Thursday, September 29, 2005

US vs. Chinese Engineers (and a Kurzweil Interview)

Glenn Reynolds over at has an email interview with Ray Kurzweil that is interesting. But at the bottom of it are some even more interesting graphs of US vs. China (and Asia) Engineering and Science students. Now, I really don't care about the ratio of US vs. Chinese engineers, because I don't think this is a zero sum game, but seeing the number of US students actually going down is very concerning.

What accounts for this? Here is one take, that is pretty close to my experience.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

As Test Scores Jump, Raleigh Credits Integration by Income

Continuing on the Educational Divide theme, it is apparent that in order to get more lower income people in college changes must occur at the K-12 stage. But what needs to change and how? This is one interesting idea that appears to have been successful in Raleigh NC:

Over the last decade, black and Hispanic students here in Wake County have made such dramatic strides in standardized reading and math tests that it has caught the attention of education experts around the country.

The main reason for the students' dramatic improvement, say officials and parents in the county, which includes Raleigh and its sprawling suburbs, is that the district has made a concerted effort to integrate the schools economically.

Some experts said the academic results in Wake County were particularly significant because they bolstered research that showed low-income students did best when they attended middle-class schools.

"There is a lot of evidence that it's just sound educational policy, sound public policy, to try to avoid concentrations of low-achieving students," said John H. Gilbert, a professor emeritus at North Carolina State University in Raleigh who served for 16 years on the county school board and voted for the plan. "They do much better and advantaged students are not hurt by it if you follow policies that avoid concentrating low-achievement students."
The downside to this of course is that it requires sending some people to a school that is farther away, which means long bus rides.
"I think it's ridiculous," LaToya Mangum said of the 55 minutes that her son Gabriel, 7, spends riding a bus to the northern reaches of Wake County, where he is in second grade. On the other hand, she said, "So far, I do like the school."

Although the figures can be calculated many ways, Mr. McNeal says about 2.5 percent - or about 3,000 children - are assigned to schools for economic balance or to accommodate the district's growth by filling new schools or easing overcrowding in existing ones. Most of those bused for economic diversity tend to be low-income, he said.
And it requires convincing the schools that used to have 100% middle and upper class students to take on some lower income students.

Every winter, the district, using a complicated formula, develops a list of students who will be reassigned to new schools for the following academic year, and nearly every year some parents object vehemently.

"Kids are bused all over creation, and they say it's for economic diversity, but really it's a proxy for race," said Cynthia Matson, who is white and middle class. She is the president and a founder of Assignment By Choice, an advocacy group promoting parental choice.

The organization wants parents to be responsible for selecting schools, and it objects to restrictions that, in certain circumstances, make it difficult for some middle-class children to get into magnet schools.
I don't know if this is the answer, but it is definitely one way to attack the problem of concentrated poverty and the poor educational environments lower income people have access to.

Via New York Times


More on the Education Divide

The reasons low-income students don't go to college are complex and subtle -- pressure to help support their families financially, parents who offer little help because they never went to college themselves, and a system that drops many poor students into their senior years of high school unprepared for and unaware of the benefits of higher education.

"Kids on Mercer Island, the expectation when they get out of bed in the morning is they will go to college," said Mark Pursley, the director of the Boys & Girls Club in White Center, one of King County's poorest neighborhoods. "The parenting is the biggest (factor) ... in a kid's life."

With fewer people pushing lower-income kids toward four-year schools, many don't feel ready for college, counselors and academics say.

Harvard University dangled the possibility of a free ride in front of kids at the White Center Boys & Girls Club last year, but counselors couldn't get a bite.

Why? Plenty of the students appeared qualified, but no one thought they belonged at Harvard, according to Ryan Schaedig, education director at the club.

After graduation, 53 percent of poor high school students are ready for college, while 86 percent of wealthy graduates are prepared, Lawrence Gladieux, author of the book "The College Aid Quandary," told Congress in 2002, citing data developed for the Education Department.
An accompanying .pdf with some great graphs and statistics.

As the previous article touched on, only 8.6% of students in a family with an income of less than $35,000 go to college vs. 75% of those with an income of over $95,000.

