Saturday, September 12, 2009

They got the dial-up blues

Remember the old joke, "it'd be faster to send it by carrier pigeon?". In South Africa it appears to be actually true:

"A South African information technology company on Wednesday proved it was faster for them to transmit data with a carrier pigeon than to send it using Telkom , the country's leading internet service provider.

Internet speed and connectivity in Africa's largest economy are poor because of a bandwidth shortage. It is also expensive.

Local news agency SAPA reported the 11-month-old pigeon, Winston, took one hour and eight minutes to fly the 80 km (50 miles) from Unlimited IT's offices near Pietermaritzburg to the coastal city of Durban with a data card was strapped to his leg.

Including downloading, the transfer took two hours, six minutes and 57 seconds -- the time it took for only four percent of the data to be transferred using a Telkom line.

SAPA said Unlimited IT performed the stunt after becoming frustrated with slow internet transmission times.

The company has 11 call-centers around the country and regularly sends data to its other branches.

Telkom could not immediately be reached for comment."

The best parts of this story are (1) the pigeon's name, and (2) the last sentence!

Hat tip to Mrs. Angus

Friday, September 11, 2009

Statistical Analysis: Yer doin' it Wrong!

The study on the determinants of college graduation rates is making a big splash. However, its analysis is, with all due respect, crap. Correlation is not causation, there are generally multiple explanations for a correlation and it is not correct to simply pick one and assert its truthfulness.

Consider this part of the story:

Students shouldn't settle for less in a college: Thousands of bright, qualified students apply only to lower-ranked schools where their grades and tests scores are above those of the average student. But the new study finds that those who attend such "safety" schools are far more likely to drop out than those who get into "reach" schools. "It is counterintuitive," Bowen says. "You might think that if Sally goes to a school where she is top dog, she will have a much easier time graduating. But that's not true. She has a better chance of graduating if she goes to school with other people as talented she is."

Well, his (Bowen is one of the authors of the study) interpretation of the correlation certainly is counter-intuitive. It is also almost certainly incorrect! How about this instead: Students who pick an easy school when higher quality options are available to them are not very interested in higher education and are signaling by their very choice that they are unlikely to complete a degree. The last sentence in the quote above should read: "She has a much better chance of graduating if she WANTS to go to a school with other people as talented as she is".

In other words, a lack of desire to get a college degree is driving both the choice of an easy school and the failure to graduate.

I am not saying that my interpretation is 100% correct, but it least it posits a causal mechanism that makes the correlation un-puzzling. The authors, to me are being almost willfully dense. They admit their view is "counter-intuitive" but can't bring themselves to think about anything else.

The next paragraph in the story makes the same mistake again:

Admissions tests don't predict graduation: SAT and ACT test scores are no help in predicting who will graduate from many, if not most, colleges. The widely used tests do help identify those likely to succeed at elite schools, the study found. But for many less selective colleges, students with higher scores were actually more likely to drop out.

Again, it's counter-intuitive unless you consider that highly qualified people picking an easy alternative are showing their actual lack of interest in the endeavor and thus are intrinsically less likely to complete said endeavor.

Putting students who don't want to go to a competitive college into a competitive college is NOT going to raise graduation rates in any significant way. Putting them into one or two year (instead of 4 year) certificate/professional training / apprenticeship programs or just getting off their backs and letting them go to work is a better way to make them happy and improve the economic health of the polity.

Lumaye News Quiz

Here is the weekly news quiz I do on the Bill Lumaye show, every Thursday. What do you think?

Which of the following international news stories is UNTRUE? One of these stories is ridiculous, and made up. The other three are equally ridiculous, but entirely true and real. Which one is false?

A. (Where’s Waldo?) Boaters and fisherman in Florida are urged to look out for a missing robot submarine, nicknamed “Waldo.” Waldo the robot cost about $100,000. It also was equipped with a detector to find red tide, a toxic algae bloom. That was valued at another $30,000. Scientists aren't sure if Waldo sank, or is just floating around somewhere.

