Medal Counts — Bogus and Real

I’m as big a supporter of national pride as anyone, but the constant blaring of Olympic Medal Counts reminds me of that phrase “ugly American.” Since we fielded the biggest team by about 20%, and devote massive resources to sports, the statistic seems pretty crass. Raw volume numbers under those conditions are rarely a reflection of anything beyond size. I wondered whether there might be more fair ways to address medal performance.

As of Tuesday, the U.S. had won 85 medals, 28 gold. But how about if we adjust for the number of athletes, population, or resources? Numbers people would want to know these things. Craig Nevill-Manning has created a lovely site, medalspercapita.com, which did much of this work for me.

Medals Per…
When you start looking on an adjusted basis, small countries—with a small denominator—pop up at the top. (Also, note that a weighted medal count, with points for medal type, is most useful). Grenada with its one medal, a silver by the amazing Kirani James, leads with that one medal in medals per capita, per team size, and per GDP. Kirani won the 400 in London and was heavily favored; in one of the great races of these games, Wayde van Niekierk of South Africa blazed ahead of him and former Beijing champion LaShawn Merritt in world-record time, the only medal ever won by a runner in the outside lane, unable to see anyone behind him the entire race. James’s silver medal puts Grenada “tops” in several medal counts, when adjusted for size. Continue reading “Medal Counts — Bogus and Real”

Is it Hot in here or is it just a Matter of Opinion?

I try to be open-minded. It’s a big, complex, diverse world of ideas out there and even though everyone else is not as correct as me, they might have something interesting to share.

I did make the mistake of reading the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal. I opened it because I do respect the general journalistic approach of the paper – compared with what passes for journalism these days – and because I was lured in by the article on, what else? basketball. I mused over the opinion piece by Pfizer’s CEO that it’s disadvantageous for them to be prevented from merging in order to shelter profits offshore from US taxes. I was confused by the blurb that seemed to urge people with gluten allergies to be tested, since it ended by saying the gluten free paranoia would turn out to be fake, just like the fear of fat.  The piece that really got me was on climate change.

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The Most Awesomest Graphs in the World

When I was poking around on Valentine’s Day, I came across the coolest mathematical pictures to illustrate love. It got me thinking about how visually representing the information that we want to convey is so important.  Now, I totally dig numbers. And I dig artwork. I took that test this week on whether you are more left or right brained, and I scored a 53 – ambi-brained. My undergraduate study was equal measures of English Literature and Accounting, but that shouldn’t be surprising. I worked with many excellent banking and finance professionals who had degrees in English, Religious Studies, Music, Art History, and Humanities. People who analyze often appreciate the aesthetic beauty of analysis for its own sake.

Hence, it’s no surprise that pictures of numbers and data can be inherently beautiful. For example, I found this one posted by Utsav Goyal,  named “The Love Function.”  LoveFn

Change one of those squares to a 3 or a 1, and you’ve just got a squiggle. There are also tons of beautiful patterns in the natural world – the whole science of fractals blossomed a few decades ago to show just that. The Greeks understood the connection of beauty in math and aesthetics as they were passionate about both. Aristotle, for instance, coined the concept of the Golden Mean, a ratio in nature which would reveal everything from the structure of a nautilus shell to a rose to the human ear.

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What’s so Super?

50 is here, and in this case it’s not so pretty. The 50th Super Bowl will be held in the Bay Area this Sunday amid pomp, ceremony, and controversy. A longtime 49er fan myself, the event stirs mixed feelings. Both of our local teams sucked bilgewater, and the clueless rookie 49er coach was fired five minutes after the losing season ended. I enjoy the game, especially debating the merits of players and games with friends, but there’s always been a dark side to that enjoyment that’s grown darker in the last few years.

The NFL has been grappling with an increase in incidents of player violence – domestic violence in particular – over the past few years. In late 2014, there had been 48 players involved in incidents, with 88 percent receiving no or minimal suspension. At the beginning of the 2015 season, there were 27 active players who had been arrested for domestic violence, DUIs, or other infractions. There’s also a correlation between an increase in domestic violence and games in general, with one study showing across multiple cities following a loss, violence in the home increased 10%.

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