Monday, September 30, 2013

A Note About Hunting Shows

How many of you out there watch a hunting show? I can't imagine it's too many of you. Hunting shows typically air on weekend mornings and early afternoons. They're the kind of programming that runs against football and used to run against Saturday morning cartoons back when those were still a thing, and when football- and other sports- are removed from the equation, they're lumped in with fishing shows, heavily-edited movies, infomercials, religious programs, car shows that are not Top Gear, shows profiling local real estate, the E/I programming that replaced Saturday-morning cartoons, and various local detritus that just barely avoided public-access. Basically, the cheapest, lowest-profile, lowest-value programming the network has but they have to air something because people are actually awake and they can't simply go off the air like they could if it were 4 in the morning.

If you happen to be one of these shows, the first thing you need to do is realize just where on the television hierarchy you are. You're on the air, in all likelihood, because you're not a huge hassle and because the network has nothing better to put in your timeslot that's worth the effort. You're sharing timeslots with shows only on the air because the government mandates it. And if you're not big-time sports, your timeslot isn't worth the effort. If you perform exceptionally well, your reward is not higher ratings for your show, but the opportunity to get off the show and onto something better. It's grunt work. So your task is to basically keep your head down and competently do your job without raising much of a ruckus. If you begin to be a problem in any way, the network will not hesitate to take action.

So for example, if you happen to be NRA lobbyist Tony Makris, the host of a show called Under Wild Skies on NBC Sports (formerly Versus, formerly the Outdoor Life Network), and you shoot an elephant in the face three times, do not assume that the fact that the NRA has pasted its name in front of the name of the show ("The National Rifle Association's Under Wild Skies") will protect you when Deadspin raises a ruckus. Do not assume that any clout the NRA has in Washington will apply to you when you remark that "bringing the ivory back to camp is a very special occasion". Do not assume you will remain on the air when you compare those who are upset by you shooting an elephant in the face and repeatedly remarking about the ivory to Hitler. Because your show will be shot in the face itself, very quickly, and replaced with a prepackaged show from the English Premier League or a rerun of the Dan Patrick Show or something else simple to air and less likely to cause controversy.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Time-Saving Stupidity

I'm tired, I'm exhausted from work, and I don't really feel like writing today. But I need to provide you with something to read or do.

So here is something stupid- a plan to merge Canada and the United States-  being torn to shreds. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Martian Dirt Is Wet

Curiosity found water on Mars.

Tiny little droplet molecules bound to other minerals. But Curiosity found water on Mars, at the rate of about two pints per cubic foot of soil, about 2% of the makeup.

That's the good news, and it's very good news. The bad news is that they also found 0.5% makeup of a perchlorate of some type they never got into very much in the Guardian writeup, and that perchlorate would be enough to screw with your thyroids.

But water!

Full analysis is here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

You Gave All The Money To Candy Crush

It looks like you're having problems with this economy. Perhaps this IPO could help you?

That's right, folks. Candy Crush creator has constructed an IPO out of candy corpses, peppermint bones and skulls filled with nougat. All is dead. All is only candy. The hopes and dreams of us all have slowly, inexorably descended into a gooey, chewy dimension constructed of the deceitful, child-enticing face of the day of witches, ghosts and death. A dimension where all days, at all hours, chilling songs can be heard by all, non-Euclidean songs that at first seem whimsical but are soon revealed to be the tale of men, strong men of great will, being driven slowly into madness and despair, all without changing a single note. A dimension where success is only temporary and fleeting, but where failures are unending and made to be relived again and again. A dimension where chocolate, long thought to be the nectar of the gods, reveals its true nature as an unfeeling, uncaring virus knowing naught but the urge to spread, to consume that which has long consumed it, to take the revenge which it is adamant must be taken. Oh, what a pity this is! Chocolate, our caring friend chocolate, whom has never before judged us in our respective times of woe, has become a zombified monster shuffling unrelentingly towards all that we hold dear in the world and must be put down like a common mongrel! WE CRY OUT TO IT, 'NO, CHOCOLATE, IT IS I, YOUR LOYAL FRIEND AND TRUE', BUT IT IS NO USE! ALAS! ALAS! Its mind is gone, gone forever, replaced by an insatiable, gnawing, ANIMAL urge to extinguish all life across the landscape before it, and when the end comes, when we finally run out of places to run and hide, when our time comes- and somehow each of us is made dreadfully, horribly aware of when our time will come- we die not only one death but five. Five times we must relive the terror. Five times we must relive the helplessness and the dread before we are allowed our peace... but lo, even our death will die, for we are allotted a mere 30 minutes of rest before we are once more thrust into battle against the--

*blink* *blink*

...I was talking about an IPO at some point.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Opening Day Minutiae

I feel like making with the silly sports statistics today. What I've opted to do is examine the age-old phenomenon of Opening Day. Always one of the big showpieces of a season, often a place where the league wants high-profile games and, hopefully, the fanbases that are most up for kicking off the new season. You always hope things get off with the biggest possible bang.

But then, there is also the matter of being fair to the teams in the league and not grossly overvaluing one over the other. The New York Yankees may be a much higher-profile draw than, say, the Milwaukee Brewers, but both are teams in the league nonetheless and both should, at the end of the day, be treated as equally as possible.

On that, the stat we're displaying is simple: whether each team in the five major North American leagues has opened their latest season at home or on the road, and how many consecutive years they have done so. (In the case of the NBA and NHL, which have new seasons upcoming, we'll use those schedules.) There is the occasional season in which a league decides to start their season overseas or otherwise on a neutral site; in these cases, it's counted how the league counts it. If it's a baseball game played in Japan, the team batting second is still the home team.

Ideally, you're hoping for something of a coinflip-looking spread. You'll get some streaks of 3 and 4 and 5 just assigning dates at random, but past 5, it may be time to start thinking about equalization and sending perpetual home teams on the road or letting perpetual road teams open at home.

Typically, that looks to happen. There are a few exceptions, though.

MLB (as of 2013 season)

23- Cincinnati Reds (deceptively low, actually; the Reds have always opened at home save for in 1990, when a work stoppage wiped out the first week of the schedule; 1966, when the opening series got rained out; and 1888, when lo and behold they were actually scheduled to open on the road against the Kansas City Cowboys)
4- Tampa Bay Rays
4- Oakland Athletics
2- New York Mets
2- Houston Astros
2- Arizona Diamondbacks
2- Pittsburgh Pirates
2- Milwaukee Brewers
1- Toronto Blue Jays
1- Washington Nationals
1- Atlanta Braves
1- Los Angeles Dodgers
1- Minnesota Twins
1- New York Yankees
1- Chicago White Sox

5- Seattle Mariners
4- San Francisco Giants
3- Boston Red Sox
2- Philadelphia Phillies
2- Colorado Rockies
2- St. Louis Cardinals
2- Kansas City Royals
1- Miami Marlins
1- Cleveland Indians
1- Detroit Tigers
1- Chicago Cubs
1- San Diego Padres
1- Baltimore Orioles
1- Los Angeles Angels
1- Texas Rangers
NFL (as of 2013 season)

