Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fat Wallet

I have been using this site to get cash back on almost everything. I always thought stores like Land's End were for yuppies but they are probably about on par with an upscale Salvation Army once you take advatage of all the discounts. Fat Wallet will credit you a percentage back of your purchase if you click through from their site. They aggregate all the coupons and promotions in one place so I always start there to see if where I want to shop has a promotion or gives cash back. In a day or two the merchant reports the sale to Fat Wallet and after 90 days you can cash it out. I just got 30% off plus 3.5% cash back on the already clearance section of Land's End. I got a full ski wardrobe for two and a bunch of summer clothes for under $200 but I might lose my snooty credibility while I mill around the Swiss Chalet if I keep bragging about my bargains.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Scales, teeth, feathers, hair, rhino horn.

Lynnis' post on the keratin in rhino horn brings to mind a little known but recently established fact that a sequence of evolutionary steps evolved fish scales into teeth (calcified scales that moved into the mouth), scales into feathers (dinos/birds), and feathers into hair (mammals). Of course the keratin in rhino horn is just consolidated hair. The roughly same gene system is known to behind all those evolutionary variants.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Unicorns Declared Extinct

The western black rhinoceros has been declared extinct due to poaching. The javanese, white and black rhinos could follow soon. There is a tremendous demand for the horns in traditional Chinese medicine. I propose a measure to save these real life unicorns by altering the supply and demand for the horns. The horns are just keratin, and I think it could be pretty straight forward to grow rhino horns in labs if we can grow human ears on the back of mice. We could make rhino horn as plentiful as any other "pharmaceutical".

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Most of you are on Facebook and can see my pictures there (some are up already, some will be up soon) but I thought I'd put up some here, too...

Berliner Dom (main Lutheran church in Berlin) at night.

Alte Nationalgalerie (19th century art), which houses lots of German Romantics and other 19th century German artists as well as some French Impressionists.

Studying the map of Tiergarten, which is kind of like Central Park, only more woods-y. And slightly confusing. (photo courtesy of Erika)

The Tiergarten. Very pretty, and also about 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the city because of all of the trees.

I'm staying with a host family here who lives in southern Berlin kind of near nothing...I'm still getting used to the buses and such because there are so many different lines that all have different start and stop times. Luckily the BVG website is very useful and easy to use. living with another family is very weird. The other housing option is studio apartments, which would also be strange because this is the first time in 16 years I have had my own room and I kind of am not sure what it would be like having a whole apartment (even if it was just a studio) to myself when I've barely had a room to myself.

We have a break from Oct 7-16 and a couple free weekends so my friends and I are trying to make some travel plans. We are also doing some cultural activities courtesy of our program (but not with the program) such as seeing a soccer game, a concert, and Swan Lake. and half of our program is going to Poland (the other half to Austria) at the beginning of November!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Does anyone use Pinterest? I just discovered it today and it is going to revolutionize the way I bookmark things I love.

Pinterest is a combination of social and a cloud based bulletin board for stuff you like. You can follow taste makers, and you can be a taste maker. You install the "pin it" button to your bookmarks toolbar then when you find something you love, whether it's for sale or a recipe you love you pin it to your "board". It saves the picture, a description and price if you want, and makes a hotlink to the URL of the site then displays all the things you love together by category.

So no more "my pictures" folders full of random eyecandy or littered bookmarks.

The social element is appealing too. Say you know your buddy has amazing taste, so you "follow" her to see what pretty things she is posting on her board. You can make boards for different categories like "Home", "Fashion", "Baking"...ect..

I think it's neat.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

On the Propagation of Constraints

It is often amazing how propagation of constraints from one situation to another results in non obvious connections between various aspects of the human condition. A few minutes ago, and still now, my granddaughter Willow has been joyfully carrying around a little shopping bag in it with various items. She comes to me about once a minute to add or subtract something from her bag. She has discovered the utility of bags, and probably learned the concept from some older female in her family.

