Statistics and advice on New Year’s resolutions

  • The Statistic Brain offers these two morsels on New Year’s resolutions:
    • Losing weight leads the list of at over 20%. Self-improvement comes in a distant second.
    • Less than 10% of people achieve their resolutions. However, people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t.
  • “Ditch New Year’s Resolution Day” will be observed on January 17—the most common day that people give up on their goals according to Psychology Today. They recommend going with monthly resolutions.
  • Experimental results reported in this article on “The science of keeping your New Year’s resolution” from yesterday’s Washington Post provide good news for those who make it through one entire month without being derailed from their resolution. It turns out that by doing so, along with being willing to forgive yourself for a few slip-ups, you are likely to succeed over the long run. (P.S. I recommend that you follow the link above and check into two suggestions that will enhance your success for building up good habits:  ‘”Piggybacking” and “Temptation Bundling”.)

All the best in 2018 for accomplishing whatever goals you hope to achieve.

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2017—A prime year for statistics

To cap off the year, I present half a dozen wacky new statistics:

  • 2017 was a “sexy” prime, that is, 6 years beyond the last one in 2011 (six in latin is “sex”).
  • By 2050 the plastic trash floating in the oceans will outweigh the fish. (Source: Robert Samuelson, “The Top 10 Stats of 2017”, Washington Post, 12/27/17.)
  • University of Warwick statistician Nathan Cunningham debunked the “i-before-e except after c” rule based on evaluating 350,000 English words: The ratio of “ie” to “ei” is exactly the same for the after-c words as it is for all words in general. Weird science!
  • After digging into data compiled by the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC), Sam Monfort, a doctoral student in Human Factors and Applied Cognition at George Mason University, concluded that UFOs are visiting at all-time highs. Americans sight UFOs at a rate that exceeds the worldwide median by 300 times. Far out!
  • In May, an Australian cat named Omar was confirmed by the BBC as the world’s biggest at nearly 4 feet long and over 30 pounds. My oh meow!
  • Nearly a thousand people dressed up like penguins at Youngstown, Ohio this October to break the world’s record. Coincidentally, National Geographic reported on December 13 that the fossilized remains of a giant, man-sized penguin, were found in New Zealand. Eerie!

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No reason to worry yourself to death over downturn in USA life expectancy

National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) researchers announced this week that life expectancy for a baby born in 2016 fell 0.1 percent to 78.6 years.  First off, this reduction is so miniscule that it cannot be significant.  It definitely is of no importance per se.  I do, however, concur with those who cite this statistic as a call for alarm by it being driven down by the epidemic of opioid deaths.

The trick to interpreting statistics on life expectancy is to keep in mind it has a mathematical value that changes as an individual gets older.  For example, men like me at age 65 can expect to live to age 84, primarily because we made it through high-mortality childhood and the perils of being a young adult.  Look up your expectancy at this Life Table from the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of the Chief Actuary and give yourself a year or two extra by it being a bit dated (me being optimistic in the continuing advancement of medical care).

If you want to be more precise than the SSA tables, check out the calculators posted here.  One to avoid is the “How Long Have You Got?” calculator, which comes with the caveat that “each time we’ve tested this calculator we are expected to pass away on the same day”.  On the other hand, I think you will like the results from the Easy Surf life-expectancy calculator*.

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

– Marcus Aurelius

* Evidently by the domain “.cc” this comes from someone living in Australia’s Cocos Keeling Islands—a paradise on earth where one might live long and happy as you can see here .

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Weapons of mass destruction scaled down for classroom warfare

During our freshman year in my Christian Brothers military high school, my buddy Bob sat behind me in first-hour home-room in prime position to snipe spit balls at me.  When I reacted to the sting by backlashing at him, the teacher—Brother Thomas—would admonish me for disrupting the class.  Devious!  Nevertheless, I had to hand it to Bob for his ingenuity for classroom warfare—my superior by far.

I shudder to think what Bob could have done with the technology revealed by John Austin in his trilogy on Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction , which begins with spitball warfare and culminates in siege weapons of the dark ages.  For example, check out this video of a classroom firearm sent to me by a PhD student from the Institute of Technology of Buenos Aires.

Inspired by Austin’s books, this Argentinian and conspirators set up a designed experiment that varied three factors:

  1. The length of the arrow (short 20 cm – long 25 cm)
  2. The width of the “barrel” (narrow 11 mm – wide 17 mm)
  3. The initial position of the arrow (p0 the firing pin will slightly hit the arrow – p1 the firing pin will push the arrow along the last 5 cm)

Bob’s spitballs did little harm in comparison to this weapon.  At this rate, turtle-necks will come back into fashion, only now being made from Kevlar.  Anyone who makes it through school at this rate will certainly be the fittest for surviving and ready for the dog-eat-dog corporate world.

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Costa Rica — the happiest place on Earth

Life-sustaining Costa Rican “broccoli” tree towering over rain-forest trail on the slopes of the Arenal Volcano.

