Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Card Counting: Basics.

You don’t have to be an autistic savant or an MIT graduate student to know how to count cards. All you need is the ability to add, subtract, and divide.

Although there are different systems for card counting, the one I use is called Hi-Lo. This system assigns secondary values to each card that you then add or subtract in order to calculate what is called the “Running Count”. Simply put: if you see 2-6, you add one and if you see 10-A, you minus 1. That’s it.

[2;3;4;5;6] = +1
[10;J;Q;K;A] = -1
[7;8;9] = 0

A great way to practice looking at cards for the Running Count is taking a whole deck of cards and then counting every card (using the secondary values) until you get to the last card. When you get to the last card, see if you can use the Running Count to determine whether or not the card is a +1, -1, or 0 valued card.

So how do card counters use the Running Count to their advantage? The general idea is that they bet high when the count is high and bet small (or not at all) when the count is negative. The mathematics behind this has to do with the Expected Value of playing Blackjack when the deck is rich with 10’s and Aces. The simple way to explain it is that you’re more likely to be dealt blackjack and 20’s and the dealer is more likely to bust when showing bust cards. Note that you aren’t guaranteed to win these hands; you just have a higher expected value for the bet you place. Having a 1-2% edge over the house doesn’t seem like much, but in the long term over a large sample size… this makes a big difference. See my previous entry on Expected Value to see what I’m talking about.

If you’ve managed to stay with me so far, you might have some questions like “How much do I increase my bet based on the Running Count?” “I thought you said we needed to know how to divide, I haven’t seen that yet!” All this will be covered in my next entry, Card Counting: Advanced.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Expected Value and why Insurance and Even Money are bad bets


In Mathematics, "Expected Value" is the sum of all the different outcomes of an event multiplied by their respective probabilities. An easy to understand example would be a dice roll. Each face of the die has a 1/6 probability of occurring. So the expected value of a dice roll is:

1(1/6) + 2(1/6) + 3(1/6) + 4(1/6) + 5(1/6) + 6(1/6) = 3.5

This means if you rolled a dice over and over and took the average of those rolls, you'll find that the average approaches 3.5 as the number of rolls increases.

So what does Expected Value (EV) have to do with Blackjack and gambling? Simply put, casinos make their money by having bets and games with negative EV for patrons. Let's take a simple game like roulette. There are 38 different possibilities for the ball to land on (numbers 1-36, 0, and 00). If you were to place $1 on one of those possibilities you can win $35. So 37/38 of the time, you'll be losing your $1 and the other time you'll be winning $35. Let's calculate the EV of our $1 bet:

evRoulette($1) = -$1(37/38) + $35(1/38) = -$0.05263

In the long term, every dollar placed on a game of roulette net's the casino a little more than 5 cents. Multiply this by how many dollars are placed on the table and you can see how casinos make a lot of money.

Let's move on to a more complicated bet: Insurance in Blackjack. Insurance is something that the casino offers when the dealer is showing an Ace. Insurance is basically a side bet that the dealer has Blackjack and it pays 2:1. 2:1 means if I pay $1 on Insurance and the dealer has a Blackjack, I win $2. You usually have a limit of half of your original bet to take insurance. Using our knowledge of the card deck we know that only 4/13 cards give the dealer Blackjack (10, J, Q, K of the 13 different cards) the other 9 values result in a loss of our insurance bet. Let's calculate the EV of a $1 Insurance bet.

evInsurance($1) = -$1(9/13) + $2(4/13) = -$0.07692

Per dollar, this is actually a worse bet than slamming your money down on a random number at routette.

If you've ever sat a Blackjack table you might hear a dealer or some jaded player say, "You ALWAYS take the even money!" Those people are wrong and here is why. Taking even money is getting paid 1:1 on your Blackjack when the dealer is showing an ace. It's 100% chance at getting 1:1 on your original bet. This seems good, right? Calculating the EV of Even Money is simple:

evEvenMoney($1) = $1(1.0) = $1

Well the only way for not taking Even Money to be better is for it to have a higher EV. When you don't take even money, you can either "Push" (meaning you win zero dollars. note: you do not lose your bet) or you get paid 3:2 (1.5:1) on your bet. Let's calculate the EV of not taking Even Money for the same dollar:

evNoEvenMoney($1) = $0(4/13) + $1.5(9/13) = $1.03846

In the long run, not taking even money will be a better bet. Although it may be painful to take a Push on your Blackjack it's actually the profitable choice in the long run.

