Saturday, December 31, 2011

How to Make a Twentysomething Have a Midlife Crisis

Read my old post about how our perception of time changes then have them read this:
We all know that time seems to speed up as we grow older - but according to studies at the University of Cincinnati in the 1970's, this effect is so pronounced that if you're 20 today, you're already halfway through life, in terms of your subjective experience of how time passes, even if you live until you're 80. And if you're 40 - again, assuming you live to be 80 - your life is 71% per cent over. Basically, if you're older than about 30, you're almost dead.
Happy New Years...

Friday, December 30, 2011

Alchemy Improv Comedy with Stories from Chris White

Every so often I like to post a video of a different kind of improv show I've been doing. Here are two examples  from my old college group (and here's another I haven't posted called Snakes on a Stage that is a must see). Here was a Harold and Two-person show from my days at the DSI Comedy Theater. And here's one from a team I coached there.

Now here's one of the first shows from Alchemy Improv Comedy, the company I run out of Greenville, SC:



Part IIPart IIIPart IV, and Part V.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Worthwhile Sentences on Warfare

In honor of the end of American direct involvement in Iraq.

From NYT's Nicholas Kristof: "When the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson discussed on television whether the 9/11 attacks were God’s punishment on feminists, gays and secularists, God should have sued them for defamation."

From a bounty hunter: "God made man but samuel colt made them equal."

From The Daily Beast's Jesse Ellison: "In fact, it is the high victimization rate of female soldiers—women in the armed forces are now more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed in combat—that has helped cast light on men assaulting other men."

From Ohio State political scientist John Mueller: "Your chance of dying in a bathtub is about one in a million, and from terrorism is about one in 3.5 million"

Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Card from a Reader


By listening to my holiday advice on getting people exactly what they ask for he got me just what I asked for. From Justin from here.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Avoiding Xmas Deadweight Loss, Part VI

Okay, last one (for this year at least):
You’ve found that perfect, pricey gift for your significant other. Now, you decide to pick up a little something else. But wait! The second smaller gift can actually take away from the powerful impression of gift number 1. That’s according to an analysis in the Journal of Consumer Research. [Kimberlee Weaver, Stephen M. Garcia and Norbert Schwarz, The Presenter’s Paradox
The researchers call it the “presenter’s paradox.” The person presenting the gifts thinks more is better. But the receiver unconsciously averages the two – so a cheaper addition makes the bigger gift seem, surprisingly, cheaper itself. 
The researchers evaluated seven test situations. In one, subjects were asked to assign a value for a gift iPod. Others were asked to value an iPod plus a free mp3. The participants assigned a significantly higher value on just the iPod. 
And this occurs in other facets of life. Participants in another trial were asked to rate the severity of a littering punishment. And they rated a fine of $750 as a more severe punishment than a fine of the same $750 fine plus two hours of community service. 
So, to avoid the averaging effect, keep it simple with gifts. It’s the thought that counts. The one thought.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Emptying the Bottle: Late December '11 Links

Here is the best of what I've shared on Twitter recently:
As always, feel free to email me anything interesting you come across.

Avoiding Xmas Deadweight Loss, Part V

Just in case you haven't finished up your shopping yet, here's some more holiday saving (ruining?) advice on gift giving:
my first guideline for efficient giving: Gift-giving should be redistributive. Reciprocity is a lovely sentiment, but the holidays are an excellent time to rebalance the overall family or friend group portfolio in favor of its needier members.
Not sure if I agree with the desirability of that, but I think it is definitely true. Here's another:
When you step outside the circle of things you know for sure your gift-getter likes, you risk creating a massive deadweight loss. (You give her a ticket to Las Vegas, without knowing that she hates gambling.) But with the greater risk comes a greater potential reward.
And once you've decided to give a gift, you should give an experience:
In particular, people consistently overrate the extent to which money in general and material possessions in particular will make them happy, underweighting interpersonal relationships and new experiences in the process. So try to give your loved ones the opportunity to go do something new, ideally with other people.
Here's part one, two, three, and four of the series.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Legality of Santa Clause

Santa's not real. If you're reading this and you didn't know that, I'm sorry. In fact, if you're reading at all and you didn't know that, I'm very sorry. But if Santa was real, would he be an international criminal?:
I. Trespass and Consent  
At first glance it might seem that Santa Claus is liable in tort and criminal law for trespass, but the homeowner’s consent negates both charges. Sending letters to Santa, hanging stockings with care, setting out milk and cookies, and the like are all clear manifestations of consent for Santa Claus to enter one’s home and deposit presents (or coal, as the case may be). Indeed I suspect it would be quite difficult to find someone who received a present from Santa Claus yet could honestly claim that he or she did not consent to its delivery. 
II. Airspace Restrictions 
Another potential problem with Santa, as with many superheroes, is the issue of air travel regulations. In Santa’s case however, the fact that he is tracked by NORAD suggests that he has clearance from the US and Canadian militaries to travel through US and Canadian airspace essentially unrestricted. 
III. Customs and Immigration 
Santa may be cleared to travel through US and Canadian airspace, but what about entering the countries in the first place? As it turns out, Canada has extended Canadian citizenship to Santa Claus, so the answer is trivial for Santa’s travels through Canada. Furthermore, as a Canadian citizen his entry into the US is fairly straightforward because he’ll only be in the country for a few hours; there is no need for a special visa. One brief stop at a border crossing when he enters the US is all he needs. If he can visit millions of homes around the world in one night, that small delay is unlikely to present a problem. 
Customs is a bit trickier as Santa Claus ordinarily would have quite a lot to declare. It seems clear, though, that Santa does not actually physically possess all of the presents to be delivered in his sleigh (obviously that would be impossible!). Instead his sack of toys functions as a kind of teleportation device, allowing him to pull out presents as needed, as depicted in this well-known documentary. That would seem to neatly skirt the problem of filling out the world’s longest customs form.
Though he may be breaking some European labor laws:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Difference Between Humans and Animals, Part XXVIII

