August 23, 2006

OT: Market Efficiency and Valuation [6:31 pm]

I know this is a bit off-topic, but the irony of this market valuation of football opponents is too striking to pass up: In College Football, Big Paydays for Humiliation

The University at Buffalo football team went 1-10 last season and did not score a touchdown until the fourth game. For nearly a decade, it has been considered one of the worst teams in college football.

Buffalo is just the kind of opponent some of the nation’s top-ranked teams are looking for — and are paying rapidly rising prices to play this season. The Bulls will travel this coming season to play Auburn, a national title contender, and Wisconsin, a perennial Big Ten Conference power. Although Buffalo appears destined to be humiliated, the university will receive a $600,000 appearance check for each game.

Scheduling easy victories is a tradition as timeless in college football as fight songs and homecoming. But after the National Collegiate Athletic Association approved the addition of a 12th regular-season game for the coming season, the appearance fees began climbing in a bidding war for games against college football’s flotsam and jetsam.

[...] Adding a weak team like Buffalo can be beneficial for two reasons. First, it practically guarantees a victory. Second, weak teams will visit for a lower price than better teams, meaning a higher profit on each home game. And many of the weaker teams do not insist on a home-and-home series that would require the better team to visit the next year. That means the better team has an open home date for the next season, which it can use to play another weak team.

Ahh, the dynamics of a smoothly-running market! And the football angle reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano.

Later: NYTimes editorial Boolah-Moolah Kickoff Time

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The Mechanics of “Digital Distribution” [1:15 pm]

From The New Yorker: Tear, Slap, Click — a look at being a “stuffer” for NetFlix:

By the time the truck is back at the warehouse—one of forty-one similar hubs around the country—and has been unloaded, some forty employees (“associates,” in Netflix parlance) are ready for work. The majority are women who were born in Africa and in Asia. At 6:30 A.M., they sit down in ergonomic chairs and begin the process known as “rental return.” An associate tears open an envelope that contains a sleeve enclosing a disk, tosses the empty envelope into a recycling bin, removes the DVD from its sleeve, checks the title on the DVD (when “Black Dog” arrives in a sleeve for “The Triangle,” the mismatched sleeve is discarded and “Black Dog” is re-sleeved), checks the condition of the sleeve (those with coffee stains or other evidence of having been used as coasters will also be replaced), checks the condition of the DVD (for scratches and cracks), and extracts customer notes (“THROW THIS DAMN DISK AWAY. IT DOES NOT WORK AFTER EPISODE 2, CHAPTER 4!”). Fingers flying and heads swivelling, the women each open between four hundred and fifty and eleven hundred and fifty returned rentals an hour.

Tuesday is the busiest day of the week at Netflix—people tend to watch DVDs on the weekend and mail them back on Mondays—but by 11 A.M. the day’s incoming envelopes have been processed and the associates have an hour for lunch. Netflix hires associates from temp agencies, starting at nine dollars an hour. Those who can maintain a fast and accurate pace become permanent employees after three months. Benefits include a free DVD player and a Netflix subscription. [....]

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A CNet INDUCEment? [8:04 am]

From a CNet email newsletter:

How to save Internet videos

By Rafe Needleman

Seen a video you like online that you think you’ll want to watch again? With most of the streaming sites out there, you have to go back to the Web to watch your videos again. But there are ways to record the vids directly to your computer. CNET exec editor Molly Wood covers a few Web sites and downloadable apps that can capture videos playing on your screen and save them for you. So now you can save your favorite exploding Mentos clips forever! By the way, please don’t use these powerful tools to violate copyrights.

See the Insider Secret

http://ct.cnet-ssa.cnet.com/clicks?t=5977100-2a2b7cbf675ce4d70b04d03807a6e043-bf&s=5&fs=0

Oh, right — that closing sentence ensures that nothing nefarious is going to take place. Worse, there’s a tragic copyright primer at the start of the video from Molly Wood, including this gem on what streaming content these tools should be used for:

We would recommend that you stay away from Simpsons episodes and stick to user-generated, non-copyrighted video.

Uh-huh — that’s certainly helpful!

