Posts about books

George Box 1919 to 2013 – A Great Friend, Scientist and Statistician

Reposted from my management blog.

I would most likely not exist if it were not for George Box. My father took a course from George while my father was a student at Princeton. George agreed to start the Statistics Department at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and my father followed him to Madison, to be the first PhD student. Dad graduated, and the next year was a professor there, where he and George remained for the rest of their careers.

George died today, he was born in 1919. He recently completed An Accidental Statistician: The Life and Memories of George E. P. Box which is an excellent book that captures his great ability to tell stories. It is a wonderful read for anyone interested in statistics and management improvement or just great stories of an interesting life.

photo of George EP Box

George Box by Brent Nicastro.

George Box was a fantastic statistician. I am not the person to judge, but from what I have read one of the handful of most important applied statisticians of the last 100 years. His contributions are enormous. Several well know statistical methods are known by his name, including:

George was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1979. He also served as president of the American Statistics Association in 1978. George is also an honorary member of ASQ.

George was a very kind, caring and fun person. He was a gifted storyteller and writer. He had the ability to present ideas so they were easy to comprehend and appreciate. While his writing was great, seeing him in person added so much more. Growing up I was able to enjoy his stories often, at our house or his. The last time I was in Madison, my brother and I visited with him and again listened to his marvelous stories about Carl Pearson, Ronald Fisher and so much more. He was one those special people that made you very happy whenever you were near him.

George Box, Stuart Hunter and Bill Hunter (my father) wrote what has become a classic text for experimenters in scientific and business circles, Statistics for Experimenters. I am biased but I think this is acknowledged as one of (if not the) most important books on design of experiments.

George also wrote other classic books: Time series analysis: Forecasting and control (1979, with Gwilym Jenkins) and Bayesian inference in statistical analysis. (1973, with George C. Tiao).

George Box and Bill Hunter co-founded the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984. The Center develops, advances and communicates quality improvement methods and ideas.

The Box Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Industrial Statistics recognizes development and the application of statistical methods in European business and industry in his honor.

All models are wrong but some are useful” is likely his most famous quote. More quotes By George Box

A few selected articles and reports by George Box

Related: It is not about proving a theorem it is about being curious about thingsBox on QualitySoren BisgaardLearning Design of Experiments with Paper HelicoptersPeter Scholtes

Book Explores Adventures in Making

image of the cover of Made by Hand

Made by Hand by Mark Frauenfelder, the editor-in-chief of Make magazine. explores his adventures in the world of do-it-yourself.

Frauenfelder spent a year trying a variety of offbeat projects such as keeping chickens and bees, tricking out his espresso machine, whittling wooden spoons, making guitars out of cigar boxes, and doing citizen science with his daughters in the garage. His whole family found that DIY helped them take control of their lives, offering deeply satisfying alternatives for spending time together. Working with their hands and minds helped them feel more engaged with the world around them.

Frauenfelder also profiles fascinating “alpha makers” leading various DIY movements and grills them for their best tips and insights. He offers a unique perspective on how earning a few calluses can be far more rewarding than another trip to the mall.

Related: Science Toys You Can Make With Your KidsGifts for the Maker in Your Lifescience booksTeaching Through Tinkering

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick

book cover image of The Information

James Gleick is a great science writer. I remember first reading his book, Chaos, which I loved. He continues to write engaging and entertaining books on science. His 2011 release The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, is now available in paperback.

From the invention of scripts and alphabets to the long-misunderstood talking drums of Africa, Gleick tells the story of information technologies that changed the very nature of human consciousness. Gleick provides portraits of the key figures contributing to the inexorable development of our modern understanding of information: Charles Babbage, the idiosyncratic inventor of the first great mechanical computer; Ada Byron, the brilliant and doomed daughter of the poet, who became the first true programmer; pivotal figures like Samuel Morse and Alan Turing; and Claude Shannon, the creator of information theory itself.

And now the information age arrives. The Information is the story of how we got here and where we are heading.

Related: science booksWhat Dogs Reveal About EvolutionMicrocosm by Carl ZimmerThe Last Lecture Book

Wesley the Owl: Love Story of an Owl and His Girl

This story begins on Valentine’s Day in 1985 when biologist Stacey O’Brien meets a four-day-old baby barn owl in a fateful encounter that would turn into an astonishing 19-year saga. With nerve damage in one wing, the owlet’s ability to fly was forever compromised and he had no hope of surviving on his own in the wild. A young assistant in the owl laboratory at Caltech, O’Brien promised to care for the helpless owlet and give him a permanent home. O’Brien’s heartfelt memoir of life with this wild bird, Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl recounts their dramatic, and often humorous, life together.

