Why Luck Plays a Big Role in Making You Rich fact, a prerequisite of success in many fields may be a strong refusal to believe in luck. The idea of “making your own luck” is great motivation, while nothing can kill your drive more than suspecting the game is rigged. The reality, however, is that luck does matter. It’s hard to see in your own life if things are going well: Frank says it’s like running with a tailwind, as opposed to a headwind.

[E]ven the most talented people in the world can point to coincidences that gave them a crucial edge. Frank cites the 60-year-old Gates: Despite growing up in the 1960s, the co-founder of Microsoft Corp. happened to attend the rare school that offered students unlimited access to computers.

“The fact that anyone exists at all is so astronomically improbable,” Frank says. “The fact that you’re here to live and breathe and enjoy a sunset–what an unbelievably unlikely thing.”

Ben Steverman, Bloomberg, September 1, 2016


The Science of Getting Through a Checkout Line Faster

Choosing a line at the grocery store can be surprisingly daunting. You can pick the shortest queue and avoid customers with large orders or coupons, yet still feel like your cashier is the slowest. But new research suggests that you may still be on the fast track, provided that line is dedicated to just one cashier.

Previous researchers suspected that a single line leading up to multiple cashiers—the system many ticket sellers and big box stores use—could be maximally efficient. But a forthcoming study in Management Science challenges that assumption. A better system is not a single queue at all—it is many of them. When workers have their own dedicated set of customers, called parallel queues, they work faster.

Sarah Chodosh, Scientific American, June 10, 2016

Houses Keep Getting Bigger, Even as Families Get Smaller

When your adult child comes back to live with you, there is a good reason he or she won’t be exiled to the basement.

If you have a newer home, you are going to have the room to spare.

The average size of newly built home continues to grow, although not as much as in previous years. It is now 2,687 square feet, according to the Census Bureau’s annual survey of American housing. The census also says that 31 percent of newly constructed homes are 3,000 square feet or more.

Damon Darlin, New York Times, June 3, 2016

Drake Equation Revision Hugely Ups Odds Intelligent Extraterrestrial Life Exists: A new study revises the famous Drake equation, and gives optimists some more support.

The Drake Equation, which takes into account various factors like the rate of star formation, the fraction of stars that could form planetary systems, the number habitable planets in those systems, and so on, is now 55 years old. It doesn’t reflect the new information SETI researchers have collected since the 1960s.

Estimates derived by projects running under NASA’s Kepler satellite and a few other instruments suggest the 2 x 10^22 stars in the universe, 20 percent have planets that reside in habitable zones that have temperatures, atmospheres, and other traits that could support life. So that takes care of one uncertainty.

That leaves two other questions:

1) How often would life evolve? 2) How long could those civilizations survive for?

That being said, optimism for finding alien life has never been higher. After all, three famous names just started a multi-million dollar project to look for aliens in Alpha Centauri — the closest star system to the Earth — and some prominent scientists think there’s a good chance we’ll find something special. There’s certainly never been a time to be an E.T. optimist.

Neel V. Patel, Inverse.,com, April 28, 2016

A Day in the Life of Americans – This is how America runs.

Probability in Economics, Miscellaneous – 



More specifically, I tabulated transition probabilities for one activity to the other, such as from work to traveling, for every minute of the day. That provided 1,440 transition matrices, which let me model a day as a time-varying Markov chain. The simulations below come from this model, and it’s kind of mesmerizing.

Nathan Yau,, December 15, 2015

Pumpkin Pie in Miami: Thanksgiving Flight Patterns

Probability in Relationships, Miscellaneous –

Thanksgiving is known as a time to return home to family, with the holiday calling to mind images of grandmother’s house. But for many Americans, it’s also now a chance to go on vacation.

This week, Florida will see a surge in the number of people arriving by plane. Las Vegas is another popular destination. Much more than is commonly realized, Thanksgiving is a time to seek out sun (and gambling), in addition to (or possibly instead of) catching up with loved ones.

Josh Katz and Quoctrung Bui, New York Times, Nov. 24, 2015

Here’s What Your Part Of America Eats On Thanksgiving

Probability in Health, Miscellaneous –


The Southeast prefers their carbs in the form of mac and cheese — 35 percent of respondents in that region include the dish on their Thanksgiving menu versus 20 percent of the country overall. Meanwhile, New England is losing its mind over squash, with 56 percent demanding it on their table, compared with only 18 percent of the nation as a whole.

Walt Hickey,, November 20, 2015

Effectiveness of Talk Therapy Is Overstated, a Study Says

Probability in Psychology, Health –

Medical literature has overstated the benefits of talk therapy for depression, in part because studies with poor results have rarely made it into journals, researchers reported Wednesday.


How to Be Richer in Retirement Without Saving More Money: The financial benefits of fitness can be big

Probability in Economics, Health –

About 35 percent of the 25-to-70-year-olds in the survey commissioned by Schwab Retirement Plan Services were unwilling to sacrifice their quality of life today—to cut down on dinners out or on vacations—to save more for retirement. But the bigger issue is that many people simply can’t afford to save more. What those people can do is lessen the future bite of health-care costs by focusing on their health now.

Suzanne Woolley, BloombergBusiness, August 27, 2015

How Economists Can Be Just as Irrational as the Rest of Us

Probability in Economics, Psychology –

Retailers know that the items they place at eye level of store shelves will sell faster than those that are down low. The top headline on a news website will usually be clicked more often than the ones down lower. So maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that the same logic applies to economics research, with long-lasting implications for what ideas are propagated.

Economists, they’re just like us.

No editorial judgment goes into the sequence in which the working papers appear. It is random, based on the order in which the paper was submitted and in which the N.B.E.R. approval process was completed.

But a lot more people read the first one listed. Showing up first in the email generated a 33 percent increase in the number of people who clicked on the working paper and a 29 percent increase in the number who downloaded it.

Neil Irwin, New York Times, September 4, 2015

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