Umbrella Insurance, Teenagers, Driving, and No More Houston

“Lawyers. We’re like health insurance. Hope you never need it. But man-o-man, not havin’ it?” – Better Call Saul

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Artist Conception of my wreck in Houston. Man, I want to drive a Monster Truck in traffic, just once!

It was a wet, hot, humid day in Houston.

But every day in Houston is like that.  One thing we noticed after we’d lived there, oh, two hours is that it’s always hot and humid out, like being forced to live in Rosie O’Donnell’s armpit, except Houston smells less like Cheetos™.

True story:  one spring day after we’d lived there for over a year I got up to mow the yard.  I was shocked to find that a northern dry wind had blown in during the night and the humidity was about 30%.  It was about 60˚F out at 8AM (that’s 7.431 PM in metric).  I was shocked because I had never seen a better day in Houston.  It was the perfect day to go to the park, or go do something outside.  The Mrs. especially hated Houston’s climate, probably exacerbated by her love of Alaska’s climate and the icewater that flows through her veins instead of blood.

I went inside, full of enthusiasm, and exclaimed to The Mrs., “Honey, we’ve got to go do something today, it’s beautiful outside!”

The Mrs., voice dripping with cynicism:  “I have only your word for that.”

But this wasn’t that day, it was six months later.  It was a hot, humid day, like almost every day.  And it was raining for the first time in about a month, a slow drizzle that started about an hour before I left the 35th floor of the shining office tower for the day.

Driving home meant Houston traffic.  And on this day, it was fairly light.  To get to the highway, I first had to merge onto the frontage road, which generally meant getting some speed up so that you didn’t commit the traffic foul of slowing everyone up, which I think condemns you to traffic hell, which is kinda like regular hell, but with more sitting and listening to Bob Segar, forever.

I looked in front of me, and there was only a Volvo getting ready to merge into traffic, but there was a gap larger than a Texan Prom Queen’s hair, meaning he just had to get going and he’d be merged without an issue.

I looked to the left to see if I’d have a similar gap.  I saw that I would have a great gap, if I was going just a little bit faster.

I hit the accelerator to get to merging speed.

The Volvo® was still there, so instead of merging speed, it was now ramming speed.

I hit the brakes, since surely there was enough road to stop.

There was on any other day but this one.  As I mentioned, it hadn’t rained in about a month.  I have no idea what builds up on the concrete roadway during that time – it might be snail snot? –  but when you add the right amount of water like on this misty, hot, drizzly day?  It was slicker than a Yankee banker covered in Teflon©.

Impact.

My airbag deployed, but I was fine, I have massive, bulging arms, so it was more likely the steering wheel would break than my sternum.

I jumped out of the car and went to the person in the Volvo, a guy of about 28.  Houston loves people who are 28, since they can work 14 hour days for months without end.  “I’m sorry! That was my fault! Are you okay?”

I know that my insurance company would rather beg to differ that it was my fault, but, really, if you’re rear ended?  It’s the idiot behind you who is at fault.

And this was my day to be that idiot.

“Are you okay?”

He was still a little stunned, the way everyone is after a wreck, which is exactly the way that Johnny Manziel must always feel.

“Yeah, I am.”

“I’m just glad you’re not hurt.”

After a wreck in Houston, unless one of you has been decapitated, you drive to a police substation and fill out an accident report.  We exchanged insurance information, and drove to fill out the report.

After filling out our information, I said, “I’m just glad no one was hurt.”

“Now that you mention it,” he said, “my neck is sore . . . .”  I’m not sure how much my face gave away, but he quickly stopped there, “No man, it’s fine.  I was just joking.”

Whew.  Fortunately for me, he really was fine, because I wasn’t insured well enough for him to be injured, and in that moment I knew it.

When I was just out of college, I kept all of my car insurance at the minimum required by law.  My theory was that if they sued me, they couldn’t take anything from me unless they wanted part of my debt.  The only time you’re really immune to lawsuits is when you have nothing worth taking.  But now I had actual cash in my bank account, and my only debt was part of my mortgage.

Not good.  If Mr. Volvo had really been injured?  Ouch.  I was lucky!

The next week I realized just how big my luck was.  My brother, John Wilder (don’t ask), has a son who was injured in a motorcycle accident where he wasn’t at fault.  He wasn’t hurt especially badly, but his medical bills had already surpassed $78,000 and they were suing the driver.

I called my insurance company and upped my coverage.  A lot.  So I was a little safer, right?

I moved out of Texas and into Upper Southeast Midwestia.  One night while drinking beer and burning a brush bonfire in my backyard, my next door neighbor (for whom my family must be a nightmare) and I were talking about our youthful misadventures.  He told a rather delightful story of how he and his friends were throwing dirt clods at one another.  No, it wasn’t last week, it was when he was nine.

(For the benefit of those who have never left the concrete of our big cities, a dirt clod is dried mud, much softer than a rock, but much harder than your life has ever been.)

Everyone was throwing clods at everyone, in what was a fairly common experience back before the Safety Moms clamped down.

One boy, my neighbor’s best friend, got hit.  He had to go to the hospital.  Guess who got sued?  My neighbor’s parents, because they owned a bank.  My neighbor confided in me that he had an umbrella policy that covered him for $1,000,000, mainly to cover him against the future misdeeds of his son.

The Boy probably won’t cause that kind of havoc, but I have to worry about Pugsley, who, in a good natured goof that no one would hold against him, might cause Canada to fall into a black hole.  Oops!

Okay, I called my insurance company and the next day I had a $2,000,000 umbrella policy.  It costs about $200 a year.  I did have to upgrade my homeowner’s insurance and my car insurance, but that’s fine.  I actually never calculated the percentage increase, because the peace of mind was so great.

Lessons I’ve learned:

  1. Minimum insurance is awesome, as long as you don’t own anything. Once you have a nest egg?  Insurance is cheap.
  2. The amount of coverage can be as much as, or more than your net worth. They have to go through State Farm® to get to you.
  3. I like oxygen. No real relationship to the topic, but I thought a third point would be more visually appealing.

