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How Well Do You Estimate?

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the SWAG dept.

Science 374

A random UK blogger has published a quiz asking readers to estimate various numeric values which they may or may not have knowledge of; and has analyzed the resulting answers to determine how well people guess. The first part of the results looks at some specific questions, and the second part takes a look at the quiz overall.

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I estimate that... (3, Funny)

garcia (6573) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212781)

I estimate that I would end up somewhere in the middle.

In the middle of somebody's ass (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212828)

You sir a a filthy fucking whore. You and your cocksucking mother deserve a vicious raping.


Re:I estimate that... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212831)

What a lame attempt at trying to be "witty". That will no doubt be marked funny even though it's NOT. Sad sad slashdot modders :(

I estimate that... (0, Redundant)

Dak_Peoples (591544) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212832)

...500 Geeks reading Slashdot right now. Like me :)

Re:I estimate that... (5, Funny)

BoldAC (735721) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212839)

Reminds me of the joke...

Why can't girls measure distances?

(Holding up a pinkie)

Because they've been told that THIS is 6 inches all their life.


Re:I estimate that... (0)

Davak (526912) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213010)

How the heck is this off-topic?

It's a joke about estimation!


Estimate... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212846)

I estimate, without reading the article, that people generally sucked at estimating.

I estimate that you are ONE pathetic homo (1)

Mike Hock (249988) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212849)

You may now suck my balls!!

No fucking mod points when I need them (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212994)

God that was fucking LAME. You fucking arse-sukers, 4 digit UID and your knees go to putty...

Garcia is a karma whore! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212998)

Important Stuff: Please try to keep posts on topic. Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page) Problems regarding accounts or comment posting should be sent to CowboyNeal. Please try to keep posts on topic. Try to reply to other people's comments instead of starting new threads. Read other people's messages before posting your own to avoid simply duplicating what has already been said. Use a clear subject that describes what your message is about. Offtopic, Inflammatory, Inappropriate, Illegal, or Offensive comments might be moderated. (You can read everything, even moderated posts, by adjusting your threshold on the User Preferences Page) Problems regarding accounts or comment posting should be sent

Re:Garcia is a karma whore! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10213032)

Very Good!!! He is a cunt of the highest order.

Re:I estimate that... (4, Funny)

m_chan (95943) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213069)

I estimate that I would end up somewhere in the middle.

Does that imply that you are mean spirited?

Re:I estimate that... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10213155)

beter than miss universe when her skirt fell off of her on television [] when she had a wardrobe misestimation

How well do I estimate? (0)

teamhasnoi (554944) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212783)

I don't know.

Guess what? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212784)

FirstY pOSty!!

Re:Guess what? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212813)

guess what?

Garcia Wins.

toot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212790)

u frated :-[ dumb po fart.

good point (5, Funny)

PatrickThomson (712694) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212800)

How Well Do You Estimate?

With 44.7% accuracy!

more or less.

Re:good point (0)

blibloblu (810226) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212927)

With 44.7% accuracy!
Is this an estimate?

Man arrested for 1974 Spam-related homicide (0, Offtopic)

ArseneLupin (743401) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212945)

BALTIMORE (AP) -- A man wanted for the killing of a civilian police employee in a dispute over a stolen can of Spam has been arrested, nearly 30 years after the shooting.

Michael Hughes, 58, was arrested in Boston last weekend for allegedly stabbing a man he thought was gay. Police then learned Hughes was wanted for the slaying of 40-year-old McKinley Johnson.

Johnson, who worked in the police department motor pool, was killed in 1974 on Christmas Eve. He was giving away homemade Christmas baskets inside a Baltimore bar, something he did every Christmas, said his former girlfriend, Helen Fogg, now 62.

Then a man stole a can of Spam out of one of the baskets, Johnson confronted him and was shot. "That's what made it so bad, him dying on Christmas," said Fogg, the mother of Johnson's 35-year-old son. "I was devastated. I was depressed for quite a while. I couldn't believe someone would take his life over something as stupid as a can of Spam."

Mirrors (5, Funny)

wetlettuce (765604) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212803)

I would estimate that that server stayed up less than 2 minutes after the story was published. Mirrors anyone?

Re:Mirrors (1)

Achoi77 (669484) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212951)

Not too sure if you already read it or not, but here's a quick passage:

The real ulterior motive of the quiz was to test the theory that people who are incompetent in a given field are also lousy at estimating their own competence. I wanted to see whether the respondents who gave the poorest answers to the estimation questions were also likely to give unreasonably narrow uncertainties.

It turns out that they don't. The uncertainties given tended to be more-or-less reasonable estimates of uncertainties.

I don't know, I took a quick scan and the estimate questions looked pretty random. The obvious reaction I got was: "People who know of the subject matter will estimate better depending on their grokness of said matter." Well, duh.

What am I missing?

Re:Mirrors (1, Redundant)

mirko (198274) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212973)

Not a mirror but the text which actually comes without the pretty pictures...

