Diabetes: lies, damned lies and statistics

On Sunday, BBC News ran a story about diabetes. It drew facts from a study in the Lancet and focused on the fact that the number of people suffering from diabetes worldwide had more than doubled since 1980. But the article’s title read as follows:

Diabetes rate ‘doubles’ – Imperial College and Harvard research suggests

I took huge issue with the word rate. Here’s why.

The world’s population in 1980 was 4,435m. The Lancet estimated that 153m of those people suffered from diabetes, an incident rate of 3.45%.

In 2011, the world’s population has increased to 6,930m, the Lancet estimating that 347m of these suffered from diabetes, an incident rate of 5.01%.

The rate of diabetes has indeed increased. It has increased by 45%. It certainly has not doubled.

It frustrates me that such a qualified and reputable news source as the BBC can misleadingly report because a failure to understand such a basic mathematical concept.

The government cannot win

Much though I find the policies of the incumbent government largely appalling, I’ve always been bemused and saddened by the treatment of the government of the time by both the media and the opposition. Here’s why.

The opposition and certain sections of the media (in this, they are one and the same—hereafter referred to simply as the Opposition) generally disparage the policies of the government. They pick holes. On the odd occasion, they might counter with their own stance on the matter. But disparage they will.

Yet if the government changes its stance with respect to the policy in question, they are accused by the Opposition of performing a U-turn—oh the shame.

On the proposed reduction in prison sentences, this is exactly what has happened. The proposal a few weeks back to increase the sentence “discount” from 33% to 50% in cases where the defendant makes an early guilty plea was met with anger and rhetoric, rapists being the headline of choice.

Today, the government has reversed that proposed policy, to cries of a U-turn from the Opposition.

I would much prefer a government that listens to public opinion, whether official by way of consultation or otherwise, in determining its final stance on policy issues, particularly on the more important and wide-reaching ones. There should be no shame in admitting a change in direction. But the farcical nature of politics in the UK (and likely in many other countries) means that shame abounds. Jeers in the House of Commons is one of the things upon which our nation’s shame is founded.

Donuts in New York

[For the purposes of this post, and this post alone, donuts will be spelled [sic] according to American English.]

It’s been a hard week work-wise. Tempers have been getting a little frayed in what is necessarily a long migration project. Combine this with a geographically divided project team, and things are hard.

So my mission early Friday New York time was to furnish the New York team with a box of donuts. That shouldn’t be hard, right?

Hard it was.

Once the east coast had woken up, I took up the task of arranging a delivery. Two requirements: delivery to the Brooklyn location; payment over the phone.

Dunkin’ Donuts don’t deliver, despite their nearest location being literally at the bottom of the building in question. And the majority of your local places either don’t deliver or don’t accept card payment over the phone. BKLYN Larder could sort a delivery out for Monday (no use). And Blue Sky didn’t deliver. A whole host of other locations either considered the delivery address too far away or couldn’t get their heads around someone in the UK ordering donuts to be delivered in Brooklyn.

Eventually, I stumbled upon Dough. It was awkward, in that I had to call the owner (as opposed to the shop) to arrange the card payment. But once done, it was sublime. Twenty donuts had arrived at their destination, 1.1 miles from the shop, within 45 minutes of the order being made. And they were “quite possibly the best donuts we’ve ever tasted”. And that was from a Brooklyner, someone who should know their way around a donut.

The outcome couldn’t have been better. And I was thankful that many of the lesser places refused my business. But I was surprised at just how hard it was to accomplish, particularly given the ease with which I found such things while living in Manhattan.

If anyone ever asks for a fabulous donut shop in Brooklyn, NY that serves fabulous donuts with fabulous customer service, direct them no further than Dough.

Google’s TV advertising

Google’s recent forays into TV advertising in the UK have prompted some debate. I first encountered it in the middle of last night’s Britain’s Got Talent finals. And I enjoyed it. (More so than the Britain’s Got Talent finals.)

The advertising is very aspirational. It revolves around content, predominantly email, to children not yet old enough to appreciate it. Content that can be looked back upon with affection years later.

Malcolm Coles speculated that it marked the end of Google.

Gmail advert on TV? Google’s finished then …

I fundamentally disagree.

Google is trying to give its core non-search offerings wider appeal. It’s trying to crack markets that are not yet enjoying its products, both those online and those offline. And, in my view, it sees TV as a valid and viable route into the latter. Just as it undertook a sizeable poster campaign recently extolling the virtues of Chrome.

