Chris Worfolk's Blog


AppSpotr review

June 20th, 2017 | Tech

AppSpotr is a cloud-based service that allows you to make your own apps for iOS and Android.

I had a very brief play around with it so I won’t pretend this is anything like an in-depth review. It allows you to create apps using a drag-and-drop editor. You can add a number of different pages to the app, the basic ones are free and then there is a monthly price for the rest of them.

So, for example, if you want to add a form to capture people’s details, that costs $5 per month. Or the enhanced content pages which you need to add videos costs $1 per month.

It seems like a useful service if you are, for example, a restaurant or hotel that needs a little app with a simple menu and some content pages. But, for anything more advanced, it probably will not provide you with what you need. There is no logical, for example, it is just a list of pages.

You also need a developer account with whatever platform you want to publish to.

Canapes

June 19th, 2017 | Books, Food

A lot of my cooking revolves around main courses. It is easy to slip into this pattern: I only do a three-course meal once or twice per week. Therefore, a lot of the starter, lunch and dessert recipes get forgotten about.

However, I have been making a conscious effort to expand this. Adding some new canapes to my repertoire seemed a good direction to go.

A lot of the recipes in this book were too fiddly for me to bother. However, there are some firm favours. The Asian pork balls, for example. And the mini-burgers were not that difficult either.

Pancetta and tomato with basil pesto crostini, and a citrus avocado puree crostino.

Filo tartlets with beef.

All in all, I’ll give this the thumbs up. It has provided me with some great little recipes.

How does terrorism affect Ariana Grande’s record sales?

June 18th, 2017 | Music

As the smoke cleared on the terrible incident in Manchester and we were able to clear our heads, I began to reflect on the wider implications of what had happened. While such incidents are a tragedy that we would all would rather not have happened, it does provide us opportunities to study aspects of human behaviour we may not always have access to.

Take the adage, “all publicity is good publicity”, for example. It is often debated. Islam is the fastest growing religion in America since 9-11. Over a 6-week period, United Airlines share price actually went up after they got caught smashing up passengers luggage. So I wondered how this event would affect Ariana Grande’s record sales.

Hypthesis

If all publicity is good publicity, we should see Ariana Grande’s record sales increase. This is because the event would cue people to think of her. This would then remind them that they liked her music and go listen to her. Just like it being Friday cues people to go listen to Rebecca Black (sans the good music), as Johan Burger points out in his book Contagious.

So, I devised a very rudimentary experiment. I took the top five Ariana Grande songs on Spotify and recorded the number of listens they had. I then went back five days later and recorded the numbers again. To give us some control data to compare against, I also recorded the numbers for two similar artists: Bridget Mendler and Selena Gomez.

Results

Who Title Before After Change
Ariana Grande Side To Side 483,693,301 488,517,489 1.00%
Everyday 87,312,820 90,227,131 3.34%
Into You 402,080,468 405,415,980 0.83%
Beauty and the Beast 46,523,887 48,558,482 4.37%
Dangerous Woman 302,768,313 314,709,898 3.94%
Bridget Mendler Atlantis (Remix) 3,970,759 4,244,286 6.89%
Ready or Not 38,800,495 38,964,677 0.42%
Atlatnis 7,420,371 7,508,751 1.19%
Can’t Bring This Down 976,257 1,043,250 6.86%
Determinate 10,182,265 10,295,213 1.11%
Selena Gomez It Aint’e Me 370,200,812 391,055,885 5.63%
Bad Liar 15,302,371 33,020,985 115.79%
Kill Em With Kindness 272,322,569 274,388,836 0.76%
It Ain’t Me (Remix) 9,699,872 11,413,027 17.66%
Hands To Myself 336,994,943 338,569,152 0.47%

The average increase in the number of listens for Ariana Grande was 2.70%. This compares to 3.29% for Bridget Mendler and 28.06% for Selena Gomez. However, as there is such a huge outlier for Gomez, it may make sense to remove that, it comes down to 6.13%.

Discussion

Initial results would indicate that the incident has not had a positive impact on Ariana Grande’s record sales. If anything, it has had a negative impact.

However, there are some huge caveats to the whole experiment that mean we cannot draw any firm conclusions from it. First, we’re looking at a really small sample size. I only included two other comparison artists and Gomez has two large outliers in her results.

