My current blog is Don't Worry About the Vase, at

I de facto abandoned this LiveJournal years ago, and wanted to make sure that anyone who has stuck with the format knows where to find me. My new blog is here.

If you would like to read my writings, would read them here but would not read them on WordPress, reply here to let me know that. If enough people do I will look into cross-posting.

Also, I noticed while looking back that a few old friends do still post here, and I will be trying to peruse those archives to see what I can find. If you are still posting here (or elsewhere) and would like me to be aware of that, let me know so I can add you to my RSS/Twitter.

SPARC for High-School Magic Players

I know the people who created and run SPARC. I've worked with them to help them develop the programs that have become CFAR and SPARC. Everyone I know who has gone has come back with rave reviews, including myself (I helped teach once), and I highly recommend getting involved if you qualify. In this case, they've decided to reach out to Magic players, which speaks to their understanding of how to find smart and talented people!

Winning in Magic takes a lot: creativity, problem solving, and psychology, all of which also help winning in life. A relatively new summer program called SPARC ( targets quantitatively talented high schoolers to improving decision-making, both for humans and for computers (e.g. Bayesian statistics, machine learning, game-playing, and *practical* cognitive science). The program has been around 2 years, and has a highly competitive selection process that may be a good fit for Magic players with some quantitative background. SPARC seeks to take goal-oriented, mathematically talented problem solvers (possibly like you!) to approach life in general with a winning mindset -- it may even improve your Magic game.

The application is at and the second-round interviews start April 15th (completing the first-round applications early gives more time and information for the part 2 of the process).

Coalition: A Game for 9, 12 or 15 players (with rules for 3 or 6, but full design requires 9+)

The core concept of 3 players dividing a pool of 300 units of money is well known. is the direct source. The rest of the design is by Zvi Mowshowitz. Invention of core structure and first playtest session were 11/19 with the NYC rationalist group , and we had a lot of fun.

Alpha rules here, help test it out!Collapse )

...because then everyone will show up.

4000 players are coming to GP Vegas. My lord. What does this mean for you if you're going?

There will be two types of players at GP Vegas: In one corner, you have the great unqualified masses trying to break through. In the other, much smaller corner, you have the qualified players trying to score a top 8 birth. These two groups will be playing altogether different games.

For those who are unqualified, the majority of their tournament equity is the slot they can get by going 13-2. It doesn't matter what everyone else does: Show up, win 13 of the 15 rounds, and take home a blue envelope.

But what about making the top 8, or scoring some extra cash or PT points? It'll be tough, but what'll it take?

As a baseline, one must calculate how many extra players are effectively in the field due to byes. We don't really know the answer because we've never had a GP this big, but we can guess. Assuming, as Lucas did, that there are 25% additional players, is being highly optimistic. If we base our assumptions on GP Charlotte, we will have about 40% more 3-0 players than that calculation would suggest, so I'll be using that as my baseline from which to do projections, and cutting off those who miss the second day.

At the end of 15 rounds, with no draws or scoops or pair-downs (which is NOT what will happen), things would look like this:
15-0 0 or 1 players (21% chance for an undefeated)
14-1 3 or 4 players (3.2 on average)
13-2 22 or so players (22.5 on average)
12-3 72 or so players (71.9 on average)
So, the thresholds would be: Top 8 would have about 4 players out of 22 who are 13-2, top 16 will be 13-2 or better (with about 10 out of 22 of them missing), top 32 will have about the top 5 12-3 players, some of the 12-3s will make nothing, and if you have a fourth non-win you can drop. So far, so good. It'll be slightly harsher than that due to the "paired down" clause, where somehow the player with the better record who is playing for a much bigger reward tends to win the match most of the time. Funny how that happens.

Round 15 includes the usual end-of-tournament draws. If no one has drawn, the round will start with 6-7 players at 14-1 or better given this turnout and bye level, so if they can draw they will do so, leaving only 1-2 slots for the 13-2 players, so for most players 13-2 will mean no top 8 and they'll know it well in advance; this includes anyone making day 2 with two losses, who likely isn't even live for top 16.