4- Chicago Bears
4- Kansas City Chiefs
4- New York Jets
3- Cleveland Browns
3- Denver Broncos
2- Detroit Lions
2- New York Giants
2- New Orleans Saints
1- St. Louis Rams
1- Washington
1- Buffalo Bills
1- Seattle Seahawks
1- San Francisco 49ers
1- Pittsburgh Steelers
1- Indianapolis Colts
1- San Diego Chargers

6- Dallas Cowboys
4- Atlanta Falcons
4- Cincinnati Bengals
4- Carolina Panthers
3- Philadelphia Eagles
3- New England Patriots
2- Miami Dolphins
2- Jacksonville Jaguars
1- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1- Minnesota Vikings
1- Houston Texans
1- Arizona Cardinals
1- Tennessee Titans
1- Green Bay Packers
1- Baltimore Ravens
1- Oakland Raiders
NHL (as of 2013/14 season)

5- Boston Bruins
4- Minnesota Wild
4- St. Louis Blues
3- Dallas Stars
2- Montreal Canadiens
2- Philadelphia Flyers
1- Phoenix Coyotes
1- Carolina Hurricanes
1- Chicago Blackhawks
1- Colorado Avalanche
1- Pittsburgh Penguins
1- Detroit Red Wings
1- San Jose Sharks
1- Columbus Blue Jackets
1- Edmonton Oilers

5- New York Rangers
4- Anaheim Ducks
3- Ottawa Senators
2- Washington Capitals
2- New Jersey Devils
2- Toronto Maple Leafs
1- Florida Panthers
1- Los Angeles Kings
1- Nashville Predators
1- New York Islanders
1- Tampa Bay Lightning
1- Vancouver Canucks
1- Winnipeg Jets
1- Buffalo Sabres
1- Calgary Flames
NBA (as of 2013/14 season)

8- Los Angeles Lakers
5- Cleveland Cavaliers
3- New York Knicks
3- Phoenix Suns
2- Utah Jazz
2- Philadelphia 76ers
2- New Orleans Pelicans
2- Detroit Pistons
2- Toronto Raptors
2- Miami Heat
1- Dallas Mavericks
1- Sacramento Kings
1- Houston Rockets
1- San Antonio Spurs
1- Golden State Warriors
1- Indiana Pacers
1- Minnesota Timberwolves

29- Milwaukee Bucks
3- Memphis Grizzlies
3- Denver Nuggets
3- Boston Celtics
2- Washington Wizards
2- Oklahoma City Thunder
1- Chicago Bulls
1- Los Angeles Clippers
1- Portland Trail Blazers
1- Atlanta Hawks
1- Charlotte Bobcats
1- Orlando Magic
1- Brooklyn Nets
MLS (as of 2013 season)

16- FC Dallas (since inception)
5- San Jose Earthquakes
5- Chivas USA
5- Seattle Sounders (since inception)
3- Vancouver Whitecaps (since inception)
2- Los Angeles Galaxy
1- Houston Dynamo
1- Philadelphia Union

7- Toronto FC (since inception)
6- Chicago Fire
5- New England Revolution
5- Real Salt Lake
3- Sporting Kansas City
3- Columbus Crew
2- Portland Timbers
2- New York Red Bulls
2- Montreal Impact (since inception)
1- Colorado Rapids
1- DC United

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Gold: It's What's For Dinner, Sometimes Even Voluntarily

Among the many, many, many, many manymanymanymanymanymanymanymanyMANNNNNNNNYmany methods of execution in ancient times- and oh, they got creative back then- were a large number of methods you'd never see today for one reason or another. Usually that reason is excessive cruelty. Most of the methods used today, whatever your opinion on the death penalty is, at least try to just get the job over and done with with a minimum of drawn-out suffering. A lethal injection, a bullet to the back of the head. In ancient days, they really went to town on you. Being drawn and quartered, for example. That is not a 'minimum of suffering' punishment. That's intended to make you scream on your way out. A common feature of execution methods was, in fact, including a way of covering up the screams. Get some choir boys to sing hymnals while you burn someone at the stake. Lock someone up in a bronze replica of a bull rigged up to make the screams sound like those of a bull and roast it underneath (accounts agree that the inventor of this one wound up being the first person to have to go in it; accounts differ on whether he died in there or whether he was pulled out while still alive and then thrown off a hill).

Or, in the method we're trying to bring up here, make the victim unable to scream at all because he's too busy drinking the molten gold being poured down his throat. Gold's melting point, for reference, is 1,948 degrees Fahrenheit. Which means mucho ouchies. Among the historical figures who may have gone out like this: Spanish conquistador of Ecuador Pedro de Valdivia; captured men of Spanish conquistador of Nicaragua Pedrarias Davila; Roman emperor Valerian; the corpse of Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest man of his day and the origin of the modern word 'crass' as he gained his fortune partially by buying the land of people whose houses were actively on fire at an increasingly deep discount; an assortment of people who thought that drinking it along with some crushed emeralds might fight off the Black Plague (spoiler alert: it doesn't).

There has actually been a study on what specific thing about pouring molten metal down one's throat is the thing that actually kills them. According to the study, conducted at VU University in Amsterdam in 2003, it was probably steam building up in the airways.

It would have to be the heat that does it, because gold, on its own, is safe for consumption; it's an officially approved food additive by the EU. It's inert, and won't be digested by a human body. You could theoretically eat as much of it as you wanted; it's just not going to provide any nutrition or anything. It's even been certified as kosher. It's safe enough that the disgustingly rich are willing to put it on their food, such as the $666 Douche Burger (actual name), just to be able to show off how rich they are. And a couple guys at Sri Lanka's international airport in Colombo were recently caught having eaten some for smuggling purposes, which, I'll be honest, was the original thing I was intending to focus on today but at this point it seems anticlimactic.

There's also these guys who have something to say on the matter, but the word Illuminati comes out in a hurry and it goes downhill fast into crazyville.

It's interesting, though, that the study on what kills you from drinking molten metal didn't use gold but rather lead (melting point: 621.5 degrees Fahrenheit), even though the test subject was the larynx of an already-dead cow. Lead is not inert, and can poison. That is why we have a little something called 'lead poisoning'. Of course, using lead instead of gold probably stemmed from the other major, non-cruelty-related reason that drinking molten gold is not used to kill someone these days: that is a very, very expensive way to kill someone.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Better Off TED

TED talk time again. Today you'll be hearing from neuroscientist Stuart Firestein, who in Long Beach this February spoke about the importance of figuring out what we don't know. Enjoy.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Milkshake Brought All The Boys To The Yard

If you're an independent business in the service industry, you already know that you live and die, to a significant extent, on online reviews. People who don't know who you are, which is a lot of people usually, go online and look you up before they decide where they're going to eat or shop or visit or book a hotel room. You get good reviews online, business bumps up- according to a Harvard study in 2011, a one-star bump on Yelp increases an independent restaurant's business by 5-9%. You get bad reviews online, it costs you a ton of money and sometimes drives you out of business entirely. Anyone who uses eBay knows full well what damage even 'neutral' feedback can do. So you want good reviews.

