest serial number among the captured tanks could be used to calculate the overall total. The German tanks were numbered as follows: 1, 2, 3 ... N, where N was the desired total number of tanks produced. Imagine that they had captured five tanks, with serial numbers 20, 31, 43, 78 and 92. They now had a sample of five, with a maximum serial number of 92. Call the sample size S and the maximum serial number M. After some experimentation with other series, the statisticians reckoned that a good estimator of the number of tanks would probably be provided by the simple equation (M-1)(S+1)/S. In the example given, this translates to (92-1)(5+1)/5, which is equal to 109.2. Therefore the estimate of tanks produced at that time would be 109.

By using this formula, statisticians reportedly estimated that the Germans produced 246 tanks per month between June 1940 and September 1942. At that time, standard intelligence estimates had believed the number was far, far higher, at around 1,400. After the war, the allies captured German production records, showing that the true number of tanks produced in those three years was 245 per month, almost exactly what the statisticians had calculated, and less than one fifth of what standard intelligence had thought likely.

Emboldened, the allies attacked the western front in 1944 and overcame the Panzers on their way to Berlin. And so it was that statisticians won the war - in their own estimation, at any rate.

This would make a good story for statistics teachers who want to motivate their students. (via

Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Unlikely fact of the week.
From the NYT obituary for author writer Mickey Spillane:
Mr. Spillane’s mother was a Presbyterian and his father a Catholic; when he was coming into his own as a fiction writer, Mr. Spillane liked to say that he was “christened in two churches and neither took.” But in 1951, he became a Jehovah’s Witness, and he persuaded his mother and his first wife to convert. Instead of writing, he spent most of his time going door to door, spreading the message of the Bible. He wrote no books from 1952 to 1961, and those he wrote later, some fans said, lacked the vintage sadism of the first five, in which a total of 48 people were killed.

Plus he was once a trampoline performer in a circus.