RV Ownership for Fun and Profit

“What? Come on! Man, you’re smart. You made poison out of beans, yo. Look, we got, we got an entire lab right here. Alright? How about you pick some of these chemicals and mix up some rocket fuel? That way you could just send up a signal flare. Or you make some kind of robot to get us help, or a homing device, or build a new battery, or wait. No. What if we just take some stuff off of the RV and build it into something completely different? You know, like a like a dune buggy?” – Breaking Bad

overview

Our camp, as viewed by the disembodied spirit of Elvis.

“I can’t believe you did this,” The Boy was flat out surprised.

“Why not?”

“This . . . this is so not like you.”

“This” was buying a Recreational Vehicle (RV), specifically a travel trailer.  You have to be specific when you describe what exactly your RV is, since (upon checking the Internet) everything from a little red wagon to the Death Star© qualifies as someone’s RV.

And, I’ll admit it, when you have a guy that drives a 12 year old car (LINK) until it gets totaled (LINK) it would seem a bit out of character for him to buy what can only be considered a luxury item.  Or at least that’s what I thought of, when I thought of RVs.

The Mrs. and I had actually discussed purchasing an RV for the last 15 or so years.  At first it was a little pop-up camper that occupied our dreams.  When we moved to Alaska, we looked at several different campers and camper types, and were pretty close to offering some money for a little integrated camper with its own engine, etc., but I couldn’t quite get comfortable driving in the bush in Alaska where there were no cell phones with a camper that had 271,000 miles on it.  That’s just asking for Hollywood to make an “Into The Wild”-type movie starring your family and a grizzly bear that stalks you for 231 miles of your trek back to civilization while you have to fight it off with marshmallow roasting forks.

I like to think that they’d get Liam Neeson to play me.  If he works out and gets some bigger biceps.

Anyway, we put the idea of an RV on the back burner living in Texas, because the last thing you want to be is a Texan with an RV.  That’s like ALL Texans, and, since The Mrs. and I have never read Harry Potter, we figured why join the crowd now?

But I like camping, and after a few camping adventures that seem more like a horror movie to The Mrs. (Just a little farther, dear – you can stop throwing up whenever you get to the top!), she decided that she liked . . . showers.  And a bed.  And not throwing up on the trail.

But, to buy a camper seemed so frivolous.  And not that I don’t buy frivolous crap – I do.  Right now I’m wearing a 2016 Campaign t-shirt for The Flight of the Conchords (Jemaine & Brett 2016 – It’s Business Time).

It’s worth the watch – 3:55 minutes of New Zealand’s second most popular comedy-folk duo.

Anyway, it seems so frivolous, something that someone with LOTS of money would do.  It’s something that . . . rich people would do?  Or old retired people who wanted to drive a house around slowly so they could have their house be in different places.  Kind of like the Tardis, but with Social Security.

I started stalking Craigslist around where we live.  And, after getting a whole lot of free Styrofoam packing peanuts, I finally found two candidates.  I’d also looked at a dealer, but the brand new one he showed me had a table that was split open due to humidity.  Not a great selling point.  The one I liked best was an R-Pod.

An R-Pod was designed to be smaller.  We have a generic pickup, and a youth-skewed 4×4 SUV that The Mrs. likes to remind me is older than Pugsley.  Pugsley is 12.  She is not exaggerating.  It doesn’t have a cassette deck, but . . . close.  Both of these vehicles could pull the R-Pod, which weighs in at a whopping 2800 pounds, with a cargo capacity of at least another half-ton.  This is important, since we’d have two vehicles capable of pulling the beast around, since our 4×4 was capable of “only” pulling 5,000 pounds.

First lesson?  If I wanted to do this cheaply (and, Internet, you know I do!) I would have to buy something light, or I’d have to buy a trailer AND a car.

Again, we’d found two of these located two hours away in River City, Lower-Northern Midwestia.  We texted and, without hearing back, turned our pickup to go buy an RV.

Now, I’m not opposed to other people buying brand-new RVs.  If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have a pool of cheap used ones to pick from.  Make no mistake – an RV isn’t an asset.  All it does is either take you to the lake for fishing (or gold panning! (LINK)) or sit in a storage space.  It creates no income.  And every second it sits on the planet it depreciates, until it turns 50 and becomes either “classic” or “constructed entirely of prohibited components like lead and asbestos.”

An RV is not an investment.

So, on our way to River City someone returned my Craigslist email, and said they’d be there when we got there.

They were.  They were a nice couple who had bought the RV to go to musical concerts, but the wife couldn’t manage to get around the trailer.  I looked the trailer over, checked what I could figure out, and then, consulting Kelley’s Blue Book for RVs® (yes, this is a thing), made an offer of $1,000 less than the asking price.  Unbeknownst to me, The Mrs. had been talking to the Mrs. of the owner’s side, and, they’d had it on the market for some time and were just getting ready to lower the price.

So, while I felt like a wheeler-dealer, I probably pegged the number that they really wanted.  I wrote out a check, they wrote out a title, and we hooked OUR RV to the truck and headed back home.  It looked strange, since most RPods have decals that make them look all pretty.  In this case, the original owner (not the one we bought from) had painted over everything to advertise his traveling patent medicine show that he ran with Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.

I know, I know, but you have to give the 70’s some slack.  They’d just discovered polyester.

The Mrs. and I talked about what to do about our generic, white RV.  In general, we decided we should either paint it like the mystery machine or like the shuttle Galileo from TOS Star Trek.  In general, we both liked the way that we imagined the shuttle . . . . and we’ve gotta paint it . . . but can we bring our phasers?

Upon getting it home and hooking it up to power, I found that everything was functional, except the refrigerator and sensors that indicate the levels in the waste tanks and battery.  RV refrigerators are mind-numbingly expensive, since they are configured to run on propane, plug-in power, batteries, and hope.  They are apparently only made in Germany by small gnomes that live in the Harz Mountains.  I resigned myself to buy a cheap college dorm fridge (there was a plug in) and move on.  I went to work (mildy) brooding on this.  Primarily I was depressed because the nice man hadn’t told me the fridge was on the fritz.  I would have still bought it.

Most RV folks say the sensors are useless, and often stop working quickly.  Not a problem.

I decided to not make our new toy a source of sadness.  I buried any disappointment in a determination to fix it.

Pugsley had spent the night in the trailer.  The Mrs. had bet he’d get in the first night it was home, but he waited until the second night to make his move.

Upon returning home from work, I decided to check out other systems.

Nothing electrical worked.  Nothing, except the air conditioning, microwave . . . . hmmm.

It was hot, I was sweating, and I began to check various components.  I suppressed the burning desire to choke Pugsley.  I really reasoned that he was only a bystander – and honestly, the fact that everything was broken was really encouraging.

I know, that sounds weird.  But when one thing breaks?  Yeah, that thing is generally broken.  When it all breaks?  That means your mind can generally fix it if you think smart enough, or have a great deal of experience really screwing things up.  Me?  I have a great running history of not giving up when I should (LINK).

