A 76 percent game!

I still don't have a regular partner at bridge. When playing online, I register at the partnership desk and take whoever signs up. Mostly, this is a crap shoot. All kinds of people rate themselves as "Advanced" and turn out to be extremely poor bridge players. Over time, I've begun to generalize by nationality. Americans and Canadians typically rate themselves fairly. Turks and South Americans grossly exaggerate their skills. Indians and Chinese underrate themselves -- you would be surprised at how well Indian "novices" play. Europeans typically play Acol, a bidding system I don't know, so I haven't had a chance to make unfair generalizations about them yet.

Today, another Norman bridge club player was logged on to Bridge Base (without his regular partner), so we signed up to play a tournament. What a difference a known partner makes! We ended up with a 76 percent game and second overall (of 210 pairs!). To put this in perspective, I've never crossed a 55% game with any of my random partners, and never been in the top 1/3.

Oh, for a regular partner ...

The most annoying shopper

What's the most annoying, time wasting thing that someone ahead of you in a checkout line has done? Here's mine:

The lady had picked up the small brown bags that the store places near the ice cream section, so that you can store frozen foods in it. Presumably so that the ice cream doesn't melt too badly while you are shopping.

Anyway, she had picked up these small brown bags and gone through the store putting 2-3 items in each bag. A chunk of cheese and deli meat in one. Yoghurt and granola bars in another. And so on. She had eight such bags and asked the clerk at the checkout counter to put the items back in the same bag. So the clerk was unpacking each of the ice cream bags, scannning the items and putting them back in. One bag at a time.

Since 100 brown lunch bags sell for $2, this woman was messing with all of us behind her in line for a lousy 16c. Never mind how ungreen it is to use brown paper bags (and I know she'd at least talk the green talk because of all that crunchy stuff she was buying).
Posted by Picasa

And Tebow Wept

When Florida coach Urban Meyer decided to retire because of health reasons, the Florida players had a meeting. The AP reports that Tebow and several of his teammates cried.

A fox, not a hedgehog

I just finished putting together three presentations that I'll be making at the AMS annual meeting and realized that there is nothing connecting these three talks. Nothing.

Model Verification Using Gaussian Mixture Models (20th Conf. on Prob and Stat. in the Atmos. Sc., 2010)[ talk (PDF) online ]

Evaluating a Storm Tracking Algorithm (26th IIPS, 2010) [ talk (PDF) online ]

Predicting Turbulence using Partial Least Squares Regression and an Artificial Neural Network (AMS AI Conference 2010) [ talk (PDF) online ]

Can I send these back?

First, they came for the third floor. Putting up art that looked exactly like the carpet. I just laughed.
And then they came for our floor, with a monstrosity that looks like Texas with a noose in the middle.
What's the return policy, I wonder. Do we have until January to return these objects d'art?
Posted by Picasa

Philadelphia is so lawless that the laws of physics don't apply

Philadelphia is a lawless city. So lawless that even the laws of physics don't apply.

If the bell in their new city logo is tilted because it is ringing, why is the wooden frame that the bell is hanging from also rotated?

Scientists take the time to learn the basics of music, literature, art ... the social norm is to be familiar with these things. Why is it not a social norm for artsy types to be similarly familiar with basic science? Why do more Americans believe in UFOs than in evolution?

[First noticed here]

Innumeracy: feds can't do math

What's the problem with having a bunch of attorneys in charge of regulatory agencies? They can't be bothered to do even simple math ...

The federal agency in charge of regulating pipelines sets rates to meet a targeted rate of return, which is now 12%. They observed that the annual rate of return for one particular pipeline was 24% and so filed a law suit saying that the pipeline was overcharging. But here's the thing: because the pipeline depreciates over time, you can't compute the annual rate over the original amount.

John Hempton pulled the relevant formula out of Wikipedia (it's just a gussied up compound interest equation), plugged in the numbers and discovered that the rates being charged, rather than being too high, were actually too low -- presumably, Berkshire Hathaway (the owner of the pipeline) was being forced to accept lower-than-allowed rates because of market competition.

