LEVI McPHERSON, a graduate student of analytical chemistry at the University of North Central Florida, is approached by agents of the Homeland Security’s Counter-terrorism Unit. The agency is recruiting Lee to study and expose the loopholes of screening instruments in airports. Struggling financially, he accepted the offer, making him a paid, benevolent hacker of the nation’s gateway. Yet Levi is horrified when an Airbus from Los Angeles disintegrated in mid-air.

At 40, when everybody’s career trajectory is going up, Levi’s still a poor graduate student, struggling financially. His research projects however, are worth million dollars. Researching the highly classified and heavily guarded secrets of detecting traces of explosives, what Lee know was a goldmine. The agency's offer is his financial break . So Levi tackles the problem like a scientist, detailing the loopholes of the aviation security and turning what he knew into a big time money machine.

JIM and JONATHAN of the counter-terrorism unit, where nowhere to be found after Charlotte International Airport, a hub of Delta Airlines closed abruptly because of instrument malfunctions in their security lines. And in a post-Osama Bin Laden’s era, the biggest blow to the United Stated after the 9/11 disaster comes unexpectedly when a passenger plane blew up in the skies of Washington D.C., in the heart of the nation.

Levi knew it was only the start of more troubles, so he recruits his fellow graduate students to counter the future attacks. They have to think like criminals—and scientists too. With the help of FBI counter-terrorism experts, Homeland Security and Transportation Security Agency, the team races to close and plug the loopholes Lee identified.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

How to Lose a Superbowl Gamble

American football season is winding down, culminated by Superbowl XLII (42). Everybody will be watching, and some people will be placing a bet. I'm a sports fan and I log a lot of hours watching ESPN. If stockbrokers watch the rise and fall of the market and makes money by placing bet on stocks, a sports fan should also.

Plan A was to rely on statistics to pick a team to place a bet on. ESPN's analyses are littered with numbers: total yards, total rush, completion efficiency of a quarterback, touchdown to interception ratio, etc.. I've learned early on that statistics don't mean anything. Even though 76% of the Sports Nation predicted that New England will win this year's Superbowl, it's not a guarantee that the Patriots will (I checked the statistics again, it's down to 64%. Is it because Tom Brady is injured?). Again, statistics doesn't mean anything. Statistics are only figures to describe a model. To quote my professor before " Figures don't lie, but liars figure". Here's a new one I got from a seminar, it's called the Gaussian Nugget; "(Computational) models are to be use, but not believe" (Rephrased from Econometrics). Even the people who made a career using statistics once said "It is easy to lie with statistics, but it's a lot easier to lie without them." (Richard J. Herrnstein). If I can't rely on statistics, I need an alternative way of beating the house in Vegas. Scrap plan A.

Plan B came two years ago when a local news featured an elephant from a Texas zoo. This elephant had predicted the past 5 winners of the Superbowl. The handlers of the animal will show the logo of the teams vying for the championship ring and then the animal will predict the winner by pointing the team's logo. Five straight years, the animal was right. A 5-year winning streak, an unblemished record.

There are anecdotal evidences that animals can predict the coming of an earthquake. If animals can predict when an earthquake will strike, then they should predict winners of big games. Faultless logic.

That year, the elephant predicted the Seattle Seahawks over the Pittsburgh Steelers. With a little bit of hesitation, I went on-line, placed a wager on the Seahawks using my credit card.

The Seattle Seahawks lost the game, and I lost some bucks--money down the drain. I told my friend about the incident, he laughed and gave me an advice to only bet on sure things.

This year, I haven't recieved any superbowl party invitation yet; so this Sunday, most likely I'll be watching the game in my living room, on a high definition flatscreen TV, rooting for the New York Giants, but no gambling. There's no Plan C yet. I will be watching the game downing couples of beers with a bruised ego. I thought I beat the house in Vegas. Prediction and a guarantee are two different things. Damn animal!

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