Friday, 18 January 2013

Does Good Content Pay for Itself?

I've recently begun to see a trend on reddit that in my opinion is weak evidence for the theory that piracy is a result of sub standard content. Good content really seems to pay for itself. On reddit there is a feature called reddit gold. If someone thinks a particular comment is really good they have the option of buying the commenter "reddit gold" which gives the user who receives gold access to a lot of beta features on reddit. The money goes towards maintaining and developing the website. Over the past few months I've seen a definite increase in the amount of reddit gold given away for really good comments. This ranges from excellent in depth explanations of difficult to understand concepts on /r/askscience to hilarious jokes on /r/AskReddit. This little comment I saw on AskReddit today was what inspired this blogpost.
The author of the comment with the gold star beside it was gifted reddit gold by some random dude on the internet.
And the truth is, it really was funny. I think that was the hardest I'd laughed in months! And someone thought it was literally worth money and gave the user reddit gold for content that was really free anyway.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this actually indicates that the rate of piracy will stay the same but that more people will be willing to pay for the content. If more than one person gave that user reddit gold then there would be number beside the comment indicating the number of times he was awarded with gold. Thousands and thousands of people read AskReddit everyday (I think the actual number should be about half a million. /r/AskReddit has over two million subscribers. Half a millions feels like a good estimate of the active users.). So out of all these people only on person gifted this guy reddit gold. Of course, there are a lot of other factors at work including the fact that most people will see it as a waste to buy reddit gold to random dudes in a reddit thread. The whole point of supporting content generators by actually buying their content is so that they get an income and are able to generate more good content. In most reddit threads comments like these are a one off incident, a stroke of luck. The comments are usually not made by professional comedians. So it really doesn't make sense to fund the commenter. But the actual funds are not going to the commenter. The funds end up with reddit. So I guess reddit gold is way for users to help fund a website where they get so much information and entertainment.

Now that I think about it reddit really has some awesome content ( if you look in the right subreddits). It's a really awesome place to hang out on the internet. And millions of people visit the site every day. And the voting system in place ensures that the best content generated on the site always floats to the top. So it really is providing many of its users with a service. Geniuses in their own fields generate good content by being awesome at what they do. Sites like reddit generate good content by collecting and concentrating all the best stuff generated (very often due to chance) by its users using the collective intelligence voting power of the site's millions of visitors. It's an arena where ideas and thoughts (a lot of them bad, some of them good) fight to the death and the best ideas rise to the top by a process of "natural selection". And the structure of the website enables this to happen. So in a way good content really is paying for itself on this site. The site provides a service which allows the collective intelligence of the website to generate amazing content and people voluntarily pay for it using reddit gold!
I wonder how much of reddit's income is generated by reddit gold ...

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Sometimes the Graders Don't Notice the Seam.

And sometimes they get annoyed and cross the whole thing off.

From xkcd (Did I mention I was addicted?)
ALT TEXT: Handy exam trick: when you know the answer but not the correct derivation, derive blindly forward from the givens and backward from the answer, and join the chains once the equations start looking similar. Sometimes the graders don't notice the seam.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Aaron Swartz

When I opened up reddit today right at the top was an article about Aaron Swartz, a co-founder (or co-owner if you really want to get technical) of reddit who took his own life on January 11. I'll be honest, I really did not know about the guy until today morning but it did leave me a bit depressed when I learnt that he was just 26 years old. From what I have read the reason for his suicide was the prospect of facing 35 -50 years in prison for downloading journals from JSTOR, a lot of which they were planning to make publicly available anyway. Also, in this statement JSTOR says that it really wasn't interested in pursuing legal action after all the data was retrieved.
So the fact that he was given such a harsh sentence is really quite a surprise.

While I think taking your own life is never a solution I can sort of understand why he did it. If I realized at the age of 26 that I had put all the grand plans I had for my future till the age of 76 I would be devastated, not to mention depressed.

Anyway, I really don't know enough about the issue to write a long, in depth article about this. We need more geniuses in the world and the loss of this one was sad. In the not too distant future there will be a day things like this will stop happening. Hopefully.

