When I add up all of the ad revenue from this blog on top of the business it garners, in a good month it might average out to $30 an hour and in a not-so-good month maybe $10. Since my consulting rate is a heck of a lot more than $30 an hour you might wonder why I bother. If you read this blog regularly you can guess that it is the same reason I do most things, for the hell of it.

However, occasionally there are some perks that are priceless. One of those was the opportunity to be on the call this morning on the White House call with Sam Kass, Executive Director of Let’s Move. Thanks a million to Blogher for setting this up. I am SO-O not a morning person and the call was at 8 a.m. Pacific time. I almost tried to get Maria to fill in for me but she tactfully pointed out that it would be hard for her to pass off for me because she did not sound sufficiently old.

So, barely awake on my first cup of coffee, I still learned a lot on this call. There were many bloggers, with diverse interests, and the question and answer session at the end revealed that. A nutritionist asked about the likelihood of stopping junk food and soft drink sales in schools. A food blogger asked about the quality of school lunches. When Sam Kass mentioned documented higher math scores among students with free breakfast programs, of course I perked up and asked for more details.

 

me with daughters

(Maria is on the left. I’m the wrinkled one on the right. Darling Daughter # 3 is in the middle, apparently exhausted from 66 seconds of effort. Thanks to Hans Gutknecht for the photo.)

Now, I’m good at math and I thought if three hours after school are important – often the time between when kids get out of school and their parents get home – and you have at most one hour of physical activity, what are kids doing in after-school programs in the other two hours. Surely, they can’t spend two hours just eating fruits and vegetables, right?The most interesting part to me was the lengthy discussion of the three hours after school as being vitally important. This is a personal interest of mine, since for the last three years, I have volunteered at an after school program teaching judo. (The daughter in the middle started that judo program five years ago and taught it for the first two years.) It was also interesting, though, because he mentioned the importance of 60 minutes of physical activity a day, at least 30 minutes of it occurring in school seems to be a goal.

Our games are used in a couple of after school programs, and that’s great. However, the games we have available now are aimed at mathematics in grades 3 through 6. What about older kids?

I visit a lot of disadvantaged communities and one of the disadvantages students have is that they don’t really have much idea of the type of opportunities out there for future careers, what people do or how they get those jobs. So … I thought one thing I could offer immediately is an inside look at making computer games. Not one to let grass grow under my feet, I sent an email this evening to 30 teachers I know and linked to a few parts of the game we are working on now. These are in pretty rough form. However, if the students check in every day after school they can see what we have done in the past 24 hours. It should be fun for them to see how the game takes shape. Some of the pages don’t have sound yet. They don’t have the bells and whistles and “yoo-hoo” that comes up when a student passes a quiz or goes up a level.

That whole “Take your child to work day” isn’t available to a lot of students, and if they live in a small rural community, the kind of jobs they can be taken to is limited. So … I decided to reach out to students after school and take a whole lot of them to work with me for the next six weeks. Too often, whether it is software or scientific research, students are presented with the final product and think it is made by people who are far smarter and more talented than them. If they only saw how rough it is at the beginning and the amount of hacking into shape it takes — and now they will.

As I mentioned yesterday, banging away at 7 Generation Games has led to less time for blogging and a whole pile of half-written posts shoved into cubbyholes of my brain. So, today, I reached into the random file and  coincidentally came out with a second post on open data …

aque

The question for Day 11 of the 20-day blogging challenge was,

“What is one website that you can’t do without? Tell about your favorite features and how you use it in teaching.”

Well, I’m a big open data fan and I am a big believer in using real data for teaching. I couldn’t limit it to one. Here are four sites that I find super-helpful

The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research has been a favorite of mine for a long time.  From their site,

“An international consortium of more than 700 academic institutions and research organizations, ICPSR provides leadership and training in data access, curation, and methods of analysis for the social science research community.

ICPSR maintains a data archive of more than 500,000 files of research in the social sciences. “

I like ICPSR but it is often a little outdated. Generally, researchers don’t hand over their data to someone else to analyze until they have used it as much as their interest (or funding) allows. On the other hand, it comes with good codebooks and often a bibliography of published research. As such, it’s great for students learning statistics and research methods, particularly in the social sciences.