Seeing these small decimals may not seem like a big deal, but remember that this is per dollar per decision. What happens when I'm betting a little more than a dollar and seeing a lot more hands? Let's look at the Even Money player versus the No Even Money player when they are betting $100 a hand and were dealt Blackjack against an Ace 13 times.

The Even Money Player took even money all 13 times and made a sweet $1300 on his Blackjacks-against-Aces. In those same situations the No Even Money Player never took even money and won $150 nine times and $0 four times netting him a total of $1350. That $50 difference is just in a sample size of 13 hands. If the Blackjack-against-Ace scenario happened 1300 times, the No Even Money Player made $5,000 more than the Even Money Player. It's making the right decision (based on EV) every time that makes the No Even Money player a more profitable player in the long run.

All of this math is a prelude for an upcoming entry that I'm revising for card counting. As you can imagine, EV is everything for card counters.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Stuff People Get Wrong: Quantum Leap

The third in the series of Stuff People Get Wrong.

In speech, people say "A Quantum Leap" to mean a very large change or jump. In reality, a Quantum Leap is actually the smallest leap possible.

A Quantum Leap is the transition of an electron from one quantum state to another quantum state... making it on the order of nanoseconds. To human eyes, it's basically instantaneous.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Improving over the O.K. Plateau

I just finished reading a very interesting article that looked into the world of memory athletes. The author shares some of his experiences and dialog with some intelligent/interesting people. While not intending to be, there are some extremely motivational and inspiring ideas within his article. The one that stood out to me was the idea of an O.K. Plateau and the reason we stop improving at things. I've ranted in the past about how I see people settle for mediocrity and this article really shed some light on the science behind what's going on.
From the article:
When people first learn to use a keyboard, they improve very quickly from sloppy single-finger pecking to careful two-handed typing, until eventually the fingers move effortlessly and the whole process becomes unconscious. At this point, most people’s typing skills stop progressing. They reach a plateau. If you think about it, it’s strange. We’ve always been told that practice makes perfect, and yet many people sit behind a keyboard for hours a day. So why don’t they just keeping getting better and better?
He goes on to explain the science behind the parts of the brain that are active when learning things and the parts of the brain that take over for more mechanical tasks. This is actually a good thing because it allows the brain to focus on more important things instead of taking time to break down the easy repetitive tasks. When your brain moves a task to the part of the brain that takes less cognitive reasoning, this level is called the O.K. Plateau.

So this O.K. Plateau is actually a really awesome thing when you're not trying to improve your typing skills and you're trying to focus on something else like writing a paper or coding a program. The times where it's not a great thing is when you want to improve over the O.K. Plateau and you don't realize that it's holding you back.
They’ve found that top achievers typically follow the same general pattern. They develop strategies for keeping out of the autonomous stage by doing three things: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented and getting immediate feedback on their performance. Amateur musicians, for example, tend to spend their practice time playing music, whereas pros tend to work through tedious exercises or focus on difficult parts of pieces. Similarly, the best ice skaters spend more of their practice time trying jumps that they land less often, while lesser skaters work more on jumps they’ve already mastered. In other words, regular practice simply isn’t enough. For all of our griping over our failing memories — the misplaced keys, the forgotten name, the factoid stuck on the tip of the tongue — our biggest failing may be that we forget how rarely we forget. To improve, we have to be constantly pushing ourselves beyond where we think our limits lie and then pay attention to how and why we fail.
When trying to improve it's important to step out of your comfort zone and push yourself into mistakes.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Redundant Acronyms

The second entry in Stuff People Get Wrong. A redundant acronym is basically adding an unnecessary word at the end of an acronym that is covered by the acronym itself. For example:

PIN Number (Personal Identification Number Number)
ATM Machine (Automated Teller Machine Machine)
GPS System (Global Positioning System System)
LCD Display (Liquid Crystal Display Display)
RAS Syndrome (Redundant Acronym Syndrome Syndrome)

This one was brought to my attention a few years ago by my friend Syp. Ever since then I've noticed redundant acronyms all over the place.

Similar to my last entry, redundant acronyms could possibly be the result of language changing over time. Back at my university we had a place called Price Center which people abbreviated "PC"... this once led to confusion when a group member was expecting a physical meeting and I was at home logged into my messenger account from my Personal Computer.

As more and more acronyms are being thrown into the world I could actually see redundant acronyms being useful for adding context. However, until that time comes, I will continue to fight the good fight. I will cringe when I hear people say UPC Code, HIV Virus, and LAN Network. I will write detailed emails teaching people about the French origins of RSVP and how "Please RSVP" is redundant.

