Category: Games

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.

Why do we like adventure stories with guides?

Robin Hanson asks:

I’ve been sick, so watched tv more than usual. Watching Journey to the Center of the Earth, I noticed yet again how folks seem to like adventure stories and games to come with guides. People prefer main characters to follow a trail of clues via a map or book written by someone who has passed before, or at least to follow the advice of a wise old person.

Dante of course provides another example, as does Sibyl and Aeneas.  And Robin's conclusion?:

This has a big lesson for those who like to think of their real life as a grand adventure: relative to fiction, real grand adventures tend to have fewer guides, and more randomness in success.   Real adventurers must accept huge throws of the dice; even if you do most everything right, most likely some other lucky punk will get most of the praise.

If you want life paths that quickly and reliably reveal your skills, like leveling up in video games, you want artificial worlds like schools, sporting leagues, and corporate fast tracks.  You might call such lives adventures, but really they pretty much the opposite.  If you insist instead on adventuring for real, achieving things of real and large consequence against great real obstacles, well then learn to see the glorious nobility of those who try well yet fail. 

What career helps other people the most?

That's a question from Katja Grace.  Let's assume pure marginalist act utilitarianism, namely that you choose a career and get moral credit only for the net change caused by your selection.  Furthermore, I'll rule out "become a billionaire and give away all your money" or "cure cancer" by postulating that said person ends up at the 90th percentile of achievement in the specified field but no higher.

What first comes to mind is "honest General Practitioner who has read Robin Hanson on medicine."  If other countries are fair game, let's send that GP to Africa.  No matter what the locale, you help some people live and good outcomes do not require remarkable expertise.  There is a shortage of GPs in many locales, so you make specialists more productive as well.  Public health and sanitation may save more lives than medicine, but the addition of a single public health worker may well have a smaller marginal impact, given the greater importance of upfront costs in that field.

An important question is whether the said job candidate should be seen as precommitting to an honest disposition or whether we should treat the person as developing the median disposition, in the chosen career field, over time.

What do you all think?  What other career — at the margin — has the stongest positive effect on other people?

How Singapore runs a casino: bump not nudge

To discourage locals from gambling, the government collects casino entrance fees — $70 for a 24-hour period or $1,400 for a year — from all Singaporeans and permanent residents.  Almost 30,000 people, mostly recipients of public assistance or those who have filed for bankruptcy, are automatically barred from entering.

The casinos, of course, are intended for foreign tourists.  Reversing his earlier position, Mr. Lee finally backed casino gambling, saying it was vital to Singapore's future.  He said rejecting casino gambling would send the message that:

…we want to stay put, to remain the same old Singapore, a neat place and tidy place with no chewing gum.

That's from the 4 June 2010 IHT, I can't find it on-line, at least not yet.

A mini-revolt against computers in chess

Mikhalchishin is not an advocate of too much computer use. ‘Engines like Rybka, although very strong, can be also very dangerous, because after an hour of a computer analysis the player is completely under the Rybka’s guidance and can’t invent anything, just follow the machine. They can analyse some position, but it is very difficult to get a valuation of a position with Rybka – there is always something unclear, you never know what the real variation is. Rybka takes a lot of mental energy. Computer analysis switches off the brain. I enjoy seeing how the brain works, not computers.’

There is more here, for instance:

…he feels that an interesting trend is taking place in the chess world presently: a new generation of players, that he calls ‘post-Carlsen generation’, is coming up; young players who are not so much dependent on computers and are more practical, ‘hand players’. Carlsen may even become a world champion, but at this moment, a new generation is growing and training. ‘Richárd is one of them; then there is Nyzhnyk, a very interesting player from Ukraine, Berbatov, a very talented young player from Bulgaria. But the leader of this generation I would say is Wesley So. He is extremely talented and has produced some very interesting games, like his wins against Ivanchuk at the World Cup. These post-Carlsen players have a different style and attitudes. They are not obsessed with the opening theory, like their older predecessors. They are looking for much more practical play and are very aggressive. They are not necessarily a computer generation, as Carlsen’s generation was. Computers came with their powerful programs and chess players wanted to try them. But I feel this trend is finishing now.’

