Study Design

September 15, 2010

What happened to John?

June 24, 2008

Hi everyone. I’m still alive and life has been interesting. Ann and I bought a house that we’ll move into in August, but in the mean time we’re packing up and heading to an apartment in Chapel Hill. The lease on our rental house is up at the end of the month and the crummy owners wanted to get it on the market so as not to miss out on those oh-so-common July renters rather than give us an extension of less than a year.

In addition to that fun, I’ve been to both Huntsville and Jacksonville briefly and watched one of my EPA mentors head off for industry.

Finally, on Sunday night, as we were driving into RTP to get some paperwork for the next morning’s mortgage signing, we got caught in a freak rain storm that caused puddles to form on Martin Luther King Parkway (a newly built, divided four lane road). The first puddle was fine (I was going less than 20 MPH so we didn’t even hydroplane) but the second one was two to three feet deep and as we plunged in my engine cut out and still hasn’t restarted. The water was most of the way up the passenger door and we were stuck for a good fifteen minutes or so before the water drained and we could push the car off the road (with the welcome help of some samaritans).

Fortunately, Andy’s googling and Mary’s dashing rescue allowed us to get out of the lightning and retrieve the needed papers in time for the morning.  Unfortunately, I may have totaled my relatively new, unpaid-off car. Oh, why couldn’t we have hydroplaned over that puddle? (Feel free to discuss the physics of that, or lack thereof, in the comments section.) In the meantime I am driving a rental pick-up truck — you should have seen the rental agent’s draw drop when I asked for one — in order to help with moving. For some reason everyone wants a compact right now. All I know is I’ve already ordered my “W – The President” bumper sticker.

In the meantime, I have a great story on how two ball boys saved Michigan’s undefeated season in 1997 as well as a nominee for the blog roll:

It’s like crack for anyone who likes graphs, statistics or politics (a triple-whammy for me). Also in the intersection of cool graphs and politics is Presidential Watch 08, which has great tools for plotting the political blogosphere as well as trends. Without these very impressive analyses, would we have ever been able to tell that Fox news leans Republican?

Finally, if you can show that playing Minesweeper is NP-complete, you can win a million dollars

How much fossil fuel does it take to make gas?

May 25, 2008

Before I changed it, Wikipedia’s entry on Cellulosic ethanol (which is as likely a technology to save the world as there is) claimed that:

It takes 1.2 gallons of fossil fuel to produce 1 gallon of ethanol from corn. This total includes the use of fossil fuels used for fertilizer, tractor fuel, ethanol plant operation, etc.

This turns out to be incorrect (see below) and I have heard variations on the argument that “more than a gallon of fossil fuels are used to make the equivalent to a gallon of gasoline out of ethanol” in conversation and on television. It seems like they appear all over the web. While I find it to be a little surprising, at first glance it at least seems plausible. However, it begs the question — how much fossil fuel does it take to make a gallon of gasoline? That turns out to be an extremely tough question to answer. (Don’t get me started on how hard it is to try to figure out how much it costs to make gasoline — although this info from the DOE helps a little.)

If we are going to consider how much petroleum is used to make chemical fertilizer, transport the corn and ethanol, and even feed the workers involved shouldn’t we do the same for gasoline? After all, we have to dredge the oil up from the ground, often ship it halfway around the world in supertankers (anyone know know the fuel economy for a Suezmax tanker?), before refining it into gasoline. Read the rest of this entry »

A Post by John About Baseball

April 2, 2008

I meant to do this yesterday, when it would have been more believable, but here I am on a regular old day writing about baseball. In case you missed it, non-linear dynamics guru Steven Strogatz and graduate student Samuel Arbesman had a paper in the New York Times on using a game simulator to simulate every at bat for all of baseball 10,000 times. They then used this artificial data set to look for trends, including a really cool distribution of hitting streak records (the real record of 56 games is held by Joe DiMaggio). Apparently DiMaggio’s record — according to Wikipedia, “the top American sports feat of all time” — was actually to be expected. In the 10,000 samples the median record was 53 games. Read the rest of this entry »


November 16, 2007

Working in the sciences has a lot of ups and downs. It’s easy to feel aimless, overwhelmed, or just plain stupid. Sure, a eureka! moment is pretty nice, but I’ve always thought it didn’t add up to the most emotionally stable lifestyle. Apparently I was wrong. Workers in the Life, Physical, and Social Sciences are among the least likely to be depressed. I find that a little depressing. (If you follow the link, be sure to scroll down and look at Table 2. The difference between genders is stark.)

The figure below gives the percentage of workers who have had a major depressive episode within the past year.

“Tell Stumpy to get ready”

November 7, 2007

Here’s a great look at NFL kickers by Michael Lewis. Includes such useful trivia as how Bill Parcells intimidated kickers with his shadow, Adam Vinatieri’s similarity to Frodo Baggins, and the statistics of clutch kicking.

Predicting Movie Tastes

October 18, 2007

To yet again shamelessly steal from a post on Andrew Gelman’s blog, there is a Netflix Prize that “seeks to substantially improve the accuracy of predictions about how much someone is going to love a movie based on their movie preferences.”  Apparently at least one group is applying clustering approaches similar to those used to study the influence chemicals on genetics to group various tags (such as “action” or “drama”) assigned by Netflix reviewers.  Straight from the Department of Measurement and Information Systems at the University of Technology and Economics in Hungary (via the internet) I present to you the analysis of the Keanu Reeves vehicle Constantine:


Apparently our Hungarian friends have a real soft-spot for old “Whoa,” because they also analyze the Matrix trilogy:


It would seem that becoming more of a “drama”, less “typical for men” and more “dirary style” (!) accounts for the sequels to the Matrix sucking so hard.  I suppose that defining a “three-hour long rave scene” property isn’t very useful for other movies.