It’s my personal opinion, for me (as my lawyer, Lazlo made me write, because he was assigned to me by my insurance company) that insurance makes sense if you have assets, drive, or have teenage sons and don’t want to be bankrupt because Laura-Lou and Cletus have a great lawyer.

On the bright side?  We don’t live in Houston anymore.

Rome, Britain, and Money: Why You Can’t Find Fine China after the Apocalypse

“For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph – a tumultuous parade. . . The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. . . A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”- Patton

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Is it just me, or is that Tom Cruise’s profile on that coin?

In the spring of 407, a Roman citizen stood on the dock and watched as the last Roman Legionnaire placed his sandaled foot on the deck of a boat, preparing to cross the English Channel.

That last Roman soldier turned and looked back at the island as the sea winds blew on the fair spring day and powered his ship to Gaul (now France).  He had voted for his new Emperor – Constantine III, a usurper and common soldier in Britain.  Constantine III had decided to take his Legion across to set up power in Europe, and eventually march on Rome to solidify his claim to the throne.  Constantine died in 411, beheaded after abdicating his power.  Legend says that Constantine III was the great grandfather of Arthur, but those days are lost to history, and anything said about them would be nothing but speculation.

But the Roman on the dock, waving goodbye to the Legion, he is the one that has always fascinated me.  What were his thoughts as he watched the ships containing virtually the entire organized military of Britain sail off?

“They’ll be back soon.”  That’s always been my bet.  He expected that the Legion would return after Constantine III took Rome.  Or, worst case, another Emperor would send a Legion in – for the last 360 years the Romans had at least some presence in Britain.

The man, we’ll call him Marcus, walked back to his villa that overlooked the sea.  He had central heating, and a personal bath that was likewise heated.  He was fairly well off, as he made significant money importing plates from southern France and selling them to almost everybody.  They were cheap, and everyone dropped plates, so he had a guarantee of repeat business.

The winter came, and the Legion didn’t return.

The spring came again, and with it came the Saxons, raiding in force.  Again in 409 the Saxons raided.

And in 408 no plates came.  The stone masons that Marcus had hired to build an addition to his villa didn’t show up.  Marcus took his treasure of coins from his business, and buried them so that he wouldn’t lose them in the raids.  He never told his son, Lucius where the coins were buried, so when Lucius buried his father five years later in the shadow of the burnt and wrecked villa, he was within two feet of hitting the pottery the coins were buried in.  It wouldn’t have mattered much, since by that time coins were used less frequently, and most deals were built around bartering one thing for another.  Without the army there, most people didn’t care all that much about the copper coins.

Lucius lived through 450, and heard of the last request for the return of the Legions to the Emperor in Rome as the Saxons decided to stay.  The Emperor’s surviving Legions were busy elsewhere.

Rome never returned, even though on Rome’s version of Facebook®, FaceusLibrium™ some scribe wrote that under the “Relationship with Britain” box that “It’s Complicated.”

Wow, that was dark, am I right?

I’ve been thinking about Marcus for about 20 years.  This is the first time I gave him a name, but I do know that there was a Roman citizen who watched as the last soldiers marched on to the boat, and I do know he expected them to be back – sooner rather than later.  Rome was forever, right?

Some of the Roman roads in Britain are still in use today – the Romans were excellent engineers, and built to last, which shows that they never built dishwashers.  Roman place names still echo down the centuries, not the least of which is Londinium, the Roman name for Scotland.  Okay, I’m kidding, the Romans called Scotland “Jim,” because, well, why not.

But after the dark days started, things changed.  Let’s take the plates that Marcus imported.  That was a real thing.  In the south of what is now France, an entire industry was created that made china plates and bowls, and these were shipped throughout the Roman Empire.  Fortunately Pugsley didn’t work there, as he would have accidently broken scores of plates each day, but each time in a humorous way so that they would still love him, because after all, Jerry Lewis is considered a genius in France.

When Empire ended, so did the trade in plates and bowls.  And archeologists love ceramic plates, because every family has their own little Pugsley that drops crockery day and night. (Truth be told, The Mrs. and I were out on the deck last night when we heard the tell-tale crash of plate under influence of gravity and a tile floor turning it into a future archaeologist’s Ph.D. dissertation, “Plate Fragments Dating from the Time of Emperor Pugsley Wilder the First.”) Trade itself also dropped off, since people are notoriously bad at sending their ships and cargo to places that have no money and no law.

Where I get too close to today.

One of the symptoms of the failing Roman Empire was its currency.  The Romans had a currency known as the Denarius.  This is not the same as Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, and is not planning to invade Westeros.  The denarius got its name because, (I swear I’m not making this up) it was originally worth 10 asses.  Not just any asses, but the Roman bronze coin called the asses.  Why, what did you think I meant when I said asses?

Anyhow, the Roman denarius was quite popular – it was silver, and was the more common coin used in Rome.  It was so common that its name is still in use today – the Spanish word “dinero,” meaning “burrito with sour cream” is derived from the denarius.  And as it was the common currency, it was how soldiers were paid and how most people bought wine and proto-Pez®.  Rich people used gold to buy bigger things.  (An aside:  One coin name that amused me was the “solidus,” which gives me the thought that one Roman said to another, “Pray, Cassius, do me a solidus.”)

Back when the denarius was just getting started, it was really silver, 95%-98%, and was stable at that weight and purity for around 250 years.  As you can see in the graph below?  At the later stages of Empire the coin was worth nearly nothing, being smaller and having only 5% silver.  The denarius is the ancestor to . . . the penny.

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Would you buy this stock?

The Roman Empire was really strong – it had great Legions, and even better roads.  For the Romans, the road was military technology, and the roads allowed their Legions to move farther, faster to the borders of Empire than the barbarians that they had to constantly fight possibly could.  This consistently terrifying military allowed the Romans to rule an Empire for a long time, because it allowed them to also stipulate that Roman currency would have to be used.  You might say he who has the gold, makes the rules?  I’ll counter that with he who has the best military in the world says what gold is.