For newer data, my three favorites are the U.S. census site, CHIS and CDC.

census logocensus.gov data resources section is enough to make you drool when it comes to open data. They have everything from data visualization tools to enormous data files. Whether you are teaching statistics, research methods, economics or political science – it doesn’t matter if you’re teaching middle school or graduate school, you can find resources here.

 

Yes, that’s nice, but what if you are teaching courses in health care – biostatistics, nursing, epidemiology – whatever your flavor of health-related interests, and whether you want your data and statistics in any form from raw data to publication, the Center for Disease Control Data & Statistics section is your answer.

Last only because it is more limited in scope is the California Health Interview Survey site where you can get public use files to download for analysis (my main use) as well as get pre-digested health statistics.

It all makes me look forward to diving back into teaching data mining  this fall.

From the random file — I’ve been super-busy working on our new startup, 7 Generation Games , and Darling Daughter Number Three had to defend her world title again which distracted me a bit, so I have a bunch of half-written posts, I thought I’d just put up at random, for the same reason I do everything else on this blog, the hell of it.

902q798q467453q965pq86-34q9e’w5wi34ytrsghsf.ksfbcmn  – random!

I spend some time playing with other people’s data for a whole lot of reasons – for students to analyze as a learning experience, because I’m interested in a problem addressed by the data, to create presentations for elementary schoolchildren showing what one can learn from statistics.

Here are a few tips that may make your life easier:

Read the user’s guide. Most of all check to see if this is a random sample. If you are just using the data for the purpose of teaching your students who to compute a t-test, then it really doesn’t matter whether it is a completely random sample or not. However, if you are going to be drawing any conclusions based on these results, make sure you know whether the data should be weighted, stratified, or just really not used to generalize to the population at all. If your sample consists of actuaries who are also equestrian competitors, I’m afraid not too much generalization should occur. (Don’t write and tell me about your horse, Beau, and how the two of you are exactly representative of the state of Vermont. You’re not and I don’t care any way.)

Much of the open data I work with is very large data sets and I spend several hours trying to get a feel for the data before I do much with it. If I’m going to use the same data set for a course with a lot of students, I’d like it to have lots of variables, and many of them to be numeric so the students could combine them into scales, do a factor analysis or other quantitative uses and they wouldn’t end up all  using the same few numeric variables. They could have a little individuality in their research question and design.

One way to find number of numeric variables in a data set using SAS.

data testmiss ;
set in._500family ;
array allnums {*} _numeric_ ;
x = dim(allnums) ;
proc means data = testmiss ;
var x ;
run ;

 ++ Equally Random +++

artwork from game

If you buy the beta for Spirit Lake now for $9.99 you’ll get our version 2.0 for free in May. It will be good.  I’ve been working on the newest game, Fish Lake for the last two weeks, but soon I’m going to swap with The Invisible Developer and do nothing but work on Spirit Lake for another few weeks.

 

My next-door neighbor started college this fall and when I ran into him today and asked him how classes were going he said,

Last semester was harder, I took Botany and didn’t get a very good grade in it. This semester, I took Environmental Science and it’s really easy because it’s mostly about what’s bad for the environment and I knew that, hey, this is bad for the environment and that’s bad.

I sighed and advised him,

Seriously, don’t take any more courses like that. I’ve hired a lot of people in my life and never once have I said to myself that what I really needed in my office was someone to tell me it’s bad for the environment to throw your trash on the beach or have chemicals drain into the ocean.

All of my life, I have seen people taking the path of least resistance. Based on the number of people who read my previous post on whatever happened to graduate research (over 8,000 in two days), I’m not the only one who noticed this. Year after year, students tell me with a straight face that they are going to do a qualitative dissertation because “it is easier” and they have faculty who advise them to do so, “because it is easier” and then they come to me and ask if  I know anyone who is hiring. Hiring to do what? First of all, most of what we do at The Julia Group is statistical analysis, writing evaluation reports and programming. Our clients want actual facts – how many people were seen, what percentage of those showed improvement, what has been the trend over the past four years? Our other two companies, 7 Generation Games and Fractal Domains require coding in Javascript, PHP, Objective C, HTML and CSS. We do have a couple of non-technical positions but none of those are for people who are looking for “whatever is easier” .

