Saturday, May 31, 2008

Uh, dad?... Guess what. We're Native Americans.

A couple months ago when we were in West KY I posted some pictures of the grave markers of my ancestors, namely Eli Tapp. The Tapps are fortunate to have extensive genealogical work done on the family line. In the 1970s, a very large volume was published that was considered to be a pretty complete history going back to the 1600s.

Reading the history of my line in the book, Eli's grandfather went by the name of William Taptico, (as did William's father). He was listed in some court documents as Lord of the Wicocomico indian tribe of Virginia. The 1970 genealogists assumed that William was related to other Tapps in Virginia at the time and that Taptico was an honorary title given to him by local indians who he had befriended.

It was stated that the Tapps that William descended from originated in England. I grew up pretty proud of my English heritage, and kept a keychain of a Coat of Arms registered in England by a Tapp. My family just took it at face value and never thought about it.

However, recently more research has been done correcting the previous work and going deeper. Visiting Eli's grave caused me to see what other info was out there. There's a nice website that maintains much of the genealogical work. It turns out that William Taptico really was a full-blooded Wicocomico Indian, and the last Chief of the Wicocomicos. There is actually quite a bit documented about his life and possessions. His tribe had almost completely died out and he apparently had been pretty well-assimilated into English culture.

Upon William II's death, his wife Elizabeth, who was also very likely full-blooded indian (as it was illegal for intermarriage at that time) began settling William's estate under the name Taptico and ended by signing her name Elizabeth Tapp.

Someone began a DNA project to test and see if the descendants of William Taptico were indeed Native Americans. I recently submitted my DNA to the project, hosted by Family Tree DNA, and have just gotten my results back that I am indeed related to other Tapps who claim descent from William Taptico, the last Chief of the Wicocomicos, and that my haplogroup is Native American and not European.

For more history on the Wicocomico's and the history, here's a website devoted to them. There is recorded history of John Smith encountering the tribe in Virginia back in 1608.

The great mystery is why Elizabeth would change her name to Tapp. There were English Tapps in Virginia at the time, maybe she knew some of them, maybe she just knew it was a similar name. The world will probably never know.

But, I can now know for certain that I'm descended from full-blooded Native Americans. When Elias does Thanksgiving plays at school and they talk about Native Americans, I can tell them that his ancestor was an Indian chief.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Good words

From Oswald Chambers today.

"By the test of common sense, Jesus Christ’s statements may seem mad, but when you test them by the trial of faith, your findings will fill your spirit with the awesome fact that they are the very words of God. Trust completely in God, and when He brings you to a new opportunity of adventure, offering it to you, see that you take it. We act like pagans in a crisis— only one out of an entire crowd is daring enough to invest his faith in the character of God."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Book Review (#13 of 2008)

I've been given a brief respite from the joys of fatherhood, so I thought I'd catch up on a book review.

Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein.

How did mathematics get started? How did it develop? How did statistics and probability develop. How was the normal distribution "discovered"? This book is the fascinating history of how mankind went from blindly leaving everything to fate to trying to figure out what the odds were and to forecast the future.

Excellent book, a must-read if you're into statistics and probability. Really helps me understand where the concepts come from and how they develop. Very helpful in understanding real-world analysis. Has inspired me to read even further. The chapters on people like Blaise Pascal, and their struggle with faith vs. mathematics and probability were quite helpful in identifying similar dichotomies in my own life.

I give it 4 stars out of 5.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Quote of the Day

From P.J. O'Rourke in this quarter's newsletter from The Cato Institute (HT: Greg Mankiw).

I have a 10 year old at home, and she is always saying, “That’s not fair.” When she says that, I say, “Honey, you’re cute; that’s not fair. Your family is pretty well off; that’s not fair. You were born in America; that’s not fair. Honey, you had better pray to God that things don’t start getting fair for you.”



Amazing speech, click the link and read the first couple pages. They will compel you.

Also a favorite from the same speech:
"There is a sort of Disney factor in American politics. Think of America's politicians. Think of them all as the Seven Dwarves. They're all short. They're short on ethics. They're short on common sense. They're short on experience. They're short on something. But we keep thinking one of those dwarves is going to save our Snow White butt."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

McCain' First Term

I got this email from John McCain today, outlining what America will see at the end of his first term. The NY Times has picked up on some of it, and is getting ready to publish a larger weekend article on The McCain Doctrines. All the stuff bolded is his bolding, not mine. Thoughts?

What I want to do is take a little time to describe what I hope to have achieved at the end of my first term as president. I cannot guarantee I will have achieved these things, but I am presumptuous enough to think I would be a good president.

