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.
Woman Gambles Away Investors' Money. Literally. 

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

The Atlantic has a fascinating piece 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 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. 

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 

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.

LA County Raids Homeless Colony Under Highway 

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? 

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?

Can Robots Form Societies?

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.

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