It’s not block voting, your entry just wasn’t that good

EuroVision “Block Voting”

Ok, everyone except Sweden (and probably Russia and Serbia) is claiming block voting. It’s so unfair. Our entry was clearly superior. The only reason {insert country name here} did not win is because everyone voted for their neighbor instead of for the best. Sorry, guys (and gals), but that’s just a rationalization for the voters preferring other acts.

First off, this year had, I think, the best entries ever. Not just the best top 2 or 3, but in great depth. There were three entries I wanted to see tie for first place, but there were an additional 11 I wanted to see tie for second place. When over half the entries are that good then it is an incredible fight just to make it into the top 10. And while others had a different list of 3+11 they loved, I think most people watching did easily find half of them to be spectacular.

Ok, so let’s look at Albania as a specific case because everyone either loved or hated her. There did not appear to be any middle ground. So Albania, recipient of block voting from the Balkans got 12/10 point votes from Belgium, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Montenegro, San Marino, and Switzerland. Now some of those countries are next door. But Belgium? Switzerland? And it got 1 point from Serbia and 0 from Moldova.

And you’ll reply “Cyprus & Greece” – they gave each other 12 points and they both received 12 points from only 2 countries so clearly that was block voting. Except both of those countries picked very similar songs as their favorite song to send to ESC. If their entry was a song they liked, then a similar song, even if performed by the entry from Belgium was going to get a lot of votes.

That’s not to say there’s no political voting. You’re unlikely to see many votes between Greece and Turkey or Georgia and Russia. But I think the biggest impact there is not votes for an entry, but votes that don’t go to an entry. This is a big difference because the votes from a country are still going to another entry they like best, not to a neighbor.

You also will see votes due to regional preferences. Voters in the UK and Ireland listen to each other’s music – a lot. They probably don’t listen to Moldavian folk songs much. So from actual musical preferences you should see more votes within a cultural area. That does provide an advantage to countries in a cultural area with a lot of countries. However, they also face a problem because their neighbor countries can’t give all of them 12 votes. And it’s not like there’s a secret meeting in the Balkans where they tell everyone “12 points to Serbia, 10 to Albania, pass it on.”

I also think the big five and the host country are hurt by not appearing in the semi-final. A lot of the entries grow on you from the semi-final to the final. And the repetition is also an advantage )for the good entries). The other entries get shown to everyone twice, the 5+1 only once. I think they should have 3 of the automatic finalists perform first on each semi-final night so they get equal exposure.

And finally a note to England where indignation has reached a fever pitch over the results. First off, I’m sorry but Englebert just wasn’t that good. He wasn’t bad, but it was a decent performance of a forgettable song competing against some incredible performances. I don’t think he was the worst, but he was not in the top tier either. Don’t blame others. And don’t feel entitled to win because you dominate the commercial music world in Europe. EuroVision is not a comparison of yearly sales number by band country in iTunes, it’s a unique contest that is looking for something very good, but also that’s different from what people hear on the radio every day. The response in Ireland is one that will lead to victory.

And as to the suggestions to have Simon Cowell select next year’s entry, I don’t think that will give you a win. He’s very good at finding people who can sell large numbers of songs. But that’s not ESC. I don’t think he would ever select an Alexander Rybak or Loreen. And he never would even consider the babushkas who came in 2nd this year. The best model to emulate is Sweden’s system to pick their entry – they generally place very well.

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EuroVision the Greatest Song Contest in the World

Last Saturday was the EuroVision final and if you don’t live in Europe you probably missed it. (It’s also the largest televised television event in the world outside of sports finals like the World Cup.) What you missed is the best song contest in the world. Better than American Idol. Better than X-Factor.

Every participating country selects a musical act (some by contests, some via a panel of industry experts, and based on some groups that participate, some via a random selection from the phone book). Those acts then perform on live TV (audience 125 million) where residents and a panel of experts cast the votes from each country (you can’t vote for yourself). The votes are totaled through 2 semi-finals and a final and the votes rank the entrants.

Sort-of a combination of the Olympics & American Idol. That sounds interesting but it does not get across what makes EuroVision so spectacular. So what makes this so extraordinary? So compelling that 125 million tune in. So important that Azerbaijan spent 50 million plus built a 70 million events center to host it (even for an oil dictatorship, that’s real money). (Due to the cost you can imagine the Finance Ministers of each country praying “second place, please just second place.”)

Key to all this is who wins. It’s rarely the best pop music act. The winning act is usually a little different (sometimes a lot different) from the group that will win an Idol competition. And because a little bit different wins, the groups sent in tens to offer something different from what you usually see. Sometimes that difference is brilliant. Sometimes it is awful. But you are getting variety across all the acts.

