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January 22, 2006

Is the secret of happiness right in front of our eyes?


David Colman's "Possessed" column in last Sunday's New York Times Styles section featured Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, and his beloved cargo pants (above).

They're the only pants he buys, "five or 10 at a swipe... in different colors at Costco."

Gilbert told Colman, "The joys of variety are vastly overrated in every domain of pleasure."


Gilbert's forthcoming book (in May, from Knopf) is entitled "Stumbling on Happiness."

Tell you what, he's gonna sell a lot of books: it was ranked #889 on Amazon earlier this week and it's still four months away from publication.

Anyway, read the article, which follows, and draw your own conclusions.

    Three Cheers for the Same Old Thing

    We like to think of ourselves as walking face forward into the future, eyes on the prize, a reasonable parallel to how we walk to work.

    But really, is that reasonable at all? In figurative terms we are more precisely walking backward into the future.

    After all, we can really see clearly only the past that is behind us and only guess at the road that lies ahead.

    Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, would like to outfit this metaphor with a side-view mirror, one reading: "Objects in future appear much larger than they are."

    A pioneer in the research of affective forecasting, Dr. Gilbert has illuminated a startling and fundamental mistake that both men and women make: they overestimate how future successes and failures will affect their happiness, for the better or worse.

    Not that people are easily disappointed by a promotion or apathetic about being fired.

    Rather, as Dr. Gilbert has found in charting his subjects' lives and reactions, "the good isn't as good, and the bad isn't as bad as we think it's going to be."

    A corollary finding is that a single big payoff - a fat raise, an Hermès Kelly bag, a hot cha cha date - affects people's essential happiness much less than a routine of small delights.

    And Dr. Gilbert, for one, is sold.

    He has found, for example, that one of the best things about being at Harvard is not the prestige of his position but that he can walk to work from his house in Cambridge.

    Much as you might embrace a chance to rebut the assertion that you would be happier with daily foot rubs for life than with $100 million, Dr. Gilbert, whose data is winningly compiled in "Stumbling On Happiness," due from Alfred A. Knopf in May, said his research clearly supported that message.

    But wouldn't you get bored?

    Wrong again.

    Dr. Gilbert's research also indicates that people who indulge in "false variety seeking" - that is, incessantly trying something new for variety's sake - are generally less happy than people who stick to their tried-and-true favorites.

    "The joys of variety are vastly overestimated in every domain of pleasure," he said.

    So as dull as you might think it, Dr. Gilbert's greatest luxury is an utter lack of fashion imagination.

    It is expressed neatly in a great big load of cargo pants, bought 5 or 10 at a swipe, size 35 by 30, in different colors at Costco.

    "My students all mock me," he said.

    "They think it's always the same pair."

    He is unruffled.

    "I never have to figure out what to wear," he said happily.

    "My life is full of decisions, and any time I can eliminate one, I feel that I have scored a victory."

    He added, "We haven't even begun to talk about the virtues of loose fit and big pockets."

    Is there a brand he prefers?

    He twisted around as far as he could.

    "Let me see," he said. "It says Union Bay."

    It probably does not shock too many people that money is not the answer.

    But with a steady drumbeat from self-help books telling us to embrace change, it is a relief to hear that there is much to be said for staying right where we are, in our happy little ruts.

    Change, and the future, will arrive whether we chase them down or not, so why not make the most of today?

    It might sound dull, but at least we know what to expect.


I do believe that happiness directly aimed at will never be attained.

It seems always to be a side effect, a by–product of doing something else.

That said, finding that something else can be maddeningly elusive.

And that's an understatement.

January 22, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

crazy numbers watch


"A consultant is someone who comes to your office, borrows your watch and tells you what time it is."*

Best definition ever.

No wonder things are so screwed up around here: she borrowed this watch!

From Tim Schwartz and his merry band of pixies and pranksters at idio:synchro Watch Company in Fort Collins, Colorado comes this superb take on time along with others guaranteed to make your table read "Tilt."

$99 here.

No computer?

No problem: they have a telephone which will ring if you dial 303-618-2766.


Nice box.

*It's later than you think.

January 22, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Laptop Stand for Treadmill Desk Version 2.0


Ben Willmore, founder and CEO of whereisben, emailed me a link to a superb review by Charles Moore of a wide variety of laptop stands for the road warrior.

Ben's email was in response to my question of last Tuesday about why it's impossible — for the time being at least, though I suspect not forever — to separate a laptop computer's screen from its base and position each part to your greatest advantage.

Moore writes "The Road Warrior" column for macopinion.com.

Talk about authoritative — I was completely engrossed.

Fyi, I'm getting the one he saved for his review's grand finale — the NoteRiser (top) from Contour Design in Germany.

I'd never heard of it until I read the review.

Ain't it great to have readers who are tuned in to turn me on?

$99.95 here.

[via whereisben and Charles Moore]

January 22, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

3–D Cutting Board


Synchronicity surfaces in the kitchen space.

Now come cutting boards with lips at the front and back to quietly improve function.

The 1" front overhang holds the board in place while you slice, dice and julienne.

The 1" high raised back keeps your sliced, diced and julienned vegetables on the board and off the counter.

So simple, so obvious, yet so not 20th–century 'cause I haven't seen these until recent months.

The one above is made of hand–sanded beechwood, measures 24"W x 18"D and costs $49.99 here.

The one below moves up in class.


First of all, it's made by John Boos, known for high–end woodwork.

Second, it's made of maple, not beechwood.

Third, it's reversible: flip the board and you've got a working surface with a deeply–routed perimeter groove to capture juices and let your sauce sing.