If you're not qualified, there's nothing to think about until after Round 13: Play to win. In Round 14, if you have exactly one loss, and you can draw now but likely can't draw next round, you'll have to choose between 25% chance of top 8 and 50% chance of missing but qualifying, against 50% chance of top 8 but 0% chance of missing and qualifying. Is a GP top 8 twice as good as qualifying? I think it is, but I do not think it is obvious. In every other case, there's nothing to think about, and in Round 15 the only time you can draw is if you'll be 13-1-1, since you need to go 13-2 to qualify and 11-3-1 gets you nothing.

If you're qualified and don't care about going 13-2, however, things are more interesting; keep in mind that this group will be small. Your goal is 13-1-1, not 13-2, so the first draw is a win. Going 12-2-1 also isn't so bad: You get top 32. Yes, 11-3-1 is still terrible, but top 64 is a very small prize with only the top 5 GPs counting for PT Point status, so it matters very little (and 12-3 was often going home with nothing anyway). In addition, if there are still matches left in your pod, if you draw then there's a 50% chance each round you'll be paired down! This means playing against a worse deck than if you'd won, and on top of that you get scoop equity depending on the situation. You won't be able to get anyone with only 2 losses to fall on their swords due to the qualification slot, unless they are qualified, but those with 3 losses or that already have a slot (and know they can't make it to top 8 anyway) should be far more pliable if it comes to that.

This raises the question: If you can take a draw in Round 11 at 9-1, and you're qualified, do you take it? It allows you to 5-0 into a probable top 8, or 4-1 into top 32. If you play and lose, you're out, and if you win you still need to go 4-0-1... and depending on the pairings, there's a decent chance that you never get that draw. Maybe it would be better to take it now. To know, you'll need to watch the number of players very closely. This projection puts 384 players into day 2; if there are much more than that, 13-1-1 from behind is no longer safe (it's still not completely safe anyway, because of unintentional draws combined with pair-downs, plus variance, and other people pondering what you're pondering) whereas if there's less, it's a safe play but 13-2 starts to get more likely (although coming from behind there is still not going to happen). The closer you get to the end, the better your information will be, and the less chances you'll have to get an ID and the less chance you pick up a real draw later, which would be a disaster once you already have one.

And of course, if you can't benefit from going 13-2, and you can ID in the last round to 12-2-1, that will get you top 32 whereas 13-2 will be somewhere between 7th and 26th, so there's a good chance you can't get to 16th anyway and there's no reason not to draw, provided you can find a willing partner for it. If your breakers are bad enough that 12-3 is likely to miss entirely, it's an easy choice, and the moment you pick up a second loss, you should start looking for an ID since it's basically a free win for you.

Most important, of course, is to enjoy being at the biggest tournament of all time, with the best set ever and in Vegas, baby, Vegas. It pains me that I won't be there.

...because they lead to hearing loss

This weekend my friend Seth Burn and I went on a road trip to Baltimore to attend their wild card round playoff game hosting the Indianapolis Colts. It had been about 8 years since my only other time at an NFL game in Denver, at which we sat way up high, none of those in our group cared much about the Broncos even though we lived in the area, and I didn't even know what the point spread was. This time, we were down in the second row among the hardcore fans with season tickets and it was the playoffs. It was quite the experience.

There were three big takeaways from the game: The noise, the comradery and being able to actually see the field up close.

The noise was, I was told afterwards, about average for an NFL game. This is not a quiet level. It is, in fact, a level I am confident would cause season ticket holders hearing loss. Part of that is that it's fun for people to make a lot of noise; for the most part I stayed quiet except for joining some righteous chants of "BULLSHIT!" and by the end of the game had a headache of fully known origins.