The winner this year was an incredible number by Loreen [Sweden] which was an evocative dance number that she performed an interpretative dance number to while singing, mostly with her backlight. Now I hate interpretative dance, yet this was incredibly good. Second was a folk song by a group of babushkas [Russia] sung in Urdat. I thought it was awful but a lot of voters liked it – a lot. You’re never going to find a contest elsewhere with that range of choices.

This year the groups participating in the final were extraordinarily good. I think it was the best EuroVision ever (last year was mediocre while 2010 was really good). And again an incredible range. Greece & Cyprus both sent female singers singing some of the most vibrant pop numbers ever. (The budget crisis clearly impacted the Greece group, the poor girl could only afford half a dress.) Moldova sent some dressed like a blacksmith singing a folk song (to a pop beat) where the female backup dancers were wearing your grandmother’s lampshades as dresses – and it was good. Italy had a really good swing number. Most of the songs are pop or ballads, but they are generally incredibly good ones very well sung.

At the same time it is some of the cheesiest performances you will ever see. The Lithuanian singer has a blindfold on for the first half of his song “Love is Blind.” England one year pretended they were on an airplane singing the pre-flight announcement complete with female dancers doing the arm movements (yes it was that bad). England in fact seems to take a perverse pleasure in how bad their entrants have been the last couple of years.

And unlike sporting competitions where the large countries dominate, San Marino (yes that is a country) can beat Germany & Russia. Because of the size of the audience, because this truly can be won by any country, national pride makes this a very important event. The contest to represent their country in EuroVision is, in many countries, the top musical event in their country.

You will also find that almost everyone in Europe complains about how awful it is. And they question how anyone could watch it. I met a family from Norway here in Colorado a couple of years ago and mentioned that I liked EuroVision. They launched in to how awful it is and questioned how anyone could like it. I then mentioned that it had been held in Norway a couple of months earlier and their reply was “oh yes, we went to watch the final live at the concert hall.” The complaining about how bad some of the groups are (and there are always several you will find atrocious) is part of the experience.

It’s also an extraordinary venue for the musicians. They are playing live for 125 million people. The music is recorded (no time to wire up instruments between performances) but the vocals are 100% live and broadcast in real-time. They have an audience greater than all but a few of the top rock bands get. You can feel that in the performances they present. (The most amazing are the ones like Tom Dice [Belgium] that stand up there by themselves and sing with no instrumentals or background dancers.)

So there you have it, some of the most incredible musical presentations on the planet, along with some that will be so bad, it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. And then the votes coming in, country by country, where you have no idea who will win. I take vacations for two things, EuroVision, and when my wife tells me we’re going on vacation.

EuroVision 2012 Final

Links are two the performances on YouTube. BTW – the male emcee looks like Will Wheaton.

United Kingdom (Englbert Humpersomething – yes he’s still alive) – Ok, England is clearly trying to lose with this entry. I guess their forced austerity measures mean they can’t afford to host. Mediocre song sung ok, but mainly because it required very little range. And pretty much zero stage presence. Factoid: Englebert is older than 22 of the nations competing. Not older than their groups – older than the country.

Hungary – Something is wrong with his voice as you can barely hear the singing. They weren’t that good in the semi-final but they’re worse here. He may have a cold or something. So a mediocre number presented badly.

Albania – Screaming lady with the weird basket hairdo is up. OMG, our dogs just ran upstairs and hid under the bed as she hit the high notes. On the plus side if a movie ever needs a woman giving birth to an Alien – she’s the actress.

Lithuania – It’s a good song and this guy does an extraordinary job singing it. He also has really good stage movements, and doesn’t over-do them. I can see a lot of people picking this one, especially teenage girls.

Bosnia – Beautiful song with a female vocalist singing extraordinarily well. Light background instrumentals but it is primarily her standing there singing what I think is a love song. One of the best.

Russia – The pain, the pain. I don’t get it, lots of people like this but it’s 6 babushkas chanting out some folk song. How did they send them? I blame communism. They may get the old folks votes, but how many 90 year olds will still be awake in Europe at midnight?

Iceland – Oh wow, they knocked it out of the park. A very uplifitng pop/ballad sung by a male/female duet (with background singers) and it was perfect. One of the best tonight.

Cyprus – Super good happy pop song sung really well. And the dancing is the best of any so far. Love it.

France – WOW!!! A song that is incredibly upbeat and a little different (in a good way) and a female vocalists who does an incredible job singing it. I was half dancing in my chair. And topless (male) gymnasts as the dancers.