Take our Chief Marketing Officer, for example, who works her ass off. In an average month she will write an application to an accelerator, including slide deck and corralling our staff into being a video, edit a couple of videos that go into the game, create a demo video, fly to Minneapolis for three days to present our game to teachers at an educational technology event, write 8-10 blog posts, organize a tweet-up in Las Vegas to meet with teachers in that state, fly into Las Vegas for two days, have 8 hours of staff meetings to monitor progress toward marketing milestones.

Now I can hear some of those people saying,

I could do that. I could put together slide decks. I’d like flying around the country. I’d be good at that.

Oh, really? Just like you were good at Botany (apologies to my next-door neighbor who is only a teenager and I think is really turning it around). Seriously, though, what do you, hypothetical person, know about our game or our company? Nothing. Which is okay, since you don’t work for us but really do click on this link and watch the video that Maria put together. One thing you’ll notice in it is that she combined screen shots, photos, video and animation plus she knows a whole lot about our game design and results. She also wrote the script and did all of the sound and video editing. She learned how to do all of that because it needed to be done and since she wasn’t going to help with the coding, this was where she could pick up the slack. Are you saying, “Well, I could teach myself to do that, too.”

I’m willing to  believe that you could, but given your demonstrated propensity to take the easy route, there is nothing in your background to give me the confidence that you would.

On a regular basis, I meet people who want to be consultants, but when I ask them what they can do, they rattle off a bunch of buzzwords about strategic-leadership-partnership-team building-new media-search engine optimization and do I know that millenials are a $2 trillion market who can only be reached via Google glass? Actually, I really don’t know what they are saying because I quit listening.

Years ago, my late husband had a friend who had been laid off. Since Ron’s company had just landed a new contract and was in hiring mode, I asked him why he didn’t hire the guy, and Ron replied,

I need engineers, machinists, people who can read a blueprint, inventory control specialists. I asked him, What can you build?  And he said to me, ‘Teamwork. I build teamwork.’ I told him that’s too god damn bad because we don’t build teamwork here, we build airplanes, rockets and missiles.

Last weekend, The Spoiled One convinced me to go to a movie with her (if your child at almost 16 years old is still willing to do anything with you, grab the opportunity while you can.) In it, the (villain) father, was mocked by his son as saying,

“You’re majoring in Communication? Why not just major in alcoholism?”

We had a talk about college majors the next day and I told her that I expected her to choose something that was hard because that is what people are willing to pay you for and it’s also where you learn the most. That doesn’t mean you have to major in math or computer science. One of her older sisters is a middle school history teacher in downtown Los Angeles. It’s hard. What it ISN’T is telling people how they should teach middle school, what someone said about middle school teaching or the post-positivist pedagogy versus pre-modern empiricism (any relation of that last clause to reality is indeed a fortunate coincidence.)

 

I read this recently in a powerpoint that came with a research methods textbook

If answering the study question adequately requires the use of elaborate analytic techniques, invite a statistical expert to serve as a collaborator and as a coauthor on the resulting paper.

 

I was so non-plussed that I looked up the word non-plussed in the Merriam-Webster dictionary

a state of bafflement or perplexity  … to be at a loss as to what to say, think, or do

 

Um, this is a research methods COURSE, for graduate students, no less, and your advice to them in doing their research is that if it gets too hard they should find someone else to do it for them? This is not limited to one text or one school, either. At two universities where I have worked, both of which are well-respected and grant doctoral degrees, doctoral students, and post-doctoral students are asked before beginning their research,

Do you have a statistician?

In teaching statistics, I have been asked by doctoral students from multiple disciplines,

Why are we learning this when we are just going  to have a statistician do it for us?

Obviously, research no longer means what I thought it meant. I thought that the process of research was that you formulated a question that interested you, you read the scientific literature on that question, generated a hypothesis, collected data from a sample, analyzed that data, evaluated your results and wrote a conclusion. Now, not only is it acceptable, but encouraged to have someone else analyze your data and tell you what it means. I find that perplexing.

mini computerThis is not how it was when I was in graduate school. Back then, data were analyzed using computer software that ran on mainframe computers, or sometimes mini-computers. A mini-computer was not like an iPad mini. It was taller than me. Some of our data came on tapes which we had to walk across campus and load on to the tape drives ourselves, as we were lowly graduate students and it was assumed we had nothing better to do with our time. Fortunately, I was at the University of California by then and no longer at the University of Minnesota, where crossing campus could require skis. I did some consulting writing code for the data analysis for my fellow students, enough that caused the dean to call me into his office and ask me what I was doing and give me strict instructions, along the lines of

You can write their programs for them, since this is not a computer science Ph.D., but that is all. You are not to comment or assist in any way with research design, writing their data collection instruments, choosing what analysis to do nor interpreting that analysis. When a person receives a Ph.D. from this university it is supposed to mean that they know how to conduct research, not that they know where to find someone to pay to do their research for them.

