Sunday, February 05, 2017


A lot of attention is being paid to the risk to US citizens from terrorist attacks, particularly terrorist attacks perpetrated by refugees from abroad.

According to a Cato Institute report that used data from 1975 to 2016, "the chance of an American
perishing in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil that was committed by [any] foreigner over the 41-year period studied here [was] 1 in 3.6 million per year.
" If the perpetrator category is restricted to refugees, the odds are 1 in 3.64 BILLION per year.  If the perpetrator category is restricted to illegal immigrants, the odds become 1 in 10.9 billion.

To help put this into perspective, here are some additional data for comparison:

Odds of dying from:
Being pushed in front of a subway train: 1 in 2,211,000,000
Being crushed by a meteorite: 1 in 700,000
Lightning strike: 1 in 174,426
(Odds of merely being struck by lightning are 1 in 12,000 in a lifetime)
Legal execution: 1 in 111,439
Air and space transport incidents:1 in 9737
Choking from inhalation and ingestion of food: 1 in 3408
Unintentional drowning: 1 in 1183
Assault by firearm: 1 in 358
Falling: 1 in 133
Motor vehicle crash: 1 in 113
Chronic lung disease: 1 in 27
Heart disease and cancer: 1 in 7

Some other miscellaneous odds:
Odds of winning the Powerball grand prize: 1 in 292,201,338
Odds of becoming a US astronaut: 1 in 12,100,000
Odds of becoming the US President: 1 in 10,000,000
Odds that the US President attended Harvard: 1 in 3.58
Odds of becoming a movie star: 1 in 1,190,000
Odds of becoming a billionare in the US: 1 in 785,000
Odds a person will visit the ER for a golf cart accident: 1 in 22, 355
Odds of becoming a best-selling author: 1 in 220
Odds a woman believes it is acceptable to have sex on a first date: 1 in 50
Odds a man believes it is acceptable to have sex on a first date: 1 in 5
Odds a February day in DC will be rainy: 1 in 3.1
Odds an NFL pass will be a completion: 1 in 1.7
Odds a person is right-handed: 1 in 1.1

Data Sources:
National Safety Council
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Sunday, December 25, 2016

False positive vs. false negative

Detection systems are nearly ubiquitous. These include medical diagnostic tests, antivirus software, terrorist and criminal screening algorithms, and financial fraud detection systems. Although complex and sophisticated, these systems are 100% accurate.

A false positive result occurs when you detect the occurrence of something that hasn't truly occurred. (i.e., a test for influenza is positive in the absence of infection).  A false negative result occurs when you fail to detect something that is truly there. (i.e., a test for influenza is negative when I really am infected).

False positive and false negative rates are linked. Making a test more sensitive decreases the false negative rate, but increases the false positive rate.  Making a test more specific decreases the false positive rate, but increases the false negative rate. An initial screening test tends to be sensitive but is often followed by a confirmatory test which is more specific. An antibody-based test might be followed by a PCR test specific to the pathogen/disease in question. A mammogram that detects a mass might be followed by a biopsy and pathology examination. A positive airport screening detection (e.g. millimeter wave machine) is followed by a pat down.

Generally speaking, the consequences of an incorrect result drive the decision toward a more sensitive or more specific test.  Failure to correctly determine whether or not I have influenza generally has a minor consequence. Failure to correctly detect that I have HIV or that I'm carrying a weapon potentially has a much greater consequence.

If the goal is to not miss any cases of disease or weapons, there will be people incorrectly diagnosed as having influenza (or not carrying weapons) by the test or algorithm. If there is low tolerance for false negatives (i.e. I really do have the condition but the test is negative) and a sensitive detection system is used, there will be a higher false positive rate. The idea is to make sure that nobody who really is positive for the condition goes undetected. Nobody wants to miss a serious medical condition or hidden weapons. This does mean that there are people who receive medical tests and security pat downs that they don't truly "need" because they weren't truly positive.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Being Fearless

In my most recent job performance review, one of the observations from the colleagues who provided feedback was that I seem fearless. I'm not really. There are plenty of things which scare me, but stuff at work isn't what really scares me. Stuff at work isn't going to get me or other people killed, there are clear guidelines on how to avoid the things that would get me into legal jams, and for other things it is understood that there will be a learning curve where some things will go well and some will not. There are also people around me of whom I can ask questions and advice when I get stuck. So I have a fairly supportive environment in which I can learn and develop new skills which I can use later. This takes a lot of the stress and scariness out of the equation.

