If you follow this place at all, you know that Lisa and I have undertaken a fairly diligent approach to both activity and diet over the past few years, and that this has given us some pretty good results. All good for us. Our frames of mind are similar, but a bit different in the area of food–wherein Lisa has a tendency to bucket food types into “good/healthy” and “bad/unhealthy,” and I tend to attempt to not put a qualifier on any particular food-type, but look at each eating decision in context of all my others.
In the end, it winds up doing the same things (we agree on the best ways to eat, for example), but it means that we occasionally get in discussions about food that end up with us chasing our tails.
This is a lead-in to the fact that I’ve recently come upon two reports on the food industry that I thought were interesting. One, a link from Lisa that outlines how the food industry cannot be trusted (hence must be forced to change from the outside), and the second a new way of labeling food that (1) appears to really help people make choices, and (2) seems to make a heckuva lotta sense to me.
Take a quick look at those links (especially the last one).
I think the thing that makes Lisa and I go around in circles sometimes is that I take it for granted that the food companies are going to sell things that people want to eat–and that most regulations that get put in place on these companies will be ineffective unless people want to change and are given reasonably easy-to-understand information about what is in various foods. Given this, I absolutely love the idea of putting walking miles (or time) on the labels of food products in order to give people an idea of how much extra MOVEMENT they need to accept in order to eat it. And, of course, I have to like the fact that it seems to actually change how people make decisions.
Calories in ve. calories out is not absolutely perfect, by any means. But it’s a great shorthand for making right decisions in the big picture. But folks have a hard time converting calories into effort. I know this because I’ve been doing it in my head for the past three years, and when I talk to people about how I’m working it out I get the most god-awful stares I’ve ever seen.
A Dairy Queen Blizzard, for example, is about 600 calories. I burn about 1 calorie for 20 steps (give or take). That means eating that Blizzard is going to cost me 12,000 steps. Using my treadmill desk at home, I generally walk at 2.5 MPH (unless I’m doing high concentration work and need to scale back to 2.0 MPH). I take about 2,000 steps in a mile, so one hour on the treadmill desk is about 5,000 steps. So, to get rid of that 600 calorie Blizzard I needto walk about 2.4 hours, or let’s say 2 hours and 25 minutes.
That math changes if I go to the health club and set my treadmill to 4.8 MPH (which is my norm, unless I run for a bit). At that speed I get nearly 10,000 steps in an hour, so I need only about an hour and a quarter to kill the Blizzard.
I don’t think Lisa does this math when she thinks about these things. While I’m asking “Is this Blizzard worth the work?” she asks “Is this worth the calories?” Similar questions, but asked from slightly different (and sometimes important) perspectives.
And, yes, I know I’m insane. I know this is why I get those god-awful stares. It’s okay. I’ve learned to live with them just fine, thank you!
I always enjoy things that examine how people think about things, especially when it’s accompanied by a bit of modern brain science. I grabbed this article on optimisim bias off Kris Rusch’s Twitter stream. In particular, I wonder how far this goes toward covering why people do things that are so obviously bad for them. Smoking, for example. Or betting money they can’t afford. Or, whatever.
It describes in terms of brain chemistry, things that happen as people absorb information about the possibilities of bad and good outcomes (the chance you might get cancer, for example). This study suggests that the magnitude of the average person’s adjustments to their behavior based on being exposed to scientific information depend on where they started from–if the data is better for you than you first thought, you’ll adjust to it quickly, but to adjust to a worst case situation requires many more applications of the message. So if you think you have a 70% chance of a bad event occurring, hearing that the real chances are, say, 30% will make you change your framework. But if you thought there was only a 5% chance of that negative outcome to begin with, you won’t change much at all.
Or, in other words, everyone else is hosed, but I’m gonna be just fine.
As we move back into the day-job, I wonder about how this applies to people in corporate leadership roles. All my anecdotal evidence says that it applies in buckets.
I also thought the last third of the story–about optimism and happiness–was fascinating, if not a bit bothersome, as it includes conclusions from Andrew Oswald, a behavioral economist, that suggests (since I’m a male) I’m due to get less happy for another year or two before bottoming out and then getting happy again. Lisa, assuming she’s average per this article, bottomed out some time ago, and is growing happier every danged second.
