Wednesday, June 24, 2015

TV Ratings Stink Because People Are Watching More TV

Earlier today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the 2014 data for their annual American Time Use Survey. The survey measures how Americans spend their time, from working to sleeping to leisure. In an environment where TV ratings declined 50% in the decade following 2002 while subscription fees have steadily increased to make up for lost advertising revenue, surely we would see a similar decline of television viewership in the survey data.

Well now, that's rather curious, isn't it?

These are average hours per person, which means that even if the graph were flat, the total number of hours watched would have increased due to population growth; U.S. population increased from 290 million in 2003 to 319 million in 2014.

To be fair, the 50% figure is for broadcast networks, but the disparity is striking and undeniable, raising a number of questions. Are Nielsen ratings are flawed? Are we merely watching more cable? Is everyone just streaming Netflix? Whatever the reasons, and there are many to be sure, the majority of television consumption is now unaccounted for by traditional metrics. For all the complaining from studio, network, and advertising executives about declines in viewership, it seems the actual problem lies with their inability to measure and monetize what is actually a growth in TV watching.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Richard Posner: Judicial Badass

The country is aflutter today as the Supreme Court refused certiorari to a slate of petitions regarding same-sex marriage; seven filings across five states appealing decisions by three circuit courts striking down same-sex marriage bans in those states were denied review without comment. In other words, gay marriage is a go in 11 more states for a total of 30 states and the District of Columbia. The petitions came from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin, and the states affected are shown below.

This is wonderful news in the march for equality, but I'd like to highlight one of the decisions in question, that authored by Judge Richard A. Posner of the Seventh Circuit. You can read the full decision here, but I'd like to point out a few tasty quotes:
The challenged laws discriminate against a minority defined by an immutable characteristic, and the only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction – that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended – is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously.
The state tells us that “non-procreating opposite-sex couples who marry model the optimal, socially expected behavior for other opposite-sex couples whose sexual intercourse may well produce children.” That’s a strange argument; fertile couples don’t learn about child-rearing from infertile couples. And why wouldn’t same-sex marriage send the same message that the state thinks marriage of infertile heterosexuals sends – that marriage is a desirable state?
Elderly first cousins are permitted to marry because they can’t produce children; homosexuals are forbidden to marry because they can’t produce children. The state’s argument that a marriage of first cousins who are past child-bearing age provides a “model [of] family life for younger, potentially procreative men and women” is impossible to take seriously.
At oral argument the state‘s lawyer was asked whether “Indiana’s law is about successfully raising children,” and since “you agree same-sex couples can successfully raise children, why shouldn’t the ban be lifted as to them?” The lawyer answered that “the assumption is that with opposite-sex couples there is very little thought given during the sexual act, sometimes, to whether babies may be a consequence.” In other words, Indiana’s government thinks that straight couples tend to be sexually irresponsible, producing unwanted children by the carload, and so must be pressured (in the form of governmental encouragement of marriage through a combination of sticks and carrots) to marry, but that gay couples, unable as they are to produce children wanted or unwanted, are model parents – model citizens really – so have no need for marriage. Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.
If marriage is better for children who are being brought up by their biological parents, it must be better for children who are being brought up by their adoptive parents. The state should want homosexual couples who adopt children – as, to repeat, they are permitted to do – to be married, if it is serious in arguing that the only governmental interest in marriage derives from the problem of accidental births. (We doubt that it is serious.)
One wouldn’t know, reading Wisconsin’s brief, that there is or ever has been discrimination against homosexuals anywhere in the United States.
But back to Wisconsin, which makes four arguments of its own against such marriage... fourth, same-sex marriage is analogous in its effects to no-fault divorce, which, the state argues, makes marriage fragile and unreliable – though of course Wisconsin has no-fault divorce, and it’s surprising that the state’s assistant attorney general, who argued the state’s appeal, would trash his own state’s law.
Does Wisconsin want to push homosexuals to marry persons of the opposite sex because opposite-sex marriage is “optimal”? Does it think that allowing same-sex marriage will cause heterosexuals to convert to homosexuality? Efforts to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality have been a bust; is the opposite conversion more feasible?
Wisconsin’s remaining argument is that the ban on same-sex marriage is the outcome of a democratic process – the enactment of a constitutional ban by popular vote. But homosexuals are only a small part of the state’s population – 2.8 percent, we said, grouping transgendered and bisexual persons with homosexuals. Minorities trampled on by the democratic process have recourse to the courts; the recourse is called constitutional law.
Posner isn't just an entertaining writer - he's a jurisprudential heavyweight, the most cited legal scholar of the 20th century, and shared a blog with Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary S. Becker. It may surprise you to learn that Posner was a Reagan appointee and, in 1997, wrote in the Michigan Law Review that he was unpersuaded by extant arguments for constitutional protection of same-sex marriage. But that position was rooted in public norms and precedence, not religion or righteousness, so 17 years later we find ourselves the beneficiaries of a bona fide judicial badass.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Mouthwash Experiment

