Saturday, July 25, 2009

Top Ten reasons to attend Airventure!

Up early this morning for getting ready to leave today for OSHKOSH and EAA Airventure. Here are my top ten reasons for attending Airventure.

10) Worlds largest campground. People camping under the wings of planes and in campers throughout the area.
9) Good Rock n Roll - Doobie Brothers open on Monday night.
8) Shopping - You can buy anything for an airplane plus more!
7) Whitman Field - For one week will be the worlds busiest airport.
6) Escape to Wisconsin - Cooler weather than home.
5) Seaplane Corn Roast - Seaplane Pilot Association Corn Roast is a great event.
4) Daily Airshows - Can't get enough aerobatics and warbird flights.
3) Evening entertainment - Theatre in the woods has nightly entertainment
2) Aircraft - Best display of vintage aircraft, warbirds and homebuilts anywhere
1) Pilots - Largest gathering of pilots in the world!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

User Review: Berkeley Madonna for Simulations

Ever have to solve differential equations? Berkeley Madonna software allows you to do dynamic simulations of ordinary differential equations plus much more. As a chemical engineer I sometimes have to solve problems involving heat transfer or reaction kinetics that involve derivatives or rate problems. These dynamic or time based problems can be simulated with ease using Berkeley Madonna.

The software was developed by Robert Macey and George Oster of the University of California at Berkeley. Here are some uses for this powerful mathematics based software platform.

  1. Curve Fitting - You can import your own data and fit curves to the data.
  2. Monte Carlo Simulation - The program has capability of batch runs which will allow Monte Carlo Simulation for problems with uncertainty. There are several distributions such as normal, poisson, uniform and binomial. I used this feature to simulate a demand problem under uncertainty for a business.
  3. Algebraic Roots - The software easily identifies algebraic roots to complex equations.
  4. Dynamic Simulation - Good examples are SIR virus problems, birth and death population problems, chemical reaction kinetics, physics problems involving springs, bungees, and velocity(t), acceleration(t) type problems. Any problem involving a rate based flow over time is a good use of this program.
  5. Discrete Event simulations - MADONNA also does simulations of discrete events. With a function of CONVEYORS, OVENS and QUEUES process models can be built and simulated.
The program comes packed with examples and tutorials to help you learn how to master the operation. One really good feature of the program is a flowchart editor that allows you to create visual depictions of your simulation.

There are already at least several textbooks that use MADONNA as a simulation language in examples and provide tutorials on how to use the program.

Chemical Engineering Dynamics

Dynamic Modeling for Business Management
Introduction to Computational Science

The program is available for both Windows and Mac OS X operating systems. It will run on both an Intel and Power PC MAC. A demo version is available that limits functionality and prints output with a very distracting watermark and also prevents saving models. The demo allows you an opportunity to evaluate for purchase. Check the website at for current pricing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wal-Mart to experiment with Green pricing!

Wal-mart recently announced some changes in product labeling to show what the environmental costs of producing its products are. Refer to Forrest Breyfogle's blog and the Harvard Business review article and Wal-Mart's official announcement on the topic. New new metric will be called a sustainability index.

Wal-mart has thousands of suppliers and each supplier will be required to calculate a metric showing the environmental impact of its product and production. The numbers will be placed on price tags. Consumer's will get to decide.

This will be an interesting experiment. There will now be two prices. The price to purchase a product directly and the environmental price. For some suppliers this will definitely help increase their sales if they are already producing green products. For other suppliers watch out! I think consumers will really appreciate this new ranking system and will vote with their wallets when it comes to Green and the environment when given the information. Wal-mart stands to win big from this initiative and other retail giants will be forced to follow suit in the long run.

Wal-mart doesn't give a timeline but indicated in their announcement that they would complete a survey of suppliers by Oct 1st of this year. This labeling initiative may take a year or two for implementation. I am glad to see the push back to suppliers. How will international suppliers react to this initiative?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Is the Placebo Effect Real?

