I love @Target – here’s why

The New York Timaes has a fascinating article on how Target does datamining on its customers:

For decades, Target has collected vast amounts of data on every person who regularly walks into one of its stores. Whenever possible, Target assigns each shopper a unique code — known internally as the Guest ID number — that keeps tabs on everything they buy. “If you use a credit card or a coupon, or fill out a survey, or mail in a refund, or call the customer help line, or open an e-mail we’ve sent you or visit our Web site, we’ll record it and link it to your Guest ID,” Pole said. “We want to know everything we can.”

Also linked to your Guest ID is demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether you’ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. Target can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own. (In a statement, Target declined to identify what demographic information it collects or purchases.) All that information is meaningless, however, without someone to analyze and make sense of it. That’s where Andrew Pole and the dozens of other members of Target’s Guest Marketing Analytics department come in.

They are so good at this that they are able to predict due dates for pregnant women just based on buying patterns of lotions, vitamins, etc. and sends targeted coupons to those women. This sounds like a privacy nightmare, but it’s actually awesome. It would be great if Target sent me customized coupons for the products I buy regularly – or products that I want to buy, or am thinking about buying.

I want to see more of this kind of targeted enticement, not less, from the retailers I patronize. For example, if I had a coupon for a discount on a Kindle (which for me is a want, not a need) I might take the plunge. And the coupons would save me money in the long run.

Transparent aluminum? That’s the ticket, laddie

So, it’s actually a thing – called ALON. It’s not so much a metal as an aluminum-based ceramic called aluminum oxynitride, but the point is, it’s aluminum, and it’s transparent:

there be no whales here

and this stuff is strong – 1.6″ is enough to stop a .50 AP bullet that easily passes through twice that thickness of laminated glass armor:

aye, ol’ Scott woulda been proud. And just for old times’ sake:

Let’s take this opportunity to correct a misconception: they did NOT use transparent aluminum for the whale tank. They traded the “matrix” for it to the engineer at the large plate glass manufacturing place in exchange for enough conventional plate to build the tank. Which was a lot.

the singular implication of uploading one hour every second to @youtube …

This is an astonishing statistic: Youtube users now upload one hour of video every second:

The video (and accompanying website) is actually rather ineffective at really conveying why this number is so astounding. Here’s my take on it:

* assume that the rate of video uploads is constant from here on out. (obviously over-conservative)

* the ratio of “Youtube time” to real time is 1/3600 (there are 3600 seconds in an hour)

* so how long would it take to upload 2,012 years worth of video to Youtube?

Answer: 2012 / 3600 = 0.56 years = 6.7 months = 204 days

Let’s play with this further. Let’s assume civilization is 10,000 years old. it would take 10,000 / 3600 = 33 months to document all of recorded human history on YouTube.

Let’s go further with this: Let’s assume that everyone has an average lifespan of 70 years (note: not life expectancy! human lifespan has been constant for millenia). Let’s also assume that people sleep for roughly one-third of their lives, and that of the remaining two-thirds, only half is “worth documenting”. That’s (70 / 6) / 3600 years = 28.4 hours of data per human being uploaded to YouTube to fully document an average life in extreme detail.

Obviously that number will shrink, as the rate of upload increases. Right now it takes YouTube 28 hours to upload teh equivalent of a single human lifespan; eventually it will be down to 1 hour. And from there, it wil shrink to minutes and even seconds.

If YouTube ever hits, say, the 1 sec = 1 year mark, then that means that the lifespan of all of the 7 billion people alive as of Jan 1st 2012 would require only 37 years of data upload. No, I am not using the word “only” in a sarcastic sense… I assume YT will get to the 1sec/1yr mark in less than ten years, especially if data storage continues to follow it’s own cost curve (we are at 10c per gigabyte for data stored on Amazon’s cloud now).

Another way to think of this is, in 50 years, YouTube will have collected as many hours of video as have passed in human history since the Industrial Revolution. (I’m not going to run the numbers, but that’s my gut feel of the data). These are 1:1 hours, after all – just because one hour of video is uploaded every second, doesn’t mean that the video only took one second to produce – someone, somewhere had to actually record that hour of video in real time).

