Archive for May, 2013

Service, part 2

Posted in Movies and TV on May 28th, 2013

I need to catch up on some open-ended posts/topics–and, for various reasons, I’m doing an unusually crappy job of it. Even by my low standards. This is a start…

On May 22, 2013, I posted “Service, part 1“–an upbeat (at least in how it turned out and in the generally good attitude of all involved) service story about the Social Security Administration. Here’s the thing: SSA doesn’t precisely have to treat customers well so it can attract them. SSA doesn’t go out looking for customers. But I’m generally impressed with how things were handled.

A less positive story

I’ve already told this story, in a January 27, 2013 post: “Panasonic Case #29866973: A sad unfinished story.”

It’s now a little more than four months later.

Nothing has happened.

I consider this unsatisfactory customer service.

Yes, we eventually got the set repaired. (It’s still working. It’s still the best picture I’ve ever seen–in THX mode–on a reasonably-priced HDTV, when it’s working. We hope it keeps working for years to come.)

Did Panasonic owe us anything? That’s hard to say. When you have what’s usually rated as the brand with the best reliability, you don’t expect circuit board failures just 25 months after purchase of an $1,800 set, especially when that set’s only used about an hour or two a day.

You also don’t expect to be referred to an Authorized Panasonic Service Agency that misdiagnoses the failure (while talking to Panasonic reps), charges a VERY high price for the diagnosis, and quotes an outrageous price for the repair–and wants to take the set away to do that repair.

Oh, and you probably don’t expect that the same circuit board will fail not too long after it’s replaced.

I believe Panasonic should at least pay for the overpriced mis-diagnosis. But I’m not going to hold my breath.

Do we love the set? Yep.

Would we buy another Panasonic if/when this one needs replacing? Almost certainly not.

Nothing more to say here. Soon (hah!), I’ll wrap up another unfinished post or two.

The Big Deal and the Damage Done: Campus license edition

Posted in C&I Books on May 23rd, 2013

I’ve now had two universities ask about the legalities of making this book available on a library/campus ebook server–especially one that doesn’t impose single-user limitations.

My response had been to buy three or four copies if that felt right, but that’s not really a good response, especially for a public institution.

So…there’s now a third edition. It differs from the $9.99 PDF in three ways:

  1. It’s $40
  2. As you can see below, the cover has one added line at the bottom.
  3. A sentence on the copyright page provides explicit permission to load this on a campus ebook server that lacks simultaneous-user controls.

Yes, that would apply to a campus with a library school as well. I’m assuming that off-campus users are authenticated in some manner; I’m certainly not out to give anybody trouble.

Hope this helps!



Visual three (and an adjustment tool?)

Posted in Stuff on May 23rd, 2013

Consider this Bill’s post, if you like. Hey, I’m getting more non-spam comments than ever, so why not?

The image below is in some sense another test of visual differentiation–but this time, color differentiation isn’t involved. In fact, if you see colors other than white/off-white/gray in the image, that’s a sign your display could use adjustment.

Which might also make this image a good tool for display adjustment. To wit: How many different shades (or colors) do you see? I’ll provide the answer tomorrow or Monday–and this time I did check the JPEG after saving it, to be sure colors hadn’t somehow been averaged. (Admittedly, my sloppiness in selecting rectangles makes this easy–but still, I think, a useful tool for display adjustment.)


Service, part 1.

Posted in Stuff on May 22nd, 2013

A two-part post (if and when I get around to the second part) discussing two cases where I had a tricky situation–one involving a government agency and one involving a private company. Both ran over several months. One turned out very well, leaving me mostly feeling positive about the people involved. One turned out…well, unsatisfactorily or not at all.

I’m guessing some of you will make the wrong assumption as to which is which.

First, let’s talk about Social Security.

I postponed taking Social Security for a little over a year from when I was first eligible, because I thought it made sense to do so, based on sources I read and my own calculations.

Briefly: Just as you lose 8% forever if you start taking SS a year early, 16% two years early, and 24% three years early, you gain 8% if you start taking it a year late, 16% two years late, 24% three years late.