Thanks for making the internet a better place, Aaron. You will be missed.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Anime Theme: Time Travel

So I've watched two anime about time travel so far and both were brilliant. Steins;Gate was particularly mind blowing. It was like this perfect combination of plot, animation and complexity. One day people are going to look back and use it as an example of how anime should be made. Some anime try to make their plot way too complicated. Personally I'm a big fan of complicated plots that really make me think but it takes a lot of skill to pull of really complicated plots convincingly. Sometimes it just results in the creators running out of good ideas and ending the story in a way that makes most fans cringe. Steins;Gate has a perfect level of complexity. The time travel itself was handled brilliantly. Another thing that stood out was the emotional impact. Steins;Gate really shines in this. By the end of the last episode you'll find yourself mentally exhausted from all the tension that was built up over the course of 23 episodes. I'm glad that I started watching it long after all the episodes were released. I can't imagine waiting as long as a week for the next episode. I think Steins;Gate is the animated equivalent of The Chaos Walking Series in terms of how well written it was. It was also really well researched. I was quite surprised to find out that a lot of the "conspiracy theories" in the anime was inspired by some real life events. Especially the story of John Titor. It was a bit creepy to find a Wikipedia entry on John Titor right after watching through the series.

The other one was a film. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Although it a less convoluted plot and less emotional impact than Steins;Gate it was brilliant all the same. Again, the concept of time travel was handled brilliantly.  

Game of Life Simulated Inside Itself

I found this amazing video on YouTube of someone who managed to simulate Conway's Game of Life inside the game itself. The level of complexity in this simulation is mind blowing. Suddenly I'm a lot less sure if we're living inside the matrix.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Do People "Look" Like Their Names?

I've had this thought many times but was recently reminded of it when I watched this video by the PBS IdeaChannel (go check this channel out! It's awesome!) where YouTube commenters were talking about the presenter in the video looking like someone named Mike.

It made me think, do people really look like their names or is it just that the we associate the names with the faces? When we ask someone what their name is and they say "Ariadne" and we think "Hmm.... she really looks like an Ariadne(I wrote this post right after reading the latest Percy Jackson book and reading up on Greek mythology. That's the reason for the unusual choice for a name.)  Is it because she really does look like an Ariadne or is it just because we make the association the other way round?

I think my question really boils down to this: Do names given to people have any intrinsic ability to describe the way they look? It's very unlikely. Most parents give their children names based on a factor completely independent form their appearance. It's impossible to do that anyway since most babies look the same as soon as they are born. It reminds me of a talk Michael Shermer gave about the believing brain and how humans always tend to notice meaningful patterns in noise even if they're there by pure chance or sometimes even if they aren't there. If someone points out that that girl named Ariadne looks like an Ariadne then people will automatically start thinking that "yes she does look like an Ariadne". When I was young I really did think this way. When someone was introduced to me by name I would start thinking about how he or she 'looked' like their name.

An interesting experiment would be to take two large groups of people; one control group and one test group. The memebers of the group are not told which group they belong to of course.

Then each member of the group is shown a face and a name. The control group gets the right name for every face and the test group displays a fake name for every photo. We then compare the groups and see if the group given the false name had a higher proportion of faces labelled "does not look like name" than the control group.

To make the experiment simpler, we could just get one large group and give them a huge list of faces and names and then ask them to say whether the faces look like the names or not. False names and true names are randomly mixed into the list. Then we can compare the true names to the false names and see if the faces of the people in the falsely named photographs were more likely to be marked as not matching the name.

The interesting thing is, that this applies to everything else as well. There is nothing inherently 'tabley' about a table and there is nothing inherently 'birdy' about a bird. It's just a random sequence of sounds that we make with our mouths. At some point people got together and agreed that this particular sequence of sounds would represent animals that fly. So all languages arbitrary. It's just an abstraction that helps us to let each other know what what's going on in our minds.

I guess this is a thought Christopher Paolini had when he was making up languages for Eragon universe. In The Ancient Language names of an object are supposed to be true names that describe the inherent nature of the object. It does look like he gave the matter of words in languages being completely arbitrary quite a bit of thought. In the real world mathematics comes closest to this ideal of representing the true nature of reality.