steven lebron: I was thinking about this last night on the toilet: do you think that this whole advanced stats thing in sports should translate into other aspects of life? The first thing that came to my mind was wine connoisseurs, the people who have huge collections in their vault, or go wine tasting to show off their knowledge. would advanced stats not be the perfect way to make this hobby even more rarefied.
This got me thinking, I think weddings would be great for advanced stats. You want to know in some ways, for the money that you put in, just how efficient was the whole event and how people actually enjoyed it per dollar spent. The possibilities are endless. Weddings, restaurants, so on and so on. I feel like advanced stats need to start penetrating into areas outside of sports that remain untapped.
Dr. LIC: Wine tasting is an awesome example because there is now a lot of evidence against the reliability of professional wine-tasters. A number of studies have shown that professional wine connoisseurs don’t pass blind taste tests and in some cases can’t tell red from white.
Nonetheless, when I dive into some new hobby like bourbon, or cigars or something, I am immediately looking for the VORP equivalent for these things because being able to quantify these goods makes me feel like (gives me the illusion that) I will make the right decision.
SL: The only bourbon I’ve ever drank and known is Makers Mark. I was on a business trip to Kentucky about five years ago now and a co-worker and I had nothing to do in that town but use our company credit card on drinks. That’s when I was introduced. I only remember this because I tried to open my hotel room with my credit card that night repeatedly until I realized it wasn’t the hotel card. Good times.
Dr. LIC: Yeah, I just really found out about good bourbon in the last couple years through friends. Now I treat it like a fun pursuit, trying to find particular scarce bottles around Chicago like I used to go to baseball card shows searching for the Billy Ripken whited out fuckface card.
SL: I think in many ways — talking about wine, bourbon, cigars, or any hobby really — there’s such an elitist aspect to all these things because of the high esteem that the people in the “inner circle” aspire to that I really wonder if that’s what’s preventing a lot of ordinary people from even participating or wanting to learn more; in the very same way that I think many people tend to struggle between the naked eye test and what the statistics actually say for sports.
I mean, if you handed me an advanced manual on wine with stats and the different taste buds it triggers, I’m sure I would one-click purchase that manual on Amazon Kindle and be all ready to pair my chicken or seafood next time I’m in a nice restaurant.
I think advanced stats for schools would be interesting too. A lot of grades, evaluations and report cards are just a matter of checking off boxes; here’s 20% for class participation, we’ll grade you on how well you memorize material or get past exams for a test. And in the end, I feel like people with good grades, or people who have professional certifications are not really distinguishing themselves, but are just masters of knowing how to get through the systematic method of education.
This I think just goes towards a book smart vs. street smart argument that I wish could be integrated and identified as kids are going through elementary and high school, so that maybe it’d help them and their parents to recognize their skill sets rather than “Is Derek getting a A+ or a C+ in chemistry”.
DR LIC: Interesting. I had the good fortune of attending Columbia University for College and University of Chicago for graduate school, and I found a stark difference between how grades were pursued and attained at these two schools.
At Columbia, students were “smart” in a way that they knew how to navigate the system (as you put it “knowing how to get through the systematic method of education”) and knew how to sort of avoid doing the work but still get an A. Then, when I started teaching at UChicago, the students were just as grade-hungry, but they wanted to obtain the grades through doing the work that would get them an A.
Either way, the incentives are poorly structured such that in the first case, students are incentivized to circumvent the system, but in the second case, students are incentivized merely to do the work that will lead to an A grade, and nothing more. Having said all that, I am a big fan of letter grades because they are reasonably predictive of later success.
I love the idea even more for weddings, mostly because I just had one. It was in Chicago, and you realize that in Chicago at a certain level of wedding quality, your choices are nicely limited amongst a few caterers, florists and such, which is a good thing.
But that means you are necessarily giving money to certain entities that are a tad on the corporate side. So my wife and I really wanted to make sure wherever possible, we could hire people (for music, ceremony, photography, rehearsal dinner) where we knew where our money was going. And that makes you think a whole lot about exactly what you ask—how efficient the whole event was. I will tell you this—the most value we got was for a dhol player we hired. He was most people’s favorite part of our wedding, he played throughout the night even though we expected him to play for only about 10 minutes, and we paid a very reasonable rate. I’d love to be able to compute his value-per-minute or something.
SL: First of, on the whole topic of efficiency, I must mention that we need to be more efficient with our use of ketchup, and probably condiments in general. I always squirt more ketchup out of the bottle than is necessary and lately I’ve come to realize it and it’s bugging me.
DR LIC: Have you seen this? It’s pretty disgusting, but also a real sign of progress.
SL: Okay, back to the subject at hand, value-per-minute would be a great stat. I was thinking that in the same way as Yelp does for restaurants, we can have people anonymously provide their ratings or thoughts on weddings that they attend, not necessarily a review of the venue, but an analysis of all the things that you mentioned: the music, the food, the presentation of it all, even the speeches.
DR LIC: Oh my god. I love this. It would be terrible for friendships (I have to imagine anonymity would be hard to maintain), but extremely useful. I think my wife and I have gone to around 15 weddings within the 9-month radius of getting wedded ourselves, and it is just so hard not to be evaluative of every wedding you attend when you are thinking about your own. And I don’t mean evaluative in a negative sense, just like, in the true sense of, well, thinking about the event in comparison to one’s own. Actually, going to about 12 weddings just before our own was awesome because we basically mentally noted everything we liked from our friends’ weddings and used all of that to plan our own.
