Time Inconsistency in the Mating Game and Other Games

In the comments here the talk turned to the game that goes on between men and women who are potential mates. On the temptation to cheat, one commenter ironically asks,

“At once, she wants to defect, but also to provoke a forced cooperation?”

The answer is Sure, this can make sense. The game theory of such situations, in which a person benefits by limiting their own future behavior, is very well-established.

For example, consider a powerful monarch who can default on his debts without his creditors being able to do anything about it. Since potential creditors know this, no one is willing to lend to him in the first place. (This problem doesn’t always occur, but it does if people have sufficient reason to worry that he’ll default.) If the monarch could be submitted to a more powerful entity that could make him pay his debts back in the future – and if this were commonly known – then people would be willing to lend him money today.

Thus it is true that both

(1) the monarch in some sense wants to defect (default on his debts)
(2) the monarch in some sense wants to be forced to cooperate (pay his debts back).

This sort of situation is pervasive and much of human custom and law is devoted to dealing with it. Speaking of male/female mating games, it is the reason that in most societies, marital infidelity is illegal. It is the reason that people are disgusted by those who lie, break promises, welsh on bets, etc. Societies that enforce such norms do better in the long run than those without them. And think of credit markets in general, never mind the above monarch. If the law did not force borrowers to pay back their debts, imagine how difficult it would be to borrow money in the first place. In extreme scenarios, credit markets would disappear entirely.

Put “time inconsistency” commitment into a search engine.

“Time inconsistency” refers to the fact that people’s desires can be inconsistent across time. E.g., at the time that you’re trying to borrow money, you’d like to be forced to pay your future debts back, because knowing that makes lenders willing to lend to you right now. But later, after you’ve gotten your hands on the borrowed money, then (if you’re an amoral asshole) you’d like to be able to default on your debts. Thus we have mechanisms that enforce “commitment,” which in this example means the law commits you to paying back your debts.

In general, people often can benefit by being committed to a course of action in the future, whether it’s marital fidelity or paying your debts back, etc.

Funny Coincidence in Vinge’s True Names

Re-reading Vernor Vinge’s sci-fi novella True Names, written in 1980, I just came across an amusingly prescient passage. (Edited here for brevity.) The time is a few decades in the future, from 1980’s point of view. A member of a group of superhackers is trying to convince another member that some of the others have been trying to leverage their computer skillz to take power in the real world:

“You know what convinced Wiley that the Mailman could deliver on his promises? It was the revolution in Venezuela. It was to be the Mailman’s first demonstration that that controlling data and information services could be used to take permanent control of a state. And Venezuela, they claimed, was perfect: Its data-processing facilities are all just a bit obsolete, since they were bought when the country was at the peak of its boom time.”

First an oil boom in Venezuela, then revolution. Think about it, maaaaaaaaan. It all makes sense!

The Parsons Code: Now That’s Just Cool

You may have had the experience of trying to identify a beautiful piece of music whose title you don’t know. The Internet cannot help with this, since you can’t search for music when you don’t know the name. Or so I thought.

It turns out you can identify a piece of music online, using the Parsons Code, a simple up-down-repeat code for the structure of the melody. That is, you don’t have to know the notes; you simply punch in whether each note is higher, lower, or the same as the preceding note. If you enter a large enough number of notes, you are guaranteed to identify the piece you want, in my experience. Furthermore, even when it doesn’t nail down the piece uniquely, it does give you a short list of options to chose from, and you can quickly search through those yourself.

You can also filter by folk music, religious music, rock/pop, classical, etc., to narrow the search further.

Check out Musipedia.org.

Alternative link: http://www.themefinder.org/

How to Ice Skate

Aright, bitches, ’tis the season, so listen up.

Ice skating is awesome. When you’re going fast it is the closest a human being can get to flying. The American Psychiatric Association defines “not liking ice skating” as a mental disorder. It’s in their diagnostic manual.

I always see a lot of n00bs ice skating, which is great! Here are some tips.

(1) You will fall. Get used to it.

(2) Ice skating is not walking on ice. The physics is different.

When you walk, you push backward with one foot. (See Figure 1.) If your foot has good traction on the ground, it can’t slip back, though, so instead you are pushed forward. (Newton’s third law of motion, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”)

Figure 1

You cannot do this on ice skates, padawan, because you are on a blade that’s like a sixth of an inch thick. If you push your foot straight back, there is not enough area of the blade making contact with the ice to produce good traction. (See Figure 2.) Instead of being planted on the ice and thus propelling you forward, your foot will simply slide back. Then, because you’re a n00b, you’ll fall down. (Newton’s lesser-known fourth law of motion, “N00bs fall down.”)

Figure 2. The thin black line is your blade’s contact with the ice.

How do you deal with this? Well, plainly you need more area of the blade making contact with the ice. Simply turning your foot somewhat sideways does it. (See Figure 3.) This gives your foot enough traction, so when you push it back, the only thing that can happen is that the rest of you goes forward.

Figure 3. (The extent to which the foot is turned here is exaggerated for clarity.)

Meanwhile you are pointing the other foot in roughly the direction you want to go, so you glide forward on that foot. (As per Newton’s fifth law, “Ice is slippery.”)

