Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Honey Baked Ham arbitrage

I stood in line in the rain for 2.5 hours at 7 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving for a Honey Baked Ham.

I chit-chatted with the people around me in line. We saw someone who had arrived much earlier load her ham into her car. I pointed out that I could have made that person an offer, which elicited some chuckles.

But I failed as a true student of Coase by not realizing until afterwards the possibility that I could have bought four hams and sold three of them to people at the end of the line. Woof!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Infinite Jest vs. Technology

David Foster Wallace's magnus opus Infinite Jest is in many ways difficult for the sake of being difficult. It seems like a practical joke on the reader: 1,100 pages, 100 of which are small-point endnotes; jarring changes in writing style; non-linear narrative; dozens and dozens of characters; and jargon from myriad fields. One reader suggests to use three bookmarks or perhaps even tear the book in half for easier transport.

Reading has changed in subtle ways since the book's release in 1996, giving us new tools to eliminate some of the drudgery:

1) Newer Kindles can overlay the endnote right on top of the page you're reading, while older ones can seamlessly jump from endnote to main text in a tap
2) The Kindle can render the originally tiny endnote font into whatever size you'd like.
3) The Kindle can instantly define the tough words, though it can't help with the invented jargon or acronyms.
4) The web offers tons of guides. I have bookmarked chapter summaries, the chronology of Subsidized Time, and a list of characters. I can also Google random things I'm wondering about. It's easy to forget that not long ago, it was impossible to get this information instantly.

All of this has made Jest an easier task. Is that good or bad?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bases in Baseball

First base

This is the most important one. Outs are baseball's currency, so getting on first any way you can goes a long way toward your team's success (as Billy Beane's A's famously exploited). Reaching first base prolongs the inning, tires out the pitcher, potentially allows earlier runners to advance, and represents a potential run based on how the following batters fare.

However, the team still has a long way to go to cash in the runner, needing either a well-placed extra-base hit or two or more of a single, a walk, a stolen base, a passed ball, or a wild pitch. Additionally, the runner is in constant jeopardy of being part of a double play on a ground ball.

Second base

Second base is squarely in scoring position, where most singles will score the runner.

A team with a runner on second and no outs can attempt to play small ball: sacrificing most of their potential for the inning in exchange for a reasonable shot of scoring a single run. This is accomplished by bunting, hitting ground balls behind the runner, or hitting sacrifice flies.

The runner is no longer much of a threat to be doubled off, aside from force outs at third, line-drive outs, or base-running blunders.

Second base's position on the field affects many things: It's the closest base to the outfielders who are returning batted balls to the infield. It's the hardest base to advance to on a fly ball (runners usually err on the side of returning to first on fly balls). It's the easiest to steal, given that the catcher has to throw roughly 127 feet, as opposed to 90 feet to the corner bases.

Getting there via the steal is a nice bonus, but you need to convert some huge percentage to make stealing a good strategy (I've discussed this in the past); the incremental base benefits the team much less than the cost of potentially turning a runner into an out.

Third base

There's an old baseball adage saying "Never make the first or third out at third base." The marginal benefit of third base over second is the smallest of any advancement.

Under the first scenario, a runner staying at second with no outs can often be converted into a run using small ball (as discussed above).

Under the second scenario, there aren't enough incremental ways to score from third with two outs over ways you would have still scored from second. Balls in play that could advance runners simply end the inning instead. However, there are a few extra ways to score from third, such as passed balls, wild pitches, or even stealing home.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Is a Long, Smooth Commute Better Than a Short, Frustrating One?

When I lived in Virginia, I had a 6-mile, 30-minute commute down the two-lane Interstate 66, characterized by riding the brakes and inching along. Now in the Bay Area, when I'm not taking advantage of the techno-elite bus, my drive is 50 miles down Interstate 280. No matter when you leave, you can usually find enough space to go over the speed limit, so you're constantly making good progress. Still, since it's so far, it's about double my previous commute time. Yet I am finding myself less annoyed with the new one.