The comradery was awesome. The entire stadium was a sea of purple, with tiny spots of blue. Everyone in the area knew each other and had the same seats as always; we were the interlopers who didn't belong, but once they knew we were on their side, it wasn't a problem. There was huge crowd pressure to get in the game as much as possible, and even new superstitions created. The woman on our left observed that us sitting down correlated with the Ravens offense working properly, so she called on all of us to sit down from there on in when the Ravens were on offense. I hope that one only lasted for the one game, but who knows? There were many celebrations, and late there were many of those previously mentioned righteous chants of "BULLSHIT!" against the referees, who the crowd turns on fast. To be fair, there was a taunting penalty, which is more or less the definition of a dumb call.

Actually seeing the field was a refreshing change, although the angle did mean that while some things were easy to see up close with high bandwidth, other things were at bad angles so when the teams went to the other side of the field I more or less reverted to watching the JumboTron. What I did notice, early in the first quarter, was that the Colts were not disguising their offensive plays. At all. Whenever you line up for a play, you're balancing having people in the right places for what you intend to do with the need to line up people in other places so the defense is kept guessing and has to defend against things you do not intend to do, and devotes less resources where it counts. The Colts were unwilling to do any of this. If you looked at the field up close, it was obvious in a way that it's not clear on TV that there was no real way for the Colts, on most plays, to do anything except the thing they ended up doing. Sure, they'd toss one guy off to the side - sometimes, but far from always! - but the formation was obviously throwing to a pair or trio of guys in one place, when it was throwing. When it was passing, they'd line up the receivers close enough to the rest of the line that they could function as linesman, but only in one direction, while on passing plays they got separation so they could get open.

I don't know if this played a large part in the Ravens victory, but it would not surprise me in the slightest if it did. There were some obvious (and a small number of creative) things yelled at Colts QB Andrew Luck, only some of which were obscene (hey it rhymed!) but no one seemed to notice him putting his cards face up on the table.

In terms of the experience, the biggest problem was definitely the noise level. Alas, there isn't any way to do anything about it. Defenses want lots of noise, so it's necessary for the fans to supply that noise, because fans care about winning and the whole experience is about going to the stadium and being part of the team largely by creating noise and getting mad at the refs whenever they don't cooperate. We must protect this house! The fans, if anything, have trouble obeying the signs that say "Quiet please, offense at work." There are multiple homes of "The twelfth man" because fans like to think they're louder than other fans. And no, ear plugs would not be something you'd want to be caught using. Thus, the experience is what it is, and I think that once every few years is about right for me.

...because of a race for social points

Yesterday, I found a chart about US health care costs that claimed to show that our outrageously high costs don't kick in until age 50 or so, at which point we steadily go crazy at an increasing rate, with no jump at 65; I'm not resharing it here because doubts have been raised since then about the data involved. I showed it to Laura, as relevant to discussions we were having.

What she did then, of course, was to share it on Facebook.

I don't use Facebook except for viewing events and sharing contact information. It's toxic. It eats your life and gives little in return. However, it forces others to follow, which in turns forces others to follow. This is how everyday villains ruin lives. You see, because Facebook is what everyone looks at, because they're addicted and because it's what everyone else looks at, it means that whoever posts to Facebook is the person who found the new hotness. This results in the person scoring Social Points. This, in turn, means that if there is something that has yet to be shared to Facebook, if you tell anyone in any other form, all they will do is go ahead and post it to Facebook. Since that's what's going to happen anyway, if you want the credit, you have to post it there first, which reinforces the problem. The same thing happened with the issue of the letter grades on NYC restaurants; a day later I'm seeing people sharing it on Facebook. The evil genius is that if I share on Facebook first, then they share my link, which means I still get originator credit, whereas if I link here then I don't get the credit.

This, of course, means that all anyone ends up caring about is what the original person wrote because people reshare the link obliterating the discussion and what discussions do exist are in unthreaded unwieldy messes where everyone goes around worrying about how many people will "like" their comment and then going back to check on that and thus wasting their lives even more than usual.

Thus the norms are reinforced, and things get progressively worse and instead of creating nice things we're all posting links to Facebook to fight for social points and status, because if we don't do it than someone else will do it first and the whole point of life after all is to have us all go around liking things because no one should ever say anything negative about anything or anyone ever because that wouldn't score people any social points and even might make someone momentarily feel bad. And That's Terrible.