The fact that Google carries advertising does not mean that it cannot and should not use other media and providers to advertise its offering. Just as Ask advertises on Google. And ITV uses posters to advertise its upcoming programmes.

I think this move is a sign of maturity from Google. It shows that they acknowledge that they are not monopolistic in the advertising space, and that they must exploit other media to grow their market share.

I like the adverts. And they’re likely to appeal, in my opinion, to the older market in which I expect they’re less well-established. (In no way am I suggesting that these two sentences are related, btw.)

My confidence in avast is slipping away

I used to rave about avast. Lately, the glitter has come off.

First of all, what is avast? It’s, on the whole, a non-intrusive antivirus package that sits in the corner of your PC keeping it protected and safe. I pay for it, as I use it for business. But it has a free home offering which, on the whole, I recommend. Both of my parents use it, thanks to my recommendation.

But below is a synopsis of a couple of issues I’ve faced recently that have downgraded its reputation for me.

On 11 April, a new virus definitions file downloaded in the background to my PC completely destroyed my internet experience. Suddenly, I was unable to visit any http pages, although https pages could still be accessed.

Twitter was full of people with the same problem. The only immediate remedy was to disable the software (which freaked me out), go to AVG’s website, download the competitor’s product, and start using that. Which I did. To do so, I had to uninstall the avast software package.

I fully intended to go back to avast once the problem was fixed—partly because I was paying for the privilege, but mainly because I had developed a brand loyalty since initially subscribing to avast over five years ago. After a couple of weeks, to my word, I switched back.

My mum emailed me this morning asking for help. Her iGoogle homepage had lost all of its gadgets. This evening, I called her, hoping that she’d simply logged herself out, or had switched to classic view instead of the iGoogle view. The problem was not quite so simple. So I logged into her machine remotely using Copilot, and worked at solving the problem.

Nothing was coming up trumps. I tried restoring a backup of her Google settings (something I didn’t realise you could do), but still her gadgets wouldn’t appear beneath the picture of Bugs Bunny she’d chosen as her theme.

So I Googled the issue, and eventually happened upon one reporting a conflict between certain webpages and avast’s WebRep feature. Now I was aware of WebRep. Not the name, but the reality of it. It basically gives ratings of sites that you visit, or those that pop up in search results. It’s like a mobile phone signal icon, bright green, giving each site a number of bars. I’m not quite sure what the bars signify—site’s reputation, safety, something of that ilk, I expect—but it wasn’t particularly intrusive (or so I thought), so I never bothered uninstalling it.

Looking into it, it appears that avast had installed a Firefox extension on my mum’s machine on a recent update. And this was killing iGoogle. Likewise, I have had a Chrome extension installed. And as it turns out, this is the reason my Facebook and Google Reader pages have been hanging and running like dogs for the last few weeks.

Apparently, probably with my and my mum’s unwitting consent, avast installs extensions to Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer, and automatically checks for new browsers with the intention of installing sister extensions.

I have uninstalled the extensions on both of our machines, and our respective web experiences have, it seems, been sorted.

For the first issue, I completely forgive avast. We all have off days. And it seems that avast had one on 11 April. It would have been nice if they’d publicised the severity of the issue on their website (rather than a rather muted piece on their blog), but beyond that, I was happy that they fixed the issue quickly and I could get back to normal.

As for the second issue, I cannot forgive quite so easily. If a software provider wants to install an extension to my browser of choice, I want to be informed of this. And I don’t mean small print. I mean that I should actively decide whether or not this is something that I want to happen. I didn’t, and the impact was severe.

I’m staying with avast for the time being. But if there are any further issues, I’ll be hunting for an alternative.

Wizard of Excel

I have a new website. It’s called Wizard of Excel. And it can be found here.

A few weeks back, my friend Steph suggested that I create a platform on which to share my Excel knowledge and experience. As well as offering advice to anyone who might benefit, it might, in the future, provide an advertising platform, as well as hopefully bringing in some consultancy and training business.

So far, I’ve written 32 posts that have attracted 1,100 viewings. There’s lots of content still to be written, and my hope is that traffic continues to grow.

The highlight to date has been a spreadsheet designed to work out which Olympic tickets you might have received from Lord Coe. Try it out.

Huge credit to Steph for the design and hosting. He’s done a fabulous job to get it looking fab and to put it on what appears to be a solid platform.


Please let me know what you think of the new site