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iPitchforks and e-Mobs

The internet is a little like what the medieval ages – lots of herd mentality piling on to anything mildly objectionable, and roving mobs employing the shoot first, ask later. As Donald Knuth once said (I don’t know that it was him, but he’s the George Bernard Shaw of the computer age)- “Computers allow more people to make more mistakes faster than anythings with the possible exception of tequila and handguns.”

So, imagine my surprise when I found e-humanity using its powers for good. In this case, it’s a listing for $8,000  (!!) audio cables (!!!!) on Amazon. Amazonians of all stripes have lined up to write their reviews for this product. The most popular review says

We live underground. We speak with our hands. We wear the earplugs all our lives.
PLEASE! You must listen! We cannot maintain the link for long… I will type as fast as I can.
DO NOT USE THE CABLES!
We were fools, fools to develop such a thing! Sound was never meant to be this clear, this pure, this… accurate. For a few short days, we marveled. Then the… whispers… began.
Were they Aramaic? Hyperborean? Some even more ancient tongue, first spoken by elder races under the red light of dying suns far from here? We do not know, but somehow, slowly… we began to UNDERSTAND.
No, no, please! I don’t want to remember! YOU WILL NOT MAKE ME REMEMBER! I saw brave men claw their own eyes out… oh, god, the screaming… the mobs of feral children feasting on corpses, the shadows MOVING, the fires burning in the air! The CHANTING!
WHY CAN’T I FORGET THE WORDS???
We live underground. We speak with our hands. We wear the earplugs all our lives.

or

With the help of this cable, I can now experience music the way it’s meant to be heard. I find that plugging this directly into my ears helps transmit the cleanest, most pure sound. Make sure you clean your ears out though (with liquefied dark matter, of course), because quality will suffer if your ear-holes aren’t sparkly clean.

Of course, in keeping with the image of economists as a humorless lot conducting the dismal science, we have a gentleman by the name of Eugene Fama (name verified, presumably no relation) reviewing the object as:

It’s speaker wire. It seems to work fine. What else it there to say? I use these as part of my classroom AV set-up. I tape the cables down and run them up the middle of the classroom. So far they have held up without a problem, even with the occasional student stepping on them, or accidentally placing a chair on them and sitting. No issues at all in the month since i set these up.

Update: it has now been 10 months, and still no issues at all. They still work every week for about 20 minutes a week.

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#Choke

The interwebs can be a cold hard world. They must certainly seem that way to South Africans right now.

RT @ryanbrussow Alan Donald has just cost the Proteas a second World Cup!

RT @sunbeam007: Imagine being a South African who also supports Arsenal.

RT @boothalow  Poor old South Africa. This must be very hard to swallow.

FB: South African planning and South African execution – Like choke and cheese

FB: South Africa, New Zealand and a cup of hot chokelate

FB: South Africa: Choke-full of talent

FB: Choke de South Africa

Two and a Half

“The laws of cricket tell of the English love of compromise between a particular freedom and a general orderliness, or legality.”

— Cardus

For those of our readership in the United States, the wild cheering in bars and raucous crowds on the streets must no doubt have given away the fact that the cricket World Cup is currently underway.

It is well known (or should be) to much of the civilized world that there is very little about life and learning that the game of cricket does not encapsulate. A Spoonful of Win is a firm adherent to this line of thought.

And while the quarter-finals have barely begun, already the sport (if one could be forgiven for using such a plebeian word for such an exalted activity) has raised some deep questions. Questions that strike at the heart of epistemology, that bid us to look into our souls and ponder the very meaning of truth and discovery.

I refer of course to the use of what is grandly termed the Decision Review System. The DRS deploys the cutting edge of television replay technology, predictive simulations of the trajectory of cricket balls and infra-red heat sensing cameras –  all to make correct umpiring decisions. And yet even so, when Indian captain M.S Dhoni calls the system “an adulteration of technology with human beings” he makes a point that is worth listening to.

He refers here to the International Cricket Council determining that one component of the DRS – a post impact trajectory prediction tool known only as HawkEye – should be ignored when the distance between impact and the stumps exceeds 2.5m. And yet religiously adhered to for any number below 2.5m. So when the Indian team was denied what seemed an obvious wicket because impact was marginally further away than the 2.5m threshold, captain Dhoni asked the obvious question. Whats so special about 2.5?

And this is a good question. Because the 2.5m rule in the DRS comes from a model somewhere that determines that the 95 percent confidence interval of the HawkEye system exceeds the width of the stumps when impact occurs further than this distance. If it seems intuitively ridiculous that a decision that looks pretty clear at first glance should be overturned on grounds of statistical significance…it does so because decision making using significance tests is a pretty silly thing to do anyway.

Yet here we are, well into the 21st century and to this day medical science and economics (two of the more egregious offenders in this regard) continue to publish scholarly tracts that say yea or nay (or at least are interpreted that way) depending on whether or not an arbitrary 95 percent target is met. And no matter how much we may learn or suspect from the many sources of information life provides us, the Bayesian empiricist remains an outcast in the field and Bayesian priors remain treated as a particularly devious infiltration of “subjectivity” into “science”. The climate science folks learned that the hard way recently.

This is all a little sad, particularly to those of us with a remarkable talent for finding insignificance, statistical and otherwise, in everything we do.

Overheard on Twitter

Your smartphone has more computing power than all of NASA in 1969. They launched a man to the moon. We launch a bird into pigs. (@GeorgeBray)

Jeff Ely at Cheep Talk asks questions. We answer them. It’s that simple. We include both his TLLAs and our R(esponse)LLAs/A(nswer)LLAs .  His blessing for this endeavor will be sought soon.

