Archive: Apr 2008

Elizabeth Edwards on the pathetic coverage of the elections

News is different from other programming on television or other content in print. It is essential to an informed electorate. And an informed electorate is essential to freedom itself. But as long as corporations to which news gathering is not the primary source of income or expertise get to decide what information about the candidates “sells,” we are not functioning as well as we could if we had the engaged, skeptical press we deserve.

And the future of news is not bright. Indeed, we’ve heard that CBS may cut its news division, and media consolidation is leading to one-size-fits-all journalism. The state of political campaigning is no better: without a press to push them, candidates whose proposals are not workable avoid the tough questions. All of this leaves voters uncertain about what approach makes the most sense for them. Worse still, it gives us permission to ignore issues and concentrate on things that don’t matter. (Look, the press doesn’t even think there is a difference!)

Bowling 1, Health Care 0 – New York Times

IPL and International Cricket

Cricket has morphed over the years. It started off with Test Cricket – where the game is played over five days. Then came the One Day International – just a day’s worth of play where each side bowls 50 overs. And now the shortest version of the game yet – Twenty20 Cricket where each side bowls 20 overs and the game takes about four hours in total.

All three versions of the game are still played. The purists view Test Cricket as “real” cricket. The One Day International is the most common version of the game and the Cricket World Cup that occurs every four years is based on this format.

Twenty20 Cricket, though, is where all the action is. And this is where cricket is innovating and changing the most. For the first time ever, cricket has introduced a franchise model. India now has a version of the NHL or the NBA – the Indian Premier League (IPL).

There are eight franchises and each one is comprised of both Indian and international cricketers (from Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the West Indies).The IPL’s season is just six weeks long. After that, the player return to their national teams and go back to representing their countries.

Up until now, cricket has always been about national teams competing and so it felt really odd to watch the first game of the IPL. But I quickly got into it.

In normal circumstances, Matthew Hayden (an Australian batsman) whacking a six would be a bad thing since it meant India was being pummeled. But now the crowds go crazy because Hayden is part of the “their” team. It is quite cool really.

I think a huge side benefit of the IPL will be the improved interactions in “regular” international cricket. Crowd behavior, or rather, misbehavior, will hopefully improve. Once you’ve cheered for Matthew Hayden or Andrew Symonds as “your guy”, how can you really boo him  when he represents Australia?

There are also relationships being formed within the teams. When you become friends with someone, you can certainly play against them and be a fierce competitor. But it is very unlikely that you can sledge your friends and cross the line into disgusting behavior. In case things do devolve, as in India’s recent tour of Australia (a low-point in team interactions), there will be multiple relationships than can be leveraged to resolve the situation quickly. Hopefully all the good bonding going on between the players in IPL will ensure that future series are more about the game and less about personnel friction.

IPL – bite-sized cricket with some cool side benefits.

Oh, I am cheering for the Chennai Super Kings, my home team. And at this point, the only undefeated team in the league!!

On choosing and settling

A couple of articles recently addressed the issues of women choosing their mates.

From The Atlantic:

My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo!” in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year. (It’s hard to maintain that level of zing when the conversation morphs into discussions about who’s changing the diapers or balancing the checkbook.)

Obviously, I wasn’t always an advocate of settling. In fact, it took not settling to make me realize that settling is the better option, and even though settling is a rampant phenomenon, talking about it in a positive light makes people profoundly uncomfortable. Whenever I make the case for settling, people look at me with creased brows of disapproval or frowns of disappointment, the way a child might look at an older sibling who just informed her that Jerry’s Kids aren’t going to walk, even if you send them money. It’s not only politically incorrect to get behind settling, it’s downright un-American. Our culture tells us to keep our eyes on the prize (while our mothers, who know better, tell us not to be so picky), and the theme of holding out for true love (whatever that is—look at the divorce rate) permeates our collective mentality.

One of the points she makes is that settling is, in fact, a “rampant phenomenon”. I’d argue that that most people who got married settled in some way. No one can get every single thing they want. It all depends on which aspects/characteristics you are willing to “settle”. A more politically correct term might be “compromise”. Once you call it compromise, you are safe. No one is going to look at you like a freak when you say “relationships are based on compromise”!

