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Interesting Posts from 2010

22 december, 2010
They're Not Like You

Want to understand how Americans can regularly elect morons to public office?

"If there are 310 million people in the country, then about 100 million aren't smart enough to enlist in the Army."

Steve Sailer

17 december, 2010
Efficiency Results in Increased Consumption II

"we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that swapping our current car for a Prius, or replacing our incandescent lights with energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, will strike a meaningful blow against climate change"

Bjørn Lomborg

16 december, 2010
The Danger of Interruption

"You probably only have to interrupt someone a couple times a day before they're unable to work on hard problems at all."

I have two kittens. They interrupt me a couple of times a minute.
Paul Graham

8 november, 2010
Mick on the Stones

Mick Jagger accidentally sent his real thoughts to a journalist. It's brutal reading -- not at all like a typical interview.

"It is said of me that I act above the rest of the band and prefer the company of society swells. Would you rather have had a conversation with Warren Beatty, Andy Warhol, and Ahmet Ertegun... or Keith, his drug mule Tony, and the other surly nonverbal members of his merry junkie entourage? Keith actually seems not to understand why I would want my dressing room as far away as possible from that of someone who travels with a loaded gun."

Source: Slate.com

24 october, 2010
Harder is Better

I studied Russian in high school and college. I remembering struggling to read one of Chekhov's plays, and how beautiful it was when I finally got through it.

I thought, at the time, that the fact that I had to fight to understand deepened my appreciation. I thought that it would be a good idea to print books in light yellow text.

Science has now validated my idea:

"Students given the harder-to-read materials scored higher in their classroom assessments than those in the control group. This was the case across a range of subjects -- from English, to Physics to History."

Source: BBC.co.uk

20 october, 2010

"People are responsible not only for their actions, but for the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their actions."

Source: FrumForum.com

11 october, 2010
A Handsaw and a Syringe

How the movie Barfly got made:

"He has been trying to make this movie for seven years," Bukowski said.

"A few months ago, it looked like Cannon was about to cancel it. Barbet goes into the office of Menahem Golan, the president of Cannon, with an electric handsaw. He pulls out a syringe of Novocain and shoots it into his little finger. He says he will cut off his finger if Menahem doesn't make the movie, and that he will continue to cut off parts of his body and send them to Menahem until he agrees to make the movie. Menahem tells him to go to hell. Barbet plugs in the handsaw." 

Source: RogerEbert.SunTimes.com

24 september, 2010
The Test as a Tool

"What they didn't appreciate, however, was the virtue of testing as a learning strategy in its own right. Students who studied the word pairs one time through and then took a quiz on them were better able, later on, to remember the pairs than students who simply studied them twice. But the students in the first group thought they performed worse than they would have had they been able to study the words again."

It's obvious once you think about it, but it's quite a paradigm shift.

Source: Miller-McCune.com

22 september, 2010
Matching a Competitor's Lower Prices

James Surowiecki: "Consumers view these guarantees as conducive to lower prices. But in fact offering a price-matching guarantee should make it less likely that competitors will slash prices, since they know that any cuts they make will immediately be matched."


20 september, 2010
These brains were made for thinking

While I was driving a long distance on a country road last week, I started analyzing the behavior of other drivers. They were mostly really annoying. The road is mostly too narrow for passing, so there's a lot of waiting for slower drivers and cursing faster drivers.

It's not news: some people drive too fast and take crazy chances, and some people drive too slow and make everyone else nuts.

It reminds me of a joke: the definition of a crazy person? Someone who drives faster than you do. The definition of an idiot? Someone who drives slower.

So I started thinking about how each driver has a system of ideas that explain/justify his behavior:

- I have the right to drive slowly because I respect the rule of law.
- I have the right to drive fast because speed limits are just indications, meant for trucks in the rain.
- I have the right to do whatever I want because everybody else is doing whatever they want.

And so on.

Then I realized (and this is just the interim realization) that the reason driving is so annoying is that every driver has his own system, and they don't work well together.

We have a set of laws governing driving and traffic, but they need a lot of interpretation. We all interpret them differently.

If we could come up with some sort of consistent driving etiquette, we could all relax.

Then (I had a lot of time on my hands) I thought: "you're overthinking this."

And I had the (final) realization: our brains are made for finding order in chaos. Driving is inherently chaotic, and since you have free time to think, you automatically start trying to understand what the rules of the situation are, how the whole thing works.

There are no rules, there is no way that it works. Other people drive erratically, and there's nothing you can do to understand or make sense of it.

And life is like that a lot. We have too much free time and we (at least some of us) get really invested in understanding the various systems. We detest chaos.

But chaos it is, and we're -- often, but not always -- wasting our time trying to find the order in it.

Related: the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy