Saturday, July 30, 2011

Not a pullet

Years ago, EG and I went camping. This was BC, before children, as taking a fifteen year old away from her electrical hair appliances and technology is punishment, both for her and for the rest of us who have to hear the editorializing. Throw in a bug-phobic fourteen year old boy who needs to justify his fears ("It's a wolf spider! It's the size of my hand!" Dude, only if your hand is the same size as Barbie's ex-boyfriend Ken's), and tent camping is not going to happen.

Anyway, we were in a crowded state park, and the place was also occupied by really rather tame skunks who swaggered around like Hell's Angels doing security at a rock concert. One of my favorite pastimes was watching the skunk go in to the restroom. When a man would go in, knowing I was nearby, he would be relatively discreet in his approach. However, the exit, while almost immediate, was quite speedy and frantic. It was the high point of the evening's entertainment. After we went to bed on the first night, some campers pulled in. There were at least ten of them, and they spoke only in Spanish. One was on crutches. They piled out of a huge old Crown Victoria and another car, and they set up camp. Pretty soon, the smells of carnitas, cumin, peppers, and onions wafted through the campground. The skunks, thinking Mexican sounded (or smelled) quite tasty, now that you mentioned it, arrived post-haste, and the biggest one parked himself under the Crown Vic.

The campers, by now enjoying their meal, noticed Pepe LePew. They started discussing his presence, using the word "perro." The guy with the crutch was attempting to chase the critter out from under the car, telling his friends that the perro was not cooperating, and deliberately stabbing at it with the pointy end of his durable medical equipment. I thought he was either very dumb or very urban, and I wondered what accident had caused him to have the crutch in the first place. Perhaps a bear attack? EG became distressed, as we had just brought our sleeping bags back from the laundromat, where we washed and dried them after the previous night's downpour. However, he could not think of the word for "skunk" in Spanish, and he didn't want to say something like "stinky kitty" or "small animal armed with napalm." So, instead, he shouted, in Spanish, "Not a dog! Not a dog!"

So, "not a dog" has become our catch phrase for a situation where someone is misinformed and doing something stupid.

Which leads me to my chickens. I bought alleged pullets from the breeder, who said his son knew how to sex chicks. Six pullets came home, but Junior has demonstrated a remarkable fifty percent accuracy. I called the breeder, and he said he'd give me replacement pullets to take the place of the mistake birds. Take a look at the picture below. I have one thing to say: Not a pullet.

Logistic regression

I have decided to analyze the data for the dissertation by using logistic regression. Usually, when I mention that, people's eyes roll up in their heads, their eyelids flutter, and they appear to be hearing a high-pitched shriek, akin to that only heard by dogs.

Basically, this is defined as the pattern of dots on a graph. For example, if height increases, chances are weight will increase in a child (this is not always true for people as they age, but I digress). If the researcher charts the height and weight of each child but putting a dot on a graph, and examines how closely the dots follow a straight uphill line, this is regression analysis. Logistic regression means that one of the factors on the graph is a yes/no, which is similar to the height/weight.

If people express an interest in the process, and I try to explain it, they tend to edge away from me.

I have to admit, I don't get the full theoretic framework of the analysis process. I thought I'd look on Wikipedia to see if this information would be dumbed down enough for me to grasp the deeper aspects. This is what Wikipedia said:

Logistic regression analyzes binomially distributed data of the form where the numbers of Bernoulli trials ni are known and the probabilities of success pi are unknown. An example of this distribution is the fraction of seeds (pi) that germinate after ni are planted.

The model proposes for each trial i there is a set of explanatory variables that might inform the final probability. These explanatory variables can be thought of as being in a k-dimensional vector Xi and the model then takes the form

...and it gets worse from there. Seriously? How did the Bernoulli effect get in there? Isn't that the explanation of flight, where air goes over a curved wing at a different rate than it goes under, causing lift? Is this a way of telling me to stop obsessing and go on faith?

If I can't trust Wikipedia to make this simple, who can I trust?

I did bring home a basic statistics text from work, and it is helping. However, at what point do I just throw in the proverbial towel and view this process like I do air travel: I have a good basic understanding of the Bernoulli effect, but I don't need to know much in order to take my journey.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Makes sense to me

I was talking to the older two kids today about when my mother and father bought this house we live in now. My mother and father were looking for a larger house, and the people who lived in this house were looking for a smaller house, so the two families traded homes. For years, I thought this was the way things were done, sort of a residential dating service, if you will.

This reminded me of another perception I had, one about the underground railroad. A house near here had a marker, chained off, which described the property as a former stop on the underground railroad. I somehow determined that there was some form of long-distance subway which existed prior to the Civil War, one which was secret except to a few whites and everyone affiliated with the slave communities.

Which leads me to ponder just how much now I think I understand, how much makes sense to me, but I really, truly don't get.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The dissertation

I got curious today as to why the document produced as a culmination of the doctoral studies is called a "dissertation."

According to, a dissertation is an "extended usually written treatment of a subject."

Seriously? The lack of comma usage notwithstanding, that is an extreme understatement. Where is the information about blood, sweat, toil, and tears? What about overwhelming exhaustion? Burnout?

I got an email from one of my classmates in the Ph.D. program. She was wondering if she should take a term off. It turns out that several people have decided the same thing. They are all overwhelmed.

I feel the same, but doggone it, I am going to finish this, and my timeline is for the end of the year. I want it over with, but I also want to finish this once and for all. Yes, I am exhausted--no, weary. Yes, I cry every other day or so because I am so tired and frustrated. No, I don't have a whole lot of fun, and I have a huge stack of books which I will be reading after I finish up. Every day is pretty much a blur. I hear about women who work and come home to relax and be with their families, and I think, "What am I, nuts?"

I remember when I was in middle school. My mother had never finished high school, and she decided that she was going back for her equivalency diploma. For months, she drove to Cleveland (which I know was a bit nerve-wracking for her), and she studied for the test at home. The night she took the test, she called from a pay phone to tell me she had passed and she was bringing ice cream home to celebrate. She was proud of her accomplishments and her ability to persevere.

I guess that event drives me to finish this degree. So here I go. I'm off to open the revisions my advisor made to my chapters.