Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tuesday Statisticz: Reverse Engineering the Oscars

As you all know by know, No Country for Old Men took home Best Picture at the Oscars on Sunday. Naturally, I was shocked. It's not even the highest rated of the nominees on imdb! That's why I was so sure that There Will Be Blood would win.

So, all of this got me thinking. If it does not vote according to the likes of the general populace, then which demographic does the Academy vote most alike? As you know, if you click on the actual number of votes next to the rating of a movie, it takes you to this page, which breaks down the ratings based on age, gender, and some other categories. I've charted the scores that each Best Picture nominee received according to their demographic. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Note that the rating scale ranges from 0 to 10, but all of these scores fall between 6 and 9.5, so I chose those numbers to make the differences easier to see. "M" refers to males, "F" refers to females, and neither refers to the combination. The IMDb staff refers to people who work at imdb (none of whom bothered to vote on Atonement), and the "top 1000" refers to the people who have voted on the most movies on imdb. The website never lets people know if they are in the top 1000, for all I know I could be, with my measly 250 or so votes.

The most interesting parts of this chart are the places where No Country for Old Men outperformed the field. These are the type of voters that the Oscar voting population acts most alike. As you can see, No Country for Old Men has a large edge (.5) in the Top 1000 voters, a medium-sized edge (.3) in males over 45, and a very small edge (.1) in non-US voters. We can essentially throw out the non-US votes because (at least for No Country for Old Men), they represent over half of the total votes, and because it is such a small edge over There Will Be Blood. One other point of note is that teenage girls do not seem to have much influence, as they loathed the Oscar winner, awarding it a 6.6 average, albeit with a low sample size of 301.

It is hard to say exactly who these top 1000 voters are, but it is a safe bet that if you have seen and voted on more than 750 movies or so, you will have become pretty pretentious about what kind of movies you like. Don't believe me? The top 1000 voters consistently kill frat-boyish comedies, like the 5.9 they gave to Old School, while they love pretentious comedies, like the 8.1 they gave to the (admittedly hilarious) Life of Brian. The rest of the voters gave the two movies comparable scores of 7.9 to 8.2.

So, which demographics vote most similar to the Academy? Old, pretentious men. I guess it's not such a bad country for them after all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I've also been sort of annoyed at the whole, "golf is the key to success in the business world" adage. If their skill at swinging a long strip of metal is how you judge potential employees or partners, then maybe I'll take my business elsewhere.

But there is one thing that I will admit might be useful for judging character. I hosted a basketball recruit last night. He was an awesome guy, and by the looks of it a great basketball player too. But the one caveat is that when we were playing Madden 08, he had the ball at fourth-and-two on his own forty yard line, early in the game, and... he punted it.

I mean, I don't care if you haven't mastered precision passing, or if you can't time the hit stick, but you've got to be willing to pull the trigger on fourth and short. You've got to be willing to go for it. And if I'm hiring somebody to be a big mover and shaker, maybe it's worth the time to play a game of Madden to see whether or not they're willing to push that envelope.

Quick Links

Malthus was wrong.

How much will the next president matter, anyways?

The top facebook applications. Is anybody else as surprised as me that the stupid "zombie" and "vampire" attack games are valued at 36 million? Now, I'm sure no reasonable company would actually value it that high, but it's still absurd.

Start sprints with your right foot. And gain 104 milliseconds on your competition.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tuesday Statisticz

I've always thought that statistics should be spelled with a z, like in the title, to make it appeal to young people more. Sort of like how on the OC the cool teenagers always drink Mountain Dew, because it's the edgiest soft drink.

Anyway, here's my newest section: the Tuesday Statisticz. This is my new weekly segment where I take totally irreverent numbers and try to make sense of them, in order to show that numbers are silly (in a good way). This week I've taken crime data from the FBI's website and contrasted it with the favorite movies of different regions, accessed from the networks page on facebook. The idea was the immortal question of whether a preference for violent movies corresponds with how much violence there is in the real-life city in which that person presides. I tallied up the data for ten cities, and here's what I got:

Each of those data points corresponds to one city in the United States. The x axis refers to the number of violent crimes committed in the city limits, while the y axis refers to the percentage of movies that I considered "violent" of the city's 10 favorite. One of the problems with the data is that there isn't much variation of favorite movies. The percentages range from .2 to .5, with Fight Club and Pulp Fiction (both violent ones) appearing on many top 10s. Speaking of which, here are the movies that I had to deliberate on for a little bit as "violent" or not, with explanations.

