...a companion blog to "Math-Frolic," specifically for interviews, book reviews, weekly-linkfests, and longer posts or commentary than usually found at the Math-Frolic site.

"Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show." ---Bertrand Russell (1907) Rob Gluck

"I have come to believe, though very reluctantly, that it [mathematics] consists of tautologies. I fear that, to a mind of sufficient intellectual power, the whole of mathematics would appear trivial, as trivial as the statement that a four-legged animal is an animal." ---Bertrand Russell (1957)

******************************************************************** Rob Gluck

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Annuities, Annuities, #!*&@%#!! Annuities

Just an itty-bitty rant today, tangential to mathematics (though relating to statistics, sample sizes, and the like). It was inspired by reading the below piece on the current "obsession" with "Big Data" (but any number of articles on the "big data" craze probably could've sparked it) :


The piece focuses a lot on the ultimate failure of Google's much-ballyhooed "flu trends" data, and the general problem of 'correlation not equating with causation,' before eventually ending thusly:

“'Big data' has arrived, but big insights have not. The challenge now is to solve new problems and gain new answers – without making the same old statistical mistakes on a grander scale than ever."

In my own instance, I'd estimate that over 90% of the ads appearing on my computer screen are for products/services I have NO interest in, even things I dislike; what a waste of time, money, bandwidth… and what decrepit 'big data' algorithms, from over-paid algorithm-creators, produce such poorly-directed schlock!?

I'll give one simple example (you may be able to relate to): some months back, a friend asked me what I thought about annuities for their retirement account. I told them that in certain instances an annuity might make sense as part of a retirement plan, but in general I've heard too many negative things about annuities and would stay away from them. I said I'd look up some information to send them on all the reasons to AVOID, or at least be cautious with, annuities. I spent significant time googling annuities and found several pages with critical commentary that I forwarded along to my friend… So of course what happens, but for the next 72+ hours I get bombarded, everywhere I go on the internet, with irritating ads trying to sell me an annuity! Now, I DEPLORE annuities even more than I did previously! :-[[  Because of the atrocious ads confronting me for a string of days, I will NEVER EVER EVER EVER (as Taylor Swift would say) consider purchasing an annuity. Good job peoples!

How can companies be sooo stooopid as to fork over $$$ to Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, whoever, for such wretched leads? or to deliver such annoyance?… and I don't just ignore the pestering ads from companies/products I have no interest in; I actively badmouth those companies to anyone who will listen… should I live another 25 years, that's a lot of bad publicity some companies have purchased as I go through life voicing ill things about them.
I'm sure there are people who actually get lots of ads on their screen that suit their interests -- I've just never met any of them. Moreso than TV or radio, it really is possible to target ads to appropriate people on the internet, yet it is being done horrendously. (And I'm not opposed to advertising, just dunder-headed, wasteful, half-witted, pandering, condescending, poorly-targeted advertising.)

There are ways, with questionnaires, forms, and feedback mechanisms to truly tailor appropriate ads to individuals, or even to better evaluate a person's web searches, to find their real interests (heaven forbid anyone spend the time and money for such accuracy though). If I say I am interested in Ziggle and Xaggle binoculars then send me ads for those products… DO NOT send me ads for 20 OTHER binocular brands I DON'T have interest in, unless I indicate such broader interest. DO NOT send me ads or coupons for Coca-Cola if I say I ONLY drink Pepsi and Mountain Dew… is this concept too hard to comprehend??? Narrow-cast to me; narrow-cast and you might actually get my interest (and even some of my money); use metadata to toss me into broad, amorphous categories with crude methods and assumptions and, at least so far, you're going to be wrong 90% of the time.

The above article employs the Literary Digest's dismal 1936 prediction of an Alf Landon landslide over FDR to make some of its points (about sampling error) and then says:

"The big data craze threatens to be The Literary Digest all over again. Because found data sets are so messy, it can be hard to figure out what biases lurk inside them – and because they are so large, some analysts seem to have decided the sampling problem isn’t worth worrying about. It is."

Yes, "sampling problems" are ALWAYS worth worrying about, be you a pollster, Google, the NSA, or an annuity salesperson.

...Anyway, I feel better now (unless... by briefly mentioning annuities here… you know, like fixed annuities, variable annuities, deferred annuities, life annuities, and crappy-ass, ill-begotten, fee-laden, stinking insurance annuities... I've guaranteed finding them plastered all over my computer screen beginning tomorrow).  :-((((((

(image from GNOME Icon Artists/WikimediaCommons)

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