AI and Future of Work

“Since when did AI Stand for artificial insanity?” – Andromeda

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A machine for making Pez!  Or the back side of an Airline Departure board.  I forget.

The Middle Class Apocalypse is Coming!  The Middle Class Apocalypse is Coming!

Today is Wealthy Wednesday, so this post is about Wealth, and the future patterns associated with wealth and work based on the trends we can all see today.  On Monday, the Weekly Wisdom post talked about significance and the importance of work, and that post is here.

I’ll give you the TL;DR version – Work is important for health and well-being.  A great job has certain attributes that tie to the significance of the work, which lead directly to health and well-being.  Humans were made to work.  We actually like working when it makes a difference, when we make a difference to the world.

But what about that Apocalypse thing you mentioned up above?  It seems like that just might be important?

The economy is changing now at the most rapid pace, well, ever.  What we’ve seen over the past few years has been an economic recovery that’s been rough, especially for the middle class.  Most jobs that have been created appear to not be as good, not pay as much as the ones that have disappeared.

This trend is not over.  It’s actually just starting.

And, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens®, it has all happened before, though Han Solo didn’t die the first time they blew up the Death Star.  Or the second time.  Third time was the charm.

Four hundred years ago on the planet Earth, workers who felt their livelihood threatened by automation flung their wooden shoes called sabots into the machines to stop them.
Hence the word sabotage. – Star Trek, The Undiscovered Country

Not the last use of Sabotage in Star Trek

The Last Time We Were Here

The industrial revolution was an extraordinary dislocation among the working class in the Western world.  Extraordinary advances in power (steam engines) and mechanical devices (looms, tools) made standardized manufacturing of a consistent product on a grand scale possible.  Spoiler alert!  In the long run, this led to much greater prosperity and a constantly rising standard of living that created the greatest wealth machine in the history of mankind – Europe and the USA.

But along the way?  Lots of people were displaced.  If you were a knitter, you now no longer need knit knickers neatly, because a machine was massively manufacturing many muumuus.  To put it gently, you no longer had a knitting job.  Take your needles and shove off.  And the machine is better at knitting than you.  And you suck at running knitting machines because you have ADHD.

Being faced with this type of situation, the average person in at the time reacted calmly and happily watched as the trade or craft that they had engaged in their entire lives was extinguished like M&Ms® at a Weight Watcher® relapse?  No.  Inspired by (potentially fictional) leader Ned Ludd (the origin of the term “Luddite”) they rioted.  They raided the countryside, molested the cattle, and inspired really bad art:

Ned Ludd

Via Wikipedia – This image is in the public domain in the United States. 

Oh, my!  When I go down in history, I’d like to have a much better picture of me, not one where I’m wearing a polka-dotted Muumuu while my gigantic form looms over my tiny minions as the Alamo burns in the background.  And what AM I wearing on my head.  Is that a beaver??

I guess it’s an understatement to say that the change was difficult, but it did lead to mass producing important things, like nails, sewing machines, scarves, and, eventually, Pez®.

And it led, finally, to the creation of the middle class.  The factories had to have managers.  Engineers.  Equipment manufacturers.  HR.  Accountants.  Payroll clerks . . . and these factories finally allowed the concentrated application of experience and knowledge to the problems of industry.  Some owners of factories became extraordinarily wealthy.  Some geniuses, like Lord Kelvin?  He basically invented thermodynamics and spent his summers on his massive yacht wandering around the Mediterranean with the Kardashians.  Not the ancestors of the Kardashians, but the same ones we see on magazines all of the time.  I am convinced that the Kardashians are:

  1. Evil, and
  2. Immortal.

But I digress.  The middle class is stunningly important to economic and governmental stability.  It’s a place for middling to high IQ people to go and strive, to go and find meaning in their work and in creating civic organizations and clubs and golf.  All that brainpower tends to go toward helping people in all of society get wealthier over time, and makes society better as they get wealthier – a truly virtuous cycle.

If they weren’t doing this?

Well, if smart, capable people aren’t doing great stuff to make society better?  They get all Emo and Occupy.

Imagine if Rage Against The Machine actually had a job down at Dad’s hardware store? Would they be singing barbershop quartet instead?

Michael Lewis has written several books, like Liar’s Poker and Moneyball.  He’s talented.  But his first degree was in Art History.  Admittedly it was from Princeton, but it was . . . ART . . . HISTORY.  He ended up being a bond trader after getting a degree in economics from the London School of Economics before landing the bond trading gig, but, really, these sorts of opportunities don’t exist for current liberal arts grads.  And, like Ned Ludd, current liberal arts majors all dress up in polka-dotted muumuus and put a beaver in their dreadlocks and protest.

They’re protesting against a global labor market.  They might have the best degree that you can get, but legal aides are now competing against actual lawyers (and smart ones, too) in India who’ll do 250 hours of legal and case research for some pita bread and half of a Coke®.  The first part of this wave of globalization was the outsourcing of labor that went into manufacturing.  For the last 15-20 years mid-level engineering and legal research has joined the globalization push.  It’s had the effect of making the world more average, and if you’re talking pay, I assure you that you don’t want to work for the world’s average wage, which for some types of work is a cot and a promise not to play any music by Bob Segar®.  If you’re bad?  You have to listen to “Turn the Page.” Again and again.

A significant trend in jobs is to make them so anyone can do them.  If you’re reading this blog, I’m certain that your IQ is much higher than the average, and you’ve probably got bones made out of titanium, and might be able to bend steel bars with your mind.  Many jobs that remain are standardized by procedures to the point that very little IQ is needed.  The job is made to suit the lowest common denominator that might show up to be hired.  And these jobs will actively discriminate against your middle class employee template – they don’t want smart people in these jobs.  Smart people think, and if you think?  You might be wrong.  And in this world of hyper litigation?  They might have to settle a lawsuit because you started thinking that cooking oil was a lot like floor wax, and fifty old people slipped and fell on Crisco© oil in the produce section.  Many employers don’t want thinking.  Bad for business.

New forms of work are showing up as well – the “Gig” economy, where people get paid for doing things like hanging your pictures or walking your dog or by driving you around in their own car for Uber©.  The job market is fundamentally changing now, and we all can’t support ourselves by just Ubering® each other around.  Nor will we be able to – Artificialish Intelligence will eventually replace all the Uber™ drivers.

And that’s the big kahuna.  The large enchilada.  The massive Pez®.  Global low wages, procedural jobs that kill the soul?  Those are nothing compared to Artificialish Intelligence.

