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Remember how Mr. Miyagi taught The Karate Kid how to fight?  Wax on/Wax off. Paint the fence. Don’t forget to breathe. A coach is the coach because he knows what the student needs to do to advance. A big problem for coaches is that the most precocious students also (naturally) think they know what they need to learn.

If Mr. Miyagi told Daniel that he needed endless repetition of certain specific hand movements to learn karate, Daniel would have rebelled and demanded to learn more and advance more quickly. Mr. Miyagi used ambiguity to evade conflict.

An artist with natural gift for expression needs to learn convention. But she may disagree with the teacher about how much time should be spent learning convention. If the teacher simply gives her exercises to do without explanation her decision to comply will be on the basis of an overall judgment of whether this teacher, on average, knows best. To instead say “You must learn conventions, here are some exercises for that” runs the risk that the student moderates the exercises in line with her own judgment about the importance of convention.


The case of The Oscars:


“This is a preferential system. I’m putting Amour at No. 9 because I’m just pissed off at that film. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a movie that I just didn’t understand, so that’s my No. 8. Les Miserables goes in seventh place — it’s not just the most disappointing film of the year but the most disappointing film in many years. Above that I’m putting Silver Linings Playbook, which is just a “blah” film. Django Unchained will go into my fifth slot — it’s a fun movie, but it’s basically just Quentin Tarantino masturbating for almost three hours. Next up is Life of Pi because of how unique it is and for holding my attention up until its irritating ending. Argo is gonna go in third place, but I don’t want it to win because I don’t think it deserves to win and am annoyed that it is on track to win for the wrong reasons. Actually, come to think of it, do we have to put a film in every slot? Because what I want is for my best picture choice to have the best possible shot, so why even give any support to the others? [He has his assistant call the Oscar voting helpline, finds out that voters can leave slots blank and promptly removes all of the aforementioned selections.] I’m basically OK with one of two films winning. Lincoln is going in my second slot; it’s a bore, but it’s Spielberg, it’s well-meaning, and it’s important. Zero Dark Thirtyis my No 1.”

Vote: (1) Zero Dark Thirty, (2) Lincoln, (3) [blank], (4) [blank], (5) [blank], (6) [blank], (7) [blank], (8) [blank], (9) [blank]

Read the whole article for the inside view of Oscar balloting, including beating the shit out of Ann Hathaway, spinnng the iPhone, and filleting the neighbor’s dog.

Gatsby grip:  Alex Frankel

It’s hard to measure media bias in general because bias is hard to quantify.  Movie reviews are one way forward, a cool idea in a new paper by DellaVigna and Kennedy.  Here’s the abstract:

Fueled by the need to cut costs in a competitive industry, media companies have be- come increasingly concentrated. But is this consolidation without costs for the quality of information? Concentrated media companies generate a conflict of interest: a media outlet can bias its coverage to benefit companies in the same group. We test empirically for bias by examining movie reviews by media outlets owned by News Corp.–such as the Wall Street Journal–and by Time Warner–such as Time. We find a statistically significant, if small, bias in the review score for 20th Century Fox movies in the News Corp. outlets. We detect no bias for Warner Bros. movies in the reviews of the Time Warner outlets, but find instead some evidence of bias by omission: the media in this group are more likely to review highly-rated movies by affiliated studios. Using the wealth of detail in the data, we present evidence regarding bias by individual reviewer, and also biases in the editorial assignment of review tasks. We conclude that reputation limits the extent of bias due to conflict of interest, but that nonetheless powerful biasing forces are at work due to consolidation in the media industry.

Tubeteika toss:  Josh Gans.

We are reading it in my Behavioral Economics class and so far we have finished the first 5 chapters which make up Part I of the book “Anticipating Future Preferences.” In Ran Spiegler’s typical style, perfectly crafted simple models are used to illustrate deep ideas that lie at the heart of existing frontier research and, no doubt, future research this book is bound to inspire.