Think about how much data is in video. Imagine if you could search a video for images, for faces, for sounds, for music, for locations, for weather, the way we search books for text today. And then consider how much of that data is just sitting there in YT’s and Google’s cloud.

MAGNIFICENT – string theory FTW and loop quantum gravity FAIL

Calabi-Yau for the win!!
I’ll freely admit that I am comprehending only about 10% of the argument, but this is still a magnificent post about why string theory is right and why loop quantum gravity is wrong.

And incidentally also reveals that the science writers on Big Bang Theory really are on top of the game. Sheldon’s snort of derision here is utterly justified.

“I’m listening. Amuse me.”

I really need to start watching the show. Hulu or Netflixable, I assume…

screwed again by Charter Cable?


I renewed my service with Charter last fall, drawn in by the promise of $400 rebate if I renewed the “triple play” service of voice, data, and cable TV. Its been months without my rebate arriving so I sent in a query to the helpful (until now) email contact, having learned the utter futility of having phone conversations with Charter’s customer service.

Here is my email to Charter customer service:


I am writing to inquire about the status of my $400 rebate for renewing my Charter service last year. I had signed up for a triple-play package with voice, internet, and television with a two-year contract, and was supposed to have received $400 credit. Kindly advise on the status of my rebate. Thank you.

name on account – XXXX
service address – XXXX
service phone – XXX

Aziz Poonawalla

Here is the infuriating reply:


Thank you for contacting us with your question, we’ll be happy to look into the status of your gift card. For future reference, and for a faster reply please send your inquiry to Umatter2Charter@chartercom.com.

After reviewing the order history on the account we don’t see a qualifying service order placed within the timeframe of the current gift card promotion period.

Unfortunately you do not qualify for the offer and will not receive a gift card.

If you have further questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

Thank you,

Steve Creameans | Social Media Communications Specialist
941 Charter Commons Drive, Town & Country, MO 63017

I am certain there must be some loophole I did not anticipate and which the person I spoke to when ordering mys ervice did not bother to alert me to. This is frustrating beyond measure. Unless Steve misunderstood my question and thought I *just* renewed? But if he looked up my account he will clearly see that I renewed last year. So the response makes no sense.

At this point I am basically resolved to switch to Verizon FIOS as soon as it is available. Unless Charter makes good on this, this is really the last straw, no matter how attentive their social media folk are to blog posts or the twitter feed. Will update the post as I get further responses.

The reconquista subtext of The Lord of the Rings

Courtesy of Wikipedia, some history about the fall of Granada:

On January 2, 1492, the last Muslim sultan in Iberia, Emir Muhammad XII, known as Boabdil to the Spanish, surrendered complete control of Emirate of Granada, to Ferdinand II and Isabella I, Los Reyes Católicos (‘The Catholic Monarchs’), after the last battle of the Granada War.

(emphasis mine)

I’ve completed a detailed textual analysis of all references to Tom Bombadil in the Fellowship of the Ring and consulted supplementary texts such as The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (reprinted in The Tolkien Reader) and I’ve concluded that Bombadil is indeed Boabdil. The implications of this upon the subtext of the entire trilogy (and especially the reinterpretation of the prequel, the Hobbit) cannot be overstated.

It’s no accident that later that same year, Columbus – aka Celebrimbor – sailed into the West.

remembering memory

Nicholas Carr (not to be confused with Paul Carr) has a tremendous essay which follows the theme of his writing in general being a skeptic of Google and the modern information era. Just a teaser:

Our embrace of the idea that computer databases provide an effective and even superior substitute for personal memory is not particularly surprising. It culminates a century-long shift in the popular view of the mind. As the machines we use to store data have become more voluminous, flexible, and responsive, we’ve grown accustomed to the blurring of artificial and biological memory. But it’s an extraordinary development nonetheless. The notion that memory can be “outsourced,” as Brooks puts it, would have been unthinkable at any earlier moment in our history. For the Ancient Greeks, memory was a goddess: Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses. To Augustine, it was “a vast and infinite profundity,” a reflection of the power of God in man. The classical view remained the common view through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment—up to, in fact, the close of the nineteenth century. When, in an 1892 lecture before a group of teachers, William James declared that “the art of remembering is the art of thinking,” he was stating the obvious. Now, his words seem old-fashioned. Not only has memory lost its divinity; it’s well on its way to losing its humanness. Mnemosyne has become a machine.

