Category: Games

How to encourage innovation?

Here is a new research paper:

We explore the relationship between attractiveness and risk taking in chess. We use a large international panel dataset on chess competitions which includes a control for the players’ skill in chess. This data is combined with results from a survey on an online labor market where participants were asked to rate the photos of 626 expert chess players according to attractiveness. Our results suggest that male chess players choose significantly riskier strategies when playing against an attractive female opponent, even though this does not improve their performance. Women’s strategies are not affected by the attractiveness of the opponent.

For the pointer I thank Bruce Bartlett.

Observations on computer chess spectatorship

1. People enjoy watching a live internet human vs. human game more, when they can watch a computer judging the human moves and evaluating the position. 

2. Few people enjoy watching live computer vs. computer games, even though the quality of play is much higher and the likelihood of a complex, wild position is much higher.  Even if you care at all, there is little in-progress suspense; you might as well look back at the moves once they are over.  How many other activities would we enjoy watching or experiencing less if they were done by computers?

3. The quality of play in a computer vs. computer game is so high it is often difficult for humans to tell where the losing computer went wrong, even if the spectator human has the help of a chess-playing computer.

4. I find only the very best computer (Rybka) of interest, although I do not feel the same way about the human players.  Furthermore the fifth best computer is still much better than the best human players.

5. The notion of a computer chess tournament taking place "in time" is an odd one.  You can play all the games back-to-back or simply use multiple copies of the programs and finish the entire tournament in a few hours; see #2.

6. Watching a computer play chess is a window onto a world where, once the opening is past (often, computers are simply told what to do by a pre-programmed "openings book"), there are many fewer presuppositions than what a human mind will bring to bear on the problem.  It's a very good way of learning, in convincing form (the computer will beat you),  how much your intuitions lead you astray.  It's not just your "bad moves" which cause you to lose, it's also the moves which still seem pretty good to you.

7. There are nonetheless many computer moves which I simply cannot believe are any good.  It does seem that every now and then computers get stuck in a "dogmatic trap," usually because of their limited time horizons for evaluation.  Playing against a computer, you will do best in the early middle game and then progressively fall apart as its combinatorial powers destroy you.

8. You can watch chess computers play against each other  at  Click on "enter" and then TCEC5.  

A theory of optimal tattoos

David Stearns, a loyal MR reader, asks:

How would you pick a tattoo, if you decided you were going to get one? How would you pick something that your future self is most likely to be glad to have? A favorite piece of art? Follow Leeson's lead and get an economics-related tattoo? Names of family members are off-limits, as are answers like "get a small dot in my armpit that nobody would see."

I would pick a country which I loved visiting, such as Mexico or Brazil, both of which have distinct shapes.  It would be an excuse to narrate previous visits and I don't think it would repulse many people, other than the fact that it is a tattoo.  An artwork in tattoo form would look low-brow.  A Celtic geometric design would be another option.  The obvious alternative would be to pick something which looked criminal, but I don't think that would mesh well with my other strategies in life.  For some men it would pay off. 

Here is Dan Ariely on tattoos.

Political games

The vote- or seat-maximizing incentive for the Republican Party as a whole is to lay low, put forward no "Newt Gingrich" villain figure, and let Obama continue to take the blame for the ailing economy, while avoiding fights they can lose, because of the President's superior bully pulpit and media presence.

The incentive for individual Republican Congressmen is…different.

When it comes to marijuana legalization, I believe that the "anti-" forces will muster as many parental votes as they need to, to defeat it when they need to.  The elasticity of supply is nearly infinite at relevant margins.  Legalization may appear "close" for a long time, but in equilibrium it will not spread very far.  The "no" votes will pop up as needed.

The Industrial Organization of the Miami Heat

A new study by Northwestern's Adam Galinsky looked at 11 NBA seasons and found that on average, teams that pay one star a lot and the rest not as much, win more games.  "The study shows how pay is tied up with status," Galinsky says.  Exhibit A: Kobe.  He makes nearly 25 mil a year, roughly equal to all the subs combined.  That payscale ensures his teammates know their roles, and that leads to better team play.  In Miami, LeBron, Chris Bosh and D-Wade all earn about the same.

That is from the new ESPN magazine, not yet on-line.  Here is one related bit:

“Status is such an important regulating force on people’s behavior, hierarchy solves so many problems of conflict and coordination in groups,” says Adam Galinsky, a psychologist at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management who did the research on social hierarchies on basketball teams. “In order to perform effectively, you often need to have some pattern of deference.”

Here is Galinsky's home page, and here, though I cannot find the NBA paper on-line.   

When I look at the Miami Heat, I think of Bengt Holmstrom, and his models of why the input suppliers in a firm require strong external constraint.  When I look at the Miami Heat, I think of Hart and Moore 1990 — their chef, skipper, and tycoon example – which suggests a successful small enterprise should not have three separate veto points.

