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 #12: Celtic 5k

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing, child, shoes and outdoor
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.


Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, closeup and outdoor
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.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, outdoor
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

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, snow and outdoor
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.

No automatic alt text available.
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

Gun Education & Newtonian Political Physics

I’ve never really been much for guns. I’ve never owned one — never really had an interest in owning one. When I was a kid, my dad had a rifle buried in the back of his closet. I know he had a FID card, but to the best of my knowledge that gun never left that closet. He was an older parent, born in the early days of the Great Depression, and life was very different then. I’ve never hunted, never wanted to.

I grew up in the same town my dad did, some 40+ years later, but it was a very different place. Almost city compared to the suburban town where he came of age. We didn’t go hunting, we didn’t target shoot.  I can’t say I ever shot a gun other than a paintball or BB gun until last year.  They’ve never really had a place in my life in anyway other than in concept.

My own philosophical bent is libertarian leaning, perhaps more of a constitutionalist than a libertarian. I’d prefer the government have less authority and control in our lives, with governmental authority to be strongest at the most local level and radiate outward.  Frankly, I think we’ve come far too far in granting the Federal Government power: we’ve gone from a founding set of principles that granted a limited scope of authority to the government where the people had to grant government authority, to one where now the government grants authority to its citizenry.

At any rate while firearms were tangential at best in my life, my wife’s experience with them was far more clear and present. She grew up at a time and place where the people with guns weren’t the people you wanted with guns. The city was rife with gang conflict and drugs and gunfire, along with all of the foreseeable consequences thereof.

Needless to say, neither of us have had much interest or use for firearms.

Early on in our marriage, we moved to the Central Massachusetts: a place much different from the urban eastern part of the state from where we both grew up.  There is an active sportsman community here: people hunt and fish, the corner store actually sells live bait next to the potato chips, “right to farm community” means that people actually do keep chickens in their yard (a not insignificant issue when your new neighbors decide that’s exactly what they’re going to do, but that’s a topic for another day).

So, we’ve long been settled down in this sleepy bedroom community in Central Massachusetts, raising our family. It’s at the point of no return that we learn that our child is clearly not growing up in the same place we did.  He’s actually interested in sportsman activities: Fishing. Shooting.

This community is Everytown, USA. There are gun owners everywhere.  We had NO idea, I mean like none.  It’s never been a thing, and now…well, now it is.

If the boy is into guns, then we decided we needed to get him (and us) an education. At the end of the day, it is a part of American life and part of an ongoing debate in American life.

But there is where the conflict begins.  We found a training program at a local fish and game club, underwritten by Winchester and the NRA.  It’s a program dedicated to the sport of target shooting, of which gun safety and maintenance is a major component: the safety rules are strict and non-negotiable.  At the end of the day, if your kid is going to learn about guns, these are the people you want teaching your kid how to use a rifle. If your kid spends any amount of time playing Xbox first person shooters, she or he is learning about guns.

Given this is Massachusetts, we’ve gotten some push back from friends and family about exposing him to guns and, likely more pronounced than that, the NRA itself.  The NRA is a polarizing force in American politics.  It hasn’t always been that way, but after the 1968 gun control act, the group’s internal politics began fermenting two opposing groups, the activists eventually took control in 1977, but the sportsman faction remains a substantive portion as evidenced by this program. In the time he’s been participating there have been two mass shooting events, and with each one in the news the questioning of our participation increases in volume and scale.

This irritates me because it’s exactly what I find wrong with our politics.  The argument goes that we’re participating in a program subsidized by the NRA and therefore part of the problem: we’re teaching our son how to use a firearm. Yet, it’s exactly the education he’s getting that would prevent such violence. He’s learning respect for the power of the weapon, how to use the weapon, how to maintain and care for it.  In other words, he’s learning how to be a responsible and skilled gun user – perhaps owner. Exactly the sort of person envisioned in the Second Amendment.

