Archive for the 'Willat Effect' Category

Nick Szabo is Satoshi Nakamoto, the Inventor of Bitcoin

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

There were many funny things about Leah Goodman’s claim in Newsweek that a California engineer invented bitcoin. One was her observation that he put two spaces after a period — just like the inventor of bitcoin. Another was her observation that his relatives said he was “brilliant”, without giving any examples. His brilliance had remained perfectly hidden – until now. A third was her conclusion that he was obsessed with secrecy and distrusted government – just like the inventor of bitcoin (according to her). Felix Salmon was quite wrong when he said there are some very strange coincidences and the pieces of her argument “fit elegantly together”. Actually, her argument is worthless from top to bottom. Salmon was right, however, when he said that the engineer’s English shows he couldn’t possibly have invented bitcoin. As Salmon says, Goodman ignored this itty-bitty problem.

Who is the inventor of bitcoin? I’m sure it’s Nick Szabo, a former law professor at George Washington University. This idea first surfaced a few months ago in an anonymous blog post based on textual analysis. Szabo used certain phrases in the original bitcoin description far more than a bunch of other possible candidates. That is real evidence. The hypothesis that Szabo is the inventor passes several other tests as well: (more…)

Assorted Links

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Thanks to Aaron Blaisdell and Peter Lewis.

The Willat Effect With Gin

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

The Willat Effect — named for Carl Willat, whose limoncello comparison tasting made me notice it — may happen when you experience two similar versions of one thing close together. (For example, sip one limoncello and then sip another.) The differences between them  become clearer, of course. The Willat Effect is the less obvious hedonic change: suddenly the differences matter. Suddenly one version is more pleasant, the other less pleasant.  The hedonic changes are large enough to change how I spend money (I buy the better version more, the worse version less).  I believe this effect turns people into connoisseurs.

I recently noticed the Willat Effect with gin. As part of a project to buy every type of not-too-expensive alcohol in a nearby liquor store, I bought a bottle of Bombay Sapphire London Dry Gin. I neither like nor dislike gin,  it was just something they sold I hadn’t tried.  It was medium-priced (about $20). I liked it okay.

I returned to the liquor store. This time I bought two brands of London dry gin: Tanqueray (about $20) and Greenall’s Special (about $15). At home I tasted them side by side. The Tanqueray was much better, I noticed right away. It was softer, more rounded, and had floral overtones absent from the Greenall’s. Where was the Bombay Sapphire gin on these dimensions? Did it have floral overtones? I had no idea. Now I was curious. One close comparison shifted my buying habits in two ways: (a)  I want to make more of these comparisons. I want to try every brand of gin in the liquor store to see if the cheaper brands tasted worse. (b) Apart from these comparisons,  I will never buy inferior gin again.

The Willat Effect happens only if the two things being compared are neither too similar nor too dissimilar. Perhaps differently-priced versions of London dry gin are roughly the right distance apart and are a convenient way to demonstrate the effect. It’s easy to get different versions of London dry gin.

The effect interests me because it is (a) practical (a source of enjoyment), (b) a subtle comment on intellectuals (who complain about our “consumerist” society) and economics (I look forward to an economist’s explanation of connoisseurship), and (c) it supports my theory of human evolution, which says connoisseurs came to exist because they promote technological innovation. Connoisseurs make it easier for the most skilled craftsmen — the ones most likely to innovate — to make a living.

 

 

Assorted Links

Friday, November 16th, 2012
  • Olive oil and the Willat Effect. “You can read about great olive oils, and their vast superiority over bad oils, all you want. . . . But until you try first-rate olive oil for yourself – actually put the good stuff in your mouth, and compare that experience to the bad stuff you’ve eaten in the past – you won’t really get it. . . . . Once you taste fine olive oils and their low-class imitations [side by side], though, you start to care.”
  • Petraeus Affair: The journalism of what we don’t know.
  • Tucker Max on book publishing. Disruptive innovation for popular authors.
  • Animal self-medication. Sick animals eat differently than healthy animals.

Thanks to Alex Blackwood.

The Power of the Willat Effect: Rinsed versus Unrinsed Tea

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

During my last visit to New York I bought a new black tea. I started drinking it a few weeks ago. I brewed it various ways (different amounts of tea, different steeping times, etc.) but had a hard time telling which way was best. This morning I decided I would learn how to  brew it by making paired comparisons (two cups of tea made the same way at the same time except for one difference). The fascinating thing, as I’ve said, about these side-by-side comparisons is that they produce hedonic changes. They change how much you like this or that. I call this the Willat Effect after my friend Carl Willat who caused me to notice it.

This morning I made two cups of the new tea. The two cups were brewed the same except in one case I “rinsed” the tea before brewing. Rinsing means I poured a bit of hot water on it and quickly got rid of the hot water. Rinsing tea removes from the final product whatever is transferred from the tea to the hot water in the first few seconds. In China, rinsing tea is common; in the United States, very rare.

