Archive for April, 2008

It is with some regret that I must inform readers that there will be no blogging during the next week, for I will be travelling to the coast in order to impress a business delegation from Kansas with my Wikipedic knowledge of the region.

Personal highlights will be visiting the island of Rügen, one of the most popular vacation spots for Germans ( the chalk cliffs of the island have been captured in a famous painting by Caspar David Friedrich, who readers will know is a favorite of mine), a Bar-B-Q in Trinwillershagen, where Dubya also enjoyed some suckled pig at the G-8 summit two years ago, and a several-hour sit-down with Chancellor Merkel herself, whose brazen display of femininity in this little number is a topic of conversation I have been dared to broach.

Interested readers can read more about the week in this small article that appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

Bis dann.

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Excitement abounds, for tomorrow I will be driving to Düsseldorf and back—IN A CAR! The trip will mark my first time experiencing the Autobahn from behind the wheel, and the danger and novelty of this will no doubt be enhanced by the fact that I haven’t driven a car in nearly nine months and that I’ll be taking the company car, errr, MPV.

The occasion which facilitates all this is a trade fair, where I will be duly representing the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern to any and all potential investors. To be perfectly candid, I think I’ll hate the fair and the meetings because I hate schmoozing, but hope springs.

The fact that the colleague who is accompanying me does not like driving means that I’ll be in the driver’s seat for most of the 1,000 km round trip, but this distance (and our unwillingness to stay overnight in Düsseldorf) in turn means that we’ll be departing at 4:00 AM tomorrow morning and returning sometime before midnight.

Thus, I must quickly away so that I may achieve early slumber.

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Because I delight in irony, I decided that today, the first day of the year warm enough to shed one’s jacket, would be the day I finally got around to replacing the four lost buttons on the pea coat that had been failing to keep me warm in the past few blustery weeks. For my first attempt at sewing, I’m quite happy with the results. Sure, I had to use black, gray, brown, and blue thread, the whole affair required about a solid hour to complete, and my co-workers laugh at the chaotic shoots of thread that are loudly conspicuous on the interior of the coat, but I am content in the knowledge that should the weather turn nasty again—which it is almost certain to do—I will, for the first time in months, be able to fasten properly all the buttons on the front of my coat.

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For the first five, click here:

6. My predilection is for bluntness and candor
7. Dinner should always be a five-hour affair
8. I have a strong respect for rules and authority
9. All relationships are viewed through the prism of pragmatism
10. Blending in is usually preferred to standing out

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The other night after a feeble attempt at affability with a member of the opposite sex failed dreadfully, I began pondering Type 1 and Type II statistical errors.

(And to think Fig often wonders why I’m single.)

It occurred to me as I stood sadly alone that when someone goes on the prowl they are implicitly conducting a sort of statistical test whereby a hypothesis is formed, data are gathered, and a conclusion to either accept or reject the hypothesis is formed. This technique is imperfect, so sometimes the hapless wooer will incorrectly reject the hypothesis when it is in fact true (Type I error), and sometimes will incorrectly accept the hypothesis when it is in fact false (Type II error).

To explain it more clearly, consider that my default hypothesis when I see a fair lass is “She’s not interested.” Having formed said hypothesis, I need to collect some data, so I saunter over and initiate a conversation. During the course of the conversation, I look for evidence in support of my hypothesis, such as:

  • She immediately vacates the area when I approach
  • She folds her arms and doesn’t look at me
  • She keeps fingering a wedding ring
  • She abruptly pulls out a Gloria Steinem book from her purse and commences to reading

But I also keep a wary eye for evidence to reject my hypothesis, such as:

  • She keeps eye contact for a prolonged period of time
  • She laughs readily and engages in gentle teasing
  • She plays with her hair or jewelry
  • She touches me lightly on the arm
  • She says something like “The attractiveness of your erudition and wit is exceeded only by your HOTNESS!”

