Weekly Roundup 164: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web!
Handpicked to satisfy your intellectual curiosity!
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Academic Translation Guide – Via Big Picture Blog –
The Activist(s) Corner ( Issues to Get Your Blood Boiling):
Mortgage Tornado Warning, Unheeded – via NYTimes.com – In hindsight, what he found looks like a blueprint of today’s foreclosure crisis. Even then, Mr. Lavalle discovered, some loan-servicing companies that worked for Fannie Mae routinely filed false foreclosure documents, not unlike the fraudulent paperwork that has since made “robo-signing” a household term. Even then, he found, the nation’s electronic mortgage registry was playing fast and loose with the law — something that courts have belatedly recognized, too.
‘We the People’ Loses Appeal With People Around the World – via NYTimes.com – “Among the world’s democracies,” Professors Law and Versteeg concluded, “constitutional similarity to the United States has clearly gone into free fall. Over the 1960s and 1970s, democratic constitutions as a whole became more similar to the U.S. Constitution, only to reverse course in the 1980s and 1990s.”
The Corporate Tax Rate Is Lowest in Decades; Is Business Paying Its Fair Share? via TIME.com – As the nation frets over slow growth and large budget deficits, much has been made over how much Americas are and should be paying in income tax. President Obama and Democrats have argued that the wealthiest among us are not paying their fair share. They say the spoils of the globalization and the internet revolution have gone almost exclusively to the very wealthy, and that, in times of crisis, more should be asked of those who can afford to give. Those on the right counter that the wealthy pay their fair share and, more, that the top one percent pay a huge percentage of federal income tax receipts.But there is another source of federal revenues that receives less attention: corporate income taxes. According to the Wall Street Journal’s recent study of Congressional Budget Office numbers, corporations are paying an effective rate of 12.1%, the lowest in at least 40 years. So why are some of the biggest and most powerful entities in our society getting away with paying so little? The story is complicated, but the biggest factor in the recent collapse in corporate tax receipts appears to be a set of tax breaks built into recent stimulus efforts. In 2010 and 2011, companies were allowed to deduct the full cost of the purchases of new equipment, while normally these costs would be expensed over several years. In 2012, this deduction will go down to 50% and be eliminated altogether thereafter, causing the effective tax rate to return to roughly the 25.6% average effective tax rate corporations paid since the late 1980s, according to CBO forecasts.
PoachGate Scandal & Steve Jobs is Involved – via VFX Soldier – Names are dropping in the latest set of documents obtained by techcrunch in the ILM/Pixar collusion case which VFX artist David Stripinis is cleverly calling “Poach-gate”. What the memos reveal is that this wasn’t just some silly agreement that was made up between 2 recruiters over a coffee break. It was a clearly a mechanism designed to lower wages by some Big Bay Area tech company CEOs like Apple/Pixar’s Steve Jobs and Adobe’s Bruce Chizen:
The US Is Often A Safe Haven For World Dictators– via Press Tv– A prominent political analyst says the US “has provided shelter to more criminals – members of government – who have killed people than any other country in the world”.
Corporate sponsors for state trails? – via Naked Politics – Is there a Pepsi Trail or a Chick-fil-A Greenway in our future? It would be possible under SB 268, that advanced in the Senate today and would allow family-friendly sponsors to pay for naming rights and advertising on state trails and greenways.
The Weakening of Nations: How Tax Work-Arounds Undermine Our Society – via The Atlantic – Loopholes, poor regulations, and off-shore havens allow corporations and the very wealthy to draw on the benefits of a strong nation-state without fully paying back in, eroding a system that’s less tested than we might think.
Best Reads of The Week:
The Art of Living: A Free Stanford Course Explores Timeless Questions – via Open Culture – What is a liberal education? And how can it help you live a more authentic and purposeful life? They are timely and timeless questions that get answered by The Art of Living, a team-taught course presented to Stanford freshmen. The first lecture (above) addresses these questions head on. And the remainder of the course (17 videos) puts the initial thinking into practice, using great works of literature and philosophy to explore what it means to live a well-lived life. Socrates, Plato, Shakespeare, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Toni Morrison all guide the way. Taught by Lanier Anderson, Kenneth Taylor and Joshua Landy, the Stanford course puts you in a position to address “fundamental and enduring questions about what it means to be human.” Whether you work in business, science or the arts, you will get something big out of the class.