In that manner, a Roman Emperor finally decided that he’d stop using silver (except for a whiff) in the denarius.  He could make the currency worth less, because he had Legions that were expensive, but could also be counted on to enforce the currency laws of the Empire.  Essentially the Empire was so strong that it could use the military to enforce use of the currency.  And this system worked for quite a while, (like everything) until it didn’t.

And what happened to all of the currency when the Romans issued the crappy, near worthless denarius?  People took the good stuff and kept it.  “Bad money drives out good,” is known as Gresham’s Law, which he sent in a letter to Queen Elizabeth I.  Others had stated the law before he did, including Copernicus who wrote a whole book about it the year Gresham was born.

This has happened even in the United States, and recently.  Back when we used to pretend our money had value, we used actual silver in the coins.  Congress decided that was silly – if we had to spend money to make money, then we cut out the profit margin of government, so in 1960’s they passed an act that removed silver from US coinage.  If you wonder why you never find a 1962 quarter in your change, it’s Gresham’s Law:  everybody took all the coins that had actual value (the good) and replaced them with base metal coins (the bad).  Bad money drives out Good.  And that’s what happened with the Romans, too.

The Roman denarius was worth less than 1/2000th of its original value when it was discontinued, but all of the cool silver ones were melted down pretty early, because they were worth more than their face value, like a 1962 quarter is worth $3.36 of our current bad money, which is backed by . . . nothing, except the Army, Navy and Air Force.  And the missiles.

But, back to Britain!

In Britain the archeologists looked at the plate parts.  They found that 100 years after the Romans left, the king ate on plates that were . . . crappy.  These plates, in fact, were worse in every respect to the plates that a common citizen of Roman Britain could buy quite cheaply 100 years earlier.  The British had forgotten how to make plates, and had to figure that technology out all over again.

Literacy took a hit, too.  If the Romans had a Department of Counting People Who Can Read, that information is lost to us, but when you look at excavated Roman cities, there was sufficient Roman literacy that graffiti artists would leave nasty “Your Momma” jokes almost everywhere.  “Epaphra glaber es.”  That translates to, “Epaphra, you are bald.”

Yikes, Epaphra isn’t very popular, but somebody also wrote that “Epaphra is not good at ball games.”   But if we have enough people who would write on walls about the food, the barmaid, or their girlfriend, we had way more people who could read and write in Britain 100 years after the Romans left – it’s likely that Marcus could, and probably his son, Lucius could read as well.  But reading became less important of a life skill than “not getting murdered by the Saxons” as time went on without Roman rule.  If Lucius had a son, he’d not ever learn to read much at all.

It’s because of this that we end up not having much of a written record of Britain during this time frame – whereas we know Epaphra sucked at football and probably needed to wear a hat, we don’t even know when the Battle of Badon took place.

What happened there?  Oh, just that maybe King Arthur defeated the Saxons in a comeback victory straight out of a Hollywood boxing movie.  So we don’t know when.  We at least know where, right?  No.  There are guesses, but the Battle of Badon details are lost to history, though some accounts (written hundreds of years later) said that Arthur mowed through the Saxons like a Doberman pinscher through a pot roast.  I hope I get someone like that writing about me in 200 years . . .

One of the great things about civilization and a rule of law (besides this blog) is that it allows for us to have cool things, and not have the Saxons up in our face all of the time.  But for forty years after the Roman Legions left, the people of Britain were hoping and expecting that they would come back.  Our world is an interconnected web of commerce and information that allows our life to happen in amazing comfort.

And it’ll always be this way, right?

Weight Loss Plateau, Exercise, Apple Cider Vinegar

“It gladdens me to know that Odin prepares for a feast.  Soon I shall be drinking ale from curved horns.  This hero that comes into Valhalla does not lament his death.  I shall not enter Odin’s hall with fear.  There I shall wait for my sons to join me.  And when they do, I will bask in their tales of triumph.  The Aesir will welcome me!  My death comes without apology! And I welcome the Valkyries to summon me home!” – Ragnar, Vikings

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Miley Cyrus after some bronzing and a bit of weight loss.

 

What’s the ugliest word in the English language to a person who is losing weight?

Plateau.

Plateau came from the French, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary (LINK), and first entered into the English language just a decade before when Napoleon was on his Russian Winter Vacation (hint: no land wars in Russia – Napoleon started with about 500,000 French troops on his joy ride to Moscow, and when he crossed back into France he was down to 27,000).

The first recorded use of plateau in the sense dieters dread (The stage at which no progress is apparent) was in 1897, the same year that John D. MacArthur, whose foundation gives out the MacArthur Genius Grant (HINT HINT!), was born.

Plateau comes from the Greek word “platys” which means “flat, wide, and broad.”  Wide and broad are the last adjectives a dieter wants to hear, since those are generally the adjectives that started the diet in the first place.  Taken together, “flat, wide, and broad” also describe my first girlfriend, but I digress.

Every time I’ve lost weight, I’ve ended up at a plateau (or two, or three) on my way down.  I don’t seem to have the plateau problem on the way up, or if I have, I’ve never managed to really notice it because the scale is covered in melted rocky-road ice cream dripping from my chin.  And, as plateaus go, this one isn’t horrible, I’m still pleased with the overall weight loss.  But it is a marked decrease when compared to the earlier rate, when pounds were dropping faster than Kathy Griffin supporters.

I credit some of the earlier losses to water.  One think I’ve noted about the Aktins/Primal lifestyle is that two days or so after I stop eating carbohydrates, my weight takes a significant bump downward, which I attribute either constant prayer to the Norse god Wåysfyärläëss (wears furs, has a wolf and a book containing the carbohydrate content of Norse cuisine) or, more than likely, a drop in pure water weight because I’m no longer digesting carbs.

The second place I lose water is working out, and they sure have noticed at the gym, since they’ve installed an intricate drainage system around the stair climber I normally use.  They also are building a vaguely ark-like think near the climber, and the staff runs for life preservers when I wring out my headband . . .

