What does taste in music say about who we want to date?

I’ve been a loyal Pandora user for the better part of a decade now, and the company has gotten to know me pretty well over the years. But over the last year, in particular, I’ve seen a number of ads for the dating website Match.com.

I don’t know why they think I’m still looking. Maybe it’s because I still listen to UB40.

Anyways, I didn’t really think anything of it at the time. But look at the girls: they’re pretty uniform in appearance: white, in their 20’s, with straight hair. And though Match has plenty of pictures of attractive women, they kept on showing me pictures of girls that pretty-much look the same as these girls.

There is one older girl in the lower left, but otherwise it’s the same group wit the same traits. 

I didn’t even realize I was being profiled until a few months ago. I went to a Punch Brothers concert and created a few bluegrass and country stations. I also downloaded the android app.

Immediately after downloading the android app, the Match ads changed.

I wasn’t seeing the same girls over and over again anymore. I was now seeing their moms! Well, probably their moms’ younger sisters. But still.

I was surprised when I saw these ads: I hadn’t even been conscious that I had been specifically targeted with ads before, but now I realized that all those images were targeting different audiences. I originally thought the main driver of the change what that the ad server realized I had an Android, but after researching, it seems that Android is known to have a younger audience than the iPhone. So I figured that I had changed how I was targeted by listening to different types of music. And if I could change who they thought a am once, I could do it again.
So I did.
I listened to a mix of hip-hop and country for the next week. That led to this ad for (young) Christian Singles:
I also saw a few filler ads for mail-order brides and the like, though I imagine that they are just remnant spots and unlikely to be the result of specific targeting. 

So how accurate is all this targeting? Anecdotally, I thought it was only ok. The initial ads (before I started manipulated my music to fool them) didn’t show me girls that were unattractive. But I had no interest in almost any of the activities listed in the first ad (what, you didn’t notice they listed their interests?). And they never would have shown me the girl I ended up with.
I will say I am impressed with how quickly classification changes were made. Clearly ads were not just served based on what station I was listening to at the time: they were based on someone’s (very incomplete) profile of me. 
More generally, I’m fascinated that music could be used to determine who we might be attracted to.

Jonah Lehrer - not the worst!

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault;
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.

- from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Among the three-dozen-or-so people in the US that care about things like pop-science reporting and who’s a New Yorker staff writer, Jonah Lehrer has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons of late.

I don’t normally take time out to put in notes on behalf of people who have admitted to making false quotes, but the uproar over this strikes me as pure Schadenfreude. I mean, really, tablet [who broke the story] thinks they’re getting DDoS’ed?

It is funny when someone you knew becomes famous. I have 3 people in my life who have become famous after I met them (I am in touch with none of them). I’d like to think that a run-in with someone nearly a decade ago gives me a special insight into who they are. I’m obviously an idiot for thinking that, but I can’t help it. The other two famous people have public perceptions that match up with my experience of them perfectly. But Jonah’s public persona (which I think can be summed up by the word ‘douchebag’) is totally different from the guy I met.

I met Jonah in 2003: he had just won a scholarship you have probably heard of and I had won one a smaller one you probably haven’t. We and the two other winners had lunch together at a place just off Columbia’s campus.

I remember Jonah extremely well from this single meeting: he was far more polished than the rest of us and had already done so much (he had graduated early I think, and was researching for a Nobel Prize winner while working as a line chef at a famous restaurant on the side). I was in awe of him.

At the dinner celebrating the fact he won a Rhodes Scholarship, I think he could have been forgiven for being a little bit of a douche. But he wasn’t at all: I remember him being funny, modest and graceful. 

So while others are burying Jonah, I’m remembering that he’s written some good stuff, some bad stuff, but that he was a good guy when I met him and I hope he can come out of these mistakes stronger than before. 

Denying Pension Math and the Coming Zombie Takeover



A few weeks ago I posted over at the Lumesis blog about the first public pension bankruptcy in US history. In short, a small US protectorate owes retirees about $1 Billion and has about 30% of that. So they are filing for bankruptcy.

This was a big deal because there is a huge pension problem in the US right now. Municipalities are a trillion dollars in the hole on this, and it is likely that other cities/states will consider bankruptcy. Numerically this is similar to what is happening in Europe now,

Except… the ruling two weeks ago was that the pension fund can’t declare bankruptcy. It’s against the law.

Now I certainly support the pensioners right to petition, and that they should be paid. But it is clear that there isn’t enough money to go around.

Governmental agencies that aren’t able to pay and aren’t able to restructure become zombie cities, similar to zombie banks. Somewhere between dead and alive, they stumble around aimlessly. Harrisburg, which tried to file for bankruptcy, had its receiver quit in frustration and the new one is threatening to sue the city council, and it’s unclear who is legally in charge. The city has been seeing it’s unemployment rate spike compared to the rest of the state. It’s unclear if any governing is actually happening. Harrisburg is a zombie.

There are good reasons for bankruptcy laws: allowing people and organizations to fail and start over fresh is crucial to making them productive. There’s a shrinking pie and pensioners shouldn’t be the only (or even primary) people impacted. But judges cannot deny the insolvency of these institutions forever.

How Closely Related are European Languages and a New Geekery Page

As some of you saw today, I posted some work I did on European Languages. To memorialize it on the blog, the link is here.

After finishing a second geeky little project this AM, I’m adding a new page to the blog for any side-project I work on. You can see them at the projects page. There’s a link at the top of the page as well. I don’t have any plans to add to this in the short term but should a new idea catch my fancy, you’ll see it there.

Our New Pet: a Very Hungry Nematode

I have been playing around with d3.js, an amazing library by Mike Bostock. I am strictly at a script-kiddie level of knowledge, but while I was playing with some variables, the lady-friend noticed that the object looked a little like the very hungry caterpillar. I actually think it looks more like a little nematode.

Since I refuse to buy a dog, I am calling this our new pet: Snuffy the Nematode. You can meet Snuffy here.