My mentor mentioned to me that recently there has been some difficulty in finding people willing to take "stretch" assignments for skill and career development purposes. These stretch assignments include short-term and long-term placement in other organizations to gain new skills and strategic insights into the new organization, which are then taken back to the original organization.  These skills typically result in the returning staff member being given a higher level of responsibility than they had initially, making these career development assignments. The home organization is making an investment in sending us out to other organizations and is willing to take the risk that we might not come back. Presumably the home organization thinks that the detailee has a reasonable probability of success in the assignment and that, within a reasonable amount of time, the home organization will benefit from their experience.

I can think of any of a number of personal reasons to avoid a "stretch" assignment (either within the existing organization or through being detailed to anohter organization). I can't think of any professional reasons to do so. Even if the assignment doesn't completely align with one's professional goals, it is likely to result in a tremendous amount of learning, even if what you learn is that you do not like a particular line of work. Learning you don't want or don't like something is NOT failure.  It boggles my mind that people would turn down these opportunities. Why would you NOT choose to pursue growth opportunities?  It sounds as though the candidates for these jobs have been "scared" to do so. I assume that the individuals choosing me for a given task have at least moderate confidence that I can be successful. This makes it much easier to say yes.  If people who have the experience, knowledge and position to make an intelligent evaluation (and potentially have soemthing to lose if I fail) have determined that an assignment is a potential good opportunity for me, I'm willing to give it a shot.

This approach has worked very well for me so far.  When I have struggled to figure out a new job, I make a commitment to studying hard and learning the basics of the position and reinforcing my abilities. Identifying the weak spots and seeking to strengthen those has always paid off. This means spending quite a bit of time into reading and professional development. I may not end up watching as much TV, shopping, or socializing as much as my peers, but it seems to be paying off with career growth and financial security. I am positive that I wouldn't have doubled my salary three times if I'd sat around waiting for great things to happen to me. Opportunities favor those who are prepared, largely I think because those who are prepared are able to recognize the opportunities and then seize them. And the more you learn, the more confidence you have in your abilities to take advantage of those opportunities.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Race Recap

The 2016 Disney Star Wars Half Marathon was again a fun race to be in. I didn't feel particularly well prepared, but I managed to run-walk my way through it in a slightly faster time than last year. I also recovered much better and faster than last year. I had very little pain after the race and was completely pain free by two days after.

 The 501st Legion was again out in force around Mile 8, which definitely boosted morale.

 There were several Star Wars themed show cars along the Garden Grove part of the course.
 The race really skewed my iPhone's activity meter. I don't carry my phone at work and I workout on a treadmill, so it doesn't think I do much at all.

Since the race, I've gotten back into the habit of working out and have been following the Galloway training plan for the 2016 Dark Side Half in April. Today I did a 4 mile run-walk. I'll keep pushing for a faster pace bit by bit and see how much that allows me to drop my race time. I've been doing some intermittent weight training too and have done enough that I have seen some progress, which helps keep the motivation up.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Summing Up

It's been an eventful year in some ways, not so much in others.

Moved across the country. Started a new job with a new organization. Got a promotion. Finished a half marathon, but didn't keep up the exercise habit.

I sort of started training for the half marathon I'll be in three weeks from now. Had bits of success in improving how I eat and in getting to the gym, then fell back into lazy, unhelpful habits mostly as a result of talking myself into not making the effort, despite knowing that I would be sabotaging successes. I am clearly my worst enemy in this respect.

Managed to lose my Tidying Up book while packing, unpacking and tidying up. Oh the irony....