I suppose my next goal should be finding a way to point this stuff out without coming off like a pretentious douchebag or Grammar Nazi.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Improper Use of "A Few Bad Apples"

This will be the first of many entries categorized in Stuff People Get Wrong.


"That corrupt cop was just a bad apple."
"Those two misbehaving kids don't represent all youngsters nowadays, they're just a couple of bad apples."


When people use the saying "bad apple" they are usually saying it in defense of a group, claiming that the actions of one (or a few) don't represent the group in its entirety. The irony here is that the saying actually means the opposite.

The full saying is "A bad apple spoils the barrel." What this means is that when one apple is rotten the rottenness spreads to the other apples and proceeds to ruin every apple in the barrel. So what you're actually saying when you claim someone "is a bad apple" is that their behavior will end up spreading to every member in the group.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Click. Scroll. Click. Scroll.

My life seems to be defined by this action nowadays. I spend hours upon hours on the Internet reading, browsing, learning, and playing games.

The Internet is a beautiful place. There are more pages than anyone could ever read in their entire lifetime. The Internet allows us to read stories and make connections with people from all over the world. With our unprecedented access to information it’s crazy to think about how the generations before us managed to live without it and what the next step will be for our future. We are decades away from the idea of printed text being something that’s talked about in our digital history books. The thought of opening a static encyclopedia will be a ridiculous idea for young students.

My grandparents refuse to own a computer and I think about how they are disconnected from society. Part of me feels sad because they’ll never know (and don’t care to know) about the all the wonders of the Internet. But there is also a part of me that feels sad for our generation. When I think about the things my grandparents know and the things that they care about I realize that our generation is disconnected in a different way.

Do you know the names of your neighbors? What about the name of your town’s mayor? What local events have you been to in the last 6 months? We are a generation that has access to movies, music, and news for distant lands at our fingertips… but we are strangers in our own hometown.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dat Nguyen and why I like the Dallas Cowboys


When I first started watching football I was in high school. I heard about a player named Dat Nguyen. He is the very first Vietnamese American player in the NFL.

Dat Nguyen is a Texas native and played his whole career there. Early on he was nicknamed "Fat Nguyen" because he was too small (5'11") despite his muscular frame. He went to Texas A&M where he has the record for most starts and most tackles, and he was the undisputed leader of the "Wrecking Crew" defense. His college accolades were numerous: Chuck Bednarik Award, Lombardi Award, Jack Lambert Award, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, 3 time First-team All-Big 12. He was later inducted into the Texas A&M Athletic Hall of Fame and the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame.

After his awesome college career, he went to the Dallas Cowboys where he made an impact immediately. He led team in tackles 3 times (2001, 2003, 2004). The 2003 Cowboys defense was the most efficient defense in the league by a large margin. On March 3rd 2006 he suffered a neck injury which hindered his 2005 performance and eventually ended his career. He later went on to coach the linebackers for the Dallas Cowboys and is currently coaching defense at his old college Texas A&M.

Facing adversity because of his size and performing at such a high level Dat is truly an inspiration, for all athletes, Asian-American or otherwise.

So he was the reason I started watching the Cowboys. After he left, I guess I kind of just fell in love with the organization. I got used to watching them play. The eccentric owner, the most cheerleaders in the league, the over-the-top stadium. I know all the players and nowadays I watch and root out of pure stubbornness.

Other Cowboys fans talk about the glory days... but I wasn't around for that. I didn't get to see Aikman, Irvin, and Emmit. Instead, my memories as a Cowboy fan are littered with fumbled snaps and blown leads. It's pretty rough being a fan with all the blind-hate, eye-rolls, and guffaws I get when I tell people I like the Cowboys. I get harassed about how NFL Films called us "Americas Team" and how my quarterback can't perform in the clutch. Maybe sometime during my lifetime I'll get to enjoy a Cowboys championship and tell the haters to kiss my ass. Maybe we won't though... and it doesn't matter... COWBOYS FOR LIFE.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Why do Asian Women go for White Guys?

Who. Fucking. Cares.

"Woe is me, it's so hard for us Asian guys." Shut the fuck up. The reason you're single isn't because you're Asian, it's because you're a pathetic whiny little bitch that likes to play the victim.

Romantic entanglement is not a public service. No one is entitled to be slept with, dated, or found attractive by anyone else. It is perfectly okay for a person to exclude entire classes of people based on their age, weight, gender, race, or the type haircut they have.