(According to Google, I, John Wilder, am the one who has coined this term!  Huzzah, me!)

What is Artificialish Intelligence?  My definition is that, really you don’t need a full-blown sentient intelligence for the vast majority of tasks you’ll automate, you just need the bare minimum of subroutines, rules, and algorithms to get the job done.  For most things, that isn’t really all that much.  We’ve had cars that can drive themselves for a while.  And soon, they’ll be everywhere.  Who needs truck drivers when the trucks drive themselves?  Who needs Uber© drivers when Uber™ has a fleet of cars that don’t complain, and, more importantly, don’t get paid?  As soon as competent Artificialish Intelligence appears in a field, there’s no point in a human ever doing that task again, unless they like doing it.  Unfortunately, if you’re one of the 1,500,000 to 3,000,000 people who drive for a living?  Yeah, 90% of them will lose their jobs.  Not an if.  A “will.”

If you count the sheer number of accountants and tax preparers that have lost work due to TurboTax®?  Yeah, lots, and TurboTax™ probably does a better job than many tax preparers, with a lower error rate.  This trend of Artificialish Intelligence destroying jobs is not new.

Ever feel like your job is to pass the butter?  And it’s actually not at all required to add too much intelligence to most of our devices.  Who needs an automatic vacuum or smart cell phone that has a mood?

I’m not sure of the new jobs that will be created due to the changes I’ve noted above, but I do have suggestions if you’re starting out in your career that might help . . .

  1. Be born rich.
  2. Be a friend to billionaires.

Really, the jobs that are very hard to automate or turn global are things that have a barrier, like the following categories:

  1. Government Jobs. The barrier is pretty obvious to this one – Congressmen don’t have to go home to their constituents and explain that they’ve outsourced the Department of Commerce to Uzbekistan.
  2. Distance Barriers. Some things have to be done locally – most construction, plumbing, tree services, and these are jobs that will be a bit harder to automate, though they will change significantly.
  3. Regulatory Barriers. Plumber, Electrician, Pharmacist, Doctor, Lawyer . . . each of these have barriers that are require credentials and licensing.  I would add Teacher to this list, but distance learning won’t be kind to that profession after a decade or so.
  4. Extreme Knowledge. It can be done, being a specialist in a very narrow field.
  5. Be a Creator. You can’t outsource a Steve Jobs from Sebastopol, nor a Bill Gates from Bratislava.  Nor a Scott Adams from Albania.  These are unique talents due to their ability to create.  Can everyone be a Creator?    But the good news is that there are still Government Jobs!

I have only a limited understanding of what the world of work will look like in twenty years, but the changes will be very drastic, and I’ll be posting more about this in the future.  In the past, if you were making copper pots by hand, when the machine took your job and started pressing them out of sheet copper, you had no real way to see that a world of thermodynamics, engineering, and advanced wealthy complex society could form out that stupid job-stealing machine.

But you could see the beaver clearly.  That’s why you kept it in your hair.

Good Work, Significance, and First Break All the Rules

“We’re put on this earth to do a job.  And each of us gets the time we get to do it.  And when this life is over and you stand in front of the Lord . . . well, you try tellin’ him it was all some Frenchman’s joke.” – Fargo (Series) 

DSC03481The Boy on his day job, attacking dragons, lions, and the French.  He’s pretty good with that, since we haven’t seen any of those around here recently.

Nothing has a greater influence on the well-being of a man than the work he does and how significant it is.  Studies have shown that doing good, significant work increases testosterone levels, decreases anxiety, decreases depression, and increases the likelihood of developing super powers, like fingernails that grow on command, or advanced control of nostril hair.  I’m just kidding – decreased anxiety, how ludicrous!

I know you’re thinking, “John Wilder, how can you make such an outrageous claim!” but I assure you, thousands of scientists have been working for decades just to prove me right.  Oh, and Gallup, Incorporated® did an actual study that proved exactly what I’m saying.

Their study came out in the book, First Break All The Rules.  You can buy it (and I do recommend this book) here .  (Full disclosure, at some point I might get around to monetizing these links, but as of the date of this posting, not yet.)

The authors, Buckingham and Coffman (like many business book authors) manage to pack a decent five pages worth of material into the current edition’s 368 pages.  Also, other folks (consultants) glom on to it with, I’m sure, tests, powerpoints, websites, charts, and four day training courses in Orlando in the off season, complete with a coffee bar and a buffet lunch with an added spousal event where the spouses go and tour Epcot, get to take a photo with Walt Disney’s frozen corpse, and drink mojitos all day long.

But back to the book . . .

The book is based on 1.5+ million hours of interviews with over 80,000 managers over the span of years.  Gallup then looked at which of these businesses were highly productive and profitable, and, rather than come up with a theory, just looked at what the data said about these high-performing organizations.  What came out of it were 12 questions that determined employee engagement.  Crazy idea – if employees are engaged at work, the place gets profitable?

What sort of sorcery is this?

Here are the 12 questions, and it’s important to note that they are in order.  The first question matters more than question 12.  I know that there are those of you who say all questions should be equal, and they are.  Some are just more equal than others.

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work? This one is top of the list. 

I’ve had managers who give you a desk and say, go do it.  What is “it”?  Nope, the only thing you see is a contrail as they head away from your desk at nearly lightspeed.  Then you’re left guessing at what “it” is.  This turns work into an eternal game of “warmer”/”colder”, assuming that your boss even gives you that kind of feedback.

I’ve also had bosses who say – “go fix the thing – I don’t care what you do, just don’t break the law or spend more than $10,000,000.”  Those are actually really clear expectations.  I like bosses like that.  And they like me.

  1. Do I have the material and equipment to do my work right?

If you know that you’re in charge of the Canadian space program (Is it called CASA?) and they expect you to create a manned space expedition to Mars within ten years, eh, you certainly have clear expectations.  But if they only give you two dog teams, some moosehides, and the retired Mounties from Saskatchewan, well, you’re going to be as frustrated and conflicted as a vegan poodle in a butcher shop.

  1. Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

 I can recall finishing a project (it took 45 straight 12 to 16 hour days) and watching as the last piece went into place.  What I did in those 45 days was what I do best – and it was wonderful, and I was in the zone.  I saved my company tens of millions of dollars.

But I’ve also been in the job where I was tasked with correctly folding up manufacturing drawings.  Yay!  More folding!  But, within two months I was doing research for the company (and, accidently recreated Soviet research into the perfect railroad tie).  It got better.

