Saturday, January 20, 2018

Easy to Predict, Hard to Be Right

    Nate Silver made his name predicting the performance of baseball players. Now he produces the FiveThirtyEight blog, known for its accurate forecasts in sports, politics and other fields.

     One distinction he draws is the difference between a prediction and a forecast. A prediction is a specific statement about when and how something will occur. A forecast is a probabilistic statement. So, for example, science cannot predict when or where an earthquake will occur. But it can forecast with confidence that at some point over the next hundred years there will be a major earthquake in California, and that California will experience more earthquakes than New Jersey.

     Similarly, no one can predict with any degree of certainty where the S & P will stand at the end of 2018. Or when the next stock market crash will occur. But we do know the chances of a crash are less than 5% when the average PE ratio is under 15, but 20% when the average PE ratio is over 30. (The current PE of the Dow Jones Average is 26, and the S&P is 23.)

     Same goes for the weather. Weather forecasters don't say it will rain tomorrow. They say there's a 60% chance of rain tomorrow -- meaning that given current conditions, the data show that it rains 60 % of the time within the next 24 hours.

     Except, Silver also tells us about the "wet bias." Weather reports typically exaggerate the chance of rain. Why? Because meteorologists know that if they say it's not going to rain, and it does, then the audience will get mad at them. But if they forecast rain, and it doesn't rain, then the audience considers it a bonus -- and doesn't blame the forecaster for being wrong. The "wet bias" will typically predict a 20% chance of rain when there is really only a 5 to 10% chance of rain.

     Silver has some advice for us regular people about making predictions in our own lives. For example, he warns us that there is a ton of information available these days, but much of it is merely a distraction. To be a good forecaster, we need focus on the facts that actually make a difference to any particular issue in our lives.

     Also, people tend to attach too much importance to recent events that may seem dramatic, but are not really significant. We also focus on familiar places and nearby events, whether they affect the larger world or not. And we all have our prejudices and biases. Human beings naturally prefer information that supports their own views. The way to break out of our tunnel vision is to test our views in the real world, acknowledge our mistakes and learn from them.

     Typically, people who are more skeptical about information and less confident in themselves make better predictions than people who are more grounded in their own beliefs. People who have firm convictions make good politicians and good talk show guests. But they make bad predictions. People who are less certain about the world, who are more tolerant of dissenting opinions, and who know that sometimes our lives are shaped by unforeseen events, make better predictions because they understand that many issues are complex and conditional.

     We all make predictions based on our knowledge and experience. The way to become more accurate is to alter our predictions as we acquire more data. Or as John Maynard Keynes famously said, “When the facts change, I change my mind.“ Business people and politicians, doctors and lawyers, all make predictions about products, people and social policies. Those who don’t adjust and improve their results often find themselves out of power, or out of a job. Investors make predictions. The successful ones acknowledge when they’re wrong and sell their mistakes.

     One thing to remember is that the consensus is usually right. Many people make predictions about sports, politics or the weather. Those predictions converge as people test out their theories and seek the truth by factoring in more evidence. This explains why the general consensus about the outcome of any event is typically a better prediction than any one person's view, and why the outlier prediction is usually less accurate.

     So if you're a betting person, bet on the New England Patriots over the Jacksonville Jaguars. And (even though I'm now an Eagles fan) the Vikings over the Eagles . . . although that one is less certain.

     And what about politics? Trump's approval rating is currently 39.5%, vs. 55.5% who disapprove of his actions. And the president's party typically loses at least a few Congressional seats in the mid-term election. So FiveThirtyEight says it's likely the Democrats will pick up 30-some seats in the House of Representatives in the November election and take control of the House. But because many more Democrats than Republicans are up for re-election in the Senate, the site gives only about a 25% chance that the Democrats will take over the Senate.

     However, take this all with a grain of salt. According to Silver, despite all our advances in technology, the affairs of men are not becoming more predictable, because those very advances also bring us a more complex society. But at least we can get a better grip on our own world -- if we recognize our own biases, focus on what's important, avoid the trap of overconfidence, and revise our views as you encounter new information.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

What's the Point of Retirement?

     As I've mentioned before I have begun to write a column for the U. S. News retirement website. It's an advice column, I guess, offering the pearls of wisdom I've collected from 15 years of . . . well, semi-retirement, since I just got through telling everyone I recently accepted a temporary job that will keep me plenty busy this month . . .

