Friday, August 31, 2012

IOC and game theory

The badminton fiasco at the Olympics would seem to indicate that the IOC and other sports organizations need to learn some game theory:

Eight badminton players have been disqualified from the women's doubles competition after being accused of "not using one's best efforts to win".

Two pairs from South Korea and one each from China and Indonesia made a series of basic errors in Tuesday's matches.

All four pairs were accused of wanting to lose, in an attempt to manipulate the draw for the knockout stage.

MR discusses the game theoretic aspect of cycling and Sally Jenkins writes about how trying to lose also occurs in other sports and leagues such as NFL football where toward the end of the season teams do not necessarily try too hard to win in order to get a better draft pick.

We also watched some canoeing and the strange aspect of some of the qualifying rounds was that out of the 25 canoes going head-to-head six at a time, 24 would qualify. There were also rounds where everyone qualified for the quarter finals.

These two are related by only one thing which should have been obvious to me: Revenue maximization. In the case of badminton, instead of playing a knock-out system the IOC had the players play a round robin type system. There really isn’t any reason to do this unless they were interested in maximizing the number of events/rounds and hence revenue be it at the gate or on TV. Likewise in canoeing, they could have eliminated many ‘meaningless’ races by going straight to 16 instead of 24.

Qatar airlines

Named as best airline by Skytrax 2011 and 2012. We flew to Asia using this airline and either standards have fallen tremendously since our last trip two years ago or there is something amiss with the ratings. I compare with our last trip on Korean Airlines.

We flew IAD-DOH, DOH-BKK and back. The cabin crew did not help passengers get their bags into the overhead compartments. Help in the sense of directing passengers to compartments that were empty or partially empty. They either stood at the back or remained mostly invisible most of the time. This is important because the current Doha airport does not have gates so passengers are bused onto the tarmac. Passengers do not board by rows so it can be extremely chaotic.

On the DOH-IAD leg, a passenger had a flat fairly empty bag in a compartment. Another passenger who came later moved it so that he could fit his bag in and got snapped at by her. There was a tense exchange of words which could have be alleviated by the presence of cabin crew. In my mind the first passenger did not have the right to hog the entire compartment just because she happened to have been there first.

When going down the aisles to serve food or drinks or to collect garbage, the crew pretty much marches down the aisle rather than walk slowly turning from side to side to offer the tray they are carrying. I barely had time to put my trash in the box before they were off.

It’s highly doubtful that we’d fly Qatar airlines again for many reasons but the level of service was not really a deal breaker. It’s just a bit of a surprise that they’re considered airline of the year or whatever that Skytrax award is supposed to signify.


In Malaysia, the license plates of cars vary by state just as they do in the US. Instead of state denominated plates, each state is assigned a letter of the alphabet so license plates from Penang begin with PA. The first car probably had the license plate PA 1 and on it goes until PZ 9999. Afterwards, it goes to PAA 1 and so forth.

In Kuala Lumpur. the license plates begin with W - and so now we have WTF all over the roads.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

College workers working in factories

Should the present generation go to college so they can work in factories and secretarial pools? It used to be that going to college was a way out of blue-collar work and low end clerical jobs. But if Raghu Rajan is right, then this should no longer be the expectation. Factory and clerical work are now highly skilled jobs that require college degrees.

How true does this ring? Proponents of upskilling would say that this is certainly plausible. Left leaning economists would probably decry this trend - this is the future for the next generation? Classical economics could predict this outcome in a model where demand for skilled labor is fixed or growing slowly but the supply of college educated workers is growing faster.

Here’s an article I found in the NYT:

Ms. Santiago, 36, has an associate’s degree from a local community college, but said that employers wanted to see more from job candidates. She lost her last full-time job in 2007, and has worked in low wage jobs without benefits through a temporary agency ever since.

“They even want a degree to be a secretary,” said Ms. Santiago, picking up her 8-year-old son at the center.      


One of the supplements that some Penangites swear by is this Vitamin C supplement. It can be found in Penang and Bangkok under the name CDR - Calcium-D Redoxon. I’ve been taking it for the past few months.

I’ve found a close cousin - simply Redoxon - on the Walgreens website. Simply put - they are different - and I’ve come to the conclusion that they are in fact different products marketed under the same name.

