Tag Archives: mathematics statistics

Ron Paul and Polls

As a Ron Paul supporter who’s watching net news with bated breath, I’ve noticed that the good doctor’s supporters seem to be rather distrusting of polls. The reasons range from criticisms of questionable statistical practices (e.g., land lines vs. mobile lines and so-called “likely voters”) to conspiracy theories. Having finally looked at some aggregated poll results, though, I think it’s time the Paulites start caring about polls.

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2006 Gomer Davis Pumpkin Chase 5K

This morning I ran the Gomer Davis Pumpkin Chase 5K sponsored by the Wilmerding YMCA. The course was described as flat. Riiiight. It was what I’ve learned to call “Pittsburgh flat”. That is, there were about as many downhills as there were uphills, making the overall change in elevation close to zero. Balanced or not, the steep little hill near the end was a brutal way to finish. The weather was less than perfect – pretty chilly (mid 40’s) and drizzling.

I finished in 25:55 (8:21 pace). I didn’t record splits because the mile markers were not easy to see.

On a tangentially related note, I’ve found a really cool pace calculator and workout prep tool, Runner’s Projections. If you a stats-minded geek who runs, you’ll love it. 🙂

RunPro attempts to calculate equivalent racing abilities for various popular distances based on a specific performance. It’s purpose is to provide a means of comparing equivalent effort between races of different distances. Since it’s not possible to take into account the many variables that affect performance (weather, terrain, course accuracy, personal mental and physical prowess on a given day), you should take these things into consideration when contemplating the results of the program.

One of my favorite uses for RunPro is to plug in a time from a recent race to help determine my goal pace for an upcoming race. This is really handy when the races are of different distances.

RunPro assumes adequate training for all distances. There are many theories on what constitutes adequate training. One general rule of thumb is to have a weekly training base of 4 to 5 times the distance of the race.

A Training Guide is also displayed in the lower area. This guide uses the prediction tables to calculate and display estimated Lactate Threshold, and suggested training paces for various types of workouts including easy runs, long runs, steady runs, tempo runs, alternate miles and intervals.

Speaking of cool stuff, be sure to check out Complete Running Network.

In 2004, Complete Running was launched. Soon after, we created the world’s most comprehensive directory of running blogs – the Running Blog Family (RBF).

In August 2006, Complete Running was relaunched as The Complete Running Network – a collection of knowledgeable authors (mostly RBF alumni) with a passion for running. Topics include all facets of running including tips, gear, news, opinions, inspiration and much more.

Dungeons and STR+2

I’ve been thinking about Dungeons and Dragons lately. It’s an interesting social phenomenon.

(Before I go any farther, I should make it clear that I’m not out to bash D&D. I earned my gamer cred a long time ago, and I don’t have anything to prove to anybody. I learned D&D on literally Dungeons and Dragons. None of this "Advanced" stuff. And 3rd edition? We dreamed of a third edition! We wondered if we’d ever see one the same way I imagine the ancient Norse wondered when Ragnarok would happen. Sure, it was coming. One day. Some day. But today? Nah.)

What’s most interesting to me is that when I sit down to look at D&D now, I don’t see a strong role-playing system at all. At least not in the way we typically mean role-playing. What I see is a good gaming system. There’s a subtle difference. The D&D system has very little to commend it outside of two factors: A) easy mathematical modeling and 2) modularily. The first creates the second, though the second is a legitimate boon to gamers.

Think about it. What’s the most well-known icon in D&D from a functional player’s point of view?

(I disregard an observer’s point of view because in my general experience, outsiders to the D&D experience have little to no idea how the vast majority of D&D players play the game in practice. Most seem to hold an idealized vision of D&D which does exist to some extent, but generally falls far short of the reality.)

No, not the dragon. Players rarely fight actual dragons. Not the wizard, though the fireball spell comes in the top 5 archetypal icons. The beholder, with its giant central eye and numerous eyestalks, has made impressive ground in many minds. But I think all of those fall short of D&D’s ultimate symbol.

+1 long sword.

