Ignoring branding: the double-blind test

What is “really” the difference in quality between cheap and expensive wines, restaurants, hotels, medications, jeans, stereo equipment, computer software, etc? I’ve always been fascinated by this question, because I enjoy quality but do not enjoy paying top dollar needlessly, and am aware that price does not necessarily correlate with quality. In particular, brand names and other marketing tricks easily imbue a product or service with an artificial aura specifically for the purpose of luring consumers toward it, away from a practically similar competitors’.

Do the differences exist, do they matter, and what can we learn from the results of double-blind tests?

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New experiment for a new year: winter running in Vibram FiveFingers shoes

I first started wearing Vibram FiveFingers minimalist shoes in October of 2009, but every year, I have not worn them in the winter months when the temperature drops below freezing and there is snow or ice on the ground (January, February). Somehow, today as I saw a bit of snow fall outside (with very little accumulation), I decided to do a short run (less than two miles) in my Bikila LS shoes while returning some items to the local library, to get a taste of whether it is practical to try regular winter running in these shoes, as the temperature drops and more snow falls. Read On →

Reflections on 2011

I reflect on my year of 2011 as it ends. Since I did not start blogging until September, I go into more detail of what happened before then.

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Much progress playing flute

Starting yesterday, I finally returned to practicing flute. I had played very little flute in ten days, as a result of focusing my musical practice almost entirely on soprano recorder for the performance at the Pittsburgh Contras and Squares Holiday Ball on Friday. I did play flute just a little bit at the Holiday Ball, but nothing I needed practice on.

I was surprised how much better I was at flute yesterday (and today) despite no practice in ten days. How did this happen?

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What topics do you want me to write about in 2012?

It has not yet been three months since I started this blog. I have managed to post something every single day since I started, apart from my decision over a month ago to take Saturday off. Now that I’ve proved to myself that I can maintain the habit, I’m going to take a break (coinciding with the winter holidays), reflect more deeply on where my blog has explored, and plan out and implement some major changes and improvements.

I strongly believe that content is king. This is why I have deliberately focused entirely on content in the past three months, rather than on format, tone, and style, even when I became increasingly aware of areas of improvement outside the area of content. I will work on those other areas for 2012.

Meanwhile, I would like to improve the content as well, by making it more useful to you. I am listing here just a few of the broad topic ideas I expect to address in future posts (many of the topic areas have already appeared in the past three months, while others have not).

What do you want to read here?

If there are topics on this list (or not on this list) you are particularly interested in reading about here, let me know; I will take all requests seriously!

The list, roughly organized by topic but not in any particular order (and by no means exhaustive):

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Fun at the East End Food Co-op Winterfest

Saturday, Abby and I went to the annual East End Food Co-op Winterfest with John, as we did last year, and were joined by Mark, Jin, and their daughter Julia.

This family-friendly annual event serves as a fund raiser, and features a variety of vegetarian and vegan food as well as live music. This year, the draw was Bury the Cabbage, a group playing Irish traditional music.

Bury the Cabbage

Every year, I’ve bumped into a good number of people here that I haven’t seen for a while, and this year was no exception.

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Playing recorder and flute at the Holiday Ball!

So on Friday, after just two weeks of practicing music for the Pittsburgh Contras and Squares Holiday Ball, the moment of truth finally arrived.

The event went pretty well! Here is a report, with some photos and videos.

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Today is Bill of Rights Day, the irony!

Actual copy of the US Constitution at Carnegie Mellon University Today, in the United States, is December 15, Bill of Rights Day, the day in 1791 when the new nation of the United States amended its Constitution by adding the “bill of rights” in order to address the concerns of those who feared that the Constitution as proposed without the amendments did not sufficiently protect Americans’ rights. Read On →

I love medicine balls: including a video review: Gaiam Fit Ball Workout

I love medicine balls. But once upon a time, I didn’t even know what a medicine ball was.

Two months ago, I mentioned my gradual movement away from formal gyms and exercise machines toward less technological ways to exercise. One of the “gadgets” I do use is a medicine ball.

Today, I am reviewing an intense exercise video that I started using just two years ago that involves a medicine ball, the Gaiam Fit Ball Workout with instructor Tanja Djelevic.

Photo of Gaiam Fit Ball Workout kit

I give this 55 stars and here’s why!

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Video review: Dancing with the Stars: Cardio Dance (2006)

When the weather is cold, I confess that I don’t enjoy running outside. I have done so in the past when much more serious about running, but I do not like it much. So I end up doing exercise indoors that is something of a substitute for running. I should really take up swimming (Abby wants to get me to do that), but traditionally, I have enjoyed doing dance workouts to videos.

One of my favorite dance workout DVDs, which I have used for almost half a decade now since it came out, is Dancing with the Stars: Cardio Dance (2006). I have never tired of it (as long as I don’t use it all the time, of course; I have a number of other exercise videos I will review later).

Dancing with the Stars: Cardio Dance (2006) DVD

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