However, there are places where you’ll never get to do what you do best.  Imagine Seth Rogan teaching physics to high school students?  Yeah, that probably isn’t where he’d be best used, unless the class was really titled: “The Physics of Marijuana, Dude.”  At some point, if the company can’t use what you do best, you’ve gotta hit the rip cord and bail out of there (the preceding does not constitute parachuting advice nor parachute training).

These first three form a triad – they speak to having clear purpose, tools, talent and using them all to create value.  This is food for the soul of the deepest level.  If you have these three elements at work, you are happy at work, and generally also happy at home.

The other elements are also important, but decrease in importance as we go:

  1. In the last seven days, have I received praise or recognition for good work?

Most of us are people (technically The Boy isn’t, since he is an android sent from the future to destroy the popularity of Justin Beiber by bombarding Beiber’s brain with dank Twitter memes) and people like to have their good points brought up.  Funny, huh?

  1. Does my supervisor or someone at work care about me as a person?

Ditto.  I like to work with people that want me to keep breathing.  It’s nice when you walk in and have a cup of coffee with a coworker and they genuinely pretend to being interested in my boring life.  Your mileage may vary, but still not as important as doing important work well, though it can be a partial substitute if your employer is slowly eating your soul.

  1. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

I think that no matter our age, we all want to improve, do better, and want the advice of people we respect to help us grow, because those are people that can become our mentors.  Not Mentos™.  Mentors.  They are different things, though both can be minty.

  1. At work, do my opinions count?

I’m sorry – I wasn’t listening?  Did you say something?

  1. Does the mission or purpose of my company make me feel that my job is important?

Let’s pretend that all the questions above this are answered with YES!  In that case, you’re probably happy, unless your job requires you to grind kittens into Kitten Chow™.

That’s how it’s made, right?

  1. Are my coworkers committed to quality work?

If the people you work with do bad work, goof off, or are in some other way not contributing, I know you don’t like it, because if you’re reading this, you’re smarter and have great character and probably don’t need deodorant because your body gives off a faint scent of sandlewood whenever you sweat.  But if your coworkers are trolls from the reject pile that do work like poo flinging monkeys?  Yeah, takes a bit out of your pride of doing work.

On the plus side?  You’d think you’d get a good performance review, unless your boss is threatened by you and your genius and natural sandlewood smell.  Then you’ll get a review that says you don’t fling enough poo.

An aside at an appropriate place:  Pugsley just told me, “For a writer, you’re a pretty good typist.”  Thanks, pal.

  1. Do I have a best friend at work?

Not a killer if you don’t, but really nice if you do.  When you go home, explaining to your spouse the poo flinging monkeys that you have to deal with at work is like explaining to Albanian lawyers (who have offices in a strip mall) how a photocopier works.  Frustrating at best.  Amusing when the Albanian Strip Mall Lawyers go at the copier with pliers and some Allen wrenches left over from an Ikea© bookcase assembly.  (Spoiler alert: the NEVER ACTUALLY FIX it, but they go at it with gusto!)

Is it just me, or did anyone else ever assemble an Ikea bookcase and end up with a functional hovercraft?

Oops – big digression.  Having a friend at work makes you want to stay there.  Duh.

  1. In the last six months, has someone talked to me about my progress?

Getting toward the end (keep in mind, less important as we go down) – this is a variation on point 6 – the concept that humans want to be more effective and to have someone they respect tell them how well they’re doing.  Honestly, that’s what we want – someone to tell us how awesome we are.  It is a rare person who wants actual truth.

And, as a manager, after a long time doing it?  I gave ‘em both barrels in annual reviews.  Full on truth.  But HR was getting none of that truth – HR exists to justify why you fire employees and reduce their benefits to those of a typical Botswanan goatherd, so when you ding an employee on a review, they start circling like high school students around a dank meme.

Don’t give them that dank meme!  (Also, would someone please tell me what a dank meme is?)

Urban Dictionary says:

“Dank Memes” is an ironic expression used to mock online viral media and in-jokes that have exhausted their comedic value to the point of being trite or cliché. In this context, the word “dank,” originally coined as a term for high quality marijuana, is satirically used as a synonym for “cool.”

So, now you know.

  1. In the last year, have I had the opportunity to work and grow?

I have had that opportunity!  Most of the growth, unfortunately, was due to Pop Tarts©.  So, Pop Tarts™ were introduced in 1964.  Winston Churchill® died in 1965.  Coincidence?  No.  The carby goodness of Pop Tarts© was created to kill world leaders.  Avoid the trap!  Especially the strawberry ones.

As a set of questions for leaders to gauge the environment they create?  Priceless.  These 12 questions are wonderful in that respect.  Every leader should strive to create an environment where they get the most out of their employees, not only because it benefits the business, it also benefits the employee.

Whew.

I have at least two more topics that are directly related to this, and I’m over 1900 words on this post right now.

Okay.  I give up.

This is my first unanticipated two or more part post.  In the near future?  IQ and the workplace of the future.  Not that this will be an important topic to anyone.  Or, really, everyone.

Okay, really, it is everyone who will be impacted by this, we’re on to a trend that will determine all of future life for humans in Western civilization for at least the next 80 years.  But that’s too scary to think about right now.

So now?  I’m just going to make my fingernails grow like crazy!

 

The Shape of Your Money

“I’m quite good at spending money, but a lifetime of outrageous wealth hasn’t taught me much about managing it.” – Game of Thrones

DSC04293

I need a better picture for this, but I give up.  Here’s a dolphin.

I was talking with a friend the other day about personal finances, and we were discussing how we were both in pretty good financial shape, but we were (yet) in very different places.

Most of my money is ludicrously liquid, in fact, when I grab a quarter, it turns into a wet, squishy mess.  But by liquid, I really mean that have the ability to use it, right now, right here for anything from purchasing a prodigious plethora of Pez® and pantyhose to just letting it sit and rot.  Mainly my money has just been sitting and rotting slowly due to inflation.

As I’ve discussed before, most of my time (day and night, sometimes) had been spent out of the house actually earning the money, and I’d given very little thought to actively managing it and the best way to do that.  I’ve missed some great deals, but I’ve also missed plenty of bad ones, like that Shetland pony farm.  Never could get those seeds to sprout.

