Israeli Palestinian Game Theory

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has gotten even more news coverage in the last few months than usual. From new resolutions at the United Nations to public feuding between Obama and Netanyahu to a French-led Mideast summit in Paris, the conflict seems to be top of mind for the world again.

Most of the attempts to solve the conflict to date have focused on getting Israel and Palestinians to directly negotiate (Madrid in 91, Oslo in 93 and Camp David in 2000). Other attempts include Arab led peace proposals (Beirut Summit in 2002), United Nations led solutions (starting with the original UN partition plan through resolution 242) and international summits like we’re seeing now in Paris.

The point of this post isn’t to debate which approach is best. Instead, it’s to outline a game theory based approach that’s been in the back of my mind since I took a course on game theory at McGill.

For people who don’t know what game theory is, check out wikipedia. It’s been so long since I took the course that I don’t even know if the below formally counts as game theory. Nevertheless, I like how it sounds so we’ll give it a go.

Premise: Israel will unilaterally develop a set rules. These rules will outline how Palestinian actions on the ground will result in changes to the status quo. Lack of the action (as defined by Israel) will improve the situation for the Palestinians. Occurrence of the actions will worsen the situation. These rules will be made public (literally on a website) and tracked for everyone to see.

How could this work in practice? Here is an example of one rule:

Rule Regarding Impact of Terrorist Attacks

This rule outlines the way in which terrorist attacks impact the expansion or contraction of settlements.

Action: Terrorist attacks occurring within a given month.

Lack of Action: If no terrorist attacks occur within a given month, Israel pauses construction within settlements in that given month.

Occurrence of Action : If a terrorist attack occurs within a given month, Israel will continue construction within settlements in that given month.

Lack of Action Streak: For each subsequent month with a lack of action (i.e. X months in a row with no attacks), Israel will pause construction of new settlements.

Occurrence of Action Streak: For each subsequent month with an occurrence of action (i.e. X months in a row with an attack), Israel will build a new settlement.

Lack of Action Super-Streak: Every Y months in a row (say 6 months), Israel will evacuate residents from and destroy 1 settlement. For each consecutive Y month streak, the number of settlements evacuated and destroyed increases in a fibonacci pattern (i.e. 2 settlements after 12 months, 3 after 18, 5 after 25 etc…).

Occurrence of Action Super-Streak: Every Y months in a row (say 6 months), Israel will annex 1 settlement into Israel proper. For each consecutive Y month streak, the number of settlements annexed increases in a fibonacci pattern (i.e. 2 settlements after 12 months, 3 after 18, 5 after 25 etc…).

The above is an example of one rule. I can imagine lots of other rules being developed as well, for instance tying rocket attacks with prisoner releases, stone throwing with checkpoints etc…

The overarching goal is to put control in the hands of the Palestinians. If they want a state, the set of rules should be designed to incentive actions that will lead towards their having a state. At the same time, it should incentive results for Israel that promote security.

Making all of this public (i.e. the rules and how specific terrorist attacks adversely impacted them) will hopefully cause positive public pressure within the Palestinians. The idea here is that we want to change public opinion from being pro attacks to being upset at attacks as they’re directly causing a known and clearly pre-determined negative impact on the Palestinians.

I realize that coming up with a set of rules on Medium is extremely different than making this work in the real world with real people. I also realize that even if the above were to be practical, it won’t directly result in peace. Instead, I’m hoping that it’ll leads to conditions on the ground that make peace more realistic down the line.

I’ll caveat all of the above by saying that the concept is far from fully fleshed out. I’m posting this mostly to get my thoughts on paper and to get feedback from others. What about the above is good? What about it is stupid? How realistic or unrealistic is this? Please leave comments and let me know.

48 Hours with the Amazon Echo Dot

Over Thanksgiving weekend I bought both the Echo Dot and Google Home. They were both scheduled to arrive this Monday but the Google Home is yet to show up (thanks Fedex). I've had the Echo for 48 hours now and here are my initial thoughts.

The Good:

It's fun. I was in bed last night and I wanted to know the time (I don't have a clock besides my phone). Being able to say "Alexa, what time is it?" while lying in bed with my face in the pillow put a smile on my face. Plus, the answer was correct.