So, what has this to do with the propagation of constraints ? A woman depends, in part, upon her physical attractiveness to others for survival or simply to have a good life. That simple and controvertible fact leads to constraints on the clothes she wears. The clothes must be attractive and favorably display her figure. This leads to the subsequent constraint that women's clothes seldom have as many pockets as men's clothes. A notable example is that men's shirts usually have a breast pocket on the left side, usually absent on women's clothes.

Similarly pockets on women's skirts are usually inconveniently on the front instead of on the side where they would interfere with display of her womanly hips. The net result of this is that women carry purses for their item carrying needs. In men's clothes, the pockets are their "purses." A follow on example of the utility of carrying capacity is the ancient tradition of basket making especially used in hunter-gatherer societies.

And so it comes to pass that my female grandchild is having fun today having joyfully discovered the utility of carrying capacity of some sort, all constrained by her future need to be attractive with that need conveyed to her by the habits of some older woman.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Eat our peas ...

Sometimes a President will coin a phrase that sticks in the memory. The notably verbal President Obama will be quoted for 10,000 years on "eat our peas".

Teddy Roosevelt did the same with "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

Then there is JFK "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what can you do for your country."

It is pleasant to recognize history in the making.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Long Time No blog

It’s never too early to think about retirement. I am a responsiblish citizen and so I had been diligently contributing to my 401k until last year. Granted 2008 was a terrible year, but my portfolio in various investment bank managed mutual funds had lost about -17% since I joined the workforce in 2006 which really felt like a waste.

I felt like I could do much better. Anticipating my own unemployment, I finally consolidated all my mutual funds from my various 401Ks and rolled it into an IRA under my control. I only kept two small mutual fund holdings and put the rest in stocks I picked myself with the help of google’s stock screener because I favor stocks with high dividends, low price/earnings ratios, and general uptrend. Since October, this portfolio has returned over 22%. I’ve got another $6,000 towards my retirement even though I have not contributed a dime in a year. In the past, my out of paycheck contributions were about $4000 a year (before the -17% return) so I have no plans to contribute more anytime soon now that I’m doing so much better on my own accord.

Of the 9 stocks I selected, only one is a loser which was an impulse buy. It is obvious the average joe is a better investor than Lehman brothers or BlackRock…all you have to do is buy companies that actually make money instead of risking your shirt speculating on the next big thing! This is easy, just start by thinking of products you enjoy and take a minute to think about their business models noting those that stand out as “best in breed”. I start by following them for a little while to see where the price is going, and then I decide what I’m willing to pay and put in a limit order. The goal is to buy on the lower end of the stock’s usually range when the stock market is just having a bad day.

Two of my pastimes are hobby farming and collecting gems, so I bought stock in Tractor Supply and Tiffany & Co business I think they have the best business models in their sectors. In a few months these have returned 92% and 41% respectively in money I didn’t have to work for. These are my high performers and I believe they will split and I’ll have twice as many shares. Of the stocks I’ve made more modest returns on, I usually sell to collect my gains once they’ve hit about 14% return. I often will buy and sell a stock several times taking advantages of price fluctuations once I’ve made it my business to understand a company’s business.

Today I decided I need some new blood in my portfolio so I put in limits to sell my CMRG and PALL if they get a bit higher. These are the stocks I’m watching as new contenders: AXP, HWD, BAX, SCL, UL, SHW, JWN, HNZ, CAT. Some were selected based on my recent experiences in Tanzania that made me appreciate the global superiority of overlooked but iconic American brands such as Heinz ketchup and Catepillar generators.

To sum up:
· You do know better than investment bankers
· Stick to stocks where you truly understand how they make their money
· Always buy and sell using limit orders

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hue Test

This is a fascinating quiz to test your color perception. Apparently all my issues are with blues/violets.

