Scoop Me Out of the Bargain Bin

If you're on a shoestring budget, look for factory rejects
You get the greatest models, just with one or two defects
Take me, I'm bright, hard-working, and will stick for the ride
Though with emotional stability six sigmas to the side, wo-o-oah

Scoop me out of the bargain bin and let me at the world
Scoop me out of the bargain bin and I will be your go-to girl
It's real, I'm such a steal, going for half the normal price
Scoop me up, I'm a bargain for such high-class merchandise

If You Had to Choose

"I just want a guy who's kind, and smart, and handsome, and truly understands the depths of my very soul," she said. "Is that too much to ask?"

"Yes. Pick two," said her older and wiser friend, who had studied the question. "And not the truly-understands-the-depths-of-your-very-soul one."

Missing Refutations

It looks like the opposing all-human team is winning the exhibition game of me and my it's-not-chess engine (as White) versus everyone in the office who (unlike me) actually knows something about chess (as Black). I mean, naïvely, my team is up a bishop right now, but our king is pretty exposed, and the principal variation that generated one of our recent moves (16. Bxb4 Bf5 17. Kd1 Qxd4+ 18. Kc1 Ng3 19. Qxc7 Nxh1) looks dreadful.

Real chess aficionados (chessters? chessies?) will laugh at me, but it actually took me a while to understand why Ng3 was in that principal variation (I might even have invoked the engine again to help). The position after Ng3 looks like

    a b c d e f g h
 8 ♜       ♜   ♚   
 7 ♟ ♟ ♟     ♟ ♟ ♟ 
 5           ♝     
 4   ♗   ♛         
 3 ♙           ♞   
 2   ♙ ♕     ♙ ♙ ♙ 
 1 ♖ ♘ ♔     ♗   ♖ 

and—forgive me—I didn't understand why that wasn't refuted by fxg3 or hxg3; in my novice's utter blindness, I somehow failed to see the discovered attack on the white queen, the necessity of evading which allows the black knight to capture the white rook, and preparation for which was clearly the purpose of 16. ..Bf5 (insofar as we—anthropomorphically?—attribute purpose to a sequence of moves discovered by a minimax search algorithm which doesn't represent concepts like discovered attack anywhere).

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(just some quick notes, hopefully in the spirit of delightfully quirky symmetry-breaking)

In her little 2010 book The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture, Evelyn Fox Keller examines some of the eternal conceptual confusions surrounding the perennially popular nature/nurture question. Like, it's both, and everyone knows it's both, so why can't the discourse move on to more interesting and well-specified questions? That the oppositional form of the question isn't well-specified can be easily seen just from simple thought experiments. One such from the book: if one person has PKU, a high-phenylalanine diet, and a low IQ, and another person doesn't have PKU, eats a low-phenylalanine diet, and has a normal IQ, we can't attribute the IQ difference to either diet or genetics alone; the question dissolves once you understand the causal mechanism. Keller argues that the very idea of distinguishing heredity and environment as distinct, separable, exclusive alternatives whose relative contributions can be compared is a historically recent one that we can probably blame on Francis Galton.

The "Bay Area" was ostensibly hosting the big game this year. They blocked off a big swath around the Embarcadero this last week to put on Super Bowl City, "a free-to-the-public fan village [...] with activities, concerts, and more." I really don't see how much sense this makes, given that the actual game was 45 miles away in Santa Clara, just as I don't think we (can I still say we if I only work in the city?) really have a football team anymore; I like to imagine someone just forgot to rename them the Santa Clara 49ers. Even you don't think Santa Clara is big enough to be a real city—and it's bigger than Green Bay—then why not San Jose, which is a lot closer? I think I would forgive it if the marketers had at least taken advantage of the golden (sic) opportunity to flaunt the single-"digit" Roman numeral L (so graceful! so succinct!), but for some dumb reason they went Arabic this year and called it Super Bowl 50. Anyway, on a whim, I toured through Super Bowl City after work on Friday. It was as boring as it was packed, and it was packed. I wasn't sure if my whimsy was worth waiting in the throng of people to get in the obvious entrance on Market Street (the metal-detection security theater really took its toll on throughput), but I happened to hear a docent shouting that there was a less-crowded entrance if you went around and took a left each on Beale and Mission, so I did that. There were attractions, I guess?—if you could call them that. There were rooms with corporate exhibits, and an enormous line to try some be-the-quarterback VR game, and loud recorded music, and a stage with live music, and an empty stage where TV broadcasts would presumably be filmed later. There was a big statue of a football made out of cut-up beer cans near one of the stands where they were selling beer for $8, which sounded really expensive to me, although admittedly I don't have much of a sense for how much beer normally costs. In summary, I didn't see the appeal of the "fan village," although I do understand what it feels like to be enthusiastic about the game itself—I really do, even if I haven't been paying much attention in recent years.

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"I Have the Honor to Be Your Obedient Servant"

A friend of the blog recently told me that I'm meaner in meatspace (what some prefer to call by the bizarre misnomer "real life") than you would guess from my online persona. I'm not proud to have prompted this observation, but I didn't deny it, either. And yet—insofar as one has any reflectively-endorsed non-nice social impulses (to create incentives for good behavior, or perhaps from an ungentle although-sadistic-would-be-far-too-strong-of-a-word æsthetic that appreciates a world in which people don't always get everything they want), it does seem like the correct strategy: in meatspace, you can react to verbal and nonverbal cues in real time and try to smooth things over if you go too far, whereas in the blogosphere, it's possible to die in a harrowing thermonuclear flamewar and not even know until you check your messages the next day. We must use diplomacy where we cannot wield our weapons so precisely.

Quotations IV

MISTY: You know, I usually burn incense when I meditate, but the smell of a burning city can be just as relaxing.
JENNY: People are in danger! Why don't you do something?!
MISTY: They stiffed me.
JENNY: What?
MISTY: Your town. Tremorton. They wouldn't cough up the cash for services rendered.
JENNY: I have no idea what you're talking about.
MISTY: I'm a hero for hire. I save people for money. You knew that.
JENNY: And if they don't pay up, you just let them get pummeled?
MISTY: Pretty much. I have to eat, don't I?
(JENNY flies away, disgusted)
MISTY: I'm not living with my mom, like some people!

My Life as a Teenage Robot, "Mist Opportunities"

A second way of interpreting the effort level eMIN is to consider that the principal and the agent do not have completely conflicting objectives. It is possible that the agent gets some utility from his work, but only up to a certain effort level. We assume that the level that the agent is willing to spontaneously offer is eMIN. The agency problem turns up in this case since the principal would like the agent to offer an effort greater than his spontaneous level.

—Inés Macho-Stadler and J. Davis Pérez-Castrillo, An Introduction to the Economics of Information

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