Not only does more education lead to a higher paycheck, it also leads to lower unemployment. Those with a HS degree have a 5.5% unemployment rate vs. 3.3% for a bachelor's degree and 1.7% for a professional degree.

Via Seattle Times


The Education Gap

A great piece by David Brooks over at the NYTimes. Unfortunately the NYTimes now thinks it is a good idea to charge people to access to read their columnists, so I can no longer link to them. But, fear not, this savvy blogger did a 2 minute google search and was able to find it over at

As you doubtless know, as the information age matures, a new sort of stratification is setting in, between those with higher education and those without. College graduates earn nearly twice as much as high school graduates, and people with professional degrees earn nearly twice as much as those with college degrees.

But worse, this economic stratification is translating into social stratification. Only 28 percent of American adults have a college degree, but most of us in this group find ourselves in workplaces in social milieus where almost everybody has been to college. A social chasm is opening up between those in educated society and those in noneducated society, and you are beginning to see vast behavioral differences between the two groups.

The divorce rate for high school grads is now twice as high as that of college grads. High school grads are twice as likely to smoke as college grads. They are much less likely to exercise. College grads are nearly twice as likely to vote. They are more than twice as likely to do voluntary work. They are much more likely to give blood.

But now the gap between rich and poor is widening. Students in the poorest quarter of the population have an 8.6 percent chance of getting a college degree. Students in the top quarter have a 74.9 percent chance.
In the knowledge economy there are no good jobs for those without college degrees. The economical have nots and the educational have nots are now one and the same. How do you solve this problem and give everyone an equal opportunity at life? I don't know, but this issue seems to big to not keep looking.

Via New York Times


Celebrated Hostage Gave Crystal Meth to Captor

Ashley Smith, who was held hostage in her apartment in March by the man now charged with murder in the Atlanta courthouse shootings, was hailed as a hero after she disclosed how she had persuaded her captor to surrender, partly by reading to him from the spiritual best seller "The Purpose-Driven Life."

But in a memoir released yesterday, Ms. Smith also recounts that she gave the kidnapper some of her supply of crystal methamphetamine during her captivity and that she did not tell the police for some time afterward.
That is too funny. Would you like some "ice" with your Purpose-Driven Life?

Via New York Times


Saturday, September 24, 2005

135 Women Graduate College for Every 100 Men

Currently, 135 women receive bachelor's degrees for every 100 men. That gender imbalance will widen in the coming years, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Education.
Wow, that is a crazy imbalance that is getting little media attention.
Nearly as many men are behind bars or on probation and parole (5 million) as are in college (7.3 million).

While demographers and economists have a pretty good idea where the boys end up, educators are largely clueless about the causes. Some say female teachers in elementary and middle schools, where male teachers are scarce, naturally enforce a girl-friendly environment that rewards students who can sit quietly — not a strong point for many boys, who earn poor grades and fall behind. Others argue that a smart-isn't-cool bias has seeped into boys of all racial and ethnic groups.
Maybe instead of asking why so few women becoming science professors, Larry Summers should have asked why are so few men becoming teachers (or maybe they are two sides of the same coin).



Friday, September 23, 2005

Revelations from 1491

Just read the book 1491, a look at the Americas before Columbus came ashore. This was a fantastic book and I highly recommend it. I learned all sorts of things. A lot of the points in the book are uncertain, so maybe only 70% of this book's ideas will still be thought to be true in 25 years. Even so, it is highly informative and makes you rethink a lot of what you learned in grade school.

Here is a list of my favorite mind blowing observations in the book:

1) There were 100 million Americans (in North and South America) in 1491.

This would make America more populated than Europe. It would also make it around 20% of the entire world population of 500 million at that time.

2) There were only 5 million Native Americans were alive in 1600.

95% of their population was lost over 100 years. 95 million of the world population of 500 million died or 20%. That number is mind boggling. It trivializes the current AIDS epidemic in Africa. There was one graph in the book that is the saddest graph I have ever seen in my life. It shows the population of the Americas from 1490-1600 and all of the epidemics that came through (one every 5-10 years or so). The amount of human suffering caused might have been the greatest in all of human history.

