Loadsa Money

Imagine an auction with these rules:

  • There are 20 people in a room, who can’t communicate.

  • They are bidding on £10 provided by the auctioneer.

  • They each have to put a sealed bid in.

  • Each one has to pay the amount they bid to the auctioneer whether they win or not.

  • The winner gets the £10.

The real puzzle is, what’s your strategy as a bidder? And just to complicate things, consider this: bidding £11 may not be a dumb thing to do. It turns out that the auctioneer often makes a lot of money first time round.

This puzzle comes from the Econtalk podcasts, which I’ve been listening to a lot today, so please listen to that for more discussion. I’m trying to avoid borrowing from others’ content on this blog, but this was so interesting I couldn’t resist - Russ Roberts, the host, seems to focus particularly on practical microeconomics, so if that’s something that interests you, run, don’t walk to your MP3 player.

Kung Fu Hustle

Kung Fu Hustle is a 30s Gangster Comic Book Kung-Fu Chinese Western for the CGI generation. Wild Wild West meets Sin City meets Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  This film draws on so many styles and genres that Stephen Chow (writer/director) must have been reading too much of The Big Book of Movie History; it’s set somewhere that just shouldn’t exist. There’s a rip-off of The Shining at one point that doesn’t work at all.

Nevertheless, it is a lot of good silly fun - although, considering this, it is strikingly violent. Once you get past the fact that it doesn’t really make a lot of sense, the plot is simple to follow, there are some funny bits, and some good shots and set pieces with silly sound effects, including Matrix moves #49, #21, and #8. An enjoyable film, but not a classic.

Controversial Linguistics Concept of the Week #222

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis basically states that there is a relationship between the language that a person uses and the way they think about the world. Although it’s controversial, many linguists believe there is at least some truth in it: as Wikipedia says, ‘The opposite extreme—that language does not influence thought at all—is also widely considered to be false’. The theory has implications, such as that the value of improving one’s vocabulary or learning another language are even greater than they would be otherwise.

The hypothesis has also been extended to programming languages. Essentially, the theory here is that certain types of language are more suited to solving certain problems, and programmers who aren’t aware of these types may not be able to solve some problems in the most effective way. I think this is borne out by empirical evidence: there is a noticeable difference in the way those who have been trained in declarative programming (such as functional and logic programming) solve problems, even in when writing in traditional procedural languages (for example, C), from those who are only trained in those procedural languages. This is important for some types of problem, such as writing compilers or parsers, which are well suited to declarative programming.

A Waffle of Bloggers

Hannah Parker has posted a picture of us (the IBM Hursley bloggers) down the pub. That’s yours truly looking stupid in the huge Aussie hat.

(note: Hannah’s blog is accessible only from inside the IBM network, but the picture is on Flickr)


Max Fischer is a precocious boy at Rushmore school, more adult than some of his teachers (Brian Cox has a small part as the headmaster, and is superb as always). He gets into a spat with Herman Blume (Bill Murray), a local businessman who takes an interest in the school, and who steals his intended girlfriend, Miss Cross, a junior school teacher.

This film is weird, sure. Max Fischer is a chamelonic character and is totally unpredictable. Also, Max isn’t the only adult in a child’s body: his protegee, Dirk Calloway, appears to be even further beyond his years. Like Wes Anderson’s later film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (in which Bill Murray also stars), there was an undercurrent of a joke I just didn’t get. But unlike that film, this film was funny. Not laugh-out-loud, sure. But I got to the end feeling pleased I’d watched it. The choppiness of the plot doesn’t seem to matter anymore by then, and the knots on the love stories are nicely tied. For a film like this, that’s all one can ask for.

Oh yeah, and it has the best worst pun I’ve heard in some time:

  • These are O.R. scrubs.
  • O.R. they?


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