Happy Rails

Saturday, 28 August 2010

This morning, Owen and I ventured over to Battle Creek Regional Park (which straddles St. Paul and Maplewood) to do some cave exploring with the Happy Trails Nature Club.

While waiting around for the hike to begin, I bumped into one of the instructors from the birthing class Jennifer and I had attended earlier in the summer. Huh. What a coincidence. Or is it…?

Then later, while Owen was playing with some other kids in a small creek, Jodi, the Happy Trails organizer came over to me and asked what was new in my life. So I told her about my new daughter, and this attracted the attention of a few other parents who congratulated me. Jodi asked how Owen likes being a big brother, and I mentioned a few things and, in doing so, said something that indicated Isla was born at home. I just said it in passing, but immediately two moms began asking questions: who was the attending midwife? one of them asked, and she knew who I was talking about. Another mom began relating her home birth story, comparing notes, as it were.

Here’s my point (and I’ve taken heat for pointing this out before, but I stand by my observation): People who are attracted to certain kinds of activities can be counted on to be attracted to certain other – seemingly unrelated – kinds of activities. In this instance, it appears that people who feel it’s important to get their kids out exploring nature are the same people who are ‘into’ natural childbirth.

A similar observation was made by my wife some nine years ago: we were waiting in line to get into the brand-spanking new Apple Store (at the Mall of America), and the people standing in line around us were making all sorts of Star Trek and Simpsons references. Ergo: people who like Star Trek and the Simpsons generally prefer Macs to PCs. My wife even noted that, if we were not Witnesses, we could’ve been good friends with just about anyone in line that morning. And here’s the funny thing: we didn’t like being Witnesses, anyway (and besides, Witnesses are more likely to be found waiting in line for the grand opening of Burlington Coat Factory than Apple). I could go on, and I think I will:

People who like motorcycles also like to wear leather. People who like Wal-Mart also like spandex. People who like guns also like Sarah Palin. People who are assholes are also lawyers. People who like Mason Jennings’ music, also like pot. See? There’s no end.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Today Owen and I paid another visit to the Twin Cities’ Model Railroad Museum (TCMRM). I say “another visit,” because he and I had first visited there two years ago, whilst Jennifer was on a trip (as in, ‘out of town,’ not as in, ‘acid’).

When we went two years ago, we showed up with a library pass to get in for free. Unfortunately, the TCMRM doesn’t participate in that program anymore. Oh – wait – maybe they do participate in that program, but only if you live in Isanti County. But I digress. So not only did we have to pay this time, but we had to pay a lot. Back in ’08, the cost was only $5 per person. Now it’s $6 and…more bad news…Owen, now that he’s five years old, costs full price. Oh well.

Actually, in the end, I didn’t mind paying $12, even though that was an infinite amount more than I paid last time, because now the museum is twice the size it used to be. The main building houses an amazing scale-model railroad system that features a detailed model of Minneapolis and St. Paul (including the flour mills, St. Anthony Falls, the Midway Yards and several other landmarks). The trains also pass through the city of Mattlin. It’s a cute little town…but, Mattlin? Is that even a city in Minnesota? I’ve never heard of it.

Another building houses several more model trains, including one that kids can operate and another one with loads of buttons to push. One button operates the roller coaster, another one operates the merry-go-round and another one – Owen’s favorite – operated a tiny model train inside a tiny model toy store. It was like a play within a play. I think it blew our minds. And we weren’t even on a trip!

So, yeah, bottom line: bring your kids to the TCMRM, preferably before they turn five. It’s located in St. Paul, at Bandana Square. Make sure you go on the weekends, ’cause that’s the only time they open up building #2.

This has been a public service announcement.

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5 Responses to Happy Rails

  1. david says:

    I think the “seemingly unrelated” nature of these connections disappears once you realize that you have a pretty big selection bias in your examples. People who stand in line at the opening of an Apple store are a pretty narrow subset of people who “prefer Macs to PCs.” Likewise, the members of Happy Trails Nature Club are a pretty biased selection of “people who feel it’s important to get their kids out exploring nature.”