Taking it late is gambling that you’ll live more than 12 years past the point at which you do start taking it, since that’s how long it takes to make up for the payments you’ve missed. (Actually just a bit more than 12 years, but it’s close enough.) So, for example, postponing it to age 67 instead of 66 is gambling that you’ll live significantly past 79; at age 68, significantly past 80… Based on my own health and my family history, my wife & I thought the “significantly past 79″ was a good gamble.

Here’s where I should bitch about how terribly complex and tedious it is to apply for social security. Except that it isn’t–as with much of the Federal Government, the web site’s well-designed and the application process was remarkably smooth.

Not too long after sending in my application, I got the letter with the amount I was going to get. And, based on what I’d seen in the annual letters, it struck me that I wasn’t getting credit for the extra year–that the payment was somewhere between 7% and 8% below what it should be.

So I called the national number, waited for a while, and talked to somebody. Who basically agreed that it didn’t quite look right. A local agent called and, after some discussion, said “You’ll see the extra at the start of the new year.” That struck me as odd. I filed an appeal. Another local agent called, asked if I really wanted to appeal, repeated that it would probably show up at the start of the next year… and that I could then appeal after the start of the new year (2013). I looked carefully through the website again, and there was one place where the possibility of extra showing up in a new year was raised. So I held off.

When the new year began, I got another letter, indicating the cost-of-living increase. And nothing else.

So: Back to the national number. The agent did some calculations, once again said “that doesn’t quite sound right,” and said they’d flag my record, which meant the local office would get back to me–at which point I could appeal if I didn’t like the results. The agent also said something else I found telling: Basically, that they really didn’t have to deal with delayed applications very often…that, despite all the financial advisers suggesting that “if you can, you should postpone Social Security for a couple of years,” nobody seemed to be doing that. So, although this was never said, maybe the agents doing the local calculations just weren’t very familiar with the delay option…

It took a while–long enough that I once again called the national number again, and was told my account was still flagged. Then I got another letter. Which, as I did the calculations, raised my payments to within 1% of what I thought it should be. (And not paying the extra for the end of last year, which I still find odd but in this case truly trivial, but paying the extra for the first few months of this year.)

So: I’m happy. It took a little while and a couple of phone calls, but the people on the other end of the line always seemed polite, knowledgeable and out to help me, and in the end I was made whole.

Given the sheer number of accounts SSA has to deal with, the delay probably wasn’t unreasonable. I give them a Win on this situation.

[But then, I'm one of those who regard USPS service as nothing short of remarkable, especially given that U.S. postage prices are some of the lowest in the world; how they can handle Netflix cycles as fast as they do tells me a lot, and I'll choose them any time for package delivery as well. And I think CA DMV does pretty damn well, all things considered. So, you know, I'm a sucker for government services that perform well despite the obstacles they face, which I think is the case for most government services.]

This is the happy-ending story. The unhappy non-ending story? Maybe later. A little searching through the blog archives (“Panasonic” is the clue) may tell you what you need to know. And maybe no more–other than no, nobody ever did get back to me–is all that need be said.

Visual acuity redux

Posted in Stuff on May 21st, 2013

A visual acuity test (or something like it)” was prepared in conjunction with an essay on differences (I’d call it “discrimination” but that word’s been damaged) for the August Cites & Insights–and, sigh, I think I did the image wrong. There were supposed to be six rectangles on a pure-white background, with each rectangle differing by having one or two of the primary colors (RGB) reduced from #FF to #FE.

Somehow (still haven’t figured out how, unless JPEG is to blame) I wound up with only five colors–three of the six rectangles had the same color.

I did get some useful comments, including at least one person who apparently has extraordinary color acuity.

This time, I’ll give you the image and tell up front that there should be ten colors on it–nine off-white shades with two narrow bands of pure white between them. This time, I closed the file and reopened the JPEG version; Paint.NET’s color picker does show nine different values. If you’re like me, you may be able to see the bottom three rectangles if you look really hard. Some of you may see some of the center row.

This time, the top row should be one FD and two FFs; the center row was intended to be FCFFFF, FCFCFF, and FCFCFC respectively; the bottom row goes all the way down to FB for one of the three primaries in each box. I say “should be” and “intended to be” because reopening the JPEG version shows some shifts in the top two rows–still nine colors, but not precisely the nine I started out with.