Then the feet switch roles, with the gliding foot becoming the foot you’re pushing back with, and the pushing foot becoming the gliding foot. Repeat.

Once you learn this, it really is easy and natural.

(3) On falling: One of the problems is that your instincts about righting yourself when you’re off balance are all wrong. Moves that help you regain your balance when you’re on terra firma don’t necessarily help you, to put it mildly, when you’re skating on blades on ice. You have to learn new reflexes (if learned reflexes isn’t an oxymoron). I can’t re-wire your neural wiring that handles these reflexes, so I don’t know what to tell you here, except that you have to practice.

(4) “Crossover,” logically enough, is the term for when you cross one foot over the other. You’ve seen this: It’s that thing a skater does where it seems like his feet are moving independently of the direction his body is traveling in, so it looks like he’s moonwalking or something.

Crossovers function best when you’re turning at high speed and really leaning into the turn. You do this naturally when you turn while running on ground, but when you do that your foot is planted. When you’re skating, in contrast, you continue to glide on that foot as you shift your weight into the turn, so that for a moment the foot is actually moving in a different direction from your body’s center of mass.

Crossovers are a great way to add speed with relatively little effort, because gravity is doing some of the work for you. When you change direction you lean in the direction you want to go in. So you start to fall in that direction. Before you fall very far, though, you put a foot out under yourself so you glide in that direction instead of falling.

By the way, when you take a turn with a fast series of crossovers, it actually is as fun as it looks. Hell, it’s much more fun. There’s a power and smoothness that is like nothing else. Cf. comment above, in re: “flying.”

(5) Control: As long as you’re not going too fast, turning is so easy that it’s practically subliminal. (No crossovers for the moment; I’m not talking about that level of speed.) What is actually going on, of course, is that you’re shifting your weight ever so slightly in the direction you want to go in. But it feels like you’re just thinking yourself into changing direction. Telekinesis!

(6) Efficiency: Another way you can tell n00bs, even after they’ve learned to not fall much, is by how much energy they waste. In extreme cases it looks like they’re expending half again as much energy as they need to per foot-pound of work accomplished.

If this is you, don’t worry; this takes care of itself over time. Your body’s natural reluctance to waste energy will quickly make you adjust so that your motion is economical.

(7) Stopping. Several n00bs at rinks have asked me for advice, particularly about how to stop.

The correct answer is: Stopping is for the weak and timid! Are you a wuss!? Are you!? Huh!? Good, I didn’t think so. Let’s have no more nonsense about stopping.

If you insist, though, you can just point yourself at a wall. That usually works.

All kidding aside: There are basically two ways to slow yourself down, and if you keep slowing long enough you’ll stop.

The first I call the two-feet method: Just point your skates toward each other, while keeping your legs stiff so your feet don’t actually come together. If your feet bump into each other you’ll fall, obviously. But if you hold your feet apart at that angle, the blades will scrape against the ice, slowing you. And if you keep doing it, stopping you.

You can feel and hear the scraping, at least if you’re not at a rink where they constantly blast fucking country music over the sound system at full volume, what the actual fuck, not that I’m complaining or anything, but what the fuck? Don’t they know that playing that shit voids the warranty on your speaker system? Anyway…

The second method of stopping is the much-admired “hockey stop.” That’s the one you think of when I say “how to stop,” where they turn sideways and kick up ice shavings.

Just turn sideways and dig the blade of your leading foot into the ice. You’re also using your trailing foot, of course, but more for balance than friction, at least the way I do it (YMMV). Also, you’re doing some rapid adjustment of your balance, naturally.

When you first try this you’re going to think, “I shall now attempt a hockey stop.” That’s well and good, but you learn faster if you just think, “Shit! I need to stop!” and imagine what you’d do if you really needed to stop suddenly. This makes it more instinctive and less cerebral.

(8) Sharpness matters so your blades dig in. You need this (a) for acceleration, so your pushing foot can bite into the ice, (b) to slow yourself and stop, and (c) to execute a crossover. (Probably for six other reasons that I’m not thinking of at the moment too.) When you’re doing a crossover, the gliding foot has to bite into the ice to a certain extent or the foot will just slide out from under you. This happened to me once when I was trying to take too steep an angle with my gliding foot. Foot shot backward, rest of body went, “Hello, ice!”

The blade has some thickness; it’s not a knife blade. It’s the blade’s edges that are sharp. Once I actually drew blood from my hand accidentally with the edge. But that was probably right after they’d been sharpened; normally blades aren’t that sharp.

(9) Miscellany:

(A) Little kids on the ice are cute, but DANGER DANGER DANGER!!! Partly this is because they can’t control themselves yet, and partly because even the ones who can control themselves have no social awareness whatsoever. If they see Mom over there, they will simply turn with no warning in that direction, and if you’re behind them you’re going to be doing some fancy dancing to not hit them. This leads to hilarity and occasional bruises, because of course you’re going to steer yourself into a wall or shift so that you fall, instead of plowing into a little kid.