It seems that the tables have turned quite a bit. Even my least quantitatively oriented classmate back in the 1980s was probably equivalent to the average “statistical consultant” today. That is, they passed at least four graduate level statistics courses that required both a paper and a final exam with questions like, “How is Analysis of Variance related to stepwise discriminant function analysis?” This was true whether your Ph.D. was in education, business or psychology, because it was assumed, for example, that if you were going to place students in special education because they scored two standard deviations below the mean you should have a definite understanding of what a standard deviation was, what a normal distribution was and where two standard deviations fell on that distribution. Furthermore, as a superintendent or other school administrator, it was expected that you could evaluate the research literature (hence being skeptical of stepwise methods of all types).

It seems to me that what is required for a doctoral degree has been significantly watered down.

doctorateThis chart shows the growth in doctorate granting institutions from 1920-99. The trend has continued. When I entered graduate school for my Ph.D. in 1985, there were 337 doctorate-granting institutions in the country. Now there are 418 – a growth of 24% over the past 29 years, on top of what had been, as you can see from the chart, a pretty steep growth rate for the 25 years or so prior to that time.

Who is teaching all of these new doctoral students? Well, in many instances, it is a horde of very part-time adjuncts. I don’t think adjuncts are necessarily poor teachers – in fact, I make it a point to teach at least one course a year myself – but I am aware of doctoral programs that are run with only ONE full-time faculty member. Given the paucity of human resources, it is no surprise that there is no one around to individually mentor the students in their research. Now, we are entering an era where those students who are graduating with very little research experience are themselves teaching doctoral students. It is a case of the very near-sighted leading the blind.

All of this is making me wonder where they are going to find those statisticians and how well-trained they are really going to be. I just finished with what will probably be my last student project for the next few years – no reflection on that student, or the other four students I worked with over the past two years, all of whom were a perfect delight – but my schedule is completely booked through October, 2015. Almost all of the really good statisticians I know are in the same boat.

I don’t have an answer to any of this. I am non-plussed.

drinking for science

There are multiple reasons that I haven’t gotten around to Day 10 of the 20-day blogging challenge. In part, because I have been really busy, and the other part is because I read this topic,

“Share ideas that your classroom uses for brain breaks and/or indoor recess”

and I thought

I got nothin’

Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I am NOT a very fun person. I like to think that I have some good qualities, but playfulness is not among them. Ph.D., world champion, founded/ co-founded a few companies, publishes scientific articles – does this sound like I spend a lot of time playing frisbee in the park? No, I didn’t think so. About the closest I come to this in class is on the first day having everyone introduce themselves and talk about their research interests – which is not really very close, I must admit.

For the last SAS assignment of the Public Health Research Methods course, I decided to make a video and upload it to youtube. For one of the dependent variables, I used how often in a year a person engaged in binge drinking, defined as 4 or more drinks per day. I’ve probably had four drinks in a day a few times in my LIFE so I was surprised to find that the average person  (out of over 40,000), said they did this on average 2.4 times per year.

Today has been a really frustrating day. Yesterday, after a margarita at dinner, I came home and was working on our newest game, Fish Lake, and everything was progressing smoothly. Today, for both The Invisible Developer and I, it has been just beating our heads against the wall. For example, I have this PHP script that ran intermittently today – I have three records written to the database – and all of the rest of the times, it failed with an error. The I.D. has been having similar problems.

I took a break and made a video on how to do simple statistics with SAS to test the hypothesis that I could do a screen recording with Quicktime, write a program using SAS On-Demand in Firefox, record the audio in Garageband and drink Chardonnay all at the same time because Von’s had a half-price sale on wine over $20 a bottle and, well, you know – science.