My friend, however, has a great financial structure going forward, but he’s fairly illiquid – he can’t really touch vast chunks of that money, in some cases he can’t touch it for 20 years into the future, or it would require severe penalties (like losing a kidney, or paying massive taxes – but I repeat myself) in order to get at it.  I think his setup has him set up far better than me, 20 years from now.

In the conversation we were having, I came up with the epiphany – our money has different shape.  Shape, like a fine pair of pantyhose, has two sides.  Money shape has at least two – liquidity and risk.

Liquidity

Liquidity is when your money is available.  The greater the liquidity, the more available your asset is.  So, if I have $10 in my hand, I can use it immediately if I so chose.  Or I can do like government and just light fire to it and watch the pretty flames.  But let’s look at liquidity from liquid to solid of assets we own.

Money

  • Cash – As above. You can do anything you want with it.  Well, most things.  It can’t help you go faster than the speed of light.
  • Checking Accounts/(Debit Cards) – Either way, the money is immediately and totally available, as long as you have money in your account or have recently paid your credit card bill. Many places still checks, which are becoming an obscure throwback to another age when men could actually sign their name.  I pay bills with checks.  I have never owned a debit card, but I hear they go great with fish.
  • (Credit Card would go here if Credit Cards were an asset – they’re not, they’re a loan)
  • Things – Some things are almost as good as cash, but they’re not cash. Silver coins, gold bars, Pez®.  This could go nearly anywhere, depending upon the thing, the time of the day, and the tide.  Beanie Babies® probably are about as liquid as land near a former Soviet nuclear/biological warfare testing site.  Sorry if you thought those would pay for college.
  • Stocks/Bonds – These are pretty liquid, it will still take a day or two to get a check and get paid.
  • Savings Account – Different than checking – they can hold your deposit for a period of time if they want to after you ask for it, generally no more than 30 days. It’s actually a loan to the bank.  Do you really trust those guys?
  • 401k/IRA – The money is yours, but you get hit with a huge penalty for breaking that piggy bank, takes weeks to get a check. I think it’s just a plan for you to save your money and put it all in the same place so the government can find it easily and use it to buy Carmex™.
  • Home – Generally takes more than a month to sell/close. Might take a year.  Might take longer.
  • Land – See above, but . . . location, location, location.
  • 401K/IRA (no penalty) – Become 59 and ½ years old. So, if you’re 59.49999, pretty liquid.  But easy to calculate how much time until you are liquid.
  • Pension – Get it at a predetermined age, generally 65.
  • Social Security – Can start drawing early, but you get less over time. If you die early, that’s a good deal.  Wait, did I just really type that?

My issue is that I’ve been living too far up the liquidity tree.  I’ve been serially under-invested, and have been for years. As I mentioned above, another dimension to money is risk of loss:

  • Cash – 100% risk of loss. Inflation, over time will destroy cash purchasing power.  It’s the way that government keeps promises – it taxes those who save and are responsible!
  • Gold/Silver/Pez® – Only lost if you don’t know where you buried it, but values may vary greatly even during a year.
  • Stock Market – Inflation adjusted, it’s probably one of the best defenses against the tide of inflation. Individual stocks are much more risky than index funds, but have the potential for much greater gain.  Probably the best long term choice, but I hate to buy now, when the market is at an all-time high.
  • House – Even if it blows up, you still own the crater. If only there were a market for craters.
  • Pension – Generally, these are horribly underfunded. Good luck, especially if you’re a California government employee!
  • Social Security – I’ve always felt that I’d never get any money back on this scheme. Still betting that.

The impacts of the shape of your money are significant.  I have more choices now than my friend, and unless I do a good job managing those choices, I’ll have many fewer as I get older.  The nice part of this, however, is the choices are mine, and I’ll live with the outcomes.

Now, to invest in an S&P index fund?  Or maybe horde Pez® for the apocalypse?

Choices, choices.

Everybody has three mortgages nowadays, – Venkman, Ghostbusters

Sedan2C_Kansas

By Michael Adams (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This is Sedan, Kansas on a high traffic day.  Some protesters closed the road down once, but nobody noticed.

I restarted blogging after being inspired by a post on Financial Samurai (thanks, Sam!) – I had blogged for about five years two to three times a week before putting the blog on a pause that lasted most of Joe Biden’s term as vice president.  I’m sad that I missed the opportunity to Biden-ize the blog.

I stopped primarily because work was fairly consuming, but also because I had run out of things to say, and you know that I would rather eat a squirming kitten whole than produce work that was shoddy and substandard. What do I look like, Johnny Depp?  (That was metaphorical – Johnny Depp often looks like he’s been fighting in an alley for a can of Sterno®.  I only occasionally look like that.)

When I lived in Alaska, blogging was a good way to view a new location through new eyes – I learned about Alaska, and told my readers about it, too.  Our move to Houston represented for me our Beverly Hillbillies© moment – people who belong in Alaska attempting to get by in a very hot, very big city.  True story:  It was so hot in Houston that I often was sweating.

Then we packed up and moved to Northeast Midwestia, and, well, I’d lived in small towns, so it wasn’t nearly as unique to me.  Also, The Boy and Pugsley had reached the ages where we were doing stuff with them three and five nights a week.  By the time I got home, I was fairly tired, the job was engrossing but also very, very time consuming.  Again, I’m not going to give you junky posts.  Do I have to bring Johnny Depp back into this?

The change (for me) came when, in the middle of moving responsibilities for what I do at work that I came across this post at Financial Samurai.  The post had gone was viral because people were gnashing their teeth at the temerity of the thought that people who made $500,000 a year might be just “getting by.”

But if you go through the post, you can see that the logic and reasoning is sound.  You can earn that kind of money in New York or Chicago, or L.A. and life is stressful.  $500,000 doesn’t even buy a used legal paper box in San Francisco.  The median home price in San Francisco (not a home in a median, the mathematical median, where 50% of the houses are above, and 50% are below) is $1,300,000.  And you can get a lovely 844 square foot (that’s two cubic megaparsecs in metric) for that.  Dr. Housing Bubble describes one here.

I was scratching my head, and thought, hey, there must some way to piggy back off of Financial Samurai’s success relate the costs to the coastal folks of what life is like in the hinterlands.  I threw a dart, and . . . . Sedan, Kansas showed up.

I would imagine that some people in Sedan drive sedans, but that’s not how it got its name.  Sedan, Kansas (founded in 1871) was named after the Battle of Sedan (September, 1870) which occurred during the Franco-Prussian War.  The Prussians crushed the French 43-12, and most of the French points were scored during the fourth quarter after Kaiser Wilhelm had already gotten a Gatorade™ dunk.