As it happened over 100 years it is really not 95 million deaths, but more than that. Or better put their death rate was greatly increased through successive waves of disease.

The disease transmission was almost certain once the two cultures collided, so while Europeans are responsible for it occurring they are not morally responsible for all those deaths. Indians were conquered because of the diseases rather than technological superiority of Europe.

3) Inca and Aztec civilizations in 1491 would rival ones anywhere in the world (Europe, Asia, Africa) in terms of culture and science.

I love this paragraph:
Envision the fertile back and forth between a hundred cultures, the gifts from 4 centuries of intellectual exchange. One can hardly imagine anything more valuable. Think of the fruitful impact on Europe and on its descendants from contacting Asia. Imagine the effect on these places and people from a second Asia.
The loss of human knowledge was the great tragedy of these epidemics of disease.

4) The vast wilderness seen in 1600 was vastly different from how it was in 1491

America in 1600 was vastly different than in 1491 due to the massive loss of human life. The vast wilderness and huge population of buffalos and passenger pigeons in 1600 did not exist in 1491 when the Indians had a larger population. The "virgin" land that early Americans talked of was not how the land had always been, but rather how it had just become.

Prior to 1491, passenger pigeons were probably a rare species. After the Indian population lessened, populations exploded to maybe 5 billion in their highest numbers. One flock passing overhead could form a single cloud for 3 days straight. In 1800 at least 1 out of very 4 birds in North America was a passenger pigeon.

Indians were neither noble nor savages, instead they were just like humans everywhere else on the planet. They did not live lightly on the land, and many ancient American civilizations went into decline due to unsustainable environmental practices. They "managed" most of the land. In the plains of North America, the Indians would burn the land. This would get rid of the undergrowth in forests and make it more hospitable for game.

Anthropologists now believe that the majority of the Amazon rain forest was managed by humans. There are many fruit and nut bearing trees in the Amazon, and this was probably due to human interference. They also used a unique form of burning in the Amazon, where they would stop the fields from completely burning so that there would be charcoal. Turns out the active carbon in charcoal bonds to organic elements and makes the soil as good or probably better than using fertilizer.

5) Corn was a man made crop

In 5000 BC, in what many scientists regard as humankind's first and greatest feat of genetic engineering, Indians in southern Mexico systematically breed maize (corn) from dissimilar ancestor species.

Milpa is a field where farmers plant 12 crops at once, including maize, avocados, multiple varieties of squash and bean, melon, tomatoes, chilis, sweet potato, jicama, amaranth (a grain like plant), and mucuna (a tropical legume). Beans use the maize stocks to grow up, underground the beans fix nitrogen for the maize. Milpas have farmed the same land for 4,000 years and are still productive.
So not only did the ancient Meso-Americans create the crop that is now the number one grain in the world in terms of tonnage produced, these also came up with a form of sustainable agriculture (as opposed to the birth of wheat in the Fertile Crescent which now is producing nothing but sand storms). The author comments that if scientists genetically engineered a crop like corn today, they would get a noble prize, if Green Peace didn't stop them from making it.

6) Transfer of food: tomatoes, corn, peppers, potatoes are all native American crops.

Can you imagine Italian food without tomatoes? Indian or Thai food without chilis? And who knew that the potato famine in Ireland wouldn't have happened without having taken back from South America. And going the other direction, Mexican food without cheese (there were no cows or other milk bearing animals in the Americas)? As American as apple pie? Turns out apples originated in the Middle East. Amazing how the foods get assimilated into their new cuisine in such a way that we can't even imagine them now without them.

7) Amazon rainforest is a "wet desert"
Amazon soil is poor, intense rain and heat of forest have eroded its surface, washed out all its minerals and decomposed vital organic compounds. As a result much of the red Amazonian soil is weathered, harshly acid, and almost bereft of essential nutrients - one reason ecologists refer to the tropical forest as a "wet desert". Most nutrients in tropical forests are stored not in the soil as in temperate regions, but in the vegetations that covers it.
Why in the heck are the soy farmers trying to cut it down then? Looks like after 10 years the land will be worthless as agricultural land.