Don’t think you can actually perceive 16 million colors? You may be right.

On the other hand, there are cases where–at least to my eyes–a one-digit change in one of the three primaries is visible if you put the two colors side by side. I have that example in the essay (which is mostly not about color acuity but about differentiation in general).

Anyway, here’s the ten-color image, for what it’s worth:


Open access: A quick factual post

Posted in open access on May 21st, 2013

Given the growing amount of nonsense being repeated in various ways about OA, here are four simple facts:

  1. Most gold OA journals do not charge article processing fees (“author charges”) at all. Period. (Something like 70% of journals don’t, and those journals include a majority of gold OA articles.)
  2. A higher percentage of subscription journals charge article fees (under various names) than do gold OA journals.
  3. Subscription publishers have in quite a few cases been guilty of practices that could be considered predatory (republishing articles, creating multiple journals in a very short time, etc., etc.)–but it would be as unfair to generalize subscription journals as predatory as it is to assume that most OA publishers are predatory.
  4. You can simultaneously believe that some critics of OA go far overboard in overgeneralizing their criticisms–and that suing a critic for criticism, in the absence of blatant factual error, is both wrong and a pretty good sign that something’s amiss with the publisher. (Call this “a curse on both your houses” if you wish.)

For more information, I refer you to Open Access: What You Need to Know Now (ALA Editions, 2011), also to three recent Cites & Insights issues (January 2013, February 2013, June 2013)–and, if you’re a glutton for punishment, Open Access and Libraries (free PDF, $17.50 paperback), a compilation of earlier OA-related essays.


A visual acuity test (or something like it)

Posted in Stuff on May 20th, 2013


How many colors are in that image?

“What image, and why does the text start so far down?”

That’s a reasonable reaction.

If you see anything above my question other than an undifferentiated field of white, I invite you to answer the question (the “How many” one) in comments.

If you don’t, that’s OK. (Do I? That would be telling…)


Mystery Collection Disc 36

Posted in Movies and TV on May 20th, 2013

A typical “sixth disc” with six short movies—except that this time around two of them aren’t all that short. (At least according to the sleeve—which turned out to be wrong in both cases.)

Night Life in Reno, 1931, b&w. Raymond Cannon (dir.), Virginia Valli, Jameson Thomas, Dorothy Christy, Arthur Housman, Dixie Lee, Clarence Wilson, Carmelita Geraghty, Pat O’Malley. 0:58

Here’s what the sleeve says: “A woman finds her husband in a compromising position and decides to seek a divorce from him. Heading to Reno to secure a divorce, the woman learns it will take six weeks for her divorce to be granted. Finding she has to wait in Reno for the six weeks, the woman ends up living the wild life and taking up with a married man.”

Here’s what I saw: The first two sentences are accurate enough, with the divorce attorney being somewhat of a comic character. But then we get a long, slow, languid…sequence where the husband (who’s followed her, finds the attorney, and pays him to attempt a reconciliation) is drunk in a casino (where only the swells play and all they play is roulette), hangs out with another stiff, attempts the world’s worst pickup and, somehow, winds up drinking with the other stiff’s friend and with, well, his wife (under an assumed name). The wild life appears to consist entirely of playing roulette and drinking way too much.

In any event, the last ten minutes have all the action—almost enough action for a five-minute short. The wife goes off with the other man, he makes a pass, she deflects it and phones her soon-to-be-ex, she leaves the apartment, the other guy’s ex (or soon-to-be-ex?) shows up and plugs the guy. Next morning, the maid arrives, sees the corpse, the cops show up and, given obvious evidence, arrest the heroine. At which point her husband shows up and confesses (falsely). Fortunately (?) as she’s released and back in her hotel room, the other woman shows up to kill her as well, and since she was about to call someone through a switchboard, cops show up to save the day. The woman and husband reunite and leave Reno, with the attorney doing an odd sort of bit.