After a bit of investigation, I found that two main fuses were blown.  I sent The Boy to buy new ones.  During his absence, I flipped the battery terminals on the brand new battery the previous owner had installed.  The Boy arrives.  I pop in the fuses.

Everything works.  Everything.  Including the German Ice Machine!  Even the sensors that tell me how much onboard poop we have!

So, in best Star Trek® fashion?  REVERSE THE POLARITY AND EVERYTHING WORKS!!!!

picard polarity

The previous owner had flopped the terminals on the battery.  Now I had a flawlessly working system.  Yay!  And, unlike constructing tire chains by hand, this didn’t take sixteen hours to noodle through.

During this time, I remembered that the previous owner had stressed I should look at the wheel bearings.  For those of you that may not be aware, a wheel spins.  But the trailer does not.  The contact part for the spinny-part to meet the non-spinny-part is the wheel bearing.  It’s essentially a bunch of greased up balls (no jokes here) that allow everything to spin around without getting hot or grinding the nice metal into a pile of hot, combusting metal dust.

vulcan stand up

On side had a great place to inject grease into the bearing, which is what we used to do when Nixon was president (or so I’m told).  Now most cars have sealed bearings that would last to Jupiter and back, but in the 1960’s (I’m told) you had to grease stuff all the time or else you’d die when the wheels flew off of your Model T at 22 miles per hour.

My crappy $500 trailer has sealed bearings.  Not this trailer.  Nope.  It has bearings that must be greased.  So I greased the ditch-side (think about it) bearing.  There’s a small dust cap that covers the grease Zerk.  The grease Zerk is the fitting that allows grease to be pumped on a one-way journey to the bearing, and is named for . . . Austrian engineer Otto U. Zerk.  I know it sounds like a joke.  It’s not.  It should be.  It’s not.  Otto.  U.  Zerk.

Anyway – one side done, new grease covering all the nice bearing parts.

Next side . . . where’s the Zerk?  Where’s the cap that holds the grease in?

I pulled the Zerk off the other side – Otto’s THREADED Zerk!!! – and put it on the other wheel.  And pumped in a LOT of grease.  And resolved on our trip to gold country that I’d pump grease into that wheel every hundred miles.  (Spoiler, that seemed to work.)

Things I never really thought about:

  1. It takes a LOT of gas to pull even a small trailer. I thought that perhaps if I had one much larger that I’d need to pull a small refinery behind me to supply me with gasoline.
  2. Even a slight uphill was devastating to our progress. Speeding?  Uphill?  Ha!  Never, never, never going to happen.
  3. What I could normally do at the Real Speed Limit (normal speed limit +5 miles per hour) I now had to do at my Maximum Thermodynamic Speed Limit – which was often normal speed limit -5 miles per hour, sometimes -20 miles per hour.
  4. It matters how you load a trailer. For the first 90 miles, whenever I approached 55 miles per hour, the trailer would start to sway from side to side like a break-dancing backup singer during a seizure.  When I stopped to fill the Wildermobile with gas the first time I looked up “Trailer Sway” on the Internets.  It turns out you simply have to put most of the weight forward so that there’s more weight on the hitch.  I moved a bunch of things forward, and it worked like to stop the sway.
  5. I’m not comfortable running a consumer engine at 5000 RPM for 12 hours. I let it back down to 3000 RPM just so I didn’t wreck the family’s hearing.  Mine is already shot.  Thank you very much, Iron Maiden.

But it worked.  We even had one offer at a gas station (while we were on our way) to buy the trailer from us for what we paid for it.  Nope.

The issue we had that concerned me the most was the trailer breaking.  Apparently all travel trailers have electric brakes.  These brakes interact with the braking system on the vehicle pulling the trailer and have the trailer brakes slow the trailer at a (similar) rate to the pulling vehicle.  Why?

Because if not, the trailer would be pushing the pulling vehicle as it tried to stop.  Worst case, it would keep going during an emergency stop (Newton’s Second Law – A fully loaded travel trailer in motion without brakes will keep going even when you’ve decided that stopping might be in your best interest.)

What concerned me were the mountain passes in gold country.  They’re steep.  And, while going up would certainly be slow, I wanted going down to be at something less than the speed of sound and not resemble CW McCall’s Wolf Creek Pass.

For these brakes to work, however, an electric controller has to be installed.  While I am pretty sure I could install one okay, I’m not going to settle for pretty sure when it comes to preserving my pretty face, unless I want them to pick my remains up off the highway with a stick and a spoon.  I farmed it out.  But halfway to the mountains, it wasn’t working – showing a code that it had short circuited.

Well, when we stopped to buy a new fuse because Pugsley had plugged a Cray2200 supercomputer into the power outlet.  While stopped, I looked a bit closer, traced the wires from the battery back, and found one of the crimped connections that the mechanic had installed had worked its way loose.  Ten seconds later?  Electric brakes back in business.

We got the camper to gold country, and then, well, camped.  In a never-before-happened event, the family decided to extend the vacation for an additional day.

Here is my personal review of the camper:

Sunday Night:  Omigosh.  We’re here after 70 hours of driving today.  And now?  We have to set it up.  In the dark.  Without waking other campers. Three occupants. Only I will pee in camper restroom, and only when no one around.  Camper cold, windows left open by Pugsley.  Found the next day.  Closed windows.

Monday Night:  Everyone now fine with peeing in the camper – bathroom walk way too long at 40˚F.  Camper way too hot.  Four of us.  I open the windows.

Tuesday Night:  Four of us.  Firefly.  The Mrs. closes the windows, causing me to have a dream that I live in Houston again.  Aaaaargh!

Wednesday Night:  Four of us.  Lots more Firefly.  Slept great all nights.  Too many stupid little dogs with stupid hot dog breath.

JayneNVera

Thursday Night:  Going to stay in it overnight at some nameless city, but we had the “great rush home” which was unanimously approved by the Family Subcommittee on Travel Hours.  Sometimes it’s better to sleep in your “other” own bed.  Plus I get to wake the neighbors by trying to back the trailer into my driveway at 3AM.

Once I bought the trailer, I now notice that there are trailers . . . everywhere.  There are trailers parked out in front of houses where the trailer would CLEARLY be a better place to live than the home it’s in front of.  I’m not sure I understand how you can afford a $20,000 or $30,000 RV when you clearly make less than $50,000; but then again, I don’t understand fashion.

I read that since they look like a home that interest a trailer loan is tax deductible?  DO NOT use me as a source, unless you’d like to spend a long time in prison for “Using Internet Blogs As Tax Advice.”

