Monday, January 14, 2013

Podcamp Session Feedback Part 2-The Video of My Session Has Been Posted

The video of my session is now posted. Above you can see the video in it's entirety (47 minutes) and below you can see the slides I presented and the video clip I showed in the presentation. It's hard watching myself and I hope that I am my harshest critic. You can use the Gapminder World software here and download it for free here which is demonstrated in my presentation above.

I am reposting the answers to the feedback survey questions and comments showing that the I am my harshest critic.  I added responses to anonymous comments that I received at the end.
Question 2 was a referendum on my clarity as a speaker.  Though there seems to be more agreement on my clarity this year there was no statistical difference between last years ratings and this years (p=0.176). 

Question 3 relates to how the graphics were presented. I was able to present a video from a BBC documentary called the joy of stats.  There were no large overall differences from this year to last (p=0.667).

For question 4, on whether they learned any new information, the responses seemed most identical across years with a few more disagreeing this year (8.3% in 2011 and 21.4% in 2012, p=0.347).

Question 5 is an overall assessment of the presentation.  Last year someone strongly disagreed that it was helpful.  This year I'm glad no one did but there was still no difference in the overall distribution of responses (p=0.820).

The sixth question relates to how comfortable participants were with statistics. This is the only question where respondents expressed a statistical difference between this year and last (p=0.036) with this year expressing less comfort with the subject.

The last closed ended question was just about whether they had taken a statistics class before.  Last year nine respondents had, two hadn't and one didn't answer the question.  This year they were split 50-50.

This year I received nine comments on 14 surveys compared to three last year.  Those who took stats classes seem just as likely to comment as those who did not. The most specific comments are the most helpful.  I appreciate the one who said it was too political.  It was nowhere near as political as it could have been.  There were too many good examples from politics especially with the election happening a few days after the presentation was made. I added Katie Vojtko's presentation to PodCamp presentation for the one who wanted to see social media for their boss.  I would be happy to add more on the nuts and bolts of Google Analytics to my presentation next time if no one else is presenting on it.  I'd love to have more audience participation.  For the one gentleman who asked about managing twitter followers with statistics (if they read this) I refer them to the software program SocialBro which can be downloaded for free.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

New Year Post-Facebook Page Announcement

Photo Taken from a Spanish Castle in Crotone, Calabria, Italy
I've been slow to post for the new year due to work, school and illness.  I've created a Facebook page for fans to follow us and can interact more with the author(s).  We have had a few guest posts.  There is a badge for the page at the top right column where you can follow us on Facebook.  We have 39 followers so far.  The video at the right is from the outside lawn at the Vatican Art Museum.  Whether you agree with the Vatican or not, they do have an impressive collection of art, modern and classical.

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Monday, December 31, 2012

Will Our New Secretary of State be Swiftboated?

Now that the election is over President Obama has been reshuffling his cabinet.  One position he will have to fill is Secretary of State as Hillary Clinton is stepping down, possibly to run for President in 2016 if her health allows.  His first appointee, UN ambassador Susan Rice, was withdrawn due to controversy over the Benghazi, Libya attack.  She was replaced with 2004 Presidential nominee John Kerry. 

Right now he seems to have smooth sailing in the Senate with the country focused on the fiscal cliff and New Years celebrations.  There is always the possibility of eleventh hour "swiftboating" when the confirmation hearings heat up.  Back in 1971 John Kerry, then 27, debated the Vietnam War with fellow swiftboat veteran John O'Neill on the Dick Cavett show.  John O'Neill  would go on to head the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth which campaigned against his 2004 run for the White House and may have planted enough doubt in voters minds to cost him the election.  Below are the first two video clips from the Cavett show.  The whole show can be watched here.  Former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel has also raised controversy with his appointment as Secretary of Defense with many of his GOP colleagues threatening to block his appointment.  Right now he seems a better candidate for swiftboating but the the original swiftboaters haven't given up on Kerry.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Season's Shootings

This weekend there were copy cat shootings to the Newtown shootings in Hollidaysburg, PA and Rochester, NY.  I know I said I wasn't going to blog about the shootings but the extra incidents before the holiday prompted me.  They may or may not be connected.  I feel that this satire by Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo on Saturday Night Live in 1983 is just as relevant today as it was then.  It fits in this blog because it is a simulated shooting, not real. (Hulu has removed this video.  You can see another version of it here)

MotherJones magazine has a piece showing that there were 151 deaths from ten mass shootings in the US this year.  That does not include the incidents this weekend which would bring this years total to 157 from 12 incidents (a mean or average of 13.1 deaths per incident).  Yes the availability of guns is a factor and people are right to criticize the NRA for a denial of reality but there are many other factors at work in these types of incidents such as mental health and the influence of the media.  Dave Cullen has written a book on the Columbine killings and gave an interview on C-SPAN's Washington Journal about these incidents.  He correctly points out that there was an armed guard at Columbine who was out gunned.  The presence of guns (especially arming the teachers as the state legislature in Missouri is trying to do but are wisely blocked by the governor) increases the risk of accidental shootings even if it were to slightly decrease the risk of deliberate ones.  A famous case would be then New York Giants star Plaxico Burress accidentally shooting himself in the thigh in a night club when carrying a concealed weapon.

