Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chaptette 18: Calculations and Interpretations

(74-70.5)*2.2*3500/150 = 179.67

The students in my "Quantitative Methods for International Politics" class -- at least some of them -- are freaking out now. The semester ends in two days, and they have to complete some online quizzes, a problem set, and a small research project. The research projects I graded last night and returned today were highly variable (mean = 81.something, standard deviation = 18.something. In other words, the class average was a low "B" grade, but the scores were all over the place. The highest was 100, of 100. The lowest? 18).

When the class began, the students were freaking out for a different reason. Statistics is often feared because it contains...numbers...formulae...greek symbols...and calculations. As it turns out, these are not the difficult part, as one can always look up a formula and use a computer to do the calculations. That's cookbook stuff. The difficult part is interpretation.

First, a digression. Even cookbook recipes can sometimes be hard to follow, and it is easy to make mistakes (I remember from my Boy Scout days when a fellow tenderfoot thought the pankcake recipe called for 8/4 cups of water, rather than 3/4 cups. The resulting flapjacks were just a bit runny.) On the most recent project set, a fair number of students made similarly catastrophic mistakes. When I levied heavy point deductions, they protested: Hey! I got the rest of the problem right! Why are you taking off so many points?

My response: You are rushed to the emergency room, and the doctor has to decide whether you've had a heart attack. If you have, you'll need the full emergency room barrage. If you haven't, the doctor will give you antacids (for the heartburn), advil (for the muscle ache), and fluid (for the dehydration). In fact, if you have had the heartattack, and the doctor does the wrong test and gives you the wrong answer, you will not exactly be reassured by the doctor telling you that "Hey! I did everything right after the misdiagnosis!"

As you can see, I'm in full-bore teaching mode now. I better snap out of it before I see my family, or I'm going to drive them crazy.

Now, back to the calculations and interpretations. Take the formula at the top of the page. The first part of it ((74-70.5)*2.2*3500)) came to me right after I got off the treadmill this morning. As I have every morning since I've been here, I weighed in: 70.5 kilos (155.1 pounds). When I got here, I weighed 74 kilos (162.8 pounds). In the last month, I've lost 7.7 pounds. At 3500 calories per pound, this means I've burned almost 27,000 calories more than I've ingested. That's the math.

The interesting part, at least for me, is in finding the meaning of this: how did it happen? Ok, class, let's break it down: a) I've consumed less; b) I've burned more. But which is it, and why?

In thinking how I've ingested calories, I considered my diet. Hmm, I'm always eating good healthy breakfasts, which I often skip back home. Implication: Almost certainly more calories for breakfast. Hmm, I'm eating big (varied, and generally wholesome) lunches almost every day in the cafeteria. Implication: On average, I'm probably getting more calories for lunch.

Then it comes to me: There's no beer here! Quickly, I look up the needed information ("the typical beer has about 150 calories") and plug it in to the formula at the top, dividing the total excess calories I've burned by 150.

The result: 27,000 calories equals about 180 beers.

The 180 beers I haven't drunk in the past five weeks. Here's what happened next:

Inside Mark's head:

Inside Mark's head:

Inside Mark's head: Whoa, that's a LOT of beer.

Inside Mark's head: I want one.

That can't be the entire explanation. Can it?

No, the weight loss must involve the exercise side as well as the eating side. (Picture of my actual brand of running shoe below! You owe me, Brooks!)

In fact, I have been exercising more, either riding the bike or running on the treadmill virtually every day. But again, Sherlock, the question is Why?

The answer is obvious, and obviously wrong. I exercise because I want to be healthy, and because I like it, and because it allows me to do other things. Ha! The sophisticated scholar knows not to trust such simplistic rationalizations, especially when a person explains his own life with them.

The correct answer, Part 1: Vanity. Yes, you heard me. Vanity. You think health clubs put mirrors on the walls so individuals have "proper" form? Have you noticed that, now that I'm writing about me, this blog is getting pretty -- oh, so very pretty -- long?

The correct answer, Part 2: It's like this. As a youth, my Boy Scout Manual dispensed such wise advice (as I recall) as, um, when a boy gets those "urges" he should take a cold shower or exercise, or something like that, to distract the mind.

Cold showers are literally impossible here. My apartment must store its water supply in Hell, as when I turn the shower on it is cool for about 5 seconds (as pipes in my apartment are cool) before it scalds. My Hobbesian showers are nasty, scaldish, and short.

The other "healthy" alternative is exercise. Eureka! So that's why I'm riding and running so much....

The Doha Diet: Subtract beer, add vanity and unrequited lust, lose weight fast!

See? That's the difference between mere calculation and astute interpretation.

1 comment:

  1. Okay Sherlock, I will propose one more variable to your already very well thought out analysis of your weight loss.... Hmmm well it might be two ,depends on how you look at it--and I will have to say I have no earthly idea how to quantify this. (1) Sleep --less sleep, more calories burned (2) Stress-new, unusual environment will knock your metabolism up a couple of notches. Add that to the increase in exercise and the faster/higher burn off of calories will cause you to be rockin and rollin 24/7...adrenalin/cortisol burn off---and you my friend have been on a fight/flight mode probably the majority of your time in Qatar -----I have had considerable experience with this particular diet----it is amazing, you can eat anything and still lose weight--but it does have some draw backs......Like getting your immune system whacked out of shape and your sleep cycle knocked around....

    A few weeks back in normal land and everything will probably return to baseline, shoot a few hoops with those darling boys, cuddle up with your sweet heart,....Life is good....