more on mediocrity

“I linked”: to a “Joel on Software”: “article”: about the difference between average and best in software developers.

I finally tracked down “an article”: I read months ago, on the difference between average and best in healthcare (specifically in Cystic Fibrosis clinics, since they collect enough data to measure the difference).

It’s a fascinating read.

“The Bell Curve”: by “Atul Gawande”: appeared in “The New Yorker”: .

posted at 11:14 am on Thursday, July 28, 2005 in Favourites, Health, Links | Comments Off on more on mediocrity

more on car seats

Since I mentioned it last week, I should also mention documentation *for* child restraint use. The news page references a recent paper proving that child booster seats are 59% safer than seatbelts alone…

Keeping kids safe during car crashes: every child a safe ride | Partners for Child Passenger Safety – Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

I guess as a parent the bottom line is: for $80, why take chances?

posted at 8:42 pm on Monday, July 25, 2005 in Current Events, Health, Links, Science and Technology | Comments Off on more on car seats

out of context

In “an article about the difference between the best programmers and the mediocre”:, this paragraph made me laugh out loud:

bq. In some other industries, cheap is more important than good. Wal*Mart grew to be the biggest corporation on Earth by selling cheap products, not good products. If Wal*Mart tried to sell high quality goods, their costs would go up and their whole cheap advantage would be lost. For example if they tried to sell a tube sock that can withstand the unusual rigors of, say, being washed in a washing machine, they’d have to use all kinds of expensive components, like, say, cotton, and the cost for every single sock would go up.

posted at 6:34 pm on Monday, July 25, 2005 in Humour, Links | Comments (2)
  1. […] « more on car seats | Main more on mediocrity I linked to a Joel on Software article about the difference between average and best […]

  2. Jeff K says:

    I’m not too sure why you like what that Joel has to say. Yes he makes me laugh, but you don’t want to know why. Well that whole iPod orgasm of his was pretty laughable for one.

J2EE makes sense!

The sudden absence last week was due to a J2EE course; come the winter I’ll be adding a J2EE-based product to my CPE stable.

Our instructor was very good; he didn’t waste time with piddly details that are in the API docs anyway (except the important ones); instead he explained what the pieces are *and* how they all fit together! Suddenly, it all makes sense! Actually, used carefully, J2EE is pretty cool…

And he made me snort coffee when he mentioned the two types of session bean: _stateless_ and _useless_ :-)

posted at 6:30 pm on Monday, July 25, 2005 in Personal, Programming | Comments Off on J2EE makes sense!

down down down

The temperature just dropped over 5 °C in an hour. The sky is dark and ominous, and making loud noises.

Could it be? Is it? A *cold* front?

(It’ll only last a day, sadly; hot and humid is back on Saturday. Ugh.)

posted at 3:48 pm on Thursday, July 14, 2005 in Personal | Comments (2)
  1. Greg Wilson says:

    Lightning will strike 14 or 15 times in one place. Then there’ll be an ominous earth-shaking rumble, and an enormous machine will heave itself up out of the ground, fire up its heat rays—and somehow, despite the pleas and prayers of the entire audience, fail to incinerate Tom Cruise.

  2. Love it. Brilliant comment.

car seats vs. seatbelts

So it may not be as cut and dried as everyone thinks; car seats (over age 2) may not actually make any difference. Good luck finding a politician who is _against_ car seat and booster seat legislation, though; that would be political suicide. Proving once again that government often doesn’t work in our best interests? (There have been other examples of dumb gov’t safety laws recently, based on zero _real_ deaths or injuries; I’ll see if I can dig some of them out of my memory).

The Seat-Belt Solution – New York Times

bq. Perhaps the single most compelling statistic about car seats in the NHTSA manual was this one: ”They are 54 percent effective in reducing deaths for children ages 1 to 4 in passenger cars.”

bq. But 54 percent effective compared with what? The answer, it turns out, is this: Compared with a child’s riding completely unrestrained. There is another mode of restraint, meanwhile, that doesn’t cost $200 or require a four-day course to master: seat belts.

bq. Even a quick look at the FARS data reveals a striking result: among children 2 and older, the death rate is no lower for those traveling in any kind of car seat than for those wearing seat belts. There are many reasons, of course, that this raw data might be misleading. Perhaps kids in car seats are, on average, in worse wrecks. Or maybe their parents drive smaller cars, which might provide less protection.

bq. But no matter what you control for in the FARS data, the results don’t change. In recent crashes and old ones, in big vehicles and small, in one-car crashes and multiple-vehicle crashes, there is no evidence that car seats do a better job than seat belts in saving the lives of children older than 2. (In certain kinds of crashes — rear-enders, for instance — car seats actually perform worse.) The real answer to why child auto fatalities have been falling seems to be that more and more children are restrained in some way. Many of them happen to be restrained in car seats, since that is what the government mandates, but if the government instead mandated proper seat-belt use for children, they would likely do just as well / without the layers of expense, regulation and anxiety associated with car seats.