Awesome Video: The Purpose of Education – Noam Chomsky – via Learning Without Frontiers on Blip – Noam Chomsky discusses the purpose of education, impact of technology, whether education should be perceived as a cost or an investment and the value of standardised assessment.
The Biggest Regret of All – via Life begets regrets, but one looms larger than the others – By the time most people reach middle age, they could probably name a long list of things they regret from their past—the job opening they ignored, the disastrous vacation, the stock they did not buy, or even worse the one they did. But the most frequent regrets involve romance, according to a new study by Neal J. Roese, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, and Mike Morrison, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This and other findings contradict some of the results of previous, smaller studies, which had ranked education-related regrets in first place.
My Algorithm for Beating Procrastination – via Less Wrong – After three months of practice, I now use a single algorithm to beat procrastination most of the times I face it.1 It probably won’t work for you quite like it did for me, but it’s the best advice on motivation I’ve got, and it’s a major reason I’m known for having the “gets shit done” property. There are reasons to hope that we can eventually break the chain of akrasia; maybe this post is one baby step in the right direction.
Video: Trends in Overlap Between Art, Business, & Design – via entrepreneurdesigners.tumblr.com – If you have two hours to kill this weekend, I highly recommend this discussion on “Trends in the Overlap between Art, Business, and Design” between Jon Kolko, founder of the Austin Center for Design and Don Norman.
Why I want to quit cable – via flowingdata.com – I almost never watch shows when they actually come on, and I only know the schedules of a few of them. And nowadays, the gift of choice feels more like a waste, as I flip through sixty something channels and see nothing that I want to watch.The other day I thought to myself, “I’m paying forty bucks per month to watch Groundhog Day. Again.” But then I looked at the cable bill that I had not looked at in a year, since it’s on auto-pay. I’m paying $64.99 for digital cable from Comcast, plus $15.95 for HD and DVR, and then there’s about $5 in taxes and fees. The introductory price ran out long ago.
A Conversation with Peter Thiel – via The American Interest Magazine – On the surface, one of the debates we have is that people on the Left, especially the Occupy Wall Street movement, focus on income and wealth inequality issues—the 99 percent versus the 1 percent. It’s evident that both forms of inequality have escalated at a very high rate. Probably from 1973 to today, they have gone up faster than they did in the 19th century. The rapid rise in inequality has been an issue that the Right has not been willing to engage. It tends either to say it’s not true or that it doesn’t matter. That’s a very strange blind spot. Obviously if you extrapolate an exponential function it can go a lot further. We’re now at an extreme comparable to 1913 or 1928; on a worldwide basis we’ve probably surpassed the 1913 highs and are closer to 1789 levels.
Behavioral Economics, Complexity Research, Decision Making, Psychology, & Risk:
The Role Of Brands In Human Culture – via The Browser – Wide-ranging interview with influential marketer Professor Philip Kotler and author Martin Lindstrom. Particularly interesting on the effects of technology and globalisation on brands, both personal and corporate
Dan Ariely Why we really are distracted by shiny objects – via danariely.com – So where does this visual saliency bias come from? The explanation lies in the way that our brain processes information. When making a simple choice, the brain has to process both visual information that allows us to perceive the choice options, and preference information that estimates how much we like these options. The brain must reconcile all these signals (and more: memory, expectations, goals) in order to arrive at a decision. So what this research shows is that sometimes the visual information wins over the preference information – a finding that again shows that choices are driven by many forces aside from actual preference.
