Stats Made Easy

Practical Tools for Effective Experimentation

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Candy is dandy, but for melting the ice, coffee has the hot hand

While cruising the massive Medical Device & Manufacturing show last week in Minneapolis, I noticed many exhibitors trying to entice visitors with a bowl of candy.* It failed to work on me because invariably a salesperson was perched nearby watching for potential prey to be snared by their sweet trap.

Meanwhile, my morning newspaper featured news that, if you want to "bias the situation in your favor," a cup of fresh coffee may be just the trick. So advises University of Colorado psychologist Lawrence E. Williams, who co-authored a study reported in the recent Science journal. This press release by Yale University provides details on the experiments done there to support the theory that “people are more likely to give something to others if they had just held something warm.” A more entertaining write-up on this “sneaky study” is provided by AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard. She reveals that Williams is now a marketing professor (enough said).

I suggest you become beware of strangers offering you hot drinks – a twist on the warning I remember hearing as a child about unknown people offering me candy. Gratuitous coffee, tea or hot cider will be hard for me to resist, especially now that the cold is pouring in (it’s snowing as I write this). Maybe if I keep one hand securely on the billfold my other hand can be free to enjoy the warmth.

*This is an aside, but I must say that I am intrigued by Hershey’s new Take 5 bar, which “provides a unique taste experience by combining five favorite ingredients in one candy bar,” including pretzels! Years ago I taught Mixture Design for Optimal Formulations to their food scientists in Pennsylvania. However, although these methods are great for finding the sweet spot, I never would have thought to add something salty.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A sign I never saw on a beach in Minnesota

While spending the weekend in the Beaufort area of the South Carolina’s Low Country, I came across this sign (pictured) at Hunting Island State Park. It turns out that the term “groin” (outside the USA know as “groyne”) comes from the Latin word for snout, which aptly describes its geometry – an underwater structure aimed at reducing beach erosion.

The other photo, which I took at high tide facing north, shows this groin's beneficial effect. Hunting Island lost 400 feet at the northern end in only one year in the mid-1800’s – just after a lighthouse was built at that location. Ironically, the Confederates blew it up to prevent the Yankees from taking advantage of the beacon for their invasion of nearby Port Royal. It never would have lasted in any case. In fact, a second lighthouse built in 1874 had to be relocated only 14 years later due to being undercut by the advancing Atlantic Ocean. However, the engineers were smart enough to consider this possibility, so they constructed the tower with curved cast iron panels that were designed to be dismantled and rebuilt. Brilliant!

Standing at mid-island after its move and being further protected by a series of groins, the Hunting Island Lighthouse should stand tall for many more years. See it pictured beautifully at this web page by “America’s premier lighthouse painter” Roger Bansemer . For those of you engineers that may be interested more in how things work (rather than history and aesthetics), see this Wikipedia detailing of groyne hydraulics. Check out the groyne warning sign – it’s a hoot! (To avoid any misunderstandings, I prefer the alternative spelling.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

A gladiator for snaky adders? Answer: the “Addiator”

Ok, I went off track a bit on this title (a hypothetical crossword clue), but I really like the name of Arithma’s handy old mechanical Addiator. I came across this particular one at a church rummage sale.

As detailed at John Wolff's Web Museum "Addiator," originally the brand name of the German manufacturer Arithma, became the generic term for a host of similar devices used primarily for addition and subtraction. The Addiator I bought (25 cents!) came with no instructions. However, I quickly surmised that I ought to insert the stylus (clipped to its right side) into the slots next to the numbers and move them around somehow. Clearly the top set of numbers would be used for addition, and the bottom for subtraction. However, rather than puzzle it out any further, I prevailed upon my son Hank, a professional programmer, to figure out how it works. He explains:

“The trick is knowing this simple operating rule for both sections of the Addiator: Move gray numbers towards the middle of the machine, but if it becomes red, you must move it outwards and around the bend. For example, let’s say you want to calculate the following sequence of additions and subtraction: 0 + 98 + 54 – 77. Before doing anything else check the display of numbers in the middle circles. If they are not all at 0, pull up the reset bar at the top of the Addiator.

Step 1, (0 + 98), top half: Insert the stylus into the gray slot next to the 8 in the first column, push toward the middle (down). An 8 is now appears as the first digit. The display should show 08. Do the same for 9 in the second digit column. You now have 98.

Step 2, (98 + 54), top half: Insert the stylus into the red slot next to the 4 in the first column. Since it is red it gets pushed toward the top. The top is rounded, you should push the stylus around the bend and back down. This has the effect of "carrying" the one into the next digit. The display now has an up arrow for the second digit and a 2 for the first digit. Do the same with the 5 in the next column, which pushes the third digit to 1. You should now have 152.

Step 3 (152 - 77), bottom half: Insert the stylus in the red slot next to the 7 in the first column. It is red, so it gets pushed down and around the bend. The display should now read 145. Do the same with the 7 in the second column. You should end with 75.”

I tried this and it worked! Now I have no excuse for adding up my deposits incorrectly, which I do on an embarrassingly frequent basis, considering I am an engineer and all.

PS. Contrast the Addiator – based on an 1889 invention – to 2008 technology in the form of the similarly-sized (amazingly small!) Samsung Instinct demonstrated in this video by Sascha Segan, Lead Analyst for Mobile Devices with PC Magazine. This PDA phone offers a readily accessible calculator via the initial touch screen. I’ll bet it even does multiplication and division!