2016-08-26

Summer Olympics Wrap-Up

The Rio Olympics have come and gone! Although there was great anxiety that it would be a cluster****, the games seem to have gone off just fine.



Because we don't have TV at home, Katie and I were only able to watch a few select events that were made available by the BBC - mostly synchronized diving and wrestling. I have a few take-aways from having watched ~20 hours of coverage of these events:

  • The BBC announcer for synchronized diving should announce all events! That guy was amazing! "Oh wow, what a dive! If that were a steak, it would be medium-rare - just perfect!" "I am literally out of my seat right now!" "Oh, goodness, she just fell like a tree - timberrrrrrrr!"
  • Freestyle wrestling is more enjoyable to watch than Greco-Roman wrestling. Greco-Roman seemed to be 90% handwrestling and leaning into each other with occasional passivity penalty scores. Freestyle was more offense-driven.
  • Women's wresting is more enjoyable to watch than men's. By and large women's wrestling was more aggressive, more dramatic, and more interesting. At least 50% of the medals were determined by a score in the final seconds of the match whereas men's matches always seemed to go to whoever was ahead halfway through the second period.
  • There may be no crying in baseball but there is a lot of crying in wrestling! Interestingly, while the men tended to cry in victory, the women tended to cry in defeat (and beam in victory). There are several potential psychology and sociology papers to be written about that phenomenon!
  • IMD has truly transformed the way I watch the Olympics. Previously I only really cared about the USA but this year I found myself cheering for Azerbaijani and Belarusian wrestlers out of solidarity with my MBA classmates. Frankly the Olympics is more fun and interesting to watch when you care about more countries than just your own!
But really, on to the real question at hand: who "won" the Olympics? Per my previous posts, I continue to use a weighted scoring system to tally up Olympic medals by country. This year I tracked not just the top performers but every country that won at least one medal - you can see my full spreadsheet here.

The USA won in every category: golds, silvers, bronzes, total medals, and weighted medal score. The top performers by weighted medal score were:
  1. 379 - USA
  2. 221 - Great Britain
  3. 210 - China
  4. 168 - Russia
  5. 130 - Germany
  6. 118 - France
  7. 105 - Japan
  8. 084 - Italy
  9. 083 - Australia
  10. 065 - Netherlands
Russia's lackluster performance wasn't much of a surprise as they were banned from track and field competition. China's performance, on the other hand, was a big shock. They went from a weighted medal score of 346 (#1 overall) in 2008 to 294 in 2012 (#2 overall) all the way down to 210 this year - a very distant 3rd. What could account for this precipitous drop? They had home field advantage in 2008 but that surely wasn't responsible for 100% of their peak performance back then.

This year there were many discussions not just of overall medal counts but also of countries that "punched above their weight." Accordingly, I added population and GDP as normalization metrics to the spreadsheet. The top performers by weighted medal score per million citizens were:
  1. 30.00 - Grenada
  2. 15.79 - Bahamas
  3. 13.90 - Jamaica
  4. 11.04 - New Zealand
  5. 08.59 - Croatia
  6. 06.13 - Denmark
  7. 05.83 - Slovenia
  8. 05.75 - Fiji
  9. 05.71 - Bahrain
  10. 05.38 - Hungary
The top performers by weighted medal score per $B GDP (PPP) were:
  1. 3.00 - Grenada
  2. 1.64 - Jamaica
  3. 0.67 - Bahamas
  4. 0.63 - Fiji
  5. 0.56 - Armenia
  6. 0.53 - North Korea
  7. 0.47 - Georgia
  8. 0.38 - Burundi
  9. 0.37 - Croatia
  10. 0.34 - Kenya
The top performers by weighted medal score per $1,000 GDP per capita were:
  1. 15.42 - Kenya
  2. 13.86 - China
  3. 12.71 - North Korea
  4. 10.06 - Ethiopia
  5. 06.62 - USA
  6. 06.57 - Russia
  7. 05.66 - Uzbekistan
  8. 05.37 - Great Britain
  9. 04.83 - Jamaica
  10. 03.79 - Burundi
My friend, colleague, and data scientist extraordinaire took the liberty of throwing the spreadsheet into Tableau for visualization - check it out for a more engaging analysis!

2016-08-21

Wine Cooler Problem Solving

In addition to our wine cellar in the basement, we maintain a medium-sized wine cooler in our kitchen for bottles that are ready to drink now. Although we keep that cooler set to 13 degrees C (55 F), recently it has been reporting temperatures several degrees higher.

This was perplexing as the device is only a few years old (so the cooling mechanism shouldn't be failing) and, even during the day when our A/C is off, the ambient temperature is well within the device's operating range (so the cooling mechanism shouldn't be overworked). The cooler is a thermoelectric unit, so it doesn't have condenser coils that need to be cleaned/vacuumed for efficiency either.

