Category Archives: fun

Fun and rational economic theory: reflections on the book “The Logic of Life”

What do you do for fun? Why do you do it? Do you want to shift your patterns?

I was surprised to hear Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) say at her book talk that most grown-ups don't know what they would do for fun. I can easily list things I enjoy doing. I can probably even explain why I enjoy doing them and how I want to change or improve.

Sometimes knowing what you would do for fun isn't easy. It forces you to confront the fact that you do not do some things for fun, that the intrinsic enjoyment of it is dormant or gone. For example, I realized that making or giving presentations had dropped off the list of things I enjoy doing just because.

Are there activities you would like to enjoy more? What about activities you'd like to enjoy less? I'm like that too. Rational economic theory to the rescue! If you look at what you enjoy doing, think about the costs and incentives of different activities, and work on ways to change those costs and incentives, you can make it easier for you to do the kinds of things you want to do and avoid the things you don't. In this blog post, I'm going to see if this geeky way of looking at fun actually works.

The relevant quote from The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World ( Tim Harford, 2008)

p4. Rational people respond to trade-offs and to incentives. When the costs and benefits of something change, people change their behavior. Rational people think – not always consciously – about the future as well as the present as they try to anticipate likely consequences of their actions in an uncertain world.

What do you do? What are your behaviours? What are the benefits? Let's take a look at fun. Here's what I do (roughly in order of preference), why I do them, and what I'd like to change.

Spending time with W-. This is an easy one. Pay-off: Richer relationships, more in-jokes, and quite a bit of learning along the way. We like cooking, discussing books, going for walks, and picking up shared hobbies, although we occasionally watch movies (mostly borrowed from the library). Cost: Time. Change: This part has good balance, so I don't need to increase or decrease it.

Writing. I love writing down what I think and what I'm learning. I'll even write as a way of procrastinating other things I need to do. Pay-off: The immediate benefits of understanding, the medium-term benefits of recall, and the long-term investment in a knowledgebase. The insights people share with me through comments and the insights they pick up from me through reading are icing on the cake. Cost: Time. Change: I think I spend a good enough amount of time on this and that I get great value for the time I spend on it. I might try spending less time on it.

Reading. I read voraciously. Fortunately, Toronto has one of the largest library systems in the world. Pay-off: I pick up new words and ideas that I can use in life and writing. Cost: Time and space. Change: although taking book notes and doing life experiments based on what I've read help me make sure I get more value from the time, I probably spend more time reading than I should. I get diminishing returns from, say, the Xth personal finance book I've read, and I suspect I sometimes read things to feel smug. ;) (Like the way people watch reality TV shows?) I can increase the cost of reading by planning to ask questions and write book notes for books that come in. I can increase the benefits of reading by sharing book notes and life experiments. I can shift to higher-value reading (new subjects, question-driven research).

Baking or cooking. I enjoy trying new recipes or making our favourites. Pay-off: Yummy food, new experiences, and closer relationships with W-, J-, and friends. Cost: Time and freezer/fridge/bread-box space. Change: Good balance here, no change needed. (Although it's interesting that I've been procrastinating working on open source in favour of making bread, probably because the pay-off from appreciative family / friends makes me feel warmer and fuzzier.)

Walking or biking. Pay-off: Satisfaction of knowing I'm getting some exercise, long-term health benefits, and often shared time with W-. Cost: Wearing winter-friendly clothes when I'm working at home; making time for a walk when I'm at the office. Change: More of this, maybe at the expense of some writing. (Or maybe I can use walking time to think about what I want to write…) I can lower the costs by changing into going-out-friendly clothes when I'm working at home, and blocking out time for walks.

Planning and reviewing my finances. Yes, I actually enjoy doing my books and reviewing my plans. I'm weird. Pay-off: Satisfaction of knowing things are going well; confidence in being able to plan for purchases or goals. Cost: Time. Change: This doesn't take a lot of time, but I should probably spend less time on this.