Why Being Sleepy and Drunk Are Great for Creativity – via Wired.com – In this case, the answer is “jack.” According to the data, drunk students solved more of these word problems in less time. They also were much more likely to perceive their solutions as the result of a sudden insight. And the differences were dramatic: The alcohol made subjects nearly 30 percent more likely to find the unexpected solution. Once again, the explanation for this effect returns us to the benefits of not being able to pay attention. The stupor of alcohol, like the haze of the early morning, makes it harder for us to ignore those unlikely thoughts and remote associations that are such important elements of the imagination. So the next time you are in need of insight, avoid caffeine and concentration. Don’t chain yourself to your desk. Instead, set the alarm a few minutes early and wallow in your groggy thoughts. And if that doesn’t work, chug a beer.
The Intelligent Investor: This Is Your Brain on a Hot Streak – via WSJ.com – Past returns are no guarantee of future success. Just like smokers ignoring the Surgeon General’s warning on the side of cigarette packs, investors overlook the most obvious caution about the stock market at their peril.
Consumers Keep Up — or Down — with the Joneses During Recession – via Finance Professor – “Non-essential goods like jewelry, clothing and travel maintain their attractiveness regardless of the state of the economy,” said Wagner Kamakura, marketing professor at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and lead author of the study. “But the positional value of non-essentials is reduced during recession.”When households affected by recession spend less on positional goods, households not directly affected by recession — even though their overall consumption budgets may remain constant — can follow suit and still maintain their social status. Those households whose budgets are not significantly impacted by recession may choose to divert more money into savings.
The End of Selflessness – via unexpectedutility.com – “One of the most selfish things you can do is to help others.” I ran into this quote by psychologist Daniel Gilbert in an interview piece. What? It’s selfish to help others? It didn’t sound right. But the implications of this statement were revealed to me last Sunday when I was serving meals at a homeless shelter.
The Situational Effects of Food Advertising – via thesituationist.wordpress.com – Whereas everyone recognizes that increasing obesity rates worldwide are driven by a complex set of interrelated factors, the marketing actions of the food industry are often singled out as one of the main culprits. But how exactly is food marketing making us fat? To answer this question, we review evidence provided by studies in marketing, nutrition, psychology, economics, food science, and related disciplines that have examined the links between food marketing and energy intake but have remained largely disconnected. Starting with the most obtrusive and most studied marketing actions, we explain the multiple ways in which food prices (including temporary price promotions) and marketing communication (including branding and nutrition and health claims) influence consumption volume. We then study the effects of less conspicuous marketing actions which can have powerful effects on eating behavior without being noticed by consumers. We examine the effects on consumption of changes in the food’s quality (including its composition, nutritional and sensory properties) and quantity (including the range, size and shape of the packages and portions in which it is available). Finally, we review the effects of the eating environment, including the availability, salience and convenience of food, the type, size and shape of serving containers, and the atmospherics of the purchase and consumption environment. We conclude with research and policy implications.
Why willpower matters – and how to get it– via The Guardian – So best avoid trying to do too many things involving mental effort at the same time, or if you’re ill. As with a muscle, though, you can train your willpower. Even small, day-to-day acts of willpower such as maintaining good posture, speaking in complete sentences or using a computer mouse with the other hand, can pay off by reinforcing longer-term self-control in completely unrelated activities, Baumeister has found. People previously told to sit or stand up straight whenever they remembered later performed much better in lab willpower tests.
Information Overload Is Not Unique To Digital Age – via www.npr.org – It is a constant complaint: We’re choking on information. The flood of data on the Web has reached mind boggling proportions, and it shows no signs of stopping. But wait, says Harvard professor Ann Blair — this is not a new condition. It’s been part of the human experience for centuries.
The Big Game: What Corporations Are Learning About the Human Brain via thesituationist.wordpress.com – For the second year in a row, FKF Applied Research has partnered with the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, to “measure the effect of many of the Super Bowl ads by using fMRI technology.”The research involves “track[ing] the ads on a host of dimensions by looking for activity in key parts of the brain areas that are known to be involved in wanting, choosing, sexual arousal, fear, indecision and reward.”As the FKF website explains, why this research is useful to Fortune 100 companies is that it shows clearly that what people say in focus groups and in response to poll questions is not what they actually think, feel and do. fMRI scans using our analytical methods allow us to see beyond self report and to understand the emotions and thoughts that are driving (or impeding) behavior. Looking beyond the spoken word provides immense and actionable insights into a brand, a competitive framework, advertising and visual images and cues.
