The Fateful rehearsal

Can small events influence our lives at large?

It was spring 2000, in Warsaw, Poland. My band, whose members were professional level musicians, featured two vocals, a brass section and the basic quartet: drums, bass, piano, and guitar. Gigs were rather difficult to find, but the band played live every now and then. There was not enough work for the band to live, but too much for it to die. Considering the size of the band, and the relatively unpopular, at the time, music genre — acid jazz — it’s no wonder that gigs were difficult to get.

I was continuously working on music arrangements. The band had a brass section (trumpet and trombone, sometimes also a sax), so I was adding brass section parts to every song. It felt great to work on them, and experience the new air of songs boosted by the brass section.

The band played mostly covers, with the objective to have enough material to play gigs. In the meantime, I was working on original songs. While we already had five of them, getting new ones was a priority. We needed enough songs to record an EP.

This is where the fateful ‘single event’ comes up. We had a gig in a club, preceded by a rehearsal in the morning, as usual. I had just printed all parts for a new song, and was very excited about rehearsing the best song I ever wrote. We started the rehearsal by playing a few songs as a warm-up. Everything went fine. After the warm up, I handed out the parts of the new song. Band members studied the sheets for a while, and eventually nodded that they’re ready. I counted in, slowly, and the band started playing. Intro. First verse. It sounded great. Suddenly, something went wrong: one person missed a beat, another hit a wrong note. Whatever it was, the music stopped. It’s a normal occurrence at rehearsals. I thought nothing of it, and was just about to count in again, when somebody said that they don’t want to rehearse the song anymore. ‘Me too’, added somebody else. I looked around. People were looking at the floor, avoiding eye contact. They didn’t want to play it. I still wanted to rehearse this song, but it was no use to push for it. The rehearsal ended.

Excitement turned into frustration. Rehearsals continued, but the band never rehearsed this song again. Nobody asked about any new songs. I stopped writing brass sections, and stopped composing originals. The band got a few more gigs, but I had no motivation to drive it anymore. Wanting to get some rest from the band, I bought a book about programming and spent my vacation studying it. In the autumn, I applied for an undergraduate course in Computer Science, and my music career ended.

Was really the unfortunate rehearsal the beginning of the end of my band? Or would the band collapse anyway? It seems like a stupid question, unless I realize that it changed my life completely.


Leaving out articles

Joel Spolsky has written an article about how does his company deal with resumes. One of the points is the quality of the language in resumes.

That said, we try to be considerate of non-native speakers who are nonetheless excellent communicators: leaving out articles in that charming Eastern European way, or starting every paragraph with “So” in charming Pacific Northwestian way, is not a showstopper.

That’s a relief. However, the rest of the article made me take yet another look at my CV.

Abuse of scoring systems

Apgar is a scoring system,

…a simple and repeatable method to quickly and summarily assess the health of newborn children immediately after childbirth. (…) The Apgar score is determined by evaluating the newborn baby on five simple criteria on a scale from zero to two and summing up the five values thus obtained. The resulting Apgar score ranges from zero to 10.

One of the criteria is the skin color, which can be blue all over, blue at extremities and normal. This is an ordinal variable, which means that the variable does not have number values, but named and ordered levels. Blue at extremities is worse than normal, blue all over is worse than blue at extremities. By transition, blue all over is worse than normal.

Apgar score is meant to provide a single number as an outcome. To achieve that, five ordinal criteria need to be aggregated. Unfortunately, there is no way to directly aggregate skin color with pulse, for example. However, numbers are easy to aggregate, by means of addition. Hence the idea of transforming levels to numbers and aggregating them.

This is somewhat dangerous approach. The main purpose of Apgar is:

…to determine quickly whether a newborn needs immediate medical care.

However, having the Apgar outcome in form of numbers, people might be quick to calculate mean value and standard deviation. Looking for “mean apgar” in reveals some 400 documents. It’s not a majority, because ther are 71 thousands documents with word “apgar”, so those 400 are only 0.5%.

Calculating mean and standard deviance of Apgar values wasn’t something that Apgar creator had in mind. Its purpose was to quickly assess if a newborn needs medical care.