Overall, I put greater stock in Holmstrom, Hart, and Moore (and Bryant) than I do in James, Bosh, and Wade.

Markets in everything, unexpected loopholes edition

"Crafted from 40,000-year old Woolly Mammoth Ivory, they capture the exquisite design and proportions of the original Staunton pattern Chess set, registered by Nathaniel Cook and produced by Jacques of London in 1849"

For more than 2,000 years, Mammoth Ivory has been traded and it remains a highly prized commodity across the world. While that demand for the Mammoth Ivory has always been higher than its supply, it skyrocketed in 1963 when the CITES agreement was enacted. This agreement banned all sales of new Elephant or Walrus Ivory, in an effort to protect the animals from extinction. As a result, Mammoth Ivory became the only type of animal-based ivory that is exempt from the international trade restrictions because it is considered to be a fossil.

The price is $9.995.00.  If that's not offbeat enough for you, try "Endangered Parrots of the World Chess Set," for $4,790.00, although I suspect they would come down if you bought them in quantity.

Why don’t people rock the boat in early on-line dating encounters?

Well, some of them do.  But many don't.  Dan Ariely writes:

We picked apart emails sent between online daters, prepared to dissect the juicy details of first introductions. And we found a general trend supporting the idea that people like to maintain boring equilibrium at all costs: we found a lot of people who may, in actuality, have interesting things to say, but presented themselves as utterly insipid in their written conversations. The dialogue was boring, consisting mainly of questions like, “Where did you go to college?” or “What are your hobbies?” “What is your line of work?” etc.

…What we learned from this little experiment is that when people are free to choose what type of discussions they want to have, they often gravitate toward an equilibrium that is easy to maintain but one that no one really enjoys or benefits from. 

First, email is a bad medium for making and negotiating outrageous claims.  You can't communicate subtleties of tone and teasing and you can't easily do "repair work" if you offend the audience, even assuming you can notice the offense or keep the dialog going after an offense. 

More generally, when I see cautious behavior I ask if some kind of threshold incentive is in place.  Imagine a process where both the writing man and the writing woman have inferred they are above the other's minimum standard for a personal meeting, perhaps for having demonstrated looks, money, status, etc.  Given that a relatively impressive credential already puts each person in the running, on the written exchange each is simply hoping to "break even" for the time being and avoid dismissal.  Draw your own implications as to what attracts people in the on-line dating world. 

Addendum: Robin Hanson offers related comment.

Status plateaus

Colin, a loyal MR reader, writes to me:

My girlfriend and I were having dinner at a swanky place…and noticed everyone had essentially the same phones–either an iPhone or some version of a Blackberry–which are the same models I see all over campus…It seems to me that with most items like cars, handbags, or houses, there are always more expensive/prestigious items one can get to signal a new tier of wealth, but with phones this is not the case (iPhones and Blackberrys look to be the end of the line, and are not particularly exclusive to the wealthy). We were curious if you could come up with any other items or industries that plateau like this–the only other we could really think of was media/entertainment (plateau at the NYT/WSJ; everyone sees roughly the same new released movies or tv shows). Thanks for your consideration and thanks for keeping up the excellent blog! 

Other than reading blogs, what are further examples?  By the way, here is the world's most expensive cellphone (beware: the pop-up at the link offers audio), at 300k, but I think your wealthy friends will simply laugh at you. Only 28 of them have been produced.

Status plateaus may be profit-maximizing when large numbers of upper-middle class customers wish to believe that they are enjoying the truly cutting edge technology and they are willing to pay for it.  Creating the "iPhone plus for billionaires" would lower the demand for iPhones proper.

Cineplex hopping, sentences to ponder

The surrealists André Breton and Paul Éluard used to enter movie theaters at random and stay only a little while, until the plot became clear to them and the films’ images were drained of their power. In the Cineplex you can do the same thing all in one building. I did that one day this summer. What I saw was not excerpts from ten different movies, but one movie made up of ten interchangeable parts–the imperial power of Hollywood, still alive and well, surviving postmodern fragmentation and resisting détournement

Here is the adventure itself.  For the pointer I thank Paul Sas.

Why nerds like games

That's a topic from Robin Hanson.  I'm not sure "nerds" is the right word here (or if there is a correct single word), but I get what Robin is trying to say:

Another explanation is that while nerds like to socialize, they are terrified of making social mistakes…Games let nerds interact socially, yet avoid mistakes via well-defined rules, and a social norm that all legal moves are “fair game.” Role-playing has less well-defined rules, but the norm there is that social mistakes are to be blamed on characters, not players.

