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Tag Archives: psychology

  • Why did we wait so long for the bicycle?
    Interesting discussion of some factors that may have delayed the invention of a bicycle

    Horses were a common and accepted mode of transportation at the time. They could deal with all kinds of roads. They could carry heavy loads. Who then needs a bicycle? In this connection, it has been claimed that the bicycle was invented in response to food shortages due to the “Year without a Summer”, an 1816 weather event caused by the volcanic explosion of Mt. Tambora the year earlier, which darkened skies and lowered temperatures in many parts of the world. The agricultural crisis caused horses as well as people to starve, which led to some horses being slaughtered for food, and made the remaining ones more expensive to feed. This could have motivated the search for alternatives.

  • How a Single Pair of Sneakers Explains the Booming Billion-Dollar Sneaker Resale Industry
    I used to go to sports card stores and look at their displays of valuable cards to see what I couldn’t afford and what my collection could potentially be worth. I guess the new generation looks at sneakers instead.

    The inspection merely starts with the smell test. Zac rotates the shoebox and inspects it for the smallest details. If the shoes are tightly crammed in the box, they’re likely fake; if Nike’s trademark orange is lighter than usual, they’re likely fake; if the zeroes listing out the shoe’s code look wonky, they’re likely fake; if the wrong text in the shoe’s description is bolded, they’re likely fake; if the wrapping paper inside the box rips too easily, they’re likely fake. From there, Zac goes further down the rabbit hole, to the shoes themselves, which take inspiration from the classic Air Jordan 3: the craggy “Elephant”-printed pattern should actually cut into the grey leather, the perforations on the white toebox should all line up to form a series of increasingly smaller “U” shapes, the eyelets should be spaced evenly. Zac has touched so many shoes he knows what the leather should feel like, and while the tongue on this Dunk is yellowing, it’s a natural yellow, not “like a piss-yellow,” he says, which would suggest fraud.

  • Why Are There Palm Trees in Los Angeles?
    I’m sure you identify LA with palm trees just like I do, but they are not native to the state! It was a conscious move to line the LA streets with them, and there’s a lot more interesting stuff about palm tree in general.

    One way is that they’re outrageously easy to move around: they don’t have elaborate root systems like oak trees, but instead a dense yet small root ball. This can be pretty easily dug up and transported, then planted, and palms are not particular about where they are, as long as they have sun and water. To make things easier for developers, palms, being more like grasses than trees, don’t demonstrate all that much difference between individuals; one Mexican fan palm is pretty much like the next. And if you’re a developer, consistency and ease of transportation is a fantastic combination: you can line the streets with them, or plant one on each side of an entrance!

  • Ninja-Proof Seats
    Psychology Today has a lot of interesting articles that explain new concepts or classifications. The only problem is that each really only require a paragraph so the remainder of the article or issue is fluff or ads. This article introduces the concept of prospect and refuge when it comes to picking a seat.

    The term “ninja-proof seat” may be used primarily by those fluent in Python and JavaScript, but you will find people who are adamant about their need for one in any office you go to. This is because they provide what geographer Jay Appleton called refuge and prospect.

  • 9 questions about the Hong Kong protests you were too embarrassed to ask
    A couple of insights about the background of the current HK protests

    It’s also important to note that a key date is coming up: October 1, 2019, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It’s a bad look to crush a popular movement if you’re trying to celebrate the greatness of your country.

    On the other hand, it doesn’t look good to have an entire city spending weeks leading up to your anniversary challenging your authority and risking their safety for democracy. Some analysts and protesters think China might want to go ahead and intervene before the October 1 date; others think China may show restraint as the world watches.


