This past year I took two undergraduate classes in Toronto in statistics. There were a few topics I was interested in that I never got a chance to study in Chicago and thought this would be a good opportunity to focus only on what I wanted to learn at a university. I paid my own tuition and intended to go to every lecture, since that is essentially the product I was buying. It was because of this that I noticed some things about the university that I never would have cared about when I was going for my degree. When the professor was late for a lecture I felt cheated, since (s)he was employed by business that I’m funding. If we finished early, did review material, learned how to use software or did any number of other time wasting activities, I felt I was getting ripped off.
I realize I’m the minority here, because almost anyone in undergrad has either taken out student loans or gotten financial aid with the goal of a degree and not necessarily the best education. The problem there is that the professors have no incentive to put in their best effort if the students don’t genuinely appreciate the difference. Good course evaluations will be based primarily on the professor’s personality, leniency in grading and ability to make lectures fun among other things. The disconnect here was really damaging to my (second) college experience.
Above is an article a friend of mine shared the other day about an NYU Stern professor refusing to let a student walk into his class an hour late. I don’t have experience with business school but because of the strict selection process and the high price tag I can’t imagine it being worlds different from the University of Chicago. Professor Galloway wrote a snarky email to the student with about five paragraphs of condescending jokes and one paragraph of pseudo-quality advice. As much as professors seem to love giving advice on every topic in life, the students are only paying them to teach one thing – the topic of the class they attend.
It’s fantastic that Professor Galloway thinks he is an expert in good manners and demonstrating humility (although I certainly wouldn’t agree based on his choice to forward this email to the entire class). That said, his attendance policy does nothing to promote these qualities that he thinks are so important to master in the business world. Does he also insist that nobody leaves the class to take an emergency phone call or a bathroom break? In a class full of motivated students there will be a high frequency of late entrances and early exits with legitimately good reasons. Why does the professor think it’s helpful to interrupt his own class by addressing every student who walks in more than fifteen minutes late and insist that he exit the premises? If attendance is part of the grade he can simply inform late students after lecture has ended that they were given an absence for today. If your policy is on the syllabus there will be no confusion and students can make their own choice if they want to arrive late or simply skip class for that day when they aren’t able to make the first fifteen minutes of lecture.
Professor Galloway’s attitude seems to me like an unfortunate result of inconsistent incentives. The students are the customers here and if they don’t feel satisfied with the product they should be able to take their money elsewhere. The email response even jokes at how little he cares about this, when Mr. Galloway says he “hope[s] the lottery winner that is your recently crowned Monday evening Professor is teaching Judgement and Decision Making or Critical Thinking.” He has no reason to take his customers seriously because there isn’t any serious risk of losing his job to the competition. The students don’t feel like they have any control and the professor feels like he can do whatever he likes because he’s in control of the final grade. So why exactly are they paying him top dollar for this kind of service?
Above is a thread asking for the most unlikely thing to happen to you in your life. I was expecting the top post to be “I was born into a middle class white american family during the age of technology” but apparently I’m not quite so in tune with reddit as I like to think (after writing this I realized this is very similar to one of the top posts, oops). That probably would’ve been the most statistically accurate answer in the thread, anyway. Essentially what this discussion turns into is recalling an instance where as many somewhat likely things you can think of happened to fall side by side into a humorous order. Of course the sum of the parts ends up being very unlikely, because we’re using very specific language (meeting the person who stole your car 4 years prior while traveling overseas is far more unlikely than meeting someone you interacted with at home in some way while not at home any amount of years prior).
I think a more interesting question is to think of the most improbable single phenomenon you’ve experienced. This way we avoid ‘cheating’ by stringing together a ton of fairly uninteresting events (after all, you could always say all of your experiences throughout life in their exact order is the most unlikely thing that has happened to you). That’s why my favorite one was this one:
“Was working a wine banquet back in college on a nice sunny afternoon in a wide open field with no trees. Pretty much everyone was gone and we were wrapping up after a long day. I yawned and the only bird for miles shit right in my mouth as he flew by, the fucker.
That and the brain aneurysm that I had about a 1/25000 chance of surviving, but I’m still here, looking for that goddamned bird. I’ve been saving a bottle of Exlax just for him. Caw caw motherfucker.”
Hilarious and legitimately very improbable. If I can think of my most unlikely event I’ll be sure to post it in the comments but nothing really stands out off the top of my head. If you’ve got something good I’d love to hear it.
My mind seems to have been elsewhere the past few months so I’ll go off topic a bit. Let’s say you’re listening to a song for the first time. Where is your focus usually drawn? Are you closely following the lyrics and does it bother you if you can’t understand them easily? Do you have a favorite instrument that you pay closer attention to throughout? Or are you someone who tries to let go of your focus and experience the song as a whole?
I tend to do each of those things occasionally depending on my familiarity with the song, but searching for an engaging drum beat is where I start on the first listen. This is why I think I’ve disliked a lot of club music in the style of Flo Rida, Pitbull or recent Chris Brown, there isn’t any depth or suspense to the beat like you’ll find in most hip hop or electronic music. The excellent use of drums is a big reason why I like Ryan Tedder’s music (writer for and lead singer of OneRepublic) even though most people call it cheap pop music. I also can’t stand most of the use of the keyboard in popular music because of my background in classical piano. I end up being hyper attentive of the piano melody and it tends to be overly simple or just poorly done. Maybe that’s how trained guitarists feel after hearing Nickelback on the radio for years.