Damned if I can tell what this was supposed to be. Badly paced, incredibly slow, with acting seeming mostly to consist of looking one way and then the other…and if that was Reno in 1931, its reputation as a hot town was exaggerated. Maybe the missing 14 minutes make a big difference, but this one already made 57 minutes seem an eternity. As a period piece, very generously $0.75.

Convicts at Large, 1938, b&w. Scott E. Beal & David Friedman (dirs..), Ralph Forbes, Paula Stone, William Royle, John Kelly, George Travell, Charles Brokaw. 0:57.

Two setup plot lines: A prison break on one hand, an architectural office where one architect is clearly moonlighting—when he should be drawing up a basement design for a building, he’s busy with plans for his own Happy Home LLC company to build homes that are “scientifically designed” to maximize the happiness of residents—a concept he just can’t shut up about (including selling an idea as though it was a going concern). He’s also hung up on a local singer, to the dismay of his housemates.

He goes for a walk to escape his housemates’ incessant chatter. One escapee grabs him, knocks him out, and takes his clothes. As he wakes up—third plotline—two thugs (one a typical comic thug) from the nightclub where the singer works drive by and toss a bundle of clothing out to what they assume to be the escapee (the nightclub owner paid for the escape). Oh, and in the pocket of the clothes is some money, but the comic thug used badly-made counterfeit money instead of real money.

You can almost see how things come together. The architect, wearing the clothes in the bundle, finds himself in front of the nightclub and goes in to get something to eat. He strikes up a conversation with the singer (who, for unclear reasons, is almost immediately taken with him). The thugs and owner—who have no idea what the escapee (a jewel thief who’s supposed to split a $200,000 haul with them) looks like—decide this guy must be the thief and bring him and the singer back to the Back Room.

Anyway: Lots more action, the assumption that—when the actual thief shows up—the couple (which is apparently what they are now, an hour after they met) will be killed, and a Happy Ending. Yep: As they’re being held in adjacent cells until the architect’s sister shows up to clear them, he proposes to her—and she accepts even before he finishes the proposal. All of this within, what, 12 hours of them first meeting?

What it is, is a combination of romantic comedy and farce with some crime thrown in for good measure. (Definitely some farce: When the architect, pretending to be the thief, is drawing a map of where the heist is supposedly hidden, he makes a mistake and asks for an eraser—at which point the dumber thug hands him his pistol. You know: His eraser.) You even get one song on the radio and another song-and-dance number (Paula Stone has a good voice and did a fine dance routine). Another indication as to its plausibility: When the thugs, the club owner and the actual thief—all of them obviously armed—are digging up the jewels, the other three apparently have no idea at all that the thief could possibly double-cross them. But hey, it’s a romp—and not a bad one. Given the length, I’ll say $1.00.

Tough to Handle, 1937, b&w. S. Roy Luby (dir.), Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, Phyllis Fraser, Harry Worth, Betty Burgess, Johnstone White, Burr Caruth, Stanley Price. 1:00 [0:58]

For some of you, “a Frankie Darro flick” may be all that needs to be said, for good or for bad. He’s not the East End Kids, but he’d never be my favorite actor either. That said, this wasn’t a bad little B/second-feature flick, especially using one trick (more on that later), although it was an odd mix of thriller (not really much mystery), romantic comedy and musical, a lot to pack into 58 frequently slow-moving minutes.

The basic plot (the sleeve copy gets it entirely wrong): a nightclub owner is running an Irish Sweepstakes racket—or, rather, he’s sort of running it. The racket: Print up phony tickets, sell them, PROFIT. Except that one set of plates accidentally had real sweepstakes numbers instead of impossible ones—and one of them wins. Darro enters (right at the start) as the winner’s grandson and a newspaper peddler, who sells his grandfather the “Sweepstakes Extra” that prints all the winning numbers and names—and is surprised as his grandfather (a) says he has a winning ticket (for $16,000) and (b) says the newspaper prints the winner’s name as some woman in another state. Naturally, Darro also sells his paper to the nightclub owner/crook—oh, and Darro’s sister is a singer dating an investigative reporter. Can you see where this is heading?

I guess there actually is a mystery (in addition to the absurdly bad “drunk” play by a club patron who turns out to be, supposedly, an undercover agent—and who’s clearly acting in cahoots with the bartenders who feed him no-alcohol drinks all day, which makes no sense at all): who’s actually in charge of the racket? By now, you’ve probably figured that one out.

