Wednesday, February 29, 2012

(Statistically) Significant Thoughts

The good old days are gone when Monte Carlo meant colorful sweater and pullover ads on television, or even resorts and casinos in Las Vegas. These days, Monte Carlo only means dry computational algorithms and statistical simulations I am expected to master, but am clueless about !

While studying for an exam on Item Response Theory, I Googled for Raju's Beta Reliability Analysis, something almost analogous to Cronbach’s alpha. The responses startled me for a second. I had forgotten that Anil Kapoor in the movie Beta (1992) was also called Raju. Some humor in between the monotony of studying stats.

Reminds me of this post from last year


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Of Predictors and Outcomes

My fellow graduate student from the department is a statistician at heart. That is the language she understands without any difficulty. Not so articulate while talking about things in general, she could go on and on if you ask her to talk about statistics. When she reads a paper, she skips the first few pages and dives right into the methodology. The last time she did a class presentation on factor analysis, she went on and on, with great gusto, and excitedly showed us slides of a bunch of codes she had written. She swears by statistical methods. I fail to see how statistics would excite someone so much, but I guess that is what people feel when I tell them about a lot of things I do. She even wore a hat once that had the symbol of “theta-hat” printed on it (the term “hat” is used to represent some estimated value of a variable). The list of things she does that show her passion for stats is endless.

I was out for a few days, almost bed-ridden due to a viral infection attack. My face hurt, my voice hurt, and my entire body hurt. When I came back to work, she asked me where I was. I told her I had suffered an ear infection. She frowned at me, clearly trying to articulate her next question. Remember, I said she is not very good at articulating non-stats stuff. I guess she wanted to ask me how it affected me, or how much pain I have been in. She looked dead serious when she asked me,

“So what was the outcome?”

I smiled, knowing exactly what she meant. Perhaps characters like Sheldon Coopers are borne inspired by reality.

(Footnote: If you did not get the subtle reference, she was referring to an “outcome variable” of my ear infection. If you were a bio-geek, you might have called it a “somatic response”. Do I do it too? Yes, sometimes, at a delta level. Wonder if you noticed I just used the word “footnote” and “delta”.)


Expecting Less

My best friend from high school did not tell me she was expecting until she was six months into her pregnancy. That too happened during a conversation when I insisted she come visit me for a few days, since I did not have time to take off from work and travel three thousand miles to go see her, and she had to let me know she has been advised against traveling. I congratulated her and said all the right things I have no personal experience about myself (hope you are feeling well, hope you are not to scared, etc.). Yet in a certain way, I felt distanced. This is not because I have not embarked on the marriage-leading-to-family bandwagon myself. This was because despite being close friends, it took so long for me to know.

As a person interested in learning about human behavior and motivations (because this is what I research about, although from a different perspective and with a different population), I started thinking of the various factors that would have made her decide against sharing the news earlier. I know from personal experience that a lot of women do not share their news of pregnancy, do not buy clothes or toys for the baby until it is born, or do not like their friends photographing pictures of their babies. Although I do not get the point, I respect their decision and leave them alone. It might have been that. For me, it would be nothing short of good news like passing your PhD dissertation, getting a job, or buying a house. Since I would not hesitate to share such good news, again, I failed to see her point. My mother had a different take on it, a cultural and gender perspective perhaps, although in an absurd way. She said my friend must have been “shy” to share the news. Although I know what she means by being shy, it is a ridiculous concept for someone who is exactly my age, lives in the same society, and is of a similar mental makeup. I do not know if there are other reasons, but my most plausible explanation so far is the following-

With time, we tend to hang out with similar groups, and resonate with people who are similar to us. I sense she would have shared the news earlier if I had a baby myself, was expecting, or was at least married. Ever noticed that married people mostly tend to hang out with other married people, graduate students tend to hang out with other graduate students, and Bengali people tend to hang out with other Bengali people? There is a common ground, a common theme underlying all these instances, be it commonality in culture, language, marital status, or stages in your career. If this is the case, it is not good news for me. All it means is that yet another friend moves on with their life. When we grew up together and were great friends, we had common themes binding us. We were in the same class, studied the same subjects, took tuitions together, lived in the same neighborhood, and had the same friend circle. Now, we do not really have anything in common anymore.

I am too old to make new friends based on commonality (for example, single women in their thirties interested in academics, writing, and discussing the specifications of the camera they use. Imagine the odds of finding one in my town?). And it seems I do not fit into certain existing circles anymore. Which boils down to pretty much what I do in my free time anyway- play online scrabble (alone), read books (alone), watch movies (alone), and congratulate my friends during those occasional phone calls when they tell me they are getting married the next day, or having a baby over the weekend.