Something to Read When You're Bored

Easter with the Family
March 30, 2008, 9:22 pm
Filed under: Life

My Aunt Carol just sent out her photos from last weekend when she and my Grandma Peggy came to visit for Easter.  It was a good solid Montesano weekend, complete with rainy dog walks, an easter egg hunt, playing with the baby, fresh daffodils, tons of delicious food, and extra fun getting to visit with relatives.  This photo is of my Dad and I trying on hats which, upside down, had been our easter baskets.


There are more photos from our weekend on Aunt Carol’s flickr page, including some very cute shots of my Niece in her Easter finest.


Do you know why you eat?
March 19, 2008, 6:36 pm
Filed under: Food, Interesting | Tags: ,

This morning one of my coworkers (Rich) laughed at me when I told him I was covering up the stack of cookies he brought in because seeing them made me want to eat them. I defended my actions by informing him that there have been studies documenting the phenomenon of food visibility increasing consumption, but I still didn’t get the impression he believed me. So I of course decided to do some digging and prove to him that my snickerdoodle concealing behavior was not absurd.

The article I found on the subject was pretty fascinating. It was published this January in a journal sponsored by the CDC and it discusses food visibility, as well as many other factors we tend to be unaware of, all of which influence what, when, and how much we eat. The basic argument the article makes is that eating is an automatic behavior – something we do without really making a conscious decision to – and that consequently it may be more effective to change environmental factors that effect eating behaviors than to depend on conscious choice for determining what we eat. Here are some of the findings that really made an impression on me (these are quotes verbatim from the article):

People served larger portions simply eat more food, regardless of their body weight and regardless of the food item, meal setting, or timing of other meals; and the temptation to eat food at hand is so strong that human beings eat more even if the food tastes bad.

The amount of food consumed increases as the effort to eat it decreases, even if the differences in effort are tiny (the example they gave of this was a bowl of candy within reach, rather than a few feet away)

The mere sight of food can stimulate people to eat (Take that Rich!)

The longer the meal, the more people eat. The amount of food people eat is directly and strongly related to the number of people sharing the meal, with food consumption increasing by 28% when one other person is present and increasing steadily to 71% when the number of companions is six or more.

The article also discussed findings about how humans are unconsciously influenced by environmental factors in general, which can impact human behavior in all sorts of ways, including how we eat. Here are the highlights (some slightly paraphrased by me):

Environmental perceptions occur without awareness, and many behavioral responses similarly occur without awareness or conscious thought.

Behavioral responses to environmental stimuli can be influenced by priming – the manipulation of decisions and judgments by the previous presentation of words, concepts, or images that are not perceived as being related to the task at hand. (an example of this was a study where subjects who were shown a happy face drank more fruit-flavored drink and rated it more favorably than subjects who were shown an angry face)

Another determinant of how human beings respond to their environment is salience, that is, how much it attracts their attention. Research has shown that when the amount of shelf space for a consumer item is doubled in grocery stores, sales of that item increase by about 40%. Sales also increase when special displays and end-aisle displays are used and when items are placed at eye level.

I know this is getting pretty long, but here’s where it really starts to get interesting, when they describe how eating can be viewed as an automatic behavior, rather than something we do by conscious choice:

[examples of automatic behaviors] Humans smile or laugh when amused, frown when annoyed, become startled when surprised by a loud noise, and tense their muscles when threatened, all without making any conscious decision or being aware of the behavior. In conversation people copy others’ mannerisms, such as smiling, rubbing their face, and shaking their feet, regardless of whether they are acquainted with the other people and without the slightest recognition that they are copying them.

Studies on food consumption indicate that eating should be viewed as an automatic behavior; people are generally not aware of how much they are eating.

Evidence that eating begins without conscious intent can be taken from both the tendency to eat any food that is in sight or at arm’s length, as well as the finding that people are more likely to eat simply because it is mealtime than because they are hungry.

Once people initiate eating, they usually continue until the food is gone or until some other external occurrence changes the situation.

The natural trajectory of eating – that is, what takes place without conscious effort – is for it to continue. Effort is not required to continue eating when food is present; effort is required to refrain from eating when food is present.

The amount of effort required to refrain from eating when food is present is substantial, and it is nearly impossible to sustain over the long term.

Okay, here’s the part that really kinda blew my mind:

In general, human self-control over automatic behaviors is limited. Self-control tires like a muscle and taxes our ability to perform other tasks. And just as refusing food depletes a person’s mental reserves, tasks requiring mental effort can reduce the ability to resist the temptation of food. (this explains why I eat like crazy when I’m stressed out)

Because people are unaware of automatic behaviors, they are also unaware that the behaviors are not under control; people tend to fabricate reasons to explain their behaviors, typically choosing the most plausible, culturally acceptable theories.