By January 2013, at the end of my first term as president, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom. The Iraq War has been won and Iraq is a functioning democracy. The threat from a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan has been greatly reduced but not eliminated and there has not been a major terrorist attack in the United States since September 11, 2001.

The United States has experienced several years of robust economic growth and Americans again have confidence in their economic future. Congress has lowered taxes and passed fundamental tax reform offering a choice in how taxes are filed. Americans, who through no fault of their own, lost jobs in the global economy they once believed were theirs for life, are assisted by reformed unemployment insurance and worker retraining programs.

Public education in the United States is much improved and test scores and graduation rates are rising everywhere in the country. Health care has become more accessible to more Americans than at any other time in history.

The United States is well on the way to independence from foreign sources of oil; progress that has not only begun to alleviate the environmental threat posed from climate change, but has greatly improved our security as well.

Scores of judges have been confirmed to the federal district and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, who understand that they were not sent there to write our laws but to enforce them.

Voluntary national service has grown in popularity in part because of the educational benefits used as incentives, as well as frequent appeals from the bully pulpit of the White House, but mostly because the young Americans understand that true happiness is much greater than the pursuit of pleasure, and can only be found by serving causes greater than self-interest.

This is the progress I want us to achieve during my presidency. These are the changes I am running for president to make. I want to leave office knowing that America is safer, freer and wealthier than when I was elected.

There are serious issues at stake in this election, and serious differences, but it should remain an argument among friends; each of us struggling to hear our conscience, and heed its demands. Each of us, despite our differences, united in our great cause and respectful of the goodness in each other. That is how most Americans treat each other. And it is how they want the people they elect to office to treat each other.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Prospect Theory

I've been reading about decision-making in the presence of uncertainty. This seems to be a necessary task in my life currently. Prospect Theory is a relatively new way to explain the ways that the classical economic foundations of rationality do not always hold. One of the guys who invented it won a Nobel Prize.

If you prefer A to B and B to C, then you should logically prefer A to C as well. However, Kahneman and Tversky found that people violate that rule all the time. Preferences change depending on how A, B, and C are presented to the chooser.

Prospect Theory says that people tend to be relatively risk-averse when thinking about gains and relatively risk-taking when thinking about losses.

For example, suppose someone offers you a choice between taking a guaranteed $3,000 or instead drawing an amount out of a hat with the following odds: An 80% chance of winning $4,000 or a 20% chance of winning nothing. What would you do?
If you're rational, you should take the risk. .80 * $4,000 = $3200, your mathematical expectation of winning. This is greater than the $3,000 guaranteed.

However, in Kahneman & Tversky's tests, 80% of respondents chose the guaranteed $3,000. They were risk-averse. (Deal or No Deal is an exercise in the same vein).

They then repeated the test, but slightly differently. What if you were offered an 80% chance of losing $4,000 and a 20% chance of losing nothing versus a 100% chance of losing $3,000? What would you do?
If you're rational, you should just take the 100% chance of losing $3,000. Again, your mathematical expected outcome from the gamble is -$3,200, which is worse than -$3,000.

However, 92% of respondents took the gamble. They were suddenly not risk averse, even though the situations were mathematically identical. When we are faced with the prospect of losing money, we'd rather take a slim-odds gamble of losing nothing than just hand over less money than we will probably lose anyway.

They did this in a wide variety of experiments, all showing the same results. People aren't necessarily risk-averse, they are "loss averse." "It is not so much that people hate uncertainty--but rather, they hate losing." People suffer a bigger blow from losing money than by gaining the same amount. Losses hurt more.

They argue that all is not lost, all just cannot be explained by standard theories assuming rationality.
"Human choices are orderly, although not always rational in the traditional sense of the word."

Since the theory came out in 1979, it's garnered huge attention. It helps explain behavior of certain investors in the stock market as well historical decisions by rulers and international politics.

I've been thinking of how the decisions we make in the birthing process can be explained by Prospect Theory. Maybe more on that later.

*All quotations come from Kahneman and Tversky as quoted in Against the Gods, the Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein. Review on this book to come later.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Known Unknowns

We had an interesting/frustrating appointment at the doctors' office today, which Joni has blogged about. I find that what frustrates me the most are all of the "known unknowns." In the early days of the Iraq war, Donald Rumsfeld was quoted as saying:

"There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know."