For almost two decades, O’Brien studied Wesley and his strange habits intensively and providing a mice-only diet. With a heart-shaped face and outsized personality that belied his 18-inch stature, the gorgeous white-and-gold Wesley fascinated everyone he met, and touched many lives. Stacey and Wesley’s bond was especially deep; O’Brien discovered that owls are highly sentient beings with individual personalities, subtle emotions, and a playful nature that can also turn fiercely loyal and protective.

Cool fact: “While we hear in two dimensions, owls hear in three.” Owls can detect a mouse heartbeat under three feet of snow.
Related: Friday Fun: Cat and Owl PlayingBird Brain (smart crows)Using Barn Owls for Bilogical Pest Control in Israel
Continue reading

Teaching Through Tinkering

I wrote about the Tinkering School, Engineering camp previously. I am a strong believer in the value of helping kids (even adult kids – the few that haven’t resigned themselves to limited capacity to wonder since they now are grown up and not suppose to waste their time dreaming) explore their ideas and assisting them in making those ideas into reality. I think this is the best way to learn, not learning to pass a test, but learning to gain knowledge and accomplish things. Here is a nice 15 minute talk by the founder of the Tinkering School, Gever Tulley: “Turning Curriculum Design On Its Head: Engage First Then Look for Learning Within”

The format of the tinkering school is week long sessions where the kids stay overnight.

Some quotes: “we would use real tools and real materials and we would build real things, not model building, [but instead] actual building.” “create a meaningful experience and learning will follow”

Gever Tulley recently published: Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).

Related: Home Engineering: Building a HovercraftKids Need Adventurous PlayAutomatic Cat FeederScience Toys You Can Make With Your KidsWhat Kids can Learn

Electric Wind

photo of William Kamkwamba on his windmillphoto of William Kamkwamba on his windmill from his blog.

I have written about William Kamkwamba before: Inspirational EngineerHome Engineering: Windmill for Electricity. And along with the post, Make the World Better, donated to his cause. His new book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, is quite enjoyable and provides an interesting view of how he persevered. His talk of the famine, not being able to afford school and putting together a windmill using scrape parts and a few books from the library (donated by the American government – much better foreign aid than all the military weapons that are often counted as aid) is inspirational. And should help many sitting in luxury understand the privileged lives they lead.

“I’d become very interested in how things worked, yet never thought of this as science. In addition to radios, I’d also become fascinated by how cards worked, especially how petrol operated an engine. How does this happen? I thought? Well, that’s easy to find out – just ask someone with a car… But no one could tell me… Really how can you drive a truck and not know how it works?” (page 66)

“Using Energy, and this book has since changed my life… All I needed was a windmill, and then I could have lights. No more kerosene lamps that burned out eyes… I could stay awake at night reading instead of going to bed at seven with the rest of Malawi. But most important, a windmill could also rotate a pump for water and irrigation.” (page 158)

William set out to demonstrate his windmill for the first time to a skeptical crowd saying (page 193)

“Let’s see how crazy this boy really is.”… “Look,” someone said. “He’s made light!”… “Electric wind!” I shouted. “I told you I wasn’t mad!”

I like how the story shows how long, hard work, reading, experimenting and learning is what allowed William to success (page 194-5)

For the next month, about thirty people showed up each day to stare at the light. “How did you manage such a thing?” They asked. “Hard work and lots of research,” I’d say, trying not to sound too smug…
[to William's father] “What an intelligent boy. Where did he get such ideas?”
“He’s been reading lots of books. Maybe from there?”
“They teach this in school?”
“He was forced to drop. He did this on his own.”
The diagram demonstrated twenty-four volts being transformed to two hundred forty. I knew voltage increased with each turn of wire. The diagram showed the primary coil to have two hundred turns, while the secondary had two thousand. A bunch of mathematical equations were below the diagram – I assumed they explained how I could make my own conversions – but instead I just wrapped like mad and hoped it would work. (page 200)
Soon I was attacking every idea with its own experiment. Over the next year, there was hardly a moment when I wasn’t planning or devising some new scheme. And though the windmill and radio transmitter had both been successes, I couldn’t say the same for a few other experiments. (page 215)

William is now attending the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, with an amazing group of classmates. See how you can support the Moving Windmills Projects.