Top Gun -- Not violent. The volleyball scene on the beach clearly precludes it.
Lord of the Rings trilogy -- Not violent. Sorry fanboys, but if anything, based on some of the talk between those hobbits, I'd call it an erotic thriller.
Braveheart -- Violent. Torture scenes, sweet battle scenes, and the bare ass Scottish mooning scene all push it over the edge.
Gladiator -- Violent. I hesitated because the story is so central and there's too many icky love scenes, but then I thought of Russell saying "I will have my vengeance" before stabbing Joaquin Pheonix, and I had to give it the nod as violent.
Star Wars -- Not violent. My parents wouldn't be very good if they had let me watch the trilogy 500,000 times when I was 8 if it were violent, would they? Chewbacca is way too cuddly to be a major character in a violent movie.

As you can see, there's very weak correlation (0.044) between violence per capita in a city and a preference for violent movies in the top 10 favorites of people who identify themselves in that city on facebook. The cities I chose were San Francisco and Boston, and then I went down the list alphabetically, so most of the rest of the cities are in Alabama, Alaska, and California.

Aren't you proud of me for getting a non-significant result on the very first edition of Tuesday Statisticz? No data hunting here. Check back next week for another installment.

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin

Some 48% of Americans polled by Gallup in 2007 do not believe in evolution.

Now, I realize that you did not invent the idea of evolution, but your concept of natural selection gave us a mechanism by which evolution could occur. That's why we're still celebrating your birthday, even though it's getting a tad boring after 199 of them.

I would state where I personally stand on evolution, but I'm channeling my inner Michael Jordan (I wish I could do that more on the basketball court), and I don't want to marginalize any readers. After all, creationists buy shoes too.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Am I the only one that has ever read this?

Often times, when I see blatant typos in academic textbooks, I wonder when I am the only person that has ever read it. Seriously people, proofread.

I wonder if there are any studies that measure reading comprehension as a function of how many typos there are in the copy. I expect that it would drop precipitously.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Cranky altruism

Some of the arguments against altruism claim that people only do altruistic acts to curry favor, signal their superiority, or make themselves feel better.

But doesn't the existence of cranky altruists discount these arguments? By cranky altruism, I mean people who do things for other people but clearly are not happy about it, as in, "yeah, I'll fix your computer, but don't be an idiot and mess it up again because I won't be there to save you." Think of Han Solo in Star Wars, or any reluctant hero.

If they were performing the act solely to curry favor, then I would expect that they would be kind about it, not cranky. If you want to be liked, most anybody can tell you that being cranky is not the way to get there.

If the cranky altruist wanted to signal their superiority, then they would probably pretend that the task were easy for them, instead of complaining about the necessity of doing it.

And if they were doing the altruistic deed solely to feel good about themselves, then wouldn't you expect them to be in a good mood while they were completing the task? Otherwise, you have to presuppose that they are being altruistic to fulfill their needs in some odd guilt model, which I question because I'm not sure that humans are able to predict their future emotions very well.

I'll take a cranky altruist over an overly affable one any day; they're much more fun.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Comparative advantages of conversation

After dinner yesterday, my tall friend Chris (who loves to be marginalized) lamented the current state of his dinner table chats. His worry stemmed from the fact that one person will often have substantially more information a given subject than the others in the conversation, and it leads to a telling of facts instead of the interactive discussion that it should be.

Is this why serious business people like Ayn Rand's protagonists in Atlas Shrugged never talk to each other? The written word is undoubtedly a much more efficient way of processing information than a spoken one, but I think that conversations can offer at least a few comparative advantages. Here's a few ideas:

a) Playing games. I loved doing this back when I was a camp counselor, but most adults either oppose them on odd moral grounds, can't handle the competition, or don't think that they will be fun. Jim Halpert organizes games all the time in The Office, but I get the feeling that if I worked there his micromanaging personality might get on my nerves.

b) Debates. These days, we think of debates as including a podium, stands to make both speakers the same height, and more make-up than Julia Roberts in Charlie Wilson's War. But there's no reason that non-politicians can't have debates as well. The next time you and a friend have a disagreement over about a topic, it might be fun to both agree to research the topic, and the next time you meet for coffee, debate it. Spectators would be encouraged, and they could ask questions like the living stereotypes from the YouTube debates. You could send each other the material you plan to cite before the debate, so that both people are on the same page, much like an attorney would. You could even dispute whether such evidence should be admitted and everything. Ah, the joys of pseudo-intellectualism.

c) Guided meditation. Never tried this, but I imagine it might be pretty sweet.

d) Mitigating worries and fears. If there's one thing that always helps ease my social and metaphysical anxieties, it is talking to somebody else about it. Almost without exception, the person who you are talking to will be less worried than you yourself are, and they can help you put your petty problems in perspective. When I'm lost, I find that nobody else knows what's going on either; we're all in this circus together.

The only problem is that the others at the table will probably resent the person who suggests these improvements. That's the price of a chance at influence.

PS, are there any good books on conversations? Atlas Shrugged is eating me alive right now, but I need to stick to the path.