A nod also has to go to Kfir Eliaz who is Rani’s longtime collaborator on many of the papers that preceded this book.  Indeed, in a better world they would form a band.  It would be a early ’90s geek-rock band like They Might Be Giants or whichever band it was that did The Sweater Song.  I hereby name their band Hasty Belgium. (Names of other bands here.)

Many of the examples in the book are referred to as “close variations of” or “free variations of” papers in the literature.  And Rani has even written a paper that he calls “a cover version of” a paper by Heidhues and Koszegi.  So to continue the metaphor, I offer here some liner notes for the book.

In chapter 5 there is a fantastic distillation of a model due to Michael Grubb that explains Netflix pricing.  Conventional models of price discrimination cannot explain three-part tariffs:  a membership fee, a low initial per-unit price, and then a high per-unit price that kicks in above some threshold quantity.  (Netflix is the extreme case where the initial price per movie is zero, and above some number the price is infinite.) Rani constructs the simplest and clearest possible model to show how such a pricing system is the optimal way to take advantage of consumers who are over-confident in their beliefs about their future demand.

A conventional approach to pricing would be to set price equal to marginal cost, thereby incentivizing the consumer to demand the efficient quantity, and then adding on a membership fee that extracts all of his surplus.  You can think of this as the Blockbuster model.  The Netflix model by contrast reduces the per-unit price to zero (up to some monthly allotment) but raises the membership fee.

Here’s how that increases profits.  Many of us mistakenly think we will watch lots of movies.  Netflix re-arranges the pricing structure so that the total amount we expect to pay when we watch all of those movies is the same as in the Blockbuster model.  Just now we are paying it all in the form of a membership fee.  If it turns out that we watch as many movies as we anticipated, we are no better or worse off and neither is Netflix.

But in fact most of us discover that we are always too busy to watch movies. In the Blockbuster system when that happens we don’t watch movies and so we don’t pay per-unit prices and we Blockbuster doesn’t make much money. In the Netflix system it doesn’t matter how many movies we watch, because we already paid.

My only complaint about the book is the title.  (Not for those reasons, no.)  The term “Bounded Rationality” has fallen out of favor and for good reason.  It’s pejorative and it doesn’t really mean anything.  A more contemporary title would have been Behavioral Industrial Organization.  Now I agree that “Behavioral” is at least as meaningless as “Bounded Rationality.”  Indeed it has even less meaning. But that’s a virtue because we don’t have any good word for whatever “Bounded Rationality” and “Behavioral” are supposed to mean. So I prefer a word that has no meaning at all than “Bounded Rationality” which suggests a meaning that is misplaced.

David Mitchell is a stammerer who wrote beautifully about it in his semi-autobiographical novel Black Swan Green. Here is Mitchell on The King’s Speech.  In the article he talks about his own strategies for coping with stammering:

If these technical fixes tackle the problem once it’s begun, “attitudinal stances” seek to dampen the emotions that trigger my stammer in the first place. Most helpful has been a sort of militant indifference to how my audience might perceive me. Nothing fans a stammer’s flames like the fear that your listener is thinking “Jeez, what is wrong with this spasm-faced, eyeball-popping strangulated guy?” But if I persuade myself that this taxing sentence will take as long as it bloody well takes and if you, dear listener, are embarrassed then that’s your problem, I tend not to stammer. This explains how we can speak without trouble to animals and to ourselves: our fluency isn’t being assessed. This is also why it’s helpful for non-stammerers to maintain steady eye contact, and to send vibes that convey, “No hurry, we’ve got all the time in the world.”

(Gat Gape:  The Browser) Incidentally, I watched The King’s Speech and also True Grit on a flight to San Francisco Sunday night while the Oscars were being handed out down below. I enjoyed the portrayal of stammering in TKS but unlike Mitchell I didn’t think that subject matter alone carried an entire film.  And there wasn’t much else to it.  (And by the way here is Christopher Hitchens complaining about the softie treatment of Churchill and King Edward VIII.)

True Grit was also a big disappointment.  I haven’t seen Black Swan but I hear it has some great kung fu scenes.

What makes an actor a big box office draw?  Is it fame alone or is talent required? Usually that question is confounded:  it’s hard to rule out that an actor became famous because he is talented.

