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A Brief Recap of Uncubed NYC

Today I had the pleasure of attending Uncubed NYC... for about 2 hours. St. John's sponsored me to go, so it was free. Ironically classes kept me from spending as much time there as I would've liked. This is a brief recap. Uncubed Name Tag The skills track was scheduled to start at 9. I showed up at 8:45 but accidentally got in line for a women's Zumba class with some other guy. One of those situations where you see a line of people near an event you're attending, assume it's for that. "Are you going to be joining us today?" they asked. Yes, we assured them, we've got our tickets and everything. So... by the time that was figured out and I got into Uncubed, it was maybe 9:05. Check-in process was smooth, all tickets were printouts with QR code. Easy enough. Uncubed NYC Ticket The decor was all old-school video game themed. Not sure how that fit the event per se, but I got to play Duck Hunt. An ideal setup with NES blasters and tube TVs. Uncubed Duck Hunt The first talk in the skills track was really interesting. Titled Breaking Bad vs. Superman: Applying Data Science to Our Passion Projects and presented by Irmak Sirer, the root of it was about quantifying human reaction. For that one I took a lot of notes so will give a rundown.
Uncubed Randy Gingeleski
Me there. From Twitter.

 Breaking Bad vs. Superman: Applying Data Science to Our Passion Projects

Metis Data Science Bootcamp (Flyer)

  • 96% of data is from the last 2 years.
  • It's projected that by 2017, there will be 150,000 data science jobs with no one qualified to fill them.

Irmak's Data Science Passion Project

  • Is my reaction to a movie predictable?
  • Star Wars as an example. Discusses how his own rating to the movie actually changed over time (like age 9 vs. 13 vs. 30).
  • Suggesting that movie reactions are difficult to predict.

Netflix

  • 2006 - formulates Cinematch algorithm, which utilizes the > 1 billion ratings on Netflix at that time
  • Do you have a "soulmate" in taste?
  • Perfect soulmate - rates everything exactly the same as you, but he's seen Book of Eli and you haven't. Since he liked it, you'll like it.
  • Calculated soulmate - draws on a bunch of people who kind of match your tastes, formulates a "soulmate", uses that as a basis. So how closely tastes have aligned in the past. Weighted average.
  • These were the ideas behind Cinematch. Algorithm does really badly with movies that have been rarely watched.
  • Also, movies that elicit love/hate reactions are biggest source of error. Popular but weird movies. Think Napoleon Dynamite.
  • If you were to take mean scores of everything and use those as a basis for predicted ratings, maximum error in accuracy was determined to be +/- 1.05040 stars. (Netflix star system)
  • Maximum error in accuracy on the Cinematch algorithm ("soulmates") was determined to be 0.9525 stars.
  • So Cinematch was a 9.6% increase in accuracy over the trivial mean score method. And I think the stat about how much this increased viewership on the "top" movies was 1200%.
  • Also in 2006 - Netflix announces $1M bounty for a further 10% improvement.
  • 2009 - the Netflix bounty is awarded, team managed to achieve a 10.09% accuracy improvement.

Looking at Movie Data Differently

  • Before: solid assumptions, you have a certain taste, your taste dictates ratings for unwatched content, after you watch it this will be clear. This is largely wrong.
  • Your taste changes over time (even day to day), also affected by how many ratings you've given that day, and average rating for the day.
  • Taking these things into account, your time-dependent rating tendencies, makes for a more accurate algorithm than Cinematch without even considering movie content. I thought this was significant - without even considering the movies, but instead looking at your rating behavior surrounding those movies, made for a more accurate algorithm.
  • We cannot explicitly compare a movie with all others we've seen.
  • Environmental factors play a huge role.
  • Some people are followers, some people behave like "hipsters", once you kinda figure a person out you can make accurate predictions.
  • Take "Music Lab", an experimental website for downloading music. When other people's ratings are invisible, you get more or less equal ratings. When other people's ratings (or the illusion of other people's ratings) are shown and quantified, things get interesting.
  • Social influence plays a huge role in what will be a hit, what will be a miss.

Diving in Further

  • Degree of liking is difficult to predict consistently and accurately with a number.
  • The difficulty in answering "What are your top 20 movies?" (if you really sit down and think about it) illustrates how degree of liking is sensitive and vague.
  • "Enjoyment" from a movie is a very high-dimensional concept. There are movies that yield completely different flavors of reaction from you, and how is that supposed to be broken down into 4.3, etc.
  • For the most part, it's straightforward to compare just 2 movies. Fully analyze all the comparisons to see where things ultimately stand.
  • If Star Wars > Indiana Jones and Indiana Jones > Troll 2, Star Wars > Troll 2 can be inferred. Simple statistics.
  • Elo rating system (The Social Network's "Facemash")
  • Bayesian ranking algorithms (Microsoft utilized it for Halo matchmaking)
  • Elo and Bayesian were originally applied to chess.
  • Asking about movies you're really uncertain about is better than asking what you probably know - produces more valuable data.
  • Quantifying human reactions is hard.
  • Many comparisons for a movie will average out environmental factors.
  • Don't necessarily want to average out social influence, that's part of nature.
  • Most important part of data science is design - figuring out the right questions to ask.
  • SQL + Python for this movie project

Hoping this isn't too hard to follow.


The Uncubed people are launching a service that seems like it will be similar to Treehouse - a pay-monthly, no-contract, learn-startup-topics-by-video-heavy-modules service. It's called Uncubed Edge. Uncubed Edge While attendees were able to sign up already for locked-in $5/month, when the public launch happens it's still only $20/month. If the content there is anything like today's event, it's worth every penny. Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 7.25.41 PM At $5 signing up was a no-brainer for me - may write a full review in the future. No modules are up currently. Update: An Uncubed Edge review

The Merits of TITO for Table Games

TITO (ticket-in, ticket-out system) isn't a new concept for the gaming industry. I can't recall any reference from Kilby's Casino Operations Management but the Gaming Auditorium mentioned TITO back in 2003. It's used overwhelmingly on "the machines" - slots, video poker and keno, ETGs. Major adoption on table games doesn't seem to have yet taken place. I think this move is inevitable for modern facilities to stay competitive. TITO for table games (ticket-in, ticket-out) leans a casino operation in the best possible way.
tito for table games
Image credit FutureLogic, Inc.