I haven’t been blogging much but I’ve been reading many more articles lately online. Here’s what I’ve been queueing up on Instapaper (a mixture of some older articles and some newer ones):

  • What I Lost In Libya
    One reporters account of what happened when he and several other reporters were captured during the Arab Spring
  • The Turnaround Men
    The story of a con men and how he milked a number of investors (a la Madoff) in order to support his lifestyle and “companies”. Although Tom Petters is not a household name, some of his companies are known such as Redtag.com.
  • Steve Jobs and the Portal to the Invisible
    This article has been making headlines again recently, with its claim to fame being that it talked about Jobs’ forthcoming death in 2008. I haven’t read (and don’t plan to read) the his recent biography from Isaacson, but I found this article to be interesting and well written, revealing some insights into the motivations and personality of Jobs. It’s certainly a much shorter read and well written to boot.
  • Trust Issues
    This article talks about compound interest and a hobby amongst rich people in the 19th century to donate their fortune to a perpetual trust lasting centuries.

    Beginning in 1936, he sluiced $2.8 million into a series of five-hundred- and thousand-year trusts—just one of which, allocated to the Unitarian Church, would be worth $2.5 quadrillion upon its maturation in the twenty-fifth century. A thousand-year fund dedicated to the state of Pennsylvania would yield $424 trillion; the money was to be applied to abolishing the state’s taxes. Holden didn’t even live in Pennsylvania—he’d picked the state as an homage to Franklin.

  • What You Don’t Know Can Kill You
    This is an interesting article from Discover Magazine which discusses how humans are not very good at estimating risk; generally over-estimating risks that they can visualize.

    But it is heuristics—the subtle mental strategies that often give rise to such biases—that do much of the heavy lifting in risk perception. The “availability” heuristic says that the easier a scenario is to conjure, the more common it must be. It is easy to imagine a tornado ripping through a house; that is a scene we see every spring on the news, and all the time on reality TV and in movies. Now try imagining someone dying of heart disease. You probably cannot conjure many breaking-news images for that one, and the drawn-out process of athero­sclerosis will most likely never be the subject of a summer thriller. The effect? Twisters feel like an immediate threat, although we have only a 1-in-46,000 chance of being killed by a cataclysmic storm. Even a terrible tornado season like the one last spring typically yields fewer than 500 tornado fatalities. Heart disease, on the other hand, which eventually kills 1 in every 6 people in this country, and 800,000 annually, hardly even rates with our gut.


This article on the Social Animal from the New Yorker is the best article I’ve read in a while. It’s packed with interesting tidbits from research results.

On a mother’s attention to their babies:

Researchers at the University of Minnesota can look at attachment patterns of children at forty-two months, and predict with seventy-seven-per-cent accuracy who will graduate from high school. People who were securely attached as infants tend to have more friends at school and at summer camp. They tend to be more truthful through life, feeling less need to puff themselves up in others’ eyes.

On how we develop social intuition:

Scientists used to think that we understand each other by observing each other and building hypotheses from the accumulated data. Now it seems more likely that we are, essentially, method actors who understand others by simulating the responses we see in them.

A simple idea to improve education:

We’ve spent a generation trying to reorganize schools to make them better, but the truth is that people learn from the people they love.

On being a nerd a know-it-all:

Managers in the advertising industry gave answers that they were ninety-per-cent confident were correct. In fact, their answers were wrong sixty-one per cent of the time. People in the computer industry gave answers they thought had a ninety-five per cent chance of being right; in fact, eighty per cent of them were wrong.

On why you should bring a ruler to a first date:

Despite the saying about opposites attracting, people usually fall in love with people like themselves. There’s even some evidence that people tend to pick partners with noses of similar breadth to their own and eyes about the same distance apart.

Wow, I feel like I just wrote a movie trailer for an article.


Interesting thought of the day, why do nerds play video games? Is it because, as the article states, there are well defined societal rules?

Another explanation is that while nerds like to socialize, they are terrified of making social mistakes. This explains why they tend to avoid eye-contact – it is too easy to make the wrong eye contacts. Games let nerds interact socially, yet avoid mistakes via well-defined rules, and a social norm that all legal moves are “fair game.”

I think that’s a good explanation. By extension, maybe that is why nerds are more comfortable chatting online. There are less social cues to pick up when all you see are words.


When I get lazy with blogging, I just post links to some neat stuff around the web:


I got a Valentine’s Day card in the mail this year, guess who it was from?