1st part
28 August, 2004: The weirdness of crowds

[ Home page | Web log ]

So, many thanks to the thousands of people who have now completed my Estimation Quiz. Special thanks to Michael Williams, who posted a link to, Dave Weeden, Chris Bertram of Crooked Timber, Nick Barlow, Chris Brooke, and many others for linking to the site, including a user of Metafilter -- which link drove most of the traffic. (I was expecting to have to wait months for enough people to complete the thing for the results to be interesting, as with my Political Survey. Instead it took two days. That should probably tell you as much as you need to know about my ability at estimating things.)

So, when I posted the link to the quiz, I said that I had an ulterior motive for building the thing. Michael Williams speculated that my purpose was to,

do something terrifying with the data.

I'm not sure whether the below will actually terrify you, but I'll try my best. (There's quite a lot to say, and some will have to follow tomorrow.)

For those who didn't do the quiz, I'll quote from the description:

How far is it from Edinburgh to Cardiff? When did the English Civil War break out? How long does light from the sun take to reach the Earth? You probably have some idea of the answers to questions like these -- or you could make a guess. But do you know when your guesses are right, and when they're wildly off?

This is a general knowledge quiz which tests you on how well you can answer questions like these -- and whether you know how good your guesses are.

For each question, you will give an answer in the form,

a ± b

a should be your best guess at the answer. b is your idea of roughly how far off your guess might be. If you're absolutely sure of the answer, you can tick ``this is the exact answer''; but if you do, and you are wrong, your score will suffer.

You get points for how good your guess of a is, and whether b was an honest estimate of how wrong you were.

There are no trick questions in this quiz.

The quiz asks for estimates of thirty-one quantities. Most are straight general knowledge questions, for instance,

* [How many] bones [are there] in the adult human body?
* [How many] MPs [were] elected to the House of Commons at the 2001 General Election?
* [What fraction] of the population of the United States [are] below the poverty line?

Others require more specialised knowledge, such as,

* [How many] stars [are there] in the galaxy?
* [What is] the distance from the Earth to the Moon?
* [How long does] light from the Sun [take] to reach the Earth?

And some ask for things which few people are likely to know, but which are very easy to estimate, for instance:

* [How many] plastic carrier (shopping) bags [are] used each year in Australia?
* [How many] petrol stations [were there] in the UK at the end of 2001?

(I hadn't realised that the term `carrier bag' isn't understood to mean a disposable plastic shopping bag outside the UK. I adjusted the wording of the question when I discovered people asking, ``what's a carrier bag?'' In fact the quiz as a whole was rather Anglocentric, basically because I expected it to be answered by this web log's half-dozen readers -- mostly in Britain -- and their friends. The results below incorporate data from about 3,000 responses.)

Note that some of the quantities -- like the three astronomical quantities above -- vary or aren't actually known exactly. More on this later.

So, the first question you might ask is, ``are people actually any good at estimating things?'' The answer is that... it depends.

For some quantities -- especially ones which some respondents actually do know exactly -- the crowd's wisdom isn't bad. For instance, asked to estimate the latitude of London (51.5N, but ±0.1 or so because London's quite big), the results look like this:

Latitude of London

What I've done in this and the plots below is to combine the results from every answer to the question. Every answer x±dx is treated as specifying a normal distribution having mean a and standard deviation b; the combined distribution is the sum of all those distributions, divided by the number of responses. Answers which are exact (i.e., with b = 0) appear as single, thin spikes on this plot, like those at 0, 80, 90 and 100. The red curve tells you, roughly, `how probable is this value for the latitude, according to the combined opinion of the respondents?' The blue curve is the corresponding cumulative distribution; it tells you `what fraction of the respondents think that the latitude is smaller than this value?'

So, the peak of the distribution -- the mode, the most frequent value cited by the respondents -- the middle (median) value, and the mean, all lie close to the correct answer; and the distribution is quite strongly peaked -- for comparison, the black curve shows the single normal distribution having the same mean and variance as the red curve. This obviously isn't an efficient way to find out the latitude of London -- to design the quiz, I looked it up in Google just like anyone else would (and just like some of the respondents no doubt did, despite strictures against cheating in the rubric) -- but at least the technique works.

Note also that about 3% of people thought that the latitude of London was 0 -- suggesting that they're confusing latitude and longitude -- and that about 8% of them thought that the latitude was more than 90N. Well, they're in good company. Even some trained economists don't understand what latitude is.

Similarly, despite attempts by the gutter press to incite mass hysteria about immigration and asylum, some respondents had a decent idea of how much money ``scrounging'' asylum seekers receive in benefit: £37.77 per week:

Benefits received by asylum seekers

but many others did not: more than 80% overestimate the amount; about 50% believing that asylum seekers receive £100 per week or more, with 16% believing that they receive more than £300 per week, an error of more than a factor of ten. (Note, of course, that these results do not come from anything which resembles a representative sample, especially not a representative sample of the UK population. Nevertheless I was shocked that about 3% think asylum seekers receive more than £1,000 per week, though clearly some of these -- like the person who answered `2345' or `323232' were taking the piss.)

One thing you might ponder at this point is whether asking people to estimate their uncertainties actually makes any difference. Here's a version of the above plot, with an added purple curve -- the empirical cumulative distribution of the answers, ignoring uncertainties -- and a brown curve, giving a smoothed (`kernel density') approximation to the distribution of answers:

Benefits received by asylum seekers, take 2

While the two distributions are fairly similar, ignoring the uncertainty information clearly decreases the accuracy of the estimate. (Note also how the brown distribution is peaked at round numbers; this isn't true of the distribution incorporating uncertainty information, because most people who pick £50 or £100 or whatever obviously know that they're guessing, and put in sensible error bounds.)