Behavioural Insights Team publish paper on fraud, error and debt – via Cabinet Office – The Behavioural Insights Team has published a paper on fraud, debt and error. It represents a completely new way of doing policy: by actively testing ideas with public bodies, the team has been able to demonstrate effects that, if rolled out, could save hundreds of millions of pounds.This latest paper sets out some of the most effective actions which public bodies can take. Many of these are simple and highly cost effective.For example, the project demonstrated that by making simple changes to tax letters, explaining that most people in the local area had already paid their taxes, repayment rates were boosted by around 15 percentage points.
Do we have a cognitive bias about how susceptible we are to cognitive bias? – via Barking up the wrong tree – Three studies suggest that individuals see the existence and operation of cognitive and motivational biases much more in others than in themselves. Study 1 provides evidence from three surveys that people rate themselves as less subject to various biases than the “average American,” classmates in a seminar, and fellow airport travelers. Data from the third survey further suggest that such claims arise from the interplay among availability biases and self-enhancement motives. Participants in one follow-up study who showed the better-than-average bias insisted that their self-assessments were accurate and objective even after reading a description of how they could have been affected by the relevant bias. Participants in a final study reported their peer’s self-serving attributions regarding test performance to be biased but their own similarly self-serving attributions to be free of bias. The relevance of these phenomena to naïve realism and to conflict, misunderstanding, and dispute resolution is discussed.
Housing Envy – via www.overcomingbias.com – Unlike much of the stated preference literature, the results of this paper indicate that a increase in absolute house size is valued more than an increase in relative house size, suggesting that individuals value their absolute well-being more than their relative status if all parties are handed an equal increase. More specically, for the case of Columbus, the willingness to pay for an increase in own house size by 100 square feet from the mean is found to be $1,103 while the willingness to pay for a decrease in neighbor house size by 100 square feet from the mean is $400.
Wiring the Brain: I’ve got your missing heritability right here… – via wiringthebrain.blogspot.com – A debate is raging in human genetics these days as to why the massive genome-wide association studies (GWAS) that have been carried out for every trait and disorder imaginable over the last several years have not explained more of the underlying heritability. This is especially true for many of the so-called complex disorders that have been investigated, where results have been far less than hoped for. A good deal of effort has gone into quantifying exactly how much of the genetic variance has been “explained” and how much remains “missing”.
Capitalism, Business, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Finance:
Why Companies Fail – via The Atlantic – GM’s stock price has sunk by a third since its IPO. Why is corporate turnaround so difficult and rare? The answer is often culture—the hardest thing of all to change.
Paper Promises: Money, Debt and the new World Order – Video and audio – News and media – via Home – The world is drowning in debt. Greece is on the verge of default. In Britain, the coalition government is pushing through an austerity programme in the face of economic weakness. The US government almost shut down in August because of a dispute over the size of government debt.Our latest crisis may seem to have started in 2007, with the collapse of the American housing market. But as Philip Coggan shows in this new book, Paper Promises: Money, Debt and the new World Order which he will talk about in this lecture, the crisis is part of an age-old battle between creditors and borrowers. And that battle has been fought over the nature of money. Creditors always want sound money to ensure that they are paid back in full; borrowers want easy money to reduce the burden of repaying their debts. Money was once linked to gold, a commodity in limited supply; now central banks can create it with the click of a computer mouse.
The Mystery Monk Making Billions With 5-Hour Energy – via Forbes – In one corner of Manoj Bhargava’s office is a cemetery of sorts. It’s a Formica bookcase, its shelves lined with hundreds of garishly colored screw-top plastic bottles not much taller than shot glasses. Front and center is a Cadillac-red bottle of 5-Hour Energy, the two-ounce caffeine and vitamin elixir that purports to keep you alert without crashing. In eight years 5-Hour has gone from nowhere to $1 billion in retail sales. Truckers swear by it. So do the traders in Oliver Stone’s 2010 sequel to Wall Street. So do hungover students. It’s $3 a bottle, and it has made Bhargava a fortune.
