Thoughts Archive

Below is the archive of Thoughts, along with downloadable content associated with each post.



Thought: How Happy Are You?

“I like to find solutions to Daily Optimization problems, but ultimately the reason I want to do this is to increase my happiness. By finding out the optimal time to leave in order to minimize the time I spend waiting for the subway, the less time I have to spend in an unpleasant state, which is one way of making myself happier.

But how much happier am I? How do you measure how happy you are in the first place?…” read more

PDF Version



Thought: Waiting for the Subway

“You know how when you’re waiting for something to happen, time feels like it goes by a lot slower? Like how a minute is super long when you’re watching a clock. That’s how I feel waiting for the subway to come. But the subway wait is even worse, because usually by the time I’m waiting for the subway I’m also quite eager to get home. This makes it feels like I wait forever for the train.

It really only takes about two minutes.” read more

PDF Version



Thought: The Great Coffee Experiment

“I drink a lot of coffee.

In fact, I’m drinking a cup as I write this article. I drink coffee because I think that it makes me more productive and gives me a slight boost in energy which allows me to work more on whatever it is I happen to be working on. As a Daily Optimizer,[i] it makes perfect sense for me to drink more coffee if it truly does make me more productive. And while I suspect that any boost in work productivity from coffee-drinking is small, sub-optimal coffee drinking habits could lead to large productivity losses over a lifetime.

…I drink coffee because I think it makes me more productive. But I don’t really know that it does. This issue has plagued me ever since I became an avid coffee drinker. Rather than letting this problem keep me up at night (or is that all the caffeine?), I designed an experiment to get to the bottom of this coffee controversy.” read more

PDF Version

Official ThoughtBurner Report

Coffee Drinking Data



Thought: How Many Daughters Should You Have If You Want To Become President?

“President Obama’s children are both daughters. Also, George W. Bush had two daughters. Bill Clinton had a daughter. And then there’s the classic “My Date with the President’s Daughter” [emphasis added]. After a little more searching, I found out that, in fact, every president since JFK has had at least one daughter (Eisenhower had two sons only).

This was enough evidence for me to want to initiate a more thorough investigation. Are presidents more likely to have daughters?” read more

PDF Version

Presidential Offspring Spreadsheet



Thought: Powerball Lottery Tickets Are Actually Worth Less Now That The Jackpot Prize Is Higher

“The Powerball jackpot prize is currently a whopping $1.4 billion, making it the largest jackpot lottery ever. The media hype is huge, and people all over the country are lining up to have a chance to become unthinkably rich overnight. If there was ever a good time to buy a lottery ticket, it would be now, right?

Well, no.

Many people don’t seem to realize that a higher jackpot doesn’t necessarily increase the value of a lottery ticket. Sure, the total jackpot prize gets higher. But as more and more people buy tickets, the odds that somebody else will also win the lottery increases significantly…” read more

PDF Version

Lottery Sales Data and Expected Value Calculations



Thought: Personalized Optimal Facebook Posting Strategy 

“Two weeks ago, I used my friends’ Facebook posts to figure out an optimal Facebook posting strategy. Using the results I was able to give credit to some common theories about optimal Facebook strategies and dispel others – at least as they apply to my own specific friend group.

I went back and recorded data on every post I put on Facebook since the introduction of the ‘like’ button in February 2009. Using this dataset, I performed an analysis similar to the one I did on the data from my friend group. The results are different, which suggests that…” read more

PDF Version

Part 2: Personalized Facebook Analysis



Thought: Optimizing Facebook Posts

“I would be remiss to preach Daily Optimization without analyzing an activity that many people of my generation partake in daily – Facebook posting. I have heard many informal theories from family and friends about how certain factors affect Facebook post performance… Rather than relying on these ‘studies’, none of which use any basic controls in their analyses, I decided to collect data on my own friends’ Facebook posting patterns for two weeks to see if I could learn anything for myself…” read more

PDF Version

Part 1: Optimizing Facebook Posts



Thought: Optimizing Presidential Debates

“These two aspects of presidential debates – candidate quality and the variety of viewpoints represented – break down the measure of ‘debate quality’ into more manageable parts. We decided to combine our methods into a single super-proposal that simultaneously maximizes candidate quality and ideological representativeness. Using this method, we came up with our own list of who should be invited to the GOP debates. We also created a personalized debate optimization calculator, which lets you customize our process based on your own personal opinion of how much certain candidate factors matter…” read more

PDF Version

Personalized Debate Optimization Calculator

Candidate Quality Calculations

Candidate Diversity Calculations



Thought: Speeding Quotas In Austin, Texas

“I have often heard from friends and family that you shouldn’t speed at the end of the month because police officers will be trying to finish their month’s quota of speeding tickets. Also, apparently there were a few police forces around the country that got caught using speeding ticket quotas in the past, including cities in Texas. Even though speeding ticket quotas are illegal in Texas, it may be the case that police departments have implicit quotas or “performance standards” that effectively create the same behavior that we would expect from explicit quotas.

