On pseudovariety

Kottke has a link to an interesting article, with much more interesting visualization of soft drinks industry.  The article discusses pseudovariety.  That’s when you think you have a lot of something, when indeed you really don’t.  Like with all those soft drinks on the shelves of every supermarket.  You think there is a whole lot of them, when in fact most of them are brands of either one of the three major companies.

One other example of pseudovariety that came to my mind was from the field of politics.  Think about it.  There are usually a number of political parties and presidential candidates at every election.  All of them spend hours and millions of dollars to promote themselves, demote their competition, and explain to you how different they are from everything you’ve seen to this day.  But in reality, most of them are pretty much the same.  You can see it from the way they talk, the way they work, the way they lie, the way they approach difficult problems, and the way they talk about simple things.

It often seems like you have so much to choose from, when in fact, you really don’t.

Ad CTR ratio by browser

Download Squad attempts to analyze a recent report about advertising click-through rate (CTR) ratio based on different browsers.  Apparently, more than 40 million impressions were used as the data for this report, and Opera and MSIE users came on top – they click the most ads.  Firefox and Chrome users are further down the list, and Safari users are at the bottom.

I think this chart makes a lot of sense.  While there are ad-blocking solutions for both Opera and MSIE, neither one of this browsers has a healthy plugin ecosystem.  In other words, even if there are ways to filter ads in these browsers, most users don’t know how to do it or simply don’t care enough.  Both Firefox and Chrome browsers are blossoming with addons and extensions which filter all ads, known ads, annoying ads, flash ads, ads on specific websites, ads of specific sizes, and so on and so forth.  In fact, I don’t know any Firefox or Chrome user who doesn’t have some sort of ad-filtering extension installed.

That leaves us with Safari.  Why Safari users are clicking the least ads?  I don’t know.  I’m thinking that might be a statistical inaccuracy or something along those lines.  Or maybe they all are just broke from buying all those Apple products and have no interest in ads no more.  Who knows?

Quest for men who haven’t seen porn

Slashdot Science reports:

Scientists at the University of Montreal would love to compare the views of men in their 20s who had never been exposed to pornography with regular porn watchers. The problem is, they can’t find a man in that age category who has never seen it. “We started our research seeking men in their 20s who had never consumed pornography,” said Professor Simon Louis Lajeunesse. “We couldn’t find any.

This is interesting on a number of levels.  First of all, it is, of course, hilarious.

Secondly, if seen as a puzzle or quest, I’d say they should look for men like this in places with the lowest rates of Internet connectivity.  Internet does not equal porn, but it makes it so much simpler to find and watch it.  Pre-Internet porn is harder to distribute, requiring some sort of copying device.

Thirdly, this makes me think back to the argument I had some time ago about who watches the most porn – men or women.  While I am not saying that women don’t watch porn, I think men watch incomparably more of it.

Fourthly, this gives me a reason to use both “porn” and “research” tags on the same post.

Fifth, I worry what contextual ad will pop up in Google AdSense.

History of the world through a game

We had a few discussions about Civilization IV game today in the office.  I wasn’t paying much attention as I am not a big fan of strategy games, especially turn-based strategy games.  But at some point I was looking at this technology research tree diagram (click for full-sized version, source).

Civilization IV technology tree
Civilization IV technology tree

And I couldn’t help to get impressed on how far the world has come in terms of research.  And also how much was actually discovered in the last few decades.

Yes, I know, not everything on that diagram is a technology, and not everything was actually researched.  But, on the other hand, there are many technologies which were researched and worked on, and they aren’t on that tree diagram.

A diagram like this provides a perspective on how much people knew back in the early days and how much more complex (not necessarily complicated) the modern world is.  Of course, when playing such a game against a few opponents, the perspective becomes even more realistic – the more stuff you have researched, the more you can do and more powerful is your nation.

If only now we could incorporate these games with history classes somehow …

Walking robot fun

Via Exler’s blog I came across these two videos. First is the really amazing walking robot. This is the best I’ve seen so far (although I am not a big robot fan or anything). This robot walks better than many humans that I know. Even better than I can do myself. A must see.

Secondly comes the hilarious parody for the above video. If you saw the first video and haven’t laughed at the second one – there is something really strange with your sense of humor. It must be broken I guess.

Check them out!