Did you know that most modern DVD players can play a DVD at exactly double speed without chipmunk noises? You hear the dialog (or singing) at its original frequency, just twice as fast. That’s how I made it through this movie, especially once the musical numbers started. (It also made the absurd fistfights more tolerable.) Given that I watched the 58-minute movie in 45 minutes, it was appropriately paced. For Frankie Darro fans, maybe $0.75.

The President’s Mystery, 1936, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Henry Wilcoxon, Betty Furness, Sidney Blackmer, Evelyn Brent, Barnett Parker. 1:20 (0:53).

The setup (accounting for the title) is unusual: Supposedly, Franklin Delano Roosevelt loved mystery stories and wondered how a millionaire could disappear (and start a new life)—with his money. Six writers put together a story; this movie is based on that story (and the story is referenced in the film); the lead titles say the proceeds from the story and the screenplay both went to FDR’s Warm Springs Foundation.

That said, it’s very much a movie of its time, in the heart of the depression—when, at least according to this flick, predatory businessmen were shutting down competition and refusing to grow and employ people because it might cut profits. They were also sending hotshot lawyers to Washington to assure that bills to ease credit and reopen factories wouldn’t pass. The hotshot lawyer in this case also loves fishing and has a loveless marriage, and goes fishing in a town that’s essentially shutting down because the local cannery went under. The owner of the bankrupt cannery is a beautiful young woman (Betty Furness) who feeds the town using illegal fishing methods (actually, her father owned the cannery and committed suicide when it went under).

You can probably guess where this all leads. A combination of Message film, love story and good old American (cooperative) save-yourself knowhow, it’s a pretty good story for a one-hour flick. I do wonder about the missing 27 minutes (actually, the first IMDB review suggests that it’s all exposition, setting up the lawyer’s method for “losing” his money without losing it). I’ll give it $1.25.

Racing Blood, 1936, b&w. Victor Halperin (dir.), Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, Gladys Blake, Arthur Housman, James Eagles, Matthew Betz, Si Wills, Fred ‘Snowflake’ Toones. 1:01 [0:55]

What? Another Frankie Darro B flick? Yes—but this one’s not too bad. Darro’s the kid brother (named Frankie) of a jockey and the proprietress of a horse-themed diner (parents never in evidence); he begs $4.85 from his sister to buy an injured colt about to be shot. (The seller gives him back the $4.85 to go towards hay.) After lots and lots of calendar-pages flying by, the colt’s healthy, fast, and will only let the kid ride him. Which he does in a $1,000 race, after scrounging the $100 entry fee from various friends. And, of course, wins—racing against his brother, the favorite, who was deliberately fouled by riders in the employ of a ruthless gambler. Oh, and after that, the kid’s naïveté leads to his brother’s being barred from racing (don’t ask).

One thing leads to another, and we have—in short order—the brother seriously ill and lacking the will to live, the colt being poisoned by the gambler’s henchmen (except that they actually poison another horse), the kid being kidnapped and, in a truly bizarre last 10 minutes, the kid conquering all odds (he’s shot, he’s loaded into an ambulance, he steals the ambulance and drives off, he can barely stand as he goes to get weighed in…) and winning the Derby. Your suspension of disbelief has to be really firmly in place (e.g., since the gambler had already decided to kill the kid so there are no witnesses, why doesn’t he just do that?). But, hey, for what it is, it isn’t bad. Mostly for Darro fans, maybe $1.00

The Shadow: Invisible Avenger (aka The Invisible Avenger), 1958, b&w. James Wong How & Ben Parker (dir.), Richard Derr, Mark Daniels, Helen Westcott, Jack Doner, Jeanne Neher, Steve Dano, Dan Mullin. 1:10 [0:57]

I think this is the first of several “The Shadow” flicks I’ve seen in which The Shadow’s mystical powers actually come into play. To wit, with the counsel of his compatriot Jogendra (who seems to be telepathic or at least able to project thoughts), he’s able to fade out in the minds of beholders, leaving only a shadow. Jogendra can apparently instantly hypnotize anybody by staring at them, even from across the room, and get them to do anything he chooses, so “disappearing” is no big deal.

