Thursday, November 24, 2011


Here is the extensive form of the game just played between Saif Gaddafi and the tribesman desert guide hired to drive him across the border to freedom in Niger.

This newspiece confirms that the players do not need to have studied game theory for the theory to apply. Betrayal, as the subgame perfect equilibrium, was the obvious outcome. Or in his own words:
"Tribesman Yussef Saleh al-Hotmani yesterday claimed he forsook a million euros to betray Saif. He says he was offered the cash to guide a ‘VIP’ across the remote border into Niger.

Guessing who his secret client was, and fearing he would be shot rather than paid, he led Saif straight to the Zintan Brigade."

The plans of both players were kind of confirmed when only 5.000 Euros were found in the vehicle...

Sadly Saif himself defined the structure of this game, where the more Euros he offered the stronger the case was for betrayal. So much for the Ph.D. he got from the London School of Economics...

To be fair, Saif's degree was presumably obtained in exchange for a 1.5 Milion Pound donation to LSE, so he may have not attended Game Theory 101. I have not drawn the extended form game that LSE is playing in conferring bogus degrees to affluent ruling families, but at least LSE charged more than a tribal desert guide, and got the money in advance.

We can think about alternate payoffs he could have created instead of the failed game, or step back and realize that the game is not over. The captors have not turned the LSE doctor in, they are demanding a government role in exchange. I am not smart enough to predict the outcome of this game, but somehow I can visualize a Libyan rebel wearing an LSE toga in five years tops.

Friday, October 21, 2011

In The Zone

Obsessing about ancient travel vs. jet age travel possibly started on a trip to Greece we took. The thought that being at the destination matters, but also how one gets there. Travel logistics were surely a big deal in the past. In addition the journey duration say between Athens and Jerusalem, gave the mind plenty of time to get ready for the destination. And plenty of time to disconnect.

Now the speed of travel surpasses the speed of thought. My flight was so short that the body arrived in Athens with the mind still in Tel Aviv. Faster minds would help deal with faster travel and faster lifestyles. If the speed of thought could somehow accelerate.

For an intuition about faster minds think vending machines.  Gravity has not changed, yet it feels like the time between pressing a key and an item falling out has only slowed down with time.  One explanation is thought has accelerated. At least impatience type thought.

Useful thought is not just a short fuse. If we can disconnect, analyze and reach conclusions faster that would be useful. Faster motor skills control is useful for sports, where I claim the state of being "in the zone" is nothing else than our mind accelerating so the actual physical world appears to move slower, and we beat adversaries who seem to plan and react in slow motion.

Psychological theories seem to call this "Flow", and it is indeed described as capable of distorting the internal sense of time.  This research says we can only attend to a disappointingly low amount of information, about 126 bits per second. We may be better than computers for some stuff but we are slower than really old modems. 

Putting this all together we sketch one future where we match the real world pace with an ability to get deliberately and often in the zone. I read there is no prescriptive method for getting in the zone, or even worse, the approaches of spiritual meditation, workspace arrangements, video games, and web surfing, seems at loggerheads with each other.

It seems easier to get to the future than to get in the zone, and judging by the time it took me to write this post, the zone can be as far away from me as Athens, by foot.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Fate aside, in the noisy confusion of our lives we all are sensitive to "initial conditions". Small things can radically alter the course of events. We meet people by chance, we get in or out of danger through minor delays in our routine. In the most comedic examples agents like Inspector Clouseau or Maxwell Smart rely on exquisite "accidental good luck" to survive and thrive.

From Kaos agents to the broad Chaos Theory: the study of systems that can be unpredictable as small differences yield diverging outcomes, even for deterministic systems. The most popular visualization of the sensitivity of an outcome to initial conditions is The Butterfly Effect, by Edward Lorenz from his 1972 paper Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?

Kaos East European lineage invites a neat case of Chaos in world affairs:
The Soviet Coup d'Etat attempt in 1991, whose failure arguably led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. We remember how the conspirators confined Gorbachev to his dacha in the Crimea while the KGB cut his communications lines, and the images of Yeltsin climbing on one of the tanks guarding Moscow's White House to address the crowd. Yeltsin's role against the coup, and in particular the failure to arrest him proved decisive to the outcome.

The conspirators allegedly awaited for Yeltsin's return from Kazakhstan to demand he join the coup against Gorbachev. Yeltsin would be arrested if he declined, and the coup would just proceed without him.

Yet a chronicle just aired on NPR says that Yeltsin neither accepted nor declined. The conspirators didn't plan for an excluded middle. Yeltsin landed so drunk that the conspirators were not able to wake him up. He sobered up the following day, but by then Yeltsin was surrounded by his advisors and had caught up with their intentions.

Little does it matter if our lives or tomorrow's weather are ruled by chaos. But when a glass of Vodka in Kazakhstan affects the fate of the Soviet empire, that is Kaos.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cor Angle

The English invented many of the sports we play, including Football FIFA. Gratitude aside, filling the idle time of their imperial class might be why they did it, or they had to invent new sports as other nations beat them at the prior sports, as my British teammates say.

But the English did not invent the English Horn; my performer and composer friend Ruben argues that a poor translation of Cor Angle (french for "Angled Horn") morphed into Cor Anglais.