Organizing. Pay-off: Investment into being able to find things again, reducing frustration. The satisfaction of having a neat-ish place. Appreciation from W-. Cost: Time. Change: This is currently reasonable, although I could invest some time into simplifying and improving systems so that I can avoid even more clutter.

Playing the piano. Pay-off: Satisfaction from learning and from listening to music I'm playing. Mental exercise. Appreciation from W- and J-. Cost: Time. Change: I think this is okay. I might look into piano lessons if that will help me learn faster.

Gardening. Pay-off: Yummy food. Satisfaction of self-sufficiency (at least in small parts!). Experiences with nature. Shared experiences with W- and J-. Cost: Time and some money. Change: I want to do this more efficiently next growing season, working my way to a better yield.

Building furniture. Pay-off: Shared interests and shared time with W-. Custom items. The satisfaction of making things. Cost: Time, money, and risk. Change: More of this during the summer! =)

Sewing. Pay-off: Satisfaction of making things that fit my preferences. Cost: Frustration, time, some money. Task-switching cost - have to set up. Change: I'd like to do more of this. I can do that by starting with small projects, practising and improving my skills (so that I can reduce frustration), and attending lessons (formally blocks the time off, makes it easier to task-switch).

Working on open source. Pay-off: The buzz of solving problems; the convenience of programs that fit the way I work a little bit better; the appreciation of other people; improved technical skills. Costs: Task-switching (loading the relevant programs, remembering where I am and what I'm working on, getting into the swing of things); occasional bit of paperwork. Change: I'd like to do more of this, maybe by creating blocks of time where I can focus on open source.


Things that I would like to enjoy more:

Drawing. Pay-off: New skills; satisfaction from creating things; improved ability to communicate. Cost: Not entirely happy with drawing on my tablet yet; switching cost if I use the tablet downstairs. Change: If I get better at drawing through practice and learning, and I get used to drawing with one of the programs on my computer, then I'll find this easier, more natural, and more enjoyable. GIMP? MyPaint? Paint? OneNote? Inkscape? I should pick one and learn it inside and out.

Making and giving presentations. Pay-off: Improved understanding. Helping other people. Connecting with others. Passive networking. Cost: Time. Risk of boring-ness. Obligation. Stress. Change: If I write more, I'll have more to harvest for presentations. If I ignore the fear of being boring and just get something out there, that will help me deal with the stress of creating something for public use.

Meeting people. This includes meeting new people as well as hanging out with friends. It's much too easy for me to go into introvert mode and get out to meet people only once in a while. Pay-off: Potentially interesting conversations. Opportunities to help others. Aha! moments myself. Friendships. Cost: conversations that don't go beyond news, sports, and weather. Change: I should do more of this. Maybe if I focus on remembering how fun it was to hang out with my friends in the Philippines, that will motivate me to build more friendships here too. Simplifying my get-togethers might lead to my actually having regular monthly get-togethers. Setting aside specific blocks of time to be social will also help me work around my introvert tendencies.


Looking at this, I suppose I could scale back on reading, baking/cooking, planning, and reviewing my finances.

I can integrate organizing into my daily routines better.

I can work on remembering or increasing the pay-offs for meeting people and making presentations.

Then I can set aside blocks of time that I can use for drawing, sewing, or making presentations, and another regular block of time for meeting people or investing in relationships.

When summer comes again, gardening can take the place of some walking, and biking will take the place of my subway commute. Woodworking/building furniture is also spending time with W-, so that should be okay.

Thinking about this and writing things down helps me tweak the balance.


How about you? What do you do for fun? What are the costs and pay-offs? What would you like to change?

The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World
2008 Tim Harford
ISBN 978-0-385-66387-8

2011-01-19 Wed 06:20

Tired but I’m happy

Yes, this is one of those how-was-your-day posts. You can skip over it if you want. =)

I tried returning my bike today, but the BikeShare hub I went to was still closed at 10:15 AM. Oh well. Even the prospect of a $2 overdue fine was not enough to ruin what was otherwise a perfect day. =)

Beautiful, beautiful weather—sunny, but not too sunny. (And certainly nothing like the showers predicted by the weather feed I have in my Bloglines aggregator!) Perfect weather for going to Canada's Wonderland, a theme park with a gazillion roller coasters. Whee!

