Friday, October 19, 2007

An Average Lie

I thought this was an astoundingly logical article from my publisher, Bob Gelinas. I'll let it speak for itself...ponder it.

(posted with Bob's permission)

An Average Lie
By Robert E. Gelinas, © 2007 All Rights Reserved.
"Average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius)
around the world since 1880, much of this in recent decades."
NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies
The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It
may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may
not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our
preferences do not determine what's true.
Carl Sagan

Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.
Thomas H. Huxley

Here's an old joke, albeit dark humor: A guy is being tortured. He's bound and forced to sit naked on a
block of ice, freezing his behind, getting frostbite. They pour lighter fluid on his head and set fire to his hair. He's screaming in agony. One of his tormentors turns to another and remarks, "I don't know what he's complaining about. On average, he's doing just fine."

Indeed, statistically speaking, if your hair is on fire and your butt is freezing, then the mathematical
average between the two extremes may theoretically be "just fine"—even if the physical truth is torturous agony. This is an excellent example of the old line by Mark Twain in his autobiography: "There are three kinds of lies—lies, damn lies, and statistics."

In the context of "statistics," let's look at the simple and clear definition of the word "Average," used in the sense of an "arithmetic mean." Per the American Heritage Dictionary: The value obtained by dividing the sum of a set of quantities by the number of quantities in the set. For Example: Four students take a test. Their test scores are 75, 85, 90, and 95. The sum of these 4 numbers is 345. 345 divided by 4 equals 86.25. Therefore, the average test score was 86.25. Simple. Two students scored above average, one near average, one below average. This might be useful information to the teacher in helping her instruct her students. So far, so good.

Let's try another example of averaging. At the zoo there are 4 lions, 2 elephants, 6 zebras, 12 monkeys and 100 fish. What's the "average animal"? Wait – not the most populous, not percentages of the total. What's the average animal? Scratching your head? Do the math. OK, let's see… 4+2+6+12+100 = 124,
divided by 5 = 24.8. What does 24.8 mean? Is that the average number of animals of each kind? If so, that wasn't the question. Do you think perhaps the basic question makes no sense? Does the very concept of computing an "average animal" seem a bit absurd?

Let's try again. There are approximately 6 billion humans on earth. 51% of them are female, 49% are male. So what then is the "average gender"? That question doesn't make much sense either, does it?

OK then, what's the "average race" of all humans on earth? Or, what's the "average religion" of everyone on earth? Not the most predominant, not the percentage of each within a population—no, the question was: what's the mathematical average? What number is computed when the values of all the
samples are added together and then divided by the number of samples? What do these computed numbers represent? Still an absurd question?
Yes it is, and that's because the basic assumption of computing an "average anything" is that you are comparing a measured common value of all members in a common or homogenous set.

Let's try something everyone is a little more familiar with, something simpler. Let's try the weather.

What's the "average temperature" today in South Florida, i.e. if you know that today's low is 72 and its high is 92? Well, if you are looking for a daily average, the average would be 82 degrees. We get that by adding 72 and 92 and then dividing by two. That's easy. But if we were referring to a seasonal average,
we would have to decide whether we wanted to look at the daily high or low, or use the daily average like we just computed, and then observe how that number compares to the same day of the year in years past, or within some window of time, or something along those lines. Right?

If you did that exercise, all that math for the weather in South Florida on a particular day could be statistically correct. But wait a second. Let's go back to the daily average of 82 degrees. How long during the twenty-four hour day was the average of 82 degrees a physical reality versus a statistical abstract? In
fact, the low for the day occurs close to sunrise, just before dawn; and then after the sun rises, the heat of the day increases rapidly, getting into the high eighties by mid-morning and staying in the nineties all afternoon. So the actual period of time the air temperature is 82 degrees occurs in a very small window of time, and doesn't cool off below 82 until after midnight, technically the next day. In reality, if you took a temperature measurement each hour of the day, you'd discover that the true "average" temperature during that same day was much higher than 82. So with respect to the math used to compute the daily average, which was based solely on looking at only two data points of the high and the low, while it was statistically correct, it was also physically wrong.

Let's add another wrinkle to this line of thought. What is the average temperature between South Florida and Anchorage, Alaska on this same day we're looking at? Let's only look at the highs this time and assume the following as our measurements: it's 92 degrees for the high in South Florida, and Anchorage has a high of 50 degrees. If we add those two numbers we get 142. Divide them by two and we get 71 degrees as the "average temperature" for these two locales on that day. Again, this number is mathematically correct. But does it matter that the temperature in South Florida never got down to 71 degrees in this twenty-four hour period, or that the temperature will never get up to 71 in Anchorage? Please note, for both locales, the computed average temperature of 71 degrees never physically exists.