I recently completed reading two books that discuss the Placebo effect. Predictably Irrational by Daniel Ariely and 13 Things that Don't Make Sense by Michael Brooks. Both books devote almost a full chapter to the topic of Placebo. "A placebo effect occurs when a treatment or medication with no therapeutic value (a placebo) is administered to a patient and the patient's symptoms improve. The patient believes and expects that the treatment is going to work, therefore it does. The placebo effect is also a factor to some degree in clinically effective therapies, and explains why patients respond better than others to treatment despite similar symptoms and illnesses." ( 2006).

Both authors cite studies which show or demonstrate the existence of this effect. Ariely even ties the price of a medicine to how well the placebo works. High price aspirin works better than discounted aspirin as a placebo. I don't think anyone denies the existence of the power of placebo.

In the end you can be assured the Placebo effect is real and does work in some cases. It may be psychological or even biological through our mind that it works. It seems to work well for control of pain for some. There are even cases where placebo surgeries worked.

I don't want my doctor handing out placebo's instead of medicine to control some medical issues. Also the effectiveness of most medicines are tested in studies against placebo's and real medicines work better than the placebo's or they would not be FDA approved. If you suffer from diabetes you definitely would not benefit from an insulin placebo. In fact you could die without proper medicine. The idea that we can will ourselves to better health has some merit, but has many limitations.

The placebo effect does not make sense and also is irrational in that it does work. Perhaps many of the studies succeeded to show a true placebo effect because experimenters tipped their hand or willed one groups success better than another. Experimentation is not without its flaws.

"Placebo Effect." Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Gale Cengage, 2006. 2006. 17 Jul, 2009 placebo-effect>

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Explore and Google Fusion

I am going to cop out tonight and refer you to Blog about Stats which shows an interesting way to display data from some of our US Gov collected databases using Google Fusion. You can learn more about how to use Google Fusion at the Official Google Research Blog. I tried the service using a large .csv file that I had downloaded from Data.Gov on household energy usage that was conducted in 2005. I found the database was to large to work effectively in Google Fusion so you should use Excel or other similar program to edit your data upfront to the specific columns you are interested in.

For a second try I used a baseball database that one of my University of Phoenix statistics classes use for projects. I quickly was able to generate a simple scatter plot of attendance vs wins for the year 2002 in MLB.

Google Fusion saves your data files under your account. It lets you share the data with others if you desire.

After working with this for about an hour I am not yet willing to give up my other tools for creating graphics. Excel can make the same chart quickly and easily and even produce a regression trend. None the less, I think it is interesting what Google is doing with this product and it should encourage people to share data and graphic data representations. There seemed to be a good Filter and Merge utility that would allow you to filter data or even merge two datasets together.

Give it a try if you like.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Is Seth Godin right about Quality?

In Seth Godin's blog of July 10, 2009 entitled "Quality, scale and the regular kind", Seth defines two types of quality.

1) He discusses the classic definition of quality which is commonly referred to as fitness for use or to meet specifications. According to Juran's Quality Handbook this would be called "Freedom from Deficiencies".

2) He defines a second type of quality as, " 'is it worth doing?'. The quality of specialness and humanity, of passion and remarkability." Paraphrasing from Juran the second type of Quality is really the features of products that provide customer satisfaction. In general this type of Quality costs more.

Seth uses an illustration in his blog about making breakfast from standard eggs and free range eggs to make his point. The free range eggs cost more, and provide him more personal satisfaction than the standard eggs. Because the free range eggs have the features of happier chickens, home preparation, David's salt it provides Seth more personal satisfaction with the meal. To this extent his example does meet the definition of higher quality according to Juran.

However, Seth leaves out customer in his definition by saying, " 'is it worth doing?'. The quality of specialness and humanity, of passion and remarkability." He is making judgements about what customers want such by adding the terms - specialness, passion and remarkability. These things are only important as long as the customer desires them and will pay the extra cost for them. Dr. Juran has made the correct assessment. It is the features of a product or service that lead to satisfaction. These features are what customers are willing to pay for.

Seth seems to imply that the second definition of quality is a more nobler pursuit in business.
My contention is that both definitions of quality have their time and place. Different products and services meet different market needs. All products and services come with both features and deficiencies/lack of deficiencies.

