Is there a name for the tendency of larger widget producers to artificially oversegment their product lines? It is artificial, and it happens especially in consumer markets. Manufacturers generate brands and types of products so they can game their way into more store shelf space and overload consumers with endless permutations of a product where no two are exactly the same and thus hard to compare. It leads to product names such as “Series 5 NP535U3C”, which again it makes price comparisons difficult, because what exactly is the difference between “GP68HX 12VH-022NL” and “AG274QS”? It makes it possible to game the consumers' expectations (is this a “good brand”? Even when the budget series has the same internals as the ill-regarded budget brand the widget manufacturer also owns?), which lets manufacturers convert reputation into cash.
All this for more control over the amount of profit.
Recently I’ve been in the market for some household appliances, and web forums are very useless for gathering intel. “Experts” will have internalized all the “reality” of the above marketing: brand Xs are always high end, brand Ys are always low-tier. How can you be sure in the actual reality of how widget manufacturers operate these days? Especially when so many brands come from the same manufacturer, often even the same plant? Can you ever say “brand Z is good”? I just don’t believe it, because where is the profit in ‘upholding’ a brand? That’s not how markets for these products operate? Right? What do you say when someone says “brand A kitchens are shite, buy brand B”, when you know and can easily observe all kitchen cabinets are produced in exactly the same way, they merely vary in board thickness?
Anecdotal evidence is worthless, because the variability of widgets is too high to be able to draw evident conclusions, and a solid index of anecdotes will be quickly monetized and manipulated in this day and age. Hard evidence is naturally scarce on the subject, but it hard to ignore consumer reports-like test or famous websites/youtubers/what-have-you for those with widget factories. What reason is there to assume such resources stay neutral; they don’t provide openness of their finances.
Another fun example from my recent life was the purchase of a table. Ostensibly sold by a ‘boutique’ shop, with a nice founders' story on the website. Unfortunately quite remotely located. But they still offered free shipping, something usually only afforded and affordable by big box companies. Lo and behold, turns out shipping was handled by a big box furniture shop. Have I been conned? Well, not really, the table wasn’t for sale there, but still.
What psychological effect does this take advantage of? And what can we do to make people more aware?
It’s been a while since I wrote anything here, so I’m going to briefly write about some things that I learned recently.
An article with the captivating title “Ability to See Expertise is a Milestone Worth Aiming For” discusses how being able to see expertise requires expertise, and therefore worth striving for if you care about knowing what you’re doing. (There’s also a tangent (or main thread?) of how you should use social networks (no, not websites) to get a better salary.) I’ve recognized this in myself and others: that you were missing or recently gained the ability to see the expertise of someone or fully appreciate a particular insight.
One such moment was reading this article, on how long it takes to become gaussian (for convoluting non-gaussian distribution, i.e. having various sets of sampling from an arbitrary non-gaussian distribution). Turns out: sometimes really long! I’ve not had much of a statistical education, but it has always had my interested ever since I discovered a quantity that had a non-gaussian distribution, which illuminated for me the fact that we assume this perhaps way too often. A quote written after my own heart:
Blindly slapping a normal distribution on things is a convenience from the time when we didn’t have fast computers, because the normal distribution has nice theoretical properties that make pen-and-paper analysis convenient.
I failed to convince people in my time working in a hospital research group of this, probably because I lacked the ability to express myself as a layman as described in the Expertise article. The Gaussian is everywhere in medicine, and the mean is usually the only thing that’s calculated and reported. I argued that we had the data to investigate this, but it fell on deaf ears, and since I was not tasked with data analysis I didn’t have the time to do it myself. What I learned now is a bit of vocabulary to express this, and also the sifnificance of mathematical moments. I’m sure someone has tried to educate me on them, but I never remembered the concept or their significance. I would use the difference between the measures of centralcy to explain myself, and now I can use the four basic moments instead, because distributions can be categorized according to these values. A table of P(exceeding) for the normal distribution and the Cantelli and Chebychev estimates is a good way to illustrate the relevance for medicine: outliers may be much more normal than doctors think!
7, a better number. Or is it? The newspost on PyPI’s deprecation of PGP laid bare some internal discussion I hadn’t been privy to. Such as that PGP’s keyserver network (SKS) has been dead for years! Yet, so much software still offers to upload and use servers in this network. I guess individual servers (and those are probably going to be Ubuntu’s or MIT’s) can still serve as an index for keys.
I yanked my key from this website (WKD) last year, due to having stopped using PGP. Nearly nobody else does, and UX is despite many trying to improve, quite bad. I wish more people cared, autocrypt makes it quite easy, but they don’t, developers included; still very few muas support autocrypt fully, by which I mean automatically updating keys without user intervention.