The crowds turns out to be pretty decent at guessing dates. For instance, asked to identify the start of the English Civil War (1642), they came up with,

Outbreak of the English Civil War

Note that, as Sellar and Yeatman pointed out a long time ago, for many people 1066 is the only memorable date in English history, and they're prepared to state it without uncertainty as the date of any significant event (many people gave 1066 as the date of the 1707 Act of Union, too). I don't know whether the same is true of 1861 for Americans, or whether that was a misunderstanding about precisely which Civil War was in question here. Asked to identify the date of the first space flight by a woman (1963), respondents suffered the same problem:

First woman in space

Here other popular choices -- memorable years in space history, so to speak -- included 1961, the year of the first human spaceflight, and 1986, the year of the `Challenger' space shuttle accident which killed seven astronauts. Given this I was slightly surprised that 1969 (the year of the first moon landing) wasn't a more popular choice.

(The results for the question on the height of the Eiffel Tower had a peak at 1,789 feet. This suggests the following splendid thought process: `the thing was built by the French to celebrate something French; that can only be the French Revolution; that happened in 1789; so I must be expected to know that the thing was built to be 1,789 feet high'. It's a nice idea -- full marks for imagination -- but sadly (a) the technology of the time wasn't up to building a 1,789-foot-high tower, and (b) it would have had to be a round number in meters, you parochial bastards! Many others said that the tower was 300 feet high, suggesting a units confusion which may have been partly my fault. On another question, asked to give the time taken for light from the Sun to reach the Earth, this `nice round number' effect led many people to state with absolute certainty that the time was some integer number of minutes.)

Moving on, it's hard to describe the `crowd's' response to other questions as anything like `wise'. `Haphazard' is nearer the mark. People know the distance from the earth to the moon surprisingly well, but haven't a clue about the length of the Nile and very little idea of the distance from Edinburgh to Cardiff. They have no idea at all about the GDP of the UK:

GDP of the UK

the most popular answer being about a tenth of the true value. Asked to estimate the number of words in Pride and Prejudice -- I was going to ask about `a typical novel', but of course there's no such thing, so I had to pick one everyone would have heard of -- left the crowd totally stumped:

Pride and Prejudice before a fall

with about two-thirds underestimating the length of the novel and many believing that it's only ten thousand words long. The shape of these we-haven't-a-clue distributions seems to be pretty characteristic; in another example, asked to estimate the maximum take-off weight of a 747-400 airliner, we get the following:

747-400 weight

Now, I suspect that some of the people who estimated ten tonnes (the weight of enough fuel for an hour's flight, in the ~230-tonne 'plane) thought the question was asking for the weight of the passengers -- this is one of several cases, like the plastic bag one -- where I didn't word the questions as clearly as I should have; but even the people who got the order of magnitude about right don't seem to have a very good idea of what they're grasping for. I've plotted the curve for Benford's law (which gives the frequency of leading digits of numbers drawn from a scale-invariant distribution) for 100, 200, 300, ... tonnes but I'm not sure this really applies here.

Straight estimation questions -- many of the above can be answered by trying to plug in plausible numbers, but they are quantities which you could reasonably know -- show the same pattern. Asked to estimate the number of petrol stations in the UK (about 12,000) gave this:

Petrol stations

-- the mode is 1,000 (a quantity which would leave each station to be shared by 58,000 people). An even easier question -- how many plastic shopping bags are used every year in Australia (~20 million Australians buying something like one item in a carrier bag every day gives about 7 billion bags per year) -- left respondents completely adrift:

Lost in the supermarket

-- the mean is out by about a factor of ten here.

So, that concludes today's foray through slightly eccentric statistics. I'll leave the last few bits and a summary for tomorrow (hopefully), including some comments on the scoring of the quiz, which many people (quite rightly) thought was rather silly.


Posted by Nick, Saturday, 28 August 22:34 (link):

The English Civil War data doesn't seem to be displaying - just getting the red x and no image.

One thing of interest on the 'first female astronaut' statistics is that there's a peak in the curve around 1983-84 (the curve's actually higher than the Challenger peak in 1986, though more people went for 1986 exactly) which I would presume is people who believe that the American astronaut Sally Ride (who went up in the Shuttle in 1983) was the first female astronaut, rather than Tereshkova in 1963.

Also, do you have the data on people's overall scores? I'm wondering how my 59% compares to other people's results...
Reply to this.

Posted by Chris Lightfoot, Saturday, 28 August 23:17 (link):

The ECW picture is now fixed -- sorry about that. I'll try to discuss the overall scores tomorrow. 59% is high, I think. My scoring scheme was... well, let's say `not very well designed'.
Reply to this.

Posted by Andrew Gray, Sunday, 29 August 16:46 (link):

One thing of interest on the 'first female astronaut' statistics is that there's a peak in the curve around 1983-84 (the curve's actually higher than the Challenger peak in 1986, though more people went for 1986 exactly) which I would presume is people who believe that the American astronaut Sally Ride (who went up in the Shuttle in 1983) was the first female astronaut, rather than Tereshkova in 1963.