On a whim, I pulled the cooler out from the wall thinking that maybe increasing the airflow behind it could help. While I didn't find that the increased airflow helped, I did find a tremendous amount of dog hair and dust caked to the back of the cooler!

Even though the device doesn't have coils that need to be vacuumed, it apparently does have vents in the back for circulating out warmer air. When those get plugged up, the warm air has nowhere to go, so vacuuming/cleaning them is apparently important.

After vacuuming the vents, the internal temperature of the cooler began dropping within minutes, eventually reaching 13 degrees C. I had assumed there was no point in looking behind the cooler because there weren't any coils there - but that's where the problem turned out to be anyway.

This is a good reminder to challenge my assumptions; when the evidence doesn't fit those assumptions, they may be wrong. Now I think I'll toast this solved mystery with a nice, cool white burgundy . . .

Cooling Off In August

I went for a run this morning and was surprised to notice that the first signs of autumn are already evident. A few yellow leaves were falling and a sporadic, cool breeze was blowing.

Even though we've been in NC for three years now, I'm still incredulous that August could be anything but the sweltering peak of heat and humidity that I knew for so long in Houston. I suppose this turning of the corner toward autumn happened when I lived in Virginia as well, but it was always hidden from me by football two-a-days.

Regardless, it is very welcome - especially when running! I love each of the seasons in different ways but the times of transition between them are fun reminders that we live once again in a place with four of them.

2016-08-18

Summer Track 2016 PRs

Another summer track season has come and gone and this year I was running with power. Below are my PRs from this year's events with previous years' PRs in parentheses:

100m: 13.6s (12.7s)
200m: 28.54s (27.69s)
400m: 1:05 (1:03)
800m: 2:30 (2:31)
1,000m: 3:17 (3:19)
1,500m: 5:19 (5:21)
1 Mile: 5:44 (5:51)
3,000m: 11:41 (11:39)
5,000m: N/A (20:14)
10,000m: N/A (44:15)

I didn't focus on any of the sprint events this season and only "raced" the 800m-3,000m, where I mostly saw improvement. One takeaway is that, if I'm going to go for a PR in a longer track race (3,000m or 5,000m), I need to do it earlier in the season, when it is still cooler. Once the weather reaches peak heat/humidity, the prospect of sustaining PR pace for more than 10 minutes after two hours of other events (The longest distance races are always at the end of the night.) becomes less and less likely.

2016-08-06

Sir Walter Miler

Last night Katie and I took advantage of our proximity to Raleigh and attended the Sir Walter Miler. It's an annual race at which elite runners try to set new records in the mile. It was a really fun environment as spectators were allowed down on the track during the races to cheer on the athletes.



How did those athletes do? The winning woman finished the mile in 4:25 and the winning man finished in 3:54. Those numbers are impressive enough, but it was even more impressive to see what a sub-4:00 mile looks like up close and personal!

Afterward, Katie and I rewarded ourselves for our excellent spectating by visiting nearby FRESH, our favorite ice cream in the Triangle!

2016-07-31

No Proof that Hillary Clinton Took Bribes as Secretary of State

While I have never intended for this blog to be political in nature, I am still very much interested in critical thinking, challenging unsubstantiated claims, and questioning data that may be misrepresented to manipulate opinion - and these days that pretty much means talking politics!

Recently I've heard several attacks on Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC), alleging that she took bribes in the form of donations to the Clinton Foundation in exchange for favors to foreign governments. Those are very serious allegations of treason and corruption! Frankly they seem pretty dubious to me given that a Republican-led House and Senate have shown willingness to put HRC "on trial" in multiple hearings about Benghazi and her emails - if these allegations had "meat," why wouldn't Hillary be on trial for them too?

Let's take a look. To prove these allegations, we would need to show that:

A. the Clinton Foundation is some sort of "slush fund" through which HRC can take donations that would otherwise be illegal or seen as untoward.
B. foreign governments received favors in return for making donations to the Clinton Foundation during HRC's tenure as Secretary of State (SoS).

Let's examine each in turn:

A. The Clinton Foundation is a legitimate nonprofit that has raised more than $2B and that spends 89% of its funds fulfilling its charitable mission (according to the American Philanthropy Institute). I have had students involved in one of its projects, the Clinton Global Initiative. Charity Watch has rated it an "A" on an A+ to F scale. It is non-partisan and has frequently collaborated with charitable efforts from both Bushes. For a deeper examination of its use of funds, see this post from factcheck.org. It is legit.

