Monday, December 19, 2011

How Shape Influences Strength

Rereading Alex Martelli, How Shape Influences Strength, Bridge World Jan & Feb 2000.

NS Tricks // N has 7222 // N has 7321

6 // 4019 // 4455
7 // 10778 //11089
8 // 14016 // 12307
9 // 10811 // 9886
10 // 5371 // 6146
11 // 2344 // 2869
12 // 532 // 1033
13 // 178 // 215

It is clear from this table [cd not work out how to use tabs in Blogger] that the variation is higher for the slightly more shapely hand, which fits in well with our intuition: A 7-3-2-1 hand is more likely than a 7-2-2-2 to meet with either a particularly unsuitable hand for partner (with wasted values opposite the singleton, perhaps holding the partnership to six or seven tricks) or a particularly suitable one (with values opposite the tripleton, often allowing the partnership to take from 10 to 13 tricks.)

I used to think that anyone who had seen hundreds of books published would have a bridgeplayer's sense of fit; would see that writers rarely have balanced hands, so that a fit with an agent or editor is likely to be very good or very bad.

It seems not to work that way. There are disciplines, cultures that value intellectual elegance and economy. A serious bridgeplayer does not have to explain the value of elegance to his peers. A programmer does not have to explain the value of elegance to other programmers. A mathematician does not have to explain the value of elegance to mathematicians. Explanation comes into play only when one deals with what dance schools call beginners and improvers. Whereas.

Over the last 15 years I have had conversations with many, many people in the industry. Mainly agents and editors, but also accountants, lawyers, designers, production managers, publicists, marketers, booksellers - the number of people who have to get paid out of the cover price of a book is not small. These conversations have certain features in common.  Blank looks. Incomprehension. Disbelief. Comment: 'I've dealt with hundreds of authors, and no one has ever wanted this before.'

So I think it may be necessary to do something else.  I thought I might be happier in IT, but the programmers I know have not been very helpful in suggesting entry-level jobs.  It may be best to go back to London and work again as a legal secretary for a few years; if I had an evening job I might do a BSc. during the day. It's possible that a public blog will turn out to be incompatible with that sort of job, in which case pp may have to go offliine. We'll see.

(Martelli, by the way, is also a member of the Python Software Foundation, author of Python in a Nutshell and co-editor of The Python Cookbook. Wikipedia: 'According to Martelli's self-evaluation, his proudest achievement is the articles that appeared in The Bridge World (January/February 2000), which were hailed as giant steps towards solving issues that had haunted contract-bridge theoreticians for decades.' If you are a writer who is haunted by the kind of issue that bothers contract-bridge theoreticians, you are probably in the wrong line of work.)

How do we get back, from those average numbers of tricks taken by the partnership, call it P, to the "strength of North's hand," call it N? Well, if we knew N, we would estimate P through the forumla, P = N plus one-third (of 13 minus N), because, by symmetry, on average partner's hand can be taken as supplying one-third of the "remaining" tricks, 13 minus N.  From that equation, it follows that
N = (1.5 times P) minus 6.5

Applying this to the earlier values (7222 Average 8.26 and 7321 Average 8.33 yields hand-strength estimates of 5.90 for Hand 7222 and 6.00 for Hand 7321.

How can Hand 7222, that will surely take six tricks itself, be worth a bit less than six tricks in this scale?  Because the hand-strength values were computed under the assumption that the ratings of th North and South hands would be added to produce a partnership total.  When North holds 7=2=2=2, his shape will (on average) destroy some of the values that South will count on.


David Turner said...

I'm a programmer, and I've just learned about a couple of courses that introduce people to programming and then help to get them hired.

The first is called Hacker School. It's in NYC, and incomprehensibly, it has no web presence. It's run by a friend of mine, @nicholasbs, who is a programmer who has become a recruiter. You show up with a project, four days a week, and sit in a room with other hackers and work on your problems, with help from professionals. Nick was unschooled, and his program seems to reflect that spirit.

The other is Dev Boot Camp, which I think has a somewhat more traditional school structure, although also very hands-on. I don't know anything about it, but I asked someone who has signed up to give me a report once they finish.

Helen DeWitt said...

David!!!!! THANK you! That sounds perfect! Your friend's project, I mean, though the other might also be very good and I will look into it too.

leah said...

And I thought people tried to become writers to give up other jobs! I found IT to be a very honest profession, if you can manage to stay closer to the IT people than the business people. Still, 2012 is going to be a much better year for you, I can feel it.

scott said...

You may find it worthwhile to check out Stanford's online offerings in this area. The intro programming series of classes are available on iTunes U. A somewhat smaller set of classes are offered online, as described here:

These classes will be less effective at career transition than Dev Boot Camp or the like, but may still be of interest to you.

My other suggestion is that with your facility with R and other statistical analysis programs, you could find a position that requires those particular skills. Upgrading and combining statistical capabilities with C++ and/or Python programming might enable you to find an extremely well paid position with a trading firm, for example. Other, less well paying positions can be found that just require a strong background in statistics.

If there is anything I can do to help, please don't hesitate to let me know.

leoboiko said...

I wonder if you could find a position in Google? Statistics can go a long way, statistics+linguistics even more.

Helen DeWitt said...

That is a lovely thought, but I doubt that Google is looking for an amateur statistician; I'm not remotely in the same class as someone with proper qualifications in the discipline.

leoboiko said...

Well, Google likes self-learners & is known for not caring for proper degrees as long as you have the skills (or at least they were like this back in my day). They hired even me once; the competition can't be that bad :)

If by any chance you see a position that interests you & you believe you're qualified for, then don't let the lack of institutional education stop you from at least forwarding your résumé to the recruiter.

Helen DeWitt said...

I don't doubt that Google cares more about the skills than where you got them, but I don't think any of my (relevant) skills are strong enough.

David Turner said...

Just saw this, which is another programmer training course -- but they pay you (and ask you to work for them, afterwards). I think it's a good deal, especially since the odds that LivingSocial will be around in 5+18 months is only about 30%.

Helen DeWitt said...

Wow! Thanks!

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