Have you ever wondered whether the type of mouthwash you use matters? Probably not, but I have. In fact, I once had a conversation with my therapist about spending over an hour at Target trying to decide which type of mouthwash to buy. While I was able to move past that specific incident of OCD, the opportunity to more thoroughly and scientifically answer the question has finally arrived.

My local Target had an unadvertised sale on Crest mouthwashes, making them cheaper than their Up & Up store brand, so I had no choice but to run an experiment. You may notice the absence of a whitening mouthwash - it was not on sale. But it will be included as the fourth variety for testing. As a group, they represent the spectrum of mouthwashes on the market, regardless of brand.

The blue and purple mouthwashes both feature sodium flouride, the standard active ingredient in toothpaste, and claim anticavity protection; the purple wash is alcohol-free. The green mouthwash features cetylpyridinium chloride and claims antigingivitis and antiplaque protection; the chemical itself is an antiseptic, so it should also offer anticavity protection. Curiously, the purple mouthwash ALSO includes cetylpyridinium chloride, though not as an active ingredient. In case you're concerned about chemical decomposition, all 3 bottles have expiration dates within a month of each other and more than 18 months from today. Whitening mouthwashes include sodium hypochlorite, otherwise known as bleach, but no active ingredients.

The testing process will be quite straightforward, using my current oral care regimen with the addition of consistency controls. My twice-a-day process includes:

1) Flossing with a Waterpik oral irrigator using lukewarm water for the duration of a full reservoir, approximately 55 seconds on the highest pressure setting. In addition to being much more consistent than string flossing, the ADHA (not ADA) claims that water flossing is a comparable, if not perfect substitute for traditional flossing.

2) Brushing for a full cycle with a Sonicare ProResults-headed toothbrush. I usually top off after the 2 minute timer expires, but the brush vibrates in 30 second intervals, so I'll be able to consistently go for 2 minutes 30 seconds. My longtime toothpaste of choice is Colgate Total Whitening gel, the only variety that includes triclosan, an antibacterial agent, in addition to the standard active ingredient of sodium flouride. I generally prefer gels to pastes for use with an electric toothbrush due to their higher viscosity.

3) Each of the pictured mouthwashes recommend 10 mL per use and feature spillover caps for accurate measurement. They also recommend rinsing for 60 seconds, which I will time with a wristwatch. One potential complication is that Crest 3D White mouthwash recommends using 15 mL and features a cap without a measurement structure, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

An experiment like this wouldn't be complete without some hypotheses. I traditionally use a whitening mouthwash, but while it may brighten your smile, it doesn't seem to do much, if anything, for your oral health. The blue mouthwash only has sodium flouride, effectively making it "brushing-plus". The green mouthwash has cetylpyridinium chloride, which I'm skeptical is actually effective against plaque. The purple mouthwash has both ingredients, so it's my pre-test favorite, the Crest Pro-Health Complete Rinse.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Meditation On Steak

I believe that any time a steak is cooked more than medium rare, that is the single biggest mistake in all of history. Every time it happens, it's worse than the last time - haven't we learned anything? Don't people realize how bad overcooked steak tastes?