Let's get to the point ...
     . . . although not too busy to take my turn as a Snowbird. I actually leave for Florida tomorrow, Sunday, just as the weather here in the Northeast is turning cold again.

     Of course, as they say, if you talk you're only telling people what you already know. If you listen, you might learn something new. So if anyone has any advice for me -- about being a Snowbird, about working part-time in retirement, about the purpose of retirement -- I'm all ears. Meantime . . .

What's the Point of Retirement?

by Tom Sightings

     For our grandparents, retirement typically involved a brief period of well-deserved rest after a lifetime of backbreaking work. But for us Baby Boomers today, retirement offers a chance for a whole new life.

     If you retire at age 62 or 66 or even 70, you likely have a lot of years ahead of you. But your career is gone, and your family may not be around anymore, so you need to reinvent yourself, find a new purpose for your next couple of decades on earth.

     How do you find that purpose? How can you find meaning in your new life?

     See What's the Point of Retirement? at U. S. News for all the answers . . . and plenty of other retirement articles as well.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Working Again

     I saw an old colleague from work at a holiday party a week or so ago  -- the last of my friends who is still working full time. He came up to me, drink in hand, and we made some polite conversation, and then he told me he had a job for me, if I wanted it.

     He is 69 years old. And so after dodging the question for a few moments I asked him, "So, when are you going to retire?"

     "Oh, I don't know," he shrugged. "The job keeps me busy; and besides, the money comes in handy."

     His wife, who's about his same age, maybe a year younger, is also still working. They have only one child, a grown daughter who is married with a job of her own. So I don't get it.. He can't need the money. Some people must just be built to go to work.

     Then the day before yesterday the job came in -- and of course, I said I'd do it. (Okay, I get the irony . . . I'm the guy who can't stop working, either.)

     But at least the work I'll be doing is nothing permanent. It's an assignment that will take about a month to complete -- and what else am I going to be doing with several inches of snow on the ground and the thermometer reading, literally, -3 degrees this morning?

     Besides, we all know that retirement is not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition. And neither is financial independence. And even retirees who are truly financially independent, the experts tell us, need to find pursuits that engage their interests.

     Nobody can expect to be happy sitting in front of the TV for the rest of their lives -- especially at this time of year if you're not a football or basketball fan. We need activities that stimulate our imagination, connect us to other people, and help us develop a commitment to something more than our own self-interest.

     I do enjoy working, now and then, because it gives me some focused activity; it brings in a little money; and it makes me feel good to be engaged in a project that's important enough for someone to actually pay me for it. A job takes me out of myself, and makes me feel like I'm worth something beyond my own little life and my own family.

When do I get to retire?
     I've been freelancing and consulting for more than ten years now. But honestly, in the last year or two, the work has been drying up. I think there's probably plenty of work out there, if I was willing to go out and get it. But now that I've actually gone ahead and applied for my Social Security benefit (which I won't see until the third week in February at the earliest), I don't feel as if I still have to be beating the bushes, pounding the pavement, networking and cold calling people in order to find a job.

     But now one comes along, and I can do it mostly on my own terms. I have the time to spare since B and I have completed our move, and at least the first phase of our home renovation is over. I am leaving for Florida in a week; but this is the type of job I can take with me and do on the road, working on my computer.

     Besides, I could use the change of pace, as well as the few thousand dollars I'll get for a month of employment. So I'll be working for a few weeks, and may be posting less often. Somehow I think the blogosphere will survive my partial absence.

     See you around . . . and if I'm looking a little frazzled, it's because I'll be blogging in my off hours, with my other eye on the paycheck being dangled in front of my nose.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Answers to: What's Your Baby Boomer IQ?

1. c)  Surely you didn't go for "Leave It to Beaver" starring Jerry Mathers as the Beaver. Instead, Bucky Beaver was the animated star of an Ipana toothpaste commercial of the 1950s and '60s -- Brusha, brusha, brusha, new Ipana toothpaste -- and if you're a true Baby Boomer you're probably humming that tune right now!

2. b)  After Nikita Khrushchev was ousted as the Soviet leader in 1964, Alexei Kosygin became Premier and Leonid Brezhnev rose to First Secretary. Although Kosygin, a reformer, was eclipsed by the more conservative Brezhnev, he managed to hang onto his position until two months before his death in 1980. Garry Kasparov, a Russian, is generally considered the best chess player of all time; and Carter's National Security Adviser was Zbigniew Brezezinski (whose daughter Mika is co-host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe.")

