The Con Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower for Scrap

Once called “the smoothest con man that ever lived,” this fascinating Smithsonian story briefly recounts the exploits of one Victor Lustig. He made money by traveling aboard luxury cruise ships and convincing rich men that he owned a money box that could duplicate $100 bills. But perhaps his biggest con was how he sold the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal:

By 1925, however, Victor Lustig had set his sights on grander things. After he arrived in Paris, he read a newspaper story about the rusting Eiffel Tower and the high cost of its maintenance and repairs. Parisians were divided in their opinion of the structure, built in 1889 for the Paris Exposition and already a decade past its projected lifespan. Many felt the unsightly tower should be taken down.

Lustig devised the plan that would make him a legend in the history of con men. He researched the largest metal-scrap dealers in Paris. Then he sent out letters on fake stationery, claiming to be the Deputy Director of the Ministere de Postes et Telegraphes and requesting meetings that, he told them, might prove lucrative. In exchange for such meetings, he demanded absolute discretion.

He took a room at the Hotel de Crillon, one of the city’s most upscale hotels, where he conducted meetings with the scrap dealers, telling them that a decision had been made to take bids for the right to demolish the tower and take possession of 7,000 tons of metal. Lustig rented limousines and gave tours of the tower—all to discern which dealer would make the ideal mark.

The crazy part? Lustig got away with the crime without getting caught. So judicious was he in his conning abilities that Lustig once scammed Al Capone for $50,000.

Another interesting detail: Wikipedia mentions that “The Ten Commandments of Con Men” are attributed to Victor Lustig:

  1. Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con man his coups).
  2. Never look bored.
  3. Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, then agree with them.
  4. Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones.
  5. Hint at sex talk, but don’t follow it up unless the other person shows a strong interest.
  6. Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown.
  7. Never pry into a person’s personal circumstances (they’ll tell you all eventually).
  8. Never boast – just let your importance be quietly obvious.
  9. Never be untidy.
  10. Never get drunk.

 

The Psychology of Waiting in Line

This is a good op-ed piece in The New York Times on the psychology of waiting in line (though it could have been published in the science section):

[T]he experience of waiting, whether for luggage or groceries, is defined only partly by the objective length of the wait. “Often the psychology of queuing is more important than the statistics of the wait itself,” notes the M.I.T. operations researcher Richard Larson, widely considered to be the world’s foremost expert on lines. Occupied time (walking to baggage claim) feels shorter than unoccupied time (standing at the carousel). Research on queuing has shown that, on average, people overestimate how long they’ve waited in a line by about 36 percent.

This is also why one finds mirrors next to elevators. The idea was born during the post-World War II boom, when the spread of high-rises led to complaints about elevator delays. The rationale behind the mirrors was similar to the one used at the Houston airport: give people something to occupy their time, and the wait will feel shorter. With the mirrors, people could check their hair or slyly ogle other passengers. And it worked: almost overnight, the complaints ceased.

This is also important:

When a long wait ends on a happy note — the line speeds up, say — we tend to look back on it positively, even if we were miserable much of the time. Conversely, if negative emotions dominate in the final minutes, our retrospective audit of the process will skew toward cynicism, even if the experience as a whole was relatively painless.

On that note — how can airports make the wait less painful? Maybe have some kind of reward available when you reach the scanners and/or TSA personnel.

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Want to read more? The Wikipedia article on queing theory is fascinating.

Platforming Books, A Case Study via Art Space Tokyo

If you’re at all interested in the future of publishing, you should read Craig Mod’s post titled “Platforming Books.” In the post, he goes into detail how his book, Art Space Tokyo, went from a Kickstarter campaign for a physical book to a digital manifestation:

And so, in the last two years a simple, strong truth has emerged: The future of books is built upon networked platforms, not islands. More than any surface advancement — interface, navigational, typographic, or similar — platforms define how we read going forward. Platforms shape systems — those of production, consumption, distribution — and all critical changes happening in digital books and publishing happen within systems. Post-artifact books and publishing is not just about text on screens.

