Numerical Nonsense

Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Mark Twain’s Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review

It wasn’t actually Disraeli, but numbers are persuasive. If I said, 68.7% of statistics are deceptively presented, that sounds pretty authoritative, doesn’t it? It’s also completely made up. That’s an egregious example, but one of the first uses that occurs to any student of statistics is misuse. For a clear view of what that looks like, head over to Math With Bad Drawings’ article “Why Not to Trust Statistics.”

There’s two messages here. First, as a consumer of statistics (the language of business), understand numbers and question them. Know how the information was gathered, how it was summarized and why it was presented as it was. Remember that correlation does not imply causation. Second, as a producer of statistics, you are ethically bound to represent information in an unbiased fashion. Manipulating math to use a “magician’s force” on a decision is unethical.


I’ve suggested you follow James Whittaker before, and he has a new book that blends perfectly with this site’s theme. You can buy a copy from Amazon.

I like to have signed copies of things, so I attended one of James’ talks today. James was demonstrating how a single word can evoke the person who spoke it. It went something like this:

James: “I say DREAM, you think…”

Me (thinking): NEIL GAIMAN! No, that can’t be right. Well, hold on. Is that Tengwar in Quenya mode that James has tattoo’ed there? I mean, he must know about Magic the Gathering based on these slides. Probably AD&D, too, since he’s referred to verbal, somatic and material components in other talks. That’s all pretty geeky. Maybe he does mean Neil?  But that doesn’t…

James: “… that’s right! Dr. Martin Luther King!”

Me (thinking): Oh. Yes, of course. That makes more sense in context. Obvious even. <Pause> How does my brain even work?

Beware — Here There Be PMs!

What does it look like when two professional project managers live in the same house?  A lot like this:

This is in the back corner of our home office. There’s a deep backlog and epics on the left, backlog on the board and scheduled house items. There’s daily things that we don’t bother with (cook meal, clean dishes), but everything else gets scheduled. The calendar is rolling three weeks, since four seemed like too far out. This photo was taken in the middle of coffee scrum, as Saturday morning is when things are planned out and the calendar adjusted.  It might be too much for some — but household projects get finished.

Yup. Still Magic…

Hermione and I were watching Moana on Netflix with friends, when she said, “Wait — the chicken!  Did they have chickens?” Someone looked thoughtful, “Weren’t they introduced by Captain Cook in 1778?” Out came the phones, and Hermione said “Huh.  Polynesians brought a form of chicken with them. ‘Red Jungle Fowl‘. Totally looks like the chicken!” We all agreed, absolutely does. Cluck-cluck-cluck-ba-bawk!

Phones. Still changing the way we interact. Still made of magic.