Measuring the Critics

Slate’s Brow Beat has an excellent graph of relative conformity of movie critics. One critic, dismissed as a troll (and he praised both Norbit and Transformers 2 so I’m inclined to agree), nevertheless agrees with other critics 50% of the time. Further, virtually all of the critics bunch up at about 75% conformity, with the most conformist critic at only 83%.

This suggests to me that a scale from 1 to 100 doesn’t really work. These guys should be graded (for conformity) on a curve, spread evenly across a spectrum. With that graph, we could break film critics up into three categories: trolls, thoughtful critics, and squares.

Or maybe I’m just saying that because I despise critics at both ends of the list. (My favorite three movie critics writing today are David Edelstein, Roger Ebert, and A.O. Scott, followed by up-and-comer Lindy West.)

Form without content is void.

The same “EdLife” section of the New York Times that I referred to in my last post contained a sad-but-true article on SAT scoring, in which a test-prep professional writes an essay receiving a near-perfect score extolling the Nazis’ intellectual courage and integrity. As the article notes, SAT essays are not graded on the basis of the position taken by the essays, only on whether or not they’re properly structured.

This reminded me of an anecdote that Matthew Crawford included in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft, in which he recounts his time writing article abstracts for a database company. The articles Crawford extracted were scientific and technical in nature, and he admits to not having understood the bulk of the articles he was tasked with. Nonetheless, he was expected to abstract the content of the pieces for the database, almost as though it was a mechanical act that could be captured in a brief set of rules—rules not unlike those for grading SAT essays.

As the scholar said, form without content is void.

Standard format for human / clothing dimensions

The clothing industry should come up with a pair of data formats to describe the measurements of people and of clothing. Once a consumer chose to be measured and recorded in significant detail, the measurements could be provided in the standard format. This would enable several neat applications:

  • Web sites selling clothing could interpret the measurements and model the clothes selected on a virtual dummy based exactly on the consumer. This could help customers understand whether a piece of clothing looks good for their specific body.
  • Seamstresses and other makers of custom clothing could have real, physical models of their customers produced by a process similar to 3-D printing, to fit clothing more exactly, either before final fitting with the customer, or when the customer is far away.
  • Automated machines could produce semi-custom clothing, using the measurements of the customer and adapting the clothing dimensions per instructions in the XML indicating which panels could be expanded or shrunk, and by how much.

I would have assumed that the infrastructure to implement this already existed — Levi Strauss bought a company that did some of this fifteen years ago — but the Levi Strauss operation didn’t seem to rely on any industry standards, which would drive costs down.

I couldn’t tease out the correct Google keywords if this does exist, nor did I find a relevant schema on Wikipedia’s list of XML schemas. (Because isn’t every format an XML schema these days?)