Calum Tsang got me a waaay-discounted ticket care of Bell Mobility. At CAD 29 (including free lunch and parking), it was a great deal. Conversation certainly made the hour-long waits bearable, and it was a lot more fun than reading a textbook in line. =)

We had fun talking about photography. I spotted a great shot while we were standing in line for one of the coasters. In one of the coaster seats was a very serious-looking Old World matron wearing a black babushka. Her face had a lot of character, thanks to deep lines on her forehead and around her mouth. She sat in a roller coaster with bright red restraints, and she was just looking into the distance... That was pretty cool. Anyway, I told Calum stories about Papa and Kathy taking pictures on vacations. He checked out the Adphoto website and thought their shots were really, really cool. =)

The rides were _sooo_ cool. I really liked the Italian Job. You know how most coasters start out by bringing you up a hill, giving you plenty of time to discuss the weather? This one was fast from the very beginning. And there was a segment in darkness, too! And special effects! That coaster totally rocked. The other coasters were great, too—I liked Top Gun because it didn't have a floor!—but the Italian Job was my favorite.

After our coaster adventures, we headed over to Commisso Brothers for lasagna. Now, you gotta wonder why an Italian bakery needs to be open 24 hours. <laugh> Calum had an interesting theory, which I probably shouldn't share here because it might get me in trouble. ;)

We also grabbed ice cream from Baskin Robbins. I had a white chocolate / dark chocolate mousse ice cream scoop on a sugar cone. I think he had French vanilla. Ice cream... Yay! =)

I made it back to the dorm by 9:15. I grabbed my chocolate mug and headed down for Sunday night socials. While standing near the milk, I chatted with Catherine(?) and another girl (waah, forgot her name) about shopping and sales. I also chatted with Tarun, Shanghai and Yeow Tong about Wonderland.

I felt _really_ warm and fuzzy when one of the grad students (waah! forgot!) went up to me and invited me to play a game of Scrabble after the graduate council meeting. He even asked me to be nice, as he didn't know how good the other student was yet. <laugh> The last game we played saw some pretty high scores. That was tons of fun, too!

I guess I got distracted talking to Hernan about research and teaching (he's doing his Ph.D. in theoretical physics), and I didn't see people getting together for the game. Maybe they got tired because of the meeting. Maybe I'll get to play with them next week. Anyway, I talked to Brian a bit before heading back to my room. =)

Very good day. Tiring, but awesome.

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Rest of my day

I actually woke up early today: 7:30. (Okay, 7:35, really. And 7:40. Yeah, 7:40.) I had a quick bowl of oatmeal, heaping far more sugar on it than is probably nutritionally advisable. And then I waited for people to come online. Waah! Look! I was up on a Saturday morning! And people were missing!

Naturally, people started coming online maybe twenty, ten minutes before I had to leave. Still, it was really nice being able to briefly chat with Dominique and my mom. =)

Then I was off to the Science Centre (see blog post before this one), and then to a whole day of fun. =) Calum was really nice. Over salmon sashimi and California maki, we chatted about Japan. He's planning to go there in September, so I told him about things he must not miss: okonomiyaki, street food, that nifty deep-fry place Dave Brown told me about, rush hour in the train system, the hordes of photographers in Meiji Temple on major festivals... He told me hilarious stories about lay-off season at Nortel. Heh. Crazy.

Then he showed me what suburbian entertainment is like: basically, shopping at big box stores like Sam's Club and Future Shop. ;) I told him that we had warehouse supermarkets in the Philippines too (Pricesmart, Shopwise), but yeah, Sam's Club is _way_ bigger than Pricesmart. Mom would have a lot of fun going through that place. =)

He showed me Lake Ontario, too, bemoaning his lack of a real camera that day. I told him about Papa shooting stock shots while on vacation, Kathy's instinctive protection of camera equipment when she slipped... See, I grew up around photographers. ;) I might not know all the jargon, but I can relate.

