Zara’s Space on the Web – Musings

December 28, 2009

The Climate Change (Nash) Game

Filed under: Uncategorized — zarazilla @ 5:27 pm

In modern game theory study, one of the first games to be introduced to students is the Nash Bargaining Game (named after the famous mathematician John Nash, the subject of the Hollywood film A Beautiful Mind).

Economists and in particular environmental economists love this game because the premise of it depends on a finite good (e.g. a limited amount of money) which is valuable to all players.  There are many variations to this game, but the usual goal of the game is for each player to maximise the amount of the good they have by the end of the game (e.g. the person with the most amount of money wins), but there is also a maximum threshold level to which the all of the players’ goods must sum to (e.g. the sum of the accumulated money by all players has to be less than £100).  In different variations of the game, bypassing this sum may mean a lose for all players involved, or missing out on a special bonus amount of money.

The actual play of the game is very simple: Every player starts with the same amount of good that, summed together, is above the threshold level.  There are a defined number of rounds, and during each round each player (generally secretly) forfeits however much of the good they feel like (this can be 0), and at the end of each round the arbitrator announces how much money has been given up.

If that last two paragraphs were gobbledygook to you, I apologise!  But perhaps a description of a new variation by zoologist Manfred Milinski will make sense to you; I encourage you to play it with your friends the next time they suggest a round of poker.

The rules of this game are:

  1. Each player starts out with a set amount of money.  For the purposes of explaining, I will say £20 (raise or lower this according to the level of income of the poorest member of your group!).
  2. The group needs to collectively donate half of the total sum of the starting amount (so if you have six players who each had £20 to start off with, the group needs to donate £60, that is 6×20/2) to a ‘fund’.  If this ‘fund’ is not met by the end of the game, there is a 90% chance that everybody will lose all their money.  If it is met, everybody gets to keep the money they have left over after donating.
  3. You have ten rounds to do this.  Each round consists of each player secretly donating their money to the fund, and at the end of the round an arbitrator announces how much money there is in the fund.
  4. Players are allowed to discuss strategy with each other.

It may not immediately become apparent to you, but this game is an attempt to emulate, at a very basic level, international climate change negotiations.  Each player can be seen as a negotiator from a country, each trying to play the game to achieve what’s best for themselves.  If the sum of their (expensive) pledged actions are not large enough, a climate catastrophe is upon us and all the money they did not spend (and more!) on helping to mitigate climate change will be spent attempting to adapt to it.

Unfortunately, only 50% of Milinski’s experimental groups managed to ‘save the world’. Can you and your friends do better?

I see a couple of ways you could play this game:

  1. The arbitrator (you could call them Gaia!) comes up with the money and hands it to everyone.  All money that goes in the ‘fund’ goes back to the arbitrator.  Similary, if everyone loses, all the money returns to the arbitrator.  This is a slightly boring game though, and friends may feel more generous with their money, as it will be going back to the person who originally provided it.  However, if this is the only way you can get your friends to play this game, this may be the way to do it.  If not, however, to make things more interesting:
  2. Each player comes up with their own money.  A ‘bad’ charity, that is a charity that no one would ever consider giving money to, is agreed on by everyone.  An especially good ‘bad’ charity would be one that is against everyone’s beliefs.  So if you’re with a bunch of environmentalists, maybe a coal lobby.  Or if you’re with technologists, a luddite group.  You get the picture.  If the game is lost, all the money goes to this charity.  If the game is won, the money in the fund can either go to funding your next party or to a good charity.  I suggest funding your next party, because a good charity may also make everyone feel a bit more generous with their money.

Okay, go out there and see what your friends are made of!  If you do play this game, please let me know how it goes. :)

Sources:

The idea of a ‘bad charity’ is influenced by Ian Ayres’s StickK.com. This site allows you to name a charity you dislike and set yourself commitments.  If these commitments are broken, you donate a set amount of money to a pre-named charity you dislike.

The Climate Change Game: article: Nature Reports Climate Change -nature.com

Podcast: Fixing Climate is Going to Cost You – Planet Money – npr.org

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December 25, 2009

Notes on Paula Deen’s Turducken

Filed under: Food,Recipes — zarazilla @ 1:09 am

Well I was going to post something else up here but it wasn’t very Christmassy at all, so I thought I’d save it for later and get on with this instead.