...because they're not "safe" and therefore illegal

That's right, a B-grade is a sign of a quality restaurant. I knew it. I freaking knew it.

Score one for my naive empiricism. Anecdotal evidence wins!

I'd noticed some curious B-Grade ratings. It started with Billy's Bakery and RUB (Righteous Urban Barbecue) which are two of my favorite places to eat. It didn't make sense that two of the places I loved most were being given B grades, especially when I couldn't find any places I didn't like that had that rating. I kept a close eye on that, and kept noticing that the places with such ratings seemed to be above average on every other metric, and never once did they appear to have any actual health issues.

It's old news to most of you by now, I'm sure, but now we know why. The next time someone uses this as a good example of government intervention, they need to look elsewhere.

The flip side to that is that I've seen a few C or worse grades, and universally I understand where those are coming from without even having to go inside; I did once out of curiosity, and am curious no longer. This is likely due to a signaling equilibrium. If you get a B rating, it could be a slip on something trivial, or it could be you actually fighting to offer quality food instead of freezing and zapping everything into oblivion. If you get a C rating, it often enough because you're not running a clean kitchen that nice places will do whatever it takes to avoid getting a C, which makes a C a very bad sign, thus forcing a lot of freezing and zapping into oblivion, and/or additional costs that are passed along.

And of course, the one time I saw a notice that the place had failed and was being closed, it was a Domino's Pizza, so that's an example of good government intervention. Alas, like all good things, it came to an end, and they were allowed to reopen. Bastards.

...because we don't plan for them in advance

I spend the bulk of my time in my apartment. I love this place. When I last set out to move, I knew what I wanted:

I wanted a desk outfitted with my giant monitor setup in the bedroom, room for a carefully selected queen size bed, and a television that could be seen from both locations, so I could watch it at my desk or lying in bed. Only later did I realize how important it was that I be able to see the monitors from the bed as well; the current setup is good at this, but not great.

I wanted the living room to serve a few different purposes. The television had to be centrally accessible, across from the best couch I could find. The area had to be able to function as a hosting location for Magic drafts. Finally and perhaps most importantly, I wanted the place to work well for dates, and potentially work for two people at some point in the future.

And of course this was New York City, so the place had to work with a minimum of space.

Overall the place did an excellent job, but times have changed and in a few months I'll be moving again, although staying in NYC. The new design will have many of the same requirements, but also new ones as well as a lot of lessons learned. It'll need to be a place for two people from the start, the other person in question bringing the desire for a lot of stuff, and room for additional new people. That's by far the biggest change. But some other requirements/lessons:

1. It's very important that all desks and other places people sit face towards the center of the room. It is horrible to spend time facing a wall, and it cuts you off from anyone else. The extra space is worth it. Speaking of desks, the new place will need two.
2. Keep the things you want on your mind visible, other things invisible. The games closet shouldn't be hidden.
3. The main table needs to be big enough for three on each side; even though in theory you can play the third match somewhere else, this is kind of terrible. This time there should be room for that.
4. Not having bookshelves was a noble goal but it didn't play well with others, and won't play well with the need to surround children with the right books. Planning for these will be necessary.
5. Wires are far more unsightly and annoying than you'd think. One must plan ahead for these from the beginning.
6. Take care of the blinds right away, and make sure you can actually make the room outright dark.
7. One of the main goals of a main room is to fit as many people into a conversation or two as possible, and give them all places they can reasonably sit down.
8. Have recharging stations... everywhere.
9. Grand plans early, or they won't happen, such as the idea to have duplicate monitors in other rooms. If it's to be done right, it needs to be there at the start.
10. Things to check: Water pressure and available temperatures, available power (I've blown through some circuits), power outlet locations (see wire issue), A/C and heat, water filter (on refrigerator if possible), bath size, time to outside (plus general area of course), maid and laundry services, package handling.
Let's see, what else...