How does it work?

Devices to print and read tickets, plus read players' club cards, are outfitted to existing tables. FutureLogic is big into this but there are also some other options. And now through a simple touchscreen interface:
  • When players are leaving the table, the dealer prints them a ticket.
  • Surveillance can see everything that goes on with the ticket units - the UI was designed with this in mind.
  • Guests can buy into a table with either cash or a ticket.
  • To ultimately convert a ticket to cash, one would go to a cashout kiosk. Exactly like slot play.
That's the gist of it.

Upside

Reduced staffing costs

When you replace live table games with ETGs, you directly eliminate staff. Dealers and their floors, plus reduce the aggregate labor of surveillance, security, and all staff up the command chain in gaming. TITO on table games doesn't directly eliminate anyone but does impact the amount of labor employees need to perform. Ultimately this could reduce staffing costs:
  • Responsibilities at the cage decrease. In an environment where all machines are already on TITO, it's typical to have terminals (similar to ATMs) set up for cash payouts. Guests take their tickets to these machines, they're scanned in, cash is dispensed. The majority of table game players would now also be using these machines. Instead of taking cheques to the cage and going through that process of cashing out, it's now straightforward as putting a ticket into a machine. Cashier positions could be trimmed.
  • Responsibilities of security decrease. With less cheques actually leaving the table, frequency of fills decreases. This decrease could possibly be quite drastic. When a fill has to be performed, the table game comes to grinding halt. A security person has to stand there while the dealer breaks everything down, fills out the paperwork. A sharp decrease in the frequency of fills allows security to be better utilized elsewhere, at least.
    Image source - HotelMule.com
    Image source - HotelMule.com

Increased revenue per table

What's the holy metric of table game revenue? Hands per hour. Get more decisions through the table per hour, statistical magic occurs, and the house makes more money. TITO on table games allows for -
  • Less frequent fills and credits. As already mentioned, less cheques traveling to or from the tables means less fills and less credits. Possibly pushing both to near extinction. Right now, these procedures are always necessary on the busiest of tables - it's the nature of the transactions. They stop the game for precious minutes and make everyone unhappy. This is one scenario where operators can make the guest happier while also increasing revenue.
  • Color ups are drastically reduced. 9 times out of 10, a color up is performed because the guest is leaving the table. They need a convenient way to bring their money to the cage or a different game - one $500 cheque is easier to carry than 100 $5 cheques. Whenever a dealer colors up, they have to call the floor. Sometimes it's busy and this is a long and drawn-out process. Now when players are leaving, they get a ticket. Floor comes and approves it quickly. Everyone is on their way, the game's running again.
  • Speedier buy-in process. Whereas before every player buying in on a table would be doing so with cash, now a good deal might be doing it with tickets. This cuts out the breaking down of the bills for surveillance. It's also easier for floors to verify and approve a ticket than a bunch of cash laid out.

Better player tracking

Tracking money flow between tables becomes a whole lot easier. Say Jim buys in at Spanish 21 403 with $500. After 20 minutes he doesn't like the dealer, so he gets a ticket for $390 and goes to Spanish 21 404. Leaves that later with $250 and decides for some twisted reason to play Let It Ride. Etcetera etcetera. This moving around is all easily tracked. It could mean collecting some information on an unknown player, or automatically tracking someone enrolled in the loyalty club. What if a player's loyalty card info is automatically attributed to their ticket? When Jim jumps tables, the ticket scanner at each table knows it's him. His rewards card was attributed to these tickets and he gets migrated right over in Synkros. TITO on every game encourages it player tracking to a new extent.

Improved inventory control

In a product business the ultimate inventory is minimal inventory - eliminating as much as possible between the manufacturer and end user. To a certain extent, table games can come across like a product-based business. The product is cheques. The back-and-forth flow between tables and the cage is a non-value-added activity paid for in operational resources. With TITO on tables, that flow becomes close to non-existent. Tickets leave the tables instead of cheques. Stockpiling inventory can also provide a buffer for operational issues, making them more difficult to detect. At the tables, a strictly controlled inventory allows for discrepancy to be spotted faster.
  • Minimize resource requirements, lower costs
  • Reduced chips at the tables
  • Cheque inventory now mostly constrained to the tables

Possibilities for crossover play

Crossover play becomes simplified and more natural with TITO on all casino games. Currently, if a guest has been playing video keno and now wants to play craps, they have to take their ticket to a cashout kiosk or the cage, exchange it back to cash, then buy-in on the table. With a common medium, everything's streamlined and I'd imagine this encourages cross-over play. A gaming spree can now involve a single buy-in event instead of two or more.
Slots TITO
Image source - Slots.com

Downside?

  • Technically Synkros can print tickets from the tables now. However that's not set up to handle the transaction volume a full TITO for table games conversion would bring. Plus I doubt many properties have printing equipment hooked up to their Synkros terminals.
  • Table hold will be affected, obviously. This isn't a bad thing but would need to be accounted for.
  • While training staff to use the systems is easy due to simple UI, it may take some getting used to on the part of guests. I could see some senior regulars becoming distraught.
  • It's potentially easier to misplace a ticket than cash or cheques.
Unhappy casino guest
What makes guests unhappier - getting used to new TITO or long fills and lines for the cage? (Image source - Casino Top 10)
Ultimately I adore this concept. The sooner a property makes these upgrades, the sooner they can reap the benefits.