Apgar score values are not numbers. They are summed identifiers of five ordinal variables. In order to calculate statistics, the original data (criteria values) should be used, as there are dedicated statistical methods to analyze ordinal variables. These methods, as the reader may already have guessed, are not transforming ordinal variable values into numbers in order to perform calculations on them.

When designing a survey for statistical analysis, Apgar score must not be used. The five original criteria must be included in the survey instead.

All the things that apply to Apgar, apply also to the Aristotle Score, which I have already criticized. Height and weight are numbers. Generally, things that are measured, are numbers. Things that are assessed subjectively, like newborn skin color, are ordinal and do not have values. Aristotle Score values are seemingly numbers. However, it’s important to bear in mind that they are not! Therefore, one must not calculate mean or standard deviation of Aristotle Score.

Current Basic Score reports are based on mean Basic Score values, which is an abuse of a scoring system. I suggest finding another method of quality of care evaluation.

My figurative outbursts

I had a lots of fun putting journalistic and figurative expressions in my thesis. I agree with Lenina and understand that leaving them there would cause more harm than good. While removing them, I felt like I’m removing some of my personality from the thesis. I didn’t want them to be completely lost, because they remind me of the fun I had writing them. The best place for them to live is here.

  • An analytical mind setting a foot on a data set. (And leaving a deep print)
  • …saying that firemen are causing fire.
  • When reliable data is required, it must be 100% verified, period.
  • Data verification is an important issue. However, this thesis may be considered a scenario in case 100% verified data is provided, as the trouble don’t end there.
  • A greedy algorithm and a brutal attack (these are actually legitimate computer science terms).
  • Power of statistical tests.
  • A program would be condemned to be user-hostile.
  • A program doesn’t even say “thank you”.

minus 5 days to go

I have submitted the thesis.

Formalities are not over yet, I need to get a signatures from the library and three other places. I was just about to get them all today, but…

…I got a puncture in the right front tire! The spare wheel is (of course!) unusable: no air in it. I’m currently in a school computer lab, waiting for my uncle who is going to help me get the spare wheel to the service. I’m starting to hate cars. The car I once owned was a disaster, lots of money spent on repairs, finally sold for a very low price. This one is not much better, borrowed from my mother, how could I know there’s no air in the spare wheel? I’ve made a list of things that need to be repaired in it, and I think the cost of repairs will be about half of the car’s value. I just need my formalities done.

Perhaps taxis would be cheaper?

minus 4 days to go

I have proof-read a hardcopy of my thesis, made final corrections and commited them to the repository.

Transmitting file data ……..
Committed revision 384.

I noticed that the error rate varied across chapters. I think the earliest parts were the worst, there was no page left without a change. The newest parts, however, were mostly OK, with just few slight modifications.

Some of the corrections were because of the integrity and continuity. I expected to write or do some things that I haven’t finally written or done. For example, I planned to include an appendix, which occurred to be too big and was finally removed. I spotted and removed two references to the non-existing appendix today. At first, I considered this appendix an integral part of the thesis. However, it could distract readers from the main concept, i.e. the normalization. I wouldn’t like to discuss the details of the way I have normalized the International Nomenclature for CHD. It is a task for a medicine expert, I just had to do it in order to be able to move forward with my analysis.

minus 3 days to go

  • Grade signatures acquired: 2
  • Theses submitted:0
  • Pakistanians driven to a hostel: 0
  • Grandmas visited: 1
  • Aikido belts retrieved from post offices: 1

Another Pakistanian arrived today. I was supposed to drive him to the hostel, but he somehow didn’t make it to the school, so I couldn’t pick him up.

I have found two professors and got their signatures. One of them was located by sonic means. His voice and way of speaking is so unique, I couldn’t miss him. Even through a door.

I started to read the thesis once more and it turned out that there are things I really want to correct. I’m going to make corrections tomorrow and submit the thesis on Thursday.

The Aikido belt is 220cm and I think it’s a little too short. I can tie it, but the ends are very short then. I need to buy a 280cm one, so I get about 30cm of belt hanging from each side.