My big financial advice on campers – don’t buy one if you can’t do or pay for:

  • Maintenance: It’s like owning an additional home.  There are electrical systems, plumbing, and structural systems.  The first night I got it, it attracted ants from five counties away.
  • Tow Vehicle: No, your Prius™ (LINK) won’t pull one.  If you don’t have a good tow vehicle and need one, can you afford the trailer?
  • Gasoline: You will have to use more gasoline than you ever have, since Elon Musk hasn’t invented an electric trailer puller.  He will, I have no doubt, but it’ll be on Mars.

Economics?  Cheapest vacation we’ve taken in years (except for the whole “buying the trailer” thing).  Didn’t buy restaurant food except twice.  Didn’t spend much on attractions.  And we saw things like this:

This is a video I took.  Felt like Francis Ford Coppola shooting Apocaforest Now.  That’s our trailer at the end.

I did the economics, and it will likely pay out in four or so years, which is better than most investments do.  I may bore you with them at a future time.  But you’re not Vulcans® so you might not like math jokes.

We are planning on using it for many vacations where we’d normally use hotels, so you’ll hear more about it soon.

Dorothy said there’s nowhere like home.  And it’s not home, but it’s like home.  So, I guess there is somewhere like home, and it’s on wheels.  The Boy and Pugsley and The Mrs. rated it the best vacation except for one where we went to Alaska on spring break (yes, we really did this, and maybe I’ll post about it sometime).

So, verdict?  It was wonderful.  It was economical.  It was peaceful (LINK).  I learned about gold panning (LINK).

The Mrs. and They Boy are painting it right now to resemble a Shuttlecraft® from Original™ Star Trek©.  Will keep you posted.

Gold Panning, Little Dogs, and Opportunity

“Ever prospected? Ever hit pay dirt? I’ve dug for gold, silver, lead, mercury. I’ve dug more holes than a whole regiment of gophers. I ain’t never dug a decent day’s wages yet.” – Bite the Bullet

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How can you not find the river???

Mankind has been chasing gold forever (Gold, Relativity, Black Holes, Niburu, and Warren Buffett).  Probably the most iconic image associated with prospectors is the gold pan.  Oh, and the whiskey.  But gold panning has been documented to exist at least since the Romans did it, and gold panning exists across cultures – the Japanese gold pan is called the Yuri-ita, and gets much better mileage than one made in Detroit.

The Boy, Pugsley and I headed towards a small river, intent on prospecting.  The Mrs. came with us, intent on trout fishing.

This, of course, is where the trouble started.  I had fished this river as a young boy, but it had been many presidents since I had hiked down there, since the only reason that I had gone fishing was for the adventure.  I had never had, not one time, even one fish bite on any lure or worm or fly I’d ever put in the water.  Half the time I went fishing with my friend, C.R. (you would use initials too if your first name was Clyde) we’d end up just playing in the ice cold river.  Because?  Because we were 11.

As I said, I’d hiked down there dozens, if not hundreds of times, that had been long ago.  The walk to the river started as a nice walk along a sage brush plain.  Then there was steep gravel drop off – as steep as a gravel slope could be.  As an 11 year old, I’d have half jumped down the slope.  Now?  Not so much.  Plus there was the factor of the gear we were carrying:

  • Two five gallon pails
  • Shovel
  • Pick
  • Metal detector
  • Sluice box (only about 36” long, and more about this later)
  • Waders for The Boy and Pugsley
  • Gold pans
  • Snuffer bottle (sucks up itsy bitsy pieces of gold)
  • Lunch
  • Fishing pole
  • Folding chair
  • Two small dogs on leads
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • A drone (that’s what took I took the pictures on)

So, we were carrying nearly everything we own.  But the drone allowed me to take videos like this:

The Mrs. was carrying her folding chair, fishing pole, and previously listed two idiot dogs.  The dogs, relatively unused to being on leashes, would constantly attempt to kill The Mrs. as she walked down the steep gravel slope by wrapping the leashes around each other and her legs.  As we stepped into the thick forest, it got worse, since now, in addition to trying to kill The Mrs., the dogs now had the option of trying to kill themselves by wrapping their leashes around trees.

To top it off, the smaller of the two dogs had to be carried over some of the fallen timber, being, apparently afraid in its dog brain of falling down a cliff on the other side of the dead tree.  To top it off, there had been record snowpack, so areas that had never been wet when I was a child were swampy.

Everyone who has a wife recognizes “that” tone, when they’ve nearly reached the end of their rope, and the emotion will be jumping out full force.  “That” tone showed up.

“Okay, everybody put the stuff down.  I’ll go ahead and find the easiest way.”

I dropped the things I was carrying and headed toward the forest, and, I hoped, the river.

I could hear the river, and started that way.  I wove around trees and over fallen trees, and through at least one (small) swamp.  Right next to the river, however, I was faced with a relatively impenetrable wall of willows.  I could have made it through, but would have needed a machete.

So, falling the wall of willows, I made my way back around and found . . . the steep gravel slope.  I had come in a full circle.  Fortunately, I found both the way to the river, and an easy way for our stupid, frightened dog to walk.  The big plus?  An easy path back out for when we left.  And right there was the fishing hole I hadn’t seen since the Soviets were a thing.

The Boy, Pugsley and I got to work.  We used the metal detector in the water (it’s waterproof) and then The Boy and I began to dig up the area.

Now, I had panned for gold before, but only in a half-hearted way.  This time?  I wanted to get serious and really understand it.

The gold pan kit that I’d bought (LINK) came with a screen that we used to get rid of the bigger rocks.  I figured that if we started getting gold nuggets the size of my fist that I might be able to recognize them, and screening out the bigger rocks allowed us to fill the bucket with smaller material so we could go to step two . . . the sluice box.

A sluice box is a device that uses the current from the flowing river to wash most of the smaller material away.  The idea is that gold is quite heavy, and will fall down in the water faster than the surrounding soil and will get caught in the carpet, riffles, and parts of the sluice box.  A good picture of the sluice box we used is here (LINK).

After you wash the sluice box, then it’s time to pan.

And one thing I will say – the biggest mistake I made was being too gentle with my initial panning.  Again, gold is heavy.  Gold is ten times denser than sand.  It is four times denser than magnetite sand (also called “black sand”), which is what is left over after you’ve panned out the regular sand, and are getting to the point where you’ve eliminated most of the material.  And you won’t just swish the magnetite out of the bottom of your five gallon pail – it, like gold, drops out fast.

So, as we panned, we got down to the black sand, and I’d use the snuffer bottle (it came with the gold pans) to pick out the very, very small flecks of gold – nearly gold dust – that would appear in the bottom of the pan.

I still have about five pounds of black sand to go through to find all the gold dust – I imagine that by the time I’ve gotten through it we’ll have gotten $10 or $20 worth of gold, which is the product of three people working eight hours.

Pretty quickly I realized that gold panning was like life and opportunity.