This recalls the peak-end rule discussed in Thinking, Fast and Slow. The intro from Wikipedia is spot on:

The Peak-End rule is a theory that describes how humans hedonically evaluate past experiences. This heuristic process leads people to judge an experience by its most intense point and its end, as opposed to the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. It occurs regardless of whether a ‘peak’ is pleasant or unpleasant, and regardless of the duration of the experience.

I know intellectually that an hour commuting is longer than half an hour, but the objective experience is much better. My new commute is not punctuated by any frustrating moments, unlike my life in congested Northern Virginia. If anything, it's kind of awesome to be driving 75-80 mph at 8 a.m. on a major freeway.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Parents are Martyrs

Single mothers raise babies all of the time. Billions upon billions of babies have been raised in conditions short of the cozy modern American household. Why do today's helicopter parents say things like "I haven't slept in 2 years" or "taking care of the baby is another full-time job when I get home from work"? The simple math is that there are two of you and one of the baby.

Why don't parents work as a team more? It seems like you'd be more well-adjusted and sane if you covered for each other a night or two each week: if I still had time for the occasional pickup basketball game or bike ride, and my wife still had time for shopping with her mom or dinner with a friend. Surely one person could handle the baby for a few hours, right? Especially if the baby is in daycare most of the day anyways.

Or maybe people just dig the extreme sport of parenting, one-upping each other with stories of sacrifice and endurance.

This is the perspective of a childless person, so I reserve the right to change my opinion at a future date.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tell Me Again How Biased We Are

I've just started reading The Information Diet, which compares how we consume information to how we eat. Just as people are growing more obese while loading up on cheap, calorie-filled snacks, we prefer to consume information that we deem more tasty: the type that conforms with our previously held beliefs. Fox News and MSNBC dominate the ratings by appealing to the respective right and left of the political spectrum, while the more unbiased CNN drags behind.

Of course, the thought occurred to me that I would like this book, given how much I think about how arbitrary decision making is and how terrible humans are at looking at things objectively. I don't often seek out books talking about how rational we are.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Coin Appears to Be Headed toward Failure

Remember Coin? They caused a stir last year with a video about how their device could replace all of your wallet's credit cards. You could bring the George Costanza wallet into the digital age.

Reading over the FAQ section, either the company is running out of money or has a fundamentally flawed understanding of how customers behave. Companies that can appease customers' risk aversion can go far; look at how reassuring Zappos's return policy is.

I've launched a pretend conversation below.

FAQ section: How much does a Coin cost? Each Coin costs $100. For you early adopters there is a very limited quantity that can be purchased for $50.

Risk-averse consumer: I have the choice of buying now and getting an as-yet unfinished product at an unknown time, or waiting and feeling a loss of paying nearly double.

FAQ: How many cards can a Coin hold? A. The Coin mobile app can store an unlimited number of cards, however, a Coin can hold up to 8 cards at a time.

RAC: I'm probably one of the 90+% of people who can get by with only eight cards, but this limit is freaking me out! I hate this just like how I hate cellphone companies limit my monthly data usage, and how I worried about my download limit with my cable provider until they caved.

FAQ: Why do I have to buy a new Coin when my battery runs out? A. Coin is the size of a typical credit card and we were not able to fit a replaceable battery nor recharging components into this form factor. Coin is an electronic device, not a plastic card. We must charge for each device to cover the costs of research and development, manufacturing, and support.

RAC: This is another thing for me to stress about. Why won't you let me charge it? How can I believe your claims about the typical battery life? What if it runs out at an inopportune time (after all, I will have left all of my other cards at home and have no way to settle my bill)? Can't this come with some sort of warranty? I would feel terrible about buying something that I already bought.

FAQ: How do I get help or support? A. Please email us at We currently only offer email support. Our support hours are 8 am-5 pm PT Monday-Friday.

RAC: That sounds vaguely uninspiring.