Please refer to Juran's Quality Handbook, 1999, 5th Edition, McGraw-Hill pages 2.1 and 2.2 for Juran's definitions of Quality.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

"Do the Math" and "Where's the Beef?"

Remember Clara Peller from the Wendy’s commercials of thr 1980s. She coined the phrase “Where’s the Beef?” Well this is what we need to be asking our representatives in government. After $5 trillion in bailout money for banks and automotive company our economy remains in recession and unemployment rolls continue to grow. Where are the jobs? There has not been a turnaround. Today's unemployment figures showed the unemployment rolls at record levels highest since 1967. Currently there are 6.88 million Americans out of work and this is only those who are registered as out of work.

Now let's talk about what $5 trillion dollars can do. Five trillion should be able to create millions of jobs. I'll use two companies as an example:

1) Tom Rickett's family just arranged purchase of the Chicago Cubs franchise for $900 million from the Tribune company. From the Cubs MLB website the Front office, roster, coaches, medical staff number a total of about 200 employees. I expect for each of these there are probably at a minimum five other employees in support maybe more. I would estimate that the Cubs employ about 1000 people directly at various times and even higher if you count the down line jobs of concessions, parking attendants and merchandise suppliers and vendors. It's quite a business for $900 million. We can estimate that for every million dollars of investment there are 0.9 jobs created.

2) A small manufacturing firm recently sold for about 55 million and employed about 120 people direct and contract. In this case each million dollars of investment provided 2.18 jobs directly.

Granted this is only two data points but I think you could "do the math". Let's just take an average. For every million of investment we should expect to see about 1.5 jobs. Now if the US government would have invested $5 trillion dollars in the true interest of job creation we would see about 7.5 million jobs being added to the economy.

This is where Clara Peller comes in..."Where's the Jobs!" and "Who has the money?" I have yet to hear of one job added to our economy as a result of economic stimulus. People are continued to be laid off weekly by their employers. Where are our priorities as a nation? We are now focusing on Cap and Trade for carbon offsets and government sponsored health care. These items will provide additional tax revenue and inhibit the creation of new jobs. The timing for these initiatives is extremely bad when we have the highest unemployment rate since 1967!

Write to your representatives in the US Congress and Senate and ask them, "Where is the beef?"

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

What does Ray Nagin, Diane Downs and Richard Reid have in common?

This post is about what can happen when you get complacent with nuisance or false alarms.

You might recall Diane Downs, child murderer, made a daring escape from the Oregon Women’s Correctional Center in 1987. Richard Reid was the shoe bomber on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami International Airport. Ray Nagin was mayor presiding over New Orleans during the evacuation of the city for Hurricane Katrina.

On the surface all three individuals seem to have nothing in common. As far as character goes they are completely different. However, the success and/or failure of their plans played out because of systems failures and human conditioning to alarms.

The consequence of ignoring or becoming conditioned to false alarms can be disastrous. Three students perished at the Boland Hall fire at Seton Hall University, largely due to preconditioning of false fire alarms. After being exposed to numerous false fire alarms almost daily, three students ignored the alarms and died in the fire.

In the case of Diane Downs, birds and sometimes wind would set off alarms on the perimeter fences at a certain times each day. Diane was observant and noticed that when the alarm sounded the security guards would ignore the alarms. In short the security guards became preconditioned to hearing the alarms and understood the cause to be from the birds. Diane timed her escape over two 18 foot fences at the same time as the birds tripping the alarm. No one noticed that she was missing until 15 minutes later during a roll call. Ultimately Diane was recaptured and is currently serving her life plus 50 yr sentence.

In the days after 9/11, Richard Reid passed through security at Paris Charles DeGaulle International Airport despite having computer alarms regarding his status catch the attention of trained security screeners. A system called Computer Assisted Passenger Profiling (CAPPS) alerted security to potential problem based on clues in the database about Richard Reid. His payment of cash or lack of luggage or perhaps other issues. This did signal additional screening. Unfortunately, the system would sometimes trigger these inspections at random to keep passengers and employees on their toes and in practice. He fit the profile of a terrorist suspect. After being detained, the security screeners had no reason to hold him. Technically he was a false alarm!

