Archive for November, 2010

The reasons Pop doesn’t buy gold (Video!)

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Whether you love gold as an investment or an inflation hedge or not, here’s a hilarious (to some of us anyway) video about buying gold.
My favorite line: “You will have a cube of pretty metal that’s really big.”

Hat tip to Pop Economics: The reasons I don’t buy gold (Video!)


The Upside of Irrationality

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely just might be my favorite non-fiction book ever.  There’s so much to write about that I have not been able start.  I’ve been irrationally procrastinating.

In fact I procrastinate on all these “book review” topics.  I guess I don’t actually want to review books, but I do want to make something from my time invested and share some of the high points. 

So, I’ll shift gears and just share the amusing stories I read in books instead of really reviewing them.

So, without further ado:

The upside of irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home, by Dan Ariely

I think the title is misleading.  It’s really just another book on the material from Predictably Irrational.  It was interesting, but did little to promote the “upside of irrationality,” or any “benefits” for defying logic.   Perhaps this opinion is just what you get from an engineer type who values rationality.

We value our own work

Experiments show that we value our pathetic attempts at crafts far more than a stranger would if we put any effort into it ourselves.  But here’s the funny story:

When instant cake mixes were introduced in the late 1940s, they were not well received.  It turns out there’s a huge difference in a Woman’s mind (this was 1940) between an I-made-it-myself homemade cake and a just-add-water cake.  When Pillsbury began leaving out the dried eggs, sales took off.  Apparently, adding water and eggs is enough to instill that made-it-myself feeling and enough pride of ownership to make it acceptable to serve.  This is commonly known as the “egg effect.”


In another study, an actor administered a simple test to strangers in a café for a small payment.  In some of the cases, he would impolitely interrupt the instructions to accept a short personal phone call.  After the task was completed, the participant would be slightly overpaid and given the opportunity to violate social norms by stealing the extra money.  Shockingly, the slight, er, slight, was enough to drastically increase the rate of thievery.  Perhaps more surprising, a simple apology “sorry – I shouldn’t have taken that call” is enough to completely neutralize the effect.

Maximizing Your Happiness dollars

There’s a psychological phenomenon called Adaptation, that basically means we get used to stuff – good or bad.  The bottom line of Ariely’s musings is that we get the most happiness bang for our bucks by spreading out our purchases.  If you buy a whole house full of furnishings and decorations, the thrill wears off.  If you buy your items one at a time, the thrill still wears off, but you get a whole bunch of them.

Pop Economics wrote an excellent post on this here.   For the same reason, commercials actually enhance our enjoyment of television programs.  Hard to believe – go read the article.

The other bit has to do with keeping up with the Joneses.   Just don’t get the same stuff they get, because comparisons hurt.  Let’s say you want a Toyota RAV4 and you’re agonizing whether to spend the extra bucks for the Sport edition.  If you settle for the base model and your neighbor gets the sport (and loves it), your going to be unhappy.  If you settle for the base model and your neighbor gets a Subaru Outback Foo Foo model (or a Rolls Royce or Ferrari for that matter), you’re more likely to be happy with your base RAV4.  We have some control over who we choose as our “Joneses”, and that decision has a lot to do with our level of contentment.

On Empathy and Emotion

Human beings are deeply touched by stories.  The tale of a single suffering soul motivates us in a way that suffering millions do not.  This leads to misallocated resources in a big way.  The Cancer Society is able to raise gobs of money by telling stories, and by labeling everyone who as had cancer as a “survivor” (why do we not have “heart attack survivors” and why am I not a “torn ACL survivor”?).   Why do we pour out time and money to help a little girl who’s fallen in a well while the same resources would save 1000 lives in a poverty stricken village in Far-Far-Away?  Ariely’s chapter on this subject paints a rational picture of our collective irrationality, but utterly fails (in my mind) to indicate the “upside.”


The Long-Term Effects of Short-Term Emotions

In Predictably Irrational, Ariely talks about following the herd, and how sometimes our own past actions can be the herd – self herding.  (For example, if you stop at Starbucks for a $4.00 Latte several times (even under extenuating circumstances), you may decide that you are the kind of person who purchases and enjoys $4.00 coffee beverages.  Further stops at Starbucks happen not because you decide you want to stop, but because that’s just what you do.

In The Upside of Irrationality, he experiments with short term emotional decisions.  Sometimes emotion leads us to make a DECISION.  A DECISION (as opposed to just a decision) guides future behavior.   He uses the Ultimatum Game.  In this game, some money is given to a pair of players.  One player (the sender) divides the money and the other player (the receiver) decides whether to accept the division.  If he does not accept the offer, both players get nothing.  Rationally, the sender could divide $20 so that he gets $19 and the receiver gets $1.  If the receiver accepts, he’s $1 better off.  However, this generally offends the receiver’s sense of fairness and he would rather have nothing than let the sender get away with such injustice.

Enter the twist.  Ariely and company manipulated the receiver’s emotional state so that they felt happy/generous or sad/angry, and then rigged the sender’s offer to be unfair.  Not surprisingly, this changed the receiver’s  behavior.   When primed to be forgiving, they were likely to accept an unfair offer.

Now, the receiver was given the role of sender.  It turns out that the subjects tended to apply their primed receiver emotions in their role as sender.  If they were generous as receiver, they tended to assume, as sender, that their receivers would also feel generous, so they made stingy offers.  This is a systematic misapplication of experience.

