Blog posts


One function that some companies serve that I think is underacknowledged is creating Schelling points. Schelling points, or focal points, are an idea from game theory where one of a set of choices stands out enough that an individual person can be confident that other people might pick it too, without having communicated with each other, if there’s some benefit to having made the same choice. From Wikipedia:

Consider a simple example: two people unable to communicate with each other are each shown a panel of four squares and asked to select one; if and only if they both select the same one, they will each receive a prize. Three of the squares are blue and one is red. Assuming they each know nothing about the other player, but that they each do want to win the prize, then they will, reasonably, both choose the red square. Of course, the red square is not in a sense a better square; they could win by both choosing any square. And it is only the “right” square to select if a player can be sure that the other player has selected it; but by hypothesis neither can. However, it is the most salient and notable square, so—lacking any other one—most people will choose it, and this will in fact (often) work.

It can be tricky to create a focal point in real life because it’s not quite the same thing as making something that appeals to people—it’s making something that people think will be selected by other people, or possibly even something that people think that other people will think will be selected by other people, and so on. This is arguably how most advertising works: the goal is less to convince you (personally) that you’re buying something good, and more to convince you that other people will understand what you’re buying to be good, or to at least understand what message you’re trying to send with it. When this is successful, your personal opinion of of the company stops being relevant for the purposes of susceptibility. From the linked post, which I recommend reading:

For each of these products, an ad campaign seeds everyone with a basic image or message. Then it simply steps back and waits — not for its emotional message to take root and grow within your brain, but rather for your social instincts to take over, and for you to decide to use the product (or not) based on whether you’re comfortable with the kind of cultural signals its brand image allows you to send.

It’s the same idea as common knowledge—even if you know a product is good, and everyone else knows it’s good, there’s an additional benefit if everyone knows that it’s good and everyone knows that everyone knows it’s good: you can invest in the product without explicitly coordinating with other people.

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Three things the Pebble did better

As some of you know, I was (and am) a big fan of Pebble smartwatches. Sadly, they shut down last month and stopped development on their then-upcoming next generation of watch: the Pebble Time 2. I backed the Kickstarter, so I was pretty bummed to hear that it wasn’t going to come out.* I’ve owned three smartwatches, the original Pebble, the Moto 360, and the Pebble Time, and there are some things that Pebble just does better than the other mainstream smartwatches out there.

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A brief history of emoji

Emoji are some of pop culture’s best-known characters, appearing in countless texts, and slated for an upcoming movie. But do you know their full history? Read on!

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Just switched to a new host and moved all content over from a backup. It looks like everything carried over, but let me know if anything seems to be missing. Also, I’m switching to as the primary url of this site (it’s trendy, but I like it).

The Prisoner’s Dilemma: the only way to win is not to placate

I first encountered the Prisoner’s Dilemma in a middle school seminar, where it was presented as a morality problem. Do you potentially doom your unknown partner in order to improve your own odds? After seeing it presented with a similar framing soon afterward in Knights of the Old Republic, and as a case of social dynamics in Roger Highfield’s The Science of Harry Potter, I figured it was just a moral dilemma in the sense of questions like “do you let yourself die to save someone else?” and didn’t think of it much afterward.

The next time I encountered the Prisoner’s Dilemma was many years later, in an essay about how the Prisoner’s Dilemma should decidedly not be viewed as a moral issue in the traditional sense. You’re supposed to think of your partner either as someone entirely morally irrelevant, or assume that any bad karma points that you would get for defecting are reflected in the payout. Viewed this way, the problem is still at least as interesting.

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I’m now the proud owner of and plan to have it redirect here, which is very handy if you’re low on space, short on time, or a very slow typist. will still be the canonical url for this site for the time being, though.

Review: Return of the Jedi Radio Drama (1996)

Rounding out the trilogy of Star Wars radio dramas is Return of the Jedi, released in 1996, over ten years after both the film itself and the previous radio drama in the series, The Empire Strikes Back.

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Review: The Empire Strikes Back Radio Drama (1983)

After my recent listen-through of the Star Wars NPR Radio Drama, I was eager to listen to the corresponding drama for The Empire Strikes Back. Considered by many (including myself) to be the best of the series, TESB improves upon the original movie in many ways.  Listening to it, two things soon became apparent.

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Game Over Return of Fanon

If you’ve ever visited a wiki site other than Wikipedia, it was probably run by Wikia, a site that  allows anyone to create and run their own full Wikipedia-style site, for good or for ill. Perhaps their best-known spinoff is Wookieepedia, a Star Wars wiki that is by far the most complete and comprehensive source of Star Wars information outside of Lucasfilm itself, with 117,811 articles as of this writing. And it’s not just huge, lore-filled franchises either; Wikia’s 335,281 (and counting) communities range from a Wallace and Gromit wiki, to a wiki for the Oscars, to a wiki about buffalo nickels. “The 1913 Type 1 (or variety 1) Buffalo Nickel is the first pereoid of 1913,” proclaims this wiki. “This video may also tell you bits and pieses of the 1913 type 1 Buffalo Nickel.”

(fun fact: while looking through the Wikia movies hub I found an inexplicable description of/advertisement for a condo community in Florida that some confused soul had thought would be a good addition to a wiki about movie wikis)

But, like any content-focused Internet community that combines enthusiasm, the ability of anyone whomsoever to join, and a complete lack of moderation of any sort, Wikia gets more and more perplexing the deeper you go in. Take, for example, the fanon wikis.

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Review: NPR Star Wars radio drama (1981)

I’ve had to do more driving than usual lately, so I’ve been on the lookout for good listening material to keep my mind occupied while going back and forth along scenic Interstate 5. So far, my weapon of choice has been podcasts (my latest favorite is the incomparable Citation Needed), but something I’d always been curious about was the radio dramatization of Star Wars that  NPR produced in the early 80s. I love CBS Mystery Theater-type audio entertainment and, of course, Star Wars, and I kept seeing information from the radio version used to answer long-standing fan questions, so it seemed like a good thing to dive into. I wasn’t disappointed.

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