A couple weeks ago I threw a Turducken party and while I was planning, after a look around at what was available, decided on using Paula Deen’s Turducken recipe.

It is a really good recipe and everybody enjoyed it, but I thought I’d make the following notes in case anybody was interested in using the recipe.  The notes are UK-centric, but should benefit other people at some points too.

First note: You need at least a day of planning before cooking this thing!  I had an entire week and still had to hotfoot it to the local store for a couple extra ingredients. Make sure you read the entire recipe, have all the ingredients (more below), baked your cornbread, have your birds sitting in brine in the refrigerator overnight, and your bread dried in the oven for the cornmeal dressing!

Ingredients

Kosher salt, for the purposes of this recipe, is regular uniodised table salt in the UK, which is most salt sold in the UK, unless it advertises that it is iodised.[1]  Apparently the name stems from the fact that in the US most salt is iodised, and ‘koshering salt’ is used in Jewish butchers to draw out the blood and other impurities in the meat. Because ‘koshering salt’ is rather large grained, use less than the recipe specifies.  I forgot about this bit and ended up with very salty turducken.  Try about 3/4s of a cup when it asks for a cup.  NOTE however, that for other recipes you may want to use sea salt, depending on what the salt is for. Please have a look at [1] if you want to find out more.

Self-Rising Cornmeal – I looked all over for this stuff but it wasn’t stocked anywhere I could find. So what I used instead for 1 cup of the stuff was 1 tbsp baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 cup fine ground polenta/corn meal minus 1 tbsp[2]. You should be able to find Polenta/corn meal in most every supermarket, try looking in the ‘exotic foods’ section.

Saltine Crackers – These are pretty hard to get hold of if you don’t know what you’re looking for.   Take a good look first before you wander into the shops!  Over here they are mostly described as ‘italian’ crackers and you can apparently get them in Tesco under the label ‘Doriano’.  I got mine in Morrison’s in a white pack with an Italian flag on it. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name brand right now, but I’ll come back and repost it when I can find it.

Cooking

House Seasoning – I ended up with far too much of this stuff.  I would suggest making half of the recipe and you will still have far too much.

Cornbread Dressing – Similarly with the house seasoning, you make far too much of this stuff.  If possible, try to cut the recipe in half. I know it’s difficult what with 5 eggs!

Deboning – I got my butcher to debone my birds – I have no idea how I would’ve done it otherwise!  Similarly, when it came time to stitch it back up again, I handily had an ex-butcher on my team of cooks. Metal skewers with holes in them are handy for this! Otherwise you may need to poke two skewers in and thread the twine through between the skewers.

Cooking Time – Do allow an extra hour for prep time and at least one extra hour for roasting time. I eventually turned my oven up to 170 to get my birds to cook faster as there were 15 very hungry people around!

Vegetables – Because the turducken is cooked at such a low temperature, forget about roast potatoes and parsnips while your turducken is cooking. It does need to sit for 20 minutes after it’s done though, so you could do them then.

Okay I think those are all my notes. After reading all that I hope you’re not frightened off by the planning that needs to go into this thing, it IS well worth it in the end! Good luck and happy eating!

[1] Kosher Salt – Practically Edible

[2] Southern cornbread recipe – Simplyrecipes.com

P.s. Whilst researching my Turducken, I came across a Stuffed Camel Recipe. I asked Snopes whether it was real and came up with possibly the most amusing and entertaining single webpage I’ve had the joy to read in my 12 years on the internet.

December 24, 2009

Prologue – Training

Filed under: Fiction — zarazilla @ 9:30 pm

The following is the prologue I wrote for the novel I was attempting to write in November for Nanowrimo (I really only got as far as finishing the prologue).  The novel is meant to be a biblical allegory and while the part where my character based on Jesus is born is several chapters and thousands of words from the prologue, I thought it’d be nice to post what I have written so far.  The prologue is also a homage to Robert Jordan; in his Wheel of Time series he enjoyed having Rand train sword fighting by fighting several men at once.

