Online commerce - eleven years ago #

I was amused back in 1994 when I heard that Pizza Hut was taking orders on the Internet. I had been on the Internet for many years, but ordering something online (especially pizza!) seemed incredibly strange to me.

It's been eleven years since then. Look how much you can order online now! I'm impressed that Pizza Hut was one of the first companies experimenting with "e-commerce". And despite my friends thinking I'm uncool or have no taste, I really do like Pizza Hut's pizza.

Friendly lawyer speak #

ING Direct's terms and conditions are friendlier than I'd expect. Examples, emphasis mine:

  • If an item you deposit is returned to us unpaid or is otherwise charged back to us, we will charge it back to your account. Generally, you can't withdraw a deposit for 5 business days. However, when you first open your account, you won't be able to withdraw any money for the first 10 business days. As with all non-cash deposits, interest will begin to accrue no later than 2 business days after the banking day on which the funds were deposited. (Here's an example - if you make a deposit on a Sunday, we will process it on Monday, and interest will begin to accrue no later than Wednesday.)
  • Here Comes the REALLY Hardcore Legal Stuff
  • And Finally! Wow, that was a lot of reading. Congratulations for finishing this!
  • Pursuant to Federal law, you're only allowed to take money out of your OSA 6 times per monthly statement cycle ("Cycle"). If you repeatedly make more than 6 withdrawals during a Cycle, we may close your account. Under Federal law, we must reserve the right to require you to give us at least 7 days written notice before you take money out of your OSA. (This hardly ever happens but legally we have to say it!)

I wish more companies were like this!

(note: ING Direct is no longer around)

Activity vs. Passivity #

When I think about the things that make me happy, it seems that there are two basic categories. There's surface happiness, which comes from things like watching a TV show or eating a good meal, and deep happiness, which comes from things like building a water fountain or writing a program.

The surface happiness comes from things that are pleasurable or exciting or novel. These things tend to be something I'm consuming. The happiness tends to last a short time. I need a constant stream of these to keep me happy. I've noticed that I can suffer withdrawal/crash symptoms if I have a lot of these and then I suddenly don't. For example, one weekend I went to Calistoga with my wife and coworkers. It was lots of fun. But when I got back home I was depressed, and I wouldn't have been if I had never gone on that trip.

The deep happiness comes from things that took effort. These things tend to be something I'm producing. Actively creating something takes longer but the happiness lasts longer too. I don't need as many of these to keep me happy, and the entire process of creation makes me happy, not only the end result. For example, a few years ago I wanted a small water fountain for the backyard. My mom bought me a fountain and I set it up. It was fun for a short time. But it didn't make me happy. I decided to read about fountain pumps, water filtering, etc., and then bought some parts myself and built my own fountain. That made me much happier, even though the end result was pretty similar. The process matters.

The difference between my two types of happiness can be labeled passive vs. active, but I think there's more to it than that. Although actively producing generally leads to deeper happiness than passively consuming, I think the real difference is in meaningful decision making. When I play Diablo, I'm pretty active, but most of that activity doesn't involve meaningful decisions. The "hack and slash" part of the game is pretty mindless; only the strategy for character development involves decisions that matter. When I play Civilization, my decisions matter much more. When I'm finished playing Diablo, I certainly had fun, but when I'm finished with Civilization, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Both take effort and require activity but one makes me happier than the other.

Another thing that seems to make a difference for me is when I use something in a way it wasn't intended to be used. With the fountain, I used saran wrap, which is not a normal building material for fountains. When I use something for what it was designed for, it feels like someone else has made the decision, whereas when I use it for something else, I'm the one who made the decision of how it will be used.

I do need both types of happiness, just as I need both fast and slow muscle, but for me, producing things yields much better, much longer lasting happiness than consuming things.