I recently cracked my elbow into the wall of a rink because I had to dodge a little one who seemed to execute a right-angle turn right in front of me with no warning. I had to do something to avoid smashing into him and ended up saying Hi to the plexi-glass. He didn’t even realize it had happened, but I did get a sympathetic look from someone on the other side of the glass.

They can also turn quite suddenly because their centers of gravity are so low. It’s like they’re equipped with little inertialess drives.

Just remember this:

Little kids on ice = Brownian motion + inertialess drives.

(B) Use your ears as well as your eyes to help maintain awareness of other skaters in your vicinity. Thus you can avoid pulling a “little kid” and turning suddenly just when someone’s coming up behind you.

Caveat: In the corners of the rink, noise bounces around weirdly. Sometimes it sounds like someone is coming up behind you and just about to smash into you. You’re like “Gah!” but when you look around there’s no one within ten yards.

(C) Downhill skating. Sweet! But why didn’t they have this when I was 19? You kids today don’t know how good you have it, let me tell you, when I was your age I had to skate 40 miles to school, and it was uphill both ways! By God!




(D) This is a politically incorrect blog, so an observation about the sexes. Normal people, continue to read; shrieking feminist shrikes, go somewhere else (permanently).

Still with me? OK, a fun observation:

All good skaters have both power and grace, strength and fluidity. But there is a difference between good female skaters and good male skaters. Good female skaters have power – you can’t be a good skater without it – but they have more grace compared to male skaters. And good male skaters have grace – you can’t be a good skater without that, either(*) – but they have more power compared to female skaters. Just a nice little “the world is gendered” observation to affirm normality and freak out the screaming SJWs.

If you’re like most people, i.e. psychologically normal, you understand (there was a time when no one denied this!) that the sexes are different and that the differences, in so many ways, can be a source of delight to everyone. This is just a small example of that.

* Even the most brutal hockey player, 190 pounds of muscle and missing three front teeth, who starts throwing jabs at the slightest provocation, has grace on the ice. If you don’t believe me, Youtube is your friend.

(10) Have fun!


Correia’s The Christmas Noun

A heartwarming Christmas story from Larry Corriea:
The Christmas Noun

Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer had been driven insane with a desire to kill.

All the other reindeer had laughed and called him names… Until one day it pushed poor Rudolf over the edge into a berserk killing frenzy. He took out Dasher and Prancer with a meat cleaver, Donner and Dixon with a garden weasel, and Blitzen… Poor Blitzen… They’d never found his head….
Rudolf was sent to the toughest joint at the North Pole. The day he arrived he killed a polar bear with a shiv made from a plastic spoon, just so everyone would know not to mess with him. Rudolf has spent the time since then preparing for his inevitable revenge, lifting weights, getting prison tattoos, and terrifying the sugar plum fairies.

After he escapes, Rudolf lays his thing down:

“It’s time to deck the halls… with blood.”

(Via The Dark Herald.)

The Inverse Bechdel Test

Female psychology and fiction: Thoughts inspired by (the first 53 pages of) A Darker Shade of Magic, by Victoria Schwab.

This novel suffers from a common problem with its beginning.

(1) The problem: Not much happens in the first 53 pages, where I paused to record these thoughts. E.g., the opening scene has the magician Holland conversing with a prince. But we don’t hear much of the conversation and it’s not enough to pique our interest. Worse, the initial conversation between another magician, Kell, and a King doesn’t realize its promise. When Kell delivers a letter from a monarch in one universe to a monarch in another, we expect some earth-shaking development that will precipitate the story: A declaration of war or something. Instead, we get a polite inquiry about the recipient’s health: The royal equivalent of “Howya doin?! Arite, check ya later!” Huh? Something should have happened there. Fifty-three pages in, almost nothing has happened.

2) Why does this problem occur? Note: The first 53 pages are almost 100% super-alpha males – kings, princes, and powerful magicians – and almost 100% of their “screen time” is them talking to other super-alpha males. Of course alpha males, especially super-alphas like kings and princes, are intrinsically fascinating from a female point of view. But from a male point of view, well, no.
      In the funniest example of this problem, a prince (super-alpha) discusses his birthday party plans with his parents (King (super-alpha) and Queen) and brother (powerful magician and adopted prince; super-alpha). To a male reader, this is like some accountants planning a birthday party. Maybe the author and her female readers are rapt, because ALPHA MALES!!! But this male reader, and I imagine most male readers, are thinking, “Planning a birthday party? Why are we being shown this?”
      In fact, this scene is actually two entirely different scenes, depending on the audience. For the (female) author and female readers, the scene is OH MY GOD, SUPER-ALPHAS!!! For a male reader, the scene is some accountants talking about a birthday party.

There’s nothing wrong with women being attracted to alpha men, any more than there’s something wrong with men being attracted to young, beautiful women. But if a novel is intended for both sexes – as opposed to being romance porn for women – it should not contain scenes like the above. I’m not objecting to porn, I’m just saying, sort out your goals and intended audience before you start writing.

All of this leads me to propose an analogue of the Bechdel Test for female writers:

Would a scene that features men be equally interesting if the men were all accountants?

If not, you might be letting female sexual preoccupations overwhelm your authorial professionalism. Honestly ask yourself whether the scene should be there.