Jews for healthcare reform

In a post that suggests that Lieberman may be too dumb to know what he's doing (Why do liberals always cast aspersions on the the brains of the other side?), Matt Yglesias remarks:
Anyways, this reminds me that at a meeting this morning I pitched the idea of trying to do health reform in a secret Christmas morning session that only Jewish Senators would attend. There’s a whole bunch — Boxer, Cardin, Feingold, Feinstein, Franken, Kohl, Lautenberg, Levin, Lieberman, Sanders, Schumer, Specter, and Wyden. It’s a very progressive bunch and Lieberman could easily be outvoted

Let It Snow ... let it snow ... let it snow

Ever since Thanksgiving, we have been having a really cold spell. Today, however, was gorgeous. A sunny, 70 degree day in mid-December!

Since we were out the week of Thanksgiving, I missed the chance to put up Christmas lights in nice weather. I thought I could omit the whole lights thing this year, but the nice weather today took away my excuse. The kids wheedled me into putting the lights up this morning.

Last week's cold spell also pointed out a couple of drafty windows. So, I spent the rest of the morning caulking.

In the afternoon, the wife decided the cars were beaucoup dirty. S1, she and I spent the afternoon washing the cars.

And such nice weather! Wouldn't it be great to grill something? I guess ... time for me to break out the backyard grill to smoke eggplants for Bhaigan Bharta ...

Am I ready for cold weather or what?

Corrupt wheeling and dealing

How come the banks are making money and paying out huge bonuses? Because we the taxpayers are being swindled thanks to a corrupt Obama administration. Henry Blodget explains how you too can make $400 million dollars a year risk-free (to yourself: the taxpayer carries all the risk):

STEP 1: Form a bank.

STEP 2: Round up a bunch of unemployed friends to be "bankers."

STEP 3: Raise $1 billion of equity. (This is the only tricky step. And it's not that tricky. See below.*)

STEP 4: Borrow $9 billion from the Fed at an annual cost of 0.25%.

STEP 5: Buy $10 billion of 30-year Treasuries paying 4.45%

STEP 6: Sit back and watch the cash flow in

A hierarchical search strategy with economic incentives

DARPA ran a contest recently. They placed ten red weather balloons at secret locations all over the United States. The first person to correctly identify the locations of all 10 balloons would win the prize.

The winners (a bunch of postdocs from MIT's Media Lab) organized it as a pyramid scheme (the concept is useful beyond Madoff and Amway!). The person who reported a balloon to a central website would get $2000; the person who invited him to participate would get $1000, and the person who invited that person would, in turn, get $500, and so on. So, there was an incentive, not just to find the balloons, but to canvass your social network for people who were spread out, and into this sort of thing.

What I like about this is that it takes advantage of two concepts: hierarchical, parallelized search (each person looking in their neighborhood independently, sort of like a genetic algorithm) and a smart economic design of incentives (to increase the number of agents conducting the search).

Ultimately, it took just 9 hours to locate all ten balloons.

School bond issue: a fair trade

The school bond vote yesterday was closer than most -- Oklahoma requires a supermajority (60%) to raise taxes and so the school bond issue that passed with 65% of the vote was rather close.

I voted the bond issue, but only reluctantly, but not for the reason that animated much of the opposition. Much of the opposition centered around the fact that these bonds are for 5 years, instead of the typical 1 year.

I have no problem with a 5-year bond. Since these things require a super-majority, it's more predictable if a 4-year project can be funded through completion. You might get lower bids on the construction contracts too. Besides, interest rates are really low now and a 5-year bond takes advantage of that.

What I did not like was some of the uses of the money: for curtains, resurfacing athletic fields and the like. But I suppose there are parents who'd find money for science labs wasteful too. A reasonable trade -- they get their athletic fields and I get my science labs.

My former barber gives Carnatic music lessons over the web

S1 is learning the basics of Carnatic music, and to help him get the pitch right, the wife has him sing along with internet samples of the basic music exercises. I glanced over their shoulder and was surprised to see that the audio stream came from the homepage of "shivkuma" at RPI, aka my barber!

Shivkumar and I were in the same batch at IITM and were also graduate students at Ohio State at the same time.  One of the ways that we saved money as starving graduate students was that I'd give him a haircut and he'd cut my hair in return -- we saved a grand total of $10 that way!

Anyway, it was a nice surprise to see my former barber serving out Carnatic music lessons over the web.

Feels like Christmas

There is nothing like singing "Hark the angels" and "Silent Night" in a cavernous auditorium with 300 other people to make you get into the Christmas spirit.

Catlett Center on the OU campus has gorgeous acoustics and it was used to maximum effect during a Xmas choral music concert yesterday. The icing on the cake was that one in every 4 songs or so, they'd invite audience participation and then the whole hall reverberated.
Posted by Picasa