I would guess the Challenger peak isn't as much due to people remembering Challenger as remembering McAuliffe, who tended to feature heavily in media coverage, and since that coverage has come up again in the past twenty months... it's an open question as to whether she's better known as "the famous female astronaut" than Ride is, now I think about it.
Reply to this.

Posted by Matt, Saturday, 28 August 23:44 (link):


This is all really fascinating.

One point though -- the Australian carrier-bag question was not that easy. According to this website, when trying to answer the same question, Australian carrier-bag use is about 2.5 times UK use. r/estimationqsfolder/australiasannualcarrierbaguse .htm

Why so high? I have no idea...


ps This still doesn't explain why I was 10 times out.
Reply to this.

Posted by Chris Lightfoot, Sunday, 29 August 01:04 (link):

You seem to have found the same website where I found that question....

True, I was being a bit glib about how easy the carrier-bags question is. Still, 85% of people guessed less -- most, substantially less -- than the ~2.5 billion per year which you get by multiplying the UK rate of carrier bag usage by the Australian population. About 50% guessed that Australians use one or fewer carrier bag per month (corresponding to a total usage of 240 million bags per year).

I assume that what's going on here is that people are picking numbers out of thin air. I don't understand the shape of the distributions, though.
Reply to this.

Posted by John, Monday, 30 August 08:33 (link):

I've thought about the scoring problem and I think there are really two issues here. (1) How good are your mean estimates (2) How accurate are your estimates of your own variances

Suppose I'm asked a large number of equally difficult questions, and, for simplicity that my errors are normally distributed with mean zero. Then, we can get an objective measure of my average (root-mean-square) error. The smaller this is the better I do on (1). Now for (2), if I know that the errors are equally difficult, I should pick the same standard deviation (66 per cent error band). The closer this is to my true error, the better I know myself.

Things get more difficult when the questions vary in difficulty. But if we know how they vary in difficulty, we can get rescale them all to have common standard deviation, and proceed as above. And we have the "wisdom of crowds" to help us estimate the difficult.

My short cut recommendation is to have two scores.

(1) is the ratio of (rescaled) average error to some population norm - lower is better (2) is the proportion of your estimated mean answers falling within one estimated standard deviation - closer to 66 per cent is better

Given the stated purpose of the quiz, (2) is arguably the variable of most interest, and it doesn't need any info on the population.
Reply to this.

Posted by wolfangel, Monday, 30 August 09:10 (link):

I don't suppose you have these stats based on country (or continent) of origin? I was off by an order of magnitude on counties, for instance, extrapolating based on how many counties Quebec has (50-60) and deciding that population was a more reasonable scaling factor than area. (I was also off on other things due to misreading the questions, or not noticing that decimals were okay until about halfway through the quiz and being too lazy to fix them. Oops. I also believe at least once I left off a zero, which might explain some of your Jane Austen results.)

But I would guess, for instance, that Americans would tend to guess the number of gas stations higher than it actually is.
Reply to this.

Posted by Chris Lightfoot, Monday, 30 August 09:43 (link):

In principle I could derive (a good guess at) country of origin from IP address. However, when I wrote the privacy statement for the thing I said I wouldn't use the IP addresses, because I thought people might be freaked by the data gathering aspect. Now, it turns out that only two people bothered to read the privacy policy, so I could have put whatever I liked in there, but it's too late now....

I've changed the policy for new entrants so that I can use this information, but we'll have to see how many people answer the thing in the next few days.

(Could I also draw your attention to the second bullet point in my comments policy.)
Reply to this.

Posted by Jenny, Tuesday, 31 August 17:46 (link):

Looking at your results, maybe my poor 35 percent wasn't that bad after all. I wonder how much the units you offer affects the answers given. For example if the "number of carrier bags used in Australia" question had units in billions I imagine there would be fewer answers an order of magnitude smaller that the true value.

This quiz reminds me of how my sister, who is at medical school, is examined for some of her exams. The exams are multiple choice where not only do the candidates have to choose what they believe to be the correct answer but then they must give a ranking for each question on how confident they are of their answer.

Reply to this.

Posted by dave ansell, Monday, 21:20 (link):

I noticed that there were lots of times I wanted to add logarithmic error bars - especicially with the really large numbers - eg I was estimating to within 1 or two orders of magnitude either way, which is really hard to enter in your system
Reply to this.

Posted by Matt McIrvin, 02:12 (link):

On many of the questions I felt as if plus-or-minus was not really the right way to indicate uncertainty: if what I've got is an order-of-magnitude estimate, then what I really want is plus-or-minus on a *logarithmic* scale. For the carrier-bag question, I figured out using a fairly reasonable thought process that the number was probably somewhere in the billions, but had no idea what the mantissa would be. In retrospect I suppose something like "5.5 +- 4.5 billion" would get at the range I was more or less sure of, but from that one might assume something like a Gaussian distribution with, say, 95% confidence level in there, which would imply a significant tail going all the way down to zero, which is ridiculous.

On questions like the carrier-bag one, getting within a factor of 10 of the right answer is doing pretty well.

