Hang onto your wallet – or lower your expectations

We have learned one more truth about ourselves: when we think an object is worth more, we enjoy it more. When told a bottle of wine is worth $90, researchers have found our brain tells us it’s more enjoyable than the same bottle of wine priced at $10. As if we don’t already have enough inflation to worry about – $3.10 gallons of gas, $4.00 gallons of milk, and Starbucks coffee costing more – we have to worry about the damage to the pocketbook we’re self-inflicting. Now, it may not mean we’re likely to actually go out and pay more for a bottle of wine – afterall, I’m as big a cheapskate as they come – but we’re more likely to feel better about the Night Train we’ve just bought on sale…marked down from $90 to a paltry lucky $13.

We are conditioned to believe that if something costs more, it must be better. To the point that in this California Institute of Technology and Stanford Business School study, we find that our brains actually change to accommodate this belief, by sending more blood and oxygen to the medial orbitofrontal cortex – the area of the brain associated with reward.

The study itself purports to provide evidence that marketing actions can influence the consumers’ not only expectations of quality, but our actual experience of enjoyment.

In a way, it makes sense and it is something from which marketers have made a living for as long as there have been marketers – if a person believes they’re getting a deal, they’re more likely to spring to buy a product. For instance, consumers as a whole do not understand the varying qualities of jewlery and when we see an advertisement for a sale – “with prices slashed” from/to – we think we’re getting a good deal. What we fail to notice is the caveat at the end/bottom of the advertisement: “original price may not have resulted in actual sales.” We’re told that the item is worth $X, and that the sale price is now some percentage reduced from that value, but we have no real way of knowing if it actually could sell at the “original” price.

This goes one step farther. This study asserts that marketing can actually change our physiological experience of a product, or in the argot of the profession, it can actually change the intrinsic quality of the product. Meaning that, at least with wine, if we’re told that it is an expensive bottle, we enjoy the wine – “enjoy” as operationally defined by brain activity in the pleasure center of the brain – to a greater extent.

That’s some heavy stuff. Watch out for more studies on this – the more we find out, the more likely we are to be paying more for the perception that we’re getting products of quality.

The study entitled “Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness” appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences of the United States of America January 14, 2008.






Afterward: I wrote this in March 2008, so I don’t know if any of the links still work, but I figure it was worth reposting. For instance, gas has come down some in the last 10 years…this caused me to remember what it was like leading up to the economic crash. I’ve found a few things from 2008 and am culling through them to see what’s relevant to post.


Being a Parent

Being a parent means being consistent
Because you’re teaching your children the world has rules

Being a parent means expressing anger
Without expressing rage

Being a parent means admitting mistakes when you make them
You will not always make the right call and the world is better with people who understand they can be wrong

Being a parent means doing the right thing,
Because it’s the right thing, not because it’s the easy thing

Being a parent means acting in someone else’s best interest
Instead of your own

Being a parent means always telling the truth
Even if it is an age appropriate truth

Being a parent means never violating your child’s trust
Your child’s world cannot be safe if he doesn’t trust you

Being a parent means being firm and fair
Even when you don’t want to be

Being a parent means participating in your child’s interests
You’re showing her you’re interested in her

Being a parent means talking
About things you’d almost certainly rather not talk about

Being a parent means saying, “I love you”
And not expecting to hear it back

Being a parent means creating a safe and loving home
Where your child could not feel more safe, or more loved

Afterward: I wrote this better than 10 years ago and have recently uncovered it.  Ten years have passed and when I read this I think, “wow, that’s heavy…” and then I worry I haven’t lived up to my own definition, despite my best intention to do so.  I hope I’ve done enough to allow my children the charity and good faith that I tried to do whats right for them.

2018 Race Recap #13: New Bedford Half Marathon

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The net time is the important number here for placement and is a good thing because it took quite a bit to get through the folks who despite the clearly marked signs for 8:00 m/m pace decided that they should start closer.

Registering for this one was a bit of a lark. I’d just finished the Celtic 5k earlier in the day and was feeling pretty good about myself.  So I started noodling around with upcoming Half Marathons (because that’s a thing most people do, right?) and found this one.  It’s not terribly close to me but it did fit the parameters of my customary rule (don’t take longer to drive to a race than it will take you to run the race) and the extended forecast seemed like it would be a good running day.  I was hung up on the late entry fee and was desperately seeking a discount code.

If I joined USATF, I could get a $25 discount code – membership is $30, so it would’ve been a net increase of $5 which I was considering – but then I happened upon a 501(c)3 charity partnered up with the race organizers: Donate $60 to the organization and get a comped race entry.  Perfect.  Made even more perfect is that the Arredondo Family Foundation does some really good work.

Their mission is to empower military families in the prevention of military related suicides and to provide support through education, financial relief and support services.

