Monday, September 05, 2005

Letter to Fred Langa gets published

Hey, my email to Fred Langa about spam got published in his newletter! It's the same think as my post about ISPs blocking too much good email as spam.

AOL vs Who Wants to be a Millionaire

Do you watch "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"? Have you noticed that the AOL people who participate in the "Ask the Audience" segment are consistently DUMBER than the actual audience?

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about - Who Wants to be a Millionaire is a TV game show where the contest is asked a series of multiple choice questions. If they get all 15 correct, they win a million dollars. They earn lesser, increasing amounts for each question, and they can stop at any time. If they miss a question, they fall back to one of three lower cash levels ($0, $1000, or $25,000).

For assistance they have what are called Lifelines that can each be used once. They can Phone a Friend who may know the answer. They can cut the answer choices from 4 to 2. Or they can Ask the Audience. In this case, everyone in the audience can vote for one of the answers. And they are most often correct.

So how does AOL come into this? Well, this year, they added the capability for AOL Instant Messaging users to vote as well. And they report the statistics on how they voted, separate from the stats on the studio audience. Now, I have not kept detailed stats, but I would say that 90% of the time, the AOL voters have a lower percentage of correct answers than the studio audience. If the studio audience casts 90% of its votes for the correct answer, the AOL voters will only be 70% correct. If the studio audience casts 70% of its votes for the correct answer, the AOL voters will only be 50% correct. Consistently.

Now, I guess there could be other reasons besides stupidity for this. They could be doing it on purpose, as a kind of joke. That means they are CRUEL rather than stupid. They want the contestant to fail. And it raises the question of whether it is a vast conspiracy on the part of AOL voters, or they are just a bunch of free spirits who all decide to screw with the system. Another possibility is that the studio audience cheats - if one person does not know the answer, they ask their friends, and correct answers get passed around. AOL voters, on the other hand, are a bunch of isolated loners, with no one to ask for help. Finally, the studio audience may be of above average intelligence - many of them are presumably friends of contestants, and maybe they learned something during training sessions.

But I prefer to believe that the AOL voters are just dumb. It satisfies my self-image as above the masses. Since I usually get the answers correct as well.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Emergency Response

I have 2 thoughts on the response to the devastation from Hurricane Katrina.

1) Is this the pace of response we would see if there was a large terrorist attack? Presumably it is. Perhaps this is bigger than almost any other nuclear attack - but what about a small nuclear device in NYC? I guess that would be more localized. But it just seems like THIS is what SOMEONE (FEMA? Dept of Homeland Security?) should have been preparing for since 9/11.

I'll admit I am a Democrat (and Proud Of It! Well, maybe proud of being a Liberal/Progressive ...) and I don't like Bush very much - and I don't like him any better for this - but I don't think it would have been any better under a Democratic President - or maybe only a little better. There is something wrong with the way we do things. Item 2 below addresses part of that. Another part is that our politicians, in general, care about their DONORS rather than their CONSTITUENTS. The voters are the pawns - the donors are the ones with the power and weapons and money. And most large donors are business men, who care about their business (and their stockholders - I am not saying they are all greedy) - but not about the PEOPLE.

2) I heard one thing on the radio that was fascinating. I don't know who said it - I don't know where I heard it - but it was pretty enlightening. What this person said was - for our critical problems like this emergency, we need an approach like the Manhattan Project that made the atom bomb during World War II. And specifically, the approach used there was - every schedule you are given is too long and can and must be cut significantly. If someone says it will take 6 weeks, you say we don't have that much time - you 2 weeks. If someone says it will take 2 weeks, you give them 2 days. You just have to shift people's thinking about what is possible, and what is acceptable.

I was listening to the FEMA director today, talking about the table test they did 2 years ago on the potential impact of a major hurricane on New Orleans. And the planning they did 1 year ago on how to reduce the risk and improve the response. And I got the impression that, if we were lucky, they would have IMPLEMENTED something in a couple more years. And I wonder what could have been done if they had that Manhattan Project mentality.

I realize a big part of this is money, and how we allocate it, and how we get it (via taxes). Item 1 above addresses that a little. But that is a topic for another post.