Friday, August 1, 2014

Five Things on a Friday: Looking Forward to Vacation

There’s a lot to be excited about this week, so let’s get straight to it.
1. OkCupid Set up Bad Dates in 'An Experiment' (CNN)
Online dating site OkCupid revealed on Monday the results of a study it conducted, in which it told subscribers they were more compatible than they really were. The result? There's something to the power of suggestion.

Cupid was the son of Venus.
The ancients reckoned him the god of desire, erotic love,
attraction, and affection.  Ancient Christians turned this
on its head and made him the "Demon of Fornication".

This was absolutely fascinating.  The conclusion’s not worth a lot as it was presented, but it’s still very interesting, both that the company would potentially discredit its own algorithm this way and that people wouldn’t notice that their potential mates were completely incompatible.
What OkCupid actually said was that people who’re told they’re good potential matches have a much higher percentage chance of exchanging at least four messages with each other than do people who’re told they’re not a good match.  This is true regardless of whether or not the matches actually are good.  So, for example, if two people are 30% compatible, but the site tells them that they’re 90% compatible, then the odds increase dramatically that they’ll exchange multiple messages.  The reverse is also true—people who ought to be compatible but probably aren’t won’t exchange messages if they’re told that they probably shouldn’t bother.  However, the site made no effort to track more than mere message data, and I personally don’t know that I think of four instant messages to a stranger as constituting a relationship.  Moreover, people who really were compatible and whom the site told were compatible were even more likely to exchange multiple messages than the incompatible-but-told-compatible group, so at least OkCupid has some evidence that its algorithm works.
What’s really astonishing, though, is that the company admitted to having run the experiment without cause.  Why would they do that?  After reading through the write-up, I was left feeling that their method was—at best—10% effective.  That’s better than nothing, I guess, but it’s not a lot better than nothing.
"Lucy," starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman with a super-powered brain, collected $44 million to win the domestic box office race, outmuscling "Hercules" which took in $29 million for second place.

Robert Heinlein’s Friday is the only
female-centric Action / Sci Fi
novel I can name off the top of my head.
This cover does not do the book justice
at all.
Believe it or not, this is actually big news.  For years and years, Hollywood folks have been arguing that a female-centric action movie won’t work, that men won’t go see it, that boys won’t buy the toy tie-ins, and that the whole thing would therefore be a waste of money.  It seems ridiculous on its face, but it’s real, it’s the reason why we haven’t had a Wonder Woman movie, and it’s not just limited to Hollywood.  In fact, a good friend of mine recently had a book rejected because, bottom line, she is a woman, her book is about a woman, and the publisher didn’t believe that anyone would want to read what is essentially an action/romance starring a woman in wartime.  The publisher said it was too serious for the female audience and that men didn’t want to read about women being heroic.
I was stunned.

Lucy’s success is a potential watershed.  Most blockbusters are PG-13 (because teenagers like movies), but Lucy was rated “R”.  It’s an Action/Sci Fi, it stars a woman, and it beat Hollywood’s second-highest-paid star by a mile at the box office despite the fact that Lucy’s reviews were at best mediocre whereas Hercules was actually certified “fresh” at RottenTomatoes.Com.  So Lucy beat a better movie despite the fact that it was rated R, had a limited teenage demographic, was about a woman in the “action” role, and exit polls showed that the folks who saw it didn’t even like it!
Elaine Cunningham’s Daughter of the Drow
is one of my favorite fantasy novels.
I wish she was still writing for Wizards of the Coast.

Final note: men and women saw Lucy in equal percentages.  Hollywood assumptions aside, no one cared that it was about a woman.  
[I]f the world needed another theatre of global conflict, North Korea, as if on cue, threatened a nuclear strike on the White House and Pentagon on Sunday. The threat came from Hwang Pyong-So, director of the military's General Political Bureau, who was presumably playing to the audience by dishing out some serious red meat to what Agence France Presse described as “a large military rally in Pyongyang.” "If the US imperialists threaten our sovereignty and survival... our troops will fire our nuclear-armed rockets at the White House and the Pentagon -- the sources of all evil," Hwang said in his speech broadcast Monday on state television, according to AFP.
North Korea is the most convenient boogieman the United States has ever faced.
In the years since the recession, dollar stores have been through a boom and bust of their own. For a few years, an influx of cash-strapped consumers buoyed revenue at discount stores. Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar saw annual sales surge by as much as 10 percent as shoppers turned to them for toiletries and groceries. As the number of Americans using food stamps soared from 26 million pre-recession to 48 million in 2013, a significant chunk of those dollars found their way to dollar stores. More than 40 percent of dollar store customers depend on some type of government aid, according to research firm Morningstar.
Then the boom slowed…
The success of the various “Dollar”-type stores is one of the most interesting stories to come out of the recession.  It’s not a surprise, really, that bargain stores would do well as folks’ fortunes took a hit, but it’s been interesting to see exactly how much revenue they’ve gotten from the influx of Federal assistance money.  On the flipside, I’ve seen various liberals saying that the biggest reason that we need to raise the minimum wage is that it would reduce Welfare.  In its current form, the theory goes, we are really subsidizing minimum-wage employers.  No one can live on $8/hour, so if we did away with Welfare, minimum wage stores would have to pay more.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the economics support that.  I think if we did away with all Welfare, lots of people would just starve, crime would go up exponentially, and the “Dollar”-brand stores would mostly go out of business.

5.  By the time you read this, we'll be in Maine!
Yup.  Vacation is here at last, and indeed, the only reason there's a column this week is the magic of Blogger's Schedule feature.

For the second year in a row, we're in this cabin on Green Lake's
northern penninsula.  It's about an hour due north of
Acadia National Park.
As long as I can get a cell signal up at our cabin, I plan to continue posting, though the posts will almost certainly be just pictures from our trip.  Still, if that interests you, feel free to come back and see what we're up to.

Have a great weekend.  We'll talk to you soon.

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