Almost a decade of blogging had worn me down, but after some time off, I’m ready to jump back in the saddle. I can’t think of a better way than by embarrassing myself with the annual Kentucky Derby predictions!
Today’s the day: Think Like a Freak has just been published. Levitt and I will spend a lot of the next few weeks doing interviews for various TV, radio, print, web, and other media outlets. So how about we spice things up a bit and, at the same time, give you the chance to win a signed copy? (Winners of last week’s giveaway contest will be announced later today.)
Here’s the deal: in the comments section below, enter a word or short phrase that you’d like us to slip into one of our interviews. If we use your secret phrase, you win a signed copy of Think Like a Freak (or, if you prefer, a Think t-shirt).
My twenty-five year college reunion is right around the corner. In advance of the event, my classmates were asked to write a short summary of their post college life. Next to each write-up was the picture from our graduating yearbook twenty-five years ago. Many of the entries also include current pictures.
Flipping casually through the book, I noticed two things. First, it is amazing how old we all look. Time really takes its toll, that’s for sure. Second, men were much more likely than women to submit pictures of what they look like now.
There was a third thing that also seemed to be true. Many of the people who were really attractive twenty-five years ago don’t look so good now. And even more interesting, there were a surprising number of people who were unattractive in college, but look great (relative to the rest of us geriatrics) now. If I had been asked to guess, I would have estimated that the correlation between attractiveness twenty-five years ago and today was zero or even negative for women. For men I would have guessed a small positive correlation.
I was so struck by the pattern that I decided to do a more systematic data analysis.
Q: Would you rather fight one hundred duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?
And here are the kinds of answers I’ll be giving.
A: I would take the one big duck, for sure. I’ll be an underdog either way (that is true in most fights I’m in). When you are the underdog, you want luck to play as big a role as possible. With one big duck, maybe I manage to get in a lucky swing with my 7-iron and end it quickly. With 100 little horses, even if I get lucky and wipe out a few of them, there are still 97 more to deal with. Plus, I’ve been bit by a horse, and it is no fun. I also recently got attacked by fire ants, and that was no fun either. The thought of horse jaws on those fire ants makes my skin crawl.
After watching his amazing performance last week, I now believe Levitt does stand a chance of landing on a senior professional tour. But not in golf.
I was out in Chicago for a couple of days to work with Levitt. After a long day, we went out for dinner at a place called Seven Ten. It has food, beer, and bowling alleys — just a couple of them and nothing fancy. Old-school bowling.
After the meal, I tried to get Levitt to bowl a game or two. He wasn’t interested. Said he was worried about hurting his golf swing. (Puh-leeze.) He said he’d watch me bowl. I can’t think of anything less fun than bowling alone except having someone sit and watch you bowl alone. So I lied and told him that bowling would probably be good for his golf swing — the heavy ball could loosen up his joints, yada-yada, etc.
He finally agreed when I suggested the loser pay for dinner.
Last spring, I jokingly (okay, maybe half-jokingly) wrote about my quest to make the Champions Tour, the professional golf tour for people over the age of 50. In that post, I made reference to the ideas of Anders Ericsson, an old friend whom Dubner and I wrote about in our New York Times column back in 2006, and whose ideas later became the centerpiece of a number of popular books. Anders is the one who thinks that talent is unimportant. Oversimplifying a bit, he argues that with 10,000 hours of the right kind of deliberate practice, more or less anyone can become more or less world-class at anything. I’ve spent 5,000 hours practicing golf, so if I could just find the time for 5,000 more, I should be able to compete with the pros. Or at least that is what the theory says. My scorecards seem to be telling a different story!
It turns out I’ve got a kindred spirit in this pursuit, only this guy is dead serious. A few years back, twenty-something Dan McLaughlin decided he wanted to play on the PGA tour. Never mind that he had only played golf once or twice in his life and had done quite poorly those times. He knew the 10,000 hour argument, and he thought it would be fun to give it a test. So he quit his job, found a golf coach, and has devoted his life to golf ever since. So far he is 2,500 hours into his 10,000 hour quest, which he chronicles at thedanplan.com.
Our latest Freakonomics Radio onMarketplace podcast is called “What’s Wrong With Cash for Grades?”
(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)
In it, Steve Levitt talks to Kai Ryssdal about whether it’s effective to pay kids to do well in school. Levitt, along with John List, Susanne Neckermann, and Sally Sadoff, recently wrote up a working paper (PDF here) based on their field experiments in Chicago schools. Levitt blogged about the paper earlier; here’s the Atlantic‘s take.
We should probably start a Strange Name Hall of Fame at some point to chronicle all the weird, wonderful, terrible names that readers have passed along to us since we first wrote about names in Freakonomics. This one, from Joyce Wilson, would probably make the cut:
I thought of Freakonomics when I was at a St. Louis area grocery store and saw cut-out paper snowflakes taped to the window with the makers’ names on them. The name I particularly noticed? Demonica.