  1. If you don’t pan, you won’t get any gold. This is true of opportunity.  You might have a wonderful idea for a novel.  You might have a great business idea.  If you don’t get up and get going?  You’ll never know.
  2. The more material we processed, the more black sand, and thus, the more gold we’d get. If we had stopped after the first bucket, we’d only have had 1/6 of the gold.  And opportunity is like that – the harder you work, the more opportunity you’ll have in life.
  3. Most of the gold is very, very small. Most opportunities are small.
  4. There’s gold everywhere, but in most of those places it’s not worth getting because it’s too diffuse. There’s 20 million tons of gold in the world’s oceans, but only a 13 billionths of a gram in each liter.  Nuggets are rare everywhere.  Most huge opportunities are rare, too.  That doesn’t mean that you should stop looking, but you should look in the right places (LINK).
  5. The better I get at panning, the more gold I’ll find. The better I get at reviewing places that might hold opportunity, the more of them I’ll find.
  6. More experience will tell me what’s worth panning, and what I should ignore. Many opportunities (most!) aren’t worth your time.  Experience tells you which ones to focus on.
  7. Most people who strike it rich in gold spend every bit of what they found . . . looking for more gold. I’ve seen this in life, too.  How many people look for that same set of conditions to arrive again and again and fail as the moment has past?
  8. Everything goes better with big, heavy equipment.   Huge pumps!  Water cannons!  Now we’re talking!  If you have a business with tax lawyers and accountants and experts?  The size of the opportunity you can jump on increases.

Oh, and The Mrs. and her fishing?  A nice trout hit her lure on her second cast.  But she didn’t get that one reeled in.  But still that was a better fishing day than any I’d ever had there, but I did get another insight on life, and got to play in the rivers of my youth one more time.

Fortunately, my fishing streak is still unbroken!

Information Vacation – More than a Rhyme, it’s Good For You

“Mulder, the Internet is not good for you.” – X-Files

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The Boy, looking out over the Fruited Plain.  Sadly, cell reception is great there.

As I’ve alluded to in the previous two posts (GOLDand SUDDEN WEALTH), The Mrs., The Boy, Pugsley, and our borderline idiot dogs (who try ever so hard) recently went on a vacation.  We took off for the Fourth of July, which in Great Britain is known as Benjamin Franklin is a Jerk Day.  Part of the idea was to have some fun experiences (which we did, and I’ll describe in future, meaningful posts) but when we finished I had some other observations, as well that I’ll share in the next few posts . . . anyway . . .

We went off to the mountains, because:

  • that’s where the gold is, and
  • that’s where the cold is.

Lower Northern Midwestia summers bounce between hellishly hot and molten iron, although this year the summer has been quite mild and pleasant.  One other nice thing about the mountains is that they don’t have large populations – lots of solitude is possible.  And there are reasons for the low population:

  1. It’s really, really cold in winter, like -40˚F. I know.  I grew up there.  People (outside of my family) don’t appear to cryogenic levels of cold where plastic turns as brittle as Shia LeBeouf’s temper.
  2. Since there’s not much atmosphere above you when you’re over 8,000 feet in altitude (that’s over 100 meters!), it doesn’t block the Sun’s incoming pain rays. I can walk around in Midwestia all day long without sunscreen.  Up high?  I burn like a California resort town during a drought in about 15 minutes.
  3. Economic activity (mainly) consists of tourism, which, because of the whole “bitter cold and five feet of snow on October 1 and no ski area” ambiance, only lasts four to six months out of the year, but mortgages are a 12 month out of the year affair. It’s a poor area, except for the really rich people that own cool summer chalets.  They’re all Texans.
  4. Services are bleak. From our campground, the nearest gas station was 30 miles away (17 meters).  There is no natural gas to any house or business.  Propane is trucked from 30,000 miles away.  Electrical service is beamed from the moon, since that’s closer than any power plant, and, most importantly for today’s post:
  5. There is no cable, no cell phone service, and only a tiny bit of Internet.

Honestly, that was part of the allure of the camping spot, and part of what we were paying for, that dwindling of focus and distraction . . . we’d had that before . . . in Alaska.

In Alaska, even though we had gotten media from “Outside” (Outside means “Not Alaska”) we just . . . didn’t care.  It was too far away.  Bush fighting with Democrats (this was 2004-6)?  Who cares – not us.  Sinkhole swallows Florida?  Sounds rough – yawn.  A not news story about some subject guaranteed to polarize and produce outrage?  Unless it happened in Alaska we didn’t care.  At all.

When we moved back down to The States, we started caring again: we got meshed back into The Matrix.

  • We started worrying about issues that we couldn’t impact – but like attempting to teach a Kardashian to fetch, it just frustrates you since the Kardashian clearly cannot understand the basic concept.
  • We started using Google® as our arbiter of facts. Around the year 2000, we stopped arguing about facts.  In Alaska, we started again.  When we moved back to the states?  Stopped arguing.  Google® is wonderful to find out when Richard Dawson hosted Family Feud®.  What have we lost because we don’t argue about facts anymore?  In my case, I stretched some mind muscles on this trip I hadn’t used in a while, and we thought about the facts not as discrete digital bits, but as part of the continuum of knowledge.  When did that volcano pop up?  How did the valley form?  Why are the rocks near the stream bed at 8,400 feet in elevation rounded, while the rocks near the ridgeline at 11,000 feet angular?  The arguments about facts we don’t know is in and of itself a valuable mental process, and teaches us how to think.  (Imagine Kim even understanding that!)  We don’t need to know how a Kardashian gets into yoga pants.  We can, if we have a strong enough stomach, think it through.  (shudder)

As a family we fight back against The Matrix.  We have designated activities and times when we unplug.  No cell phones when we go out to dinner.  Gourmet Night (LINK).  These things make us turn away from our distractions, (LINK) and focus on each other, and on the present moment.  We have a secondary rule:  we don’t allow The Boy and Pugsley begin to huddle in an autistic mind meld about computers.  No computer discussions allowed.

And as we travelled?  Eventually we hit dead zones with no communication.  At our campsite?  No communication whatsoever.  No cell.  No Internet.

No phone, no lights, no motor car,
Not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
It’s primitive as can be.

Okay, we had lights, and a car, and wine, and a dvd player that we watched Firefly® on, and they had something resembling a primitive WIFI made of smoke signals (it’s digital, right?) but it was really isolated.  I confiscated devices gently encouraged The Boy and Pugsley to embrace unplugging from the Infosphere.

And it worked.

For over 90 hours (with one small break to visit the gas station) we avoided even radio.  Even AM radio.

What did we do?

  • We talked to each other.
  • We panned for gold (next post).
  • Played games. (This one is called Poor Choices and it was a LOT of fun – disclosure:  when I start up an Amazon affiliate link I’ll get paid for it, but not as of this writing)
  • Drove the High Country backroads.
  • Fished.  (no, didn’t catch any)
  • Focused on now.
  • Ate the precious, precious Pez® we brought with us.

We moved away from information saturation, from caring about each and every issue to a life where we were free . . . not to care.