As part of our Kickstarter campaign, we promised a digital edition of Art Space Tokyo. We’re finally delivering on that promise today. But more than dump some files in your lap and run off, we want (as we are wont) to fully open the kimono.

So Art Space Tokyo exists as a physical book, an e-book, and on the Web. Why all three platforms? As Craig explains:

Art Space Tokyo needed a touchable home. An online, public address for all its content. We gave it just that: http://read.artspacetokyo.com. The entire book is there. All the interviewsessays and art space information. Everything has an address to which you can point.

Why do this? I strongly believe digital books benefit from public endpoints. The current generation of readers (human, not electronic) have formed expectations about sharing text, and if you obstruct their ability to share — to touch — digital text, then your content is as good as non-existent. Or, in the least, it’s less likely to be engaged.

I also believe that we will sell more digital and physical copies of Art Space Tokyo by having all of the content available online. The number of inbound links to the site should increase exponentially. read.artspacetokyo.com is one of the largest collections of publicly available text about the Tokyo art world online. Organic search traffic should increase accordingly, and by having upsells on every page, the conversion to paid users should follow suit. We’ll report back with numbers in time.

Just because a collection of text is called a ‘book’ doesn’t mean it can’t act like a website. On read.artspacetokyo.com we purposely broke the strict linearity of the physical Art Space Tokyo. The ambition is to extend the content indefinitely in more organic ways.

Craig’s conclusion on publishing:

If you’re a publisher wondering what to do, the lowest investment, highest return action in this liminal stage of digital publishing is to embrace open EPUBstandards. Unless you want to architect a cross-device platform with cloud syncing, hire a full dev team to support that platform, and iterate relentlessly as standards are hacked apart and reconstituted, then your best bet is to build off existing platforms.

A not-so-long time ago there were no digital books. There were no Kindles or iPads. There were self-contained objects. Objects unnetworked. The only difference now is that they’re touching, they’re next to one another. The content is the same. But that small act of connection brings with it a potential sea change, change we’ll explore as we continue to platform books.

A must-read in its entirety.

Unheard Martin Luther King, Jr. Audio Found in Attic

Stephon Tull was looking through dusty old boxes in his father’s attic in Chattanooga a few months ago when he stumbled onto something startling: an audio reel labeled, “Dr. King interview, Dec. 21, 1960.” The interview was made four years before the Civil Rights Act became law, three years before King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and eight years before King’s assassination. The AP reports on the significance of the finding:

Many recordings of King are known to exist among hundreds of thousands of documents related to his life that have been catalogued and archived. But one historian said the newly discovered interview is unusual because there’s little audio of King discussing his activities in Africa, while two of King’s contemporaries said it’s exciting to hear a little-known recording of their friend for the first time.

In the interview, King says:

I am convinced that when the history books are written in future years, historians will have to record this movement as one of the greatest epochs of our heritage…I had the opportunity to talk with most of the major leaders of the new independent countries of Africa, and also leaders in countries that are moving toward independence,” he said. “And I think all of them agree that in the United States we must solve this problem of racial injustice if we expect to maintain our leadership in the world.

Video of the interview below:

 

In 3,000 Years, Someone Alive Today Will Be the Common Ancestor of All Humanity

Dr. Yan Wong explains why everyone alive in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus would have been able to claim David for an ancestor. He provides a simple mathematical explanation (exponential growth) and makes a couple of assumptions (that any two people in any one country probably won’t need to go back many generations before finding a common ancestor due to inbreeding), and then he extrapolates to the future:

What about the wider ramifications? A single immigrant who breeds into a population has roughly 80% chance of becoming a common ancestor. A single interbreeding event in the distant past will probably, therefore, graft the immigrant’s family tree onto that of the native population. That makes it very likely that King David is the direct ancestor of the populations of many other countries too.

