Stats Made Easy

Practical Tools for Effective Experimentation

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How to be alerted to new StatsMadeEasy blogs (like this one!)

Thank goodness for my son Hank (pictured) who knows the ropes of modern information technology (IT). At the suggestion of another IT whiz – my brother Paul – Hank added a new link below the quote on the StatsMadeEasy web page that allow you to Subscribe via Email. Then the latest StatsMadeEasy missive will magically appear in your electronic in-box and possibly provide a “bright spot in a dull day” (as one of my readers kindly complimented me).

For those of you that are more sophisticated on blogs, we offer a mechanism to provide a Site Feed. This is done via Feedburner – a provider purchased by Google for a very large sum – reportedly. If you're one of the legions like me that are mired in a love-hate relationship with Microsoft and their personal information manager Outlook, you may need this help on how to Add an RSS Feed.

I keep tabs on two blogs -- the Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog by John Hunter and one by William M. Briggs, Statistician, which offers “All manner of statistical analyses cheerfully undertaken.” These go automatically into separate RSS Feeds folders that I browse when I need a bright spot to break up a dull day. (Caution: Briggs tackles some controversial subjects.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Putting a snap into your presentation

What’s in for you to convince those funding your research that you are on the right track?

I once wrote a proceeding for a technical talk that featured active sentence structure with my familiar style of writing, in which I strive to write on a personal note (it’s all about “you”). The moderator, a PhD scientist, chastised me for not using passive language and keeping the tone impersonal (no “you” turns of phrasing allowed!). She told me that this was mandatory for a technical publication – in other words, dull my writing down to make it more boring and uninspiring.

“When it comes to writing engaging content, “you” is the most powerful word in the English language.”
-- Brian Clark, The Two Most Important Words in Blogging

Similarly, I’ve seen many engineers suck the life out of exciting discoveries. They do this by starting from the most mundane details and then methodically building their case in a “scientific manner.” Such a train of thought derails all but the most tenacious and technically-savvy reader. Granted, this must be done for academic journals, but presentations that go over the top scientifically frequently fall flat in the high-flying world of industrial R&D.

I am reading a book of short stories by a writer who captured the spirit of living on the edge – Jack London. Although he is best known for stories of Alaskan adventure, such as "The Call of the Wild," London also wrote of the rough-and-tumble world of the newspaper business in the early 1900’s – a time when William Randolph Hearst ruled the roost with his sensational journalism. I came across this good advice for aspiring writers by a character in Jack London's short story “Amateur Night” (1903):

“Be terse in style, vigorous of phrase, apt, concretely apt, in similitude. Avoid platitudes and commonplaces. Exercise selection. Seize upon things salient, eliminate the rest. … Tell it all in the opening paragraph as advertisement of contents, and in the contents tell it all over again. Then put a snapper at the end.”

Does this not tell what you need to do to put some pizzazz in your presentations? Go for it!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Arriba for Tequila Sangria

To reward myself for teaching a Mixture Design for Optimal Formulations workshop on a beautiful Friday here in Minnesota, I asked my class to help design an experiment for a "TGIF Tequila Sangria." Not being a drinker of hard liquor, I’ve been reluctant to tap into the several bottles of tequila given me by Pepe of Mazatlan – the father of an exchange student we housed one school year. She reported such unbearable cold that he feels compelled to keep me well stocked with 80-proof alcoholic heat derived from Mexico's blue agave.

Having enjoyed marvelous sangria mixes of red wine and fruit juices while vacationing in Puerto Rico, it occurred to me that my stock of tequila might be blended off for good effect with some Syrah and cranapple -- beverages I happen to have on hand. The triangular 'phase' diagram shows a 12-blend modified D-optimal design* that I concocted with some input from my students. One of the points is flagged so you can decipher how to read off the grid lines. My plan is to weigh out the ingredients into one of a number of tequila shot glasses that I've collected during trips to Mazatlan. I found that these will easily hold 30 grams of liquid. However, I was too fearful to allow any blends to exceed 15 grams of tequila. That stuff scares me!

As they say: "Para todo mal, tequila, para todo bien, también." That is: "For all things bad, tequila, and for all things good as well." Pepe will send me more tequila in a few months when the snow birds of Minnesota flock down to Mazatlan, so I'd better start drinking it soon.

*Produced by Design-Expert® software

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Careful for the eye beams – energy rays going out by line of sight

I heard this fellow Colin A. Ross interviewed on radio last week. He patented a switch that, with a bit of training, can be activated by eye via a beam of energy. For example, let’s say you have your iPod set up to be an “eye” Ipod. Then you could just look at it to start up the music!

Here are some of the assertions I heard over the airwaves from Ross:
- eye beams explain how one feels a person staring at them
- via survival of the fittest, animals such as gazelles can sense when predators like lions focus on them
- military snipers learn not to look too intensely at their targets because they can get spooked
- eye beams are not energetic enough to cause any harm -- they are not like lasers
- a person can lock on to an eye beam aimed at them -- for example, while hunting for rabbits, Ross felt one staring at him and turned around to shoot it without having to search it out (he ate the rabbit for dinner that night).

Although this last assertion I heard from Ross goes a bit over the top, he sounds very scientific – a reflection of impressive credentials in psychiatry. So I asked my sister, an ophthalmologist who specializes in laser eye surgery, whether she considers Ross's claim to be credible. Here’s her comments: “I have never heard of him, but I found this report describing his eyebeam of energy on the web. Eye beams are not beyond theoretic possibility but I have never ever heard of anything like this (one would think with the opthamology literature I routinely survey that I would have come across some mention of energy emissions). I think it more likely that Dr. Ross has exceptional hearing, quick reflexes, and good spatial sense which allowed him to shoot and subsequently eat the rabbit, for example. Light is definitely reflected from the eye (hence the red-eye camera effect). However, it seems hard to imagine that even this energy would amount to much after a short distance.”

Dr. Ross hopes to be tested by scientific skeptic and former magician James Randi to achieve his One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. For more details, see this press release put out by the Colin A. Ross Institute based in Richardson, Texas.

I am keeping my eyes open for definitive proof of eye-beams. Meanwhile I am trying to perfect a penetrating stare, while at the same time watching my back for apprentices of Ross who have mastered the ability to generate extramissions out of their eyeballs. However, I think that, after withstanding almost 34 years of looks from my rightly-irate wife, nothing short of a LaserCat can penetrate my battle-hardened skin.