Posted by: thebylog | February 4, 2010

Academic Inferiority Complexes

It seems that wherever I go, I’m surrounded by academic communities that feel as if they are being shortchanged in some way. Is this how it is with all disciplines or am I, for some unknown and subliminal reason, attracted to disciplines who harbor inferiority complexes?

You have the statisticians that feel as if they are in the shadow of the pure mathematicians. You have the Operation Research people who think their myriad methods are severely underutilized and underappreciated by those they are designed to help (i.e. the commercial sector). And then, in the area closest to my heart, you have experimental design experts who feel like they are being shortchanged by the greater statistical community.

Posted by: thebylog | January 20, 2010

The WHEN Lifestyle

I weigh about five pounds more than I would like.  One of my goals is to control my weight and stay in shape over the course of my lifetime.

Eating judiciously and working out have long been my weight control and fitness modus operandi.  I have confidence in their ability to help me meet my goals to the extent that I am reasonably disciplined in these areas.  Reasonably disciplined is difficult, however.

The other week, I read an article about a diet propounded by Todd Easton, a professor in the Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Department at Kansas State University.  He is an Operations Research type who wanted an effective, noninvasive weight loss strategy.  So he put on his O.R. hat and came up with the WHEN Diet, a weight loss strategy that tries to maximize weight loss per unit misery.  This lecture gives more information.

I like this “diet” because it is easily implemented as a lifestyle.  I am, in general, philosophically opposed to diets because they tend to be unsustainable.  Yo, yo-yo dieters, I’m talking to you.  But to implement WHEN principles, you just need to do two things late in the day: cut down on calories and exercise.  If you want to be hardcore, skip supper. If you want a gentler approach, eat less and more nutritionally for supper and cut out evening snacks.  During the rest of the day, eat normally.

And the post-dinner exercise he suggests is very minimal: push-ups or curls or crunches, for just a few minutes.  I think it would be even more effective if more extensive workouts were undertaken, but his idea is for the diet to be minimally intrusive.

In the end, losing weight still comes down to taking in fewer calories than you expend.  In my opinion, the WHEN Lifestyle (I like to call it the WHENL) offers an reasonable method to accomplish this.

Remember, hunger in the evening is just ounces leaving the body.

I played Settlers of Catan fourteen times in the twelve days we were in Oregon for Christmas, but won only three times.  Disappointing, for sure.

However, there was one memorable episode that can only be described as a classic game of Settlers, complete with dramatic ending and underdog victor.  It also illustrates the comeback ability the game gives players that fall behind early on, which is one of the aspects of the game that I like the most but which, at the same time, can be super frustrating if you’re the one jumping to the early lead.

Before I describe the classic game, I need to talk about another feature that adds to the strategic intrigue of the game: freely flowing propaganda.  In some games (say Rook), “table talk” is off-limits, but in Settlers it is an integral part of the game.  If you are behind and someone is close to winning, I let the rest of the players know so they stop trading with the leader and saddle him/her with the infamous robber.  This will, of course, give you a better chance of coming back to win.

I was playing with Amy (my wife), Justin (brother who’s what, 19?), and Trevin (brother who’s 8 I think).  I jumped out to the early lead and so of course the propaganda level was high from Justin’s corner.  And so they robber and trade freeze themselves back into contention.  Or rather, Amy and Justin appear to be on the verge of completing the comeback victory.  Trevin’s somewhere solid but not close enough to worry about.  I just can’t get what I need to salt away my victory.

So it’s Trevin’s turn and he’s standing on his chair, contemplating a trade with Justin, which I emphatically warn against (something like, “DON’T TRADE WITH HIM, HE HAS NINE POINTS!!!”), but all of the sudden he completes the trade and yells “I WIN!”

We’re like, “No, no, you didn’t win” and we look and he looks and sure enough he didn’t win. But wait.  He thinks and looks some more and insists that yes, he did win. And he did.  He came from out of nowhere and won it while I was beaten down and worrying about Amy and Justin.

Hilarious.  The eight-year old, standing on his chair after an ill-advised trade yelling that he’s won when no one had even given him a chance.

In Settlers, it is often the person that you don’t pay attention to that wins.  And furthermore, the person that is ahead at the beginning doesn’t automatically coast to triumph.  It happened to me twice in the recent run of games in Oregon.  I jump out to a solid lead, enough so that the anti-Byran propaganda swells and eventually the trade freeze goes into effect.  In both cases I lost.

Two of my brothers-in-law argue against the robber because they feel it is arbitrary, unfair, and unnecessary.  They don’t like its equalizing effect.

I disagree. I claim that this is a compelling element of the game.

Early success in Settlers sets a snowball rolling.  With no balancing mechanism, an early run of lucky rolling might ensure someone the victory.  But with the robber and trading freezes, the effect of the early success can be blunted.  I will note that another favorite strategy game, Acquire, has a similar, arbitrary element in that it only allows three stocks to be bought at a time, thus limiting the advantage of someone who finds himself flush with cash.

But an even more compelling reason for the robber is that it adds an additional layer of strategy.  The truth is, I don’t yet know how to effectively fight the problems that come when you jump to a big lead.  My best guess at an effective strategy is to buy lots of development cards early instead of expanding so quickly that it is obvious you are ahead.  This gambit should supply you with Knights/Soldiers to help stave off the robber, but what if you don’t have the right materials to buy these cards?  And in a massive six-person game, you can only play a Knight/Soldier once every six turns.  I’ve never been bold enough to intentionally hold myself back from making productive moves at the beginning of the game, because it seems so foolish in the short-term.  It might work because people don’t suspect you of taking over the game nearly so much if you have about the same amount of settlements/cities as them, even if you do start stacking up development cards.

