Paul Murray's weblog, with news you may have missed and my $0.02 worth on a number of topics.

"You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."
- Art Buchwald

I bet you don't have a friend who's an acupuncturist

E-mail me: pmurray63 [at] (Be patient, I don't check it often.)

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Super genius?
My brother and I were watching the quiz show Jeopardy! on January 18, when this was the Final Jeopardy question:

A: The middle initial E. of this character introduced in 1949 stands for Ethelbert.
Q: Who is Wile E. Coyote?
This was news to me. While I am by no means an expert on Warner Bros. cartoons, I am of a generation that grew up watching them, and I recall them vividly. I own several DVD collections, plus books by Mel Blanc and Chuck Jones. And I'd never heard this before. I filed it away in my memory, no doubt in space that that should be occupied by more useful information, and that was that.

But some people didn't let it go at that. A guy named Jon Cooke unearthed the only time this information ever appeared: not in an animated cartoon, but in a 1973 comic book. Impressive, huh? Jon was rather skeptical:

I really doubt this was ever intended to be the character's "official" middle name but thanks to Jeopardy, I am sure this "fact" will be popping up for years to come.

It gets better.

Once this was pointed out to him, today Mark Evanier had some very interesting observations and additional information on the subject. I don't want to spoil it ... but I'll just say that Mark appears to be the most qualified person in the entire world to address this issue. And Mark is skeptical too.

I wonder where Jeopardy! found this "fact."

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007
How good is that free real estate estimate?
Lots of people have swarmed to Zillow, a website that allows you to look up estimated property values. Today's Wall Street Journal asks How Good Are Zillow's Estimates?
The Journal looked at transaction prices recorded for 1,000 recent home sales in seven states, using data from First American Real Estate Solutions, a data provider in Santa Ana, Calif., and compared those prices with Zillow estimates, which didn't yet reflect the sales. The median difference between the Zillow estimate and the actual price was 7.8%. (That was close to the 7.2% median "margin of error" reported by Zillow itself on all transactions involving homes whose value it has estimated.)

The estimates were about equally split between ones that were too high and those below the mark.

Zillow came within 5% of the price in a third of the transactions studied by The Journal. It was more than 25% off target on 11% of them. In 34 of the 1,000 transactions, Zillow was off by more than 50%...

Zillow tends to work best for midrange homes in areas where there are a lot of comparable houses, [Zillow's vice president of data and analytics] says. It is less accurate for low- and high-end homes because there are fewer of those and thus less data available from comparable sales, known as "comps." Values of rural homes are hard to gauge for the same reason. Partly for that reason, none of the Web sites can offer 100% coverage of U.S. homes; Zillow says it has estimates on about 57% of all homes.

Even where there are numerous apparent "comps," computer programs like Zillow's can stumble when vital information is missing. Data fed into the computer, for instance, may not reflect the fact that a house has just been remodeled, destroyed by fire or put into foreclosure. Reported prices can be misleading, too. Sometimes homes are sold between family members for a token price, or sellers offer incentives to buyers, such as help with closing costs, that aren't reflected in the recorded price.

I tried Zillow a few times. I looked up the home of someone close to me in a suburb of Detroit, and thought their estimate was preposterously low.