Although he missed the first flight, he was allowed to come back the next day. The same alarms came up. The same screener was on duty. Richard was permitted to board American Airlines Flight 63 on December 22nd, 2001. Fortunately, due to the attention of an alert stewardess and passengers they were able to restrain Richard from lighting the fuse to the plastic explosives in his shoes. Today, we can all thank Richard Reid (aka Abdul Raheem) each time we pass through airport security and are asked to take off our shoes for screening.

You might ask what New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has to do with this topic. Ray Nagin is in no way associated with the likes of Diane Downs or Richard Reid. Mayor Nagin was a victim of false alarms himself, as was the city of New Orleans. It had been since 1992 and Hurricane Andrew that a major hurricane struck near New Orleans with significant damage. Andrew tracked west and towards Lafayette, Louisiana only slightly touching the western areas of the city. Andrew could even be considered a near miss or false alarm for the city of New Orleans. In the time from 1992 to Katrina in 2005 there were 12 tropical storms and hurricanes threatening the Louisiana coast. None of these caused major damage to New Orleans.

Prior to Katrina's landfall Ray Nagin urged the citizens of New Orleans to leave the city. Evacuation plans were in place. Despite his urging, thousands of residents stayed behind in the city for a variety of reasons. Many stayed because they have been preconditioned to the storms missing the city. Would this be just another false alarm? Evacuations seem senseless when the storms turn and go elsewhere. Many had weathered the storms before with no consequence and this one they thought would be no different. Well it was different! Katrina caused 1336 deaths nationwide, and damage from $40-$120 billion nationwide. (source: Fingers pointed looking for blame from New Orleans through Baton Rouge direct to Washington.

In summary, the next time you hear that car alarm go off in the parking lot will you investigate or do nothing? Are you preconditioned to the false alarms that occur in your life? Have you disabled your home's smoke detectors due to false alarms from cooking, shower moisture or failed batteries?

Ignoring false alarms or being preconditioned from nuisance alarms can be deadly!

This post was inspired by Steven Casey’s books; SET PHASERS ON STUN and THE ATOMIC CHEF. These are great books. Steve discusses both Diane Downs and Richard Reid in his books. Dr. Casey is an expert in human factors and ergonomics. His writing style presents short stories that summarize how humans sometimes interact with complex systems leading to disastrous consequence.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Which sport has the best home field advantage?

It's been known for many years now that the home field can provide a significant advantage toward a win in sports. What I didn't realize till recently is how much the home field advantage varies relative to different sports.

According to Dr. Ray Stefani of California State University, there are three possible contributing factors to the home field advantage:

1) The visiting teams travel fatigue. (physiological factor).
2) Effect of the home crowd on the home and visiting team by cheering or sneering as the case may be. (psychological factors)
3) The home teams familiarity of the home venue (tactical factor).

Dr. Stefani wrote Chapter 12 of Statistical Thinking in Sports, by Jim Albert and Ruud H. Koning, entitled Measurement and interpretation of home advantage. Using data over multiple seasons of Rugby Union, Soccer, NBA, Australian Rules Football, NFL, College Football, NHL and MLB, Dr. Stefani presents the following pecking order for Home field advantage. Where home field advantage is defined as a fraction or percentage of (home wins - home losses)/total games.

  • Rugby Union ---------- 25.1%
  • Soccer ----------------- 21.7%
  • NBA -------------------- 21.0%
  • Australian Rules FB -- 18.8%
  • NFL ---------------------17.5%
  • College Football ------ 16.6%
  • NHL -------------------- 9.7%
  • MLB ---------------------7.5%
Dr. Stefani explains these statistics with several additional factors aimed at describing the fatigue factor.