I'm frustrated by the known unknowns, and not the unknown ones. This is a tricky part of uncertainty. I've been reading a book on the history of risk (dealing with uncertainty), and was reading it at the doctor's office. How people make decisions in the presence of uncertainty has become quite the science in the past 30 years after slowly developing over the last thousand.

What we know:
Elias is relatively big.
Elias hasn't dropped much.
He's fine, not in distress.

What we know we don't know:
How big Elias is.
How fast he's growing.
How big the birth canal is and whether he can fit down it easily.
If there's anything else wrong (like GD, which we'll know soon).

What we don't know we don't know:
I don't even worry about these. So many unknowns have been identified that there just doesn't seem to be many unknown unknowns possible.

So, the frustrating thing is that we know exactly what we don't know, and there is no data. There are no given probabilities. The only data we got from a doctor today is that for every 1,000 c-sections performed, 1 baby is saved that would have been lost by going through a natural birth. The reward rarely outweighs the risk/cost involved. They also told us they don't want to cut anybody, and do a bunch of other precautions just so we don't file a lawsuit afterward (yes, she said this outright... two visits in a row, which is honestly refreshing).

The doctors would bet money that this will end in a c-section, but they admit that anything could happen and nothing is certain. There's still a good chance Joni could go into natural labor any day. Tonight, tomorrow, next Monday, never?

What I'd love is for someone to say:
20% chance Eli comes in the next three days. 50% chance he comes by next Tuesday. 5% chance Joni never goes into labor on her own. 50% chance he comes by next Friday and 50% chance he's too big to be born naturally (so a 25% chance of both those things happening simultaneously).

But, we can't get those and we won't ever have those. Such probabilities are known only to God, Who also knows what the outcome will be. So, we have to rely on faith.

So, add that to the list of "knowns": God is in control.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Friday, May 09, 2008

A shout-out

I think I have a new favorite blog. It's Advanced NFL Stats by Brian Burke, who I've mentioned before. I've not seen anyone put out quality work like this guy does, statistical analysis just seems to come easily to him. He's taken papers published by economists and statisticians about football and found serious flaws in them and has followed up with better analysis. Every question I think of asking about the game he's already looked at in-depth.

Every NFL and sports fan should look at the stuff on his site. His Passing Paradox series is brilliant.

He gets rewarded with a link on my sidebar.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A follow-up to the tourism post

To be fair, I allowed Knoxville.org to respond to my criticism of their Knoxvillians-only promotion. I emailed Sarah Malak, Public Relations Manager with Knoxville.org about it. She responded with an explanation of what they're doing and why.

Here's my email to her:

Ms. Malak,

I was interested in the Gotta Know Knoxville promotion until I saw on the news that a person needs a valid Knox Co. driver’s license and that the promotion is “only for Knoxvillians.” I find it quite strange that a promotion meant to promote tourism and, according to your website, “aimed at educating local tourism partners on what Knoxville has to offer its visitors” actually excludes tourists/visitors. As a visitor to Knoxville and someone who is looking to learn more about the area, I found the “only for Knoxvillians” promotion to be quite frustrating.

Please consider tourists in your future efforts to promote tourism.

Sincerely,
Justin Tapp


And here is Ms. Malak's response:

Hi Justin,
Thank you for your email. I am glad that you were able to learn some more about "Gotta Know Knoxville" Day.
I'm not sure how familiar you are with the tourism industry, but I would like to educate you on a little bit about what we do.
Our organization is basically a Convention & Visitor's Bureau. This means that we promote the Knoxville/Knox County area by bringing conventions and events to town, and furthermore, we create economic impact, which makes life a little better for everyone who lives in the Knox County area. For example, in 2006, Knox County residents saved $302 in tax dollars because of tourism.
To be quite honest, we spend most of our time focused on tourists. In fact, a lot of our convention and sporting event attendees actually receive promotions (called the 'Uniquely Knoxville Discount Pass') in their packets to visit our attractions - so we are definitely not leaving them out.
Now, "Gotta Know Knoxville" Day and the "Gotta Know Knoxville" program are two different things. I'm sorry if you were confused. This Saturday, May 10, is "Gotta Know Knoxville" Day, which is where we are offering free admission to several attractions - for Knoxvillians. We want the people of Knoxville to tour our attractions and learn what's here so that they may promote them to tourists who are here. A lot of our residents do not even know that half of our attractions exist.
"Gotta Know Knoxville" is a program in which we educate local tourism partners (hotel, restaurant, attraction, or anyone interested in tourism) about what Knoxville has to offer. The reason for this is when tourists/convention attendees come to Knoxville and ask a hotel employee "What is there to do in Knoxville?," then the tourism partners have many recommendations - because they have experienced the attractions first-hand.
So, in closing, "Gotta Know Knoxville" Day is a special day where we are honoring and treating the people of Knoxville, and in turn, they will promote the attractions through word-of-mouth.
I hope I explained the difference between the two programs and what exactly we do here at KTSC.
I do appreciate your comments and please do keep us in mind for your future suggestions!


