Ramblings & ephemera

The psychology of waiting for your luggage at the airport

From Dan Ariely’s “Flying Frustrations” (21 November 2011): Think about these two ways to get your luggage: With the original airport design, you walk ten minutes, but when you finally get to the carousel, your baggage gets there a minute after you (taking 11 minutes). In the other, you walk three minutes, but when you […]

Richard Ford on how to deal with mythical narratives

From Bonnie Lyons’s interview of Richard Ford in “The Art of Fiction No. 147” (The Paris Review: Fall 1996, No. 140): …when you start manipulating mythical narratives, whether you blunder into them or you do it by calculation, you’d better—to be in control of your book—reckon with their true potency and wide reference. They haven’t […]

William Burroughs on why we take drugs

From Conrad Knickerbocker’s interview of William S. Burroughs in “The Art of Fiction No. 36” (The Paris Review: Fall 1965, No. 35): I think drugs are interesting principally as chemical means of altering metabolism and thereby altering what we call reality, which I would define as a more or less constant scanning pattern.

Dan Ariely on irrational decision making

From Dan Ariely’s “Dan Ariely asks, Are we in control of our own decisions?” (TED: 24 June 2009): I’ll give you a couple of more examples on irrational decision making. Imagine I give you a choice. Do you want to go for a weekend to Rome? All expenses paid, hotel, transportation, food, breakfast, a continental […]

Refusing a technology defines you

From Sander Duivestein’s “Penny Thoughts on the Technium” (The Technium: 1 December 2009): I‘m interested in how people personally decide to refuse a technology. I’m interested in that process, because I think that will happen more and more as the number of technologies keep increasing. The only way we can sort our identity is by […]

The Irish Church lies in creative – and evil – ways

From Patsy McGarry’s “Church ‘lied without lying’” (Irish Times: 26 November 2009): One of the most fascinating discoveries in the Dublin Archdiocese report was that of the concept of “mental reservation” which allows clerics mislead people without believing they are lying. According to the Commission of Investigation report, “mental reservation is a concept developed and […]

Why we get disoriented in malls

From Wikipedia’s “Gruen transfer” (28 September 2009): In shopping mall design, the Gruen transfer refers to the moment when consumers respond to “scripted disorientation” cues in the environment. It is named for Austrian architect Victor Gruen (who disavowed such manipulative techniques) … The Gruen transfer refers to the moment when a consumer enters a shopping […]

Looking at others’ lives for clues to what might have been

From Tim Kreider’s “The Referendum” (The New York Times: 17 September 2009): The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start […]

The light bulb con job

From Bruce Schneier’s “The Psychology of Con Men” (Crypto-Gram: 15 November 2008): Great story: “My all-time favourite [short con] only makes the con artist a few dollars every time he does it, but I absolutely love it. These guys used to go door-to-door in the 1970s selling lightbulbs and they would offer to replace every […]

What it takes to get people to comply with security policies

From Bruce Schneier’s “Second SHB Workshop Liveblogging (5)” (Schneier on Security: 11 June 2009): Angela Sasse, University College London …, has been working on usable security for over a dozen years. As part of a project called “Trust Economics,” she looked at whether people comply with security policies and why they either do or do […]

Meeting expectations, no matter how silly, in design

From Operator No. 9’s “That decorating touch” (Interactive Week: 24 April 2000): 100: Dan Sweeney, general manager of Intel’s Home Networking division, says that when the company showed consumer focus groups the AnyPoint Wireless home networking system …, people became very confused, because there wasn’t a visible antenna. The desktop version of the wireless adapter […]

David Foster Wallace on minimalism & metafiction

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993): Minimalism’s just the other side of metafictional recursion. The basic problem’s still the one of the mediating narrative consciousness. Both minimalism and metafiction try to resolve the problem in radical ways. Opposed, but both so extreme they […]

David Foster Wallace on TV, loneliness, & death

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993): One thing TV does is help us deny that we’re lonely. With televised images, we can have the facsimile of a relationship without the work of a real relationship. It’s an anesthesia of “form.” The interesting thing […]

Avoid toxic people

From Milton Glaser’s “Ten Things I Have Learned” (Milton Glaser: 22 November 2001): … the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you […]

A better alternative to text CAPTCHAs

From Rich Gossweiler, Maryam Kamvar, & Shumeet Baluja’s “What’s Up CAPTCHA?: A CAPTCHA Based On Image Orientation” (Google: 20-24 April 2009): There are several classes of images which can be successfully oriented by computers. Some objects, such as faces, cars, pedestrians, sky, grass etc. … Many images, however, are difficult for computers to orient. For […]

Extreme male brains

From Joe Clark’s “The extreme Google brain” (Fawny: 26 April 2009): … Susan Pinker’s The Sexual Paradox, which explains, using scientific findings, why large majorities of girls and women behave almost identically at different stages of their lives – while large minorities of boys and men show vast variability compared to each other and to […]

The hard truths science reveals

From Steven Weinberg’s “Without God” (The New York Review of Books: 25 September 2008): Worse, the worldview of science is rather chilling. Not only do we not find any point to life laid out for us in nature, no objective basis for our moral principles, no correspondence between what we think is the moral law […]

A homogenized religion for America in the 21st century

From Damon Linker’s “The Future of Christian America” (The New Republic: 7 April 2009): hat will provide the theological content of the nation’s civil religion now that the “mere orthodoxy” of the evangelical-Catholic alliance has proven unsuitable for a pluralistic nation of 300 million people? To my mind, the most likely and salutary option is […]

Why we can easily remember jingles but not jokes

From Natalie Angier’s “In One Ear and Out the Other” (The New York Times: 16 March 2009): In understanding human memory and its tics, Scott A. Small, a neurologist and memory researcher at Columbia, suggests the familiar analogy with computer memory. We have our version of a buffer, he said, a short-term working memory of […]

Why do Marlboros have red tips?

From Allen Abel And Madeleine Czigler’s “Tangerine trees and marmalade skies” (National Post: 24 June 2008): … it was [marketing sage & Chicago scientist Louis Cheskin] who turned Marlboro cigarettes from a woman’s brand — originally red-tipped to hide lipstick smears — into the cowboy-themed cancer sticks of universal renown.