There is no simple solution to American gun violence.  There is no one panacea.  No one law that will fix everything.  There isn’t a pot of money that will fix the problems.  Background checks will not fix everything. Banning all guns wouldn’t fix everything.  Increasing access to firearms, creating incentives for teachers to carry guns would likely make schools less safe, “Hardening” (presumably “soft”) schools would only create a siege mentality and one I’m not interested in engaging.  No, what strikes me is that education is probably one of the most important things we can do.  Respect the weapon.

Which is probably the only thing we do have – a gut feel – because in 1996 Congress (at the behest of the NRA) prohibited the CDC from researching gun violence.  So, without any research, we only have polarizing arguments without facts.  In that environment we can only engage behaviors that seem correct. No one has any facts.  You can’t refute “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” because there’s no data to support you – but that’s okay, because there’s no data to support the opposite either.  Just anecdotes.

The research that’s out there seems to be studies of the personalities who have gone on mass killings. From an article by Patrick Sauer on Smithsonian.com about Howard Unruh, generally considered to have been the first “Mass Murderer:”

“Unruh really matches the mass murder profile. He had a rigid temperament, an inability to accept frustration or people not treating him as well as he wanted, and a feeling of isolation, all things people accept and move on from,” says Katherine Ramsland, a professor of forensic psychology and the director of the master of arts in criminal justice at DeSales University, as well as the author of some 60 nonfiction books including Inside the Mind of Mass Murderers: Why They Kill. “He had a free-floating anger, held grudges, owned weapons he knew how to use, and decided somebody was going to pay. It’s a typical recipe for internal combustion.”

The Story of the First Mass Murder in U.S. History By Patrick Sauer

Troubled personalities, rigidity, isolationist, anger and access to semi-automatic weapons.  In this case, Unruh was declared to have paranoid schizophrenia.  17 years later, a gunman opened up on the University of Texas, Austin. This combined with the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, presaged the 1968 Gun Control Act.  Which in turn mobilized a militaristic faction of the NRA as I mentioned earlier.  A bit of Newtonian political physics that hasn’t stopped reacting.

Which brings me around to the original point. We’ve made his participation in this program the only way that he will get the opportunity to use a weapon. He takes it seriously and he respects it. Yet, the push back we get is real. Why would we want him to use a gun? The answer is that we don’t necessarily, he wants to learn how to use one but if he’s going to use one he will learn how to do so responsibly.  Of the people I know who use guns, they are responsible and use them responsibly.  If he is going to use one, he will learn to be responsible.

It seems to me that is the activism the NRA should be engaged in: creating educated, experienced and responsible gun users.  And it is this education that we really should be encouraging, not pushing back against. We’re so polarized that we can’t even see the middle ground that makes the sense, a balance that could possibly slow that Newtonian reaction.  The landscape is complex, the NRA is neither all good nor all bad; its important to remember that ambiguity.

2018 Race Recap #10: Stu’s 30k

This shot in no way conveys what all the previous 10 minutes meant in terms of falling down, but fighting through to complete a goal.

This was a long, challenging race.  It was something I had set my mind on last year: I had been contemplating doing the full race, but friend of mine had said he wasn’t ready to do the whole thing and I did a 2-man relay with him.  As it happened, he was far more prepared for the 15k distance than was I and I’m quite sure I never would have finished or at least wouldn’t have finished in anything approximating a respectable time.

I seem so much more peppy at mile 3-ish than I do later on.  My feet actually appear to lift off the ground. Photo Credit: Kim Gordon

This year, I was sure I was ready for the challenge. This would be my longest street race, and as it turns out my longest street run too, something which even the most uninitiated among us should recognize as an issue: you really can’t properly train for a race when the race itself is longer than the preparation you’ve put into it. I’ve been averaging 35-or-so miles a week, but my long runs have been about 10 miles a piece and a luck would have it, my first 10 miles or so have been pretty good: my 5k times have been really good…my half marathon times alright.  This one? Adequate.  While anticipated, the cramps that hit me just after mile 18 (an official 30k would be 18.6 – this registered on my Garmin as 18.8) were not anticipated. I’d made it this far, what could go wrong?

