The Ethics of Blogging

NYT’s Ethicist column last week talked about blogging. Not surprsingly, he got it completely wrong.

Here’s the question:

I interview high-school seniors who apply to my alma mater. I routinely Google these students and discovered that one posted information on his blog that reflects poorly on him. May I ask him about the blog? May I mention it to the university? Should it affect the score I give him?

The answer features a couple of doozies, “You would not read someone’s old-fashioned pen-and-paper diary without consent; you should regard a blog similarly.” Um, sure. Except a diary is usually kept locked away somewhere, not published for everyone in the world to see. And the answer presumes that a blog is a diary. I humbly submit Muttroxia as a counter-example — I sincerely hope no one thinks these ridiculous posts are my deepest darkest secrets and feelings.

What did the university think? “[He] checked with the university and was told not to ask the student about the blog but to include its URL with his report.” Sure, that’s ethical. It’s not OK for an interviewer to get a full picture of the student, but it is for the university? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, as Aristotle opined.

For what it’s worth, I think it is not only fair for the interviewer to look at the blog, but admirable. The interviewer is not a formal official of the college. Their job is to get a fuller picture and a subjective portrait that overworked officials might not be able to. Examing the public record is fulfilling that duty. (Mrs. Muttrox, who actually does this, disagrees.)

P.S. Although his column is good Sunday morning entertainment, you should know that Randy Cohen is not a real ethicist in any way. He’s a bright guy who found a good niche in the newspaper advice field. If you disagree with him, you have just as much formal training as he does, which is to say, none.

Lottery Strategy

The New York Times had an entertaining article on why playing the lottery is worth it. It agrees with my point of view. One dollar now and then is a cheap price to play for the fun of dreaming about winning.

But it also included this gaffe:

Large rewards make most people reckless, whether they’re on the winning or losing end. A 2003 University of Vermont study found that lottery players who said they preferred to receive potential winnings in annuity payments — generally thought to be safer than receiving the money all at once, in a lump sum — often changed their minds when they actually won. And the higher the jackpot, the more likely people were to prefer a lump-sum payout, the researchers found. (Mr. Nabors chose a lump sum.)

Yes, people change their mind. They should. Taking the lump sum is a smarter thing to do. It’s not being greedy, it’s being prudent.

Ever wonder how the exact payout amount is determined? It’s pretty straightforward financial calculations, figuring out the present value of those annual payments. As always, the key input is the interest rate. And for this, they use a very conservative number. Why? Because the lottery has to invest in state bonds and other very conservative investments, so from their point of view, that is appropriate. However, you as a private investor, can do better in the market (in most cases). You have investment options available to you that the state does not. Therefore, you can generate a higher rate of return. Which means you get more money by taking the lump sum up front and investing it wisely.

Getting Older, Not Wiser

Happy birthday to me — thanks for the wishes all! To celebrate, I officially started wearing glasses today. Gads. Combined with just a tinge of grey hair on the temples, there is no doubt I have been graduated to the next phase of life.

And to cap off the fun, when I came back from lunch I left the keys in the car. Running. *Sigh*

God I love getting older.

Van Halen blows it at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction

Diamond Dave

From CNN.com:

Only Van Halen’s second lead singer, Sammy Hagar, and ex-bass player Michael Anthony turned up for their induction. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen has just gone into rehab and original lead singer David Lee Roth stayed away in a tiff over what he would perform.

From Billboard.com:

“Velvet Revolver performed in place of Van Halen and without Roth. Frontman Scott Weiland explained the ensuing controversy: “We were asked to perform. Kinda what happened was, he wanted to sing the song ‘Jump.’ We felt from an artistic standpoint, and I’m being totally honest with you, that it wasn’t a song we felt comfortable with. We don’t have keyboards. To bring a keyboard on stage wouldn’t work for us. We said we’d do “Jamie’s Cryin'” or “You Really Got Me,” and he was adamant that wasn’t okay.”

