I like reading various news aggregation services to pull in lots of interesting articles for me to skim.  They often give me some interesting thoughts.


“When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money” – H.L. Mencken

“A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin” – H.L. Mencken

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt” – Abraham Lincoln

“Silence will save me from being wrong (and foolish), but it will also deprive me of the possibility of being right.” – Igor Stravinsky

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
― Randy Pausch

“When I win, it’s because I’m skilled. When I lose, it’s because my opponent is lucky.”  Jarod Kintz

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth

A great quote from Mike Tyson.  I observe many situations where we go into a situation with a plan of action but our plan doesn’t account for reaction to setbacks or unexpected variables.  Processing the changing landscape under stress is an important skill of successful people.

Mike Tyson – _everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth

Kenny Rogers – The Gambler

This song talks about a poker player, but the lines can have different interpretations.

Key Phrases:

  • Know when to fold’em
  • Know when to walk away
  • Know when to run
  • Never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table
  • Knowin’ what to throw away and what to keep
  • Every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser

Another related book is “Thinking in Bets” by Annie Duke

Survivorship Bias 

Survivorship bias is a cognitive bias that occurs when someone tries to make a decision based on past successes, while ignoring past failures. It is a specific type of selection bias.

Example from “You Are Not So Smart”

Suppose you’re trying to help the military decide how best to armor their planes for future bombing runs. They let you look over the planes that made it back, and you note that some areas get shot heavily, while other areas hardly get shot at all. So, you should increase the armor on the areas that get shot, right?

Wrong! These are the planes that got shot and survived. It stands to reason that on some planes, the areas where you don’t see any damage did get shot, and they didn’t survive. So those are the areas you reinforce. This was the brilliant deduction of Abraham Wald, a Hungarian-born Jew who fled Europe to work for the US military during World War II.

Other observations on survivorship bias:

“I have to chuckle whenever I read yet another description of American frontier log cabins as having been well crafted or sturdily or beautifully built. The much more likely truth is that 99% of frontier log cabins were horribly built—it’s just that all of those fell down. The few that have survived intact were the ones that were well made. That doesn’t mean all of them were.” – Mike Johnston

“The harder they looked, the less they saw. And so it is with luck – unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through newspapers determined to find certain type of job advertisements and as a result miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they are looking for.” – Richard Wiseman

Illusory superiority

I saw some articles on Illusory superiority which is a cognitive bias whereby individuals overestimate their own qualities and abilities, relative to others. This is evident in a variety of areas including intelligence, performance on tasks or tests, and the possession of desirable characteristics or personality traits.  I have some excepts of comments from David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell who has studied the effect for many years.

The reasons why this happens is that others are too polite to say what they really think, incompetent people lack the skills to assess their abilities accurately, and such self-delusions can actually protect people’s mental health.

While most people do well at assessing others, they are wildly positive about their own abilities.  But in a strange twist, the most incompetent are also the most likely to overestimate their skills, while the ace performers are more likely to underrate themselves, because if they find a skill easy they assume other people do too.
North Americans seem to be the kings and queens of overestimation. If you go to places like Japan, Korea or China, this whole phenomenon evaporates,” Dunning said.I would comment that I observe Illusory superiority at play almost every day.  One example is at the poker room.  Seems that almost everyone tells me that they are a good poker player.  But at the levels I play, I hear only 5% of players are actually profitable poker players.  I guess many poker players rationalize their skill so they can continue to feed money to the real good players or the casino.  I hope I can maintain a realistic self evaluation of my abilities and avoid the blind spots.

Trolley Problem

I came across some philosophy references today which reminded me of the Trolley Problem.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

This problem is also covered by Harvard professor, Michael Sandel.  He has some great videos of his lectures at http://www.justiceharvard.org/

The Trolley Problem covers a situation where you are sitting at the track switch with a run away trolley speeding along to kill five people.  You can push the switch to redirect the trolley to kill one person instead.  The problem asks you to consider your reasoning to push or not push the switch.

If you can handle this case, you can consider the scenario of the five people getting put in danger because the one person tied them to the tracks.  Another scenario is the five people getting drunk and falling down on the track.

The scenario shifts when you have five people that need five different organ transplants to survive.  You discover a healthy person who has matching organs that can save the five people.  In the Trolley Problem, there seems to be many people who can kill one person to save five people, but these same people may not kill a healthy patient to save five sick people.

An interesting aspect of this problem is the application to the logic of autonomous vehicles.  The logic handling accidents may have to deal with scenarios where all options result in some harm.


I thought the derivation of Sisyphean brings to my mind some tasks I see on a regular basis.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sisyphus

The story is about a crafty guy who ends up with a punishment in the Underworld is to endlessly roll a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll down the hill again.  How often do we see fruitless tasks which seems to match this punishment?

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