The actors playing Harry, Ron, and Hermione in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows are most certainly famous, but almost certainly not because they are talented.  They were cast in that movie nearly 10 years ago when their average age was 11.  No doubt talent played a role in that selection but acting talent at the age of 11 is no predictor of talent at age 20.  The fact that they are in Deathly Hallows is statistically independent of how talented they are.

That is, from the point of view of today it is as if they were randomly selected to be famous film stars out of the vast pool of actors who have been training just as hard as they from ages 11 to 20.  So they are our natural experiment.  If they go on to be successful film stars after the Harry Potter franchise comes to an end then this is statistical evidence that fame itself makes a Hollywood star.

Here’s Daniel Radcliffe on fame.

They say you can’t compare the greats from yesteryear with the stars of today. But when it comes to Nobel laureates, to some extent you can.

The Nobel committee is just like a kid with a bag of candy.  Every day (year) he has to decide which piece of candy to eat (to whom to give the prize) and each day some new candy might be added to his bag (new candidates come on the scene.)  The twist is that each piece of candy has a random expiration date (economists randomly perish) so sometimes it is optimal to defer eating his favorite piece of candy in order to enjoy another which otherwise might go to waste.

The empirical question we are then left with is to uncover the Nobel committee’s underlying ranking of economists based on the awards actually given over time.  It’s not so simple, but there are some clear inferences we can make. (Here’s a list of Laureates up to 2006, with their ages.)

To see that it is not so simple, note that just because X got the prize and Y didn’t doesn’t mean that X is better than Y.  It could have been that the committee planned eventually to give the prize to Y but Y died earlier than expected (or Y is still alive and the time has not yet arrrived.)

When would the committee award the prize to X before Y despite ranking Y ahead of X?  A necessary condition is that Y is older than X and is therefore going to expire sooner.  (I am assuming here that age is a sufficient statistic for mortality risk.)  That gives us our one clear inference:

If X received the prize before Y and X was born later than Y then X is revealed to be better than Y.

(The specific wording is to emphasize that it is calendar age that matters, not age at the time of receiving the prize.  Also if Y never received the prize at all that counts too.)

Looking at the data, we can then infer some rankings.

One of the  first economists to win the prize, Ragnar Frisch (who??) is not revealed preferred to anybody. By contrast, Paul Samuelson, who won the very next year is revealed preferred to kuznets, hicks, leontif, von hayk, myrdal, kantorovich, koopmans, friedman, meade, ohlin, lewis, schulz, stigler, stone, allais, haavelmo, coase and vickrey.

Outdoing Samuelson is Ken Arrow, who is revealed preferred to everyone Samuelson is plus simon, klein, tobin, debreu, buchanan, north, harsanyi, schelling and hurwicz (! hurwicz won the prize 37 years later!), but minus kuznets (a total of 25!)

Also very impressive is Robert Merton who had an incredible streak of being revealed preferred to everyone winning the prize from 1998 to 2006, ended only by Maskin and Myerson (but see below.)

On the flipside, there’s Tom Schelling who is revealed to be worse than 28 other Laureates.  Leo Hurwicz is revealed to be worse than all of those plus Phelps. Hurwicz is not revealed preferred to anybody, a distinction he shares with Vickrey, Havelmo, Schultz (who??), Myrdal (?), Kuznets and Frisch.

Paul Krugman is batting 1,000 having been revealed preferred to all (two) candidates coming after him:  Williamson and Ostrom.

Similar exercises could be carried out with any prize that has a “lifetime achievement” flavor (for example Sophia Loren is revealed preferred to Sidney Poitier, natch.)

There’s a real research program here which should send decision theorists racing to their whiteboards.  We deduced one revealed preference implication. Question:  is that all we can deduce or are there other implied relations?  This is actually a family of questions that depend on how strong assumptions we want to make about the expiration dates in the candy bag.  At one extreme we could ask “is any ranking consistent with the boldface rule above rationalizable by some expiration dates known to the child but not to us?”  My conjecture is yes, i.e. that the boldface rule exhausts all we can infer.

