What’s wasting my time? BearLove Good Cancer Bad!

I love The Oatmeal.  No, not thisThisThe Oatmeal.  The Oatmeal is an (obscure) webcomic started by Matt Inman, a Seattlite that made some (easy/great) money when he wrote code that eventually got used in internet dating sites.  Or something like that.

My favorite Oatmeal comic:  How Twilight Works.  In a witty, stroke of genius, he called the narrator Pants, because she is like a pair of generic pants.  And that is awesome, because for the life of me, despite the fact that I’ve seen the movie, that my friend Britt has read (and told me about) every novel, and all the stupid media hype about the vampire and the werewolf, and what not, I really cannot remember Pants’ real name.  Awesome.

Oh, and I love one that explains the differences amongst their, there, and they’re.

Or how cool Tesla was (and what a dork Edison was).  Word.

Now The Oatmeal is fighting cancer and promoting the World Wildlife Fund – by not responding to a legal threat from some other internet company.  Weird, right.  Well here is the breakdown:

The Oatmeals BearLove Good Cancer Bad campaign

The Oatmeal’s BearLove Good Cancer Bad campaign Link

The Oatmeal makes comics.  People like them, so they post them on Facebook and then ‘like” them. Then other people copy the comics and the post them on a website called FunnyJunk.com.

FunnyJunk.com sells advertising against the traffic that all the comics (from places like The Oatmeal) generates.  But they don’t own the comics, or write comics or anything.  They just leverage what its ‘users’ upload against viewership.  It’s legal – really; as long as you follow industry guidelines and give due credit for the work.

The Oatmeal, in a letter/blog, claimed that FunnyJunk.com did just the opposite.  So Matt ranted online, and sent Funny Junk a letter asking them to delete his content (otherwise known as a cease and desist request).  They did.  And then a year later (or just about two weeks ago), FunnyJunk.com threatened to sue Inman.  Basically, for defamation of character (except it’s a website, so legally I’m not sure what it is).  Then FunnyJunk.com requested Inman send $20K for damages.  Seriously.

Inman responded “I just want to make comics.”  Then he did something really…. creative, actually.  He challenged his readers to raise $20K as donations to the American Cancer Society and the World Wildlife Fund (well, he also promised to draw a picture of FunnyJunk.com’s lawyer’s mother seducing a bear… but I digress).  Then Inman claimed he would take a picture of money, send that picture (and the drawing) to FunnyJunk.com and donate the $20K.

The Oatmeal's Donate Image

The Oatmeal’s Donate Image

In the end, he raised $117,000 dollars.  And caused the lawyer for FunnJunk.com to take his email and website off-line because of the barrage of spam sent by The Oatmeal readers.

So yeah… getting up to date on The Oatmeal’s BearLove Good Cancer Bad campaign… that’s what is wasting my time.

Someone tell Oz – dingoes DO eat Babies

From the news of the weird… and a little sad… we harken back to the golden days of the WB, circa 1997.

Actually we go back a bit before that:  In August, 1980, a grief stricken young mother, Lindy Chamberlain, made international headlines when she declared that dingoes (native wild dogs of Australia) made off with her daughter, Azaria Chamberlain.  Had we the interwebs then, her tearful claim, “Well the Dingoes got the baby” would have been viral in no time (checkout 2:55 in the video). Despite the mother’s grief, authorities were skeptical, claiming that dingoes were too small and not aggressive enough to carry off a 9-week old child.  After almost three years of investigation, Lindy, 8 months pregnant with her third child at the time, was sentenced to life in prison for murder, and her husband time-served as an accomplice.  The ruling literally tore Australia apart, some people aghast that a mother would come up with such a bizarre story, and others claiming that the story’s bizarre nature was proof enough of it’s truth.  Eventually, in 1986, a scrap of clothing belonging to baby Azaria was found near a dingo den; In 1987 Lindy was exonerated and freed; In 1988 Meryl Streep starred in a movie of the story.  But baby Azaria’s death was always listed as unknown.  Until today:  An Australian coroner finally declared that a dingo did steal baby Azaria, and killed her.