It’s just no fair.
I wanna be happy now, damnit!
If you don’t follow him, Toby Buckell had a great quickie post up on roboticly driven cars. I’ve always thought this had the best probability of resulting in “public” transportation in the US. We’re a big ol’ nation, after all, and we like having our own car in order to drive from Wyoming to Poughkeepsie or wherever.
But even back in the day it was possible for us to have a string of automatic cars traveling inches apart, so it’s really only a matter of time. So, while it’s hard to get lots of politicians to get together and do things like spend a ton of money on advance public mass transportation, I can see people eventually being okay with sitting in their cars and enjoying a quiet ride into work.
Crazy? Maybe. But stranger things have happened.
File this under the heading that it’s not only people who are strange.
In my “day off” yesterday, I ran into a pair of interesting videos about economics in the monkey community. That last isnot a sentence I every thought I might type in my lifetime, but it is proof that the world is a strange and wonderful place. Anyway, in both cases, researchers taught monkeys how to use money to pay for various products and then let them loose to purchase things they cared about. In the end, you find that they operate pretty much exactly as humans do–including some things that were a bit, uh, well, things that show that us humans are not so unique in the way we think about things.
Here’s the first, from a Freakonomics Radio movie. It’s pretty quick–only 5 minutes. It discusses basic economics and ends with social ramifications of the kinds of things a thinking species might do in societies that get focused on acquiring currency.
And here’s a more in-depth discussion (runs 20-some minutes) that explores what I think of as human risk processing. While I don’t like the speaker’s suggestion that our financial decisions are “dumb,” I think the basic concept behind the findings are quite interesting to think about.
I came around to both of these in a case of some serendipity, as I’ve been bouncing a story idea in my head that has economic and currency issues. So they really have me thinking. How far can they go? Can they understand interest? Could they start saving? How about banking, and stocks, and all those weird market derivatives?
Or how about this? How about we give them access to Amazon.com? The Monkey Market. Perhaps, it’s the next new growth area, eh? [grin]
In an interview back a bit ago, I mentioned that I thought the world would be getting more global (well, duh, right?). Here’s an example of something cool and gadgety that will almost certainly make it more fun.
Can’t wait to see it when it gets to be a commodity.
I read this a few days back off someone’s Twitter feed. I can’t remember who, so sorry I can’t attribute it properly. It’s long, of course. But it’s interesting on a lot of levels–anything having to do with privacy and “hackers” (meaning anything done with computers and a sufficiently creative mindset) and the secret service is going to be, now, isn’t it?
I think this one raises above the norm, though, for it’s inclusion of the question of “what is art.” Can an action be art? Does art require anything beyond a statement? In this case, what part is art and what part is merely intrusion? Does it matter, and should it matter?
I don’t know that I’ve come to conclusions on these questions, but the piece makes me feel different things when I think of it in different ways, which, in itself is all kinda glorious in its recursive meta-ness now, isn’t it?
The reports are coming in. They’ve found something that might be the Higgs boson–the “God Particle.” This is really pretty exciting, or at least pretty damned interesting.
All by itself it doesn’t mean much yet, of course. In fact, what they have right now would seem to open up a lot more questions than it answers–which is a fortunate truth of science. There are always more questions. But the finding of the particle is a major confirmation, another closing of another major chapter in the book of discovering what it is that makes the world operate.
God recently tweeted (@TheTweetOfGod) that he hoped if scientists actually found the Higgs boson they would do the right thing and return it. I thought that was pretty sweet. But kidding aside, once this discussion settles down a little I think it will be fascinating to see how it changes the dynamic of everyday conversation. It’s a seriously big deal, after all, with deep philosophical and, yes, religious overtones in addition to those of basic science.
I’m tempted today to bemoan the fact that due to some dubious politics, this finding his several years later than it should have been. But I’ll avoid the temptation … a little anyway … and just give my own little hats-off to the many people who have worked hard for the past four or five decades to search for real proof. Enjoy the day.
In my own corner of the world, I finished my final “first draft” of the story I’ve been working on the past week or so, and even have a semi-decent title for now in “Good Luck Charm.” I think it fits. We’ll see how it stands up through Lisa’s read and adjust from there.
