Whatever happened with the footballs in the Colts-Economists* game, the explanation is far from clear. From the NYTimes:
...[S]ome academic and research physicists now concede that they made a crucial error in their initial calculations, using an equation called the ideal gas law.When that error is corrected, the amount of deflation predicted in moving from room temperature to a 50-degree field is roughly doubled.
When the football controversy arose, a number of physicists cited the ideal gas law, which many of them taught in introductory courses. But applying the equation to real situations can be surprisingly deceptive. When a gauge indicates that the ball contains 12.5 p.s.i. — the minimum allowed by the N.F.L. — the actual pressure is more than twice that amount because the surrounding pressure of the atmosphere must be considered. [EE Digression: so much for the complaint about economists' misusing models with unrealistic assumptions; it happens everywhere and this example cries out for more caution in all fields.]
This roughly doubles how much a dip in temperature can lower the pressure. During a phone conversation, even Tegmark, the M.I.T. professor, initially used the lower value until recognizing the mistake. “I stand corrected,” he said...
There are still questions about why the Colts balls were NOT deflated. But the explanations offered in this article at least raise some important questions about whether the Economists cheated.
Let me re-emphasize the methodological point made in my above digression: We all use unrealistic assumptions to simplify analysis, no matter what field we are in. Understanding when which assumptions matter is part of the sophistication required for using the models.
*Note: I refer to the New England football team as "The Economists" because at one time a number of years ago, their coach, Bill Belichick, said that having been an economics major had helped him understand resource allocation and constrained choice better as coach.
Yup, the storm going up the east coast of North America moved slightly to the east with the result that many areas received considerably less snow than the media warned might happen. See this, for example. People made plans and purchases, etc. that they wouldn't have made if they'd had a better idea what would happen.
The problem is twofold:Point estimates instead of interval estimates, and loss-minimization tactics.
Point estimates vs interval estimates:
We all know that weather models are imperfect. But the media don't want to take the time to say (as an example for the recent storm) "There's a 15% chance of 12" of snow, a 50% chance of 10", a 30% chance of 6", and a 5% chance of only 2" over the next 24 hours, depending on which way the major air masses drift." And I really wonder if many listeners/viewers would want that much detail. I have lots of friends who would respond, "Yah, yah, so what's gonna happen?"
However, the reports could present graphs of probability density functions showing the probabilities of expected precipitation, expected temperatures, etc. And given that different forecasting models spit out different probability density functions, it might even be useful to more than a few of us stat-type geeks to see a graphic showing the probability density functions from several different models.
Essentially this distinction was one of the errors made by forecasters in their submissions of information to the media and by the media in their presentations to the public. [see this, from WaPo]
When a forecast is so sensitive to small changes (eastern Long Island, not far away, received 30-plus inches), it is imperative to loudly convey the reality that small changes could have profound effects on what actually happens. ...
But the general lack of information provided about the forecast uncertainty is a major disappointment considering both the state of weather forecasting and the efforts some have made to improve how we communicate the forecast.
For many years, the need to express forecast confidence and communicate different scenarios during complex, high-stakes forecast events has been discussed and stressed in the weather community.
And that brings up the second problem,
Imagine if the weather services and the media had indeed presented interval estimates and probability density functions about the east coast snow storm, something like what I suggest above. Imagine further that New York City had received an unanticipated heavy snowfall of, say 18" [following the numbers used in the above example, this would have had probably only 2% probability attached to it.]. Imagine the outrage if the public and public officials hadn't been prepared. And especially if they hadn't been prepared for bad outcomes.
So what happens is that weather services shade their forecasts to allow for "what's the worst that might happen?" If they get it wrong on the extreme side, that imposes far lower costs and losses on the public (and hence on themselves) than if they don't place enough emphasis on the extreme outcomes. From the CBC link at the top of this post,
Kimbell said meteorologists at Environment Canada have the leeway to err on the side of caution, particularly when issuing warnings when public safety is at stake.
"It's better to say there is going to be a bad storm and save lives than to minimize it and be wrong on the other side and actually it's worse and the impacts are severe," he said....
"I would rather, if there is a lean one way or another, lean towards safety because I have seen the consequences the other way and it gets very frightening very quickly," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
[CBC meteorologist] Scotland said forecasters cannot always err on the side of caution, because if they do people may start to take warnings of dangerous conditions less seriously in the future.
Exactly. Most of us are familiar with "The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf".