There are others that I found a bit questionable, such as the "functional illiteracy" one: I know from looking into wild claims about a huge fraction of Americans being functionally illiterate that the numbers are all over the map based on variant definitions of "functionally illiterate".
Reply to this.

Posted by Matt McIrvin, 02:13 (link): ...and now I see that Dave Ansell said exactly the same thing about logarithmic scales.
Reply to this.

Posted by Matt McIrvin, 02:17 (link): ...About Americans saying 1861 for the English Civil War, I'd strongly favor the "saw English Civil War, read US Civil War" hypothesis. If there were one date that Americans found so significant that they'd name it for every historical event, it would probably be either 1776 or 1492. Or 1066.
Reply to this.

Post a new comment.

Comments copyright (c) contributors and available under a Creative Commons License. See also the comments policy.

Copyright (c) 2004 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.

2nd part
3 September, 2004: But I wore the juice!

[ Home page | Web log ]

I promised more on the estimation quiz, and here it is -- better late than never, I hope. (This probably won't make much sense unless you read the first bit published on Saturday. Ignore the bit where I promised that this article would be published last Sunday.)

First a note on the scoring. Here is the distribution of scores achieved by the first five-thousand-odd respondents:


As a vague attempt to cash in on the traditional summer obsession with exam grades, I've made up some mark boundaries, too. Grading `on the curve', with 10% achieving an A, 20% a B, 40% a C, 20% a D, and the remainer failing, the grades are:
Grade Score (%)

Re:Mirrors (2, Insightful)

crazy blade (519548) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213051)

Perhaps /. scripts should be modified to automatically prepend a Coral [] link to user provided links.

This way, assuming someone posts a story with:

at link
X you will find freebeer!

It would come up as:

at link
X (non-Coral link) you will find freebeer!

I estimate this guy has had sex 0+/-0 times (n/m) (-1, Flamebait)

Delta-9 (19355) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212806)


I guess that... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212808)

they need a better host. :(

I estimate.... (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212810)

5 comments before the server collapses under the slashdotting. Pretty close?

Re:I estimate.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212837)

Close. You only overestimated by 5...

Re:I estimate.... (1, Offtopic)

SomeoneGotMyNick (200685) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212991)

Since the Slashdot effect is so powerful, why doesn't Slashdot offer a section for posting full copies of spam mail, with headers.

The true source IP can be extracted and listed as a special bulletin complete with a link to said IP address. When all the slashdot readers try to connect to the trojaned server, it clogs up the pipeline for the ISP and MAYBE they will get a clue that something is wrong. Meanwhile, that's one less system spewing out mail for a while.

Or better yet, subtitute the IP address in a banner ad or graphic. That way, the calls to the trojaned servers are automatic.

Re:I estimate.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10213082)

Or even a /. temporary local cache of the site in question.

But then /. may /. itself.

how well do you resist to a slashdotting ? (2, Funny)

dario_moreno (263767) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212812)

about 1 minute and 10 requests...

who the hell is Tony Benn by the way ?

Re:how well do you resist to a slashdotting ? (4, Informative)

easter1916 (452058) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212850)

Tony Benn is a Labour politician in the UK.

Re:how well do you resist to a slashdotting ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10213059)

Technically, an ex-politician, since he retired some time ago. He was "Old" Labour, very leftwing. Great bloke.

Re:how well do you resist to a slashdotting ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212970)

who the hell is Tony Benn by the way ?


How Well? Not Better than the crowd (2, Informative)

swordboy (472941) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212814)

Fascinating Read []

I estimate (3, Funny)

penguinoid (724646) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212815)

that I will get a +3, funny

Re:I estimate (2, Funny)

blibloblu (810226) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212880)

Damn! Parent got +5, please mod him down quick!

not offtopic (2, Funny)

penguinoid (724646) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213027)

that should be +1, ironic

Re:I estimate (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212883)

Posting a reply as an AC, I estimate I won't get modded at all.

Re:I estimate (2, Funny)

leav (797254) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212969)

that no one will answer the question in mny sig. and that i will not be modrated. ever.

Re:I estimate (2, Funny)

mark0 (750639) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212988)

It was all I could do to not use my mod points to adjust you down so you'd be right...

Re:I estimate (4, Interesting)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213044)

I estimate that anything that gets modded up to +3 within the first hour of an article will inevitably become a +5. Anything modded down to +1 will inevitably become a -1.

Substitute +2 and 0 for low karma posters, obviously...

Looking back on my posts, I have shedloads of +5s and occasional -1s in a long list of +2s... but very few +3s. Moderation is a runaway process, in which the difference between +5 and -1 is a single modpoint.

Uh-oh (4, Funny)

lukewarmfusion (726141) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212816)

Server timed out trying to contact

Looks like we've got an ex-webserver on our hands.
"It's not dead, it's IIS!"

Re:Uh-oh (1)

techwolf (26278) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212891)

I've had a look around the shop... and we're right out of webservers.

I've got an Amiga...

Re:Uh-oh (4, Funny)

bittmann (118697) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212938)

It's not pining, it's passed on. This webserver is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late webserver. It's a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn't nailed it to an IP address, it would be pushing up the daisies. It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-webserver.