Why was this so big for the people who named the town Sedan?  I have no idea.  Maybe they just hate the French there?

Anyhow, Sedan, Kansas has a much greater continuity of government than Germany or France, and is a sleepy little town that has a high school and a marching band, and a hospital and a Pizza Hut©.

And that’s where you come in, because you, dear reader, could live large in Sedan.

Let’s look:

Let’s create a family of four, but a two income family

The husband is a teacher.  I’m pretty sure that a teacher there makes more than $25,000, but let’s go with that for now.

There’s a rural hospital there, too.  And the wife is a nurse.  Let’s say that she makes $25,000, too.

Both of their retirement is through the state, so I’ll not mess up the calculations with a 401k.  They could save more.

Salary
Base Wages  $        50,000
Federal Tax  $          1,756
State Tax  $              970
Net  $        47,274

Kansas taxes, and taxes on incomes of an intact family of four are a pretty good rate.  I used TurboTax© to calculate this, so any errors are mine.  TurboTax® required that I put in names for the family, so I used Bob, Bob2 (his wife), Bob3, and Bob4.

Child Care

Bob and Bob2 don’t pay much in child care.  Child care doesn’t cost much in Sedan (possibly due to the Franco-German war?) and Bob is a teacher – he just needs some in-service days covered.  It’s possible that Bob2 could take a day off from the hospital and turn this down to zero, but I’ve tossed in a completely defensible $1800.  It would probably be less.

Food

Again, one of the advantages of Sedan might be viewed as a disadvantage to the uninitiated – Sedan has few restaurants.  I’m not sure how good any of them are, and at $11,600, a year, I think the family could eat very well, indeed.

Mortgage

This is my favorite.  I went to Realtor©.com and found a 2000 square foot house for sale for $84,000.  Yeah.  It’s silly low.  Now if you were going to try to move, you could probably bet that house would sit on the market for a year or more.  But since you bought it for less than a carport (no land) costs in San Francisco, you might be okay.  I tossed in some guesses for insurance and taxes.

Home Maintenance

Can Bob fix it?  Yes, he can.  $1,100 probably takes care of most of the honey-do list.

Vacations

$400.  Go camping.  Or go visit Grandma Bob in Branson and stay at her place.

Cars and Gas and Insurance and Taxes

Bob owns his cheap cars.  He hardly drives at all, being in town, so gas is cheap, too.  And cheap cars=cheap insurance and taxes.

Clothes

Bob2 is a bit of a shoe-hound, so I tossed $4800 in.  Plus Bob3 is growing like a weed!

Sports/Lessons

Small town – Aunt Bob teaches piano for $5 a lesson.  Flag football is $10 for the season.

Guaranteed Student Loans

Teaching in a small town Bob qualifies for whatever super secret handout they give to teachers.  Probably Bob2, as well.  I put down $200 a month.

Unexpected

$5,000.  What for?  Who can say?  If I knew it would be expected, goof.

Expenses
Childcare (2)  $          1,800
Food  $        10,400
Dinner out  $          1,200
Mortgage  $          7,800
Home Maint.  $          1,100
Vacations  $              400
Car  $          1,440
Gas  $              600
Car Insurance  $              600
Clothes  $          4,800
Sports/etc.  $              480
Student Loans  $          2,400
Unexpected  $          5,000
Total Costs  $        38,020

So, I subtract the costs from the income?

What’s Left?  $          9,254

That’s more than power couple in New York in the original post, who only saved $7,300 a year.

What amazes me, especially after living in a big city, is why they don’t sell their overpriced homes, buy a much bigger house, and live like royalty out in the boonies.  One house in Sedan is for sale now (April, 2017) and it is 3,400 square feet on 41 acres.  But it costs the whopping sum of $345,000.  How much would that house (in a safe free public school district) cost in New York?  It’s like a unicorn, or a balanced federal budget – it simply does not exist.  Did I mention the 41 acres has its own lake?

Many people live in these economic centers work really, really hard, but they end up being poor their whole lives, because:

“We buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.”

-Tyler Durden (Fight Club)

I read a great quote (and I can’t remember where it came from) that went like this:

“If you have to ask how much money you need to retire, you’re asking the wrong question.”  And it’s true – it’s not only what you have, it’s also what you spend, and what you think you simply must have.  I’ve heard of happy people in their 40’s retiring with $400,000 and thriving.  And people who retired at 65 with $5,000,000 ending up unhappy and broke.  Understand that the biggest part of this is you.  It’s not what you have, it’s what you think you need.

So, I’m back blogging, and am really sad that I missed being able to make fun of Biden.  Ohhhh, perhaps he’d eat a kitten?  Or fight Johnny Depp?

Now, every Wednesday I must remind you that I’m not a financial professional, and taking my advice might just be the most foolish thing you ever did, besides the time you burned your eyebrows off.

In the future some blog posts might be sponsored, and, again, in the future (past April, 2017), I might get paid for some of the links (I’ll tell you if so) but my advice will be like a professional psychic – for entertainment only.

Weight Loss and Penn Jillette

“You can’t say your favorite kind of cake is birthday cake, that’s like saying your favorite kind of cereal is breakfast cereal.” – Tom, Parks and Rec

DSC02083

The way I look when I’m in a cake coma.  Mmmmm, cake.

I was hanging out with The Main Squeeze, talking.

Me:  “What are you doing next weekend?”

The Main Squeeze:  “Nothing.  You?”

Me:  “I’m free.  Let’s fly to Vegas and get married.”

Pause.

The Main Squeeze:  “Okay.”

I called up the frequent flyer number and got two tickets to Vegas.  This was before e-everything, so they actually overnighted the tickets to me.  Actual paper tickets.

We got there late on a Friday night and the next morning took a cab downtown to get a marriage license.  We debated the Star Trek chapel, the Elvis chapel, and decided to get married in the mall area at Bally’s Casino.

If you’ve not been to a casino, the first principle is to get you gambling, and then give you enough booze that you make poor decisions with your gambling.  The second principle is to overwhelm the senses.  The final principle is to have really extravagant stores so that winners can be parted with their money prior to getting back on the jet to Peoria.  We didn’t have to worry so much about the extravagant stores, since principle one and principle two had separated us from enough money that buying the signed NFL™ football© helmet® wasn’t going to be happening.

