Chocolate And Nobel Prizes

October 12, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

Nobel Prize season is upon us (we’re previously argued that Pocahontas deserves one), and Franz H. Messerli found something unexpected about what it takes to win a prize:

  • There is a strong relationship between the consumption of chocolate and a country winning Nobel prizes. The more chocolate, the more prizes.
  • This might be, in part, because chocolate is shown to improve cognitive function. It makes you smarter.
  • If a country wants its thinkers to win an additional Nobel prize then all it has to do is have every single person within its borders consume an additional 0.4kg of chocolate a year.
  • Sweden seems to be the exception. Swedes win way more prizes than they should based on the amount of chocolate they consume. This might be because the committee that determines who wins the prizes is based in…Sweden.

Read the entire study here.

Source: The New England Journal of Medicine

Via: Slate

Sell Your Wedding Online!

October 12, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

Having to call off your wedding is a traumatic experience. All the vendors such as the venue owners, decorators, and chefs will have been paid down payments that’ll now have to be forfeited. (We’re told that it might also cause some emotional distress, but hey, we’re an economics blog.) One entrepreneur has thought of a way to ease that pain:

  • On individuals who’ve decided to call off their wedding can sell their wedding online.
  • This allows another couple with slightly brighter prospects to get a wedding at a discounted price. They keep the same service providers who have already been given payments, and just proceed with the wedding as planned.
  • Buyers can hope to save anywhere between 25% and 33% off the true cost of the wedding.
  • The people behind the service say that while you may be buying somebody else’s wedding, you can still customize it for yourself. The chef, for example, may have been given a down payment, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t change the type of cake that will be prepared for the celebration.
  • Despite high demand, other people’s wedding dresses and rings can’t be purchased through the site.

Read more about the service, how it works, and how much money you could save over here.

Source: Gigaom

Via: Marginal Revolution

Territorial Disputes

October 10, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

For a while it looked like disputes over a few islands might cause China and Japan to go to war with each other. Brian Palmer used the opportunity to look at how much of the land on our planet is currently in dispute:

  • If one only counts disputes between countries, and not separatist regions, then less than 0.5% of the earth’s landmass is under dispute across 60 conflicts.
  • More than a quarter of this comes from just one of the conflicts: the dispute over Kashmir which is claimed by India, China, and Pakistan.
  • Since World War II more than 60% of territorial disputes have been settled.
  • The majority of the countries involved in territorial disputes are nondemocratic, suggesting that if democracy continues to spread then less of the world’s landmass will remain contested.

Read more about important exceptions to the rule, China’s recent behaviour, and much more over here.

Source: Slate

The Virtues Of Piracy

October 9, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

Christopher Beam believes that the next great innovator from China will be a pirate who shamelessly copies the products of other companies. This, Beam argues, is not a bad thing:

  • While China’s pirates might steal innovations, they also include their old innovations in the products they copy. Chinese knockoffs of the iPhone come with dual SIM-card capabilities and replaceable batteries.
  • This doesn’t always hurt the profits of the original innovator. In China you can buy shoes branded with the Apple logo. This doesn’t hurt Apple’s sales as the company doesn’t sell any Apple branded shoes, and, in fact, it enhances Chinese sales by providing free marketing.
  • China officially only allows 34 western films to be screened in the country every year. Pirates plug the hole by selling boot-leg copies of western films, contributing to the freedom of speech.
  • America itself was built upon pirating European inventions. The term “yankee” comes from the Dutch term for “pirate”. It was only when other countries began to copy American innovations that America became a proponent of intellectual property protection.
  • Piracy also forces companies to be more competitive. They feel the pressure to release new features to differentiate themselves from the cheap copies of their products. Valve was forced to offer upgrades to players of Team Fortress 2 in a bid to convince people to buy the original.

You can read more about Chinese cities that specialize in pirating specific products, and how in some ways Chinese copies have exceeded the quality of the original American innovations over here.

Source: Slate

The World Of K-Pop

October 8, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

K-Pop is a style of music that has become exceedingly popular in oriental countries. The music itself is a blend of eastern and western music, but the focus of K-Pop is the performers themselves. John Seabrook explored this world of music. Highlights include:

  • The stars are largely manufactured. They are selected at ages as young as seven and then trained in the art of singing, dancing, acting, and dealing with the media. They are then formed into groups of up to nine members.
  • The key to becoming a K-Pop star is to have good looks. Musical talent doesn’t have too much to do with it.
  • The songs are made to appeal to all ages. There are no references to alcohol, sex, or even clubbing – a staple in western music.
  • The founding fathers of K-Pop have published a manual that outlines what it takes to make K-Pop stars. Instructions include the colour of eye-shadow that should be used while touring different countries, and the precise camera angles that the stars should be filmed from.
  • The music is so popular that people go to Korea to have plastic surgery done so that they can look like their favourite idols. Some hotels have even tied up with hospitals so that guests can buy a package deal.
  • The companies behind the stars invest a lot into them and so expect a degree of control over their lives. One agency forbids its stars-in-training from having boyfriends or even water or food after 7pm.
  • There have been several controversies over the contacts that the stars have been forced to sign. When entertainment industries are young it is common for the owners to have all the power. Combine this with the Confucian cultural norms of respect for authority and you have the potential for heavy exploitation.

Read more about K-Pop’s efforts to break into the American market, the secret to their success, and more in the full report here.