Going back to part 1 of this series there is a difference in the way humans and animals learn. But perhaps the biggest difference isn't learning, but teaching:
I know this may come as a surprise, but it does so because we tend to mix up teaching and learning. A young chimpanzee can learn how to smash nuts on a rock by watching an older chimpanzee in action. And when she grows up, her own children can learn by watching her. But in these situations, the students are on their own. They have to watch an action and try to tease apart the underlying rules.
The article goes on to give some possible exceptions, but it's interesting to think I could be the missing link.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Experience Bank

Everything either brings net positive emotions (happy) or negative emotions (sad). They also bring varying amounts of happiness or sadness. For example, the night I got engaged was one of the happiest days of my life. Let's just label that 100 (happiness) points. My recent move on the other hand, has been fairly difficult. Let's label that -25 (sadness) points. Positive experiences add a finite amount to our life satisfaction and negative ones subtract a finite amount from it. The balance of those events are the measure of how we feel about our lives.

Although this seems obvious there are some interesting implications when you start to consider that experiences, like money, can be borrowed. Upcoming events, both and good and bad, have expectations. Those feelings are you taking some of those points out before they are earned. Here are three scenarios:

Neutral: Imagine you have a holiday coming up. The entire week before you imagine all the great experiences you are going to have. When the day arrives, it goes exactly how you thought it would. But when things go exactly like we think, even when they are great, we aren't ecstatic. It's because we consumed a lot of the positive happiness points before the event even happened. We borrowed from future happiness. This Louis C.K. bit describes it perfectly.

Deficit: But like real debt, sometimes we can predict our future earnings incorrectly. Imagine that same holiday is coming up and we have the same expectations. But nothing happens. No one shows up to your get together. No one calls. Nothing. Then you are sad. You're not sad because nothing special happened. Nothing special happens all the time. You're sad because all week you borrowed from the experience bank and your Christmas bonus didn't come.

Surplus: Now imagine a third scenario. The holidays are coming up, but you have no expectations of fun. All week you dread the day because you just know it is going to be miserable. Then suddenly all your friends and family arrive for some amazing holiday fun. You explode with joy. You hadn't consumed any of the experience value until that very moment and now you get to gorge.

So which situation is best?Neutral account? Deficit account? Surplus account? Well clearly the deficit is worst. No one likes to be let down. Except I see a lot of people who live their life like this. They have unrealistic expectations for the future. They live rich in the present, but will suffer in the future. A surplus account also has it's problems. Sure you get the explosion of joy when things turn out great, but in the meantime you are miserable.

That why I personally prefer a neutral account. You get to spread out the joy (or pain) of events over a long period of time. It's not about being optimistic or pessimistic. It's about being right. It's giving the gift people want for Christmas is best, even if you were able to accurately guess what they wanted. And why having a loved one die suddenly is worse than having them die slowly (unless they die too slowly which creates a whole different experience). This is what happened with my recent life transition. The experience itself wasn't that terrible. I had just not expected my life to ever get worse. I had been borrowing from my "imaginary eternal spiral upward, into a bigger and better future".

But here's the kicker. I started this post assuming my preference was the right answer. But I broke one of my own presuppositions that people have wildly different preferences. It turns out some people do like to play the lottery. Conversely, other people fear change so much they would rather be a little more sad in the present than ever be really sad in the future. I expect that there are different discount rates for happiness like there are for money. Perhaps being experientially patient results in more wealth just like being economically patient results in more real wealth. I know I often tend towards preferring the present too much. So feel free to get your hopes up or down, just know there is no so such thing as a free hope.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dreams May Help Calm Us

By exposing us to our bad memories when our brain can better handle them:
During REM sleep, which is the dreaming stage of sleep, the brain stops releasing stress chemicals. Now a new study finds that as we dream we can even soothe our stressful associations to certain experiences. 
Scientists scanned the brains of 35 subjects while they viewed emotionally arousing images. Half of the subjects viewed the images in the morning and again in the evening of the same day. The other half viewed the same images in the evening and then again the next morning after sleeping. 
Those who slept between viewings reported a significant decrease in their emotional reaction to seeing the images the second time. And brain scans corroborated the self-reports, showing a reduction of activity in the amygdala, an area responsible for processing emotions.
So it helps us learn emotionally and intellectually. I wonder if this a reason to argue with your wife before you got to bed or to definitely not argue with your wife before you go to bed.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Avoiding Xmas Deadweight Loss, Part IV

In parts one, two, and three of this series I've discussed how to prevent the efficiency loss of Christmas. I've suggested giving guilty pleasures, giving in your expertise, exchanging names and buying less gifts, and using Amazon's patented auto-return policy. But perhaps the easiest (and most efficient) way is to just get exactly what they asked for:
Five studies show that gift recipients are more appreciative of gifts they explicitly request than those they do not. In contrast, gift givers assume that both solicited and unsolicited gifts will be equally appreciated. At the root of this dilemma is a difference of opinion about what purchasing an unsolicited gift signals: gift givers expect unsolicited gifts will be considered more thoughtful and considerate by their intended recipients than is actually the case (Studies 1–3).
And here's how you ensure this:
In our final two studies, we highlight two boundary conditions for this effect: identifying a specific gift and using money as a gift. When gift recipients request one specific gift, rather than providing a list of possible gifts, givers become more willing to purchase the requested gift (Study 4). 
And then there's always cash:
Further, although givers believe that recipients do not appreciate receiving money as much as receiving a solicited gift, recipients feel the opposite about these two gift options (Study 5).
This is why this year I'll be exchanging names with my siblings and I asked for 1) Greenville event/activity tickets (expertise), 2) Apple gift card (guilty pleasure=cash), and 3) a thin mouthed gray Nalgene bottle (very specific). Though the more I consider the idea that giving is better than receiving, I wonder if doing neither is best.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

