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QR and Football


Posted: Nov 21 2013 by Nathan Grawe

Colleague Christopher Tassava pointed me to this interesting short film on the use of QR in high school football. A successful high school coach shares the reasoning behind his decisions to never punt (even on his own 5 yard line!) and always onside kick. Watching the video made me think three things:

  • This is a great example of taking QR seriously. In the context it's being used, the consideration of trade-offs seems pretty sound.
  • Given that the research on the under-use of 4th down has been around a while and we still don't see many coaches following this strategy, there must be some other component to coaches decision-making. For example, could it be that to lose unconventionally poses a greater risk to job security than losing the same way everyone else loses? Or could it be that winning isn't the only thing (pace Mr. Lombardi)--that coaches are trying to give students a "football experience" even if that doesn't mean maximizing the probability of wins.
  • Recent concerns surrounding head injuries have led some to question the danger of kickoffs and punt returns. This video suggests the game wouldn't necessarily be radically different at the high school level if rules were adopted to eliminate these risky plays. (For example, rule could heavily penalize any kickoff that traveled more than 20 yards and outlaw punts.) Presumably receiving teams would get better at handling "on side" kicks and, as the video points out, the change in starting field position wouldn't necessarily be that great.

Overall, I share Christopher's recommendation of the video as an interesting application of QR to sport.

Numerous Neurons


Posted: Nov 12 2013 by Nathan Grawe

The current (Nov 7, 2014) issue of Nature is all about recent science surrounding the human brain. One interesting tidbit I picked up is that our current best guess is that the human brain includes 86 billion neurons.

Now, that's a pretty big number. But just how big is it? I poked around Nature's website and found this interesting blog that gave me an answer. Author Bradley Voytek notes that the most common comparison is that "there are as many neurons in the human brain as there are stars in the Milky Way." But Voytek tells us that this isn't quite right--our best guess for stars in the Milky Way is between 200 and 400 billion.

He also shares some details about how we estimate the number of neurons. (Turns out counting one by one isn't a good strategy--who knew?!) Problems abound. The brain isn't uniformly dense with neurons, so sampling matters. And the neurons are so intertwined that the current best estimate comes from a strategy of disolving brain samples and introducing a dye that sticks to the nuclei of neurons. All in all, a pretty interesting example for teaching ideas of representative sampling and estimation techniques. An interesting problem to which your students can apply a few of those neurons!

Dating Advice


Posted: Nov 3 2013 by Nathan Grawe

If you're reading this blog, then I probably don't need to tell you: When you seek a marriage partner be sure to check on your potential mate's QR skill!

Over the weekend my wife took my infant son to urgent care. He was fine, but he was "prescribed" acetaminophen. The paperwork from the clinic told us to give "1.65 ml" every so many hours. The problem was that this set of instructions didn't come with any particular bottle of medicine. Apparently we were just to use whatever we got over the counter. Now, I appreciate that they didn't sell us $5 of generic medicine for $50. But the risks here should be obvious to a medical professional: If you don't specify a concentration, then how in the world do you know whether 1.65 ml is too little or too much?!

Thankfully, I married well (in QR and in so many other ways!). My wife carefully checked the bottle of medicine we had against dosages (which are presented in mg per kg of baby). Sure enough, the 1.65 ml prescription would have been an overdose given that we have a more concentrated medicine than the doctor was thinking of. (Our babies have never liked the stuff and so we get the higher concentration to minimize the fight.)

Here's to a world filled with numerate citizens so that you can marry based on love rather than the Quantitative Literacy and Reasoning Assessment!

Foodies Do QR Too


Posted: Oct 30 2013 by
Nathan Grawe

Susan Elrod pointed me to this interesting example of the digital humanities: Wired Magazine's study of the Food Network's recipe collection. By analyzing ingredients lists and ratings, the authors figure out what makes us tick. One spoiler: Almost everything is better with bacon!

While some of the analyses are a bit fluffy, there are some interesting tidbits. For instance, the resurgence of cupcakes and bacon coincides more or less with the financial crisis. Is there something to learn about humans and our feelings of security in this observation?

Halloween Largesse


Posted: Oct 21 2013 by Nathan Grawe

As the leaves turn to reds and golds and the air changes from moist to crisp, retailers know Halloween sales are right around the corner. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend $6.9B on treats, decorations, and costumes this year. If you're thinking this is a fun children's holiday, you have another think coming. Adult costume expenditures ($1.2B) are expected to run 20% ahead of children's. While these figures are large, according to retailers they aren't large enough: 9 of 10 Americans plan to spend less this year than last accounting for a 15% drop in total expenditure.

So, how important is Halloween shopping to the economy? Is the expected 15% drop in sales a big deal or just a blip? To answer this question, you have to ask "Compared to what?" For instance, Halloween spending is paltry compared with Christmas shopping, which clocks in over 0B. Or, following columnist George Will's line of argument, it is approximately equal to all spending by campaigns for all federal offices in 2012 presidential election cycle. (Halloween has an overall edge in our consumption affections over politics given that spending in non-presidential election years is lower than in presidential cycles.) Alternatively, Halloween spending equals the total spent by all 17,450 K-12 school districts on energy.

So, how do you size up our nation's expenditure on Halloween?

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