I wouldn't put too much stock in this as a practical development (Carlsen's the guy who's #1), but it's an interesting point about the roots of creativity and independent thought.

Markets in everything, evil clown edition

Dominic Deville stalks young victims for a week, sending chilling texts, making prank phone calls and setting traps in letterboxes.

He posts notes warning children they are being watched, telling them they will be attacked.

But Deville is not an escaped lunatic or some demonic monster.

He is a birthday treat, hired by mum and dad, and the ‘attack’ involves being splatted in the face with a cake.

‘The child feels more and more that it is being pursued,’ said Deville.

‘The clown’s one and only aim is to smash a cake into the face of his victim, when they least expect it, during the course of seven days.’

There is more information here, with an excellent photo.  For the pointer I thank Tim Johnson.

The iPad

Could this be the medium through which the fabled convergence finally occurs?

Most of all, think of it as a substitute for your TV.

It has the all-important quality of allowing you to bend your head and body as you wish (more or less), as you use it.  By bringing it closer or further, you control the "real size" of the iPad, so don't fixate on whether it appears "too big" or "too small."

The pages turn faster than those of Kindle.  The other functions are also extremely quick and the battery feels eternal.

So far my main complaint is how it uses "auto-correct" to turn "gmu" into "gum."

While I will bring it on some trips, most of all it feels too valuable to take very far from the house.

On YouTube I watched Chet Atkins, Sonny Rollins, and Angela Hewitt.

Note all the categories on this short post!

One Game Machine Per Child

Ofer Malamud and
Cristian Pop-Eleches look at the effects of a program that gave poor households a voucher to purchase a computer.  (The program was Romanian but the results may hold lessons for similar programs around the world.)  Households with incomes directly below a cutoff level were given a voucher while households with incomes directly above the cutoff were not.  Thus, households which were very similar were treated differently and this lets the authors use a regression discontinuity design that makes their results credible as representing a causal effect.  The results of a regression discontinuity design are also very easy to explain with figures. 

The income cutoff is shown by the red line.  Beginning at the top left we see that households with incomes just below the cutoff were much more likely to have a computer than households with incomes just above the cutoff – thus the voucher program has a big effect on computer ownership.  The top right figure shows similarly that the voucher program increased computer usage since computers were used much more often in households with incomes just below the cutoff than in the non-eligible-for-voucher households with incomes just above the cutoff. 


Now take at look at the figures below.  The one on the left shows that the voucher program significantly increased the time spent playing computer games.  The one on the right which looks at the effect of the voucher program on the use of computers for homework – well, the punch line is clear. 


Not surprisingly, with all that game playing going on, the authors find that the voucher program actually resulted in a decline in grades although there was also some evidence for an increase in computer proficiency and perhaps some improvement in a cognitive test.

Hat tip to David Youngberg at the SeetheInvisibleHand.

Gender risk-aversion, using data from chess

Dan Houser sends me a link to this paper, by Christer Gerdes and Patrik Gränsmark:

This paper aims to measure differences in risk behavior among expert chess players. The study employs a panel data set on international chess with 1.4 million games recorded over a period of 11 years. The structure of the data set allows us to use individual fixed-effect estimations to control for aspects such as innate ability as well as other characteristics of the players. Most notably, the data contains an objective measure of individual playing strength, the so-called Elo rating. In line with previous research, we find that women are more risk-averse than men. A novel finding is that males choose more aggressive strategies when playing against female opponents even though such strategies reduce their winning probability.

I am pleased to see that studying chess data is suddenly a "trendy" way to do behavioral economics.  Admittedly one is dealing with an unusual group of subjects.  Yet the quality of the data is high and the stakes are usually high too.  Computers can be used to judge the quality of moves.