It feels new. Using the echo reminds me of the first time I used Snapchat. I wasn't fully sure what the point of Snapchat was so I had to guess, experiment, screw up and eventually figure it out. The Echo feels the same way. I don't know what the best way to interact with it is. I'm trying different things, seeing what works and enjoying the process.

The device is nice. So far the hardware seems perfectly suited for the job at hand. It's simple and does the job. Plus the lights on top are fun. They go off whenever Alexa speaks giving it a slight sense of humanity.

Using Alexa to play music works well. Being able to just say "Alexa, play the Beatles" is pretty awesome.

Alexa responds quickly. I was expecting a decent lag between asking a question and hearing a response. I'm pleasantly surprised at how fast Alexa is in answering. There's still room for improvement but pretty good start.

Being powered all the time works. It's subtle but it changes completely the interaction model. While I was getting dressed this morning I was able to ask "what's the weather" without wondering where Alexa is, if it's on or what's in my hands.

The Maybe:

Still skeptical of ordering by voice. This isn't super rational as I buy almost everything on Amazon so why wouldn't I be ok with ordering by voice? I'm not sure why but I'm still not. Maybe this will change with time but I still have the "I need to check out prices / reviews" before I buy mindset which isn't geared too well for voice.

The So-So (nothing is really that bad):

Alexa needs to get smarter. At the end of the day Amazon isn't Google yet. The answers Alexa gives aren't as good as a Google search. TBD on how good Google Home is there, but there's definitely a host of knowledge that Alexa needs to acquire. This includes questions like what's on TV tonight and how many points did Russell Westbrook score last night?

Alexa doesn't understand conversation sequence. Alexa is good at answering simple questions like "where was Tolstoy born." Following up with "when was he born?" gives me nothing. Alexa doesn't understand continuity of questions yet, a problem that's been pretty well reported to date.

Repeating "Alexa" within the same conversation is bad UX. Alexa should better handle conversations. I get a quick response when I ask "Alexa, what time is my first meeting tomorrow". When I follow up to the response it's annoying to have to say Alexa again, especially if my response is within ~2 seconds of the answer. I get that there're privacy concerns and that it'll get complicated if my next sentence is to someone else in the room. Still, this is something Amazon needs to tackle.

Third party integrations (skills) aren't great. When you use them you can tell they were developed by developers outside of Amazon. I tried the 7 minute workout skill. Starting a workout worked great. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to figure out how to cancel the workout midway (Alexa Exit, Alexa Home didn't work).

Packaging and setup need work. I got Alexa up and running quickly but I know Apple would've made the setup process 10x simpler and the packing 10x nicer.

Bottom Line: I'm really happy and excited by the Echo. It has a ton of potential and I'm excited to see how it continues to become a part of my daily life. I think it actually worked out for the better that I didn't get the Google Home and the Echo on the same day as I'll be in a better position to compare each one now.

Who wins? Kudos to Amazon for coming out with this. I think Apple could've released the same product at the same time as Echo with a pretty comparable user experience. Big stumble by Apple. My gut says this comes down more to Amazon vs Google than anything to do with Apple. The question is can Amazon become Google faster than Google can become Amazon? Specifically, can Amazon get its search results to Google's level before Google finds a non advertising way to monetize voice search outside of e-commerce?

Review of Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

Short and quick book to read. It's written in an interesting way. Very much the author speaking directly to you. Also uses sporadic huge fonts and random positions of text on page as a wa to emphasize points.

I enjoyed the book. It calls out the inherent challenge facing anyone that tries to do something. He calls this challenge Resistance. Pressfield says Resistance is a natural force, as much so as gravity or time or anything else. Resistance is constantly there and continually trying to prevent us from accomplishing our goals.

In order to complete anything, Resistance must be overcome. It's a fact that everyone who tries to do anything must accomplish. Basically, rather than being upset at the fact that there is Resistance, the right approach is to recognize that it's normal, and take the steps to work through it. That's the real accomplishment -- getting past Resistance.

This Resistance comes at all times. To start a project obviously. But just as much to finish a project.

