The odds were too great

The 36.7% probability came true. Kansas City and the New York Jets won, and Denver just lost in overtime to San Francisco.

The Broncos’ season ends with 2006.

Ho hum.

As probability tends to 1

Last night, the New York Giants hailed in Washington in their last game of the regular season. After losing six of their previous seven games, a win was far from certain. It seems that Tiki Barber did quite a bit of damage with 234 rushing yards, more than either he or indeed any Giant in history has ever rushed for previously.

The Giants are now guaranteed a wildcard playoff berth if all of the following nine teams win: Green Bay, Arizona, Detroit, Miami, Minnesota, San Francisco, Cleveland, New Orleans, Seattle.

If you ignore the teams’ respective opponents and simply use their season’s winning record to date as their probability of winning today, then the probability of all of the above teams winning is 0.0126%. Or 1 in 7,945. In the above scenario, Green Bay would snatch the NFC’s sixth playoff berth.

So I guess the Giants will be playing in January. I’m quite confident that they won’t be playing in February, though.

With all division titles sealed in the AFC, the race is on between six teams for the two wildcards. Denver is leading the charge, with the New York Jets on the same winning record (96). Four further teams are hot on their heels on 87: Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Kansas City.

With Jacksonville playing at Kansas City, one of them is almost certain to end the season with a 9–7 record, so the pressure is on for Denver to beat San Francisco (6–9) and for the Jets to beat Oakland (213). Both are at home, although Denver’s home record (4–3) is far from convincing. It’s gonna be a big day.

Focusing on Denver, only Kansas City, Tennessee and the New York Jets can finish above them. If Jacksonville win and Denver lose, then they have no head-to-heads, their division records would be identical, as would be their record against teams that they have both played. Which means it would go down to their conference record, which would favour Denver. As for Cincinnati, Denver’s 24–23 win over them on Christmas Eve would put them in the driving seat.

If you apply the same "record to date" logic as was applied to the Giants above, there’s a 36.7% chance of Denver losing and at least two of these three winning. Those odds are a little too high for my liking.

Can Google teach government a thing or two?

In Matt Cutts’ latest post, among other things he talks about his passion for Google, including this excerpt.

"Words can’t express how much I respect my colleagues at Google, but I’ll try. Googlers are smart, rational, and polite. They execute well on projects and listen to objections with an open mind. When they run up against an obstacle, they get creative and look for a new approach to solve the problem. Among the hundreds of Googlers I know, there’s also a strong streak of wanting to change the world for the better."

And in his thoughts on keeping his organisation on the "Google is good" side of the scales, he suggests:

The government could learn a thing or two from these thoughts. To me, the particularly important and relevant elements from Matt’s musings are that "[t]hey execute well on projects and listen to objections with an open mind", and that they should "[r]educe the disconnect to reduce the danger".

All too often, I’ve experienced projects that are too tied to the scope and not sufficiently well tied to the business requirements or what is right. It’s all about hitting the deadline (which isn’t achieved as regularly as it might), often at the expense of doing the right thing.

And in many respects, government has become too far removed from its users. I like the way that Matt refers to this disconnect as danger: the further removed you are from interacting with your customers (in whatever context these customers exist), the more dangerous it is for your organisation.

Government needs to get closer to its customers, both in the isolation of a single interaction (e.g. HMRC getting closer to its tax payers) and holistically (government understanding more about a citizen’s overall interaction with government). And it needs to be more focused on solving problems instead of delivering fixed items of scope.

Tab optimisation in Firefox

There are a couple of Firefox extensions I’ve recently stumbled upon which, when used together, are quite beautiful. They’re both to do with the tabs at the top of the browser.

The first is called PermaTabs. Basically, it makes any tab(s) that you choose permanent. So you can’t close the tabs by accident, and new pages can’t load in their place.

The second is called FaviconizeTab. This allows you to reduce the width of any tabs to the width of the favicon.

Combined, the two extensions are neat. They allow you to keep all of your "always open" pages safely on the left-hand side of the tab bar, while ensuring that they don’t waste unnecessary page width.


Like so! Now my email, meebo and calendar are always there and handy.

Firefox slow to react: can anyone help?

Let me describe my symptoms, and hopefully a 21st century doctor out there can diagnose the problem.

I think the behaviour is limited to Firefox. In short, it has recently become very slow to react to keystrokes and mouse clicks.

If I click a field in my blog’s rich-text editor and start typing, the cursor doesn’t appear, nor do the words that I type appear in the box. On occasions, it ignores the preceding mouse-click, and when it eventually wakes up it throws the words into the box lucky enough to have previously been the focus of both my attention and my cursor. Sometimes, it obeys the mouse-click but misses the first few keystrokes. Other times still, when it eventually kicks in, it picks up all previous actions.

If I click in the search bar or address bar, I get a similar lag, the words appearing a number of seconds after I have typed them. (As an example of the delay I’m talking about, after I’d typed the word "after" in the previous sentence, I had already typed the words "I have typed them" before they started appearing letter by letter.)

