Archive for May, 2008

Fine print costs: Illinois’ doggy bag wine law

May 30, 2008

Making, following, and monitoring rules costs time and energy, some of which is inefficiently spent. In 2006, Illinois passed a law allowing diners to take a half-full bottle of wine home from a restaurant. Now, in order to save $23 million in federal highway money, state legislators must take time away from some of the state’s most pressing issues to make a small revision that the wine must be carried in the trunk. From Crain’s Chicago Business:

The state law amended the Illinois open-container law, allowing diners to carry resealed bottles home in a special tamper-proof, one-use-only bag. The amendment passed by wide margins in the Illinois House and Senate and took effect last year.

However, (a U.S. Department of Transportation) letter says, the law failed to specify that the bottle has to be carried in the trunk or in the rear of the vehicle, in order to meet federal requirements. Illinois has 30 days to issue a rebuttal and show why its law does comply with federal requirements. The letter puts the state on notice that another 3% must be transferred next year unless the law is changed.

A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation says the state was “surprised by the letter and the stand they’re taking,” because federal authorities were notified about the change in the open-container law last year and no one “objected at the time.” The state is looking at amending the law or using regulations to make it clear that bottles must be carried in the trunk or rear section of a vehicle.

“We’re working on it,” the spokesman says. “We’re not concerned about losing funds.”

Hat tip: Kirk Hartley

Savers in the U.S. military

May 30, 2008

Which branch of the military saves the most? The Navy. And the least? The Army. The Washington Post reports on the “success” of the six-year old Thrift Savings Plan for soldiers. Although only about 36 percent of active-duty military personnel have enrolled in the tax-deferred contribution plan, which means there is plenty of room for improvement.

As of April, 52 percent of Navy active-duty personnel were making contributions, along with 35.7 percent of the Marine Corps, 33.8 percent of the Air Force and 26.4 percent of the Army.

Continue reading the post here.

Choices don’t just confuse, they exhaust

May 29, 2008

When more choices are available, more decisions are required. Psychological research has previously noted how increasing choices can turn people off, leading them to opt-out of the decision making process. (For retailers, this phenomenon means lower sales and profits.)

Now a new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology claims that increasing the choice set saps people’s brainpower and energy more quickly. Researchers asked mall visitors to make choices about consumer goods, college courses, or class materials.

The scientists then asked each group to participate in one of two unpleasant tasks. Some were told to finish a healthy but ill-tasting drink (akin to taking ones medicine). Other participants were told to put their hands in ice water. The tasks were designed to test how the previous act of choosing, or not choosing, affected peoples’ ability to stay on task and maintain behaviors aimed at reaching a goal. Researchers found that the participants who earlier had made choices had more trouble staying focused and finishing the disagreeable but goal-focused tasks compared to the participants who initially did not have to make choices.

A pamphlet by British policymakers that all American policymakers should read

May 29, 2008

Serious and nuanced thinking about the political complications arising from tensions between individual freedoms and mutual obligations, and about the government’s role in modern life have been percolating across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom. Duncan O’Leary, a researcher at the think tank Demos, has just produced a short pamphlet, “The Politics of Public Behaviour,” summarizing some of the main currents about public policy responses to the blurring of public and private lives.

Continue reading the post here.

Another classic experiment from behavioral science on video

May 28, 2008

Solomon Asch’s conformity experiments in which individuals gave obviously incorrect answers – such as pointing out which of three lines was the longest – about about one-third of the time simply because other members of a group also answered incorrectly.

Gas prices aren’t the only reason for more hybrid sales

May 28, 2008

Between 2000 and 2006, U.S. hybrid sales increased from 3,000 to 250,000 vehicles. Why? The rise in gas prices? Government incentives like income tax credits and deductions, state sales tax waivers, single-passenger access to HOV lanes, and waivers of fees for registration, emissions testing, excise and parking? Or changing consumer tastes and preferences for a clean environment and an energy security policy?

Continue reading the post here.

Email attachment reminder part II

May 27, 2008

Rodney Overcash, the Director of Research at Marquette Associates, sends along a solution for Microsoft Outlook users who have a problem forgetting to attach documents. Overcash says he got “tired of falling victim to this embarrassment,” and developed this remedy.

I set my MS Outlook Options to check spelling and grammar upon clicking the Send button. To do this, go to Tools, Options, the Spelling Tab, and ensure there is a check mark in the box labeled, “Always check spelling before sending.” As I always refer to an attachment in the body of my email, I then modified the “AutoCorrect” settings to misspell the words “attached,” “attachment,” and “enclosed.”

To calibrate the AutoCorrect settings, in the main Outlook Window, click Tools, then Options. In the new window, click the Spelling Tab, then AutoCorrect Options. In the AutoCorrect window, type “attached” in the Replace field and “attachedd” in the With field, then click Add. Repeat procedure for any word you might use when attaching a document. You may need to close Outlook and reopen for changes to take effect. Now, if I click Send and haven’t attached the document, the Spell Checker observes my misspelling and I can fortunately cancel the delivery of the email and add the attachment. If I remembered to attach the document, I simply hit “OK” on the suggested correct spelling from the Spell Checker, the respective word spelling is modified, and the message is immediately delivered.

I can’t tell you how many times this has proven useful and I hope this suggestion might help.

Dustin Hoffman’s mental accounting

May 27, 2008

If you want some insight into how humans create and handle budgets, you could read about the theory of mental accounting as described by Thaler in his paper “Mental Accounting Matters“:

Expenditures are grouped into budgets (e.g. food, housing, etc.)…Such accounts would be inconsequential if they were perfectly fungible (i.e. substitutable) as assumed in economics. But, they are not fungible, and so they ‘matter’…Dividing spending into budget categories serves two purposes. First, the budgeting process can facilitate making rational trade-offs between competing uses for funds. Second, the system can act as a self-control device. Just as organizations establish budgets to keep track of and limit divisional spending, the mental accounting system is the household’s way of keeping spending within the budget…

Whenever budgets are not fungible their existence can influence consumption in various ways. One example is the case in which one budget has been spent up to its limit while other accounts have unspent funds remaining. (This situation is common in organizations. It can create extreme distortions especially if funds cannot be carried over from one year to the next. In this case one department can be severely constrained while another is desperately looking for ways to spend down this year’s budget to make sure next year’s is not cut.)

Etc. Etc.

Or you could just watch Gene Hackman tell this story about loaning money to Dustin Hoffman.

John Edwards nudges college students out of their shower

May 26, 2008

A group of Oberlin college students have posted a picture on John Edwards on their shower ceiling to help them shorten the length of their showers — saving water and energy.

The shower’s energy-saving motivational accessories include a picture of former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina plastered to the ceiling. That was Ms. Bob-Waksberg’s idea. No one wants to linger in the shower with someone staring down from the ceiling, she said. “You could also look at it another way,” she said, “that John Edwards is encouraging me to take a shorter shower.” Why Mr. Edwards? “He had the strongest global warming policies of any of the candidates,” Mr. Brown said.

Which politicians or celebrities would get you out of the shower quickly? A picture of the shower, taken by a New York Times photographer is shown below: