What the fuck is that?!
Remember brain freeze? Yeah, you are 11-years-old and you go to Circle K for a Slushy. It is a hot day and you suck that puppy down. Suddenly your brain is caught in a vice. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhggggggg! That hurts!
When I saw that formula I got intellectual brain freeze. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhggggggg! That hurts!
As I sat at my computer, the life and enthusiasm for school draining out of me, Deb wandered in. She looked over my shoulder and studied the formula on the computer screen for a full three minutes, frozen like a deer in the head lights.
“I’d cry,” she said
I’m thinking about it, I said.
“No, I’m serious, I’d cry.”
This isn’t going to as easy as I thought.
I’m woefully unprepared for graduate level math. I flunked math in high school. And in junior high school too. And come to think of it, I don’t think I was much of a math scholar in grade school for that matter.
So after a bout of regretting getting myself into this whole grad school debacle, and briefly considering just eating rat poison and getting it over with, I pulled myself together.
Now here’s a secret: both my father and grandfather were Statisticians. The genes must be there. I can do this.
The formulas look like Greek shorthand of engineering diagrams. Which they pretty much are. I spent hours and hours and hours and hours and hours reading and re-reading and re-reading and re-reading and re-reading the PDF files my professor had sent me.
Slowly, very slowly, it began to make sense. Using his instruction, many pages from my legal pad, the internet, and Excel, I finally got an answer to the first sample question that I had at least some confidence was right. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh….. .question 1.(a) is in the bag. Now on to question 1.(b).
What can you conclude from your answer in part (a)?
Other than the fact I’m an idiot, not much.
In my role as an on-line graduate student, I was grappling with standard deviation of data sets. The recipe is:
Believe it or not, I was able to decipher and actually comprehend most of this. But I’m such a mathematical idiot I couldn’t work out the very core of the formula. That side-ways M is the Greek capital letter Sigma and it means just-add-up-everything-that-follows-me. The X with the bar over the top is not a cattle brand, but stat short hand for the average of a data set. The X with the little ‘i’ is code for the data. So I needed to take the sum of the data points minus the average (technically the mean) and then square them. What I couldn’t fathom was if I did this individually or collectively before squaring them.
I surfed the internet in vain. I went to StatForDummies.com and ThirdGradeMathTutor.com (OK, I made those up, but for all I know they may exist). Bottom line, I had no luck at all. I needed to talk to my father. The problem is, of course, that he is dead.
I tried my Ouija board, but it works about as well as my cell phone.
Then it occurred to me that there was a way my father could talk to me from the grave in a loud, clear voice. I got up from my desk and started scanning through the titles on our library shelves. It has to be here somewhere…
I pulled a small book off one of our shelves. The dust cover was faded from time. First published when I was one-year-old, my father had written a ground-breaking college stat book. At a time when most stat books could be used for ship ballast in small numbers, at a time when computers took up entire buildings and were only owned by the government and IBM, at a time when hand-held calculators were not even a dream, my dad wrote a small, slim, 228-page book of statistical essentials. My father didn’t love to write, those genes come from my mother. My father lived and loved to teach. Thank God I got those genes too.
But my father existed in a publish-or-perish academic environment of large universities that don’t really value teaching. They value research. For my father, writing a text book was a short cut that allowed him to stay employed but spend his time doing what he really loved: teaching and inspiring the next generation.
In one of my many sad attempts at undergraduate schooling (which were ultimately cumulatively successful in getting me a bachelor’s degree a decade or two ago) I took a stat class that actually used his book. I think I got a D- in the class; but I still had the book.
It was my father’s voice--clear, professorly, kind, and re-assuring--that made me understand what I needed to do. For what it is worth, you calculate each one, square each one individually, then add ‘em up. Thanks Dad.
But the thing that really stuck with me about all of this is not the statistics, but the power of books. The ability of the written word to stand the test of time. To be able to speak to and learn from the brilliant minds who have left us.
Which lead me, egotistically, back to my own book. I can’t recall if I told all of you or not, but I finally did finish the book I’ve been working on for some time. It’s called The Born Again Diabetic; the hand book to help you get your diabetes in control (again).
I know most of you expected me to write a book on Continuous Glucose Monitoring, and I may still some day in all my spare time (sarcasm). But here’s the deal. Working in the field I saw we have a huge hole in our available literature. There are a ton of books for the newly dx’d. But what happens is people do great at first, then with time….well, you know.
My charter was to “remind you of the things you forgot, update you on things that have changed, and teach you the things you never learned.” It’s done. I even got a most-important MD/Endo to write a forward to balance my lack of formal credentials and I can’t get any publisher on the planet to even look at a sample chapter.
But now, I’m reminded of the power of books both in geographic scope and over the scope of time. A book allows me to touch more lives than I ever can on my own. A book allows me to continue to speak after I’m dead and gone.
With a new sense of purpose I vowed not to let the manuscript collect dust any longer. I’m going to get this son-of-a-bitch published if it kills me. And then, even though I’ll be dead, I will still be able to speak in a clear voice.
Complete with swearing. Hell yeah.