Source: The New Yorker

Via: Marginal Revolution

Will Chinese Bachelors Doom The Global Economy?

October 2, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

Roseann Lake argued that unless it becomes easier for Chinese men to attract wives, the global economy could soon face serious challenges:

  • The one child policy combined with a cultural preference for boys and sex-selective abortions means that there are far too few women in China to marry all the bachelors.
  • To attract a life partner, men are expected to prove their eligibility by owning their own home.
  • This has led to the rise of houses with completely unusable phantom third stories that only serve to make the house look grand.
  • The need to own a home has also led to the “two-rat” phenomenon. To attract mates men spend all their money on grand homes in their native regions. After getting married they migrate to urban cities where the only thing they can afford is a tiny dark apartment.
  • In a time when developed nations are facing an economic slowdown, China is expected to prop up the global economy.
  • However the demand for housing is so high that prices have raced away. The average house now costs up to 20 times average annual salary. In the United States this ratio is about 3:1. This means that Chinese men have to save all of their money rather than spend.
  • If housing prices continue to rise unsustainably then China may face a housing crisis similar to the one that brought down the United States.
  • None of this is a particularly good deal for women either. Sisters and cousins are expected to give up their incomes so that male members of the family can buy houses. And after getting married Chinese women might be expected to contribute to the mortgage without ever seeing their name on the deed due to cultural norms.

The full argument explores many more facets of Chinese culture, its implications for the economy, and what it might mean for all of us. Read it here.

Source: Foreign Policy

Should The President Move Out Of The White House?

October 1, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

Both the political parties in America, writes Frank Jacobs, want to change how Washington works. Nobody seems interested in changing where it works. Perhaps they should:

  • Washington DC was originally chosen as the United States’ capital because it was quite close to the geographic center of the 13 states that initially made up the union.
  • Since more states have been added to the union, the geographic center of the United States has changed. Now the center is in South Dakota if you include Hawaii and Alaska, and in Kansas, if you don’t.
  • Moving towards the center of the country would have a lot of symbolic value.

Moving capitals isn’t an unprecedented idea. The full article goes through several examples where the capital of a country was moved, a few where the capital of the country should be moved, and the few who by some strange feat of luck already have their capital at the center of their territory. You can find it here.

Source: Foreign Policy

How We Will Travel In The Future

September 29, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

California’s decision to legalize self-driving cars has set off a flurry of articles about what this means for our future. One of the most thoughtful is written by Brad Templeton. Highlights include:

  • We may have self-driven “bed-cars” where individuals can sleep as the car takes them to their destination. The car may even calibrate its route to last 8 hours even if a faster route is available.
    • This could lead to people working further away from home as they know they can get some shut-eye during the commute.
  • If driver-less cars attain a good safety record then we may allow passengers to get rid of seat belts and even walk and move around as they commonly do in buses and trains.
  • Currently car suspensions are designed to let you get a feel of the road so that you can react to it. Driverless cars don’t have to do that and advanced suspension could mean a perfectly smooth and stable ride. A camera may even analyze the road ahead and adjust the car or the route accordingly so that you don’t feel any potholes on the way.
  • Such cars could also perfectly sync up with traffic signal schedules meaning that there won’t be constant accelerations and decelerations. This might mean that your vehicle will slowly obtain top speed (or the most fuel efficient speed) on the way to work, and gradually bring you to a gentle stop.

Read more about how our cars might become mobile homes and why our vehicles will become more specialized, as well as much more in an comprehensive look at our future over here.

Source: Templetons

Via: Kottke

Companies That Double Down

September 28, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

When the CEO of a technology company is facing uncertainty it is common to hear them say that they are “doubling down” on the product. Dan Seifert pointed out that generally speaking CEOs say this before impending failure. Highlights of the article include:

  • After HP acquired Palm, HP’s Vice President said that the company would double down on Palm’s mobile operating system. HP then released two mediocre phones, and a tablet that was so bad it had to be pulled after less than two months on the shelf.
  • Apple’s Tim Cook said that the company would double down on the secrecy of its products in May 2012. Instead a series of leaks meant that when Apple’s CEO actually took the stage to release the iPhone 5, there were no surprises.
  • Google said that 2012 would be the year that they would “double down” on tablets and dominate that market. Thus far they appear to have failed.
  • The term ‘doubling down’ originates from the game of Blackjack. But in Blackjack if you double down at the wrong moment then you’re likely to lose. Instead companies should use another term that comes from the casino: going all in. The stakes are high, the risks are terrifying, but the ultimate payoff can be a game changer.
  • Or perhaps the companies meant the greasy, salty, double down sandwich released by KFC (pictured above). It has, after all, been fairly successful, and perhaps they meant that they wanted to emulate that success.

Read more about Facebook’s attempts at doubling down, and the problem with Siri over here.

Source: The Verge

The Biggest Elephant In The Room

September 25, 2012 in Daily Bulletin, Signature

There’s no polite way to say this: India’s elephants are too fat. Siva Parameswaran reported:

  • Several temples in India keep elephants for religious ceremonies and customs.
  • These elephants have become overweight. One 48-year-old female elephant is 700 kilograms over her natural weight.
  • This is because in the wild elephants have a varied diet that includes fruits, flowers, and roots. In captivity they’re fed processed foods such as rice, salt, and sugar.
  • Moreover in the wild elephants have to walk long distances to find their food. In the temples it is just given to them.

Read more about how animal rights figure into this and what some are trying to do about it over here.

Source: BBC