Mythical Man Month (3, Interesting)

rjstanford (69735) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212817)

Does nobody here on Slashdot even remember the Mythical Man Month any more? The section on estimation and back of the envelope calculations (which I wouldn't be surprised if this blog pulled from, but I can't tell because its slashdotted already) was quite enlightening. Its main point was that people were way too confident in their estimates, even when they would admit that they had no idea.

Re:Mythical Man Month (4, Informative)

Alomex (148003) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212961)

Does nobody here on Slashdot even remember the Mythical Man Month any more? The section on estimation and back of the envelope calculations was quite enlightening.

Clearly you don't. That section is in Programming Pearls by Bentley, not the Mythical Man Month.

Aargh! (1)

rjstanford (69735) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213054)

You're right, I'm sure. Damn. That's what happens when you have two possible places to work, and only one copy of each of your favorite compuCulture books. Thanks for the correction.

You realize that now I'm going to have to reread both of them this weekend, don't you?

Re:Mythical Man Month (1)

eddy (18759) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212978)

I don't remember that from TMMM, but it's a central theme of Bentley's Programming Pearls [] .

Re:Mythical Man Month (4, Insightful)

dpilot (134227) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213017)

I've never actually read MMM, but...

What really torques me is when you make an estimate early in the program,
and you know it's only an estimate,
and since you have only limited information it's not even a very good estimate,
and you give management all of those caveats up front,
it just doesn't matter.

For the rest of the life of the program, better estimates using more information, and even the reality of program execution will all be force-fit back into that original SWAG.

But sometimes even that original SWAG didn't matter, because it might well have been force-fit into some manager's wish-list.

Re:Mythical Man Month (1)

Soko (17987) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213025)

Its main point was that people were way too confident in their estimates, even when they would admit that they had no idea.

You've just described Management. O_O


I haven't read the article, but... (2, Funny)

ciaohound (118419) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212820)

I'll estimate that in about an hour there will be 347 replies posted, about 10 of which will be +5 insightful and, oh, maybe 13 +5 funny.

I estimate it took (-1, Redundant)

TippyTwoShoes (773707) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212823)

about 2 seconds to take down that server.

I estimate... (-1, Redundant)

Geek_3.3 (768699) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212824)

...a server meltdown in 5...4...3...2...

SLASHDOTTED.... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212836)

...less than 10 seconds after making the front page. That's probably not a record, though.

Guestimate (0, Redundant)

unixsavant (807669) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212840)

I guestimate that the server will be down for the next 30 minutes +/- 1 day....

I estimate.... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212864)

that we'll end up with about 30 comments about how fast the site went down due to slashdotting....

Re:I estimate.... (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212937)

I think your estimate is grossly conservative. I estimate that there will be 542 comments total, of which 91 are -1: Redundant, talking about how fast the host went down.

Re:I estimate.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10213100)

I estimate that 78% of the first 100 comments will have the phrase "I estimate" in the first 10 words of the title or body.

Well as a subscriber to slashdot (1)

revery (456516) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212865)

I'd estimate that I made it to, oh, say question 24 before the story went live and site died as fast as you can say "Please estimate the air speed of an unladen swallow"

I write stuff [] , but not that well and not that often...

Re:Well as a subscriber to slashdot (1, Funny)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212895)

African or European?

I'm pretty good (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212866)

I can usually estimate within plus or minus one or two Libraries of Congress every time.

How to Lie with Statistics (2, Informative)

keester (646050) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212885)

I actually just finished this book. It's an oldy but goody, and it should be required reading for the statistically challenged. (I.e, those subject to the whims of marketing droids)

Re:How to Lie with Statistics (1)

s_mencer (239965) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213147)

I'm a big fan of a book called Damned Lies and Statistics []

Had to read it for a GIS related statistics class... pretty good stuff.

And the result is: (2, Funny)

bittmann (118697) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212887)

Most folks are 70% correct, at least 30% of the time.

Mirrors! (1)

leav (797254) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212906)

give us mirrors!!!

I estimate the blogger will have a larger (2, Funny)

jim_nanney (757896) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212907)

ISP bill this month, but of course, this is only an estimation.

Estimate (5, Insightful)

pklong (323451) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212914)

I estimate that at about this point all the jokes about estimating will get tedious


Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212922)

it transforms into Berlieve their worThwhile. So I same worthless

statistics (0)

DaFallus (805248) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212923)

People can find statistics stating anything. 33% of all people know that.

Estimate, then multiply by two. (1)

d41d8cd98f00b204e980 (808839) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212931)

Everybody in the IT industry knows that no matter how well you estimate, it'll always take twice as long.

Operational Research? (3, Interesting)

SavedLinuXgeeK (769306) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212933)

I'm currently taking a course at my school, for essentially doing computations, but only up to a certain accuracy (estimation with precision). We basically build algorithms, that are normally simple enough to follow, and then just repeat the process until the desired precision is reached. There are multiple ways to do estimation. Like for square roots, you can actually used Fixed Point Iteration(x = g(x)), where g(x) = (x+x/n)/2, where n is the integer of the square root. Just continue that process for about 5 times, and the results are amazing.

Estimating distances.. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212935)

Reminds me of a bit of training from my army days.

If you have difficulty estimating a distance ( range), divide the distance in two, and try estimating that.