B. (Origin of “Hot Dogs”) On a cold April day in 1901, at New York’s “Polo Grounds,” the concession guys weren’t cold stuff. They got the idea of putting long “dachshund sausages” in warm rolls, and selling them. “Get yer hot dachshund rolls! Get yer red hots!” They sold like crazy. Sports cartoonist Ted Dorgan was up against his deadline, and needed an idea. He was interested in the way the new “hot dachshund rolls” were selling. But he didn’t know how to spell “dachshund,” so he depicted concession sellers hawking “hot dogs! Get yer hot dogs!” The cartoon was so captivating that it was reprinted. And the hot dog name stuck.

C. (Japanese First Lady Rides UFO) Forget Nancy Reagan and her astrologer. Japan's about to get a first lady who claims her soul rode a UFO to Venus. In her book "Very Strange Things I've Encountered," Miyuki Hatoyama says she traveled to Venus in a triangular UFO while her body slept. "It was a very beautiful place and it was really green," she wrote. Because of his large eyes and prominent forehead, her husband, new PM Yukio Hatoyama has been called "the alien" himself. Maybe the election in Japan is a sign of a new era in intergalactic relations.
D. (Pepsi Can Surprise) Fred DeNegri was grilling in his backyard tiki bar in Ormond Beach, Florida, when he popped open a can of Diet Pepsi, took a big gulp and started gagging. He emptied out the can down a sink but something heavy remained inside. He shook the can until something resembling "pink linguini" slid out, followed by "dark stuff," wife Amy DeNegri said. But the heavy object inside the can never came out, she said. The DeNegris took pictures before calling poison control and the FDA, which showed up the next day to examine the can in question and collect it for lab testing. The couple received a copy of the completed report last week from the Food and Drug Administration Office of Regulatory Affairs, which had good news: It was NOT a mouse. It was, however, almost certainly the remains of a frog or a toad.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

RTL-Day Plus 3: Main Problem is Buses

It appears that the main problem in Samoa has been the bus system. MANY people depend on buses, and there are fewer than 20 legal, converted buses in the entire island nation. The BEEB tells us about it.

Excerpt: "A few of the bus owners did not believe that we would proceed [with the change]," Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said after meeting a group of them on Wednesday.

Actually, I think they were just waiting for sure that a whack job like you was actually going to go through with this plan, Mr. PM, before they took a blow torch to their buses and cut a new door on the other side.

Radio NZ Int'l has some more on the bus dust-up....

Nonetheless, and contrary to some overheated predictions made on this VERY blog, the switchover seems to have gone pretty well. The economic expense will still be quite large, in the short run, but all transitions have short run costs.

We Get Letters--Doping and Science

From RL, in CA:

This piece- on whether Lance's blood levels show possible indications that he doped during Le Tour de France is interesting, but the science is either not well explained or unclear or both.

The main accusations seems to be based on a study of seven riders in 2007. All seven saw their hemoglobin and hematocrit levels decrease by just over 10%. Thats a small sample for the Tour, and I think its debatable whether the riders represent a homogenous group from which one can draw a random sample from, or whether the different types of riders - "General Classification (GC)" competitors who are in peak condition and trying to win the whole thing, sprinters who maximize their speed only at the end of flat stages, climbers who only maximize effort on mountain stages, domestiques who are the unheralded pack horses, and the others who try to get lucky one day here or there and conserve their energy the rest of the time (since they cannot beat the GCs, the climbers, or the sprinters unless they get really, really lucky and find themselves on one day with more energy and the right set of circumstances).

I think it is possible that the GC's train in such a way (or are special to begin with) that their blood levels do not decrease during a three-week grand tour without a study of the GCs. Or they are cheats. Armstrong was not peaking during Italy- in fact, he struggled- so comparing his blood levels from Italy vs two months later in France may not be fair - a better comparison would be to a previous TdF he rode.

From our perspective, the best part of the article is that the proposed solution: have a group of "experts" deliberate... And we all know how effective and unbiased a group of SCIENTISTS can be... Especially if, say, a political scientist or a lawyer, gets to enjoy agenda setting powers.

