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 . . .

Seneca’s Cliff and You

My heart attack didn’t kill me, so why act like it did? See, Tim, it was the Roman philosopher Seneca who said “if we let things terrify us, then life is not worth living.” – Home Improvement

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There is nothing that says “I’m never giving up” like a stop sign duct taped to a lamp post.

Back in 2011, I was reading Italian chemistry professor Ugo Bardi’s blog (LINK) and was struck by his quoting of the dead Roman, Seneca, who wrote that “increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.”  I know it sounds like he’s writing about Adam Sandler’s acting career, but in reality, Seneca’s talking about everything, and it struck me as a universally applicable truth:

Everything that can be built, is built relatively slowly fighting entropy all the way.

And when it’s built?

The greater the effort, the higher it has risen, the faster it falls.

This is especially true when it comes to organizations – large companies that have been in business for decades close up in an afternoon.  Sears was founded in 1893, 114 years ago.  It became larger and larger over time until in the 1980’s it encompassed not only its department store business (the last remaining bits today) but also the Discover Card, Allstate Insurance, Land’s End, among other brands.

Today?  It’s (possibly) worth less than a handful of magic beans.  Nearly certainly by 2020 Sears will be just an answer to a trivia question.

And if you look at life, you see the same pattern again and again, that progress in your own life is built up only slowly, mainly over the course of years.  And losing it?  It’s a precarious balance, and (sadly) in the end all of our Jenga™ blocks fall down.

That was one of Seneca’s other lessons – you absolutely know that your blocks are going to fall over, and, most importantly, the blocks don’t care.  There will be a time when you will lose.  A business venture might fail, a book might not end well, or a blog post might be much shorter than you’d usually expect (this is foreshadowing).

In my personal life, I’ve seen this happen again and again – when I was first out of college and working for a big company, I put in 80 hour weeks for nine months to build a project – the biggest that company had ever built up to that time.  They bulldozed it fifteen years later – and I assure you it was done in a month and a half – it came down a lot quicker than it went up.

After I got my Master’s I put all the notes, all the disks, and everything associated with my thesis in the fireplace.  It was May, but I still put a match to it, willing to pay for the air conditioning just to give my academic career a Viking funeral.  It was over.  The months of research, the months of writing, all up in a matter of 20 minutes.

But, perhaps, Seneca might have been a bit wrong.  He spent his life building his ideas.  And we’re still talking about them today.  Perhaps there is a force that defies entropy – that can withstand ages.

Perhaps it is those very ideas.

And Adam Sandler’s hair.

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.