Sunday morning, we got married.  Truthfully we were a little hung over.  At the wedding chapel in the mall, the hostess went through the checklist.

“Married, right – have your certificate.”

“Right here.”

“Okay, religious or secular ceremony?”

“Religious.”

“Candles or no candles?”

I looked at the soon-to-be The Mrs.  She shrugged.

The hostess leaned conspiratorially closer to us and said in a low voice, “Candles cost extra.”

The soon-to-be The Mrs. shook her head.

“No candles.”  The hostess smiled.

We waited about 15 minutes for the pastor to show up.

He looked about as hungover as we felt, but his face brightened as he went down the checklist.

“Religious.  Good!”

He performed the ceremony and The Main Squeeze was now officially The Mrs.

So, you’re in Vegas, you just got married, what do you do?

If you’re the Wilders, you go and get tickets to Penn and Teller.  Penn and Teller, if you’re not familiar with them, they are comedy/magic, and, if you’re not careful, a bit of philosophy.

They performed this trick at the show, but unfortunately shot three audience members.  Remember, magic is not pretty!

At one point during the show, which I will remind you was being held at a casino, Penn Jillette said (and I’m paraphrasing):

“Folks, if you’re looking at an investment, look at those slot machines out there.  It says, in flashing neon, 98% return.  From the beginning, you know that you’re going to lose.  The best odds out there are the black jack tables, and if you use probability, and can count cards, over the course of gambling for a weekend with a $10,000 stake, odds say you might clear $500.  See all the bright and flashing lights out there?  The only thing keeping them on is the Hoover Dam, and bad math.”

Wow.

There are moments when you’re cured of something, but at that moment, I knew that I’d never be a serious gambler or have a gambling problem.

Cured,

of gambling,

in a casino,

by a magician.

Now, that’s magic.

After the show was complete, Penn and Teller ran off stage towards the doors that let us in.  Literally, they ran.  I thought they might have been late for something, like free yogurt, but when The Mrs. and I got to the exit, they were standing there, shaking hands with and talking to every fan.

Teller is the “silent” part of the act, and we talked with him first:

John Wilder: “You put on a wonderful show.”

Teller:  “You are a wonderful audience,” and he exuded humility and sincerity with every word, like he was grateful we came to his show.

We then moved on to Penn.

John Wilder:  “You were great out there.”

Penn put his hand to his head as if concentrating, eyes closed.  “John, that is your name, right?”

I was stunned.  He continued, “Thought so.  John, in 2017 you will write about my miraculous weight loss, and both the Red Sox and the Cubs will win a World Series® between now and then.”

He then disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

 

 Potatoes, stupid hobbit!

Fast forward to 2017 and my meeting with Bruce Wayne.  I’d promised myself that I would lose weight, so I began researching.

In the back of my head I remember hearing on the Internet about Penn’s weight loss.  I looked up what he did.  He lost NEARLY A POUND A DAY!  That’s 450 or so grams per day (as if that means anything to anyone).  He ate nothing but potatoes for two weeks.  It turns out that he was hospitalized due to his high blood pressure, which was caused by his weight and that got him motivated to change.

My conclusion was:

That’s simply not reasonable.

But weight loss isn’t reasonable.

Wilder Age Effort Required to Lose Two Pounds a Week
Before 20 Run.  A little.
Mid 20’s Run, 2-5 miles a day for several weeks
Late 20’s An hour a day on the exercise machine
Mid 30’s Run, 4-6 miles a day five times a week, skip lunch
Late 30’s Radical Atkins diet
Early-Mid 40’s Radical Atkins diet plus six hours a week exercise machine
Late 40’s Radical Atkins/Food Restriction plus three hours a week
Late 50’s (Projected) I will have to work hard enough to power Nebraska on a Skittle® a week
By the time I’m 70 I am declared a national treasure because my energy output is greater than all the oil and I pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and eat nothing, but my jeans are tight

And weight gain isn’t reasonable, either.  Let’s say you see someone who, like Penn, was 100 pounds (that’s sixteen megaparsecs in metric!) overweight.  You say, indignantly, “Boy, they sure let themselves go.”

Unfortunately, the math doesn’t quite agree with you.

A pound is roughly 3600 calories, so 100 pounds is 360,000 calories, or enough Diet Coke™ for all of the sororities at USC for a weekend.  But, 360,000 calories is around 300 calories a day for three years.  That’s two 12 ounce Cokes© a day.  (One ounce in metric = one Italian squirrel bladder.)

Let’s say 50 pounds.  That’s one soda pop.  A day.

As I said, weight loss isn’t reasonable.

So, in addition to being accountable, I now must cease to be reasonable.

So, what goal to go with?

The average goal for people in the literature is two pounds a week.  Seems legit.  But then I see 1% a week.  So, if you’re 200 pounds, that’s 2 pounds a week.  One hundred?  One.  That seems even more legitimate.

But then I see Penn losing nearly a pound a day.  Is that really real?

Yes.  A 27 year old from Scotland fasted for 382 days.  No food.  Over a year.  Of course, he had a head start at 456 pounds.  He made it down to 180 pounds, and five years later was 196 pounds.  There are multiple, similar cases on record.

When you think about it – that’s exactly what fat is for – it’s the emergency storage of calories so you don’t die during periods of prolonged famine.

I’m awesome at weight loss, I’ve done it a lot, but unlike my previous results, the man from Scotland’s main success wasn’t the 382 days, it was the fact that he reset and didn’t gain the weight back.  It seems to be working so far for Penn as well.

There’s a goal, the loss.  But that goal must be followed up with a change in lifestyle.

So, what am I doing next weekend?  Not eating potatoes, but I’m also not being reasonable.

Reasonable didn’t get me married in Vegas, and reasonable won’t get me where I want to go on weight.

John Wilder is not a doctor.  You would be stupid to take medical advice based on the ramblings of an internet madman.  As always, own your own decisions, and talk to a doctor if you have questions. 

As a bonus – if you have 45 minutes to spare, Penn and Teller’s 1986 film, “Invisible Thread.”

 

I’m gonna tell you about an accident, and I don’t wanna hear “act of God.” – Jack Burton, Big Trouble in Little China

DSC03797This car needs termite insurance?

Once upon a time, I threw money into the streets, until I learned a tough lesson on the tough streets.  It ended in blood, like it always does.

That’s probably enough hardboiled detective lingo for this post, but’s it’s all true.

