Saturday, August 29, 2009

George Box's "Improving Almost Anything"

George E. P. Box is probably the greatest industrial statistician in the 20th century. George was quoted as saying "Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful." In short whenever a scientist produces a model or formula from observed or historic data, that model inherently contains errors. Models provide us a method of predicting the behavior of physical systems. I have seen many times the use of a scientific model on a process or system that will not predict the outcome of a change to a system.

The reasons are simple.

1) Models built on historical data cannot sort out causal factors from nuisance factors or noise very well.
2) Time trends effect physical process. If data was collected over long time periods such as years there is little accounting for random factors effecting a process or system.

Box also stated, "To find out what happens to a system when you interfere with it you have to interfere with it (not just passively observe it)." Here George Box presents the wisdom of conducting designed experiments and planned experimentation. When you deliberately interfere with a process or system you can observe a result. I think George believes almost anything can be improved through the use of DOE and statistical methods. However he really insists and advocates a scientific approach using planned experimentation and I definitely am in agreement.

A recent trend in Data Mining is somewhat disturbing to me. It goes against the teachings of R A Fisher and George Box. Whenever we are looking at past data we never know for sure if causal factors are real or not. There is the possibility of spurious correlations and erroneous conclusions. None the less due to the large growth in available data, the profession and activities of Data Miners is growing. I always caution about research that involves data mining. My time spent looking at historic data from chemical processes shows little promise at good models without additional experimentation to validate or verify results.

To read more about George Box's philosophies find the book "Improving Almost Anything: Ideas and Essays" by George Box and Friends, 2006, Wiley.

Almost all processes and systems can be improved. All that is needed is a planned and guided scientific approach to a solution. Box points out that this is the critical ingredient to the Six Sigma revolution when CEOs of Motorola, GE, Honeywell and Texas Instruments realized the power of statistical methods and the necessity to train employees for continuous improvement.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Concert Review: McCartney "Gives Peace a Chance"

The Green Concert will go down in Atlanta's history as a concert to be remembered. At sixty something, Paul McCartney still has it and the show is big. The stage is big and the crowd was big. I don't know the official attendance for Piedmont park but I have to estimate close to 50,000 fans. The scene was incredible. McCartney insisted "It's my show so I can do what I want!" He took in the scene of the crowd and appeared truly amazed at the size of the crowd and the age of the audience from young to old.

The music is still as good as ever from the new classics "Highway" and "Dance Tonight" to the older Wings tunes and Beatles songs of the sixties, the sound crisp, clear and rockin good. The band members behind McCartney are truly master musicians and should get more credit and opportunity in the act. He paid tribute to both John Lennon and George Harrison during the event. The date marked the 40th anniversary of Woodstock and the 44th anniversary of the Beatles appearance at Shea. Other than a few reflections on the era, there were no political commentaries, protests or statements that might have been there in the 60s.

The concert climaxed with Fireworks during "Live and Let Die". Three favorites for me were "Day Tripper", "Paperback Writer" and "Helter Skelter" all three hits that framed the Beatles for me in the 60's.

The only negative for the night was the rain. A 20 minute shower reminded us of the hazards of outdoor open event concerts. Here is the rest of the set list.

Paul McCartney Set List , Piedmont Park, August 15th , Atlanta

1. Drive My Car
2. Jet
3. Only Mama Knows
4. Flaming Pie
5. Got To Get You Into My Life
6. Let Me Roll It / Foxy Lady
7. Highway
8. The Long and Winding Road
9. My Love
10. Blackbird
11. Here Today
12. Dance Tonight
13. Calico Skies
14. Mrs Vanderbilt
15. Eleanor Rigby
16. Sing the Changes
17. Band on the Run
18. Back in the U.S.S.R.
19. I'm Down
20. Something
21. I've Got a Feeling
22. Paperback Writer
23. A Day in the Life / Give Peace A Chance
24. Let It Be
25. Live and Let Die
26. Hey Jude


27. Day Tripper
28. Lady Madonna
29. I Saw Her Standing There

Second Encore:

30. Yesterday
31. Helter Skelter
32. Get Back
33. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Book Review: Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

This book paralleled the development of Marconi's wireless telegraphy and the story of murderer Harvey Hawley Crippen. Erik Larson writes in a style of fiction, yet he is truly telling two non-fiction stories. As the stories developed it becomes apparent as to how the two stories are related. In the the end the fate of Crippen was determined by Marconi's invention. Erik Larson provides significant notes and references to allow the reader to dig deeper into just about any facet in the book. He quotes actual historical documents and provides facts that read like fiction. This time period in our history is extremely interesting. Larson sets the stage well describing the lifestyle, clothing, homes and culture of the era. One of the best books I have read the past few years.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Quality Triangle - Fast, Good and Cheap

On my way home from Airventure Oshkosh (the superbowl of aviation), I had a real life experience with the quality triangle. Of course being the miser that I am, I opted for the low price tickets on American Eagle from New Orleans to Milwaukee and then returning Milwaukee to New Orleans. No problem the flights stopped through St. Louis with what I thought was a decent layover.

On the takeoff roll out of Milwaukee the pilots aborted the takeoff. They caught the problem early enough that you didn't really notice any problem. Taxi back to the gate. I am familiar with aborting takeoffs. As a private pilot, I have done so myself but usually for stupid reasons such as the passenger seat belt still hanging out the door. They blamed it on fuel sensors and instruments. I don't second guess these decisions as safety is paramount in flying.

To accommodate our flight, American Eagle dispatched a plane from Chicago that either never left the ground or it turned back enroute. Now it was starting to be a long day. Ultimately, after about a 5 or 6 hour delay we boarded another plane for St. Louis. We received a reroute from St. Louis to Dallas to New Orleans for the next day. We had to spend the night in St. Louis.

The next morning when boarding. I was flagged and pulled aside when my seat had been assigned to another passenger. Yikes after all this. American did honor my ticket as there must have been at least one or two unassigned seats on the plane. From here on out we finally arrived home about 20 hours later than initially planned. OK so that's not the worst travel story, however, it did tell me a little about choosing the lowest priced connections.

1) American Eagle had issues with two consecutive planes. Can't say why but this seems unusual. I thought aircraft reliability was better than this.
2) Attendents and service personnel were overworked and rude. I did not get one, I'm sorry or please from a single employee at American Airlines.
3) American Eagle agents made no announcements in Milwaukee. We got more information from discussion with the pilots than with the agents. This was unusual.

In the end, my choice to choose the lowest price ticket left me with service that was not fast and questionably may not have been very good. The quality triangle at work!