How far do we have to go back to find the most recent common ancestor of all humans alive today? Again, estimates are remarkably short. Even taking account of distant isolation and local inbreeding, the quoted figures are 100 or so generations in the past: a mere 3,000 years ago.

And one can, of course, project this model into the future, too. The maths tells us that in 3,000 years someone alive today will be the common ancestor of all humanity.

A few thousand years after that, 80% of us (those who leave children who in turn leave children, and so on) will be ancestors of all humanity. What an inheritance!

Have you ever traced your family genealogy?

Beloit College Mindset List for Class of 2016

Each year since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List, providing a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall. Here are some cultural milestones for the class of 2016, who were born in 1994 (the year of the professional baseball strike and the last year for NFL football in Los Angeles):

  1. They should keep their eyes open for Justin Bieber or Dakota Fanning at freshman orientation.
  2. They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics.”
  3. The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them.
  4. Michael Jackson’s family, not the Kennedys, constitutes “American Royalty.”
  5. If they miss The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube.
  6. Their lives have been measured in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds.
  7. Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker’s long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.
  8. Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge.
  9. They have never seen an airplane “ticket.”
  10. On TV and in films, the ditzy dumb blonde female generally has been replaced by a couple of Dumb and Dumber males. 
  11. The paradox “too big to fail” has been, for their generation, what “we had to destroy the village in order to save it” was for their grandparents’.
  12. For most of their lives, maintaining relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world has been a woman’s job in the State Department.
  13. They can’t picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it.
  14. There has always been football in Jacksonville but never in Los Angeles.
  15. Having grown up with MP3s and iPods, they never listen to music on the car radio and really have no use for radio at all.
  16. Since they’ve been born, the United States has measured progress by a 2 percent jump in unemployment and a 16 cent rise in the price of a first class postage stamp.
  17. Benjamin Braddock, having given up both a career in plastics and a relationship with Mrs. Robinson, could be their grandfather.
  18. Their folks have never gazed with pride on a new set of bound encyclopedias on the bookshelf.
  19. The Green Bay Packers have always celebrated with the Lambeau Leap.
  20. Exposed bra straps have always been a fashion statement, not a wardrobe malfunction to be corrected quietly by well-meaning friends.
  21. A significant percentage of them will enter college already displaying some hearing loss.
  22. The Real World has always stopped being polite and started getting real on MTV.
  23. Women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles.
  24. White House security has never felt it necessary to wear rubber gloves when gay groups have visited.
  25. They have lived in an era of instant stardom and self-proclaimed celebrities, famous for being famous.
  26. Having made the acquaintance of Furby at an early age, they have expected their toy friends to do ever more unpredictable things.
  27. Outdated icons with images of floppy discs for “save,” a telephone for “phone,” and a snail mail envelope for “mail” have oddly decorated their tablets and smart phone screens.
  28. Star Wars has always been just a film, not a defense strategy.
  29. They have had to incessantly remind their parents not to refer to their CDs and DVDs as “tapes.”
  30. There have always been blue M&Ms, but no tan ones.

See the complete list here. It’s quite fascinating. For comparison purposes, here is Mindset List when I was entering college.

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(via Carpe Diem)

On Buying Apple Products vs. Apple Stock

With Apple hitting an all-time high of $665/share yesterday, I thought it was worth looking again at the table I encountered comparing buying an Apple product or spending the equivalent amount buying Apple stock.

Kyle Conroy had the table updated on April 1, 2012. I pulled the raw data myself and have updated the numbers. I’ve added an extra column: closing share price of Apple on the release date of the product.

The table is found after the jump. Two quick stats: 1) if you spent $1,300 or more buying Apple stock after 2002, you’d have over $100,000 today and 2) There are only five products (out of 430+ listed in the table!) that you could have bought in the last 15 years which would have not made a bigger return had you chosen to instead spend that money by buying Apple stock.

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