Blog: February 2012

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Data mining

How companies learn your secrets is a long but interesting article on commercial data-mining. The case studied here is Target, leading with a bit of a fumble where they showed they knew a high-school student was pregnant before her family did, but practically everybody analyzes their customers like this. This article explains some of what they're doing and why it works.

"We have the capacity to send every customer an ad booklet, specifically designed for them, that says, 'Here's everything you bought last week and a coupon for it,' " one Target executive told me. "We do that for grocery products all the time." But for pregnant women, Target's goal was selling them baby items they didn't even know they needed yet.

"With the pregnancy products, though, we learned that some women react badly," the executive said. "Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We'd put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We'd put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance.

"And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn't been spied on, she'll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don't spook her, it works."

I know someone who used to get together with friends every now and then to randomly redistribute store affinity cards to mess up the data mining. I don't know how long hat will keep working (if indeed it still does) -- unless you also pay with cash. Personally, I just assume that any transaction I make that involves a credit card, affinity card, or disclosure of an address or phone number is not really private.

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Music for the day

Thanks to Woodwindy and someone who posted this under a lock for this lovely piece of Ars Subtilior music:

music laid out in shape of a heart

From the Chantilly Codex (Musée Condé MS 564), ca. 1350-1400: Baude Cordier's song "Belle, Bonne, Sage":

"Lovely, good, wise, gentle and noble one, On this day that the year becomes new I make you a gift of a new song Within my heart, which presents itself to you."

I haven't tried playing it yet.

SCA: the lawsuit

As anybody in the SCA already knows, but for the rest of you, the SCA just settled a $7M lawsuit out of court for $1.3M. Corporate liability insurance has thus far refused to cover most of this (so there's another lawsuit over that), and meanwhile the money needs to be paid. The corporation has already spent a lot of money defending this suit so they don't have it; thus they are assessing an 18% levy on all kingdoms, local groups, and major wars (which have their own bank accounts) in North America.

I wasn't sure whether I was going to post about this (the discussion is happening in lots of places already), but a few people have asked what this relatively-long-time-SCAdian thinks, so... Read more…