Friday, December 14, 2007


Does the primary headline for the bbc really need to be about the love letter from Diana to Dodi? Apparently she says in it that she loves him. This is the headline for today. That Diana wrote a love letter to her lover telling him she loved him. ARGH!!

In other news, I went out on tuesday with others from my course, and had a pretty awesome time, other than at one point spending 20 minutes queuing at the fricking bar. If I hadn't been getting a round I would have given up, and even so I was tempted to go back and just give the others the cash for their drinks! It was pretty insane really, basically one guy was serving an entire half of the bar- I noticed his friend got served pretty damn quickly.....

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Someone found this blog by searching penis nettle sting..... I'd love to hear the story as to how that happened.....

Free Time!

I have some free time on my hands, which is extremely pleasent, and am using it by doing extremely nothing, which is like doing nothing, but more extreme. So i'll do nothing on a cliff edge for example. Except thats a total lie, but never mind....

The main advantage of academia is this colossal down time. While the work load can be far more intense during term time, at points it slows and I can sit round in my pyjamas all day watching daytime tv. I don't, because I always feel kinda dirty sitting round in my pyjamas, which is probably due to the fact that I am fairly dirty, not having had a shower and all. I could, I suppose, shower, then get back into pyjamas, but that would rather defeat the point. I might be kicked out of the slobs union, which would be a fate worse than ironing.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Jonathon Ross is awful

I was watching the Jonathon Ross show last night, and reflecting on how absolutely awful it was. He is a terrible questioner, as was evident from Jerry Seinfeld and Renee Zellwegger's (how on earth do you spell that name?) confusion as he started asking them stupid questions, talking about how people don't like wasps but they do like bees. He was also obssessed with Seinfeld and Bridget Jones, both things that are rather old now, and told them that the reason people liked Bridget Jones was because she's a bit sluttish. He's an awful idiot who has become unbearable to watch. To quote, of all things, the daily telegraph.

"He's the sleazy, self-indulgent, foul-mouthed, middle-aged doppelgänger of a man who had the potential to be one of our most brilliant broadcasters and worth every penny of £18 million. Now it is as if he feels he must compete with the worst excesses of Julian Clary and Graham Norton; he leaves viewers feeling grubby at best, and sickened at worst.

When he's not being foul, Ross is being unctuous, either slavering over his guests, or insulting them for cheap laughs. And this is the man whose chat show hero was Michael Parkinson in his 1970s heyday. If I sound bitter, I am. I, too, had such high expectations of him. "

A statistical curio

Further to my talk about sexism, here's an example of tricksy statistics where it had a real life implication.

Lets suppose we know that 100 women and 100 men apply for a college each year. Of those, 41 men get in, and only 20 women. That place must be discriminating, right? Not necessarily. Let's suppose that college has two courses, call them super hard course and very easy course. Suppose super hard course only accepted 10% of women and 5% of men, and very easy accepted 60% of women and 50% of men. Now if anything both these courses appear to be discriminating against men. Now let's suppose that 80% of men apply for the super easy course, and 80% of women for the super hard course. Then for the super easy course, 50% of 80 is 40, so 40 men are accepted, and 60% of 20 is 12 women. Then in the super hard course, 5% of 20 is 1, so 1 man is accepted, and 10% of 80 is 8, so only 8 women are accepted.

So, strangely enough, despite the college discriminating in favour of women, so many are applying for the harder to enter course, that their numbers overall are lower! This is an interesting factor, and is why one should always be careful about statistics- they can mislead.

Another example, this time called simpson's paradox. If one looks at the proportion of white men charged with murder put to death compared to that of the proportion of black people, it appears that there is some discrimination against black people. However, if you factor in the colour of the victim, it turns out that juries will very rarely put to death someone who has killed a black person, but more frequently a white person. Indeed, in some statistics I saw, no white person had been put to death for killing a black person. With these statistics, it was clear that there was discrimination against black people- they were getting executed more, but without compensating for extra factors we could not see it. Bear in mind that even this is not a complete picture, as economic status was not considered- this execution bias could be mainly due to economic status rather than race, as more black people are impoverished in the US.

Statistics is a powerful tool, but it can be misused quite easily, either deliberately or not. It's best to look at the data critically, and look at what other statisticians have to say about it, other than just the people doing the study.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Student newspapers

Perhaps it's a little cheap to mock student newspapers, but what the hell, it's easier to criticise than create! So without further adieu, time to look at the wessex scene, the Southampton university paper.

It's not actually that bad (ignoring the awful formatting here and there), for the most part, but it's rather lacking in comment. Student newspapers vary rarely present news of much note, because they have an even lower field of interest than most local papers, so comment is where it should be at.

But instead we get two "humorous" articles telling us that christmas tunes are annoying and that coca cola have commercialised christmas. Seriously? You are studying a degree and thats the best you can come up with? Humorous comment does not, of course, have to be terribly insightful, but I really don't think anyone above the age of 18 really needs to be told the real meaning of christmas is connecting with your family. I dunno, I suppose I ask to much to be presented with a thought I have not already had several hundred times. Such observations might have been interesting in high school, but I really want a higher class.

Next of all that brings my ire is a university with a large statistical department uncritically presenting silly surveys. We hear news that 75% of graduating students think that IT is geeky. Right. How was this survery conducted? We don't know, but we do know they only sampled 125 people. Also the question is a little leading, and while a lot is read from it, it's not clear whether the people interviewed actually thought being geeky is a bad thing.

More unforgivable is a section which talks about the difference in pay between male and female graduates. 40% of men earn 25,000 or more compared to 26% of women. Important statistics, but meaningless without context. As these are graduates over all, it could be that that difference is due to women entering into degrees that have a lower outcome in pay in large numbers- if 100% women go into philosophy and 100% into maths the pay difference would not be very surprising. It might point at sexism lower down the ladder, but not at employment level. Indeed, without more information it's entirely possible that men are being discrimated against from this data. I am not claiming here that women ARENT being discrimated against, but this data doesn't tell us anything useful about that. A more useful statistic would be to look at men and women in the same subject. That would be far more indicative of discrimination.

I do go on, I know, but stuff like this is important, and papers at all levels need to start getting this right. These kind of mistakes are frequently made by papers of rather larger circulation as well.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

making money

So recently while posting various forms that needed doing decided to get some cash out. While I was fairly sure of the amount I had in my account, I decided to get a receipt just to check.... and discovered I had three thousand extra pounds! A rather bizzare surprise to say the least, and it led to some confusion. Investigation showed that it had been given to me by Pfizer, the nice people who are sponsoring my education, which would be all well and good except it was the wrong amount, and they'd already given me the money!

A phone call later, and I discovered that due to some bizzare mix up instead of paying my tuition fees to the university, they paid it to me instead.... Oh well, sadly I don't get to keep it, and will have to sort it out.

Weirdly this is not the first time this has happened to me, having discovered several thousand pounds outside my front door once! That money was stolen and we returned it to the police.... There may have been a blog post about it at the time, but I can't find the damn thing!

In other news, I am intrigued by one of my lecture rooms, where the wall is lined with holes with string coming out of them that have no conceivable purpose. Any ideas?