Saturday, May 30, 2009

Netflix Losing Ratings?

Netflix seems to be losing some of my ratings, something I only realized after playing with the Netflix Ratings Grabber.

Can't find any information on this topic yet, maybe a server is down for them.

This makes me worried, database management seems like a core thing they do; it seems like they would want to be good at that.

Supreme Court: Mr. Popular? You lose.

The New York Times had an interesting piece on Supreme Court tendencies which boils down to: the side that receives the most questions loses 86% of the time.

Two interesting pieces from the article:
1. The reality of judicial questions is that the justices are attempting to persuade colleagues through their questions and the responses they ellicit.
2. Using the Dictionary of Affect Language, the study looked at the tone of the question and found that:

Only the unpleasant words, the study found, have predictive power. The lawyer who hears more pleasant words is not more likely to win. But the lawyer who hears more unpleasant words is more likely to lose.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Things Wolfram Alpha will Tell You in One Click

1. sum(x,1,100), x^2

2. D Flat Mixolydian Scale is also known as "Khamaj Thaat" (and what it sounds like).

3. A graph of the overlapping lifespans of Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, and Stephen Wolfram.

Sadly Alpha does not know that 1, 4, 9, 6, 5, 6, 9, 4, 1, 0 is the periodic cycle of the terminal digit of integer squares, something mathy it might learn by consulting the OEIS.

Also, google currently provides better results on "aleph null", which Alpha just can't interpret (even in other forms, like aleph-0, etc). Google's third link for aleph null gives an excellent overview of the topic, by sending you to the Wolfram Math article on it.

Still looking for others.

UPDATE: Fixed the link to the terminal digit of squares to reflect the actual search term, thanks EP.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Guest post - Heather Tuttle's beauty pageant response

EP: When I read Thomas' post on beauty pageants, I remembered that I had at my disposal a wealth of knowledge regarding pageants - my good friend Heather Tuttle. An avid viewer of the Miss America pageant, she was my best hope for a reasoned response to Thomas' titillating theme. It took some time, but she came through as expected; below is her response.

Since before I can remember, following the Miss America pageant was a female tradition in my family. One of first memories of my great-grandma is her precise prediction of the Miss America winner. For years, I have religiously watched the pageant and take pleasure in predicting the winner. Other pageants are fun to watch at times, but I don’t plan my life around watching them like I do for the Miss America pageant. This is because the Miss America pageant has always been different. The fact that the pageant is the largest scholarship organization for women has always been key for me. When I was little, I was convinced that me becoming Miss America was the only way I would be able to have the money to get a top-notch education and make a significant impact in the world. Every year when ‘studying’ the contestants to predict my winner (I know, it’s obsessive and may seem a bit strange, but that’s the tradition), I always take into consideration her educational endeavors/achievements as well as the causes she represents. The Miss America organization requires contestants have platforms they are passionate about and will work toward while holding the title of Miss America. The Miss America crown enables a woman to make a real difference in the world. As Miss America, she is a role model, a voice, and has the ability to make positive change. For example, Miss America 1999, Nicole Johnson, helped raise millions of dollars for research and treatment of juvenile diabetes. In 1998, Kate Shindle made significant changes politically in an effort to address HIV/AIDS. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent woman who keeps up on current events and is interested in making a difference in the world I live in. It is for this reason that the Miss America pageant has always been a sincere interest of mine.

I will agree that recently pageants (even the Miss America pageant) and their contestant have seemed to stray away from their former educational and scholastic focus. In the past five years, the Miss America pageant has been booted from network TV to an array of different cable networks due to lack of ratings. Each year, they change the host and aspects of the competition to try to entice viewers. Mix this with the prospect of a ditzy, unintelligible, rambling answer from a contestant and you’ve got ratings. It’s a sad reality. During the past few years I must say, I have not enjoyed the pageant watching or my preliminary preparation nearly as much as I once did simply because the candidates don’t seem to be the caliber they once were. Still, each year there are contestants out there who are involved in the pageant process simply because of their passion for a cause and their desire for scholarship. This is why I still watch and am an advocate of the pageant. Each year, these intelligent women do make the cut (securing some scholarship money) but they don’t necessarily make it to the very top. In my opinion, this unfortunately has to do with ratings. I know Bert Parks turns in his grave every time this happens.

So, in answer to your quandary- contestants who rise to the top of the pack (the girls who end up representing pageant contestants live on national television) are not the well-rounded, intelligent women they once were. Ratings have forced pageant organizations to adapt requirements and format thus creating more of the traditional ‘beauty pageant’ where the glamorous bikini bod takes the crown regardless of her scholastic aptitude or her advocacy for change. The fact that I hail from two of the three states used in your example of not-so intelligent beauty queen answers is embarrassing. It definitely gets me thinking that maybe I should have indeed subjected myself to the pageant life when I had a chance. My leg wrestling talent would have taken pageants in a whole different direction!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The EU Bearing Brunt of Global Downturn

The Economist discusses how the EU is weathering the global financial storm (the ship is sinking).