I know it's personal preference, but I believe steaks are at their absolute best when cooked medium rare; it's the perfect temperature for a nice piece of meat. The steaks should start out at room temperature. I can always tell when somebody's cooking a steak right out of the fridge. It never really cooks as evenly, the center taking just a little longer to get to that sweet spot, the exterior drying out while the middle takes forever to come down from the cold. I'll still always say, "Wow, great steak", but I'm just being polite.

Ideally, whoever is cooking is going to want to heat up their grill or frying pan or whatever, get it really, really hot, almost smoking, so that the outside of the steak will have that nice char, that crisp brown. And then, when you cut into it, man, it's great. Red to the center with a warm interior.

So I always order my steak medium rare. Unless, of course, I'm sitting at a table in a steakhouse with a large group of people. In that case, it's not so simple. I'm a gentleman, so I never just go ahead and order first. I'll hold off for somebody else to start, and then I'll wait until it's my turn to order. Chances are, somebody else is going to order their steak medium rare. I'm telling you, it's the best way to have a steak. But then the waiter will come around to me, "And for you, sir? How would you like your steak prepared?" I can't say medium rare now - I'll look like I have no idea what I'm doing. I'll look like I've never ordered a steak before, like I'm just copying everybody else.

This is why it's great to order first at a steak place. Everyone else is definitely going to get their steak medium rare, so when you order first, you look like you're in charge, like everyone else is following your lead. The second person will also say medium rare. "Very good, sir." And maybe he really did want his steak medium rare. It all depends on how fast he said it. If there was even a second's hesitation, it would be perfectly obvious that he was probably going to go for medium, but he didn't feel like being outdone by the first person. "I'll take mine medium … rare. Medium rare." A classic rookie I've-never-eaten-in-a-steakhouse-with-a-large-group-of-people mistake.

And then it goes down the line, medium rare, medium rare, medium rare. But now everybody ordering, the fifth, sixth, seventh, even if they wanted medium or medium well, it's just not happening. Nobody's going to stick their neck out like that. By the third or fourth person, the waiter is only even asking because he has to, because it's part of his job description. Restaurant managers always get really pissed when waiters try to save some time and cast out a blanket, "Medium rares all around?" question to the table.

Every once in a while, the waiter will happen to start with a person who clearly doesn't know how to eat steak and they'll say medium or medium well. And the next person will order theirs, extra loud, "MEDIUM RARE," as if to say, "Please don't confuse me with my idiot friend to my left. I'd like mine medium rare. Please." And it'll go down the line, medium rare, medium rare, and after two or three people, that first guy will realize his mistake, and he'll get really embarrassed, and he'll just shout out to the waiter (who's already past him), and he'll say, "Excuse me, you know what? I'm going to go for that medium rare also. Thanks." And the waiter will say, "Very good, sir," and he'll pretend to cross out something on his pad and write in something else, but it will all be an act, because he's not writing anything at all. It's always medium rare. The first person always changes to medium rare after everyone else orders medium rare. It's a science.

But then it gets to me, and maybe I'm the eighth or ninth person ordering. And I'm no follower, I'm no nameless face in a crowd. So I'll say, "Rare, please." And everyone drops their fork and stares. I learned this trick at my friend's wedding in Iowa last summer. The rehearsal dinner was at this steak place, and the specialty was rib eye. Delish. Of course I was going to order medium-rare, but the first person ordered rare. I was like, "What? Rare? Crazy!" But then the second person ordered. Rare. Third, fourth, fifth. Rare, rare, rare. There was definitely a pattern here, and it became clear to me how I'd have to order my steak.

It was good. I liked it. It was a little chewier than I was used to, and you have to cut the pieces really thin to make them somewhat manageable in your mouth. But it's nice. I still like medium rare better, but I'll never tell that to anybody. I'll only order that if it's just me and somebody else, or if I'm cooking the steak myself. From now on, when I'm at a steak restaurant with a lot of people, rare it is. I'm a one-of-a-kind kind of a guy. I just love it, sitting there. Medium rare. Medium rare. Medium rare. Medium rare. Then, bam! Rare. I always stand out from the pack.

