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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.
  • The TV set doubling as a radar receiver: ghost images caused by reflections off an airplane, shifting position as the plane moved.
  • The soothing, burbling, mechanically-generated ringback tone of a Western Electric #5 crossbar switch.
  • Fractional initial telephone ring when a call came in at the right moment in the ring cycle. (yes — 5XB ring equipment exhibited not just one, but two totally endearing features; neither is to be found in 21st century replacements)
  • Mechanical car radio preset buttons. To fully appreciate these, it helps to have taken one of the mechanisms apart to see how they worked.
  • Selectric typeballs.
  • Teletypes: uglier, slower, and less ergonomic than Selectrics, but nonetheless memorable for the smell of oil all over the moving parts.
  • Spirit duplicators, a.k.a. ditto machines: makers of printed matter laden with volatile organic solvents.
  • Long Island Rail Road cars with doors you could open before the train stopped if you knew which gizmo behind a panel to step on.
  • Round Honeywell wall thermostats.
  • Maps, given away free by gas stations.
  • Yardsticks, given away free by lumberyards.

When I was a teenager, my dad saw that I was enjoying building stuff out of wood and got me an iron for branding my initials on projects. Said iron came with the instruction sheet shown here.

In 2002, the mayor of Sioux City, Iowa said that the code for the city's airport, SUX, was an embarrassment. But for some reason, city officials said no when the FAA offered to let them change the code to GAY. The airport has since embraced their sucky code, putting it on all manner of merchandise—including coffee mugs with the phrase "The Joy of Sux".

And in case you're wondering if there's an airport with IATA code GAY, there is. I don't know whether they got the code after Sioux City turned it down.

Transit of Venus tomorrow. has had a nice local time calculator.

NASA image; public domain