I tasted the two cups (rinsed and unrinsed) side by side. The rinsed tea tasted much better. The unrinsed tea had something weird about it. Ugh, I thought, I can’t drink this. I threw out the unrinsed tea. Over the previous few weeks, I had happily drunk the new tea unrinsed many times. Now I found it repulsive.

Carl Willat Suffers From the Willat Effect

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Carl Willat, for whom the Willat Effect is named, wrote to me:

I had two cartons of half and half in the fridge, neither had reached its expiration date but one was three days newer. I wondered if I could taste the difference between them, and I found that I could. Neither was sour, but one tasted fresher. I made a batch of vanilla ice cream out of each of them, figuring that together with the other ingredients I was adding (vanilla, egg yolks, cream, salt and sugar) the difference in taste would be less noticeable. After putting both mixtures through the ice cream freezer I tasted them [side by side] and one tasted a lot better. I gave a friend of mine a spoonful of each and she immediately noticed the difference. She correctly identified the good one and described it as tasting fresher and lighter. I can’t bear to eat the less good batch and I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t want to give it away for fear someone will think it representative of what my ice cream tastes like. I’m sure in the past I’ve made plenty of ice cream of this same quality that I and everyone else thought was perfectly acceptable, even delicious.

The fascinating part is “can’t bear to eat the less good batch”. Same thing with me and tea: In the last half year or so, I’ve made hundreds of side-by-side comparisons of tea. I now throw away cups of tea I don’t like. I never used to do that.

The Willat Effect: More Consequences

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

A month ago I bought three identical tea pots to compare tea side by side. I hoped to take advantage of the Willat Effect (side-by-side comparisons create connoisseurs) to become a tea connoisseur.

It worked. Side-by-side tea comparisons are fun, easy, and have taught me a lot. When I drink tea I notice more and like it more. I do about three comparisons per day. I blogged about the first results here. The most useful idea about these comparisons came from Carl Willat himself: Compare the same tea brewed differently (e.g., different amounts of tea, different brewing times, different water temperatures). Most of my comparisons vary amount of tea or brewing time.

These many  comparisons have had several effects: (more…)

Even More About The Willat Effect

Monday, October 24th, 2011

I have had tea daily for the last ten years, ever since I discovered the Shangri-La Diet. A few weeks ago, I started doing side-by-side comparisons of similar teas or the same tea prepared two ways (e.g., different brewing times). Would the Willat Effect make me a tea connoisseur?

Since then I have done at least one side-by-side comparison every day. It’s almost as easy as making an ordinary cup of tea and a lot more fun. These comparisons have taught me more about tea preparation than the previous ten years. I’ve learned:

1. The black tea I have (an Earl-Grey variant) tastes better when brewed for 3.5 minutes than 4.0 minutes.

2. The black tea tastes better when I use 1.5 grams of tea than when I use 2.0 grams of tea. (After starting these comparisons, I bought a scale for weighing tea.)

3. One of the green teas I have tastes better when “rinsed” for 30 seconds before brewing 1 minute than when simply brewed for 1 minute. In China, this preference (rinse green tea before brewing) is common. I was reminded of it by this comment and Paul Jaminet’s post about tea. Black tea is different, as I noted earlier.

4. I have a caffeine-free tea blend called Choco Late made of cacao husks, vanilla, and rooibos. The package says brew 5 minutes. Which is nonsense. It tastes better (fuller, more rounded) when brewed 30 minutes than when brewed 15 minutes. (I’ve noticed the same thing with caffeine-free chai blends. Enormous brewing times, like 60 minutes, produce much better results than short times.)

5. My most interesting discovery is when I brew Choco Late for 30 minutes it tastes so good I no longer want to sweeten it. It is pleasant enough already and sweetness would distract from the complexity, fullness, and slight bitterness. (At first I wrote “lovely complexity, fullness …”) I was shocked when I noticed this. It has never happened before.

This tea-selling website mentions the Willat Effect under the heading “Do you want to be a tea connoisseur?” I hope this means the idea will spread among the fancy-food community. They have a lot to gain from better understanding of how to make people connoisseurs. Many times I have asked people in that community what makes someone a connoisseur? The usual answer is education. In my case, Willat-Effect comparisons (side-by-side comparisons of similar teas) were far more powerful than reading about tea, drinking a variety of teas, going on tea tours, going to ordinary tea tastings (where you taste a wide range of teas), and talking about tea with experts. I have been to five or six Fancy Food Shows and have visited thousands of booths. Exactly one booth offered side-by-side comparisons of similar products. It was their product made with and without a special ingredient.

Willat-Effect comparisons are mini-science. They aren’t quantitative but they include three other things central to science: 1. Close comparisons. This is the essence of experimentation. 2. You don’t know the answer. 3. You care about the answer.

Willat Effect Experiments With Tea

Monday, October 17th, 2011

The Willat Effect is the hedonic change caused by side-by-side comparison of similar things. Your hedonic response to the things compared (e.g., two or more dark chocolates) expands in both directions. The “better” things become more pleasant and the “worse” things become less pleasant. In my experience, it’s a big change, easy to notice.

