Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thinking out of the box

This expression describes creative thinking, something more then usual. Yet, it is basically an euphemism for just "thinking". We basically call "not thinking" "thinking" and "thinking" is called "thinking out of the box". Sure, nobody wants to hear that s/he is not thinking, even though s/he is not. The usual "thinking" is simply applying traditional (ie. old), well-know methods to solve a problem, that is basically not thinking. Maybe the time when computers will be able to "think" is not far away. The only value of people will then be in "thinking out of the box". It's a pity that it hurts so much, isn't it?

Writers on strike

Writers are on strike. For the first time since 1988 and it looks like it will last. The strike has immediate impact on daily shows, which are based on recent news (like Colbert report. If the strike goes on for long time, it will impact also weekly show, who have some, but rather small, reserves.
The strike is, in some sense, the usual one. Employees of a firm take customers as a hostage in negotiations with the firm for higher pay and what not. But it may also teach the consumers something. It shows that the actors, who are usually VERY well paid are not the important guys. Yes, somebody has to play the roles, but that is similar to the fact that somebody has to write to tell them what to play. And yet the former receive huge wages, occupy front pages of magazines and bother us with their life stories.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Prediction markets?

Prediction markets are a hot topic among economist (good choice, Katka).From "what is it?" to "everybody knows it works" in a couple of years is impressive. The latest prediction market is Predictify and you can, of course, try for free how good you are in predicting things. It's a cool idea, but there are couple of reason why I think (predict;-) it fail.
First, predicting is free. The only thing you actually risk is your reputation, which is not much. Of course, there is a liquidity problem (you need to attract a lot of people, hopefully plenty of those who have an idea what they are actually answering), so this is probably necessary and it is not the main problem.
Other problem is the lack of interesting questions. After a couple of weeks from the take-off, the trivial ones (who will be the next president of the USA) were already asked and often are buried deep in the "trash" of question like "What will be Rotten Tomato Scores of movie X", where X goes through all premiers plan for this fall. Since it is hard to distinguish good (=interesting) and bad (boring) questions, and since there is much more of the latter ones, the relevant question are unlikely to get large audience. It does not help much that by asking (for free) questions you get points for your reputation. It is good for attracting new questions, bad for attracting good ones.
Also, the number of people who can answer is limited to 100 for free question and there is a fixed price for answer in paid questions ($1 per answer). Regardless where these fees end up, you have a bunch of people who play a lottery with your money. They get the tickets for free and these tickets cost YOU dollar a piece.
I don't know what is the best way to fix these problems (or if there is any), so I'm not suggesting any. It is certainly a nice attempt, unfortunately I cannot believe that it will be successful.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


The US is the country of discrimination. No, I'm not talking about racial discrimination - I haven't seen any, so I can't really tell. I mean price discrimination.
First, it is everywhere. And it is huge. And it has many levels.
It starts with "club cards". Many shops offer (excessively) high prices, but reduce them significantly for members of their "club". It is usually free and requires your address etc.Even with this card, some discounts apply only if you buy larger quantities (but not always, even when you see 4 for $4 you pay $1 for 1, regardless how much you buy).
Then, there are coupons. There is plenty of them. The discount differs based on how difficult it is to get them. The easiest are available at the stand with the particular food - you just take it. Others come in the mail or with Sunday newspapers. Some of those can be copied or doubled, but those really valuable cannot. Some even impose minimal purchase.
Also, there are hidden offers. Starbucks has "short" coffee that you cannot find on their menu, but you can ask for it. It contains less water but the same amount of coffee as the "tall", but is cheaper. Similarly, Amazon has offer that are almost impossible to find - sometimes offered by other sellers on Amazon marketplace.
There are also mail-in-rebates, which take long time to get the discount, but sometimes it is significant.
Last, but not least, there are various time-limited offers, offering various discounts. One of the most famous is, the type one day, one offer, where they sell limited quantities for really discounted prices. Except you do not know what they will sell tomorrow and how fast it will be gone.
This is an example of a developed market. There are very rich customers around here, who simply do not care and thus pay high price and poor ones who do. Price discrimination allows one shop to serve both and make nice profit on both.

Tmou - Prahory

As a founding member of the "legendary" team Prahory, I'm happy to see that they finally managed to win also legendary Tmou . I could not play with them this year (and maybe that's why they won), but I'm still happy for them (us?). My dream right now is to win the next year (10th) with them.
Their victory and comments on the Tmou's forum made me wonder how different is an experience of players in team like Prahory, basically always aiming for the victory or at least top 10 (5?) positions and "the rest" of the field, teams that quit in the middle, most of them never finished any game etc. One thing is clear - none of them is "better". Playing for fun makes sense as well as playing for victory.