Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Month: March 2011

Ponting’s captaincy

Just a quick post to say that in all the statistics mentioned around Ricky Ponting’s time as captain of Australia’s cricket team, the most telling was this, made by Mike Selvey in the Guardian:

[Steve] Waugh, during 57 Tests in his five years as captain, introduced just six debutants to the side, and one of those was the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman who ever lived. Ponting has been in charge for 78 matches and in that time 32 players have made their debut.

Good, strange and seasonal – the name game

The recent birth of my third child (a girl, all good, thanks for asking) meant another stab at picking a “good” name.

By good, I mean a name that ticks a few of these random boxes: not too popular; not too weird; sounds nice; no major associations; works with the other names we picked; doesn’t create a stupid acronym. That sort of thing.

And being something of a data nerd, I of course turned to the top list of baby names provided by the ONS. I’ve mentioned before the curiosity of names, and the readable analysis in freakenomics is fascinating.

However, a few things in the top girl names [xls file] (2009, the most recent list) struck me.

A quick test: our children are called Matilda, Francesca, and Annie. In 2009, the most recent data, which was the most popular? I would have thought Annie, but it was actually not even in the top 150, coming in at 153. Francesca was 98, Matilda at 46.

Weirdly, the names Lexi (47) and Lexie (69) – which count as separate names – when added together get into the top 30 with over 2,000 registrations. But the most notable thing about Lexi(e) is that it has risen from nowhere – in 1999 both variations barely got into the top 2,000 names.

But buried lower in the data was the confirmation that naming children can be terribly contrived. For nine months of the year, the most popular names are as you might expect. But then in June and July, Summer appears in the top 10. Overall in 2009, it ranked 24th with 2,054 girls given that name. But June and July saw 608 of those, nearly 30 per cent of the total. I’d guess it’s close to the top 10 for August too.

In December, it’s even worse. Holly, a name that over the year ranks 19th, is top in Christmas month, with nearly 23 per cent of its registrations, (519 of 2,263). It doesn’t get in the top 10 for any other month. Basically, if you meet someone called Holly, you have a 1 in 4 or so chance she was born in December.

Without wanting to sound too clever, I think we’ve picked good names. It’s a tricky dilemma, and you want to be creative without ending up like Daisy Waugh – Panda, Zeberdee and Bashe might be “different”, but it’s a fine line.

Finally, scrolling down to the very bottom of the list to the names given to only three girls nationally (names given only twice or less are redacted) throws up the truly awful. Porsche? Lilo? Topsy? There must be some corkers with only one entry.

When monochrome should rule

I was in a deli near work yesterday, and used my debit card to make the purchase. So far, so ordinary. But then something caught my eye. The payment machine was new, shiny, and had a colour screen.

Now that may not seem like a big deal, but what is the demand for colour screens in a device like this? Let’s think about a card payment machine.

– It doesn’t belong to anyone (unless the business owner also runs the till)
– There is no experiential upside – you don’t stop using it because of the interface
– It’s not a “loved” device, like a phone, mp3 player or tablet
– You enter a price (till operator) or a Pin (customer) – that’s it

So why the hell does that need a colour screen?

Is this the end of the monochrome world? Happily not. There are still a lot of basic screens around, in stereos, on the phone in front of me (a Cisco IP phone), on bus stops. There’s a lot of virtue in keeping things this way – these devices convey simple information and have no need of the advantages that colour screens can bring. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they start to change in the next round of upgrades – the march to colour screens feels inevitable.

However, there is one device that seems to be resolutely black and white: the Kindle (and obviously, it’s imitators). I don’t have one, but I like the fact that it started in black and white, and is staying that way. It has a certain old-school charm to it. Plus of course it helps hugely with battery life, which isn’t a concern for the things I mentioned earlier (desk phones, stereos etc).

Amazon don’t release Kindle sales figures, but they are clearly in the millions. This seems to me to be the last non-colour big product release.

And although reading text has a certain logic of staying black and white, television, you would think, has left that all far far behind.

Except according to BBC figures (p22) there are 24,000 black and white TV licences registered in 2009 – from over 200,000 only 10 years ago. It’s an astonishing decline, although I suspect it will be a long tail that could drift for years.

So who are the B&W TV holdouts? I can only think of one group of people for whom it makes sense: the blind. You can get 50 per cent off the licence anyway if you are blind, but half of the full price – £72 or so – is a lot more that £24, which is the half price for the B&W licence.