OUCH!#$*%&! Makes You Feel Better

My wife and I go back and forth about the acceptability of cursing. Here's one argument for the foul side:
The researchers found that 73% of the participants kept their hands under water longer while swearing, replicating the original finding. On average, the swearers lasted 31 seconds longer in the cold hand plunge.
And here's the most interesting part:
Interestingly, however, the more frequently participants reported swearing during the course of their daily lives, the less effective cursing was at killing their pain and the shorter their endurance time in the cold water test.
Here's why:
It seems that swearing may help relieve pain by activating the brain's endogenous opioids, the natural pain-relieving chemicals whose effects on the brain are similar to pain drugs like morphine and oxycodone. As with opioid drugs, repeated swearing may increase people's tolerance to their effects, and cause them to need higher "doses" of cursing to achieve the same effect. In some sense, people may become addicted to — or at least physically dependent on — cursing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Place and New Phone

If I'm going to talk about the bad, I should give updates on the good. First, I got a new phone:

photo taken by my wife's matching iPhone 4S

For a guy who reads a lot about smart phones, it's taken me a long time to actually dive in. Just looking back at my old phone reminds me of my old car. I'm hoping to keep up with my blog reading and so far it's been helpful. I hope to keep to my previously posted texting rules and I've been trying to limit my use while driving. Though it is unusual to be excited to pull up to stop lights and be excited. Let me know if there are any great uses for smart phones I should know. The other good news is I've moved:

this one was taken by my phone

After struggling for 4 months to find a house, my wife and I have decided to take a break. We'll be taking my old advice and renting for a while. We plan to pick up the hunt next summer. In the meantime we are downtown and close to my work. Now if I could just get a break from school for a couple weeks...

Economics of Speeding MPG

I've done the economics of speeding tickets. Now here's what speeding costs (more than I thought), from a new blog I've been following The Simple Dollar:
if you’re tooling along on the interstate at the speed limit of 65 miles per hour and drop that back to 64 miles per hour, you’re actually improving your gas mileage by about 1.5%, according to fueleconomy.gov.
Here's how it plays out:
In short, driving one mile per hour slower will add six minutes to the trip and save you $1.04 in gas. Your savings simply by driving one mile per hour slower is $10.40 per hour.
I highly recommend the practical advice regularly posted at The Simple Dollar.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Culture of Economics Today

This has been my experience as well:
Economists don’t have to be free-marketers. But that ends up being the canonical model, and then everything else ends up being a departure from the canonical model, which you’ve then got to explain why you’re departing from. It’s not because the canonical model is right, it’s because you ask most economists and they’ll say, “At least we understand how that economy works very, very well. So you want to tell me that we’re going to move away from this one and move to something else, that’s fine, but you have to explain why you’re putting in all of these imperfections.” So it’s not that you can’t write those things down, it’s just that there is less of a standard way of doing it. 
Economists essentially have a sophisticated lack of understanding of economics, especially macroeconomics. I know it sounds ridiculous. But the reason why I tell people they should study economics is not so they’ll know something at the end—because I don’t think we know much—but because we’re good at thinking. Economics teaches you to think things through. What you see a lot of times in economics is disdain for other's lack of thinking. You have to think about the ramifications of policies in the short run, the medium run, and the long run. Economists think they’re good at doing that, but they’re good at doing that in the sense that they can write down a model that will help them think about it—not in terms of empirically knowing what the answers are. And we have gotten so enamored of thinking things through that the fact that we don’t know anything needs to bother us more.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What's Wrong with America

Here's what the other half of the economics blog Marginal Revolution says in his new book published by TED:
Unemployment, fear, and fitful growth tell us the economy is stagnating. The recession, however, is just the tip of iceberg. We have deeper problems. Most importantly, the rate of innovation is down. Patents, which were designed to promote the progress of science and the useful arts, have instead become weapons in a war for competitive advantage with innovation as collateral damage. College, once a foundation for innovation, has been oversold. We have more students in college than ever before, for example, but fewer science majors. Regulations, passed with the best of intentions, have spread like kudzu and now impede progress to everyone's detriment [the worst he seems to claim is limits on immigration]. Launching the Innovation Renaissance [link] is a fast-paced look at how we can accelerate innovation and build a solid 21st-century economy.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Buy Local, Waste Resources, Part II

The Freakonomics blog does what I tried to last year, but so much better than I could have dreamed. First, the thesis:
Forsaking comparative advantage in agriculture by localizing means it will take more inputs to grow a given quantity of food, including more land and more chemicals—all of which come at a cost of carbon emissions.
Now the numbers:
In order to maintain current output levels for 40 major field crops and vegetables, a locavore-like production system would require an additional 60 million acres of cropland, 2.7 million tons more fertilizer, and 50 million pounds more chemicals.
And the issue of transportation:
It’s not even clear local production reduces carbon emissions from transportation. The Harvard economist Ed Glaeser estimates that carbon emissions from transportation don’t decline in a locavore future because local farms reduce population density as potential homes are displaced by community gardens. Less-dense cities mean more driving and more carbon emissions.
And here's what happens to cost:
A local food system would raise the cost of food by constraining the efficient allocation of resources. The monetary costs of increased input demands from forsaken gains from trade and scale economies will directly bear on consumer welfare by increasing the costs of food. And, as we try to tackle obesity, locavorism is likely to raise the cost of precisely the wrong foods. Grains can be grown cheaply across much of the country, but the costs of growing produce outside specific, limited regions increase quickly. Thus, nutrient-dense calories like fruits and vegetables become more expensive, while high fructose corn syrup becomes relatively cheaper. 
Finally, higher costs on certain foods may be a solution to the big health challenge in the developed world. But higher prices on any food are precisely the wrong prescription for the great health problems in the developing world, where millions remain undernourished.
A Freakonomics commenter gives a pretty good response:

Well, if we’re going to think like economists, then lets talk about how we got here. The food distribution network cannot thrive as it does now without the massive public works program called the Interstate Highway system, which subsidizes distant food movement.