A Better Business Plan

Image credit - Ship N Destroy
There are two main sticking points I can remember from my management 101 class. It was taught by this cranky old man, who had allegedly worked as a taxi driver, movie producer, toll booth attendant, restaurant manager, and some dozen other jobs over the course of his life. How any of that qualified him to teach the class... beats me.
  1. Poor management is almost always the result of poor communication.
  2. A business plan is the most important business thing ever.
Both points are up for debate but let us focus on point 2. The business plan. As I understand it, this is really common advice in business school and to aspiring entrepreneurs. "The first step to starting a business is to sit down and write out a business plan!" "Consult your business plan every day, and revise it along the way as necessary." "A strong business plan is the key to success." "You'll never get outside money without a business plan! Then you'll fail and be homeless." Textbook business plans - executive summary, business concept, features, financial requirements, market strategies and share prediction, SWOT analysis, promotional strategies, sales potential, competitive strength grid, etcetera - give me a migraine. Unless you're explicitly seeking out "old boys' club" capital, I question whether they're relevant at all. Having a solid vision and plan for your business is key, no doubt. But I think that can be developed without a strictly formatted 40+ page document. How many people has the intimidating business plan stopped from being entrepreneurial? It can get someone so caught up  and overwhelmed in planning that they never actually start. "I can't start yet! My business plan isn't done! I haven't finished writing out extensive procedures for product, market, and organizational development!" Inspired by a Mike Cernovich sketch, this is how I hashed out the vision for my business: Ging Gaming Google Drive Ging Gaming Map I thought it was kind of silly at first. I had what seemed like a clear idea of where I wanted to go. What I wanted to build. Why take the time to draw it out? Trust me when I say there's something very satisfying in "putting it down on paper". Don't be surprised if you suddenly come up with some new growth strategies. It's about a 10-minute initial time investment. But even more important than having a simple business plan (as opposed to this monstrosity) is the principle of do something. You'll hear siren songs of wantrepreneur-ship and fantasizing about the future. Don't listen. Just get started - really started beyond planning. It was almost 2 months into my business when I did that caveman map. When you do plan, there's no need for it to be crazy.

How to Travel Between Syracuse and New York

This is my third year living in New York, my fourth traveling regularly between here and Syracuse where I grew up. One point in 2013 had me commuting to New York in the morning, then back to Syracuse that same evening, twice a week for two months. I'm unsure how many times I've officially commuted between the two, but I have taken every method available to do so. Shy of maybe horse-drawn carriage or blimp. How does one travel between Syracuse and New York? What options are available? What's the "best" way? Randy Gingeleski Manhattan

By Bus

This is the cheapest way to get between the two, but also varies widely in comfort. Chances are you're in for a long, uncomfortable ride. To quote Goldman Sachs Elevator, "If riding the bus doesn't incentivize you to improve your station in life, nothing will." It's 6 hours for the trip (one-way) usually. There are times when it only takes 5, and an act of God can get you stuck onboard for 8. Say a prayer. There are three major bus operators that run this route. Average ticket price seems to be about $30 one-way.

Greyhound

Image source - Wikipedia
There are over half a dozen departures from New York (Port Authority at midtown) and Syracuse (Regional Transit Center) to the other, every day. Usually the same times. Along the way you'll almost always stop at Binghamton, then take a rest break at the Gouldsboro travel plaza. Sometimes there are other stops (Newark, Syracuse University, Scranton). You can get this info ahead of time on the website. Checking the Greyhound Syracuse Years ago, when I was first riding, Greyhound was great. The bus would only ever be about half full, so you could sit by yourself. At the time they'd just newly upgraded the interiors of all the buses. "Leather" seats, power outlets, A/C vents above your head, WiFi. Cheap. It wasn't bad at all. Over time, it's gotten to the point where every bus is 100% full. You had to get to the bus station at least an hour before your scheduled departure so you can stand in line. This will ensure (a) you actually get a seat and (b) you'll probably be able to choose a "good" seat. Here's where I usually try to sit if it appears the bus will be full:
The numbers being indicative of priority.
The numbers being indicative of priority.
These are the last places people grab seats. Why? They either see the bus is crowded when they first get on, sitting down in the first available spot near the front. Or they go all the way to the back, see there aren't any totally open rows, and drift back forward to an aisle seat. Anyway, not only are most buses at totally at capacity now, but there are some people you just wouldn't ever choose to sit next to. And somehow the least desirable people will always choose to sit next to you, trapping you against the window. One time it was a very obese woman whose arm fat rested on me the entire trip, while she held a crying baby. Another time it was a guy who'd just been released from jail and was headed back to New York. He asked me all sorts of questions about my phone, because when he got put away (for whatever) cell phones weren't around yet. But the things that were good from before are still good. And there are times (middle of the weekdays) when crowding isn't an issue.

Trailways

I'm reluctant to even list Trailways as it's own thing - they're a regional company that sometimes picks up slack with Greyhound. Even if you buy a ticket directly from their website, chances are you'll be put on a Greyhound bus. The companies pool resources for this route. Same times and stuff. Of the 90 or so times I've ever taken the bus, one time a few years ago it ended up Trailways. Based on that experience - they're ugly white buses, usually old. There won't be outlets, WiFi, or as much legroom on the Greyhound fleet. Price will be the same (about $30 one-way).
TRAIL1 0807 PAC 17562
Image source - Penn Live
Always book your bus tickets from the Greyhound site or from their desk at Port Authority. You want to minimize your chances of getting one of these (if my single experience was the norm).

MegaBus

Syracuse to New York Megabus
Image source - Wikipedia
I've taken the MegaBus once. It seems to run rather rarely, plus picks up / drops off in downtown New York on the street. The bus was at capacity, so I ended up with the first seat on the second story. Those of us from Syracuse aren't too keen on that.
Syracuse Megabus Crash
Image source - Syracuse.com
At first it seemed cool. Like I had a driver's view without the responsibility. Whenever the bus passed under a bridge, though, it kept looking like I'd hit it face-first. Legroom on the Megabus was about even with Trailways, which means worse than the modern Greyhounds. There also weren't electrical outlets, the seats were rough (also like on Trailways), and there was a really small luggage compartment. I only mention that because it looked like everyone's stuff was crammed together. On the other providers that's not an issue at all. What's the merit of MegaBus? This may have changed but they used to do really cheap tickets now and then. Like $9 each way, aiming to fill seats on undesirable times. Check their website.

