Saturday, July 10, 2010

Jumping around...

Several things on my mind this morning, so indulge me as I jump from one blog-related (more or less) topic to another:

Defending Microsoft
Why do I find myself continually defending Bill Gates and Microsoft, as if they need my help?  I know it is popular to pick on them because of their size, wealth, power and oft-times obtuse behavior.  But I wonder where computers would be today if Bill had not semi-swiped that first OS code and made it possible for the average guy to put truly amazing computing power on his desktop.  Yes, someone else would have done it if he had not.  And people would have hated him, too.

Need I remind folks again that Windows has to work on an almost infinite array of hardware, and perform with an unbelieveably large number of software apps?  And that there is a massive sub-culture out there bent on finding holes in the system and ways to break it?  Trying to stay ahead of that bunch of inglorious bastards is one reason Microsoft has to continue upgrading, fixing holes, making things more complicated for us law-abiding users.

(And you self-righteous Apple bigots: Apple is hardware.  They only have to write and upgrade an OS that works on their hardware.  Developers write apps for their hardware and OS, not something that has to work with an almost infinite variation of hardware.  Where are the SOBs who want to go after the smugness and self-importnce of Apple?  I don't understand.  They are rich and powerful, too.  Just not as rich and powerful as Bill and his little software company.)

Heat affecting FM radio
The latest excuse coming from broadcasters to explain why ratings are diminishing?  It's too hot!  Yes, the heat wave on the East Coast has caused listeners to have a harder time pulling in the FM stations.  Somehow, the heat is sapping the signals.

Huh?  First I have heard of this phenomenon.  Stations in Arizona and Florida have never--to my knowledge--noticed such a thing.  No, it is more likely that the heat has kept people inside more, not in their cars, where traditional terrestrial radio still has an advantage over other media.

Can anyone enlighten me?  Can a temperature 10 degrees above normal affect FM broadcast radio signals enough to keep someone from being able to listen to a station?

Every vote counts--for a hundred thousand people
As the good folks at Arbitron continue to give value to their expensive ratings, they are allowing subscribers to carve up their data thinner and thinner.  When interfaced with the Selector music scheduling system, program directors can see exactly what happened to their "audience" when a particular song played at a specific time of day, down to the minute.

Beautiful!  You play the latest Lady Gaga and the numbers dive.  You drop the song and play something else that showed a healthy spike the last time you played it.  Everybody's happy, right?

How goofy is that?  When you carve up the ratings so fine, you are depending on a very, very small sample base.  See, Arbitron relies on a panel of people who have agreed to carry their portable people meter, which can tell what radio station the volunteer is listening to at any moment.  In a city the size of Birmingham, Alabama, there may be only 800 people participating as panel members.  That means every person is representing almost 1,300 people's radio listening.

But in some very narrow demo groups (say, African-American women, 18 to 24 years old) one person could represent a far larger percentage of the group.  If that one person stops listening when the Lady Gaga song comes on, the needle dips and the program director panics.  Never mind that the one meter-carrier actually loves the song but arrived at work, or had to turn own the radio because she was at the drive-through at Wendy's.  But based on her actions, neither she nor all the others who like the song will hear it again on that station.

I'm a data guy.  Research is a wonderful thing.  But this is just plain goofy!


Don Keith N4KC

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