Italy – They’re going to win this. Their number was almost a Jazz number and it was sung so well that it pulled you in to their presentation. I think they’ll win because the votes for other styles will be split while theirs is unique.

Estonia – This guy is extraordinary. For most of the song it is understated instrumentals and he just stands there and sings. And he is so incredibly good that you are mesmerized by it, to the extent I teared up a bit.

Norway – A stereotypical Eurovision presentation with a lead male vocalist who could start in Twilight, very happy pop number, lots of dancing around. It was all done very well. But not at the level of the best groups.

Azerbaijan – Really good number. Female vocalist with a bit of background help, who has a terrific voice singing a soulful ballad. She made full use of a really great voice without overdoing it.

Romania – It’s a fun peppy song. And they do it well. But it’s nothing special.

Denmark – A reasonably talented garage band that overdoes it. It’s almost as though they were created for a scene in a Disney movie.

Greece – Awesome job. Greece always has the most vibrant and alive presentations and this year again they did it. super good song and incredible dancing.

Sweden – extraordinary! I think she has the most amazing voice of this contest and she full use of it. I’m not sure how to describe the song except to say it grabs you. And she does an interpretative dance during it, with mostly background lights so she’s mostly a shape moving on the stage. Absolutely amazing.

Turkey – With all the religious strife in the world today, it’s nice to see an Islamic country do a scene from Fiddler on the Roof. If your kids are bad, threaten that you’ll make them watch this.

Spain – Amazing. I think this is my favorite. Female vocalist singing by herself and she takes you higher and higher with the song, and then brings in background singers and they take you even higher. Extraordinary.

Germany – Male singer with band. They’re good, but not at the same level as the top groups this year. (With that said, this is a very competitive year.)

Malta – Another male singer with a band. Serbia does it better. Very upbeat song, sung well and the band participates making it even better. Not quite one of the best, but close.

Macedonia – Yet another female vocalist. She does a good job but she does not reach out and grab you like the best do. But she and her band are quite good. Close to the top level and enjoyable to listen to.

Ireland – These guys are the definition of ESC. Fantastic song, dance, everything. And the twins are just perfect for the show. Superb job.

Serbia – Male singer with background band/singers. An uplifting ballad with background music that is almost folk music. A really good song and they guy’s voice is superb. One of the best but not quite as good as Estonia.

Ukraine – It’s almost like she is channeling Aretha Franklin. She does have a really good voice. But I don’t find her number to be that good (disclaimer – I never was a big fan of Aretha either).

Moldova – Ok the outfits are the guy dresses like a blacksmith and the dancers (female) came from the set of Hairspray. And the song is almost a really upbeat gospel number. Definitely different and it is growing on me (I think).

My votes (if we could vote from America): Spain! Or Sweden – Spain or Sweden. Or Estonia or France or Italy. Followed by Lithuania, Bosnia, Iceland, Cyprus, Azerbaijan, Greece, Malta, Ireland, & Serbia. Go here for the vote totals.

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Survey Results

Each step was oh so reasonable. But the end result? Wrong!

A group at the London School of Economics recently published a study on What Do CEOs Do as part of their Executive Time Use Project. The study was focused on internal vs. external meetings. It also categorized time spent into a couple of other categories. Just another survey among the hundreds of thousands looking at business activity.

The Wall St. Journal wrote an article about the study, “Where’s the Boss? Trapped in a Meeting” listing out the results as well as interviewing several CEOs to get some on topic quotes. Again, totally normal. And in the article they included a very catchy donut chart (charts are great because they attract attention and take up space.

Julie Kmec picked up on one part of the graph and wrote a blog titled “Where’s the Boss? And What Counts as “Work”? And from that she delivers this giant criticism of CEOs.

I’m more interested in the task that occupies the greatest amount of a CEO’s time in a typical week—the 20 hours of “miscellaneous” activities. The fine print indicates that the “miscellaneous” activities include time spent travelling, in personal activity including exercise or lunch with a spouse, or in short activities like quick, unscheduled phone calls.

Without this personal time, a CEO’s average work week—35 hours—looks closer or shorter than other workers.

If this is true it’s a giant indictment of CEOs, where they get paid significantly more than those who work for them – and yet put in less hours. If…

This is counter to what I have seen at every company I’ve worked at. My initial reaction was that it might be the industry or company size. Sure enough if you read the study, the survey sample is:

Participants to the survey were drawn from a population of 349 CEOs set to take part in an executive education course at the Harvard Business School in January 2010.[6] Prior to the program, each participant received an email invitation from the leaders of the executive education program, providing a link to a password protected website which allowed participants to fill in their time diaries online.

