Chris Worfolk's Blog


Christmas card

December 14th, 2014

One of the best things about receiving a “son and your fiancee” card from my parents was that it really reminded me of this Fry & Laurie sketch.

My favourite xkcds

December 6th, 2014

This is more a reference for me than anyone else; I’ll probably add it to as time goes on. Other suggestions welcome.

Correlation.

The Cloud.

TornadoGuard.

Blink

December 5th, 2014

How to we make snap decisions that are more accurate than well thought out evidence-based ones.

It should have been a quite short book, because the answer is that we don’t. At least more often than we would like to think. Gladwell says that the biggest problem is that these conscious decisions are locked away from our conscious minds. But the problem is that they are often inaccurate.

This is something that Daniel Kahneman addresses in Thinking, Fast and Slow. You can develop excellent intuitive thinking. But only only certain circumstances, those being where you get immediate feedback. For example if an anaesthesiologist “gets a hunch” that something is wrong you should probably listen to them; if a oncologist or psychiatrist gets one, you should probably ignore then. That is because the anaesthesiologist will find out if their hunch is correct almost immediately, the others will not find out for months, maybe ever, and so never get to refine this decision-making process.

This struck me in Gladwell’s discussion of a marriage analyst who claims he can tell if a couple will divorce just based on overhearing a conversation in a restaurant. Realistically, he doesn’t know if he can actually do that. How could he? He’ll never get feedback on whether that couple did eventually break up or not.

His discussion of biases and prejudices was interesting. He discussed what he called the Warren Harding error. Harding “looked like a president” but when he got to the Whitehouse, it turned out he was rubbish at it. Conversely, the way orcestras started recruiting more women was to do blind auditions (where the musician would be behind a screen) to prevent people from judging them based on what they looked like, for example, do they have a pair of tits.

He also discussed a heart attack decision-tree adopted by Cook County Hospital. This simple decision tree was actually more accurate than doctors were at diagnosing whether people were having a heart attack. Gladwell claimed that people can be overloaded by having too much information and this actually impairs their decision making.

This is something that struck a chord with me. It is one of the things that we have found in my work in predicting sporting outcomes is that too much information can cloud your models. In fact it is pretty much what Nate Silver’s book The Signal and The Noise is about. And the answer is the same – do some logistic regression.

blink_malcom_gladwell

Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off

December 3rd, 2014

Outliers

December 2nd, 2014

I expressed some of my concerns about Malcolm Gladwell’s writing in my review of The Tipping Point. This included his analysis of the 10,000 hours rule (which is almost certainly wrong) which features in this book. It was still an interesting read however.

Outliers: The Story of Success looks both at some of the most success people, but also how we think of success. He begins by talking about the Matthew affect. This is where sports have cut off date, say 1 January, and so kids born in January are competing against kids almost a year younger than them (kids born in December). The result is that kids in January look better, thus are put in a higher ability stream, get extra coaching and thus become world-class athletes.

According to the research Gladwell points to, this has a huge affect. Almost all sports starts are born in the first three months, and almost none after September. When there is ability setting in school, September births outperform August births by a big margin too.

He then goes on to talk about the 10,000 hours rule, and finally goes on to talk about success is a result of opportunity. Take Bill Gates for example. At 13 years old, his high school got access to a computer system and so by the time he got to founding Microsoft in 1975 he had done more programming than basically anyone else in the world at his age.

This is where the book makes a great point. Gladwell uses the term opportunity, which is a combination of luck and privilege. Bill Gates worked incredibly hard, but he also had an opportunity that almost nobody else in the world had in that he spent his childhood, from 1968-1975, programming.

He is a excellent storyteller. I had the same kind of epiphany that I had when reading Michael Lewis’s Boomerang. They are both such good story tellers that they a) write excellent books and b) make us less critical because of it.

In summary, Outliers is a very engaging book, but that does not make it true. Gladwell is known for over-simplifying problems and he does it equally frequently in this book. If the message you take away is that success is more a product of opportunity than being a meritocracy of hard-work though, the book has probably been of some benefit.

As a final footnote, I had the audiobook edition and one of the things I found quite annoying was what happens with quotes. Gladwell reads it himself and goes into quotes without changing his voice or indicating it. So he will read something out and then say something like “says John Smith” and then you have to try and backtrack to where the quote starts from.

Outliers

MA53 AVW

December 1st, 2014

terrible-parking

If you’re going to mark on double yellow lines, at least get it near the curb. Or consider turning your wipers off when it is not raining.

Fog

November 30th, 2014

fog

I am pretty sure this is how horror movies start…

Waffle sandwich

November 29th, 2014

waffle-sandwich

You’re never too old to run out of bread.

Alan Davies

November 28th, 2014

Last month we went to see Alan Davies at Leeds Town Hall. We were quite looking forward to it because he is very toned down on QI, so it should have been a good chance to see him a bit more raw. Elina noted that the mature middle-class audience of QI watchers that surrounded us might be in a bit of a shock.

Unfortunately, it didn’t turn up. Davies has got old and started doing dad jokes. That is jokes about being a dad. I couldn’t really relate to them. He was pretty funny, but I think a lot of the humour was probably lost on me.

iPad Air 2

November 27th, 2014

I recently had to upgrade my iPad because a lot of the apps have stopped working on it. It has had a good four years, but that is all you get out of a tablet, so I felt like I was forced to upgrade something I didn’t really want to upgrade.

This was also my first experience of iOS 8 (until then everything was running iOS 6).

I do not think it is Apple’s finest release. Getting started on it was a pain. I was prompted for my iCloud password at start-up but it refused to accept it (even though I could log on to icloud.com with the same password repeatedly). Therefore I had to turn iCloud off at first and then re-enable it once I was up-and-running. Except it then prompted me for the password over and over again.

It then prompted me for the passwords to all my email accounts and worse, wouldn’t let me switch out to 1password to copy and paste it in. I had to open 1password on my phone and manually copy the passwords in, which is a massive pain when you use log and complicated ones.

After that the App Store kept insisting it had 11 updates even though I had updated everything, and most of the apps, including Apple’s own settings app rapidly crashed.

Apple are having a bad year. One bad release you could overlook, but Yosemite, the new version of OS X is preforming very poorly too. It took me 8 hours to complete the upgrade and since then I have found my Mac has crashed numerous times and there is a bug which causes file dialogues to continually grow so big they disappear off the screen that Apple does not seem to have any plans to fix.

The hardware on the iPad Air 2 is quite nice. It is a lot lighter than my old iPad 2 and I do really like the touch ID.