In the Future will Algorithms Do Christmas Shopping For You?

How will online shopping change how Christmas shopping is done?

It’s that time of year. The time of year you have to buy things for other people that you’ll likely never get to use.

Watch any Christmas movie and you get one of two things: a whimsical mall filled with bright lights and toys or a WWE free for all. I think most people relate to the second option more, but at the same time there’s that feeling of options that you get from window shopping.

I generally fall into the WWE category as I hold off on getting presents until the last week leading up to Christmas and I’m stuck fighting all the other people who did the same. It’s a terrible feeling pushing your way to that novel that your Grandma would love only to find out it’s sold out and you’re stuck getting oven mitts for her or something else left over.

Don’t get me wrong, finding the perfect gift is one of my favorite aspects about Christmas. Figuring out what in a store or mall fits the people you’re shopping for most is a great way to reflect on the people in your life and what you’ve managed to learn about them or at least what they want you to know about.

It’s one of the more materialistic aspects of Christmas that the movies tend to fight against, but when you have the time and money it can really be a relaxing and reflective time of year. Granted those two restrictions can apply to essentially everything. Of course if I didn’t have to worry about time and money I’d enjoy things more. They’re the two things everyone worries about.

And with the rise of online shopping is this aspect of Christmas helped or hurt? It’s hard to tell.

With the rise of online shopping it’s easy to get exactly what you’re looking for in a short amount of time. You reduce the time looking around and increase the time it takes to receive the package.

If you have a fairly good idea of what you’re looking for, great! Browse forums about the things your person of interest likes and see what other fans are into. Google enough Harry Potter wands and then all of sudden your twitter feed is filled with Harry Potter books and your top recommended Youtube video is Potter Puppet Pals (I’m kinda showing my age here).

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In a weird way, marketing algorithms are learning about you and doing its best to funnel the items you’re most likely to buy. Just like you learned about your friends and family to find the right gift for them, programs are doing the same thing as you continue to surf the web looking for items.

And just like the more you interact with someone the more you learn about them, the more info that is fed about you (or at least your IP) leads to more accurate predictions of what you’re most likely to buy. And not only will Google Ads and whoever else buys your info be able to figure out what you want, but compare you to other successful matches that worked in the past with people that looked for the similar things. Kind of like a behind the scenes “Other Shoppers also Viewed This” page, but on a global scale.

If not already, perhaps those marketing algorithms will be better at finding the perfect gift for people than you even if they never searched for anything online before.

As these programs improve perhaps the best way to shop for someone would be to spend a couple hours searching for various things you think they’d search for and see what ads pop up. It would at least free up more time for you to actually spend the time with the person you’re shopping for.

Maybe we could even let the program play some Christmas music as you did it.

Velocity by Dean Koontz (2005) Review: Why You Should Read It

Should you read Dean Koontz’s 2005 thriller novel “Velocity”?

No spoilers, this is a recommendation.

 

You should read Velocity by Dean Koontz because it’s an interesting concept combining the over-the-top theatrics of an antagonist with the fairly realistic main character to counterbalance. Follow Billy Wiles, a rather unassuming bartender who receives a rather strange message on his car window:

“If you dont this note to the police and get them involved, I will kill a lovely blond schoolteacher somewhere in Napa County.

If you do take this note to the police, I will instead kill an elderly woman active in charity work.

You have six hours to decide.

The choice is yours.”

Don’t worry that’s not a spoiler, it’s on the back cover of the book sleeve.

There is a rather consistent fascination with life and death thematically. As more is revealed about the note maker and Billy himself, a new layer of how life is viewed and what occurs comes into view. However, one can argue that this is pretty typical for a book in the thriller genre. A certain character could even predict the future using the corpses of the roadkill she saw.

A quote that sums it up perfectly, “while life could be avoided death could not.” Death is inevitable is a rather common theme, but that doesn’t mean the thought doesn’t have merit.

Billy is by every sense of the word typical. He’s slightly above average intelligence, but extremely aware of his abilities. The man is constantly an anxious mess throughout the story and you can’t really blame him.

However, the most prominent theme deals with action and decision-making. From the note one can see that both options are net negatives, there isn’t a get out of this situation. There is the idea that inaction is a choice as well and that’s something everyone can relate to. It is hammered home that Billy Wiles isn’t anything special. He says it to himself, Koontz says it us, and based on what Billy shows off he is. Yet as the story escalates and Billy begins to deal with crazier events, he becomes a man of action. The average-looking barkeep without any military background or 7000 IQ is forced to make decisions all by himself to stop the notes.  Near the end of the book, Billy becomes a new man in both resolve and even his friends begin to notice it and call him Bill instead. Perhaps, Koontz is trying to say that the choice of inaction holds us back from being who we truly are and want to be. Or at least that’s how I want to interpret it at least.

Outside of the themes, the novel itself is a very easy read and moves forward at a rather constant pace once the action picks up. The book is rather morbid (as if you couldn’t tell by the rest of this post), but nothing is overtly gory. For the most part, you’ll be following Billy going around town trying to figure out what to do next to stop the notes.

There is no doubt that Dean Koontz is one of the more popular thriller authors around and its no surprise he knows what he’s doing in terms of pacing and pulling various different aspects of his protagonist into one coherent theme. Check out his website linked here to learn more about him and browse his enormous collection of books.

However, the book is far from perfect. The beginning is pretty slow to start and the end seems far too abrupt. Considering the title it seems like its exactly as advertised, but the ending wraps up so well in places, leaving the reader feeling like certain aspects of the story were hyped up to be bigger issues than how the ending seemed to finish them off in a paragraph or two, but I can see how some people would be fine with that (which is perfectly valid).

Certain plot points hint towards something larger, but once the full reveal occurs, the story just keeps chugging along. With a small amount of rewriting it felt like almost a third of the book could have been cut.

 

TL:DR; Velocity isn’t the best thriller I have ever read, but given the quick read, cool premise, and likable protagonist there is enough to warrant a glance through. Those who love thrillers may burn out too quick before the story really gets going, but there is definitely a solid book underneath worth the time to read it.

 

Thanks for reading!

Hey if you liked this review why not check out another “Why You Should Read/Watch It” series? Like an old school anime without any of the crazy screaming or incest?