The latter is made in the Czech Republic (I was not actually able to find the name of the manufacturer), is yellower rather than orange (almost the color of piss), and effervesces slower and less than the former which is made by Bayer in Indonesia.

Curious with all the lawsuits on trademark and patent infringements that there have not been one in this case.

Plastic bags as an indicator

Of what? When we were in Penang last month, Queensbay Mall sets aside weekends as ‘no plastic bag’ days. Whether we liked it or not we had to bring a reusable bag with us if we wanted to do any shopping.

In contrast when we were in Bangkok a week later, it was plastic bags galore! At a pastry shop, each pastry is individually wrapped in a plastic bag. If we bought four croissants, each had its own bag. Then all of them were placed into another plastic bag! I felt guilty enough to actually bring all the plastic bags back to the States with us for reuse. (Note to self: Bring reusable bags next time - although I’m sure we’d get strange looks.)

The environmental Kuznets curve predicts that when countries get ‘rich’ enough pollution starts to decrease. My gut says that Penang and Bangkok are similar in income levels - if anything, Bangkok seems more affluent. The difference seems to be the degree of inequality - Bangkok seems to have a higher income inequality, a smaller middle class that in theory would care enough to act on social issues like plastic bags.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Asian beer

Whenever we make the trip back to Malaysia/Thailand I almost cringe at the thought of having to drink beer there. They taste watered down and have the light color normally associated with a particular bodily fluid. they are also a reminder of the less than glorious days in college when Busch and Budweiser was the norm.

I don’t know much about the beer market there but it looks like microbrews have not made any inroads there, not that I’d expect it to. In Bangkok, one might have to go to beer bars if one wanted to enjoy a good beer. (With two kids in tow, I haven’t made this trek so I can’t attest to it.) The only beers I see on the shelf in Bangkok are Singha, Chang, and Tiger Beer and perhaps one or two other less illustrious and just as lightly colored beer. I don’t even see Guinness.

It reminds me of the time when I was in Canada (Ottawa, Toronto) almost five years ago - all I could buy was Molson. Is there some kind of import control in these countries or just plain monopolies coupled with payoffs to politicians to protect the domestic beer market?

As such, most of these trips are dry trips for me.

Update (Sep. 6, 2012): Found this article on BBC:

Microbrewers as well as importers have come into vogue. Scott Baczek, an American brewer at the Pump Room bar and restaurant, makes four beers year-round - lager, ale, india pale ale and wheat ale - and one additional seasonal beer.
He sees the burgeoning of beer in South-East Asia as a big opportunity.
"If you're sitting outside on a sweltering Singapore Sunday afternoon, you will most likely want something thirst-quenching, light in body, with a dry, crisp finish - probably not an imperial stout, more likely a light, crisp lager," he says.
But he has noted that the "local palate" is a diverse one - providing brewers with a wide range of possibilities to explore.

Now they only need to expand into the retail beer market.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rubs from Raghu Rajan

Raghu Rajan really rubbed me the wrong way - not that I’d ever want him to rub me at all.

In a direct jab at Keynesian stimulus spending:
Rather than attempting to return to their artificially inflated GDP numbers from before the crisis, governments need to address the underlying flaws in their economies. In the United States, that means educating or retraining the workers who are falling behind, encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation, and harnessing the power of the financial sector to do good while preventing it from going off track.

Nothing really surprising or even controversial here - except the appeal to education as the apparent solution to the underlying structural problems. Haven’t we been down this road before? I forget.

Here is more:
With the aid of technology and capital, one skilled worker can displace many unskilled workers. Think of it this way: when factories used mechanical lathes, university-educated Joe and high-school-educated Moe were no different and earned similar paychecks. But when factories upgraded to computerized lathes, not only was Joe more useful; Moe was no longer needed.

But does Joe really want to work at a factory?

Consider how computerized retailing has become - point-of-sale, just-in-time-inventory, customer relationship management. Is Joe really more productive than Moe? Yet, all the Moes who work in retail are considered over-qualified by some economists:

Borders lives

In Penang at the Queensbay mall which was where we were in late July/early August

According to Wikipedia:
…  there are still international Borders stores operating in The United Arab Emirates, Oman, Malaysia and New Zealand. These Borders stores are now under different ownership from the original Borders Group, and were unaffected by their store closures.

Citation sorely needed.

Monday, August 27, 2012


This has been affecting me almost all summer. Will have to try to get back into some posting asap.