In any case today's English Horn is a close relative of the Oboe, so while other folks were still doing their summer soccer camps Ben went to an English Horn Seminar in Hidden Valley.

Listening to Ben play is remarkable as I can barely play a vuvuzela, it is also remarkable that we started guitar with Ruben under the same teacher and Ruben is now world class and I can barely play a vuvuzela.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Simple Experiment

People quit smoking but do not give up cell phones. They are more addictive than nicotine, period. Scientists once focused on tobacco smoke impact have now graduated to electromagnetic radiation research. Most studies suggest no harm, but some large ones are essentially retrospective studies comparing the habits of control groups vs. brain tumor groups. Somehow decade long recollections of folks with brain tumors may be a shaky foundation to build on.

I say a simple way of settling the issue is a massive experiment where all cell phone users use the phone on the same side of the head. The answer will pop out by just looking at tumor location distribution in the future. A cognitive study correlated radiation exposure to one side of the head with longer average response times for the corresponding (i.e. opposite) hand than exposure on the other side. I have no bias for what the answer is, but I like such differential measurements more than interviews.

The massive experiment can be differential: in some countries people will use the phone on the right and in others on the left side of the head, according to the driving convention, for example. Countries with right side of the road driving will use the phone on the left side and keep the right hand free for shifting gears.

Agreement to do anything is hard. We have advertising, market forces, and coercion. None of these forces is welcome. Forget about people, let the phones run this experiment. What we need next is phones smart enough to only work on one side of our head.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Secret Weapon

The soccer withdrawal symptoms left by the end of the 2010 World Cup should be alleviated when the Copa America begins next month in Argentina . We may get some high level competition or just placebo. Who knows.

Rumor has it the best placed South American team in South Africa 2010 has an ace up their sleeves. A mistery player training in Norcal, away from the prying eyes of rivals. Car prototypes are coarsely camouflaged for road tests. Players are coarsely disguised with confusing number schemes, and roam across positions for extra deception.

Facts we can glean are: 200 lbs. mass, and a clenched fist in the old tradition. Redefines balance as the ratio between goals and red cards obtained.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


The Rosie the Riveter poster turned out to be a factory recruiting tool not a war effort morale booster prop. J. Howard Miller drew it from a photo of a worker, a lady that had lasted just two weeks at the factory. A more muscular arm replaced hers. And for decades she was oblivious to her WWII icon role.

"We Can Do it" turned out to be the only non-fictional part of the poster. But in this crazy world of ours we cannot hold such fiction against Rosie the Riveter. The difference between fact and fiction is that fiction must be believable, per Mark Twain, that and whether "we can really do it" is all that matters.

At the World Trade Center Plaza I used to lie face up with Gabe, a baby, on top. To look up at the towers and the sky in dizzying admiration. I visited Ground Zero and read the notes left by visitors, I saw with dizzying admiration how none was written in anger.

I saw hectic work on rebuilding the site when I visited two months ago. I envision five smallish buildings in a ring to mimic small redwood trees growing around the big mother tree after lightning struck her. But nobody asks me what to build where...

A stranger was doing high fives today at the gas station. His old beat up pickup truck radio at full blast with the news. I should have taken his picture. Then draw a poster of Robert the Pickup Trucker on his "We can do it" moment. We can do what? Revenge or Rebuild? That is up to him, and to the reader.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Today Ben's Oboe does the talking.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pyramids are forever

Balancing the effort put into catching fish vs. teaching to fish is not as clear cut for us parents as the proverb portends:

“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”...

No wonder there is no known author to stand behind it, and that improved proverb versions have surfaced on the internet.

Fish makes good dishes but bad metaphors. The short shelf life makes fish hard to accumulate, and harder to pass across generations. If we consider “Give a man gold" vs. "Teach a man to mine gold" is less clear which option is better or has higher NPV. But the transfer problem is the main concern, teaching your son to fish or to mine gold are not automatically transitive to his son, and his son's son.

What lasts and has lasting value to benefit subsequent generations. Transferable yet not liquidated by bad actors along the way. An abstract answer forms in my head, and a concrete example comes from Egypt.

Egyptians built back then a few pyramids. Solid pyramids that last, too large to be carted away by corrupt heirs. Posterity they wanted, posterity they got. People flock to visit such unique things that Egypt's tourism industry is the second economic sector with more than $10B/year.

My own answer puts me barely at square one, with at least two other moves to come up:
2) Identify a rare and striking creation that lasts the next 3000 years.
Build it.

Forgive my tossing around some blogs and some fish while I work on such a tall order. I try to serve them fresh.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Honolulu Mothball

Doing things on impulse is a form of freedom. Call it poor planning, yet there is something liberating about having no plan. Deciding on Friday to play the Mayors Soccer Tournament and catching the next Honolulu flight leaving four hours later. Of course there is no absolute freedom, Graciela OK'ed my plan first.

The fields are next to Pearl Harbor's Middle Loch, yes the Pearl Harbor where the real freedom fight began 70 years ago. On the way there somebody said the military ships floating in the Middle Loch are mothballed there in case they need to be commissioned for another battle another day.

A fine third place to push away any plans to mothball our team. A rare opportunity to borrow from Mac Arthur's speech "We came through and we shall return" in the Pacific Theatre itself.