This sounds stupid, but actually works. Well, it worked for me. I'll never forget how I laughed in my head at the suggestion, and my astonishment at it actually working.


/.'ing estimates (0, Redundant)

rute_1 (190676) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212942)

Anyone want to estimate how long before the site gets /.'ed?

Ooops, too late....

Google Cache (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212946)

Part 1 []
Part 2 []

Google cache... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10212954)

Here []

I estimate ... (0, Redundant)

drmancini (712059) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212976)

that the website will get /. ed you insensitive clod

Is this a Monty Python joke? (0, Offtopic)

sparkywonderchicken (759502) | more than 10 years ago | (#10212996)

Praline: Hello, I wish to register a complaint . . . Hello? Miss? Shopkeeper: What do you mean, miss? Praline: Oh, I'm sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint. Shopkeeper: Sorry, we're closing for lunch. Praline: Never mind that my lad, I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique. Shopkeeper: Oh yes, the Norwegian Blue. What's wrong with it? Praline: I'll tell you what's wrong with it. It's dead, that's what's wrong with it. Shopkeeper: No, no it's resting, look! Praline: Look my lad, I know a dead parrot when I see one and I'm looking at one right now. Shopkeeper: No, no sir, it's not dead. It's resting. Praline: Resting? Shopkeeper: Yeah, remarkable bird the Norwegian Blue, beautiful plumage, innit? Praline: The plumage don't enter into it -- it's stone dead.

I estimate (1)

neuph (591436) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213003)

that there will be a lot of bad jokes about estimation.

Re:I estimate (1)

Ignignot (782335) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213041)

It isn't an estimate if you can already see the results! No fair cheating ;-)

Re:I estimate (1)

Ciqala (798231) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213042)

and that would be one of them :) i estimate i'll be modded down for something now and i'll never get rid of my bad karma.

Favourite quiz (-1, Offtopic)

mpol (719243) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213007)

My favourite online quiz is "Pornstar or My Little Pony":
You get 12 names and have to make a guess if that name belongs to a Pornstar or a My Little Pony. I got 5 out of 12 right, which seems fairly good :-)

Load times... (1)

tentimestwenty (693290) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213011)

I estimate the site to be toast in about 1 second.

Estimating Anecdote (5, Interesting)

freality (324306) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213016)

I used to work at a small datamining shop. The people there were very bright, some of them quite famous in the fields of statistics, number theory, etc.. One day, we were sitting in the front room of our offices having lunch, chewing the fat, as it were.

At lunches, we would sometimes try to stump our CTO a grey beard who is famous for work in information theory and general genius. We had never succeeded, even with obscure questions in biology "How do Prions work?", physics "What order are the colors of the rainbow, and why?", "How does the Corriolus effect work?", etc. that none of us had any particular knowledge of, and always had to research afterwards to determine the correctness of his answers.

So, I posed the question to the group "How many leaves are on that tree outside the window?" It was a ~30 foot tall, bushy tree in the height of summer. I hoped he'd take the bait.. I thought this was going to be very hard to "get right", and it would even be difficult come up with a plausible answer.

After a few moments, I set off the responses by saying that I thought it easily had 10k leaves, possibly 20k or more.

Everyone gasped. "Oh no! No way..." and then proceeded to offer lower and lower estimates.

The responses started with me and made their way up in the seniority ranks (I was the most junior) all the way up to the CTO. He said "Oh! those kinds of things are notoriously hard to estimate. We typically overestimate grossly in counting things of plentitude. Oh, I don't know. 200?".

Finally we had him. There was no way there were 200 leaves on that tree.

Later, in discussion, a trend became clear. The more senior the person, the more conservative was their response, even to the ridiculous level of our CTO saying a tree in full flush, that he could see right outside of the window, had 200 leaves, when it most plainly had many, many more.

Anyone want to hazard a guess? How many leaves on say, an adult Sycamore (or Maple, Oak, etc.)?

Re:Estimating Anecdote (5, Funny)

savagedome (742194) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213107)

... After a 2 year study, the National Science Foundation announced the following results on America's recreational preferences:

1. The sport of choice for unemployed or incarcerated people is: basketball.
2. The sport of choice for maintenance level employees is: bowling.
3. The sport of choice for blue-collar workers is: football.
4. The sport of choice for supervisors is: baseball.
5. The sport of choice for middle management is: tennis.
6. The sport of choice for corporate officers is: golf.

Conclusion: The higher you rise in the corporate structure, the smaller your balls become.

Re:Estimating Anecdote (1)

zenyu (248067) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213139)

How many leaves on say, an adult Sycamore (or Maple, Oak, etc.)?

There are about 10k-20k on the tree outside my window. It's about 8 stories high, not shadowed by other trees and I have no idea what kind of tree it is. I'm assuming there are few leaves near the core.

So you have some sort of good estimates?

Re:Estimating Anecdote (2, Funny)

N3Z (746334) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213153)

A large Oak may have 250,000, and I have to rake up every !^$!$#@&%^$ one of them!

Nice graph, lots of cool numbers! (1)

tod_miller (792541) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213024)

To clear up:

Estimate: To calculate approximately (the amount, extent, magnitude, position, or value of something).

Guess: To predict (a result or an event) without sufficient information.

