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Off-equilibrium correlations and Eyjafjallajökull

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Volcanoes and Iceland are back in the news. so let’s follow that theme and play with Google Labs new tool, Google Correlate.

Give it a test run. I suggest searching for “volcano”, then selecting “iceland” (Direct link, here). Looking at this data is a great example of why choosing your time period matter when performing analysis.

For the total period, 05 January 2003 to 24 April 2011, correlation of search activity for iceland and volcano was 0.8859. “Wow, that’s high!” You may say. Indeed, you’d be right.

Now, if we divide the period into one period before and one period after 20 March 2010 (the date of the first eruption of Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010), we can find a remarkably different picture. In the first period, “iceland” and “volcano” show measly correlation of 0.5563. After the first eruption, the two search terms seemingly move in unison with a staggering correlation of 0.9811.

Not so fast. Let’s step back and look at this graph. If  we concentrate on the portion of the graph where most of the scatter plot is concentrated, it is hard to see any relationship between the two search terms. If you put your hand on your computer screen to cover the two left-most dots, the blue trendline is no longer likely to be upward sloping. In fact, if we take out those two right-most weeks of search data the correlation falls to 0.7893. And if we look at the correlation, from 16 May until the latest date, the correlation returns to it’s pre-Eyjafjallajökull level (rho=0.5912).

Kudos to Google for making such an excellent tool and resource publicly available.

Written by Niall

May 25, 2011 at 8:18 pm

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The New England Celtics

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No denying regional loyalty here:

Written by Niall

May 1, 2010 at 12:09 pm

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TWACIB

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It reminds me of a joke that we had in Malawi about the proliferation of useless (and often fraudulent) NGOs – we talked about the NGO TWACIB, which stood for “Two wankers and a computer in Blantyre.”

This joke from Aid Thoughts might be close to home for me, but there is a lot of need for introspection among all NGOs to make sure that, even if you are a wanker, you do no harm.

HT Owen Barder via Bill Easterly.

Barder relays a tale of “too small to succeed”

A friend of mine is the country director of a small NGO based here in Ethiopia. She thinks that what they do is worthwhile, but that they are far too small to be a cost-effective way to help people. Ideally she would like the work she does to be taken over and absorbed into a larger organisation; but there is no way in the aid industry for this to happen.

Written by Niall

November 1, 2009 at 11:53 am

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Thembi Ngubane

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From the obituary of a woman lost at an all-too-young age:

this is Thembi,” began the diaries. ”Every morning when I wake up I run off to my drawer, take out the mirror and look at myself. Then I start to do my prayer. I say it every day every time when I am feeling angry.”

”I say, ‘Hello HIV, you trespasser. You are in my body, you have to obey their rules. you have to respect me and if you don’t hurt me, I won’t hurt you. You mind your business and I will mind mine and I will give you a ticket when your time comes,” she said.

Ngubane was 19 when she was given a tape recorder to make an audio diary about living with HIV in a country where nearly one third of young women are infected with the virus.

Written by Niall

June 14, 2009 at 12:54 pm

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Quote of the day: Estate Tax

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From James Kwak:

Like most Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, when I started my company, one of the motivations was the small chance of someday making a lot of money. Back in 2001, none of us looked around the table and said, “You know, I would work really hard at this startup, but since I’m going to have to pay the estate tax if we’re successful, I’m just going to phone it in.

Written by Niall

April 12, 2009 at 10:04 am

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A day of Ecuador

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A couple of independent news items from Ecuador have me thinking of the country I lived in from 2003 to 2004.

First the really bad news…Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa recently announced that Ecuador will be unable to pay interest on its international debt. The decision has been made to default on $3.9 billion in international bonds. In the short run, this means that Ecuador is going to see a significant drop in interest from international lenders. In the medium to long run, Goldman Sachs predicts that this decision precludes a detachment from the exchange rate policy of dollarization that has been implemented since 2000. In stable times, detachment from the dollar might cause some disruptions, but could be managed. Forced detachment because lending has dried up will certainly make the switch more chaotic.

Second bit of news is that the former mayor of Guayaquil, President of Ecuador, and Senator of Guayas and long time firebrand, León Febres Cordero, has died of lung cancer. This is a man, who at the age of 73 got in a fist fight on an airplane with another member of the Senate. At a social gathering in Guayaquil, the younger brother of Febres Cordero once explained to me with a great deal of pride how León and his mafia cleaned the streets of Guayaquil with an iron fist and. This man, supported by many in Ecuador, was a true throwback to the Old West days, as suggested in this quote:

During the toasts at a state dinner given by President Reagan in 1986, Mr. Febres Cordero briefly summed up his philosophy, “I must confess that I’m still an addict to Westerns.”

Written by Niall

December 17, 2008 at 10:57 am

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Crazy talk

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This is kind of like blaming the baby for throwing herself and the bathwater out.

Harare blames retailers for price inflation

Written by Niall

December 8, 2008 at 5:02 pm

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