Of course, the counter is that the article is written assuming that the woman wants to have kids – an assumption that is not always accurate. In a recent conversation with a girlfriend, she explained that she’d rather wait and find someone who she can have a great life with rather than get married now in order to beat the biological clock and increase her chances of having kids. A wonderful life without kids would, in fact, be wonderful. How can you argue with that?

Slate talks about how women are the ones who are doing the choosing even though, traditionally, the man is the one who proposes:

Consider the classic version of the marriage proposal: A woman makes it known that she is open to a proposal, the man proposes, and the woman chooses to say yes or no. The structure of the proposal is not, “I choose you.” It is, “Will you choose me?” A woman chooses to receive the question and chooses again once the question is asked.

And if, like me, you know a ton of great single women in their thirties but only very few great single guys in the same age bracket, Slate uses game theory to explain why that is in fact the case:

You can think of this traditional concept of the search for marriage partners as a kind of an auction. In this auction, some women will be more confident of their prospects, others less so. In game-theory terms, you would call the first group “strong bidders” and the second “weak bidders.” Your first thought might be that the “strong bidders”—women who (whether because of looks, social ability, or any other reason) are conventionally deemed more of a catch—would consistently win this kind of auction.

But this is not true. In fact, game theory predicts, and empirical studies of auctions bear out, that auctions will often be won by “weak” bidders, who know that they can be outbid and so bid more aggressively, while the “strong” bidders will hold out for a really great deal. You can find a technical discussion of this here. (Be warned: “Bidding Behavior in Asymmetric Auctions” is not for everyone, and I certainly won’t claim to have a handle on all the math.) But you can also see how this works intuitively if you just consider that with a lot at stake in getting it right in one shot, it’s the women who are confident that they are holding a strong hand who are likely to hold out and wait for the perfect prospect.

This is how you come to the Eligible-Bachelor Paradox, which is no longer so paradoxical. The pool of appealing men shrinks as many are married off and taken out of the game, leaving a disproportionate number of men who are notably imperfect (perhaps they are short, socially awkward, underemployed). And at the same time, you get a pool of women weighted toward the attractive, desirable “strong bidders.”

Where have all the most appealing men gone? Married young, most of them—and sometimes to women whose most salient characteristic was not their beauty, or passion, or intellect, but their decisiveness.

Both articles touch of topics of conversation I’ve had with friends over the years… Interesting reading.

Unsubscribe me!

I’ve cleared up my subscriptions to online mailing lists considerably. But I have been unable to unsubscribe from four categories of email –

1. Hotel California – I get an email. I click on the link that says “unsubscribe” and I get to a page that offers me the option to subscribe, but not one to unsubscribe. Alternatively, it is a page of my subscription preferences and every single email variety is set to “do not deliver”. But, of course, I am still getting emails. What the heck??

I’d love to just hit a “report” button and have the site do the investigation to fix the issue instead of my having to find a customer service email and follow up.

2. FOAF1 abuser – A friend at one time or the other sends out a huge mass email. Every single email address is visible. A FOAF then copies all the email addresses and spams everyone going forward. You’d think getting off these lists is easy. Not. I wrote to one of these FOAFs requesting to be taken off the list. He writes back that he can’t check every email blast that he sends out and instead the mutual friend should have been more careful (?!?!)

People! Don’t expose my email to spammers! Where’s the sense of responsibility?!

3. Annoying acquaintance – The person sends five emails a day. Ok, sometimes less. But these are all stupid forwards about flowers, pets, kids, rainbows and other crap. Now, if the person is a friend, no problem – email back and tell them to take you off. But the acquaintance situation is harder. I don’t know the person well and don’t want to seem rude. This bucket also covers the random relative to whom you can’t possibly say “What’s wrong with you?? STOP emailing me!!!”

4. Scare Forward – I particularly hate these. Hate is actually not a strong enough word. Abhor. Despise. Detest. These are the emails with a threat at the end of it – “if you don’t forward this to your 3 million friends in the next 16 nanoseconds…” or “This email has been around the world 496 times…”And of course, there are the religious versions of these that invoke Ganesha, Jesus, Sai Baba and every other god, demigod and saint known to man.

