Category Archives: interesting misc.


“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
— H.L. Mencken.

how not to buy happiness

Fascinating article in Daedalus by economics professor Robert Frank. Here is the thesis:

Considerable evidence suggests that if we use an increase in our incomes, as many of us do, simply to buy bigger houses and more expensive cars, then we do not end up any happier than before. But if we use an increase in our incomes to buy more of certain inconspicuous goods–such as freedom from a long commute or a stressful job–then the evidence paints a very different picture. The less we spend on conspicuous consumption goods, the better we can afford to alleviate congestion; and the more time we can devote to family and friends, to exercise, sleep, travel, and other restorative activities. On the best available evidence, reallocating our time and money in these and similar ways would result in healthier, longer– and happier–lives.

I’ve never thought about it in precisely this way, but it rings true. The things that make us happy have to do with our lifestyles, our actions — where we work, how we get there, who we associate with. This stuff can be substantially affected by spending money, but it can’t be magically made right by simply buying things.

Anyway, the article is well worth reading — and I may check out one of Frank’s many books.

hive mind

I find this absolutely fascinating. It’s probably what evolution really looks like — conceptually speaking — rather than a slow accretion of fit details. A messy, scattered series of missed connections and quasi-random tangents that very slowly over time takes on the appropriate shape. Addictive.

cell phone etiquette

Sprint did a survey on cell phone etiquette recently — you can read about the results here. Turns out almost everybody thinks that other people are rude when using cell phones — talking loudly in public, etc. — but nobody thinks that they are rude using their cell. Here’s the relevant bit:

Nearly three out of four (73 percent) U.S. adults surveyed said people are less courteous in general today than five years ago, and a full eight out of 10 (80 percent) reported they felt people were less courteous when using a wireless phone today than five years ago. However, 97 percent of those surveyed classified themselves as “very courteous” or “somewhat courteous” in their use of a wireless phone.

My hatred of cell phones is irrational in its intensity. I hate using them, and I hate people who use them — on the bus, in their car, on a sidewalk… basically anywhere but a hermetically sealed box. If I were emporer of the universe… and really, why aren’t I?… I would ban cell phones entirely. OK, maybe I’d allow cell phones that were only capable of dialing 911. But that’s it.

cool sound

What the…? Thanks to a large grant from Ben & Jerry the ice cream guys, researchers at Penn. State have created a refrigerator that keeps food cool using sound waves rather than compressed freon. “Thermoacoustic refrigeration,” as its known, is super eco-friendly. Not to mention really cool. Check it out.

counter-intuitive traffic control

This is a rather mind-blowing article in Salon (worth watching the obligatory ad for) about traffic control experiments and challenges in China and Europe. Apparently, contrary to conventional wisdom and American practice, the safest and most urban-healthy practice is to have fewer rules, fewer signs, less structure — and to mix pedestrian and automobile use in the same areas. Fascinating.