We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Friday, April 10. 2015
I had several questions about the project. For one, was there a revenue impact which was expected to offset the cost, and if so how was it calculated? What was the timeline for introduction at departmental and company-wide levels? What were the expectations of the use of the data? Was it better to implement in a piecemeal fashion, department by department - continuing the current path we are on - or was their top-down approach more efficient and likely to yield better results? Each question received an answer, sometimes dismissive, which led to more questions.
I was viewed negatively for my inquisitiveness. I explained I wasn't opposed to the project, but that I'd seen projects like this many times. None have worked as expected and most never paid off. These were not reasons to avoid doing it, but it is good to ask questions and be sure. I was told to 'trust' the data scientists, none of whom I know, and don't stand in the way. I acquiesced, and ceased my questions. Groupthink is a powerful thing. Data was here to save our business, I was assured.
On the train ride home, I ran into a colleague from another department who is much closer to this project and he told me even more details about the project. For one, it was the third attempt by this team to implement the 'vision' (so much for trust!). For another, they were abandoning all the work done in the previous 2 operations and starting from scratch, meaning work which had been done on all the old systems had to be reassessed and either tossed or transferred to newer platforms. Finally, they'd spent exorbitant sums of money already, to the point that break-even was probably 10 years off, assuming they met their 4 year timeline. He listened to my questions and nodded, saying they were all the right questions and there was good reason to question the nature and scope of this project.
Google, Facebook and all the other firms with huge data systems have the benefit of being young and starting from scratch while new technologies were being introduced. This is how business works, it's part of the process of creative destruction. The newer companies benefit from untried, but potentially beneficial products, living or dying by their ability to manage and incorporate these ideas and technology. Older companies have to try and keep up, and many are incapable of doing so. However, these older firms need to be careful about the implementation. Data is as much about art as it is about what the data tells us, sometimes less is more. Sometimes your gut tells you as much as $10mm worth of information does. I have seen people collect information on months-long projects only to confirm suggestions which were made at the outset. The delays cost money. There are rare, very rare, occasions when the data tells us something different. Sometimes the reason it tells us something different is due to the time delay in collecting the data. Perhaps this is a form of Heisenberg's Cat played out in the realm of business.
I am a huge believer in collecting and managing data. My job relies on it. But as I tell my boss, data and technology are like Stradivarius violins. You can give me a Stradivarius and I will make awful noise with it. Give it to a concert violinist, and beautiful music is made. The same is true of data. Many data scientists today, I've found, make very basic mistakes in their assumptions about what data tells them. The most common is the confusion over causation and correlation. I have had arguments with PhDs over this very issue when they present correlative data without proving the linkage to causation.
Baseball is a great example of this point. Sabermetrics have revived and increased my interest in the game. Yet Sabermetrics have limits. A cute, sappy movie Trouble With The Curve illustrates where data intersects with knowledge and experience. Data can provide support, but it takes experience to know what that data is telling you.
Dr. Joy Bliss recently posted about this issue, as the problem has infected even the realm of medicine and health.
Data can do many things. But the last thing it should be used for is policy-making, because data is typically utilized under the 'pretense of knowledge' and applied in a fashion that has unintended consequences. They may also have politics, which don't benefit you, built in.
Michael Crichton famously warned us of the problem of politicized science and data. Sadly, many intelligent people remain ignorant of misplaced trust in data, demonizing critics without explaining fully why the critics' logic is flawed.
A company, like the one which employs me, is just as likely to politicize positions. We call it groupthink. In my briefing, I was not part of the groupthink. I enjoy being on the outside. I may be wrong at times, but when I am, I'm happy to know that I have played the role of Captain Obvious, asking difficult questions in a fashion to open up the thought process further - if it can be opened up further. Sadly, as I watch what happens in the office, I begin to understand why Progressives remain so prevalent in our society. They are incapable of moving past groupthink. If everyone else is doing it, it must be good - right?
Tuesday, April 7. 2015
Saturday, March 14. 2015
The guy annoys me a lot, but it's a good intro (in series, automatically) to several of the common fallacies we can all fall into: The Guide to Some Common Fallacies.
This brings to mind something I have been thinking about. I think colleges (and high schools) ought to offer lots of one or two-month courses, as my prep school did. These were mostly ways of applying basic knowledge to real life.
