Thursday, February 21, 2008

Celestial Events and Meaningless Probabilities

Photo by Atomicshark via Flickr under a creative commons license

There were two fascinating celestial events last night. My wife and I were standing on the front lawn, bundled up from the cold, looking at the total eclipse of the moon, which occurred under clear skies from 10:00 to 10:50 pm Eastern time.

Earlier in the evening I was listening to the radio debate about the US Navy shooting down a disabled spy satellite in a deteriorating orbit. When I got up this morning I heard on the radio news that the Navy hit their target, then later in the story the newscaster said, "the odds of being hit by falling space debris are one in a trillion."

That is a completely meaningless probability.
Does it mean that each individual , such as myself has a one in a trillion probability of being hit or any person, out of over four billion people living today has a one in a trillion probability of being hit? Does the probability apply for today, for this event, or over my lifetime?

I later found an online AP article by SETH BORENSTEIN that went into more detail describing various probabilities related to being hit by space junk that were bandied about in the news this morning.

The AP story was a little more specific than the radio news report about the one in a trillion odds. The article said that Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies, which studies these issues, "puts the odds of anyone being hurt by any piece of re-entering space junk at one in a trillion, saying you are far more likely to get hit by lightning." This statement of probability is better than what the morning newsreader said, but still contains ambiguities. Does anyone refer to one specific person, such as me, or the entire human population? Does any piece of space junk mean any piece from this satellite, or any of the hundreds of pieces that re-enter the atmosphere every year?

The end of the article included a more sensible point by David Ropeik, a Boston risk communications consultant, and author of Risk: A Practical Guide for Deciding What's Really Safe and What's Dangerous "This is the type of risk that shouldn't be reduced to mere numbers It's the nature of the risk, not the number." Of course the morning drive time radio news isn't about making sensible points.

Heads up!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Watch Chris Crowley talk about the key concepts in Younger Next Year.

Chris Crowley is an amazing person. In this video he explores a few of the ideas that allow individuals to manage their aging process, improve their health, and become Younger Next Year. Anyone approaching or already in middle age must watch this 8-1/2 minute video.

If you have any doubts, consider this quote from Chris written in June of 2007 after he finished a three day Ride the Rockies bike tour.

"THIS MORNING, INDEPENDENCE PASS, 12,100 FEET and plenty steep. Hardest thing on the ride and a great crescendo. SO BEAUTIFUL! And so steep! Gain 4000 vertical in about seven miles. Something like that. A TEENY BIT YOUNGER THIS YEAR. I was surprised and relieved to notice that my time for my century ride this year (a blazing 102 miles, over one 9,500 ft. pass) was 14.9 miles an hour average..."

That's a considerable achievement for anyone and awesome for a guy who is a couple of years north of age 70.

See Harry's seven simple rules to learn more about how you can be Younger Next Year.

I'm a true believer and living proof that this apprach works. Just do it!

Update Feb-16-2008

I got an email this week from the subject of this post, Chris Crowley, I'm very proud to say that he considers me "a major centurion" in the Younger Next Year revolution. Thanks for the compliment Chris!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Innovations in Search

An article in today's MIT's Technology Review discusses ongoing innovations in search.
Dan Crow, product manager at Google, says people are generally happy with the interface as it exists today. "The basic format hasn't changed much because it's been successful ... It works well for most of the users most of the time."
There is no argument that Google works well compared to what was available in the past, and been very successful; but there are huge opportunities for further innovation. The current implementation delivers results that are popular. It's often difficult to filter through a large volume of search results to find information that is meaningful, accurate and relevant.

I found Google's introduction to their public experimental search lacking. I joined the experiment for Right-hand contextual search navigation. Google's offering of alternate views for search results (list, info, timeline, and map views) didn't grab my interest. Although I'm enthusiastic about the value of the timeline view, the others didn't get me excited. I was a little relucant because it wasn't made clear up-front, what signing up for a Google experiment means. Now when I open a new browser window and search on Google, I get some extra GUI elements that provide context prompts based on my search results. I signed up in MS Explorer, and the features don't seem to carry over automatically to FireFox. My first impression of the new tools is positive, but I like to know what I'm getting into before I sign-up for something online. I guess the fact that I went ahead indicates that Google has earned my trust enough for me to take a chance on something new.

Related links:
Clusty Search clustering 2.0