Dear Scott Weiland – you don’t get to tell David Lee Roth what song he sings at his Rock N Roll Hall of Fame induction!!! You haven’t earned it! You are a pathetic junkie – a junkie who should be down on his knees every hour, thanking God that he gets to be in a band with Slash. When Diamond Dave says “Jump”, you say, “How loud?”

On Buying a Refrigerator

We recently bought a new refrigerator. Things have changed in the refrigerator industry, I’ll tell you that. For all the gimmicks, most of the modern refrigerator designs are clearly worse.

Freezers ought to be on the bottom. That’s common sense. Heat rises. Therefore, the cold stuff goes below. Yet, new refrigerators have the freezer area on top or on the side.

Side by side is another bad design choice. Ideally, the interior of the refrigerator is just open space that you can configure to meet your needs. But a side by side design puts a big vertical barrier in the middle. This reduces how you can arrange items in there.

The problem is compounded by building in all kinds of specific compartments for specific kinds of food. Here’s the milk area, and here’s the vegetable area, and here’s the fruits, and the butter, etc. You know what, why don’t you let me put my food where I feel like putting my food. It’s all the same freakin’ temperature, what’s the difference?

The biggest gimmick is the ice and water dispensers. If you look inside the refrigerator, it’s shocking how much room the machinery takes up. On some models, 20% of the total space is taken up getting the water and ice to the outside. And what do you get for that? The water never tastes good. The depression is never big enough to fit a normal glass. Oh, but you save a miniscule amount of energy by not opening the door. Whoopee.

Stainless steel is another one. What is the point of stainless steel? It makes your kitchen looks industrial. It gets dirty instantly, and you can’t even clean it with a normal cleaning solution. Why would anyone get stainless steel? They would get it because now everyone has stainless steel, so that’s how you have a “nice” looking kitchen, where “nice” is what all the other people have.

And the price… the cost of any refrigerator above the basic block model is incredible. When my friend told me how much he paid for his, I practically laughed in his face. Then we went shopping, and I ended up spending even more.

You Know What Happens When You Assume?

You’re usually right, that’s what happens.

Assuming is usually correct. You save a lot of time and energy and keep yourself from looking like an idiot. If you go more than ten minutes without assuming something, you have severe brain damage. That’s what separates you from an infant, you’ve been in the world long enough to make good assumptions.

Also, there’s no “we” in team. Unless you turn the M upside-down.
Letter W

Voting Methodology

(This one’s been sitting around for a while. It’s in response to a November 6, 2006 editorial, so it’s not very timely at all. But what the heck.)

This op-ed demonstrates why sociology is not considered a “hard” science. The errors abound.

1) 99% is not the standard significance threshold in science, 95% is.
2) It’s easy to count penny jars accurately. It’s called being careful. It’s especially not hard to count penny jars when you have million dollar budgets.
3) He spends some time stating how four different counts produce four different numbers, and suggests averaging them. Three paragraphs later, he ignores all this to say that in Washington’s 2004 race, 1,373,361 votes didn’t beat 1,373,232 votes by enough, so it shouldn’t count.
4) While it’s vaguely true that recounting may get you slightly different numbers, that’s not where the issues lie. The issues are not implementing a counting methodology, but having an agreed upon counting methodology. Do hanging chads count or not? Are absentee ballots with insufficient postage valid or not? If someone waited 12 hours to vote and couldn’t because of broken machines, should they get to vote? If someone was incorrectly purged from the voter polls, does their vote count? If they voted in the wrong precint, does it count? If they were confused by a butterfly ballot, can their vote be re-assigned to who they obviously meant to vote for? If a voter doesn’t have the correct ID, even though they are a legal voter, does it count? etc. Those are the questions that lead to recount after recount.
5) The proposed remedy of do-it-again is just plain insane.
6) I’m a statistics person, but statistics are not the way to hold elections. A 99% certainty level (or a p=0.01) means that about 1 in 100 times, you get the wrong answer and are OK with it. 99% is not enough here.

The answer is agreed upon counting methodologies. Execution may not be easy, but it is staightforward and auditable. Given reasonable time and money, the counting will always be accurate.