Posts Tagged ‘blog: musings’.

The LAST WORD on the Oenophile’s Quandary??

It is high praise for a question-poser indeed when a totally independent third party is provoked to write over 1600 words in response to all facets of the question — all of it interesting and civil.

Such is the case today. Mr. Ryan O’Connell, a winemaker in France, has taken my exploration of the Oenophile’s Quandary and explored it even further:

If optimal stopping applies to the oenophile’s quandary, it’s because the oenophile must settle on a date to consume each bottle. In that sense, each bottle has a stopping problem where the oenophile must decide to wait for a better occasion to drink the wine. So really, you’re not choosing wines. You’re choosing dates. And the quality of the wine has very little to do with the enjoyment. It’s more the context in which you consume the wine. In this sense, the quality of improvement over time is less relevant and the oenophile’s quandary is reduced to an expression of optimal stopping. Is quality of improvement over time a necessary condition? No. You can lose quality of improvment over time and you’ll still have a basic stopping problem because some days will be better than others for drinking that special bottle.

YOU TOOK THE BAIT RYAN AHA HA HA seriously I love it when folks do this.

ALSO: A commenter points us in the direction of the actual paper in which Dr. Dixit used Elaine (from Seinfeld)’s critical contraceptive-sponge shortage to determine the numbers alluded to in my previous post. Here it is! (PDF)

Revisiting the Oenophile’s Quandary

In last week’s comic #654, my characters discuss a philosophical question known as the Oenophile’s Quandary — when to enjoy something that is being saved for a special occasion, and which in fact even improves with time. Of course, I made up the Oenophile’s Quandary, as I do every plausible-sounding fact that somehow worms its way into Wondermark (including this fact stating that fact), but a few kind readers followed up with me with additional information on the topic.

In a tweet, @flyingpawn pointed me to an economist’s answer to essentially this exact question:

Dear Economist,
I have inherited six bottles of excellent wine, which I plan to consume, over time, on special occasions. But how do I know when to open a bottle when I don’t know what occasions lie ahead? I don’t want to use up all the bottles within a few months on mediocre occasions, but neither do I still want to be hoarding them until I die.

I am pleased to announce that the question is answered definitively in the article, with numbers, the answer attributed to economist Avinash Dixit. There are some base assumptions made in the calculation, so it may not apply to every unique situation, but at least someone’s taken a stab at it and for most people it’s just nice to have someone else tell them an answer that sounds pretty authoritative.

In trying to track down the actual calculations done by Dr. Dixit, or any substantiation at all of the answer, I learned that the Oenophile’s Quandary may not be a question of philosophy but rather of mathematics — in particular, the theory of “optimal stopping” as applied in statistics or economics. An article in American Scientist puts it this way:

A decision maker observes a process evolving in time that involves some randomness. Based only on what is known, he or she must make a decision on how to maximize reward or minimize cost. In some cases, little is known about what’s coming. In other cases, information is abundant. In either scenario, no one predicts the future with full certainty. Fortunately, the powers of probability sometimes improve the odds of making a good choice.

Economists put equations to these questions, assuming that each variable has some hard quantifiable element to it. For Oenophile’s Quandary questions to rest in the realm of philosophy, then, they must deal with purely subjective issues. May the quality of aging wine be measured objectively?

A tweet from @OldMiner pointed me to this article about the aging of wine:

MYTH: Old wine tastes better than new wine.
REALITY: Although all wines change with age, very few wines noticeably improve beyond a few months and wine maturity does have its limits.
MY CONTENTIONS: Part of the problem is that some wine increases in monetary value as it gets older. The public fails to grasp that the value only rises because of the wine’s increasing rarity, not its increasing quality.

So where does this leave us? Wine may still be good (as in the question at the top of this post) without necessarily improving with age. Is the quality of improvement over time a necessary condition of the Oenophile’s Quandary? Is the question of enjoyment one that can be answered with economics, or should it be left to philosophy? What occasions have caused you to crack open a special bottle of whatever? Leave a comment and let us know!

Happily Ever After, Even Now

Movies in which couples overcome various misunderstandings to eventually hug and kiss as the credits roll ask us to believe that their characters will be together forever.

So I got to thinking: assuming that the couples who get together at the end of movies stay together into the foreseeable future, what must they look like now? Surely they are still together, making coffee in the mornings, shuffling children off to this activity or that, taking trips to see plays and figuring out new digital cameras on the occasional Alaskan cruise.

I present the following as aids to your imagination, helping you to picture the lives of these fictional characters extended out ten, twenty, thirty years until the strange story of their first, accidental meeting is family legend retold every Thanksgiving to the grandchildren: “You know I used to fly Tomcats in the Navy — well, one day, Grandma waltzed into my classroom at Miramar, and I about flipped my lid. I told her about a MiG I’d seen recently, and she tried to freeze me out. And then I played volleyball for a while with Uncle Iceman.”