I endorse this explanation (I am not sure if Robin does) and I notice some testable predictions.  If nerds are otherwise constrained and thus underconsuming social experiences, nerd-run games should be especially boisterous and enjoyable.  Nerds should invest more resources to play these games than non-nerds will find explicable; to non-nerds the games will seem superfluous.  Nerds should seek out games with intensely social elements.  In my limited sample of experience (I don't like these games myself, but every now and then they are played in my place of employment), I see these predictions being validated.

What is emblematic of the 21st century?

A recent reader request was:

What things that are around today are most distinctively 21st century?  What will be the answer to this question in 10 years?

Here is what comes to mind and I think most of it will remain emblematic for some time:

Technology: iPhone, Wii, iPad, Kindle.  These are no-brainers and I do think it will go down in American history as "iPhone," not "iPhone and other smart phones."  Sorry people.

To read: blogs and Freakonomics, this is the age of non-fiction.  I don't think we have an emblematic and culturally central novel for the last ten years.  The Twilight series is a possible pick but I don't think they will last in our collective memory.  Harry Potter (the series started 1997) seems to belong too much to the 1990s.

Films: Avatar, Inception (for appropriately negative reviews of the latter, see here, here, and here).  Both will look and feel "of this time."  Overall there have been too many "spin-off" movies.  Keep in mind this question is not about "what is best."

Music: It's been a slow period, but I'll pick Lady Gaga, most of all for reflecting the YouTube era rather than for her music per se.  I don't think many musical performers from the last ten years will become canonical, even though the number of "good songs" is quite high.  Career lifecycles seem to be getting shorter, for one thing.

TelevisionThe Sopranos starts in 1999, so it comes closer to counting than Harry Potter does.  It reflects "the HBO era."  Lost was a major network show and at the very least people will laugh at it, maybe admire it too.  Battlestar Galactica.  Reality TV.

What am I missing?  What does this all add up to?  Pretty strange, no?

p.s. Need to add Facebook and Google somewhere!

The worst Americans of all time?

Status games, why not?  At least the purpose is upfront and the weather is nice. Here is a list from right-wing bloggers and here is a list from Bainbridge, both in one link with Bainbridge's comments.

It's bizarre that Jimmy Carter comes out as the all-time worst from the right-wing bloggers and I don't have to tell you who is number two.  It's also hard for me to see how Bainbridge ends up with Paris Hilton and Michael Moore in his list of the worst and he seems to acknowledge this oddity toward the end of his post.

The most plausible picks are, I think, any number of political figures behind slavery and its continuation (it's debatable who is truly focal here), Woodrow Wilson, the Rosenbergs, and any number of assassins, domestic terrorists, and serial killers.  

Who am I forgetting?  Are there focal figures who held back public health advances?  Led slaughters against Native Americans?  What else?

Who is the worst Canadian of all time?

Hat tip goes to Andrew Sullivan.

My dialogue at Ess-a-Bagel

That's the excellent bagel and smoked fish shop at 3rd Ave., just north of 50th St.

I order my bagel from a gentleman with a thick New York accent and he eyes me suspiciously.  Finally he grunts out, in a tone slightly less than that of accusation:

Server: "Where are you from?"

(I pause.  There are different answers to this question, depending who is asking and where you are.  Is it about where you were born, where you grew up, where you live now, and in the latter case how specific should the location be?  In Ghana I should say "Washington," though in Portland that answer fails.  In North Carolina I can say "northern Virginia."  In Arizona I should say "Virginia."  In El Salvador I try "Falls Church.")

I answered, after a pause, with a feeling of insecurity:

TC: "New Jersey"

Server: "Really.  You look like a farmer!" (pronounced as if the concept were a deeply alien one)

"I thought you were from California or something."

Russian gypsy fortune teller loops

A man was jailed by a Kemerovo region court on Thursday for assaulting a Gypsy fortune teller who predicted that he would be jailed, the Investigative Committee said.

Gennady Osipovich tried to kill the unidentified female fortune teller, who told him she saw a “state-owned house” – a Russian euphemism for jail – in his future, the committee said in a statement on its web site.

The woman managed to escape, but Osipovich stabbed to death two unidentified witnesses of the assault, which took place in October. He was sentenced to 22 years in a maximum-security prison.

The link is here and hat tip goes to The Browser.

Is “futile busyness” good for us?

The researchers proceed to argue that, unfortunately, most people will not be tempted by futile busyness, so there's a paternalistic case for governments and organisations tricking us into more activity: 'housekeepers may increase the happiness of their idle housekeepers by letting in some mice and prompting the housekeepers to clean up. Governments may increase the happiness of idle citizens by having them build bridges that are actually useless.' In fact, according to Hsee's team, such interventions already exist, with some airports having deliberately increased the walk to the luggage carousel so as to reduce the time passengers spend waiting idly for luggage to arrive.

Here is much more.