By Car

You can drive. It takes between 4 and 5 hours, usually faster than the bus. Best Driving Route from Syracuse to New York Note that there's about $50 of tolls (dependent on where you're going) getting into New York. They don't really toll you on the way out. You'll also have to consider where you're going to park your vehicle. If you're too cheap to pay for parking in Manhattan, there's a decent amount of street parking here around St. John's. My current neighborhood of Fresh Meadows wouldn't be too bad of a place to leave your car. From here, you can be to Times Square (if for whatever reason you're willingly going there) within 45 minutes most times of the day. Board the Q46 on Union Turnpike, get off at the final stop of Kew Gardens, and board the train right there. The E stops right at Port Authority, the F at Bryant Park. Cross your fingers for an express train. Try not to ride too much later than 10 PM because things slow way down. Getting from Fresh Meadows to Times Square

By Train

This is by far the most scenic way to travel, and dare I say the most "pleasant." It's a relaxing 6 hour trip. Maybe there's just something romantic about train travel.
NBT Bank Stadium in Syracuse, via Amtrak train window.
NBT Bank Stadium in Syracuse, via train window.
There's only one train operator between Syracuse and New York - Amtrak. This shouldn't come as a surprise to any American. The passenger rail service in this country is nearly non-existent, with Amtrak renting the lines from commercial operators. So this travel method encounters some disadvantages, both stemming from that. It's kind of pricey for a 6-hour ride, with a regular one-way ticket always costing at least $61 in my experience. No matter how far ahead you book. The other downside - any sort of rail construction can cause major delays. This last time I took the train, it was scheduled to depart Syracuse at 11:40 AM. I didn't board until about 4 PM, with departure occurring soon after. They did have the courtesy call me at 8:15 AM to see if I could make the 9:06 train. So what do you get for that price, at twice the cost of Greyhound? A comfortable seat and a lot of room, no matter where you sit. Looking out the window is actually enjoyable. If you're traveling through the lunch or dinner hour you get a meal of some kind - the food's actually not half bad. Note that I'm talking about coach. I have yet to take business class, but may set that up for all my spring semester trips. It's my understanding that the provided food is better and the seats are even more comfortable. Just everything I like about coach already, better. Also, if you're on the Lake Shore Limited, apparently there's only a dining car for the first half of the trip. Near Albany the train splits - one half goes to Boston, the other to New York. It's weird.

By Plane

If you fly between New York and Syracuse, chances are you'll either be on JetBlue or Delta. They run multiple flights a day at pretty much the same times. It takes about 65 minutes from boarding to deboarding, with 35 minutes actually in the air. Prices for both are about the same - $75 to $110 one-way if booking a month in advance. If you book like 4 months in advance, I've gotten roundtrip on a weekend for $140 with Expedia. It probably would've been even cheaper with Skyscanner - I highly recommend Skyscanner for booking your flights. That will find you the cheapest ticket, without a doubt. Syracuse's Hancock International Airport is pretty hokey, all things considered. But hokey in a good way - it's a small and manageable part of the trip. New York metro airports can be sources of stress. It's only "international" because of flights with nearby Canada.
Image source - airport official website
Image source - airport official website
The only New York area airport I haven't flown into or out of is Newark. I personally prefer LaGuardia for flying out and JFK for flying in. It's common for me to go through LGA check-in/security in 5 minutes if I only have a carry-on. I can't say that about JFK, however do prefer their whole process for picking up checked luggage. Side note for Queens residents - If you live in Queens it's easy to get to and from the airport. I call a Lyft car, the drivers are always phenomenal and it's really not that unreasonable. During rush hour (Lyft calls it "primetime", rates increase 50%) on a Friday night it costs me $20 (before tip) to get from Fresh Meadows to LaGuardia. Historically they seem to treat their drivers better. You can get a free ride up to $15 with my coupon code RANDY84547. Appreciated.

JetBlue

My JetBlue flights have always been perfectly on-time, however the same can be said for Delta. During the flight you can expect to be offered some type of snack, and usually soda or juice in addition to water. There's also in-flight entertainment on the seatbacks. Legroom is generous. This is all standard JetBlue stuff. While Delta regularly offers a pronounced first-class, I've never seen one on the JetBlue flights between Syracuse and New York.

Delta

As I mentioned, Delta has also always been timely for me. Flying out of LaGuardia there sometimes seems to be an overbooking issue, though I've written about how you can capitalize on it. During the flight, water is offered. It's only an hour flight so that seems fair. Leg room is fantastic in exit rows, airplane-standard otherwise. There's no "in-flight entertainment." First-class never looks like it's worth it - usually small-ish planes are flying this route so there's no pronounced first-class difference.

What's Best?

I've stopped taking the bus altogether and now always do train or plane. God-willing I'll go the rest of my life without stepping on a bus. Driving can make you go mad, what with traffic delays in addition to the poor driving skills down here. And somehow there's always like a 50/50 chance of getting lost. Parking's a pain - park in Manhattan and it costs a fortune, park on some residential street in Queens and you suddenly have a 45-minute commute anywhere noteworthy. Personally, I like doing one leg of the trip as a flight then returning on the train. That's a good mix, relatively low stress, and not outrageously expensive if you book early.

Where to Learn Nothing about Making Money

“Today we just do practice problems for quiz!” shouted my operations management professor, a deranged grin on his face. All of us students sighed together. Every Monday and Thursday we put up with this old Indian guy, trying to hide his strong accent with a fake British one. “Teaching” by either reading off the textbook company’s Powerpoint slides or rambling nonsensically on his own.

He puts up a problem on the board - proceeds to do it wrong. Some of us students exchange looks.

I scroll down in the practice questions sheet to where the solutions are. Yes. Doing it totally wrong.

Someone tries to bring this to his attention. Response: “You student, always think you smarter than the professor! Open your mind and embrace new knowledge!"

One of his favorite buzz phrases is “new knowledge.”

What’s (Not) Going on in School

Image source St. John's University
Image source St. John's University

This semester, 4 out of my 6 professors are pretty bad. The other 2 are kind of quirky but seem to be doing a fine job of teaching the content. Software design methods and UNIX, relatively practical.

Regardless, everything from my time in university could have been learned online for free. I accumulated a bunch of debt learning about business administration, the option on my degree, and general computer science, my major.

So here's how to get a better, cheaper version of my combo degree. One that can more practically teach you money-making.

Business is basically common sense. Make quality products. Buy low, sell high. Communication is the key to good management. Some people seem to be born with stronger business sense than others, but there are tons of fantastic resources out there. They’ll cost you minimally.

  • Rework will teach you more than the $130 operations management textbook I bought for the goofy professor.
  • The Four-Hour Workweek will open your mind to traveling while doing business and using virtual help. May not actually deliver on the four-hour workweek but it blew my mind in 9th grade.
  • Everything in business comes down to sales, if not everything in life. Robert at 30 Days to X has made some solid book recommendations like The Copywriter's Handbook. I’m working through Zig Ziglar’s Secrets of Closing the Sale (I guess that's his actual name). Cheap books, solid ROI given the content.
  • There must be a few days’ worth of practical business reading at Bold & Determined.

