Friday, February 6, 2009

Clap your hands, say yeah!

Here in Sweden we have a problem with handclapping at rock'n'roll concerts. I'm not against handclapping as such. People seem to enjoy it quite a bit. It's a way to participate in the performance and give in to the music. And if done correctly it can enhance the whole experience for the audience and the artists alike. Some experienced performers even rely on handclapping as the sole provider of rythm during parts of their show to create a special bond with the fans. But this is directed by the artist himself, giving clear instructions on when to start and stop clapping. Spontaneous handclapping is a different story altogether, and often a huge problem. At least in this country.

Basically all popular music today spring from afroamerican gospel and blues of the early 20th century. It builds on a 4/4 pattern where the stress is placed on the second and the fourth beat. If you watch a gospel choir and count the beats you'll notice that on the first beat the throw their hands apart and on the second beat they put them together, throw them apart again on the third beat, clap on the forth. And so on. This enchances the groove, if you will, and like I said, it applies to virtually all popular music today.

Swedes, however, have a really hard time grasping this concept. They insist on clapping on one and three. You could stand there listening to an awesome performance. Musicians playing their asses off. Then suddenly people start clapping and it all falls apart. Ten seconds ago the house was rocking, now it's stiff like Parkinson's. Musically illiterates will not notice this, but to some of us this accent change is the rythmical equivalent to singing out of key. It ruins everything.

It is possible that this is an age related problem and that the younger generations are more likely to start clapping on the second beat. One thing that seems to support this is watching old people dance. My girlfriend and I have talked about this quite a bit, they move in a staccatto like pattern and seem to constantly do the wrong thing at the wrong time. Their timing is peculiar – almost exotic. We've often wondered why, and one of my theories is that they dance the way they clap – putting the stress on the wrong beat.

On the other hand – rock'n'roll was around when these people were young too, and there's no reason they should percieve musice differntly from us. Generally I just lean towards this being a racial issue. Swedes are possibly the withest people on the planet. It may take millenia for us to fall in line and start clapping correctly. I don't know. How do people clap in your country?

(Oh, if you wan't to here some awesome handclapping – checkout Staple Singers' I'm So Glad.)

Friday, January 9, 2009

The racehorse paradox

One of the readers of this blog suggested that I write about his incredible boardgame losing streak. As I'm tremendously flattered that someone actually found their way here and found the time to read through the posts I'm going to do just that. Now, I don't really know anything about this poor fella's losing streak, but on the subject of losing or winning in games is indeed an interesting one. Why do some people win more often than others?

Let's get the obvious explainations out of the way first. Some people are just better at certain games than others. The more complex a game is and the less random elements it has the more likely that this is the case. I believe Chess is the staple here. The best player will almost always win, and as there is really no limit to how good you can get at this game there is also no limit to how bad you can be in comparison. This is why a grand master can beat an entire chess club simultaniously.

But I don't think this is my reader's problem. In fact, as the losing actually seems to bother him, I suspect he is a rather skilled player, reading through strategy articles on boardgamegeek, analyzing his play. It reminds me of a problem I used to have playing poker a while back. Me and a friend started playing at about the same time but he quickly sped past me in terms of results. He started making lots of money online while I barely broke even. I was frustrated. A lot of the time I felt his plays were rash or even stupid and that he just got lucky. But as time wore on I realized that he had qualities that I lacked. I played safe. By the book. He played hard. With a vengence.

There is something called the racehorse paradox which essentially means that the more competitors in a game and the steeper the prize curve, the more it pays to be agressive and to take risks.

Say two horses compete. One of them is predictable, running at a constant 20 mph (I know jack shit about horses – how fast do they run?). The other is inconsistant, running at 15 mph most of the time, but every once in a while gets excited and pushes to 25 – let's say every fifth race. So if it's just up to those two, we will bet on the predictable horse to win as he will win four out of five races. But what if we add more horses? Let's say we add three more horses who are about as consistant as the predictable horse. The unpredictable horse will still win every fifth race, but the predictable horse's chances have worsened considerably. One of five races will be won by the unpredictable horse and in the remaining four races the other horses are about equal, meaning that they too win one out of five races. And if we add a sixth horse our unpredictable horde is suddenly the favourite.

Psychological factors aside, this explains, in part, why my friend was more successful at poker than I was. We played mostly ten player tournaments, and while I almost always made it to the top four, I very rarely won. My friend on the other hand often got obliterated in early rounds but if he made it to the top he usually managed to win.