Jimbits vol. 2

by James Somers, February 11, 2010

Jimbits /dʒ’ɪmbɪts/, noun

  1. A small batch of mini blog posts. These are built around topics about which James has something to say, maybe a paragraph’s worth or two, but no more.
  2. The bloggerly equivalent of the doughnut holes at Tim Hortons.

Here’s the second batch:

Flight-gate coherence

I have a habit of arriving early at airports, which means I end up spending lots of time waiting at gates. And what I’ve noticed is that the gate for a New York-San Francisco trip looks a lot different, people-wise, than the gate for a Detroit-Orlando or a Boston-Montreal.

In particular, there seem to be a lot of tech-savvy young people on the JFK-SFO, a lot of obese parents and young children on the DTW-MCO, and a lot of college-aged babes and hipsters on the BOS-YUL.

These patterns could be a lot weaker than I think, though. The real test would be to ask me to predict, based only the composition of the folks waiting at a gate, where their flight was going. Arbitrary routes would be too difficult, but if you gave me the choice among the three flights above—and maybe threw in a DTW-MSP for good measure—I bet I’d do better than chance.


I recently spent some time with a friend of a friend who happens to be a professional poker player. He plays thousands of hands per day of high-stakes ($3-$6) no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em in four hour sessions at up to twelve tables simultaneously.

He uses a “heads-up display” to monitor his opponents’ play. In real-time, the HUD displays summary statistics over each player’s seat—like VPIP, or the percentage of hands played voluntarily; PFR, the percentage of hands raised preflop; and AF, or “aggression factor,” which measures the number of bets and raises divided by the number of calls—to help him make quick informed decisions. He also continuously captures detailed hand histories for review later on. He can easily single out interesting or troublesome hands and recall, with a click, every decision that he and his tablemates have made.

Although this setup is interesting in its own right—if only as an example of equipment that augments deliberate practice—I have a feeling that all the data it collects could be useful in a variety of other contexts. For instance, I could imagine tracking a player’s sleep schedule, his diet, exercise, biorhythms, etc., and then seeing how all those factors affect his poker. You’d get the benefit of highly granular real-time data on a person’s performance in a cognitively demanding task, without your subject having to change his behavior, and without the need to hook up invasive biosignal-capture devices. So your study could scale up inexpensively, and presumably the findings could be broadly applied.

However they do it, I’m sure some cognitive scientist or social scientist or even a kinesiologist could make a career out of the hoards of interesting data buried in these online poker communities (if someone hasn’t already).

The refrigerator light

There is a cool, simple idea introduced as an aside in J. Kevin O’Regan and Alva Noe’s “A Sensorimotor Account of Vision and Visual Consciousness,” which is itself a big-time paper on the phenomenology of consciousness. I’ll include some context in the excerpt here, but what I really like is the cute analogy itself, which is useful because it can be used so generally, i.e., as a nice little thought-slice to carry around:

One could make the amusing analogy, referred to by Thomas (1999), of the refrigerator light. It seems to be always on. You open the refrigerator: it’s on. You close the refrigerator, and then open it again to check, the light’s still on. It seems like it’s on all the time! Similarly, the visual field seems to be continually present, because the slightest flick of the eye, or of attention, renders it visible. Brooks (1991) has said that the world should be considered as its own best model, and Minsky (1988) has suggested the notion of “immanence illusion” in a similar vein. [p. 947]