Everybody knows what a laugh track is, even if you are unfamiliar with the word itself. You are watching a sitcom, a character does something, and there are people laughing in the background. You might think it is annoying, or you might barely notice it. They have been around for since the fifties, and for very good reason.
Hearing other people laugh makes you laugh. Routinely, comedy clubs contain at least one or two people who laugh a bit louder and giggle a little bit more intensely in order to sway the crowd in favor of the performers. Laugh tracks are inserted into sitcoms, and comedy shows that do not have them are comparatively rare (the awesome Community as a notable exception). The laughter out of the can is meant to make you like the show more, if you like the show, you will watch it some more, with higher viewer numbers revenue from advertising rises, and the TV stations and show creators win. Hey, I didn’t say the good reason was for the consumer’s benefit.
The emotions of other people who are around us do influence our own emotions greatly. Weiterlesen →
SPOILER ALERT: This post includes spoilers up to the end of Season two. If you haven’t seen it, go see it. It is worth it. If you have seen it, assuming the third season is anything like the third book, oh, you are in for a treat. Also, this is a somewhat long post.
Tonight marks the return of A Game of Thrones to HBO for its third season. A TV show of that name should have attracted, one would think, at least a bit of analysis by game theorists – the book series is actually called “A Song of Ice and Fire”. I have found only one such account by Ben Sweeney and if you have time, give it a read.
While I do not necessarily disagree with his analysis, I think it does not go far enough or in the completely right direction. To be fair, his analysis is not for a professional audience and he is not a game theorist either.
So why hasn’t anyone done this before? Because it is a very difficult task, for a lot of reasons. What I will try to do here is a) to show what makes Game of Thrones so different and b) explain why an extensive game theoretic analysis of Game of Thrones would be hard and time-consuming. I will garnish this with some (very small) game examples, although these examples would be but a few branches in the jungle of a game tree that is Game of Thrones.
1. There is no clear good-vs-evil dynamic
As Adam Serwer pointed out at the beginning of the TV series:
Dorothy Bishop over at the LSE blogs has an interesting article on (or more to the point: against) publishing academic articles in books. Her main point is that writing an article to be published in a book is a bad idea, because they do not get cited. She summarizes her findings:
“Accessibility is the problem. However good your chapter is, if readers don’t have access to the book, they won’t find it. In the past, there was at least a faint hope that they may happen upon the book in a library, but these days, most of us don’t bother with any articles that we can’t download from the Internet.”
I could not have said it better and I could not agree more wholeheartedly. I once sent a short paper on voting systems to an expert in the field, asking for his opinion (after doing things like this for a couple of years, I am convinced that most people will help you in this situation, even if the question is moderately stupid: People just love talking about their work and having the opportunity to share their knowledge) and he told me that just a few months back, he had published pretty much my entire argument in an article in a book. He had done his work independently, of course.
The way different countries handle their foreign language education – especially English language education – is something I’ve learned quite a bit about just by spending a lot of time with people from all over the world. English is normally the lingua franca anytime people from three or four different countries get together. This should not be surprising to anyone. It also seems to be the case that people from Scandinavia and the Netherlands are a lot better at expressing themselves in English than, for example, the Spanish or French, their accents also being less thick. At least, that is what I gather from the (surely biased) sample of expats I’ve had access to. The obvious reason would be that English language classes in Scandinavia are for some reason superior to those in France or Germany. While that may or may not be the case, I’ve long since suspected that a variable of more considerable influence is what language your TV speaks, and I am not alone with this opinion.
In quite a few countries in Europe, all foreign TV and movie programs aimed at adults are dubbed into the respective native language. In other countries, they are merely subtitled. Dubbing tends to have the advantage of possible higher market saturation, while subtitling is a lot cheaper in terms of production. Weiterlesen →
A recent post by Jeremy Kun reminded me of a common problem that so many people seem to have, but apparently seems to be ineradicable. I quote:
“In particular (and this is the aggravating part, as most programmers know), the fix required the change of about 4 characters. Twenty hours of work for four characters! Once I begrudgingly verified it worked (of course it worked, it was so obvious in hindsight), I promptly took the rest of the day off to play Starcraft.”