Lake Ontario is pretty! And it has geese! =) Nifty...

We topped a fun day off with soft-serve ice cream. (I told him about the time I did Linux support for ice cream, and Peppy and I ate ice cream until the world turned funny colors... ;) ) It was great!

Much better than trekking around and figuring things out on my own. =) Excellent day!

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Wonderful day at the science centre

I had a great time exploring the Ontario Science Centre with Calum Tsang, sysad of the Interactive Media Lab. He had a lot of fun pointing out all the Amigas powering the hands-on exhibits, and I had a lot of fun teasing him about being a geek. ;)

It was absolutely wonderful. My dad knows how much I love hands-on science, having had to take me to the Science Centrum in Manila more times than should be appropriate for a grade school kid. (Hi dad!)

I _love_ discovery places like that. I love playing around with the exhibits. I learned that I have, err, the gripping power of a 10- to 13-year-old. And that I can jump lightly. And that sound waves do interesting things in long tubes. And that they've got this really cool marble drop. And rollercoasters are tons of fun; a lot of science goes into their design!

Ooooh. I also got to see an authentic Jacquard's Loom. People who actually paid attention in operating systems class or introductory computing class (especially the ones I taught! ;) ) will probably go "Ooooh" too. A real, actual Jacquard's Loom, the only one left in Canada. Nifty.

The Matter exhibition was under renovation. Waah. And we were too early for the Extreme Science show. But hey, more reason to come back next time, right?

Anyway, that _totally_ rocked. =)

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Weekend with dds and Ben

dds and his friend Ben came up to Tokyo last weekend, and I had tons of fun hanging out with them. We met at the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogaku at 10:00 last Saturday morning. There was a bit of a mixup; I thought I was supposed to meet Sebastian Duval then as well, but it turned out that was supposed to be Sunday. Whoops.

The Edo-Tokyo Museum was a fascinating glimpse of Tokyo before it was Tokyo. I particularly liked the intricately carved minatures showing the architecture of Japanese houses. The splendid portable shrines were also remarkable, as was the elaborate kabuki display. Pity I'd forgotten my camera then! I hope Ben will post pictures soon.

After the museum, we headed over to Akihabara, a must-see spot for all electronics geeks. We had lunch at a little noodle shop near the station. It took me a while to slurp down my hot tanuki udon ( dds teased me about having a cat's tongue), so Ben went off to browse through the bewildering array of electronic devices. Splitting up is normally a Very Bad Idea because Akihabara's just so big, but dds reassured him that we'd be able to find him.

Yeah, right.

Hours later and still no sight of Ben. I started panicking. Poor guy didn't know Japanese. He knew Ben's cellphone number, but I wasn't sure if he knew how to use the phones. We waited by the noodle shop just in case he decided to retrace his steps; no Ben. We made a number of circuits of Akihabara; no Ben. We finally found him near a telephone booth on the far side of a wide street, looking very lost and rather tired.

He didn't get much sleep on the night train, and he really needed to take a nap. We took the train to Shinjuku and started looking for the capsule hotel dds found on the Net. We trudged through a red light / love hotel district, which was a rather strange experience. (Fortunately, it was still early afternoon.) Not a capsule hotel in sight. Eventually we gave up and decided to look for an Internet cafe or a karaoke box we could leave Ben in; those places have relatively cheap hourly rates and a karaoke box is soundproof as well. After a lot of backtracking, we found a reasonable karaoke place that had a promo until 7:00. We left Ben there and started looking for that capsule hotel.

dds was well-prepared. He had a GPS phone with a map that tracked his current position _and_ a watch with a built-in compass, so we confidently set off to find the capsule hotel that was top on his list. We crossed to the other side of Shinjuku station... wandered through a winding alley of little restaurants... wandered around some more... and realized we were well and truly lost, although we knew exactly where we were.

So I popped into a store and asked for directions. (It's fun being a girl.)

... and asked another store for directions...