3. a)  It's a line from Bob Dylan's immortal hit "Like a Rolling Stone." The song never reached number one on the charts -- it stalled behind "Help" by the Beatles in 1965 -- but it did rate number one on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."

4. d)  Everybody who was anybody at the time appeared on "Laugh-In" from Tiny Tim to Richard Nixon, from Bing Crosby to Flip Wilson. Everybody except Bill Cosby, former "I Spy" star and future accused sex molester.

5. b)  $1.60 per hour. President Johnson raised the minimum wage from $1.40 to $1.60 in February 1968 (an increase roughly the equivalent of $10 to $11 in current dollars).

6. b)  $25,000, according to the U. S. Census Bureau, compared to $319,000 today. But . . . the average square footage of a 1968 home was about 1600 square feet compared to an average of about 2400 square feet today.

7. c)  Toby. Kunta Kinte, the son of a proud Mandinka warrior, was forced to submit to the slave name Toby at the end of a whip.

8. c)  Rob and Laura Petrie, and their son Richie, lived in the suburb of New Rochelle,  NY.

9. a)  Malcolm X (1925-'65) was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska. After his father was killed, he quit school and spent time in prison. He became a Muslim and eventually rose to be leader of the Nation of Islam. He declared himself a communist, preached separation of the races, and promoted drug-rehabilitation programs. In 1965 after he turned away from extremism and began to champion economic and social equality, he was assassinated by three members of the Nation of Islam.

10. a)  In the final scene of Dallas in the 1979-80 season, J. R. was shot twice by an unseen assailant. The next episode, called "Who Done It?" aired on November 21,1980, and revealed that sister-in-law and mistress Kristin Shepard (played by Mary Crosby) shot him in a fit of anger. The episode ranks second only to the 1983 M*A*S*H finale as the most-watched TV program of all time. 

11.d)  Louganis won a silver medal diving off the 10 meter platform in the 1976 Montreal summer Olympics. Americans boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but he went on to take two gold medals in 1984 and two more in 1988.

12. c)  Cameron Diaz played one of Charlie's Angels in the 2000 movie and in the 2003 sequel. But she was not in the original TV series which aired from 1976 - 1981.

13. d)  American actress Grace Kelly (1929 - '82) appeared in High Noon, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and won the Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in The Country Girl. Then in 1956, at age 26, she retired from the movies. She married Prince Rainier and became Princess Grace of Monaco -- no relation to Princess Di or the rock star Prince.

14. c)  Psycho (1960) was nominated for four Academy Awards but did not win a single one. The only Oscar director Alfred Hitchcock ever received was the Irving Thalberg award for lifetime achievement. Tippi Hedren starred in The Birds, but not Psycho, and most of the movie was shot in Hollywood and Arizona. Hitchcock made a cameo appearance, as he did in most of his films, as a man in a cowboy hat standing outside the office of Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh of the unfortunate shower scene.

15. c)  Ralph couldn't believe he "ate that whole thing" in a 1972 Alka Seltzer commercial.

16. d)  Chou en-Lai (1898-1976), also known as Zhou Enlai, was the first premier of the People's Republic of China. He served under Mao Zedong, survived The Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the Gang of Four, and was credited with thawing relations with the West by arranging for President Nixon's visit to China in 1972. Chou died in 1976, a few months before Mao passed away.

17. a)  The Sting, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman, was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won seven including Best Picture, beating out the others in this category. American Graffiti was nominated for five Oscars that year but didn't win any. Cries and Whispers won Best Cinematography. The Exorcist won Best Writing and Best Sound.

18. b)  Sally Ride (1951-2012) was the first American woman in space as a member of the 1983 Space Shuttle crew. She is not to be confused with astronaut Judith Resnik or teacher Christa McAuliffe, both of whom perished in the Challenger disaster of 1986. Altogether, 60 women have been to space, 45 of them Americans. Ride died of cancer at the age of 61.

19. b)  The Green Bay Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys 21 - 17 in the famous Ice Bowl, with temperatures at game time at -15 degrees, to win the NFL championship. Green Bay then went on to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35 - 10 in the Superbowl. The Jets won two years later in 1969.

20. c)  Francis. Fitzgerald was his brother's middle name. Foley is a good Irish name that has nothing to do with the Kennedys.

Bonus question. Here's your answer . . .

