Love letter to Point Break

There is absolutely nothing about Point Break that is not wonderful.  Even the bad parts (there are no bad parts).  You can watch this movie with anyone.  Your brother.  Your boyfriend.  Your crappy ex-boyfriend.  Your friends (all friends, over twenty years of your life).  Your students.  Maybe not your mother.  But maybe your mother-in-law.
But, this is not really what the movie is about.  Point Break is the most searing kind of love story—a love story in which its lovers only know in a very benighted way that they are in a love story.  Johnny Utah falls in love twice in the film.  First with his avatar, Tyler, a tiny, homuncular, foul-mouthed version of himself (played by Lori Petty).  Or, maybe the other love comes first—Johnny’s love for Bodhi (they call him the Bodhisattva, played with loose-jointed abandon by Patrick Swayze), the Zen-lite leader of a fierce gang of surfers. (Spoiler, he also leads the Ex-Presidents.  As Ronald Reagan).  You know that Johnny Utah has fallen in love with Bodhi when he chases him (in Reagan costume) down a series of narrow Los Angeles back-alleys, only to finally catch up with him in a drainage ditch. 
Leaping into the ditch, Johnny lands awkwardly on his bum knee (football) and collapses in agony to the ground.  At that moment, he catches Bodhi’s eye, small, pig-like and afraid-slash-defiant, through the Reagan mask and, ahem, unloads (his gun) furiously into the bland, grey Los Angeles sky.  Never mind that the sky is rarely bland in Los Angeles, this is the part of the movie that is the most realistic.  This is how love, when it’s frustratingly unrequited, feels.  Like you’re shooting bullet after bullet into a blank, low sky.

A profession of love to Point Break. Short, sweet. A love story.

Be the side(s) in your multi-sided market

Anyone who's tried to start a multi-sided market business (the most common being a two-sided marketplace, like eBay, with buyers and sellers) knows one of the first major challenges is the chicken-and-egg problem. In order to attract sellers, you need buyers, but in order to attract buyers, you need sellers. On a dating service, the two sides are obvious. And so on.

How to get out of this infinite loop of emptiness? Kickstart things by being one or more of the sides in your multi-sided market. In other words, fake it til you make it.

Seeding and Weeding
Dating services simulate initial traction by creating fake profiles and conversations. Users who come to the site see some activity and are incentivized to stay on. Marketplace sites may also show fake activity to attract buyers and sellers.
Seeding Demand
In the book, Paypal Wars, Eric M. Jackson talks about how PayPal grew a base of sellers who accepted PayPal by creating demand for the service among buyers. When Paypal figured that eBay was their key distribution platform, they came up with an ingenious plan to simulate demand. They created a bot that bought goods on eBay and then, insisted on paying for it using PayPal. Not only did sellers come to know about the service, they rushed onto it as it already seemed to be getting popular. The fact that it was way better than every other payment mechanism on eBay only helped repeated usage.

Other great war stories and tips within.

How to be Elon Musk

In response to the Quora thread “How can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson?” Elon Musk's ex-wife Justine offered this great response.

Extreme success results from an extreme personality and comes at the cost of many other things. Extreme success is different from what I suppose you could just consider 'success', so know that you don't have to be Richard or Elon to be affluent and accomplished and maintain a great lifestyle. Your odds of happiness are better that way. But if you're extreme, you must be what you are, which means that happiness is more or less beside the point. These people tend to be freaks and misfits who were forced to experience the world in an unusually challenging way. They developed strategies to survive, and as they grow older they find ways to apply these strategies to other things, and create for themselves a distinct and powerful advantage. They don't think the way other people think. They see things from angles that unlock new ideas and insights. Other people consider them to be somewhat insane. 
Be obsessed.
Be obsessed.
Be obsessed. 
If you're not obsessed, then stop what you're doing and find whatever does obsess you. It helps to have an ego, but you must be in service to something bigger if you are to inspire the people you need to help you  (and make no mistake, you will need them). That 'something bigger' prevents you from going off into the ether when people flock round you and tell you how fabulous you are when you aren't and how great your stuff is when it isn't. Don't pursue something because you "want to be great". Pursue something because it fascinates you, because the pursuit itself engages and compels you. Extreme people combine brilliance and talent with an *insane* work ethic, so if the work itself doesn't drive you, you will burn out or fall by the wayside or your extreme competitors will crush you and make you cry. 

The whole thing is great. However, if you're reading this, perhaps you already have no chance.

They are unlikely to be reading stuff like this. (This is *not* to slam or criticize people who do; I love to read this stuff myself.) They are more likely to go straight to a book: perhaps a biography of Alexander the Great or Catherine the Great* or someone else they consider Great. Surfing the 'Net is a deadly timesuck, and given what they know their time is worth -- even back in the day when technically it was not worth that -- they can't afford it.

Game theory of thrones

Peter Antonioni uses game theory to analyze the situation in Westeros to see if he can determine who will end up on the Iron Throne.