The plot? Set in New Orleans, where the deposed president of Santa Cruz (your basic Caribbean nation) is in exile after being overthrown by a dictator—a dictator with lots of hired hands and guns working for him, who fears (correctly) that the president’s supporters may overthrow the dictatorship. The hired hands do in a jazz trumpeter who’s trying to help the president and who has contacted Lamont Cranston to see whether he can contact The Shadow. And the race is on…

Jogendra on more than one occasion points out that if somebody fires (accurately) at the shadow, Cranston will be just as dead as if he hadn’t overused his power—but the only time this comes into play, it’s somehow the person behind the shadow who dies. Never mind. We have a present in which executions are actually shown on TV—and, of course, all the Hispanics in Santa Cruz speak English. There’s a little low-key sort-of romance, a lot of music (some pseudo-jazz, one fairly bizarre misogynistic semi-reggae piece under the opening credits, a little Nawlins stuff), and all turns out well. Except that, given the way things turn out, I don’t see that Cranston’s/The Shadow’s activities really made much difference at all. The flick has the feel of being a clumsily-assembled set of serial episodes, with total blackouts between segments. (It was originally intended as a TV pilot.) Oh, and The Shadow’s tagline (“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Only The Shadow knows. Bwahahahah…”) ends with a laugh that would have you think The Shadow is a villain, not a hero. The missing 13 minutes might have helped. But it’s not bad: $1.00.


The Big Deal and the Damage Done: If it’s worthwhile, spread the word

Posted in Books and publishing, C&I Books on May 16th, 2013

The second half of this post’s title really applies equally well to Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13) and specific issues of Cites & Insights (or C&I in general), although in this case I’m posting about The Big Deal and the Damage Done:

If you think it’s worthwhile, spread the word.

Tell other people about it on your blog. Spread the word on appropriate lists (whether the lists use Listserv software or an alternative). Tweet about it. Comment at Facebook. Whatever.

I’m pretty good at analysis, synthesis, writing and layout. I’m pretty lousy at self-promotion, entrepreneurial activity, and drumbeating. I don’t feel it’s appropriate to keep touting my stuff more than once (per publication) on any given list, especially not one like PUBLIB. I really don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to join lists where I have no natural nexus just so that I can post ads for publications.

If you think it’s worthwhile, spread the word.

I’ve done my part. The books are priced very modestly by library-book standards and by most standards–$9.99 in both cases for the PDF ebook; under $20 for each paperback (the difference in price is based on length of the book and, thus, production costs).

As for C&I, it’s free–but if you think it’s worthwhile and find it valuable, you could join the half-dozen or so (this year) who’ve actually contributed to it. The Paypal donation link’s right there on the home page.

Of course, if you think the books are worthless trash or seriously flawed, you should probably say so–and maybe say what’s wrong, if it’s something fixable in a future edition.

If the flaw is that they’re not free, there’s not a lot I can do about that; if they need to be free to be “worthwhile,” then they’re not really worthwhile, are they?

Oh, and if you want one of my books to be available to students and others? The PDF versions never have DRM. They never did. (Lulu doesn’t even allow it any more, for which they deserve kudos.)

Want to put an e-copy on reserve? Be my guest.

Want to make it available on a one-at-a-time basis on your own ebook server? Be my guest.

Want to make it available on an unlimited basis within your own institution? I’ll ask you to behave fairly and ethically–and if that means buying four e-copies as an appropriate “price,” well, I’m not litigious in this area–not even close.

(One non-US institution asked about that; I provided an explicit permission to mount the ebook on an unlimited basis if they purchased four copies. I ask for a fair shake; obviously, if each major U.S. academic library purchased four e-copies, I’d be more than happy… On the other hand, if one person buys an e-copy, mounts it and says “Go ahead! Free for all!” that’s flat-out unethical. I’ll certainly object, even if I probably wouldn’t sue. You’re saying that my labor is explicitly worthless; I don’t appreciate that.)

I believe the new book raises important issues and provides important information in a way that hasn’t been done before. If you agree…well, you know the refrain.

