Surprising topics game theorists write about

This is an unabashedly technical post. Yet, you don’t need to be an economist to be intrigued. I hope you’ll be intrigued… Game theorists get involved with some mighty unlikely, at first sight, topics.
This is the abstract from the paper “A study in the pragmatics of persuasion: A game theoretical approach” by Jacob Glazer and Ariel Rubinstein (full PDF available by open access online at

A speaker wishes to persuade a listener to take a certain action. The conditions under which the request is justified, from the listener’s point of view, depend on the state of the world, which is known only to the speaker. Each state is characterized by a set of statements from which the speaker chooses. A persuasion rule specifies which statements the listener finds persuasive. We study persuasion rules that maximize the probability that the listener accepts the request if and only if it is justified, given that the speaker maximizes the probability that his request is accepted. We prove that there always exists a persuasion rule involving no randomization and that all optimal persuasion rules are ex-post optimal. We relate our analysis to the field of pragmatics.

Everybody has a back ache story to tell

I just had to walk around campus for a few days in my weird platypus-like dance step (if platypi danced, that is) and I collected quite a few horror stories about back pain. OK, a life-long aversion to physical exercise for the sake of physical exercise (when I could be reading instead!) has to end. (Can’t be happy about all the reading I’ll miss, but I guess I’ll have to manage.)
Back’s doing better today, and I’m hoping it’s really on the mend.
I promise no more posts on this, unless a significant worsening of my back makes me resort to misery posts instead of the interesting posts I created this blog for.


Spoke too soon about the back doing better. Now on stronger meds, after a visit to the doctor yesterday. It may be a disk problem. Let’s hope it’s a mild one.
The blog will be somewhat quiet for a few days, as a result.
The good news is, M is still doing fine.

Finshed "The Echo Maker"

So I managed to finish one of the books I included in my earlier “what I’m reading” post. Richard Powers’s The Echo Maker is one impressive novel. As usual, the intelligence and learning of the author are astonishing, only to be surpassed by his way with words even more so. (It is a rare book indeed that is as lyrical in places as this one, and that has you fighting yourself over turning the pages to discover how on earth the plot will resolve, versus spending a long time on each page savoring the words.) OK, I’m gushing. Here are a couple of quotes from the book. The first is from a several-page long masterly summary of cognitive neuroscience, from the perspective of an Oliver Sacks-like character.

This thought formed in him as he lay awake at dawn, listening to a mockingbird roll through its round of pilfered calls: of selves as the self describes itself, no one had one. Lying, denying, repressing, confabulating; these weren’t pathologies. They were the signature of awareness, trying to stay intact. What was truth, compared to survival? Floating or broken or split or a third of a second behind, something still insisted: Me. Always the water changed, but the river stood still. (Page 382)

The second quote is again about this character (who is having a spectacular mid-life crisis).

Once, he’d studied an otherwise healthy man who thought that stories turned real. People spoke the world into being. Even a single sentence launched events as solid as experience. Journey, complication, crisis, and redemption: just say the words and they took shape.
For decades, that case haunted everything Weber wrote about. That one delusion—stories came true—seemed like the germ of healing. We told ourselves backward into diagnosis and forward into treatment. Story was the storm at the cortex’s core. And there was no better way to get at that fictional truth than through the haunted neurological parables of Broca or Luria—stories of how even shattered brains might narrate disaster back into livable sense. (Pages 413–414)

Ariel Rubinstein’s "Freak-Freakonomics"

In taking a break from some heavy-duty graduate exam grading, I just read an article by Ariel Rubinstein, published in the Berkeley Economics Press’s The Economists’ Voice (article). This link requires some action (filling in information that will get one’s university library to think about subscribing to the BEPress stuff). As I didn’t want my librarian to get this sort of annoyance right at the beginning of the semester, I searched online for Rubinstein’s web site and found the article there. It did not take much effort and the result (found at the very bottom of this page) is well worth it. I highly recommend this article. Everybody can read it and absorb its message; it does not assume much of a background in economics at all, and it poses some highly needed challenging questions at our cultural practice of assigning economists a very high value. Rubinstein argues that economists are overpaid relative to, for instance, mathematicians. Read his article to see why, and to have good fun, too.

A few great software applications I use

All of these are Free/Open Source Software, all run on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. I’ve used them all, on some or all three of these operating systems. Follow the links to download; they are all free (but welcome donations). (yes, that’s the name) General office application, with a word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing, mathematical equation editor, database.

LyX, a document processor, which is a WYSIWYM application (What You See Is What You Mean). Uses LaTeX in the background to typeset documents beautifully. Excels for long documents, or documents with many mathematical formulas. I am going to have my undergraduate students in the Mathematical Economics course use it for homework assignments this semester; I’m hoping that my assistant and I will not be too inundated with requests for help from the students.

The GIMP (don’t ask; the site explains the weird name). Great free photo/graphics manipulation application. Try the GIMPShop for an alternative interface that many people prefer.

More in a later post.