I apologize for the spam but I’ve gotta plug my tournament action some more and this seemed like a fine place. I’ll be in Melbourne for a few weeks and I’m playing the Main Event as well as some other tournaments down there so get in touch with me if you want to buy some action. Details/prices are in the link, make sure you see the updated prices in case the mods haven’t put it at the top of the thread yet. Thanks!
I know I’ve talked about tilt recently but I’d like to share a bit on how I think my life was altered from controlling it. I was tempted to say improved but I’m not entirely sure if that’s the case.
When I first started playing poker I had problems with the variance like anyone else. Id be furious when someone’s bad play was rewarded, I had even at one point devised a system around what I thought was a rigged online poker site. Needless to say it wasn’t a good strategy nor was the site actually rigged (to my knowledge).
Essentially what I’ve done over the last several years is train myself to reign in emotions. Any slip of focus means a lapse of logical thought. Without clear logic your emotions will take over and decision making ceases to be a controlled process. Now when I lose a big pot or take a brutal beat I’m mostly shrugging it off and shifting my focus to the following hand. In most cases I’ll be very confident I didn’t make a strategical mistake and that’s a comforting feeling. If I’ve lost a lot or start to doubt myself it can be difficult to control those negative emotions and I’ll take a break to cool off. The most remarkable improvement I’m aware of is my complete indifference to a number of things that would’ve ruined my day just a couple years ago. Its almost as if my brain has built up an emotional immunity to the most common scenarios that caused me to tilt.
Now what’s really interesting is the way this trickles down to the other parts of my life. Driving for example became a strategical game of minimizing time travelled and maximizing gas mileage or the comfort of the passengers. Variance is on the road in the frequency of car accidents and emergency vehicles causing congestion and other factors not under my control. I work with the given variables: traffic lights, average speed, lane usage, etc and optimize my route (exciting life I lead, I know). Because of the decision making game I’m giving myself something rewarding to focus on when an unaware pedestrian or a slow street car is pissing me off. Rather than fuming over my misfortune I’m trying to solve my next decision because nothing else seems as important. Productive, but probably a little strange.
My concern is that my job wont allow me to underanalyse any part of my life. Theoretically I have a great mindset for leading an efficient life and accomplishing as much as possible but there are practical downsides. For instance I have trouble wholeheartedly supporting any sports team because the outcome of the game feels inconsequential to me. Yes, I would’ve loved to see the Packers beat Minnesota last week but I was more interested in their game plan than who won or lost. Most of what I enjoy about sports now is discussing where a team’s edge comes from or mocking the inability of coaches to make well planned rational decisions. All the simple pleasures in life have kinda lost their simplicity for me and it sets a pretty high standard for every small part of my day. I occasionally try to unwind but instead I’ll be evaluating the flavor of my beer or reflecting on what I did with my time earlier that day and what I’d like to accomplish tomorrow. I guess there’s no point in doing nothing, right?
The pastor giving a sermon on Christmas morning must feel a lot like a college professor during final exams. They see all the familiar devoted faces at the front of the room, the good students who really want to be there. Then there’s the stragglers who walk in slightly late and sit in the back, who maybe have been to a third of the lectures this year and probably only the ones they felt were important enough to attend. And of course there’s the people who have no interest in being there but are obligated to pass the test in order to please those around them. It would be a great skeptical Christmas project to analyze data and see how the proportions of Christians attending church match up with university students attending class.
There was a Ted talk that I shared on Facebook recently on how learning poker can shape your decision making process. Apparently the topic of this blog isn’t unique after all! There’s a link below if you’re interested in hearing it, I thought it was very well done.
The speaker brings up an interesting point about emotional control and how it can influence our ability to think logically. We can all agree that the best decisions are made when we are focused and thinking logically (I was actually hoping to think of a counterargument where an emotional decision might be superior but I haven’t been able to come up with one.) This is the basis for why poker players (much like stock traders) aspire to control tilt.
Tilt is that point in an argument where you get backed into a logical corner but aren’t quite ready to give up, so rather than presenting new support for your side the only thoughts that make their way to the surface sound something like “fuck this guy.” Tilt is that rage you get right after a taxi cuts in front of you only to stop dead and try to turn right from the left lane. You stop thinking about good driving and simply react, probably slamming the brakes and shouting obscenities while trying your damndest to get around the taxi as quickly as possible. Hopefully there’s no pedestrians around while this is going down because the last thing you’re going to notice while you’re on road tilt is the fact that the stoplight 100 yards ahead of you is red and there’s actually no rush to get around that taxi.
You get the idea, tilt is bad for our judgement and it happens to everyone. In everyday life tilt just makes you look like an asshole for a few minutes but once you cool off we all understand and we move on with our day. In poker tilt makes you lose a lot of money in those same few minutes and once you cool off you check your results, hate yourself and seek online applications for work at the local Best Buy. This is why learning and more importantly getting better at poker can positively affect your decision making. The less often you tilt, the more money you will make. And money is a very persuasive incentive.
When playing poker you’re constantly faced with new decisions and that helps with the focus necessary to fight tilt. If you strive to think clearly before every action in every hand, you’ll be counteracting the negative affects of tilt. However in the driving example it’s not as plain as being dealt a new hand to see you’re faced with another decision after the taxi cuts you off. Life progresses fluidly and for that reason the decisions don’t always present themselves uniquely as they would in a game. A nice trick I’ve used to reflect on what decisions I might be ignoring is to observe others more closely. It’s much easier to notice when someone else is frustrated, overjoyed, or any other emotion that might stop them from being focused on their current task. Has someone ever noticed that you made what they thought was a poor decision and brought it up later in conversation? If your explanation started with “I don’t know man, I just…” then you might want to take a closer look.