Doing a percentage increase comparison makes sense because this accounts for the popularity of the artist. A simple numbers game would not make sense because bigger artists are likely to increase much faster than smaller artists. However, the percentages are not perfect either.

For one, assuming we buy into the snowball effect, even in percentage terms, larger artists should grow faster than smaller artists. Grande has the biggest following of the three so we might expect her numbers to be bigger.

Nor does it take into account other factors such as the age of the song. A newly released hit, for example, it likely to grow in listens far quicker than an old classic because the existing listens on a new song will be far lower. Then there are other factors at work. Some of the songs are collaborations with other artists, for example.

All of this means that the results here are a very rough estimate.

Conclusion

Terrorism appears to have had a negative effect on Ariana Grande’s record sales. This refutes the adage that “all publicity is good publicity”.

There are a number of reasons this could be the case. First, the negative associations of the incident may be reflecting on Grande herself. Even though it is in no way her fault, we’ll be unable to avoid forming some association. Dan Ariely discusses this in his book Predictably Irrational. People blame weather presenters for bad weather.

Second, people may feel it was now inappropriate to listen to Grande or that doing so was tactless in the light of what had happened.

Or, it could be a statistical anomaly introduced by a small sample size and fundamental flaws in the experiment’s methodological design, and that it is not representative of the wider pattern.

Footnotes

Image courtesy of Melissa Rose via Wikimedia Commons.

This is why nobody likes Java

June 17th, 2017 | Programming

Recently, I wanted to pass a random number into a unit test. Sounds simple, right? It probably would be if I wasn’t writing it in Java.

The problem is that the class expected a BigDecimal. But the random utils returns a string. And you can’t convert a string to a BigDecimal. So I had to convert it to a Long, and then convert that to a BigDecimal. Here is the code I ended up with:

BigDecimal pageNumber = BigDecimal.valueOf(Long.valueOf(RandomStringUtils.randomNumeric(1)));

Which started me wondering: how many ways to represent a number are there in Java? So, I looked it up. And came up with this list:

  1. AtomicInteger
  2. AtomicLong
  3. BigDecimal
  4. BigInteger
  5. Byte
  6. double
  7. Double
  8. float
  9. Float
  10. int
  11. Integer
  12. long
  13. Long
  14. short
  15. Short

Some of these are understandable. It makes sense to have separate storage for decimals and integers, for example. But do we really need a short and a Short? And a total of 15 different types of number? It’s madness.

It wouldn’t be so bad if you could just compare the two of them. Or pass in a number to a function. But it is a strongly typed language. Which means a world of pain when people use different types.

But that is what you get for trying to use a proper language, I guess.

London vs Leeds: what will £32m get you?

June 16th, 2017 | Life

The property price differences between London and anywhere that is not London have been well documented. A small garden shed in the capital will set you back far more than a three bedroomed house in Darlington. But what if you have some cash to splash?

This came to mind recently when I saw two properties for sale.

One was this £30,000,000 house in London.

What can you get in London?

Technically, it is detached. But, if you look at how close the next building is to it, you could be forgiven for not realising this. And there is no doubt that it is a nice house. But if we look at the description…

Today this Grade II listed building currently extends to circa 9490 square feet (881 square metres).The property is in need of full modernisation but retains a number of period features.

…it turns out it is a fixer-upper.

What can you get in Leeds?

Compare this to the £32,000,000 property you can get in Leeds. It is two million pounds more, of course, so you are expecting something a little better.

That’s right, it’s Leeds Dock. It is a 1,200,000 square foot site complete with 1,100 apartments. And loads of office space. And a bar. And a restaurant (but it’s only a Pizza Express). And a casino (now closed). And the Royal Armouries Museum.

Recently put up to sale for £32,000,000 by its owners Allied London. Which is significantly more than the £1.5 million they paid for it just five years ago.

Why Udemy pay their instructors £2.68 for a £100 course

June 15th, 2017 | Life

I like Udemy, both as a student and an instructor. As a student, I have done some brilliant courses on there. As an instructor, it has been easy to create courses and make them available for sale.

But there is one downside if you plan on using Udemy to make a living: the payouts are terrible.

Take a look at My IT Contracting Master Class, for example. It is a £100 course. I was excited when the first customer signed up via Udemy. That is until I realised that I would only be getting £2.68.

What is going on here?