Then, too quickly, we headed for home.  Like a body returning to life, with each passing mile more information was available to us, first AM, then FM, then finally actual cell phone towers.  Then personal email, finally work email.  Then, we got home, and found that our DVR had dutifully watched TV for us in our absence.

So, driving to work this week I ditched news radio.  I started by trying to listen to music, but at drive time all they want to do is talk about butts and farting.  Not that I don’t enjoy having a butt, and, well, the very first joke was probably about a fart and not a no-load mutual fund, so we’re hardwired to find those funny.  Today I drove in silence, just listening to my thoughts accompanied with the back beat of the tires on the road.

Listing to talk radio plays on your emotions – no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on.  That’s what the radio folks intend.  And I had an idea while driving in silence.  Maybe a life changing one.  Maybe not.  But as Kiyosaki (LINK) tweeted the other day, you control what goes in your mind.

And I do control what goes in my mind.  (Which is why you should read this blog, since it is rated totally awesome for your mind!)  I even can control the things that I say to myself – after all, would I want to be friends with a person who says as many meant things as my inner dialogue could?

Nope.

And I can control that, too.  But there’s no way that I can make the British love Benjamin Franklin, or teach Kim to fetch.

Risk of Sudden Wealth . . . Over Rated? Are you Nic Cage, or Keanu Reeves?

“What’s in the bag? A shark or something?” – Nic Cage, The Wicker Man

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How I imagine Elon Musk hunts for ducks.

In panning for gold, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I found a whole bunch, all at once.  My mind wanders.  All the beef jerky I could wear.  All the Lear® Jets I could eat.  I’d be fine, right?

Well, it seems like there are a pair of psychologists (Joan DiFuria and Stephen Goldbart, LINK) who described “Sudden Wealth Syndrome.”  They describe the following symptoms (my comments in parenthesis):

  • Anxiety/Panic Attacks (Try the Panic Attack from not being able to pay your Pez© dealer, I assure you they don’t take kindly to folks who can’t pay for the sugar)
  • Worries About Money (Hmmm, this seems a bit forced?)
  • Worries About Stock Market Volatility (Elon Musk probably doesn’t lose much sleep in his orbital habitat)
  • Insomnia (I can see millions of dollars keeping me awake all night – especially since I’d be partying in Elon’s orbital habitat)
  • Irritable Mood (Yes, I can see being irritable because I was too flush with cash, and I get mad because my pancakes are too fluffy)
  • Guilt About Having Money (This is real – otherwise explain why every Hollywood actor wants ME to pay more in taxes)
  • Identity Confusion (Once I found a twenty dollar bill, and became convinced I was Luke Skywalker© – but in truth, I was 12)
  • Fear of Loss of Control (The idea of being without a mortgage should make us all shake with fear)
  • Paranoia (Are you threatening me?)
  • Depression (I’m so sad, I can’t count as high as my money, no matter how long I live!)

From that description, it sounds like winning sucks, eh?  I assure you that, in the choice between having money and not having money, I MUCH prefer having money, and as a business model, catering to very, very wealthy people with neurosis is probably very profitable.  I like the way those guys think!

But let’s put this in context.  Think about the behavior of the typical twenty-something starlet or rock star that’s rolling in cash?  They tend to make a lot of poor choices, primarily because nothing in their experience has prepared them for the sudden onset of cash.  By contrast, many of the folks who do really well with money at an early age (Think Bill Gates and Paul Allen) had a really well-to-do upbringing.  Not rock star rich, but they were going to exclusive private schools.  They’d been taught how to deal with money early on, and, likely never had to worry much about not having it.

But let’s pick on Nicolas Cage.  Why?  Face/Off is probably reason enough.  Really?  Swapping faces with John Travolta?  That’s the movie plot?  I won’t pick on Shia Lebeouf because that’s like a velociraptor picking on a kitten.

Nic Cage (he told me he didn’t mind me calling him that when I imagined talking to him) made millions as an actor.  He could have done that if they only paid him a dollar a movie, but he made much more, at least $20 per movie.  Again, he made millions.  $150,000,000.  Yes.  ONE HUNDRED FIFTY MILLION dollars.  American dollars, not fake ones like they print in Canada.

He spent it all.  ALL OF IT.

On what?

  • An $8 million dollar castle in England. He spent millions fixing it up.  Never spent a night there.
  • An island.
  • Four yachts. At the same time.
  • A pair of rare albino king cobras.

Let’s face it, the man had a whole small country plus a navy (yes, four boats is more than in all of Canada) plus king cobras.  I’m not sure why he didn’t get three albino king cobras, but, he settled for two.

Seriously – was Nic Cage trying to live exactly like the bad guy in an Austin Powers movie?  No, I think that there’s something missing, plus nobody can figure out how to tell a guy not to blow all of his money on shiny things.

From observation, I do think that sudden wealth, or worse, sudden wealth and fame is not really good for you.  I think that it can greatly distort the sense of self.  Bill Murray said that everyone is a jerk (not exactly the word he used, but you get the idea) for the first year after they become rich and famous.  He then followed up with the observation that some people never snap out of it.

And, from the way that stars handle fame, it looks like many of them fall into DiFuria and Goldbart’s Sudden Wealth Syndrome.  They’ve got money but the feelings that they have wrapped up around the money give them a lot of guilt.  Some, however, seem a bit more grounded:

It has been reported that Reeves gave approximately US$80 million of his US$114 million earnings of The Matrix sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, to the special effects and makeup staff. – Wikipedia

That seems a bit more grounded.  Warren Buffett lives in a house that (per the Intertubes) is worth $652,000.  I’m pretty sure it’s paid for, since Warren is worth $76.7 billion dollars.  That also seems pretty stable, since he bought it in 1958.

Lottery winners also seem to have a problem.  The first problem they have is the inability to do math.  Now, if there’s a tax that I like, it’s a tax on folks who can’t do math.  But the general saw is that some sort of karma hits the lottery winners, and makes them miserable.  And those stories are the big ones in the news.  But the reality?  85% of winners keep going to work (based on one study I saw) and most of those (60%) were still working at the same place they were before they won the lottery.

It seems that we almost want to hear the tragedy, because it suits our sense of fairness – this poor person who didn’t know math lucked out, but, boy, karma got ‘em in the end.  Nah.  Most of them seem to do just fine – more like Warren Buffett, less like Nic Cage.

Me, if someone bought me a lottery ticket that one, or I hit a pocket of gold worth $150,000,000?  An 8,500 pound (that’s about 17 kilograms) pocket of gold?

I’m headed to the Musk’s space habitat.  Beer’s on me.

Gold, Relativity, Black Holes, Niburu, and Warren Buffett

Fry, when you downloaded her without my permission, you stole my image, and in the end, that’s all I really have. That and the largest gold nugget in the world, one mile in diameter. – Futurama

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Golden Heart . . . sounds like a Bond villian?