Related: Teen’s DIY Energy Hacking Gives African Village New HopeMake the World BetterWilliam Kamkwamba on the Daily ShowWhat Kids can Learnappropriate technology

What Dogs Reveal About Evolution

cover of the Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins

From, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins

All breeds of dogs are domesticated wolves: not jackals, not coyotes and not foxes.

Coppinger points out that when domestic animals break free and go feral for many generations, they usually revert to something close to their wild ancestor. We might expect feral dogs, therefore, to become rather wolf-like. But this doesn’t happen. Instead, dogs left to go feral seem to become the ubiquitous “village dogs” – “pye-dogs” – that hang around human settlements all over the Third World. This encourages Coppinger’s belief that the dogs on which human breeders finally went to work were wolves no longer. They had already changed themselves into dogs: village dogs, pye-dogs, perhaps dingos.

Real wolves are pack hunters. Village dogs are scavengers that frequent middens and rubbish dumps.

Belyaev and his colleagues (and successors, for the experimental programme continued after his death) subjected fox cubs to standardised tests in which an experimenter would offer a cub food by hand, while trying to stroke or fondle it. The cubs were classified into three classes. Class III cubs were those that fled from or bit the person. Class II cubs would allow themselves to be handled, but showed no positive responsiveness to the experimenters. Class I cubs, the tamest of all, positively approached the handlers, wagging their tails and whining. When the cubs grew up, the experimenters systematically bred only from this tamest class.

After a mere six generations of this selective breeding for tameness, the foxes had changed so much that the experimenters felt obliged to name a new category, the “domesticated elite” class, which were “eager to establish human contact, whimpering to attract attention and sniffing and licking experimenters like dogs.” At the beginning of the experiment, none of the foxes were in the elite class. After ten generations of breeding for tameness, 18 per cent were “elite”; after 20 generations, 35 per cent; and after 30 to 35 generations, “domesticated elite” individuals constituted between 70 and 80 per cent of the experimental population.

The tame foxes not only behaved like domestic dogs, they looked like them. They lost their foxy pelage and became piebald black and white, like Welsh collies. Their foxy prick ears were replaced by doggy floppy ears. Their tails turned up at the end like a dog’s, rather than down like a fox’s brush. The females came on heat every six months like a bitch, instead of every year like a vixen. According to Belyaev, they even sounded like dogs.

These dog-like features were side- effects. Belyaev and his team did not deliberately breed for them, only for tameness.

The famous domesticated silver fox experiment offers interesting insight into animal traits and evolution.

Related: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins – The Evolution of House CatsDarwin’s Beetles Still Producing SurprisesBackyard Wildlife: Fox

Microcosm by Carl Zimmer

cover of Microcosm by Carl Zimmer

Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life by Carl Zimmer is an excellent book. It is full of fascinating information and as usual Carl Zimmer’s writing is engaging and makes complex topics clear.

E-coli keep the level of oxygen low in the gut making the resident microbes comfortable. At any time a person will have as many as 30 strains of E. coli in their gut and it is very rare for someone ever to be free of E. coli. [page 53]

In 1943, Luria and Delbruck published the results that won them the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in which they showed that bacteria and viruses pass down their traits using genes (though it took quite some time for the scientific community at large to accept this). [page 70]

during a crisis E coli’s mutation rates could soar a hundred – or even a thousandfold… Normally, natural selection favors low mutation rates, since most mutations are harmful. But in times of stress extra mutations may raise the odds that organisms will hit on a way out of their crisis… [alternatively, perhaps] In times of stress, E coli. may not be able to afford the luxury of accurate DNA repair. Instead, it turns to the cheaper lo-fi polymerases. While they may do a sloppier job, E coli. comes out ahead [page 106]
Hybridization is not the only way foreign DNA got into our cells. Some 3 billion years ago our single-celled ancestors engulfed oxygen-breathing bacteria, which became the mitochondria on which we depend. And, like E. coli, our genomes have taken in virus upon virus. Scientists have identified more than 98,000 viruses in the human genome, along with our mutant vestiges of 150,00 others… If we were to strip out all our transgenic DNA, we would become extinct.

I highly recommend Microcosm, just as I highly recommend Parasite Rex, by Carl Zimmer.

