Posted in Science & Nature


We often hear on the news of cataclysmic storms with oddly common names such as Hurricane Sandy, Katrina and Harvey. It seems weird that we give such devastating forces of nature a basic name, let alone naming them human names at all.

A hurricane is the name given to tropical storms that occur in the Atlantic Ocean. For reference, a hurricane is essentially the same as a cyclone or typhoon. The history of naming hurricanes dates back over a hundred years, with residents of the Caribbean Islands naming hurricanes after the saint of the day from the Catholic calendar. Initially, American meteorologists named hurricanes by the geographic location that the storm originated in.

However, during World War II, military meteorologists in the Pacific started using women’s names for hurricanes. This made communication much easier as hurricanes could be identified by name and much easier to say. There are some apocryphal stories about the origin of women’s names for hurricanes, such as wishing that the hurricane will be calmer and of better temperament, or that they were named after the meteorologists’ wives and girlfriends. This practice soon spread to the rest of USA and became the default method of naming hurricanes. From 1979, it was decided that the gender of the names would be alternated.

In the present, there is a rolling six-year roster of 21 names each year in alphabetical order that is used to name hurricanes (see below for list). For example, the first hurricane of 2019 was called Andrea, the second Barry, the third Chantal and so on. In 2020, the first hurricane will be named Arthur, then Bertha, et cetera. The same names would be used in 2025 and 2026.

The one exception to this rule is that when a hurricane is particularly devastating and results in many deaths, the name is “retired” in honour of those who have lost their lives or livelihoods to the hurricane. For example, there will be no more hurricanes named Katrina or Harvey in the future.

Posted in History & Literature

Bechdel-Wallace Test

What makes you want to watch a movie? There are various factors to consider: how original the idea is, pacing of plot, quality of acting, emotional engagement, suitable score… Out of all of these factors, one of the most interesting is the Bechdel-Wallace test.

In 1985, cartoonist Alison Bechdel wrote a comic strip called Dykes To Watch Out For, where one of her characters states that she only goes to see movies that satisfy three conditions.

  1. First, the film must have at least two women in it. Modern adaptations of the rule state that these women must be named characters.
  2. Second, the women must have a conversation with each other at some point in the film.
  3. Lastly, they must talk about something other than a man.

It is quite easy to pass this test. Even a simple conversation between two women, such as about the food they are eating or what happened at work count. As simple as it sounds, the test is surprisingly powerful. 

Upon review of all movies listed in major databases, it has been shown that only 50 to 70% of all movies pass the Bechdel-Wallace test. The most common reason is the lack of any conversation between two named women characters. This suggests that a large proportion of female characters are put in the movie as a romantic interest or support character for the male, or they are the “token woman”, such as a sole female soldier in a special forces unit.

The Bechdel-Wallace test initially started as a joke in a comic strip, but it highlights the depressing fact of how poorly women are represented in films. There is a strong tendency for women to be portrayed only as a damsel in distress, a love interest for the (male) protagonist or someone who helps the (male) protagonist develop their character, such as their mother. This may be an extension of the fact that the overwhelming majority of directors, producers and screenwriters are men – a gender gap commonly known as the “celluloid ceiling”.

The scariest part is that many movies only passed the test because of a single, short scene where two women have an extremely trivial conversation. It is almost as if those scenes are inserted by moviemakers to tick a box saying that they are not sexist.

The test has many flaws due to its simplicity. For example, it does not account for movies with very few characters, such as those focussed around a female protagonist who does not interact with many other people, or movies focussed purely on one woman and one man conversing with each other. 

Nonetheless, it sends a powerful message regarding the rampant inequality women have to face in day-to-day life.

Posted in History & Literature

Hot Waitress Economic Index

What happens when an economy is going into a depression? Unemployment goes up, inflation goes up, housing markets tank… There are many (miserable) indicators of a waning economy, but none are as strange as the Hot Waitress Economic Index. Simply put, this index suggests that the worse the economy is doing, the more attractive the waitresses are on average.

Despite sounding incredibly shallow and sexist, there is sufficient data to support this theory. It can be explained by the fact that when the economy is doing fine, attractive women are more likely to be in higher paying jobs as they are favoured by employers (unfair, but statistically true). When the economy is doing poorly, unemployment rates rise and these attractive women are pushed down to low-paying jobs such as waitressing as actual skill becomes a higher priority when hiring. This causes an apparent increase in the overall attractiveness of waitresses in the country. Some studies suggest that the Hot Waitress Economic Index is even more accurate in predicting the state of the economy than unemployment as attractive people tend to be the first to earn jobs, acting as an immediate indicator for the economy. For example, when the economy dips out of the depression and starts to rise again, attractive people are the first to be re-hired into higher paying jobs, causing the Hot Waitress Economic Index to change before the unemployment rate does.

Interestingly, there is no data on how the economy affects the average attractiveness of waiters.

Posted in History & Literature

Pope Joan

There is a legend in papal history regarding a certain Pope John VIII, who is believed to have reigned between 853 – 855 AD. The reason this pope is so famous is that legends state that “he” was in fact a woman, making her the first (and only) female pope in history.
Legend has it that she was a very talented and intelligent woman who, with the help of disguising herself as a man as education was forbidden to females in those times, quickly rose in the church hierarchy to eventually become the pope. After a couple years of power, her true sex was discovered when she gave birth to a child one day.

There is reasonable evidence of her existence, ironically through the extensive cover up of her existence by the church. After finding out that she was a woman, history tried its best to forget the fact by constantly removing evidence of her existence. For example, in the 14th century a series of busts of past popes were made for the Duomo of Siena, one of which was named “Johannes VIII, Foemina de Anglia”, suggesting a female pope by the name of John VIII.

It is possible that she managed to deceive people of her gender by having a form of adrenal hyperplasia, which would lead to her having abnormally high levels of androgen during development. This would lead to ambiguous secondary sex characteristics, such as facial hair, androgynous appearance and possibly even an ambiguous genitalia (but of course she would have had a mild form as she was able to conceive and birth a child).

Pope Joan had a significant impact in papal traditions. Two which are famous are the change in the papal procession path and the sedia stercorania. 
The childbirth scene that exposed her occurred during a papal procession, whilst passing a narrow lane. That lane is no longer passed after that event occurred.
The sedia stercorania is a chair with a hole in it that was used to install new popes. The reason for the hole was so that a junior cardinal could reach below the chair on which the pope was sitting on, and check whether he had testicles, after which he would announce: “Duos habet et bene pendentes” (he has testicles and is well hung). This became a compulsory examination after the scandal of Pope Joan.