Teleprompter Failure: Valley Forge

What if BHO's teleprompter failed, at Valley Forge?

Here's one view of one possibility....

Carriage is a pumpkin, glass slipper doesn't fit

Melanie Oudin lost to Caroline Wozniaki 6-2, 6-2 last night and that will probably be the last we hear from her in big time tennis. At least allow me to hope so, because the era when human backboards reigned in women's tennis (Chrissy Evert, Tracy Austin, Arantxa!!) was a brutally boring time.

The media coverage of this "phenom" was ridiculously over the top. People, she is 5 foot 6 inches tall and has no weapons to speak of. Her run at the Open was one of those pseudo "hot hand" episodes that seem so amazing for the person doing it, but given all the matches and all the players will definitely happen from time to time.

She seems like a sweet kid (although there was a lot of Monfils type yelling out there on the court) and I wish her well. My number one piece of advice to her would be to get a new coach, preferably one that wasn't a scumbag.

ps. the ever entertaining Wikipedia informs us that Arantxa's nickname is/was "The Barcelona Bumblebee". How sweet is that?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Culture that is Thailand

A Thai man is keeping more than 4,600 scorpions as pets to atone for the years he spent cooking the arachnids to sell as snacks.

Scorpions, insects and worms are commonly eaten in Thailand, especially in the northern regions.
But after years of serving up scorpions, Suang Puangsri, a practicing Buddhist, felt it was time to befriend them instead.

"Although I was happy to have money, I felt suffering deep inside as they were being harmed by me," he told Reuters. "I felt scared that I was committing a sin."

The 38-year-old has given up the bottom floor of his two-storey home to the scorpions, who scuttle about a 6 meter by 5 meter (19 ft by 16 ft) enclosure decorated with branches and stone so that very little light and heat come in.

Suang buys up to one kg of live cicadas and other inspects daily to feed his pets, who have stung him so many times that he says he is immune to their venom.

He also spends at least an hour every day meditating inside the enclosure, often placing scorpions in his mouth.

So clearly, another title for this post could have been: Karma reparations: yer doin' them wrong.

He has stopped torturing scorpions (at least partly stopped, I doubt the scorpion enjoys being inside his mouth), only to start torturing and killing cicadas instead.

Turns out that this guy is not alone:

Suang's fixation with scorpions is unusual, but not totally unheard of in Thailand.
Earlier this year a Thai woman went into the record books for spending 33 days and nights with 5,000 live scorpions. She also held a 7-inch live scorpion in her mouth for 2 minutes and 3 seconds.

The full story is here.

Big Doings

In October, Built to Spill is releasing a new record called "There is no Enemy". The Mountain Goats are releasing a new record called "The Life of the World to Come". Jonathan Lethem has a new novel, "Chronic City", coming out and Orhan Pamuk has a new novel coming out in English called "The Museum of Innocence.

Plus, just to get things started, Richard Powers' new novel, "Generosity: An Enhancement" will be coming out on September 29th.

Our modern world is truly a bounteous and wonderful place.

Dilbert goes to Mumbai

What happens when you apply professional US-style management to Indian textile factories you ask?

A hint of the answer can be found here, along with lots of amazing photos of what Indian textile factories look like before the pointy haired ones come in and start managing.

I worked in a factory in rural Ohio in the 1970s that I thought was a dump, but it looked like the JPL compared to these contemporary photos.

Hat tip to Gabriel M.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Riddle me this!

Why is the USA virtually mum on the electoral fraud and now harsh repression of the opposition in Iran, but seemingly blind to any nuances and insistent on the return of Zelaya in Honduras?

The Monroe doctrine? The fact that Honduras is a friendly country to us compared to Iran and you should always treat your friends more harshly? Are we just trying to get on Chavez's good side? Is the Honduran case somehow more egregiously bad?

Or are we just hypocrites?

We Get Letters--Faculty Governance

As part of our occasional "We Get Letters" series, here is one from a friend who let guilt rule her/him, and now is learning more than s/he wanted to know about faculty governance.

