Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fear of Flying

I was flying home Sunday night when my wife told me she was nervous about me flying.  Then she asked me if I still had life insurance.  Oops!  I remembered that my Term Life had just expired and I'm embarrassed to say that I hadn't renewed it yet.  This planted the seed of fear.

At the airport, the monitors indicated my flight was on time.  As we waited for the previous passengers to disembark, the first off was a women in a wheel chair pushed by two paramedics.  She was obviously distressed and had some sort of medical emergency. 

A little bit later, a man in silky white "pajamas" and a big white Afro wig (it looked like a large football helmet) got off the airplane.

Then there was the announcement:  Our flight was being delayed due to engine troubles. 

That was it - three omens feeding the seed of fear.  I sent a text message to my family "I love you" and reminded myself about all of the statistics I read about how safe flying is.

We finally boarded and the captain told us that an indicator light went off for the actuator on the thrust reversers.  That didn't sound too bad.  It would only matter during landing and the chances of surviving a crash during landing seemed much better than falling out of the sky.  The captain said he would try to make up the lost time, but he would have to fly around bad weather.

We hit the bad weather later and it was probably the worst turbulence I've ever experienced.  I stopped reading my book as it was impossible to hold it still.  I reached to turn off the light but couldn't hold my finger steady enough.  I had to hold both hands up, push against the console, and then inch towards the off button.  I figured if this was the end, it would probably be nice and quick.

We got out of the bad weather and the flight was smooth again.  I reminded myself that I had been correct in trusting in the safety statistics.  The captain then announced that "we were out of the bad weather, for now, but to remain seated as the next patch of weather would probably be worse".  Thankfully it wasn't worse.

I finished my book and we had a safe landing.

When I got off the airplane, my legs and butt were very sore from sitting so long.  I was reminded of a news article I read recently that said "sitting can kill you".  So maybe all of the sitting during air travel is what can kill you. 

P.S.  If you're really afraid of flying and don't find the statistics comforting enough, you might consider this course http://www.fearofflyinghelp.com/

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is it the Guns?

I finally got around to reading "Culture of Fear" by Barry Glassner and I'm inspired to have less fear in my life.  According to the author, some of the fears that our culture exaggerates include: plane crashes, road rage, Gulf War Syndrome, breast implants, poisoned Halloween candy, child abduction and teen pregnancy.

The author, however, fell victim to the same fear mongering he complains about when he repeatedly decries gun violence and argues for more gun control.  This seemed inconsistent with most of his book, so I decided to look into it a little more.

Below are charts comparing gun ownership to gun related homicides.  The first chart shows no clear correlation (each blue diamond is a country).  The point in the top right shows the strongest relationship (39% ownership and 7 homicides per 100,000 people).  That's the U.S.
Instead of jumping to the conclusion: "gun owners in the U.S. are violent", I decided to look at the data for all 50 states, as well as New York City and Los Angeles.  Not as much of a correlation, especially for New York City which has probably the strictest gun control laws (1.7% ownership, 6.5 homicides/100K) .
So I thought about it and was reminded of the Gini coefficient, a measure of economic inequality (0 being equal and 1 or 100% is unequal).  I decided to compare Gini to Gun Homicides.
For both countries and U.S. states, it seems that greater economic disparity results in more gun violence (Someday I'll actually calculate the statistics).  For example, New York City has a Gini of .5, which may explain why gun violence is still high there.

The Solution?

I'm worried that the politicians and activists will lazily jump to another poorly thought out solution like the need to increase welfare payments (another conclusion in Barry Glassner's book).

Reducing gun related violence is much more complicated than getting rid of guns or even reducing poverty (reducing the Gini).  For example, countries with the highest gun ownership (Switzerland, Norway and Finland) may benefit from better trained gun owners (due to compulsory military service in Switzerland and more gun training in Norway and Finland).

My Solution: Provide gun safety training for poor school children.  Sounds crazy, but it could possibly do more to help than taking guns away from responsible citizens.

Full Disclosure: I own a Red-Rider BB Gun and have many friends who are gun owners.

References:
A more critical review of The Culture of Fear
Would Banning Firearms Result in Lower Murder and Suicide? Harvard Law
Wikipedia, etc. for the statistics.

Added June 17, 2012  Here's an interesting talk on TED


Monday, June 20, 2011

A Bigger Box

It all started with a lucky nickle.  Then a fancy strand of string.  You put your treasures in a small box tucked in the corner of your bottom dresser drawer.  Then you got an award at school, a shiny rock, a trophy and a bigger box.  The box moved to a corner in your closet and got bigger.  Then it became a stack of boxes.  They moved to a corner in the garage and eventually took up a whole wall in the garage.  The car now sat in the driveway and you were stuffing boxes in the rafters.  You rented a small storage unit easing the pressure.  You got a second unit, then a third.  You found an abandoned warehouse and felt relieved by all the empty space.  The space filled up so slowly that you never worried about it; until if filled up.  You acquired a lease on the building next door and filled it up. You found more buildings and started looking at empty aircraft hangars in the desert.

My questions.  Does it make sense to store that much stuff? At what point do you decide to get rid of some of your old stuff?  Where do you get started?

Compare this to computers.  How many hard drives do you have?  How full is your gmail account or other online storage areas?

Last year, 24 hours of video were uploaded to YouTube every minute.  Now it is 48 hours of video every minute

Google gmail gives 193 million users 2 GB of memory.  That's about 1/2 million 1 TB hard drives.  Recently gmail servers crashed.

I try to clean house as I go but I'm still trying to figure out my strategy for making sure that my most valuable digital possessions are saved when it comes time to foreclose on the warehouses.   I wonder when we'll start hearing about a"data storage" crisis.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Plain English

Years ago I read an article about the Plain English (or more generally "Plain Language") movement.  This is the idea that writing in a concise manner provides the most value.  For example a business that sends correspondences will receive more responses if they use Plain English.  If it is too painful to read, people will just throw it away.

I am tempted to write more, but that would be in violation of the inspiration for this post.

You can read more about it on wikipedia.

There are some interesting examples at plainlanguage.gov (Oxymoronic?)