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Martin GardinerRSS Feed of this column.

I specialise in beachcombing the scholarly journals and university websites for uncommonly intriguing academic articles by uncommonly intriguing people. Articles such as moustache transplants, the... Read More »


Amazing as it may seem, algorithmic methods for generating music go back at least as far as 1757 (see: Musikalisches Würfelspiel). But algorithmic methods for generating US ‘Country Music’ are far more recent.

Indeed, Jim Suruda and professor Norman Carver of the Department of Computer Science, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale IL, USA, are still in the process of refining the development of an Artificial-Intelligence-based software application called the ‘Automated Country Music Engine’ (ACME).

To begin, an example of failed humor.  Two friends in their 20s (called ‘L’ who is female, and ‘R’ who is male) are conversing :

L: “What did the big cup say to the little cup?”
R: (sarcastically) “I’m bigger than you?”
L: “No, Nothing. Cups can’t talk”.

R: (completely ignoring L) “I can hold more water than you?”

When it comes to the names of lipsticks, anyone who has attempted to combine the ‘Presentation of Self’ theories of Erving Goffman and the semiotic modelling methods of Roland Gérard Barthes could well consult the work of professor Debra Merskin (of the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, US), who has categorised the names of no less than 1,722 lipsticks.

“The names of lipsticks and how they penetrate women’s psyches as semiotic tools used in branding are the foci of the present study.”

The professor’s study delineated 14 name-categories for the lipsticks, and then allocated the names accordingly – the results are listed here in order of their popularity.

If it's a “postmodern” 21st Century version of range sciences you're after, you can do no better than check out the website of the Jornada Experimental Range, Las Cruces, New Mexico,US.

Bruce Willis  heroically managed to save the world in the film 1998  Armageddon. He was able to deflect a huge Earth-bound asteroid with the expedient use of a well placed thermonuclear explosion.

But some have questioned whether Willis’s feat would actually have been possible – without breaking the laws of physics . . .

• Some people might feel happier if they get their hands on some more money.
• Some people might feel happier if they use their hands to pray.

Leading some to the question : is it feasible to equate the two? In other words, is it possible to put a price on prayer?