—–

Iron ringing against iron.  Flaming Sword meets Angel’s Descent.  Another one down, six more to go.  Whirling, weaving, parry, block, dodge, strike.  Father’s Sacrifice.  Two more down, over halfway now.  His sword arm is aching, his breaths short, but there are still four more to go and he has no intention of stopping and besides, this is not the worse he has experienced by far.

Out of the corner of his eye Godwin catches sight of his cousin Alucio, in a similar exercise across the courtyard, shining in full armour, whirling, dancing; he seems barely even human, and not even out of breath. Clang.  Godwin’s momentary distraction has cost him; he stumbles to his knees, lights dancing in his eyes. Get up you useless fool! Godwin rages against himself silently and he is up with Phoenix Rises, felling his attacker, half-blinded but much more wary and with the fire reignited in his stomach.  Godwin grips his practice sword tighter and steps aside from another blow, following it up with another strike, taking another two out at the same time.  Only one left but it his cousin Gavin, the fastest and the most cunning of his practice circle, and then they are joined by a third.  A third in shining armour with a rising sun and a star worked into the metalwork.  Godwin takes a deep breath and Gavin is taken out by a swift feint and a strike to the head, and then it is just Godwin and Alucio.  Time slows down and Godwin knows he is on his own.  All the fancy swordwork he has just applied has been taught to him by the elder boy standing across from him.  It is now all about stamina and speed and his innate knowledge of his opponent.

Alucio lowers his sword, signalling for rest before their duel, giving Godwin time to recover, but Godwin shakes his head.  He is on a roll, and the fire in his stomach still burns.  He has never beat Alucio in a fair fight before, but there is always a first time for everything.  Alucio nods and raises his sword again.  They begin.

The two swords ring against each other repeatedly and Godwin soon loses sense of the world outside of him and Alucio.  He is desperately tired but the fire in his stomach urges him on.  It wakes in him the old grudge he bears against the older boy, always faster, always stronger, always smarter and more charismatic.  A grudge he keeps buried on all other occasions, but uncaps and lets out when the fire in his stomach wakes it.  Soon, however, despite his best efforts, he finds himself lying flat with the cobblestones pressing against his back, breathing heavily with Alucio’s sword at his throat.  Alucio is glowering down at him, displeased.

“Reckless” he says shortly.  Alucio glowers at Godwin a bit more. “Whatever it is”, he continues, lifting the tip of his sword away from Godwin’s throat and releasing him, “you have 5 minutes to let it go, and then we start again”. He turns around and walks away, adjusting the buckles on his shield.

Closing his eyes, Godwin takes a deep breath and opens them again, looking around.  Gavin is by his side with water, himself barely recovered from the rather too sharp blow that Godwin had delivered on him in his haste to get to Lucio, but Gavin in his loyal faithful way does not begrudge Godwin the blow. Rising, Godwin thanks Gavin for the water and gulps it down, handing the cup back to Gavin.  Gavin nods and retreats, leaving him to his peace.

“Let it go” he mutters, starting to walk, pacing and breathing in steady deep practiced breaths.  Godwin knows what Alucio wants.  It is something he has never quite managed to do, and something he can never imagine being able to do when dueling Alucio.  It is a frightening thought, to lose all emotion and come out of himself.  Godwin shudders.  He imagines it feels like losing control.

Godwin reaches the end of the courtyard and turns, just in time to see Alucio catch Godwin’s twin sister Gaea by the arm as she stumbles.  Gaea blushes and looks down at the ground, briefly, mildly bemused.  Regaining herself, she smiles and thanks Lucio, stepping away from his bracing arm.  Lucio smiles back, unguarded.  Watching this exchange, Godwin smiles, everything else forgotten.  In years past Gaea would have shoved Luce backwards and stuck out her tongue before running away.  But it looked like things were changing between the two, and the rough friendship of childhood was paring away to becoming something much more beautiful.

Godwin walks back towards Luce, the warmth in his stomach no longer a fire.  He is calmer and more contemplative when he reaches his old friend.  Maybe he can, afterall, let it all go.  Afterall, if he can quite willingly trust his old friend with his beloved Gaea, should he not trust him enough to at least attempt once to try what he is forever telling him?

