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8. Engineering the System

There is a big difference between building a prototype system and a piece of production software. In his classic book ``The Mythical Man-Month'' , Fredrick Brooks estimates that it takes nine times the effort to create a complete, reliable system as opposed to an initial program which starts to do the job.  

With Meena's graduation, I needed a fresh student to turn our prototype into a production system. I got to know Roger Mailler when he took CSE 214, undergraduate Data Structures, with me in Fall 1997. Roger was the bored-looking student in the front row - too bright and knowledgeable to get very much from the course, but too disciplined to cut class or hide in the back. Roger finished first out of the 126 students in the course (by a substantial margin), and was untainted by a programming assignment cheating scandal that claimed many of his classmates.   

Roger is an interesting fellow, whose career path to Stony Brook followed a very non-standard course. His first attempt at college (at the Rochester Institute of Technology) was, to be charitable, unsuccessful. In one year at RIT he amassed a GPA of 0.96, where 4.0 is a A. Any mammal with a pulse ought to be able to do better. Indeed, this is the lowest GPA I've ever seen sustained over a full academic year, because students capable of such performance usually manage to get themselves expelled before the year is out.

Roger clearly had some growing up to do. He did this in the United States Air Force, stationed in Korea. There he started computer programming and found his calling. He worked on a system that automatically monitored E-mail to prevent the release of classified information. Working Air Force security is perhaps the best place to develop that productively-suspicious nature needed to produce high-reliability software.

After his enlistment ran out, he returned to college, this time at Stony Brook. He has gone on to earn a 3.96 GPA here, about as high as you can get and a hell of a lot better than I ever did. Such academic turn-arounds occur surprisingly often with older returning students, who have finally figured out what they want from life. They are Exhibit A for the importance of allowing people second chances, which is one of the many noble missions for state universities like Stony Brook.

After incorporating the pool adjustments of the previous chapter, our program was losing simulated money. This is better than losing real money, but still not a satisfactory state of affairs. It was now up to Roger to turn our system around, hopefully as successfully as he had his GPA.  

I hope you have enjoyed this excerpt from Calculated Bets: Computers, Gambling, and Mathematical Modeling to Win!, by Steven Skiena, copublished by Cambridge University Press and the Mathematical Association of America.

This is a book about a gambling system that works. It tells the story of how the author used computer simulation and mathematical modeling techniques to predict the outcome of jai-alai matches and bet on them successfully -- increasing his initial stake by over 500% in one year! His method can work for anyone: at the end of the book he tells the best way to watch jai-alai, and how to bet on it. With humor and enthusiasm, Skiena details a life-long fascination with the computer prediction of sporting events. Along the way, he discusses other gambling systems, both successful and unsuccessful, for such games as lotto, roulette, blackjack, and the stock market. Indeed, he shows how his jai-alai system functions just like a miniature stock trading system.

Do you want to learn about program trading systems, the future of Internet gambling, and the real reason brokerage houses don't offer mutual funds that invest at racetracks and frontons? How mathematical models are used in political polling? The difference between correlation and causation? If you are curious about gambling and mathematics, odds are this is the book for you!

This book is available in both hardcover and paperback.

next up previous index
Next: Elegance in Software Systems Up: Excerpts from Calculated Bets: Previous: The Problem of Overfitting
Steve Skiena