Let's add a couple of more data points to our "average temperature" calculations. Let's throw in Death Valley, California, which had a high of 120 in this same day we are considering, and South Pole Station in Antarctica, which had a high of minus 50 degrees on the same day. So, 92+50+120-50 = 212. Divide that
number by four and you get 53 degrees. Funnily enough, once again, while 53 degrees is the correct statistical calculation, not one of the four locales experienced a moment of 53 degrees that day. More to the point: the number 53 degrees is completely meaningless and irrelevant to each of the locales in

What's the flaw in the logic here? The problem is a simple matter of comparing "apples and oranges."

There's no common source of data points, specifically data points originating from the exact same set of causes and influences, which is what we're attempting to average. Averages can no more be applied to disparate climate locales than we can try to average animals at the zoo, gender, race, or religion. They're
different "sets," not a "common set," which defies the definition of the computation of an average. It can be done mathematically as an abstract calculation, but it makes no sense in reality.

Here's why: Remember the test taken by our four students? The common source of data points wasn't the students; it was the test. The four students were four iterations of the exact same test being taken, which is why an average score could be computed and the resulting number made sense and had some practical application. If, however, one student had taken a history test, the second a math test, the third an English test, and the fourth a biology test, would averaging their scores together have any meaning?

No. The common element of data points was that the same test was given to each student. When you change the source, or better yet "cause," of the data point values, you invalidate the common relevance of the data and make it nonsensical.
Now, you could average a history test, a math test, an English test, and a biology test, if you were talking about those four different tests all being taken by the same student. In that context, the common source of data points becomes the one student's performance. The numerical "average" computed becomes part of that student's overall grade average. However, that particular student's grade average
only has comparable applicability to any other student if another student took the exact same courses and tests—i.e. the same sampling and measurement criteria.

This is analogous to the weather in the sense that you may average multiple sampling points (a high or low within the day, week, month, year, years, etc.) if you are talking about just one locale or homogenous region, which is the common element influenced by a fixed set of factors germane to that specific place.
In the context of the weather or climate, the thermometer is simply the measuring device, like the teacher using her answer key to determine the number of right and wrong answers on a test and assigning a numerical score. The thermometer labels a value of a data point at a particular point in time, but it isn't the source or cause of the air temperature at any point in time. Air temperatures are clearly influenced by a myriad of factors: the sun, precipitation cycles, seasonal changes, day-night cycles, proximity to large bodies of water or deserts, altitude from sea level, ocean temperatures and currents, increased urbanization (concrete and asphalt tend to retain a lot more heat than grass and trees), volcanic/geothermal activity, forest fires, glacier retreat (which has been occurring continually for over 10,000 years since the last ice age), deforestation, and yes, even some man-made pollution, and many, many other factors unique to specific geographical locations.

That's why "averaging" temperatures from completely disparate climate zones, like Death Valley and Antarctica, may produce a mathematically correct statistic, but it is a number that is meaningless with respect to any individual climate used as a data point in the cumulative calculation.

The fatal flaw in the supposition here is that it is readily evident that temperatures in any and all locales are the result of many, many varying factors, not one unified cause nor a fixed and uniform set of causes, which means that temperature readings (an effect not a cause) are not "homogenous" and therefore cannot be
rationally "averaged" to produce any logical meaning. And, by the way, the total number of data points you add to this erroneously-based calculation doesn't matter. If it's nonsensical and meaningless to do it for two or four of them, then that must also be true for most if not all of them puddled together.

Otherwise, at what point of adding samples does doing something nonsensical and illogical begin to make sense and is no longer meaningless?

So…with all this in mind. When you hear reported that the "average global temperature" has risen by a little over half a degree or a whole degree in the last 100 years, what might you conclude about such an assertion?

Even if manylearned experts tell you that "the math doesn't lie," did it ever occur to anyone that the very concept of an "average global temperature"—as though a single number could accurately represent the cumulative unified condition of all the disparate climate varieties on the entire planet—in fact, doesn't exist anywhere in the real world beyond the abstract realm of statistics? And if that's true, then what value is any argument that is based upon a completely mythical concept?