Computers were designed by smart people convinced that the numbingly repetitive work of calculations did not have to be done by researchers or even human beings. The freed-up brain power and time could then be spent thinking, not endlessly working a slide rule or cowering over logarithm tables. And if the computer works, it does make life so much easier (provided the brain used to analyse the results is capable).
But computers are not really thinking machines. If a human error, such as the one Jeremy is referring to, makes the computer incapable of interpreting the program, it might take hours to fix a very small error. Many programs by now provide at least the line in the code where the error occurred, which is a lot better than nothing. But sometimes, what the computer does makes absolutely no sense. Weiterlesen →
Easy detection of plagiarism nowadays should mean that doctorates obtained without using plagiarism should be valued more by employers. But do they?
A few weeks ago, German minister for Education and Research, Anette Schavan of the Christian democratic party (CDU), got her doctorate title revoked by an ethics committee of the University of Düsseldorf . The committee saw this to be the only decision, taking her academic title for plagiarizing parts of her 1980 dissertation. She has now resigned, pledging to fight the case in court. This is (and at this point I am not sure whether to say fortunately or unfortunately) not the first time that high-ranking German politicians have lost their academic honors for reasons of plagiarism in recent history. An online group of “plagiarism hunters” set out to find plagiarism in doctoral dissertations of famous people.
The first was Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (link), also CDU, who was a JFK-like figure, young, comparatively attractive and extremely popular. He plagiarized in some form of another on 371 of 393 pages (link in German) and then denied any wrongdoing, intentional or otherwise. Fun fact: the “plagiarism hunters” found 1218 fragments from 135 different sources. The University of Bayreuth took away his title in the spring of 2011, ultimately leading to his resignation from the post of minister of defense a few weeks later. The entire affair is rather long and frustrating if you are a young researcher or scientist, so I will leave it up to you to read up on it.
More in the category of “laughing to keep from crying” is Sylvana Koch-Mehrin from the liberal FDP. She lost her title, also due to plagiarism – but to be fair, neither Schavan nor Koch-Mehrin plagiarized on the epic scale Guttenberg did. Four days later, she announced that she was now a full member of the European Union’s Committee on Industry, Research, and Energy. After massive criticism, she resigned again later.
I am admittedly not impartial in my opinion. The University of Bayreuth is my alma mater, and I was studying there at the time of the scandal around its famous alumni Guttenberg. He got his doctorate in law and I was at the faculty of law and economics. But personal feelings towards plagiarism are not the point I wish to express here. Weiterlesen →
Sony announced the PlayStation 4 last week and it is for sale in time for the 2013 holiday season. While videogames are obviously lots of fun, what struck my interest was its advertised parallel processing capability. Especially for the low price of $400 the specs are rather impressive. It is likely that Sony has learned from the starting price fiasco of the PlayStation three of $600 and is selling the PS 4 way below cost. The ratio off price to processing power is probably the best in the market to date.
This makes the PS 4 a potentially interesting building stone for cheap supercomputers. Attempts at making cheap supercomputers are not new. You may recall the 64 Rasberry Pi cluster built last year with Lego bricks. A $99 “pocket supercomputer” is also in the works. While 64 raspberry pies do not really make a supercomputer (even a computer built from 100,000 of these clusters would not make it into the top 500 list of supercomputers), the US Army made a supercomputer from 1760 PlayStation 3s back in 2010 back when they also cost $400.
If – and that is a big if , depending on whether the system would allow it– it is possible to Weiterlesen →
“Because most people possess positive associations about themselves, most people prefer things that are connected to the self (e.g., the letters in one’s name).”
This is from the abstract of a 2002 paper by Pelham, Mirenberg and Jones, pronouncably titled “Why Susie Sells Seashells by the Seashore: Implicit Egotism and Major Life Decisions”. The authors summarize studies on the name-letter effect, often called implicit egotism, which says that the first letter(s) of your first name has a high impact on life decisions (or maybe that our brains are hardwired to like alliterations). In an oversimplified nutshell: If your name is Igor, you are more likely to move to Indiana than if your name was Thomas, and once there, you are more likely to work in an Italian restaurant or as an irrigation specialist than a Robert.