Take the hue test!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cradle to Cradle and My Keepsakes

Every since I read Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart I've looked at "things" a little differently. The book directly challenges the notion that human industry must inevitably damage the natural world. It explains how we should model human industry on nature's processes in which materials are viewed as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms.
If we look at the example of a tree, we see that a tree produces thousands of blossoms in order to create another tree, yet we do not consider all the extra blossoms wasteful. Instead of waste, the extra blossoms are food. Products might be designed so that, after their useful life, they provide nourishment for something new-either as "biological nutrients" that safely re-enter the environment or as "technical nutrients" that circulate within closed-loop industrial cycles, without being "down-cycled" into low-grade uses (as most "recyclables" now are).
So now, when I am on the verge of acquiring new things, I tend to envision what the end of the thing's life would be. If I can imagine it languishing in a landfill not becomming food for anything it becomes a great deterrent to acquiring it in the first place.
In this spirit, when sent a questionnaire by my federal government employers about whether I wanted a "keepsake" to commemorate my years of service, I checked "no" on the form. We had a small staff meeting where my co-workers got keepsakes and people thought it odd that I had said I didn't want one. But the government works in strange ways. A couple of months after the keepsake distribution I got a call from someone affiliated with the keepsake distribution verifying my name. I corrected the spelling of my last name, which is officially hyphenated. A couple of months after that a box of Salisbury Pewter cups arrived with my name engraved on them with mylastnamerunalltogether with no hyphen and "10 years of service" on them. It seems that the wheels of a big bureaucracy can't be stopped. Does the government really know best after all? I was surprised to find myself liking my little cups and I think they will somehow avoid ending up in the landfill.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Melting of Arctic Ice predicted to accelerate warming.

Here is an article that says that the melting of Arctic ice will enable twice the previously expected absorption of sunlight, and hence increased climate warming.

It is worth reading, but bear in mind that the same effect could cause increased clouds at mid-latitudes and increased reflectivity. Thus the overall effect is unknown.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Remembering Gramma Jo

Today would have been my grandmother's 112th birthday. She was born in January of 1900 and almost lived out the century, making it until 1998. Gramma Jo was a liberated woman before they were invented. She was widowed in her early thirties and raised two children as a single mother. When she retired in 1965 she circumnavigated the globe, even beating the hippies to Nepal. I keep thinking I should retrace her steps when I retire but I am not sure I am gutsy enough. The childhood photo shows Gramma Jo with the younger members of her family. She is the youngest girl and there were also two older brothers who are not in the picture. The other picture is more like I remember her. She was so active in her senior years that whatever age she was, I ended up thinking that wasn't old, as in "sixty-five isn't old", "seventy-five isn't old", etc. At 90 she walked down at the Accokeek boardwalk with me. Finally at 95, she did start to seem a little old. Her core good humor was legendary and remained until the end.
She liked to cook and especially to make desserts. She was good at sewing and knitting. Her retirement hobby was woodcarving and she made the woodcarving below for me when she was around 80.

Gramma Jo worked at making her grandchildren into better people. I remember how she would not let us slack on a job like washing the dishes - it meant that not only did the dishes have to get washed but you needed to sponge off the counter, too! I'm grateful now for all her influences.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Arctic and Antarctic Ice Contrary Trends

Arctic ice continues a slow decrease while Antarctic ice increases. Actually, none of the trends seem all that clear to me until the recent abnormalities of solar flux are clarified by further yearly data.

In any event, it seems possible to postpone the implications of the Arctic ice situation for national policy. It is clear that, for reasons of national energy security, that it is a good idea to proceed with electric cars , with natural gas power, with nuclear power and with solar power. All of these measures will help global CO2 emissions anyway. Hence further measures can be postponed. Wind energy is, in principle, a good idea, but natural gas energy resources are currently unexpectedly large and thereby undercut wind on a price basis. Solar panel prices have decreased a lot, and that too will be favorable for all concerned.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Runciple Spoon and Pumpernickel Fly Away

Air travel is apparently a bit tough on the two tough little dachshunds. Here is the message from Lynnis and Bryan en route to distant parts via Amsterdam:

We've completed the short leg. Still a very long trip behind and ahead. Spoon was very antsy and fussy but pumpernickel was perfectly behaved. We were never so glad to be in the company of a fussy baby to overshadow the whines.