"It is impossible to talk about a single temperature for something as
complicated as the climate of Earth. A temperature can be defined only
for a homogeneous system. Furthermore, the climate is not governed by
a single temperature. Rather, differences of temperatures drive the
processes and create the storms, sea currents, thunder, etc. which make
up the climate." (emphasis added)
Physicist Bjarne Andresen
Professor at The Niels Bohr Institute
University of Copenhagen
Ref: American Thinker, 3/18/07

"The great masses of the people…will more easily fall victims to a big lie
than a small one."
Adolf Hitler

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Must Have Writer's Workshop!

If you're an aspiring author or if you're already an author and are trying to find your way through the mess of the publishing industry and marketing...this workshop is wonderful!

ArcheBooks (a traditional publisher of trade paperbacks and hardcover books) puts on an intensive, weekend workshop for writers and authors. It used to be that you had to fly to Florida, incur the cost of flights, hotel rooms and food on top of the entrance fee to the workshop to attend it.

No more!

Now they are offering the very same workshop in digital form that you can listen to and do the work in the comfort of your own home, at your own pace and without having to shell out money for planes, hotels and eating out.

If you're at all serious about a career in the world of publishing - I highly suggest you check this out!

Click here for more info!

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thank You CCWs!

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting with a ladies book club in Cadillac Michigan - termed by one of the women as the Crazy Cadillac Women. They were such a great group to be around - friendly, open and full of life.

They ran the meeting like a social - complete with sandwiches, cookies, cheese, crackers, wine, pop and beer. Their hospitality was fantastic. They were even kind enough to give me a box of lucious chocolates! I'll be getting into those while revising :D

They asked some really great questions and I look forward to our next meeting together when Windigo comes out!

Thanks guys!

This Week's Events

Today kicked off the first day in my week long online workshop at The Muse Online Writer's Conference. For all of you who joined - thanks! There's posts in there for you and I look foward to creating with you.

On Tuesday I'm visiting with a Book Club up in Cadillac Michigan. I'm pretty excited about that - I love talking to readers!

Also this week (hopefully) I'll be making an official announcement here...on what...I'm not gunna tell yet :P

But once it's all ready, I'll put up the post.

Other than that, we're in the midst of revising Windigo, the sequel to Apparitions. So if you see any sparks flying from over here - it's just me trying to get it all polished up and done.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Weird Science

Once upon a time I was in a convo about writing and genres. Since I happen to read in all genres and have plots set for several of those genres, this question came about:

"What genre would you not write in?"

To which I answered:

"Historical fiction because I'm not a big enough history buff to pull it off. I'd flub up the dates and get letters and emails from everybody's mother's sister's boyfriend's uncle's friends that I screwed up the dates on the Civil War.

Sci-Fi too, because, as we all know I'm Techie-dense. Science and machanics are some vague, weird stuff concocted in a universe far far away from mine."

Yep. So what happens the other night? I get a neat dream complete with workable tid-bits to a Sci-Fi plot...The more I think on it, the more the sub plots are coming to light.

So, remember what I said about not writing Sci-Fi? Erase it. Now I have to go beg the muses to not....NOT go to the Historical side...

Have any of you had weird plots that are way off your genre or style come popping into being?

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Skin That Smoke Wagon

Yes, a line straight out of Tombstone. That movie was fantastic and I had to steal the line from Wyatt for this post.

In my Apparitions series there's an emphasis on law enforcement and criminals. The best way I can describe them is that they're supernatural stories mingled with crime stories and honed with suspense. That said, when I first developed the series I had to learn about firearms. Can't have the Sheriff and his Deputies running around without firearms now can we?

Now I know how to take firearms apart, info on various ammo, how they handle, how to shoot (anything from semi-auto pistols to revolvers to shotguns to rifles). At Context I actually had to pack all long sleeve attire because of a bruised shoulder from rapid target shooting with the 12 guage and heavy ammo.

Anyway, I'm in revisions for book two in the Apparitions series, Windigo. Now, I've been to the ranges but always during the day. In Windigo there's a scene where my Sheriff, Trace, is firing his weapon at night. Well, we've all heard the term 'guns a blazin' and seen torrents of fire erupting from muzzles and barrels on TV and movies. Understanding that the bullet is projected out of said barrels by the force of an explosion, I figured there would be some flames, surely. much? Is it really as brilliant in life as it is on the screen?

I may write fiction, but I do try to make everything as true to life as I possibly can through research and well, doing it myself. Which is perhaps why I can never end my list of hobbies or things I enjoy doing.

