Monday 25 January 2010

Keyboard cat tops the charts

Internet memes are fascinating. The term meme refers to ideas and cultural phenomena that spread through society through imitation. The term was first used by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene to discuss how evolution could work with cultural phenomena such as beliefs, fashion and music. He argues that memes are cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate, mutate, can be inherited and respond to selective pressure.

The concept of Internet memes relates to this original definition of meme, and refers to the spread of ideas across the internet. Colloquially, internet memes are essentially in-jokes. And like any good in-joke, the meme will often start out as not particularly funny, but after you have seen it 1000 times, it takes on a life of its own, often evolving to something completely unpredictable. Lolcats is an example of a meme that I don't think is all that funny - however, I am quite partial to Rick Rolling, and I Like Turtles is awesome!

I was recently putting together my annual list of most played songs on my ipod for the last year when I realised that I am clearly susceptible to internet memes. Not only was the list Rick Rolled (with no less than three Rick Astley songs) but the top song was one I learnt of through my favourite internet meme, Keyboard Cat. Keyboard Cat consists of 1984 footage of "Fatso" the cat playing the keyboard, and was uploaded to youtube as charlie schmidt's "cool cat". The gag is to append footage of the cat to video of people doing stupid things (falling over, getting hit in the head etc.) - the cat is essentially playing the person off stage, much like getting the hook in the days of vaudeville.

One of the best Keyboard Cat videos - and probably my favourite video ever on youtube - has Keyboard Cat with Hall and Oates playing their song You Make My Dreams. The video starts with a segment of Desperate Lives, a 1982 movie starring Helen Hunt showing the effects of drug use - Keyboard Cat plays off the overdosing Hunt as a cautionary tale against drug use. Then the music video starts, and this is when I discovered the song - check it out!

2009 saw a minor comeback for the song, and even though I have no evidence to back this up, I am going to put it out there that Keyboard Cat is the reason for its renewed success. Here's You Make My Dreams from the movie (500) Days of Summer - video here.

And for a complete understanding of Keyboard Cat, check out the excellent Know your Meme series of videos.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Ep 120: Correlation of the Week: Housework and Sex

There's nothing quite like pulling on the rubber gloves, splashing each other with dirty dish-water and then reaching for the vacuum cleaner with the adjustable nozzle to get you in mood for love.

The first Correlation of the Week for 2010 is awarded to Constance Gager, from Montclair State University, and Scott Yabiku, from Arizona State University, who discovered that wives and husbands who spend more hours in housework and paid work report more frequent sex. They theorise that women and men who "work hard" also "play hard."

To listen to this show, tune in here (or press play below):

The report, Who Has the Time? The Relationship Between Household Labor Time and Sexual Frequency, published in the Journal of Family Issues, documented a survey of 6,877 married couples which showed that couples who devote lots of time to work and chores still make time for sex. The results contradict the idea that time spent on household chores reduces the opportunity for sex - worth remembering next time this particular excuse is used...

The authors controlled the results for "gender ideology" - that is, they controlled for the various viewpoints people have on their relationships. For example, a wife with a 1950s mentality might regard doing lots of housework and having frequent sex as part of her marital responsibilities. The housework-sex link was found to exist no matter what views each member held.

Housework was defined as:
  • cleaning, 
  • preparing meals, 
  • washing dishes, 
  • washing and ironing clothes, 
  • driving family members around, 
  • shopping, 
  • yard work, 
  • maintaining cars,
  • paying bills. 
Husbands spent on average 23.4 hours per week performing these household tasks, whilst wives spent 41.8 hours a week. Husbands spent an average 33.8 hours a week working, compared with 19.7 hours for wives. This means that the wives in the study spent a total of 61.5 hours a week either working at their job or at home, compared to 57.2 for their husbands. And just so you know how you stack up, the couples in the study reported having sex 82.7 times a year (1.6 times per week). Sexual frequency went down with age and the length of the relationship. Protestants had more sex than the Catholics - presumably the Catholics had more unprotected sex.... Having small children reduced frequency but once the kids were older, the frequency went back up.

Couples who spent more time in paid work also reported more sex. This led the authors to conclude that "individuals may be achievers across multiple spheres." They theorise that as life gets busier and time gets tighter, some couples can successfully balance their time commitments to make time for sex.

So there you have it, couples who make time to do their household chores also make time for loving. More at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Wall Street Journal. And for more weird and wonderful correlations, see our Correlation of the Week tag.

Monday 11 January 2010

Nano Snowman

In 2009 we had Nano-teddy, this year it's Nano Snowman!

David Cox from the National Physical Laboratory in the UK has built the world's smallest snowman - perhaps because he was trapped inside by the winter blizzards with nothing much else to do...

The snowman is 10 µm across, which is roughly 1/5th the width of a human hair. Its head and body are made from two tin beads. The eyes and smile were carved from the tin with a focused ion beam, and the nose, which is less than 1 µm across, is a deposited blob of platinum.

Hope all our UK and European readers are enjoying the snow!