Emotionally, the early, big success helps you a lot.  It shows that your efforts really do pay off, that the sacrifice of time, sweat, and sweat chocolate ice cream is worth it.  But in the last few weeks I’ve lost the equivalent weight of clothing that Mylie Cyrus normally wears (like an ounce).  The change in Jupiter’s gravitational impact on me between night and day is more than that.

From XKCD, reminding me that little changes add up.

I’ve hit plateaus before, and used a variety of techniques to get through them, but hacking off limbs is painful and has a bit of an air of desperation about it.  I did some research, and there are some things I’ve started/going to try that I thought I’d share:

  1. Change Up My Cardio – I had been climbing more virtual stairs than the number of times that Stairway to Heaven was played in 1978, but at a constant, Clydesdale pace.

This week I’ve changed it up and am doing interval training, doing four minutes my Clydesdale pace, and one minute like a greyhound.  An old greyhound.  With hip problems.  But, this one change (four minutes medium and one fast, repeat 6+ times) has already increased my stair climbing number by 43% in terms of the number of floors climbed.  43%!  Now, I should be increasing my output and going up farther and faster, I weigh less, right?  But 43% is a lot.  And it feels good.

 

Verdict:  Yup.  This will help break the plateau, but the gym folks are now digging a sweat moat.

 

  1. More Sleep – Studies have shown that people who get less than six hours of sleep a night lose less weight on a diet than those who get eight hours of sleep.

I’ll never average more than 8 hours of sleep a night until I retire.  Never.  Work happens during the day, and my boss wants me there . . . in the morning.  Ugh.  My mind has different ideas, though, and I hit my creative peak in the evening.  I will put in an effort to get more sleep than the six hours I’m averaging now.  But life is really spelled T-I-M-E.  I just have all the time I want, even now.

True Wilder Story:

I went up to my friend, Madge, and said, “I’m so tired, I’m just wondering if something is wrong with me?”

Madge:  “What time did you go to bed?”

John Wilder:  “2AM.”

Madge then, after slugging me, patiently explained that sometimes tired is a symptom of “not sleeping enough,” whatever that is, and perhaps the ultimate cure was sleep.

Why sleep when there’s caffeine?  Silly Madge.

Verdict:  I’ll try, but . . . sleep is for the weak.

  1. Re-fanaticize About Calories – As time progresses, sometimes lifestyle changes start to slip a little backwards . . . I’m not talking about burying my face into a full box of donuts, but there is part of my mind that likes to pretend that Bud Light® and a single slice of pizza doesn’t have any carbs.

Verdict:  Back on it with a passion.

  1. Vitamin C – One website (one) that I reviewed thought that since vitamin C is an anti-oxidant that somehow it does something that might slow weight loss. It was boring, so I can’t remember.  Heck, maybe I slipped into a coma.

Verdict:  I’ll keep this one in my back pocket for now.  Maybe if the plateau doesn’t break in June . . .

  1. Apple Cider Vinegar – Wow. Not sure how I missed this one.  I could do an entire post about the supposed benefits of this stuff.  The websites mention that the apple cider vinegar should be unpasteurized, unfiltered, and unboxed.  Wait, the unboxed is a Sammy Hagar album.  I was a bit skeptical about the unboxed part, thinking it might come in a used one liter Miller beer bottle, but, no, Heinz sells the stuff, too, so it seems legit?  Some claims about Apple Cider Vinegar:
    1. Helps with upset stomach
    2. Cures hiccups
    3. Soothes a sore throat
    4. Kills cancer cells???? (everything does in a petri dish)
    5. In a 2006 study – Lowers Cholesterol
    6. Aids in weight loss by suppressing appetite and increasing metabolism
    7. Clears acne
    8. Controls blood sugar, especially in pre-diabetic patients
    9. Whitens teeth (SERIOUSLY – DON’T DO THIS! IT WILL DISSOLVE YOUR TEETH.)
    10. Prevents metabolizing starches (not all carbs, like sugars, but somehow slows down metabolizing of more complex carbs)

Verdict:  Wow.  E, F, H and J are amazing, if true.  D would be amazing, but sounds bogus to me.  I’ve started taking some of this morning and night and now kinda smell like a salad.  Doesn’t seem to be a downside except causing my teeth to turn into a crumbly calcium paste.  We’ll see?

I’m pretty sure that the weight loss dam will break in the next week or so, or else I’ll have to pull up the stone altar to Wåysfyärläëss that I put in the backyard and apologize to the neighbors about the wolf and the chanting and drinking of mead late into the night.

Wait, Mead doesn’t have calories, does it?

Nah.  On to Valhalla!

Okay, I’m reminding you again – I am NOT a medical doctor, though once the MacArthur Fellowship comes in I’m thinking of becoming a Podiatrist, because feet need love, too – SO DON’T CONSIDER THIS MEDICAL ADVICE OR DO ANYTHING WITHOUT DISCUSSING WITH YOUR OWN PHYSICIAN.

Careers, Industry, Location, AI, and College

“Well, Newsweek says it’s good to change careers, right after they laid off all their editors.” – The Simpsons

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Is it just me or do JFK and GHWB have tiny heads? Are all presidents made of concrete?

There are numerous aspects of your life that you can’t change – height, eye color, favorite flavor of fruit Gushers®, or the amount of backhair that you want to grow long so you can feel the wind blowing on it, wild and free.  Some of these even have a significant impact on your career – taller people make more money (that’s true), and people who like grape Gushers© best are more likely to want to have their career revolve around astrology.  And those with hairy backs should probably avoid employment in a Velcro™ factory.

But there are factors that are entirely within your control, and math provides some pretty good guidance on how to maximize your pay through career selection or a career change if you’ve still got some time between now and when you’re disappointed by your Social Security check and those stupid kids and their fancy Zima® wine coolers.

