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The Joys of Unpredictability, The Unjoys of Pop-Ups, Etc. takes

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If a commercial has a surprise ending, will this predispose viewers to like the brand? So we might hypothesize, based on new brain research published in The Journal of Neuroscience (as summarized in The New York Times). The researchers scanned their subjects' brains as these intrepid souls received squirts of fruit juice or water in predictable and unpredictable patterns. It turns out the brains' pleasure centers perked up significantly more when the squirts were administered in unpredictable patterns. In short, the brain "may prefer unexpected pleasures to expected ones." Where TV spots are concerned, cynics might say viewers are pleasantly surprised when a commercial is "merely pleasurable." In this context, then, it may be a distinction without a difference.

With pop-up Internet ads, the good news is that people notice them. That's also the bad news, since people dislike them. A study by Statistical Research Inc. finds 49 percent of active Internet users agreeing "strongly" that pop-up ads get noticed. At the same time, 62 percent said these ads "interfere with their reading or use of a Web page." As if that's not enough, SRI found people "less likely to view companies that use pop-up ads as being industry leaders."

These days, you don't have to walk a mile for a Camel. A study by Forrester Research says online retailing of tobacco products is catching fire, helped considerably by the fact consumers needn't pay sales tax. By 2005, the research firm predicts, such sales will reach $5 billion, "causing states to lose $1.4 billion in tax revenue."

Longevity isn't everything. A poll by Fitness gave women a hypothetical choice: Would you rather live to be 100 or lose 20 pounds permanently. Fifty-four percent said they'd rather lose the weight. And would they take a "magic pill" that let them eat as they please without gaining weight but that raised their cancer risk by 10 percent? Twenty-four percent said they'd take it.

As Robert Frost might have said, "Something there is that doesn't love an unpapered wall." A billboard for Seabrook wallpaper (by Thompson & Co. of Memphis, Tenn.) promotes hostility toward white walls. They're acceptable in the garage, evidently, but not elsewhere in the house.