Followup material can be found at “Freakonomics”:

posted at 8:41 pm on Tuesday, July 12, 2005 in Current Events, Health, Links, Science and Technology | Comments (4)
  1. Heather says:

    As a certified child restraint technician I am offended by your comments but at the same time I understand what u mean. First off if someone knows what they are doing it only takes a second to teach how to use the child seat properly. And the price of seats are outragious yes, that is why I work on donations so that I can buy them at discount and I sell them for even less then I pay for them. If you need help or know anyone who does they can email me at please try not to down carseats they save lives. The only reason they only reduce is because there is no way to stop car crashes from happening unless you just dont drive.

  2. Harald Koch says:

    First of all, we’re talking about child seats and booster seats, not *infant* seats (as you mention on your weblog). Second, it appears you didn’t read “more on car seats”: , or you would have been less offended, I think.

    It’s true that statistical data is often biased; see “How to Understand Statistics”: for a discussion. It’s also extremely difficult to be unemotional about this particular subject. My emotional response is “for $80, why take chances?”; my seven year old has two booster seats, one in each car.

    But I do trust that Steven Levitt has actually done his homework on this one. We cannot for sure explain *why* the statistics are as they are, but we cannot dispute the numbers themselves…

  3. Mike Hickman says:

    AS a child restraint TECH info like you are printing and saying does not help us who are tring to keep kids safe. There are a lot of programs that sell low cost car seats also the program that i’m has free car seats for parant’s who can’t afford them.

  4. Harald Koch says:

    You’re a little late to the discussion, Mike. More uselessly, you haven’t actually argued for or against any of the data.

    I know “TECH”s aren’t scientists, but you’re still in a better position than your average joe to at least attempt to argue for or against.


35°C , at least ’til Saturday…

posted at 5:16 pm on Tuesday, July 12, 2005 in Personal | Comments Off on feh

it’s hurricane season

I can tell, because we’re in another 10-day long heat wave, as Dennis pushes hot wet air out of the United States up into Southern Ontario. Or so the weather guys say. This is late August weather, not early July weather! And here I sit with a dead air-conditioner…

And then there’s Emily:

bq. Emily’s formation late Monday was the earliest date on record for five named storms to develop, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.


posted at 10:37 am on Tuesday, July 12, 2005 in Current Events, Personal | Comments (1)
  1. Jeff K says:

    I recall some time ago you linked to the New Orleans doomsday hurricane scenario… Well as of a few hours ago, 80% of New Orleans was under water. Check out the Associated Press photos of the downtown highways and such. Yahoo News is another reasonable source for photo coverage.

climate change

I know my priorities are messed up.

My biggest nagging worry about global climate change is that Americans are going to flee northwards. Into Canada. Bringing their ideology (and idiocy) with them.

Wouldn’t that keep *you* awake at night?

posted at 12:37 pm on Thursday, July 07, 2005 in Current Events, Odd, Random Thoughts | Comments (1)
  1. Greg says:

    Actually, I’m more worried about the polar bears coming south… ;-)

Slamming comes to Canada

(Ok, it’s been around for a long time. Sue me. :)

So after having received yet another telemarketing call about switching my local service away from Bell, I called Bell and asked if there were any checks and balances in place. You know, to prevent fraud. The kind of fraud the US has been dealing with for 25 years.

Short answer: no. They simply trust the other guy, and let them take your service away from Bell. There’s a CRTC mandate that the new company “formally obtain consent”:, but a) that can be in several different easy-to-forge formats, and b) apparently Bell doesn’t bother verifying consent except in disputes.

I’m not sure who the imbeciles are here (I suspect the CRTC, but it *could* be Bell Canada), but there’s one somewhere.

You’d think we’d at least attempt to learn from the mistakes of our neighbours to the south with all of these attempts at deregulation, but no. That would require that intelligence trump greed.

I’m appalled…

posted at 2:32 pm on Tuesday, July 05, 2005 in Rants, Security | Comments Off on Slamming comes to Canada

melting ice cream

I was standing in the store with melting ice cream, so decided to brave the relatively normal thunderstorm and run to the car. Of course the storm picks that moment to intensify!

In the 30 seconds it took me to run to the car and load the groceries, I was as wet as if I had just jumped into a swimming pool with all of my clothes on. Halfway through the parking lot an evil self-propelled buggy tried to take out my car, but I mananged to avoid it. Shortly after that I realized just how bad the storm was; there was an entire tree lying on the wrong side of the road (i.e. it snapped off and blew all the way across)!

On the plus side, I now have evidence of just how efficient my spiffy summer tires are at shedding water. Even at 20km/h, my tires shower the sidewalk (and pedestrians) whenever the water gets deep. Mu ha ha!

*Update:* the ice cream (with fresh strawberries) was very good :-)

*Update 2:* I’m not the only one:


posted at 4:59 pm on Monday, July 04, 2005 in Personal | Comments Off on melting ice cream


Spent 3 days at Pinery, then 4 days at a friend’s cottage. Very tired (cos I don’t sleep in the kind of heat we’ve had recently) but also very relaxed. We get a two day respite from the heat, then it’s back on Monday… Ugh.

Anyway, the relaxation should wear off quickly; we just put mummy on a plane for a two-week business trip!

posted at 8:36 pm on Saturday, July 02, 2005 in Personal | Comments Off on Back

Stay away from the pizza…

Apparently, “American Pizza Boxes are Teflon coated”:

posted at 8:32 pm on Saturday, July 02, 2005 in Health, Links, Science and Technology | Comments Off on Stay away from the pizza…