Eugene Stern shows another way to do the math that the New York Times didn’t

kim jong-un does the math

Eugene Stern, who blogs at Sense Made Here, describes himself as “interested in math and modeling and how they are used and taught in real life”. A friend of his pointed on Facebook to my recent post in which I did the math that the New York Times didn’t do when reporting on sales and rentals of The Interview.

He liked my post, and decided to do the math in a different way — a heuristic way that seems a little more intuitive, especially to people who might not be comfortable solving systems of linear equations. I’ve taken his reasoning and illustrated it, in the same style as my previous article.

Once again, here are the facts that we’re given:

interview math 01

Sony didn’t tell the New York Times how many of those 2 million viewing came from rentals and how many came from sales. However, we can do a little reasoning:

interview math 02

This gives us something to work with:

interview math 03

At the end of his proof, he writes:

The heuristic argument didn’t have any equations or unknowns, but at the heart of it we were still doing algebra!

The arguments aren’t exactly the same, and that’s OK: they both have their benefits, and one complements the other. The system of equations gives you a more systematic way of getting to the answer: you don’t have to guess (or make your way through some slightly twisted logic about averages). The heuristic argument gets you to the main point — more rentals than sales — more quickly and transparently. But, at their heart, they are both about using arithmetic operations (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing), and known relationships between quantities, to tease out even more information about those quantities. That’s algebra. And it’s valuable to be able to do it, one way or another.

Stern did a fantastic job. Some people had trouble buying into the solution I came up with using linear equations, but his heuristic approach has a “feel” to it that should convince even the biggest, most innumerate math-phobes. Well done, sir!

interview math 04


Florida starts off 2015 by being as Florida as it possibly can be

greetings from florida

Thanks to a series of events that led me to meet my fiancée, I now live in America’s weirdest state. California may have held this title once, but now it’s the Sunshine State that sets the bar for weird stories. Perhaps it’s because it functions as America’s Drainpipe, a place where people go to escape a bad past, only to exercise the same bad life-decision-making. It might be its history of frontier thinking; historian Gary Mormino, author of Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams says “fierce individualism, gun violence, a weak state government, and rapacious attitudes toward the environment—defined and continue to define Florida.” The subtropical climate and low cost of living make it attractive to a lot of people, but especially those living on the edge of society or sanity (I imagine it’s much easier to live in a van down by the river here as opposed to Toronto). As a result, whenever a weird headline comes up, many of us — myself included — do this check: Did it happen in Florida?, and more often than not, it did.

Florida’s starting off 2015 a little too Florida for its own good. Let’s hope that it’s taking a page from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ traditional playbook: starting out with a bang, and then petering out pretty quickly.

christian gomez

The best-known Florida Man story of 2015 so far is that of Christian Gomez (pictured above in an undated photo), a 23 year-old who was allegedly so incensed that his mother made him do some chores that he cut off her head. The only thing more distressing than this news was a discussion on Facebook by some local friends who, when first seeing his picture, thought it looked a lot like someone they knew, and that the decapitation sounded like something he’d do.

supervised spanking

Gomez was diagnosed with schizophrenia three years ago, so discipline alone may not have helped him. If you’re of that school of parenting that thinks the occasional spanking is warranted and want to ensure that you don’t get out of control, you can always call for police supervision. That’s what one Okeechobee County dad did when dealing with a mouthy 12 year-old girl, and a deputy came over, observed the paddlin’, and left. That’s not all that surprising: Disney culture is pervasive here, and many little girls here have been programmed by Disney Princesses into become little entitlement monsters.

We’ll have to see if the spanking — and especially being observed by a cop while it happens — got through to the kid, or if she becomes a “Florida Woman” story a few years down the line.

closet couple

The most famous Florida couple of the moment are Amber Campbell and John Arwood, who were apparently trespassing and got chased into a closet where they spent two days believing they were trapped inside, only to later be told that the closet locks from the inside and that they could’ve left any time they wanted. Arwood called 911 on his mobile phone. When the cops came to free them, they also found poop (presumably the couple’s) and copper scouring pads, which are sometimes used as crack-smoking paraphernalia.

same sex marriage florida

And finally, on a sad note, there this story: As gay marriage approaches, several counties’ clerks opt out of wedding ceremonies. Because they’re not allowed to discriminate anymore, a number of court clerks are simply refusing outright to hold courthouse marriage ceremonies for anyone, straight or gay.

By the bye, if you don’t know my stance on same-sex marriage, you might want to read this post of mine from 2007: A Craigslist Wedding.

joey in florida

In spite of all the local wackiness, I’m staying. I’m marrying a lovely lady with a nice family, I’ve got a good job, the climate’s pretty nice, and the locals seem all right with a guy who often walks about with an accordion with a fair bit of the time.


What if capitalists actually LOVE economic crises, unemployment, and stagnation?


Adapted from a graph from Nitzan and Bichler’s essay. Click it to see the source.

“Follow the money” is generally good advice for getting to the bottom of why many things happen, and it’s just what Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler did. They looked at U.S. economic data from the past century, tracking the ebbs and flows of money and came to this conclusion: the last thing that capitalists want is an economic recovery.

They wrote:

Conventional economic theories tell us that capitalists are hedonic creatures. Like all other economic “agents” – from busy managers and hectic workers to active criminals and idle welfare recipients – their ultimate goal is maximum utility. In order for them to achieve this goal, they need to maximize their profit and interest; and this income – like any other income – depends on economic growth. Conclusion: utility-seeking capitalists have every reason to love booms and hate crises.

But, then, are capitalists really motivated by utility? Is it realistic to believe that large American corporations are guided by the hedonic pleasure of their owners – or do we need a different starting point altogether?

So try this: in our day and age, the key goal of leading capitalists and corporations is not absolute utility but relative power. Their real purpose is not to maximize hedonic pleasure, but to “beat the average.” Their ultimate aim is not to consume more goods and services (although that happens too), but to increase their power over others. And the key measure of this power is their distributive share of income and assets.

Simply put, for the very rich, it’s not just enough to win: they have to win and everyone else has to lose.

Where did this hippie diatribe come from? From the blog of the LSE, as in London School of Economics and Political Science.

Found via AZSpot.