So, on Sunday night with about 30-minutes left in the online registration window, I pressed “submit” on my race entry.  I was in.  Now, what was I in for?

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Gun time: 1:49:19. Net time: 1:48:57. 154/290 Old guys and 810/2025 overall.

Well, according to at least one online write up, it is a good course: scenic and flat-ish, but with a couple of “significant” hills…the second at mile 12! Oh c’mon.  Known for it’s blustery conditions, they said it can be challenging. Oh great.  I then click on over the the course map (who cares, I don’t know what I’m really looking at) at the bottom of which was an elevation map.  THAT’s what I was looking for. Kind of a mixed bag for me. Most of the gains are at the start of the race, then about 9 miles of descent or flat streets. I figured if I could just lump my lard-butt past the first three miles or so, I’d be golden.

Which is pretty much how it played out.  The weather was just shy of perfect – a bit of a wind, but not often pushing against me, mostly blowing me sideways.  The sun was out, it was on the cool side (low 30’s) but overall pretty nice.

Hey, howya doin? Photo Credit: Kim Gordon

A good group of people from my running club showed up and it was nice seeing them along the course. One guy who’d just returned from a European jaunt of what seemed like a couple of months (I mean like back on Friday…jet lag must’ve really been doing a number on him), passed me a couple of times.  The first time he informed me that he stopped at a porta potty but couldn’t get anything going, so he wasted that time.  About 45-minutes later he ran by me, telling me that he stopped and pooped in someone’s house.  Not the usual conversation, but I’ve learned that runners are generally pretty open about such things.  What blows my mind about this is that he continued on and finished a couple of minutes ahead of me.  He’s a really good runner and was already convinced he’d have a “crap time” (his words, not mine, although it does ring a little true after telling this vignette, doesn’t it?) Funny, his crap time is my personal record, but hey. Everyone runs their own race.

By the 10k split, I was thinking I had a really good chance to PR  – that split was my fastest 10k time.by quite a bit: 50:31.  I bested my 10-Mile time by about a minute as well, and by that point my internal dialogue was pretty much talking about keeping moving, keeping a steady pace.  Mile 12 was pretty much what I thought it would be. That ascent grabbed about a minute off my pace, I slowed down quite a bit, but got through it.  I’m quite sure the cold weather helped me out there: at Clearwater back in January, a similar situation at mile 12 really bonked me out. I was much less well prepared for that race than this, but doubt creeps in: that’s why controlling that internal dialogue is so important.

With maybe 0.2 mile give or take, one of my friends from the running club was on the corner taking pictures and saw me.  She got all wide-eyed and yelled at me that I still had a really good chance to get 1:50:00.  So I pushed just a little harder, and around the corner was a slight downward hill, so I sprinted as hard as I could that last it of distance to the finish. I’m not really sure exactly where I found the juice, but I did.

My gun time was 1:49:19, but my chip/net time was 1:48:57 – either way I beat that 1:50 time with just a little urging on from someone in the right place at the right time.  A little further away from the finish and I may not have pulled it off, a little closer and it wouldn’t have mattered.  Serendipity and luck combined with appropriate training and a few friends never hurt anyone.

Previous Results

New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:48:57
Clearwater Half Marathon: 1:56:32
Cambridge Half Marathon: 1:57:38
Upton State Forest Half Marathon (Trail): 2:18:01.9
Worcester Half Marathon: 1:51:56
Black Goose Half Marathon: 2:00:48


Accountability in Sports

One of the criticisms professional sports players receive is that they’re paid millions to play “a child’s game.” This is to discuss one aspect of why professional athletes receive high compensation: Accountability.

I’ve spent considerable time discussing why I think professional sports at the highest level is just not playing a “childs’ game” – if you really think they’re playing a child’s game, I would direct your kind attention to some Little League baseball. Please do report out when you get back. Here’s but one defense of high salaries. Please note, however, that I do believe – as in any industry – there are those who under perform their salary, there are those who outperform their salary, and those organizations who have no idea how to compensate or evaluate.

Tell me the last time you heard anyone reference Roger Clemens’ little league or high school pitching statistics. That’s right, you haven’t.

Over a 5 year career between 1938 and 1942, Leonard Barnum played 52 games and started 21 of them for both the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles as a punter, and quarterback. You can find his statistics in as much detail as was available in the day, which weren’t much, but then again they weren’t paid as much. You can look up the 1910 statistics on Nap Lajoie. In fact, you can look up just about any player who has played any professional sport ever and see what they’ve done when the lights come on. Nap died 50 years ago, yet we can find out what he did in any given season; as we get more sophisticated, we know what any player did on any given date in any given day.

There’s been a level of accountability in sports for as long as there have been professional sports – some more rudimentary than others, but the numbers are there. Today, we’ve got home/road splits, slugging, first pitch, second pitch, against lefties/righties, all sorts of minutia and all sorts of derivative statistics which will live on for as long as anyone cares about a given sport.

