Satnavs and the Sunk Cost Fallacy

One of the best pieces of economic advice I know is ”Don’t throw good money after bad”. Or in other words, when you consider whether you should continue to invest in a project, don’t let the sum you’ve already invested figure into your decision. To do so is known as the ”sunk cost fallacy”, and leads to ”escalation of commitment”. A good way to avoid this is to decide beforehand what your exit conditions will be, and then stick to them. A bit like saying “I’m going to play the slot machines until six o’clock or until I’ve lost $50, whatever comes first”.

Google Maps offers a beautiful real-life illustration of this. It’s particularly instructive because unlike the case with your financial investments, this software can tell you with a high degree of accuracy what the outcome will be if you escalate your commitment – and if you don’t.

I’ve never had a dedicated satnav in my car. My route planning has always been “look at the map, find the shortest path, see if any major highways are near that shortest path”. But recently I’ve begun using Google Maps. I tell it the endpoints of my trip and the means of transportation I’m using. It computes a couple of itineraries and tells me how long each is likely to take. “Path A is the fastest and path B will take 17 minutes longer”. I then start driving along path A. I invest in it.

Now, I don’t check Google Maps continuously. My smartphone is not in a dashboard holder and I have no lighter cable for powering it. I check the status of my investment maybe once every two hours of driving, or when I get the feeling I may have taken a wrong turn. And sometimes in unfamiliar territory I find that I have indeed veered off path A. Should I retread my tracks and get back on that path? I ask Google Maps again.

The software has no memory of recommending path A to me. It has no sense of commitment whatsoever. It just knows where I am now and where I want to go. So in many cases it tells me “Path C is the fastest. You could take the later stages of Paths A or B instead, but that would take 10 and 13 minutes longer, respectively.” Escalated investment in my original project would clearly just be stupid. I chose path A at the outset because I trusted Google Maps, so why shouldn’t I trust it now that I’ve left that path? On the strength of new information, I invest in path C instead.


Gun Stash Suddenly Unavailable

A colleague of mine has left contract archaeology to work for the police as a civil utredare, that is, someone with a university degree who works on crime cases despite not being a policeperson. He told me a pretty neat story about Gubbligan, the Old Man’s Gang.

The OMG were three professional bank robbers who never settled down. In the 00s they were in their 40s, 50s and 60s, and still they kept committing armed robberies across southern Sweden. The police were onto them and had begun to tap the gang’s cell phones. This way they learned that the OMG had an arms stash out in the woods, where they had buried some pretty heavy weaponry and explosives.

The police now had a little problem. They weren’t quite ready to arrest the gang, and if they dug up the stash they would alert their quarry. On the other hand, it wasn’t very comfortable to let the gang keep their guns and explosives just like that. Then someone had a pretty neat idea.

The next time the OMG popped by to check on their stash out in elk country, they found it buried under half a ton of sugar beets. Across the clearing, just under the eaves of the woods, was a freshly built hunting stand.

The Old Man’s Gang were apprehended in 2010 and are currently serving another one of their usual long jail sentences.

For more about the OMG, see Anders Svensson’s blog.

Festival Pregnancy

After my first marriage I briefly dated a stoner girl. She was sweet and mild-mannered, her conversation laggy. There was a sleepy micro-pause before each of her replies. She’d spent four years on social security in a Copenhagen squat, smoking pot as a full-time occupation, before moving back to Stockholm and finding a job. Here’s her festival pregnancy story, as I remember it.

“I met Robert from Ringkøbing at the Roskilde rock festival. We got along really well and ended up in my tent together. Weeks later I realised that I was pregnant. This turned out to be a pretty complicated thing. I told Robert and he was really happy. But then his parents got in touch and were totally worked up about it all. Turned out they were farmers and big land owners. They were thinking of the inheritance issue. Anyway, I didn’t want a baby then, and not with Robert, so I had an abortion, and the parents were relieved. But Robert was sad. He wanted that baby.”

University Degrees that Lead to Jobs in Sweden

Five years ago I blogged about a study by the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education, identifying the higher education degrees that were likely to give you the best chances of a Swedish job in the period 2010-2020. This was because I complain a lot here on the blog about how useless a degree in anything even remotely similar to archaeology is, and I wanted to say something positive for a change. The careers that looked promising in 2010 were in lower-paying positions in healthcare, education and tech.

Now the Swedish Public Employment Service has published a similar study of what degrees they believe will offer the most opportunities in the period 2020-2025. Here’s the new list, with an asterisk for degrees that were on the previous one as well.

  • Day care teacher, Sw. förskollärare *
  • Youth centre leader, Sw. fritidspedagog *
  • Teacher, children aged 7-16, Sw. grundskolelärare
  • High-school teacher of trades such as carpentry and plumbing, Sw. gymnasielärare i yrkesämnen *
  • Teacher for children with special needs, Sw. speciallärare *
  • Doctor, Sw. läkare
  • Nurse, Sw. sjuksköterska
  • Dentist, Sw. tandläkare *

(They also list “IT jobs” and “tech jobs”, but don’t identify specific degrees.)

The future of the Swedish job market still seems to be in healthcare, education and tech. An encouraging thing though is that while the only job on the 2010 list that was likely to make you any reasonable money was the dentist, now the doctor is also on the list. In other words: if you are bright and enjoy working with people, if you’re thinking of starting a degree this year, and if you want to earn a comfortable living in Sweden after graduation, then apply for med school or dentistry school now.