At the other end, we might assume that the committee knows only the age of the candidates and assumes that everyone of a given age has the average mortality rate for that age (in the United States or Europe.)  This potentially makes it harder to rationalize arbitrary choices and could lead to more inferences.  This appears to be a tricky question (the infinite horizon introduces some subtleties.  Surely though Ken Arrow has already solved it but is too modest to publish it.)

Of course, the committee might have figured out that we are making inferences like this and then would leverage those to send stronger signals.  For example, giving the prize to Krugman at age 56 becomes a very strong signal.  This would add some noise.

Finally, the kid-with-a-candy-bag analogy breaks down when we notice that the committee forms bundles.  Individual rankings can still be inferred but more considerations come into play.  Maskin and Myerson got the prize very young, but Hurwicz, with whom they shared the prize, was very close to expiration. We can say that the oldest in a bundle is revealed preferred to anyone older who receives a prize later.  Plus we can infer rankings of fields by looking at the timing of prizes awarded to researchers in similar areas.  For example, time-series econometrics (2003) is revealed preferred to the theory of organizations (2009.)

The Bottom Line:  There is clear advice here for those hoping to win the prize this year, and those who actually do.  If you do win the prize, for your acceptance speech you should start by doing pushups to prove how virile you are.  This signals to the world that you were not given the award because of an impending expiration date but that in fact there was still plenty of time left but the committee still saw fit to act now.  And if you fear you will never win the prize, the sooner you expire the more willing will the public be to believe that you would have won if only you had stuck around.

I saw it on the plane yesterday.  Very funny, very insightful, somewhat disjointed at the end.

Forgive me for doing the game theorist’s equivalent of spoiling a time-travel movie by pointing out the paradoxes, but the main premise of the story rests on some shaky epistemology.

Nobody ever lies, but what really drives the plot is that everybody is perfectly credulous.  Does it follow?  Partially:  if everybody has always been honest and you cannot conceive of the possiblity that anyone would lie, then yes you should assume that everything you hear is truthful.

But that’s not the same as the truth.  Take for example the scene in which Gervais’ character lies to the bank teller.  He tells her that he has $800 in his account.  She looks up his account on the computer which says that he has only $300.  What should she conclude?

She has to consider the possible scenarios that could have led to this contradiction and decide which is most likely.  She must believe that he is being truthful and the movie assumes that this leads her to the conclusion that the computer is wrong and he is right.  But surely people have often been mistaken even if they have always been truthful.  And so another scenario is that the computer is right and he is making an honest mistake.

Indeed it is probably more common that people make honest mistakes than computer records are wrong.  So that is the most likely explanation and its what the teller should have concluded.  And this kind of inferential dilemma underlies most of the movie.

In a world where everybody is honest but nobody is omniscient, someone who starts lying will sooner be viewed as delusional than a prophet.

We saw The Fantastic Mr Fox a few weeks ago.  It was a thoroughly entertaining movie and I highly recommend it.  But this is not a movie review.  Instead I am thinking about movie previews and why we all subject ourselves to sitting through 10-plus minutes of previews.

The movie is scheduled to start at the top of the hour, but we all know that what really starts at the top of the hour are the previews and they will last around 10 minutes at least.  Why don’t we all save ourselves 10 minutes of time and show up 10 minutes late?

Maybe you like to watch previews but I don’t and in any case I can always watch them online if I really want to.  I will assume that most people would prefer to see fewer previews than they do.

One answer is that the theater will optimally randomize the length of previews so that we cannot predict precisely the true starting time of the movie.  To guarantee that we don’t miss any of the film we will have to take the chance of seeing some previews.  But my guess is that this doesn’t go very far as an explanation and anyway the variation in preview lenghts is probably small.

In fact, even if the theater publicized the true start time we would still come early.  The reason is that we are playing an all-pay auction bidding with our time for the best seats in the theater.  Each of us decides at home how early to arrive trading off the cost of our time versus the probability of getting stuck in the front row.  The “winner” of the auction is the person who arrives earliest, the prize is the best seat in the theater, and your bid is how early to arrive.  It is “all pay” because even the loser pays his bid (if you come early but not early enough you get a bad seat and waste your time.)