There were 4 candidates for the position of [representative] to something called
the [many headed governance monster]. Against my better judgment I did not withdraw my name from consideration after being nominated, and to my shock I won by a plurality, which has been the customary way college-wide elections to committees have been decided.

This time the second-place finisher complained that the college's bylaws (in discussing the conduct of meetings) stipulate a majority decision, so s/he demanded a runoff. The head of our college's [assembly] (whose email I am forwarding) consulted the President of the [assembly] and the [guy who wrote down the rule manual]. Below s/he reports their Solomonic ruling--we are to keep voting until someone gets a majority of the votes.

This may make for a fascinating experiment if all four original candidates
agree to stand in the subsequent rounds.

Emailed response:

Dear [people] -
I have heard back from [guy] and want to let you know that based on his assessment and that of [another guy], we will need to hold a runoff election for the [assembly] seat. Because of the way our bylaws are currently written, we also cannot limit the election to the top two vote getters. Rather, all of the original candidates have the right to stand for election if they wish. I will be getting in touch with [other candidates] to see whether they want to run again. I also need each of you to tell me whether you are willing to stand for the runoff.

If you have questions or want more details as to why the runoff needs to happen in this way, please don't hesitate to get in touch. My plan is to start the runoff voting by noon on [day] and close it at the end of business on [next day].

Thanks, [Person]

So....the decision is that the runoff will continue until someone gets a majority. And ALL FOUR candidates will continue to be on the ballot. An excellent natural experiment. At the Libertarian Convention this year, this kind of thing brought us...BOB BARR! After six ballots, I should note....

Monday, September 07, 2009

RTL Samoa: Video

From the BEEB

"Stop," from the SF Chron

The UK Guardian calls the switch "smooth."

TVNZ is less optimistic.

People Figure Stuff Out

I had no idea about this, but an interesting article about the Dutch village that eliminated traffic signals.

Can you imagine having no traffic lights or signs or any other way of keeping cars and people apart? The results would be dangerous chaos, right?

Well, they have a lot a faith in human nature in the small Dutch town of Drachten. Its main intersection is a busy place, where cars and trucks compete with people on bicycles, and others on foot.

The normal civic response - here and elsewhere - has been to put in more traffic lights, divide the roadway into lanes - control things. But the response in Drachten has been the opposite - they took the controls away.

A funny thing happened. The accident rate around the intersection went down - way down, from more than eight a year to fewer than two.

Another article. Brilliant. Excerpt:

The project is the brainchild of Mr Monderman, and the town has seen some remarkable results. There used to be a road death every three years but there have been none since the traffic light removal started seven years ago.

There have been a few small collisions, but these are almost to be encouraged, Mr Monderman explained. "We want small accidents, in order to prevent serious ones in which people get hurt," he said yesterday.

"It works well because it is dangerous, which is exactly what we want. But it shifts the emphasis away from the Government taking the risk, to the driver being responsible for his or her own risk.

"We only want traffic lights where they are useful and I haven't found anywhere where they are useful yet."

Mr Monderman, 61, compared his philosophy of motoring to an ice rink. "Skaters work out things for themselves and it works wonderfully well. I am not an anarchist, but I don't like rules which are ineffective and street furniture tells people how to behave."

Of course, John Stossel and John Staddon have made this argument in the U.S.

RTL Day: Updates....

5:30 am Apia time: It's quiet. Almost time for the church bells and police / fire sirens the announce the switch. Nice last minute video from NZ TV3 here....

UPDATE 1: I had not heard this before, but it makes some sense. The government has banned ALL alcohol sales, starting today (Sept 7), and extending throught the 2-day "holiday." Not that banning alcohol sales will keep people from drinking. But there is a special population whose attention might be gotten through a ban on alcohol sales. When they ask why, they will be told about the lane switch. And, of course, there will be a mandatory blessing. All the nightclubs and bars have to close by 10 pm, through Sept. 12.

UPDATE 2: Almost 9 a.m. now in Apia. This story, just posted, has very little content. I searched and searched for a webcam, set up somewhere in Apia or one of the other cities. Disappointing. CNN had nothing, at least not yet.