Oh alright, I’ll spill the beans. It wasn’t from a secret admirer but from big brother Google. And it wasn’t really a Valentine’s Day card but an advertisement for Google AdWords. My virtual heart has been crushed by a Googleplex.

As an AdSense publisher who has never dabbled in AdWords, Google sent me $100 to pique my interest. And I was interested, thinking about which of my little projects I could promote. But then I read the terms and conditions and decided not to use my credit because it was like those 1-month free AOL CDs from 10 years ago, they keep charging you after you’re done your initial promotion.

But this ad did catch my eye, not only because it was a direct (snail) mail from Google, nor because it was a Valentine’s Day card; but because of a couple of things on it. First, they used a QR code as a mechanism to redeem your offer. Wave of the future? Maybe but do they expect me to sign up for AdWords on my cell phone? Then they also put a OMG TAKE ADVANTAGE BEFORE YOU LOSE $25 clause into their offer for psychological effect. I had decided that I wasn’t going to use the coupon, but the $25-less gave me a quick pause. Well I wasn’t fooled, but it’s a good strategy.


I came across an interesting link that said people are happy to just plan a vacation (I suppose in addition to taking the vacation). I think it’s true, except when you can’t plan it properly.

That was our issue earlier this week. We wanted to plan a vacation for March break, but because we were busy earlier this month, we probably missed the best time to plan. A bunch of airlines (Air France, KLM) were having sales but the dates we wanted were in low supply so the prices were still quite expensive. It was a waiting game until finally today, Air Canada put on a sale that was useful to us. Air Canada has had a couple of sales recently to celebrate Canada’s Olympic gold medals, like a 50% off Canadian destinations, but today’s sale was a 50% off international destinations.

We ended up booking a flight to Heathrow. It wasn’t cheap at all, but it was a lot cheaper than when I priced the same tickets earlier; and we maxed out our available time so we will be able to head to Amsterdam and Brussels as well.

So now we can actually book hotels, trains, regional flights oh my. And if we’re not happy, we can go to The Netherlands and let the researchers know.


It irks me that when shopping in Asia markets (i.e., markets within Asia), you have to bargain a heck of a lot in order to not be ripped off. Whenever I ask the price of something, I have to be ready to do some mental math to come up with an offering price. Maybe it is just unbelievable to my Canadian sensibilities that someone would be willing to sell something below 50% of the “sale” price (although at least my Chinese sensibilities and dealings with Rogers et al realize that there can be some unbelievable margins in industries).

It is fascinating though, that this game is built into shopping in certain cultures. While I know it happens in Chinese culture, I somewhat associated my knowledge with my background. Although it is not surprising that this also occurs in societies where there is a large gap between rich and poor (especially if the rich are transient). Here are some observations of bargaining from other countries:

* Ethiopia: 0.7 with 2 rounds
* Argentina: no less than 0.9 and 1 round.
* Canada: 1 and 0
* Uganda: 0.5 and 4 rounds
* Liberia: 0.1 and 8 rounds
* Morocco: 0.001 and upwards of 754 rounds (including mint tea).

Based on my trip to China in 2006, where I blogged that you had to start at 20% of the price for clothing; for certain things in China it looks like 0.2 with 2 rounds.

I wonder if growing gap between the rich and poor in the USA will bring more bargaining into American culture (and are cancellations/retentions an example of bargaining?)


Taking a page from the Marginal Revolution school of blogging; the most interesting thing I’ve read today:

In a long term relationship, I think of there being at least five legs to the table:

safety: financial and physical, can you meet your needs together, are you healthy for each other?

sexual: well, you know what that is.

friendship: do you entertain and interest each other when you are not having sex?

social: do you make a unit that reinforces your standing in the context of work, family, friends?

domestic: is daily life more pleasant, do you enjoy and provide each other with food, comfortable bedding, other everyday human comforts and considerations?

With all five legs you can dance on the table like a crazy fool, and it will still stand. It will stand even with three legs, but then you will have to be more careful not to tip it over.