Now that I’ve gathered the data, it’s time to base a conclusion on them. Essentially there are four outcomes:

  1. I decide correctly to reject my hypothesis (i.e. I think she’s interested in me and this is true)
  2. I decide incorrectly to reject my hypothesis (i.e. I think she’s interested in me when she’s really not, a Type 1 error)
  3. I decide correctly to accept my hypothesis (i.e. I think she’s not interested in me and this is true)
  4. I decide incorrectly to accept my hypothesis (i.e. I think she’s not interested in me when she really is, a Type II error).

Personally speaking, I commit a Type I error rarely. This is not because I possess some amazing psychological insights, but rather because it takes a lot of evidence to convince me that a girl really is interested and hence cause me to reject my default hypothesis. Instead I’m predisposed to make a Type II error, which is perhaps the far more tragic kind. Because I require so much evidence to reject my default hypothesis, I’m far more likely to conclude incorrectly that the girl doesn’t like me when in fact she thinks she’s found her soul mate.

My painful tale of romantic woe illustrates nicely a trade-off that statisticians face routinely. If they set the standard of proof too high, they’ll be prone to reject a true hypothesis. If they set the standard of proof too low, however, they’ll be prone to accept a false hypothesis (which might get a guy slapped in the face in my example). The FDA behaves like I do when approving drugs, for instance. Because incorrectly approving a harmful drug would be so disastrous, the FDA sets a very high standard of proof for drug approval. This consequently makes the FDA more likely to reject beneficial drugs.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe, just maybe, the FDA has committed a Type II error and rejected a beneficial drug that would have helped me with my Type II problems, but that’s probably just the Zoloft talking.

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I just came across this German animated short that was apparently nominated for an Oscar in 2003. I rather like it. It’s called “Das Rad” (“The Wheel”).

One gripe that I have with the translation upon a second viewing comes at the 1’45” mark. The pile of rocks called Kew says a line which is translated as “What they are up to down there now?” A more literal –and in my opinion better–translation would be “What are they up to again?”

Omnia illa et ante fiebant, Omnia illa et rursus fient.

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Here’s something I didn’t know: Germany will pay its citizens to leave the country.

Plagued by high unemployment due to the turmoil of reunification and rigid labour laws, Germany has been helping its skilled and less-skilled jobless workers match up with foreign employers searching for manpower.
The country has also been offering financial support to cover moving and transportation costs for the hordes of unemployed Germans in search of jobs across the European Union, and even as far away as Australia and Canada.

Improbably enough, this reminds of a computer game I played years ago called Roller Coaster Tycoon. It allowed the player to win scenarios by building successful amusement parks according to different criteria. One of these criteria was a high park rating, which was basically a proxy for how happy the guests in the park were. Since the game allowed the player to read guests’ thoughts, it was straightforward to satiate their desires. If, for example, a guest was complaining of hunger, the player could build a restaurant or even pick the guest up with a set of pincers and deposit the hungry cargo somewhere in the park where there was a pre-existing burger stand.

After a while, however, another solution to the park rating quandary became evident to me. One could increase the proportion of happy people by placating angry guests, but it was far easier to make the angry guests simply disappear. My preferred method was to snatch up angry guests with the aforementioned pincers and drop them into the nearest body of water where they would drown after a few seconds, the final dip of their poor digital head below the water’s surface corresponding exactly to an uptick in my park rating (Evidently the programmers were not as devious as I, for murder of this kind carried no penalty.).

Even ignoring the ethical implications this was hardly a good solution, of course. If guests were mad because they couldn’t find anything to eat, it would have made far more sense for me to address the root cause by building eateries rather than drowning every guest who started to feel peckish–especially considering that the more guests I killed the more it was costing me in future revenue.

Yet the German government’s efforts to cure joblessness by paying people to leave the country exhibits exactly this kind of senselessness. The right solution would be to address the root cause of the joblessness, which is a bevy of regulations that create perverse disincentives for workers to work and employers to employ. And just like with my game, making people disappear is costing the German government future tax revenue that it can’t afford to lose given its aging population, suspicion of immigrants, and bloated welfare state.

Germany’s labor market has liberalized some in the last few years, but in the event of unemployment my immediate proximity to the second-largest lake in Germany would nevertheless have my gaze cast perpetually skyward, attentive for the glint of metal.

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