If I CTRL+TAB between tabs, it’s similarly slow. And if I have an application open in the foreground and ALT-TAB back to Firefox, it takes a few seconds to appear.

I was recently upgraded (without being given a choice) to Firefox, and the only other change I can think might have made a difference is my virginal use of the newly installed IE7 (again installed without my active consent) recently.

It’s killing me. Can anyone help?

Free laptops: publicity or bribery?

There’s a little hubbub right now in the blogging community about Microsoft’s recent publicity stunt. They sent Vista pre-loaded laptops to a bunch of high -profile bloggers (I was not included, judging by my naked doormat) to generate some publicty and momentum in the tech. world.

My friend Francis mentioned it yesterday; Robert Scoble (Microsoft) thinks it’s an awesome idea; and Joel Spolsky thinks it’s indistinguishable from bribery. (Interesting how the latter’s integrity wasn’t an issue when he received a Google App.)

I’m not particularly bothered about the ethical issues surrounding the gift, but Joel’s brief review of Vista, along with a link to a more in depth review, is probably about right:

  1. Do not, under any circumstances, consider upgrading an XP system to Vista… even if it’s fairly new and even if it’s Vista Supremo Premium Ultra-Capable
  2. When you get a new computer, if it comes with Vista pre-installed, that’s when you’ll upgrade
  3. Don’t buy a new computer now just to get Vista. If your current system meets your needs, stick with it until you really need a new system. Vista is not reason enough for a new PC
  4. Need more details? Read Paul Thurrott’s review.

Nielsen takes my advice on usability

Back in February, I suggested that Jakon Nielsen should focus on his own site’s usability as well as commenting on that of others.

It seems he’s taken my advice, reducing the width of his site to 800 pixels, where before it spanned the full window, irrespective of its width.

Here is his updated top ten mistakes in web design. In the main I score quite highly. My policy on new browser windows (point 9) is that anything outside of this site will spawn a new window/tab, while anything within will stay within the confines of the window/tab. This is mainly because I have leaky text (diverting people to other content mid-post), and even if people jump off mid-flow, I’d still like to give them the opportunity to read the end of the post. Meanwhile, I’m sufficiently modest to believe that my site never warrants more than one window. (Many would argue that one is too many.)

On Nielsen’s point 3, I will commit to making visited links red to highlight this to the user. Maybe at the weekend.

Update: visited links are now grey. Hover over visited links and you get white text on a grey background. The red didn’t seem right. The grey is more subtle, and the reverse colours on hover are in keeping with the theme elsewhere in the site. Hope this helps.

New year’s resolution

On the first day of this year, I set myself some objectives for 2006. With three days of the year remaining, here are the completion stats:

There was one big one that has been realised, which I’m delighted about.

I will likely set myself some goals for 2007. One small one that I am keen to focus on is to improve the quality of this blog. Make it more interesting, relevant and amusing.

I’ll start that in the new year. In the meantime, same old bilge.

Staying close to home

As a child, I used to puzzle over a self-made conundrum, which is similar to the taxi problem I set a while ago. Here it is.

Imagine the eight lines that connect the 16 primary points of the compass (N, NNE, NE, ENE, E, ESE, SE, SSE, S, SSW, SW, WSW, W, WNW, NW and NNW). Each line connects two of these sixteen points. So, for instance, the line from N to S constitutes a single line, as does that connecting SSE and NNW.

Each line has the same length: one kilometre, let’s say.

You walk each of the lines in succession, but for each line, you can choose which direction to take. So, for the N/S line, you can either walk north or south for one kilometre. After doing so, you take the NNE/SSW line from your previous end point, again in either direction. Etc.

Here’s the conundrum: is it possible to end up where you started. And if not, how close to the start can you end up and how do you do this?

I’ve just worked out the answer, which I’ll post as a comment.

Einstein’s logic problem

I stumbled upon Albert Einstein’s apparently famous logic problem today. Here’s how it goes.

In a street there are five houses, each painted a different colour. In each house lives a person of a different nationality. These five homeowners each drink a different kind of beverage, smoke a different brand of cigar and keep a different pet.

The question: who owns the fish?

Here are the hints that will help you solve it.

  1. The Brit lives in a red house
  2. The Swede keeps dogs as pets
  3. The Dane drinks tea
  4. The green house is next to, and on the left of the white house
  5. The owner of the green house drinks coffee
  6. The person who smokes Pall Mall rears birds
  7. The owner of the yellow house smokes Dunhill
  8. The man living in the centre house drinks milk
  9. The Norwegian lives in the first house
  10. The man who smokes Blends lives next to the one who keeps cats
  11. The man who keeps horses lives next to the man who smokes Dunhill
  12. The man who smokes Blue Master drinks beer
  13. The German smokes Prince
  14. The Norwegian lives next to the blue house
  15. The man who smokes Blends has a neighbour who drinks water

I used Excel. Purely to organise my thoughts; not for any calculation logic. I reckon you can answer the question (who owns the fish?) without hint 15, but that particular hint gives you a full picture of what everyone drinks.

Let me know how you get on. For those who want to check their answer (against mine at least), go through the following clues, which are hopefully a bit easier.

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