I apologize for missing posts last week – I was totes on vacation, however, I’ve got a zillion new posts that I’m working on that will (in a week or two) all fit together into the story of our trip.  Here’s the first:

Gold is weird.  Really weird.

Gold can only be explained through the use of the Theory of Relativity.  Yup, it’s true.  Most metals are silvery, since they consist of lots of free electrons flowing around metallic atomic nuclei.  They shine and reflect all colors.

Not gold.

Due to the density of the gold nucleus, the closest electrons have to move at half the speed of light, increasing their mass by 20%.  But electrons weigh less than a Toyota Prius in the car dealership that is an atom of gold, so they don’t add much to the weight.  But the density pulls the out electrons slightly inward. This slight change causes gold to shift from absorbing ultraviolet light to absorbing blue light. This absorption of blue light leaves the relativistic reflection of the rest of the colors . . . that particular hue we call gold.  A nice summary of gold color and relativity is here (LINK).

Even weirder is that there is considerable debate over how gold is even formed in our Universe.  It used to be thought that gold was formed, like all elements heavier than hydrogen, in the core of a star and the splooshed out into the universe when the star (if it was big enough) exploded at the end of its useful life (hint: if we all did this Social Security might be more solvent, but no one would qualify because they’d have exploded).  But after crunching the numbers, or shaking the voodoo stick at the physics god, or whatever, it became clear that exploding stars didn’t allow for very much (if any) gold creation.  They needed another answer.  That answer?

Even weirder.

When a star explodes, if it’s the right size, it leaves a core of a neutron star behind.  The material from a neutron star is so dense (not stupid, but really, really, heavy) that the normal atomic structure has collapsed and all of the atomic nuclei are stuck to each other like a swimming pool filled with hot dogs.  No water.  Just hot dogs.  The resulting stuff that the star is made of is so dense that it doesn’t make sense to anyone, just like a swimming pool filled with hot dogs.  A teaspoonful (of neutron star, not hot dogs) weighs a billion tons.  I’ll just say it’s really, really heavy.

When two of these neutron stars (or maybe a neutron star and a black hole) merge, it’s thought that the mind-numbingly large amounts and density of energy might account for the majority of the formation of gold.  A rather long (but well written, surprisingly since it’s from The Atlantic) article on that is here (LINK).

Gold also doesn’t have any stable isotopes (an isotope is when the number of neutrons in the nucleus varies from the “basic” atomic configuration).  Hydrogen does, but, not gold.

Gold also never tarnishes.  Silver tarnishes. Iron rusts.  Gold stays as gold.  Oxygen need not apply

Other weird gold facts:

  1. Half of all the gold ever mined came from one small area in South Africa (like sixty miles by forty miles).
  2. There’s enough gold at the Earth’s core to cover the planet in gold about 18 inches deep.
  3. The gold we have on the surface is thought to have come from meteors whomping the Earth. Otherwise it would have sunk to the core when the planet was molten.
  4. Eros, the asteroid, is thought to be about 3% metal, containing about 20 billion tons of gold.
  5. People like lists of things.

Mankind has obsessed over gold for millennia.  King Tut’s tomb had over a ton and a half of gold in it.  Most (85%?) of the gold ever mined is still in use in some place or another today.  Your wedding ring might have been made from the gold mined in 4000 B.C.

This obsession has led to the most fantastic tales:

  1. Leprechauns – Always after me lucky charms, eh? Leprechauns are hard to spell, and also appear to have the upper hand in pots of gold.  Apparently, finding a leprechaun is like getting married to Mel Gibson – catch one and you get a pot full of money.
  2. Cibola and El Dorado – In the Americas when the Spanish Conquistadores came to town, the natives quickly realized that they wanted gold. So a good idea?  Send them to another town that was MADE of gold, and get ‘em out of your town.  It seemed to work pretty well, and eliminated a LOT of stupid Spaniards from the Americas.
  3. Jason and the Golden Fleece – A really old story out of Greece, where Jason had to find a ram’s skin with hair made of gold. This may refer to the miners of the day using sheep fleece to catch small bits of gold that they mined and used water to separate.  Or it might be a metaphor for health care funding.
  4. Dead Sea Scrolls – ~$1 billion in gold hidden in Israel with instructions that no one understands because they can’t translate the words describing where everything is hidden, and some of the words that can be read (“near the place where David and Jerry camped that one time”) aren’t all that helpful.
  5. Lost Inca Gold – When Pizarro decided to kidnap the Incan king, he set the ransom at a room full of gold. Apparently, he got bored and decided to just kill the king instead of waiting for the treasure to show up, liking murder more than a ROOM FULL OF GOLD.  The Incans decided to not pay the ransom, and either put it in a cave, or dumped it in a lake.  People regularly fail to return from the Amazon while still looking for this treasure.
  6. Annunaki.  See below.

Okay, this one is my favorite:

The Annunaki are a race of aliens who came down to Earth from the planet Niburu, which is on a highly elliptical orbit, and crosses the Earth’s orbit every 3,600 years.  The Annunaki genetically enhanced humanity so . . . (drumroll) that humans could dig for gold for the Annunaki.  Thus, they created Adam and Eve for the purposes of mining, and engineered into their (our) minds a love of gold so intense that we’d collect gold for them while they were on the far part of their orbit.

Why did the Annunaki need the gold? So they could swim in it like a happy miser?  No.  Their planet, Niburu, need the gold to keep the planet warm as it zooms back out into space.  It would almost seem easier to move to a planet (like Earth?) where they didn’t have to genetically enslave an entire species to get gold for them.  Or mine an asteroid.  But, no, just like a Bond villain, they had to do things the hard way.   Here is a LINK to a site that has more information on this theory.  And there are others.

This theory (in my opinion) is like the WWE of history.  Great info, fun to watch, but don’t get it mixed up in any way with reality.

So, gold fascinates.  And several times in my lifetime, it would have been an absolutely killer investment.  However, I recently watched a video where Warren Buffett suggested that all of the gold available to us today would be able to be put into a cube 67 feet on each side.  (There are some estimates that it’s a lot more than that, but let’s use Mr. Buffett’s numbers.  He seems to understand numbers pretty well.)

Buffett noted:  He could have that gold, valued at $7,000,000,000,000 (that’s seven TRILLION dollars) or he could buy ALL the farmland in the United States, plus seven or so Exxons.  He made the point (quite well, I thought) that the gold was a static thing, but the farms produce things every year.  Exxon produces wealth for society every year.  He’d much rather have a productive asset rather than a commodity that just sat there in a giant, relativistic cube.

Me?  I think either one of them sounds pretty good.  That’s why we decided to go to gold country, and become prospectors (for a few days).  More on that soon . . .

Meditation Pros and Cons – Might be Great for You, Might Kill You

“Sitting here attempting to meditate, I have counted the number of ways I know of killing someone, using just a finger, a hand, a foot. I had reached 94 when you entered.” – Star Trek: Voyager

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So, when I meditate?  Gotta have a tiger.  Nothing makes me calmer than sitting with an apex carnivore, because it allows me to forget materiality. 