Which is why I have called several times for a higher gas tax.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Legalizing Marijuana Leads to Less Traffic Deaths

I've given my argument (in factsstories, and loser drug dealers) for the legalization (and decriminalization) of drugs. Here's another about another of my favorite topics, driving:
To date, 16 states have passed medical marijuana laws, yet very little is known about their effects. Using state-level data, we examine the relationship between medical marijuana laws and a variety of outcomes. Legalization of medical marijuana is associated with increased use of marijuana among adults, but not among minors. In addition, legalization is associated with a nearly 9 percent decrease in traffic fatalities, most likely to due to its impact on alcohol consumption. Our estimates provide strong evidence that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Emptying the Bottle: Early December '11 Links

Here is the best of what I've shared on Twitter recently:
As always, feel free to email me anything interesting you come across.

One More Reason to Get a Real Tree

As I am unable to get a tree this year (can't have a tree without a home), I can be comforted that no tree may be better than a fake tree:
In 1930 the U.S.-based Addis Brush Company created the first artificial Christmas tree made from brush bristles. The company used the same machinery that it used to manufacture toilet brushes. The trees were made from the same animal-hair bristles used in the brushes, save they were dyed green.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Working Around Immigration Restrictions

I've talked a lot about immigration and the reasons why I think we need more (patriotic reasonsmoral reasons, economic reasons, population reasons, employment reasons, and selfish reasons). I've also briefly discussed it's costs. Well here's a new company hoping get to highly educated immigrants around the complicated legal systems and get them working. First here's an example of how it's already happening:
Microsoft's decision to open a new Vancouver office in 2007 as an example. He said the decision to open the facility, which could eventually have as many as 5,000 employees, was motivated by the difficulty of getting visas for foreign workers. 
"They chose Vancouver because they wanted to be relatively close to Seattle," Siskind says. The decision to locate in Vancouver "was a real shame because out of those 5,000 jobs, at least 4,000 were going to be for American workers." Now most of those jobs will go to Canadians, and Microsoft will be able to bring in non-Canadian workers under Canada's less onerous immigration system.
Here's the rules that made that happen:
Immigration law makes it difficult for many would-be immigrants to get permission to work in the United States. For example, there's an annual cap on the number of H1-B visas available for American employers to hire skilled immigrant workers. However, permission to travel to the United States for business or tourism is much easier to get.
Now here's a weirder way around them:
Blueseed plans to provide regular ferry service between the ship to the United States. While Blueseed residents would need to do their actual work—such as writing code—on the ship, Marty envisions them making regular trips to Silicon Valley to meet with clients, investors, and business partners. 
With the ship only 12 miles offshore, it should be practical to make a day trip to the mainland and return in the evening.
It reminds me of the company I posted about 3 year ago, the Seasteading Institute, which wanted to create floating islands of libertarianism. In fact, it even looks like it:


And unlike Seasteading, this actually seems reasonable:
Blueseed estimates that rents will range from $1,200 per month for the smallest rooms to $3,000 for the largest—figures Marty says are comparable to what entrepreneurs would pay for an apartment and office in Silicon Valley.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Difference Between Humans and Animals, Part XXVII

Christmas present edition:
Male nursery web spiders often woo potential lady-friends with gifts wrapped in silk. Mating may ensue, during which a female unspools the present, expecting to find a tasty treat. But the males can be unscrupulous. Some offerings contain inedible plant seeds or empty insect exoskeletons.
But he won't stop skimping until she starts noticing:
Females clearly prefer males bearing edible presents. But some males know they can get limited action without expending the energy on a real gift. And the females laid almost the same amount of eggs fertilized by males bearing real or phony gifts. With both strategies successful, the behavior gets maintained. And the species stays stocked with deadbeat dads.
The difference for humans is we have posters:


But don't worry gentlemen, the ladies of the animal kingdom can be cheaters too:
The Scientific American blog post (based on this paper) makes it sound as if the males are the only ones using deception and dirty tricks. But why do the males silk wrap their gifts? Why not just present the females with food? 
Females presented with food will often grab the food and run, leaving the males doubly hungry. A wrapped package is harder to steal (the males have a better grip on the silk) and as the females slowly unwrap their potentially delicious presents the males copulate.
Sounds kind of like engagement rings.

