Thursday, May 8, 2008

Tell me, Brother, can you quantify?

Last night, Little Brother and I spoke on the phone to catch up with each other's impressions of the most recent installments of three of our mutual loves: Lost (the sci-fi drama about hapless plane-wreck survivors stranded on a desert island), Survivor (the reality series about hapless game show contestants stranded on a desert island), and Gilligan's Island (the TV Land comedy about hapless three-hour-tourists stranded on a desert island).

(OK, not Gilligan's Island.)

In order to demonstrate to each other that we are both still serious fans of Lost and Survivor, at some point during the course of these exchanges, the conversation inevitably degenerates into some semblance of the following dialogue (which has been abridged for readability):

Little Bro: Are you liking Lost?

Yajeev: I like it.

Little Bro: Do you love it?

Yajeev: Yeah, I love it.

Little Bro: How much do you love it?

I love it a lot.

Little Bro: Yeah, but how much?

Yajeev: How can I quantify it?

Little Bro:
Well, who's your favorite character right now?

Yajeev: Sawyer's probably my favorite character, but Michael Emerson is my favorite actor on the show.

Little Bro: How much do you love Sawyer?

Yajeev: Yeah, he's great, Bro.

Little Bro: How great are the things he says?

Yajeev: They're the best. I loved when he warned Locke about harming "just one curly hair on Hurley's head."

Little Bro: That was the best! How much did you love that line?

Yajeev: I just told you: it was a great line.

Little Bro: Yeah, but how much did you love it?

Yajeev: A lot. I loved it a lot. How can I answer these questions?!

A few minutes later, the conversation turned to our favorite contestants on past seasons of Survivor.

Little Bro: How much did you love Frank in Survivor: Africa?

Yajeev: He was great.

Little Bro: Yeah, but how much did you love him?

Yajeev: Brother, I loved him a lot.

Little Bro: How much?

Yajeev (searching for some frame of reference): I love Frank as a Survivor contestant almost as much as I love Lost as a show.

Little Bro: Right. (pause) How much is that?

Yajeev: Uhhhh...

Little Bro: Wait--let me ask you this. How much did you love how he didn't know the meaning of the word "brunch"?

Little Bro proceeded to recount verbatim the conversations that took place during a Survivor episode he'd seen only once, on its original airdate in late 2001.

Yajeev: Yeah, that was great.

Little Bro:
How great?

And so on.

This conversation has made it clear that when it comes to how much I like something, I have no clear method of quantitation, which makes my descriptions of the degree of like/love I maintain for a given television show or character or Survivor contestant vague and devoid of real meaning.

By contrast, most important traits can be quantifiably determined and so communicated. The piquancy of a chicken wing drenched in Louisiana Lickers sauce (my poultry coating of choice) can be conveyed in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) (Louisiana Lickers wings are a zippy 1,220 SHU on a scale of 16,000,000). Likewise, when I visit the doctor tomorrow and step on the scales, I hope to weigh in at about a slug (not this kind of slug) less than I did four months ago. Similarly, when I wish to express to someone how much of the enzyme invertase a given yeast culture secretes under conditions of glucose scarcity, I can give a near exact value: 4o0 milli-units of invertase per 1 milliliter of cells at an optical density of 1.0 in light of 600 nanometer wavelength (mU/OD).

Towards the end of being able to specifically delineate the degree to which a person, place, or thing is liked, I hereby propose a new unit of fondness: The philiac.

Of course, before this term can be introduced to the public lexicon, the scale must be calibrated. In order for this new unit of fondness to be useful, we need to be clear on what a philiac is.

Below are a list of things and people that I like to varying degrees and their corresponding philiac values.

The wife: 1,000,000 philiacs = 1 megaphiliac (1 Mp)
Coffee: 50,000 philiacs = 50 kilophiliacs (50 kp)
Watson Steve: 10,000 philiacs = 1 kilophiliac (10 kp)
LOST: 1000 philiacs = 1 kilophiliac (1 kp)
Frank on Survivor: Africa: 950 philiacs (950 p)
Monte Cello's pepperoni pizza: 800 philiacs (800 p)
Pittsburgh Steelers: 700 philiacs (750 p)
Yeast genetics and biochemistry: 500 philiacs (100 p)
Minnesota Twins: 350 philiacs (350 p)
Tomato soup: 50 philiacs (50 p)
Mowing the lawn: 20 philiacs (20 p)
Clipping my fingernails: 1 philiac (1 p)
Walking uphill half a mile: 0.1 philiacs = 100 milliphiliacs (500 mp)
Removing splinters: 0.03 philiacs = 30 milliphiliacs (50 mp)
Gram staining bacterial isolates: 0.005 philiacs = 5 milliphiliacs (5 mp)
Preparing radioactive waste for removal: 0.00005 philiacs = 50 microphiliacs (50 μp)
Using gas station restrooms: 0.000001 philiacs = 1 microphiliac (1 μp)

I know that I am not the first to attempt to generate a numerical rating system. However, the advantage of the philiac is that, by virtue of its nearly limitless span, the philiac allows a far-greater range and much higher resolution than do the more commonly used five-star or two-thumb systems-- consider, for example, the trillion-fold difference in likedness of the wife (1 megaphiliac) with that of using gas station restrooms (1 microphiliac).