A very silly post of consequence whatsoever

Posted in Stuff on May 14th, 2013

That’s right: Another post about video poker (which means comments are off because most of them wouldn’t get through filters anyway).

Not completely about video poker, though: Also about a silly statement in a pretty good book about statistics, one I read when I was first pondering the possibility of writing a book about coping with everyday statistics.

Still pondering, as a recent post made clear. No decision yet.

Anyway: The book said–accurately–that neither (honest) dice nor (honest) cards (nor, for that matter, honest slot machines) have memories, any more than an honest coin does. Therefore, getting, say, fifty heads in a row when flipping a coin does not mean that the next flip is “nearly certain to be tails.” Assuming the coin’s legit, it means the odds are even–50% chance you’ll get tails, 50% chance heads.

Similarly, if you’ve played 40,000 hands of draw video poker and haven’t received a royal flush (which should come up roughly one out of every 40,000 hands), the chances of getting one on the next play are, well, 1 in about 40,000. And if you get two royal flushes in a row, the chances of getting a third one are 1 in about 40,000–even though the chances of that three-royal-flush streak are truly small.

All of that’s accurate. Here’s the part that’s not: The author says that there are no such things as streaks.

That’s nonsense. In fact, the nature of random play means that there almost have to be streaks–periods during which the randomness doesn’t seem random. What might have been said honestly is that a streak can end at any time, because it’s just a series of random events.

But there are streaks. The last time I played video poker for money (which was quite a while back, the last time ALA Annual was in New Orleans), I had a hot streak: Although I was playing machines with roughly 96% payback (because I wasn’t betting five coins at a time, so wouldn’t get the Big Payout for a royal flush), I was probably averaging 105% payback. For two days (maybe three hours total).

It works both ways, to be sure. And therein hangs the tale of the current silly post, a long way of saying “Aarrggh…”, the non-wagering video poker site run by the company that produces most video poker slot machines, just added a third contest to its other two (a daily $50 contest and a monthly contest with several winners running up to $500): A monthly contest to reward those of us who win a fair number of rounds (a round is 100 deals; a deal is usually three hands but sometimes only one and sometimes 25-100) but rarely get lucky enough to get the day’s top score. The new contest gives you a point each time you win a round at all–and gives you another round when you want it (you’re normally limited to either 5 or 8 rounds a day, depending). Whoever has the most points at the end of the month wins.

I’ve played when I felt like it, and did so-so, and saved my extra points for games that I really like and have usually done well at. Normally, I can figure to win 25%-40% of rounds; that’s reasonable for games with 98.5% payback [full Nevada odds, varying slightly depending on the game]. These two variants have actually been somewhat better, typically in the 40%-50% range.

So yesterday was one of the “good” ones. I figured to win 2 or 3 of the eight standard rounds and keep playing those extra credits until they were gone. Played eight rounds. Three of the eight had >90% payback; two of those three had >97% payback. But not one round was a winner. I used two existing extra credits to play ten rounds. Not one winner. That’s exceptionally bad for this particular variant–for any variant, actually.

Today? Another good one. So far, I’ve done five rounds. Every round >90%. Two rounds at 99% or higher.

Not one winner.

So, yes, there are streaks. Hot streaks and cold streaks. Right now, if you suggested going to a casino, all housing and travel expenses paid, I’d probably laugh: At least with, there’s no possibility of losing money. (And no second-hand smoke, and no music unless I want it…) My cold streak could snap any time–possibly the very next time I play–but right now, it’s making it remarkably easy to write, read, weed (I hate weeding!), watch TV…

The only lesson here: Of course there are streaks. If there are no streaks, you’re playing a crooked game–one that has memory*. But, also of course, streaks are neither predictable nor meaningful in the long run.

*Real-world blackjack and table poker do, of course, have a form of memory–cards that have already been played can’t be played again until the deck’s reshuffled. Different issue.

Update 7:30 p.m.: It is, of course, entirely coincidental that after posting this lament I managed to win four out of the next six rounds, after having lost 16 in a row. Doesn’t mean I’m suddenly on a hot streak, only that the cold streak seems to have ended. For now.

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