for those who like algorithms…

Friday 21 November 2008

If you like math or movies or human psychology, among other things, I’d highly recommend this particularly interesting article of the NY Times, titled If You Liked This, Sure to Love That.   It details at Netflix contest for individuals to improve upon their current program of movie recommendations such that it works 10% better than it already does (in the sense that it can predict 10% more closely how a viewer will like or rate a particular movie).  The article is nice, descriptive, in depth look at many ideas, so it might take you 15-20 minutes to read, but I wanted to delve into a few of the issues it brings out that I was intrigued by.

The article starts off describing the “Napoleon Dynomite” problem — basically that it’s extremely challenging to predict based on movie taste and past movie ratings whether or not a person will like this movie.  I, myself, still have yet to see this movie, but I definitely know people who loved and hated it, and as the article mentions that the ratings for “Napoleon Dynomite” are disproportionately 1 or 5 stars (the highest and lowest possible for the Netfilx scale).

This issue couples with another idea question brought up of whether a computer can do better at making recommendations than a human.  While the computer has tons and tons of data at it’s “hard drive” tips, to mangle a phrase, there is something about the human perception that does a pretty good job at discerning likes and dislikes of another person, even if the person doing the perceiving is the clerk at the local DVD store (we’re past video stores now, yes?).  The article mentions, too, that a computer is more likely to play it safe while a person draws upon their own likes and dislikes as well and may go a bit more on a limb that could be much more accurate than a computer, but may also come up short more regularly.  So the question becomes, “Can anyone’s enjoyment level truly be determined based on their previous levels of enjoyment of similar and dissimilar events?”  And if so, would we be doing ourselves a disservice to never experience things that might actually cause us dis-enjoyment?  Isn’t it good to experience both?

The other piece of the article I liked was the math – and it’s one of the reasons I might recommend it to someone :)  It was interesting to read how different algorithms were used and combined to do the math of movie suggestions.  Even more interesting was reading that as things got more or more complex, even those writing the computer programs no longer really recognized what the program they had written exactly was doing, but just knew that it seemed to be working than the one that preceded it!  To me, it’s curious that we throw in some data to an algorithm we really don’t understand and receive back a satisfactory answer that then can be tested for accuracy and reliability, but in between we’ve lost sight of what’s happening.

Is an answer worth getting if you don’t know how you got it?  The math teacher in me says no, but the movie lover in me doesn’t care as much.  If you’re able to take me love for “Hoop Dreams,” “A Clockwork Orange,” and “10 Things I Hate About You” and provide me with an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday evening that I wouldn’t have found on my own, I just might take it.  Or maybe instead I’ll just take it up with my friends.


my 2008 oscar picks

Saturday 23 February 2008

So if you haven’t figured it out yet, I totally L-O-V-E love the Oscars, so I thought I’d share with you who I think will win (different from who I’d choose — maybe that’s more a post for post Oscar night). And if you still want to get in the action and it’s no past 4PM Eastern, you still can. And if it’s too late, try not to forget next year :)

And while you never know exactly what order they give out the awards in, I guess I’ll guess that, too! Play along yourself, and see how well I do! Let me also tell you just how many films I saw in each category, too, while I’m at it. And if you’re really good (at math or something like that) you might even be able to figure out some of the movies I didn’t see based on how many of each category I did see.

Looking down on my list, I’m a bit disappointed in a few things: compared to some other years, I don’t know if I did as good of a job getting to movies. I could have easily seen all the Best Picture nominees, but got lazy with Michael Clayton. Except for my refusal to see Russell Crowe in Master and Commander, this will be the first time in many years since I haven’t seen all 5 Best Picture nominees before Oscar night.

I only saw 5 of the 10 screenplay nominees, a number I will hopefully add to post-ceremony, and a sad number for the writer I claim to be. I am happy that I got to see all the short animated and live action films (today, actually, I went to see them @ a theater in DC), but there was no documentary shorts program to see, which was very disappointing (maybe after the ceremony). And only seeing 2 of the 5 documentary features, I also feel like I’m missed out on something. I can always saw I’ll get to them, and others, on video/DVD, but that rarely happens, especially with the plans I have in the coming months before the next batch of Oscar films hit the theaters this fall. And it also looks like I neglected the foreign films, but as someone said, the good ones actually didn’t get nominated, so I don’t blame myself in that category too much.

Enjoy my picks!

Actor in a Supporting Role (2 of 5)
Javier BardemNO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Art Direction (2 of 5)
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
actual winner — SWEENEY TODD THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

Costume Design (2 of 5)
SWEENEY TODD THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET
actual winner — ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE

Actress in a Supporting Role (2 of 5)
Cate BlanchettI’M NOT THERE
actual winner — Tilda SwintonMICHAEL CLAYTON

Makeup (0 of 3)
LA VIE EN ROSE

Visual Effects (0 of 3)
TRANSFORMERS
actual winner — THE GOLDEN COMPASS

Music (Original Score) (1 of 5)
ATONEMENT

Short Film (Animated) (5 of 5)
MY LOVE (MOYA LYUBOV)
actual winner — PETER & THE WOLF

Short Film (Live Action) (5 of 5)
IL SUPPLENTE (THE SUBSTITUTE)
actual winner — LE MOZART DES PICKPOCKETS (THE MOZART OF PICKPOCKETS)

Sound Mixing (1 of 5)
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

Sound Editing (2 of 5)
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

Film Editing (2 of 5)
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
actual winner — THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

Documentary Short Subject (0 of 4)
SARI’S MOTHER
actual winner — FREEHELD

Documentary Feature (2 of 5)
NO END IN SIGHT
actual winner — TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE

Writing (Adapted Screenplay) (3 of 5)
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Writing (Original Screenplay) (2 of 5)
JUNO

Foreign Language Film (0 of 5)
THE COUNTERFEITERS

Music (Original Song) (1 of 3 movies, 5 total songs)
FALLING SLOWLY — ONCE

Animated Feature Film (1 of 3)
RATATOUILLE

Cinematography (3 of 5)
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
actual winner — THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Actress in a Leading Role (2 of 5)
Marion CotillardLA VIE EN ROSE

Actor in a Leading Role (1 of 5)
Daniel Day-LewisTHERE WILL BE BLOOD

Directing (3 of 5)
Julian SchnabelTHE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
actual winner — JOEL COEN & ETHAN COENNO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Best Picture (4 of 5)
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN


join me at the oscars

Wednesday 20 February 2008

Since people who aren’t me usually don’t care about the Oscars until they actually happen (if they care at all), I figured I’d repost this a few days before the big event to give you the opportunity to once again challenge me to pick the winners of the 2008 Oscars, since we now know the show will actually happen!

Go to the Oscars website and sign in or sign up so you can join the “Predict the Winners” game. (Your name and password would be for any of the following, if you have them: Disney.com, ABCNEWS.com, ABC.com, ESPN.com, DisneyShopping.com, Go.com, Movies.com, FamilyFun.com). When it asks you to pick a group name, search for “Anyone, Really” and join that group. I hope to see a lot of you there! (And it’s nice to put your name in the entry name in some way so we all know who is who. :) )

And if you’re in DC and want to join me for the evening, do let me know — I’ll supply the popcorn and television!