Archive for January, 2009

Balanced Times . . for a Balanced Lifestyle

At some point, I decided I wanted a sweet analog watch.  Style, an anti-progressive statement, whatever it may be. Somehow I noticed that a lot of the watch advertisements showed watches at the time 10:10. This observation is still true; a Google Shopping search has a lot of watches at that time.

My current favorite online response is from blogcadre:

    . . .

  • The hands are nearly symmetrically balanced on [the] face of the dial at 10:08.  The minute hand is 48 degrees right of vertical, while the hour hand is 56 degrees left of vertical.  Exact symmetry would be achieved at 120/13 minutes past 10:00, approximately 10:08:13.8.  Other symmetrical times would not meet the needs above.
  • . . .

I cut out a lot of the real reasoning: marketing!

My thoughts centered around the symmetry, pun intended.  Namely, 10:08:13.8 is NOT symmetrical!  Amateurs. The second hand is messing up everything that is good in the world.  It’s all or nothing, man.

I thought about this visually, for both the second hand being between the two hands, if you will, and for the second hand being outside the other two hands.

Yes it is

Then, I came up with some killer balances.

Acute:    Acute Formula

Obtuse:  Obtuse Formula

For the joy of all, I solved those killer formulas. And, I provide you with a nice time table:

Almost Too Easy

Now, you understand what I think of if you hear me say, “Yes, I strive to recognize balance in my life.”

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Judging Her Pursenality

I am a fan of the Urban Dictionary and of women.  This post connects the two.  From my experiences, I eventually noticed that the most efficient way to predict the mannerisms and characteristics of women is by their purse, or lack there of.

From the pursenality entry:

using a woman’s handbag or pocketbook as a form of identifying her most definitive characteristics

Shoes, hair style, and clothes are also useful for judging, but I don’t think they are as prompt to distinguish differences. . . although, maybe I just think my wallet is really cool.

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I Wish I Had More Friends

A well known probability problem is the birthday paradox; if you get over 23 people in a room, the odds are favorable that two people will share the same birthday.  I believe this is when the sample distribution moves to a population distribution.  That’s not my point.  My point is that I wish I had more friends.

Exploding with social popularity, Facebook always lets me know when my friends’ birthdays are.  Every few days I have a friend with a birthday, and that person’s received comments greatly increase that day.

Then my curiosity wandered: how many friends do I need to have in order to add a daily task of wishing someone a happy birthday? I used the lazy man’s approach: I avoided theory and just simulated. I used a uniform distribution for birthday odds. I continued the simulation until all of the 365 days were full, which I repeated a thousand times.

True story

The upshot of this: you need 1900 to 2800 friends before you can feel any confidence that you can add the daily task of “wishing happy birthdays” in your virtual community.

Maybe by the time I have that many friends I’ll know a more elegant theoretical solution.

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The Ultimate Weight Loss Solution

Little did I realize in my first engineering class that I would learn the ultimate weight loss solution.

accumulation = in – out + generation

This is the fundamental balance in engineering, which is applied to mass, energy, momentum, charge, benjamins, etc.  In non-engineering speak: You accumulate whatever you take in and whatever you generate, but less whatever goes out.  Think of a scenario involving vegetables and a vegetable garden.

At a your current state:
      You have 2 carrots in your fridge.

Today you take in:
      You buy 5 potatoes and 2 onions at the store.

Today, you generate:
      You harvest 7 tomatoes from your garden.

Today you take out:
      You eat 2 potatoes, 2 tomatoes, 1 carrot, and 1 onion in your stew.

For the day, you accumulated:
      You have 3 potatoes, 1 onion, 5 tomatoes and had a net loss of 1 carrot.

Net:
      You now have 1 carrot, 3 potatoes, 1 onion, and 5 tomatoes.
      And, you have energy for your body as well as a food baby forming.

