Archive for July, 2012

Polysci prof asks “Is Algebra Necessary”?

I was appalled to see this titular question on the front of today’s (Sunday) New York Times opinion section.  It came along with this sidebar quote:

There is no good reason to force students to master quadratic equations.  Doing so holds them back.

That really riles me up, seeing as how these polynomials work so well for response surface methods (RSM) for process optimization. The author, Andrew Hacker–emeritus professor of political science at City University of New York, believes that, by making math mandatory, our educational system filters out talented scholars.  As an alternative to hard-core number-crunching, he proposes  the “exciting courses” in ‘citizen statistics’ such as the Consumer Price Index.   His aim is “to treat mathematics as a liberal art, making it as accessible and welcoming as sculpture or ballet.”

I enjoy seeing statues and I admire the grace and athleticism of dancers; however, Hacker’s vision is for me dystopian.  But so long as the educational system provides for a branching of those who like math versus the others who do not, then we get the best of all worlds.  I agree–let’s not force algebra on those who abhor it.



A strange pink elephant — the Higgs boson

In our business we focus a lot of energy to convince experimenters they must conduct enough runs to develop the statistical power needed for detecting an effect of interest.  What amazed me about the recent discovery of the Higgs boson is the sample size required to see this “strange pink elephant” as it’s described in the embedded explanatory video cartoon.  The boffins of CERN took 40 million measurements per second for 20 years.  These physics fellows cannot be topped for being persistent, tenacious, dogged and determined.  Good for them and, I suppose, us.

“If the particle doesn’t exist, one in 3.5 million is the chance an experiment like the one announced would nevertheless come up with a result appearing to confirm it does exist.”

– Carl Bialik, ‘The Numbers Guy’ for Wall Street Journal explaining in his July 7-8 column the statistical meaning of CERN’s 5 sigma standard of certainty (see How to Be Sure You’ve Found a Higgs Boson).

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Danube nicely routed through Vienna and Budapest

I’ve just returned from a wonderful conference in Vienna of European and African (plus one Malaysian) Design-Expert® software users.  Afterwards I spent the weekend in Budapest.  First off I must marvel at the chances of a magnificent river such as the Danube just happening to wind its way through these two great cities, as well as Bratislava and Belgrade—all four being capitals.  Surely this fortuitous routing of the waterway evidences a higher power. ; )

My knowledge of the histories of these regions in Austria and Hungary increased many-fold, but of course I must acknowledge starting with a very low denominator on this ratio.  The tour of the private quarters of the Habsburg Emperors went far too much into the sad story of Sissi—the beautiful Empress who lived like a beautiful bird in a gilded cage and ultimately died at the hands of an anarchist run amok (he actually meant to kill another royal, but settled for her).  See the sordid details here.

The history of Budapest was laid out nicely in a display I stumbled across in the Royal Palace on Castle Hill.  Via a series of a dozen or so placards with associated artifacts, this stroll through time told a story of repeated destruction.  It starts with the mid 13th century construction of a walled town to fend off the Mongol hordes.  Then in another hundred years it continues with the building of a keep by Prince Istvan the Angry (a royal pain—I am sure).  After some further hundreds of years the Turks came in and the Turks came out.  The story told at the church on the Hill is that their ammunition exploded and a statue of Virgin Mary burst out of the wall that they’d plastered over when converting it to a mosque.  This catalyzed the successful end of the siege by Christian forces.  Holy Mary!  Coming to the 20th century things get even worse with the two world wars and the cold war, which of course resulted in various occupations by unwanted outsiders.  But all is good now, I think, other than the armies of Americans and other tourists coming left and right on Viking longboats for four-day forays around the town flinging forints (the Hungarian currency) to the local shopkeepers and restaurateurs.  It could be worse!

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