When I graduated from high school, my dad bought me a new car.  No, not a Porsche®, rather a Buick©, that looked quite like:

skyhawk

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/32721534764741186/

What a Buick™ looked like in the 1980’s.  Sweet!

After that, I ended purchasing a used car in the second worst car deal I’ve ever done, and, after it exploded, bought another new car, this time a really cheap car, but still a new one.  The car was worth about 30% of my gross annual income.  And then interest rate?  Only 9%!

After paying sixty months on the car, it was still running like a champ!  Sure, it was a manual transmission, but it was awesome.  I had just installed a new CD player with a buddy.

I was on a date with The Mrs. (when she was still just The Main Squeeze), and we were driving down a divided, interstate highway-type road.  We had been fighting, and we drove silently down the dark multilane.

“Dear,” The Not Yet Mrs. said, breaking the silence of our fight.

“Honey,” I replied, looking her direction, happy that she had gotten over the fight.

“DEAR!” The Not Yet Mrs. yelled.

“HONEY,” I yelled back, looking at her.

She pointed in the direction we were heading at 72.3 miles per hour (that’s 5,000 liters per second, if you’re metric), and I looked forward just in time to see a deer suspended in midair, lit by the bright flash of burning out cracked headlights, both legs pointing toward the sky as it vaulted off the front hood and over the top of the car.

“Oh, deer.”

This was in the great and rumored time before everyone plugged into the matrix carried a cell phone.  Soon enough (half an hour?) a highway patrolman pulled up behind us, and examined the scene.

“Didn’t even hit the brakes, eh?  Must have jumped out at the last second.”

Me:  “Yes!  That’s much better than what really happened.”

The patrolman radioed for a tow truck, and The Main Squeeze and I leaned on the car, listening to the chorus of the dripping car fluids hitting the concrete.

“Well, it’s been paid off, at least.”

I had just finished payments on the car.  I noticed the check I got for the totaled car was less than half of what I’d paid for it, even though it was only five years old.

So, what did we do?  We bought a new car, got married, and bought yet another new car.  In that order.  On loans.

We could afford it?  Right?

Well, the combined cost of the cars was about 50% of what we paid for our mortgage.  Proportioning it out over our combined income, the value of the cars represented between 40% and 50% of what we made in a year.

Those cars killed us financially.

Fortunately those cars didn’t try to physically kill us – Video has one slightly NSFW word at the beginning

Eventually, The Mrs., on a bright and snowy day, wrecked one of our new cars. (Disclaimer – even though she was going to get me fried chicken, that does not make me culpable, and I never did get fried chicken that day).

The car was totaled, and her knee needed several stitches (say that six times fast).  I told you there was blood in the streets!

I took that insurance payoff check and paid off the other car.

We had no car payments as of that point.

And never have had one again.

Since that time, I’ve bought nine cars, and sold five of them, and the average price of those cars is less than $10,000.

The purchase price of all of the cars I own now is about 12% of my annual income, but I bought one of the cars ten years ago and another one of them eight years ago.  The average age of my cars is about ten.

Cars don’t kill me financially any more.

John Wilder’s Hard Earned Car Iron Lesson One:

If you can’t afford to buy a car with cash, don’t.  Don’t.  Don’t. Don’t.  Payments like these are an obligation.  Is there a time when you might need to break Lesson One?  Yeah, when you are just starting out.  Find someone nice to borrow money from, and pay them back as soon as possible.  Don’t ask me.  I said a nice person.

Interest payments kill happiness (more on this in future posts).

The Buy-Here/Pay-Here people are also not nice.  I talked to one gentleman who had bought a fifteen-year-old car for $5,000.  When that broke down, he financed the difference with them and they took the car back.  Last time I talked to him he had a car that was worth about $3,000 that he owed $10,000 on.

Don’t be him.

John Wilder’s Hard Earned Car Iron Lesson Two:

You can’t possibly afford a new car.  Cars aren’t investments, with the exception of the 1967 Camaro® RS© with Highway Headlights.  And I don’t advise those, either.  A new car is the worst purchase that you can make, outside of a tattoo of your soon to be ex-girlfriend’s name or Kardashian© Footed Pajamas.

New cars are expensive, and even if you pay cash for them (thus avoiding interest payments), you will still have to pay much higher insurance rates as well as higher sales and property tax (depending upon where you live).

Additionally, everything about the new-car buying experience is built around lulling you when you agree with them (Full Sticker Price Means NO HAGGLING!  Just sign here.) or doubting yourself into anxiety and fear when you haggle by forcing long delays while they “clear the deal with the boss.”

This is how car salesmen want you to feel, except with less Jell-O™

Exceptions to Iron Lesson Two:

  1. If you like buying something that’s worth 50% to 60% of its value after five years (that’s $15,000 off of the current average new car price of $33,000), please, do so. Also, if you think you’ll save that $15,000 off of warranty service, when was the last time you spent $15,000 on fixing a car?  $15,000 is enough to repair an older car for, what, a decade or more?
  2. If you are one of the few who can really afford it, and want it to drive to your private MiG fighter jet to fly to your hidden lair? Go for it.  I suggest a Tercel®.  Seriously, rich peoples can do what they want.

Weird Wilder Fact:  I actually rode in a car owned by a billionaire (his wife’s daily driver).  It was nice – a Mercedes®.  A five-year-old Mercedes© with worn interior and a cracked plate surrounding the CD player.  It was rumored that the car could take a strike from a rocket-propelled grenade, but I didn’t have one, so we couldn’t test that theory.

John Wilder’s Hard Earned Car Iron Lesson Three:

If the car is worth more than 15% of your gross income, don’t buy it. This Iron Car Lesson is one I’m debating on, but the principle (if it’s 10% or even as loose as 20%) is the same:  have hard limits on what you spend on a car.  This rule gets very much relaxed for people who have WilderNetWorth© (I just made that term up, I like it!).

If have WilderNetWorth©, which I am right now defining as enough money that you don’t have to work a day of job for the next ten years and you and the family are fine, the rules are relaxed.  You can afford to splurge.  But there’s no way you get to WilderNetWorth© and ever consider burning that kind of cash on a car (hint, see how billionaires buy cars above).

John Wilder’s Hard Earned Car Iron Lesson Four:

It is no longer 1940.

Cars are more reliable now than ever before (I know that may be changing for the negative soon due to government CAFÉ regulations fiddling with the transmission, but my statement remains).  You can keep a 2003 Ford or Chevy sedan going FOREVER on a $1000 a year, if you know a good and honest mechanic (and, unlike unicorns and a balanced federal budget, honest mechanics do exist).