So, that's that. I find her email slightly condescending but my email was slightly smart-alec. They will educate Knoxvillians in order to make them better promoters of area attractions. Guess we should get to know more Knoxvillians. I still think they should have just opened the promotions to everyone, what harm could that do?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

How NOT to promote tourism

How do you define "tourist"? In my mind, it's synonymous with "visitor." I think of a visitor who is seeing the sites of a new location.

The Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation (Knoxville.org) is promoting "National Tourism Week" with their program called "Gotta Know Knoxville." According to the website, the program is "aimed at educating local tourism partners on what Knoxville has to offer its visitors."

Over 30 destinations (zoo, riverboats, museums, etc.) are offering free admission on Saturday in order to promote tourism. The problem? It's not for visitors, it's for Knoxvillians only!
You can't get in unless you show a valid Knox County drivers license. So, visitors to Knoxville are out of luck. I'd love to know more about what Knoxville has to offer, but I guess I'll have to live here before I can visit.

But wait! There is another option. We can still receive a pass for free or reduced admission to certain tourist destinations if we take a 4 hour class!

I guess it's like one of those "free vacations" where you have to listen to hours and hours of timeshare advertisements.

Who are the brilliant recently-graduated marketing majors who came up with this one?

Congratulations!

Had to dedicate a post to the New York City College of Technology Yellow Jackets on their D-III national basketball tournament appearance, the first in school history.

NYCC Tech plays in the City University of NY Athletic Conference. The school is 22-7, and went 15-1 in conference play before sweeping the conference tournament. There are 384 schools in D-III, and making it to the 64-team tourny is tough to do.

A special congrats to 1st Team All-Conference PG Steven Tucker.A senior, Tucker led the team in scoring and assists and is an All-America candidate.

1st Team All-Conference C Charles Herron:Herron led the team in rebounds and blocked shots. He will return next season to hopefully lead the team back to the tourny.

Here are the players celebrating their tournament bid. Awesome dance moves!:


I can't forget to give a shout out to CUNYAC Conference Coach of the Year, JDTapp. Great season, Coach Tapp!

All of this made possible by WhatifSports.com, the most addictive website on the planet. You can sign up today, just let me email you a referral.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Think/Know

What I think: Horse racing is having a bad week.
What I know: Horse racing is also the only sport where the athletes are encouraged and paid to sleep around.

What I know: Roger Clemens is accused of having an affair with both of these women.

What I know: Clemens apologized for having affairs without actually admitting that he had them.
What I think: Clemens should run for President.

What I know: Kobe Bryant is being named NBA MVP.
What I think: Chris Paul is better than Kobe Bryant.
What I know: Good empirical analysis agrees that several players are more valuable than Kobe (HT: Wages of Wins).
What I know: Players are rewarded and paid according to how much they score rather than how many wins they produce (again, Wages of Wins).
What I think: Being MVP gets you a ridiculous number of favorable calls from referees.

What I know: Yesterday was Cinco de Mayo.
What I think: Most Americans have no idea what this holiday is about.
What I know: Almost 25% of children under the age of 5 are Hispanic, according to the US Census (ht: Addison's Walk).
What I think: At least 25% of my son's friends growing up are likely to speak Spanish. He'd better learn quickly.

What I know: Coach Billy Gillispie has gotten commitments from an 8th grader and a 9th grader in the past week.
What I think: It's not too early to send Billy Clyde game tape of Elias.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Two sad endings

Two important races yesterday.

One, the Kentucky Derby. Forever overshadowed by the 2nd place finisher being immediately euthanized on the track. In the pre-race coverage there was the exclusive with her trainer, all about her personality, and how the betting line moved throughout the day as women fans were betting on her, Chelsea Clinton, etc. And then they killed her.
In our modern, politically-correct, animals-have-rights culture, I wonder if horse racing has a bright future with "tragedies" like this.

The other race was the Dan Lowry 400. First, hometown favorite Denny Hamlin gets a flat tire with 10 laps to go in a race he dominated. Rather than pitting, he parked his car and brought out a caution and a penalty, allowing his teammate (Kyle Busch) to catch up to the leader (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) on the yellow. Joe Gibbs Racing at its finest (*insert farting noise here*).

