Archive for February, 2011

“Welcome, Body Mass seeker”

This is the greeting from Steve Halls, MD, at his web weight-calculator.  After a fair amount of searching on the internet, I found this site on body-mass the easiest to use and informative.  However, I cannot speak on its accuracy.  I will only admit that it provided far less scary news (and realistic, I feel) about my own weight than other websites giving advice on this vital subject.

According to the “updated v2” standards, I am “marginally overweight” at the 53rd percentile of other American males at my age and height.  As we like to say in Minnesota, this could be worse, so it’s not so bad.

Discussing what should be the “ideal” weight would take up a great deal of time and energy: Never mind that.  What I want to do is focus on monitoring weight.  For example, I just completed the pictured outlier-detecting run-chart* on my 20 weighings** thus far this year.  Notice that none of the results fall outside of the 95 percent confidence limits.

Even so, after I penciled in my number for the highlighted point, my wife hassled me a bit about going overweight when she saw .  I predicted that she would see a regression to the mean, which didn’t impress her one bit.  Nevertheless, the value of being patient by charting data over a period of time can be seen in this instance – it vindicates me not reacting to one result.

Coincidentally, our contract trainer Doug Hubbell came to Minneapolis for our new Advanced Formulations workshop.  He is the author of a handbook for managers seeking quality improvement (Managing for Profits – to be published soon).  Doug is a plain-talking straight-shooter who rifles in on what’s needed to stop chronic manufacturing waste.  Charting is a powerful part of his arsenal of quality tools.  His reaction to me mentioning my monitoring of weight was “I hope you do not expect this chart to help you lose pounds.”  Naturally I wouldn’t admit to that, but, honestly, it did cross my (hopeful!) mind.  However, I am mainly just trying to track a very gradual increase of about 1 pound per year since my high-school graduation, when I was in the best shape of my life.

The battle against the bulge continues…

*Using Design-Expert® software’s diagnostics tools.  I focused on a chart that deletes each point before calculating its deviation in terms of standard deviation, which makes it more sensitive to statistical outliers.  For details, see this Wikipedia entry on Studentized residual (it explains internal and external methods).

**Done with a new bathroom scale that I really like – this Precision Digital model by EatSmart.


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Fun graphs and charts on names: How popular is yours and where is it populated?

My latest issue of National Geographic came with this fascinating mapping of population by surname.  Seeing “Anderson” looming large over Minnesota did not surprise me, but I didn’t realize how many of us “snow birds” had permanently escaped to California.  Take a look and see if you can locate any of you long-lost wander-kin around the USA.

The Junk Charts blog, one of my favorites, gave a generally favorable review of the “Nat-Geo” name chart, but they recommended an even-better one – the Baby Name Wizard, which plots the popularity of first names over the last 130 years. 

I am expecting my first grandchild this summer, so there’s been lots of talks about names lately, thus this statistical chart caught my eye.  You, too, may find it interesting. I suggest you start by hovering mouse over the widest streams (blue for boy, pink for girl) at the left (John, Mary, etc)* and then see how their popularity changes over the past 130 years.  A tip: Click the graph to see trends for any given name, or enter it directly.  Press “x” to get out of any specific name field (or type in another).  I typed in my name and saw an explosion of popularity in mid-20th century, but now it’s fading away.  The same holds true for my sister Nancy and my wife Karen – we all get tagged as baby-boomers straight away.

If you think there’s any chance of your name ranking in the top 1,000 for popularity in the USA at any time since 1880, type it in.  How do you do, _______ (<= name here)?


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Self-proclaimed lottery expert advises gamblers to never pick numbers that won before

Recently I heard a local talk-show host interview Richard Lustig, author of Learn How to Increase Your Chances of Winning the Lottery.*  His first suggestion was to never pick a number that won a prior lottery drawing.  That led to lots of discussion by callers – mostly skeptical.  Evidently this belief that previously non-winning numbers become “due” is widespread, so much so that it’s become known as the gamblers fallacy.

“Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.”

–          Ambrose Bierce

PS. Did you hear about the wannabe-winner of the lottery who prayed and prayed and prayed to hit the jackpot.  Finally an exasperated God responded with this request: “Could you at least just buy one ticket?”

*This paperback book lists for $40 on Amazon, but I will not provide the link because I do not recommend it.  However, you may find it amusing to read the customer reviews.

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Grade A for long-term health prognosis

I took a high-school classmate out to lunch today for his birthday.  Now in his late 50s, my friend has aged well – evidently as healthy as can be.  Being that he graduated 6th in our class, my buddy’s exceptional fitness of body and mind fits a profile of well-being that’s characteristic of individuals who excelled academically, according to this report by the New York Times.   In a nutshell, a long-term longitudinal study of over 10,000 aging students found that, by their early 60s, those near the top of their class were half as likely to report declines in health than their academically-inferior peers. It seems that the studs for studying end up being a lot heartier than the partyers.

“Academic performance is strongly linked to health in later life.”

–          Pamela Herd, associate professor of public affairs and sociology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and study-author of Education and Health in Late-life among High School Graduates

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KISMIF approach hits the spot for communications specialist

As all of you must know by now, I like to keep it simple and make it fun (KISMIF) when explaining how use statistical tools.  That made me a natural fit for joining up with our founding principal Pat Whitcomb in 1988.  After all, he named the company Stat-Ease and made its slogan “Statistics Made Easy” – leaving me the “fun” part (him having already made things easy!). 🙂

Every now and then this KISMIF approach hits the spot, such as it did with Lara Marlin Hull, a Marketing and Social Media Consultant at Red Funnel Consulting.   Before becoming a communications specialist, Lara worked for a number of years as a research scientist in the pharmaceutical industry – just the sort of person that we aim to please.   As you can see in her January 19 blog for How to Sell Scientists (Does Your Newsletter Grab Scientists’ Attention? Here’s One that Does ), Lara and her scientist friend really liked my latest article for our newsletter, which details a fun kitchen experiment* by my son Hank.   She passes along this interesting insight: “People forget that scientists are people too.”

I am reminded of a time early in the days of Stat-Ease when I put together a survey of our software users.  Wanting to incent responses, I suggested to Pat and our programmer Tryg that we consider offering a free pen.  They both scoffed at the idea of a technical professional being swayed by “swag” (that is, a bribe!), going so far as to say that such a gift would create insult and cause less of a return!   My reaction was that “experimenters are people too!”  Putting our own tools to practice, I then split up our user list at random and sent only half the offer for the free pen.  Believe it or not, these lucky ones responded at a significantly higher rate with completed surveys.

If people don’t have a good sense of humor, they are not very good scientists either.

–          Nobel prize-winning physicist Andre Geim

PS.  Ms. Hull followed up her initial accolade for the Stat-Ease “Statistics Made Easy” approach with further praise (The Secret Product Your Customers Want) for the way our Stat-Ease home page invites browsers needing immediate help.   It is wonderful to receive unsolicited third-party endorsements like this, even though it’s not for our products and services per se, but, rather, how we go about doing our business.

*”Tumbler Rumbles with a Mugger,” December 2010 Stat-Teaser

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