There are a couple ways to get good reviews. One is to be a good and reputable business people actually want to patronize. But that's the boring way and it requires work and stuff. Another way is to cheat your pants off by paying someone to leave you a good review, or even writing it yourself. A third way is to cheat someone else's pants off by paying someone to go to your competitors and leave bad reviews. But these are the dirty-rotten-scoundrel ways and require tricking customers and getting yelled at by Gordon Ramsay at some point and discrediting the legitimate reviews on the site for being mixed in with the fake stuff.

Some of those customers might be New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who today announced an investigation that had been going on for the past year called Operation Clean Turf. What happened was, investigators ran a good old-fashioned sting operation. They made a Yelp page for a yogurt shop that did not actually exist, and then went around to suspected fake reviewers and offered money for good reviews. They got them, from places like Bangladesh, the Philippines and eastern Europe, for amounts ranging from $1-10 per review.

They caught 19 different companies.

Now, there are other issues with online reviews (this is not to say the reviews are entirely untrustworthy, so don't get that impression). Sometimes people review places that have yet to open (you see this with all kinds of things that can be reviewed online, movies, video games, the lot). Sometimes people hold good reviews hostage in exchange for the restaurant giving them free stuff. Sometimes people misrepresent things that were their fault as the restaurant's fault, be it accidentally or with actual malice. But this is a part of the problem you can more effectively fight.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Filled With Shame Edition

A couple days ago, I headed down to my local library's annual book sale. I didn't really see much there worthwhile- out-of-date reference titles, autobiographies promoting long-since-failed political campaigns, and one soccer book that I thumbed through only to find that it was written in the 1970's in the era of the NASL and which didn't say anything actually useful that I hadn't put in my book disgustingly early in the process.

I did, though, find another addition to the old Sports Hall of Shame series from back in the 80's, that being the Football Hall of Shame, copyright 1986, by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo. I will never not grab one that I don't have on hand yet. Plus it was a buck. Can't go too wrong for a buck.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


When I say this, it shouldn't come as a great surprise, especially those familiar with the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, first presented by Penny Arcade in 2004, and which has since grown to an official academic name (online disinhibition effect, though outside of academic journals researchers still just go with Penny Arcade's term) and which has caused Wikipedia to make the most wonderful equivalent graphic anyone has ever licensed to Wikipedia.

And I presume you are getting increasingly familiar with the practice of name-and-shaming people who have made terrible, terrible tweets, often as basically the entire content of an article... an article type which Ben Kuchera, from, yes, the Penny Arcade Report, is seen here decrying. Twitter users are not, generally, anonymous.

According to a recent study at Beihan University in China, they don't need to be. A team led by Rui Fan took a collection of posts on China's premier social networking site, Weibo, between people who commonly contact one another. They were looking for posts that had been, well, retweeted (Weibo's commonly compared to Twitter), and matching posts to emotions: specifically, anger, joy, sadness and disgust. The aim was to see if there was any sort of trend as to what emotions got reposted. And lo and behold, here's that big shocker, the only emotion that was reposted to a significant degree was anger. Basically, people repost stuff that pisses them off.

The big question raised after the study was, is this just China or is this the case in the West as well. Most denizens of the Internet could save them a lot of time and energy.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Million-Second Fizz

The Million-Second Quiz wraps up tonight. It was anticipated by NBC that this news would mean your night is basically spoken for. Instead, after only a week and a half, it's quite possible that you've forgotten the show even existed. The ratings tanked immediately and is being written off as a failure before the money has been handed out. NBC is probably wondering why. What happened? Why didn't this work? Why is this just one more failure to add to the ever-growing pile? Didn't the concept of a limited-run mega-money quiz show work out for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Why didn't it work here?

Well, first and foremost, the major failure point, as anyone who walked away from the show will tell you, was the rules. They were too damn complicated. It was rules on top of rules on top of rules. Grantland's Mark Lisanti made a run at it and descended into farce before he could complete the explanation, but let me see if I can break it down:

*You start with one person in the 'Money Chair'. How they decided who was in there first, never explained and really doesn't matter much in the end. The occupant of the chair earns, as the show keeps saying, $10 a second, though it's more precisely $1 every tenth of a second, starting the second they first put their butt in the chair and ending the second they lose.
*The person in the Money Chair is presented with an endless string of challengers, whom they face in a procession of one-on-one bouts. They're both asked the same multiple-choice questions and given 5 seconds to answer. The exact mechanics of the bout depend on whether the bout is being broadcast on the live show or not (we'll get to this later; for now just go with it). The winner of each bout gains or keeps control of the Money Chair.
*An off-hours bout lasts 500 seconds (aka 8 minutes, 20 seconds) and questions are worth 1 point each, and the higher score at the end wins. There is no penalty for a wrong answer. After time is called, the current question is played to completion. From my estimation watching the livestream, bout time plus setup time between bouts works out to about five bouts an hour.
*A live-show bout (live shows contain three bouts) might last 300 or 400 seconds, with question values starting at 1 point and going up by 1 point every 100 seconds. Contestants in live-show bouts are given 'doublers' to use as many times as they see fit. When a contestant doubles, the other contestant is given the option to answer the question for double the points, or 'double back' to the first contestant for four times the point value. If you are doubled back, you are forced to answer. (You may recall this as the way Double Dare worked, with the same rules as to who got the points.)
*If, at the end of your stay in the Money Chair, you are one of the four high scores, you are shuffled off to 'Winner's Row' next to the stage, where you eat, sleep and live until such time as you are knocked out of the top four.
*The Winner's Row contestants play along with the bouts, answering as many questions as they are physically capable of answering within certain time windows. On the last bout of the live show, whoever has answered the most questions correctly within those windows is given the ability to nominate anyone on Winner's Row to play the Winner's Defense bout, defending their winnings against the current occupant of the Money Chair. The winner of that bout is given the current earnings of both contestants, as well as control of the Money Chair and, by design, a guaranteed spot on Winner's Row whenever it is they get knocked off. The loser goes home, though losing contestants are always welcome to try out again.
*Whoever is in the top four at the end of the million seconds keeps their winnings, and then those four enter into a playoff for a $2 million bonus.

That's a lot of words. Meanwhile, Millionaire's explanation to the first contestant, David Korotkin, worked like this, starting at 3:36:

"15 questions away from winning $1 million. The rules are quite simple: the more questions you get right, the more money you win. If you get to the $1,000 or $32,000 level, you're guaranteed to walk out of here with at least that much money. We want you to win as much as you possibly can, David, so we're giving you three lifelines, which is really terrific help: 50:50 is where the computer will take away two of the incorrect answers, leaving the correct answer and one wrong answer; you can Ask The Audience, if you dare; the audience will vote on their keypads and tell you what they think the answer is; and finally, my favorite, Phone A Friend, sponsored by AT&T, you can make a call to anyone in America for help. Okay, you ready? Let's go. Let's play Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"

And that was pretty much the whole thing, save for the 'final answer' lock-in, the ability to walk away and the specific mechanics of Ask The Audience and Phone A Friend, all of which could be handled when the appropriate times came. Nobody needed it explained very much, to the point where the spiel eventually got reduced to "You know the rules, you know the lifelines, let's play Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"

The Million-Second Quiz might have been able to get this to work if they'd simplified things a bit. I think the doubler was too much. The off-hour rules are in fact very simple, as simple as can possibly be. Here's 500 seconds, here's a bunch of questions, 1 point a pop, no extra nonsense, whoever answers more correctly wins. There was an extraordinarily low-budget Game Show Network program that worked exactly like that in the late 1990's, called Inquizition. (They never did reveal the host's name or face, even years after cancellation, so don't bother asking. According to the YouTube comments, due to his contract, it's still unknown, though word is that if you saw him, you'd understand why they didn't show his face on TV.) Here is how that looked:

(For winning Inquizition, for the record, you won a whole whopping $250, later $500. Millionaire is in the questions-with-joke-answers territory range at that dollar amount, and on the Million-Second Quiz, you earn that much by just sitting in the Money Chair and letting Ryan Seacrest prattle to you about how you're now earning $10 a second. By the time your first defense of the chair begins, you're probably up into the $3,000 range.)