The latest issue of National Geographic awaited me upon my return from a wonderful vacation in Costa Rica.  Based on my pleasant encounters, it was no surprise to me that this Central American country came first on the feature article about “Happiest Places”.  Costa Rica also ranked #1 on the Happy Planet Index (HPI).  See the Today.Com video here for the heads-up on what distinguishes Costa Rica and other joyful places around the world.

It seems to me that the recipe for happiness varies quite a lot, but one aspect of Costa Ricans that I like is them living “pura vida”—the pure, or simple, life.

“What I argue for are statistically driven things you can do to optimize your environment so you’re more likely to be happy for the long term.”

– Dan Buettner, Minnesotan author of The Blue Zones of Happiness (Source: The Atlantic.com “A Lazy Person’s Guide to Happiness”

P.S. The top 25 happiest USA cities are ranked here — the hometown for Stat-Ease came in at #22. 😊

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Algae World News: Red snow melts glaciers

Just in time for our first snow in Minnesota when we eagerly bring out our cross-country skis and sleds—both self-propelled and motorized, comes this news of a melt-inducing microbe.  I’ve seen and tasted the resulting “watermelon snow” up in the Rockies.  It seemed harmless enough—a natural frozen novelty.  But a simple comparative experiment by Alaskan researchers showed a 17% increase in melting where the snow became darkened by the algae stain.  On the positive side it will be watermelon snow-cones all around.

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‘Roid rage

Let’s not get caught off guard by an Earth-killing asteroid. As Dylan Thomas said: “Do not go gentle into that good night, …rage against the dying of the light.” 

That is the mission of NASA.  If you are reading this, chances are that Asteroid 2012 TC4 whizzed by today at 30,000 miles per hour—closely monitored by a network of observatories. Check out the details at this NASA website. They take asteroid defense very seriously.  Their defense plans for redirecting asteroids will be tested out in 2022 on a double asteroid Didymos B as explained here.

Keep in mind that asteroid 1950DA, about three-quarters a mile wide—big enough to destroy our planet, has a 0.1% chance of hitting the earth 2818.  In case NASA does not succeed in their defense efforts, start digging now and you might get hunkered down enough to survive for a short while after that.

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The hero of zero

Breaking news about nothing: Dating done with the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit now puts the invention of the number zero 500 years earlier than previously believed.  As explained in this post by The Guardian, the hero of zero is Indian mathematician Brahmagupta who worked out this pivotal number in 628 AD.  Isn’t that something?

The development of zero in mathematics underpins an incredible range of further work, including the notion of infinity, the modern notion of the vacuum in quantum physics, and some of the deepest questions in cosmology of how the Universe arose – and how it might disappear from existence in some unimaginable future scenario.

– Hannah Devlin,

,

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What happens if you walk backward while carrying a cup of coffee?

One would assume that walking backward with coffee, especially when it’s piping hot, would be nearly as dangerous as running with scissors. Not so, according to the 2017 Ig Nobel Prize winning study for Fluid Dynamics. According to Korean physicist Jiwon Han, you will likely spill less walking backward than forward. However, your chances of tripping, or crashing into a colleague (also walking backward with coffee, ha ha) “drastically increase”.*

“Rarely do we manage to carry coffee around without spilling it once. In fact, due to the very commonness of the phenomenon, we tend to dismiss questioning it beyond simply exclaiming: ‘Jenkins! You have too much coffee in your cup!’”

– Jiwon Han

As reported in this “SmartNews” post by Smithsonian Magazine, Han advises a claw-like grip on top of your cup, rather than using the handle. Other tips from University of California researchers, reported here by LiveScience, are to gradually accelerate to a very slow walk, thus avoiding disruptive oscillations, and keep your eyes on the cup, not the ground.

My secret to stop spillage is to use a very large cup and fill it only two-thirds of the way, e.g., 12 ounces of hot coffee in a 16-ounce Styrofoam cup.  The ultimate solution is to use a spill-proof, lidded container. However, I prefer drinking from a cup, if possible.

*(Source: Chemical and Engineering News, 9/18/17, Newscripts—“Curating quirky science since 1943.”)

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Eclipse chasing a total success

Some time ago I hatched a plan to take a Sunday drive down to mid-Iowa from where our party of Andersons could shoot off south or east and catch today’s eclipse. Little did I know how wily the weather gods can be for obscuring the heavens. For the last week, the forecasts ping-ponged me unmercifully between Nebraska and Missouri. I went to bed last night with Nebraska in my sights, but just before hitting the road the updated outlook pointed clearly to Missouri as our only chance, albeit very slim, to get a view of the sun at totality.

Heading south through very heavy rains we went off-interstate south of Iowa once we hit the path of the eclipse, and then zig-zagged tortuously through the back-country of Missouri until we finally reached the edge of the cloud deck near Columbia—just in time for the awesome sight of the sun being snuffed out by the moon.

From a statistical perspective, it is ironic how astronomers can be so precise in their predictions of the moon shadow, whereas the meteorologists cannot provide very accurate forecasts of cloud cover. This made this whole venture of eclipse chasing very challenging, but, given the thrilling conclusion, a great experience.

“Keep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows.”
― Helen Keller

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