Archive of posts from 2013
There’s a great line in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou where Zissou [Bill Murray], an ocean explorer and documentary film-maker, is describing advances in deep-sea diving suits:
Alex Tabarrok has a new paper out showing that easy availability of guns increases the number of suicides. (Read the comments section on that post, it’s full of good tidbits like the fact that there are more suicides farther from the equator.) This is an econometric study, but there is a psychological angle:
Just a brief trip five years down memory lane to revisit one of the better sentences written about me to date:
Whenever you make a decision you have to consider a universe of facts. Suppose you’re trying to decide where to go on vacation.
Boy, behavioral economics is everywhere these days! As a self-proclaimed “behavioral expert” I often get people asking me for a reading list. I’m sick and tired of rewriting this five times a day, so here goes: the definitive, well-ordered, short (looking at you, Shane Parrish) behavioral economics reading list.
There are three ways to react to frustration and there’s a strict hierarchy of these responses. As you move from Level 1 to Level 3, you have to put in more effort but you get more re__turn. The exact tradeoff between effort and return depends a lot on the exact situation, but overall Level 3 is always harder and more rewarding than Level 2, and so on. You’ve probably had each of these responses at different times, and I think some people are more prone to one than the next.
In my previous post I railed against a political fundraising technique I saw in the wild (on Twitter). I was upset because the experimental literature suggested that the technique they used was a waste of money, and I went on to lament the campaign’s lack of interest in science.
Almost a month ago Bill de Blasio, Democratic nominee for NYC mayor, tweeted something that made me angry. If I were to donate to his primary campaign, he (or a 19 year old unpaid intern) proclaimed, my contribution would be matched 6 to 1. So now we know that de Blasio — unlike Barack Obama — is not running his campaign according to the latest research findings.
At my hotel in Kuala Lumpur you can’t just take the elevator to your floor. I checked in and then stood in the elevator jamming on my button, surprised that it wasn’t lighting up. Ah–I noticed–I had to insert my key card into a little slot and only then press the button — it lit up, I felt a little frisson of reward and was on my way. Presumably the apparatus is necessary for “security reasons”. A little inconvenient — no big deal.
It’s rare that I find a news article equal parts infuriating and confusing. I want to deeply examine this article from today’s New York Times. Ideally, I wish I could sit down with the author of the piece, the key players quoted, the key players not quoted, eminent historians, etc, and really dig into it. But you, loyal readers, will have to suffice.
“I never want to do X again. I’ve decided it before, but this time is different. This time I really mean it, I feel it so strongly, I’m definitely never doing X again.”
Some processes can be interrupted and restarted at little-to-no cost, while others suffer greatly from interruption.
Have you ever caught your bank making a mistake? Maybe they levied a fee in error, or maybe they penalized you twice for the same overdraft, or so on. I had this happen once–my account was “automatically” switched from a student no-fee no-minimum account, and so I immediately started racking up penalties for failing to meet the minimum account requirements. When I complained, I was treated nicely, the mistake was fixed, and I got various perks.
What is it about snakes that makes people so jumpy and uncomfortable? There seem to be certain long-held and deeply human instincts, and Donald Norman’s Emotional Design (pp. 29-30) discusses how we can use these immediate affective responses–good and bad–in design. (A previous post about Emotional Design.)
From my notes about John Reader’s Africa, two fascinating and poetic tidbits to go along with my two previous posts Annals of Comparative Advantage and Africa: Reproductive Strategies and the Value of Gold.
To a first approximation it's okay and good for a large percent of your population to be working in a single economicaly-productive activity, even if it is overseas.
Two tidbits from John Reader's Africa.
Accelerating on a bicycle is effortful. If driving were like this, fuel efficiency would be higher.
A price is "correct" if you are indifferent between taking it or leaving it, but it's hard to know when that's true.
Everyone loves Quora and here is one reason why:
How do you decide what to learn? An argument for strategic breadth.
A cool video about differential gears.
The open office plan is older than you think:
Q: Is smearing lamb’s blood over my doorway unnecessary?
The common thinking is that the USA benefits by having many states because they will have different policies and we can thereby learn which policies are most effective.1 This idea is intuitive but actually I think the opposite is the case: as government gets larger it becomes more (theoretically) capable of doing the kind of experimentation that leads to better policy.
This idea is known as “laboratories of democracy” and was brought to my attention by the Charles Pierce series of the same name. ↩
A whole canefield of words has grown up between La Maga and me, we have only been separated by a few hours and my sorrow is already called sorrow, and my love is called love. . . I shall keep on feeling less and less and remembering more and more, but what is memory if not the language of feeling, a dictionary of faces and days and smells which repeat themselves like the verbs and adjectives in a speech, sneaking in behind the thing itself, into the pure present. . .
How do we know about the internal lives of other people?
I spent the weekend at a conference about the use of statistical analysis in sports decision-making. Among other things, we talked about player evaluation, the role of randomness, in-game coaching decisions, and optimal risk taking based on game situation. All of these through the lens of using data to improve how we act.
The primary commodity in the world is attention. This is the resource whose scarcity matters most–every day, and as it adds up, in your life, in the lives of everyone you know, in the history of the world, in the world itself. The question then becomes: what should you focus your attention on? What issues or problems or features of the world are most worth your attention? You should train yourself to only pay attention to things that matter and things where your attention will pay off and things where your attention will luxuriate and amplify and be drawn to other things that you now realize matter.
He began to forgive the chill of this Northern city. He thought about the…blood running in his own veins. He watched himself being consoled by literature and history, and, observing how much he’d changed in one year, he wondered what kind of person he was ultimately meant to be. But there was still that hopelessness or sorrow right beneath the skin of his afternoons.