I think maybe if they'd removed the doubler, removed the whole Line-Jumper thing which just put at-home players on the show and did nothing else other than to add to the confusion, and standardized things so the same rules applied to off-hour bouts as applied to live-show bouts, it could have worked a lot better. And for God's sake, they needed to have standardized the rules for all the bouts and refrained from making two different rulesets. The doubler and increasing-point stuff had to have been because they didn't want bouts to become foregone conclusions. Well, that happens. Sometimes it's a blowout. Just keep things moving. This bout's a runaway? Oh well, maybe the next one will be closer. If you needed bouts to be closer at the end, just standardize the 'point values increase by 1 every 100 seconds' rule to every bout. If it's still a blowout, well, forget it and just keep things moving.

And don't go to break in the middle of a bout. That doesn't make anyone happy at all.

As for the big money on the line, yes. It worked for Millionaire. But then, Millionaire had a couple things going for it. First off, Millionaire was the one to reintroduce the big-money quiz show to television, something that was out of vogue since the Twenty-One scandal. Offering a million dollars for 15 questions? That's crazy! But, as discussed when we dissected the demise of The Job, the price of poker has since gone up. In fact, it's gone up so much at the high end that there is almost no amount of money that can be offered by a game show that will, by itself, intrigue people enough to watch a show on that basis alone. It doesn't matter if you're offering the most of anyone in the field. 7-figure amounts are common, a phenomenon boosted by reality show prize pots, and the concept of a million, or even multi-million-dollar payday is no longer impressive. The only kind of place these days that can excite people by the prize money alone is the lottery, and even then the lottery typically only really gets attention after a couple hundred million dollars have been chucked into the pot.

Big paydays can get buzz, but not that way. They get buzz by happening organically. Degree of difficulty counts. When everyone knows that SOMEONE is going to walk away with X amount of money, it is not impressive when someone does so. But when someone just comes along one day and takes a gigantic wad of money from you, that gets attention. Millionaire pulled this off... but only really the one time, with original million-dollar winner John Carpenter. Someone had come along and finally won the million so many others had failed to win. It's like an explorer planting their national flag on uncharted land. This land is claimed. The glory's been meted out already. Go launch an expedition somewhere else. No other million-dollar winner could generate the same buzz; it wasn't as special anymore even after long strings of time where nobody made it.

For you to score the really big attention from a payout, you basically have to not want it to happen. Someone needs to come along and win far more money than you ever imagined you'd be paying one single contestant, or otherwise effectively lap the field. If someone has done so well that you find yourself talking with legal to discuss whether you have to actually pay them off, you've found yourself in the promised land, much as you might be cursing it at the time:

*Thom McKee lapped the field in Tic Tac Dough and won $312,700 over 88 matches (and subsequent bonus rounds), $199,450 of which was in cash.
*Michael Larson mugged Press Your Luck, a show that at the time was 'retiring' their winners at the $25,000 mark, for $110,237, caused production to have a discussion with legal, and forced them to revamp the game board.
*This generation knows full well the name of Ken Jennings, who entered legend by hitting up Jeopardy, which had recently stopped retiring their contestants after five wins, for $2,520,700 over 74 games, not including his later alumni appearances, and Jeopardy wound up changing their practices to downplay advantages returning contestants might accrue over their stay, including changing out the guy who determined when players could buzz in (though there wasn't much they could do about the intimidation factor).
*Terry Kneiss became the first person in Price Is Right history to record a perfect bid in the Showcase, and on the tape Drew Carey is seen as announcing the fact in dejection because what the tape didn't show is that Drew and the staff were convinced there was a ringer in the audience feeding bids to Kneiss- which there was, but Kneiss couldn't hear him and wasn't connected with him- and that the FCC was about to come down on them like a ton of bricks and get the show cancelled. Since Kneiss' appearance, The Price Is Right has built more luck and a wider variety of more esoteric items into the show, and begun altering the exact specifications of some prizes (an added floor mat here, a removed car stereo there) in order to change the announced price on repeat items.

That is basically what it takes. Win streaks in the 70's and 80's. The Million-Second Quiz's longest streaks seem to conk out in the 20's or 30's; though I don't have the exact numbers. The way the show is structured, even a Ken Jennings streak wouldn't be enough. In order for them to get the buzz we're talking about here, someone who closed out the live show in the Money Chair would pretty much have to begin the next night's show still in the chair $864,000 and nearly 100 bouts later, bedraggled, exhausted, half-loopy and still hanging on to beat all comers somehow. As of now, a few hours before the finale, the current leader, Brandon, has $339,416, which translates to only about 9.4 hours of chair time and, by our 5-bouts-per-hour estimation, approximately 47 bouts, not all of which was done in one sitting (he's been through at least one Winner's Defense), and not all of which was even done by Brandon (remember some of the Winner's Row money is earned through swiping it from vanquished opponents). Through, I daresay, over 1,000 bouts, there will be some damned impressive streaks racked up sooner or later, and you'd expect some rather large numbers, but to be buzzworthy, you don't need large. You need eye-poppingly gigantic.

I'm not here to disparage anyone who sat in that chair at the ungodly hours of the morning rummaging through their brain in turbo mode over and over again while fighting off the sandman, trying to do in one night what most game show contestants are asked to do over a period of months, if they're ever asked to do it at all. In isolation, those top winners, the ones cashing in today and even some of the people who've been shoved aside and left empty-handed, some of them more than once, ought to get a hell of a lot of respect. I'm not going after the players. I'm going after the setting.

True buzz can't be forced. NBC's mistake was trying to force it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Writings Of Harry Binswanger

Harry Binswanger is a contributor to Forbes. He presents his bio as, "I am a philosopher who was an associate of the late Ayn Rand, and am a member of the board of directors of the Ayn Rand Institute. I have taught philosophy at Hunter College (CUNY) and the University of Texas at Austin. My forthcoming book, "How We Know," is on the theory of knowledge. My blog may be found at"

Binswanger, at least in my circles, is getting something of an examination of his writings, spurred by his latest piece for Forbes, entitled "Give Back? Yes, It's Time For The 99% To Give Back To The 1%". When I saw it, I had to make sure it wasn't actually a satire article. So, fine and dandy. Let's have an examination. I will post, verbatim, without rebuttal, some of the things that have come out of Binswanger's keyboard, as I think they speak for themselves.

He actually wrote these things. And meant them.


