Monthly Archives: March 2011

It takes more than math

There’s something in common between the nuclear disaster currently occurring in Japan and the financial meltdown a few years back. Heh. There’s a correlation. And it’s the lack of understanding correlation.

The financial meltdown largely occurred because risky loans were packaged together under the assumption that defaults on individual loans would be uncorrelated. The stupidity of that is mind boggling. Sure, this is hindsight. But someone should have realized is ahead of time. And not just someone – many people should have. There’s really not much excuse here. (There’s such a lack of excuse that it feeds conspiracy theories. Still, I expect it really was just stupidity.)

The same issue occurred with the nuclear “site blackout” problems in Japan. It’s perhaps less obvious that people should have understood this one in advance. And actually, many people were worried about it. It was a known weakness in the plant designs. But they didn’t come up with the scenario that finally occurred. If they had, perhaps the plants would never have been built. Perhaps….

In any case, now I’m worried about how many other things in our society are so poorly understood. We can wrap math around problems, but if the people doing the math don’t understand the reality of those problems, they’re bound to make similar mistakes.

A bit freaked out

I was up late Thursday night watching the news coverage of the 8.9 earthquake in Japan. A friend of mine tweeted about how it was silly that #prayforjapan was trending on twitter. After all, their vengeful god had just caused the quake. Right? Why would he listen to prayers about it?

The videos of Tokyo showed how well the city had withstood the fifth strongest quake in the last hundred years. So I tweeted:

The headline you won’t be reading: “Millions saved in Japan by good engineering and government building codes”. Buts it’s the truth.

(Yeah, the typo in my tweet just pisses me off.)

I noticed a couple of re-tweets before heading to bed, but didn’t think much about it.

The next morning I noticed my iPhone was awake. It was showing notifications of re-tweets – at what looked like about once a second. Yikes! When I checked my email, I had more than 300 new followers on twitter. Eeak!

A few hours later, a friend at work pointed out (and then more friends later), that my tweet was the top news item on Reddit. That freaked me out enough that I went and closed out new followers on twitter.

By the evening I decided to let people follow me again. I actually had a ton of follow requests sitting there on twitter, and didn’t really want to go through them. Surprisingly, most of the requests I did look at looked like real people. I kinda get why people would re-tweet my post. But it’s weird that they’d also follow me. The people I follow are either real friends, friends of friends, famous, or represent a company or topic I’m interested in. I’m just some nerd in Colorado.

Anyhow, I couldn’t have been more wrong in my tweet. As hundreds have now told me, the New York Times did a very good article on the matter quite early on. Kudos to them! And the coverage elsewhere has also been pretty good too.

I almost said “government regulation” instead of “government building codes”. That’s how I really felt about it. I don’t know why I made it more specific. (Damn it, I want my government to regulate stuff!) I expect I wouldn’t have had such a freaky day if I’d said that instead. And for crying out loud, even in the wake of the disaster in Japan, the GOP wants to remove lots of funding for just this sort of stuff.

That was a hoot!

Two weekends ago I escaped for a day at Arapahoe Basin. I couldn’t convince any kids to go, but that didn’t stop me.

For the first time that I can remember, the East Wall was open! I’ve skied here for nearly 30 years, but rarely late in the season when the wall opens up (some seasons it never opens). Well, I figured it might be my only chance. And I figured I could survive it, so I took the 20 minute hike.

East Wall at A-Basin

This shot shows the hike up and along the ridge to First Notch, the run I did. It’s not quite as tight as it looks here, the bottom half is pretty wide as you see in another shot below.

After the first steep section of the hike, there was still a long way to go. As you can see, there were many more people taking advantage of the experience. This is probably the closest I’ll ever come to climbing Everest. It was cold and windy, and the ridge was very narrow after you get past the summit.

First Notch Looking DownLooking down from the top. Across the way you can see Route 6 winding its way up to the top of Loveland Pass (11,990′) well below.

There were a couple other folks at the top next to me. They seemed a bit hesitant to drop in, but I was rather excited. The alternative is to hike another 10 minutes to the top of North Pole, supposedly an easier run, though I’ve never been there.

Half way down First Notch, looking up.Here’s a look back up into the notch. There are two skiers above me, one coming down through the narrowest part. (So, if they had been hesitant, perhaps the site an old, fat dude getting through so easily shamed them into it.)

This was certainly the most memorable run I’ve done in many years. (A couple of runs in Utah and Jackson Hole also stick out.) It wasn’t really all that difficult, and probably not even the hardest run I did that day. The snow was soft, but packed down enough to make turning easy. The hard part was, by far, the hike up.