These are just my favorite observations. The book has tons of such facts. A definite must read.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005


I really like this idea that David Brooks is floating in this column.

Under one version of KidSave, the government would open tax-deferred savings accounts for each American child, making a $1,000 deposit at birth, and $500 deposits in each of the next five years. That money could be invested in a limited number of mutual funds, but it couldn't be withdrawn until retirement.

Over decades, it would grow and grow, thanks to the wonders of compound interest, so that by the time workers retired, they would each have a substantial nest egg, over $100,000, waiting for them.
I have seen variations of this idea before (and Mr. Brooks doesn't claim it is original) and I have always like them. And the reason why I like it are basically the same as Brooks:
But people in the bottom half of the income scale don't get to join in to take advantage of compound interest. They don't get a share of the growing national economy. They don't get the psychological benefits of ownership.
One thing that I would add to Brook's proposal is a mandatory saving and investment class in high school. Compound interest is such a magical concept. Albert Einstein is said to have called compound interest "the greatest mathematical discovery of all time". But, it is not an intuitive concept. People don't understand compound interest without working with it and seeing it. Right now compound interest is working against most working class people in the form of credit cards. With a class in high school where people can see how credit card debt piles up due to compound interest I think this would be lessened. And if they had their own investment account with real money it in the classes would be that much more powerful.

I have heard people say that we shouldn't privatize social security because the average individual does not have the financial savvy to manage their own accounts. I say that is exactly why we should privatize. Learning how to invest isn't brain surgery, but it doesn't come without learning. I would say that learning how to invest is as hard as learning how to drive a car. We expect that every 16 year old American will learn how to drive a car, why can't we expect that they also learn how to manage their own money?
And let me commit an act of heresy: it would be smart for Republicans to forgo making the Bush tax cuts permanent in exchange for these kinds of accounts. The Bush cuts are going to be repealed by the next Democratic president anyway, but these accounts, once created, would be forever.
Every time I think about Bush's privatization plan I can't see how it doesn't lead to higher taxes in the next 5 years to pay for the transactions costs. I would go farther than Brooks, even if a Republican president is elected next we are going to raise taxes, and if the pirvatization goes through the tax raise will be even higher.

I found another article that gives more details and an example of where it is being tried.
Living with his parents and older brother in a trailer park near Pontiac, Mich., he is part of an experiment called the SEED Initiative that is opening investment accounts for children, in an effort to ensure them a college education and teach their families the habit of putting aside money for the future.

The $800 deposited in his name places the rambunctious 5-year-old at the leading edge of a new wave of thought about how to create wealth, curb poverty and improve the abysmal savings rate among Americans, particularly those who are poor.

In today's economy, a savings account "is as fundamental as land was back in the 18th and 19th century," said Ray Boshara, of the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank that is a main advocate of children's accounts.

Legislation has been introduced in Congress that calls for the government to open a KIDS Account of at least $500 for every baby born in the United States. And President Bush's first Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, has been promoting a plan he has devised for children's accounts that he says would guarantee every American at least $1 million by age 65, eventually eliminating the need for Social Security. O'Neill said his plan, which he estimates would cost $144 billion, would create "a fundamentally different society than any one on Earth."
The other thing I like about this proposal is that in cuts through ideologies. As the article says:
Children's accounts are gaining proponents across the ideological spectrum. Conservative Republicans construe them as a form of the market-oriented "ownership society" that Bush touts. Liberal Democrats view them as an extension of the Great Society of the 1960s that created government programs to lift people from poverty.
Both the left and the right should like it. Now, lets see if they can get it done.


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Placebos and Pain

The team asked 14 healthy male volunteers to undergo the slightly painful but harmless procedure of having saltwater injected into their jaws. Over the course of a 20-minute procedure, volunteers recorded the intensity of their pain every 15 seconds and then summarized their experience afterward. In a randomized trial, some subjects received an analgesic medication, whereas others were told they were being given medication, but received none.