  1. Characteristics of the Industry

The choice of industry that you work in will have an amazing impact on your net worth during your career.  Ideally, you’ll chose an industry.  Since you’re reading this, I assume you’re smarter and better looking than 98% of the population and have, instead of an odor coming from your armpits when you sweat, a faint piney smell naturally graces the noses of those around you.  But, like I said, you’re smart – even if you don’t first love what you do, you will certainly learn to like it a lot if it gives you great results.

All industries are not alike, since some of them throw off a lot more money than others.  There’s a reason Apple® has a $500,000,000,000 in cash along with a collection of spleens and spare kidneys – it’s insanely profitable.  Your local Mom and Pop café and pest control store?  Not so much, they can’t afford any internal organs.

To be clear, there are great jobs in every field – there are people in retail sales who do wonderfully – there just aren’t a lot of them.  So, first suggestion, if you want to go fishing, don’t start in a puddle.

I went off to Wikipedia (LINK) and found a great summary of industries in the United States.  It dates to 2002, and no one has updated it for a while because all of the Wikipedia Admins are off updating the Justin Bieber page.

 

I took the percentage of people working in the sectors, and then divided it by the percentage of payroll they got, and the results were pretty amazing.  At the bottom, getting only 37% of the average income, were hotels and restaurants.  If you want to make bank instead of beds?  Not the industry for you.  If you want to make beds instead of bank?  Head on over to the Hilton®.

  • The best, earning more than twice (!) the average national payroll, was “Management of Companies.” Over 2.6 million people worked in this category, and it is a Tertiary Sector (last post) part of the economy.  Keep in mind, people that work in, say, the hotel as mangers are called out in that category.  These people are employed as managers as an industry.  Amazing! And also not a surprise – the bosses are pretty good at negotiating their salary up as well as yours down.

 

  • The next best was Utilities, earning 187% of the average income, but there are only a few jobs (660,000) in this industry, so it’s a bit harder to get in. This is a Secondary Sector job, so tends to be much more stable than the Tertiary Sector work.

 

  • Finance and Insurance, are third on the list, with 168% of the average income. This didn’t surprise me at all, since, like the managers, the golden rule of “He who has the gold, makes the rules,” applies, and these folks are the gatekeepers to the gold.  Over 6.5 million people were employed in this sector, living off of your insurance and interest payments.  These are Tertiary Sector jobs.

 

  • The next was a nerd tie: Scientific/Technical/Information, making 152% of the average wage. It is a revenge of the nerds, since they make more money than most of the football linemen that gave them wedgies, but less than the preppy tennis players who dated Buffy.  These are also Tertiary Sector jobs.  Notice the pattern, here?

What’s missing from this list?  Doctors!  The medical field is less than average as far as pay goes.  The four bullet points above account for 19% of the workers in the country, but make 38% of the US payroll.  So, if you’re hunting for a job that pays well, it’s hiding up there.

  1. Location, Location, Location

Cost of living has a huge impact on our ability have spare money to invest and save for our future, or to spend on something nice, like mosquito repellent or Chiclets®.  Living in a high cost area, like LA or New York City?  Yikes!  Sam over at Financial Samurai got a huge number of hits (and me for a reader) when his post about Scraping By On $500,000 A Year (LINK) exploded all over the internet.  In it he created a hypothetical family that was just squeaking by on $500,000 a year.  It was controversial because so many people failed to feel a lot of sympathy for the family and yelled at their computer screens to the fictitious family on how stupid they were.  Not the brightest bunch, right?  Anyhow, I responded with how to Live Large on $50,000 A Year (LINK).

Location matters, and most of the time you don’t get paid city wages to live in the country where you can buy a house (not a great house, but a house) for $10,000 straight up (this is true).  Generally, though, the wages don’t go down as much as the house prices do here in the sticks so you’re net ahead.

There are some great upsides to small town living – there’s less to spend your money on, commutes are generally better, and if you forget to close the garage door ALL NIGHT LONG (thanks, Pugsley) you find that everything is still there in the morning.  (In truth, one night Pugsley forgot to close The Mrs.’ hatchback on the Wildermobile II, and left it open all night.  We found a cat inside, and some spiders, but that’s it – not a thing missing.

The downside of low cost (and high trust!) living is that it is much harder to meet and make connection with high-powered folks who could help your career.  For instance, when I lived in Houston, I knew a guy who is friends with a former President.  He gave me his baseball tickets for one game.  The view is below.  And no, I didn’t bother them.  Generally, you won’t make/meet that kind of people in a small town (though there are exceptions, like Batman – LINK).

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The guy directly in front is a Secret Service guy.  When Pugsley dropped a cup of ice, his head whipped around like Justin Bieber on a merry-go-round as pushed by The Rock.  He assessed the three year old as “not a threat.”  He doesn’t know Pugsley!

  1. How likely is the job to be outsourced/done by Artificial Intelligence?

Much more likely than you think.  The BBC has a website (LINK) that calculates the likelihood that your job will be automated within the next 20 years.  The internet has already killed formerly lucrative and widely held jobs, like travel agents – used to be one in every little town – now? Gone.  Newspapers are on the way out.  As I mentioned before, truck drivers are “soon,” and then we’ll have a surplus of people who like biscuits and gravy without a job.

 

Trends in information will drive careers, too.  How long until competition from people like hurts traditional publishers?  Already there.  Pewdepie has more reach than the Wall Street Journal (this is true!), and that’s good – this flourishing of media outlets will effectively kill the gatekeeper, allowing us ever greater freedom of information sources.  But the people at CNN won’t like it a bit as they compete against . . . everyone.  Anderson Cooper might have to find a job cleaning pools, or delivering cotton candy to orphanages.

  1. What credentials are required?

Lastly (for this post) when contemplating a career, what credentials are required?  As I’ve mentioned before, only a few college degrees make any sense nowadays.  Anthropology?  French literature?  You’d be better off in a coma for four years – at least you wouldn’t spend $100,000 plus on a degree best suited for working as a barista.