Rather than continuing to speculate, I turned to the data. Using the City of Austin’s open data website[iii], I gathered the details of every traffic violation…” read more

PDF Version

Excel File

Notice About Stata Files: Because WordPress does not allow upload of .do or .dta files (for Stata), I have uploaded the files as .doc (s). If you want to use the files as .do or .dta files, simply save the file as a .doc and rename the old extension to the appropriate, new extension.

2014dataraw (rename to .dta)

QuotaBehaviorTest (rename to .dta)

SpeedingDoFile (rename to .do)



Thought: Welfare-Maximizing Speeding Fines

“Taking the perspective of the government, we can try to find the optimal level of speeding ticket fines. The benevolent government can be thought of as an optimizing agent itself, who wants to maximize the welfare of society.

In a simple model, there are three things that the government needs to take into consideration when…” read more

PDF Version




Thought: At What Speed Should You Speed?

“While I’m sure that many of you readers are outstanding citizens who would never ever even dream about ever breaking the law ever, I know that some of you are natural-born rebels and straight‑up gangsters that look at the list of minor traffic violations and say, “Nah, Imma do me.” Speeding ensues.

Most people will not drive faster than they feel comfortable driving, but the prevalence of speeding tickets suggests that often times people’s maximum comfortable driving speed is above the set speed limits…” read more

PDF Version



Thought: Countries With Names That Sounds Really Free Aren’t Actually Free

“Could it be that countries are compensating for their definitive lack of freedom with a “free-sounding” name? A normal person would probably take this a face value and have a laugh at the irony, but we’re not normal people at ThoughtBurner, so I’ve done some statistical analysis to figure out whether countries with free-sounding names are actually more oppressive.

First off, to figure out how free or oppressive a country is, I used…” read more

PDF Version




Thought: Cinderella’s Incredibly Small Foot

“The prince’s plan to find Cinderella was, as I mentioned above, to take the glass slipper around the countryside and try it on every woman in the kingdom. Whoever the slipper fit would be the woman that the prince would marry. The prince is making a huge assumption here: that no other woman in the kingdom has the same foot size as Cinderella. In the movie, it shows the prince’s men trying the glass slipper on many different women, and it never seems to fit! And, for most of the women the shoe is too small – this implies that Cinderella’s foot is very small. How small would Cinderella’s foot need to be in order for the prince’s assumption to be correct, you ask?

First, we need to know the distribution of women’s foot sizes…” read more

PDF Version




Thought: The “YOLO” Effect – Inappropriately Discounting The Future

You can hear the call coming from inside the gated frat house parties across college campuses every Friday night. The Lonely Island called it “the battle cry of a generation.” Even in everyday conversation, hesitation, prudence, and caution are all greeted with a new, four-letter challenge: YOLO.

The expression “you only live once” (YOLO) is often meant to serve as a justification for risky or unwise behavior. The idea behind the message, however, is stronger than that…” read more

PDF Version



Thought: The Value Of Reading A Blog Post

“Disclaimer: the estimated average opportunity cost of reading this ThoughtBurner post is $1.22

I’ve been wondering whether blogs are valuable or not, so I decided to construct a way to approximate the opportunity cost of reading a single post. By reading any of these posts you are, of course, foregoing the opportunity to do other things – more productive things. If you’re reading this post at work, for example…” read more

PDF Version




Thought: Daily Optimization

“We are constantly faced with optimization problems throughout the day: What will be the fastest way to get to work today? Do I go through the drive-through or park and go inside? Should I commit to reading this ThoughtBurner post or do something else in my free time? We want to be as happy as possible, which means that for each of these choices we try to choose the best or optimal decision. Luckily, we’re usually pretty good at figuring out the best course of action and live pretty efficient lives.

Suppose, however, that at every little decision you made during the day, you chose a less-than-optimal choice. You would have been happier doing something else, but…” read more

PDF Version


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