We had lots of short course options: intro to logic, public speaking, argumentation and fallacy, etymology, the Parthenon and Greek architecture, opera history, local geology, basics of meteorology, ornithology, paper-making, the math and science of sails and sailing, human anatomy, emergency first aid, typing (was required), the natural history of New England woodlands, intro to the American legal system (by a local lawyer), how doctors think and diagnose (by a local doc), the life and music of Brahms, Freud's main theories, What banks do and the math of banking, Adam Smith's life and work, ballistics and firearm design, geology of the sun, the US Constitution and the Federalist Papers, etc. etc., - along with the usual full trimester things and the required daily sports and daily chapel (which was, in effect, a 4-year Bible study). Wonderful. In four years, you could do a lot of them.
(We all had to be on a dirty jobs crew throughout the year too. Slave labor saved the school money, and protected us privileged boys from being complete spoiled brats. Dishwashing, leaf-raking, mowing the sports fields, serving at faculty tea, vacuuming the dorms, cleaning the chapel, and so much more!)
With the short courses, you had to learn it fast, which was good brain-training. The masters got to chose their own offerings from their own interests and hobbies. 10 kids per class, max.
Our required trimester courses? That's another topic, but they were good indeed and there were no choices at all. It's a shame that few colleges are as fine and as demanding as was my prep school. Gosh, it was fun, and they improved my Skeet skills too. The things that make preppy preppy, I guess. Not brains necessarily, but exposure, discipline, and training.
Sunday, July 27. 2014
"Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance."
Low-information voters often willingly confess that they know nothing despite their college paperwork, but in general ignorance begets confidence and wisdom destroys it. It's Dunning-Kruger.
Saturday, May 10. 2014
It is not only true in medicine, it applies to all statistical research. Here's Why Most Published Research Findings are False.
1 Boring Old Man has been devoting himself to uncovering the Pharma-Psychiatric research cabal, but nobody is really listening. My rule of thumb is to take everything I read with a a few grains of salt.
Friday, February 14. 2014
P values, the 'gold standard' of statistical validity, are not as reliable as many scientists assume.
At Maggie's we are all perennial skeptics, and we think that the average business "murder board" is far more rigorous and critical than any academic peer review. There is more at stake.
Saturday, February 1. 2014
This author explains why the problem isn't the government, but the entrepreneurs looking for money. I'd say she's incorrect. People are frequently distracted by shiny objects. Government offers of cash are usually rule-bound and inflexible. meaning we alter our decisions to get 'free stuff'. If you told me that you'd pay 1/2 of the price of a car, but I had to buy a $70,000 Tesla (costing me $35,000) as opposed to a $25,000 Mini which I have the cash for, chances are I'm going to scrounge for the extra $10,000 even though I could use that $10,000 to repay a loan or take a vacation. We always tend to try and 'trade up' in the world, and if the incentive seems too good to be true, we'll usually take it. Unfortunately, Sky Masterson's wisdom regarding an offer which is too good to be true:
Yes, the entrepreneurs should be more thoughtful and careful. It says much about their ability to run a business if they deviate from their business plan for less than optimal reasons. But what does it say about the government that is encouraging them to deviate from the business plan? Sky Masterson likely recognized the government as the biggest con running.
Saturday, November 16. 2013
That's why wise people are always skeptics about "studies." Ten years ago, transfats were to save us from butter. Now, vice versa. Ten years ago, broccoli was good. Now, it's said to be carcinogenic. Ten years ago, the experts told us to avoid fats. Now they tell us they made a mistake; bacon is back and carbs are the bad thing (I think this seems correct from what little I know about insulin and carb metabolism). I take to heart little of what I read, but I read it anyway. Reading is recreational, often entertaining, and beats hard work.
Were I to live with no TV, no internet, and no newspaper, I think I would be a wiser man to simply focus on my daily experiences.
Friday, November 15. 2013
Here's an online course: How to Think: An Introduction to Logic
Speaking of logic, here's a comment on the fallacy of the precautionary principle from one of this morning's links:
A little risk is good, isn't it? It adds zest to life, the hot sauce. I would never go outdoors without my tin foil hat, however. Never know who might be listening in to my brain waves. Beware of the Thought Police.
Friday, November 8. 2013
Keep the article handy for the times you screw something up and decide to finesse the problem in a sneaky way. You will screw up, because we all do.
Thursday, October 31. 2013
It would term this fallacious effort as a sub-category of the "baffle them with bullshit" informal fallacies. Via Wiki:
Friday, October 25. 2013
I use adverbs mainly because my verb vocab is weak. Colorful verbs elude me. This short post is about "statistically significant," which does not mean "significant."