At the same time, exacerbating the problem, the media love "Storm porn" [see here and here]. And because of this tendency within the media, a couple of years ago I really tore into The Weather Network (aka the Storm Porn Channel):
Open Challenge to The Weather Network
aka "the Storm-Porn Channel"
You were forecasting 30-40 cms of snow in this storm for the Southwestern Ontario corridor. And some of your announcers couldn't restrain themselves, saying (with drool running down their chins), ".... and it could be more in some areas." How much did those areas actually receive?
I understand that you never, never want to be accused of under-forecasting the seriousness of a storm, but over-forecasting the seriousness of storms consistently means that people develop an immunity to your warnings.
Can you at least start providing us with decent confidence intervals instead of only dire warnings? Please? Do you have any announcers who dare to say, "... but it might be quite a bit less, too..."?
Addendum: Keep in mind that the storm did, indeed, drop tonnes and meters of snow on some places on Long Island and in New England.That it did not leave so much snow in New York City and that that is what became the major news story reflects the NYC-bias of the major media.
“Oh God, oh God,” he said, unable to control a rush of tears. “This is where they died. This is where they took them from us. I can see it. I can see it! Why? Because we were Jewish? I still don’t get it. I still don’t get the hate.”
I set this website going a couple of days ago and have let the programme run since then. It shows the number of attempted cyber attacks (of sorts) by source of the attack, by target of the attack, etc. [via Jack]
Here is a screen shot of what I had seen after a couple of days (the data are cumulative).
The primary source of the attacks is China. North Korea doesn't even make the top ten. The primary target is the US.
Several of my Facebook friends have posted the picture below showing Jimmy Carter along with the quote, "If you don't want your tax dollars to help the poor, then stop saying you want a country based on Christian values, because you don't."
That's utter nonsense. I would much rather my dollars help the poor through private agencies rather than through gubmnt agencies, bureaucracies, and red tape. In fact, sometimes I wonder if the incentives created by many gubmnt programmes don't often exacerbate the problems of poverty.
Let's get this straight: saying you care about the poor and want to help them does NOT justify bigger gubmnt. For those who question this assertion, I refer you to Bleeding Heart Libertarians, a blog by libertarians who definitely care about helping the poor but who argue quite effectively that many, many gubmnt programmes are not the way to help the poor.
We went shopping yesterday.
We spent about $150 at the grocery store, including buying 7 cartons of pop and two plants.
Then we went to the liquor store, where we spent over $450.
That probably reveals a great deal about our priorities.
As a followup to my recent post about how standards of living have dramatically improved over the past few decades (despite what some people might try to tell you), here are some very interesting data about life expectancies of various age groups in various countries grouped by country income [via JR, my favourite drug dealer]:
Over the 40-year time span for which these data were collected, death rates fell for every age group in every country grouping, regardless of their income levels.
Surely improved health care and increased life expectancy are signs of a generally improved standard of living, and these results hold (in general) throughout the world for high- and low-income nations alike.
I saw this back in August when it first came out, and I see it's making the rounds again on Facebook. Here's the list, but I'm adding my own comments and observations:
1. People asking you to say ‘aboot ‘ for them.
I have never had this happen to me, but maybe that's because I moved here from the US over 40 years ago. However, for my non-Canadian friends, let me add that it seems to me most Canadians do NOT say "aboot" instead of "about". Many say something that seems like a cross between "a-boat" and "aboot" though.
2. Having roads in our potholes.
We have a seriously frequent freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw series of cycles, and they do, indeed play havoc with the streets.
3. Accidentally setting your keyboard to French and not realizing for the longest time.
Been there. Done that.
4. When I Travel Abroad, Locals Think I’m American.
Maybe that's because I am/was, originally from the US. I make sure I have a Canadian flag on my shoulder bag, and I often have one on my jacket as well. But I think this is a less pressing situation now than it was back during the Vietnam war.
5. When I Type ‘?,’ It Comes Out As ‘É’
Crap! Yes, and on a previous computer it seemed to happen all the frickn time!
6. Constantly getting duds when it’s roll up the rim season.
This is reference to the Tim Hortons "lottery". For my response, see this.
7. Uses Canadian Spelling… Gets Corrected By U.S. Spell-Checker.
Happens all the time. I try to set the spell-checker for UK-Canadian, but that's rarely an option. And of course I bugger things up with my self-amused spellings like Vancouvre, sobre, and eagre.
8. Asks For A Double-Double… U.S. Cashier Doesn’t Understand.
Never happens to me. I don't drink coffee with double sugar, double cream, and I rarely order coffee in the US.