Soon Godwin and Lucio are facing each other, swords at the ready, the courtyard quiet and anticipating.  They have all seen it so many times before, but it is always a show for everyone when Godwin and Lucio duel, although most of the time, for the men, it is the simple potential rising from the two, and for the women it is the motherly concern they feel towards the two boys and in particular their young prince Godwin.

Godwin is feeling entirely calm now, and when the dueling starts he can concentrate less on trying to win and more on the strokes it would take to get him there.  Soon he feels the unfamiliar sensation of starting to flow out of himself, to feel as if he is watching from slightly apart from his body, concentrating entirely on the technicality.  Probing for weaknesses, the inevitable sidestep, the miscalculation of footing on the cobblestones. Godwin presses his advantages, driving Alucio backwards, and suddenly Alucio’s sword clatters onto the cobblestones. A very slight overextension from Alucio and a fraction of a second was all Godwin had needed to strike Alucio’s less protected wrist. The fight is not over however, and as Alucio dives for his sword Godwin’s foot comes out and catches him in the stomach, turning him over mid-air (and in the process, also bruising Godwin’s foot). Alucio lies flat on the cobblestones, Alucio the victor over him, sword tip against his throat.

There is a brief second as Godwin and Alucio stare at each other, both caught off guard by the novelty of the situation. Alucio is the first to break into a smile, his pride at his younger cousin shining through. Godwin smiles tentatively back, and around them the courtyard breaks into applause and cheering. It has been several years since anyone had won against Alucio in a fair duel, and the fact that their young heir to the throne is the first to do so since Alucio had turned 14 years old is cause enough for celebration. The potential that Godwin is showing brings happiness and pride to the onlookers. The future of the kingdom shines bright.

December 23, 2009

RSS feeds – Shared Items

Filed under: Economics,Personal — zarazilla @ 11:47 am

After talking too much about my RSS Feeds last night, I realised a good complement to the post would be to introduce my Shared Items. I use Google Reader to manage my RSS feeds and it allows me to share posts. As I read through my feeds I typically share posts I think are interesting, relevant, or fun. I also attempt to write little notes on why I think particular articles are interesting.

As I mostly use my feeds to keep me current in my profession, it is heavily slanted towards the environment and economics.

I don’t know whether it will be of much interest to anyone, but you can access it via this link and I have also put it on the side as (very creatively) ‘Interesting articles from RSS feeds’ under ‘Other’.

December 22, 2009

Getting organised

Filed under: Personal — zarazilla @ 9:57 pm

I have 2 New Years Resolutions for 2010. I’m really already working on both of them, but I’d like to hit the ground running with them in January and for them to be fully implemented by the time 2011 rolls around.

The first one is to work on my posture. My mother has been nagging me about it for the past 22 years or so and while I’ve accepted that I have bad posture, it’s only over the past year I’ve come to agree with her that I should probably put some effort into fixing it, both to stave off potential long-term health issues and also for the puposes of how people see me, as someone who now has her foot on the first rung of the career ladder.

My second New years resolution is to get organised. Recently I’ve been finding myself rushing from one thing to the next and finding little satisfaction in doing things because I’m always thinking several steps ahead about other things I need to do, and just about making it through in a general disorganised mess. Oh, and my RSS feed? At the moment I’m standing at 423 unread articles.

Part of the problem I think is that I’m spending far too much time at work. Just last week, even though I got Friday off, I had already worked 40 hours from Monday to Thursday. But, as my friend Cate (who is also attempting to manage her time better) likes to say, I’m probably not working effectively. Which I agree with. Lately, it feels like for 95% of the time I spend at work all the internal mechanisms of my brain are submerged in molasses. I very much hope this is merely due to burn-out and that after 2 weeks of holiday I’ll return to work much refreshed and ready to work. Otherwise, there’s not really much to work around it. For me, work, at least at the moment, is the number one priority. If I have to stay until late o’clock to get things finished, so be it. But I’d rather have a life outside of work as well.