Karate In A Hijab

Here’s an interesting case regarding Muslim women’s veils. They’re instruments or symbols of patriarchal repression, right? Well, check this out.

Dania Mahmudi is from my area, Fisksätra. She’s 14 years old and wears a veil. Mahmudi has been practising karate for years. Two weeks ago she went with her club to the district championship, eager to compete. But the umpire disqualified her – for her veil’s sake. It covered her throat, and karate competition rules state that the umpire needs to be able to watch for damage to each contestant’s throat. OK, said her coach after a heated argument, so she can’t do the hand-to-hand part of the competition. Surely the solo performance element, kata, will be no problem given this reasoning. No, she was disqualified there too.

Things are changing in the karate world. You couldn’t compete wearing any kind of veil until last year. When it became allowed, Iran’s women’s team immediately won a world cup medal at kata – wearing regulation veils.

My guess is that this problem will be solved a few years from now. But look at it from a repression perspective. I have no idea whether Mahmudi’s parents are forcing her to wear the veil. But I do know that they’re fine with their daughter practising karate for years at a dojo half an hour’s bus ride from home. Competition rules are apparently a bigger problem for her athletic career. Luckily, Mahmudi isn’t about to give up. She’s aiming for the world cup.

I wrote about the veil in 2006, comparing it to the bikini top, which is pretty much the same deal only in Western culture. This is what cultural relativism means, not the condoning of atrocities.

Think Before You Drop-Shadow

No chair could cast a shadow like this

No chair could cast a shadow like this

Many graphic designers like to cut out objects from photographs and give them a digital drop shadow on the page. Here’s an example of why this is often a bad idea. Since it’s working with a 2D image, the drop shadow algorithm has to assume that the object has no depth or surface contour. In the example above, we have a 3D chair that’s been given a shadow that would only be realistic if the object had been a 2D picture of a chair cut out of a piece of flat cardboard.

Elsevier Spams Journal Contributors With Offer Of Language Revision

A few months ago I registered on Elsevier’s clunky old on-line manuscript submissions site and submitted a paper to Journal of Archaeological Science. It got turned down because the two peer reviewers disagreed on whether it should be accepted or not. No biggie: I resubmitted elsewhere. Today Elsevier Science & Technology Journals spammed the address I submitted from with an offer of language revision!

Need help getting published? Elsevier Language services can help you

Dear Dr. Martin Rundkvist,

Could expert language editing improve your chances of getting published?

• Language Editing
• Language Editing Plus

Our language editing team will make sure your manuscript is written in the highest standard of English.

We will correct spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. We will also check for problems in parallelisms, tense and conjugations and eliminate improper language and poor word choice.

No, Elsevier, I do not need help getting published. I have a rather comfortable body of work in the scholarly literature, thank you. Nor do I need your help with language revision. You see, I’m the editor and main language revisor of an international journal. Do you have any idea how unprofessional it is to a) spam contributors to your journals, b) suggest in said spam that they may need some help to get into print? Shouldn’t you employ marketing people who know a little something about academics and academic publishing?

Podcasts I Pay For

Part of my subscriptions list in Podkicker

Part of my subscriptions list in Podkicker

I give these podcasts $5-8 monthly. Only the HPLLP has a pay wall.

I’ve also been a paying member of the Planetary Society for years because of their excellent podcast Planetary Radio with Mat Kaplan et al.

Five Good Podcasts

I love listening to podcasts during housework, commuting and travelling. I use the Podkicker app on my Android phone. Some of my current favourites are put out by the old media: NPR, CBC and BBC. But here are five faves without old-media ties.

  • The Drabblecast. ”Strange stories by strange authors for strange listeners”, with the inimitable master of the form, Norm Sherman.
  • Planetary Radio. All the weekly space news you need, and interviews with the scientists and engineers who make that news.
  • Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff. Role playing games, speculative fiction, history, spy thrillers, occultism, cooking, movies and stories about Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor.
  • Skeptics With a K. Three young Englishmen being witty on current skeptical topics.
  • The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast. Funny and insightful discussion of old, classic or obscure horror short-stories. (Only some episodes are free, so I subscribe.)

Woods Porn Deposition

skog8porr2When I was a kid around 1980 me and my buddies used to play in small tracts of woodland around where we lived. There we sometimes found woods porn, Sw. skogsporr: damp and fragmented pornographic magazines. We learned quite a lot from them that stood us in good stead later in life.

Back then, before porn went digital, woods porn was ubiquitous. Woodland deposition in fact seems to have been a major culturally sanctioned way to get rid of unwanted porn. It’s easy to imagine scenarios that would have given rise to the custom: you need to (use and?) get rid of something discreetly, you can’t leave it anywhere near your home or workplace, and you can’t draw attention to it by burning it. But though almost everybody I’ve talked to about woods porn has found some once, I have never heard any rumour from a person who deposited woods porn. Who were they? All I know is that they must have been older than us kids in order to be that interested in porn and to be able to afford it. And they probably weren’t comfortable talking about porn.

I knew some grown-up porn buyers: my friend’s big brother, their dad, another friend’s mom & dad. They all kept their porn in their nightstand drawers, quite unabashedly. I can’t really see why they would have hidden some of it in the woods. They were probably not woods porn depositors.

Do you, Dear Reader, have any tales to tell of woods porn deposition?

Image from Martin Nilsson’s blog.