9. Paid $1.98 Charge With A Toonie… Got No Change.
I'm proud of this! We got rid of the flippn penny, and I played a role in its demise! See the articles here. btw, a toonie is a two-dollar Canadian coin.
10. Shipping within the US: free. Shipping internationally: 3 BILLION DOLLARS.
No foolin'! I can't wait for even freer trade between the two countries.
11. Panicking at the scent of burnt toast.
What's this about? All I can think of is the number of times smoke alarms have gone off because of burnt toast. But actually I think it has to do with Wilder Penfield.
12. Just Got Netflix… U.S. Selection Is WAY Better.
... but there are ways around this problem, according to several friends.
13. If you pronounce the second ‘t’ in Toronto, you obviously don’t live in Toronto.
After living in Canada for a year, I started spelling it "Trono". It's pronounced TRAH-nah.
14. Tim Horton’s withdrawel while abroad.
I guess some Canadians have this. I don't much care what coffee I drink, though, so this doesn't affect me at all.
15. Wearing heavy-duty winter boots to school and looking like a hoser all day.
Yeah, or wearing them to the office. But I have what I call my "studly" boots, too.
16. 3 second milk ads that leave you wondering what just happened.
They went by so fast, I can barely remember them.
17. Being asked if you ski to work.
Never happened, not even in jest. But there were times when I probably should have skied to work or even to the store or the lunch counter.
18. Your international friends and family visit the other side of Canada but still expect to see you.
Yup. Three related points:
- Someone once asked me, "How big a city is Canada?
- I was once at an event in Kansas where they gave a prize for someone who had come the farthest to the event. They insisted on giving me the prize, even though someone was there from Hawaii.
- A UK friend who knows the geography of Canada very well took the train across Canada from Vancouvre just to visit us. In this case, she knew what she was doing and relished it.
19. Wildly overestimating the price with tax, just to be safe.
Yup again. We have a non-hidden value-added tax in Ontario of 13% on most purchases. So when something is priced at $60, my tendency is to guess that's about $70-$75. That way I'm not too shocked or disappointed with the final bill.
20. Travelling to England means that half of your luggage is filled with plug adapters.
I did this the first year I taught at the Badr International Studies Centre in Herstmonceux, England. I carried only a few after that, but I still had some for the continent, too, since their outlets were different. Lord bless computers that don't seem to care what the power source is!
21. Ooh, 15 cents. That’s really helpful Canadian Tire.
The history here is that Canadian Tire (a major retailer in Canada) gives out "Canadian Tire money" [i.e. loyalty programme rewards] with cash purchases. Lots of people have lots of 4-cent or whatever Canadian Tire "dollars" floating around. I don't. I use their Mastercard when I shop at Canadian Tire, and that keeps track of my Canadian Tire dollars for me. When asked if I want to use the money, my response is usually, "Yes, I don't want to die without using it." Well, I say that to myself anyway.
22. “I have a friend named ______ in Vancouver, do you know them?”
I have never heard this, but it reminds me of something BenS used to say: "Oh, you're John Palmer from London, Ontario.... are you by any chance related to John Jones from there?" It was his bizarre sense of humour.
23. Salt stains on everything in the winter.
Good grief, yes! I experienced this in my youth in Michigan, but it is really serious here.
24. Fahrenheit is a confusing and impenetrable mystery.
Not for me. I was raised on Fahrenheit, and Canada didn't switch to Celsius until the mid-1970s. I have slowly adapted to Celsius. But as regular readers of EclectEcon know, I frequently assert that C means Canadian, F means Foreign.
25. Need to fake an American zip code because there isn’t a postal code box.
Been there. Done that. Sworn about it.
26. “And remember class, it must be by a Canadian.”
I don't recall ever having insisted on this. However, I sort of did this the one term that I taught Canadian Economic History.
27. The air hurts my face. Why am I living where the air hurts my face.
I don't know HOW many times Ms Eclectic and I have said this to each other.
28. Having to take your mitts off in the winter to text someone back.
So true! so true! I have the kind of mitts that fold back, exposing bare fingers. But I wear phone-compatible gloves under the mitts. This combination really came handy the last time I was living/working in Regina SK
29. “What’s your background?” I’m Canadian. “no, before that.”
Unlike when the political and social climate in Canada was so strongly anti-US when I arrived in the early 1970s, I have no qualms about saying I'm originally from the US. After all, I have lived in Canada considerably longer than I lived in the US.