First, Udemy discount everything. The £100 price tag is basically a lie. I’m not sure what they do is legal in the UK. They have an advertised price, but you never pay that. In the five months, I have been using them, there has not been a single day when the have not had a sale on. It’s like going to a furniture store with their ever-revolving discounts.

Sometimes the discounts are bigger than others. Sometimes it is £10, sometimes £15. But as a UK customer, you are getting screwed anyway. The US consumer gets a bigger discount. In this case, the course was sold for $9.99.

Then iTunes take a cut, so that’s $3 gone, and then Udemy split the remaining money with you 50/50. There is $7 left, so that makes £3.50 each. Or, translated into Sterling, £2.68.

Technically, I think you can opt-out of these discounts. But, in practice, very few courses do. And this means that you are competing against a market of discounted courses, which makes it impossible to do business. And Udemy is more favourable to the courses who do not opt-out. So, in reality, I don’t feel like I have a choice.

Udemy is a great platform. However, I wish they would be more transparent about their prices. You don’t ever pay the list price and so instructors are paid very little.

Grammarly weekly report

June 14th, 2017 | Tech

Either I have become the most prolific writer of all time, or Grammarly’s numbers are incorrect.

According to my weekly report, I checked over half a million words last week. Now, I do write quite a lot. And it picks up the spell checking I deliberately do for my articles, as well as most of the content I write in online forms.

However, I am pretty sure I did not make my way through over 600,000 words.

One explanation is that the numbers are simply incorrect.

Another is that the Grammarly for Mac app isn’t great: it freaks out when it loses internet connection and you have to reload the page. It could be repeatedly sending everything back to its server for checking.

Or, I’m sleep writing.

I feel like an idiot for voting, and you should too

June 7th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

Tomorrow is the general election. Will you be voting? If you answer is anything other than “no”, you’re making bad choices with your life.

I usually vote. But I feel like an idiot for doing so.

Why? Because pretty much every economic model shows that voting is not worthwhile. Think about it: your vote is worth basically nothing. The British electorate is 45,000,000 people. You are just one of them. You don’t make any difference on the outcome.

And, presumably, you put some kind of value on your time.

An example: Leeds Central

I’m based in Leeds Central. It’s Hilary Benn’s Labour safe seat. Last time, we received 24,000 votes. His nearest competitor received 7,000 votes. That is a majority of 17,000. He has a 55% share of the vote.

This never changes. The last time Leeds Central elected anyone other than a Labour candidate was in 1923. 94 years ago. Before I was born. Before my parents were born. Before my grandparents were born.

So, no matter what I do, Hilary Benn will be re-elected as the MP for Leeds Central tomorrow.

Okay, so that established, I now have a choice. It’s polling day and I am sitting in my house. Regardless of whether I cast my vote, Hilary Benn will be re-elected. I can choose to spend 30 minutes going to the polling station. Or I can choose to spend the 30 minutes with my daughter.

What’s the rational choice here?

Voting costs time

Voting is a time-consuming business. You have to go to the polling station and get back. You might have to queue. I have had to queue for 40 minutes in a previous election.

That’s a big time-suck. How much is your time worth?

Probably valuable, right? I could be spending that time with my family or my friends. Or relaxing. Or cooking. Or getting some work done. Or learning something new. There are loads of valuable things you could do with that time.

And if your time is worthless, maybe you need to spend that time sorting your life out.

The rational action is not to vote

If you live in one of the 80% of safe seats, your vote is completely worthless. Nothing is going to change there.

If you live in one of the 20% of marginal seats, you vote is still worth practically nothing. Why? Because elections rarely ever come down to one vote.

We have a general election every 4-5 years, have done for around 200 years and currently have 650 constituencies. That is tens of thousands of constituency elections. Just once. In 1886. Seems unlikely you will be that one vote, then.

But voting is a right, and an honour

Which is the kind of thing we tell young men when we need them to go off and get themselves killed in a pointless war. “It’s an honour to service in the British military, and your duty to defend the Queen. I’d probably get some insurance for those legs of yours, though. And maybe freeze some sperm.”

When people tell me I have to vote, nobody can explain to me what that means. Or why. Why do I have to vote? It literally doesn’t make a difference to the outcome of the election. It doesn’t change anything. It is a waste of my time.

Those are concrete facts. The 30 minutes I lose spending time with Venla is a concrete outcome. “You’ll be participating in the great democratic process” is a nebulous concept with no clear value.