Game theory doesn’t look at behaviour so much as it looks at outcomes, assuming that people will choose the highest payoff if they can.

Martin even helps on a couple of occasions by spelling out those payoffs. Advising Joffrey, the fearsome Tywin Lannister gives a great example of what to do in a repeated game:
Joffrey, when your enemies defy you, you must serve them steel and fire. When they go to their knees, however, you must help them back to their feet. Elsewise no man will ever bend the knee to you.
This is a pretty good distillation of a what game theorists call tit-for-tat. If you start off with equal participants in a repeated game, the best overall strategies combine punishing transgression with forgiveness; there are variants, but all of them get better results than “all or nothing” punishment strategies such as the grim trigger.
Tywin’s strategy works in this case because it assumes a capability for punishment. In advising Joffrey, he’s not telling him how to gain the Iron Throne but how to hang on to it. The equilibrium stays stable as long as the Throne can dominate all of the potential competitors, as Aegon I could with his dragons. Then, rebellion is easily put down, and whatever the consequence to the smallfolk of Westeros, at least they don’t get the kind of devastation inflicted on the Riverlands by the War of the Five Kings.

The strategic maneuvering and statecraft are the most intriguing aspects of Game of Thrones. I'm less interested in the economics or religion, though I was amused by this proposal for a central bank in Westeros.

Overall, the rulers, religions, and other institutions of the known world all seem to lack the fundamental characteristics necessary to function as a central bank of Westeros. The difficulty of creating long lasting, independent, and benevolent institutions, I would argue, is why the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros use a commodity currency and lack monetary policy. But I don’t think a central bank in Westeros is impossible. In fact, there is one institution in the realm that does have these characteristics and could potentially serve as a central bank: the Night’s Watch.
The watch operates independently of the crown, has existed for thousands of years, and is dedicated to the public good. The longevity of the Watch is undebatable, as it was reportedly founded 8,000 years before the time of Game of Thrones.   Their staunch independence is evidenced by the nuetrality they maintained during the rebellion that unseated the Targaryens. The Watch’s military might ensures they can maintain that independence. Their dedication to the public good is seen in the mission of the Watch, which is the protection of the Seven Kingdoms.
Members of the watch currently serve in one of three groups: Rangers, Builders, and Stewards. It’s easy to imagine adding Economists as a fourth group, and adding price stability and full employment to oath that all members must swear to. Public acceptance would likely require the crown mandating that Night’s Watch currency be accepted as legal tender. But after that, the Night’s Watch could independently determine the money supply and even conduct monetary policy.

Sawmell Tarly, Westeros Fed Reserve Chairman?

Edward Tufte's grand truths about human behavior

Short, good. Some of my favorites:

"It is a principle that shines impartially on the just and the unjust that once you have a point of view all history will back you up." (Van Wyck Brooks)
All the world is multivariate.

Much of the world is distributed lognormally. 

In explanations of human activities, both muddling through and incompetence are under-estimated, and both rational optimizing and conspiracy over-estimated.

Nearly all self-assessments claim above-average performance.

"Upon expecting fair play in high places: You'll get it if enough folk are watching." ( J. P. Donleavy's variant of Wendell Phillips' "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.")


Interview with Jon Stewart

A few bits I dug from this good mini-profile of Jon Stewart:

Instead, he describes his decision to quit The Daily Show, the American satirical news programme he has hosted for 16 years, as something closer to the end of a long-term relationship. “It’s not like I thought the show wasn’t working any more, or that I didn’t know how to do it. It was more, ‘Yup, it’s working. But I’m not getting the same satisfaction.’” He slaps his hands on his desk, conclusively. 
“These things are cyclical. You have moments of dissatisfaction, and then you come out of it and it’s OK. But the cycles become longer and maybe more entrenched, and that’s when you realise, ‘OK, I’m on the back side of it now.’”
Like every TV celebrity, in person, Stewart is both better-looking than you expect and smaller, with his long torso making up most of his 5ft 7in, giving the illusion of height from behind his studio desk. He is dressed casually, and after years of watching him on TV wearing a suit, seeing him in a T-shirt and casual trousers feels almost like catching my father half-undressed.
Now that he is leaving The Daily Show, is there any circumstance in which he would watch Fox News again? He takes a few seconds to ponder the question. “Umm… All right, let’s say that it’s a nuclear winter, and I have been wandering, and there appears to be a flickering light through what appears to be a radioactive cloud and I think that light might be a food source that could help my family. I might glance at it for a moment until I realise, that’s Fox News, and then I shut it off. That’s the circumstance.”

Poker cheats

Given sufficient eyeballs and data, all cheating is shallow?

A YouTube video compilation of a 2009 poker tournament seems to show signaling between the two players that ended up finishing first and second.

Some background:

French players Jean Paul Pasqualini and Cedric Rossi are being accused of teaming up, by using hand signals to tell each other what cards they held. The eight minutes of damning video was put together by Nordine Bouya, another French poker player, and it shows the two accused time after time relaying their holdings by touching parts of their head and face.
Pasqualini and Rossi went on to first and second place in that tournament, respectively. Pasqualini won 1 million euros, while Rossi pocketed over 600k.


