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Ralsina.Me — Roberto Alsina's website

Internet Killed the Video Store

A few days ago, the last video rental in the neigh­bor­hood closed. It was a Block­buster and since it's bank­rupt in the US it's hard­ly sur­pris­ing that they killed the Ar­genti­na op­er­a­tion.

But Block­buster had, years ear­lier, killed all the oth­er video rental shop­s. So now there aren't any, at al­l.

So, how does any­one with a DVD play­er ac­tu­al­ly use it? Well, he can buy DVDs in the news­pa­per stand­s. That's ex­pen­sive be­cause it's buy­ing and it's late. Who will want to spend $35 to watch "Due Date" at home 3 months af­ter the the­atri­cal re­lease? There is no Net­Flix here!

And of course, you can do what ev­ery­one was do­ing any­way: downoad it, or buy il­le­gal copies. They are of­ten bet­ter than the orig­i­nals any­way, at least in this sense:

And re­al­ly it's amaz­ing. The whole movie rental in­dus­try has ba­si­cal­ly ceased to ex­ist, and the com­pe­ti­tion is il­le­gal. They sucked so much at its busi­ness that they could­n't com­pete with a "busi­ness" that can't do com­mer­cial­s, has no qual­i­ty as­sur­ance.

Some­times you got a very bad il­le­gal copy, filmed from a seat in the last row, full of peo­ple talk­ing over the movie you can bare­ly see... and stil­l, peo­ple pre­ferred to buy that for $7 in­stead of pay­ing $10 for a "qual­i­ty" rental.

It's a tale of in­cred­i­ble in­com­pe­tence. Quick­ly, can some­one find me one ex­am­ple of an busi­ness that got killed by il­le­gal and crap­py com­pe­ti­tion?

There are crap­py and/or il­le­gal medici­nes, but phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals still work. There are il­le­gal (un­li­censed) places to eat, but restau­rants still make mon­ey. There are il­le­gal cab­s, but re­al cabs are in busi­ness.

This is not even bad, it's just em­bar­ras­ing.

Yes, I know I'm wrong, but listen to me...

I have a strong ten­den­cy to be ar­gu­men­ta­tive. That's be­cause I re­al­ly en­joy a good ar­gu­men­t, if you'll par­don the ob­vi­ous­ness.

The best thing about a good ar­gu­ment is that you get the most amaz­ing in­sights from the wrong side of it. For ex­am­ple, Lamar­ck­ian vs. Dar­wini­an evo­lu­tion: Lamar­ck was wrong. But Lamar­ck­ism is a heck of an idea, and once you get lamar­ck­ism, you can pass it on! (ha!).

Or, the chick­en and the egg? I ac­tu­al­ly got in­to an ar­gu­ment (and I did not start it my­self) about this a cou­ple of weeks ago.

If you start with some­thing that's wrong, you can back­track and see why it's wrong. What was the im­plic­it mis­tak­en as­sump­tion, the in­com­ing garbage that cre­at­ed the out­go­ing crap. And then you can tweak it. And see what new garbage comes out. Wrong stuff, but new stuff.

And that's one of the great things about be­ing a nerd: nerds are the awe­some at this. Oh, you may think peo­ple in pol­i­tics would be bet­ter? Nah, they nev­er change their mind­s. Lawyer­s? Well, they ar­gue for mon­ey!

But nerd­s? We do it for fun. And most of us don't give a damn about look­ing weird to oth­ers be­cause we al­ready know we look weird to oth­er­s.

Spend­ing 4 hours locked in a car with av­er­age hu­mans is most­ly a chore. Some­one will play mu­sic, maybe peo­ple will talk in­ter­mit­tent­ly about stuff that hap­pened in the last few days, what­ev­er.

But lock 4 nerds in a car for 4 hours and you're go­ing to lis­ten to stuff. This hap­pened to me twice in the last few week­s. And in be­tween, we had a din­ner with a very high nerd fac­tor (with al­co­hol as­sist)... great fun.

IMG14266.JPG Warning, nerds and alcohol mix a bit too well.

Now, I know many ex­pe­ri­ence this when they are with peo­ple that have a cer­tain thing in com­mon. I've seen some­thing sim­i­lar hap­pen be­twen, for ex­am­ple, com­mu­nists and for­mer com­mu­nist­s. They would talk for hours, and it was lots of fun (even for me ;-) but what they talked about was their com­mon thing: com­mu­nis­m.

IMG14268.JPG Yes, the tiramisu has penguins in it.

Nerds ap­par­ent­ly don't have such in­cli­na­tion. Nerds will ar­gue about any­thing. Nerds will ar­gue about ev­ery­thing. And that makes me think... why are nerds seen as shy and in­tro­vert­ed? Hel­l, why are nerds shy and in­tro­vert­ed? How can I rec­on­cile what I see when I'm among fel­low nerds and how oth­ers see us?