Since my cars are older, I don’t like to take them on long family vacations, especially when the weather is inclement.  So, I rent a car with unlimited mileage for about $30 a day and enjoy pretending I bought a new car that my kids spill trip food and trip trash in and then someone else cleans up.  I will admit that, alongside the interest payments, I also miss paying so much in taxes and insurance, which are nearly zero for a ten year old car where I live.

So, avoid the Iron Laws at your peril.  I’m certain I’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars following them in avoided insurance, depreciation and taxes, as well as spending that money reducing other debt, so I can now say I’ve got WilderNetWorth©.

Although the dame didn’t know it yet, when she stumbled into that accident, it was the luckiest move of her life . . .

I guess I couldn’t resist another hardboiled detective line.

Attention and Note:  I’m not a licensed financial adviser.  I don’t intend to be one.  You need to put on your big boy or big girl pants and own your own decisions.

How to be Happy

Yes, that’s a picture of a rainbow over an outhouse.  And why not?

“How would you like to spend the next several nights wondering if your crazy, out-of-work, bum uncle will shave your head while you sleep? See you in the car.” – Uncle Buck, Uncle Buck

 

When I was a kid, I was a sneaky kid.  A really awful four-year-old.  There wasn’t a drawer in our house that I hadn’t explored – and I knew where my Mom kept odd bits of things, like quarters, or ballpoint pins.

I also went through the medicine cabinet, and, on one occasion found a clear plastic on one side/foil on the other side square set of pills.  There were 28 of them.  At least there were 28 of them prior to me eating a dozen or so and determining that they were really, really crappy candy.  It turns out those were birth control pills, and although I got a fairly strong lecture from Mom about eating medicine on a lark, it turns out those pills were incredibly effective, as I have not gotten pregnant even once after ingesting them.

I imagine the doctor laughing after they called him and explained the situation . . . “Your four year old ate what?”

In one of my foraging trips I went through the sideboard . . .

True Fact:  Okay, I had to look up the name for this piece of furniture.  The Mrs. suggested “china cabinet” but there’s no glass door, and but the piece of furniture really is this:

Think of the sideboard as the precursor to modern-day kitchen cabinets, and you will have a good picture of what this piece looks like. It’s long and waist high or a bit lower, with a surface for placing food on top, cabinets below and very short legs — or no legs at all.

That’s according to the website “houzz”, which I can only assume is housing advice from the members of ZZTop.

Anyhow, I was looking through the sideboard and pulled open the top drawer, and found, amongst the things that Dad emptied from his pockets on a daily basis, two little pamphlets.  Although the topic of the second pamphlet escapes me, the topic of one of them was “Attitude.”

I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget the picture on the front.  It was of a man who obviously had no money, given the threadbare condition of his suit and the shabby hat and the unshaven face.  Imagine the word “bum” or “hipster” and you’ll get the idea.

 

I really tried to find a copy of the pamphlet picture, but gave up when these were the types of results I was getting

But on his face, as he’s smelling the aroma from a cup of coffee, is the face of the happiest person on earth.  Beatific is the word that always comes to mind.  The synonyms for beatific are: rapturous, joyful, ecstatic, seraphic, blissful, serene, happy, beaming.  This is not an ordinary happy, this is happy squared.  This is a state of being where one is entirely present, and every fiber of your being is experiencing joy.  It’s probably how you feel when you think about a new post being up on this website.

Remember, it’s M-W-F now, people!

So, here is someone who even my four year old brain could calculate the net worth of from the drawing (some string?), and yet I could plainly see the bliss on his face.  All due to that cup of coffee.

Now, coffee is awesome, but is it that awesome?

Even at four, I was no stranger to coffee.  After the adults left, I’d finish what was in their coffee cups, even though Grandma McWilder told me that it would turn my knees brown.  But to get that much enjoyment from coffee?

Yes.  It’s possible.

Think of your first kiss, a cold beer on a hot day after hard work, and your first cup of hot coffee in two weeks on a cold day.

There are things that we experience in each and every day that are miracles that we wall ourselves off from.  In most instances, our lives are nearly entirely empty of actual adversity, so we create it ourselves.

One thing I have found is almost all of my unhappiness derives from something that either:

  1. Hasn’t happened yet, but might, or
  2. Happened in the past, but that I can’t change

Some people may be unhappy about what other people have (fortunately for me, I seem to have avoided that curse, as I like it when good things happen to other people) or maybe the living room temperature is off just a bit and doesn’t meet their expectations.

Now, if you’ve just been attacked by a Tyrannosaurus Rex and are bleeding on a sidewalk in Jurassic Park®, sure, you’ve got some legitimate gripes.

There are no events that are happening in the here and now that drive me to be upset.  Let’s take this very moment – having a beer while the ribs are cooking in the smoker, going to be done in an hour.  I’m typing and listening to “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” by Fleetwood Mac, and I’m telling you that, while it’s okay to think about tomorrow, it’s certainly not okay to dwell on all the bad things that can happen tomorrow.

And we do that, and we’re taught to do that.  The old phrase from the news?  “If it bleeds, it leads.”  News is meant to grab you right by the adrenal glands (is it just one gland or is it two?) and to make you upset.  We are taught to get wound up about things that don’t impact us at all, and certain groups are great at getting people all riled up over nothing (I’m looking at you, Canada, trying to look all innocent and everything).

“Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought, for the human spirit is colored by such impressions.” – Marcus Aurelis’ Facebook Feed

I went camping with a Boy Scout Troop (The Boy was a new Scout at that time, and parents are always invited).  It rained all weekend long.  It started Friday night, and rained pretty much every hour.  Plus it was in the 40’s and 50’s (F, not C – no socialist units here!).  It was cold and rainy.

As we stood under an awning, making breakfast on Sunday morning, one of the Scouts (11 or so) said, “What an awesome weekend this was,” while eating soupy oatmeal out of a mess kit in the drizzle.

And it was an awesome weekend.  When you are 11, you don’t create the conception that each weekend should be sunny and 72F.  Essentially, each of these boys allowed themselves to be cold, wet, hungry . . . and happy.

Coffee is important – I know I derive 90% of my personality from it.  And, if I let myself, the aroma from a cup of coffee on a Monday morning when I’m at work but would rather be in bed can still make me the happiest person on Earth.

If I let it.

But I’ll skip the birth control.  Those pills taste like chalk.