30. The calories in poutine. Seriously, the stuff tastes like heaven.
Is this an indicator I'm not a true Canuck? I don't like poutine. However, one of our favourite restaurants makes poutine with onion rings instead of fries, and that's pretty tasty.
Yesterday, I decided to forego my usual morning coffee or Coke Zero but have tea instead. It was a pleasant change of pace.
I have two favourite types of tea, Lapsang Souchong and Genmaicha:
Genmaicha is a Japanese green tea with toasted rice in it. The toasted rice adds a sort of nutty/corny taste to the green tea. I first tried something like it when I was having afternoon tea at Claridges in Mayfair a few years ago. The waiter gave it the euphemistic name "Popcorn Tea", and I didn't much care for it when I tried it there.
However, last year, Ms Eclectic and I had lunch at Gozen a few times and I quite enjoyed the Genmaicha there. It is pleasant, and it is the tea I opted for yesterday morning. More often than not, though, I prefer Lapsang Souchong, about which I have raved often in the past, referring to it as "the Laphraoig of teas". For some reason I absolutely love the smokey, mind-bending flavour of the tea.
To prepare the tea, I "bodomize" it [term via the late BenS]. I like bodomizing tea because when I push down on the press, the tea stops steeping (something I consider important for keeping tea from becoming too bitter). After using the bodomizer, I then cover the teapot with a tea cozy made for me over 30 years ago by my mother:
Yes, I am something of a tea snot/snob. Not that I'm really all that particular about tea. In fact, a decade ago I knew from nothing about tea and afternoon tea. But since then I have visited numerous establishments, sampling their afternoon teas. During these explorations/expeditions, I have developed a sense of what I like and what I don't like:
- - -
My previous reviews of afternoon (and other) tea presentations, ranked in order of preference:
These three were superb. Highly recommended:
Those in this large middle group ranged from very good to just okay. I would consider returning to them, but those in the upper portion of the list were significantly better than those in the lower portion of this section:
These next two were unacceptable:
* * * *
The chronology of when I visited each place probably affected my ratings, so here's a chronological list:
- The Four Seasons, London, England
- The Royal Crescent Hotel, Bath, England
- The Pump Room, Bath, England (superb, but not really afternoon tea)
- Claridge's, London, England
- The Boathouse, Guelph, Canada
- The St. Regis Hotel, Houston, Texas
- The Queen's Hotel, Portsmouth, England
- The Dorchester, London, England
- Brown's, London, England
- Langdon Hall, Cambridge, Canada
- The Windsor Arms, Toronto, Canada
- The Ritz, London, England
- Scolfe's Tea Room, Boreham Street, England (again, not really afternoon tea)
- The Lanesborough, London, England
- The Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, England
- The Saskatchewan Hotel, Regina, Saskatchewan
- The Fairmont Pacific Rim, Vancouver, British Columbia
No, I'm not going to write about sports bras, thongs, long shorts, tight shorts, or whatever. This piece is a comment on the increasing use of neon yellow by top players.
Have you noticed how many top tennis players these days are wearing neon yellow as part of their outfits? Some players still do some original designs, though, and many players have not made the switch.
Ms Eclectic disagrees with my own perception that more players are wearing some neon yellow during their matches. She pointed out that not one of the six players we were watching at the time I made the observation was wearing neon yellow; nevertheless both Federer and Raonic had been wearing neon yellow in their matches; and so had Serena Williams and Azarenka (time for a foundation grant to study this!).
The reason they wear neon yellow (I surmise) has nothing to do with fashion trends. Rather it is for the same reason that some baseball pitchers try to keep some white undershirt sleeves showing.
Having some clothing the colour of the ball might make it a mite more difficult for one's opponent to pick up the ball when it is coming at them. I expect the neon yellow wristbands do an especially effective job with this.
Having outfits the same colour as the tennis ball surely affects how one's opponent(s) sees the ball coming at him/her/them.
What surprises me is that more of the players are not wearing neon yellow outfits. The fact that they do not suggests that this ploy yields marginal benefits at best. But with so many of the top players moving to neon yellow distractive clothing, I expect more will follow.
The extreme: tennis apparel with blue backgrounds and neon yellow circles roughly the size of tennis balls. I haven't seen this yet, though.
Long-time readers of EclectEcon know that I am a global-warming skeptic. Not a denier but a skeptic. I just don't know what to believe, given all the spin put on things.