Rational Irrationality: The Jobs Report and the “Missing 1.2 Million” : The New Yorker – via www.newyorker.com – But I would like to respond to something many commentators, on this site and others, have picked up upon: a suggestion that the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (B.L.S.) cooked the unemployment rate by removing 1.2 million Americans from the labor force. Some critics claim that these people should have been counted, and the unemployment rate should be considerably higher than 8.3 per cent.
The Day I Knew Gamification Would be a Winner – via Forbes – A month back I got talking to Rajat Paharia, ex-IDEO software experience designer and founder of gamification pioneers Bunchball. Rajat is highly personable and talks in a confident manner, like a man who knows his business has breezed past its early tests and is on the way to some kind of scale.
Financial black swans driven by ultrafast machine ecology – via arxiv.org – Society’s drive toward ever faster socio-technical systems, means that there is an urgent need to understand the threat from ‘black swan’ extreme events that might emerge. On 6 May 2010, it took just five minutes for a spontaneous mix of human and machine interactions in the global trading cyberspace to generate an unprecedented system-wide Flash Crash. However, little is known about what lies ahead in the crucial sub-second regime where humans become unable to respond or intervene sufficiently quickly. Here we analyze a set of 18,520 ultrafast black swan events that we have uncovered in stock-price movements between 2006 and 2011. We provide empirical evidence for, and an accompanying theory of, an abrupt system-wide transition from a mixed human-machine phase to a new all-machine phase characterized by frequent black swan events with ultrafast durations (<650ms for crashes, <950ms for spikes). Our theory quantifies the systemic fluctuations in these two distinct phases in terms of the diversity of the system’s internal ecology and the amount of global information being processed. Our finding that the ten most susceptible entities are major international banks, hints at a hidden relationship between these ultrafast ‘fractures’ and the slow ‘breaking’ of the global financial system post-2006. More generally, our work provides tools to help predict and mitigate the systemic risk developing in any complex socio-technical system that attempts to operate at, or beyond, the limits of human response times.
Starter Savings Accounts – via www.interfluidity.com – The Federal government should offer inflation-protected savings accounts to individual citizens, but with a strict size limit of, say, $200,000. These accounts would work like bank savings accounts, and might even be administered by banks. But deposits would be advanced directly to the government (reducing borrowing by the Treasury), and the government would be responsible for repayment. The accounts would promise a tax-free real interest rate of 0% on balances up to the limit. Each month, accounts would be credited with interest based on the most recent increase in the Consumer Price Index (adjusted for any revisions to estimates for previous months).
Asset Price Bubbles: A Survey by Anna Scherbina, Bernd Schlusche – via financeprofessorblog.blogspot.com – “The persistent failure of present-value models to explain asset price levels led academic research to introduce the concept of bubbles as a tool to model price deviations from present-value relations. The early literature was dominated by models in which all agents were assumed to be rational and yet a bubble could exist. In many of the more recent papers, the perfect rationality assumption was relaxed, allowing the models to shift the focus to explaining how a bubble may be initiated, under which conditions it would burst, and why arbitrage forces may fail to ensure that prices reflect fundamentals at all times. In light of the recent U.S. real estate bubble, the question of why bubbles are so prevalent is once again a matter of concern of academics and policy makers. This paper surveys the recent literature on asset price bubbles, with significant attention given to behavioral models as well as rational models with incentive problems, market frictions, and non-traditional preferences”
What are the realities of microfinance? – via Qn: A Publication of the Yale School of Management – New research is debunking myths about microfinance and showing how organizations can effectively address problems associated with poverty. Yale faculty Dean Karlan, Tony Sheldon, and Rodrigo Canales discuss the problems and the promise in the field of microfinance and the lessons for other kinds of social enterprise.
