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February 2012 Archives

NYTimes: Low Tide

Min Jin Lee, reporting nearly a year after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami:

There are two sayings in Japan for when bad things happen: shikata ga nai, an idiom that means "it can't be helped"; and gambaru, a verb translated as "to persevere against adversity." When life doesn't go your way -- a job loss, illness or a romantic failure -- your friend is likely to say, "Sho ga nai" (a variation of shikata ga nai), it's out of your control. If you need a boost before an exam or when your favorite team is losing, you hear "gambatte," you can do it.

Several survivors shown here, their faces carved deeply like woodblocks, withstood wars, rationing, atomic bombs, postwar reconstructions, economic booms and busts and now an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown. From the outside, it looks as if the Japanese accept all things with equanimity. But we cannot know if inside, the survivors want to spit at another well-intended sho ga nai.

See the associated slideshow, Faces of the Tsunami.

Arrested for breaking the law of large numbers

James B. Stewart wrote a piece about Apple and the Law of Large Numbers. Maybe the article was okay as a whole, but he entirely misrepresented the Law of Large Numbers, which has ab-sa-toot-ly nothing to do with individual corporations and their future growth projections.

How does this slip by the NYT? How does it get by their legions of fact-checkers, statisticians, and Nate Silver? Shouldn't any mention of statistical theory or mathematical theorems be properly represented by a paper that continually pushes the need for better science and math education?

I digress. A fun piece from Dr. Drang has popped up on the blogosphere about this blunder.

Let's start with what the Law of Large Numbers really states. Put simply, it says that the sample mean of a random variable will tend toward the underlying population mean as the number of samples grows larger. For example, Wolfram Alpha says the average height of an adult male is 5′ 9″. If you measured the height of a few randomly selected men, you might get an average for your sample that's quite far from 5′ 9″. But if you increased the size of the sample, the tendency would be for your sample average to move closer to 5′ 9″.

The law does not state that "a variable will revert to a mean over a large sample of results." The Law of Large Numbers says nothing about individual measurements; it's all about averages. And it certainly doesn't "suggest" anything about the future growth of large companies.

If the Law of Large Numbers worked the way Stewart says, you could repeatedly measure the height of Dirk Nowitzki and he'd eventually shrink down to 5′ 9″. I'm surprised the Mavericks' opponents haven't thought of this.

Read the full article here.

Old Fashioned 101

As the Old Fashioned gets more popular, so do bastardizations of said magical cocktail. The 6 plus step process created by Martin Doudoroff at oldfashioned101.com lays out some guidelines for the creation of this majestic, "simple and sublime drink."

I couldn't have said this better or executed it more perfectly. This is a nice way to learn how to make an old fashioned and a humorous guide for getting started with making the best damn drink on the planet.

Postcard 1: Palwal, Haryana, India

Song: From 553 W Elm Street, Logan, Illinois (Snow)

24 Postcards in Full Color

In an attempt to more frequently update this blog, I'm kicking off an idea I had years ago. In 2008, composer Max Richter released "24 Postcards in Full Colour," an album of 24 songs that is ~34 minutes long.

Richter's website describes the album as

Max's ringtone album. Fragmentary and partial by nature, 24 postcards is a varied collection of evocative miniatures. The longest track is just under three minutes, whilst the majority clock in at around just sixty seconds, a series of sketches on the nature of time and memory, stitched together to form a series of jump-cuts and foldbacks. As though extracting the absolute essence, simple, plaintive piano and string melodies butt up against passages of rich, borderzone ambience - radio static / voices leaking through dense, shifting drones.

After a few listens to the album, I thought it would make a pretty nice little project to create companion videos to go along with Richter's short compositions. The videos would necessarily be primarily single shots and most likely a bit distant from the music. They would be disjointed, unrelated pieces capturing approximately a year of where I went and what I did.

That was two and a half years ago. Finally getting around to it now.