Is it okay for a girl to only date guys who drive Porches? Yes, yes it is okay. If that is her minimum criteria for dating someone, good for her. Does it make her shallow, ignorant, or materialistic? Maybe, but that's not your problem... it's hers. Is it okay for some Asian girl to claim she only likes to date older white guys? Yes, yes it is okay. Does it mean she is missing out on potentially the best relationship of her life? Maybe, but that's not your problem... it's hers. Do you really want to date these women anyways? If a woman excludes me from her dating pool, I see that as a good thing. It saves me the wasted time of dating someone who isn't going to be compatible; by her deciding not to date me, there is an overall net gain going on.

Complaining about how ignorant these women are isn't going to change their minds. Bemoaning to your friends about the under-representation of Asian male stars in the media is an interesting point, but nothing is going to go back in time to change the mind of the girl who shot you down last night. It's perfectly fine for someone to have a "type". Simply put, your dating pool consists of the overlap between the people you are attracted to and the people attracted to you:


If you're trying to change something... Instead of trying to change the minds of people who aren't attracted to you, try looking within. Figure out if you are "shallowly" or "ignorantly" excluding people who might be attracted to you. Or god forbid you actually work on yourself for a change! You know... Become a more attractive person?

What has helped me in relationships (and in life) is understanding that you can't change how people act, you can only change how you react.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Relationships between two people. Is platonic possible?

For the purpose of simplicity, this entry assumes there are only two reasons why people form relationships:

  1. Emotional Attraction. This is the "personality" part of liking someone. It could be as simple as sharing interests or values. It's basically everything except...
  2. Physical Attraction. No explanation required.

First I’ll cover the healthy types of relationships:

Platonic Relationships. (1) and not (2) with someone who is also (1) and not (2). The answer to title of the entry is “Yes”, Platonic Relationships can work. Two people who have emotional attraction without physical attraction. These are the people you call “friends”. You like the same stuff and you provide emotional support for each other. Other people you can have platonic relationships with are family members, co-workers, etc.

Friends with Benefits. (2) and not (1) with someone who is also (2) and not (1). This could be an entire entry inside of itself because I feel like this is just the tip of the iceberg (One Night Stands, Fuck Buddies, etc.). However, to keep this short, a FWB relationship is having sex without having serious emotional attraction. These relationships are very rare because sex is a very intimate and personal thing (for a lot of people), so it is natural for emotional attraction to get involved. More often than not, FWB relationships actually DO have some (1) involved but for simplicity lets just say there is none.

Real Relationships. (1) and (2) with someone who is (1) and (2). Hopefully if you’re reading this and you have a wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend... you are both on the same page here. Pretty simple, you both like each other emotionally and physically.

Prostitutes and Strippers. (2) and not (1) with someone who is (1) and not (2). Prostitutes and Strippers are emotionally attracted to customers money, customers are physically attracted to Prostitutes and Strippers. This relationship is classified as healthy because both people are getting something they want. No one gets hurt and both parties are happy!

Here is where it starts to get a little more interesting:

Friend Zone. (1) and (2) with someone who is only (1). Now I've been trying to avoid sexist language so far but it's usually guys who find themselves in the Friend Zone. These types of relationships usually involve a guy who wants to have sex with a girl but she doesn’t find him physically attractive. It might be tempting to blame a woman for stringing the guy along. Most women will pretend to ignore the obvious clues because they enjoy the emotional support from the Friend Zoned guy. However, no matter how manipulative the woman is, it's the guy who is allowing this to happen. He is trying to be a Nice Guy with an ulterior motive. Even if the woman is knowingly taking advantage of him, I still feel no pity for him as he is the one enabling her behavior.

Booty Call. (1) and (2) with someone who is only (2). Again, not trying to be sexist but women are usually the gender you think of when you think Booty Call. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a guy complain, "Gee, I feel like this woman is only using me for sex... it’s so terrible." Usually it’s a woman who wants a relationship with a man, but he isn’t interested in her emotionally. Without delving into self-esteem, daddy issues, and seduction techniques... the woman basically decides the best way to get into a relationship is by having sex. Like the Friend Zone guy, the woman here deserves no sympathy because she is enabling the womanizer.

What's dangerous about being in these types of relationships is that often times the people in them don’t realize that they are in them. Or worse, they realize it but are holding out for the other person to change. Something I learned a long time ago is: See people for who they are, not who you want them to be. See a relationship for what it is, not what you want it to be.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Modern Day Etiquette: Above The Table Texting


I saw the above picture on reddit the other day and it got me thinking about how our generation uses their phone all the time.