  • Number of players per team in play.
  • Playing time in minutes (actual time ball or puck is in play)
  • Overall Game length in minutes
  • % IP
  • Max number of substitutions
  • Can a substitute player reenter the game.
In his conclusion the physiological factor seems to be the easiest of the three factors to assess and model. Clearly rugby, soccer, and the NBA have a high degree of physical demand and long periods of continuous play. MLB on the other hand although the average game length is 165 minutes only really has about 24 minutes of significant play. Hockey which seems like it would have a high fatigue rate has comparable game action with the NBA but fatigue is reduced to an average number of 4 lines changed every 45 seconds to maintain the high pace. Therefore from a fatigue standpoint there are some good reasons why MLB and NHL show up last on the list.

I didn't spend additional time trying to analyze the dataset that can be found online. Dr. Stefani did an excellent job presenting the data and conclusions about his research.

What intrigues me are the questions that still could be answered with further research:

How do you quantify the psychological effect of the home crowd? How can you evaluate how the venue plays a role? Obviously in baseball venues probably have the most disparity in playing field. Differences in actual field dimensions are evident. Some baseball statisticians have determined park factors for each major league ballpark comparing runs on the road vs runs at home. So these park factors may have an influence in the outcome of the home field evaluation in baseball, but most other sports use a very similar playing surface.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Scientist Predicts: Earth Crushed under Weight of CO2

Today's post is devoted to the truly preposterous and sensationalized headlines trying to grab your attention related to climate change and or global warming. I have no intention to debate global warming, but just want to present some of the preposterous headlines and stories we are seeing by the GREEN press. What ever happened to a peer review process in science?

1) Divorces Cause Global Warming, Study Say

We'll this is a good reason to promote staying married. If you break up with your soul mate you will be dooming the planet. Imagine feeling responsible for that just because you broke up with your wife. If the guilt of the failed relationship is not enough, now you carry the burden of climate change on your shoulders. (I am sad to say this originated at my Alma Mater - Michigan State University.)

2) Global Warming Clock Unveiled in NYC: CO2 Highest in 800,000 years.

Take a look at this. I admit it's possible CO2 is highest in 800,000 years. What is really certain is that we know we can count higher than we could 800,000 years ago. Someone got paid for this? Do they not even have the least bit of guilt about the electricity used to power the clock?

3) Global Warming will launch the Global Wars

Following the transitive property of logic, getting divorced leads to global warming. Global warming leads to Global Wars. Therefore divorce will also cause Global Wars... and I thought getting divorced was supposed to end the Global War.

4) To tackle global warming more people need to be born and die.

At least the pro life camp will like this strategy. But then perhaps there is an argument here for pro choice as well. None the less, I don't like the thought of being put out to pasture to early just to make room for another new birth.

5) Oceans to Acid

CO2 absorbed by the ocean will turn the oceans to acid. If you read the article the conclusion has nothing to do with the headline. What this article doesn't say is that there is a limit to solubility of CO2 in water. You can look it up, its in any good scientific handbook. So the ocean can only hold a limited about of CO2, it will still be water and not acid....

6) Global warming to hit poor worst, says U.N.'s Ban

Rich people apparently will have it better with climate change than poor people. "But it is the poor, in Africa and developing small island states and elsewhere, who will suffer the most, even though they are the least responsible for global warming." In other words, the rich countries caused this so they must be made to pay!

7) Nine alien insects to cause pain, illness and even death in Britain as climate warms up

Those pesky illegal alien insects! Hey UK, here in the US we have something called RAID! Just make sure you buy the can with CFC free propellants.

8) Effects of Global Warming on Ancient Mammalian Communities and Their Environments

It appears ancient mammals also had a problem with global warming. At least their fossils survived.

9) NPR President: Climate Change to Make LA Traffic Even Worse

According to this guy climate change will drive millions of immigrants to LA resulting in even larger traffic jams. This must be true because its from NPR!

I could go on all night with this but while doing research I found that someone else was already compiling a really good list of things caused by global warming. It's from a UK website called Number Watch which is devoted to calling out misleading and false numbers that rain down from the media. If you are not already depressed over the impact that you are having on the earths climate then check out Number Watch's list and find out all the other problems you are responsible for.

Finally, I am thankful for still being married. I could not fathom the guilt I would bear knowing that I contributed even a small amount to global warming by getting a divorce.