I discovered the Willat Effect when my friend Carl Willat offered me five different limoncellos side by side. Knowing that he likes it, his friends had given them to him. Perhaps three were homemade, two store-bought. I’d had plenty of limoncello before that, but always one version at a time. Within seconds of tasting the five versions side by side, I came to like two of them (with more complex flavors) more than the rest. One or two of them I started to dislike. When you put two similar things next to each other, of course you see their differences more clearly. What’s impressive is the hedonic change.

The Willat Effect supports my ideas about human evolution because it pushes people toward connoisseurship. (I predict it won’t occur with animals.) The fact that repeating elements are found in so many decorating schemes and patterns meant to be pretty (e.g., wallpapers, textile patterns, rugs, choreography) suggests that we get pleasure from putting similar things side by side — the very state that produces the Willat Effect. According to my theory of human evolution, connoisseurship evolved because it created demand for hard-to-make goods, which helped the most skilled artisans make a living. Carl’s limoncello tasting made me a mini-connoisseur of limoncello. I started buying it much more often and  bought more expensive brands, thus helping the best limoncello makers make a living. Connoisseurs turn surplus into innovation by giving the most skilled artisans more time and freedom to innovate.

Does the Willat Effect have practical value? Could it improve my life? Recently I decided to see if it could make me a green tea connoisseur. Ever since I discovered the Shangri-La Diet (calories without smell), I’d been drinking tea (smell without calories) almost daily but I was no connoisseur. Nor had I done many side-by-side comparisons. At home, I had always made one cup at a time.

In Beijing, where I am now, I can easily buy many green teas. I got three identical tea pots (SAMA SAG-08) and three cheap green teas. I drink tea every morning. Instead of brewing one pot, I started making two or three pots at the same time and comparing the results. I compared different teas and the same tea brewed different lengths of time (Carl’s idea).

I’ve been doing this about two weeks. The results so far:

1. The cheapest tea became undrinkable. I decided to never buy it again and not to drink the  rest of my purchase. I will use it for kombucha. Two of the three teas cost about twice the cheapest one. After a few side by side comparisons I liked the more expensive ones considerably more than the cheaper one. The two more expensive ones cost about the same but, weirdly, I liked the one that cost (slightly) more a little better than the one that cost less. (Tea is sold in bulk with no packaging or branding so the price I pay is closely related to what the grower was paid. The buyers taste it and decide what it’s worth.)

2. I decided to infuse the tea leaves only once. (Usual practice is to infuse green tea two or more times.)  The quality of later infusions was too low, I decided. Before this, I had found second and later infusions had been acceptable.

The Willat Effect is working, in other words. After a decade of drinking tea, my practices suddenly changed.  I will buy different teas and brew them differently. I will spend a lot more per cup since (a) each cup will require fresh tea, (b) I won’t buy the cheapest tea, and (c) I have become far more interested in green tea, partly because each cup tastes better, partly because I am curious if more expensive varieties taste better. When I bought the three varieties I have now I didn’t bother to learn their names; I identified them by price. In the future I will learn the names.

To get the Willat Effect, the things being compared must be quite similar. For example, comparing green tea with black tea does nothing. I have learned a methodological lesson: That tea is a great medium for studying this not only because it’s cheap but also because you can easily get similar tasting teas by brewing the same tea different lengths of time. I haven’t yet tried different water temperatures but that too might work.

I have done similar things before. I bought several versions of orange marmalade, did side-by-side tastings, and indeed became an orange marmalade connoisseur. After that I bought only expensive versions. After a few side-by-side comparisons of cheese that included expensive cheeses, I stopped buying cheap cheese. You could say I am still an orange marmalade and cheese connoisseur but this has no effect on my current life. Because I avoid sugar, I don’t eat orange marmalade. Because of all the butter I eat, I rarely eat cheese. My budding green tea connoisseurship, however, is making a  difference because I drink tea every day.

My posts about human evolution.

The Willat Effect: Side-by-Side Comparisons Create Connoisseurs

Friday, July 8th, 2011

About ten years ago, while visiting my friend Carl Willat, he presented me with five versions of limoncello (an Italian lemon liqueur) side by side in shot glasses. Two were store-bought, the rest homemade, if I remember correctly. I tried them one by one. I had had limoncello many times but never different versions side by side. It was easy to notice differences between them. Obviously. What surprised me was an hedonic reaction: I thought two of them (with more complex flavors) were wonderful and one (store-bought) was awful. Both reactions (wonderful and awful) were stronger than usual. In a small way, I’d become a connoisseur. After that, I was happy to buy expensive limoncello (e.g., $26). I no longer bought cheap limoncello ($18). I call the hedonic changes produced by side-by-side comparisons the Willat Effect. Carl became a connoisseur of Italian hand-painted tableware due to side by side comparisons. I believe connoisseurs were important in human evolution because they helped support skilled artisans. Our design preference for repeated elements (e.g., wallpaper, textiles) evolved so that we would put similar things side by side. (more…)