Predictably Irrational

A physician’s decision of “hip surgery vs ibuprofen” is a relatively straightforward decision, especially when one can try the ibuprofen then go with hip surgery later. One compares something to another thing. Add a secondary choice like in “hip surgery vs (ibuprofen vs peroxicam)” and people flip into going with hip surgery instead.

When I watched this, I realized proprietary product sales frame the choice something like “proprietary sourced product vs (open source vs open source with hiring programmers)”. In which case it does seem the obvious choice is themselves. Well played!

Aspiring to a Billion Pageviews

Read this in an article about Reddit,

But Reddit.com is still one of the internet’s most popular sites with over a billion pageviews a month.

I realize a billion is a big number, but I figured even GeorgiaVIEW could be getting half a billion pageviews a month. January 15th to February 14th (our peak 30 day period), we did about 774 million pageviews. In the last 30 days we did about 600 million while some kids are on spring break (sic?).

There must be online learning systems larger than us like University of Phoenix (500,000 students). If they are comparable to us in the amount of online usage they have, then they could be doing over a billion pageviews. UoP is about 60% larger than us, so they should cross over into the Reddit range.

Surely software as a service online learnings sites like Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Pearson Learning Studio, Unicon, and Moodlerooms push more than a billion pageviews?

Not Egyptian

Photo of me by Wesley Abney
Photo of me by Wesley Abney

At a party last night, a woman asked where I am from. I told her my hometown. She said, “No, no, no, where are your parents from.” I thought, “Oh, boy, I know where this is going.” So I told her my father is black and my mother white. She wanted to know what part of Africa he is from. I told her my father’s first cousin got the mitochondrial DNA tested and it was from Ghana, but both mDNA goes mother to child so his relationship to this cousin is through his father makes and in the amount of time since they probably left Africa, that would be one of a 128 to1024 ancestors [1] so not really relevant. She dismissed the latter part and said I really look Egyptian (as her husband is Egyptian). She says a number of Ghanaians have immigrated to Egypt. I must have had a weird look on my face because she said at that point if she was boring me we did not have to talk about it. Her main point is I look a lot like her husband. Enough for her to think I was Egyptian.

Since I look enough like any number of relatively brown skinned people from all over the world and sport a scarily bushy beard, some people make interesting first impressions about my background. I have heard Greek, Saudi, Persian, Indian, and other Middle Eastern. Egyptian fits nicely. Still not Egyptian.

Though I am amused.

1: The move out of Africa was probably 7 to 10 generations back.

Find Wesley Abney who took this photo on Flickr.

TED Talk: How Kids Teach Themselves

Find it amazing children who have never been exposed English can learn it from a kiosk with just 1980-90s computer games made available to them. That the kids worked in groups appears to enhance the effect was also pretty interesting. One child would operate with 3 advising and all 4 would test the same, so they learn as much by watching as doing.

Speaking at LIFT 2007, Sugata Mitra talks about his Hole in the Wall project. Young kids in this project figured out how to use a PC on their own — and then taught other kids. He asks, what else can children teach themselves?

In 1999, Sugata Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other.

In the following years they replicated the experiment in other parts of India, urban and rural, with similar results, challenging some of the key assumptions of formal education. The “Hole in the Wall” project demonstrates that, even in the absence of any direct input from a teacher, an environment that stimulates curiosity can cause learning through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge. Mitra, who’s now a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University (UK), calls it “minimally invasive education.”

    “Education-as-usual assumes that kids are empty vessels who need to be sat down in a room and filled with curricular content. Dr. Mitra’s experiments prove that wrong.”
    Linux Journal

TED Talk: David Brooks: The social animal

Some quotes I liked from this talk.

“Emotions are not separate from reason. They are the foundation of reason as they show us what to value.”

“The first gift or talent is Mindsight: the ability to enter into other people’s minds and learn what they have to offer…. Babies are born to interpenetrate into Mom’s mind and download what they find.”

“We are overconfidence machines [1]. Ninety-five percent of our professors say they are above average teachers. Ninety-six percent of college students say they have above average social skills. Time magazine asked Americans if they are in the top 1% of earners. Nineteen percent of Americans [say they] are in the top 1% of earners.”

Other abilities are Medis, picking out patterns to arrive gists, and Sympathy, work within groups, and Blending, synthesizing concepts, and Limerence, drive or motivation for moments of transcendence.

[1] In Why We Make Mistakes is a confidence test. The idea of the test is to give answers in a range where you are 90% confident the answer will be. The less certain, the wider the range. With ten questions, one can only get one wrong to pass. Managers given this test in their field got most

Tapping into the findings of his latest book, NYTimes columnist David Brooks unpacks new insights into human nature from the cognitive sciences — insights with massive implications for economics and politics as well as our own self-knowledge. In a talk full of humor, he shows how you can’t hope to understand humans as separate individuals making choices based on their conscious awareness.

TED Talk: Deb Roy, The Birth Of a Word

Noticed this one from PurpleCar. (I first noticed it through the TED Facebook page and meant to watch it, but for whatever reason did not bookmark it. So maybe better to say renoticed.)

Roy setup cameras in his house to capture everything that happens around his son for the purpose of watching the influence of adults on his son learning. How his son improves on “water” over many, many repetitions is very cool. Even cooler is how similar data modeling can show the national Internet conversation on ideas over time.