Resolutions Update: January, 2016

As most people do, I put together a list of resolutions for 2016. I've been tracking a few of these resolutions (with a great app called Momentum which I highly recommend).

Here is a summary of my January:

  • Reading: 27/31 days. Books Read: 3. Two of these are the first 2 books in the Edmund Morris trilogy on Teddy Roosevelt. Long story short, I've become obsessed with Teddy Roosevelt this month. There's an entire blog post I should write just on Teddy but that's for another time.
  • Exercise: 24/31 days. A lot of this has been 7 minute work outs. Also a good amount of free weights.
  • Meditating: 26/31 days. This is entirely new for me. Everyday after I shower, I meditate for 10 minutes. I use (and also highly recommend) an app called Headspace to facilitate this.
  • Daily Journal: 7/31 days. I started off strong here but failed quickly. Basically I couldn't find a good consistent time in my schedule to make this work. I enjoyed writing it for those 7 days. If I can find a consisten time that'll work, I can see this one working.
  • Public Writing: 1/4 weeks. This is also a fail. Basically, going from not writing to writing on a consistent basis has been a difficult change. Need to figure out how to make it happen.
  • Alcohol Consumption: 18/31 days. I don't actually have a goal for how much I want to drink or not drink. Started tracking though so I thoughts it'd be interesting to share.
  • Launched IsraelWeekly : This has been something I've wanted to do forever. Its a weekly newsletter that goes out and summarizes the past week of Israel related news. I started it because there's so much news on Israel (and issue in an of itself) which makes it very difficult for non Israel news addicts to keep up with what's going on. I got to 50 subscribers by end of January (my original goal was 200) so need to work on that.

These are just my personal (non work related) goals. Overall I'm pretty happy with the progress I've made. Improving on the writing side is definitely a next step I need to take. Any tips on how to make it happen?

Lost Opportunity: NBA Recap Videos

I'm a big NBA fan (go Spurs!).

I'd love to watch all 82 Spurs games in a season but its practically impossible. Instead, I end up watching ~15% of their regular season games in full (~12 games of the 82 game season) and catch the back-half of another 15%. For the remaining 58 games, I'm left reading articles and watching recap videos to see how my Spurs played.

Each recap video the NBA makes is a 1-2 minute summary of the game. The videos are filled with dunks, steals, 3 pointers and buzzer beaters from the game. While this is better than nothing, I think the NBA is missing out on a big opportuniy by not producing more in depth recaps.

Lets take a look -- I'll use the Spurs recent win over the Suns as our sample video.

Seconds 0-15: Setting the stage for the video by telling us which players are back from injury. No actual gameplay footage.

Second 16-29: The first actual gameplay here. After skipping over the first 7 minutes of the game, we see a sick block by Kawhi that leads to a fast break dunk.

Second 30-44: Also taking place in the first quarter, a three by Kawhi.

Seconds 45-54: Final section of the recap shows Boban Marjanovic (the hot Spur flavor the week) making a layup at minute 11:11 in the 2nd quarter.

To recap the recap, the NBA has taken a 48 minute game and trimmed it down to 39 seconds and 3 plays. We only actually see gameplay that happened between 5:21 in the first and 11:11 in the second -- nothing at all from the second half of the game.

To be fair, the game was a blowout (go Spurs!) so I understand that it wasn't the most exciting game to recap. In fact, this recap is perfectly adequate for a casual NBA fan that wants to quickly see what happened in yesterday's games. For serious fans however, its nothing more than a cursory overview of what happened in a game.

I'd happily watch a 6-8 minute video that shows what happened throughout the game. I want to see where the Spurs did well and where they did poorly. I want to see more than just dunks, steals and 3-pointers. I want to see the flow of the game, all the way from minute 1 to 48. To top it off, I'm willing to pay to see this.

How could this work? The NBA could charge $20 a year for in depth recaps of up to 5 teams or $1 per game on an � la carte basis. It'd be great for fans to stay closer with the teams they love and a great way for the NBA to capitalize on footage that otherwise just sits on the shelf.

What do you think? Would you pay for more in depth NBA recaps?