"Here’s a modest proposal. Anyone who earns a million dollars or more should be exempt from all income taxes. Yes, it’s too little. And the real issue is not financial, but moral. So to augment the tax-exemption, in an annual public ceremony, the year’s top earner should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Imagine the effect on our culture, particularly on the young, if the kind of fame and adulation bathing Lady Gaga attached to the more notable achievements of say, Warren Buffett. Or if the moral praise showered on Mother Teresa went to someone like Lloyd Blankfein, who, in guiding Goldman Sachs toward billions in profits, has done infinitely more for mankind. (Since profit is the market value of the product minus the market value of factors used, profit represents the value created.)" ("Give Back? Yes, It's Time For The 99% To Give Back To The 1%")

 "SAC Capital’s founder, Steven A. Cohen, is being tried as a witch. The government wants to send him to prison–for the mythical crime of “insider trading.” ("Insider Trading Is A Right: Don't Shackle The Knowledge-Seekers")

"“Bush lied, people died!”–they yell it out. But that is a moral denunciation. Despite their multiculturalism and relativism, in practice the Left does not treat morality as up for grabs, as subjectively “in the eye of the beholder.” They assert moral absolutes, while still mouthing their official doctrine: “There are no absolutes.”
If relativist Leftists accepted and lived by their notion that morality is a myth, they could not advocate any political position. If morality is a myth, then there’s really no such thing as “social justice”–or any other kind of justice, no such thing as an obligation to the needy or to anyone else. If morality is just a “social construct,” then the concept of “obligation” as such is mythical–on a par with the concept of “ghost.” How can the relativist-Left then have any political position at all? Only by sneaking in the kind of absolutist moral judgments that their theory scorns." ("Capitalism Without God: Freedom Is A Secular But Absolute Value")

"Those on the Right should be pointing out that “selfish greed” is a smear-term: it blackens ambitiousness and the desire to produce wealth, which are virtues, by associating them with mindless gluttony. But Rightists don’t expose the smear because they share the anti-self morality, or at least fear to challenge it." ("By Eliminating Failure, The Government Robs Us Of Success")

"We can’t outcompete Germany, China, France—we can’t outcompete any other country. In fact, no country can outcompete any other. The very concept “outcompete” makes no sense on a national scale. One business can outcompete another business, but a nation can’t outcompete another nation across the board.
A nation is not one business. It is not many businesess all in the same line of work. A nation contains a huge array of businesses in a great variety of fields, from fishing to finance, from advertising to advising, from manufacturing to moviemaking. A nation outcompeted in one line of work—say, chip-manufacturing—automatically gains a comparative advantage in some other line of work–say, moviemaking." ("No President Obama, We Can't "Outcompete" Other Countries")

"Regular subscription: $14 per month or $145 per year. Pay by credit card or check." (Harry's blog, which hides his writings behind this paywall.)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

As The Ship Flies

I do believe it's Sporcle day. I believe because I have clapped my hands.

Today you're going to start out in the United States. Using the great circle- that is, using a straight line according to a globe- your task is to get from anywhere in the United States to as many other countries as possible. You can reach 77 countries from American soil without running into another country beforehand. Your time limit to name them is 8 minutes; your score to beat is 58.

Monday, September 16, 2013

I Have Hair, Therefore All Food Should Have Hair In It

I suppose that if we're going to talk about fun science and exciting science here, we ought also to discuss goddamned stupid science, right?

There's a guy at Nigeria's University of Lagos named Chibuihem Amalaha. He's a postgrad student there. And Amalaha seems to have a very stupid idea about homosexuality. You see, Amalaha compared it with magnets. As he points out, and as you probably learned at some point in your life while playing around with magnets, when equally-polared magnets are placed next to each other, they repel instead of attract (you need a northerly-poled and a southerly-poled magnet to attract). So obviously this means that gays shouldn't get married, because gays are just like magnets. Or something.

He is pictured here proudly holding a beaker with some kind of stuff in it like it has anything to do with the matter in the slightest and is seen below explaining all his science like it's worth a damn. He also uses as 'proof' the fact that gay marriages don't produce children (extreme forced fertility in Nigeria being itself an issue we covered last year and which continues to be a problem), that other animals do not exhibit homosexual behavior (spoiler alert: yes, they do) and that pouring acids on acids and bases on bases doesn't do anything (even though you can in fact get an acid/acid reaction in microbiology and you can get a base/base reaction in the biodiesel community, so he's wrong there too).

And there's math. Try to follow this one, reposted verbatim from This Day Live:

In mathematics which is another core area of science, I used what is called the principle of commutativity and idepotency [sic]. Commutativity in mathematics is simply the arrangement of numbers or arrangement of letters in which the way you arrange them don’t matter. For example, if you say A + B in mathematics you are going to have B + A. For example, if I say two plus three it will give five. If I start from three, I say three plus two it also give you five showing that two plus three and three plus two are commutative because they gave the same results. That shows that A + B will give you B + A, you see that there is a change. In A + B, A started the journey while in B + A, B started the journey. If we use A as a man and use B as a woman we are going to have B + A that is woman and man showing that there is a reaction. A + B reacted, they interchanged and gave us B + A showing that commutativity obeys that a man should not marry a man and a woman should not marry a woman. If you use idempotency, it’s a reaction in mathematics where A + A = A. Actually in abstract algebra, A + A =2A but we are less concerned with the numerical value two. We are more less concerned with the symbols A, you find out that A + A will give you A showing that the whole thing goes unchanged. It didn’t change unlike commutativity A + B give B + A there is a change. A started the journey in commutativity and A + B gave us B + A and B started the journey after the equality sign. But in the case of idempotency A + A will give you A showing that it goes unreacted. You started with A and you meet A ,the final result is A. Showing that a man meeting a man A + A will produce a man there is no reaction, it goes unreacted and in chemical engineering you have to send the material back to the reactor for the action to be carried out again showing that it goes unreacted. That is how mathematics has shown that gay marriage is wrong because commutativity proves that gay marriage is wrong. Idempotency also proves that gay marriage is wrong. So these are the principles I have used to prove gay marriage wrong in physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and by the grace of God I am the only one that has proved this in the whole world.
I'm not a math person, admitted, but Amalaha does appear to have at least explained the basic concepts of idempotency and commutativity properly. But then, as in all his other examples, he just launches right into 'and therefore gay marriage is wrong' without any attempt whatsoever to explain what in blazes gay marriage actually has to do with any of his examples. It's an entire paper full of ad-hoc arguments. He wrote a bunch of words and said nothing. How does math factor into being LGBT? He doesn't say. How do magnets tie into being LGBT? He doesn't say. He just expects you to go with it. To give an analogy is all well and good, but an analogy is only supposed to flavor your argument; make it easier to understand. The analogy cannot itself be the argument. You cannot bake cookies by throwing sprinkles and frosting into the oven and not any actual cookie dough. And this leaves alone the fact that the premises of actual content that he does work from- the lack of acid/acid or base/base reactions; the lack of other species exhibiting homosexual behavior- are just plain wrong to a degree that would instantly torpedo anything the rest of the paper was attempting to prove. That amount of demonstrative error in a premise would ruin any study and, I daresay, any scientific reputation. As for the magnet thing, well, that appears to be the part the media at large is latching onto, and in this case that's plenty good enough. In a paper this ridiculous, you might as well take the most laugh-worthy part of it and go 'hey, everybody, get a load of this one'.

