Wednesday, July 22, 2015

In a world...

Put on that deep voice that you only use to introduce dystopian near-future science fiction, and say, “In a world…”

Good. In a world where someone invents a cancer-screening machine that is nearly 100% accurate, how useful would it really be?

Let’s look at a population of, say, one million. Medical records stretching back over decades seem to suggest that there are 100 cases of cancer diagnosed each year. And this new machine is 99% accurate. That is, if you submit to screening and you have cancer, the Machine That Goes Ping will go ping 99% of the time. Of course, technology isn’t infallible, and the same machine typically goes ping and gives a false positive in 0.1% – 1 in 1000 – cases.

In summary, there is a 99% chance of being diagnosed, and a 0.1% chance of being misdiagnosed. So what is the overall success rate of the machine? Something approaching 99%? Perhaps surprisingly, not even close.

Let’s put everybody, all 1,000,000 citizens, through the Machine That Goes Ping.
  • In 100 cancer cases, the machine pings 99 times. 
  • In the remainder of the population, 999,900 people produce 999.9 (call it 1000) false-positive pings. 
  • Total suspected cancer cases = 1099, of which 99 are actually genuine. 
  • So the probability of diagnosing a cancer using this screening machine is 99/1099 = 9%. 
Nine percent? Only nine percent? That’s outrageous, ludicrous, ridiculous!

It’s pointless doing it then.

Well, no. If I get screened and I have cancer, the chance of getting it detected remains at 99%, and those are pretty good odds. The problem is the huge number of false positives that scare the crap out of too many cancer-free citizens. I suppose you can allay their fears by saying that only 9% of the pings actually indicate cancer. But that leaves the patient wondering why he did the test at all.

Statistics, eh? Of course, you can live healthily, avoid junk food, exercise, not smoke, and still get hit by a bus.


Monday, July 20, 2015

A flush beats a full house

It's a trap!
It was Eid Al-Fitr, and a long weekend. The Goat had agreed with Beloved Wife that, because of the ridiculous costs associated with going away anywhere nice, the Goat would come home to the Crumbling Villa. The plan involved a quiet long weekend away from work, but turned out to be a fairly busy and productive one.

The Goat actually couldn't get a sensible flight to Dubai and had to fly at 0100 on Friday. He eventually fell into bed at 0400, but not before being upgraded to First Class, which was very pleasant indeed, so full marks to Qatar Airways for that.

Beloved Wife had honestly not assigned the Goat a list of tasks, other than to help M to move house. Fundamentally this consisted of taking away some old shelf units that M had no space for. The Goat had use for them, though. Old IKEA stuff is better quality than the more modern; these shelves were made of actual blockboard and not chipboard or, O horror, MDF. Fun and games getting all this into Rio, but it did all fit despite the uprights each being 2.5m long, or is that high?

Beloved Wife had paid someone to tidy the shed. Dive Central was indeed tidy and fully devoid of sand, dust, and dead rodents, but was by no stretch of the imagination a workspace, workshop, shed, or Goat Cave. Hence the interest in the shelves. Several hours later, and the Goat had put everything away, eventually found some of his ingeniously-concealed tools (why were the spanners all in a tent bag with some tent pegs?), and the Goat Cave was clean, tidy, and a usable space. Huzzah!

There was obviously a need to go out to dinner, so Beloved Wife and the Goat treated themselves to a slap-up steak dinner or three over at Hunters Room in the Westin Hotel. The Beef Wellington was allegedly for two. As this turned out to be two anorexic sparrows, a very hungry Goat had both.

Further tasks included getting the Goat's car into the shop to fix where some incompetent parallel parker had evidently backed one of those unfeasibly long towbars into Rio's front bumper. The Goat was going to get this fixed back in April, but as he feared possible offroad damage at the Desert Challenge, he'd deferred the task.

