June 2012 archive
A math class I took in high school included lessons in probability. To provide examples for discussion, the teacher taught us the rules of backgammon—which was my first exposure to the game and got me into playing it with friends.
And I read a book on backgammon strategy, which—on the last page—included this advice:
Backgammon is by nature a gambling game, and if there is no stake, the game becoms sloppy and reckless. The stakes need not be high; play for a nickel a point if you wish, but play for something.I resisted that advice. It was foreign to me; I had not played games for money before. But I tried to take the advice to heart, and suggested to a friend that we play for imaginary stakes counted in Quatloos (a Star Trek reference).
I didn't really get the book's point then, but I understand it now. For developing skills, there is nothing like real consequences. Natural selection illustrates the point on a species-wide level.
Nik Wallenda said he was disappointed that ABC made him wear a harness and tether when he walked on a tightrope over Niagara Falls: an example of the kinds of compromises that come into the picture when money is involved, a topic I wrote on a while back.
I like that actions have consequences. Life would be duller otherwise. The downside is, well, the downside. Things can go wrong no matter how skilled you are, and consequences are not always pleasant.
Speaking of consequences, the pitfalls of taking money for work, and final pages of books, I offer one of my favorite examples of conciseness—
The last chapter in a 1994 book on (male) prostitution lists reasons why not to be a prostitute. The last section in the chapter is titled You Might Get Arrested and You Might Go to Jail. The section's text: "You just might." A short list of endearing aspects of 1960s technology, in no particular order.