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Archive for January, 2014

About a month ago, the wife and I were in a stained-glass creation class and I overheard two ladies talking about a couple the both of them knew. This couple had been living together, and one remarked to the other that they might not have any intention of getting married, but that they ought to. The other lady replied that to some people, marriage is just a piece of paper.

The rationale behind this marriage is an outdated concept; you don’t have to go through the ceremony of marriage and everything it entails simply to prove that you are committed to the other person. Besides which, getting married necessarily entangles you (financially and emotionally) and if things ever go sour, it’s more difficult to disengage from the relationship.

So why bother getting married? The fact that you are in the relationship should be enough to demonstrate your commitment.

Right?

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From a cognitive perspective, the way humans think, there are shortfalls in this thinking. Here’s why I think this is:

  1. Getting married is more work and harder to get out of. Luckily, Choice-Selection bias will work in your favor

    It’s true. Marriage is harder to get into and out of, but that’s an advantage. In cognitive science, choice-selection bias is the tendency to retroactively assign positive attributes to a previous decision and negative ones to options you didn’t select. For example, if you bought a vanilla ice cream instead of chocolate, you might say that vanilla tastes better.

    But this is not quite right. Choice-selection bias comes in when the amount of work you put in is more difficult than an easy one. Chocolate vs. vanilla is trivial because it costs little to get another one. However, if you buy an XBox One and several games for it, you will rationalize your decision by saying how much better the game system is than a Playstation 4 and then denigrating Sony. This is in order to rationalize why you spent so much money.

    Similarly, marriage is more difficult than simply living together. By going through the ceremony and tying your fortunes to another, your brain justifies it by saying it’s all worth it. Why else would you go through the trouble?

  2. More choice does not make you happier

    Living together gives you a mental escape route – if things don’t work out, you can always leave. Sure, it may be a bit messy but at least you don’t have to disentangle your finances and assets.

    You have more choice; an escape route.

    Right?

    Not so. Studies have been done where people were given a choice of jams. One group was given a choice of 3 different jams, while a second group was given a choice of 24. The people who had only 3 types to choose from reported being happier with their choices than the ones who had multiple ones. To them, they always had the feeling of “What if I had gone with something else?”

    Similar experiments have been done where people had to make a choice between two paintings and were told they could not change their mind. Another group was told they could change their mind. When reporting back a week later, the group that couldn’t change reported being happier than the group that had options to take something else. Evidently, more choice does not make us happier.

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So, the idea that living together, which is easier to get into and out of, is just as good and demonstrative of commitment as marriage doesn’t seem true at least when it comes to me applying cognitive science behind it. I could certainly be wrong about this.

But maybe I’m not.

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One of the benefits that work has is a “Stay-Fit” credit. You can choose to have them pay your gym membership or you can buy sports equipment and have them reimburse it up to a maximum of $800 per year. In 2013, I chose the reimbursement.

This $800 is not free money. I still have to pay taxes on it at my current tax bracket. For example, suppose due to my income I have to pay 25% income tax. This means that if I bought an $800 surfboard, the company would reimburse me $800 but I would have $200 deducted from my paycheck in income tax.

Still, it’s a good deal.

On December 29, I went to a bike store and picked up a bike. I looked at only two; I don’t really plan to use it that much off-road and only ride it to and from work. I decided that the second bike rode nice, and $550 and 30 minutes later I was done. I had to fill out all of this paperwork to buy a bike. It was like purchasing a car. Why do you need my home address? My email address?

Oh right, for marketing purposes.

I ride my bike once or twice per week. If I walk to work it takes me 26-27 minutes. If I ride, it takes me 11-12 minutes. In fact, because of all the traffic in the evening, it’s probably faster for me to bike home than to drive home because it takes forever to get through all the lights at the intersections.

The problem of riding my bike is the conundrum I face in getting my 10,000 steps per day. For you see, even if I ride to work I still want to get 10,000 steps per day to keep up my pace (which currently stands at 8 consecutive weeks). I have to ride in, and then at various points throughout the day, walk around the building.

It’s a lot of physical exercise, at least compared to a year ago.

I don’t know if I will keep it up for the next few months, let alone years. But right now, I’m doing pretty good in getting up off the couch every single day.

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I was listening to the radio a couple of weeks ago where the Atlanta Braves baseball team were requesting a new stadium. There was some negotiation with the city and eventually they agreed to a land deal in Cobb County which is just outside of Atlanta. I’m not sure of all the details but the owner of the Braves, Ted Turner, was threatening to leave the city unless he got a new stadium or massive renovations to the old one.

I am fundamentally opposed to sports teams owners getting public money to construct a new facility. The public taxpayers assume most or all of the risk of developing it and will have to pay for it for years or even decades. In return, the owners keep a professional sports team in the city and collect all the profits while incurring little or none of the risk.

This isn’t fair.

The argument is that sports teams generate a lot of revenue from the off-shoot industries like ticket sales, sports agents, and other sorts of public spending. Yet the economic reality is that sports teams are basically a trade-off – if someone spends money to go to a baseball game, they normally would have spent that money to go to a movie or buy clothing or some other recreational activity. The net effect of a new stadium is mostly neutral. There is no free lunch.

Neutral for the public, that is.

On the other hand, it’s a great deal if you’re an owner. You get all of the upside with almost none of the downside. If you happen to own a football, baseball or basketball team and you are in a large market, you make money. If you’re an NHL owner and you are north of Utah, you’ll make money.

That doesn’t seem fair to me.

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In 2013, I woke up with a “crick” in my neck in early January. This came after a night of sleeping in a strange position, no doubt because my neck was turned all night. It was painful that day as I couldn’t turn it to the left. It took a week for most of the pain to subside. We’ve all done this and it is annoying.

Over the course of the neck six weeks, I did this twice more. And each time, I let my neck go back to normal. Except that after the third time, it didn’t go back to normal. There was always a little bit of residual pain in my neck.

I figured over time it would go away. It didn’t. I had pain in my neck when looking all the way to the left, when tilting my head towards my left shoulder, and when letting it hang down and slightly to the left.

This past month I decided to do something about it – two weeks ago I decided to massage it every single day for 5-10 minutes. The goal was to make my pain go away.

During this experiment, I discovered that the pain was not coming from one particular place, but at least four:

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Points #1 and #2 I worked on first because when I massaged them with my fingers they hurt the most. It took a few ways to work out the kinks from them but about 90% of the discomfort from them is now gone.

Point #3 is not as painful. I work it a bit but I mostly only feel it when I tilt my head forward and towards the opposite direction.

Point #4 is the main culprit. It took me 9 days to find it. It hurts whenever I turn left, put my head down and left, tilt towards my shoulder, or look up. As a matter of fact, looking up is the most painful of all. This muscle slips around the last vertebrae in my neck and it is deep within the neck. I have to dig in deeply to get it.

Yet I have made progress. I cannot massage every day because it makes the muscles too sore. But it does feel better. I’d say that overall, my neck hurts 40% less than it did. I plan to keep doing this for the next few weeks until my neck pain is 90% gone.

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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