I’m not arguing that one has caused the other – in fact, I don’t much care which came first – I am however arguing there is a correlation: a statistical strength of relationship, but not a causal relationship.

As with any job that carries with it a high salary, there are expectations and is accountability. To pull down that six- or seven-figure salary, you’ve got to be able to demonstrate performance on specific metrics: shareholder value, income growth, expenses reduction, etc. We can argue whether or not sports metrics are meaningful, but we can’t argue that we could indeed – were we so inclined – to track just about every pitch Curt Schilling has ever thrown, how many innings thrown, how many pitches per inning, wins/losses, hit batsmen. How many of us have that level of accountability in our jobs? How many of us could account for every minute of every work day we’re on the job with definable metrics? How many of us would have a significant amount of time in the restroom or at the coffee machine?

For sure, pro athlete stats are tracked on their game performance and not necessarily what they do on the job, but off-field, but rest assured, they are fully accountable for what they do before, after and in preparation for the game. The meaning of the numbers – comparisons across different eras – is up for debate, but each athlete’s performance represented as quantified statistics is there for all time. I cannot think of any other profession where there is such a high degree of accountability.

Afterward: This is a post I had written in February/March 2008 and recently just uncovered.  I’ll post them as I cull through for the most interesting among them. Happy 10 year anniversary!

A Synopsis of 5 Children’s Books from a Slightly Different Perspective

Parents cannot receive enough helping guiding their children’s growth through reading. This article seeks to look at the meanings of five different children’s books through a slightly different – perhaps the adjective would be “twisted” – perspective.

We will now explore the Dr. Seuss work Green Eggs & Ham, the bedtime classics Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Vorst, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Green Eggs & Ham by Dr. Seuss

An antagonistic marketing representative named Sam has the unenviable task of promoting a less than esthetically pleasing food product; Pushes envelope and bounds of legality by badgering his target into eventually trying his edible wares.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

An apparently recalcitrant child attempts to avoid going to sleep by diverting attention to every minute detail in his unkempt and unsanitary room – mice inhabit the place and leftover food remains in it’s tableware on the nightstand. Of note, a live fireplace in the child’s bedroom remains ablaze as the child is going to sleep, indicating negligent parental role models.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Vorst
A journey into a narcissistic, underachieving child’s complaints around how badly a day has gone for him; failing to understand the complaints of those around him – for instance the teacher can’t understand how an invisible castle would meet the stated requirements of the school project causes the child stress. His life is that much more difficult than everyone elses’.

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

This story perfectly illustrates why children are not to be allowed unfettered access to crayons and other such playthings, particularly near bedtime. This is another story of lax parenting as Harold’s parents are no where to be seen as he goes on a journey while he should be sleeping. In fact, he is so tired, he hallucinates his journey to vast places created simply by his crayon; ultimately growing so tired he draws his own room and goes to sleep.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

A story of a gluttonous caterpillar apparently suffering from some form of the eating disorder pica. By the end of the week the caterpillar becomes so completely obese, there is little for him to do to cure his stomach ache but to literally build a cocoon. Carries the warning of overeating and obesity to children.


Afterward: I found some old blog entries I’d written some years ago, that I’m planning to cull through.  This one was written February 29, 2008, so it’s really only just about 3 years old.


2018 Race Recap #12: Celtic 5k

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The funny part is that just before the race started, I was trying to point out the “Care Bear,” but he was otherwise cloaked in anonymity amongst everyone wearing the green race shirts discussed below. Photo Credit: Kim Gordon.

I haven’t been “into” 5k’s very much in some time – I run my running club’s weekly 5k races, but other than that I haven’t been seeking them out. I’m trying to be more of a longer distance runner — I’ll choose a longer distance over the shorter most times.  I was asked to run with the primary sponsor, Sneakerama, so why wouldn’t I do that?

As an aside, Sneakerama is a small, local business that just does some really great running centric stuff: Steve sponsors a lot of local races, does a free weekly “fun run” from the store, packet pick ups for races.  Things like that.  And look at the Yelp and Google reviews. Steve conducts his business the way you would hope a business owner would: he gives back to the community, and doing good by the community is always good business.

Race shirts, stylized after Glasgow, Scotland’s Celtic FC’s kit – or, for we Americans, Celtic’s soccer uniform.

The Celtic 5k is part of a trifecta of “St. Patricks Day” races in the area, and there’s usually a pretty big turn out so they do a nice job of swag.  It’s a fun take.  The best part of the day was that the family got involved too: the kids both registered and my wife volunteered giving out the Celtic FC stylized shirts.


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Someone is dubious either about taking the selfie or about the race – I’m not entirely sure which. Note the photobomber on the left giving the rabbit ears. Smooth move there, Farkus.

