Monday, November 2, 2015

Ryanair's New Website - Fail

Ryanair's website has long been overdue a makeover.  The new site is much more attractive.  It was not working properly over the weekend, but seemed to be open for business again yesterday.

It still has a ways to go though.  Although accepts bookings from passengers who have non-ASCII characters in their names, it doesn't properly print their boarding cards.  This belies a very anglo-centric view of the world.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Transport for Ireland Epic Fail

The routing algorithm used by Transport for Ireland clearly needs tweaking. It suggests that passengers travelling from Bishopstown to Ballincollig should go all the way into town and change busses there, despite the routes intersecting much earlier.  That could add an hour to the journey on a bad day.  I wonder is it because the bus routes don't share an actual stop, the routing algorithm does not consider them to intersect?  At the point where they first meet, the busses are travelling opposite directions they don't share any stops with the same number.  But of course most passengers would be happy to get off and cross the road to save an hour.

I've reported the problem to the website operators. It'll be interesting to see how long it takes to fix it.

I received a details response within hours.
The error was fixed within the week.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Umbrellas cause ejaculation

Sex with 21 Women Lowers Risk of Prostate Cancer

I saw this story reported today and it stuck me as particularly poor science. As click bait, it is irresistible. It has it all: sex, cancer, an excuse to use the word ejaculation and the conclusion that promiscuity is better than monogamy, unless you're gay.

The study found that men who had slept with more than 20 women had significantly lower instances of prostate cancer than those men who slept with less.

I have no reason to doubt the numbers.  But many reports of the findings illustrate the classic fallacy of confusing correlation with causation.  I have noticed that on on days when lots of people carry umbrellas, the buses are much fuller.  But it would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that umbrellas cause busses to fill up, and that increasing the  number of umbrellas on our streets would improve bus company revenues.  It is similarly incorrect to conclude that the full busses cause people to carry umbrellas. There is only correlation, no causation. It could be that there is some third factor that is the cause of both: like rain.

Similarly it is unreasonable to conclude that more sexual partners means less cancer.  There is only correlation, not causation.

I'm curious about how the count was calculated. Did they ask men how many women they had sex with up to a particular time, and then follow them to see which developed cancer? Did conquests after that date count towards the total?  It would not come as a huge shock to me to learn that men with cancer don't sleep around as much and those who don't have cancer, what with the illness, surgery, treatment and all.

Even if the numbers are good there may be unknown variables influencing both the number of partners and and the incidence of prostate cancer.  A headline that said "study discovers that drinkers have more sex" would scarcely raise an eyebrow. What if drinking alcohol, somehow, reduced the chances of getting this cancer?  Suppose weight was a contributing factor.  Maybe fat guys don't have as many sexual partners as slim ones.  It's possible. Maybe happy men have more partners, and happy men get cancer less.  That's possible too. Maybe guys with large penises sleep with more woman, and penis size is a factor in prostate cancer. Maybe condoms are a contributing factor. Men in monogamous relationships are less likely to wear condoms during sex, than guys on one night stands.

One explanation offered by Dr. Marie-Elise Parent was that "having many female sexual partners results in a higher frequency of ejaculations".  This is quite bizarre.  It might make some sense if each partner were available for only one ejaculation. The majority (but not all) of the women I have had sex with were up for quite a few more than the one ejaculation.  And I suspect that I am not unusual in that regard. Furthermore I have it on good authority that most men are able to ejaculate in the absence of a partner. And considering the periods in my life when I had a partner and when I didn't, I might go so far as to say that maybe having a partner results in reduced frequency of ejaculations.

But don't jump to any conclusions. And beware of umbrellas. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Men, Women, & Balls

I caught an interesting episode of Freakonomics Radio today, and it got me thinking. It described an experiment by Uri Gneezy of U.C. San Diego. He wanted to explore attitudes to competition in men and women and determine if the differences he has observed are innate to the sexes, or if they are acquired from the culture.  He conducted an experiment that gauged people’s attitude to competition and risk, in two different cultures. The first was the Masai in Tanzania.  This is a very patriarchal society and women are not held in high esteem there.  The second culture was the matriarchal Khasi society of India. In this society women have most of the power and make of the decisions.

Participants in the experiments were tasked with throwing tennis balls into a bucket from a distance. The more balls they got in the bucket, the more money they could win. However each participant could chose from two payment options.  A participant could chose the first option and be paid $1 per ball.  However, each participant was partnered with an unseen participant around the corner.  The second option paid out $3 per ball, provided that the participant got a higher score than the partner. But if the parter got a higher score, the participant got nothing.