It’s every young player’s dream. The magic sword! You get +1 to-hit on a 20-sided die, and it does +1 damage (If I recall correctly, the base is rolled on an eight-sided die, so it’s a fairly large improvement). Whee! It doesn’t sound like a lot, I know. But hey, it’s just a start. There are +2 swords, +3 swords, and… dare we dream? +4 and +5 swords out there! Right. Does anybody think anybody walked around medieval France in search of a +1 sword? Yet D&D players do so with frightening regularity.

The +1 sword has no basis in mythology. It has no basis in legend. It has no basis in any folk tradition whatsoever. It’s a sword that an engineer would love. Precisely quantified, predictable, replicatable across settings, and very easy to explain.

Dungeons and Dragons may have given the players the tools to create a role-playing game, but I believe that examining the rules shows an attitude and implied culture that doesn’t care about the role-playing whatsoever. Let’s see it for what it really was: It was the attempt to create a video game before the computer technology for actual video games existed. All of the elements were there. Easy mathematical modeling, an incremental reward system (gold, XP points, treasure), and bosses. Somewhere in our collective unconscious, we yearned for the ability to put the math to work to crunch the numbers and say, "You know… If I spent all my proficiency points on dart skill, I can throw three every turn. I get three extra damage on each… So I do more damage than a long sword! Sweet. Load me up, Scotty."

(In my limited experience, this represents the general line of thought expressed by many/most D&D players.)

Maybe we should be happy. It wasn’t enough that math could conquer our world. We had to invent whole new ones for it to conquer, too.

Mythical 81%

On November 23, the Catholic League released the following to the press.

"According to news reports, the Vatican document says that while homosexuals must be respected, the Catholic Church 'cannot admit to seminaries and to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, who present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or who support the so-called gay culture.'"

"There is little doubt that most practicing Catholics will welcome this decision. The Vatican is prudent not to have an absolute ban on admission of homosexuals to the priesthood: there are too many good men with homosexual tendencies who have served the Church with distinction. But there is a monumental difference between someone who is incidentally homosexual and someone for whom the gay subculture is central to his identity. Only those blinded by sexual politics will fail to make this distinction."

With this much I am in agreement.

"As I have said many times before, most homosexual priests are not molesters, but most of the molesters are gay. The John Jay Report made this clear: 81 percent of the victims are male and almost as many are postpubescent. This is not called pedophilia – it is called homosexuality."

OK, I've seen this mythical 81% floating around the net for quite some time now and it's been bugging me. If I understand correctly – please inform me if I'm wrong – most of the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests were altar servers. If that's the case, then it only makes sense that most of the victims were male. Though female altar servers have been permitted for a few decades, there are still far fewer of them than male servers. The fact that most of the victims were post-pubescent might be more indicative of a demographic shift in altar servers rather than a preference among perverts.

If I am right about most of the victims being altar servers, then this is clearly a probaballistic fallacy. The probability of a server being male is very high. The probability of a victim being a server is very high. Therefore, the probability that the victim is male is also very high.

I am less sure that most servers these days are post-pubescent, but let's assume they are. By the same logic, the probability that a random victim would be a post-pubescent male would be quite high.

Throwing around this 81% figure is misleading. Remember, "there are lies, damned lies, and statistics".

"The Catholic laity are justifiably angry with molesting priests and their enabling bishops, few in number though they have been. What this document does is to send a signal – those who cannot seriously commit to a celibate lifestyle have no legitimate role to play in the priesthood. This stricture should apply equally to heterosexuals."

If Mr. Donahue is right about what the document says, I totally agree with him. Some folks don't agree with his reading, though.

Denomination-hopping As State Transitions

A strange thought just occurred to me. There are always people leaving one denomination (or even religion) and entering another. I wonder if the conversion and apostacy rates could be modelled as molecules evaporating from one liquid and condensing in another. Members since birth and converts that either never leave or leave only after a long time could be modelled as members of solids. In these models, temperatures would be indicative of scandal, heresy, revival, reform, and other major causes of movement between denominations. Also, different groups would have different state transition temperatures, reflecting relative cohesiveness.