Amalaha says university staff are hoping he wins the Nobel Prize for this and becomes the first African to win a science Nobel. I laugh my loudest Internet laugh. First, because the Nobel committee frowns on such talk to the point that anyone who nominates themselves is automatically disqualified. Second, because if that's what he's going for, he's already too late, because Sydney Brenner of South Africa shared in the 2002 Nobel in physiology/medicine. And Ahmed Zewail of Egypt took the 1999 Nobel in chemistry. And Allan M. McCormack of South Africa shared in the 1979 prize in physiology/medicine. And Max Theiler of South Africa became the actual first African to win a science prize by taking the 1951 physiology/medicine prize for his work on combating yellow fever. And maybe even 1982 chemistry laureate Aaron Klug, who counts as British for statistical purposes but did have some South African collegiate experience. (We'll leave alone the four literature and ten peace laureates from Africa. One of the literature laureates, 1986 winner Wole Soyinka, stands as the first Nigerian Nobel, so if Amalaha was going for that, he is also too late.)

Need I even mention that in some parts of Nigeria, homosexuality is punishable by death? I needn't? Groovy.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Cram Session

So here's a pretty neat YouTube channel for you. It's called Crash Course. What Crash Course is, is a series of short lectures on various topics that, reasonably, you might have expected to be covered in school at some point or other. The channel is currently focused on American history and chemistry, though there is also world history, biology, ecology and literature in the archive. Hank Green handles the science topics; John Green handles history and literature. Obviously, you're not going to get a detailed examination; after all, it is a crash course. But it'll give you the basics, and if you're still interested at the end, well, plenty of places to go after that.

The most recent addition to the channel is a course on Progressive-era Presidents, but the one I'm picking as a sample is the course on the history and basics of Islam. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


So cigarette commercials have returned to television.

This really shouldn't be, as cigarette ads were banned from American television in 1970 and smokeless tobacco ads were banned in 1986. But then there's the matter of e-cigarettes, which work by vaporizing liquid tobacco. E-cigarettes are not, as of yet, regulated by the FDA, and there are currently no federal laws covering them, so the tobacco industry has taken them and run with them, supporters arguing that there isn't as much tobacco in them as a regular cigarette and that it isn't disturbing anyone else and that it might actually help people stop smoking.

Perhaps it might. But it's not being marketed as a stop-smoking aid. It's being marketed as a start-smoking aid, complete with suave-looking guy in an ad there to assure you that smoking is cool, and some people- children, in fact- have been seen to use e-cigarettes as a gateway to real cigarettes. In fact, usage among middle and high school students doubled from 2011 to 2012 according to the Center for Disease Control, the vast majority of students using reporting that they were also using conventional cigarettes (and that's a little young to be having to use e-cigarettes as a weaning device). It doesn't exactly help matters that e-cigarettes are sold in flavors such as- and I'm deliberately not going to link this because I don't want to hand out that kind of traffic- "Pina Colada", "Peach Schnapps", "Java Jolt", "Tiramisu", "French Toast", "Cinnamon Apple Crumble", "Tahitian Punch", "Caramel Popcorn", "Bubble Gum", "Salt Water Taffy", and "Tutti Frutti". Among many, many, many others.

Only 20 states, by the way, currently forbid selling e-cigarettes to children. And the bulk of lifelong smokers, 88% according to the CDC, start as children. The FDA did ban them in 2009, but a court overruled them in 2010, saying the FDA was lacking sufficient evidence that e-cigarettes were harmful, and this is the result. (A ban on flavored cigarettes, also enacted in 2009, has held.)

As far as the stop-smoking-aid claims, a study in New Zealand tested that claim against nicotine patches and placebo e-cigarettes. The results came out that none of the three did all that great, and while 7.3% of those getting the nicotine-filled e-cigarettes said it helped, which technically led the field but not by a significant amount, compare that 7.3% to the 10% of high school students picking up e-cigarettes at least once found by the CDC. Any status it has as a stop-smoking aid is, at least from the numbers showing, completely negated by its competing status as a gateway drug.

And really, think logically here. What in the world would the tobacco industry be doing seriously promoting something as a stop-smoking aid, or something they knew was causing people to stop smoking? 'Yes, we'd like to go out of business, please. Buy this object that will one day cost us all our jobs.' One can talk until one is blue in the face about, oh, say, whether it's the actual tobacco that's causing all those health problems related to smoking or whether it's just the tar and additives doing that. Which is apparently a debate that's happening. But as the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. And the tobacco industry is going to take whatever action causes as many people as possible to use tobacco products as much as possible. It is not up for debate that nicotine is addictive, so that base is covered. You are not marketing "bubble gum" and "tutti frutti" to adults. You are not getting some rugged-looking guy to smolder in front of a camera and have him tell people to go try 'salt water taffy'. Someone looking to stop smoking probably isn't going for any flavor at all, because why would you want to make something you're trying to quit taste good?

And even independent of health issues, why do you take it up these days anyway? To look cool? After the past couple decades, who the hell looks cool with a tobacco product of any kind in their mouth anymore? You don't look cool. You look like an inconsiderate jackass who'd rather be puffing away in rain or snow or whatever it's doing outside than actually socializing with anyone that isn't also puffing away in whatever it's doing outside. You're being a self-selected pariah. People with cigarettes in their mouths stopped looking cool sometime around the 80's. (Let's not even get into cigars and chewing tobacco.)

You might as well smoke a Betamax. That'd probably be about as healthy.

Friday, September 13, 2013

There, Fixed Forever

When dealing with their very serious environmental issues, China has a way of doing two things. One is ignoring them, as usually, the imperative to make money takes precedence. The other is to half-ass things in grand fashion. In preparation for the Beijing Olympics, a series of measures were employed to hurriedly fix a smog problem that cannot be hurriedly fixed, but when longer-term measures such as limiting the cars that can be on the road and cleaning up factories failed to get anything done, they turned to temporarily shutting the factories off and cloud seeding. Facing a lack of shrubbery on their hills because one was turned into a quarry, local officials painted the hillside green, and not for the first or last time (they'd done similar to help get the Olympics in the first place). Barren stone pits have simply had fully-grown trees just plopped right on top of them. The mentality has even extended into the housing market. Real estate bubble, you say? Nonsense. Just build more houses, regardless of whether anyone wants them!

The latest bit of half-assing is upon us. Hong Kong is beset by smog as well. Among all smog's other problems, it turns tourists away; you can't see the sights if you can't actually see them, after all. The city's solution: throw up banners depicting a clear-skied Hong Kong at various tourist vistas, so tourists can actually have Hong Kong behind them in pictures.

Without actually having Hong Kong behind them.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Random News Generator- Greece

First off, yes, Greece's economy is still all borked up. They expect their economy to shrink 3.8% this year. Their unemployment rate has hit 27.9%, the highest number since they started measuring in 2006. Suicides, while still relatively low, rose by 45% between 2007, the year before the financial crisis, and 2011. The prime minister says the recession is almost over, but then, people are awful at predicting things like that, often failing to accurately predict recessions even when they're already happening. German chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the most influential voices in the Eurozone, has come right out and said allowing Greece to adopt the euro was a mistake.