According to a report published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, all of the participants who were told to expect medicine but got a placebo instead showed an increase in the activity of their endorphin system. Four brain regions were involved and activity in specific areas was also associated with the subjects' own descriptions of the pain they felt. For example, activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex correlated to how effective the volunteers were expecting the medicine to be at relieving their pain.
I have wondered why medical studies spend so much time trying to remove the placebo effect from the research, rather than researching how to get the most out of the placebo effect. So I am glad to see research going on in this direction.

How much of healing occurs because the patient believes it will occur? How much of medicine's beneficial effects are due not to the medicine itself but the placebo effect of convincing the brain it will work, and allowing the brain to release various chemicals to make it so?

Instead of looking down on the "witch doctors" we should be investigating what techniques they use to get their patients to believe them. We should see if there is a greater instance of placebo effect occurring there then in western medicine.

Maybe instead of trying to hire doctors that understand the science the best, we should be hiring doctors that can best sell the science the best. That is, those that can convince their patients that what they are doing will in fact heal them. That we should rate doctors on their ability to administer the placebo effect.

This article also shows how thoughts and brain chemistry are just two sides of the same coin. That there is a physical manifestation of thoughts. To fix problems in the brain you can use either drugs or therapy and they can have the exact same effect.

Via Scientific


Thursday, September 15, 2005

50% of Scientific Papers are Wrong

In the ongoing Fat Knowledge look into what percentage of things we believe are actually true, we get this nice article from the Economist.

John Ioannidis, a Greek epidemiologist, believes 50% is a fair estimate of the proportion of scientific papers that eventually turn out to be wrong.

He examined 49 research articles printed in widely read medical journals between 1990 and 2003. Each of these articles had been cited by other scientists in their own papers 1,000 times or more. However, 14 of them—almost a third—were later refuted by other work. Some of the refuted studies looked into whether hormone-replacement therapy was safe for women (it was, then it wasn't), whether vitamin E increased coronary health (it did, then it didn't), and whether stents are more effective than balloon angioplasty for coronary-artery disease (they are, but not nearly as much as was thought).

When Dr Ioannidis ran the numbers through his model, he concluded that even a large, well-designed study with little researcher bias has only an 85% chance of being right. An underpowered, poorly performed drug trial with researcher bias has but a 17% chance of producing true conclusions. Overall, more than half of all published research is probably wrong.
Well that to confirm my belief that any study I see on TV icontradicteded a month later by another study. At 50% you have just as good of odds flipping a coin to get the right answer, which means the study has absolutely no value in making a decision.

The one thing this article doesn't say though, is that studies looking at the same issue over time should get better. While the first one is no better the 50%, you should be able to get to 90% certainty after a few such studies.

So, how much should we take away from this article? The author of the article ends with this valid point:
Which leaves just one question: is there a less than even chance that Dr Iaonnidis's paper itself is wrong?


More Health Care than Coffee in your Latte

First GM reports that there is more health care than steel in their cars. Now Starbucks reports there is more health care than coffee in their lattes.

Health insurance costs Starbucks $200 million last year, more than the company spends on coffee, Schultz said.
Good thing that the Bush administration has their priorities straight and is trying to reform Social Security. Health care should be the number one issue in politics. Bigger than Iraq, bigger than terrorism. The amount of lives that are lost due to our bad system and the amount of money that is wasted dwarfs the whole war on terror. Why won't someone jump on this issue?
The premium increases mean that family coverage now costs an average of $10,880 a year, up from $9,950 last year and surpassing the gross earnings for a full-time minimum-wage worker for the first time.
Wow. Not that you should be raising a family on minimum wage, but that is amazing that one income could go entirely to paying for health care.

via The Seattle Times


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Real Estate's Return to Earth Could Hurt

Scott Burns is always throwing down solid wisdom. He looks at the real estate market and finds the following:

The US has gained $9.4 trillion in net worth — nearly 25 percent — from the 2002 bottom.

The largest source of gain? Home values, up $4 trillion. (This compares with a $1.3 trillion gain in the value of corporate equities and a $1.3 trillion gain in the value of mutual funds.)

Examining the same data back to 1952, I found that:

• Residential homes are the highest percentage of our collective net worth they have ever been, 36.3 percent.