But, legit or not, could it still be used as a front for HRC bribes? Before HRC became Secretary of State, she was on the Board of the Clinton Foundation. Upon her SoS appointment she resigned from the Board and a special agreement was put into place for ethics reviews of foreign donations to the foundation. HRC joined the foundation in 2013 after having left the SoS post. At no time has she or Bill ever been able to withdraw money from the foundation's funds so it does not seem to be a "slush fund."

It does appear that, as SoS, HRC took advice from a former adviser who was at that time employed by the Clinton Foundation. So the most damning thing you can say about her potentially nefarious SoS use of the foundation is that she was able to use it to employ someone whom she could not get hired directly into the State department.

B. The Clinton Foundation did take foreign donations while HRC was SoS, e.g. in response to the Haiti relief efforts. Eyebrows were especially raised around donations that could have impacted decisions on Russia and AlgeriaAll such donations except one went through State ethics reviews. Since HRC's time as SoS the fund has provided an unprecedented level of transparency, disclosing donors annually and quarterly. No one has ever found any smoking gun of wrongdoing and, again, I'm sure many - with much more time and inclination than I - have tried.

CONCLUSION: There simply isn't enough evidence to suggest that HRC was using the Clinton Foundation as a "slush fund" or that she was quid pro quo'ing with foreign governments as SoS. If you want to believe that HRC's behavior was unethical, you can craft an argument that it was unethical by citing coincidence as evidence and projecting nefarious intent onto HRC's motivations and actions. However, I don't see anything here that would convince an objective observer that there was anything untoward going on.

2016-07-29

Lies in Politics

Some version or another of this chart has been making the rounds on facebook:


It is a summary from Politifact of the truthfulness of statements made by several prominent US politicians leading into the 2016 presidential election. Each of the politicians has made at least 50 statements rated by Politifact but, to be clear, this chart represents the rating of ALL of each politician's statements, not the ratings of just a cherry picked 50 statements.

This chart isn't perfect. For one thing, its data comes from Politifact, which claims to be independent but is owned by the Tampa Bay Times, which traditionally has a left-leaning bias. However, factcheck.org (an independent non-profit) largely agrees with these ratings and my own digging indicates that they're pretty legitimate.

One striking takeaway is that the current Republican nominee for President is at the top of the list for telling half truths, misrepresentations of information, and outright lies. Can that really be so?

Let's take a look at statements recently made by the Republican nominee and the GOP alleging that the DNC email leak is proof of rampant racism in the DNC. The statements call out three specific emails; let's examine each in turn:

1. ALLEGATION: The DNC refers to its strategy for Latino voters as "Taco Bowl Engagement."
EMAIL: "Attached is a script for a new video we’d like to use to mop up some more taco bowl engagement, and demonstrate the Trump actually isn’t trying."
It is pretty clear that the email is referring to the Republican nominee's own "taco bowl" tweet, not referring to Latino voters as such.

2. ALLEGATION: The DNC mocked a black woman's name (LaQueenia Gibson).
EMAIL: "LaQueenia is a NAME!
I'm sorry, boo. I hope you got a raise with this title."
The first sentence seems to be impressed with the regal name, not to be mocking it, and the second sentence has nothing to do with the name; it is in response to the previous email about frustration with endless meetings and calls to organize an event. Even if it were a racist email, the author doesn't even work at the DNC.

3. ALLEGATION: The DNC made anti-Semitic remarks about Bernie Sanders.
EMAIL: "It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist. "
I don't see anything anti-Jewish here; the author is pointing out that the religious segment will prefer someone with religion - even if it isn't their religion - to someone who doesn't believe in God at all.

CONCLUSION: While the DNC emails do show some pretty despicable actions to thwart the democratic process, they do not show rampant racism, as the right wing media has claimed.

It is especially worrying that the representation of these quotes has been deliberately provided out of context so as to make them seem racist; I'm sure the vast majority of readers are taking the articles at face value and not reading the original emails themselves.

If facebook is any evidence, today we spend much of our time in echo chambers, surrounded by people and news sources that affirm our already held beliefs. That is why it is more important than ever that we exercise critical thinking, about which I have written before.

It makes sense that the Republican nominee should be hyperbolic and contrarian; he is challenging the status quo so he needs to convince people that the status quo is bad. No one (in my lifetime) did this more masterfully than Bill Clinton, who somehow convinced American voters that it was "Time For a Change" despite George H. W. Bush's record presidential approval ratings, winning the first Persian Gulf War decisively, a healthy economy, etc. Still, the need to be hyperbolic and contrarian is not license to lie to voters.

As I spend more and more of my time debunking fallacious and misleading political claims these days, I will try to include some of the more significant analyses on this blog. As an ardent Independent voter with a 50/50 Republican/Democrat presidential voting record, I don't have a vested interest in hammering any particular party or candidate. After all, the other takeaway from the above chart is that all candidates are lying to us at least somewhat and that is simply disgraceful; America deserves better.