     Score 19 or above:  You're a Baby Boomer genius!
     Score 17 or 18:  A near-genius.
     15 or 16:  Like the citizens of Lake Wobegon, you are above average.
     Below 15:  Well . . . you're still smarter than a 5th grader!

Monday, January 1, 2018

What's Your Baby Boomer IQ?

     If you were born between 1946 and 1964 you are a tried-and-true, certified, bona fide Baby Boomer. But the question is: Were you fully aware "that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans" as John Kennedy said in his 1961 inaugural speech, or that "there's a whole generation with a new explanation, people in motion ... " as Scott McKenzie sang in 1967?

     Take this quiz and find out how high your Baby Boomer IQ is . . . I'll have the answers for you in my next post.

1) Who was Bucky Beaver?
a) Star of the 1957 - '62 sitcom "Leave It to Beaver"
b) Snoopy's friend in Peanuts
c) A character in a toothpaste commercial
d) He told us not to start forest fires   

2) Who was Alexei Kosygin?
a) Russian chess master
b) Premier of the Soviet Union, 1964 - 1980
c) National Security Adviser for President Carter
d) Villain in the 1967 Bond film You Only Live Twice

3) "You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you" is from ...
a) Bob Dylan's 1965 song "Like a Rolling Stone"
b) Tom Wolfe's 1968 book The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test
c) The 1970 movie Five Easy Pieces
d) John Lennon's 1968 song "Revolution"

4) Who never appeared on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, the iconic comedy that ran from 1967 - 1973?
a) John Wayne
b) Ringo Starr
c) Richard Nixon
d) Bill Cosby

5) What was the federal minimum wage in 1968?
a) $1.25 per hour
b) $1.60 per hour
c) $2.20 per hour
d) $2.40 per hour

6) What was the median price of a house in 1968?
a) $18,000
b) $25,000
c) $35,000
d) $52,000

7) Kunta Kinte was a Mandinka warrior in Roots. What was his slave name?
a) Alex
b) Tom
c) Toby
d) George 

8) Where did Rob and Laura live on The Dick Van Dyke Show?
a) New London, CT
b) New Holland, PA
c) New Rochelle, NY
d) New Brunswick, NJ 

9) Malcolm X
a)  Was a notorious Civil Rights leader
b)  Was a notorious New York gang leader
c)  Was a notorious 1970s rap star
d)  Played Will Smith's father in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"

10) Who shot J. R. in the final episode of the 1979-1980 season?
a) Kristin Shepard
b) Bobby Ewing
c) Sue Ellen Ewing
d) Clayton Farlow

11) In 1976 Greg Louganis won his first Olympic medal in
a)  Backstroke
b)  Breaststroke
c)  Gymnastics
d)  Diving

12) Who was not an original Charlie's Angel?
a) Farrah Fawcett
b) Jaclyn Smith
c) Cameron Diaz
d) Kate Jackson 

13) Princess Grace was:
a)  Princess Di's older sister
b)  Later became Queen of Luxembourg
c)  Was the mother of rock star Prince
d)  Married Prince Rainier of Monaco

14) Psycho
a)  Won Best Picture Academy Award in 1961
b)  Starred Tippi Hedren
c)  Featured a cameo appearance by director Alfred Hitchcock
d)  Was filmed on location in Portland, Oregon
15) "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" is a line from ...
a) The 1971 ad introducing the McDonald's quarter pounder
b) The 1967 movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
c) An Alka-Seltzer ad
d) Julia Child's groundbreaking TV cooking show

16) Chou en-Lai was ... 
a)  George H. W. Bush's favorite presidential meal
b)  Elected the first Asian-born mayor of San Francisco
c)  Leader of communist North Vietnam
d)  Premier of the People's Republic of China

17) What movie won Best Picture Academy Award in 1973?
a)  The Sting
b)  American Graffiti
c)  Cries and Whispers
d)  The Exorcist

18) Sally Ride
a)  Debuted in 1974 as a new ride at Disney World in Orlando
b)  Flew as the first American woman in space
c)  Climbed the charts as a hit record by The Rascals
d)  Was a slang word for cocaine

19) Who won the first Superbowl in 1967?
a)  Dallas Cowboys
b)  Green Bay Packers
c)  New York Jets
d)  Kansas City Chiefs

20) What was Robert F. Kennedy's middle name?
a) Fitzpatrick
b  Fitzgerald
c) Francis
d) Foley

Bonus Question) "I want to buy the world a _____"
a) Whopper
b) Coke
c) Pepsi
d) Pet rock