UPDATE 3: A BBC Story....Could the UK switch? UPDATE 4: This from the Samoa Observer.... (published 9:30 am Apia time)
The road switch happened at 6am today. So remember to keep left.
Chief Executive Officer of Land Transport Authority, Leasi Galuvao, urges that as most important. “And drive carefully,” said Leasi. “Stick to the speed limit.”
Leasi thinks drivers will be cautious the first few days of the switch.

The time of most concern is when motorists believe themselves adjusted to the new conditions and press the accelerator a little harder. That’s why the safety messages will persist up to three months from now, Leasi said. LTA’s technical unit was yesterday afternoon praying the rain would stop so that they could complete the remaining directional arrows at intersections in town before 6am today.

Road signs on poles are still being vandalised, with some pushed down with their coverings still on, Leasi said.


Right to Left Day. TODAY.

The always reliable BEEB is on the story.

Buses threaten strike. Although it is not really a strike, since the law says the buses are not ALLOWED to run if they don't have a door cut in the left hand side. Useful video from NZ TV3.

Bus owners want compensation from Government to change the side of the door of their buses to make it safer for passengers to embark and disembark. They put the price at $50,000 – which includes the cost of transferring the location of the steering wheel from the left to the right.

Government, through Land Transport Authority (LTA), wants only the location of the doors changed. But bus owners say the steering wheel needs also to be relocated for the sake of safety when vehicles are required to change to travelling to the left side of the road from tomorrow.

LTA offered free licensing for a year. That amounts to a total $2,360 – which bus owners say is nowhere near enough as compensation. Nor is the time given them to make the conversion anywhere near enough, they say. LTA believes otherwise.

The comments here in the Samoan Observer (Apia/Savalalo) are interesting....

Sunday, September 06, 2009

RTL-Day Minus 1: TOMORROW is Driverdämmerung

Tomorrow in Samoa: Twilight of the Driver--Driverdämmerung!:

(götterdämmerung -- Dictionary: göt·ter·däm·mer·ung or Göt·ter·däm·mer·ung (gŏt'ər-dăm'ə-rŭng', gœt'ər-dĕm'ə-rʊng')

A turbulent ending of a regime or an institution. [Comes from "Götterdämmerung," an opera by Richard Wagner, from German, twilight of the gods : Götter, genitive pl. of Gott, god (from Middle High German got, from Old High German) + Dämmerung, twilight (from Middle High German demerunge, from Old High German demerunga, from demar, twilight).]

A turbulent ending of a regime or an institution, indeed. Turnabouts will be difficult. (Götterdämmerung was the fourth in Wagner's "Ring" Cycle, so I guess the Ring Roads should be okay). Although I keep hearing that one way streets will be a "special problem." Why? No one said to change directions. Just change lanes. I can see why turning OUT of a one-way street onto a two way street will be tricky. I expect that the morning will look and sound something like this, at about the 4 mins 30 second mark in the video...

Also, remember, Samoa is the latest place in the world. Tomorrow almost never comes, in other words, because Samoa is barely east of the International Dateline. The switchover starts (as I noted yesterday) with some radio reminders and police roadblocks. By 6:00 am local (in other words, 1 pm Eastern Daylight Time in the U.S., a seven hour time difference between Raleigh and Apia), the switch will be in full Götterdämmerung.

If it matters, the weather forecast for tomorrow is cool and wet, a high of 81 deg F and morning rain.

Regulate this!

Alan Blinder in today's NY Times points out that the financial regulation we are likely to get is not the financial regulation that we might actually need. That is to say he expects that there will be additional consumer protection and pay limitations forthcoming (which he deems to be of second order importance), while things of first order importance like making derivative markets more transparent or creating new rules to deal with the potential failure of large financial firms may go unaddressed.

Well worth reading.

I am going to lose some of Mungo's libertarian street cred here, but I think that increasing the transparency of, and collateral behind, derivatives is a very good idea. I am not a fan of legislating pay limits or having a government panel set them.