Gneezy found that Masai men were more likely to take the risky option than Masai women.  But among the Khasi, the women were more likely to take the risky option. That was interesting.

But it was the game design itself that caught my attention.

A U.S. Dollar is a lot of money in a very poor country.  If I was playing this game my attitude might be very different if each ball payed €1 than it would be if it payed out €100. Risking €5, to win €15, is not the same as risking €500 to win €1500.  I wonder if smaller or larger amounts of money were used would the results have been different?  If the cost of living in India and Tanzania were different, it might distort the results.  I suspect, however, that they are comparable.

What really struck me was the 1-to-3 payout. Why $3? Why not $2? Why not $1.2?  I think it matters.  If an average player does not know who his opponent is, then his chances of winning are roughly 50%. [Let’s for simplicity minimise the possibility of a draw by assuming that each player throws a large number balls]. If I understand the experiment correctly, any participant who selects the less risky option gets paid irrespective of what option his partner chose. Let’s say that on average each player gets 10 balls in the bucket. An average risk-adverse player gets $10.  A competitive  player gets paid $30 if he wins, and nothing if he loses. If such players win half the time, then the average competitive player wins $15. That this value is higher than that paid on average to the risk-adverse player is significant.

Suppose that Gneezy and his team wanted to run the experiment in Ireland. The Maths Society might rally its members on campus to participate in the experiment to earn some money for the end of year party. They might agree that all of the money earned will go into the kitty to buy some beer. How might the students from the Maths Society behave on the day? Every student that selects the risk-adverse option will generate $1 per ball. But every student that selects the risky option will get either $3 or nothing for each ball. On average that’s $1.50 per ball. Taking the riskier option is the best way for the group to extract the most money from these crazy Americans who are just givin’ it away.

What if Gneezy’s experiment turned out not to measure a group’s attitude to risk and competition, but its ability to do math?

Perhaps the experiment just measured trust.  Even if everyone understood the benefits of choosing the risky option one might see differences between groups where the levels of trust are different. If everyone is going to be honest and put the money in the kitty to buy the beer, then the risky option is, in fact, risk-free. But it is only risk-free if you trust the other participants to share their prize money. Perhaps results would vary in societies where people have different degrees of trustworthiness or differing capacities for cooperation. In fact, Gneezy made a point of highlighting just how trustworthy the people of the Khasi Hills actually are.  He felt safe leaving his suitcase with $60,000 in cash with the cook in the house he rented in the village, even though that was the equivalent of $60 million to him.  Perhaps the cook had done his math, trusted the rest of the community, and knew that they would all share $60 million anyway.

A zero sum game could have made all the difference.

Monday, May 13, 2013

LIfe Imitating Web

I found the photos in this shop window an interesting application of web aesthetics to the real world. They are clearly inspired by Instagram. They have the colour washes, borders, and the square aspect ratio. And note the grids of thumbnails.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Planned App-solescence

My iPhone 3 is like a penis that has lost a few inches.  It was once very impressive and I was so proud of it.  I relished every opportunity to whip it out of my pants and show if off to admirers.  And they were many.  But now not so much.

Other men’s are much more impressive these days, and I have had to console myself with the knowledge that although mine isn’t as impressive as it used to be, it’s still perfectly fine and meets my needs. That was until recently.

A few of my favorite apps no longer work.  FourSquare was the first to go.  But that was a bit of harmless fun and was no great loss.  Next went Skype.  That was a huge loss.  Even, audio-only Skype was really useful.  I found it so useful that I even switched to a network that allowed it to work without WiFi.  The most recent departure was WhatsApp, which is the messenger of choice in Spain where many of my friends and family live.  I’m quite annoyed by all this.  I think it’s perfectly acceptable to say to owners of old phones that unless they upgrade they won’t be able to avail of the latest and greatest new cool features. But it’s another thing to use app updates to render old technology obsolete.  Saying to users they have to upgrade their phones just to keep the the services they already have is a step too far.  FourSquare, Skype, and WhatsApp all worked perfectly fine.  When I upgraded FourSquare and Skype they wouldn’t run on my old iOS.  It was impossible to go back to the older versions.  When I was recently prompted to update my WhatsApp, I wisely chose not to.  However the older version is no longer supported. 

This planned app-solescence must end.  Just because the contents of my pants don’t quite measure up to other men’s doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get some action too.