Monday, November 27, 2006

The Paradox of Choice

I randomly picked The Paradox of Choice out of Catherine's bookshelf (during an awesome Thanksgiving weekend that also featured a hike in the Blue Hills, a hike up Mount Liberty, the very awesome Stranger than Fiction, the surprisingly dark The Prestige, the tasty BV Rutherford and Roederer, and pumpkin curry soup). I had read some articles about the book, but unlike so many of these sorts of books (e.g. The Wisdom of Crowds), it actually had many more ideas to convey than I had seen in the reviews and excerpts. It was really a whirlwind tour of a bunch of interesting psychology results: things like how people remember the peak and end of experiences, how quickly people adapt to changes to their lives, how the enjoyment of something is reduced by the sum of the opportunity costs of other options considered, how the nature and number of options can increase or decrease the tendency to make a decision at all, how marginal enjoyment diminishes and is less than marginal displeasure, how framing matters, how we're averse to losses and risk, how we refuse to part with whatever we already have. Some of these were ideas I'd encountered before, but it was interesting to see them all in one place. It's hard to say how easy it is to change myself in response to the book, though. There are some decisions I just get unreasonably compulsive about.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Can someone PLEASE explain the ambiguously gay British concert hooligans?

I've been to, like, five concerts this year, and at two of them (Starsailor last month, and the kickass Radiohead-esquely dissonant Modest Mouse concert last night) there were a pair of intoxicated and muscular young British men with several orders of magnitude too much enthusiasm. In both cases, they threw their arms around, groped each other, and pushed each other into the crowd every five seconds. The problem, as you can imagine, is that in a crowded concert venue, bulky Brits blindly falling in every direction are incredibly distracting and scary. Where's security when you need them? This time, they nearly picked a fight with some people before wandering to another part of the venue. Thank goodness.

But the question is - what's up with this weird trend? (Sarah said the same thing happened to her at another concert, and everybody knows three examples make a trend.) Is this standard concert behavior in England? Are gay men in England so repressed they take it out on American concertgoers? Is this some sort of death-by-a-thousand-cuts terrorist plot? Someone please clue me in.

Update: Dolapo says the same thing happened at the Goldfrapp concert, but he's too lazy to post. Also, I forgot to clarify that the thugs at the first concert were not the same as the thugs at the second.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bill Clinton rocks

Have you ever read one of those books that sort of seems to contain all of life in it? Bill Clinton's speech to the Slate 60 philanthropy conference is sort of like that. Deep thinking, interesting facts and figures, eloquence, gravity, emotion—everything our current president lacks. One of my favorite parts is where he compares the Kyoto Protocol to jobs or marriages, pointing out that if the requirement for uniting with others were perfection, we wouldn't join anything. I can't find a transcript online - but this is absolutely worth dropping onto your iPod and going for a long walk.

In general, the Slate podcasts are great.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

I don't know why population density keeps coming up

but first there was this fun map of population density from Time (which is much more information dense than the poorly-presented religion graphs, which in turn sent me wondering about how this could be better presented (probably a bar chart would be fine, although sieve diagrams also look interesting?)), and then we were talking about the number of users Notebook has from Japan, which led to the discovery that Japan had 1/3rd the population of the US in what is clearly much less the area. Everyone looked at me like I was a moron at work, I guess I was the last to know. Anyway, I made this little table (Wikipedia has bigger lists.)

population  area (km^2)density (per km^2)
japan127 million374,000340
us300 million9 million31
tokyo12 million2,0005,796 (13,000 in the "special wards")
new york 8 million78510,000

All of which is to say that I really want to go to Tokyo sometime and see all this density in action (although Wikipedia claims New York's densest area (Manhattan, duh) has 25,000 people per km^2, exceeding Nakano's 20,000). I'm pretty content with my small patch of land in New York (less to clean!), but I'm not sure I'd be happy with something too much smaller.

Speaking of cities, I'm enjoying paging through The Works in random moments. Thanks, peopleatworkwhorecommendedit!