Maybe There Are Only Two Continents

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Gospel Response in One Experiment

The golden rule makes you feel like gold:
When a person performs an act of kindness the brain produces dopamine, associated with positive thinking. Secondly, the brain has its own natural versions of morphine and heroine: endogenous opioids, such as endorphins. It is believed that when a person does an act of kindness they feel good on a chemical level thanks to the production of these endogenous opioids.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Why Men Have Less Friends

Or why the move to be closer to family has been harder for me than for my wife:
Drawing on decades of research, Thomas Joiner weaves a neglected story about how the manly pursuit of status, power, wealth and autonomy leads to great rewards in work and play but at the expense of loving, caring friendships. This is laid out beautifully in his book to be released this week titled, Lonely at the Top: The High Costs of Men's Success.
Although not complete, this article is the simplest explanation I've heard yet.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Gospel in One Experiment

Prior to reading a scenario in which they were to imagine being mistreated by their classmates, the participants were randomly assigned to one of three perspective-taking conditions: (a) recall times when they mistreated or hurt others in the past; (b) imagine how the victimized classmate would think, feel, and behave in the scenario; or (c) imagine the situation as the personal victim. Participants then read the scenario, which was followed by an elaborate apology from the classmate. Results from both cultures indicated that, compared with the participants in the control condition, the participants in the recall-self-as-wrongdoer condition were significantly more likely to accept the apology from the classmate and forgive the transgression.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Worthwhile Sentences on Growing

From Muhammed Ali: "The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life."

From neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert: "So once you don't need to move, you don't need the luxury of a brain."

From Jonathan Swift: "A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying... that he is wiser today than yesterday."

From Lindsey Jones: "The things most worth doing are so hard most people will quit before they get them done."

From economist Bryan Caplan: "Our ability to change others is overestimated. Our ability to change ourselves in underestimated."

Global Skin Color

Here's the source of the map below and the explanation why it represents the the skin color of the indigenous people:
The twin role played by the skin – protection from excessive UV radiation and absorption of enough sunlight to trigger the production of vitamin D – means that people living in the lower latitudes, close to the Equator, with intense UV radiation, have developed darker skin to protect them from the damaging effects of UV radiation. In contrast, those living in the higher latitudes, closer to the Poles, have developed fair skin to maximize vitamin D production.


And it doesn't take that long for decedents' skin color to change:
for many families on the planet, if we look back only 100 or 200 generations (that's as few as 2,500 years), "almost all of us were in a different place and we had a different color."
If my more racist ancestors could see me now.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lack of Memory and Happiness Leads to a Lack of Saving

Apparently my bad memory doesn't just hurt me when memorizing a phone number, it also hurts my impulsiveness:
Research has also shown that having a good short-term (or “working”) memory is associated with being able to project yourself into the future and plan for it, which is a prerequisite of saving. That’s partly because achieving a goal requires keeping it in mind.
And my recent transition woes aren't helping either:
He also finds that a squirt of the hormone oxytocin—known as the “love hormone” because of the role it plays in pair bonding and maternal behavior—makes people more patient: when people with a shot of the hormone are offered $10 now or $12 later, they are willing to wait 43 percent longer for that “later” to arrive (14 days rather than 10, for instance). “This tells us that people who are happier and have greater social support save more,”

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Costs and Benefits of Chunking

Chunking has nothing to do those several huge Thanksgiving dinners I have each year. Here's what it is:
This mental process is known as “chunking” and it’s a crucial element of human cognition. As de Groot demonstrated, chess grandmasters automatically chunk the board into a set of known patterns, which allow them to instantly sort through the messy details of the game. And chunking isn’t just for chess experts: While reading this sentence, your brain is effortlessly chunking the letters, grouping the symbols into lumps of meaning. As a result, you don’t have to sound out each syllable, or analyze the phonetics; your literate brain is able to skip that stage of perception. This is what expertise is: the ability to rely on learned patterns to compensate for the inherent limitations of information processing in the brain. As George Miller famously observed, we can only consciously make sense of about seven bits of information (plus or minus two) at any given moment. Chunking allows us to escape this cognitive trap.
But there are draw backs to creating patterns (dare I say stories) to understand information:
Now for the bad news: Expertise might also come with a dark side, as all those learned patterns make it harder for us to integrate wholly new knowledge. 
[...] 
The problem with our cognitive chunks is that they’re fully formed – an inflexible pattern we impose on the world – which means they tend to be resistant to sudden changes, such as a street detour in central London. They also are a practiced habit, and so we tend to rely on them even when they might not be applicable. (A chess grandmaster has to be careful about applying his chess chunks to checkers.)
And here's how this applies to everything from improv, to our personal narratives, and even to politics:
So if you’re an expert, be proud: You’ve learned to perceive the world in a useful way. Your training has changed the structure of your brain. But don’t forget to think about your blind spots, about all those new patterns that you must struggle to see.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Night Owls are Smarter

Here's the proof. Though I have to be up in 6 1/2 hours and don't feel to smart right now.

Maybe I'll just take a nap.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Difference Between Humans and Animals, Part XXVI

A similar lesson emerges from a classic experiment conducted by Franz de Waals and Sarah Brosnan. The primatologists trained brown capuchin monkeys to give them pebbles in exchange for cucumbers. Almost overnight, a capuchin economy developed, with hungry monkeys harvesting small stones. But the marketplace was disrupted when the scientists got mischievous: instead of giving every monkey a cucumber in exchange for pebbles, they started giving some monkeys a tasty grape instead. (Monkeys prefer grapes to cucumbers.) After witnessing this injustice, the monkeys earning cucumbers went on strike. Some started throwing their cucumbers at the scientists; the vast majority just stopped collecting pebbles. The capuchin economy ground to a halt. The monkeys were willing to forfeit cheap food simply to register their anger at the arbitrary pay scale. 
This labor unrest among monkeys illuminates our innate sense of fairness. It’s not that the primates demanded equality — some capuchins collected many more pebbles than others, and that never created a problem — it’s that they couldn’t stand when the inequality was a result of injustice. Humans act the same way. When the rich do something to deserve their riches, nobody complains; that’s just the meritocracy at work. But when those at the bottom don’t understand the unequal distribution of wealth — when it seems as if the winners are getting rewarded for no reason — they get furious. They doubt the integrity of the system and become more sensitive to perceived inequities. They start camping out in parks. They reject the very premise of the game.
The monkey's just haven't figured out peaceful protest yet.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Life's Not a Story, It's a Mess

This June I got a little more personal than I usually do online. The post Blogging is Hard in the Real World was my attempt to explain why the blog had been quieter than normal. I wanted to be honest about my stress over moving from NC to SC as it was happening, instead of being retrospectively vulnerable. It's easy to talk about the problems I used to have. It was much harder to discuss the problems I was having.

It's now five months later and I my optimism about the future is waning. My fears about moving have not subsided. My new school, like any new school, has required a lot of extra effort. The months long house search has only reinvigorated my dislike of home owning. It's also difficult to connect to a new city when you have no home to invite others to. Finding a church has been a struggle. Though shows with Alchemy have been great, I miss the opportunities to teach and perform that I used to have.

Only recently have I discovered why this transition has been so hard for me: stories. Even before I knew I was moving, I posted on the power and problem of stories. I discussed how stories are like food for our emotionally hungry brain. Although they can be useful for summing up a large amount of information, because they don't contain all the facts, they can also be used for deception. The reason this rocky transition has been so hard for me is because of the stories I had been telling myself.

The narrative I've told myself and others about my life has always been one of progress. When I was kid life was fine. When I was a teenager with new found freedom life was good. When I went to college and really discovered who I was life was great. When I got married and started teaching school and improv my life was awesome! Then suddenly my life hit a wall. This new life situation didn't match the story I had been telling myself. Suddenly I faced a harsh reality that the story wasn't true.

Some people's lives don't get better. Some people's lives get worse. Some people's lives were never that good to start with. Although this is a sad realization, it's a powerful one. It frees me from being blindly optimistic, a bias I seemed to share with many people. In fact, the most common response I got from well-meaning friends and family (especially Christians) was that this life transition was all happening for a reason. That I would eventually realize the choice to move was the best. That it would all work out. But in reality, it might not.

It's very likely that years from now I'll look back and think "well that time sucked, sure I've moved on, but that time sure did suck". And here's the kicker, that's okay. Though I'm not there yet, I think I can get to a place where I'm alright will the mess. It takes a strong will of mind to accept a plotless (note I didn't say meaningless) life. I can make mistakes. My life can get worse. All I can do is the best I can with the information and people I have.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Emptying the Bottle: Late-November '11 Links

Here is the best of what I've shared on Twitter recently:
As always, feel free to email me anything interesting you come across.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Training My Emotional Brain

My birthday wish last year was for more empathy. One of the comments I got was question of how I intended to accomplish that goal. I think the best way to do that is to stop spending so much time training my logical brain and more time on my emotional brain. So here are my plans:

1) Attend a less doctrine, more emotion focused church. One of the biggest commitments I made when moved was to find a more relational church. That's why me and lady started attending Radius Greenville. I appreciate the loose structure and the lack of Presbyterian in their order. It will take a lot of effort, but I think it's worth it.

2) Read more fiction. 90% of what I read is online and 99% of that is non-fiction. If I want to access the power of emotion I need to access the power of the story. And just to be sure you know I'm still me, I want to read more fiction to improve my empathy because it's supported by the research.

3) Listen to more music. This is part decision part lack of good NPR in Greenville. Either way I see music as way to access a part of my brain I normally don't.

If you can think of other suggestions or reading/listening recommendations send them my way.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Politics Without a Leading Political Party

As usual David Brooks from the New York Times articulates perfectly what is going on:
In 1951, Samuel Lubell invented the concept of the political solar system. At any moment, he wrote, there is a Sun Party (the majority party, which drives the agenda) and a Moon Party (the minority party, which shines by reflecting the solar rays).
In 2004 it looked like one of the parties were about to take control:
But something strange happened. No party took the lead. According to data today, both parties have become minority parties simultaneously. We are living in the era of two moons and no sun.
Here's why this is bad:
In policy terms, the era of the two moons is an era of stagnation. Each party is too weak to push its own agenda and too encased by its own cocoon to agree to a hybrid.
Like I said after watching a Tyler Cowen Q & A last year:
In the past I've specifically voted for divided government. Historically this has been the best way to limit the growth of bad government. However, now that our country is on an unsustainable growth in spending, gridlock will bankrupt us.
I must admit, my political concern about the European/American debt crisis has increased. I told my US History students recently that the current debt issue is a lot like the slavery issue during the mid 1800's. It is so lose-lose that no politician will touch it. Which meant from Andrew Jackson to Abraham Lincoln we have almost no meaningful presidents who would be willing to deal with issue issue appropriately.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Five Things Learned at BJU's Comedy of Errors

One of the connections I've made in Greenville through Alchemy was able to get me some free tickets to a Bob Jones production of The Comedy of Errors (click on either link if you don't know what Bob Jones or Comedy of Errors are). Here are five specific things I didn't know before:

1) The plot of the movie the Parent Trap is Shakespearean.
2) Without introduction, the entire crowd sings the national anthem before each play.
3) A glowing wand directing traffic will mostly just wave you in the direction you were already heading, even it's it right out the entrance.
4) I can't understand what is being said in the first half of a Shakespeare play, but by intermission it's like I've learned a new language.
5) BJU students treat plays like prom, but prom from the 1950's. Dates meet each other at the theater (because I assume they can't go to each others' dorm), each wears their best old fashioned formal dress and the men bring flowers and chocolates.

