From the Greek meaning 'heavy with wine'
A blog devoted to science and reason
Written after a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

I'm grading final exams, feeling wistful. After spending one and a half years with these people, you sort of grow attached to them, and when they transfer to a university, I am glad to see them go happy to see them so successful.

In this group here, we have future alumni and alumnae of Berkeley, UCLA, USC, Cal Poly, Cal State LA.  A few will be physicians and pharmacists,  some will be engineers, and one will be a math teacher.

The reality of teaching is that I will hear very little of their future successes.  They have lives, and their time here at Rio Hondo College will be a distant memory. 

Every semester when we all say goodbye, mixed in with the happiness I can't help but feel a little glum.

I suppose by this time in my career I should be accustomed to never seeing people again after becoming invested in their lives. Maybe I am, and the sadness is not strange, but simply an appropriate reaction to the situation. “Accustomed” does not mean “immune”.
NOTE: I originally published The Digital Cuttlefish's remarks  on May 24, 2012 under the title Student Barometers.  

Saturday, May 25, 2013

I Didn't Win $600 Million.

Here is my ticket for the May 18 Power Ball lottery.  Here are the winning numbers: 10 12 14 22 52 and the Power Ball was 11. You can see I didn't pick one number correctly.

Being the geek that I am, I immediately wondered what the probability was that someone could pick six numbers and not get one right.

Calculating the probability is simple.  The probability is just the number of desired outcomes divided by the total number of outcomes.  Now it gets a bit more complicated if you haven't had a statistics course.

In the Power Ball lottery, there are white balls numbered 1 through 59 and red ones (the Power Balls) numbered 1 through 35.  We need to know how many possible drawings there are.  In the vernacular of statistics and probability, we want the number of possible combinations.*

Let's first calculate the number of ways there are to pick 5 numbers out of 59. 

The ! means factorial; that is 5! is 1 X 2 X 3 X 4 X 5. The answer is 5,006,386.There are only 35 ways to pick one number out of thirty-five. So the total number of combinations is 5,006,386 X 35 = 175,223,510. Because there is only one winning combination, the probability of winning is 1/175,223,510.

In order to pick not even one number correctly, we need to exclude the 5 correct white balls and then calculate the number of ways to pick five numbers out from 54 white balls.

This equals 3,162,510.  Then multiplying by 34, the number of non-winning red balls, yields the number of combinations with no correct numbers. 107,525,340.

Now we're ready.  The probability of picking six numbers in the Power Ball lottery and not having a single one correct is 

Pretty damn likely, isn't it.

Let's go back and examine the likelihood of winning.  One chance out of 175.2 million.  Suppose every adult in the US bought a Power Ball ticket. That's 192.9 million people. This means that if every adult played, there's about a 90% chance that someone will win.  The actual probability that someone will win is much less, since only 32 states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S, Virgin Islands participate. 

Unfortunately, the numbers don't lie. That winner will never be me or you.  

Not winning may be the best thing to ever happen to us though. The National Endowment for Financial Education estimates that 70% of those who enjoyed quick wealth lose that money within several years.

It's not even a good deal for the states. The lottery turns out to be a regressive tax, a tax that hits the poor the hardest. In most, if not all, lottery proceeds are meant to be spent on education.  Yet in California, lottery revenues in 2010 added only 1.3% to the education budget.

So I only play when the jackpot hits enormous numbers and then I buy one ticket.  You know the difference between buying one Power Ball ticket and buying ten?  You're out $18 more when you buy ten.

* If the order in which the balls are picked made a difference, we would need to calculate the number of permutations.  In the May 18th Power Ball for example, it didn't matter that the 22 ball was picked before the 10 ball.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Which Witch Doctor?

Senator Elbert Guillory
CREDIT: Louisiana State Senate
Remember the Louisiana Science Education Act?  In January I wrote The D Word that highlighted one state senator who expressed quite eloquently his ignorance of biology.

Now Elbert Guillory, state senator from Opelousas, has provided more evidence that the lack of mental skills required for rational thought has no bearing on the ability to hold elected office.

Yesterday a committee of the Louisiana State Senate debated House Bill 26 that would have repealed the inappropriately named Science Education Act. The bill was killed by the committee.

Want to hazard a guess why Sen. Guillory opposed the House's bill?
Sen. Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, said he had reservations with repealing the act after a spiritual healer correctly diagnosed a specific medical ailment he had. He said he thought repealing the act could "lock the door on being able to view ideas from many places, concepts from many cultures." 
"Yet if I closed my mind when I saw this man -- in the dust, throwing some bones on the ground, semi-clothed -- if I had closed him off and just said, 'That's not science. I'm not going to see this doctor,' I would have shut off a very good experience for myself," Guillory said.
 He went to a witch doctor!