The article hints at two theories as to why this is so:

1) Mercanitlism. If you rely on exports, a positive trade balance, then you get the worst of it when the consumer nations cut back to essentials.

2) Rigid labor markets. If a country does not allow employers to fire workers in a downturn, then its companies will just take on huge losses until they go under.

Anyone have an opinion on which cause is more significant?

Friday, May 15, 2009

True Blood Season Two

True Blood Season Two begins soon. The promotional poster involves a little blood on a black background, or perhaps another image...

There's a promotional video here, featuring a new single by Bob Dylan (that's right, he turns 68 next week, and he is still releasing singles.)

The show has good moments and bad, but I'm amazed how seriously it takes itself. I'm hanging on to see how the show reveals that Sookie Stackhouse's great grandfather is a fairy prince.

Miss America/USA... Getting Dumber Over Time?

When I saw Miss California discuss gay marriage, I was not struck so much by her opinions as by how her answer lacked any sense of composition. She seemed to double back on herself: "The greatest thing about America is choice, especially when that choice is not being gay." What?

It seems like just the other day Miss Teen USA gave an eloquent discussion of the pressing educational need for maps.

This made me start to wonder, are we all getting dumber?

I looked at one or two question rounds from years past. It wasn't long until I found 1995's Miss Minnesota discuss Affirmative Action. (It's at 2:50).

Dr. Joyce Brothers: Do you think your career prospects would be affected if Affirmative Action were dismantled?
Miss Minnesota: Huh. ... Could you repeat the question?
Dr. Joyce: ...
Minnesota: (Confused look). Um... I think that if you stand strong in what you believe, you should use that in all aspects of your life, including your career. I know I do. Thank you.

Yeah, when Dr. Joyce says "Affirmative Action", I'm pretty sure she is not talking about the power of positive thinking.

Verdict: Pageant contestants aren't always the brightest diamonds in the tiara. I know, shocking.
We are not getting dumber over time. We have always been this way, but now there's YouTube.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Lies in the Shadow of the Statue?

Some pics from the weaving in last night's episode of Lost:

The bit at the top to me looks something like "ΘΞΟΙ ΤΟΣΑ ΔΟΝΞΝ ΟΣΑΦΡΣΣΙ ΣΜΣΙ ΜΞΝΟ???..."

The bit below, that Ben touches, seems like "ΤΟΙ ΟΔΒΙΑ ΔΟΙΕΝ". TOI = "Namely" according to google translate, Greek to English. The rest translates to gibberish, so I'm probably getting a lot of characters wrong there.

When asked what lies in the shadow of the statue, Richard says something that sounds to my ears like "aliqui nos omis(?) odvabit(?)", or "Some of us omis(?), it will rejoice(?)". That doesn't make a lot of sense yet either...

Exciting episode. Criminal that we have to wait so long for the resolution, but the season finale did hook me again. It may be useful to prepare for the final season by brushing up on the story of Jacob and Esau.

UPDATE: translations in the comments, and here, the lostpedia. Also notable, the episode began with Jacob cooking a "red herring" on a "black rock". Har har.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Wrong to Pay for Sex? Participants Say Yes!

The proposition debated (a few weeks back) was "It is wrong to pay for sex."

MacKinnon had a good closing speech. Especially stinging was her observation that no one ever made the prima facie case for the sex transaction. Would've been nice to hear a "generally, there's a (pareto) mutual benefit from economic exchanges" from Tyler Cowen. Still, I think his strategy was well formulated. The affirmative won with anecdotes that mixed paying for sex and abuse of women. The only possible response is to sever those two components, to ask which component is really providing the "wrongfulness" in those examples. Clearly, the abuse of women is wrong on its own, leaving us to wonder what we learn about the morality of "paying for sex" taken independently of other moral wrongs.

Cowen did a fair job of pointing out a few cases where paying for sex might be benign. MacKinnon slipped in a response about how neg was fighting for 3% of prostitution cases. That was pretty rough without rebuttal.

I think there's a response, and I think it's found in Tyler Cowen's early discussion of fishing. This is a profession that is incredibly dangerous, and often very exploitative of immigrants. We do not conclude from this that "Fishing is wrong." The 3% shows that the wrongfulness isn't inherent, but coincidental, anecdotal, albeit frequent or typical.

(I'm still not sure why Lionel Tiger was there.)

Ultimately, I think the question depends on whether "It is wrong to pay for sex" means "The wrongfulness of prostitution is in the paying" (where Cowen wins) or "Paying for sex has typically lead to great harm" (where MacKinnon wins). At the end of the day, I became convinced that the proposition was not decidable in its current form.

The audiences overwhelmingly shifted towards Aff. Even men taken alone moved that direction. Audiences in these often move towards the more controversial position, but here, I think they moved towards the mainstream.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Zeleny's Surprising, Troubling, Enchanting and Humbling Question Buried by Times

I'm glad the softball got kicked to the rear of the paper.

The lameness of that question was probably heightened by the fact it came on the heels of Michael Sherer's probe on the state secrets privilege.