Earnhardt Nation (at least 65% of NASCAR fans) happily saw Dale Jr. take the lead when Denny went out, eagerly looking for him to break a painful 2-year drought.
Only to see him get wrecked by Kyle Busch with 4 laps to go. Busch has replaced Jeff Gordon as "the most hated man in NASCAR." He's young, he's cocky, and he's extremely talented. He's like Ricky Bobby incarnate "if you ain't first, you're last."


I feel how Wes Mantooth felt about Ron Burgundy.
I'd never seen 50,000 people stand up and give one man the middle finger before. FOX did a good job of panning out as Darrell Waltrip suggested they call for more security.

So, I felt more pain watching a disappointed Dale Jr's interview after the race than I did seeing Eight Belles get euthanized.



I guess that's just racing.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Happy Derby Day!

Just wanted to wish everyone a happy Kentucky Derby. Hope you enjoy the day-long tribute to Kentucky that I usually blog about .

This year, I'm interested in odds and payoffs, something I've never cared about or looked into before. I've never been to a horse track (*gasp*, *wow*, *how can you be from Lexington?* ). Looking at last night's posted odds, Big Brown is the favorite at 7 to 2, and Colonel John next at 4 to 1. To calculate the percentage chance of each horse winning, simply divide the first number by the sum of both numbers. (Ex: 2 /(7+2) = 22.2%). These are not the true odds, they are inflated in order to make the track a profit.

If you add up all the percentages of all the horses, you will find that they actually equal 125.3%. The extra 25.3 is Churchill Downs' profit no matter which horse wins. If it took in $125,000 in wagers it will keep $25,000. I'm not sure how much is bet on the Derby, but they're making a bunch and will also pay a good amount in taxes. Their official take is actually 19%, and you can use that to calculate the odds more accurately.

There is also something called breakage and it is considered a sort of transaction fee that the track also makes money from. Calculating the odds is confusing, and I can't find the information that I need online (namely the pool and total amount bet on each horse).

Betting on a horse is probably the riskiest form of gambling. I suppose you could factor in horse's past performance (controlling for track conditions) and who the trainer is, pedigree, etc.

My philosophy would probably be to bet on a long-shot since the payoff would be much higher. Seeing as how only 3 favorites in the last 28 years have won the Derby, you would seem to have a better chance with a longer shot.

My horses:
Court Vision (14-1)
Adriano (24-1)

Just because I like the names. That's my secret to picking Derby horses every year. The rest of the time I'm enjoying the roses, the atmosphere, and My Old Kentucky Home.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Reality TV done right


PBS is airing a series called Carrier. It's a look at a 6-month cruise of the USS Nimitz and an intimate view of some of its crew members, their struggles, and the issues the ship faces in the line of duty.

It comes on late at night here and they play episodes back-to-back. Every episode is an hour and there are no commercials on PBS, so it's a full hour of reality. I stay up very late because I'm addicted.

What strikes me is how young the crew is and how working in the Navy is just like working in any other full-time low-skilled job, you just do it on a big boat far from home 6 months out of the year. Many of the kids are straight from broken homes, slums, or are orphans in some way. The Navy was a ticket out of gangs, drugs, and minimum-wage work back home.

The F-18 fighter wings on board are also profiled. The pilots are all commissioned officers, college-educated guys in their 30s and 40s with families. They sharply contrast with the enlisted men servicing their planes.

The Marine air wing is doing its first-ever sea-based tour, so they are learning to fit in with the Navy guys, and sharply contrast with everyone else.

There aren't any battle scenes, the pilots haven't dropped any bombs on Iraq (which they are unhappy about). But, there are lots of other interesting things.

Last night they profiled all the worship services that take place on the ship. Pentecostal, Catholic, generic evangelical, and even Wiccan. It showed the role of religion in the crew members' lives and the role that the chaplains play. It profiled some recent converts on the ship, including a very outspoken one who clearly fell into sin on a shore leave in Australia and had to learn to deal with it.

It's all very real-world with real conversations and real mundane moments. I highly recommend.

Some other random thoughts on the series:
The carrier is "a floating high school" with gossip, drama, relationships, discipline problems, etc.
When people go overboard it gets hard to find them.
It's hard to land planes on a deck rocking from really stormy weather (probably the best, most intense moments in the whole show).
The life is really monotonous.
One of the main characters has a pregnant girlfriend back home who doesn't appear to care for him.
The pilots all have great senses of humor.
The captain has the best job in the Navy.