Category Archives: Articles

Google Master: Teleporting or Orienteering

My boss accuses me of being a Google master. Apparently this means that when she can’t find something using Google, she just sends me a request for the same search and I can come through for her. In fact, she claims that she does the “exact same” search that I do and I get results while she doesn’t. While I don’t believe that is necessarily true, I just read a posting on GigaOM that might shed some light on my “skills” (if, indeed, I have any).

Dating back to 1993, researchers have contrasted information-seeking behavior into two types: teleporting and orienteering. “Teleporting” means you try to jump directly to what you’re looking for (kind of like the “I’m feeling lucky” Google button). However, it could simply mean that you find the exact information you were looking for with a single search, even if it shows up down the list of hits. Orienteering is a “hunting” approach where you use local and contextual information to guide you, step-by-step, to the information you desire.

Anne Zelenka, in her GigaOM posting, illustrates this with an example for Jon Udell:

  1. Find [a New York Times magazine article about Olin College, a clean-slate redesign of an engineering school]
  2. Note the date: Sept. 30, 2007
  3. Search the Times archive for Sept. 30, 2007
  4. Restrict that search to the magazine section

I think that my initial goal of a search is to teleport, but more often than not, I don’t even know what I want to teleport to. My boss expects to jump directly to a paper. When she comes to me, she is more vague and expects me to find a foundation for a particular idea that may be spread out over various papers. Sure, I’ve occasionally had to respond by saying that her criteria is far to general to bring up specific information. But, by and large, I am able to hunt around using clues from previous searches to find what she’s looking for.

My final question is, what do you call a person whose search approach would be categorized as orienteering as opposed to teleporting:

  • Orienteerer (tongue-twister)
  • Orientator (don’t like words ending in tator, makes me hungry for French fries)
  • Orienteerist
  • Orienteerperson (as opposed the non-politically-correct orienteerman and orienteerwoman)

Tragedy at Virginia Tech

I am utterly horrified by the events that unfolded on the campus of Virginia Tech this morning.

There are several folks already starting to point fingers at responsible parties, blaming University officials for mistakes made. It is not time to rush to judgment on what happened. It’s time to pray for the people involved and their families. Even now, there are parents at home with kids at VT who don’t know the full story and haven’t even been able to get answers.

I do hope that in the wake of this event, all schools review lock down procedures and communication lines for emergencies. What would we do at Wayland? I am not sure everyone has the same answers and that may be a problem. Who wants to have to plan for an event like this?

May God comfort those who have suffered and provide officials with wisdom to handle the road ahead.

Math and Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds has surpassed Babe Ruth’s homerun record but a large contingent of basefall fans are less than thrilled at the news.  The likelihood of steroid use has tainted the achievement of Bonds prompting many to suggest either an asterisks beside the record or simply a denial of the record entirely.  David Young of Glenshaw, Pa.. has suggested that simple math could resolve the whole issue. Apparently, he believes any suspicious use of performance enhancers should require the actual number of home runs obtained by an individual be multiplied by a 0.9 weight factor. On the other hand, any performance inhibitors, such as the legendary obesity, beer guzzling and womanizing habits of the Babe, should require a weight factor of 1.1. When all is said and done, the single season record would still go to Roger Maris at 67, who survived crushing media scrutiny. Second place would be the Babe with 66, Bonds a close third with 65.7, then McGwire at 63 and Sosa at 60. By the way, actual totals are given by Bonds (73), McGwire (70), Sosa (66), Maris (61) and then Ruth (60). In should be noted, however, that exactly where Young’s numbers of 0.9 and 1.1 come from is a mystery. It likely was derived just to put the order as he would like it. We should be careful not to use math to simply artificially manipulate the decision process. After all, 95% of all statistics are made up, right?

By the way, I find it quite interesting that amidst all the controversy of Bonds, we are likely to see others join the exclusive club of Aaron-Bonds-Ruth in the fairly near future. Alex Rodriguez recently became the first player to top 400 homeruns before the age of 30. Others in the realm of possibility include Pujols and possibly even Manny Ramirez or Jim Thorne. Read more here.

a heart surgeon doing math

A worthwhile read:

Medical Guesswork

Modern medicine seems to have missed the usefullness of using mathematics as a decision making process.  This article is about Dr. David Eddy, a cardiac surgeon, who “discovered the beauty of mathematics and its promise of answering medical questions.”  After making it through a two-year math course in a couple of months, he persuaded Stanford to accept him as a PhD student in the mathematically intense field of Engineer-Economics Systems.  He has since spent his career promoting what he calls, “Evidence-based medicine.”

Apparently there is a truly alarming number of common practices, treatments and medicines that are utilized, not because of proven effectiveness, but merely as “cherished physician myths.”  As a couple of examples he showed that the annual chest X-ray is worthless, and he traced the general practice of preventing women from giving birth vaginally if they had previously had a cesarian to one lone doctor’s recommendation.

One of the more interesting portions of the article is where it describes Eddy’s development of a computer model that helped him crack the “diabetes puzzle.”

The human brain, Eddy explains, needs help to make sense of patients who have combinations of diseases, and of the complex probabilities involved in each. To provide that assistance, Eddy has spent the past 10 years leading a team to develop the computer model that helped him crack the diabetes puzzle. Dubbed Archimedes, this program seeks to mimic in equations the actual biology of the body, and make treatment recommendations as well as figure out what each approach costs. It is at least 10 times “better than the model we use now, which is called thinking,” says Dr. Richard Kahn, chief scientific officer at the American Diabetes Assn.

I strongly recommend this article as just another example of the many, many applications of mathematics that make a real difference in the world.