Additionally, the costs for college are heading up much faster than inflation – and have been for years.  The reasons for this are really simple – a goldfish will grow to match the size of his tank, and my butt will grow to the size of my jeans, and a college will grow to consume every possible dollar of federal student aid and student loans that a student/parent combination can take out.  And buy climbing walls, and safe spaces, and pay for new girl’s luge/rifle team uniforms.  Ohhh, and have you seen the latte machine?

For many in the future, I’d suggest you skip college, unless your career demands it.  There are a few jobs that require the credentials you get in college:

  • Doctor – includes all types. Some of them, however, have salaries that don’t justify the cost of medical school.  That’s right – medical school used to be a slam dunk win, let’s buy the Mercedes.  Recently I read of a doctor that had student loans high enough that she would never be able to pay them off.  And student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.  Only release?  Death or moving to Canada, which is like death, but with better food.
  • Lawyer – Used to be a great ticket to the upper middle class. Still is, for some, but the median income of lawyers keeps dropping over time.  A good corporate lawyer will always be needed, but paralegals in Bangladesh can do the work more cheaply than a new associate.    And when Lawbot2000® hits the court room?  Look out!
  • Professor – Overdone – unless you’re politically connected, you’ll die a pauper. But one with leather patches on your tweed jacket.
  • Engineer – Still pays out, but losing its ability to pay out as costs increase. Lots of managers come from here, but automation will pull even more jobs.  Plus, how many trains are there, anyway??
  • Accountant – Required, and a lower tier school will do just fine, if you can avoid the AI rollout that will eliminate most of the jobs.
  • Teacher – Will eventually be replaced by “coaches” who help students after they watch the Led Zepplin of tutors on the web.
  • Veterinarian – Still costs a lot, and probably is dicey as far as payout right now, and soon kittens will be self-repairing.
  • Optometrist – I can see this being automated out of business. See this, get it?
  • Dentist – This profession is eliminating itself through technical advances – fewer dentists are needed now than in the past because they’re so darn good.
  • Psychologist/Psychiatrist – Talking about this field just depresses me.

So, keep in mind it’s all changing, and maybe with stem cell therapy, in ten years you can be taller, too.  Just think the salary that 6’10” tall you (that’s 8 meters tall) will command!

Economic Sectors and Where the Wealth Is

Do you know why all the world hates a Lannister? You think your gold and your lions and your gold lions make you better than everyone. May I tell you a secret? You’re not a golden lion. You’re just a pink little man who is far too slow on the draw. – Game of Thrones

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If only we had Master of the Card back during the conquest of the Americas – they could have gotten rich shipping credit cards back to Spain!

What is wealth?

In our world, wealth is the accumulation of tangible or intangible stuff that makes us better off.

Vague enough for you?  If a nation has of any of the following, that nation has wealth:

  1. Forests – they can make toilet paper. Or toothpicks.  Or Justin Bieber posters.
  2. People – they can make things or do stuff. Like accounting. Or making novelty t-shirts.
  3. Oil – they can make precious carbon dioxide – it’s what plants crave™.
  4. Pez© – they can mine the precious, precious Pez® ore.
  5. Cows – they can make ice cream or jerky (but not at the same time).
  6. Pez™ – Worthy of double inclusion because it’s Pez©. Plus, just say “Pez™ ore” out loud. I dare you.

At some point in history, an unnamed (because I’m too lazy to look it up) economist started thinking.  This is unusual, since economists are not normally prone to actual thought, as they tend to cluster in economist flocks and just repeat the same thing the other economists are saying in a herd behavior learned to prevent any one of them from being proven wrong.  It might be that this economist was being particularly unherdish that day?  Anyway, it was his thought to divide the economy of a nation into sectors.  He chose the term sectors so that he could pretend to be a starship captain and say things like “Chart a course for Sector Three, Mr. Sulu”, because that’s a lot more interesting than being stuck as part of an economist herd for the rest of your life.

Being crazily creative, he named the first sector the “Primary Sector.”

The primary sector is all about raw materials and extracting them – pumping oil, logging trees, growing quinoa, conjuring pigs from the underworld, and basset hound harvesting.  And you don’t have to extract it for it to count, unextracted resources are part of the base wealth of a nation, but you don’t get any money (most of the time) until you extract the resource.  It’s like picking your nose . . . but I’ll stop there.

Really, the primary economy is the basement of wealth creation.

It’s also trouble.

Nations that depend wholly on raw material production are associated with all sorts of negative outcomes, from being less developed (overall) and being less productive . . . for an example, let’s pick on the Spanish, because, after all, who hasn’t picked on the Spanish?

Spain managed to find tons of gold (more than 150 tons) and silver (more than 7,000 tons) in one century alone.  By find, I mean “take”, but that’s a longer story, and not the one I’m telling now.  The Spanish Conquistadores shipped the loot back to Spain, and the Spanish used the money to . . . be the lazy 16 year old trust fund kid who lived in Daddy’s other mansion.  The vast wealth allowed the Spanish to hire servants for their servants, and, hire people like the Dutch and French to come on over and do work the Spanish wouldn’t do.  (Sound familiar?)  The only things missing from this picture are Facebook®, Twinkies©, and PS4™.

And I don’t blame the Spanish one bit.  If I’m sitting on a billion or so dollars, I’d probably hire the Dutch and French to paint my house instead of making Pugsley and The Boy do it.

Anyway, this vast wealth took a productive, hungry, strong people who had a lot of gold into a people who hadn’t invested in an economy or infrastructure and had spent all of the gold within 200 years.

During the Spanish-American war, new steel American warships took on (by took on I mean “sank”) the Spanish Navy.  The state of the art US Navy with rifled cannon that could strike miles away with accuracy went up against ships that had cannon that were smooth bore and were older than the French Revolution (really).  I was the equivalent of The Rock going up against a six year old with a stick.

The war lasted 10 weeks, and that was because Spain couldn’t Tweet a surrender.

Spain had been weakened by her Primary Sector wealth.

The Secondary Sector

The secondary sector of the economy takes the stuff produced by the Primary Sector and turns it into something of actual use.