It’s a very simple, flat(ish) and fast, out-and-back course.  As a large race, it caters to runners of all skill levels and abilities: it’s more about the party than the race itself, and that’s fine.  As I said earlier, it’s a good time. When you’re finished, you get some finisher swag, a bottle of water, perhaps a banana or a slice or two of pizza if you want it.  Beer? Hell, yeah. This is Worcester.  There are no less than 15 official after-parties and a beer garden.

A quick warm-up around Worcester’s Elm Park and I was ready to go.  Good as clockwork, the National Anthem played, and at 11 AM sharp, the horn sounded.

The first mile was smooth.  I thought it would be more difficult getting past some of the slower folks that some how decided it was a good idea to crowd the finish line, but it didn’t play out that way.  Dodged and weaved, ultimately finding some clear running room.  When my watch buzzed after a mile, I couldn’t believe how fast a pace I was running: 6:58. Mile 2 was a little less speedy, about 7:2.  I was struggling a bit as the first mile and a half or so was a slow ride down hill, a turn around to start the out and back meant that the distance we’d been running slightly downhill was now slightly uphill…although when I’m going up, it always seems far more significantly up than it was going down.  #Perception.

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Team Sneakerama: For the Long Run.

Now into mile 3, I was definitely feeling it and were I not racing I would have slowed, walked, or maybe even paused the Garmin, today I pushed through. Where yesterday I emotionally gave up, today I doubled down.  I was angry with myself after the race yesterday and I was determined not to be that guy again today. I was far too close to a personal record that I was not going to give it up.

Over that last mile, I went back and forth with one of the guys from my running club. He usually bests me and the fact that I was even close to him was exciting (and yes, he’s in his 60’s and crushing it on a regular basis. He went by me at the turn, I went by him a little before the second mile marker, he came up behind me and offered some encouragement as he went by, and just past the Mile 3 marker, the finish line in sight, I pushed through, passed him, and crossed the line in a personal best 22:46.  My goal was to beat yesterday’s time, and get as close to 23-Minutes as possible.  I was suffering at the end, I mean it took a LOT to push that last 0.1 mile, but it happened for me today.  Who knows if I’ll ever run another 5k that fast, it’s not easy for a squat guy with stubby legs to move that quickly – a runners’ build I do not have – so I will cherish the feeling of today.


Overall: 91/2054
M: 77/825
M 40-49: 16/203


2018 Race Recap #11: CMS 52-Week 5k

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SNIPED: Just didn’t see this guy coming. Photo Credit: Kim Gordon

Where the course direction usually alternates between Clockwise and Counter-Clockwise, this was the second straight week of Counter Clockwise running. It’s a safety issue the RD puts into place when the course has snowpack or otherwise sketchy conditions: when the course isn’t fully clear of snow, it makes sense to run against traffic to be sure cars can see you, and you them, when there’s a spot on the course that may result in some last second corrections.

Such as it was today after a pretty hefty snowstorm Thursday.

It was pretty cold this morning, chilly – upper 20’s, low-30’s – but the wind…oh, the wind was blowing just making it very chilly to be out in running clothes.  I did a couple of one-mile warm up runs around the Worcester State campus: nothing too fast or strenuous, but just enough to warm up the muscles, wearing a warm up jacket to get used to the wind and cold.

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12-Seconds away from another goal: to get below 24:00:00 on this course.

And then, almost just like that, it was 9 AM.  Runners’ set! Go! And we were off.  While I wasn’t thrilled to be out there running this morning, I set off at a pretty good pace – I ran the first two miles faster than I have run any two miles: 7:16 and &7:28 – but consistent with the approach I’ve been taking lately with these short races (go all out for as long as I can and just try to keep pushing it), long about mile 2.7 the wheels just came off.  I actually marked the point on my watch so I knew the point at which I had pretty much given up. The first .7 of that mile I was running at 8:03 – which, had I kept my mind on, I would have crushed my first sub-24 minute time on this course. The rest of the course I ran at an 8:29 pace.  Worst? At the very last second, the guy behind me came and sniped my place.  I deserved that, and frankly had I realized he was there, it wouldn’t have changed anything: I was beat. Coming around the last corner and down the final 0.1 mile stretch, there was this headwind that combined with my relative exhaustion made it feel like I was moving in slow motion.

Positives: I’m very close to cracking that 24-minute barrier on this course.  Today I came 11-seconds short.  11 flipping seconds.  Gah.  All because I was satisfied with what I had done to that point.  I couldn’t push it further for 0.4 more mile.  That’s going to sting for a bit, but will hopefully motivate me for tomorrow.

Counter Clockwise (Last 5):

March 10: 24:11, 32-degrees, windy
March 3: 24:30 40-ish degrees, cloudy
February 17: 24:22
October 21, 2017: 25:13
March 18, 2017: 24:42
February 11, 2017: 26:17