23"W x 17"D, it costs $139.99 here.

Note that the lips enable both boards to allow air to circulate over both surfaces when not in use.

Can your cuttting board do that?*

*In the horizontal position; I stand mine on its side and lean it against a wall so this isn't an issue for me but never let it be assumed that I don't consider that everyone doesn't, usually for a multitude of very good reasons, do things my way.

January 22, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Episode 2 — 'What does carbon monoxide [in beef] do to you — if you eat it?'


Episode 1 appeared back on October 26, 2004 and focused on the interesting news, not well known until then, that sushi tuna is gassed with carbon monoxide to keep it looking and bright red and tasty even though it might be rotten.

Well, guess what?

Just breaking out into wide public view is the controversy over gassing beef with carbon monoxide to keep it looking bright red and fresh long after it would normally spoil and turn brown.


Who knew?

From yesterday's Washington Post:

    FDA Urged to Reverse Policy on Gas in Meat

    Two consumer groups have joined in an effort to get the Food and Drug Administration to reverse a policy allowing the addition of carbon monoxide to meat as a way to make it look fresher.

    The gas keeps meat looking red long after it would normally turn brown.

    In response to a request from meat packagers — and based on data provided by them — the FDA designated the approach "generally regarded as safe" in 2004.


    Opponents have petitioned the agency to reverse the decision.

    This week the watchdog groups Consumer Federation of America and Safe Tables Our Priority joined that effort.

    In a letter to the FDA's acting commissioner, Andrew C. von Eschenbach, they argued that carbon monoxide removes one of the best indicators of meat freshness available to consumers.


I really don't see why there's such a kerfuffle over this issue.

I mean, the meat industry has our best interests at heart — doesn't it?

So the fact that they provided the data that caused the FDA to designate carbon monoxide–gassed meat as safe doesn't mean it's not objective or anything like that.

I mean, the meat industry has told us on numerous occasions, with increasing vociferousness each time a mad cow is discovered, that "U.S. beef is the safest in the world."

You should learn to listen to and believe authority when it tells you something.

I mean, back in the day when Lee Iacocca ruled Ford he told us repeatedly that seat belts not only didn't save lives — they killed people!

Trust me... as they say.


Europeans aren't so credulous: in 2003 the EU prohibited the use of carbon monoxide for meat.

In its decision the European Commission's food safety regulator stated, "The stable cherry color can last beyond the microbial shelf life of the meat and thus mask spoilage."


What a bunch of pansies.

January 22, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Wear Maria Sharapova's Tennis Dress


I noticed she was wearing this dress in a picture taken during her latest match at the ongoing Australian Open.

Then, a couple hours later, the new Nike Women catalog came in the mail and there on page 15 was the very same dress.

It comes only in the color pictured, called "Flash."

$80 here.

Note: you don't have to play tennis to wear the dress.

January 22, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Time for bookofjoe to move to iWeb?


I must confess that TypePad is getting more and more tiresome, what with the now–routine outages and downtime and failures that make bookofjoe seem erratic in terms of when it appears when, in fact, I create and schedule my eight daily posts with religious regularity.

So I was very interested in Walt Mossberg's review, in this past Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, of a new feature in iLife 06, the latest iteration of Apple's software.

It's called iWeb and includes a dedicated suite of blogging tools.


Watch the demo here and see what you think.

Me, I have no problem dropping $79 on it and I'm already a member of .Mac, a prerequisite for using iWeb to its fullest capability.

The trouble, as always, is my stupidity as regards technology.

Sitting here by myself in my TechnoDolt™ tar pit I just know that the first decision point I'd face after putting in the iLife 06 disc in an attempt to install it would crash my frontal lobes.


So I'm gonna pass.

When I get my next Mac, iLife 06 will be already in place so then I can play around with it to my heart's content.

I emailed Phillip Winn, my technical engineer, for his opinion and he replied that iWeb is not right for me.

Phillip is polite: I know he's trying to tell me, without hurting my feelings too much, that I'm not right.


That's OK, Phillip — this doesn't exactly come as news.

January 22, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tempur–Pedic® Neck Pillow — The Good, The Bad and The Ugly


The good: it's superbly comfortable for reading while lying down.

The bad: its shape made it (for me, at least) very uncomfortable for sleeping.

The ugly: see above.

I bought one a couple years ago after lying down for a while on one of Tempur–Pedic's quite expensive mattress pads.

I didn't see that it could possibly make me sleep any better than I already was so I passed on the pad but decided to take a flyer on a pillow.

It didn't make it through our first night together: I tossed it over the side of the bed and snuggled into my familiar old pillows.

Then I put the Tempur–Pedic pillow in a closet and forgot about it.

Last week I was poking around that closet looking for something and happened to glance at the pillow and figured hey, why not give it a shot for reading in the world's best reading spot™ (below)?


Turns out it's great — you can lie there for hours and your head doesn't get sore like with a regular pillow.

So now it's my default reading pillow.

But it does have that huge downside, to wit: it looks like it belongs in a rehab center or hospital, what with that bland and institutional–looking (albeit quite comfortable) ivory–colored cover.

Well, looks aren't everything....

$99 here.

Like you, I've been bombarded by their advertising since forever and assumed that of course their products were made in Sweden, what with the logo (below)


and all.

Guess what?

Inside the pillow cover the tag says, "Made in Denmark."

True, it's not China but it still isn't Sweden.

If you don't believe there's a difference, just mistake a Dane for a Swede and see what happens.

January 22, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

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