Out of the initial population of 349 individuals, 107 responded positively to the invitation. Of these, 42 observations had to be dropped as the records were incomplete (i.e. less than 4 days were recorded), inaccurate (i.e. the activities description was incomplete), or the respondent was not a CEO. The estimating sample thus consists of 65 CEOs observed for at least 4 complete days.

[6] The program typically attracts smaller, privately-held firms that are headquartered in locations around the world.

The survey was of 65 self-selected individuals who took a single course at HBS. To say this is not a random sample is an understatement. It’s CEOs who have enough spare time to spend a week in a class (i.e., none will be from the start-up world). Ok, so this says nothing about most CEOs but at least it tells us that CEOs who spend a week at a HBS class have a really relaxed work schedule – right? No. Let’s dive into that miscellaneous category.

The study never uses the words miscellaneous, exercise (in the meaning of the graph), or personal appointments. And the use of travel could well mean business travel only:

The survey also asks to record the total time the CEO spends in activities that last 15 minutes or less or in travel.

That 20 hours of miscellaneous is very likely 100% work time. The survey was focused on measuring activity and attendees in meetings so they threw most other activities, including shorter meetings, into the miscellaneous category. Reasonable thing to do for the study.

But the Wall St. Journal then described that “Travel, exercise, personal appointments and other activities.” This totally mis-construes the study results. Keep in mind that this time is any activity in this category takes under 15 minutes. While I would love an under 15 minute work-out, there’s no way that makes sense. This is total bull-shit.

Julie Kmec follows the example of the WSJ and turns this category into:

travelling, in personal activity including exercise or lunch with a spouse. … Do we count travel time to and from a job as “work”

Really? Lunch with a spouse was one of the listed activities? Travel to/from work was listed as part of the travel category? No. Ms. Kmec is a professor and yet clearly only looked at the WSJ article, didn’t both to make one further link to the original research, and then added in additional activities. In her case, based on her areas of research, I’m guessing she was thrilled to find data that met her pre-conceptions and doubled down on the descriptions.

Ok, so maybe there was additional documentation listed that is not in the published results. Maybe all these personal activities are in the raw data. So I reached out to the researchers and the WSJ reporter to see if there was additional information. My email and the two responses are below. Raffaella does list additional areas for the miscellaneous category but uses the phrase “may include” which, back when I went to College, wasn’t how one described data. (Yes, the Large Hadron Collider “may have” seen some particles travelling faster than light.) And provides no specifics from the data to back that up.

And Rachael provides no specifics which leads me to believe that the wording in the chart was made up and the easiest out is her vague reply.

As to how much time does the average CEO spend working? Got me (although in the software community I’ve found 55 hours/week to be well under what almost every senior executive works). But we’re not going to find an answer from research, news articles, and blogs like these.

From: David Thielen
Sent: Monday, April 30, 2012 7:12 AM


Subject: RE: Where is the breakout of misc?


Thank you for the links. I read both of those and did a keyword search. The phrases miscellaneous & “personal appointments” do not appear in the documents and the phrase exercise exists only as a different context. I understand the 20 hours miscellaneous having the description of “Travel and other activities.” But where did the addition of exercise and personal appointments come from? Is this from the research or was this added by the person making the graph?

And is “other appointments” accurate? From reading the documents the description is “activities that last 15 minutes or less.” So wouldn’t a more accurate description be “short activities.” The “other” gives the impression that it is for activities other than meetings, phone calls, etc. when a lot of that may be very short phone calls, meetings, etc.

I am asking about this because that 20 hours is being used as an argument that it is all personal time and CEOs only work 35 hours/week. That argument to a large degree revolves around the “exercise, personal appointments” description.

??? – thanks – dave

Sent: Monday, April 30, 2012 9:49 AM
To: David Thielen
Subject: RE: Where is the breakout of misc?

Hi David, this is what the researchers told me. Cheers, Rachel


Sent: Tuesday, May 01, 2012 6:53 AM
To: David Thielen
Subject: Re: Where is the breakout of misc?

Hi David,

Thanks a lot for your interest in the paper.

Our survey measures the beginning and the end of the CEO work day, as reported by the Personal Assistants (PA), plus detailed information of all activities lasting more than 15 minutes excluding travel and personal activities occurring in this timeframe.

Therefore, the 20 hours classified as miscellaneous may include different categories of time use:

a) Work related activities lasting less than 15 minutes

b) Travel (to and from the office or to meetings)

c) Personal activities

Unfortunately, in the specifics of the data reported in the WSJ, we are not able to know the relative importance of a vs. b and c (we have since improved the methodology, which has allowed us to measure with better precision the miscellaneous category).

