Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dispute resolution in competitive gaming

In chess tournaments, all players, from tykes who have barely ceased to wear diapers, to seniors who have taken it up again, learn the protocol of quietly stopping the clock and seeking out a director. In bridge tournaments, where the median age is about sixty, an aggrieved player feebly calls out "director" at a volume slightly above the standard hushed table chatter, and helplessly waits for someone to show up. In Magic, the teenage pro screams "JUDGE!" and imperiously waits for his demand to be met. Poker players, generally aged twenty-one and up, tend to have the good fortune of having floor personnel nearby, and can call out for a director or floorman in a reasonable voice and it doesn't take long for disputes to be resolved.

Harbor no illusions, however, about poker players being sensible or having good manners; as a group, the way they play their cards and the decorum with which they address their tablemates should quickly quash any such notion. They produce significantly more cash flow for the hosts of their events than other gamers do, which inclines the staff to be more sensitive to their needs. In this regard, poker sits at an odd threshold between other kinds of gaming and other kinds of gambling. Poker brings casinos negligible profit compared to traditional casino games, but by comparison chess, bridge, and Magic tournaments as capitalistic ventures are a joke for tournament organizers, who tend to be motivated more by the love of the game and the service to their gaming community.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

on the life of a degenerate seeker of +EV

One particular idiot yesterday chastised me for smoothcalling a raise with pocket aces in a live single-table SNG at Hawaiian Gardens. "NEVER slowplay aces", he declared. He babbled some faulty analysis of the hand, then left the table, as he no longer had any chips. Then he wandered back to berate me some more, and I explained that I was not actually interested in receiving a poker lesson from him. He went on to say "Well, every pro agrees with me," a spectacular claim. Irritated, I told him that couldn't be true, since I did not. He said I must not be a pro because he had never heard of me, but at this point he was satisfied with his trolling, and departed for good. Aside from being an abject douchebag, he also betrayed an inherent lack of understanding of what the word "professional" means.

I play poker for a living. I am not famous. I am not rich. I simply show a net profit when I play poker and it is adequate to cover my living expenses. If I ask what your profession is, whether you answer law clerk, dental hygienist, options trader, or fry cook, would it not be most peculiar if I stated you must be lying about what you do for a living, since I had never heard of you?

I suspect that NO poker pro would categorically say that you must NEVER slowplay pocket aces, although naturally pros at all levels hold varying degrees of opinions on the frequency with which such a play should be employed. If someone is making a living at poker and holds such a belief, I'd really like to have access to the games he or she is playing in.

One of my favorite movies is the awkwardly titled "White Men Can't Jump". Awkward not because the title isn't catchy, but because it's not really about basketball, and it's not about some white/black culture clash. It's about the life of a marginally successful hustler, a guy who is perpetually a fish out of water in the environment in which he's chosen to immerse himself to make a living, and the impact the lack of security and his questionable decision-making skills have on his personal relationships. Like Billy Hoyle, my life is strange, free, exhilarating, heartbreaking and frustrating.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What rough beast slouches towards my apartment to be born?

Finally, after weeks of procrastination and excuses, I am going to attempt to assemble the strange behemoth of jumbled parts which claims, according to the box, to be a new vacuum cleaner.

Later edit: Many thanks go to my dear friend Jessica Bang, who, unfettered by the cumbersome and erroneous printed instructions, and unafraid to experiment, succeeded where I had failed, and defeated the monster's efforts to avoid being fitted together into a functioning appliance.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dawkins, Schweinshaxe, and Ann Patrick Green

So my lovely fiancee and I attended the Atheist Alliance International convention in Los Angeles this past weekend. We showed up around 5:30. We started the night with PZ Myers, whose talk was in a small room, which was a mistake on the part of the organizers. People were crammed in, standing in the aisles, and sitting on the floor. Then we watched a live stream of Bill Maher taping his show, then Dawkins and Maher showed up at the convention, and the former presented the latter with an award.