IMG14262.JPG Yes, penguin cookies

And it's not easy. I am by all stan­dard mea­sures painful­ly shy. I had great dif­fi­cul­ty mak­ing friends when I was a kid. I did­n't like the things oth­er kids liked. I did­n't know many things they knew all along. I con­tin­u­ous­ly was the butt of jokes for be­ing naïve on things I had nev­er heard about. I was al­ways afraid to speak when I was in a group be­cause I thought I would make a fool of my­self.

Shy does­n't mean bor­ing. Shy does­n't mean some­one who does­n't have any­thing in­ter­est­ing to say. Shy means some­one that has prob­lems start­ing.

On the oth­er hand, I have spo­ken in front of hun­dreds and I've been told I look re­laxed (I am not, I am fak­ing, guys). I write un­der my re­al name and I nev­er felt some­thing was "too weird" so I should­n't write it (com­ing soon: an eco­nom­ic ex­pla­na­tion of why men like to see wom­en kiss­ing), so I am not re­al­ly afraid of peo­ple think­ing I'm weird. What the hel­l, I know I'm weird. Ask me if you see me: Am I weird? Yes!

But I still have trou­ble when I am in a par­ty with peo­ple I don't know (I am lucky my wife is like so­cial WD-40). I still have trou­ble mak­ing small talk. I don't know what hap­pened in the TV show ev­ery­one watch­es. I ap­pear shy and in­tro­vert­ed. Un­til you know me.

The lottery as a rational investment.

There is a prej­u­dice that the poor play lot­ter­ies be­cause they are lazy, can't save and are gen­er­al­ly stupid and are hurt­ing them­selves by chas­ing the fan­ta­sy of win­ning in­stead of sav­ing pen­nies. You know what? It's bull­shit.

When I was in high school (about 13 years old), I once had a plan to make mon­ey: I would play the lot­tery. Here's the mech­a­nism I had in mind.

I would play $1 in the quiniela. Quiniela pays $700 for each $1 you bet, and you have to choose a num­ber be­tween 000 and 999. My idea was: I can bet the $1 my par­ent give me ev­ery day, and there's a chance I make $700. If I had $700 I could buy any­thing a 13-year old kid may wan­t. With $1? Not so much.

Of course you are right now think­ing: What a mo­ron! He has a 0.001 chance of win­ning and it pays 700 to 1, so it's a los­ing bet! Bzzzzzt!

Let's start with some sim­ple sim­u­la­tion code:

import random

n = 476

for tests in range(10000):
    for w in range(1000):
        q = random.randint(0,999)
        if n == q:


Short ex­pla­na­tion: run 10000 sim­u­la­tions of this pro­cess:

  • We play each day for 1000 days.

  • If we win, we stop.

  • If we don't win in 1000 days we stop.

  • We record the num­ber where we stop.

So, I ran it. Here's a graph of the re­sults


So, how many nev­er won any­thing? In my da­ta set: 3699 play­ers out of 10000 nev­er won any­thing.

How many ac­tu­al­ly lost mon­ey? 5030 play­er­s.

And how many won mon­ey? 4967 play­ers won mon­ey.

2910 play­ers won in less than 350 plays.

3 play­ers got ex­act­ly even mon­ey, win­ning in their 700th play. For them, this was ex­act­ly the same as sav­ing their mon­ey.

So, is it a good idea to play a lot­tery like this? It's a coin toss. Half the time, you end with no mon­ey. Half the time, you end with more mon­ey than if you had saved.

If you are bet­ting dis­pos­able in­come (a suf­fi­cient­ly low amount that "it does­n't hurt"), it works out. You have a fair chance (50%) of a re­ward at least as good as sav­ing the mon­ey, and a de­cent chance (25%) of a re­ward twice as good.

And you have a fair chance (50%) of los­ing mon­ey. But you would lose it very, very slow­ly and pain­less­ly. ¿How well do you think stocks com­pare to that? ¿And what are the bar­ri­ers to en­try on both games?

In short: play­ing the lot­tery is not ir­ra­tional, re­al­ly, it's just a sav­ings plan. It sure was a bet­ter idea than buy­ing can­dy!

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die (Machine of Death, #1)


I got this book as a free PDF af­ter read­ing about it at Won­der­mark. I had not read any short sto­ry col­lec­tions in a few years and had for­got­ten the best thing about them: if some piece is weak, it goes away quick­ly.

A lot of the sto­ries are good, some very good (Ran­dall Munroe's for in­stance) and some... some are not so good.

There is one that had me laugh­ing for min­utes and was just a sin­gle line. The last one is just *killer* short fic­tion.

I think the col­lec­tion would have im­proved if a big­ger "canon­i­cal" frame­work had been es­tab­lished by the ed­i­tors, since there are con­tra­dic­to­ry lines ev­ery­where, but hey, it's a high con­cept book, it's fun to read, and it's pret­ty cool.

Memorias de un ingeniero

  • Au­thor: Al­fre­do de Ho­ces
  • Rat­ing: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
  • See in goodreads


I read this by rec­om­men­da­tion of my friend Nico César and... it's so much fun even the span­ish slang did­n't both­er me.

From now on, egg car­tons will nev­er be the same thing for me.

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