Saturday, September 7. 2013
Apparently, it doesn't take much schooling to become a CEO, just the ability to shake hands, tell anecdotes, and generally be personable.
Sunday, September 1. 2013
The recent train wreck in Connecticut brings to mind the classic 1999 book, Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies. This book spurred the development of the field of accident research, but it is somewhat dated now. Accidents are inevitable, and at some point efforts to prevent dangers creates new forms of danger.
A more recent book on the topic is Inviting Disaster: Lessons From the Edge of Technology.
There is no safety in life.
Saturday, August 24. 2013
This is part of why my high-meat, zero carb weight loss program (fixed) works: all calories are not handled the same way (and bacon and eggs are a good, healthy diet breakfast). More here:
Miley Cyrus Gluten Free Diet is a Hoax, and 3 Other Weight Loss Scams
Like I said, if you want to lose weight, cut out the carbs and eat meat. Calory-counting does not work because it's the insulin that stores the carbs.
Thursday, August 8. 2013
I recently stumbled on this story. It's very old, and it seems to be well known in Math and Engineering circles. I shared it with my team to give them some idea how to work together and be open to unusual and creative ideas.
Long ago, there was a wealthy man who had 3 sons. Among his most prized posessions were 17 camels. The man was renowned as being very shrewd. In his will, he determined that his oldest son should get 1/2 of his estate(whatever he owned at the time of death), while his second born son should inherit 1/3 of his estate. His youngest son, being the yougest should inherit 1/9 of his estate.
After the father died, the three brothers were quite happy to inherit that wealth. They loved and respected their father very much so they were quite eager to satisfy the will of their father exactly. However, they did not like the idea of killing some of the camels in order to honor the last will of their father:
1/2 of 17 camels makes 8 and 1/2 of a camel figured the oldest brother, 1/3 of 17 camels makes 5 and 2/3 of a camel calculated the second brother, 1/9 of 17 camels makes only 1 and 8/9 camels thought the youngest brother.
Continue reading "3 Sons and a Camel"
Friday, August 2. 2013
I particularly liked the Ascension Island story. Many eco-terrorists focus on the 'damage' humans do to their environment, and claim human intervention is always and everywhere dangerous and deadly.
I also happen to agree with the story about trade. It's surprising to me, after all these years and so many mercantilist failures, that mercantilism is still preached.
Saturday, July 20. 2013
Wednesday, July 3. 2013
As they say in The Program, "Feelings aren't facts."
Monday, April 15. 2013
Fascinating essay: The Signal and the Silence - When is prediction useful—and when is it dangerous?
Saturday, February 23. 2013
Tuesday, February 19. 2013
The only way to test a theory is to make predictions. It is not science to make a prediction (eg "There will be no more snow" or "Arctic ice will disappear") and then to pull an excuse out of your behind when the prediction turns out to be wrong.
You cannot say "We're still right, even if our predictions were wrong because we failed to consider so-and-so."
The warmist claims attempt to set themselves up to be unfalsifiable. Snow or no snow, floods or drought, all explainable on an ex post facto basis. That's the problem.
As for a little warming, that would be just fine and preferable to the next ice age.
Thursday, January 31. 2013
In a marathon session yesterday, politicians allowed people from Newtown and various other lobbying organizations to state their views about guns. Several of the more emotionally compelling statements made the press and have been forced on an unsuspecting public, as a means to push harsher gun control laws. One statement in particular struck me as I watched the news this morning. Susie Ehrens, whose daughter survived the attack, made the following plea:
It is heartfelt sentiment with a strong statement. I have no doubt many people, many parents in particular, were moved closer to supporting gun control as a result. Certainly, it is a statement which hit me hard - do I really love guns more than I love children? So much so that I'm willing to let children die just because I support the freedom to bear arms?
Of course not. After thinking about this statement, I believed a response was needed. Mainly because it is factually inaccurate, at least in terms of how it describes me, and it is logically flawed, in general.
Continue reading "Guns and Emotions"
Sunday, January 13. 2013
I've discussed the Gambler's Fallacy in the past (eg if you flip nine heads in a row, what are the odds the next toss will be a tail?). The inverse is another matter. Wiki gives this example:
The point is that unlikely things happen all the time. Here, it's discussed in terms of the recent discovery of the largest structure in the universe.
Saturday, October 13. 2012
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