Friday, May 25, 2012


Recently, I read an article about how Human Resources Departments use numbers to screen candidates and, thus, reduced the time it takes to hire someone. If you are interested in the full article, you can read it here.  Since the movie Moneyball came out, there has been a push in the media to emphasize the importance of data analysis. Here are some important notes: the book Moneyball came out in 2003 (goes to show Americans really don’t like to read), and the following statistics are over 100 years old: Runs, RBI, Home Runs, Errors, Batting Average, and Earned Run Average]. I make this note because people were using statistics for 100 years to look at baseball players.  The media fails to mention this. We have statistics for almost everything, but it doesn’t mean they are good statistics. In the movie, Jonah Hill’s character makes the all but important comment : “We are finding an Island of Misfit toys”. His character emphasizes finding new statistics that are actually better predictors to the desired outcome (in his case wins). As much as data analysis is a science, it is actually an art as well.  Data Scientists (and statisticians) need to look outside of the issue and attempt to create new statistics that will predict the outcome better. It is not simply just finding numbers that fit, and calling it a day.
                This brings me to my next point, numbers never lie, but the people that tell them do. Here are some facts: I have been unemployed for 36 hours and our league-mate John had jumped up 10 points into 5th place. Now, hopefully by the end of this post I would have taught you how to not believe any of these.
                Yes, I have been unemployed for 36 hours, which is indeed a fact. However, before you begin to send your condolences I should tell you that in 72 hours I will be employed by a new company. I failed to apply context to the situation. I didn’t tell you knowledge that I knew, that outside of the range I provided I will actually be employed. In this problem, statisticians typically lower their sample size to include only the information that is convenient for them. Here is another example of this nature. The New York Rangers have never lost a game seven at home. Hopefully you asked how many times has that happened, [it’s 4 btw]. See, always think about “what’s outside the box”.
                John, my good friend [he also helped edit this post, so hopefully he didn’t delete this section], sent out an email that went something like this. “Guys I have gained 10 points overnight, and am now in 5th place, fear me, I’m the best [insert wrestling taunt]”.  Now John, like a good taunter, left out a few pieces of key information. He was in 5th place last week! He also had four pitchers pitching that night, so it wasn’t a surprise to see him go up 30ish strikeouts, and gain some wins. It is not a shocker that he went up 10 points. He also is in 5th, it’s not like he is winning the league. John failed to tell us what happened before, that he actually just regained his position!
                See in life, we are rarely given false numbers. They are just applied for the author’s point. Sure the unemployment rate may be declining; however, it may just be that people stopped applying for unemployment!  So the next time you open the newspaper   read news online think about how statistics are being applied, and whether there are statistics outside of that bound.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Its all in a bad day

Hi readers! We have some [somewhat] exciting news. We have been legally claimed, and working on getting our own domain name. As for the blog, continue to read!

When I was stressed in grad school, I made a promise to myself to read books once I finished. Well, on Tuesday I turned in my last paper (for now, long story) and then opened up a new book. Hopefully by reading more, these posts will become more coherent, but I make no promises. I am currently reading How Fantasy Sports Explains the World [link]. The book tells stories and relates them to fantasy sports. I really like the style of writing, and figured I would borrow that idea, since not everyone knows sports, but everyone likes a good story.

I've never been a huge fan of Yelp; there are several reasons for this. Yelp tends to overplay or underplay the actual service of the establishment. People use yelp to either love something or hate something, and it rarely has constituency. I feel as though yelp truly only has two stars, a 5 or a 1. Another important part of this story is about my obsession with coffee. My compulsive addictive behaviour close friend Dave got into espresso about a year ago, and since then we have become snobs about it. We travel to hell on earth Arlington to try new shops and we started grind our own beans. If we lived in the burbs, I'm pretty sure we would have tried growing our beans. The moral of the story is, I take my coffee very seriously. 

So one Friday, not too long ago, I travelled to Chinatown Coffee. It’s a young, hip place where all the barista's ride bikes and have tattoos (that's how you can tell if a coffee shop is legit btw). I ordered my drink (which shockingly was on the menu: a cortado for those wondering) and asked for whole milk. The barista's bar was full of drinks and was calling out drinks like we were at bingo. I hear "non-fat cortado", to avoid confusion I ask the barista if this was whole milk or non-fat, to avoid taking someone else's drink. His response "I dont know, its not poisonousness so just drink it". Now sure, it was 8am, and this guy clearly raged the night before, but that is no way to talk to a customer. After telling a few of my friends, some suggested that I write a review on yelp. I protested, because it was really only one barista, and it wouldn't be fair to the entire shop. So instead, I did nothing but boycott that place... until today.

As I mentioned, I like to read in the mornings in coffee shops. So I walk into the place and sure enough, Baldy McBaldster is there, with his fashionably tattooed arm and hipster glasses. Mentally all I can think of was, well im screwed. I order a Cappuccino and await the results. While standing there, a girl went up to the bar and asked "Is this skinny, because it says whole". Then I saw it coming, "Oh no here we go", but to my surprise, he was nice. "Oh I think someone already took that drink, let me make you another one". Wait, did that just happen, this guy was suppose to be a dick, and he was nice. Then my drink is up, looks me in the eye and says im going to spit in your drink "Large Cap right? Its coming right up". Sure enough, he gave me a larger size, fist pumped and we chatted about the shop.

In life, we all have bad experiences, bad days and really bad luck. However, as in sports, if your player goes down with an injury, or goes 0-5, gives up 14 runs, you can't give up on them. The Washington Capitals have faced elimination twice this season, and I refuse to give up on them. I had a bet with another friend that Heat would make the finals, and his bet was that Bulls would make the finals. Despite the unlikelihood of that happening since Derrick Rose went down, he still kept with them. He even tweeted me that they had (prior to them losing last night), 3% chance of making it. He stood by them despite the bad luck they had. Our fantasy players are going to have bad days, bad weeks and for some bad months. However, if you truly bought into your system don't give up on them. This applies with your team too, just because they had a rough start (cough the phillies), doesn't mean they can’t cash that bad luck out into something good. Sure, you aren't going to win a million dollars over this, but just like the good luck well dries up, the bad luck well does also. Had I given up on Chinatown Coffee, I wouldn't have had the great experience I did this morning.