Deb Roy directs the Cognitive Machines group at the MIT Media Lab, where he studies how children learn language, and designs machines that learn to communicate in human-like ways. To enable this work, he has pioneered new data-driven methods for analyzing and modeling human linguistic and social behavior. He has authored numerous scientific papers on artificial intelligence, cognitive modeling, human-machine interaction, data mining, and information visualization.

Deb Roy was the co-founder and serves as CEO of Bluefin Labs, a venture-backed technology company. Built upon deep machine learning principles developed in his research over the past 15 years, Bluefin has created a technology platform that analyzes social media commentary to measure real-time audience response to TV ads and shows.

Happy New Year

Naw Rúz 2007
Naw-Rúz in Athens. GA 2007

Today is Naw-Rúz, New Year’s Day on the Bahá’í calendar. For the nineteen days prior, we have been fasting between sunrise and sunset. So parties are pretty common to celebrate surviving this trial. My first Baha’i experience here in Athens was a Naw-Rúz party.

A coworker said with all the stuff my group is doing I looked not bothered. Little did he know I was also fasting. Maybe that is a sign fasting is not as hard on me as it feels?

The photo is one I took at our 2007 Naw-Rúz party. The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship were invited to participate. They brought drums.

Odyssey Dawn?

One interpretation of Operation Odyssey Dawn is a ten year struggle to get home. Instead of ten years, I think it refers to a single day.

The Odyssey is a Greek epic poem by Homer describing the ten year adventure of the craftiest Greek general attempting to return home from the Trojan War. Odysseus wandered the Adriatic Sea and Mediterranean Sea for ten years. One place he briefly stayed was Libya:

Across the fishy deep for nine whole days,
On the tenth day we reached the land where dwell
The Lotus-eaters, men whose food is flowers.
We landed on the mainland, and our crews
Near the fleet galleys took their evening meal.
And when we all had eaten and had drunk
I sent explorers forth — two chosen men,
A herald was the third — to learn what race
Of mortals nourished by the fruits of earth
Possessed the land. They went and found themselves
Among the Lotus-eaters soon, who used
No violence against their lives, but gave
Into their hands the lotus plant to taste.
Whoever tasted once of that sweet food
Wished not to see his native country more,
Nor give his friends the knowledge of his fate.
And then my messengers desired to dwell
Among the Lotus-eaters, and to feed
Upon the lotus, never to return.
By force I led them weeping to the fleet,
And bound them in the hollow ships beneath
The benches. Then I ordered all the rest
Of my beloved comrades to embark
In haste, lest, tasting of the lotus, they
Should think no more of home. All straightway went
On board, and on the benches took their place,
And smote the hoary ocean with their oars.

Odysseus’ men consumed the lotus narcotic and would have stayed forever. Only by quickly extricating themselves before more men consumed it, aka cut their losses, could they return home. Maybe that is the intent for the operation name. Do what they need to do quickly and get out before they get mired in yet another quagmire. Of course, that was the intent of Afghanistan and Iraq.

As a child reading the Odyssey for the first time, I thought better to under the influence of the lotus than Circe. Dunno that is still the case.

Margin of Error

The Trojan Nuclear Plant on the Banks of the Columbia River Is Under Construction by Portland General Electric Environmentalists Strongly Oppose the Project 05/1973
Trojan Nuclear Plant from the U.S. National Archives

The New York Times article “Nuclear Agency Tells a Concerned Congress That U.S. Industry Remains Safe” had a curious statement from Gregory Jaczko, of the chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in front of Congress.

“U.S. nuclear facilities remain safe,” Mr. Jaczko told two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees, which had originally planned to consider his agency’s budget for the coming fiscal year at the hearing. “We will continue to work to maintain that level of protection.” Reactors are designed to meet the challenges of “the most severe natural phenomena historically reported,” he said. For earthquakes, that means any that occur within 200 miles of the reactor, and a margin of error, he said.

Jaczko sounds similar to the planning the Japanese did. Earlier I read a Wired Science article, Japan Quake Epicenter Was in Unexpected Location, which said the Japanese looked to patterns in the past to determine the future. Therefore they expected a strong earthquake in the south where the Phillipine plate is overdue for a massive event.

Japan has been expecting and preparing for the “big one” for more than 30 years. But the magnitude-9.0 temblor that struck March 11 — the world’s fourth biggest quake since 1900 — wasn’t the catastrophe the island nation had in mind. The epicenter of the quake was about 80 miles east of the city of Sendai, in a strip of ocean crust previously thought unlikely to be capable of unleashing such energy. “This area has a long history of earthquakes, but [the Sendai earthquake] doesn’t fit the pattern,” says Harold Tobin, a marine geophysicist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The expectation was high for a 7.5, but that’s a hundred times smaller than a 9.0.”

It sounds to me like, if in the United States the most powerful earthquake in the area of a nuclear reactor was a 7.5 magnitude event, then a 9.0 could surprise those running it. Given a 9.0 is a hundred times more powerful and a broken reactor so dangerous, I would hope the preparedness is for the larger even where seemingly unlikely.

The Haiti quake was “expected“. However the Chilean, both New Zealand, and the Sendai earthquakes have all sounded unexpected. Of course, living on the Ring of Fire, how can any earthquake be unexpected?