Archives for time



An App for a New Kind of Holiday

In 2009, while watching the closing credits of Invictus, the film about Nelson Mandela’s first years as South African president, I heard Yollandi Nortjie sing “9000 days were set aside / 9000 days of destiny / 9000 days to thank Gods wherever they may be.”  Mandela spent 9,000 days in prison (about 24.7 years).

For some reason, I started thinking about the power of expressing the passage of time in alternative incremental units, and after playing around on Excel, I figured out that my spouse and I would soon have the opportunity to celebrate our “ten millionth marriage minute” (a little over 19 years). 

It struck my fancy that this was a length of time worthy of observing in some way – even if just as an excuse to share a nice bottle of wine.  For whatever reason, I loved discovering these additional, arbitrary moments of celebration and I decided it would be pretty easy to alert people when an unusual holiday was about to occur.  Read More »



The Inefficiency of Long Hours

Writing for The New Yorker, James Surowiecki explores the downside of working long hours:

The perplexing thing about the cult of overwork is that, as we’ve known for a while, long hours diminish both productivity and quality. Among industrial workers, overtime raises the rate of mistakes and safety mishaps; likewise, for knowledge workers fatigue and sleep-deprivation make it hard to perform at a high cognitive level. As [David] Solomon put it, past a certain point overworked people become “less efficient and less effective.” And the effects are cumulative. The bankers [Alexandra] Michel studied started to break down in their fourth year on the job. They suffered from depression, anxiety, and immune-system problems, and performance reviews showed that their creativity and judgment declined.

Read More »



Sure, “Saving Our Grandchildren From Climate Change” Sounds Nice…

You want to know what the biggest obstacle to dealing with climate change is? Simple: time. It will take decades before the carbon dioxide we emit now begins to have its full effect on the planet’s climate. And by the same token, it will take decades before we are able to enjoy the positive climate effects of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions now. (Even if we could stop emitting all CO? today, there’s already future warming that’s been baked into the system, thanks to past emission.)

That is the lead of Bryan Walsh‘s excellent Time article called “Why We Don’t Care About Saving Our Grandchildren From Climate Change.” It covers much of the ground we covered in SuperFreakonomics but probably does a better job in laying out the inherent conflicts of climate change — long-term problem vs. short-term incentives — without enraging people. Read More »



FREAK-est Links

1. A German cafe offers free coffee, but charges by the minute for seats. (HT: David Wigram)

2. Harvard and the Rockefeller Foundation to offer social impact bonds in several states.

3. In Spain, a new step in dog-waste management: unscooped poop is hand-delivered back to the owner. (HT: Peter Kauss)

4. The power of words and names. (HT: RealClearScience)

5. New study shows that lack of sleep decreases men’s ability to determine if women want sex or not. (HT: V Brenner) Read More »



Minute-Wise, Hour-Foolish

In my kitchen cabinet, with the richest aroma, live baggies of ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, curry powder, cinnamon, and cloves. Four feet away are their labeled spice jars. The jars are easier to use but sit mostly empty. Whenever I cook, I need the spice now, before the main food ingredient releases its water and stops the spice from browning.

So I don’t dig out the funnel to transfer the spice into its jars. Nor do I cut up scrap paper and fold it into a funnel. I just fish out each spice from its baggie, and fumble around to reseal the plastic zipper. Each choice is rational, in the short run. In the long run, by not transferring the spices to their jars, I waste time and stress out my cooking.

Having noticed this reasoning anti-pattern, I see it all around. Read More »



Should Companies Pay Us for Waiting?

My Dutch friend walked into his bank for a short transaction and was kept waiting for 45 minutes. Infuriated, he told the manager that his time was too valuable for this.  Ten days later a credit of €25 appeared on his account!  

Why can’t service organizations that keep you waiting an overly long time all do this?  Admittedly the proper price is not easy — Bill Gates’s time is more valuable than mine. But companies that offer a credit on your account if you have to wait more than some posted time would have a competitive advantage in attracting clients; and the threat of payment would provide lower-level managers an incentive to improve efficiency.  The only example I know of this practice is our plumber, who advertises that if he is more than 30 minutes late, the cost of labor is waived. (HT to GAP) Read More »



Timing Matters for Armstrong, Clemens and Lin

One of the great lessons of contracts (and of the law more generally) is that the timing of actions can dramatically change legal consequences.  An offeree who says “I accept” a moment after the offer is withdrawn is in a very different position than an offeree who says the same thing a moment before an attempt to withdrawn.

This past summer three sports stories seemed to turn on matters of timing. Les Carpenter writes that Lance Armstrong could have avoided is downfall if he had stayed retired:

The irony is that Armstrong could have remained a hero. He could have been a saint, as well as a beacon of light to millions who never would have thought he had cheated throughout his career. All he had to do was stay retired.

Read More »



Football Freakonomics: How Do Players’ Body Clocks Affect Their Performance?

I have been lucky enough to visit the secret lair at the NFL’s headquarters where each year a crew of industrious people try to come up with an NFL schedule that pleases every team, player, TV network, fan, mayor, police department, religious official, and sports pundit in America.

This is of course impossible.

But they do try their best, and in today’s Times there’s a nice article by Judy Battista about how this year’s schedule was made by the NFL’s Howard Katz and his team.

After you look over the 2012-13 schedule, you might also want to take a look at the latest Football Freakonomics video we’ve done for the NFL Network. It considers the “body clock” factor on teams’ schedules: Read More »