April 27, 2010

Numeracy and the news

I recently purchased this book at a charity book sale. Although published in 1995 it remains as relevant as ever, as the quality of our daily newspapers is only ever as good as the mathematical ideas embedded within the stories. It's an informative, humourous, and quick read, at roughly 200 pages. Paulos lays the book out in  the style of a newspaper and each chapter (or article) is just a few pages long. 

While certainly worth a read on your own, here are some of his arguments that really leaped off the pages:

- Many of us, including otherwise sharp journalists, have a "strong disposition to make judgments or evaluations in light of the first thing that comes to mind" (p. 14). This is understood as the availability error, and Paulos advises us to be wary of "facile parallels and analogies" (p. 16). He encourages us to "search for interpretations or associations that undermine the prevailing one that is so temptingly available" (p. 17).

- Due to the interconnectedness of the variables in question that exist within nonlinear dynamic systems, "much economic and political commentary and forecast are fatuous nonsense" (p. 19). Similarly, specific, long-range weather forecasts are "virtually worthless" (p. 24). A key reason for this unreliability is the Butterfly Effect, imperceptible changes in original conditions that lead to considerable deviation.

- Game theory demonstrates that "the conscious randomizing of choices can, if done right, maximize one's effectiveness" [emphasis mine] (p. 30). Hmmm...

- We tend to get correlation and causation confused. The presence of one does not indicate the presence of the other. Just so yo know, "the degree of correlation between two variables depends critically on the range of the variables considered" (p. 65). Moreover, "an understanding of the mathematical notion of  conditional probability is crucial to the proper interpretation of statistics" (p. 135).

- If it helps, Paulos reminds us that "what's critical about a random sample is its absolute size, not its percentage of the population" (137).  


April 23, 2010

Still better than the real thing

Spin magazine has named U2's "Achtung Baby" (1991) the most influential album of the past 25 years.

It was an audacious album with a sound that was like nothing heard before. It was hard to believe that this was the same band that had released "The Joshua Tree" (1987) and "Rattle and Hum" (1988).

Much has written about the strife and near-breakup during the recording of "Achtung Baby". Suffice it to say that in the U2 mythology the hardship bore "One", perhaps the band's greatest song.


April 21, 2010

Elton John set to rock Kingston

Kingston is abuzz with the announcement that Elton John will be playing at the downtown K-ROCK Centre arena in July.

Part of the buzz is disbelief that the music legend will be  in Kingston and surprise in where he is not playing: neither Toronto, nor Montreal, nor Vancouver, nor Ottawa.

Only 5 small Canadian cities will be hosting the Knight Bachelor during his world tour.

Tickets go on sale Friday, April 23.

April 20, 2010

Rediscovering R.E.M.

I was looking through my CD collection a couple of nights ago and was surprised to see that I own 8 R.E.M. albums. I write "surprised" because I have sort of forgotten about them. So, ever since, I have been rediscovering this great band.

As a university student in the late 80's and early 90s, R.E.M. was essential listening. They were the ultimate college radio band. Great musicians, relevant lyrics, unique front man, and a social conscience all combined to make R.E.M. a potent force equalled only by U2 in popular appeal.

R.E.M.'s influence has waned over the past decade but that should not stop you from getting the albums they have almost quietly released since the landmark "Automatic for the People" (1992).


April 17, 2010

The Mark & Stacy Show

Check out the podcast of our interview on CFRC FM radio program "Gender Bender" here (the main interview begins at 6:30).

April 15, 2010

The spread of Wal-Mart

Check out this startling visualization of the spread of Wal-Mart across the United States

April 14, 2010

The latest news

Intrigued by the concept, I have set up an account with fivver, and am offering two services for $5. Fivver is a form of micro-financing website, which allows you to procure all sorts of services for a mere $5. The website is a blast too, as you can find all sorts of things people are happy to do for a fivver.

Mark and I will be interviewed on-air this Friday at 8:00 pm for CFRC radio's Gender Bender. CFRC FM is available at 101.9 but if you are more than 50 km away from Kingston you can listen online at CFRC (just click on "Listen Live").

April 11, 2010

Art on the walls

A dear friend of mine named Patrick has launched an art gallery here in Kingston. I am so proud of him, as he decided to follow his passion for art collecting and turn it into a business plan. He resigned his full-time job to be the owner and operator of a small gallery dedicated to contemporary art from established and up-and-coming painters. Most of the work is by Canadian female artists, which is not necessarily by design. The current exhibition Art on the Walls showcases paintings from the 1960s to, well, about two weeks.

The gallery has three levels, which makes for the opportunity to spend time with the pieces in varying spaces. There is a lovely intimacy to the gallery, which partly comes from the space itself as well as the genial and attentive host himself.

Patrick also has accessibility in mind, so prices in the current exhibit range from basically $250 to $2,500. This is not a snooty and elite gallery but Patrick has exquisite taste so you are assured work of high quality.