Sure, we all love crude oil, but besides bathing our birds in it, what can you do with it besides sell it to someone who will turn it into something useful?  Oh, you could eat it, but, it gets old after a while.

So, we take the Pez© ore we mined in the Primary Sector and smelt it into the Pez® bullion that we all covet so.  We turn cows into steaks and sell them.  We turn wood into boxes for the fidget spinners we have delivered from France.  We turn people into Soylent Green.

To best picture the Secondary Sector, imagine sprawling factories producing steel plate, dishwashers, tanks, computer chips, and canned soup.  To create this industrial giant requires massive construction, investment in roads, bridges, seaports, airports, building of factories and manufacturing equipment.  Beyond that, it requires investment in the people who will run the factories, from the labor on the factory floor to the engineers who design the equipment, to maintenance personnel who fix the equipment, to the manufacturers of the spare parts.

An industrial economy is a learning economy – there is a new problem to be solved every day to make the Pez® ore smelters produce 1% more Pez© per day.  Sure, everyone knows the basic principles of x-ray lithography for producing semiconductors, but how many could produce a single functioning computer chip, even given a week and the ultimate set of repair tools from the 1950s?

I thought so, only 75% or so of you raised your hands.

The secondary sector produces tremendous numbers of jobs for the economy, and those jobs are generally the gateway jobs to the middle class and a means for social mobility upwards.  Solving problems in the Secondary Economy generally often led to great wealth for the inventor involved, unless you were Tesla.  Then you died broke in a hotel room with a pigeon you loved (Wilder True Fact®).

The Secondary Sector took the wealth produced by the Primary Sector and multiplied it.  It took $1 worth of paper and turned it into $100 worth of books.  It took $300 worth of steel and turned it into an engine worth $2000.  That increased wealth flowed to people all up and down the line, including the people making the purchases.  A car made in 1998 is categorically better in almost every respect than one made in 1968.  A Camaro from 1968 has about the same horsepower as a 2018 Ford Taurus SHO, so the wealth increases to both the manufacturer as well as the consumer as competition and constant innovation improved the quality of the product and the efficiency of production.

The Tertiary Sector

The Tertiary Sector are the services that the nation produces.  So, we went from the base wealth in extractable resources to extracting them to turning them into something useful.  Services are . . . everything else.  Technically, trash companies and nurses and teachers and bloggers and hotels and restaurants are tossed into this branch of the economy.  And they do valuable things, especially the bloggers, but they’re not where the money is.  The real money is in FIRE.

What is FIREFinance, Insurance, and Real Estate.

The miner mined Pez®.  The smelter produced precious Pez™ bullion.  FIRE makes more money off of Pez© than anyone:

  1. They make money by selling stock in the Pez© Company.
  2. They make money by selling futures in Pez™, betting on what the price will be a day or week or year in advance.
  3. They make money by selling bonds so the Pez® miner can expand his operations.
  4. They insure the Pez© ore smelter against the all too common Pez™ smelter explosion.
  5. They sell the Pez® miner a house. And loan him the money.  And insure the house and . . .

You can see that the main profits of the economy are pretty well sucked up by FIRE.

In general, it’s also sucked up by a fairly small number of people.  I mean, sure there are millions of people engaged in the above, but when you look at where the money flows, it gets pretty concentrated up top, and no, I’m not a member of Occupy Wall Avenue or whatever it’s called.

The amount of payroll that goes to folks in Finance alone is 1.5 times the amount that goes to manufacturing, on a per person basis.  So where do our best and brightest (who want money) go?  Finance.

The financial sector creates (in some cases) wealth out of nothing – so when people buying stock get spooked, the stock market can drop in value an amazing amount in a short period of time (remember 2008-2009?) and cause the wealth to just vanish.  The farm is still there, producing basset hounds, the trees are still there, converting sweet carbon dioxide into oxygen and wood, yet the markets collapse.

As we move up the economic ladder we move progressively from the tangible (a hunk of coal) to the intangible (computer storage that says you have a million dollars, not even a real million Susan B. Anthony coins to back it up).  And the intangible multiplies the profits.  When you turned $1 of paper into $100 of books?  You had physical assets.  In stock, the price is based on how many books the investing public thinks you can make and sell over the next few years, and what sort of profit that might generate.  Tertiary wealth, in many instances, exists only because we all agree it does, and we stop believing?  It disappears as fast as George R. R. Martin’s ability to write a coherent sentence (that man is NEVER going to finish).

The economy in the United States continues to move from a Secondary Sector economy to a Tertiary Sector, which has broad individual implications, which I’ll discuss in the next post.

Diets Don’t Work, Systems Do

The goal is getting from Point A to Point B as creatively as possible, so, technically, they are doing parkour as long as Point A is “delusion” and Point B is “the hospital.” – The Office

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The view out of the back of Stately Wilder Manor. We’re horrible neighbors to those poor people. 

“Such as are your habitual thoughts, such will also be the character of our mind.” – Marcus Aurelius

I’ve been a person who has used goals as a motivator and scorecard all of my life, and then comes Dilbert creator Scott Adams to tell me I’m doing it all wrong.  Adams writes about systems, and how they’re preferable to goals, and I’ve written about him writing about systems before (LINK).

But, you’re thinking, “Friday is a day for Health topics, John Wilder, and you’re blathering on about systems versus goals.  Have you lost the plot, man?”

Well, no.  This week I read something that was pretty eye opening:

Most Diets Fail.

The data shows a stark wasteland:  somewhere between 65% and 95% of dieters regain all of their weight (and most get a bonus of an even higher weight rebound) within three years.  All of their weight.

Wow.

One researcher noted (LINK to Traci Mann) the reason that diets failed is because the entire biology of the person losing weight fights against them like a rabid Rottweiler tugging on a crate of Slim Jims®.  The body responds with things like a slower metabolism, and significantly higher hunger pangs, since after you start losing weight, your body starts fighting back with more signals that you’re starving, even as you are still 20 pounds more than you weighed in college.

