Weekly I/O #34

Benford’s Law, Teacher is Catalyst, Fitts’s Law, Adblock’s Business Model, Talmudic Reading

Cheng-Wei Hu | 胡程維
6 min readMar 4, 2022

Weekly I/O is a project where I share my learning Input/Output. Every Sunday, I write an email newsletter with five things I discovered and learned that week.

Sign up here and let me share a curated list of learning Input/Output with you 🎉

The below is extracted from the email sent on February 27, 2022

Here’s a list of what I’m exploring and pondering this week.

1. Benford’s Law: The leading digit tends to be small for many real-life numerical data. The number 1 appears 30% of the time as the leading digit.

Article: Benford’s Law

How to possibly detect fraud in an election just by analyzing the vote counts? We can get the distribution of the first digits of the vote counts and see whether number 1 appears more as the first digit.

Benford’s Law, also known as the First-digit Law, described that the first digits of many real-life numerical data tend to follow an interesting distribution:

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rozklad_benforda.svg

The distribution is not a uniform distribution nor a normal distribution. The number 1 appears about 30% of the time as the leading digit, and the number 2 appears about 17%. The leading digit tends to be small.

Benford’s Law can be applied to many areas: the stock index history, the areas of countries, the length of the world’s rivers, the numbers in newspapers’ front-page headlines, etc. Below image from a physics journal shows that Benford’s Law is applicable to various datasets, including CPI variation, Census, Birth rate, Area of countries, Lottery numbers, etc.

Source: https://phys.org/news/2007-05-law-digits-scientists.html

In fact, Benford’s Law tends to be more accurate when the data are distributed across multiple orders of magnitude, and it is most accurate when the data are distributed evenly across multiple orders of magnitude. For instance, we can expect that Benford’s Law would apply to the populations of different regions in the US. But if we define the region as a town with a population between 100 and 999, Benford’s Law may not hold.

2. A teacher is never a giver of truth. A teacher is a guide, a pointer to the truth that each student must find for themselves. A good teacher is merely a catalyst.

Book: Bruce Lee Striking Thoughts

There are two things I don’t understand enough but somehow don’t like: 1. Cryptocurrency, and 2. The phenomenon that many people I know in the United States hate Facebook. Therefore, this semester I enrolled in a Blockchain course and a Tech, Media & Democracy course to try to understand how these two things I’m not too fond of work and see whether I can change my mind after learning these. So far, I’m still not convinced, but I have a lot of fun learning these.

In some senses, I took these classes as almost merely a motivation for me to learn because I might not want to spend time on these otherwise. This struck me to think about what Bruce Lee said about teachers.

We can learn almost everything online. Therefore, I started to believe that a teacher, or even a course in my case, should not be the source of knowledge but the way to gain knowledge. The difference might seem subtle, but it is like we should treat it as a means, not an end. (as opposed to what Immanuel Kant said, rational human beings should be treated as an end in themselves and not as a means to something else.)

Therefore, a teacher is merely a catalyst. We still have to learn the stuff by ourselves, and teachers can only support and motivate us.

3. Fitts’s Law: The time to acquire a target is a function of the distance to and size of the target in UI/UX.

Article: Fitts’s Law: The Importance of Size and Distance in UI Design

Fitt’s Law indicates that the level of difficulty to move a pointer to a target area can be formulated as the distance to the target divided by the size of the target. In other words, it will be harder to click a button on a website if our cursor is far from the button or the button size is small.

We can derive three simple design heuristics from this Law.

First, the pixel under the pointer/cursor is instantly usable without movement, called The Zero Point. Therefore, pop-up menus can often support the immediate selection of interactive elements more than dropdown menus since users don’t have to move their pointer/cursor too much from the current position.

Second, the bigger target is always easier to click than a smaller one. When selecting options, pie menus can afford a larger target size than linear menus like vertical dropdown menus or horizontal top-level navigation. Moreover, travel distance is the same for all options in pie menus.

Third, the edges and the corners of the display are usually the easiest to select except for The Zero Point. We can see the edge of the screen as having an infinite depth since the user’s pointer can be fixed at a point on the periphery of the screen.

4. How does Adblock make money? They have an Acceptable Ads program that allows ads on some websites with a licensing fee.

Article: How does Adblock Plus make money?

Today, 42.7% of internet users worldwide report using an ad blocker. The advertising industry was reported to lose over 22 billion in 2015 alone. But have you ever been wondering how does Adblock software make money?

It turns out that they have an Acceptable Ads program to let some websites bypass Adblock and display ads. The Ads should follow strict criteria, including can’t be animated and can’t interrupt the user’s natural reading flow.

According to the Adblock Plus company, despite users’ donations, the primary source of revenue is still the Acceptable Ads program. They usually charge 30 percent of the additional revenue created by Acceptable Ads as a license fee, and around 90 percent of licenses are granted for free to smaller entities.

Thanks to Pradyumna Yogan for introducing this article to me!

5. Talmudic Reading: Read the classics while assuming the text is perfectly composed and the writer knew exactly what they were doing.

Article: Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy

Talmudic reading refers to the Rabbinic tradition where Torah is seen to have divine authority and, therefore, should be treated as a perfectly composed text. In this way, the reader must read every word in the writing carefully. If there’s anything that doesn’t make sense, the readers should assume it’s because their comprehension is not good enough instead of questioning the writing.

Obviously, the Talmudic assumption gives the readers a significant burden. The classics can be wrong, so the Talmudic method is surely exaggerated. However, it can be helpful for the readers in the way that it forces them to think. The reader then is required to think through the question of how the writing, if correctly interpreted, can be reconciled with what seem to be conflicting texts. Often this is both a challenging and a philosophically rewarding exercise.

This idea is related to the concept of Wrong but Useful from Weekly I/O #32. Thanks to Ting-Guang Han for replying to the Weekly I/O and introducing this idea to me.

That’s it. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy it. If you would like to receive the content every Sunday, sign up below 😎



Cheng-Wei Hu | 胡程維

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