Star Wars miscellany

Given the drop of the second The Force Awakens teaser this week, I've got a bit of Star Wars on the mind. Taking a tour of Star Wars related writing I've enjoyed, let's begin by revisiting the Empire's spectacular military failure at the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.

The defenses the Alliance constructed on Hoth could not be more favorable to Vader if the villain constructed them himself. The single Rebel base (!) is defended by a few artillery pieces on its north slope, protecting its main power generator. An ion cannon is its main anti-aircraft/spacecraft defense. Its outermost perimeter defense is an energy shield that can deflect Imperial laser bombardment. But the shield has two huge flaws: It can’t stop an Imperial landing force from entering the atmosphere, and it can only open in a discrete place for a limited time so the Rebels’ Ion Cannon can protect an evacuation. In essence, the Rebels built a shield that can’t keep an invader out and complicates their own escape.
When Vader enters the Hoth System with the Imperial Fleet, he’s holding a winning hand. What follows next is a reminder of two military truths that apply in our own time and in our own galaxy: Don’t place unaccountable religious fanatics in wartime command, and never underestimate a hegemonic power’s ability to miscalculate against an insurgency.

A fun read. Given what we learned about Anakin in Episodes I-III, maybe impulsive thinking shouldn't be that much of a surprise.

Another amusing read: John Scalzi's Guide to the Most Epic FAILs in Star Wars Design.

Yes, I know, I want one too. But I tell you what: I want one with a hand guard. Otherwise every lightsaber battle would consist of sabers clashing and then their owners sliding as quickly as possible down the shaft to lop off their opponent’s fingers. You say: Lightsabers can slice through anything but another lightsaber, so what are you going to make a hand guard out of? I say: Dude, if you have the technology to make a lightsaber, you have the technology to make a light hand guard.

I wonder if this was the inspiration for the now infamous lightsaber with handguards first seen in the initial The Force Awakens teaser. Or maybe it was a suggestion from Jony Ive, though he denied being the inspiration for the cross guards in his New Yorker profile.

When you absolutely, positively, got to kill every Jedi in the room but don't want your hands cut off...

Another amusing bit from that piece:

Stormtrooper Uniforms
They stand out like a sore thumb in every environment but snow, the helmets restrict view (“I can’t see a thing in this helmet!” — Luke Skywalker), and the armor is penetrable by single shots from blasters. Add it all up and you have to wonder why stormtroopers don’t just walk around naked, save for blinders and flip-flops.

The second teaser shows what seem to be updated designs for Stormtrooper uniforms, but it doesn't appear the design flaws noted above have been solved. They still stand out in almost any environment, and visibility is likely still a concern.

To increase merchandising revenues, the Empire has adopted these limited edition away uniforms for Stormtroopers. And is that an Apple Watch crown in the center of the Empire's new logo? Where can I order my Apple Watch Empire Edition?

Also recommended, Chris Taylor's How Star Wars Conquered the Universe. Ask any craftsman or entrepreneur and they'll tell you the first draft is just a template, that much of any great work or company comes in the iteration and editing and endless revision. Taylor's book, aside from being a great history of the making of the movie, is testament to that truth. What Star Wars began as and what it ended up as are so different it's stunning.

Lastly, one of my favorite Tyler Cowen posts: the public choice economics of Star Wars: a Straussian reading.

The core point is that the Jedi are not to be trusted:
1. The Jedi and Jedi-in-training sell out like crazy.  Even the evil Count Dooku was once a Jedi knight.  
2. What do the Jedi Council want anyway?  The Anakin critique of the Jedi Council rings somewhat true (this is from the new movie, alas I cannot say more, but the argument could be strengthened by citing the relevant detail).  Aren’t they a kind of out-of-control Supreme Court, not even requiring Senate approval (with or without filibuster), and heavily armed at that?  As I understand it, they vote each other into the office, have license to kill, and seek to control galactic affairs.  Talk about unaccountable power used toward secret and mysterious ends.
3. Obi-Wan told Luke scores of lies, including the big whopper that his dad was dead.
6. The prophecy was that Anakin (Darth) will restore order and balance to the force.  How true this turns out to be.  But none of the Jedi can begin to understand what this means.  Yes, you have to get rid of the bad guys.  But you also have to get rid of the Jedi.  The Jedi are, after all, the primary supply source and training ground for the bad guys.  Anakin/Darth manages to get rid of both, so he really is the hero of the story.  (It is also interesting which group of "Jedi" Darth kills first, but that would be telling.)
8. The core message is that power corrupts, but also that good guys have power too.  Our possible safety lies in our humanity, not in our desires to transcend it or wield strange forces to our advantage. 

One can argue the Jedi are the source of all strife in the Star Wars universe, playing the key role in Lucas's critique of fascism or religious fanaticism.