What’s Your Competitive Edge – via PsyFi Blog – As any investor knows, the key to a successful business is establishing a competitive advantage, so it makes it all the odder that most traders seem determined to compete head on with institutions in exactly the areas they want us to. There’s no rational explanation for this other than people are blind to the ways in which they’re being exploited. In terms of competitive advantage private investors engaging in short-term trading against financial institutions is the greatest mismatch since the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 which lasted only 45 minutes – and which ended with the British being paid for the shells they’d fired into their opponent’s country.
Predicting Investment Shock Waves – via How technological innovations affect risk premiums – He explains that when a value firm—a firm whose market value is lower than the value of its assets—owns substantial physical assets, the risk is increased that the firm may not be able to efficiently adapt to the next big thing. For example, although Blockbuster owned a lot of stores that rented videotapes, its market value was relatively low because the market perceived that Blockbuster would have trouble adapting to the Internet.
Effects of College Educational Debt on Graduate School Attendance and Early Career and Lifestyle Choices – via journalistsresource.org – Tuition at U.S. universities has risen dramatically in recent years, leading many students to take on increasingly large loans. Some observers worry that significant debt will not only constrain young people’s options but also hurt society by discouraging further intellectual advancement and public service careers.
The Eclectic Mix:
What we talk about when we talk about sketching. – via Adaptive Path – I want to take a moment to have a deeper, more reflective conversation about the role that sketching plays in my professional work, and how it has evolved it over time. A lot of sketching advice tends to be too general (“You should sketch!”), too superficial (“You need to buy these pens!”), or too self-congratulatory (“Look at the sketches I made!”) to be useful for those of us who have already incorporated sketching into our everyday design practice. For me, sketching tends to be a surprisingly philosophical endeavor, and I’m curious to hear how other designers think about their own sketching.
To Speed Up The Creative Process, Slow Down – via Why We Reason – Their findings are counter-intuitive but consistent with other recent research. Mark Jung-Beeman is a psychologist from the University of Northwestern who studies what happens in the brains when it has a moment of insight. A few years ago he teamed with John Kounios to try to understand the neuroscience behind problem solving. To do this they used EEG and fMRI to measure subjects while they completed Compound Remote Associate Problems (C.R.A.P problems, as the joke goes). Here’ an example: What word fits with “pine,” crab,” and “sauce?” The correct answer is “apple” (pineapple, crabapple, and applesauce).
Learn the Landscape Before Putting on Blinders: How to Direct Diligence Toward Remarkable Results – via calnewport.com – Remarkable accomplishment requires a remarkable amount of focus; this much is clear. But focus without grounded direction is unlikely to hit the sweet spot.The key observation, however, is that this directed diligence approach is not about figuring out in advance what you were meant to do or identifying a can’t miss idea. It’s instead about coupling your diligence with continued exposure to what real value looks like. You won’t start out knowing exactly where your story is heading, but you can have confidence that you’ll end up with the right sort of ending.
Edge Response on Decision Making – via charbonniers.org – All of our mental decisions appear to be captured by a simple rule that weaves together some of the most elegant mathematics of the past centuries: Brownian motion, Bayes’ rule, and the Turing machine.
Studying Nature’s Rhythms: Soundscape Ecologists Spawn New Field – via US National Science Foundation (NSF) – Pijanowski has mapped soundscapes in wetlands and agricultural fields in Tippecanoe County, Indiana; near burbling streams and in high-wind chaparral in Sequoia National Park, California; and in the bird-song-filled forests of Italy and Costa Rica.
The Economics of Valentine’s Day – via OnlineMBA – Valentine’s Day is big business. Find out where people are spending their hard-earned dollars:
The True Cost of Tax Refund Loans – via Visual.ly – During tax season, many people need help preparing their taxes. Some of these tax preparation services also offer ways to receive your refund faster via RALs and RACs. RALs, or Refund Anticipation Loans, are short-term, high-risk, high-cost loans, usually 1-2 weeks in duration. These loans are secured by your tax refund and include costly fees and high interest rates, which reduce the overall amount of your refund unnecessarily. An option that many are unaware of, however, is that of low-interest loans. Credit unions and other community organizations often offer short-term loans at competitive rates. These small, low-interest loans lend themselves toward a manageable repayment schedule, which can usually be adjusted to fit your ability.