Yes, but if nobody voted…

People say to me “well, if everyone who wanted Bremain had gone out and voted, we would have won”. This is true. But they won’t. You don’t have control over them. You only control yourself and your one single vote.

It’s essentially the tragedy of the commons.

And if everyone thought like me and stopped voting, I would start voting, because my vote would suddenly become incredibly valuable. But until that happens, it isn’t.

If you don’t vote, you can’t complain

Of course you can. Not voting doesn’t somehow disqualify you from having an opinion when your human rights start getting stripped away or the government starts murdering disabled people.

Not voting merely shows that you have some grasp of basic probability. In short, that you’re not an idiot.

If anything, voting should disqualify you from having an opinion because you fail to grasp how the whole system works (or doesn’t work).

But Chris, you said you vote

It’s true. I’m not better than you. I’m saying that we’re all idiots together.

But young people don’t vote

You could argue “that’s fine, I am happy being an idiot, let’s all be idiots together and be proud of it.”

Fine. But young people don’t vote.

Most people say that they are disenfranchised and ill-informed. But is there any evidence for this? A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that young people should be more informed. They have more access to news, access to the internet, higher levels of education than ever before and a higher IQ (which moves up 3 points every decade). They should be the most switched on.

And I think they are. What if, rather than being ill-informed fools, young people are just smarter than us? They realise how pointless voting in a first-past-the-post system is and have realised that their time is too valuable to waste on such an endeavour?

Conclusion

Voting is an irrational act. Your vote will have no impact on the outcome of the election. It does, however, cost you valuable time. The sensible thing to do is not to vote.

That is why young people don’t vote. They’ve realised this ahead of the rest of us. Sure, if they all block voted they could change the election. But they won’t, and they understand that they won’t because they each individually only control one vote, and so they do the thing that makes sense and use their time more productively.

The rest of us have been brainwashed by words like duty or feel that it would somehow be offensive towards the ghost of Emmeline Pankhurst if we choose to spend the time with our family instead.

Maybe I’m wrong. The truth is, I would like to be proven so. I would like to think I am not acting irrationally. But your argument better be well-thought-out and articulate because nobody has been successful yet.

And you say “well, I’m happy to act irrationality”. But that in itself is not a badge to be proud of. We often chastise the electorate for failing to vote in their own self-interest. But what right to do we have to make these claims when we ourselves cannot rationalise our actions? None whatsoever.

Footnotes

Image courtesy of Man vyi via Wikimedia Commons.

Why would you advertise for people people?

June 3rd, 2017 | Business & Marketing

This is the second of two blog posts about billboards. Life does not get any more exciting than this. Read part one here.

I ran up the canal. And for a long time, there was a First Direct billboard half way up my route that said: “people people wanted”. Every week I told myself I should take a photo of it. Finally, after a month, I resolved that this would be the day. So, I ran up there, pulled out my camera and… it had gone.

However, I recently saw this advert at the train station and it will illustrate my point just as well.

The headline reads…

Good with people? Then you’ll be great with us.

In both of these instances, it could be that they are just looking to drive some recruitment there way. And to an extent, it is. But there must be far more cost-effective ways of finding people than a billboard that targets everybody. Most people have a job, for example, and don’t work in customer services.

However, these advertisements serve a secondary purpose.

They are also value signalling. Not only do they advertise for friendly customer service people but they also say to everyone who reads it “why not come and bank with us – we care about getting friendly staff on board.”

Few people are people people looking to move into a different customer services role. But everybody would like a bank with friendlier customer services.

On the Manchester Arena bombing

June 2nd, 2017 | Thoughts

I, like everyone else, was shocked and appalled to see the pictures coming out of Manchester after the terrorist attack at Manchester Arena. Not in the hyperbolic sense: there was a literal shock (well, not shock, but shock) and appalling. That someone would do that for a concert aimed at children genuinely takes you aback.

It’s the kind of propaganda you might expect to have spread during the Second World War. Goebbels would have been proud to convince his citizens that the enemy was deliberating bombing children. But here was someone so brainwashed by a political-religious ideology that they were actually doing it. At the M.E.N., a place where so many of us in the north have pleasant memories.

I would like to say I was inspired by the reaction of the community in supporting the victims. But the truth is better: I wasn’t surprised because that is just standard. Of course, people rushed to help, gave people rides, took them into their houses. Who was surprised by this? When did we set the bar so low? Not us.