Computer science is incredibly broad. The good news is that (a) chances are you’ll enjoy something under that umbrella, (b) because it’s COMPUTER science there’s endless help and resources online, (c) because it’s COMPUTER science you can find remote work if desired, (d) most of the stuff pays decently, and (e) because it’s COMPUTER science you can do your own projects, post them on THE INTERNET, and get your foot in the door for work.

No degree required. Just show you know your stuff through Github or in-person at a technical interview. You usually plan and write code on a whiteboard. There are books on crushing technical interviews.

Where to learn some computer stuff cheaply:

  • I’m still working through The Odin Project. It’s a free curriculum made up of dozens of free resources, from Stanford online courses to Codecademy to conference talks on YouTube. It will take you a long time but if you want to be a web developer, shut up and go through the entire thing. First you learn a little bit of everything and at that point could start doing some freelance. Then you take deeper dives into the building blocks of before - HTML, Javascript, Rails, etc.
  • Personally I find it useful to print out some "cheat sheets" for languages I'm using. OverAPI has them on anything you can imagine.
  • I’ve also been collecting O’Reilly pocket guides. They’re the industry standard for reference books. But if you don’t want to buy them, the cheat sheets will serve you fine.
  • Treehouse has a lot of supplementary content for web design and development. However, I wouldn’t recommend using it to learn skills like Ruby on Rails development from scratch. Once you’ve build up a core understanding I can see it being helpful to achieve specific goals like “build a one-page parallax scrolling site.”
  • For anything else on the computer, search through MOOCs. I promise you will find something.

Conclusion

The "new knowledge" that has cost me greatly in time and money these past several years can be learned for free or close to it. Kind of like my book publishing ordeal, the experiences I’ve had during this time are significant and I’ll never forget some of what went on here at school. There’s been some bizarre stuff.

That said, if I could go back in time, I would probably join the union electrician apprenticeship right out of high school, learning web development or taking the casino dealer course in my off-time. Those are all surefire ways to learn trades that can be quickly shopped around.

In college, yes you are learning. But you're not learning how to make money.

A Real Day Spent at Bitcoin Online Casinos

This is a response to Shahar Attias' post A Day Spent at Bitcoin Online Casinos (PDF archive here). His article first came to my attention when he posted it in an i-gaming LinkedIn group. All quotes here are from that piece unless otherwise noted.
Shahar Attias What the Hell is Bitcoin
Is this piece truly "unbiased"?
While Shahar is noticeably against Bitcoin gaming, my viewpoint happens to be the opposite. I plan to use it as the primary financial vehicle for my own enterprise, and have a sizable amount of it as a result. Regardless of that I think it has brought a lot of innovation to online gambling. The cryptocurrency gaming wave at least deserves more credit than it was given here.
What the hell is Bitcoin? If you are looking for a full scale, well-articulated and in-depth explanation, you came to the right place.
Let me get some blatant errors in Shahar's work out of the way. It is possible that these errors were jokes, as most of the article is spent making jokes.
Currently, a single BTC costs well over $1,000 and, therefore, most of the transactions are by the fractions of a BTC (i.e. $100 is equal to ~0.3BTC).
When I read that, I immediately scrolled up to the publishing date of the article. October 9, 2014...! I had bought Bitcoin at $280/unit around the beginning of October, and the average cost per coin in my total stake is $375. You can understand my excitement at the price being "well over $1,000" - it's happened before. I hadn't checked the price in a while. How difficult is it to retrieve an accurate Bitcoin price? Let me Google that for you.
Google Bitcoin Price
Around 10:30 PM Eastern on October 14, 2014
On October 9, 2014 when Shahar published his article, the Coinbase chart shows a price of $360.44.
So, how do you buy a BTC? There is a (very) long answer, and a short one. Knowing you, I’ll give you the simpler one: Well, you can’t. Seriously, if you have never done it before and want some BTC right now, you can’t do it. BTC can only be purchased using wire transfers (and these take a few days) or cash in hand (yeah, right).
You can instantly buy Bitcoin on Coinbase with your Visa credit card. This is what I do more often than not. You can also do a direct bank transaction or debit with Coinbase that will, admittedly, take a few days. He's right. Though the price per coin is locked in when you make the order. Beyond that, the Bitcoin wiki has a whole page on buying with your credit card. You can do it with CoinMama or Bitcoin Insanity. And cash in hand isn't as ludicrous as Shahar would lead you to believe. My first ever purchase was back in early 2013, arranged via LocalBitcoins. The web service acts as escrow for the transaction.
... it’s soooo damn complicated to purchase these elusive Bitcoins ...
Without a doubt. So then Shahar goes on to review bit777, CloudBet, Dreamland Casino, BitcoinBet, Birwo, 88BitcoinRoulette, and clumps together SatoshiBet, SatoshiDice, and SatoshiSlot before also grouping CoinRoyale and Bitzino. With that much reviewing, it's not hard to pinpoint some personal tastes. What does Shahar like? Platforms that everyone else uses.
Platform is UltraPlay, so you can expect the regular 70+ titles, plus very polished table games. Me like! Seems like proprietary software, yet integrated with the excellent games of BetSoft ...
Promotional emails that arrive immediately after signup.
Promotions: Errr, none? At least I haven’t seen any, and got no instant email upon registration with their welcome offer.
Lots of games, the more the better.
Although developed in-house, they still have managed to have 4 slot machines (wow!), 4 arcade games (wait, we have had 4 already, no?) and 3 table games + 1 video poker (3+1 = you got it, 4!!).
Lots of bonuses, the more the better.
Finally! 100% bonus on your first deposit, plus a 30% on-going bonus on every follow-up transaction. Not too bad, my friends, not too bad at all.
What doesn't Shahar like? It seems like (1) Bitcoin and (2) innovation. Here's what he wrote after addressing all of the websites with the Satoshi- prefix, emphasis mine:
Not even sure it’s the same group that owns all these brands, but they’re all named after the guy who invented Bitcoins. Much like the true identity of this honored “genius” – who knows? Or more importantly – who cares?
Overall he discounts a lot of the unique features of Bitcoin casinos. In my opinion, it's inventiveness that should excite any i-gaming professional.
SatoshiBet Features
Convenience features - SatoshiBet
Bet on practically anything - BitBet
Bet on practically anything - BitBet
Unscramble pictures to win - Apophenia
Unscramble pictures to win - Apophenia
Multiplayer skill-based board game - Blockchain-reaction
Multiplayer skill-based board game - Blockchain-reaction
Casino MMORPG - Dragon's Tale
Casino MMORPG - Dragon's Tale
Betting on Starcraft - Backcoin (now defunct)
Betting on Starcraft - Backcoin (now defunct)
Strong UI - PrimeDice
Strong UI - PrimeDice
SatoshiDice
Thematically appealing to gamblers' superstitious nature - SatoshiDice
Plinko-style casino game - Lucky Bit
Plinko-style casino game - Lucky Bit
Casino minesweeper - SatoshiBet
Casino minesweeper - SatoshiBet
Who cares about any of that, how many slots do they have? Does the casino look like 95% of licensed online casinos? Do they immediately send a welcome bonus email? These are the important points to ponder. These are the surefire path to casino success.
https://bitzino.com/ My verdict? OM(F)G. They [the games] are so ugly. The only way I could make myself actually look at one of them is after looking at the other one first, and judging it to be the worst looking brand ever – and vice versa. Are they making any money for their operators?
According to this Forbes article, in 2012 Bitzino profited ฿ 10,137.
Google Bitcoin Price Again
Around 11:30 PM Eastern on October 14, 2014
Not making any money there. Never mind that they ushered in the dawn of provably fair gaming. Ugly games! OMFG! So ugly! LOL! Bitzino is about efficiency and their game design reflects that. The design accentuates the game. Not the real life setup or any other visual distraction. Randy Gingeleski Bitzino Roulette   In the physical world, we have a roulette wheel because that's what allows for the game to exist. Wheel or no wheel, the odds are the same. The bets are the same. This is functional design.
[continuing on from his query about making money] No idea, but if so, my wife would really like to find their players and shake their hands, as she could finally speak with people who have lower standards than her.
While Shahar Attias and I may have to agree to disagree on most of the article, there is one thing upon which we can find common ground.
Image source iGaming CRM (Shehar Attias)
Image source iGaming CRM (Shahar Attias)

