Jamala

I am sitting with my wife basking in the afterglow of Jamala’s Eurovision win. Here are a few thoughts:

Once again, Crimean Tatars are pushed onto the spotlight. This time, it’s for winning Europe’s biggest contest outside of sports. Something positive and affirming after a couple of years of getting the bad end of things. It’s a good feeling.

The timing couldn’t have been better.  This week, a dentist at my site was arrested for being an extremist. He isn’t,  but he did go on Haj last year. That made him a target. Wednesday (the 18th) is the anniversary of the Surgun.  That’s the event Jamala’s song was about–the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars from their homeland at the end of WWII. Since the annexation, Russians have worked to prohibit memorial events. This is probably why there were arrests this week…as a threat. But Europe and Australia just trumped their plan to keep the event unremembered this year.

Because Russia will see this as an act of aggression against them (because everything is an act of aggression against them), things will likely get worse in Crimea for my friends and family. Everyone is prepared. Still, everyone gets to savor the victory tonight.

Congratulations, Jamala.

Zura’s Imereti Khachapuri

Georgians make cheese bread called khachapuri. Georgia also has strikingly different climates in different areas. Because of these this, each region of Georgia has its own version due to regional variations in taste, cheese and style. The Adjara khachapuri has an egg baked on top of it, for instance.

While in Georgia, I stayed in Imereti. Their cheese used in the bread is particularly salty…almost too salty for me to enjoy the cheese by itself. However, in the khachapuri, though, it’s amazing. This cheese is not readily available outside of Georgia which poses particular challenges when trying to fix this particular version abroad. Thankfully my Georgian host brother went to grad school in the USA. His homesickness led him to do the hard part of adapting the recipe to local ingredients. His recipe is both wonderful and simple. To ring in 2016, I am sharing it.

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Ingredients:
Two (2) two-pack of puff pastry sheets
8 ounces of feta cheese
8 ounces of mozzarella cheese
one egg

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1. Combine the cheeses in a bowl, making sure to crumble the feta.

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2. Add the egg and mix the cheese and egg together.

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3. Turn your oven to 350F.

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4. On a cookie sheet, lay your bottom layer of puff pastry sheet. Add half of your cheese and egg mixture.

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5. Add the second layer of puff pastry sheet on top and seal the edges with a twist.

6. Repeat Steps 4 and 5 for the second khachapuri.

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7. Bake at 350F until golden brown (about 40 minutes).

While baking, the pastry will puff in the middle. We add a small hole in the center to help with that, but it’s not necessary. You can also use the entire cheese and egg mix in one khachapuri for massive cheesiness. Through experimentation, we’ve found that you can use muenster cheese for a slightly less salty but more buttery form of cheesiness.

Anniversaries

All of us have a collection of things we celebrate every year. Each year we add and subtract from those things. Last year introduced several new things for me. This week in 2014 was the culmination of a six year process. On the 28th, my almost-wife successfully exited a country on the brink of civil war and equally successfully entered this country. I was there at the airport waiting when her flight arrived and waited dutifully while the plane sat parked on the tarmac waiting for an open gate to appear. We spent that first night with family near the airport. The next day we drove down frozen highways through abandoned cars to arrive in my hometown just in time to get our marriage license before the clerk’s office broke for lunch. My parents fawned over the person set to be their new daughter. Almost precisely 365 days ago to the hour, we were wed in a ceremony that was intended to be really private, but grew into something bigger.

To my wife, I would like to say thank you for being my rock for the last year. Thank you for bringing me daily happiness. Thank you for riding this rock around a fiery ball of gas. We are astronauts. You are everything.

A Qualitative World

When I think about quantitative analytics, I think of The Matrix. In The Matrix, the world most people experience is purely a computer construct, one of ones and zeros spelling out a universe in binary. Keanu Reeves’ Neo is offered the choice between the red pill and the blue pill, the choice of living in an all digital reality where everything can be analyzed and shaped or an analog world where things can vary. In that first movie, everything is changed by his awakening, perhaps even the universe itself.

In quantitative analysis, it’s all about the numbers. Sampling size is key, but after a population reaches a certain size, there’s little chance of having the result change, so why bother asking, right? The first time an alarm was raised for me was as an undergrad sitting in a media class learning about the Neilsen ratings system. While there were more than 300 million people in the United States, they sampled a few hundred. Those few hundred told networks how much money they could make and what programming to pursue. Why? Because to sample any more than that would be a waste.

Skip to the mid-2000s. Neilsen switches to people meters from diaries and suddenly shows and networks watched by city dwellers and minorities suddenly drops overnight. The diary system had TV viewers write what they watched in increments over an hour. They were supposed to note if they changed the channel, when and if they stayed with the new program. People meters automated that data collecting. They were initially introduced in New York City and from the first day, programming featuring minorities plummeted in the ratings. It was serious enough that lawmakers took notice.

How could that happen? New York City has eight million people. They were replacing 400 diaries. Did they give people meters to the same people who had diaries? Where the people being replaced competent? How did they choose new families? As a purely “opt in” system, did they enroll people via letter or telephone call? If it was telephone, was it landline or mobile? To whittle 300 million people to a few hundred, you have to cut a lot of corners and make many broad generalizations.

Today advertisers and networks are learning much more about how people relate to television. They know we engage separate media simultaneously. We post on Facebook and Twitter while we watch. That alone has moved networks out of a purely quantitative understanding of their programming. Now you can see the next day how your program reached its audience by a simple hashtag search. This is a good thing. I do agree that individual focus groups in many different areas is an expensive proposition, perhaps prohibitively expensive even. But these new technologies help us understand much more.

Other technologies are coming. Would a modern teenager download an app for their Google Glass that measured how long they looked at the outfits worn my actors on the latest MTV program? Would you do the same for shows you watch? What if you were paid an Amazon gift card for your efforts? The improved data would be incredibly valuable. The payoff to you would be tiny depending on how much data you were willing to share.

I think we are on the cusp of things changing. Facebook has been losing young people lately. I could see them revitalized if they shared their ad revenue with the people whose friends they are ad bombing. If you were 16 with hundreds of friends, would you take $50 a month for giving Facebook extra access to your followers? I think the first company to offer this will not only gain access to a treasure trove of marketing data, but create a new, fairer, more qualitative world for advertising.