Statistics, Causality, Sports

Many sports “statistics” seem to ignore causality altogether. The most recent example that comes to mind for me was during one of the recent ACLS games, when an announcer observed that all of the Red Sox’s RBIs had been by left handed batters – so they were really getting it done tonight. This ignores the fact that, save for the case of a home run, the necessary condition for an RBI to occur is for a runner to be on base already. Surely some of the runner’s on base must been right handed hitters – so if no right handers were on base, there would be no left handed RBIs; a whole chain of events had to occur for the RBI to happen.

What of the idea of the “winning run” (touchdown/shot/field goal etc), or its converse the losing play? If your team is up by 10, and you make an error thats lets s run score, that’s no big deal. If you’re tied, it is. Did Bill Buckner lose the world series in 1986? Not by himself he didn’t. Did the Immaculate Reception win that game for the Steelers? Not if they were down by more than 7 points at the time.

This probably all depends on your ideas about causality. If you make two more touchdowns in the first half, then you wouldn’t need the last second heroics, but then your opponent would have played differently from that point on as well – a whole tree of parallel universes of game outcomes.

I love that there’s a list of famous hail mary plays on wikipedia.

Moving On

I’m leaving Oracle as of tomorrow. It was interesting having the opportunity to voluntarily leave a company this time :). I was only there for a year and month or so, but I learned a lot (though some of that will be useful nowhere) and got to work with some smart folks along the way.

I’m moving on to a startup called Zingku.

Some experiments with PyObjC and the Mac OSX SyncServices engine

I haven’t developed any software that interacts with OSX before the last couple of days. I have to say the experience has been interesting. I’m really impressed with the usability of the interface builder as well as the power of the .NIB file. I hadn’t realized it was much more than just a description of the application layout.

The main reason I’ve never ventured into programming for OSX is Objective-c. Don’t know it, not sure if I want to know more than I’ve learned in the last couple of days. I had an idea of a project to leverage the SyncServices engine though – so I took the plunge. Into PyObjC that is. (I would have liked to use RubyCocoa but it doesn’t look nearly as fully baked).

Progress was slow at first; I had to at least learn to read Objective-C so that I could understand the docs and the example sync applications. Now that I’ve figured out some of the issues I’ve encountered I’m much more confident – if nothing else now I know what I don’t know. I have to say I’m really impressed with the power of PyObjc. It’s been really great for interactively groping my way through the SyncServices apis.

My first task was to get a feel for the apis by doing a read-only (pull) sync of the stickies saved in Apple’s Stickie’s Example. The code that does that is here. There’s currently no sample python code for the SyncServices module available, so I should hand this off to the pyobjc folks (If they’ll take my painfully un-idiomatic python) once I flesh it out some more.

Almost time for back to school…

Matt’s post about his first week of grad school reminds me of two things: 1) Class starts for me next week 2) I’m jealous that his program offers an Information Visualization class. That’s something I’m interested in, health system but despite all my lobbying and rounding up quite a few grad students who are also intrested, I can’t get Tufts to offer such a class. I’ll have to look into a directed study or transferring credit from some other school in the area.

I’m bumming in general about my grad program at Tufts because all the interesting classes are offered during the day. They don’t really have a night program, and they try to offer enough classes at or after 4, but this semester the offerings are pretty grim. I’d like to take Computational Bio or Computational Geometry but they’re in the afternoon, twice a week. I could probably get work to let me do that, but the I feel stuck there because a new job isn’t likely to be down with that.

Also a bummer is that it will take forever to finish. I contemplated quitting my job and going to school full time for one semester to knock off a bunch of classes at once, but thought it would be dumb to do that and not actually be done at the end of it. Maybe next fall. If not I need to knuckle down and take more than one class at a time.

My team’s logo

At some point I’ll make a lengthier update praising Macromedia Fireworks capabilities – the more I learn about how to use it, the better it gets (especially the pen tool!), but for now I wanted to show off share this logo I created for my class project team. (For some context the project is to design the interface of a bike computer that would include GPS maps as well as all the usual bike computer stuff)

Tireless Logo


What are high stakes tests doing to our education system? This New York Times article has the disturbing answer: cutting out all subjects besides reading,
math and gym. I presume gym is legally required.

Being able to read and do basic math are obviously prerequisites to any higher level learning, but what kind of job are we doing if we churn out young adults who can do only that? How can people who missed out on other imporant subjects like history, social studies have the critical-thinking skills required to make informed decisions in the future, whether at the voting booth or elsewhere?

My Kingdom for a Radio Button

Are radio buttons going out of style? When I was using turbo tax recently, I saw several cases where two or more logically mutually exclusive choices were represented by checkboxes rather than radio buttons. Here’s one of them:

Radio Buttons Needed

Although, as the expression goes, never attribute something to malice that could be just plain incompetence, it does seem that the designers at Intuit must surely have made a considered choice in not using radio buttons anywhere in Turbotax.

Is there a reason for that? I wonder if “today’s youth” even grow up having used a radio with buttons like that – I suppose you could get through your life using an iPod etc and never encounter controls like an old fashioned radio. I think even radios themselves muddy the waters on this: I recall the original radio in the 1987 Camry I used to drive had four or five radio channel buttons, but you could also use them in primitive chords: press two at the same time to select the virtual button between them.

UI affordances tend to have mirrored the world where possible, but perhaps on this front, the world is moving faster.