  1. Whenever I visit some place to give a talk, when I depart why is the host always more conservative than me in suggesting how early I should leave to make it to the airport on time?  More conservative even that I bet they are for themselves? A: For the former, her department pays if you have to crash an extra evening. For the latter, s/he has the outside option of going home if s/he misses the flight, you don’t. This changes the risk reward tradeoff in either case.
  2. Twitter tells me who I should follow.  But what I really want to know is who are the people Twitter suggests should follow me. Response: That’s a great idea. But in my case, I suspect that’s a null set. Probably not for you.
  3. What is the point of posting the schedule of Arrivals on airport monitors that are past the security lines?  Anybody who has access past that point is waiting for a departing flight, not an arrival. Response: Never thought of that.
  4. When Kellogg builds its new building I will suggest that all offices have showers built into them.  Since my best thoughts come when I am in the shower, I would like to spend most of my day there. Response: Diminishing Marginal Returns.
  5. Why has 80s music been pretty much passed over when it comes to “Classic Rock” playlists? A: So have the 90’s. I use think the 30 years to classic rule applies. Wait another few.
  6. Why are roads that streets alongside expressways always called Frontage Road? Response: Sadly, never seen this. Maybe it’s a west coast thing.
  7. You can talk about price discrimination and loyalty programs, but these are second order compared to the real reason behind Frequent Flier programs. Since business travelers don’t fully internalize the price of the flights they book, airlines compete for them with kickbacks in the form of frequent flier miles. Response: This also includes grad students who use advisors’ grant money to fly around (AA Plat, Delta Gold). And a response has been to also pay off the other stake holder (HR/ whoever is in charge of corporate travel policy). See for example United Airlines’ semi-secret “Global Services” level.

(Un)-Holy Trinities…

On the subject of whether US antitrust law can or should stop this merger, I have no opinions. Antitrust law is best left to people who understand it better than I.*

But back to our topic, in a move that seems wrongheaded from every hat I could possibly find (except, of course the hats owned by ATT and Deutsche Telekom shareholders), T-Mobile agreed to be bought out by AT&T. If consummated, this will leave the US with:

  1. A sole major GSM provider.
  2. Only 3 major wireless providers.
  3. One less provider of good commercials.

In short, I’m not a big fan. However, M&A is not (and should not be)  accepted or rejected in the court of public opinion. I will however note that legacy industries in the US, in a truly biblical move, have organized into trinities. There are now three mega-airlines, Delta, United and American. There are still 3 major car companies (Ford, GM, Chrysler) after a frightening brush with there being 0-1. There always have been 3 major sports (NBA, NFL and MLB). And so on. By contrast, I could think of only 1 major duopoly (Coke vs Pepsi), which is really also a trinity once you include Dr. Pepper and their productions. So, a short question. Why?

 

*A summary I was once given on the subject:  if prices go down, predatory pricing is alleged, prices staying flat is called collusion, and rising prices are attributed to monopolies.

 

The Third Side

A Spoonful of Win sees itself as a resounding advertisement for the worth of platforms. We reside on one and are clearly the best thing about it*.  Yet in Silicon Valley and the world of tech startups more generally, there seems to be a curious shift. No longer is all the hype about new products. Instead a lot of it is about new platforms, how people are making money off them, which ones are dying and which are #winning.

So we hear all about why Nokia is deserting one platform with a massive installed user base (Symbian) for another with no user base at all (Windows Phone), how Apple is evil but going to get rich, and what our overlords at Facebook are planning. All while Android continues to churn out beta updates that no one except Google employees see and Twitter continues to save Egypt and save Charlie Sheen all in a days work.

Naturally therefore this blog needs to say something too. To talk about platforms and in doing so push the boundaries of human knowledge.

The world is currently in love with what are known as two sided platforms. These are places where two different groups of users interact, gaining network benefits from each other’s presence. Think credit cards (Visa gives you the platform, merchants and consumers provide the two client groups). Or a magazine with advertisers and readers. And of course, Facebook is a cool new two sided platform with developers and users joining hands to make them rich.

Two sided platforms differ from the more boring and conventional one sided platform, such as a telephone company providing landlines. And two seems to be the most sides a platform ever has – which if you think about it is kind of necessary for the metaphor to survive.

Until now the world has always thought that Apple was in the business of two sided platforms – the iPhone after all relies on developers making apps and folks like us buying them. So does the iPad. Evidently we were wrong. The coolest new selling point of the new iPad seems to be not the hardware, nor the software but instead an accessory: The Smart Cover. Back of the envelope calculations seems to suggest that Apple could pull in about a billion dollars from the sale of this single hardware accessory. That’s not counting all the millions independent accessory manufacturers have made and continue to make.

With numbers that large it seems pretty clear that if you’re sufficiently stylish (and Apple certainly is) and sufficiently smart, you can pull of a 3 sided platform. Hardware accessories (covers, touch-screen protectors, wireless speakers, cables and adaptors) make one side. Software developers make a second. Consumers make a third.

And the third side doesn’t just happen. It requires Apple to consistently update products, change physical dimensions, use non-standard connectors and make devices fragile enough to require additions. And make them look good with a cohesive design aesthetic.

So the question and our challenge to readers then becomes – does someone do better than 3?

*There are those who have pointed out to us that our new tone of intense narcissism and self delusion is simply the celebrity approved approach to plummeting public interest. We can only thank them for the implied compliments.

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