You can determine if my hypothesis – whatever the hell it was – was supported. Bizarrely, the equals signs do not show up in the video. How weird is that?

I attended  Survivor 8, the Tech Coast Venture Network fast pitch competition last night, and I thought I’d give my thoughts in case you are considering attending a similar event in the future. In keeping with the 30-second format, I’ll give you my take away now – it is worth it if you have an extra $50 and a few hours of time. If your main goal is to win the advertised $25,000 prize, I wouldn’t bother.

How it works – you give a 30-second pitch, then 10 companies are called back to give a three-minute pitch and then three of them are called back for a ten-minute question and answer period with the judges. If you have not been to an event like this before, it is interesting to see the types of questions the judges ask.

The point I missed before going – and it was totally my fault – is that this is a competition for how well you pitch your product. Of the three finalists, it turned out at the Q & A stage that two of them had no actual product. Questions with one went like this:

“How have results been with your prototype?”

“We don’t have a prototype.”

“You don’t have a prototype?”

“Yes, we do have a prototype.”

then later,

“What have the results been in your lab?”

“We don’t have a lab. We are looking for lab space. However, we did a literature review and a study with 12 people in Spain found …”

No question, though, the three-minute pitch was terrific, before they got to questions about actual product.

A second finalist, when asked if their demo was an actual working product replied,

After we placed second in another start-up competition we put up a website to take pre-orders. We are negotiating now to bring in a team member who is a developer.

The people at my table found all of this highly amusing, since most of us had actual products, even if only in the beta stage. The person next to me laughed,

We didn’t realize you didn’t actually have to be able to build anything! Next year, we’re coming with an app that will bring about world peace.

I’m not faulting the Tech Coast Venture Network. They had advertised it as a pitch competition and that is  – sort of, what it was. I say “sort of” because I was confused by the third finalist and eventual winner – a good company, that did have a product and had put in $500,000 of their own money. As far as stage of development, they are about where we are with 7 Generation Games. However, I did not think their 30-second pitch was good at all, nor was their three-minute pitch all that impressive, so while it was very clear why they were selected among the three  finalists, how the three finalists were chosen was not as clear. I think (and I assumed this before I came so I was not upset) that more than the actual presentation is part of the judging.

This is the fourth open event I’ve attended where people pitched their companies. I pitched our company at this one and at one over a year ago when we were just beginning development on our first game. The other two, I just went as a spectator. This is admittedly a small sample, so take the following statistics with that in mind.

Of the four events, only one implied that the winner would receive an investment from the venture capital group sponsoring the event. The one last night gave a cash prize. The other two received meetings with venture capitalists.

  • Of a combined 26 semi-finalists, none were black or Latino, although there were black and Latino founders at all of these events.
  • None of the four winners were women.
  • Of the two events that had semi-finalists (two went straight to finals, so I lumped them in the semi-finalists above), only last night’s event had any female-owned companies – there were two out of ten and neither made the finals. That was an improvement because the event I attended a couple of years ago had zero out of ten.
  • While all but one of the finalists/ semi-finalists in the previous events were under 40, there were at least two companies in the Survivor 8 semi-finalists who were definitely over 40, including the eventual winner.
  • With 120 companies presenting, your chances of winning the $25,000 prize are less than 1%.

Since between Maria and I, we probably took the equivalent of two days of our staff to prepare, was it worth it? In statistical terms 1/120 * $25,000 = $208  . Subtract the $50 for the dinner and your average cash value is $158, which is far less than I make in two days. I am sure many of those pitching spent more time than us preparing. The answer many people would give me is that if you don’t have the optimistic attitude that you’re going to win that you have no business being an entrepreneur, so my statistics don’t apply.

That’s not the reason I thought it was worth attending. It was an opportunity to meet people we might want to work with in the future, both as collaborators and investors. I was very interested in speaking with people from a few companies who are doing video editing, because I can foresee a need for that.

Events like these not only give the investors a chance to meet you, but also give you a chance to meet and get to know the investors a little bit. While I’ve met some perfectly nice people, and a couple have given me some very useful advice, there are also a few people I’ve decided would not be a good fit as investors for our company. Deciding to accept investment is a two-way street, and neither party should be making that decision without getting to know the other first.