It is the hope of this bloggist that the philiac will facilitate and enhance communication among those who love to rate and rank.


Russ Parker said...

Franklinesque. Nice title. So can philiacs go into negative territory; or, are there antiphiliacs,; or, phobiacs, perhaps?

Trevor said...

Scientist to the core!

Mark said...

A neutralizer like this needed to be invented...I'm just glad I had something to do with it...

One question -- how do the Minnesota Twins only get 350 philiacs?

We went right into LOST, and this is just a week after you being awarded your PhD...

Cole said...

I can vouch that at least half of Little Brother's conversations with me have begun and ended like this, only it's usually about Yaz or a meal consisting of leftovers.

Mike said...

The philiac is worth 300 philiacs.

Survivor, this season, is worth 975 philiacs. The tribal councils and idol-play have been priceless (but not philiacless) the last few weeks.

yajeev said...

you raise an interesting question... one with which i have already spent some time wrestling. i have not yet figured out if 1 or 0 marks the conversion point from like to dislike. The items I have listed with philiac values of less than 1 (such as using gas station restrooms) do indeed confer some sense of pleasure... or at least relief. I am inclined to suggest that philiac values between 0 and 1 indicate a payoff at some expense, whereas negative philiacs (or phobiacs-- love the term) may designate negative association with no positive tradeoff. Thus, while having teeth broken as a result of a random punch to the face may have a value of 400 phobiacs (or -400 philiacs), having teeth broken as a result of an overzealous kiss may incur a value of 0.000004 phliacs (4 μp).

i think the true sign that what you said is true is that i didn't think about this post as being an expression of a scientist until i was halfway through the calibration scale. as i reflect further on this, i think that i may need to incorporate an error factor into my designations. items on the list which i have a lot of experience with will have relatively small ranges of error, due to the larger sample size. for example, LOST may be worth 1000 ± 25 philiacs, whereas the pleasure associated with the character Frank on Survivor: Africa may be worth 950 ± 100 philiacs.

the twins was a hard designation to assign. perhaps the twins of 1985-1995 would receive a far higher designation. the twins of today, i am unfortunately less connected with, try as i might to keep up with mlb. also, what disturbed me most about our conversation was not that we didn't talk about my graduation but rather that we didn't discuss the great love story i narrated on your friend jeff's facebook account.

one time little brother and i spent entire 8-hour car trip home from chicago determining the ultimate professional wrestling champion of all-time. little bro set up an enormous multi-page ncaa-style bracket with every wrestler our collective consciousness could recall. by the time we had set up the brackets, i was burnt out, but little bro insisted that we carry the analysis to completion, so we marched through hundreds and hundreds of fantasy matchups, determining who would win each bout, taking into account each wrestler's strengths, weaknesses, managers, associates, and propensities to cheat, until we had the final greatest wrestler standing. i wish i remember who the winner was.... and yeah, i know what you mean about yaz.

thanks mike, for the metaphiliac analysis. i agree on survivor... the individual contestants themselves merit few philiacs (with a few notable exceptions), but the way things have spun out thus far make this season one of the most interesting to date.

Jon said...

Is 1,000,000 philiacs the maximum amount of philiacs any one or thing can ever achieve or is their room for your love/like for a particular person/thing to increase over time?

yajeev said...

excellent question, jon...
this scale was designed such that there is always room for love/like to grow (or wane). in the particular case of the wife, the value has been steadily increasing for the past seven and a half years, and i expect it to continue to do so in the future. 1,000,000 philiacs is the value i assigned my current feeling toward the wife, but it has already increased to 1,000,050 since the post (probably not a statistically significant change). thank you for your question. please come again!

Avery Gray said...

You had me at glucose scarcity.

yajeev said...

i know what you mean... i have spent the last 5 years of my life trying to understand the biochemical response of bakers yeast to glucose scarcity as a window into the enzymatic regulation (or dysregulation) of type II diabetics. it's captivating, i know.

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