Archive for November, 2010

Fishing for giant snakes with a boy as bait

The statistics are:

  • Prey: Length 26 feet, weight 320 pounds
  • Predator: Length 4 feet (?), weight 90 pounds.

Here in Minnesota we love to tell fishing stories that can be real whoppers, but this one told by Everglades Outpost founder Bob Freer beats all.  I heard the story yestesterday on National Public Radio’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me” show.*  Freer and his crew were confounded by a very large snake lurking under a house – the hole would not admit a full-grown adult.  Luckily a kid watching the proceedings stepped up to help.  The snake hunters tied a rope to his leg and handed him a stick with a napkin tied to it.  With the 90-pound boy (brave or foolhardy?) as bait, they fished out a 26-foot long, 320 pound reptile – a python, I presume.**

“We told him to make sure not to tell his mother.”

– Bob Freer

PS. Pictured here in my hand is a Ball python – a popular pet due to being so small (several feet in length and a few pounds at most) in addition to their endearing eponymous tendency to curl up into a comfortable coil.

* See the transcript of “Animal Expert Bob Freer Plays Not My Job” here

** The National Park Service just released their latest statistics on the proliferation of Burmese pythons in the Everglades – see the year-by-year count here.

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Prof applies stats to flush out widespread cheating

See this recent ABC News report on how perhaps as many as 200 University of Central Florida (UCF) students cheated on an exam.  The YouTube video of them being accused by the teacher, armed with supporting statistical detail and an actual confession, can be seen here.

“This is what’s called a bimodial distribution… [which].. exists when an external force has been applied… that creates a systematic bias.”

–          Professor Richard Quinn describing a histogram of scores from his mid-term test for University of Central Florida Strategic Management 4720

For some alarming stats on percent of students cheating (mostly reported to be well over half!), see this summary of surveys on exam-beaters compiled by a test-security firm (but consider the probability of them being a bit biased!).

Getting back to Professor Quinn, I am amazed at how many commentors blame him for not updating his exams.  Evidently students cannot be held accountable for cheating when it is so easy to accomplish.  🙁

“This is college. Everyone cheats, everyone cheats in life in general.”

–          CSU student Konstantin Ravvin

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Pigging out in Italy – a 30-meter pork roast

We are gathering quantities of food for a Thanksgiving feast at the Anderson home this Thursday.  As my stomach rumbles* in anticipation, my thoughts turn to another great feast that I saw prepared last summer in Bergamo, Italy.**  There they prepared pork (or porchetta, as they say), rather than the turkey we prefer in the New World.  What made this Bergamo barbecue so singular was the way the cooked their pigs – sewn together into a 30 meter roast!  See the results in this video I took (produced by my daughter Emily).

A meter or two of this porchetta would be the perfect warm up for our Thanksgiving banquet.  I wonder what these Italians would do to dress up a turkey.  They sure know how to create a spectacle!

*In medical terms known as “borborygmi” – a normal symptom of hunger.

**See this report

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Election day pits pollsters as well as politicians

Sunday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press reported* an astounding range of predictions for today’s election results for Governor of Minnesota.  The Humphrey Institute showed Democrat Dayton leading Republican Emmer by 41 to 29 percent, whereas Survey USA (SUSA) respondents favored Dayton by only 1 percent – 39-38!  The SUSA survey included cell-phone-only (CPO) voters for the first time – one of many factors distinguishing it from their competitor for predicting the gubernatorial race.

What I always look for along with such predictions is the margin of error (MOE).  The Humphrey Institute pollsters provide these essential statistical details: “751 likely voters living in Minnesota were interviewed by telephone. The margin of error ranges between +/-3.6 percentage points based on the conventional calculation and +/-5.5 percentage points, which is a more cautious estimate that takes into account design effects, in accordance with professional best practices.”**  Note that the more conservative MOE (5.5%) still left Dayton with a significant lead, but just barely at 12 points (vs 5.5%x2 = 11% overlap of MOEs).

Survey USA, on the other hand, states their MOE as +/- 4%.  They provide a very helpful statistical breakdown by CPO versus landline, gender, age, race, etc. at this web posting.  They even include a ‘cross-tab’ on Tea Party Movement – a wild card in this year’s election.

By tomorrow we will see which polls get things right.  Also watching results with keen interest will be the consultants who advise politicians on how to bias voters their way.  Sunday’s New York Times offered a somewhat cynical report on how these wonks “Nudge the Vote”.  For example, political consultant Hal Malchow developed a mailer that listed each recipient’s voting history (whether they bothered to do so, or not), along with their neighborhood (as a whole, I presume).  Evidently this created a potent peer pressure that proved to be 10 times more effective in turning non-voters into voters!  However, these non-intuitive approaches stem from randomized experiments, which require a control group who get no contacts (Could I volunteer to be in this group?).  This creates a conundrum for political activists – they must forego trying to influence these potential voters as the price paid for unbiased results!

“It’s the pollsters that decide. Well, a poll can be skewered [sic #]. I can go out and get you a poll on anything you want and probably get the results that I want just in how I conduct it.”

— Jesse Ventura, professional wrestler (“The Body”) and former governor of Minnesota

# Evidently a Freudian slip – him being skewered on occasion by biased polls. 😉

* “Poll parsing” column by David Brauer, page 15B.

** From this posting by Minnesota Public Radio

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