Oct 29, 2009

Is Virtual Farming Bigger than Actual Farming?

The NYT has an article today that claims 62 million people have signed up to play Farmville on Facebook.

I am not one of these 62 million, so you'll have to read the NYT article (or ask any random 5 people in the U.S., one of them is likely a Farmville player) how the game actually works. But I am fascinated by the economic effort expended on Farmville.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (see page 9) the total economic contribution from U.S. farming in 2007 was $137.3 billion. Dividing $137.3 by 62 million Farmville registrants equals $2,215 per user per year. Divide $2,215 by the current minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) and you get 305 hours. Divide 305 hours by 52 weeks and you get roughly six hours per week.

If Farmville players are spending six hours per week on this game, the opportunity cost of the Farmville economy may be larger than the actual U.S. agricultural sector.

And, no, I will not adopt your lost cow.

Oct 28, 2009

Monkeys, Typewriters and The Odds of the Governor's Hidden Message

Everyone's heard the theory that with enough chimpanzees, typewriters and time, you'd eventually produce "Hamlet."

Shakespeare it's not, but California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's office today released a letter to the California State Assembly vetoing Assembly Bill 1176. A number of commentators have noticed a sub-textual message composed by the first letter of each line. The governor's office has called it "unintentional" and a "weird coincidence."

How weird? What are the odds that seven lines of a note could just happen to spell out this particular message? Would you believe less than one in 2.7 billion?

The math is surprisingly simple. Assume that each of the seven important lines of the letter have to start with a word (no hyphenation) that itself begins with a specific letter. The odds of randomly coming up with the Governor's message is then the product of the odds of each of the seven letters occurring as the first letter of all the words in the English language.

Surprisingly, a quick scan of the web didn't uncover a complete list of beginning-of-word letter frequency for English (how 'bout some help here, Google?) but I did find this top ten list.

Letter Frequency
T 0.1594
A 0.1550
I 0.0823
S 0.0775
O 0.0712
C 0.0597
M 0.0426
F 0.0408
P 0.0400
W 0.0382

Source: Top 10 Beginning of Word Letters

So here's the math (using < 0.0382 for "u", "k" and "y" which don't make the top ten.

f = .0408 x
u < .0382 x
c = .0597 x
k < .0382 x

y < .0382 x
o = .0712 x
u < .0382

<= 3.693 x 10^(-10) or approximately one in 2.7 billion.

Some coincidence... the governor may have some especially talented chimps on his staff.

Oct 27, 2009


Gotta get me a set of vegan snow tires.

Oct 8, 2009

Does Barry Diller Watch "The Office"?

Barry Diller, a very smart guy and CEO of IAC/Interactive Corp, once famously dissed "user-generated content" (a progressively meaningless phrase) by suggesting that there's a limited audience for videos of "... a cat throwing up on your grandmother."

A few minutes ago, I finished watching NBC's one-hour episode of "The Office" featuring Pam and Jim's wedding, now, no longer, again available at It was, as always, charming and brilliantly executed. But most notable was the closing five minute sequence which was a lovely homage (fair use?) to "Jill and Kevin's Big Day" on YouTube, which features Chris Brown's song, "Forever".

Here's "The Office" version.

Art and reality reflect each other in infinite recursion. And tonight's episode of "The Office" may cause Mr. Diller to re-think his cat vomit thesis. Somewhere out there in UGC-land, Jill and Kevin had an inspired idea, arguably violated Sony BMG's copyright, choreographed five very special minutes of their lives, posted it on the internet, and created a sensation (28 million views!) Now that NBC has picked up the theme (in a show that ironically poses as documentary) it will probably drive another 50,000 iTune downloads for a guy currently serving six months of community service in Virginia.

Is this a great country, or what?

P.S. Even if you don't usually watch the show, check out the opening 1:45 below. For a more ham-fisted use of the vomit theme, check out Microsoft's online ad (since pulled) for Internet Explorer 8.