Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ruminations on beer

The word "beer" has occurred in 14 of my blog posts. Go figger. As all my friends know, I don't even like beer. And I always tell the truth in my blog posts.

Beer is frequently featured in my posts because of Beer's law. I am probably the first person in history to remark on the connection between August Beer's name and the yellow, foamy liquid. And I am certainly the first person to use actual beer to demonstrate Beer's law.


Beer's law is a law about light and color measurement. So, you can imagine my delight when the world finally got serious about measuring the color of beer! The Beertone guide below puts an end to all those arguments in the tavern about whose beer is darker. A simple flip of the deck under properly calibrated lighting can identify the color of each and every beer in the Beertone database.

The legacy of Hugh Beaver

Speaking of bar arguments, Sir Hugh Beaver was also interested in eliminating them. He was on a hunting trip and found himself amidst an argument about whether the golden plover or the grouse was the fastest European bird [1]. He found it devilishly hard to research the question, so he decided to create a book to answer all such questions. What does this have to do with beer? Sir Hugh Beaver was then the director of the Guinness Brewery [2]. Originally, it was just a marketing gimmick. He soon realized that this was a bonafide business in its own right.  

Hugh Beaver of Guinness and Hugh Beaumont of Leave It to Beaver
Two lives inextricably intertwined

Speaking of publications from Guinness, the book of world records was not the first time that the Guinness Brewery became famous for its publications. The so-called "Student's t-test" came out of that little place in 1908 [3]. William Sealy Gosset was researching ways to improve all matters having to do with barley and yeast, and beer production. At the time, he thought his work was of little consequence. Little did he know that his name was to go down in the history of statistics. 

Well, his name didn't quite go down in history, but his pseudonym did. It seems that a previous Guinness employee had spoiled the water. Trade secrets had been published, so Guinness adopted a policy that employees were not allowed to publish anything. Gosset negotiated an agreement with Guinness where they allowed him to publish so long as he published under a pseudonym and did not publish any of their data. The author of this landmark paper in statistics (March 1908 volume of Biometrika) was "Student". 

The amazing world of Guinness bubbles

Speaking of bar arguments and Guinness, to this day, there has been an ongoing argument about the direction of the flow of bubbles in a freshly poured pint. It appears that bubbles travel downward, rather than upward as one might expect. One enterprising group of scientists at Stanford University headed down to the pub with a high speed camera to test this. Optical illusion, or fact? Their conclusion was that the "...bubbles at the center rise up and create a circulation in the glass.  The circulation causes bubbles at the edge of the glass to be pushed downwards."
OMG! The bubbles really do head for the bottom of the glass!

This is not the last word, by any means. The critical research continues. Last year saw the publishing of a paper at Cornell which literally turned the world of fizzy-ology upside down:

"In this paper, we use simulations and experiments to demonstrate that the flow in a glass of stout beer depends on the shape of the glass. If it narrows downwards (as the traditional stout glass, the pint, does), the flow is directed downwards near the wall and upwards in the interior and sinking bubbles will be observed. If the container widens downwards, the flow is opposite to that described above and only rising bubbles will be seen."
Pint and Anti-pint

Just as an aside, I tried this experiment at home. I could not replicate their results. Every time I turned the pint glass upside-down, the bubbles headed downward. Along with the stout.

But the two previous explanations lack the big words to give them the level of pretension that the whole topic deserves. This following paper provides adequate levels of pretension. The lead author is from Limerick, Ireland, so she no doubt is an expert on stout. Here is what she has to say:

"Our theory involves a physically based regularization of the basic equations of the two-phase flow, using interphasic pressure difference and virtual mass terms, together with bulk or eddy viscosity terms."

I offer the following as an alternative for the abstract: [4] 

There were some researchers from Limerick
Who proved bubbles go down - quite a mean trick.
They modeled two-phase flow 
To explain why it's so
With a pressure difference interphasic.

I am guessing that my own name may not go down in history as the author of the first limer-abstract. It's a shame. But I realize that this limerick won't get much airplay because limericks are supposed to be naughty. [5]

To beer or not to beer?

Speaking of "naughty", what about beer and mating rituals? 

I have been reading a delightful blog by Christian Rudder. He has the enviable position of being allowed free access to the scads of data from the dating site "OkCupid". They have a database with zillions of questions, answered by zillions of people, and he has been doing correlations to find answers to these questions that correlate with each other. For example, one would expect that if someone identified themselves as being into Harleys and Metallica, it's likely that they would also be into My Little Pony. 

But Christian wasn't really looking for My Little Pony fans, he was looking for something more practical. I am guessing that he knew something that I discovered the hard way--the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of First Dates: The mere act of asking a woman if she will go all the way on a first date will effect whether she will. Generally speaking, the effect is negative.

So, Christian wanted to know what "safe" question you could ask on a first date to get some indication as to whether you might get lucky. He had the answers to the question "would you consider sleeping with someone on the first date". And he had answers to a zillion other questions. Here is the astounding revelation in his blog post about safe questions for a first date. "Among all our casual topics, whether someone likes the taste of beer is the single best predictor of if he or she has sex on the first date."

Ask her if she likes beer!

Speaking of dating and beer, let's talk about beer goggles. Do "the girls all git purdier at closin' time", as the song says? Amanda Ellison, senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Durham University and author of the book "Getting your head around the brain" would like to dispel the rumor of beer goggles. Here is what she has to say about the effect of alcohol:

The area of the brain that makes us want to mate keeps functioning, no matter how much we drink, meaning that people can still assess how visually-appealing others are. ...alcohol switches off the rational and decision making areas of the brain while leaving the areas to do with sexual desire relatively intact, and so this explains beer goggles. 

Before and after that third pint of Guinness

We don't rate people as getting more attractive when we have a few under the belt. We just get better at making bad decisions. And mind you... those decisions often find us getting into trouble with the law. Beer's law.


[1] Apparently the question about whether the African or the European swallow was faster is uncontested, since the bridge keeper at the Bridge of Death is the sole decider of Truth.

[2] This epiphanic moment that marked the nascence of the Guninness Book of World Records was on my birthday, November 10. Beaver was born in Johannesburg in 1890. I visited Johannesburg 120 years later. I once had a copy of the Guinness Book, and I once had a Guinness beer. To the best of my knowledge, neither Hugh nor myself have ever robbed a bank. The coincidences are endless.

[3] Student's t test is not (as you would expect) an annual competition sponsored by some school between Lipton, and Bigelow, and Celestial Seasons. It is a method in statistics that is used to test the validity of experimental results. Suppose I want to find out if having a couple of beers for breakfast will improve the appearance of my hair. I run a number of trials, on some days I have my normal breakfast of two beers, and on other days I abstain. For each day, I count the number of compliments I get on my hair. At the end of the experiment, if I get more compliments on beer days, it might be because the beer really does make my hair look better, or it could just be at random. For example, maybe on beer days, I just happened to get served more often by that cute young gal at Starbucks who has a crush on me. Student's t test is a way of gauging the likelihood that the experimental results might just be random chance.

[4] I am following my normal practice of poking fun at things that are too difficult for me to understand. Its a defense mechanism.

[5] (From the Wikipedia entry on limericks) Gershon Legman, who compiled the largest and most scholarly anthology, held that the true limerick as a folk form is always obscene, and cites similar opinions by Arnold Bennett and George Bernard Shaw,[5] describing the clean limerick as a "periodic fad and object of magazine contests, rarely rising above mediocrity." From a folkloric point of view, the form is essentially transgressive; violation of taboo is part of its function.

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