I take special pleasure in dealing with those. First I find every person in the chain who has forwarded it to others. Then I dig up my canned response – a stern talking to about email abuse, how despicable it is to forward threats, the potential legalities of spam etc. – and I send it to all of them. Then I delete the original, refusing to inflict it upon others.

A subset of this are the fake emails – urban myths. Instead of checking Snopes, people blithely forward on the crap. Well intentioned, but so incredibly useless.

Yes, I know that it is very easy to hit the delete button. But why should I waste any time, even if it is the 10 seconds needed to process these stupid emails??

Unsubscribe me already!

  1. Friend Of A Friend 

Congestion Pricing Plan nixed

The plan that could have made Manhattan more livable was nixed in Albany.

Mr. Bloomberg and his supporters — including a vast array of civic environmental organizations, as well as key city officials like the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, and other elected officials — viewed the proposal as a farsighted and essential step toward the city’s future growth. But the plan was strongly opposed by a broad array of politicians from Queens, Brooklyn, and New York’s suburbs, who viewed the proposed congestion fee as regressive and Manhattan-centric.

So instead the people who actually live in Manhattan need to continue to suffer?! The city should be a world leader. But the infrastructure is crumbling. This plan was critical to allowing the city to absorb more people and was supported by multiple environmental groups.

Some version of this plan has to come back for the city to survive and thrive.

To move to Tumblr…

It seems like the whole world is blogging. But that’s hardly the case1. When blogs first started, only the technically equipped could blog. Blogger changed that. But the interface was limited and once Google bought it, innovation on that platform slowed down for a long time. WordPress2 offered people who were slightly technical flexibility. The fact that it is open source meant that user needs quickly drove feature development by the army of users. The power of WordPress and the open source platform is truly brilliant and is something I’ve noted before. But many (me included) are finding that maintenance is a fair amount of work. And the complexity ratchets up with every plugin that’s installed.

I blogged privately on Blogger for years before I decided to switch to WordPress and blog publicly. I chose WordPress because of the flexibility, the ability to host it on my own url and because it was completely free. But over time, it has become a pain to manage the various plugins and the upgrades. In addition, something as simple as a template change is real work because things break. So I’ve stuck with what I have even if I don’t love it.

Tumblr is the new face of simplicity and elegance and is a great platform for blogging. It is quick, it is easy, it is clean and the UI – both for the poster and for the reader – is a sheer joy to work with. It has no sidebar and no plugins (that I know of). The blogger can change templates and colors on a daily basis if she wants – it is a much better alternative to the population that would otherwise choose Blogger.

The lack of thousands of widgets – really, the lack of choice and therefore the lack of complexity – is what makes Tumblr great. It forces you to be simple and focus on the content.

Let’s say that I am sold. Let’s even say that I am willing to give up plugins I like (such as Subscribe To Comments) in order to make my life easier. Can I switch to Tumblr?

The answer is a resounding NO. For one big reason – I cannot migrate my content to Tumblr.

I want my blog to contain all my posts – the content and the comments. This would require the ability to “import” my WordPress blog into tumblr, something almost every other blogging platform allows. Should it be doable? Yes. Is it doable? No. Or not yet. I have no idea whether this is on the roadmap or not, but until it is, I, and others like me who desperately want to, can’t move to Tumblr even though we want to.

Tumblr is late to the game in terms of blogging software. And while they may get a large percentage of those who are just starting3,  a lot of people have blogs already. A few will be willing to cut over in order to avoid the hassle, but most, even those with little traffic, will want all their posts and comments moved over. Tumblr should bring their “easy, clean, and beautiful” approach to this problem and solve it. I am sure it will have a big impact on adoption. I’ll be the first in line.

  1. In fact, just this week, I told three very smart eBay colleagues that they should be blogging 

  2. I’m ignoring TypePad in this discussion since it won’t affect the discussion 

  3. I recommended that all three folks use Tumblr 

Cricket in New York City

On Wednesday, the Department of Education inaugurated cricket as its newest league sport, with about 600 high school students playing on 14 teams during a 12-game season. The first matches, held in Queens, featured teams from John Adams, Richmond Hill, Aviation and Newcomers High Schools. The Department of Education said New York is the only public school system in the nation to offer competitive cricket.

Playing a Sport With Balls and Bats, but No Pitcher – New York Times