Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Here’s something I’ve always wondered:  Why do things lose their luster?  I’m not just talking about precious metals (I guess there’s a pretty scientific explanation for that).  I’m talking about people, things, and activities. 

Have you ever met someone that you like every once in a while?  Or you’ve said “I can hang out with him for a weekend or so, but any longer and I get kind of sick of him.”  But if you go a couple of months without seeing the guy, you wonder what he’s up to, and you want to connect with him again (but not for too long . . .).

Or you buy a new toy that is supposed to be awesome, you use it for a couple of months, and then it starts collecting dust.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone’s Nintendo Wii pushed to a dark corner of an entertainment cabinet, not even plugged in.  I don’t remember the last time I used mine.

And even activities are like that.  I want to go skiing so much right now, I’m actually thinking about driving the 4.5 hours to Sunday River to fight 200 other people on a run covered in snowguns blasting my face off.  I’m not going to do it, but the fact that I’m even considering it is ridiculous.  But by the spring, I can’t be bothered to ski on a day that isn’t springerific (a word I just made up to describe a perfect spring day – which may encompass anything from soft corn to 3 feet of cold powder).  If it’s icy, rainy, or cold, I find something else to do.

I recognize the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility (which basically says that you get less and less benefit from each additional plate of food you get at a buffet), but I don’t understand why some things seem immune to the rule.  I mean, my Wii doesn’t get used anymore, but my mountain bike definitely does (finally back from the shop – nice).  And my previous skiing trip doesn’t make me want to ski less; it makes me want to ski more.  With that in mind, I’ve developed the Skiing To Orbiting Knobby Equations, or S.T.O.K.E. for short.  Taking a variety of factors into account, I constructed the following Formulas:

Skiing Stoke = log10(0.7s + 0.17A1.5 + 0.1E2 + ln[0.4db] - 0.1t)

MTB Stoke = log10(0.17A1.5 + 0.1E2 + ln[0.4db])

Where s is the amount of snow on the ground, A is anticipation, E is probability of an epic day, db is the likelihood of a beautiful day (when you go out skiing or riding), and t is the probability that I might have to teach when I go to the mountain. Each of these variables is a value from one to ten depending on the month.  For example, October has a 10 anticipation factor for skiing, but only 1 for mountain biking.  February has an 8 for amount of snow on the ground, but only a 4 for beautiful days.  For skiing, March gets a 6.5 for epic days because I figure there’s a 65% chance of an epic day when I go skiing in March (counting days that I miss work to ski a Powder day). 

Using these data, it is possible to graph my Stoke for skiing and MTB over the course of the year:

As you can see, there is a noticeable dip in the Ski Stoke from December through February.  This drop in stoke is almost completely attributable to the likelihood that during those months, whenever I’m at the mountain, I’ll probably be teaching lessons instead of freeskiing.  Also of note is that in March and April, while my skiing stoke is at its peak, my mountain bike stoke is pretty high.  This is probably due to the fact that it’s possible that I’ll get a day or two of riding in during those months.  As high as my anticipation for the ski season is in August and September, I’m (most likely) not going to be getting any ski days in.  Therefore, my stoke for skiing doesn’t rise as quickly as my stoke for MTB.

Additionally, this graph proves one more thing about my skiing and mountain bike riding:  with the increasingly short days, I have way too much free time on my hands.  Maybe I’ll go play some Wii. 


  1. See that formula isn't scalable. If you divide by the inverse of your distance from a legitimate mountain and multiply by the reciprocal of your average number of ski days, it could apply to any skier. Stop being so solipsistic. Think big picture. I'll expect your solution on my desk in the morning.

  2. Great post.

    Is the "Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility" (I always remember it as "The Law of Diminishing Returns") another way of saying "The Grass Is Always Greener"? The Sunday River comment is absolutely true -- everyone wants what they don't have at the moment. Very infantile, if you think about it.

    I think I've brought up this issue here before, especially when Easterners rhapsodize about how "everything would be perfect if I could just move out west" rap. My personal version of that is "everything would be perfect if I could just move to the Alps." Matt has taken the middle path, and turned this longing (I'm guilty too) into a source of blog material. But eventually, you either do it or shut up; otherwise, it becomes a sad shtick.

    A side note: check out Harv with the big words! Solipsistic!

  3. James ... the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility is from Economics. While LoD Returns refers to some measurable number, the LoDMU is perceived or psychological. Your first Mercedes Sport Utility Vehicle is valuable to you. You are willing to pay $40k for it. But if you have ten of them, is an eleventh one also worth $40k? Maybe not. That last vehicle on an absolute scale is just as valuable, but not to you because what the hell do you do with it. Or would you pay $50 for a gallon of water? Not in normally because you have a ton of it. But in the desert - if it was the only gallon for a hundred miles? Maybe you would.

    Re: vocabulary ... Zelda helps me with the big words.

  4. James, I've been known to write some "sad shtick" posts too. This just wasn't one of them.

    Harv, you're definitely right about adding in distance from a respectable mountain and skier days. Perhaps I'll need to tweak the formula at a later date.