Side Hustles: Money is All Around You

Beyond your normal grind, it can be rewarding to have side hustles. They can help you reach investment goals faster, generate throwaway money for some impulse buy, take you on a trip, whatever. There seems to be a lot of variation in how bloggers define "side hustle". I think of it like this - usually a short-term thing, outside of your primary work, usually a better time ROI than that but not as sustainable. I'll use my dad as an example. He's one of the hardest working people I know. It's not uncommon for him to do 6 days a week, with overtime, at his normal job (union electrician). Nobody forces him to. He just does. This was more common when he worked for himself, but he would always come home and do more. He'd have all this stuff they were going to throw out on the construction site, and sell it on eBay or Craigslist. What he couldn't liquidate that way, he would scrap for profit. Copper wire he would strip because they give you more money that way.
Image credit Scrap Monster
Image credit Scrap Monster
Sites like Side Hustle Nation or Budgets are Sexy seem to categorize them like normal work stuff. I consider Ging Casino and my college coursework to be primary, and I'll outline some side stuff for you. These are all from like the last week or so. Money is all around you.
Money Butterflies
Image credit Digital Aquariums

At the Airport

This last Friday night, I flew home to Syracuse for Columbus Day weekend. The night before I checked into my flight online. Delta alerted me that they were looking for people from this flight to fly out the next day instead, because they overbooked the plane or something. If you want to go on the list, you get to choose how valuable of a flight voucher would woo you.
Image credit Points, Miles, and Martinis
Image credit Points, Miles, and Martinis
I chose $500, figuring what the hell. It's no-risk because you have to give final confirmation at the desk. Sure enough, Friday night I get called up. If I had wanted to fly out the next day at 11:30, I'd get a $500 travel voucher good for a whole year. That's half a grand of flying for just not getting on a plane, or you could probably sell and transfer the thing on Craigslist for $250.

In Supporting Others' Ideas (Regardless of Quality/Forethought)

My last post was kind of a combative one about a business enterprise I had been working with, which over time I perceived to be a bit delusional. How did that whole ordeal turn out? My resignation slipped into independent contractor territory, negotiated at an hourly rate of many times minimum wage. Now I have no stake in how the business turns out - I get paid regardless. If I wake up at 4 in the morning with the urge to make money, I can drag myself to the computer. The best part of freelance web development is that it's perpetually never-ending. You work and bill until the client says "stop". There are always improvements to be made.

At the Arcade

Okay, well, not literally at the arcade. Nobody makes money there except the house - I made a documentary in high school about similarities between video arcades and casinos. Less than a week ago, Dave & Buster's had an IPO. I heard about it as part of their email list - I like their style of marketing and have gained some inspiration for my own venture. What enticed me was that they were offering shares on this fee-free platform called Loyal3. I paid enough attention in financial management class to know that IPO's are usually accompanied by a price jump. With no fees, even if it wasn't going to go up a lot, there was still a possibility to profit. Here's what happened (also this is my first time using Loyal3, maybe they'll scold me for flipping): subIMG_20141014_160747   North of $85 in 4 days for doing nothing. Note that this doesn't constitute investment advice, and I'm making some other holdings with them that are intended to be long-term.

Conclusion

I'm not going to start preaching the Law of Attraction, but just be mindful. The more observant you are the easier it is to jump on things and profit.

Are You a Wantrepreneur?