Predict: To state, tell about, or make known in advance, especially on the basis of special knowledge.

Based on these definitions, different people would either guess or estimate (or state / predict) (the known value of) the distance between Edinburgh and Cardiff.

I saw his nice graph, looks like SPSS.

Estimate? (1)

dfn5 (524972) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213031)

Estimation is for slackers. I always use a tollerance of +-0.0

Time and Miles (3, Interesting)

sys49152 (100346) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213035)

The article's slashdotted, so I'm not sure what this is all about. But I've always prided myself on my ability to estimate time and miles. Frequently, I'll look at my watch and find it's, say, 3:00. Some time later I'll estimate that it's 4:22, look at my watch, and find it's 4:20.

Similarly, I will look at the odometer in my car, drive a distance, and guess that it's 10 miles later. Looking down, 10.1.

The best is when you combine them. "How long before we get there?" the wife asks. "About 47 minutes," say I, and 47 minutes later arrive at our destination.

I note this only because most everyone else seems incredibly bad at this. As when someone gives you loose directions to a place like this, "Oh, go about 3 miles, then turn left on Main St." Half a mile later I'm slamming on the breaks 'cause I just past a sign saying "Main St." Or when they tell you it's a 5 minute drive, when it's really 15. Drives me batty.

In short, I estimate that just about everyone sucks at estimating. Funny thing is people always over-estimate distance and under-estimate time.

Re:Time and Miles (2, Funny)

mike_mgo (589966) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213152)

That's easy when you're just 5 minutes away and then drive around the block for 42 minutes.

hmmmmm... (1)

akaina (472254) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213049)

... I'de have to say well to-QUITE-well.

Problem with Estimations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10213055)

I've always had trouble making estimations. With new work, it's not too bad. But when modifying existing systems or doing integration I find it damn near impossible to create a semi-accurate estimation without having a whole lot of experience with the involved subsystems (which is rare).

The problem is that 1) you can't make an estimation unless you understand the problem and 2) understanding the problem is 80% of the work of solving it.

Estimation vs Prediction (3, Informative)

Mateito (746185) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213066)

Yeah, I know everybody is after funny mods, but you don't "estimate" a future event, you predict it.

Estimation is making an educated guess at a quantity without scientifically measuring it, usually with some sort of observation.

"I reckon thats 8 inches long and 2 inches thick."

Prediction is using past experience to state that an event will happen.

sheds some new light on the DARPA terror pool (2, Interesting)

bitingduck (810730) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213088)

The server seems to be slow but eventually responsive, so I got a peek at the results and part of the test.

When Poindexter tried to set up a terror gambling pool to predict terror events, he was relying on something like this-- that collective knowledge would somehow converge on the right answer, or something close enough to be useful.

The results from this survey suggest that that's probably true for something where the guessers/bettors actually have some real knowledge, however deeply buried in their memories it might be, but in areas where people have no information (the GDP), or worse, have been hearing sensationalized opinions (average amount that people get on the dole), they can be not only wildly wrong, but have no idea how wildly wrong they can be.

The terror pool gave me the impression that it was going to collect and integrate the wild ass guesses of its members to somehow develop predictions, but it wasn't clear that anybody would have anything better than WAGs, making it possibly of negative value, rather than providing the collected wisdom that was intended.

A sort of trivial example is if I ask a bunch of people to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar. If I show them the jar, the mean guess will probably be pretty close to the true value. In this case, each person is making an estimate based on seeing the beans and the jar.

If I don't show them the jar, or tell them anything about it, they can only make wild guesses, and I could have a tiny jar with a single jellybean, or a jar the size of the Rose Bowl with however many jellybeans that holds. In this case they're making guesses rather than estimates, and the statistics won't tell you anything about the number of beans in the jar (but may tell you something about how the guessers think of jellybeans and jars).

Looks like... (1)

frosh (320891) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213102)

They should have estimated a better webserver before their their site was on slashdot...

About the article... (4, Interesting)

Ignignot (782335) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213122)

As almost every single comment up until now talks about personal experiences or makes stupid jokes, I'm going to critique the method he uses to score an answer. From the second link (find a google cache of it to read it) you can see that he treats each answer and estimate of the accuracy of the answer as a single question - you get a single score from both. I think this approach is fundamentally flawed. Why not instead score the guess (with some sort of algorithm like the one he uses) and then score the guess of accuracy by the same method. Then if you want a single number, add the two together. Right now if you guess well and guess your accuracy perfectly, you get zero points. That is completely out of whack. Instead, using my way you score the best possible score when you guess perfectly and perfectly guess your accuracy, and the worst possible score when you guess horribly and horribly guess your accuracy. The scores move between those two extremes rationally too. As he wanted people who guessed zero error (thought their guess was a perfect guess) to get no points, he obviously had an agenda - that people should be penalized for thinking they are perfectly right. In no way is this an unbiased or useful test.

Random Blogger? (1)

levell (538346) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213154)

He's not so random, he was the man behind the Political Survey [] .

Light From the Sun (4, Funny)

MikeMacK (788889) | more than 10 years ago | (#10213156)

* [How long does] light from the Sun [take] to reach the Earth?

I guess it depends on if the chute opens or not []

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