Abi’s not mad keen on Farscape, but I like it. I’ve seen most of the first series, a lot of the second, but practically none of seasons 3 and 4. The Sci-Fi channel is still running repeats, but we’ve got completely out of the habit of watching TV for specific shows. If we have the TV on, it’s either tuned to CBeebies, or to one of the Discovery/History/National Geographic-type channels as a background drip-feed of infotainment. It’s exceedingly rare for us to actually sit down and just watch a TV programme for its own sake.
The health visitor weighed Fiona again today, and she came in at 5kg, or just a shade over 11lb. That’s 300g more than she weighed just three days ago, and a full 25% more her birth weight less than three weeks ago. Yowza.
According to the graphs, she is now tracking the 98th percentile for weight. So out of every 100 babies, there are only two that are heavier than her. No wonder Abi’s feeling drained. Fiona’s a milk vampire.
If you gather a large collection of numbers from a naturally occurring source (for example, the surface areas of rivers, or typical sales figures for a shop), what is the probability of any given number in the collection starting with the digit “1”?
Because numbers don’t start with the digit “0”, there are nine possible digits for a number to start with: 1-9. So you’d expect the probability of the first digit being “1” to be one in nine, or about 11%, right?
Wrong. Because of an curious statistical phenomenon known as “Benford’s Law“, the probability is actually about 30%. The odds of the first digit being “2” are about 18%, and they decrease down to 4.6% for a “9”.
Simon Newcomb, an astronomer, first pointed out this phenomenon way back in 1881, but it never got much attention. It wasn’t until the physicist Frank Benford did a much larger study of numbers from dozens of different sources in 1938, and found that the rule applied pretty much everywhere, that it received more notoriety. And it still isn’t as well known as the birthday paradox (where the odds of two people sharing a birthday are about 50% if you get as few as 23 folk in a room), so you can easily use it as an amazing fact for impressing chicks at parties.
But Benford’s Law can be used for much more than just courtship. Because it applies across most naturally occurring number distributions, it can also be used to detect fraud in financial accounts, and to spot faked results in clinical trials. In recent years, professor Theodore Hill of the Georgia Institute of Technology has written several papers discussing the difficulty of faking data. His 1996 paper, “A Statistical Derivation of the Significant-Digit Law” also provides a solid explanation for just why Benford’s Law works the way it does.
- Theodore Hill’s home page
- Theodore Hill: A Statistical Derivation of the Significant-Digit Law”
- Theodore Hill: A Note On Distributions Of True Versus Fabricated Data
- Theodore Hill: The Difficulty of Faking Data
- Robert Matthews: The power of one (New Scientist, 10 July 1999 – login required for access to the archives.)
- Following Benford’s Law, or Looking Out for No. 1
- Mathworld article on Benford’s Law
- Intuitor.com: Benford’s Law Part 1 – How to Spot Tax Fraud
- Intuitor.com: Benford’s Law Part 2 – The 80/20 Rule or Pareto Principle
I don’t know how long it will last, but Fiona is currently going by the nickname “Fionaberry”. She is small, round, and goes very red when she cries. So she’s a berry. (For evidence of her roundness, check out Abi’s description of Fiona’s crash weight gain programme. No steroids or protein drinks involved. Just home-grown milky goodness.)
She also looks very good in pink.
(Also, after two weeks we still can’t figure out if her eyes are dark blue, or brown. In sunlight there’s no doubt they’re blue, but under artificial light they are definitely brown. Very odd.)
As if I don’t have anything else to do with my time right now (like sleep), I’ve been tinkering with the sunpig web site again. Here’s a list of the main changes:
- Moved the permalink/timestamp/comment count/category indicator from the end of each entry to the beginning (just after the entry title). The idea behind this is that you can scan this summary information at the same time as you read the entry title. I like having the information up there, but it does deviate from the blogging “standard.” Depending on feedback, I may add a permalink/comment count to the end of the entry as well.
- Likewise, in the comments section for each entry, the commenter’s name and date/time of their comment now comes before the comment itself, not after. (Tip from Electrolite.)
- Entry comments now have their own permalinks.
- I’ve removed the “remember me/forget me” checkboxes/radio buttons/command buttons from the comments form. If you fill in your details, the site will remember them for you–period. If you’re sufficiently paranoid about accepting cookies not to want this, I figure you’re plenty capable of removing them from your own browser cache.
- Fixed the comment preview and comment error templates so that they show the sidebar properly.
- I’ve added a new Linkdump blog. So many links, so little time. The most recent links from the Linkdump also show up in my sidebar, and it even has its own RSS feed. (You may notice similarities between the Linkdump and Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s “Sidelights” and “Particles” sideblogs. That’s because I think they’re particularly good examples of the species, and worthy of emulation.)
- I’ve spruced up Abi’s blog, Evilrooster Crows with a new stylesheet. I’ve also fixed Abi’s RSS feed, and enabled trackbacks on her entries.
- I’ve completely overhauled the Quick Reviews blog. Each review now has an individual archive page, and can accept comments and trackbacks. The sidebar on the main page shows a list of all reviews on the site, sorted by type (books, films, et al.) and star rating. The reviews are now also available as a separate RSS feed. And although I haven’t written any yet, the blog can now also handle music and videogame reviews.
- The Quick Reviews sections in our sidebars now show permalinks to the archive pages for the reviews, and also show the number of comments received (if any).
- Plus various font and colour changes.
Phew. Comments and suggestions are more than welcome.
Exactly one year ago, I wrote a blog entry about an experiment by a music promoter to start selling professionally recorded versions of concerts on CD-R immediately after the gig. I thought it was a stupendous idea–I still do–but I haven’t heard anything more about it. Until today.
The Barenaked Ladies are currently on tour, and according to their blog they are going to be running with this idea themselves rather than leaving it to their promoters:
“We’re going to be recording most of the shows on this tour, and they will be available for sale online for download or we’ll send you a CD. Check out www.barenakedladies.com next week, and you’ll see more info. We intend to have these available about 2 days after each show – hopefully you like this new addition to our tours, and hopefully the sound quality is better than your cellphone or minidisk player, etc. We’ve got an engineer on the road with us who will be recording the shows to multitrack and mixing them specifically for CD, which should make each disc more of the Rock Spectacle quality and less like a board tape, which rarely sound great, simply because they’re mixed for the venue, not for home listening.”
Okay, so the recordings won’t be on sale immediately as you leave the gig, and the practice of artists themselves selling recordings of individual concerts after the fact is not new. But it’s still not exactly common. Big yay to the BNL for giving it a try.