And finally, to wrap it all up, here’s the entire closing paragraph from the section about automatic behaviors:

If the behavior of eating were automatic, one would predict that it would favor foods that are most available and most visible and that require the least effort to eat — such as precooked and prepackaged foods and beverages that can be eaten without utensils. In fact, the foods that have shown the greatest increase in sales in the past quarter century meet this description: soft drinks, salty snacks, French fries, and pizza.

Okay, so now you probably don’t even need to read the article after my excessive summing-up, but I just found it all too fascinating to leave anything out. Now I’m really thinking about how I might be able to improve my eating habits by adjusting environmental factors instead of depending on my self-control muscles which evidently are bound to eventually get worn out and give up anyway. I also thought this take on things might help out Margaret, who was more than a little disturbed after reading a Scientific American article that convinced her she’s a food addict. Turns out we all are, yay!

Tricky Decisions
March 18, 2008, 9:17 am
Filed under: Life, Uncategorized

I’ve been pretty bad about posting on my blog lately. The trouble is there isn’t a whole lot that’s new going on right now, I’m just sort-of stuck in the middle of trying to make a bunch of decisions about things. I’ve been planning for a while now to take a trip to China this May, but I just realized the dates I was planning overlap with my dance troupe’s one big performance of the year at the Folklife Festival. I also just found out that I may need to cut the trip down to two weeks instead of three, due to the limited amount of time off I have right now, unless I want to borrow from next year’s supply of PTO. So now I’m mentally weighing the longer trip to China against whatever month-long adventure I might be able to enjoy next winter (the exciting news is that as of this year I’ve been at the company long enough to get a whopping FIVE weeks of time off (!!!!) beginning in July, which pretty much rocks). I thought I might be able to help the decision process along by finding out whether I would still be able to perform at Folklife if I miss the two weeks of rehearsal preceding the event, but the response I got was a not-so-helpful ‘it depends.’ And as if all that wasn’t enough, I’ve also decided that buying a new car is really smarter than keeping my dirty little troublemaker, which of course opens up a whole new collection of choices to be made. Maybe once I have at least a few of these troublesome unknowns figured out I’ll have something interesting to write about again. Meanwhile if you’re looking for something a little more engaging than this, check out these awesome 3d chalk drawings.

Hole in Wall
March 14, 2008, 1:13 pm
Filed under: Entertainment

Erica just sent me the link to this awesome Japanese game show she told me about at the sauna last night. My coworkers and I enjoyed it tremendously and now you can too:

Or for the fullscreen experience click here.

March 10, 2008, 9:55 am
Filed under: Fun | Tags:

I found a toy racecar in my box of Cheerios this morning! I’ve been eating them for about a week and today the box got empty enough for me to notice something brightly colored at the bottom. I took a closer look and sure enough, free toy! It’s pretty sweet, it has no trouble at all racing the entire length of our worktable and it drives pretty straight too. I haven’t tried it on any jumps yet, but with all the three ring binders around here I’m sure I can put something together. I’m feeling a little bit tempted to listen to the voice on the back of the cereal box shouting ‘COLLECT ALL FIVE!!!!’



I also think this might be a sign that I should buy a new car…

Too Easy
March 10, 2008, 9:24 am
Filed under: Life | Tags:

I thought getting my spam count up to 2000 was going to be a challenge, but over the weekend it just took off. I grabbed this screenshot of it sometime yesterday, and even after last night’s older-than-30-days delete it’s still at 2063 right now. And I haven’t even been feeding my e-mail address to sketchy sites… crazy.


I’ve decided the next big milestone will be 3000, which would mean I’m receiving 100 spam e-mails per day (right now my average is around 70 per day).

March 7, 2008, 12:02 pm
Filed under: Fun, Life | Tags: ,

I really love playing Scrabulous on Facebook. I’ve had a game going with my dad for at least the last month and he’s completely kicking my ass. I finally found out what his big secret is (aside from the fact he’s a ridiculously good scrabble player, so much so that nobody but his Mom will play with him anymore): he pulled out the scrabble set from home and keeps a tray with his current scrabulous letters sitting in front of his keyboard at work. So basically he can spend all day looking for that brilliant next play and then log on to facebook to make his next devastating move. He even sent me a photo of this sweet little setup:


I like to think that eventually I’ll learn to be a better scrabble player by playing with him, so I’m choosing not to let it get to me that I’m currently being beaten by over 150 points. One of his favorite tricks is to use every one of his letters in a single turn, which in the Scrabble world wins you an extra 50 points. This manouver is demonstrated below where he played first ‘increase’ and then ‘osteoid’ – I still don’t even know what osteoid means.


I was pretty proud of my ‘laborers’ move, but it used two pre-existing letters so no bonus 50 for me. But if anyone else on facebook is keen on wordgames, I’m all about Scrabulous (and I’m learning to be a pretty gracious loser too). Oh, and if you see any good moves I can make with my current letters (below), feel free to suggest a play. Maybe that will be my new secret Scrabulous strategy….