Tag: statistician


Do you own or rent?

When it comes to computing, history has gone back and forth between what I would call the “owner model” and the “renter model”. The question is what’s the best approach and how do you determine that?

Back in the day when people like John von Neumann were busy inventing the computer to work out H-bomb calculations, there was more or less a renter model in place. Computers were obviously quite expensive and so not everyone could have one. If you wanted to do your calculation, you’d walk down to the computer room, give them your punch cards with your program written out, and they’d run it for you. Sometime later you’d get some print out with the results of your program. 

A little later, with time-sharing types of machines, you could have dumb terminals login to a central server and run your calculations that way. I guess that saved you the walk to the computer room (and all the punch cards). I still remember some of these green-screen dumb terminals from my grad school days (yes, UCLA still had these monstrosities in 1999). 

With personal computers in the 80s, you could own your own computer, so there was no need to depend on some central computer (and a connection to it) to do the work for you. As computing components got cheaper, these personal computers got more and more powerful and rivaled the servers of yore. It was difficult for me to imagine ever needing things like mainframes again except for some esoteric applications. Especially, with the development of Linux, you could have all the power of a Unix mainframe on your desk or lap (or now your palm). 

But here we are, with Jeff buying a Chromebook. Have we just taken a step back in time? Is cloud computing and the renter model the way to go? I have to say that I was a big fan of “cloud computing” back in the day. But once Linux came around, I really didn’t think there was a need for the thin client/fat server model.

But it seems we are going back that way and the reason seems to be because of mobile devices. Mobile devices are now just small computers, so many people own at least two computers (a “real” computer and a phone). With multiple computers, it’s a pain to have to synchronize both the data and the applications on them. If they’re made by different manufacturers then you can’t even have the same operating system/applications on the devices. Also, no one cares about the operating system anymore, so why should it have to be managed? The cloud helps solve some of these problems, as does owning devices from the same company (as I do, Apple fanboy that I am).

I think the all-renter model of the Chromebook is attractive, but I don’t think it’s ready for prime time just yet. Two reasons I can think of are (1) Microsoft Office and (2) slow network connections. If you want to make Jeff very unhappy, you can either (1) send him a Word document that needs to be edited in Track Changes; or (2) invite him to an international conference on some remote island. The need for a strong network connection is problematic because I’ve yet to encounter a hotel that had a fast enough connection for me to work remotely over on our computing cluster. For that reason I’m sticking with my current laptop.


A statistician and Apple fanboy buys a Chromebook...and loves it!

I don’t mean to brag, but I was an early Apple Fanboy - not sure that is something to brag about now that I write it down. I convinced my advisor to go to all Macs in our lab in 2004. Since then I have been pretty dedicated to the brand, dutifully shelling out almost 2g’s every time I need a new laptop. I love the way Macs just work (until they don’t and you need a new laptop).

But I hate the way Apple seems to be dedicated to bleeding every last cent out of me. So I saved up my Christmas gift money (thanks Grandmas!) and bought a Chromebook. It cost me $350 and I was at least in part inspired by these clever ads

So far I’m super pumped about the performance of the Chromebook. Things I love:

  1. About 10 seconds to boot from shutdown, instantly awake from sleep
  2. Super long battery life - 8 hours a charge might be an underestimate
  3. Size - its a 12 inch laptop and just right for sitting on my lap and typing
  4. Since everything is cloud based,  nothing to install/optimize

It took me a while to get used to the Browser being the operating system. When I close the last browser window, I expect to see the Desktop. Instead, a new browser window pops up. But that discomfort only lasted a short time. 

It turns out I can do pretty much everything I do on my Macbook on the Chromebook. I can access our department’s computing cluster by turning on developer mode and opening a shell (thanks Caffo!). I can do all my word processing on google docs. Email is just gmail as usual. Scribtex for latex (Caffo again). Google Music is so awesome I wish I had started my account before I got my Chromebook. The only thing I’m really trying to settle on is a cloud-based code editor with syntax highlighting. I’m open to suggestions (Caffo?). 

I’m starting to think I could bail on Apple….


Why does Obama need statisticians?

It’s worth following up a little on why the Obama campaign is recruiting statisticians (note to Karen: I am not looking for a new job!). Here’s the blurb for the position of “Statistical Modeling Analyst”:

The Obama for America Analytics Department analyzes the campaign’s data to guide election strategy and develop quantitative, actionable insights that drive our decision-making. Our team’s products help direct work on the ground, online and on the air. We are a multi-disciplinary team of statisticians, mathematicians, software developers, general analysts and organizers - all striving for a single goal: re-electing President Obama. We are looking for staff at all levels to join our department from now through Election Day 2012 at our Chicago, IL headquarters.

Statistical Modeling Analysts are charged with predicting electoral outcomes using statistical models. These models will be instrumental in helping the campaign determine how to most effectively use its resources.

I wonder if there’s a bonus for predicting the correct outcome, win or lose?

The Obama campaign didn’t invent the idea of heavy data analysis in campaigns, but they seem to be heavy adopters. There are 3 openings in the “Analytics” category as of today.

Now, can someone tell me why they don’t just call it simply “Statistics”?