Despite it's idiosyncrasies it was a much needed and enjoyable date night for me and the lady.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Emptying the Bottle: Mid-November '11 Links

Google recently canceled their sharing format, so I've switched to posting them on Twitter. So as usual, here is a list of the worthwhile links I've found recently:
As always, feel free to email me anything interesting you come across.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Late Andy Rooney on Veterans

As a 60 Minutes fan, I didn't care much for Andy Rooney's everyday complaint journalism. But I did come across this Andy Rooney column from 2004, and I think there is some substance to it:
Most of the reporting from Iraq is about death and destruction. We don't learn much about what our soldiers in Iraq are thinking or doing. There's no Ernie Pyle to tell us, and, if there were, the military would make it difficult or impossible for him to let us know. It would be interesting to have a reporter ask a group of our soldiers in Iraq to answer five questions and see the results:  
1. Do you think your country did the right thing sending you into Iraq?
2. Are you doing what America set out to do to make Iraq a democracy, or have we failed so badly that we should pack up and get out before more of you are killed?
3. Do the orders you get handed down from one headquarters to another, all far removed from the fighting, seem sensible, or do you think our highest command is out of touch with the reality of your situation?
4. If you could have a medal or a trip home, which would you take?
5. Are you encouraged by all the talk back home about how brave you are and how everyone supports you? 
Treating soldiers fighting their war as brave heroes is an old civilian trick designed to keep the soldiers at it. But you can be sure our soldiers in Iraq are not all brave heroes gladly risking their lives for us sitting comfortably back here at home.  
Our soldiers in Iraq are people, young men and women, and they behave like people - sometimes good and sometimes bad, sometimes brave, sometimes fearful. It's disingenuous of the rest of us to encourage them to fight this war by idolizing them.  
We pin medals on their chests to keep them going. We speak of them as if they volunteered to risk their lives to save ours, but there isn't much voluntary about what most of them have done. A relatively small number are professional soldiers. During the last few years, when millions of jobs disappeared, many young people, desperate for some income, enlisted in the Army. About 40 percent of our soldiers in Iraq enlisted in the National Guard or the Army Reserve to pick up some extra money and never thought they'd be called on to fight. They want to come home.  
One indication that not all soldiers in Iraq are happy warriors is the report recently released by the Army showing that 23 of them committed suicide there last year. This is a dismaying figure. If 22 young men and one woman killed themselves because they couldn't take it, think how many more are desperately unhappy but unwilling to die.  
We must support our soldiers in Iraq because it's our fault they're risking their lives there. However, we should not bestow the mantle of heroism on all of them for simply being where we sent them. Most are victims, not heroes.  
America's intentions are honorable. I believe that, and we must find a way of making the rest of the world believe it. We want to do the right thing. We care about the rest of the world. President Bush's intentions were honorable when he took us into Iraq. They were not well thought out but honorable.
Here's me on the topic last year.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Enterprise Car Rental, A Personal Story

It takes a lot to convince me that business is the problem, but it happens. It happened again.

In September I got rear ended on the highway. The road was slick, the car in front of me slammed on their breaks and I did the same. The poor fellow behind me didn't stand much of a chance. He hit me so hard I slid into the car in front of me. Thankfully no one was hurt, everyone was polite, and the officer didn't fine me for a expired licence plate (how do you get a new tag when you don't technically don't have a home address?).

Then came the aftermath. My car was badly damaged but somehow still driveable. I was notified by the other driver's insurance company that I would have to take the car to them to get the damage estimated and to get a car rental voucher. Soon I'd dropped my car off at the body shop and was picked up at Enterpise Rent-A-Car. Here's what they gave me:


If there was ever hope for American car dealers, this vehicle killed it. It's a Chevrolet HHR. Luckily they also left me with a fourth-a-tank of gas. After a week I got a call from Enterprise saying that my last day with the car will be coming up and that I will need to return it. I then called the body shop who informed me that it would be several weeks before they would be done. I informed Enterprise that the voucher should be good for as long as my car was in the shop. They told me I have to contact the insurance company.

Every week I would have to do this dance. Enterprise calls me. I call the body shop. Body shop confirms the time frame they originally gave me. I'd call the other driver's insurance company. They'd call Enterprise. And each week I got gas I couldn't fill up because I was never sure when I would need to return the car to it's original 1/4 tank. After a few weeks I insisted Enterprise just call the insurance company and stopped answering their calls. They continued to call.

After a $37 charge popped up on my card, for what I haven't figured out yet, I called, assured them the voucher was still good and asked them to remove the fee. Which they did after two more reminders. Last week, to top off the great service I'd received, my American-made-PT Cruiser-wanna be broke down. I called the Enterprise office who then told me to call their roadside assistance. After over an hour of waiting they sent someone to jump the battery. It didn't work.

The mechanic leaves and tells me to call Enterprise again. They tell me to wait there for another hour for a tow truck. I tell them the keys will be in the seat and get my brother-in-law to drive me to dinner and a basketball game, then to the Enterprise office to get another car. On the way I call them to confirm I'm coming and they tell me my car has not been towed yet (which I know it has) and can't give me a car.

I show up anyways and explain to them that I have no vehicle because the one they gave me broke down and was towed. I beg them to call the roadside assistance. They do. After 20 minutes on hold they find someone who can confirm my other car has been towed. After giving me a minivan (nicer than my old one granted) then informed me that I should return the car tomorrow to their Wade Hampton branch and that my car will be fixed.

Apparently Wade Hampton is a really long road. Apparently Wade Hampton has an east and west side where the numbers change. Apparently an hour and a half is not long enough to allocate to get somewhere that closes when you apparently don't know where you're going. So I dropped the car off at the body shop, and said good riddance to bad rentals.

Enterprise, they'll pick you up, then let you down.

Friday, November 04, 2011

How to Spot a Liar

After watching the most recent episode of TV's best (only?) reality show Survivor, I remembered maybe the most practical TED Talk yet:

   

My takeaway: liars overcompensate the obvious (eye contact, fidgeting, details), but fail to avoid the subtle (body language, chronology, emotion).

