### risk matching in gambling

An argument for playing a game such as poker with “real” money is that it forces people to play with true risk-reward calculations. While this is certainly better than playing without risk, there exists the question of how to match risk profiles among players. With enough players (large liquid market), they can self-sort by stake size, and this seems fair. With only few people though, the situation is turned around, where a stake size has to be agreed upon at some clearing size (so that enough people agree to play the game) rather than chosen individually, and that same amount of money may be considered as very different values by different people. A pauper and a millionaire do not see \$100 as the same value, and will adjust their utilities accordingly, and this will materially affect wagering. Since risk is measured in utility units, it is desirable to match utilities rather than dollar amounts. But there isn’t an agreed-upon utility currency. Or is there?

### on 80 points (bashifen), aka tractor (tuolaji), aka double rise (shuangsheng)

This is a popular card game of the 5-10-K class played in China, the rules of which are described in English here, but not in a generalizable way. Another version on Wikipedia makes logical sense but isn’t how I’ve seen it in practice. In any case, like for many card and board games, the rules are not described in a proper way for the new player and that’s annoying (some rules are not important or obvious, other rules are important but obscure, etc.). I remember in the help files of say, MS Hearts, they follow a four-section template of: (0) basics, (1) goal of the game, (2) playing the game, and (3) strategy; in that order, which I think is the perfect logic that should be used for describing all games. Why nobody wants to explain a relatively simple game as this except by enumeration of examples is a mystery to me, so here goes:

Basics:
The game is played with two joker-included decks of cards. 5, 10, and K are point cards worth face value, except K is worth 10 points. It is a standard 4-player partnership game, so a person and his cross is a team. It is played in multiple rounds and each round there is a dealer (hence a “dealer” team and an opposing “grabber” team). Each team keeps a “level” represented by a card rank (i.e. 2,3,…,A), and each round is associated with the dealer’s level, whose corresponding rank cards are called the level cards.

### Zune, XBox, Trojan horse

It looks like the Zune is a flop. At least in the conventional sense of market share against the iPod and portable music players. This is predictable with the kind of PR that came before its release.

However, I highly doubt the Zune was meant to be just a music player. Earthlings know that the industry vision has been that of a central computational and storage hub in the home or on the network, and portable anywhere devices as terminals. It’s old news, but I guess it’s time to get pushy when vanilla home PC’s are already in pretty much every home and old usage models require no more computational power than is already available.

In this context, the Zune is a way to dump a preferred portable devices platform out there so Microsoft can write software for it. Windows Mobile on PDA is another one of those things, but far more people buy music players and cell phones than full-blown PDA’s (I’m guessing). One has to be a bit deceptive about what is really going on when pushing these devices, which is why the Zune is “just” a portable music player, when in fact, it is a big screen with computational capabilities and built-in wireless, so with a software change it immediately becomes a generic portable device. Microsoft has done this before, certainly. The XBox was “just” a gaming console — for a while. Not any more, despite J Allard’s early protests to the contrary. It’s clearly a computational and storage hub that just happens to be accepted in the living room. Intentionally implementing an accepted specialized device within a generic platform embodiment so that the specialization can later be removed is like Trojan horse marketing, I suppose (no revelation here, just a personal reflection), but it remains the case that the Trojan horse must be a gift worthwhile enough to be accepted.

By that measure, the XBox achieved a level of success as a gaming console by having some compelling features, but the Zune did not. The Zune was too similar to practically everything else. Maybe if the Trojan horse were a cell phone instead (iPhone?) or a car-device (GPS+music player?), Microsoft would have had more success. Actually the GPS+music player idea isn’t bad. It is getting pretty popular, but only a bunch of small random brands are selling it, with inconsistent interfaces and idiotic software as a result. There is where Microsoft could have made a difference — as it already has a well regarded PC-based navigation solution and user base from that.

So there you go, Microsoft. Keep the 2-cent change.

### A little Markovian problem

Here it is:

A has a fair coin and B has a fair coin. They flip coins together, but only keep track of their own sequences of heads and tails. A stops if the sequence “HHT” appears. B stops if the sequence “HTH” appears. Which player is more likely to stop first?