The shift in our view of memory is yet another manifestation of our acceptance of the metaphor that portrays the brain as a computer.

It’s entitled, “killing Mnemosyne”. I reject that metaphor, as well, and this ties into my own skepticism on Singularity, as well.

UPDATE – Mark comments, and discusses the relevance to Exformation. Now there’s a Carrian concept! I also agree that our blogs are probably our modern-day “commonplace books”, but I am tempted to try and actually do one in paper. My problem is my handwriting speed is not fast enough to record my thoughts, and the result is usually illegible. So the blog is probably the best outlet. This is kind of ironic.

Explaining Fukushima: Nuclear Boy and his toxic poo

So, how do you explain the nuclear disaster to children, without overly alarming them but still trying to convey some sense of the seriousness of the event? Naturally, you make anime – and replace radiation with “poo”.

I am reminded of this video I shot on a television screen in a department store in Shinjuku five years ago:

I was politely, but firmly, discouraged from taling more video than this, thankfully. Like Cthulhu, seeing more might have destroyed my soul. I can only shudder at the thought of what horrific disaster that video was trying to explain.

(BTW, excellent overview of the nuclear plant disaster at Ars Technica.)

the geexicon is born

I confess, I did indeed invent the term “otakusphere” and now I am guilty of too-enthusiastically embracing a typo by Neal Stephenson. Witness: “reamde“. I’m sure we can come up with a clever implied meaning full of irony and wit for it.

So why not go meta and invent a term for the accumulated invented terms? a Geek Lexicon would therefore naturally be.. well, you know. I suppose we could also have “otaxicon” but now we are getting into failed Transformers territory. I also considered “gexicon” but I’m having flashbacks of Earthsea for some reason so let’s not go there.

Anyone else have any good candidates? I could also propose “geek service”.

Someone should probably snap the domain up.

make war, not bosons

I try to keep things apolitical around here, and its not my intent to change that policy. But this is an issue of science funding as a national priority, so I feel it is relevant: Fermilab funding ends in September.

U.S. researchers will soon abandon their search for the most coveted particle in high-energy physics because of a lack of funding.

Researchers working at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, had wanted to run their 25-year-old atom smasher, the Tevatron, through 2014 in hopes of spotting the so-called Higgs boson before their European counterparts could discover it with their newer, more powerful atom smasher. But officials at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which funds Fermilab, informed lab officials this week that DOE cannot come up with the extra $35 million per year to keep the Tevatron going beyond September.

“Unfortunately, the current budgetary climate is very challenging and additional funding has not been identified. Therefore, … operation of the Tevatron will end in [fiscal year 2011], as originally scheduled,” wrote William Brinkman, head of DOE’s Office of Science, in a letter to Melvyn Shochet, chair of DOE’s High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP) and a physicist at the University of Chicago in Illinois.

Fermilab is, as far as I am concerned, a national treasure like the Hoover Dam or Mount Rushmore. It’s about 50 miles from my home growing up and I still remember a childhood visit there 20 years ago.

The worst thing about this is how science is a victim of political climate. As others have pointed out, even the reduced spending on Afghanistan as we draw down there still means we spend more in six hours there than we’d need to keep Fermilab funded through 2014. I’m not saying we shouldn’t spend the money in Afghanistan (which puts me at odds on my other blog communities, as some of you are aware). But I am saying that maybe in the grand scheme of things, with a deficit in the trillions anyway, we shouldn’t be penny wise and pound foolish.

end rant.