SL: I think this is a matter of having been to way too many weddings this year, but I’ve grown really tired of speeches. We need more creativity in that area. It’s like people invented this structure for a wedding and we’ve just abided by it since. Seriously, I’m still mad at the person who made it mandatory for the guy to buy a ring. Why is a guy subjected to purchasing something they would never otherwise purchase in their life. I’m just glad I didn’t take these thoughts, and decide to buck the system by proposing at Popeyes (for the record, I asked my fiancee after, she would’ve said no).
But, yes, we definitely need an evaluation system in place.
DR LIC: I am right there with you on the speeches. Probably our biggest takeaway from going to other weddings was that nobody ever says, “You know, there were really too few speeches at that wedding.” I’m cool with rings though. Gives the whole occasion a bit of gravity.
Your wedding is coming up right? I’d love to know how you are thinking about this in terms of your event. I have a whole lot of other thoughts about the pros and cons about quantifiability, but I’ll save that for now.
SL: And, after that whole rant about following the norms, I’m following the norms. We’re doing a destination wedding so a lot of the things that would be on a checklist of a usual wedding isn’t there.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about pros and cons about quantifiability.
In the meantime, another wedding thought I’ve bounced around with my friend Jon, who’s going through the pains of planning his own: a wedding boot camp.
So here’s the problem with wedding planning, you have so many things on that imaginary checklist, that there’s always these loose ends that need tying up. Scouting venues, finding a DJ, caterer, rehearsals, suits for guys, flowers, and on top of that parents wanting to give their opinions on things because it’s as much about them as it is us.
Here’s the thing we came up with, that is not an entirely fully formed idea: start a company that let’s newly engaged couples go for this three or four day resort trip to somewhere nice, and during those three or four days, they spend the whole time meeting with vendors, caterers at the resort to help check off everything they need on their checklist. These couples can give us before hand what they want to accomplish during their stay, and we will have the vendors there to assist them. I don’t know how you force people to stay, but they can’t leave until they’re done.
We were thinking the dinners they had there could be provided by the caterers and that’d be killing a lot of birds with just a few stones in that it would double as both their meal and as a way for them to make a choice on their food, and so forth.
In this way, all the stress of wedding planning that drags for months can be compartmentalized into a few short days.
DR LIC: I love this idea. Couldn’t have planned it better.
SL: Switching gears, your thoughts on this article about asking people about their ethnicity?
DR LIC: This is a good article, and the topic seems to have come up a lot lately. This is also top of mind because I saw this play recently that is all about the conflation of various Arab identities, and there was definitely a painful “where are you from” scene in it.
At any rate, as a white person, what can I really say except, ugh. It’s kind of interesting that the past thirty years a whole new class of racialist behaviors that sort of fall under the category of paternalistic racism. These range from the “where are you from” question, to the muddled attempts to establish common ethnic ground (“oh you’re from Venezuela? I love Carlos the Jackal”), to pretty much everything here (one of my favorite websites from the annals of internet history).
To bring this back to quantifiability or at least to bring this into that realm, someone should really create a flowchart for the “where are you from” conversation.
SL: I went to a screening for a Japanese film at a local film festival here earlier this year, and during the Q&A session, a Caucasian lady kept using the word Oriental in discussing the cultures explored in the movie when she was asking her questions. I thought about it a lot after and realized that it felt really racist and offensive but there’s been so many scenarios like this where the person probably did not intend to be offensive. How do I separate the line between ignorance and racism, direct or not, it angers me the same, though I suppose there should be a difference.
DR LIC: Man, it sucks you (we) have to even ask these questions. I think the problem is that the worst offenders of this stuff are those who think they are above it all. My wife calls them NPR racists. I imagine the type of person who goes to a Japanese film screening in Toronto (right?) who has thought about cultural issues enough to discuss them during a Q&A has enough opportunity in her life that she could attain some degree of exposure—either through travel, education, or books—to the idea that it is not acceptable to use the term “Oriental.” We can excuse some people for ignorance, those who simply “don’t know any better,” but I think in your response to your question about where to draw the line, it is when people who purport to be “cultured’ display a total lack of sensitivity. That’s just racism, and I think it is egged on by the very attainment of education/reading/travel/etc. You get this feeling of, well, if I have all this knowledge of what goes on in other cultures, then there’s no way what I say could be offensive. Well, that’s a bitter note to end on. (also a preposition).
Lastly, I’ll be using the end of each post to tell you about a book project that I’m very close to finishing. I figure if you read all the way to the bottom of these posts, this will probably interest you.
It’s a book featuring my writing and original illustrations from a bunch of really talented artists. You can see some sample layouts here (Kobe, Barry Bonds, Dennis Rodman). I will be setting up a Kickstarter soon to recoup some of the print and shipping costs, an early estimate of the book will be $20. It’s going to be an entirely non-profit project for me, which my parents will be sad to hear about considering I hold a business degree.
All of this to say, please subscribe to the mailing list by clicking here if this sounds like something you’d be interested in, it’d help me gauge the interest of the project.