Read 45 books, which is a good accomplishment, but seems smaller than I'd expected. I do seem to read in fits and starts though so I suppose it's fairly accurate to be around one book a week. I think I can definitely keep it around one book a week. Over the past few years, I've discovered

Need to work on implementing the plans I make. I'm good at planning. Actually executing the plan is less successful.  I seem to think that if I write out what I should do that it'll automatically happen. I have yet to automatically end up in the gym on a regular basis. Instead I have regular arguments with myself about whehter or not I'll get out of bed in time to go. Or I'll get sucked into e-mail or reading the news and then the time is gone. (Clearly the solution there is to NOT read e-mail or news before getting out of bed and instead shift that to AFTER the workout.  If I have time to read things for two hours before going to work, I have the time to get to the gym before work. The world will not end if I don't read my e-mail before work, especially if I read it right before I go to bed.)

Finished 9 knitting projects, mostly socks. Some of these were older projects and some were projects started in 2015. I currently seem to like getting things out of the ancient queue. The ancient project currently receiving attention is a pair of lace socks that I started fifteen years ago and struggled with until I set them aside. I'm halfway through the second sock now.

Haven't done much writing here or in my journal. Haven't really even done that much pondering. I spent far too much time and energy on work and not nearly enough on replenishing my brain's resources. The end result was that I got well and thoroughly burned out over the last 12-18 months. I've since fixed that problem and got unburned. I don't know that I'm back to 100% but I'm nearly there and feeling a lot more creative, satisfied, and relaxed. I look forward to going to work. I have the energy to do things I want to do and work on my goals in the evenings. Life is good again.

Did some tourist things. Should probably do more.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

On New Beginnings

I do a lot of thinking and philosophizing while driving and exercising. Given that today is New Year's Eve, I was thinking about New Year's Resolutions and the big deal made about starting new things and how momentous new beginnings are made to seem. As though  beginnings are somehow special.

I'm not sure they are. At least not the ones that get all the fanfare, like New Year's Resolutions. The great beginnings tend to be the ones which didn't start out big or even really noticeable. The little starts and small changes that slowly grow and take shape and transform our worlds. The ones we didn't notice even starting.

We start things all the time. Every day is a new beginning. Every meeting. Every meal. Everything.  And yet, we tend to wait until the start of the year, month, week to make voluntary changes to our lives. Any time is a good time to start something. Like the Nike ad campaign said, you just need to do it.

It's possible that the focus on beginnings is because most things never finish. 

I will never be fit enough that I can stop working out and not lose physically. I will never be able to stop making healthy food choices without incurring negative health impacts. Learning and having new experiences will occur until I die.  I can always improve. I can always change. There is always another goal.  There might be milestones, but few true ends.

So perhaps what we should be celebrating instead is persistence. Being steadfast. Holding to the chosen path, while making course corrections as needed.

Persistence is how progress gets made and how progress and change are maintained. It's not enough to start or to change. You have to stick to the changes, even when it gets difficult or tiresome or lonely or ceases to be fun. You must keep going. You may never achieve your goal, but you'll be a heck of a lot closer to it than the person who either never started or who started then stopped. Just keep going.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Rolling Along

The sourdough starter was indeed alive. I've started using it to make sourdough biscuits fairly regularly. These make for a handy snack, but should probably not eat quite as many as I have been. My success making actual bread hasn't been that great. I also made sourdough pancakes but I have found that I didn't like the flavor much. So I'll keep working on my bread skills. I do have Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice, Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Bread, Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery, and the King Arthur Flour cookbooks, so have plenty of recipes to work my way through.

The first quarter at my new job has flown past. I seem to have caught on to how the job works. The job remains fun and the people are good.  I spent a couple days in Arusha, Tanzania for a workshop to develop and enhance regional disease surveillance networks. Turns out that the Arusha area is where the John Wayne movie Hatari! was filmed. Unfortunately we arrived and departed in the dark so I didn't get to see any of the countryside. I only saw the hotel grounds.