Next problem: Beloved Wife's car wouldn't start until Dial-A-Battery showed up with some monstrous jump leads. Now with a new battery and thus a working VW, Beloved Wife could put Rio into Terios Hospital until Thursday.

Getting the battery took longer than expected, and so while the Goat tinkered in his Cave, Beloved Wife made lasagne. Plans for a Game of Thrones marathon went all horribly wrong when the sink refused to drain.

It seems clear that the problem has been building, with reports of a 'sluggish' dishwasher. The Goat attacked the sink with various caustic substances, boiling water, and a sink plunger, but the archaic plumbing in the Crumbling Villa really didn't want to play. The Goat did manage to cause a fetid dribble of brown liquid to creep from beneath the dishwasher. Investigation revealed that because the dishwasher waste pipe was lower than the sink, plunging the former was pushing wastewater out of the latter. So, dear reader, imagine the scene: Beloved Wife with one hand blocking one plughole and furiously plunging the other, while the Goat had one hand over the dishwasher waste pipe and a thumb in the sink overflow pipe like some little Dutch boy.

Still nothing would shift, except all over the floor. The Goat now found himself sliding on his hind legs, burning his true knees with caustic soda, and using a garden hose to try to push the blockage upstream. Beloved Wife was all for shutting the door on it and calling a plumber, but Goats are very determined. Eventually, at about 11pm, it came free. Massive clods of 20-year-old chip fat dropped into the floor gully and blocked that, but as this was a four-inch pipe the Goat could reach in and retrieve the great globs of grease.

Now the cleanup, with antiseptic chemicals and furious mopping of the entire kitchen. What a team the Goat and Beloved Wife make! Incidentally, the Goat wonders for what possible reason anyone would willingly choose carpet for kitchen flooring. Tiles are surely the only way to go, especially where antiquated plumbing is involved.

After cleaning the kitchen, the Goat and Beloved Wife cleaned themselves and, in the Goat's case, applied antiseptic on some minor cuts and grazes. One cannot be too careful.

And the weekend was still not over. The following day, the Goat fitted a cat flap and tried to teach the cats how to use it, with around 50% success.

By the end of this long weekend, the Goat Cave was tidy and usable, the dishwasher was no longer sluggish but working properly (the Goat suspects if it can't empty, the machine simply refuses to fill), One car is fixed, the other is being repaired, the cats have access and egress, and the Goat's motorbike received a small farkle. M has had her shelving recycled, and the Goat is heading back to Doha for three days.

Then it's time for a proper holiday!


Friday, July 03, 2015

Red tape

Following about nine iterations of a design report (and its many friends), wherein American design standards were specified where Dunkrugerstan standards were inapplicable or inappropriate, the Minister of Paper Clips decided that reference to these American standards would not be allowed. The Minister of Paper Clips had previously specified in the contract that American standards should be adopted, but this was no longer relevant.

Instead, the Trusted Advisor was required to use Dunkrugerstan standards. Where this would not be achievable, alternative international standards could be proposed, but citing any of these would not be allowed.

The Trusted Advisor was therefore required to prove all of his alternative designs from first principles. As most of the research had been originally carried out in America, these figures could not be used, and no local research had ever been undertaken throughout the history of Dunkrugerstan. 

Thus the task now set by the Ministry of Paper Clips was actually impossible, and there was nothing for it but to go to the Minister for Streets and request that he ask the Minister for Houses to demolish a newly-built palace owned by the Grand Frommaj.

Fearful of one of the Grand Frommaj’s infamous rages, the Minister for Houses absolutely refused. The Minister for Streets therefore also refused, and the Trusted Advisor was thus unable to complete his project.

So when the most famous Grand Tournament in the world arrived and the project lay incomplete, the international press ridiculed Dunkrugerstan. Naturally, the Grand Frommaj blamed the entire Council of Ministers, who blamed one another, but mostly blamed the Trusted Advisor. But who was to blame was of no consequence to the international press, who only saw that the project was unfinished and that Dunkrugerstan was to blame.


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