Black people in science and innovation

It’s been a few times already that I heard the argument that “black people made no contribution to computer science“.  I’ve also heard a few alternative versions, which were less or more specific, varying from “African blacks” and “no innovations“, to “black women” and “no contribution to science“.

Depending on the overall direction of the discussion, variation of the argument, and sensibility of the opponent, it can be very easy or rather impossible to reason. For example, an argument like “there is not one black programmer in the world” is pretty trivial to destroy.  There are at least a few respectable Perl Monks of the black race.  Over the last few years, I personally have been in contact (IM, email, phone) with a few black programmers and system administrators.  On the other hand, a request for a name or a biography of a black computer scientist might be much harder.  I am not very good with names and biographies, and I don’t know many scientist by name at all.  Picking representatives of a certain race using my own memory is close to impossible.

So, I asked The Mighty Google for a few names and biographies, and it replied.  Here are a few links that I picked from the results:

I have to admit that I was a little bit surprised by the low number of results.  Finding the above weren’t very easy.  Also, many links were very outdated.  Sometimes I’d come across a quote that slowed me down before I could “sink it in”.  Here are a couple of such examples:

one quarter of one percent (.25%) of computer scientists are black

from the “Computer Scientists of the African Diaspora” page, which seems to be from the 1990s.

Throughout the United States, there are only 32 African-American computer science (CS) professors.

from the “A Model for Department Diversity” article, which was posted in 2004.

I think that the above references are enough to convince any sane person that both science and innovation have benefited from black people.  Whether the benefits were to the same degree as those of the other races is a totally different question.  I am not going to debate it now, but perhaps I will come back to it later.

(NOTE TO MYSELF for when and if I do: consider that most computer science innovation is happening in the USA [obviuos, but citation needed], and that black people make only about 12% of the USA population [Wikipedia]. )

How marketing research works

Here is a quote of an insightful comment from this Slashdot discussion:

IDC just released its predictions for 2008 with regards to data storage trends. Its research shows…

If you’ve ever been involved in an IDC, Gartner or whatever marketing discussion, you know that the “research” mainly consists of going from vendor to vendor (data storage vendors in this case) and asking what, in their wildest dreams, would the ideal demand curve look like. Then they charge for actually coming up with some supporting information to meet the vendors’ preferred conclusion, and release the whole thing to consumers in the hopes of stimulating some demand for the paying vendors. Very scientific.

The future is expensive. Very expensive.

Again, news from Slashdot:

“The City Car, a design project under way at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is envisioned as a two-seater electric vehicle powered by lithium-ion batteries. It would weigh between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds and could collapse, then stack like a shopping cart with six to eight fitting into a typical parking space. It isn’t just a car, but is designed as a system of shared cars with kiosks at locations around a city or small community.”

Here is one of the ways I see it:

  • most families won’t be able to afford children (“two-seater electric vehicle”)
  • most families won’t be able to afford petrol powered cars (“powered by lithium-ion batterries”)
  • most families won’t be able to afford their own cars (“shared cars”)
  • most families won’t be able to afford parking spaces (“six to eight fitting into a typical parking space”)

I’m glad that science in general and MIT in particular are here to help us survive in the future.

P.S.: by the way, most families won’t be able to afford university education either, so MIT is giving out for free already – MIT OpenCourseWare.

P.P.S.: yes, I’m just kidding.  The stuff linked to from above is cool.

You are what you search

Don’t you just love it when something that you’ve been seriously suspecting, and trying to explain to people, is suddenly mentioned by someone else, together with some statistical data to back it up? Well, I do.

As you’ve probably heard by now (a billion times), AOL has recently released a few million records of its users’ search history. Plenty of people jumped on to it – all for their own reasons. One guy, among these people, studied the data and came up with this report (linked to from this Slashdot post), categorizing people into seven groups, based on their search terms.

Here is a quote from the article that made me feel glad and proud:

My favorite plots show hours of G-rated searches before the user switches gears—what I call the Avenue Q Theory of Internet usage. User No. 190827 goes from “talking parrots jokes” and “poems about a red rose” before midnight to multiple clicks for “sexy dogs and hot girls” a half hour later.

I’ve been saying for a long time – you can be romantic and kinky at the same time, and there’s nothing wrong with it, many of us are.