In an all pay auction bidders have to randomize their bids.  Because if you knew how everyone else was bidding you would arrive just before them and win.  But then they would want to come earlier too, etc.  The randomizations are calibrated so that you cannot know for sure when to arrive if you want to get a good seat and the tradeoffs between coming earlier and later are exactly balanced.

As a result most people arrive early, sit and wait.  Now the previews come in.  Since we are all going to be there anyway, the theater might as well show us previews.  Indeed, even people like me would rather watch previews than sit in an empty theater, so the theater is doing us a favor.

And this even explains why theater tickets are always general admission.  Let’s compare the alternative.  The theater knows we are “buying” our seats with our time.  The theater could try to monetize that by charging higher prices for better seats.  But it’s a basic principle of advertising that the amount we are willing to pay to avoid being advertised at is smaller than the amount advertisers are willing to pay to advertise to us.  (That is why pay TV is practically non-existent.)  So there is less money to be made selling us preferred seats than having us pay with our time and eyeballs.

Out now is a collection of academic essays on The Big Lebowski.

Where cult films go, academics will follow. New in bookstores, and already in its second printing, is “The Year’s Work in Lebowski Studies,” an essay collection edited by Edward P. Comentale and Aaron Jaffe (Indiana University Press, $24.95). The book is, like the Dude himself, a little rough around the edges. But it’s worth an end-of-the-year holiday pop-in. Ideally you’d read it with a White Russian — the Dude’s cocktail of choice — in hand.

Chullo chuck:  gappy3000.  And here is a Big Lebowski random quote generator.

He is the singer and songwriter for The Mr. T Experience and he wrote King Dork.  His new book, Andromeda Klein is not as great but still good.  His next book is a King Dork sequel called King Dork, Approximately.  And a film adaptation of King Dork is in development with Will Ferrell producing.

Here is the inteview. And here is Frank Portman’s blog.

Wired reports that the Soviet Union actually had a doomsday device and kept it a secret.

“The whole point of the doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret!” cries Dr. Strangelove. “Why didn’t you tell the world?” After all, such a device works as a deterrent only if the enemy is aware of its existence. In the movie, the Soviet ambassador can only lamely respond, “It was to be announced at the party congress on Monday.”

So why was the US not informed about Perimeter? Kremlinologists have long noted the Soviet military’s extreme penchant for secrecy, but surely that couldn’t fully explain what appears to be a self-defeating strategic error of extraordinary magnitude.

The silence can be attributed partly to fears that the US would figure out how to disable the system. But the principal reason is more complicated and surprising. According to both Yarynich and Zheleznyakov, Perimeter was never meant as a traditional doomsday machine. The Soviets had taken game theory one step further than Kubrick, Szilard, and everyone else: They built a system to deter themselves.

By guaranteeing that Moscow could hit back, Perimeter was actually designed to keep an overeager Soviet military or civilian leader from launching prematurely during a crisis. The point, Zheleznyakov says, was “to cool down all these hotheads and extremists. No matter what was going to happen, there still would be revenge. Those who attack us will be punished.”

The logic is a tad fishy.  But it is not obvious that you should reveal a doomsday device if you have one.  It is impossible to prove that you have one so if it really had a deterrent effect you would announce you have one even if you don’t.  So it can’t have a deterrent effect.  And therefore you will always turn it off.

What you should worry about is announcing you have a doomsday device to an enemy who previously was not aware that there was such a thing.  It still won’t have any deterrent effect but it will surely escalate the conflict.  (via free exchange via Mallesh Pai.)

With a lot about the making of Where the Wild Things Are which opens Oct 16:

Right away, Jonze told me, he could see that the heads were absurdly heavy. Only one of the actors appeared able to walk in a straight line. A few of them called out from within their costumes that they felt like they were going to tip over. Jonze and Landay had no choice but to tell the Henson people to tear apart the 50-pound heads and remove the remote-controlled mechanical eyeballs.

And other stuff.