I really hope that someday, I'm out to dinner with a bunch of guys, and for some reason it's my turn to order first. And I'm definitely going to order rare. And I know that the second person is going to have to order rare also. And it'll be like dominoes, everyone falling in line, everyone getting a rare steak. I'm pretty sure that's what happened in Iowa. I think.

Just do me a favor and never order a steak well done. I have it on good authority that whenever a chef at a steak restaurant gets an order for a well done steak, he walks over to a nearby trashcan where, under all of the trash, he keeps a stockpile of some of last week's worst cuts of meat. After he pulls out the nastiest one, he spits on it a few times, and then he throws it on the grill until all that's left is a charred blackened piece of coal. Then he puts on some parsley and sends it out to be served. It's true, I swear.

-Rob_G, Qiyu Liu ed.

P.S. I hate it when people order "medium to medium well." That's not a temperature. Pick medium or medium well. There are five temperatures, that's it. You can't just go around making up your own weird non-existent styles of preparing steak.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Why Not Copy Commercials?

Steve Jobs once said of Apple, "We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas." Samsung appears to have taken that to heart, developing a reputation for copying Apple's design aesthetic for everything from smartphones to tablets to laptops.

But why stop there? If you're copying the products you're trying to advertise, why not copy the advertisements themselves? Here is Samsung's newly released commercial for their smartwatch, the Gear:

And here is Apple's 2007 commercial for the original iPhone:

Despite the commercials' similarities, the Gear is unlikely to copy the iPhone's success. And while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, I somehow don't think the folks in Cupertino are amused.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Little-Known Connection Between Richard Nixon and Obamacare

Before Obama, the last U.S. president to propose a universal health care system was Richard Nixon. His older brother Harold had contracted tuberculosis as a teenager, and Harold's medical costs devastated the family. To help out, Richard worked as a janitor while in high school and still managed to graduate third in his class, earning a tuition scholarship to Harvard. Unfortunately, the scholarship didn't cover room and board, so Nixon attended Whittier College in his hometown in order to help his family care for his ailing brother; Harold died three years later.

Yet, for all his shortcomings as president, Nixon understood the miseries of being poor, of being unable to afford health care. He became an advocate for health care reform, and in 1971, he pushed for an insurance mandate, the same mandate over which Congressional Republicans shut down the federal government today. Think about that for a moment: Richard Milhous Nixon, a man whose name has literally become a synonym for fecal matter, was more compassionate and in tune with the needs of the American people than the modern Republican party.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Perfect Cocktail

In the autumn of 2012, I conducted a series of cocktail competitions - an Iron Bartender, if you will. These weekly battles took place at Holeman & Finch, a decorated gastropub in Atlanta. Once a week, I would arrive at the bar, announce the liquor of the evening, and the two bartenders would each make a cocktail based on the "secret ingredient". Sometimes I offered latitude, simply naming whiskey or gin; other times, I would request a specific liquor like rye. During one of the Battle Whiskeys, Tyson Bittrich made for me a bourbon-based cocktail of his own creation, the Newport '65. Incorporating celery bitters, it was unlike any drink I ever had, and it was amazing.

Fast forward to February 2013 and Iron Bartender had been retired. I couldn't make it out to Holeman on a regular basis, so I attempted at one point to order the Newport '65 at my regular bar. Unfortunately, I didn't remember the exact recipe and my regular bar didn't carry celery bitters (to be fair, almost none do). On my third attempt, I arrived at the recipe below. It was boozy yet crisp, spicy with flavors that evolved during consumption. In other words, it was the perfect cocktail.

It's called the December '69, but this etymology has nothing to do with a mutual admiration society. The Newport Folk Festival in 1965 was Bob Dylan's first live set with an electric guitar, and my drink being derived from Tyson's Newport '65, I named it for Dylan's "derivative" - his son Jakob - born December 9, 1969.

