Sunday, March 15, 2009

AIG Bonuses

From the New York Times:

A.I.G. Planning Huge Bonuses After $170 Billion Bailout

The article mentions that AIG is now about 80% owned by the U.S. Government.

In a letter to Mr. [Treasury Secretary Timothy F.] Geithner, Edward M. Liddy, the government-appointed chairman of A.I.G., said at least some bonuses were needed to keep the most skilled executives.

“We cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest talent to lead and staff the A.I.G. businesses — which are now being operated principally on behalf of American taxpayers — if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury,” he wrote Geithner on Saturday.

I’m not sure what the most damning element is here.  “Skilled executives” must be a contender, as is “arbitrary”.  I’m one of those people who believe that bonuses should be awarded for positive results, and withheld if one’s performance drives the company into the ground (although Carly Fiorina might disagree with me).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dvorak Keyboard Concerto

Some years ago, I switched to the Dvorak keyboard layout.  For those of you who do not know, it is simply a different arrangement of the keys on my keyboard.  Go take a look at it.  The first thing you’ll notice is, “Wow, all the keys are in different places!”  But look a little longer.  Specifically at the placement of the vowels.  It really cuts down on the amount of work your fingers have to do to produce text. 

The reason for this is that the Qwerty layout was designed for typewriters.  The old typewriters had “typebars”, which could easily become entangled when you were typing too fast.  (Check out this picture.)  The Qwerty layout was designed to slow you down.  Now, in the computer age, no such obstacle exists. 

I made the switch when I was about 30.  (It’s supported by both Windows and Macs.)  In my case, this involved about a two-week period of time when I was incapable of typing anything in a reasonable amount of time.  This was because I had abandoned Qwerty (the layout most of you are using), and had not yet mastered Dvorak. 

The first thing I did was to rearrange the physical keys themselves, to match the Dvorak layout.  But modern keys have a slightly curved surface, and rearranging them resulted in an uncomfortable topography.  So I switched them back and learned to touch type. 

After about three weeks, I was fairly proficient at it, although not yet up to my previous Qwerty speed.  After a couple of months, however, I surpassed my previous speed. 

But fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.  For the last three years, I have been employed as a Data Conversion Operator for the US Post Office (more on that job in a future post).  This is a high-volume data entry job.  And they use custom keyboards, which would not make a smooth transition to Dvorak.  So now I use the standard Qwerty keyboard at work, and the Dvorak at home.

It may seem like a lot of work.  But I can type the word “the” without leaving the home row.  The the the the.  Now you try.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What is it about British humour?

From time to time, people ask me if I like British humour (specifically television shows and the Python movies).  I usually respond, “I don’t know”.  They assume that I haven’t watched any, and we move on from there. 

The truth is more complicated.  I have watched some, and I like it, really I do, but I just can’t stand it for more than about ten minutes. 

This was driven home a few days ago when I watched the first episode of “A Bit of Fry and Laurie”.  Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie.  I have become a huge Hugh Laurie fan because of the American TV show “House MD”, so I thought I’d give this a glance. 

And it’s wonderful.  Every sketch was excellent, and well done.  I loved all of it.  And I had to take a break after 10 minutes.  Not because I didn’t like it, or got offended, or had to go to the bathroom, or anything like that.  I simply needed a break. 

I have the same kind of reaction to Monty Python.  Good stuff, for ten minutes.  Any ten minutes, it doesn’t matter.  Then I start growing restless. 

Can anyone shed some light on this mystery?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Probability Problem

There I was, putzing around the Internet, all beveraged up thanks to the wonderful town of Lynchburg, Tennessee, (pop. 361, if the label is to be believed), when I stumbled upon this wonderful problem I could not solve (did I mention the "beveraged up" part?):

There is a city which hosts two taxi-cab companies, the Blue Cab Co. and the Green Cab Co. Blue cabs are blue and Green cabs are green; they are otherwise identical. 70 percent of the cabs in the city are Blue cabs, and 30 percent of the cabs in the city are Green cabs. Moreover, historically speaking, Blue cabs have been involved in 70% of all traffic accidents in the city that involved cabs, and Green cabs have been involved in 30% of all traffic accidents in the city that involved cabs. One night, there is a traffic accident involving a taxi-cab in the city, to which there is one witness. Authorities perform extensive tests on the witness, and determine that his ability to recognize cabs by their color at night is approximately 80 percent accurate and 20 percent inaccurate (meaning that when he is wrong he does not say he doesn’t know, but rather misidentifies it as being of the other color). The witness says the taxi-cab involved in the accident was ‘blue.’ On these facts, and strictly assuming the taxi-cab was not from some other city, what is the approximate probability that the taxi-cab involved in the accident belonged to the Blue Cab Co.?

Enjoy your Statistics class, Amy.  :D

Solution tomorrow.  Ish.

Update: Solution is available in Comments

A Romance on Three Legs

Partly because a friend gave it a good review, and partly because he then mailed the book to me, I recently read A Romance on Three Legs, by Katie Hafner.

The book is a four-part fugue about a piano, the company that made it, the gifted and quirky pianist who finally found it, and the much-put-upon blind piano tuner who lovingly maintained it.

Sound dull?  Norm said he intended to read only the prologue, but instead read the entire book in one sitting.  I must echo that caution.  I made the mistake of starting it late one night, and was irritated to have to leave it so I could sleep.  This book is inexplicably fascinating, and difficult to set aside.  I want to read another book by this author, to see if it was her writing gift or the subject material that so caught my interest.

At any rate, I highly recommend it.

Another caution: after reading it, you will have a powerful urge to buy a Steinway and Glenn Gould’s recordings.  (I might be wrong about the Steinway; I have always wanted one, but even more now.)  So far I have both recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and they are excellent.  And, no, you can’t just get one of them.  They are both great, and very different from each other.

For a free sample, watch this.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Porn Statistics

Yesterday, Norm posted a link to post on boingboing, entitled, “Red states consume more porn?"  I have some things to say about the article's use of statistics, and rather than simply comment on Norm's blog, I thought I'd do so here, since I want to comment on it, and I want to make a blog post, but I don’t feel up to thinking of two things tonight. 

Please note that it is not my intention to dispute the validity of the article in question.  This is just a discussion on critical thinking. 

Church-goers bought less online porn on Sundays – a 1% increase in a postal code's religious attendance was associated with a 0.1% drop in subscriptions that day.

When I was a kid and was dragged to church, it lasted a total of 3 hours.  This is nearly 20% of the average person’s waking hours.  So a 1% increase in the number of people wasting 20% of their day, assuming that subscriptions-per-hour-spent-not-at-church (SPHSNAC) is a constant, should work out to a 0.2% decrease in subscriptions.  Since it only leads to a 0.1% decrease, the SPHSNAC must actually increase, not decrease as the statement would lead one to believe. 

Your SPHSNAC may vary. 

States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed.

Did you notice they didn’t use a percentage this time?  Whenever I read any article that tries to convince me of something using a mixture of percentages and absolute numbers, I am immediately suspicious.  In this case, the number “3.6”, by itself, is almost meaningless.  It needs a reference.  Suppose in the other states that the number of subscriptions per thousand people was 2.  Then, the 3.6 increase is quite significant.  But if the number was 500, instead of 2, then an increase of 3.6 is not a big deal. 

In my experience, the only reason to switch between percentages and actual values is to choose the one that makes your point in the more compelling manner.

Remember, 50% of all statistics are just made up.