Remembering Frank Frazetta

Frank Frazetta died the other day. He was well-known as a the cover artist for innumerable Conan and Edgar Rice Burroughs books, but in truth, Frank was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, working in oil paint or ink with equal facility. The excellent if rather showy retrospective documentary Painting With Fire is highly recommended, or for a more calculated explanation of why Frank was the best, here’s a neat blog post. My own experience with Frank’s work was very personal, and very formative.

For most of high school and my first year of college, I spent Wednesday afternoons after school with three other friends in an art studio in the San Bernardino mountains, taking lessons from a wonderfully talented illustrator named John Arthur. John was a classically-trained artist who drilled the basics of life drawing, line quality, and the importance of sketching into our still-mushy teenage minds, and I credit those Wednesdays with John with developing my creative instincts from childlike fumbling into something of value.

Every week, each of us would show John (and the others) any sketches or drawings we’d done throughout the week, but John also delighted in reading our stories, poems, comics or anything else we’d made — my friend Stephen was a prolific poet, I was working on a novel, both of us had occasional short stories to present as well, and John was always encouraging, always enthusiastic to see it all.

In return, John would teach us from the masters — as we drew in his studio, he’d read to us from Ray Bradbury or Robert Henri; as we listened, we sketched from life or copied (as best we could) from Michaelangelo, N.C. Wyeth, Bernie Wrightson or Frazetta.

Frank was John’s touchstone: to explain how light could turn a three-dimensional form into black and white lines, he’d pull out his old portfolio of Frazetta lithographs. He’d put an anatomy book next to one of Frank’s paintings to explain how to portray torsion in a muscle in an interesting and dynamic way, and compare and contrast Frank’s work with the schlocky Image comics we’d bring in for show-and-tell. And as we were packing up from the day’s lesson, John would tell the story of how Frank once goofed off playing baseball rather than working on a book-cover assignment, until the night before the painting was due to the publisher. That night, when he finally sat down to work, he discovered he didn’t have any canvas in the house — so he pried a piece of Masonite off the floor and painted monsters on it:

As wonderful as Frank’s paintings were and are, it was those lithos from John’s portfolio that always struck me the most. Mostly ink drawings from Tarzan books, they clearly showed Frank’s absolute mastery over the brush. The lines are lively, fluid, and variable in a way that John continually explored with us — they dance teasingly with negative space, volume, and texture. Frank’s linework is what’s playing in my brain every time I clumsily put pen (or brush) to paper today:

Having a variable quality of line was one of the lessons that John drummed into our drawing hands every single session. I admire cartoonists who can get evocative images out of Micron pens or thin strokes, but that came to bore me in my own art. Seeing what life Frank could breathe with his brush continues to inspire me today, and insofar as I’m anywhere, I wouldn’t be here without John, those Wednesdays, and Frank.


Frazetta, 1975


Me, 1996


Frazetta, 1969


Me, 1999

Thanks, Frank.

UPDATE: One more thing! During the time I was taking lessons from John, Frank suffered a stroke (what would be the first of many). John relayed the news to us gravely, and suggested that we call the family to wish them well. Next thing I knew, we were on the phone with Frank’s wife Ellie, each of us taking a moment to pass on our well wishes. I don’t know how John had the number — maybe they were listed in the phone book, or maybe he called the museum that Ellie had founded on their property. But it was a powerful moment in connecting with one’s heroes, remembering that for all their accomplishments, they’re people too.

After the stroke, Frank began to experience tremors and a loss of strength in his right hand. So what did he do? Taught himself to paint with his left. In his 70s. I just got done explaining how Frank was merely human, but dang if Frank didn’t try his best to make me a liar.

Ink-drawing images from Golden Age Comic Book Stories. Paintings from The Unofficial Frazetta Gallery Page.

Recommended reading:
Icon: A Retrospective by the Grand Master of Fantastic Art
Legacy: Paintings and Drawings by Frank Frazetta
Testament: The Life and Art of Frank Frazetta
Spectrum Presents: Frank Frazetta: Rough Work

2009 Errata

During our year-end review, we have discovered a number of factual errors in comics published in 2009. Please find our corrections below.

#567; O Selfless Saviors
It is an overstatement to say that no children have ever been poisoned by Halloween treats. In 1964, a woman handed out pellets of ant poison masquerading as treats; in 1974 a father gave his son a candy straw filled with cyanide. However, the man was using Halloween as a cover to kill his child, and the woman’s treats were clearly labeled and intended as a dark comment on the treat tradition. Thus, the point stands.

#526; In which it Hardly Matters
International Crossword Standards & Practices Union rules prohibit this pattern of blank squares from appearing in a regulation puzzle.

#523; In which Vince achieves Victory
Vince’s minor repair job did not actually require a wrench. It could have been accomplished with pliers.

#510; In which Rob tries to read
Rob also reads to earn fundraising pledges in his school’s Read-A-Thon.

#509; In which a Horn is overt
Sebastian did, in fact, take a lil’ blow. Just to see what would happen.

#485; The Australian Butler
Dinner was not actually ready.

Wondermark regrets the errors.

See also: 2008 Errata