Software Nerd

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Long Bets

I came across web-site called "Long Bets". The idea of the site is that people can make a bet about something happening/not happening, 2 years or more in the future. The stakes are held in escrow, and given to a charity named by the winner.

The bettors don;t just bet; they're expected to provide a brief argument for their side. Also, the site allows membership, who can vote and discuss.

The largest stake is a $1 million bet between Warren Buffett and a money-manager. Mr. Buffett is betting that the stock market average will do better than a "fund of hedge funds" after fees/costs are accounted for.

Some bets have already been decided. In 2002, Dave Winder (a CEO) bet $2000 that "in a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times' Web site".

The site is like a less busy, more long-term version of a sites like inTrade.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Influence - by Cialdini

A pretty young girl stops man on a sidewalk. She has a sheaf of papers, and wants to ask him a few questions about food and drink. The man exaggerates about how much he goes out to restaurants etc.. The girl then makes her pitch for a dine-out card. The card makes sense if he does go out as much as he claims. The man is embarrassed. He might even buy, to avoid admitting he exaggerated. If he does, he has been "influenced" by something other than rationality.

Cialdini's book, "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" recounts various methods used to influence people (e.g. by the use of similarity, or by the use of authority figures). Cialdini presents a wide range of examples. He explains why the Chinese had such "great" results with American POWs, with the minimal use of violence. He analyses the good-cop/bad-cop routine. He summarizes many sociology experiments. Using all these examples, he classifies the "influences" into major categories, and provides suggestions about how to deal with them.

Unlike some other authors, Cialdini does not take a cynical attitude. He does not use the various experiments (e.g. the famous Milgram electric shock experiment) to bold a thesis about the irrationality of man. He simply makes the case that people can and do act irrationally at times, and that others take advantage of this. He postulates that many of the irrational habits have their roots in useful habits (e.g. authority figures are often right), and that mostly we need to simply be aware of the potential traps, and have some pre-planned ways to deal with them.

Not an earth-shattering book if one has read similar ones (say, about sales-techniques). If one has not, then this is a good place to start.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Charles Munger

I am a fan of Warren Buffett, despite his awful views on political science.

Buffett's business partner is the lesser-known Charles Munger. He has better political views than Buffett. However, like Buffett, he is a very steady, rational and thoughtful person. Here is a long (1;45 hrs) video of Munger giving a talk at Caltech, for anyone who is curious as to what it might take to be one of the richest men in the world.