• We have been borrowing at a prodigious rate, with mortgages equal to 43.7 percent of home value. That's only a bit less than the record 44.2 percent set in 2004.

• We reached a record for the value of homes compared to the value of our financial assets, 48.5 percent.

Compared to the median values of the past 50 years, these are big shifts. Viewed statistically, values are at extremes.

The bottom line: Collectively, we're heavily mortgaged in a period of extreme prices. The return to more normal prices could be as painful at the Great Texas Real Estate Crash.
Via The Seattle Times


Friday, September 09, 2005

Chernobyl's Reduced Impact

So far 56 deaths have been directly attributed to the accident, 47 among emergency workers and 9 among young children who developed thyroid cancer after drinking contaminated milk.

In the long run, the experts predict, some 4,000 emergency workers and residents of the most contaminated areas may die from radiation-induced cancer. That qualifies Chernobyl as a very serious accident but not a catastrophe.

The greatest harm was inflicted on emergency workers; some succumbed quickly to acute radiation sickness and show a slight rise in leukemia. This suggests that proper equipment for such workers can greatly mitigate the health damage after an accident. In the wider region, the most concrete damage has been thyroid cancer, which has afflicted some 4,000 children. Some 99 percent were treated successfully, and 9 died.

Instead, the greatest public health hazard has been mental. People from the region are anxious and fatalistic, based on a greatly exaggerated view of the risks they face. The result can be drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, and an inability to function. Disaster coordinators will clearly have to factor mental health effects into their planning.
If I understand this correctly, the fear of nuclear radiation caused more health issues than the radiation itself. So, this is just like terrorism in that the event itself doesn't do the damage, it is the fear that does the damage. And the only way to fight that is with good information.

My fear is that a dirty bomb goes off some where. I think the impact of the public's fear will be much worse than the actual threat it poses. The only way to combat that is for public officials to get out there now, before the attack and tell people about it. And I think the best way to do it is to compare it with risk of smoking or something else people understand. Radiation is scary because you can't see it and people really don't know how bad it is for them.

So Dick Cheney, why don't you get out there and spread the word about the risks due to radiation? After scaring the bejesus out of us, you are the man to give us the straight talk on this.

Via New York Times


Exploiting the Gender Gap

Nothing disturbs working women more than the statistics often mentioned on Labor Day showing that they are paid only 76 cents to men's dollar for the same work.
This is a topic that also disturbs me.

First, as an economist, where I would have to believe that men are so sexist that they are willing to pay 24% more for an equally competent man than woman. I would have to accept that there are no women out there that are willing to create businesses where they would just hire women and have a 24% lower employee cost, which should make them significantly more competitive than anyone else.

Second, because this is a big deal for my sister and I will be getting an earful about it. So I am a big fan of any article that can give me a little ammunition.
I discovered that in 2000, women without bosses - who own their own businesses - earned only 49 percent of male business owners. Why? When the Rochester Institute of Technology surveyed business owners with M.B.A.'s from one top business school, they found that money was the primary motivator for only 29 percent of the women, versus 76 percent of the men. Women put a premium on autonomy, flexibility (25- to 35-hour weeks and proximity to home), fulfillment and safety.

After years of research, I discovered 25 differences in the work-life choices of men and women. All 25 lead to men earning more money, but to women having better lives.

High pay, as it turns out, is about tradeoffs. Men's tradeoffs include working more hours (women work more around the home); taking more dangerous, dirtier and outdoor jobs (garbage collecting, construction, trucking); relocating and traveling; and training for technical jobs with less people contact (like engineering).

Women who have never been married and are childless earn 117 percent of their childless male counterparts. (This comparison controls for education, hours worked and age.)
Interesting. The author goes on to explain how the Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps lots of jobs into the same category so an apples to apples comparison is difficult.

I do differ with the author in that he appears to be trying to get the word out so that women can make more money. I would argue that if men are making choices to make more money, and women are making choices to have better lives, that it is the men who need to do the changing.