But you have that picture already. So let's go try and find something else. Let's fire up the old Google News feed.

*Greece may need two more aid packages, maybe three, to-- nope.
*China's state-run shipping company, Cosco, has invested 500 million euros to gain a toehold in the port of Piraeus so that-- nope.
*12% of the staff of Piraeus Bank opted for a voluntary exit, outpacing the bank's 10% target-- nope.
*Further cuts in pensions and benefits may soon-- nope.
*Former Minister of the Interior Dinos Michaelides was extradited to Athens from Cyprus today on corruption charges stemming from money laundering between 1997-2001-- nope.
*Deflation-- nooooooope nope nope nope nope.

...ooh, here we go! The Makaza Pass border crossing, connecting Greece with Romania via Bulgaria, is operational for the first time since 1944, when Bulgaria went behind the Iron Curtain, as of Monday. Greece and Bulgaria have four other crossings, but any time a new way to get over a border opens, you can naturally expect an increase in trade and tourism and general cultural exchange. And Makaza happens to be the fastest way from a lot of Central Europe to the Aegean coast of the Mediterranean. So that's nice.

That's one whopping thing that's nice.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Damn You, Microsoft

I've been spending most of my day trying to get my Word and Excel files back from a certain corporation that rhymes with 'Nicrosoft' that has locked both myself and my mom out of our 'Boffice' files and is demanding what amounts to a $140 ransom to let us have them again.

So I don't have much time to actually go typing right now. You'll have to make do with this article noting that Catalonia is starting to agitate for independence from Spain again, or at least a referendum on same.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Your Art Appreciation Lesson For Today

Apparently, a work of art from someone famous that you don't think is worthy of anything more than sitting in the attic because you're told it's a fake, becomes prettier when it turns out they really did paint it.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Local News Update

First Lady Michelle Obama will be at Watertown High School on Thursday. The event, not open to the general public, is part of Michelle's administration-spanning fitness initiative, focused here on getting people to drink water instead of soda.

Had it been open to the general public, one might want info on how to attend. Since that's not the case, though... expect a whole crapload of traffic all down Church Street on Thursday, running from the airport to the high school (aka the effective length of the town), and you can pretty much forget about using Endeavor Drive.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Aaron's Watching His Stories

For those of you not watching football today, here's a Sporcle quiz to keep you occupied. You are to name all the Presidential candidates who have received electoral votes. This is different than simply naming the winner and principal opponent; remember there are stray electoral votes that wander off every so often and there were a lot of recipients in the early days. You have 10 minutes.

Also, note that wrestling has been reinstated to the Olympics in one of the more obvious fixes to a pointlessly stupid dilemma in the history of the Games.

If you ARE watching football today... welcome, dear brothers and sisters.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Well, He Does Kind Of Steal Souls

If you're well-versed enough in medieval Japanese culture, you might be familiar with the art medium of woodblock printing; specifically, the ukiyo-e format. How ukiyo-e works is, first you make a master drawing in ink. You then trace that drawing, and put the tracing, face down, on a block of wood. You then carve the drawing into the wood, leaving the trace lines alone so that they're in relief. You ink that block, print copies from it, and then put those copies on additional blocks which put each of the additional colors you wish to use in relief. The final product is the result of a sequence of prints from each of the blocks, some of them impressed on the paper more than once to get the shading right.

An extremely labor-intensive format, as you can imagine, with a lot of potential failure points and no way to fix a mistake. If you go watch someone creating online art- a webcomic, for example, and after Strip Search came along I've watched quite a few of these things because artists will livestream it- you'll note liberal use of the Undo function. The artist will make a rather daring, sweeping attempt at a particular line, and if it doesn't look right, they'll hit Undo and make another sweeping attempt until they get a line they like. The art is also done in several layers which can be individually moved around at will- a layer for the trace, a layer for the background, for the foreground, for each of several key elements of the piece. In ukiyo-e, there is no undo and no freedom of realignment of elements. One wrong carve, one slight misalignment at printing time, and you've got a lot of work to do over again from the beginning.

As time passed and artists found different methods and different mediums, and as German printing presses made their way into Japan and made for a much cheaper and easier way of doing things, ukiyo-e faded away to the point where literally nobody was making new prints, merely copying existing prints. Those practicing ukiyo-e today have all spent their entire lives copying older prints for tourists.

Normally, if I were to tell you someone was making video game art, a lot of you would roll your eyes at it. But when someone wants to make video game art in ukiyo-e... well, the ukiyo-e creators of today still did, because they were convinced nobody wanted new prints anymore. Then the project Ukiyo-e Heroes set a Kickstarter record for the most-funded art project in site history, a record that was held for 51 weeks before being overtaken about two weeks ago. Ukiyo-e Heroes was the brainchild of one Jed Henry, spurred on when he noticed how much early video game design seemed influenced by ukiyo-e, chiefly black outlines and solid color fills. So he went off and tried to make video game art that was a more direct homage to it, making it look more evocative of the Edo period, getting tutelage from British woodblock printer David Bull. But Bull, having run into his own roadblocks from apathetic interest in ukiyo-e, didn't think new prints would sell. Henry won Bull over with a Kirby design in which Kirby, a little pink puffball who swallows enemies to gain their powers, was reimagined as a soul-stealing frog demon, depicted attacking longtime foe King Dedede. The time and expense of doing a series of such prints resulted in the Kickstarter campaign. They were seeking $10,000. They ended up getting $313,341...

...and a lot of people wondering why nobody was doing woodblock art these days.

You can go here if you want one.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Other Refugees On Boats

When the original group of British convicts was sent to Australia, the major reason Australia was selected was that it was remote. There was no way in hell someone sent to Australia was going to show up in London again. But that doesn't mean a desperate individual can't bridge a gap between Australia and somewhere else. The 'somewhere else' in this case is Indonesia, and much like the United States, the gap between Australia and Indonesia is routinely traversed by people looking to escape dangerous political situations in other countries throughout the region and seeking refuge in the most stable nation they can reach (the United States taking in those from the Americas headed by Mexico; Australia getting those from Asia with no one nation really out front).

The distance from Cuba to Miami is 90 miles. The checkpoint those departing from Indonesia are trying to reach is Christmas Island, about 220 miles off the Indonesian coast, about 2 1/2 times the length from Cuba to Florida. Meaning a longer trek, and more opportunity to not make it. The general quality of the boats is worse than the ones departing from Cuba, too.

It's become a major plot point in the presidential campaign currently underway between incumbent Kevin Rudd, who has taken a hard line against those trying to reach Australia, and challenger Tony Abbott, who has unveiled a boat buy-back plan that has been widely and quickly ridiculed. This has led David O'Shea to head to Indonesia...

UPDATE: The polls have closed. Tony Abbott has won.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Blame It On The Rain

In the United Kingdom, Walkers is a popular brand of potato chips. Or 'crisps'. Whatever. You people and your languages. Anyway, potatoes like rain. Not too many other people like rain, but potatoes, which I've just realized that I've implied to be people, like rain. So Walkers, which pushes a potato-based product, in 2010 opted to base a promotion around rain.

