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Posts Tagged ‘popular culture’

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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Content Free Statements

Human beings, this blog’s third favorite subject of discussion (after markets and technology) are a curious species. Gifted with speech, we choose to spend much of our time speaking putting together words without any real content. I was myself recently pulled up by a friend for responding to a claim he made by saying “I potentially agree.” The English are famous for spending much time discussing the weather at the start of a conversation. A website I recently discovered, Twitter, takes this business of putting together words without any content, to an art form. (A notable exception appears to be my PhD advisor, who seems to be incapable of talking in anything but perfect, complete sentences.)

That said, there are few examples of botched communication that stand out as badly as LeBron James. In a misguided effort to top “The Decision”, he said recent interview:

“I’ve seen a couple of my teammates get technicals for, I’m not going to say nothing,” James said, “but really nothing.”
“That’s $2,000 for a technical these days, man. It’s not really about the money, but it is.”

I guess those weren’t linguistic skills he was taking to Miami. (Politicians and economists are excluded from consideration- communication is not exactly what they’re hoping to achieve)

(Late Addendum- Never to be outdone, the class of the 5’8” WR field, Wes Welker offered this press conference yesterday. HT: Shayan)

 

 

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Counter-Unfactuals

There are a lot of questions around our favorite fictional characters that we don’t know the answer to: would Batman win in a fight against Superman? How would Mssr Poirot and Ms. Marple get along if they were to meet? Could the Hardy Boys work with Nancy Drew? Turns out that the license-fee-funded sleeping TV giants who are the BBC have produced watchable telly for the first time since Maggie left office, and in doing so answered a questions we’ve always wondered- could Sherlock Holmes work in the modern day?

I refer of course to Sherlock- a show that casts Holmes and Watson in the 21st century. Frankly, it’s the first time since I read the books nearly 20 years ago that I’ve been excited by Sherlock Holmes. Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant as Holmes, while Martin Freeman (Watson) looks so much like Robert Sean Leonard (Wilson from House) that it seems like he was cast just to make the House M.D. as Holmes analogy more obvious. The only downside appears to be in their attempts to make the dialogue match the era- “Mrs Hudson, the game is on!” is distinctly less appealing than “Mrs Hudson, the game is afoot!” Anyway, watch it when you get a chance. Season 2 (sticking to the rather disappointing British habit of having a single digit number of episodes to a season) is due some time later this year.

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Urban legends are a curious bunch. Most of them are easily dismissed as the product of an overzealous imagination. The more interesting ones are those that border on true, or better still back up some long running suspicion we’ve always had. One that hit the jackpot a while back was the story of the mom who left a McHappy meal burger on her shelf and noticed that it didn’t rot even 6 months later. Aaha, cried the blogosphere and media in unison. Something  is wrong with fast food. A collection of heart rending pieces on the moral bankruptcy of our times followed.

One gentleman didn’t quite believe the popular narrative. He decided to test it against his alternate theory that the happy meal burger was so small that it dried up before it could go bad (also the theory suggested by mcdonalds, not that anyone was listening). He was right on the money. Unfortunately, people were too busy buying the popular narrative to question it.

What is it about our times that we like stories that confirm our own internal narratives regardless of their, to borrow a term from Stephen Colbert, truthiness? Why do human beings and societies tend to organize reality around simple narratives (sometimes to the point of selectively ignoring facts), and rarely question the narrative? On the latter I have no answer, on the former I blame the 24hr news cycle and the perverse incentives that result from chasing ratings/readership. But then again, that claim is part of the popular narrative…

(We hasten to add, dear reader, that at this blog, we make no representations about truth. If what we are about to say fits into the image of us we would like to present to you, we run with it. And that’s about it.)

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The NFL playoffs are upon us. For football fans and fans whose teams made it to festivus, this is the highlight of the year- lots of high quality football starring quality teams (and whoever comes out of the NFC west). This is also, however, a time when that which masquerades for analysis on TV reaches a new low. Demand for quality content meets a supply of ex-players trained from years of speaking much yet saying nothing at press-conferences to produce what Cheap Talk economists call a babbling equilibrium (subliminal advertising alert).

Case in point- the pre-match analysis:
1. Offense, Defense, and special teams are critical.
2. The 12th man (i.e. home team crowd) can make a difference.
3. Ball security and turnovers (takeaways) are key.
4. “Exploiting good matchups” is important (explaining what this might mean, or instances thereof clearly less so).
5. Field Position is vital.
6. Hyped-player of the week could be a difference maker.

NFL coverage is the posterboy for dumbed down mainstream media. For an example of slightly un-dumbed down analysis, here’s a piece on yesterday’s Eagles-Pack game by my favorite sports economist, Jonathan Weinstein.
(Disclaimer: JW is not actually a sports economist. This hasn’t stopped him from writing some of the best pieces of actual analysis.)

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