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Personalization and Dataveillance [7:42 am]

A couple of looks from the NYTimes:

  • Code Promotions, a Madison Ave. Staple, Are Going Online

    Code-centric promotions have long been a mainstay of Madison Avenue, helping advertisers stimulate sales and persuading occasional buyers to become loyal customers. They go back to the 1930’s, when brands like Ovaltine offered radio listeners “secret decoders” and other prizes in exchange for saving proofs of purchase.

    Now, code promotions — like so many other traditional marketing tactics — are being transformed by high technology. No longer are consumers seeking to redeem codes required to go to the post office, call toll-free telephone numbers or visit stores.

    Rather, they can go online to dedicated Web sites where codes are processed far faster than before — and where marketers can expose them to additional promotions, ads and offers, as well as collect e-mail addresses and demographic information. In some instances, consumers can enter codes by sending cellphone text messages.

    [...] “We could never do a program of the size and scale of My Coke Rewards without it being online,” said Katie Bayne, senior vice president for Coca-Cola brands in North America, who is based in Atlanta.

    [...] “Marketers must avoid being greedy and asking for too much information,” Mr. Jaffe, the marketing consultant, said, adding: “It’s a double-edged sword. Just because you can get information doesn’t mean you should.”

  • Researchers Yearn to Use AOL Logs, but They Hesitate

    After the data was released for academic researchers like Professor Kleinberg to work with, many were torn, loath to conduct research with it as they balanced a chronic thirst for useful data against concerns over individual privacy.

    It is one of the frustrations of being an academic researcher in a world that has grown highly commercial. Data is everywhere, but there is precious little of it for university researchers to work with. Raw data about people’s online behavior — the grist for many an academic researcher’s mill — remains locked up inside large companies, accessible only to a subset of corporate researchers.

    The AOL incident has set off a flurry of divergent opinions in the academic community over the appropriateness of using the data for academic research.

    [...] William W. Cohen, an associate research professor in the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University, said the AOL query logs could be invaluable for researchers working in the field of personalization.

    “Someone’s past search history can tell you a lot about what they’re interested in,” he said. [....]

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Political Cybersquatting Fight in CA [7:15 am]

Plus some Google-washing? ‘Yes on Prop. 87’ Group Sued Over Cyber No-No - pdf

In the high-tech, high-stakes world of cyberpolitics, it seems that supporters of Proposition 87 registered several “no” sites and then redirected viewers to “yes.”

The tactic infuriated oil companies and business groups that are spending millions of dollars to fight the proposed tax, which would pay for research on alternative fuels.

[...] The suit filed in Alameda County Superior Court alleges that the “yes” campaign, bankrolled by Hollywood producer Steven Bing and Silicon Valley venture capitalists, broke a little-known state law, the California Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act.

The law, enacted in 2001, “makes it unlawful for a person, with intent to mislead, deceive or defraud, to commit an act of political cyberfraud.”

[...] In a letter to the “no” campaign, the “yes” camp offered to turn over control of its “no” websites — with a hitch. It wants the opponents to more directly tell voters that “No on 87” is financed by oil companies, which have reported making more than $30 million in contributions.

[...] Meanwhile, the noon87.com website changed again, and not in a way that its hosts liked.

A visit there late Tuesday afternoon revealed a new message, “Warning: The site you are about to enter is written and paid for by the oil companies.” Visitors were then redirected to www.nooiltax.com.

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More on Judge Taylor’s Ruling [7:06 am]

The piling on continues: A Law Unto Herself

If the words of the written opinion reveal that the judge did not follow the discipline of the judicial process, what sense does it make to take the judge’s word about what the law means over the word of the president? If the judge’s own writing does not support a belief that the rule of law has substance and depth, that law is something apart from political will, the significance of saying the president has gone beyond the limits of the law evaporates.

Of course, one could argue that Judge Taylor learned this approach from her peers.

In many respects, this is an oddly argued op-ed. Although, in the end, I believe that her essay is largely decrying the Taylor opinion for its now widely cited legal weaknesses, the degree to which she brings in notions like activist judges and ties it to a questioning of the legitimacy of the judicial branch seems like a risky strategy in this political climate. A quick perusal of her blog gives no indication that her intentions lie in that direction, but it’s always hard to tell without putting in more time than I have this morning….

Later: this, however, is embarassing, and not particularly helpful — Conflict of Interest Is Raised in N.S.A. Ruling

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