It was the only skate video, certainly, to depict a carload of skateboarders consuming what appeared to be vast quantities of Bacardi rum before plunging into a canyon.(To get the shot, Jonze placed a brick on the gas pedal.)

A very entertaining read.

In a frightening new paper, Philip Munz, Ioan Hudea, Joe Imad, and Robert J. Smith say NO!   It’s such scary news that the BBC covered it.

In their model, Susceptible (S) humans can turn into Zombies (Z) with probability β if they meet each other.  But Zombies can also rise from dead susceptibles or the so-called Removed R at rate ς.  In a mixed population with no birth, S will definitely shrink.  Even if S kill Z at rate α,  Z can always re-appear from R and never die off.  Hence, we end up in a pure Zombie equilibrium.  There is no channel for S to grow and there is a channel for Z to grow and there you have it.

Of course, if there is birth then things change.  In their model, the authors look at the case where the (exogenous) birth rate Π is zero.  But the birth rate should also depend on the fractions of S and Z in the population.  If S is large then there should be frequent S-S encounters.  Assume away gender issues for simplicity and these S-S encounters should lead to progeny.  Even if the birth rate is low, it is multiplies by S-squared the chance of an S-S meeting while the zombie production rate βSZ + ςR is close to ςR if Z is close to zero.  If S is large, so ΠS > ςR, this stabilizes a good S equilibrium where a small fraction of zombies does not eventually take over.

This is a small trivial extension but with a  good title (“Make Love to win the Zombie War”), it would be an interesting sequel.

There is another solution: cremation is better than burial.  I’m not an expert on zombies but I strongly suspect a cremated body cannot reappear in zombie form.  Then, if we can kill of zombies fast enough (high α), we should be fine.  Phew.  But while the human race is safe, all individuals are in danger.  I will not sleep well tonight.

(Hat Tip: PLL)

The NY Times has an article about a new wave of independent films and their marketing.

When “The Age of Stupid,” a climate change movie, “opens” across the United States in September, it will play on some 400 screens in a one-night event, with a video performance by Thom Yorke of Radiohead, all paid for by the filmmakers themselves and their backers. In Britain, meanwhile, the film has been showing via an Internet service that lets anyone pay to license a copy, set up a screening and keep the profit.

The article is about the variety of roll-your-own distribution and marketing campaigns employed by filmmakers who lack studio backing.  But the lede is buried:

Famous fans like Courtney Love were soon chattering online about the film. And an army of “virtual street teamers” — Internet advocates who flood social networks with admiring comments, sometimes for a fee, sometimes not — were recruited by a Web consultant, Sarah Lewitinn, who usually works the music scene.

Here is wikipedia on street teams.  The origin is traced back to the KISS army, a grass-roots fan club that aggressively promoted the band KISS and later “vertically integrated” with the KISS marketing machine where they had access to exclusive promotional merchandise.

Today you can hire a consultant to assemble a street team to promote your band, movie, (hmmm… blog?), … A good consultant will find (or make) fans with a selected personality type, street-cred, and social network and organize them into a guerilla marketing squad armed with swag.

Virtual street teams operate in online social networks.  Presumably then, actual people are no longer required.  A good consultant can manufacture online identities, position them in a social network, getting Twitter followers and Facebook friends and cultivate the marketing opportunities from there.  You can imagine the pitch:  “We can mobilize 10,000 follower-tweets per day…”

Here is the web site of, the agency of Sara Lewitinn who coordinated the virtual street team for the film Anvil! The Story of Anvil.

For The Win! is an cooperative of club urchins and nightlife denizens charged with the task of defending the best of pop culture from the daily onslaught of the whack. At night we comb the streets in search of the best fashion, art, music, and movies New York City has to offer. By day we make sure we spread the word to the world by any and all means necessary of the internet to it’s biggest platforms without skipping a step or taking anything for granted. Each of our campaigns is as unique as the artist it represents.

Note they also count Slighly Stoopid, Electrocute, and The Pet Shop Boys (!) as clients.