I have not seen the blogs you refer to, but in principle using this data to conclude that CEOs only work 35 hours is likely to be incorrect. First, as I mentioned above, some CEOs might run several short meetings (i.e. shorter than 15 minutes), or they might work while traveling. Second, they might work in hours when the PAs are not on duty – e.g. early in the morning or very late at night.

I hope this helps. Do not hesitate to get in touch should you need additional clarifications.


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So what’s unique about Windward

I was recently asked to present here at work a list of the unique functions Windward has. It’s an interesting question because there’s a lot of things we do that are really good, but other programs do them too (usually not as well). But it turns out we have quite a bit that I don’t think any other reporting or docgen system offers.

  1. Not restricted to banded report design.
  2. Totally free-form layout. This is major for docgen as well as reporting.
  3. Custom functions.
  4. Carry Excel references, appropriately expanded, over to Excel output.
  5. Update Pods (Word only).
  6. The Tag tree.
  7. SQL and XPath wizards that are so simple, non developers can easily create selects.
  8. Tags in imported templates are processed (others import templates but only as static documents).
  9. It’s all in the template – no code to test when something changes.
  10. Chart tags are charts, Image tags are bitmaps – WYSIWYG. And rendered with live data.
  11. Auto-joins for SQL selects.
  12. Formatting far beyond anything else out there, including themes and styles.
  13. Change tracking.
  14. Conditional formatting.
  15. Lock parts of the template (also in Excel)so others can’t edit it.
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Questions on Improving Next Year’s Code War

I had a really good conversation with Tim Korb at Purdue who had some really good feedback about the code war we did this year and how to improve it next year. I also received some good feedback from student participants. And from that we already have a number of improvements for next year. So first, the improvements we will definitely have:

  1. I had our entire tech support team working that Saturday to answer any questions. Yet several teams struggled to get the provided code running and never asked for help. The two that did ask for help we did a screenshare with and got them running in a couple of minutes. Next year we’ll make point number 1 that if you can’t get it running – call us!
  2. Running the game, server & client, will require a single command. And we will have a command for every common start (initialize and pause before the first turn, run normally, run at fastest speed).
  3. A game debugger where you can quickly and easily set the location, properties, and move for any/all units. Then step through that turn to see what your player does in that situation.
  4. Make it easier and more thrilling to watch the game play. (We had pretty icons for each robot but they were hard to follow and didn’t show their damage level.)
  5. The sample A.I. we provide will be very stupid – it will make totally random decisions. (The sample A.I. we provided ended up pointing most teams in the same direction.)
  6. A much simpler game. A lot of teams struggled with understanding the rules as much as crafting an A.I. When there are 8 hours to code up an A.I., the rules have to be very simple to understand so the teams can focus on implementing their A.I.
  7. A wider spread in game scores based on the quality of the A.I. (In the previous game the scores all tended to be 300 – 600. The better AIs were always 50 – 80 points above the others but that’s not a giant difference.)

And now the questions about possible changes:

  1. (I really like this idea.) We have the competitions within the schools and through the semi-finals be by grade level. For teams with mixed grades it’s the grade level of the most advanced student. We take it to final games each at freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, and graduate students. The grade level final will list the top teams at each grade level. We then have a playoff between the top 4 teams from each grade level for the final championship. Especially for freshmen, where many have had just 1 computer class, it lets them know they’re competing on a level playing field all the way to top freshman team.
  2. (I think this could make the contest a lot more compelling.) Make the focus one of school vs. school, not team vs. team. This is like the Tour de France where some team members go up front for much letting the star riders draft for much of the race. If we do this then each school will run the game with all student AIs over the day of the contest, with all teams seeing what each AI did and how it reacted to the others. All teams would still run in the school competition to determine who went forward. But this way they would have all improved their code based on what the others had done. This could even include teams telling each other what they had done on each pass.
  3. Tell the students 24 hours beforehand the rules of the game. For example, we could have said the previous time that we would be using the RoboRally game. If we didn’t say what modifications we were making on the gameplay and what events would accrue points, then the students would have a chance to learn the game rules but writing any code beforehand would not have been useful to them.
  4. I like the 8 hours because it keeps the time commitment reasonable. However, we are open to alternatives.

Oh, and the game we’re thinking of doing next January is not a shoot em up. And it will work well with any number of players at once up to 36 (and maybe more, we’ll have to play it once we get it working). It’s an interesting idea that has all players interacting with numerous other players at once so you’re not left dependent on if another unit happens to move in front of you.

So, what do you think? Any feedback is greatly appreciated. Comment here, email me, or call me (303-499-2544 x1185).