... and then looked at a map near an underground walkway—they always have maps of the vicinity, which are very handy...

... and then found the capsule hotel...

... right beside the karaoke place.

At least we didn't have to walk very far to get back.

Ben was still sleeping, so dds and I chatted in the cafe first. Had my first hot chocolate of the weekend.

After that, we picked up Ben, showed him the capsule hotel next door, and had a good laugh about the exercise. Heh.

I wasn't quite sure what to do in Tokyo at night—I'm not a nightlife person, you know—but I took them to Harajuku anyway to show them some costume shops and other weird things. That was okay, although not particularly impressive.

After that, we had a somewhat unsatisfying dinner at a small Japanese restaurant. There's a first time for everything, I guess, so that was more of a learning experience than dinner. Not that I was hungry afterwards, but anyway... =)

We walked around a little bit, then they decided to turn in; they were tired from the trip and they wanted to get a good start tomorrow. So I went back to the dorm, looked up nice places to go on the Net, and e-mailed dds an itinerary that included some of the architectural stuff he wanted to see.

After a good night's sleep, I met them at the corner in front of their capsule hotel. We ate breakfast at Matsuya, a 24h store that offers (among other things) a natto combo set. 'Natto' is a dish of fermented soybeans, which most people find a little odd. dds is addicted to the thing. I was thinking of trying it out again, but between my ham and egg meal and the salad Ben passed to me, I got quite full.

We went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office after breakfast. The building complex is majestic and the view from the twin observatories is not only spectacular but also free, so it's a must-stop for Tokyo visitors. Mt. Fuji rose above the mass of buildings glinting in the clear, sunny day; great view.

We picked up a few pamphlets from the tourist information office on the first floor. I needed a map of Odaiba, the artificial island we were going to visit next. Thus prepared, we took the train to Shinbashi and transferred to the monorail, squeezing into the front of the car so that we could see the view.

The Fuji TV building was first on our list, as it boasted a spherical observatory. It would've been cooler if the observatory was mostly glass, but the view was still good. A few old machines were being exhibited—a telegraph machine, some elaborate mechanical dolls—and I was completely fascinated by them. I love looking at minature automata. I am intrigued by the gears and other mechanisms that combine in strange ways to make the models move...

After the observatory, we headed for lunch in Little Hongkong. A delicious ramen meal later, we went to the science museum. That was so, so, so cool. There was an Asimo demonstration, a hands-on model of the Internet using marble drops, lots of information on various technologies, and a really cool spherical display several meters in diameter. The display showed the Earth. It had several modes: satellite images, temperature, prediction, time-lapse... You could also get it to display other bodies in the solar system. What fun! That was really, really cool. Check out the Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) if you ever find yourself in Odaiba.

We also went to Venus Fort, a shopping mall whose interiors resemble a grand 18th century Italian city. A painted sky with changing lights made us feel like we were outside. Columns and drapes stretched from floor to ceiling. An elaborate fountain with marble nymphs and gold decor completed the look. Beautiful place.

We capped our trip by speculating about the techniques used in the color-changing Ferris wheel in Odaiba (must be some kind of LED thing). It was hypnotic. =) After that, we took the boat back to Tokyo.

We had curry at a nearby 24-hour shop and then went to an Internet cafe to relax. Ben needed to transfer photos off his camera and dds needed to do some online banking. After they were done, we walked around. dds remembered a beautiful temple near the Daimon station and he showed me the neat little rows of Jizo statues. (I have a soft spot for Jizo statues; they're so cute...) We also walked through a graveyard and a park before heading in the direction of the next train station, frequently stopping at cafes for a quick coffee / hot chocolate fix.

We still had time to spare when we reached the next train station, so we signed up for 30 minutes of karaoke. That was fun. It was Ben's first time, and he did quite well—particularly when, ummm, he did "Barbie Girl" in this deep voice. I have video. MWAHAHAHA! We did two songs each, then headed to Tokyo station. I kept them company until the train was about to leave. <grin>

I had tons of fun this weekend, and definitely look forward to meeting other geeks. =)

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