That was fun to figure out. You can also apply this balance to your weight. If you want to lose weight, think that you want to negatively accumulate weight. If you want to maintain your weight, you want accumulation to be 0.  Or, you can beef up.  I don’t know how to generate weight. So, the equation becomes simpler: everybody wins.

acc = in – out

Yes, there are lot of uncertainties revolving around “out,” like how much energy we burn in sleeping, metabolizing, or killing proverbial kittens.  But, if I am gaining weight, I either need to take in less energy (eat less) or use more energy (exercise) to maintain my weight.  Weight loss, to me, seems so simple. Yet, I think capitalism, by way of marketing to people’s immediate gratification desires, has other options for us consumers.

Here’s a fun thought experiment.  How much weight would you gain if you supplemented your current diet/lifestyle by adding a Coke to your daily intake for an entire year?

(1 Coke) x (140 calories / 1 Coke) x (1 g fat / 9 calories) x (1 lb / 454 g)

= 12.5 lbs!

It can be astonishing that small differences, over time, can add up.

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Using Customers to Maximize Profits

I recently rode on a newer bus line, Megabus. The reason I chose Megabus is due to cost: $45; a Greyhound ticket cost $75. I didn’t check other alternatives. The book A Confederacy of Dunces taught me that a bus ride is necessary every once in a while, to keep collecting good life experiences.  A rider on this trip catalyzed my 2009 Social Experiment goal!  I digress.

I find Megabus’ business model interesting.  That is the company charges people less the earlier they buy the ticket. The first seats purchased on a Megabus ride sell for $1!  This is a logical business plan.  A lot of businesses in the travel industry use this method, like airlines and hotels.

Using my University of Wikipeidia knowledge, it turns out this method is called Yield Management. I think the benefits of yield management is predicting cyclical trends, maximizing profits, and even controlling cyclical trends.  At a given future time, the more tickets sold, the more likely that passengers will be wanting to travel on that trip. For predictability purposes, yield management can raise prices to maximize the profits, if you are willing to add extra resources, in this case an extra bus.  Megabus can do this by “just renting another bus.” However, this is not as easy for airlines or hotels, so the price discrimination often raises drastically for the later industries to maximize profits while considering the available resource restraints.

I found Roscoe’s, my Megabus driver, loyalty to the company quite amazing.  He informed us passengers that Megabus is hiring, and an experienced bus driver can make $60,000 a year.

Whoa whoa whoa!

I am assuming that Greyhound does not pay their drivers near this amount.  Even with government subsidies, Greyhound has additional costs that Megabus does not: bus stations, ticket agents, and a lot more infrastructure and overheard to support many more, unpopulated stops than Megabus. For, Megabus only goes to major cities, i.e. New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, etc.

In general, I think Megabus adapted yield management to a good service.  I also think Megabus has, and can afford, a slightly higher operating expense, like giving Roscoe a little extra pay, possibly to prevent driver turnover.

I wonder what other markets could benefit from yield management.  I think sandwich shops could, to help control and maximize the profits of the lunch and/or dinner rushes.  I think the Wikipedia article has a good section on pointing out the drawbacks to Yield Managent, namely pissing off the customer.  “You paid less, WTF!?!”

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Investment Fractals & the Break-Even Point for Opportunity Cost

Give us your money, NOW!

Often times I will see an image encouraging people to invest earlier than later. Here is the first picture I found on a Google Image search for “investment 401k.”  These graphs emphasize that time is a key factor for investing: The sooner you invest, the faster you compound your returns.  (And, also the sooner you give an investor your money.)

This concept returned to my thoughts after playing with some of my personal financial goals.  I saw the same pattern, in a visual graph, no matter how I adjusted the dependent variables, such as time, initial investment, annuity investments, and interest rates.

Without perspective, investment curves have similar exponential patterns.