So, I’ve always thought that meditation must be cool.  After all, David Carradine did it as Kwai Chang Caine all through the 1970’s as Kung Fu.  And he could give any group of bullies very peaceful and regretful butt-kicking they deserved.  And, really, throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s on television, meditation was seen as sort of a way to create super powers from within.  The (often Asian, or certainly taught-by-Asians) character would sit down, legs crossed, and would meditate until he got super-strength, super quickness, super pain tolerance, super control of his nervous system, or . . . super control of his ability to quickly grow fingernails at twice the speed of a normal human.

It was everywhere.  Meditation was the cure to all of life’s problems.  Transcendental Meditation™ would help with:

  1. Lower Stress – People who meditate appear to have lower stress and lower concentrations of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress). Me?  Sometimes when I try to meditate it stresses me out because I’m unsure if I’m doing it right, so I focus on that instead of meditating and pretty soon I’m wondering if I’ll have enough money when I’m 80 to parachute into the Super Bowl® and . . .
  2. More Work Output – Some study said that employees that meditate get more work done. I’m pretty sure that if my boss walks by my desk and sees me staring into a blank computer monitor and repeatedly saying “ohmmmmmmmm” he will either assume I’m measuring electronic resistance in my mind, or, more likely, he’ll think I’m off my rocker and rush to fire me before I can charge the company insurance a lot of money for treatment of whatever makes me stare at my monitor and say “ohmmmmmmm” again and again.
  3. Lower Blood Pressure – I thought I needed blood pressure? Oh, not the kind that causes blood to ooze out of my pores like sweat?  Got it.  I think this is probably compatible with the whole Lower Stress thing.
  4. Lower Risk of Heart Disease – If true, probably tied back to 1. and 3., above. Since heart disease sounds pretty bad, I’d probably like to avoid that.
  5. ADHD Treatment – Is ADHD made up? I don’t seem to recall this even existing when I was a kid – it was called, “being a kid.”  And you didn’t get classified narcotics for it.  You got a pile of wood to move and split and haul.  That typically un-deficited my attention and took all the energy I had stored up for hyperactivity away.  Move four tons of wood with a wheelbarrow?  Yeah, you’re not going to bug Mom to the point she wants to give you psychoactive drugs.  But apparently meditation works to help, too.
  6. Better Home Life – Yes, if you’re not a raging jerk from stress from work, that might help your home life. Or not.  Raging jerks seem to do okay, so don’t sell that short.
  7. Increased Intelligence – Unlikely. If you’re reading this blog, you’re already growing your IQ by 3 to 6 points . . . per hour.  If meditation increases your IQ?  Your head will explode.
  8. Ability to Smoke Weed Like the Beatles – Minus the money and the freedom from repercussions. Oh, wait, I’m describing most everyone.  No meditation required.
  9. Finding Chicks Like Yoko – How is this an advantage?
  10. Weight Loss – Yeah, most everyone wants to be skinnier. Except Gary Busey, who just wants to be a fried chicken.  Not eat it, be it.
  11. Growing Younger – Apparently (he said skeptically), a 55 year old that meditates regularly has the body of a 43 year old. Probably buried in his crawl space, right?  But here I think that there might be a correlation with the type of personality that has sufficient discipline to meditate regularly and not get side-tracked, rather than the meditation itself?
  12. Shinier Teeth – I made that one up. But, why not?

That sounds pretty good.  So why don’t people meditate more?

Well, there are some potential risks to meditation, namely a risk to your ego.  I’m not making this up.  Think about the process of meditation – it ends up bringing clarity and reflection on the way the world is, and, potentially, can strip away many of the constructs that we create in our day to day life.

And that is dangerous.

I had a boss that went to a leadership seminar – but this was an intensive leadership seminar, 12-14 hours a day, meant to rip the illusions about your life right up and out of your nostrils.  The theory was that this will allow you to take the risks and live your life unafraid.  Turns out that many people have built their entire life on illusions – and ripping those illusions out through your nostrils is painful.  Especially if you have to confront that you might be the cause of every problem you have, every repressed emotion, and that is dangerous.  According to my boss, one of these Fortune® 500 executives who had paid $25,000 for this course tried to kill himself due to guilt he felt after his illusions were pulled away.  (This is also why you DON’T TAKE my blog as ADVICE!)

Psychology Today (also a dubious publication) indicated that meditation can also lead to depersonalization, psychosis, anxiety, seizures, insomnia, and dating Yoko Ono.  They also indicated that those who had previous trauma could also be . . . dare I say . . . triggered by meditation.

Buddhist meditation was designed not to make us happier, but to radically change our sense of self and perception of the world. Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that some will experience negative effects such as dissociation, anxiety and depression.

–  Psychologists Miguel Farias and Catherine Wilkolm

I have been attempting to meditate, in my own fashion.  My best success has been while I’m off, alone, floating in the Wilder Family hot tub (LINK).  I’ll sit there, alone, focusing on breathing, and then . . . wake up half an hour later.  I know that the instruction manual says never fall asleep in a hot tub, but I’m generally refreshed and have a pretty positive outlook when I wake up.  And Yoko Ono is safely far away in New York, living on John Lennon’s massive pile of money.

Also, I’ve learned to think, when I meditate, that I might be good at Kung Fu.  And levitating.  And . . . being able to grow my fingernails . . . really fast!

How People Get Rich, and How To Do Well At Work

“My last job was at a Taco Bell Express. Then they became a full Taco Bell and I just couldn’t keep up.” – The Office

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Pugsley before his first day at his new job in the salt mine.  

About 47.6% of the American economy consists of books that purport to tell you how to get rich.  (The other 52.4%?  Equal shares of pictures of naked ladies and Pez®.)  But how did the rich folks get rich?  Let’s make the assumption that you’re not going to be James Bond Enemy Island Secret Volcano Space Program Rich, since Elon Musk seems to have that market cornered . . . let’s still ask the question, how do people get rich?

  1. Inheriting it is the old fashioned way to do it. 30-40% of the Forbes 400 richest Americans . . . inherited it.  You never really hear this part of the story, because the story “Baby Billionaire Born” is not nearly as compelling as “Unsung genius invents an app to get a cab driver to come by your house and trim your nosehair with your iPhone.”  An astonishing 60% of American household wealth is inherited.  So, unless you’ve got great-aunt Grunelda leaving you a stash of cash, this isn’t in your wheelhouse.  For reference, we Wilders have little inherited wealth, but are willing to learn what it’s like for science if you want to cut us in on your will.
  2. Investments and Real Estate – 127 billionaires got their third comma from FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate), which we talked about before (LINK). In 2013, per evonomics.com, the ever-hated top 1% made 21% of the US income, which I’m sure they were pretty fond of, since that’s out punching your weight by 20 times!  But the big driver to their wealth?  Gains from their investments.  In 2013, they raked in 35% of the business gains (things like dividends, interest payments, stock price gains, and real estate, etc.).  Really, the big drivers were stock and real estate.  So, if you’re not born with cash, this seems to be the most reliable way to get buckets of it.
  3. Tech, Media, and Energy, combined to create 123 billionaires. Now don’t cry too much for this bunch being in third place, since it includes folks like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Larry Ellison.  (I refuse to add Zuckerberg because he’s such a tool.)  It’s pretty cool that these folks managed to make bank by changing forever the way we use computers (Gates), purchase stuff (Bezos), and, well, whatever the hell Ellison does that allows him to own Hawaii.

