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The ’12 Items or Less’ Lab – Annie’s Newsletter, Dec 18th 2017


Paying a professional line-waiter vs. paying more for an item

I admit it: if a story title contains the phrase “wait in line,” I’m more likely to click on it. So, when I came across this Elite Daily (@elitedaily) video, “Meet the dudes that will wait in line for you,” I clicked away. When people are standing in line, there is always a chance we might learn something about decision-making, and this video does not disappoint.

Charging to wait in line for people is certainly an innovative business idea, filling a need in the market for people who don’t have the time or the inclination to queue up but have the money to hire someone to do it for them. But it also raises the question: Why is it that we think line waiting is a fairer basis for distributing tickets/goods than price, the ability to pay for something?

If we hire dudes to wait in line, we’re paying more money and less time for the goods. When we wait in line ourselves, it means that we can afford to wait. Either way, a hidden but real element of the item’s price is that waiting time. The airlines get this: you can pay one price for your ticket and board earlier, or a lower price by forfeiting the time you have to wait to board.

Time is money, literally. If you have the time to wait in line that means you can afford to spend the time line-waiting instead of working. If you hire a dude to wait in line for you, it means you can afford to pay someone to do that. In turn, that dude can profit by charging for his time to save your time.

Doesn’t that make waiting in line just a proxy for price?

So why does forcing someone, or their hired dudes, to wait in line, feel so much fairer than increasing the price or allowing an auction for the tickets/goods? Or does the fact that some people are hiring dudes to wait in line also feel unfair?

(Recommending Dollars and Sense by @danariely and @jeffkreisler for some clues where you’ll find some excellent discussions about what we think of as fair in pricing.)



Another issue of irrationality about the value of lost time

Right before Thanksgiving, I re-upped my blog about the irrationality behind employees not using all their vacation time. Last week, Jan Zilinsky (@janzilinsky), a research associate at NYU, pointed out a CNBC story with stats from a Harris Poll for Glassdoor that 9% of employees used none of their vacation time in the previous twelve months, and another 23% took less than a quarter.

I guess I’m not the only person who’s thinking about this these days: there’s Zilinsky, CNBC, Harris, and Glassdoor. But you know who’s not thinking about it? Millions of workers who annually lose $66 billion in benefits for all the unused vacation days that expire.



Some perspectives on the latest developments in controversy involving teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd (@newworldhominin) and Wilfrid Laurier University:



In advance of the 100th anniversary of physicist Richard Feynman’s birth, his Twitter is heating up

I encourage you to follow the late Professor Richard Feynman on Twitter. No one, in my opinion, was a more eloquent voice for science, and for uncertainty and doubt as engines for seeking truth. The people responsible for the tweets remind us of some bit of Dr. Feynman’s teaching every day or two. Feynman’s wisdom inspires me every time I’m reminded of it. Example on March 21: “We need to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed. It’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know.'” That profound statement is just average by Feynman standards among the 240 tidbits shared since February 2017.



Menagerie of Science … and Mischief

As a person committed to learning about the world, animals will necessarily be a point of interest, wonder, and amazement. We learn an enormous amount by studying animals, and get some well-earned doses of humility. We may be at the top of the food chain, but we share this planet with an amazing assortment of creatures.

Here are the highlights of my recent critter tweets:


I’ve always gravitated toward creature features. Like last April, when I linked to a piece in Science (@scienmag) about the effect of psychoactive drugs on spider’s ability to build a web: “First found out spiders could eat all of us. Now they are on drugs? This can’t help the matter.” In these harrowing times, a find it only mildly terrifying but highly entertaining that, with everything else we have to worry about, there is always the chance a bunch of drugged-out spiders could devour us.

For your enjoyment, here are some of the webs the drugged out spiders spun.

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