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Seven Fascinating Stories About Human Nature

digg_url = ‘//www.fastcompany.com/blog/chris-dannen/techwatch/seven-fascinating-stories-about-human-nature’; digg_skin = ‘compact’; Harvard’s shocking fiscal incompetence, a cave of hobos in L.A., murderous robots, and innate female aggression: it’s been a fun week in human nature, if you trust the stories that have gone viral on the social news …

Seven Fascinating Stories About Human Nature

Harvard’s shocking fiscal incompetence, a cave of hobos in L.A., murderous robots, and innate female aggression: it’s been a fun week in human nature, if you trust the stories that have gone viral on the social news sites. Check out the best of them below.

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Woman
Gambles Away Investors’ Money. Literally.

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According to the Star-Tribune
in Minneapolis, a Minnesota woman collected an undisclosed amount of
money from investors–millions–and proceeded to take it to Las Vegas
and blow it all on “sports betting and table gaming.” (Kalin Dao, fraudster, left.)

Apparently thinking that cable news metaphors about heavy hitters “gambling” with investor funds were to be literally interpreted, Dao used money from new investors to pay dividends to old
ones, and wasted the rest forming her rep as a casino high roller. She got away with the Ponzi scheme for nearly three years. Victims
insinuate she got away with it because she was small, friendly, smart
and seemingly harmless, due to an physical disability that caused her
to walk with a limp.

Harvard’s
Dumb Bets

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The
Atlantic
blogged about a fascinating
piece in Boston Magazine on the unsound (and heavily leveraged) investment strategies of
America’s top university, the sum of which lost it $11 billion this
year. Harvard’s total endowment stands at $25 billion, after topping out at
over $30 billion. And while that’s a massive loss, the school is still
very much in the money. Writer Derek Thompson Richard Bradley suggests that current
administrators may use the loss to renew their campaign for
donations. Even so, it’s always interesting to see the smartest guys in
the room can make the very
same dumb decisions as the rest of the non-Ivied populace.

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Bar-hopping? Bring Your Ugly Friend

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely discusses how we (often stupidly) make
decisions based on faulty information from our eyes and ears, and
faulty processing in the room upstairs. Among the phenomena: when given
a choice between two good-looking men and a third unattractive man who
resembles one of the others, women will choose the better-looking man
of the ugly-handsome dyad most of the time.



Microsoft’s
New Search Engine Gets Unlikely Approval

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Rebranding is a dangerous game; do it right, and consumers will love something old as
if it’s new again, but do it wrong and you can inspire incredible
antipathy. Redmond unveiled its latest re-brand on Thursday at the
conference All Things D. Live Search will now be known as Bing, an
updated version of Microsoft’s search engine that will try (again) to
take on Google and Yahoo. Luckily for MSFT, Bing has plenty of new
features that should generate some curiosity. “That was the most
astounding software demo I’ve ever seen,” said Apple co-founder Steve
Wozniak, calling himself a “big fan” of Bing. An auspicious early
review, if ever there was one. Then again, this guy rides a
Segway.

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L.A.
County Raids Homeless Colony Under Highway

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Apparently, there is a one-mile stretch of unlit space under the number
10 freeway in L.A. know as the “Cave,” where hundreds of vagrants live
and use drugs. The Los Angeles Times
says it’s an area as big as two high school gyms, and littered with
trash and used needles. This week, teams of deputies descended into the
Cave with guns drawn, looking to clear the area of its inhabitants. For
a description that will surely make you want to skip dinner, keep
reading. “Flashlight beams picked up mounds of scrap metal, bicycle
parts, knives, syringes and an M-16 ammo clip,” the article says. “They
found thick sections of concrete wall had been chiseled away to create
little rooms. They found a man sleeping near the rotting carcass of
what appeared to be a cat.”

Why
Are Women So Bitchy to Each Other?

Picture 1

Researchers are studying aggression between women, according to an
article in Scientific
American
. The phenomenon of
angsty, hormonal teenage girls scorning one another in the high school
cafeteria has become common suburban lore, but it’s also supported by
data collected about passive conflicts between reproductive-aged women.
Boys may fight more, the data says, but women engage in different and
complex social aggression. The question is: is the behavior innate, and
is it increasing?

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Can
Robots Form Societies?

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A group of Swiss researchers is studying whether groups of robots can
develop alliances and commit “evil” behavior in the pursuit of survival
when resources are scarce. Hauntingly, they can: some of the simple,
miniature bots warn others of danger and share food, but others
intentionally trick competing robots into starvation or death. To read
the design of the experiment, check out the article at Current.com.

About the author

I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs.

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