On the other hand, it’s probably true that more times than not if you jump to a large lead you will end up winning.  So maybe this is overthinking the game a little bit.  If so, all I can say is that overthinking is fun.

Posted by: thebylog | December 28, 2009

Reposting about Denmark

This post about how socialistic Denmark seems to have happy citizens has had several interesting comments spread out over the last several months.

Posted by: thebylog | December 21, 2009

Two Attempts at Humor

Joke 1

Q. What do you call a flea-bitten Amishman with a sore throat?

A. Hoarse and buggy.

Joke 2

Q. What did the professor, whose daily habit it was to take a stroll about campus, say to the high school dropout who asked to join her?

A. “Can two walk together, except they be degreed?”

Posted by: thebylog | December 10, 2009

Public Speaking

I am in a seminar class this semester (which may be the final class of my graduate school career, by the way), and I am required to write a critique of several speakers and their presentations. Here are some edited excerpts that may serve as some thoughts on public speaking.

On Presenter A: “… I also appreciate his presentation of stories. In my opinion, an effective story delivery method is one in which the storyteller is caught up in his story to the extent that he thinks it is intrinsically interesting and/or funny irrespective of audience reaction. This has the effect of making the story intrinsically interesting and/or funny to me. Dr. ___ possessed this quality.”

On Presenter B: “I’ve had the privilege of sitting under Dr. ___ in a class, and because of my experience there I would expect nothing less than an excellent presentation. And so it was. He possesses the rare ability to present complicated concepts in a way that makes them seem inherently understandable. He is the type of speaker who almost coaxes clarity out of complicated ideas based on his presentation skills alone.

Posted by: thebylog | November 23, 2009


Once, I wanted to say a word that meant “irrespective” and instead said “irregardless.”  You should have heard the clamor as I was roundly booed by my wife and her sister.
However, “irregardless” is in the dictionary, though it doesn’t appear to hold a very favored status.
Posted by: thebylog | November 17, 2009

Reflections on Grad School

I will soon end my time as a graduate student in the statistics department at Penn State. I plan to graduate with a PhD by the end of the upcoming summer. Even before I leave, I’m growing nostalgic about the time I’ve spent here.   Happy Valley is a great part of the world.

The impending ending has prompted some reflection in terms of personal growth on my part.

Academically, there is no doubt that grad school has been transformative. I arrived at the beach of learning as a bright-eyed scholastic neophyte, and venturing toe-deep into the water, immediately experienced a storm. Brilliant classmates, hard courses, unseasoned math skills. It added up to a personal nor’easter.

Given the inauspicious beginning, I probably had little confidence that I could see the program through for a PhD. My working strategy, anyway, was to get a Master’s degree and then reevaluate. When decision time came, I chose to ride the academic wave as far as it would take me and somehow the swell was large enough to sweep me past the major hazards: courses, qualifying exams, comprehensives.

Once I made it to the open sea, where it was not only acceptable but necessary to plumb the academic depths of a chosen research topic, things turned exhilarating. I found thesis advisors well-suited to my interests and aptitude, and at some point I wasn’t clinging to survival in the open sea on a dilapidated life-boat, but using the stiff winds to my advantage and sailing in a handsome schooner.

I found that I loved the research process because it allowed me to become immersed in a particular problem. I’d think about it during the day, then while I was walking to my car. I’d think about it in the shower, on the bus, and even when I was at home with my family (I fight that one). I’d think about it so much that I felt I actually might be able to contribute something to it that no one else had. Working like this on a few problems, and making some progress, has increased my confidence enormously.

I love research for the moments of insight, when I feel something click together in my mind.

God has surely been behind this stomach-turning ocean voyage. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17, NIV). All things work together for good to them that love God (Romans 8:28). “Good” for me has meant successfully navigating this program, and coming to enjoy it immensely.

Posted by: thebylog | September 25, 2009

Left/Right Politics as Usual

I didn’t think too much of the uproar fomented by the conservative right excoriating President Obama for speaking to schoolchildren. But on the other hand, I have similar feelings about the left basically trumping up blanket charges of racism toward those that are protesting the administration’s policies.

No doubt there are some misguided souls who actually do have a beef with the president because he’s black. But to insinuate that the movement as a whole is racially-tinged is puzzling, unnecessary, and unhelpful.

Posted by: thebylog | September 11, 2009

Happy, Wealthy Danes

This article by Robert Patterson argues that traditional marriage is the most economically productive family arrangement because of the sharp division of labor which exists between the man and woman: The man works mostly to be productive outside the home and the woman works almost exclusively within it.  This balances the need to produce economically for the good of the family unit with the need to propogate and nurture which will result in future production and economic advantage for the society. 

This in contrast to homosexual arrangements or even many heterosexual unions in which there is no such distinction. 

Makes sense to me, though this seems more theoretical than based upon empirical evidence.  Of course, this theory supports the Biblical ideal.

In the same article, the author cites some statistics about the state of the traditional family in Scandinavia, where, it seems, more than half of births are to unwed mothers.  If the above theory is true, then I would expect such countries to be poor, yet when I look at per capita GDP it seems as if most Scandinavian countries are in the top 10%.
It reminds me of another article I read sometime back which refers to the peacefulness and happiness of these Scandinavian countries.  This was unexpected because I have been programmed to view socialism as an unsustainable, unjust societal structure.  Perhaps a level of socialism can in fact produce a functioning, prosperous, and happy society.

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