And that makes sense.  Your body is made to survive.  All of the people who were losing chunks of body weight and thought, “Oh, this is fine,” died.  No kids.  And those most likely to live through a famine?  People who can slow their metabolism and get really focused on finding chow.

So, you’re hungry, and your metabolism slows.  You need willpower to fight, right, and you’ll win?

Seriously, do you think Oprah Winfrey, a self-made billionaire and likely one of the smartest 0.001% of Americans, is lacking in willpower?

No, she isn’t.

Further, the willpower of dieters is subject to distraction in ways that non-dieters can’t imagine.  Somebody brings donuts to work?  You don’t have to just resist them the first time someone says, “Hey, John Wilder, would you love a nearly perfect mixture of fats and sugars, covered in powdered sugar and filled with lemon pudding?”

YES I DO!

But I say no.

And when the donuts go onto the counter in the break room near the precious, precious coffee?  I have to sit and deal with their lemon-stares all day long.

To successfully resist, I have to say “no” the first time, and again, “no” every time the temptation is available.

(Once coping method I use to reduce desire for the wonderful thing that is donuts?  I imagine someone was picking their nose and then putting their sweaty fingers on all of the donuts.  Then they don’t look so pretty anymore.)

Again, unless I say “no” every single time that temptation raises its pretty donut face, I lose, but I also understand that, regardless of all of the physical facts associated with hormones, metabolism, and hunger, the person holding the fork is still . . . me.

Some dieters succeed.  Why?

We previously talked about change (LINK) the emotions that drive it, but changing a lifestyle is like changing a habit.

The successful dieters transition from diets being a goal, and making it a system or a value and no longer a goal.  Let’s say your goal is to weigh 120 pounds.  And you get there.  Now what?  Eat whatever you want?  That’s what caused the problem in the first place.

To win, you have to have a system.

And that’s why I hate cheat days.  I mean I hate them because they destroy entirely the results that I’m looking for in a diet.  It undermines the habit I’m creating by saying, “Hey, John Wilder, it’s cool if you want to put a gallon of pudding in your armpits, and eat another gallon.  It’s a cheat day.”

For me, a cheat meal on Saturday turned into a cheat meal plus a cheat lunch, plus a cheat lunch on Sunday, and, well, why not a cheat Sunday dinner.  It legitimized the concept that I could eat ANYTHING at that time and, well, another meal couldn’t hurt that much more, right?

No, a cheat meal is a planned failure for a system, because it idolizes the exact habits you’re trying to eradicate.  Moderation is not my fried, and, looking at the people who actually have lost and kept the weight off?  There’s nothing moderate about them.  They’re fanatical, and driven by the burning desire to change.

So they develop a system, or at least the winners do.  For the rest of us?  Pudding, anyone?

Making Less Than You’re Worth and Value Creation

“And so then Skeletor told Terminator he wanted a divorce, and apparently it’s all going to be finalized soon!” – South Park

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As it’s a short post, here’s a link to the story about the vole above.

“No, John Wilder, I said I want to make less thank I’m worth,” said my friend, who I will call Spock.

I was surprised.  I took it as an axiom, a truthticle (John Wilder Definition:  A quantum truth particle), that the old adage was right – you want to get paid what you’re worth.

Spock continued, “Yeah, if I’m worth what I’m paid, I’m not a bargain.  If I’m worth more than I’m paid?  That’s the guy you keep around – he makes you money.”

And Spock was right, his argument as logical as his Vulcan blood is green.

If I go to work and don’t create more value than the amount I’m paid, unless I work at the Department of Motor Vehicles in the Customer Hostility Division, I’m going to get fired.  This isn’t a moral judgement, it’s just that companies can’t survive hauling around with comatose employees that don’t make it money.

To put it simply:  If I don’t make (much) more money for the company than they pay me?  They’ll find a way to make sure I work for the competition.  And if someone (or a cool robot) can do the job for less than they’re paying me?  I’m probably going to be doing a lot more blogging in all the free time that I’ll have.  I will have been Terminated.

Not killed, though at one company I worked at:

HR told the story of a gentleman that worked there who was fired.  The HR Personbot2000™ told them that they were going to be terminated.  Having been a recent transplant (with correspondingly iffy English skills) from a country where the voters regularly re-elected the dictator with a 99.9% majority, the employee panicked, and barricaded himself in his office.  The standoff lasted until the Personbot2000® got another employee to translate to the fired employee that he wasn’t going to be killed, he just didn’t have a job there anymore.

No one in the world has been happier to find out he was “only” fired.

I digress.

One way to make sure that you’re creating value is to be where the value is created.  I know that sounds circular, but understand that more than just working hard is required to create value.  Another example:

I was living in Alaska, and loving it.  I had a great job, loved the weather, friends, and the family loved the place.  One day the phone at work rang.  It was an old boss.  Come to Houston, he said.  He wanted me to work on a project that would impact the lives of (literally) millions of consumers, and be the biggest project of my life so far.  We didn’t want to move, really, but the opportunity to work in the hottest (at the time) sector of the economy on a huge project was too much to turn down.  Plus it was hard to breathe with all the money they were forcing down my throat.  So we went.

In this instance, a small team was working on an investment of billions of dollars.  The revenue per employee was massive.  The team worked unconscionably long hours for years to put the project together and bring it to completion.  I can count multiple days where my savings to the company was over a million dollars.  And multiple days where I had to ignore huge problems to go work on even bigger problems.

Creating value was easy in such a target-rich environment, as was working 14 hour days and not exercising.  But the food was awesome and the houses were cheap because Houston is as hot as the surface of the Sun.

In the end?  The projects were finished.  And me, too.  I moved on to another economic sector, but my big lesson was:  If you want to find an easy way create value, go to where the big money is changing hands.

Makes logical sense, as Spock might have said . . .

Another short post – the notes for the second half of this post will show up in Monday’s post, since they are broader in nature, and provide a better understanding of the workings of the world economy and didn’t really fit well with the above stuff. But enough shop talk . . .