Today at Peet’s in Evanston I was trying to work out a model for this idea Sandeep and I are working on related to the game theory of torture.  I started drawing a litle graph and then got lost in thought.  I must have looked a little weird (nothing unusual there) because the woman next to me started asking me what was up with this squiggly plot on my pad of paper.

Most economists dread these moments when someone asks you what you do and you have to tell them you’re an economist and then prepare to deflect the inevitable questions and/or accusations “what’s going to happen with interest rates?”  “when’s the economy going to turn around?”  Usually I just mumble and wait for the person to get bored and go on with her reading.  For some reason I was talkative today.

I told her I was a game theorist.  “What’s that for?” I told her I was working on a theory of torture.  She looked horrified.  “How do you make a theory of torture?”

I told her that using game theory is a lot like screenwriting.   Imagine you were a film-maker and you wanted to make a point about torture.  You would invent characters and put them in the roles of torturer and torturee and you would describe the events.  You would depict how the torturer would plan his torture and how he would the torturee would react and how this would lead the torturer to adjust his approach.  If the film was going to be effective it would have believable characters and it would have to show the audience a plausible hypothetical situation and what happens when these characters act out their roles in that situation.  In short, its a model.

(As I was saying this I remembered that I learned to think of economics and literature in this way about 20 years ago from Tyler Cowen.  And he has a nice paper on it here.)

She looked even more horrified.  But I was pretty pleased.  I started thinking about Resevoir Dogs (nsfw).

While scripts and models are constrained by a similar requirement of coherence between character and events, there are differences and this makes them complementary.  A model necessarily maps out the entire game tree, while a script describes just one path.  In a model every counterfactual is analyzed and we see their consequences and this explains why those paths are not taken, but a film is a far more vivid account of the path taken.  In a model the off-equilibrium outcomes are the results of mistakes while a well-conceived script can bring in plausible external developments to place the characters in unexpected situations.

Of course film-makers get invited to better parties.

“These are relatively simple physical equations, so you program them into the computer and therefore kind of let the computer animate things for you, using those physics,” said May. “So in every frame of the animation, (the computer can) literally compute the forces acting on those balloons, (so) that they’re buoyant, that their strings are attached, that wind is blowing through them. And based on those forces, we can compute how the balloon should move.”

This process is known as procedural animation, and is described by an algorithm or set of equations, and is in stark contrast to what is known as key frame animation, in which the animators explicitly define the movement of an object or objects in every frame.

Why stop there?  Next, we can use models from the behavioral sciences, program a few equations and let the characters, dialog, and action animate themselves by following the solution of the model.  Don’t believe me? Here’s how to procedurally animate Romeo and Juliet.

I have been enjoying reading the blog of Seth Godin.  In a recent post he wrote the following.

It’s quite possible that the era of the professional reviewer is over. No longer can a single individual (except maybe Oprah) make a movie, a restaurant or a book into a hit or a dud.

Not only can an influential blogger sell thousands of books, she can spread an idea that reaches others, influencing not just the reader, but the people who read that person’s blog or tweets. And so it spreads.

The post goes in another direction after that, but I started thinking about this conventional view that the web reduces concentration in the market for professional opinions.  No doubt blogs, discussion boards, web 2.0 make it easier for people with opinions to express them and people looking for opinions to find those that suit their taste.

But does this necessarily decrease concentration?  If everybody had similar tastes in movies, say, the effect of lowering barriers to entry would be to allow the market to coordinate on the one guy in the world who can best judge movies according to that standard and articulate his opinion.  Of course people have different tastes and the conventional view is based on the idea that the web allows segmentation according to taste.  But what if talent in evaluating movies means the ability to judge how people with different tastes would react to different movies?  A review would be a contingent recommendation like “if you like this kind of movie, this is for you.  if you like that kind of movie, then stay away from this one but you might like that one instead.”

In fact, a third effect of the web is to make it easy for experts to find out what different tastes there are out there and how they react to movies.  This tends to increase centralization because it creates a natural monopoly in cataloging tastes and matching tastes to recommendations.  Indeed, Netflix’s marketing strategy is based on this idea and I am lead to hold out Netflix as a counterexample to the conventional view.

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