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Hyper Halloween?

Good news from The Incidental Economist:
Let’s cut to the chase: sugar doesn’t make kids hyper. There have been at least twelve trials of various diets investigating different levels of sugar in children’s diets. That’s more studies than are often done on drugs. None of them detected any differences in behavior between children who had eaten sugar and those who hadn’t. These studies included sugar from candy, chocolate, and natural sources. Some of them were short-term, and some of them were long term. Some of them focused on children with ADHD. Some of them even included only children who were considered “sensitive” to sugar. In all of them, children did not behave differently after eating something full of sugar or something sugar-free. 
Personally, I think there are so many studies on this issue because after each was completed, the results were met with such skepticism that researchers felt the need to do another. This myth, perhaps more than any other, is met with disbelief when we discuss it, especially among parents. 
In my favorite of these studies, children were divided into two groups. All of them were given a sugar-free beverage to drink. But half the parents were told that their child had just had a drink with sugar. Then, all of the parents were told to grade their children’s behavior. Not surprisingly, the parents of children who thought their children had drunk a ton of sugar rated their children as significantly more hyperactive. This myth is entirely in parents’ heads. We see it because we believe it.
Then why does the myth continue?
Even when science shows time and again that it’s not so, we continue to persist in believing that sugar causes our kids to be hyperactive. That’s likely because there’s an association. Times when kids get a lot of sugar are often times when they are predisposed to be a little excited. Halloween. Birthday parties. Holidays. We may even be causing the problem ourselves. Some parents are so restrictive about sugar and candy that when their kids finally get it they’re quite excited. Even hyper.
HT to Marginal Revolution

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Are Men Funnier Than Women?

Nope:
Scientists had 16 male and 16 female subjects write funny captions for 20 New Yorker magazine cartoons in 45 minutes. Then the captions were rated by a different group of 34 male and 47 female subjects. Men’s captions rated higher on average than women’s captions. But only by a mere 0.11 points out of perfect score of 5.0.
Unless you count this:
Maybe men just make more attempts at humor. For example, fewer women win the New Yorker caption contests, but fewer enter. When women do enter, however, they tend to win with fewer attempts compared to men.
Did I mention I teach comedy classes? Men and women accepted of course.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Worthwhle Sentences on Complexity

From F.A. Hayk: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design”

From Hugh Hollowell: "rules are what we use when we don’t want to take the time to discover the specifics of the given situation."

From Shadi Hamid: "The true test of being anti-torture is opposing it even when it works"

From Jonah Lehrer: "We are affiliation machines, editing the world to confirm our partisan ideologies."

From Conan O'Brien: “There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Emptying the Bottle: Mid-October '11 Links

Here is a list of the worthwhile links I've Bookmarked recently:
As always, feel free to email me anything interesting you come across.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Frank Deford on the Economics of Minor College Sports

Even though I'm not the biggest sports fan, I must confess I've been listening to sport commentary. But before you get surprised, it's from NPR. For the past few months Frank Deford has been enlightening me to the drama that is organized sports. This week is no exception. Listen here as he takes on the complicated relationship of college academics and college sports.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Multiple Choice Question Paradox

From The American Pageant textbook:


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Early American Accent

I came across an interesting article recently about the difference between American and British accents. For two groups who used to be one, we now have very distinct speech patterns. It seems almost common sense that early Americans must have sounded like modern Brits and eventually lost the accent when we lost the king. But, think again:
What’s surprising, though, is that those accents were much closer to today’s American accents than to today’s British accents. While both have changed over time, it’s actually British accents that have changed much more drastically since then.
It's fascinating how I somehow put the British flag with the British accent. When we lost one I'd just assumed we lost the other. But why shouldn't the opposite be true? Hat tip to Lindsay Thompson.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

World Trade Center Tribute

Couldn't think of a better way to say goodbye:


And here they are 9/11/01.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Heading to the Boston Improv Festival

Speaking of the improv news feed, here's the most recent Alchemy Improv Comedy post:
Before Alchemy Improv Comedy gets fully underway, Harrison is off to the Boston Improv Festival to perform and teach. He’ll be playing with Paula Pazderka, Artistic Director of the Dirty South Improv Theater. Together they form the improv duo Pound for Pound. They’ll be performing Saturday September 10th at 10:00 PM At the ImprovBoston Main Theater
Harrison will also be teaching an afternoon workshop on Sunday entitled The Invisible Hand of the Scene. Here's the teaser:
Introduction to improvisation reveals that scenes will naturally gravitate towards comedy. However, in more advanced classes you find out that for scenes to consistently successful you have to be the engine for that scene. Like basic economics, there is an invisible hand of the scene, but the reason the hand is so effective is because of industrious scene entrepreneurs. Understanding how to play and initiate both premeditated and truly inspired scenes will make you, your scene partners, and of course your audiences very happy. With exercises like “game (of the scene) theory” and “slow growth model”, you’ll be able to see how the machine we call a scene work. We’ve all been funny by accident. Now it’s time to find out how to innovate funny on purpose.
If you’ll be in Boston or know anyone who will be, let them know that Southern comedy will be there in full force!
Yes that's right, I'll be flying on the 10th anniversary of September 11th. I told you I wasn't scared.

Introducing Alchemy Improv Comedy

Now that I'm settling back in Greenville, my plans to create an improv company here are falling in place. Along with three of my good friends and great improvisers, we'll be doing a weekly show downtown every Friday night. You can catch all the details at our website. And if you'd like to stay up date with our news, subscribe to the feed. Shows begin September 23rd!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Emptying the Bottle: Early-September '11 Links

Here is a list of the worthwhile links I've Bookmarked recently:
As always, feel free to email me anything interesting you come across.