The course itself loops around the Wachusett Reservoir. Built in the late 1800’s- early 1900’s, it was the largest body of water in Massachusetts until the Quabbin Reservoir was built.  Beginning in Clinton, through Sterling, into West Boylston, then Boylston, returning back to Clinton.  The elevation gain is just under 1100′ according to my watch, but the gain/loss isn’t really the story.  It’s HOW the gain/loss is distributed.  There’s few flat stretches: you’re either going up or you’re going down. It’s not easy.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing, outdoor and nature
Here I am busy not dying and getting ready to kick over the mile marker as I approach mile 12. Photo Credit: Cyndy Curley.

I was generally keeping my pace pretty well through about mile 9, when I began to get markedly slower. At mile 17, I got markedly slower still.  Mile 18 and beyond was my slowest stretch, a good portion of which was uphill and with my poorly planned training it’s not at all surprising.  What was surprising was about 0.4 miles from the end, I got hammered with a cramp in my calf. Down I went. Then my gut.  It took a bit to get back up and moving.

There was never a point when I was feeling good or comfortable, it seemed like it was a personal struggle from mile 4 on.  I consider that to be a personal victory: staying well out of your comfort zone for a long period of time is growth.  I could have done better: I could have trained harder, I could have run harder, I could have been better prepared over and above what I had already done to prepare. But I didn’t.  What I DID do, though, was gut it out.  I wasn’t comfortable up through mile 10. I was downright uncomfortable from at least mile 14. Physically in pain at Mile 18.

BUT it got done.  I stuck with it when it would have been easier to quit. Then again, had I been willing to quit under these circumstances, I likely wouldn’t have come to this point: I wouldn’t have been in position to run this race in the first place.

Results 2:52:05

Overall: 170/319
M:  115/170
M 40-49: 35/47

2018 Race Recap #9: CMS 52-Week 5k

Image may contain: text
I like small races because it allows me to say I had a “top 10 finish” despite being slow and paunchy.

As it happens this was also Week 9 of the 2018 52-Week race.  Over the last, we’ll say 30 hours, the weather has been a touch sketchy.  A Nor’easter blew through the area beginning yesterday, with threats of upward of 12″ of snow for Central Massachusetts. Winds whipped around all day yesterday, knocking out power lines, downing trees and on the coast high tides flooded significant swaths. For all the threatened fury, however, Central Massachusetts received some decent winds, but a mere dusting of snow.

By 8:00 AM, it was perhaps 37-38 degrees, a stiff breeze blowing on occasion, and cloudy as though more rain threatened.  Just the kind of day where I look around, look up, and wonder if I really want to run this race.  Chilly, but not cold. Gray,  but not dark.  About as middling as you can get.  Even as I showed up at Worcester State, I wasn’t sure if I was going to run or if I was just going to hang out and volunteer: after all, I do have a bit of a race coming up tomorrow and I’m not entire sure I’m ready for it.

As I walked in the room, the lone Central Mass Striders (CMS) volunteer greeted me, and wrote my name down. Whelp, I’m registered. I guess that means I’m racing today.  I was a little concerned because I woke up a little stiff this morning, so I went and did a warm up mile to shake out the cobwebs and that helped a lot. It was surprisingly fast; I thought I was moving far slower than I actually turned out to be moving, more stutter steps than outright strides, but it felt good.

Today’s race was Counter Clockwise, so that meant rather than finish at the Aristotle statue, we start there.  The first couple of miles felt pretty good. Not only was I moving at an historically fast pace for me, I maintained it pretty well through those first two miles.  Of course, “pretty well” is a relative expression – there’s an 8-second pace difference between the two miles, but for me to maintain that sub-8 minute pace for 2-miles it’s a personal victory.  Mile 3 is the one that ALWAYS gives me fits because it’s uphill and it was especially difficult today with the headwind blowing from the remnants of the storm. Again, I found myself traipsing up part of the hill because I’d burned so much fuel trying to maintain the pace on the first two miles. I’m going to have to get more mentally strong there because I know I missed a sub-24 minute race because of it…or at the very least gave up a shot at a personal record on that course because of it.

Overall, I finished with a 24:30 time – historically a great time for me so I can’t be too upset with myself, but I am upset in as much as I could’ve been faster and I hate that I settled for less.

Counter Clockwise (Last 5):

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