Logical Political Decisions: Oxymoron?

This branch of mathematics [probability] is the only one, I believe, in which good writers frequently get results entirely erroneous. — Charles Sanders Pierce

Get your facts first and then you can distort ’em as much as you please. — Mark Twain

These are two …continue reading

A Price Sensitivity Experiment on Craigslist

Over the last three weeks I conducted an experiment to decide the best price to charge for a used computer on Craigslist. The experiment was simple in design and successful in execution. That is, I sold the computer at a price I thought was fair. …continue reading

Which OS is Best? That is a Trick Question

How do we decide which operating system is best? That is a trick question. I do not think anyone actually makes such a decision — at least not based strictly on ease of computing. After all, many parameters go into deciding what is best. And …continue reading

Noise is Good: No, Really – Noise Can Be Very Useful

Some of my best ideas for new postings come from reading my colleagues’ LockerGnome postings. In particular, Ron Schenone recently posted a piece about how to tell if a photo has been altered. Since I have spent a lot of time restoring …continue reading

Just Because You Didn’t Think of It First Doesn’t Mean It’s a Bad Idea

A good idea is a good idea even if someone, or many people, came up with it first. How many times have you gone from a sudden high brought on by a brilliant thought to an embarrassing low after learning it was common knowledge? Do …continue reading

When Old Merges with New: the Economics of Input and Output

For this week’s article on making decisions, I thought that exploring how we decide to communicate with computers would be timely since we seem to be in the middle of a transition from strictly qwerty and mouse input with a monitor and audio output. In …continue reading

Can You Use the Internet to Predict an Alien Invasion?

Everyone likes cool things. That is one reason so many people are willing to pay the big bucks for iPhones and iPads — they are way cool. Cooler than Androids, etc. We also like to do cool things, even if they have no obvious purpose. …continue reading

Do You Trust Your GPS? Do You Trust Your Anti-malware App?

When one is casting about for ideas relating to how to make good and effective decisions, inspiration sometimes comes in unexpected ways. I just read about some hapless Japanese tourists who made some bad decisions.

Three students were on vacation in Australia and …continue reading

Which Operating System is Best? Well, Depends…

This series of posts started with the hope that I could provide a few simple tools to people to use in the everyday battle of making decisions. Decisions can range from simple ones like which socks to wear to whether to buy a house …continue reading

Assassin’s Creed Vs. Excel: Who Wins?

My post on using Excel to solve problems elicited an exciting response from White Razor, who used Excel to solve an Assassin’s Creed puzzle — not the usual response! He included a video that shows what he did, but for people unfamiliar with …continue reading

Puzzles to Help Make Decisions with Spreadsheets

In my last post, we considered using spreadsheets as an aid in making decisions. In preparation for showing some explicit examples using Excel, I decided to devote at least one post to some puzzles which have bearing on the decision making process and …continue reading

How Do You Get Rid of the Babylon Toolbar?

This post, which explores some false paths taken in a decision making process, started with a previous post discussing how a senior client of mine went from a desktop to a laptop. She gave me her XP desktop, which apparently had not been …continue reading

How to Use Spreadsheets to Make Decisions

Making decisions when the situation is simple or the tradeoffs are not overly difficult is easy. We all do it all the time. But when many parameters must be considered and when the consequences of a wrong decision can be painful, then decision making can …continue reading

Three Simple Rules for Buying a Computer (Or Anything Else)

Can we make a set of some simple rules to help a person decide what new computer to buy, or what new camera to buy? Can those rules be extended to include more complex decisions such as selecting a mate, or even deciding if you …continue reading

Sharing a Cab: Is the Fare Unfair?

After an emotionally challenging post last time, I hunted around for a more light-hearted puzzle for this week. When looking for puzzles (which is a puzzle itself), sometimes the neatest ones pop up in the most unexpected places. I found the idea for …continue reading

Emotionally Laden Decisions: What Would You Do?

This spot is devoted to decisions and decision theory, but that does not mean only considering dry theoretical issues. Theory is worthless unless you can apply the lessons of critical thinking to everyday life. To entice readers to make such applications, I intersperse the theoretical …continue reading

More on Directed Ads: Good Use of Personal Data Vs. Bad

My previous decisions post, Targeted Ads and Polarization, was a bit of a rant about targeted advertising and its effects on increasing the political polarization in the country along with other undesirable side-effects. The more I thought about this growth phenomenon, the more I …continue reading

Targeted Ads and Polarization

Patricia and I are getting excited as the time for our Caribbean vacation draws near. That is indirectly the cause of some consternation. In preparation for our cruise, I bought a new bathing suit online after deciding the one-style-fits-all at Costco was not to my …continue reading

Mistaking the Solution for the Problem

How do you solve a problem? How do you decide what to do? What new computer should you buy? What new smartphone? Should you buy anything? Is it better to simply do something — anything — rather than dither about?

In reviewing my decision theory …continue reading

What Should We Decide in 2012?

Since this will be my last post on the decisions blog for 2011, I fell into a reflective mood and looked back over the postings of the whole year. We have covered a lot of material: some light-hearted and some serious. One post that caught …continue reading

Game Theory Vs. Decision Theory

In a discussion about decision theory recently, I realized that my friend was confused about the difference between game theory and decision theory. In fact, he seemed to equate them. The difference seems obvious to me, but perhaps this mistake is made more often than …continue reading

Pirate Puzzle Decoded

The puzzle of distributing the pirates’ booty prompted some great analyses by readers (in addition to some nice words and video clip from Chris). What was particularly nice about the responses is that the puzzle itself was solved assuming things that are normal in …continue reading

Dead Men Solve No Puzzles

Okay, enough generalities for a while. I heard a delightful puzzle that has a surprising answer. The origin is unknown to me. If anyone has a reference, I will gladly give full credit.

The hypothetical scene is somewhere in the Caribbean at a pirate hideaway. …continue reading

Poker, Haiti, and Insect Parts in Your Food: Who Votes in a Free Market?

In my last post, the concept of an optimum distribution of wealth was introduced with only a hint of the difficulty of defining what should be optimized. Defining the goal is often a major difficulty in making decisions. Once we know what it is …continue reading

Decision Theory in Political Decisions

One would think that with better computational aids, the arbitrary decisions we make via politics would slowly yield to rational analysis. I see no indication that this is happening.

To select one example from many possible, think of the ability of government to manipulate the …continue reading

Was Buying That Lottery Ticket a Good Decision?

One of the interesting things that comes out of decision theory is trying to answer the simple question: “What constitutes a good decision?” If a destitute person with only one dollar uses it to purchase a lottery ticket and wins a million dollars, was that …continue reading

Digital Signage: Advertising as Decision Theory

This week I attended a conference in Orange County sponsored by Intel. It was a very productive event. Although the theme was generally exposure to Intel and partners’ products, I had some mental whiplash that is directly related to making decisions correctly.

The conference featured …continue reading

Magic and Probability

While looking for a topic in statistics and probability, I stumbled on a delightful PDF file available online, Using Magic in the Teaching of Probability and Statistics. The underlying premise is that students can be motivated to understand probability better if they are surprised …continue reading

Ask Marilyn Again

Every now and then the “Ask Marilyn” column by provides the basis of a challenging decision theory or statistics problem. Famously she excited comments over the Monte Hall paradox.

Recently she discussed an issue that is confusing to many people, often including professionals. The issue …continue reading

Why Am I Interested in Decision Theory?

Some people have asked me why I am fascinated by decision theory. I suppose the immediate answer is that I prefer to make the right decisions, but that is obviously not the whole answer.

Perhaps some of the attraction is learning how to organize thoughts …continue reading