    There are a number of cognitive biases at work here as well. How many people were actually talking about the Simpsons? How many weren’t? How many people were talking about things you are unfamiliar with or don’t like?

    Was the percentage of people talking about the Simpsons and Star Trek in the Apple store line really greater than the line for the Windows 98 release?

    There’s probably an interesting point to be made for “People who are attracted to certain kinds of activities can be counted on to be attracted to certain other – seemingly unrelated – kinds of activities” though. But it probably has more to do with why related things can sometimes be so “seemingly unrelated”.

  2. Cory says:

    I like Mason Jennings.

  3. James says:

    David:
    I think, actually, the “seemingly unrelated” nature of the connections disappears once you realize that these things are not unrelated. Sometimes (such as the guns-Palin connection) they are very related. Other times, the entities (Simpsons/Macs) court the same demographics.
    And yes, I realize my sampling isn’t very thorough, but let me use a real-life story: On the first day of 3rd grade, my teacher began calling off the students’ names: “Jason Anderson…Jason Andrews…Jason Becker…” Everyone in the class laughed – were all the boys in class named Jason? Now, seriously, I doubt everyone thought ALL the boys were named Jason, but it was funny what a high percentage had that name: at least 3 out of 30 students – and that was only looking at the first three on the list! As it turns out, there were 6 Jasons in my class. Certainly not 100%, but high nonetheless.
    Same thing with the waiting line at the Apple Store. True, I didn’t poll everyone any ask if they self-identified as Trekkers, but everyone within earshot was a Trekker, so it seemed safe to conclude the percentage, overall, was high.
    I realize that people who wait in line at an Apple Store’s grand opening are a special subset. Indeed, they are probably the most hard-core of fans. Likewise, not everyone who thinks the great outdoors is good for kids was at the nature walk on Saturday (for a variety of reasons). But the problem here is likely my imprecise terminology. It’s certainly easier to pigeonhole hard-core, rather than casual, fans. Using myself as an example, I much more a Star Trek fan than a Bob Marley fan. I like Marley; I have some of his music, and I listen to it often at work, but I rarely speak of it. Therefore, I can’t say, exactly, what other hobbies and interests Marley fans have. Though I think it might match up with Mason Jennings fans in at least one aspect.
    I think what I’m trying to say (though I admittedly lack the metrics) is kind of like Netlfix (“based on your love of ‘The Naked Gun’ we think you’ll like ‘Hot Shots’”), but more encompassing. Perhaps a better way to say it would be, instead of assuming since someone likes X they also like Y, that it certainly doesn’t come as a surprise that the person who likes X also likes Y (“Hm…people who go on nature walks also support natural childbirth…guess I’m not really shocked”).

    And maybe the percentage of Windows ’95 aficionados who love Star Trek is 100%, who knows? Certainly not me. But it still doesn’t upset my personal findings.

    Cory – Me too. Me. Too.

  4. david says:

    Well, however you word it, it’s an interesting, and sometimes fun, phenomenon.

    Your six Jasons illustration got me searching just how popular that name was when you were born. I found that about 1 in 30 boys were given the name “Jason” (in the US). That seemed a bit too high. I looked into it further and what I found is that it used to be popular to give your kid a popular name. I never knew that. Seems like the kind of thing you would have stumbled upon. Have you found that?

  5. James says:

    Yikes! 1 in 30! That seems really high.
    I only “stumbled upon” this in that my wife has mentioned it to me in the past (this is why there are so many Jennifers from our age group, too). I think she first mentioned it when we were deciding what to name kid #1. We were both a little concerned that “Owen” was rising in popularity, but Jennifer pointed out that using a name from the top ten these days is not as bad as it used to be (1975 = 1 in 30 boys named Jason; 2005 = 1 in 500 boys named Zachary).

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