Thursday, December 20, 2012

AP Biology and Game of Thrones

One random factoid that stuck with me from learning about Mendel's cross in 9th grade AP biology was that brown hair was a dominant gene to blonde hair and therefore you can make predictions like two blonde parents must have blonde children, and a parent with homozygous brown haired genes can only have brown haired children. I wondered how many TV and movie casting directors knew that fact and for years I was on the look out for that mistake. Decades passed (literally 2 decades) without thinking about it at all, and then (minor spoiler alert) that little factoid shows up as a major plot point for George R R Martin's Game of Thrones. Apparently I wasn't the only person who thought that about the implications of Mendel on fiction.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why is Dungeons and Dragons still fringe?

This time magazine article poses an excellent question "Why is Dungeons & Dragons still considered a fringe subculture after all these years?" after all "In a world where The Hobbit‘s biggest competition for being the most successful movie of the year is Marvel’s The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, that seems almost unbelievable."

I've been sort of shocked recently overhearing a couple senior colleagues talking about HBO's Game of Thrones (my favorite fantasy book back from college) as well as a bunch of old ladies on the train talking about it at length, and reading Amy Poehler's paean to it in Entertainment weekly, (not to mention my mom). That the Hobbit has been hugely anticipated by pretty much everyone except me (doesn't 3 movies seem way too much? and doesn't the commercials just look like lord of the rings retread?). All this makes the question sound plausible.

Though this trend is still a little worrisome. I wandered into the new comic book store near my hip brother's apartment in Brooklyn and instead of finding the safe haven refuge that comic book stores serve as for nerds everywhere, I instead found a hipster fedora'ed salesclerk selling emo comics off stylish sparse scandinavian furniture to girls in skinny jeans with the super hero comics relegated to a small corner in the back. That disturbed me to the core as I backed out slowly then turned around and ran.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Freakonomics: Mass Transit Hysteria

Economists generally hate mass transit, at least in the US. Mostly because despite what's poltically correct, mass transit is usually horribly inefficient. The latest study as reported by freaknomics Mass Transit Hysteria: Full Transcript finds that outside of New York, since most buses and trains run mostly empty, the average mass transit rider generates more emissions than the average driver. Not to mention that the previous studies that finds that mass transit riders tend to have double the commute time.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Why bad gifts are good and the blindspot of behavioral economics and psychology

Waldfogel's book Scroogenomics always gets a lot of play every Christmas these days, (see this Sunstein article for example) but this is also the problem with psychology and much of behavioral economics, it ignores the larger social significance of gifting. I always liked Camerer (AJS 1988) for a reason why gifts (like my own reasoning about apologies) are and *should be* hard to give. If gifts were easy to choose like cash, then they would convey no meaning, or in game theory terms, no information. It is the symbolic signifiers of gift giving that matter.