Last week, Freakonomics Radio took to the stage for a live event at the historic Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minn. Not only is St. Paul the home of Freakonomics Radio co-producer American Public Media, but Steve Levitt also grew up in the Twin Cities. So the live event had a good deal of “this is your life” stuff in it, including a Quiz Bowl competition between Team Levitt (Steve, his sister Linda Jines, and their father Michael) against the current team from St. Paul Academy, where both Steve and Linda starred on the Quiz Bowl team in their day.
We’ll release a podcast next week drawn from the live event, including the Quiz Bowl competition. In the meantime, who do you think won?
More than any other economist, Nobel laureate Gary Becker has inspired and shaped the work of Steven Levitt. Here’s your chance to submit a question for Stephen Dubner to ask Becker when they sit down for an upcoming video chat. Fire away in the comments section.
Photo from the University of Washington. If you’re reading this post on a laptop computer, rest easy. Your computer may have just become far less appealing to thieves. The University of Washington has released a free program that will track your laptop if it’s stolen. If the program is installed on a computer with a built-in camera, it will . . .
When it comes to creativity and storytelling, my sister Linda Jines got all the talent. She, for instance, is the genius who thought up the title “Freakonomics.” In what we hope will be the first in a long line of guest blog posts, today she toasts my father on his 73rd birthday. Levitt’s father in his balaclava. Edina, Minnesota January . . .
A few weeks ago, we solicited your questions for Dubner and Levitt. The high quality and enthusiasm of your response gave us the idea to make the Freakonomics Q&A an ongoing feature. So starting today, the Levitt/Dubner Q&A will run regularly, and will be based on your first set of questions as well as any new questions that you leave . . .
The Patriots are playing the Giants in Sunday’s Super Bowl. I thought it would be fun to put together a short Super Bowl preview. I’ll go first (Justin Wolfers): Cheering for: The Patriots. My first four years in the U.S. were spent in Boston, and that’s where I learned to love the sport that you guys call football. If it . . .
When a quarterback throws a costly interception or when a pitcher gives up a big home run, the play-by-play announcer inevitably says the player wishes “he could have that one back.” If there were a play-by-play announcer for newspaper writing (besides The Wire, I mean), he might say the same thing about this piece by Laura Berman in the Chicago . . .
I sometimes do wear a wig and too much eye makeup, but that’s not what I had in mind. The answer to the question is that people are scalping tickets to both of our performances. There was uproar recently about the steep prices resellers were getting for her concert tickets — sometimes upwards of $2,000. My venue is a little . . .
We’ve been running lots of Q&As of late, with you, the readers, asking the questions. A fellow named Thomas Whitaker recently wrote us to suggest that we submit to a Q&A ourselves. This seemed like a sensible suggestion. We did a bunch of Q&As back when the book came out (see here and here and here, and these FAQs), but . . .
One of my daughters recently had a second-grade friend of hers over to the house for a play date. My wife, Jeannette, was down on the first floor, while the two girls were up in our attic playroom. Suddenly, Jeannette heard screams of terror from the visiting friend. She ran upstairs, fearing the worst. “What happened?” my wife asked. The . . .
Apparently, it is dangerous even to be the wife of a semi-famous economist-author. In this blog post about the difference between corked wine and screw-top wine, Levitt’s wife, Jeannette, is revealed to be not only a drinker but a cork snob: We recently had a friend over (her husband, Steve Levitt, co-wrote Freakonomics) and I noticed the strange look she . . .
Video It is fairly well known by now that Levitt has more than a passing interest in poker, and he’s occasionally shown some promise. (His blackjack skills, meanwhile, are subject to debate.) It is also well-established that, as a parent, he’s less interested in reading a standard bedtime story than in teaching his kids to think creatively and strategically — . . .
I made a quick visit to Los Angeles last week, in an attempt to jump start my languishing acting career. (I’ll let you figure out whether I’m joking. If you aren’t sure, ask someone who knows me.) Here’s how I always know I am in L.A., and not at the University of Chicago: 1. Everyone is constantly telling everyone else . . .
I played in my first golf tournament just after I turned thirteen years old. I emphasize the “just after” part because I have the worst golf birthday in the world: late May. I was always the youngest kid playing in my age bracket, as well as the smallest one. As Dubner and I have discussed in the past, the work . . .
Back when I was a graduate student at MIT in desperate need of a haircut, I stumbled into a place called The Hair Connection. Little did I know it would change my life. A pleasant woman named Carmella cut my hair, and even offered me a generous student discount. I soon became a loyal customer, dropping in every three to . . .
Once upon a time, my friend and co-author Steve Levitt was known as the most outstanding American economist under 40. I have it on good authority that this is no longer true. On May 29, Levitt turned 40. His greatest birthday fear was that someone would throw him a party. He is fiercely anti-party, especially when the party is his. . . .
In addition to its Freakonomics Poker Portfolio, James Altucher at Stockpickr.com has also posted a Freakonomics Horse Racing Portfolio, thus creating indices in honor of two of Steve Levitt‘s greatest passions. FWIW, Levitt’s picks the other day on the Kentucky Derby weren’t terrible. One of the two long shots he liked, Hard Spun, placed and paid $9.80. On the other . . .