NRA members may point to a mass shooting in Norway where a far right wing fanatic killed (he won't be named here to quench his lust for fame) 69 people in 2011 (44% of the US 2012 total for one incident).  They have better gun control laws and mental health services than the US.  The killer was given Norway's harshest sentence, 21 years.  How many of these shootings has Norway had since then?  The police in Poland and the Czech Republic stopped other potential copycats. There were a, as I said in my post on the The Secret, there are definitely ways to minimize the risk of terrible events like these but it can never be eliminated.   Controlling guns is a much better way to minimize the risk than making them more available but other factors need to be considered.

Another potential influence is the media. We need to ask ourselves, are we that different from those who went to gladiatorial games in the Roman Colosseum thousands of years ago to watch slaughter for entertainment?  I know this is a strange topic to blog about on Christmas Day but the holiday season clearly did not deter the perpetrators in Newtown, Hollidaysburg, and Rochester.  Yesterday was the appropriate time to talk about this topic. Buon Natale a Tutti.  Merry Christmas to all in Italian.


Rob Cullen over at What if Post has a good review of ways to reduce gun violence in the US with a rebuttal by Archie Bunker.  The city of Chicago reached 500 homicides for 2012 while it decreased for New York City.

It's a few weeks late but I had to update this post with Jon Stewart's skewering of the gun control debate in two parts below.  The recent shooting in California also prompted me to update.

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Year End Post

I don't have anything to say about the Newtown shootings or the fiscal cliff.  I've written posts on those topics before on the mass shooting which occurred a mile from where I live in 2009 and on the debt ceiling talks which are now being made and rerun from July 2011.  In my last post on 'The Secret' I talked about how good things and bad things happen and 'positive energy' only goes so far.  I've written many posts on the 2012 Election, not merely to forecast the winner like Nate Silver but to use statistics and analytical tools to ask deeper questions. I have also written many posts on the PUSH/Healthcare for All PA website on the developments in healthcare this year while I also managed their page.  There were also many other topics covered on the blog which can be seen at the labels cloud on the right such as PodCamp, history, and statistics.  I'll leave you with an image of my sustainable Christmas Tree.
My Reusable Natural Christmas Tree

Friday, December 14, 2012

'The Secret' Gets the CSI w/o Dead Bodies Treatment

In 2006 Australian author Rhonda Byrne published a self improvement book which became an international best seller followed by a movie.  A friend suggested I read her book called The Secret.  I've had similar suggestions before from friends who want to improve my life who have all meant well. 

The book presents a pretty simple law of self improvement called the Law of Attraction which Byrne says has been suppressed for over 3,000 years and is only known by the wealthy 1% and great men throughout history such as "Plato, Newton, Carnegie, Beethoven, Shakespeare, and Einstein."  It says that believing that positive things will happen will make it happen for you with wealth, health, and relationships and believing negative things will happen will make the opposite happen.  It goes on to present that secret in DaVinci Code/Scientology fashion with lots of testimonials and graphics but little hard data to show how the law of attraction always works.  The experts in the film even say that "the anti-war movement creates more war."  Here is trailer for the film.  The author is seen very little in the film.

The book has it's critics such as Barbara Ehrenreich who discusses her own struggle with cancer and how not being positive all the time helps her.  The problem with relying on testimonial evidence alone is that it's always possible to find one contradicting your theory.  The film presents no evidence of how this secret was suppressed all these years.


A closer look at the historical figures presented in the film and book shows that few of then had full happy lives.  The one who comes closest is Plato and that is only because he lived thousands of years ago and we know so little about his relationships and what sort of man he was.  Ludwig van Beethoven had a miserable life with many relationship, money, and health problemsIsaac Newton was "not a pleasant man" as described by Stephen Hawking (he holds the same professorship that Newton did) who never married and took pleasure in crushing his rivals.  Andrew Carnegie may have been a good husband and father and did lots of charity work but he also ruthlessly crushed the Homestead Steel Strike and was negligent in the Johnstown Flood with crony Henry Clay Frick.  William Shakespeare is another about whom there is little known and some controversy so I will not address.  Albert Einstein like the others did excel at what they were good at but you would not want to be married to him.

There is always a risk of disaster and the chance of success.  You can take steps to minimize the risk and maximize the chance but can never eliminate either.  The passengers and crew on the Titanic had lots of positive energy and optimism but were oblivious to the risks that icebergs posed and we all know how that turned out (see my post Titanic Perspective if you don't for a review of this and Andrew Carnegie's role in the Johnstown Flood). I'm all for having success but at who's expense?  Solutions can be found to the world's porblems but by realistically thinking through the risks and chances.  It gives the secret as the reason for "the richest 1% controlling 96% of the world's wealth" when Ehrenreich and other social critics would give very different reasons.  The Secret has definitely made Rhonda Byrne very wealthy.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Podcamp Sessions on Old and New Media

PodCamp Pittsburgh 7 had several really good sessions on old and new media.  Here are two that were recently posted.  Above is one on the uses of social media in the mainstream media.  Below is one on the use of sensitivity in language in social media to disadvantaged minorities.  Both include reporters from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, WPXI, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and media activists.  There are more coming including hopefully one by yours truly.

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