Considering the odds

Weird convergence on how we distinguish work vs. labor that slices into entirely new territory when merged with sports gambling:

There is a way to make money, or at least not lose money, gambling on sports, and people who do it. That work involves crunching numbers, diversifying risk, seeking out small inefficiencies; it is, more or less, a job. A friend I spoke to for the story made a bunch of money betting the under on steals for various defense-deficient NBA guards. It’s not glamorous, it’s not juicy, it provides no mondo paydays. It’s barely fun at all. Again: it’s work.

Sports gambling apps do not want people to gamble like that. What they want bettors to do is put money on parlays. Apps push them in that direction constantly, even offering “no-risk parlays” to whet a prospective gambler’s appetite for the harder stuff. When I mentioned slot machine gambling to Dr. Fong, he immediately mentioned the same-game parlay. It’s an inevitable winner for casinos that also looks and feels good for the casual gambler.

In Addiction by Design, Schüll talks to slot machine designers about the process of making an effective slot machine. (They’re all from Australia, for some reason.) They tell her that it’s mostly a matter of feeling—finding a way to build in enough winning to maintain hope in the player, but also enough losing to make it profitable for the casino. It’s pretty nauseating; reading about otherwise sane people succumbing to sophisticated Skinner Boxes is dispiriting, and terrifying.

Here is one way that could all look: You watch a game with the app open. It gives you a personalized stream of quick, ever-changing, algorithmically generated bets. It also tracks what you will bet on and what you won’t, and then adjusts to create something akin to a personalized slot machine; the idea is to create an experience that feels good to you. If you are even a little bit inclined toward problem gambling, this will bury itself deep, and it will take your money; it will all be, as it currently is in 30 states, legal. And you can play like this until the government or a medical professional intervenes, or doesn’t. Everyone with any skin in the game—every business interest that sees its fans as a renewable resource—wants that to exist.

Turnip-truck green mixed with $$$-green produces no great good but a whole lot of parting.

Math Lesson v. Popular Garbage

Now, popular garbage can and does take all kinds of forms. In this case, it’s Superfreakonomics, the swftly-selling follow-up to Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics. A counter-intuitive take on economics? Whoa, count me in!

Panned in all the finest establishments, not least (and maybe the best) by Elizabeth Kolbert in the current New Yorker, the new book has all of the appeal of high-minded contrarianism for the too smart to think mixed with the feel good ease of shortcuts to to problematic solutions. Consider the promise of certain geoengineering solutions to the AGW set (The denierati, in common parlance). Anyway, Kolbert slices, dices and disposes, but also gives the nod to one of Levitt’s colleagues at the University of Chicago, Raymond Pierrehumbert.

In an open letter published to RealClimate, Dr. P-h brings it:

By now there have been many detailed dissections of everything that is wrong with the treatment of climate in Superfreakonomics , but what has been lost amidst all that extensive discussion is how really simple it would have been to get this stuff right. The problem wasn’t necessarily that you talked to the wrong experts or talked to too few of them. The problem was that you failed to do the most elementary thinking needed to see if what they were saying (or what you thought they were saying) in fact made any sense. If you were stupid, it wouldn’t be so bad to have messed up such elementary reasoning, but I don’t by any means think you are stupid. That makes the failure to do the thinking all the more disappointing. I will take Nathan Myhrvold’s claim about solar cells, which you quoted prominently in your book, as an example.

He then goes on to quote-unquote do the math, to show that Levitt and Dubner’s refutation of solar energy capture solely on the basis of the waste it generates is yet another example of making us play a game of ‘fool or liar’, in which he respectfully eliminating the possibility they are fools. He even shows his work, by manner of screenshots of wikipedia searches and other applications of The Google.

So, to recap… the tally after 4 innings

Math lesson: 1,  PG: infinity- 1

But PG is definitely on the run.

Green Like Them

Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker on the literary – and I use the term loosely – phenomenon that is eco-living as an extreme lifestyle:

The basic setup of “No Impact Man” is, by this point, familiar. During the past few years, one book after another has organized itself around some nouveau-Thoreauvian conceit. This might consist of spending a month eating only food grown in an urban back yard, as in “Farm City” (2009), or a year eating food produced on a gentleman’s farm, as in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” (2007). It might involve driving across the country on used cooking oil, as in “Greasy Rider” (2008), or giving up fossil fuels for goats, as in “Farewell, My Subaru” (2008).

All of these stunts can be seen as responses to the same difficulty. Owing to a combination of factors—population growth, greenhouse-gas emissions, logging, overfishing, and, as Beavan points out, sheer self-indulgence—humanity is in the process of bringing about an ecological catastrophe of unparalleled scope and significance. Yet most people are in no mood to read about how screwed up they are. It’s a bummer. If you’re the National Academy of Sciences or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the Pope or Al Gore, you can try to fight this with yet another multivolume report or encyclical. If not, you’d better get a gimmick.

And we wonder why people move onto other, more pressing matters. Writers are always looking for angles – society rewards I’ll-get-mine all the time – and as she wittily describes, this is what these folks are doing. It’s as American as the three car garage. Fine. Cashing in. You know, Green. I get it.

Yuk-yuk. It reminds me that, despite the trends, there are more interesting things to write books and make moves about* and these are the mere trifles of people who sit in writers’ workshops and mfa programs, trying to think of the next big book idea. They’re smart and well-trained so I’m not surprised that they figure out the caricature, which seems to arrive pre-mocked. Just don’t go meta and get too depressed by what they write/film; the writers, their agents and editors will lose interest with this and move onto something else before too long.

*There are even stories to write and film that have never been written about or filmed before.