Which brings me to the next point. Lately I’ve been having a much better social life. I won’t lie to you, it is great. I enjoy hanging out with people, but I probably also need to learn to say no. I was very good at this at university, completely shutting down my social life in order to churn out masses of coursework, train 8 hours a week (which comes out to about 12 hours a week once you factor in travelling and changing time) and serve as secretary and captain/president of the karate club. While it was not completely healthy, it was okay, because I still got to see my friends while I was doing these activities, and catching up during meals at whatever odd hours we managed to remember to eat.

Work life/social life balance is slightly different. While the people I work with are fantastic people and I really like them, I’d still like to see other people. But I need to somehow ensure that I don’t go overboard so that my sleeping hours are cut short and I become highly ineffective at work, therefore having to work longer hours. This, I guess, will merely take some practice, but is something I will keep in mind.

My new social life has completely cut into my ‘self improvement’ time – the time I spend working on something. Even before the social life exploded though, I was spending this time very ineffectively. You remember that RSS feed I mentioned before? I spent about 2 hours a day catching up on the posts from Freakonomics, Environmental Economics, Core Economics, EcoGeek, RealClimate, ClimateIntel, etc. My most frightening feed is Climate ChangeS, which posts about 10 full-length reports every week. I used to force myself to read every single article in full and digest and understand each thing, but since my social life took off I really have just been ignoring my RSS feed. This is a Bad Thing, and I have set myself priorities. This is how it looks like now.

You can see the three folders near the bottom. They are read in the following order:
1) Friends
2) Must reads
3) Economics

Everything else are things I would still like to read, but are kind of ‘luxury’ items. If I have time, or I feel like I should be reading some feeds but don’t feel up to a full page of highly scary intellectualness, I’ll hit “All items” and go through them (CuteOverload posts are always fun defusers of intellecutalness).

It’s interesting that I would never have thought of prioritising my feeds the way I have until I had to; I would have stubbornly continued wasting my life away attempting to read through them all. Thanks, social life. ;)

There are a few things I would like to do which are kind of one-off things, such as learning a scripting language (this will cut down on the time I spend programming at work) and re-reading some economics texts; hopefully the next two things I will talk about will help me do them.

Gadgets
At heart, I’m still a computer scientist and a big gadget freak. While these are not physical gadgets, they are gadgets in that I veiw them as toys even though they are immensely helpful.

At Cate’s urging, I’ve also signed up for RememberTheMilk. I’ve only had it for a couple of weeks but in those weeks I’ve found it incredibly useful in planning and executing a turducken party (difficult to shop for when you’ve not got a car and exotic ingredients are needed) whilst things at work have gone a little crazy. Not only do I find it immensely satisfying to tick things off and hit the ‘completed’ button when they’re done, I find it also helps to have things written down. It takes some stress away to see things that you have to do written down with a time estimate rather than have them floating around in your mind and knowing you have ‘a lot’ to do. It does take some practice to realise that you can write certain things down, for instance I haven’t yet written down ‘Learn scripting language’ and ‘Read xxx’, but it’s definitely nice to know it’s written down somewhere and will not be lost to the ether.

The second gadget I like is Google Calendar. With it can write down my social and work engagements, and, with it’s ‘sharing’ feature I can see what other people are up to and more effectively plan my social life better.

Better still, Rememberthemilk has a widget that displays my todo list whenever I load Google Calendar. Excellent.

So, to summarise, here are the steps I’m going to take to get myself organised in 2010:
1) Work more effectively at work. In order to do this, I must (probably eat better and)
2) Not go overboard on the socialising. 8 hours of sleep should become a norm for me, not a freakish luxury.
3) Prioritise my RSS feed. I have already done this. :)
4) Make copious use of Rememberthemilk and Google Calendar

I’m not going to pretend that getting organised is going to be easy. I have, ever since I was a child, been a complete mess of an organiser, and only started taking on organising social activities (rather than just attending them) halfway through university. But 2010 will be the year of organisation and my life definitely needs it. Bring it on!

(If anybody has any tips on how to work on the posture, they will be very much appreciated. I have no idea how to get started there apart from straightening up everytime I remember to)

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