What does PoP Mean?

No, this is not our acronym for Personalized Outbound Proactive communication.  It is the Probability of Precipitation.  It struck me that all the weather channels use it, but does anyone really know what it means?

I used to explain it to people based upon the way I was told you could forecast the weather when I lived upstate in New York.  The folklore was that cows stood up when it was going to be good weather and sat down when they thought it was going to rain.  The answer was clear to me … count the number of cows sitting and divide by the total number of cows … simple enough.

But, I felt there had to be a more precise answer given all the weather forecasters now report it.  So, what does “40 percent” mean? …will it rain 40 percent of the time? …will it rain over 40 percent of the area?  The “Probability of Precipitation” (PoP) describes the chance of precipitation occurring at any point you select in the area.

How do forecasters arrive at this value? Mathematically, PoP is defined as follows:

PoP = C x A where “C” = the confidence that precipitation will occur somewhere in the forecast area, and where “A” = the percent of the area that will receive measurable precipitation, if it occurs at all.

So… in the case of the forecast above, if the forecaster knows precipitation is sure to occur ( confidence is 100% ), he/she is expressing how much of the area will receive measurable rain. ( PoP = “C” x “A” or “1” times “.4” which equals .4 or 40%.)

But, most of the time, the forecaster is expressing a combination of degree of confidence and areal coverage. If the forecaster is only 50% sure that precipitation will occur, and expects that, if it does occur, it will produce measurable rain over about 80 percent of the area, the PoP (chance of rain) is 40%. ( PoP = .5 x .8 which equals .4 or 40%. )

In either event, the correct way to interpret the forecast is: there is a 40 percent chance that rain will occur at any given point in the area.

So, after all that I am lead to the conclusion that you get the same answer as counting cows.  What I find funny about this is that we all hear these statistics and then make decisions about things without ever asking how good this statistic is to predict what we care about.



AI is Reality

USA Today recently ran an interesting article about the key questions in Artificial Intelligence (AI).  Read for yourself here.

These questions and concerns seem distant from what we in our industry focus on:  business analytics and customer engagement.  As with all movements in technology, there are good things that can happen and some pretty ugly things as well.

Our digital age permits amazing things in our daily lives, but also exposes us to previously inconceivable threats to our well-being.  Do we try to put the genie back in the bottle?  Of course we can’t.  Then, can we legislate morality about its use?  Some will try.

What strikes me as troubling is our lack of dialogue about the tougher questions.  Let me scare you into a reality … we now have the merger of drones and AI that raise truly profound questions for our society. Watch this video demonstration.

Are you OK with any government having this kind of weaponry?  Is there a need for a new code of conduct?  Why is this different from chemical warfare?

By contrast, Apogee has perfected an array of truly useful everyday AI skills for the Amazon Echo.  Let us know if you would like to be one of the first to deploy them.

Retail Big Brother

Courtesy SmartShop Magazine

We Americans resent the concept of government intervention into our lives.  We value privacy and have an almost immediate negative reaction to the concept of Big Brother.

My wife Susan always points to Kroger here in Atlanta who sends personalized valuable coupons out to us showing that they are keeping track of what we buy.  She points out that them keeping track of our buying habits is a bit creepy, but the free coupons for things we buy seems caring.

The balance between creepy and caring depends a lot upon what we know about how our activities are being tracked.  Perhaps it is going to freak you out … but you are now being watched.  Read Consumer Reports article here.

Pretty scary, isn’t it?

The End is Near!

I lived in New York City and would see a guy holding a sign saying that most every day.  Of course, you know what the sign holder was implying:  Get right with God or you are going to hell.  Well, I guess I dismissed this well-intended message and just walked on.

However, if my cell phone went off with that kind of message along with indication it was from our government and it was not a drill … now that is quite a different matter.

You all must know I am referring to the false alarm in Hawaii as covered in this USA Today article.

As you read it, please note the real mistake wasn’t the release of the message as much as the inability to revise it and cancel the warning.  We engineers live to prevent these scenarios and get criticized for our focus on things that can go wrong.

This is not negativity … it is conservatism … it is risk avoidance … it is the wiser way to live and be sure you can survive catastrophe.

Asking the question: “What if … and what would we do about that?” is the key here.  It is not hard to design in checks, balances, protocols, etc. when you ask the right question.  It takes discipline to write out all the possibilities, as remote as they may seem to be and then communicate the procedures to the right people.

I began my career working with the nuclear Navy under Admiral Rickover’s leadership with the assignment of preventing another “Thresher incident” … the tragic loss in April 1963 of an entire nuclear submarine and its 129-person crew.  I spent the next six years of my professional career doing analysis, critical thinking, and getting procedures approved through the nuclear navy leadership.  They felt so strongly about that resulting work that it was printed on a placard and displayed in the control room of every nuclear sub from that point on so that no one would have to go looking for it in some manual … remember, we didn’t have Google back then …