All You Can Eat Data

One of my favorite things in science is when a researcher takes a look at a very simple situation and applies some simple analysis of the underlying data. For example, how rad is this?:

Eating Behavior and Obesity at Chinese Buffets

First, I love the fact that there were secret people in the restaurants who’s job it was to watch other eaters. Could you imagine if you got caught, how you would explain that? But, second, and more importantly, what I’d like to know is to what extent there’s a causal relationship here. The authors make it clear that they were not looking for causation, but it is an interesting question nonetheless. For example, people with high BMI scores sat facing the buffet – did this cause them to eat more? Or was that a symptom of them constantly being hungry.

What’s especially interesting are some of the data points measured here – chopsticks vs. fork; large plate vs. small; napkin on lap vs. not. Incredibly fascinating stuff.

And then, a second study also came across my desk recently which also deserves some comment:

Do Firms Maximize? Evidence from Professional Football

This is something that makes absolutely no sense to me. TMQ has talked about this for years – that football teams play far more conservatively than they should. And not just a little bit… check this:

But on the 1,068 fourth downs for which the analysis implies that teams are on average better off going for it, they kicked 959 times.

Holy cow! This paper goes through some possible rationale for this (momentum, information about the players, being interested in always being “in it”, rather than taking a swing early and having the game essentially be over, etc), but rejects them all. TMQ suggests that it’s just coaches playing traditionally just so they don’t have to answer annoying questions (and likely be fired). I’m not sure which is right, but wouldn’t it be awesome to see a team actually follow the way the math indicates?

W. T. F.

Forty-one years ago, the Internets were created. There have been many twists and turns, but there can be no question, that all the tumult was leading to a single creation. That creation is the below video.

Crime and Democrats

My favorite bit of research recently is basically to just draw a big circle around an anomaly and figure out what it is. The problem, of course, is that this leads to a lot of correlation without causality, so I offer this up with no analysis whatsoever.

City (Mayor)

Crimes Per Population

Springfield, Ma (D) 0.331
Reno (R) 0.318
Columbus (D) 0.241
Richmond (I) 0.234
St. Louis (D) 0.215
Columbia, Sc (D) 0.204
Orlando (D) 0.204
Little Rock (D) 0.203
Birmingham (D) 0.202
Memphis (D) 0.200
Rochester (D) 0.187
Salt Lake City (D) 0.186
Kansas City (NP) 0.184
Flint (D) 0.178
Miami Gardens (D) 0.175
Tacoma (D) 0.174
Detroit (D) 0.173
Chattanooga (D) 0.170
West Palm Beach (D) 0.168
Atlanta (D) 0.167
Fayetteville (NP) 0.163
Knoxville (R) 0.163
Jackson (D) 0.160

Interesting – out of the 20 top cities (over 100,000) by crime per capita, 18 have Democratic (or Democratic-leaning non-partisans) as mayor. The stat I do not have here, which is critical, is the percentage of mayors that are Democratic, but I doubt it’s over 90%.

The Great Magnet Sees All

My favorite new religion is The Great Magnet (jump on that page and contribute, it’s my first Wikipedia article ever!). I’m a HUGE fan of the Adam Carolla Podcast and I heard him talking about this the other day. I won’t go so far as to call it a religion (as an atheist, he doesn’t believe it’s a religion either, but he positions that it’s as close as you can get to him believing in religion).

The Great Magnet (n): The theory that as you become aware or start thinking about certain things, you are more likely to encounter similar things. Example, I have a bowl of Mac and Cheese for dinner and think it’s great. The next morning, The Today Show is talking about making killer Mac and Cheese, and then in the afternoon I read an article about how bad carbs are for your heart.

Anyhow, whether or not there’s some degree of correlation involved, or if it truly is causality, I’ve definitely experienced this many times.  Like over the past few days, I’ve had non-stop exposure to the concept that the vast majority of your senses are actually filled in by memories in your brain, rather than actually detecting new inputs from the outside world (blog post coming very shortly on this). Everywhere I turn, it seems I run into the same concept, though the majority of these pieces seem to be totally unconnected. I think it’s just a sense of awareness you get when something is on your mind – but it’s nice to have a name for it. And remember:

"Nine out of ten religions fail in their first year" – God, The Simspons [9F01]

Fix Your Database, Slingbox!


I'm in the process of setting up a cool Slingbox, but the stupid cable box doesn't respond as it should. According to this post, the Pace TDC577X actually should be listed as a Motorola DCT 6412. Thank God for the Interweb, or I'd be trying to figure this out for hours! I don't know who I'm more mad at here... Slingbox for not updating your DB, or digital cable providers for not having a dead simple USB interface that all devices can talk to. Come on!


Exactly What I Wanted

I hate reading in bed. Actually, let me correct that. I hate reading in bed in the way I currently read in bed. I can’t lie down because my arm falls asleep. I can’t sit up because I always slide down in some way, and my back feels weird. I’m a giant lazy complainer, but I don’t care, I want what I want.

Before you dive in and propose anything, let me tell you what I have seen but don’t like:

BookHolder isn’t bad, but seriously, you still feel the pain of flipping pages. Not to mention the fact that I don’t anything to hang over/near my head/groin that I’ve installed while lying down.

BookGem bad either, but, AGAIN, I hate flipping pages, and it seems like every time I flip, I’ll have to deal with that page holder, and resetting the installation of the book.

So, I gave up. Who could possibly solve this seemingly intractable problem? But it is often said that when looking for love, the first thing to do is stop looking.

While browsing the xkcd blog the other day, I came upon EXACTLY the same problem. Could this be true? Am I in love?

Here’s his custom crafted holder (from a steel hanger!)

And here’s it is in action!

Genius! But the real AHA was that the problem with existing book holders was not the angle or position, it was the book. The irregular shape of the book, and the need for occasional access to the front (to turn pages) causes the difficulty. In fact, swapping the book out for the Kindle is the root problem, and makes the other devices nearly ideal as well. For example, te BookHolder (#1) would be fine with the Kindle – though I would still have the annoying raising my arms to turn the page issue. A small, but noticeable annoyance.

I hope Mr. Munroe starts selling these asap!

BTW, while researching the pictures for this story, I came upon this gem:

True, it’s for laptops only, but I love it. Right now, propping my knees into an inverted-v position provides this functionality, but this device is much better. The price point is a deal breaker … why is this worth $99?

Dunkin Donuts … How Did I Miss This?

My brother has always been an enormous fan of extra, extra Dunkin Donuts coffee (aka Light and Sweet, which are apparently the same thing). I lived on the East coast for nearly nine years, and somehow I never tried it. Today I tried it at 6:30 AM in between flights. Delicious! All those countless horrible cups of coffee and I missed this? Terrible.

Bravo JetBlue

Well, the most recent flight on JetBlue wasn’t quite as good as I had hoped. Everything went great on the flight, but while I expected to watch the Thursday night lineup on NBC, instead I fell asleep for a fitful night’s rest – apparently getting older really does make it harder to fall asleep (and stay asleep) on the plane. In the olden days, I could curl up bent over on the tray table and sleep for hours. Now, my back already hurts.

But walking out into the JetBlue terminal at JFK, they deserve SERIOUS commendation on having an end-to-end brand experience. Gone are the totally generic chairs, walls, etc, with customized and very nice looking ports for laptops, food, markets – even customer service. Great look, giving the right stuff away for free (wifi, power), appropriate layout (food in one place, that doesn’t feel like a communist market) – I must say it must have been difficult to put together an ROI on this, but it’s worth it for me.

And they’re not even paying me. In fact, I’m paying them! Now if I could only find a replacement power cord for my laptop.