I was hesitant to put this post up, because the author is a kook. But the NY Times verifies all the stats so I figure they are good. I like how the article is called "Exploiting" the Gender Gap, as the author appears to be able to exploit anything for a little free publicity. If you do a Google Search on Warren Farrell, you find a nice commentary on a Penthouse article he wrote supporting incest, his pimped out website where you find out he was elected three times to the Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women and the only person selected to speak at former California Governor Wilson's Conference on Men as well as his Conference on Women. You also find his unsuccessful run for California governor site which if I am not mistaken he received less votes that Gary Coleman.

Via The New York Times


Conqueror in a War of Virtual Worlds

Since November, World of Warcraft has signed up more than four million subscribers worldwide, making for an annual revenue stream of more than $700 million. About a million of those subscribers are in the United States (with more than half a million copies sold this year) and another 1.5 million are in China, where the game was introduced just three months ago. By contrast, EverQuest II now has between 450,000 and 500,000 subscribers worldwide, with about 80 percent in the United States.

World of Warcraft has taken off in many countries because Blizzard has made a game that is easy for casual players to understand and feel successful in, while including enough depth to engross serious gamers, who may play a game like World of Warcraft for 30 hours a week or more.
In college twice I remember thinking if only they could put a graphical user interface on it this is going to be big. The first was with the internet, and when Netscape came out with the browser you knew it was going to change the world. The second was with the Multi-User Dungeon or MUD. The addictiveness of those games was beyond drugs. But, the UI was so bad only hard core geeks could get into it.

Just like it took a while for Google to come on the scene and do things slightly different that led to much better results and a way to display ads in a way people actually liked, so to has it taken a while for someone to create a virtual world that is just slightly different but causes it to be vastly superior to everything else.

$700 million is a big number. The Lord of the rings movies each made about $300 mil, so this is like 2 of those a year. Yet another sign that the video game industry is the motion picture industry of the new millennium.

The thing I missed is that I had expected this to be advertising driven. I expected ads to be placed all over the virtual world. Instead people have no problem plopping down $15 a month to pay. It is as if everyone is willing to pay for HBO in order to watch TV. Or if Yahoo charged $5 a month for email service instead of doing it for free. Interesting how some times people are willing to pay for subscriptions and other times they aren't. But maybe we are just in the early innings of this and the advertising is still to come.

The other interesting thing is that this article seems to imply they have 1.5 million Chinese paying $15 a month to play. That is amazing. And if true is the answer to how you get Chinese to pay for software: turn it into a service with a monthly subscription.

Via New York Times


Sunday, September 04, 2005

3.7 Million Hours of Good Television a Year

A couple of interesting articles over at Wired this month. First they look at how Yahoo is becoming a network like CBS, ABC or NBC. They throw out some big numbers:

A household with 300 cable or satellite channels has access to 7,000 hours of programming a day, almost 3 million per year. That's a lot, but it's only a fraction of the 31 million hours of total annual programming.
31 million hours of programming a year! That is an amazing amount of programming. I wonder how they came up with that number.

In the second article they interview Jon Stewart:
What do you make of the quality of television now?
I firmly believe that the number of quality programs on television right now is probably higher than it has ever been.
Stewart: It's a constant level of goodness.

What is that level?
I'd say it's around 12 percent. I'd say 12 percent goodness, 88 percent crapola. I'm calling it the Goodness Theorem. The goodness is a constant, like pi, and it stays that way. What happens is, as the environment expands around it, the goodness expands at the exact same rate. So the ratio of goodness to crapola remains the same. And the percentage of goodness on network TV is probably the same as 30 years ago.
So, we take the Stewart Goodness Theorem and apply it to total programming and we come up with 27 million hours of bad television a year and 3.7 million hours of good television.

3.7 million hours of good television a year? How come I find it so hard to find one good hour a day? If these numbers hold there should be 10,000 hours of quality TV a day to choose from. If that is true, there is really no reason I should ever have a bad TV experience for the rest of my life. Seems like there must be a serious filtering problem going on. The whole Tivo thumbs up, thumbs down thing isn't getting the job done. We need a Netflix rating system/Google searching deal to make sure nothing but quality TV that I enjoy makes it front of my eyes. Is that too much to ask?