As we’ve discussed before, a job is less preferable than owning a business, where you have other people working to make money for you, but it is possible to get into a pretty good position with a job.  This isn’t the last post where we’ll discuss this, because most people have jobs, don’t own businesses, and aren’t blessed (yet) with a really cool investment portfolio.

So, how can you maximize your income as an employee?  Here are my first ten (not my top ten, just the first ones):

  1. Do something valuable that requires you to think. College is a stupid idea for many people.  Honestly, lots of people going to college really don’t belong there – it’s just like four more years of high school for them.  Since employers can’t (by law) give IQ tests, they use college as a rough screen for IQ.  They want smart-ish workers (not TOO smart, mind you) and they use a college degree for a screen for that as well as the ability to defer pleasure now for a payout later.  Unless you’re going to get a degree that is required for the field, like science, engineering, law, medicine, accounting, finance, and teaching – I would think twice about college, especially if you choose a major like anthropology.  Seriously, fast food workers make more money than anthropology professors.  Smelly teen age fast food workers.  Also avoid: sociology, anything ending in “studies”, communications (The Mrs. has that one), recreational studies, art, classics, public administration, exercise physiology, media management, music therapy, etc., etc.  These are “degrees” made up by universities to extract the maximum student loan value from you.
  2. Pick the right industry. Pick an industry where there’s huge oceans of cash swimming around.  I’ve listed them up above – finance, real estate, energy, technology.  Pick one of those.  It’s still not easy to get rich there, but there is a TON of money floating around in those businesses.  Teaching?  Not so much.  Regardless of how much fun you have doing it, if you can’t support your family, that is going to suck your energy out like a cat eating a banana.  Find something that you can do that pays well, and do that thing.  Not many engineers (for instance) end up as really rich dudes.  That’s fine – the median engineer does well, but often doesn’t get to the top slot.  There were a LOT more guys with business degrees than engineering degrees, and you’re only seeing the ones that were good AND lucky that get to the top.  You’ve got to be good, but you’ve also got to be lucky (which will have its own future post).
  3. Work harder than the next guy – and be a closer. The only reason to watch Glengarry Glen Ross is the scene where Alec Baldwin, in no uncertain terms, illustrates that you have to work hard, and also have to show actual results.  I’ve linked to it below.  Be warned – the language and content are R-rated, so if you’re squeamish about naughty words and crude concepts, skip it, but this seven minute scene he’s in got him a nomination for best supporting actor.  Seven minutes.  Really, working hard is important because it sets the stage for results, but results must  (Note:  a recent study showed that bosses only care about how much time you’re in the office, and think if you’re there a lot, you’re working hard.  Guess they never heard about goofing off?)  Are results the only thing that matters?  No.  But they matter A LOT.
  4. Don’t scare your boss. If you work hard and are smart and are getting great results, you should be setting yourself up for amazing success, right?    You might be one step away from being fired.  Bosses are people, too, and most of them don’t want to be eclipsed by an employee, namely, you.  If you’re reading this blog, there is a good chance that, besides being handsome and bullet-proof, you’re smarter than your boss.  With a good boss, that’s okay – he (or she) wants to teach you and allow you to grow.  With an insecure boss?  Oh, my.  With an insecure boss who doesn’t have skills?  Competence is a death warrant, or at least a quick ride to a pink slip.  If you have a scared boss?  Act stupid.  Give them bread crumbs to come to a good decision, and then allow them to take the credit.  Most importantly?  Align your incentives so if your boss makes you look bad, it is a reflection on their leadership.  Sometimes none of this will work.  Look for a new job or a new position in the company, but be prepared to exit involuntarily.  Insecure people are horrible (more on this in a future post).  One other note?  At some point you will have a really horrible boss.  Deal with it.
  5. Stay off of lists. HR has a list of people who, say, didn’t do training.  Who showed up late to work.  Who go one too many times to Facebook on the company Internet.  Who call a radio station 3400 times in a month attempting to be caller nine with the phrase that pays (this actually happened to someone I knew).  These lists might be petty lists, with “insignificant” actions or behaviors on them, but your very presence on the list turns you into your boss’s enemy, because you just became someone he has to defend to HR.  A boss, even a good one, will only go to that well so many times.
  6. Be flexible. No, not like a gymnast.  For your boss, your job description is only the barest suggestion.  If he or she asks you to learn to translate ancient Babylonian tablets instead of your job, which is generally being an accounting clerk, TRANSLATE THE TABLETS.  A job isn’t an argument, and if you make it one, you become . . . another pain to your boss.
  7. Be firm when your principles are involved. Even if means your job.  When I was doing an internship in college, the boss asked me to do something I knew to be technically illegal (like a real “go to federal prison” felony).  I told him no, I couldn’t do that.  He was on the road, and called, yelling at me to do the illegal thing.  I went to his boss (VP), and told him about the illegal action, and explained why it was a felony.  The VP made one minor comment, but was in agreement with my boss.  I told my professor (that I was taking a business organization class from) about the situation, and asked what he thought I should do.  He told me, “Well, it looks like you already quit.”  I thought about it, and, yeah, I had quit, but I was the only one at work who didn’t recognize it.  I turned in my notice the next day.  They weren’t surprised.  Don’t be a felon.  Don’t compromise your basic beliefs for a job – that’ll tear you up inside more than having a Chihuahua with needle-sharp teeth surgically implanted next to your spleen.
  8. Be a solution, not a problem. I have a rule with people who work for me – don’t come to me with a problem.  Come to me with a problem and two or three suggested solutions.  Most of the time I take one of their solutions.  Some people?
  9. Be nice. Those people you’re working with?  They talk to your boss, too.  And if you’re nice to people?  Good karma accumulates.
  10. Be on time. Just do this.  Being late shows a lack of respect for whatever you’re late to.

So, unless one of you is gonna write me in on your will, and die soon, I’ve gotta go to work tomorrow.  And follow my own advice.  But I’m still saving up for that private volcano island.  Right now I think I can afford a small rock outcropping off the coast of that Pacific island inhabited by cannibals that kill and eat anyone who stops nearby (this is a real place).  But, hey, it’s a start.

This blog is not financial advice, yadda-yadda-yadda-yadda.  Be responsible for yourself.

(Reminder – LOTS of naughty language.)