Very interesting, but I fail to see the personal upside, save that I can personally watch myself and try to avoid the error.

The bottom line here is that we tend to make permanent behavioral changes based on decisions influenced by short term emotion.  Not rational.

The Bottom Line

Go read Predictably Irrational.  If you really like it and want more, read The Upside of Irrationality.


Monday, November 22nd, 2010

There’s an old sea story in the Navy about a ship’s captain who inspected his sailors and afterward told the chief boatswain that his men smelled bad. The captain suggested perhaps it would help if the sailors would change underwear occasionally.

The chief responded, “Aye, aye, sir, I’ll see to it immediately!”

The chief went straight to the sailors’ berth deck and announced, “The captain thinks you guys smell bad and wants you to change your underwear.” He continued, “Pittman, you change with Jones; McCarthy, you change with Witkowski; and Brown, you change with Schultz. Now GET TO IT!”


Someone may come along and promise “Change,” but don’t count on things smelling any better.

Received from

What’s the hard part?

Friday, November 19th, 2010

I read a couple of posts today that dovetailed together for me.  (My italics below)

Seth’s Blog: Sure, but what’s the hard part?
Every project (product, play, event, company, venture, non profit) has a million tasks that need to be done, thousands of decisions, predictions, bits of effort, conversations and plans.

Got that.

But what’s the hard part?


Identifying which part of your project is hard is, paradoxically, not so easy, because we work to hide the hard parts. They frighten us.

Psychologically, we avoid seeing the scary bits, and we don’t realize we’re doing it.

Seth’s Blog: Watcha gonna do with that duck?
Watcha gonna do with that duck?

We’re surrounded by people who are busy getting their ducks in a row, waiting for just the right moment…

Getting your ducks in a row is a fine thing to do. But deciding what you are you going to do with that duck is a far more important issue.

When you know something is important, and you know you need to be working on it, but there’s a step you’re afraid of or that you just dislike (*), what do you do?  You line your ducks up.

I’m going to spend some time over the holiday eliminating some duck lining – especially Quicken duck lining.


Pidgin and MSN (certificate error for omega​.con​tacts​.msn​.com)

Thursday, November 18th, 2010


Microsoft did something today.

My wife started getting dozens of dialogs with this error – “The certificate for could not be validated. The certificate chain presented is invalid.”

Once I disconnected from my company VPN, I started getting them too (I can’t quite make that make sense, but that would be another story entirely.)

Anyway, I consulted Google, and found that Andrei Neculau solved the problem already and shared the solution here.

When Features Backfire

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Sometimes a feature that looks helpful turns out … not.

My favorite wife gave me a new alarm clock for Christmas last year.  It touts an “auto set” feature: “Time sets automatically with selected zone setting.”

Sadly, all that means is that the clock has a backup battery and they set the time at the factory.  It doesn’t do any magic.  You have to set the time zone yourself.  (I guess that means that “auto set” only means that the minutes are set at the factory – big deal.)

So, the daylight savings time transition comes around, and I don’t bother to change any clocks ahead of time, though my favorite wife changes a few.  I wake up the next morning, check the clock, and subtract an hour — and I’m an hour early for church (well, it could have happened that way anyhow.)

Actually, the clock adjusted itself.

How am I supposed to know whether the stupid thing (or any stupid thing with a clock) is going to adjust itself? If I had changed the hour, it would have changed again overnight.  The only simple option is to wait until tomorrow to change all the clocks, and only change the ones that are still wrong.

The end result is that this effort saving feature costs more actual effort than it could possibly save. The feature is sound only in isolation.  If this was my only clock, or if they ALL worked this way, it would be great.

It gets worse.  A couple of years back I was camping in the back woods on a hunting trip with my dad and brother during the time change.  We wanted to set an alarm for the next day – but how?  I was using a cell phone.  I know the phone will adjust its time if it can get service, but what will it do to my alarm setting?  What will it do if it has no service?  Brother was using a fancy GPS/radio with weather service and other capabilities, and a smart phone.  All these devices might or might not self adjust.  All of them might or might not change the scheduled alarm time with the manual or automatic time change.  Worse, the date range for daylight savings time changed a few years back, and any devices that rely only on the date to self adjust might or might not change at the correct time.  We were trying to wake up an hour before sunrise, and asking the GPS what time that would be, and we had to figure out the GPS meant by tomorrow at 6:34.

I have the same problem with cars.

Until about a month ago, I’ve always driven very plain (and old) vehicles. The light switch is simple.  On == lights on.  Off == lights off.  Very simple, and when your battery is dead, you know exactly why.

When I’ve  driven someone else’s fancier car, I have a problem with the lights.  I turn the engine off and get out and the lights stay on.  What should I do?  Will they turn off by themselves?

I don’t know.

This “convenient feature” (I think it’s supposed to give me light to walk to the front door) forces me to stand in the driveway for a minute or so to make sure the lights will go out.  Thanks.


AutoZone Thinks I’m Special

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Yeah, I know this is trivial.  But seriously:

“Only for me?”

I’m their “best customer?”


Cool advertising video» Subaru WRX STI

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

This is very cool:

After watching the video, you can find a paired “making of”  video here, (where I found them both) :

» Subaru WRX STI advertising/design goodness – advertising and design blog

My Candy

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

My Candy

We had to go back to the store for more candy – How about you?