Related: Bacteriophages: The Most Common Life-Like Form on EarthForeign Cells Outnumber Human Cells in Our BodiesAmazing Designs of LifeAmazing Science: RetrovirusesOne Species’ Genome Discovered Inside Another’s

Statistics Insights for Scientists and Engineers

My father was a engineer and statistician. Along with George Box and Stu Hunter (no relation) they wrote Statistics for Experimenters (one of the potential titles had been Statistics for Engineers). They had an interest in bringing applied statistics to the work of scientists and engineers and I have that interest also. To me the key trait for applied statistics is to help experimenters learn quickly: it is an aid in the discovery process. It should not be a passive tool for analysis (which is how people often think of statistics).

José Ramírez studied applied and industrial statistics at the University of Wisconsin – Madison with my father and George Box. And now has a book and blog on taking statistics to engineers and scientists

The book is primarily written for engineers and scientists who need to use statistics and JMP to make sense of data and make sound decisions based on their analyses. This includes, for example, people working in semiconductor, automotive, chemical and aerospace industries. Other professionals in these industries who will find it valuable include quality engineers, reliability engineers, Six Sigma Black Belts and statisticians.

For those who want a reference for how to solve common problems using statistics and JMP, we walk through different case studies using a seven-step problem-solving framework, with heavy emphasis on the problem setup, interpretation, and translation of the results in the context of the problem.

For those who want to learn more about the statistical techniques and concepts, we provide a practical overview of the underpinnings and provide appropriate references. Finally, for those who want to learn how to benefit from the power of JMP, we have loaded the book with many step-by-step instructions and tips and tricks.

Related: Highlights from George Box Speech at JMP conference Nov 2009Controlled Experiments for Software SolutionsMistakes in Experimental Design and InterpretationFlorence Nightingale: The passionate statistician

Stat Insights is a blog by José and Brenda Ramírez.

Analyzing and Interpreting Continuous Data Using JMP by José and Brenda Ramírez. view chapter 1 online.

[We] have focused on making statistics both accessible and effective in helping to solve common problems found in an industrial setting. Statistical techniques are introduced not as a collection of formulas to be followed, but as a catalyst to enhance and speed up the engineering and scientific problem-solving process. Each chapter uses a 7-step problem-solving framework to make sure that the right problem is being solved with an appropriate selection of tools.

William Kamkwamba on the Daily Show

Pointy haired bosses removed the video. Argh!

William Kamkwamba on the Daily show. I first posted about William’s great work in 2007 – Home Engineering: Windmill for Electricity. What a great example of what can be done by sharing scientific and engineering ideas with those who will make the effort to create workable solutions.

William has written a book on his life: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Related: Inspirational EngineerMake the World Betterposts on engineersposts on Africa

Home Engineering: Reading in Bed

Kindle Holder - read in bedPhoto of Kindle, with read-in-bed holder by Randall Munroe

By Randall Munroe, author of the great XKCD comic, The Pursuit of Laziness

Since I was a kid, I’ve been looking for the perfect way to read in bed.

I recently got a Kindle. I was intending to use it mainly as a mobile web browser, but I’ve surprised myself by using it to read an awful lot. And, with apologies to all the bibliophiles out there, I find the ergonomics better than a paperback. When snacking and reading, I can lay it flat on a table without the use of a book weight to hold it opened, and when lying in bed, I don’t have to keep moving it to read.

But it’s not perfect. There’s no way to hold it with a finger on the ‘next page’ buttons that doesn’t require a few muscles to hold it upright

I got out of bed one night, went to the closet, and got a steel coat hanger and some pliers. After a few minutes of twisting, I created this

Related: What Makes Scientists Different :-) The Lazy Unreasonable ManHome Engineering: Windmill for Electricityposts on home engineering

Continue reading

  • Recent Comments:

    • chaulong: Wow, loved your initiative! Gathering people’s ideas is a great way to give a lot of handy...
    • Jason Taylor: That’s incredible. I love hearing about the new ways that technology is being utilized...
    • Michael: Well Done young man….Well done indeed….. Mike
    • Aira Bongco: Who said that lizards are not smart? It seems like they can also solve simple problems which...
    • Karen Seay: No doubt this is great news, the engineers tried but finally failed.Hope this is the last time...
    • Esther Boling: Chimpanzees use stone hammer nuts, this finding is not surprising that also in survival...
    • Tamela Cuneo: The method of making the Christmas gifts are very interesting, we can also learn to make your...
    • Alpin: Well said Tom! I love samsung products too, i own a samsung 32″ lcd, and i had not any problem...
  • Recent Trackbacks:

  • Links