And, finally, Brigid passed on this link of a guy playing a history of great guitar riffs that I thought was pretty cool.
Lisa and I were talking as we walked back from the Health Club this noontime. This fits our morning process on weekend days anymore, BTW, I write (or race) or whatever in the early morning, then we walk the mile and a half to the Health Club. We work out for an hour or so, then walk back. While returning today, Lisa thought back to the earliest days when we struggled to make it much past 7,000 steps a day. March, 2011, for example, the record says I managed only 9.1K steps a day–but as we discussed that felt like pretty good progress.
Today we do … uh … a little better than that.
Over the past year and a half or so, I’ve averaged 17,975 steps a day. I know this thanks to the tracker that comes with or company’s inclusion in the Virgin Health Miles program. (We’ll ignore the 40-60K or so steps I lost in a technical mishap … seriously … it doesn’t bother me, not one bit. The idea that the extra 100 or so steps a day that would raise my average would get me up over 18,000 doesn’t even cross my mind at all. Nope, it’s really okay).
During this time I’ve registers over 8.5 million steps. It’s 4:30 PM as I write this. My pedometer registers 17,095. I expect I’ll be well over 20K by bedtime. I’m averaging 21,927 a day over the past 11 days, and over 20,000 steps a day for the past five months, so that’s not overly surprising.
And to be blunt, Lisa kicks my tail here. It’s a very rare day that she goes to bed with less than 21,000 steps.
I’m thinking about this now both because we talked about it, and because of an article Lisa sent me a bit ago about marketing and Target and habits. Read it. It’s a scary article in some ways, but massively interesting. The most interesting thing to me is the entire discussion around habits, triggers for those habits, and the whole reward cycle. They say it takes 30 days to establish a habit, and maybe that’s true in our case, because within a month (April 2011) I was up in that 16-17K step/day range, and have inched up pretty steadily since then.
In the process of getting more active, we’ve made a series of fairly simple changes in our basic approach to life, but I’m thinking now of so simple triggers. Things like, as soon as I get up off the couch I immediately want to move. I don’t want to sit down until I’ve registered some semi-serious steps. Things like, when I’m walking to my car at work, I have a tendency to want to walk more along the edge of the parking lot than directly to my car. This adds probably 100 steps to my path, or as many as 200 a day. I do this without thinking anymore. I just see the car across the way (or think of it if it’s hidden behind a truck or whatever…my Miata is pretty tiny relative to most other vehicles), and I get a dutiful sense to walk it across and over. Makes me think of crossword puzzles.
I could go on.
I can’t for example, sit calmly on the couch without a laptop anymore. If I don’t have the laptop on my lap I’m conditioned to get up and at least kind of bop around while we’re watching TV. No value in just sitting there. Lisa goes a step further (pun intended?) and plugs her laptop in at the kitchen so she can move while she’s surfing. It’s her own take on one of those treadmill desks at work–which, BTW, I try to use _at least_ an hour a day. I find they are great for wading through email with. And I get a considerable amount of email.
So, yeah, I can still go on, but you get the drift or you’ve already left.
What is my point?
Hmmm. It was something about habits. I’m sure of that. Habits, yes.
I need to think more about how habits affect my life. I need to use this knowledge better. I do not want Target to be better at manipulating me than I am, after all. I’m struggling a lot with time management right now in a lot of ways. At points I resent the decisions I’m forcing myself to make regarding how I spend my time. And so I need to do better.
Perhaps you do, too. Or maybe you’re doing just fine. Dunno. But either way the article is worth your time.
There will come a time when technology will replace humans, and I’m guessing it will be because rabid fans get fed up with losing big games on bad calls. That day is not today, but it’s coming. It’s been coming ever since the very first instant replay system was put in place back in the 1960s.
Feb 28, 2011 Science
And we wonder how it is that our schools are falling behind in science?
Sep 18, 2010 Science
This pretty much defines what’s wrong with the world, eh? Or at least what’s wrong with the world of politics.
We’ve got a local site here in Columbus (Indiana, not Ohio) that focuses on creative people in and around the local area. They just posted an interview of me, complete with some nifty photos (including one of me and Albert Einstein!).
And, if you’re interested in something a little more science-y, here’s news of some folks trying to take on “Big Al.”