Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

You can subscribe to this site via RSS (the humanity!) or .

Science, Economics and Cupcakes

Okay, so I haven’t had a ton to say lately, but I expect that may change as I have recently begun reading Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. I’m just digging in, but have been quite impressed so far. It’s basically a book that suggests the way we think about almost everything is backward: We focus on normal when its extreme events that really make change. My favorite example is a thought experiment that imagines a politician who managed to get a law passed prior to September 11th, 2001 that required all airplanes to have bulletproof locked doors to the cockpit. Taleb goes on to explain:

The person who imposed locks on cockpit doors gets no statuses in public squares, not so much as a quick mention of his contribution in his obituary. “Joe Smith, who helped avoid the disaster of 9/11, died of complications of liver disease.” Seeing how superfluous his measure was, and how it squandered resources, the public, with great help from airline pilots, might well boot him out of office . . .

No consider again the events of 9/11. In their aftermath, who got the recognition? Those you saw in the media, on television performing heroic acts, and those whom you saw trying to give you the impression that they were performing heroic acts.

We focus on the wrong stuff . . . a lot.

Okay, now on to other randomness.

  • First off, the Influx Ideas Conference is only a few weeks away in San Francisco and I just got an email from Ed at Influx Insights letting me know there are still a few tickets left. If you’re interested, it’s on October 19th in San Francisco. Speakers range from Worldchanging to Ask a Ninja. For a full explanation check out this Influx Insights blog post or the conference site. Or, if you’re ready, go buy some tickets.
  • David Card huzzahs Michael Arrington. In response to a quote by Arrington about how music should be free, Card responds: “By this remarkably oversimplified analysis, software, filmed entertainment, soda at McDonalds, and the classic example, high-end perfume, should all be free. What, pray tell, are the “real products” that will support those industries? Very few bands can make a living off of touring and T-shirts. Oh, that’s it, advertising. I bet Arrington listens to a lot of commercial radio…” As my mom so nicely put it in the comments to my last entry: Snap!
  • Speaking of economics, Robert Frank was interviewed on NPR the other morning about his book The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas. Basically he goes around trying to answer questions like why are milk cartons square as opposed to round like most other beverages (answer: because milk always needs to be refrigerated, so you want to fit as many as possible) and why does Magnolia Bakery not charge more for its cupcakes if the line is so long (answer: because the line is their best marketing channel).
  • My coworker Jared wrote a great post last week about how awful the idea of “owning” things in marketing is. Money line: “And despite one former client’s dreams, their snack could never own July 4th, no matter how much they spent (budget was roughly $2 million). Because only one thing owns July 4th, and that’s fireworks.” Go read the whole thing.
  • WikiScanner is awesome. It lets you look at anonymous Wikipedia edits made by a specific IP address. For example, someone from the Naked office in London removed vandalism from Wikipedia’s entry on Stromboli.
  • Switching gears, my friend Andrew wrote up a great entry highlighting the differences between marketing conferences in New York and web 2.0 articles in San Francisco. Money quote: “There’s a lot of women here, of all ages, all ethnicities, and all advertising job functions. ‘nuf said.”
  • The NFL is creating an ad network across it’s 32 team sites. Interesting, very interesting . . . everyone is a media owner.
  • A really good article from this month’s Wired (at least I think it’s this month) on how there’s a push in science to publish failed results. I feel like this probably falls into the Black Swan/behavioral economics category, but I’m not sure how. Think about it, though: How many experiments fail? Yet all we ever learn from are those that succeed. How much money and time is wasted recreating failed experiments because others didn’t admit to their failure?

Anyway, that’s it for now. Have a big weekend ahead of me: Taking a tour of the High Line, seeing Arcade Fire and going to a wedding (with the geekiest cake toppers I’ve ever seen). Have a good one.

Update (10/6/07): Just wanted to add one more link: My friend Justin wrote an incredibly funny entry titled the songs I sing to my [newborn] son as reviewed by an anonymous music critic. Just made me laugh and I figured I’d share.

October 4, 2007