Laurence Krauss' talk, Saturday morning, was my favorite. It was mostly cosmology. I talked to Michael Shermer a bit. It was cool to see him there; as he identifies himself as agnostic, I didn't really think he would show up. I briefly met Laurence Krauss and Richard Dawkins. I'm sure they get buttonholed a hundred times a day each at these things, so, lacking anything earthshattering to say, I just greeted them and shook their hands. Dawkins asked a question after another scientist's talk, and I was impressed at his concise delivery and how he immediately returned to his seat when he finished speaking, so when I asked a question I did my best to emulate him. Dawkins' book signing had several hundred in line, so I passed, although I picked up a copy of his new book, which I am now working on.

Dennett talked about the silliness of theology and how seminary works. It was a fascinating and memorable talk. I briefly interrupted him while he was having lunch to tell him that I enjoyed Breaking the Spell. After his talk in the evening, I wanted to get a chance to talk to him, but I wasn't that interested in his current book, so I passed on the book signing.

Sunday morning, we missed Eugenie Scott to rush back to Orange County to see an incredibly disappointing piano recital by local teacher Ann Patrick Green at the Richard Nixon Library, then for some reason we had dinner at Jägerhaus in Anaheim. To summarize the weekend:

Dawkins and co. versus God: The atheists won, but it was hardly a fair fight, with the loser not actually existing, thereby unable to speak for himself.
Ann Patrick Green versus Chopin: APG lost.
Carol versus pork knuckles: this was a heroic battle; I think we can call it a draw.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

carcinogenic fumes, litter, and fire hazards

As I was leaving the campus yesterday, I saw a girl finish smoking her cigarette and drop the smoldering butt in front of the music building (smoking is expressly verboten on campus). In a flash of inspiration, I grabbed it and ran up behind her at the stoplight as she was talking on her cell phone. As I handed it back to her, I said with a smile, in a low-key friendly sort of way, "Hi, can you do me a favor? Take this with you, don't leave it on campus? Thanks." I didn't know what to expect, but she took it from me, I guess to avoid having to interact with me; she dropped it again as soon as my back was turned. Another guy was standing at the stoplight with us and thought it was pretty funny. I'm not sure what I got out of it, but I guess that when someone behaves in a way that is an appalling combination of stupid and inconsiderate, it's nice to be able to point it out to them without having to use those precise words. I guess it has a nonzero chance of altering their future behavior.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Laws and Sausages

A well-known chestnut is "People who like laws and sausages should probably not watch them being made." These two things are associated in another way: My German class on Monday is immediately followed by my political science class.


It's long been a puzzling phenomenon to teachers that the results of their informal polls which are conducted by show of hands do not add up to 100% of the students. And these aspiring pollsters sometimes comment on what they see as a logical absurdity, with quips such as "so I guess of the fifty of you, thirty were born inside the United States, ten were born outside the United States, and the other ten... were not born?" (Example made up.)

They're just lacking a good control question. Not everyone present has agreed to participate in a show of hands survey. Not everyone might be paying attention. I think that if you want to poll your audience this way, you're better off if you start with a test question: "Raise your hand if you're willing to participate in a show of hands survey."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

war of attrition

This morning I gave my apartment's resident feline, codename Evie, a flea bath. Invasion began abruptly with the shock and awe of fully immersing a cat in water. There were few casualties on either side during this phase; regardless, Evie remained much aggrieved by the strategy employed in her liberation from the tyrannical fleas.

After coalition forces' application of shampoo and the deaths of many hostiles, my first declaration of "I think that's the last one," aka, "Mission Accomplished," turned out to be premature. As the situation deteriorated, I think that if there had been any other cats nearby, whether they actually liked fleas or not, it would not have been difficult to recruit them into joining the fleas' cause in their war against me with an appeal to moral outrage over Evie's plight.

As we were able to avoid this complication, and despite the fact that the fleas had an unfair advantage in that they were all willing to fight to the death, and I believed that our efforts would be in vain unless we removed them all, the final results were:

flea deaths from poisoning by shampoo, drowning, or bisection with tweezers:
Approximately 30.
Significant scratches inflicted on humans: 2.
Wounded feline dignities, exacerbated by ensuing shivers: 1.

Overall, the fleas sustained the most casualties, but I don't think anyone really won.