How professional poker players can win big even when they lose

On Planet Money: “We talk to a professional poker player who lost on the first day of poker’s most famous tournament–but went on to get a huge payout. Turns out there’s a game behind the game.”

The “game behind the game:” Professional poker players stake each other, so even if a player loses, he can come out ahead if the players that he stakes win.

Amazon’s Lofty Profits Open Cloud to Rivals – Shira Ovide / Bloomberg

Amazon, which has  used razor-thin margins to undercut rivals, is susceptible to the same competitive pressure because of its fat AWS profits.

“Your margin is my opportunity.”

It’s a quip often attributed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to explain his zeal for high-volume sales at teeny-to-nonexistent profits. It’s ironic, then, that in Amazon’s cloud business it is Bezos’ margin that is providing an opening to rivals like Google.

Amazon’s Lofty Profits Open Cloud to Rivals [Shira Ovide / Bloomberg]

This Is What Using The New Small iPhone Is Actually Like

Excellent review by Nicole Nguyen at BuzzFeed.

I’m tempted by the small size. I have small hands. For a man, at least.

On the other hand, I’m also tempted by a larger phone, something I can use instead of my iPad mini.

On the negative side, I don’t want to buy a phone with the guts of the year-old iPhone 6s.

On the positive side: Two-day battery life! Holy mother of Steve Jobs!

Conclusion: I’m going to hold out until autumn, when we’ll probably see the next full refresh of the iPhone line. Or even next year, when rumor has it we’ll see a complete revamp.

[This Is What Using The New Small iPhone Is Actually Like / Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed Life]

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[D]espite the flames egding closer to him and smoke inhalation causing him to cough, he was adamant he wanted to stay until the end of the film.

This forced firefighters to race into the shop called SexyAngel, located on Hamburg’s Reeperbahn, known as the ‘square mile of sin.’

The man was found by what authorities described as a ‘state of high sexual arousal’ and dragged from the burning shop.

[Customer at German sex shop which was burning to the ground around him had to be rescued by firefighters because he refused to leave until he reached the climax of Throbbin Hood / Alan Hall / DailyMail.com…]

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From the April 16, 1938 issue of The New Yorker:

If a Texaco salesman at a filling station has asked you, “Is your oil at the proper level today, sir?” or if you’ve ordered a malted milk at a soda fountain and the clerk has stood there, an egg in each hand, and asked, “One or two eggs today?,” then you’ve been under the subtle influence of Mr. Elmer Wheeler, head of the Tested Selling Institute, 521 Fifth Avenue. Mr. Wheeler has adopted the profession of seducing people in the mass with words. He advises merchants how to win sales and influence customers.

Mr. Wheeler composed that suave speech about the proper level of oil to replace the crude old question “Check your oil today?” There are nine words in it, to save you the trouble of counting back, and Texaco paid Mr. Wheeler $5,000 for it. This is $555.55 a word. He worked out the malted-milk-and-egg technique, for Abraham & Straus, so that they might sell more eggs at their fountain. He not only devised the phrase “One or two eggs today?” but also planned the gesture of the clerk holding an egg in each hand.

The scene of the soda clerk, the eggs, and the timid customer (who usually takes at least one egg in his malted milk when all he wanted was a malted milk) is now reënacted thousands of times daily all over the city. It is the perfect example of one of the principles of Tested Selling, which are masterfully explained in an essay written by Mr. Wheeler some years ago and recently expanded into a book with a red-and-yellow jacket. The book has a number of Wheelerpoints in it, and the egg episode dramatizes Wheelerpoint No. 4, which is “Don’t Ask If—Ask Which! “The essence of Wheelerpoint No. 4 is that the customer should always be given a choice between something and something, not a choice between something and nothing. This point is vital, but the great motif in Tested Selling is Wheelerpoint No. 1, “Don’t Sell the Steak—Sell the Sizzle!” On this majestic theme, Mr. Wheeler writes:

“The sizzle has sold more steaks than the cow ever has, although the cow is, of course, mighty important.”

Wheeler did the equivalent of today’s A/B testing in real life; he tried different phrases and sentences on people to see which sold more product, and iterated the changes until they were just right.

People put egg in their malted milk? Is that still a thing?

[The Sizzle / John McNulty / The New Yorker]

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The drive supposedly gets its propulsive power by absorbing microwaves. If it works, it would revolutionize space travel and open up the Solar System to exploitation and colonization.

Of course it’s bullshit. If things seem to violate the laws of physics, it’s because they do.

But what if it’s not bullshit?

The gist of EmDrive is that it’s an engine that appears to gain intense amounts of propulsion via ambient microwave energy. Supposedly, this could make for spaceships that can gain speed without propellant in the vacuum of space. If it’s true, then this technology would be a revolution in space—a way to drastically cut down on the mass of spaceships and keep them going by producing continuous thrust, bringing long voyages closer to reality.

In reality, of course, the EmDrive has always been dubious at best. A tenuous connection to NASA has made the idea sound more plausible, but it isn’t. People get starry eyed at the idea of a low-power microwave drive that could propel humanity to the stars and forget the cardinal rule of technology: that if something seems to violate the law of physics, then there’s probably something wrong with the analysis, not the physics.

[Report: The EmDrive Finally Will Undergo Peer Review / John Wenz / Popular Mechanics]

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Delmer Berg, who died recently age 100, was the last known living veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. They were Americans who joined the Spanish Communists to fight the Fascists in Spain prior to World War II. Berg himself was a Communist; he joined the US party in 1943 and remained a Communist until his death.

Mr. Berg went to Spain when he was a very young man. He fought in some of the biggest and most consequential battles of the war. He sustained wounds. He watched friends die. He knew he had ransomed his life to a lost cause, for a people who were strangers to him, but to whom he felt an obligation, and he did not quit on them. Then he came home, started a cement and stonemasonry business and fought for the things he believed in for the rest of his long life.

I don’t believe in most of the things that Mr. Berg did, except this. I believe, as Donne wrote, “no man is an island, entire of itself.” He is “part of the main.” And I believe “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

So was Mr. Berg. He didn’t need to know for whom the bell tolls. He knew it tolled for him. And I salute him. Rest in peace.

[John McCain: Salute to a Communist / The New York Times]

Mitch

March 24, 2016

No WiFi on this flight. We’ve been instructed to put our heads between our knees and breathe shallowly.