This is going to be a bit of a rant, as I'm taking a minute break from work and pretty fired up. Bear with me. Earlier this month, I mentally walked away from a working arrangement of almost a year and half. Wednesday I'll make it official. Over that whole period of time, the company very barely improved. There was even an unneeded name change to something utterly ridiculous. I couldn't take it any more. For the time and mental expenditure I was putting in, the financial return just didn't make sense. All sorts of stupid stuff was going on. Hey, I gave it a try. I would make these beautiful alterations and improvements for the site - they'd get implemented terribly, looking and functioning like garbage. Much of the time I was lead designer, doing UI and all sorts of graphical stuff, while someone else was developing. I would design gorgeous graphics for the company Twitter page - they'd never see the light of day. All you have to do is change the cover and avatar on the Twitter page. It takes 2.5 seconds. If I had the login, the damned thing would be done. I'd make a landing page to at least stir interest and collect emails while bigger development was supposed to be going on - never gets put online. That's another couple second thing. Upload what I produced and you won't have this garbage: Blatant Laziness Or send me the logins. Stop the madness. "Why don't we code an entire system from scratch to deal with mailing and collecting emails?" We could just embed a Mailchimp form. We already use Mailchimp. It would be minimum viable product for right now. "Why don't you take all these event pictures and put them on the landing page as circles?" I want you to think of your reaction to every circle-cropped picture you've ever seen. Ah, that's right, the only solid use of circle-crops is for people's profile pictures. These were group shots, wide party shots. And how is the design supposed to be clean and responsive with all these dumb circle pictures floating around in the background? "Hey, could you change this one word on a PDF. It takes half a second in Acrobat, but instead of learning Acrobat or some freeware tool, I'll just send it to you and you'll make it better." The problem is this company, if you could even call it that, is being run by a wantrepreneur. Someone who runs events during the week, makes a living off of that, but has dreams of getting rich off an event startup. It's easier to talk about things, think about things, than do things. Mental masturbation. Never mind that there's a competitor in the same city. Never mind they got $2 million in seed funding and have a really strong team, one that's motivated. Never mind that we have absolutely nothing proprietary versus them. "Randy, I want to launch September 1!" I say OK, I'm willing to fully take on all development. I send prototype pages, ask about the text and content to go on these pages. Ask about how he sees the functionality going. Things I need to know to build his vision. No response. September 1 rolls around. Not even that MVP landing page is up. This person has me on a leash, not giving me enough feed to do my job properly. To be the lead visual designer or product manager. So I split. You want all this success, but you don't want to work for it. Fine. That's not me. I can't be like that. Weekdays, I spend either 6 hours a day physically sitting in class, or doing schoolwork outside of it. Studying, homework, whatever. Then I put in 8-10 hours building skills I need for my business or hammering out the actual work. Development, statistical analysis, design stuff. My eyes kill me. I stare at a computer all day. They feel like, any second, they'll roll out of my face and plop on the desk. Or explode. I keep going. Sleep 5 hours a night. Wake up to nootropics and ibuprofen, get going. It's all hard and it's shitty, but I know I have to do it. Part of chasing this dream I've had for years, since early in high school. In 11th grade, I did this morning class before school. It was called "Rxesearch", a program through Bristol-Myers Squibb for science-inclined students. I wasn't that into science but thought participation would reflect well on me. I went into school early once a week for the course. Not a big deal. At the end, everyone and their parents got invited to the Bristol-Myers place in East Syracuse for a celebratory dinner. They were showing these commercials we'd made as part of the course, and basically celebrating that we'd all made it through. Giving certificates and whatever. They tell all of us kids to go up to the microphone -- say our name, our grade, and what we want to do career-wise. I was one of the last to go. All these kids go up to say they want to be a doctor, a pharmacist, a physician's assistant. Out of the 20 kids I think 2 of them are actually following through. Most were sucking up to the Bristol-Myers people. That's their prerogative. I go up. Part of me wanted to lie like the other kids, make everyone happy. Feed their egos - "it's so great we put on this program, look how many aspiring doctors and pharmacists we have!" I ultimately was too nervous to lie so I just told the truth. "Hi, my name's Randy Gingeleski, I'm in 11th grade, and I want to run a casino." After all the other kids, there was this kind of half-hearted applause. After me, there was a moment of silence. Then half the people started laughing. I guess it was too unexpected. On the way home, my parents gave me a stern talking-to. "You're a smart kid, why not take advantage of that and be a doctor? All the other kids wanted to be doctors, scientists, all these prestigious things. You can't go around saying you want to run a casino." I guess I have to show everyone. The environment seems right to make it happen now. I have to put in the work, I don't mind doing that. I understand the requirement and am willing to exhaust myself over this. Will I fail? Will it all crumble? There's a huge possibility. But, even if that does happen, I can rest easy at night knowing I gave it everything I had. The wantrepreneur whose business I've broken up with has a dream too. He doesn't want his as bad as I want mine. He doesn't want his dream more than he wants to just get by, more than he wants to party and get all his beauty sleep. More than he wants to just be comfortable. Wednesday he wants to take me to lunch. He wants to talk about "the future" of the project. It's all just talk with no results. All wants. I have to give him a wake-up call, jump off the misguided ship officially. It might hurt his feelings. My wake-up call may fall on deaf ears. I'll almost undoubtedly end up paying for my own lunch. That's fine. It's something he needs to hear. Do you have a dream? Do you just want the end result to fall in your lap, like some kind of lottery prize? Do you want it worse than you want to smoke weed, watch Netflix, and cuddle your dog? Do you want to work for it? Are you a wantrepreneur?
Are you a wantrepreneur?
(Image credit itsindy)