Except… try buying a black and white TV. I’m sure it’s do-able, but it’s not easy. Currys don’t sell them. Nor do Argos.

Will debranding cigarettes cut smoking?

Today, March 9, is national no-smoking day (in the UK). Coincidence or not, it has also been announced that tobacco displays will be banned in shops, with the further possibility that cigarettes could be sold in plain packets.

Will this debranding help cut smoking? Because that’s what we want to do, I assume. Without an outright ban on smoking, which is still seen as a step too far, making smoking harder to do and less attractive to buy is the next best thing.

Leaving aside the costs of removing tobacco displays and other marketing bits and bobs, is this helpful? To understand what’s going on, we need to look at what has happened to smoking rates in recent years. The most recent ONS data is from 2009. (See sources at the foot of this post).

Basically, as seen in the chart above, it’s been on a downward curve, albeit one which has recently stalled. The downward curve is good news. The stall is not. Either the stall is temporary, or we have hit the ceiling (or floor, depending which way you look at it). The data is partial – 4 year intervals up to 2000, but you get the picture.

But dig deeper into the numbers, and you can see that, actually, people are still giving up smoking. All except one group: 16-19 year-olds. (Well, with a few blips here and there. There’s been a slight increase amongst the 60+ too.)

There was first a jump among women aged 16-19, and then the following year among men. (Trying to impress? Sounds familiar. Anyway…)

The uptake among 16-19 year-olds may be attributed to all sorts of things: rebellion, lack of education about smoking-related illnesses, doing the opposite of what your non-smoking parents do, fashion. Who knows? Even if you could ask every teenager in Britain, they would probably lie anyway*.

So: is debranding cigarettes a good idea?

FOR: teenagers are brand-aware, impressionable, and irrational. Removing tobacco imagery, with it’s intriguing logos and cool branding can only help. If you want to reduce smoking in the group where it’s on the increase, removing branding is a good move.

AGAINST: if there’s one thing that guarantees some level of intrigue and “cool”, putting things under the counter and in groovy plain brown paper is it. Teenagers will love the speak-easy status of cigarettes, the added bit of mystery. Brands aren’t really cool – teenagers are, and the whole no-logo thing will only help.

Sadly, I have no data to back any of that up. I’m sure there are tons of marketing studies that could prove it either way. The only measure will be whether smoking decreases or not, and as I mentioned before – statistics tell only what people are doing, not why.

Sources:

ONS: Smoking-related behaviour and attitudes

Results from the General LiFestyle Survey (GLF)

ONS: PDF – General Lifestyle Survey 2009 Overview, Table 1.1, p16

* I was a teenager once, and I lied about stuff.

Just “pub talk” – is it open season on the web?

A strange day for defamation and the internet. Jane Clift has lost her case against the Daily Mail – where she was trying to get the identities of two commenters on a Daily Mail article to sue them for defamation.

From Out-Law:

Mrs Justice Sharp said that Clift’s case was not strong enough to merit the identification, and that she should not have taken the comments as seriously as she did.

“It was fanciful to suggest that a sensible and reasonable reader would understand those comments as being anything more than ‘pub talk’,” she said in her ruling.

This raises a lot more questions than it answers. In no particular order:

* The Daily Mail has a massive audience of millions. I don’t know any pub that big. How is it not defamatory to post something libellous on a website? If the comments were not defamatory, then let her lose that case in a court of law.

* If the comments were not defamatory, then why has the Mail removed them?

* Is this open season for comments on websites? Do we all just need thicker skins? It’s not like Ms Clift wrote the article herself (or posted a video where someone wrote “this sucks” which happens all the time on YouTube) – she was the subject of an article which detailed a traumatic time in her life. Doesn’t she deserve better?

* Was this a case of Ms Clift looking like too much of a complainer? Slough council put her on some watch-list for complaining about a drunk, she then sued them (and won), and then has taken a legal case against the Mail – who wrote a favourable article about her in the first place. On paper, that looks like a lot of complaining. But then, what are you supposed to do? It’s like a Kafka-esque chain where one (legitimate) complaint has led to another, and to her life being totally up-ended. She’s using the courts, which is what they are there for.

As someone who works in publishing, it’s a ruling that is on one level a relief. Unless, of course, you’re the one being talked about.

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