This second image has an initial investment of 100 over 30 periods, in the upper left hand corner.  In the same image, the other two graphs display an independent, 20% increase in time, from 30 to 36, and also in the initial investment, from 100 to 120. This is when I realized that the first graph always has at least two scenarios to show perspective. Otherwise, the pattern is a fractal. “Zooming in” or “zooming out” of the time periods will render the same image (unless there is perspective). Natural fractals are seen on the shoreline, mountains, or even man-made buildings. Often times something of known dimensions, like a person, is included in the picture to give the observer perspective on the relative size.

Unless you overlap the lines onto one graph, the latter rendering with graphs on different axes is a cumbersome display of the importance of time in investing.  This is why perspective is added on the investment literature I have seen so far, like in the first graph.

Displays that if an additional 20% is made at 4 time units later, the same future value is compounded.

My next curiosity is to quantify how important time is in investing.  Using the same basis, how much time can I lose if I invest 20% more of the initial amount, for a total of 120, at a later time?  By balancing a future value formula, for 100% of a present value and then for 120% of a present value, the answer is 3.74 time periods, at a 5% interest rate.  This graph should visually confirm that.  This is intuitive.  It is simply catching up on the opportunity cost of compounding interest.

This lost opportunity cost in time can be generalized, as a function of how what percentage of money can offset.  In my example above, the offset would be 0.20, and the interest would be 0.05.

Maff

As the real rebel that I am, I plotted time as the independent variable, even though in the formula above I have time, “n,” as the dependent variable.

Looking at catching up, more generally.

I used my perspective learning, and plotted two different interest rates.  I feel like the plot summarizes opportunity cost of investing well.  It is also interesting to note that money can be doubled in 15 years, based on median historical rates.  I feel like this calculation is just a generalization from the ideas of net present value and internal rates of return calculations, which makes it that much better of an adventure in missing the point!

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2009 Goals: Increasing Personal Value

There are many sites that focus on personal finance.  While personal finance is an interest of mine, I am more of a [self-acclaimed] expert at increasing what Douglas Rushkoff terms social currency.  I would define social currency as content for interacting with others.  I like Rushkoff’s example of jokes.  Jokes provide an easy medium to share experiences with each other.  Often times you may find yourself trying to memorize a joke to tell at a later time rather than enjoying and experiencing the moment.  Thus, you are acquiring social currency.  I also read in a travel article something to the effect of, “The more uncomfortable the experience, the better the story it will become.”  I claim my expert status from experiences such as traveling Europe with a comb-over haircut, eating out of trash cans to increase my immune system, bike commuting, and other experiences which leverage “the experience” over efficiency or logic.

That being said, I introduce three goals, or resolutions, for 2009 which I hope to report on later.

  1. Attain a new social experience. In the first six months of the year, I would like to acquire materials to become a cowboy.  I want to acquire used accoutrements to increase my street cred.  I would like to cowboy-it-up once a month on the later six months of the year.  My goal here is to possibly gain second hand experiences, possibly gain social currency, and at the very least gain a social experience.
  2. Become more industrious. Here, I would like to expand my knowledge with empirical, real life experiences.  My thoughts so far in a rating for my interests are:
    • brew beer (again) . . . eventually getting to 100% grain brewing
    • build a small-scale steam engine
    • actually build the aquarium in the hollowed out TV set I have
    • grow something biological

    These will expand my skills via active learning.  My goal would be to become more of a Mr. Wizard than of a McGiver.  That is learn fundamentals over handiness.

  3. Increase my leadership exposures. This is mainly to give back to the community. My natural tendencies are to flow with the go; however, I would like to lead/plan one event per month this year. I hope to push myself outside my comfort zone with this last goal.  Leadership could be as simple as initiating a conversation with my neighboring passenger on a plane ride, planning a run with the Trail Headz, planning a trip with others, planning the world’s largest high five rally, etc.  The point is to have leadership become a continuous process for me, and not to gain magnitude in my leadership experiences.

To summarize, I hope to learn about myself as well as gain new skills in the future from some loose, but structured goals.  Just as personal finance sites report monthly on net worth balance sheets or passive income flows, I hope to track my personal value status in the future, both for accountability and to share what I have, or have not, learned.

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