For example, both the Washington Post and the NYTimes recently published stories about how NASA scientists say the earth is warmer. But then yesterday, the Daily Mail published a piece saying there is considerable uncertainty about the numbers used for that report.
In a press release on Friday, Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) claimed its analysis of world temperatures showed ‘2014 was the warmest year on record’.
The claim made headlines around the world, but yesterday it emerged that GISS’s analysis – based on readings from more than 3,000 measuring stations worldwide – is subject to a margin of error. Nasa admits this means it is far from certain that 2014 set a record at all.
Yet the Nasa press release failed to mention this, as well as the fact that the alleged ‘record’ amounted to an increase over 2010, the previous ‘warmest year’, of just two-hundredths of a degree – or 0.02C. The margin of error is said by scientists to be approximately 0.1C – several times as much.
As a result, GISS’s director Gavin Schmidt has now admitted Nasa thinks the likelihood that 2014 was the warmest year since 1880 is just 38 per cent. However, when asked by this newspaper whether he regretted that the news release did not mention this, he did not respond.
In other words, maybe. Or maybe not. And the misrepresentation of the data just adds to one's skepticism.
But let me add some thoughts of my own.
And these are but a few examples.
When I realize that many people on welfare today have a higher standard of living than members of the middle class had in 1979, I find it really hard to believe that people think the middle class isn't better off today.
Janis Joplin's, "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz" lampoons the misuses of religion and prayer, focusing on human greed. I thought it was great when I first heard it, and I still like it.
Over 50 years ago, a learned person introduced me to the joys of Fibonacci sequences and geometric patterns. I didn't use the mathematics much after that, but I did come to appreciate the geometry and the art of Fibonacci patterns.
This one, using 3D-printed objects that are then spun, is simply wonderful [via Ralph]:
Long-time readers of Eclectecon or Facebook friends will recognize the pattern and my attachment to it. For many years my "cover photo" on Facebook was the photo shown below. It will also be one of the photos featured in my upcoming photo exhibition, "It's Only the Beginning" at The Arts Project in London, Ontario, Feb 24 - March 7.
This photograph is called "Fibonacci Explosion":
In late February I'll be playing Sean Connery in a celebrity red-carpet affair. Maybe with careful makeup and some lifts in my shoes, I can pull it off:
According to Wikipaedia,
In 1989, he was proclaimed "Sexiest Man Alive" by People magazine and in 1999, at age 69, he was voted "Sexiest Man of the Century".
Typecast again? Okay, I can dream anyway.
When a business is failing, it often skimps on customer service and quality, and focuses mainly on short-term revenue goals. There is good reason to believe the same thing happens in failing bureaucracies, e.g. the police force of Detroit.
As the funding for pensions, salaries, health care, and other perquisites was drying up, the police force appears to have forsaken some very important criminal and safety issues and redeployed its forces on revenue-generating activities, such as traffic fines, etc.
Here is evidence consistent with this interpretation of what happened there:
Over 11,000 sexual assault kits, some dating back to the 1980's, were found abandoned in a Detroit Police storage facility back in 2009. Not long after the rape kits were discovered, Worthy pushed to start the processing with Michigan State Police.
So far, 1,600 rape kits have been processed, resulting in the identification of about 100 serial rapists and ten convicted rapists, according to Worthy.
Worthy told reporters that perpetrators have moved on from Michigan to commit similar crimes in 23 other states.
Appalling. But it is consistent with the fundamental premise of economics: People respond to incentives.
Yes, bureaucrats are people; and yes, they too respond to incentives.
A few days ago I did some snow stomp art and was quite disappointed when the wind distorted and muted the results of much of my effort. [See this]
Tonight the temperature began to rise -- dramatically. I looked out at the snow stomp art, and the patterns come through wonderfully! They may not be there tomorrow morning, so I'm posting these photos now:
Target has announced that it is withdrawing from Canada. I'm not surprised.
Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote:
No matter what rationalizations are offered, the simple reason Target is in trouble is that when you walk into and through one of their stores, you're turned off. The selection is limited, the prices aren't all that great, and there's a general feeling of malaise.
I had hoped that when Target took over many of the Zeller's outlets in Canada and then took SO long renovating the facilities, Target would provide a reasonable and viable alternative to Walmart, Canadian Tire, and Superstore. It hasn't. And it will take considerable work and effort on their part to overcome these impressions that apparently many, many Canadian shoppers have of Target.
Target Canada: A waste of money and a lost cause.