This picture is from an AT&T commercial where the guy is on a date and checks his phone for the score multiple times. I think most people would agree that he is being pretty rude. But... What about texting above or below the table? What about using your smartphone to play Words With Friends when you’re hanging out at a coffee shop? The lines start the gray a little bit. In some social circles it might be perfectly fine and in others you might come across as a self-important douchebag.

A couple months ago a friend of mine introduced the Phone Stack to our group for when we went out for lunch or dinner. The Phone Stack is basically putting your phones on the table (in a stack) and if anyone grabs their phone while we are hanging out they have to pay the bill. (If no one grabs their phone we split the check as normal.) I think it's an interesting concept and I like the fact that it was brought up because now we call people out when they spend too much time with their phone. However, we stopped doing it after a while because there were some inherent problems with the Phone Stack: easy target for theft and potentially missing truly important phone calls to name a couple. But doing it a few times was all our group needed, we now overly berate people for using their phones ever. It was annoying at first but now I kind of like it. Outside of our group I'm starting to notice other people do it.

Instead of doing a Phone Stack, my rule of thumb for using a smartphone at the table is that I treat the phone as another person. A quick glance down at your phone is like looking at the person who just came into the room. So if you're on a first date, how do you feel about your date looking at the person who just walked in the door? My vote is that it's not okay (your date should have your full attention). Following the "treat as a person" rule, texting or fiddling with an App is the equivalent of starting up a conversation with someone else. I don't care if it's on your lap or not, if you're at dinner you aren't fooling anyone when you stare at your crotch.

So that's my rule. If you're in a big group and there are tons of things going on or if there are breaks in the conversation (or maybe it's a party with a whole bunch of side conversations), then I think it's perfectly fine to be on your phone. However, if someone is talking directly to you... put down your phone.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The first time I went to the movies alone

Nowadays I go to the movies alone quite often. In the past it wasn’t always so easy for me...

I had to psyche myself up to get out of the car. C’mon you can do this! I almost chickened out again. I had thought about doing this in the last couple weeks, but each time I decided to go I’d make an excuse. This time I made it as far as the parking lot.

After what seemed like an eternity (probably only 2 minutes in real time), I got out of my car and walked up to the ticket lady. I could feel my entire body getting warm. I managed to swallow my angst and calmly say, "One ticket for Kickass please." I’d normally use a credit card in this situation but I had already planned this out carefully, I used cash and exact change to minimize interaction. As she slid the single ticket under the window she looked up at me and opened her mouth to speak. My imagination had already braced myself for her to say something like, "What? Only one ticket? How does it feel to be alone in this world with no one to love you?"

Instead she flatly said, "Enjoy your movie." Not expecting this, I awkwardly replied, "Uhhhh… you too!" I winced as I walked away. She's at work stupid, she's not seeing a movie right now. Shaking my head in lamentation, I avoided making eye contact with the ticket-ripper-guy. He grabbed the ticket from my sweaty palm, "Theater 1 on your left. Enjoy."

Theater 1 on my left would be where the magic happened. I lost my seeing-a-movie-by-myself virginity that day. It was a mid-day on a Wednesday and after doing a quick scan of the room I realized that the theater was completely empty. I was so happy. I finally made it. I started geeking out. The next couple minutes I ran up and down the isles doing stupid parkour tricks off the handicap railing and over the seats. I ran out of breath and took my seat as the previews began. Very center of the center row, awesome. Throughout the movie I was being a complete dumbass. I laughed obnoxiously loud and screamed at the screen, "HAHAHAHA!!!!" "YOU IDIOT!"

About three quarters of the way through the movie a quiet scene involved a joke being told that I didn't quite understand. It was at this time that I heard a couple laughing behind me. Shit. It's not empty after all. I quickly remembered all the geeking out I just did in the theater before the movie started. Oh God Why. That nervous-heat from before quickly came back as a shame-heat. I thought about leaving right then and there but I decided it was too late now, the damage was already done. The movie finished and I bolted for the exit. I really had to pee but there was no way I could ever look those people in the eye. Well, never going back there again...

So yes, it was an embarrassing moment but not my worst. All in all I'd say it was a success. It was quite a liberating experience and it helped me get over the stigma of seeing-a-movie-by-yourself. If you've never done it before I'd highly suggest trying it, there are plenty of good reasons. Bonus points for going in an empty theater! ... Just make sure it's actually empty first.