Transcript of Sheldon Adelson on ABC’s Nightline

My Steve Wynn interview transcript has been getting decent traffic, and therefore I've been looking to do another transcript. Sheldon Adelson is someone I consider to be quite a character in the gaming industry. Certainly a bit different than Wynn. There aren't a lot of good interviews with him out there. If you want to watch a sub-par interview, go with this one because you get Betty Liu. Personally I have a weakness for Asian news reporters. ABC's Nightline has a slightly better release. It's not getting into the nitty-gritty of business or gaming but gives a brief look into Adelson's mindset. Here it is. (I don't own the rights to any of this content. All rights reserved, subject to the original owners. Believe this was televised originally in 2010.) Cynthia McFadden: Well lots of people took financial hits in the 2008 economic crisis but almost no one got nailed like Sheldon Adelson. The value of Adelson's Las Vegas Sands Corporation plummeted more than 90 percent in just 1 year. What Adelson did next, forge ahead with an enormous Singapore project that just turned an enormous profit, is one reason he's back on top. Here's our Nightline exclusive. [Stock footage of typical Vegas antics. Subtitle - "The House Always Wins"] McFadden: Las Vegas - a place where many bet high, but few come out on top. And then there's this guy, who proved that old Vegas saying - the house always wins. [Footage of Adelson talking to a bell boy. Cuts to footage of McFadden sitting down with Adelson.] McFadden: You like things big Adelson: Yeah, it matches my belt size. McFadden: And your checkbook. Adelson: And my checkbook. A friend of mine says 'you're the tallest guy in the world.' I say well how do you figure that? He says 'when you stand on your wallet.' McFadden: You're very tall. [Cut to stock footage and narration] McFadden: Very tall. Before the economy fell apart 2 years ago, Sheldon Adelson's company the Las Vegas Sands Corporation was making an estimated $20 million a day from his hotel-casinos in Las Vegas and Macau. His properties are huge - in Vegas the Venetian and Palazzo complex boast the title of the largest hotel in the world. 18.5 million square feet, 3 times the size of the Pentagon. In Macau he says he spent $2.4 billion on this edifice to excess. [Footage of the Venetian Macau] His reputation is for being very tough. [Cut back to the sit-down interview] McFadden: People are afraid of you. You're a pretty fierce character out in the business world, don't you think? Adelson: Well in my mind, here's a kid that comes from the slums. Me. I came from a very poor family. Four children and my parents, there was one bed in the room. The bedroom was about this big. [Motions around] And my parents were poor. When they died in '85, 11 days apart, they didn't have as much as $100 in the bank that they'd saved on their own. Their whole life they gave everything to their children. So I'm talking, not from a white-shoe background or a privileged background, I'm talking from somebody who wore his skin down on his fingers trying to climb the ladder of success. [Cut to stock footage and narration] McFadden: By 2007 he seemed to be minting money. One of the richest men in the world, number 3 on the Forbes list of richest Americans with an estimated net worth of $40 billion. Just behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. [Cut to sit-down] McFadden: What's your extravagance? Adelson: Airplanes. Let's put it this way, between me and the company we have 14 aircraft. McFadden: 14? Adelson: Probably the largest private fleet in the world. But we use the planes very wisely, because we use the planes to bring players in. It gives us an advantage over others. [Cut to stock] McFadden: But the planes and the perks seemed as if they might be in jeopardy. When the market crashed in 2008, his company's value plummeted more than 90 percent. At one point losing up to a $1,000 per second. [Cut to sit-down] Adelson: It certainly wasn't the most joyous time in my life, but there was nothing that anybody could do. You could look at the Dow Jones Industrial Average and you could see it swing 500 points or 1,000 points in a day. And you say 'this is incredible, what can anybody do to stop this?' McFadden: So you didn't think at any point, this is it 'this is it'? Adelson: No, no. McFadden: Your former COO said that there was this terrible in-fighting about all of this at the top. And that slowed down progress, slowed down decision-making. Do you think that was true? Adelson: Well, most people like to blame other people. Because most people don't want to acknowledge that they've done something wrong. So I suppose anybody could say 'I've got to blame it on the other guy.' Okay, but I own the company. McFadden: So - your fault ultimately? Adelson: I meant my responsibility, ultimately. McFadden: Looking back, what percent of the blame do you take for what happened to the company? Adelson: Very small portion. First of all, I own the company. Second of all, I was the guy that had to put the money in. [Cut to stock] McFadden: He sure did. To prevent the company from going under, Adelson and his family put $1 billion into the company. [Cut to sit-down] McFadden: Most of us are worried about lending our cousin a thousand bucks. You're lending your company at this point. Adelson: A billion. McFadden: A billion. Adelson: But remember, a billion doesn't buy what it used to. McFadden: That must be funny somewhere, but I don't know. For most of us a billion is a lot of money. Adelson: Ah, I'm only kidding. [Cut to stock] McFadden: The billion bailed out the cash-strapped company and much of senior management was fired. Adelson claims he never really broke a sweat during it all. [Cut to sit-down] McFadden: So where does fear factor in? Adelson: Fear? Fear doesn't factor in. McFadden: No? Adelson: Fear doesn't factor in. Not to an entrepreneur. Concern - yes. Fear - no. McFadden: You weren't frightened? Adelson: No. McFadden: Really? Adelson: To the Bible. McFadden: You didn't think, 'I could lose the whole shooting match here'? Adelson: No. [Cut to stock] McFadden: In fact, even in the depth of the financial crisis, he never backed off from his planned multi-billion dollar project in Singapore which is now open. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel. It won't surprise you that it's another massive structure. With 3 55-story hotel towers, joined together by a 40,000 square foot sky park, 500-foot pool, and 2 theaters, 50 restaurants, and 800,000 square feet of retail. [Cut to sit-down] McFadden: What's the cost of Singapore? I read somewhere $5.5 billion. Adelson: Five-point-six. But, as they keep saying, who's counting. McFadden: There's no doubt in your mind this is going to be a success? Adelson: No doubt. [Cut to stock] McFadden: He turns out to be right, at least so far. In its first full quarter of operations, which just ended, it generated a whopping $242 million in profits. His Vegas properties, unlike many on the Strip, are thriving as well. For the third quarter of this year they booked record profits of $645 million. [Cut to sit-down] McFadden: Not very long ago, you were number 3 on the Forbes richest list. Would you like to see yourself back up there again? Adelson: Sure. Why not. [Cut to stock] McFadden: He's working his way back. He's now at number 13 on the Forbes list, up from 26. At the age of 77 he shows no signs of slowing down. [A bit about Adelson's wife kicking him under the table] McFadden: He and his second wife, Miriam, have 2 sons, ages 11 and 13. [Cut to sit-down, different location with Adelson's wife joining he and McFadden] McFadden: So, what - you're fearless in business and at home you're a pussycat? Adelson: Why am I fearless in business? I'm not fearless in business. You're only saying that. McFadden: Come on, you lose $25 billion and you don't blink? That's fearless. Adelson: That's not every day. But hey, I lost $25 billion. I started out with 0. [Cut to picture of Adelson's father] McFadden: Still the son of a Boston cabbie. [Cut back to sit-down] What would he think, if he could see you right now? Adelson: He couldn't - my parents could never comprehend the scope. When I was able to support them and have them live in a more luxurious way, my mother would still take the bus. I would say, 'Mother, let me send you a limousine. Let me send you a car and a driver.' And she would always say to me, 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks.' [Cut back to narration] McFadden: But you can raise a son who grows up to have a fleet of airplanes.