The true weirdness is how Lindy’s quote (or misquote, to be exact) became so famous.   Personally I was only 9 when baby Azaria died.  But thanks to the cult-favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I was well versed in the story, thanks to Daniel “Oz” Osbourne, the part-time werewolf, part-time bassist, always cool Seth Green character.  “The Dingoes Ate my Baby” was the name of his amateur rock band that frequently played at The Bronze.  While I do not think the band’s name was ever explained on the show, I knew the reference.  Others probably know the phrase better from Season 3 of Seinfeld, when uttered by Elaine.  She used the phrase “maybe a dingo ate your baby” to mock a pretentious woman at a party.  It seemed there was no shame in mocking poor Lindy, or baby Azaria’s death.

Today Lindy Chamberlain and her divorced husband were handed a death certificate, which finally clears their names; but does little to bring back the daughter they lost, or the grief (and ridicule) they’ve suffered for over 30 years.

Yes Dorothy, there really is Gaydar

You’re walking down the street with your friend, and someone coming the other direction catches your eye.  In an instant – without even trying –  your gaydar goes off. Gaydar, that innate ability to glean another’s sexual orientation from just looking at him or her.  But are you right?  Do you really know she is gay just from looking at her?  And if so, why?  What makes gaydar work?

Scientists from Cornell University and the University of Washington have recently published a paper that not only confirms there is gaydar, but also starts to dig into just how it works.  The study took Facebook  pictures of people that self-identified on their profile as either gay or straight. They cropped everything out of the picture (even their hair) so it was just the person’s face, and then showed them to students at the University of Washington.  Subjects were given 50 milliseconds to view the picture, and then had to guess whether the person self-identified as gay or straight. Surprisingly, subjects were correct about 60% of the time.  So you are saying to yourself “That’s not overwhelming, being right 60% of the time.”  But it is way better than chance.  And it was with only 50 milliseconds of viewing (to help the non-metric, divide a second into 1000 equal parts, and then take 50 of those parts).  We’re talking pretty fast judgments here.

Next, the researchers did something really funky – they did the experiment again with the same set of pictures (different students), and flipped the faces up-side-down.

Bizarre, I know, but here is why:  Other research has shown that when we look at faces right-side up, we pay attention to both the individual features of a face (noting the bright baby-blue of your eyes), and the relationship between these features (just how far apart are those baby-blues).  When the face is upside-down, though, we focus only on the individual features.  Even with up-side-down faces, subjects guessed sexual orientation better than 50% of the time; but performance was best with right-side-up faces.  Meaning that when gaydar is on, it uses both information about your individual facial features, and the relationship of features.  It’s not just your baby-blues, but something about how far apart they are from one another, or perhaps from your mouth, that says your gay or straight.

Here is something else that was weird: Subjects were better at predicting the sexual orientation of female faces (correct 64% of the times) than male faces (correct 57% of the time).  This is really interesting, because most the students making judgments were also female (19 out of 24).  The gaydar bias in judging females faces in this study might come from the fact that each of us is best at gleaning sexual preference from faces of our own gender.  That is, perhaps gaydar works best for females judging females, and for males judging males.

I was intrigued by this, and since I happen to know one of the scientists (the Cornell professor and I both got our PhDs from the University of Washington psychology department), I sent an email asking about gender differences.  She redirected me to the University of Washington graduate student that was lead author on the study, and he answered my question.  In this study there was no difference in performance between female students and male students.  But sometimes, researchers can find that the best gaydar is when women are judging men.  But not often, and it is only a very, very small improvement.

So what’s the whole take home here?  First, gaydar is real (to be honest, this is not the first study to demonstrate that, but it does add to the growing evidence);  Gaydar is not that powerful, since it is right about 60% of the time Gaydar hones in on the relationship amongst the features of our face:   Like how tall our face is, and where our mouth and eyes are in our face.  Finally, it appears that both males and females are just as good at ‘gaydaring’ people.

But none of it explains the lyrics to Blur’sGirls & Boys“.  Perhaps that will be another experiment for another day…..