I was recently reminded of an interesting problem in statistics and probability which I first heard in high school. It is often referred to as the “Monty Hall” or “Let’s Make a Deal” paradox. Here is the basic premise: You are presented with three closed doors, one contains a large cash prize, and the other two contain stinkin’ donkeys! Next, you choose a door, but before seeing what is behind it, Monty opens one of the other two doors and reveals a donkey! Now he gives you a choice, do you stay with your initial selection, or do you switch to the other closed door? More importantly, does it make a difference mathematically? Your intuition probably tells you that it shouldn’t matter, that the probability of getting the prize is 50% regardless of whether you switch or not. No foo! You should switch! In fact, you’re twice as likely to win if you switch as if you don’t switch. Don’t believe it? Check out this nifty java applet demonstrating the situation.
I don’t want to get off on a rant here but some friends and I were discussing recently the difference between a $12,000 car and a $25,000 car. The two, besides “image” and what Paris Hilton-wannabe trouts may think of it, are pretty equal. Neither is a race car, neither is very luxurious, and the $12,000 econo-box (read “relatively socially responsible transportation”) gets much better gas mileage than the $25,000 P.O.S. The $25,000 vehicle will last no longer than the $12,000 one. Both have cheap-ass plastic interiors and horrible ergonomics, especially in the domain of today’s American-designed automobiles. Neither has any real power or torque to speak of, and therefore no acceleration of any kind for you on your way to your job as a Financial Analyst. Both have very cheaply made paper cone speakers and bottom-of-the barrel electronics, even if you drop the extra $800 for the “Premium Audio Package”. The point I’m trying to make is that for every extra dollar you spend on that new car, you might gain an extra $0.05 of additional real value. That being said, I’m still getting a Mini Cooper S as soon as I can afford one.
I have found this tool useful and fun to gauge whether or not certain albums, artists, or record labels are or are not part of the grandma-suing evil empire that is the RIAA. The RIAA Radar can help if you find yourself in a position to actually purchase an album, or just to browse through their continuously updated list of true indie albums.