December '69 cocktail
1 oz Bulleit rye
1 oz Maison Surrenne Galtaud cognac
3/4 oz Cocchi sweet vermouth
1/4 oz Fernet Branca
2 hard dashes Angostura bitters
Stir over ice, served up w/orange peel

Update: On April 17, 2013, the proportions of vermouth and fernet were slightly altered (and improved) on the suggestion of Omar Ferrer of Empire State South.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Caught Between Barack and a Hard Place

I was wrong.

I was wrong about President Obama and Mr. Romney being handcuffed by the town hall format of last night's debate, going so far as to explicitly say it "means Romney's assertions will go unchallenged."

I was wrong about my evening being ruined by the preemption of New Girl. The second presidential debate of the 2012 general election, as it turns out, was entertaining and satisfying and arguably the most exciting political discourse I've witnessed in my lifetime.

I was wrong to think there wouldn't be a moment like in the video below, a moment that should not be overlooked. A moment where Mitt Romney lies about a dog-whistle issue and gets caught, where he exploits the death of four American diplomats, killed while serving our country, for political gain. Never mind that if this happened when a Republican was in the White House, Fox News wouldn't bat an eye at letting the investigation run its course; never mind that the State Department didn't want to announce to the world that there was a major CIA operation going on and they had to make sure nobody released any classified information; and never mind that Romney didn't call out Obama for merely being technically correct because Mitt wanted so badly to win a political point.

What I was not wrong about, however, is that last night's debate "won't change people's minds like the first one did." I feel confident in saying that once the post-debate polls come in over the weekend, Obama will see a small, meaningless bump, and I will still be pissed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Passion of The Candidate

On the eve of the second presidential debate of the 2012 general election, I find myself wondering a few things.

I wonder, why did Obama, in front of his largest audience all season, act like a reluctant boyfriend dragged to a Twilight movie? No, Mr. President, you did not simply have "a bad night." You and your team canonized the bullshit notion that Romney should be handled with kid gloves, as if he wasn't going to come out swinging like an Adderall-fueled collegian studying for the LSATs. You are not, nor have you ever been even a Joe Biden-level debater, and Mitt Romney is no Sarah Palin. And the gall, the absolute arrogance to ask me for money after that shit show you called a debate performance? It all but makes me hope you lose. That's how pissed I still am.

I wonder, what will the inevitable Willard Romney administration be like? Will President Romney roll back abortion rights? Will he actually cut income tax rates across the board by 20%, even when "helping small business owners" has the (un)intended effect of helping the very wealthiest Americans? Will his presidency prove a boon for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even though evangelical Christians, who believe the Bible is the word of God, really shouldn't vote for someone who thinks Jesus rose from the dead, then made a B line for America?

But mostly, I wonder how President Obama will manage to disappoint me in the remaining three months of his presidency, tonight included. With New Girl preempted, my evening is already ruined. But the second debate will be town hall format which means Romney's assertions will go unchallenged. The final debate is on foreign policy, so Obama won't have a chance to address "the 47%" or Romney's record at Bain Capital or his campaign's anti-education, anti-healthcare policies or any other thing that Americans actually care about, because foreign policy sure as hell isn't one of them.

Romney has surpassed Obama in a number of polls, and the remaining debates won't change people's minds like the first one did. Record donations will be made in these closing weeks, money that could be better by those who need it most. The only question left to wonder, I suppose, is whether to move to Florida or Texas before I blow my life savings on the lottery.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Are Public Schools Worth It?

NPR's Planet Money blog created the following graphic that illustrates the combined federal, state, and local government per student cost per year of public school:

Here's a map I created that uses SAT scores. 

Some states require students to take the ACT or the SAT so I recreated the map using ACT scores.

Perhaps a compromise is in order. Here's the average of each state's ACT and SAT ranking.

I could say that spending more on students means better educated students that do better on college entrance exams and get into better universities, but then I'd be like Fox News and knowingly lie to make a political point.