Lies, Damn Lies, and...
May 03, 2007

I just saw a Pepsi commercial that claims that "56% of people think that Diet Pepsi has more cola flavor than Diet Coke."

Considering that the "null hypothesis" would be "50%", that's one of the least impressive endorsements I have ever seen on television.

(Sure, since we don't have access to the full details, that may be a test that had more than two options. But still... as endorsement goes, that is tepid.)

Copyrighting "Numbers"
May 03, 2007
The second part of the answer, and the one most often missed by non-techies, is the fact that the content in question is an integer — an ordinary number, in other words. The number is often written in geeky alphanumeric format, but it can be written equivalently in a more user-friendly form like 790,815,794,162,126,871,771,506,399,625. Giving a private party ownership of a number seems deeply wrong to people versed in mathematics and computer science. - Ed Felten, Freedom To Tinker

Read the rest (678 words)

Apr 30, 2007
The question probably never occurred to viewers in the 1970s and 1980s, but suddenly it is highly relevant: exactly how much worthwhile entertainment content was there in shows like “Charlie’s Angels,” “T. J. Hooker,” and “Starsky and Hutch”?

The Sony Corporation and its production studio, Sony Pictures Television, which controls the rights to those and many other relics of a distant era of television, have come up with an answer to that question: three and a half to five minutes.

That’s the length Sony has shrunk episodes down to in order to create what the company hopes is an appealing new business in retooling old shows for a new era of entertainment. Sony even has a name for these shrunken slices of television nostalgia: minisodes. - NYTimes, "Coming Online Soon"

Cross-reference with my post Television Not So Dumb As Television Tells Us To Think It Is:

Much prime time television has become phenomenally complicated, to its great benefit. My wife and I both enjoy Alias and CSI (only the original, not the spinoffs), and we are frequently asking each other what something means, because if you so much as get up to get a drink, you'll miss something, something that might change the course of the entire episode.

I recently watched a MacGyver episode straight through. Wow, was that boring. It's hard to put your finger on it while the episode is on, but not much really happens.

It's tempting to get nostalgic and believe that we've lost something by not sitting through such programs. However, I'm inclined to the interpretation that I value my time more than I used to, and if I am going to sit through a TV program, it ought to have more substance to it than a standard show from the 1970s or 1980s did. Some things really have gotten better with time.

(That said, I would say that if you were trying to cut an episode from that era down to size, it's probably more like ten minutes than five.)

Via dangerousmeta.

Apr 29, 2007

So, Fox cancelled Drive.

I watched the first episode, but now I'm not going to watch any of the others. It's no Firefly, but it is something I'd like to see where they go with it; there's a lot of potential there for a good four or five seasons.

What mystifies me is why Fox bothers with this stuff. Clearly, they want a show that will be a top 10 hit overnight. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Equally clearly, almost anybody off the street could have told you that this wasn't going to be such a hit. Even people like me who liked it could have told you that.

Complex dramas with odd hooks simply don't get into the top ten. Complex dramas with action-adventure hooks can (24), but Drive wasn't really action-adventure. Racing as a genre has action-adventure components, of course, but it's not the same. Simple dramas (sitcoms) or complex dramas with well-used hooks (the everlasting crime, spy, and hospital dramas) can be an overnight hit. Certain reality shows can be overnight hits, although the ones that do best are the ones with the simplest premises, and we've probably mostly tapped those out. (I would imagine there's one or two surprise veins like Apprentice, but not much more.)

So... why does Fox even bother with producing these wonderfully tantalizing shows when anybody who has grown up in America can tell them it's not going to meet their popularity requirements?

Please stop teasing people like me with this sort of thing, Fox. It just frustrates the both of us. Stick with your sitcoms and your crime, spy, and hospital dramas.

Software is Uniquely Chaotic
Apr 24, 2007

In my continuing series on why software is special, motivating writing a book about it, this post discusses how software is chaotic.

Here I refer to the mathematical definition of chaos, which I will define as: "A chaotic system is one in which small changes in the initial conditions can cause large and unpredictable changes in the system's iterated state." This is based on the mathematical definition(s), but simplified for our purposes. It's not just a word, it's a quasi-formal concept.

Read the rest...

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