So in a writerly moment (you know, those times you get a wise idea and go out and do it without really thinking it through?). Lain and I were in the kitchen, it was dark outside and it went a little like this:

Lain (who knew about the scene in question): "You know, it's dark outside..."

Me: "Let's break out the Penetrator. I'd like to see what Trace would see and experience."

And so, we did - right then, right there.

(Yes, I name my stuff...almost everything. For those of you fellow Xeno heads out there, you'll know where Penetrator came from heheheh Go Ziggy!!!)

Yeah. Let me tell you...guns do indeed blaze. That thing looked like we'd fired a torch through it, not a slug. So when you see the Hollywood films they really aren't exaggerating.

On a side note...darkness does not dampen sound. Nope. Silly me, in my writerly mode of absorbing what Trace would see, feel, hear and do...forgot my ear muffs. Ahem. So if you ever get the idea to go out and really see what happens when you shoot a firearm in the pitch of night - take it from me and do wear ear protection. There are some things we writers really don't need to experience and ringing ears are one of them :)

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Thursday, October 04, 2007


I haven't been able to update my web site lately due to computer issues with Lains rebellious machine. However, I'm posting this here and on my other blogs/boards.

Although I'm listed on their site and it's shown on my Events page that I'm attending ConClave next weekend - I will not be there.

That said I believe I owe you a why.

I talked to their Programming director last year about participating. Since then and after many of my emails since early this year being unanswered, it seemed to me like they dropped the ball.

Indeed, we weren't made aware of the program details until this morning...A week before the event. Ahem. And AFTER I'd already made other commitments because of the lack of responses since early this year.

After reading their program - let me say they DO have some good classes and panels. However, the panels I was stuffed on won't lose anything by my not being there. One is on Friday night, which I specified when I first contacted them I wouldn't be able to be there until Saturday. It is an interesting panel that I would have liked to participate on.

The two I was put on for Saturday...yeah. How can I say this nicely? They appeal to some. Not to me. I don't read Lovecraft...haven't since I was in high school. I'm not a big fan of his and I so do not have the time to cram in reading his work on a week's notice. So...not much I can add to that panel except to sit and go...uhmmm why did they put me here? The second, on e-book book is NOT an e-book. It is available in an an e-book form, but Apparitions is a hard cover orginal. I don't agree with strictly e-book publishing. For me, as a reader, I want something solid. Reading a novel on a computer screen would burn my eyeballs out.

The Sunday panel on Marketing would have been a lot of fun. That is something I could have actively contributed to.

So yeah. Now see, there are other quite interesting panels and talks that I could have provided some content to.

It would stand to reason, to me, that if you want people to participate - which I'd have loved to had communications been there - maybe make sure you communicate with them and find out where they can contribute the most. This isn't just for the good of the participants but also for the Convention itself and the people paying to attend.

At least that's what common sense would tell ya.

So I won't be there and that's why - lack of communication and not wanting to pay to walk in to something I have no clue as to what is going on.

It did serve well in another respect. I now very much appreciate the time and effort put out by the other Conventions I've dealt with in providing their participants lists of panels they could willingly sign up for (instead of stuffing them on panels that the staff has no idea if the participant even fits on) or letting you know well in advance what they're thinking of putting you on and...the courtesy of - asking...

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Context 20

This last weekend we attended Context 20, in Columbus Ohio. Let me tell ya, if you get a chance to attend next years (which I fully intend to) do so! It was a blast.

Lain attended the World Building Workshop, which he said was quite enlightening. They had so many good panels planned that it was often a toss up on which to attend. Often we had to split, each attending different panels and taking notes for the other.

I had the honor of sitting on a panel with fellow authors Matt Cook, Fran Friel, James Daniel Ross and Paul Melko.

We met Shawn Sine and Erin Hoffman who are endless knowledge pits on gaming and programming. I spent some time stalking Juanita Coulson on her panels. Listening to her experiences with movies while she was young was fun. Fantasy author Sandy Lender was lurking about and we enjoyed various converstations with her.

One of the most intriguing people I met there was John Dalmas. He's such a spry man with this impish glow in his eyes and an endless wealth of knowlege. Thank you John for being there and talking with us!

Jason from Apex Science Fiction & Horror Digest was there. They throw a heck of a room party, with artwork projected on the ceiling and everything.

There were so many others that we met, talked with and hung out with and many more we saw in passing. All in all, it was a lot of fun, very informative and a must go to Con for next year.

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