Here's how it worked. When you bought a bag of chips, the bag came with a code. You were given a map of the United Kingdom. The map was divided into a grid as mapped out by the Met Office, the UK's national weather service, or at least based on what the Met Office was using. You were to select a location on the grid, and predict rain for that location (according to the Met Office standard of 1 mm) on a time and date of your choosing. If you predicted correctly- that is, if at least 1 mm of rain fell on your selected patch within a 4-hour window- you won 10 pounds.

When you're doing promotions with prizes at stake, a crucial thing you need to do is build in something sufficient to ensure you only are handing out a certain amount of prizes. Hand out too much, and you end up costing yourself more than the amount of the business you drummed up, defeating the purpose. A number of Kickstarter campaigns have unexpectedly gone down in flames this way when the creator of a project gave out too much in reward-tier and stretch-goal swag, spending money on rewards, and shipping rewards, that should have been going towards the project itself. This was Walker's first mistake: there wasn't enough of a limiter. They limited people to two predictions a day, and limited spots on the grid to one prediction at a time- but this was something of a skill competition, as enough knowledge will permit you to figure out where it's likely to rain tomorrow. And 10 pounds- about $16 at the time- is, of course, many times the cost of a bag of chips (40 pence in this case, with 100 pence to a pound). What needed to happen here was a lot of dry weather, or rainy patches of land going unpredicted.

From 2008-2012, the United Kingdom received an average rainfall of 1,220 mm per year. The United States, by comparison, got 715. It's not exactly tropical-level stuff- Costa Rica got 2,926, for example- but it's pretty rainy by European standards. As a result, there were quite a few correct predictions. And in an already-rainy country, Walkers happened to hit a wet spell during the contest period, which itself was held in the fall, also known as the UK's rainy season. At one point, David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge University calculated that, predicting randomly, one could expect to make 1 pound, 20 pence off of any given 40-pence bag of chips, which triggers the classic marketing blunder of offering a prize worth more than the cost of the product.

Walkers, at some point, quietly reduced the prediction allowance from two per day to one per day.

What happened next depends on what source you're going by. If you're going by the Uncle John's Bathroom Reader (Zipper Accidents, specifically) where I originally caught wind of this, Walkers saw an especially rainy week coming over the horizon and prematurely cancelled the promotion. If you go by Marketing Week, an angry player complained about the reduction in play allowances to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), who, the following March, agreed with the player and ruled that Walkers should not have altered the rules after the contest was launched, and that they may not run another promotion in that form. (These two versions of events aren't mutually exclusive, but they don't make any effort to confirm each other either.)

If you're going by UTalk Marketing, the whole thing was actually a great success. Which leads me to ask how many chips they bought.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ah Yes, That Whole Thing

Part of the argument in favor of action in Syria- I had considered this as well- was the fact that our last limited operation, the action in Libya to take out Moammar Gadhafi, had been, in fact, short and successful.

And in that limited scope, it was. Gadhafi was killed, national flags were swapped, cheers, celebratory gunfire, the lot. And then we left, as was our aim. Job done, right?

Well, it turns out it depends what we mean by 'job'. If the job was just to get out Gadhafi, then yes. Job done. But a key component of regime change is that whoever the replacement is will be better. This is not to say it was the wrong move to see off Gadhafi, but it is very much worth noting that there wasn't a clear singular challenger to Gadhafi's rule; no obvious candidate to assume power. Which means once he died, a power vacuum was created. And when power vacuums are created, chaos reigns while multiple parties vie to fill it.

I had forgotten about that small detail. Quite a lot of us forgot about that small detail. Patrick Cockburn of the Independent remembered that small detail. Going back and taking another look reveals a country that has in recent months seen oil production drop to just over 10% of what it could be doing because of strikes and mutinies over lack of pay and which has increasingly fallen under the control of local militias. Oil that is being pumped is hitting the black market, and some has actually had to be imported- to Libya, mind you- just to keep the lights on. The prison system is not immune from mutiny either; that's never good. Replacement Prime Minister Ali Zeidan's government can be described as "shaky".

The aim was never to decide Libya's next direction, and it isn't to decide Syria's next direction either. But it's going to depend largely on who, if anyone, is poised to take over should Bashar al-Assad be toppled. Unfortunately, there isn't a chief candidate there either, only disparate groups of rebels, in fact more disparate than Libya's. News articles disagree on who the leader is. Is it Ahmed al-Jarba? Is it Salim Idris? Is it Haytham al-Manna? Is it Abu Adnan? Is it anyone at all?

So assume that the US acts in Syria. Assume that the operation is successful. Assume that Assad is removed from power. Great. Awesome.

Then what? And do we consider that to be a significant concern to us?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Everything You Know Is Wrong

I have a tendency to put up a fair amount of results of scientific studies here. It's really a relatively stable beat if you know what you're doing. You're pretty much guaranteed to learn something- such is the point of a scientific study, after all- and the scientific peer review process is markedly different, and much slower and more thorough, than the fact-checking process that governs what goes in a news article. A news article often has to be put out on a deadline, which much of the time is the same day, while in science, you can take as long as you like. Getting it right is the focus.

And yet it is by no means perfect. The scientific process is, after all, run by imperfect humans. No less than the Nobel Prize committee has gotten caught out; the 1938 prize in physics was awarded (PDF) to Enrico Fermi for "his demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation". According to the rules of naming elements, a name gets only one shot at landing on the periodic table; if the evidence for the element it's representing falls apart for any reason, that name can then never be used again. Fermi, and the Nobel committee, thought he had discovered element 94, which Fermi had called hesperium. He had not. He had discovered nuclear fission instead- still a fine achievement, but not what he said he'd done. You today know hesperium under the name by which it was actually discovered: plutonium.

And so sometimes the journals that publish scientific studies also have to issue retractions. Sometimes someone messed up an experiment, sometimes it got written up wrong, sometimes there's active malice by a scientist looking for notoriety. The consequences are greater, as these studies affect the direction of future studies and the information they work off of, and if everybody's working from bad premises, well, you know the old saying: garbage in, garbage out. Which in turn just slows down the whole pace of scientific progress. But typically they get about the same amount of press as a news retraction: not much. So what you get today is a site that deals exclusively in scientific retractions, the reasons behind them and assorted name-and-shaming of regular customers: Retraction Watch. They're not really staffed up well enough to tackle every scientific retraction that comes across the wires, but they keep up as best they can. It's enough of a job keeping up with the constantly-rising retraction count of Dutch social psychologist Diederik Stapel, who left a wide swath of academic fraud in his wake by essentially telling people what they wanted to hear, and building his career through a history of his experiments always seemingly ending in success, even though anyone who so much as watches Mythbusters knows how often scientific experiments fail. The root story about Stapel can be seen in this New York Times report; the running tally of retractions counted by Retraction Watch is here.

As of today, Stapel's up to 54.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Your Health Advice For Today

Prayer is not an effective vaccination against measles. Not even if it's done at a megachurch. God does not care how big your prayer space is. You know what is an effective vaccination? A vaccination.

That is all.