Sunday, January 30, 2011

More about the Bunk Bed

Remember the new bunk bed for Smiley?

It ate a lot of January.

We visited CostCo a few times to make sure we really wanted that purchase.  Our friend Randy used his pickup to help us purchase it.  Assembling the bunk bed (with help from Uncle Nathan) took an afternoon.  But that was only the beginning.

With Randy's help the truckload of cardboard packaging was flattened and taken to the dump.  The dump does not take styrofoam; here in Eugene that stuff goes to the main St. Vincent De Paul's on Seneca Road, and there was enough to fill our station wagon.

We also had to shop for a mattress, plastic mattress cover, and sheets.

Actually, we decided to let Smiley sleep on the top bunk, but then wanted to make the guard rails seem higher by using a 3" mattress topper instead of a real mattress.  So he actually has no mattress, but a nice gel-foam mattress topper from CostCo.  The outing that involved Randy and his truck going to the dump also included purchasing plywood to put on top of the bunk bed's slats since there is no mattress.

I think getting that bunk bed purchased and ready to use took more time than buying a new car last October!


The Math 20 textbook is well-written, and students can purchase a student's solutions manual with step-by-step answers to the odd-numbered problems.  Since the textbook itself has the answers for odd-numbered problems, in most of my classes a few students by the solutions manual and these gets shared within study groups.

Higher level math classes often do not have the solutions manual option, to help students see step-by-step answers to problems that confuse them.  Recently a website that fills this need, named Cramster, has become popular among some LCC students in Math 111-112 and Math 253-255.

Rumor says that for paying a $10 fee, the website provides step-by-step solutions to even-numbered problems also.  If true, that would make more work for those math instructors who currently make tests out of the even-numbered problems.  To me, this option seems a lose-lose situation: the students should be learning enough from the dozens of odd-numbered problems, and the tests will only become harder if the instructors are inventing problems instead of using textbook even-numbered problems.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ironic Product Recall

My wife subscribes to the FDA food recall e-mail list.

Today's e-mail included this gem:
Candy Dynamics Recalls Toxic Waste® brand Nuclear Sludge® Chew Bars
Thu, 13 Jan 2011 20:03:00 -0600

Circle City Marketing and Distributing doing business as Candy Dynamics, Indianapolis, IN, is issuing a voluntary recall of all Toxic Waste® brand Nuclear Sludge® Chew Bars, all flavors, Net wt. 0.7 oz (20 g) package. The product is imported from Pakistan.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Surprised When CostCo Isn't Cheapest

Although I know that CostCo prices on non-bulk items are often nothing special, I am sometimes surprised.  Fortunately, the store makes returns very easy.

Two recent items included TurboTax Premium, which was $80 at CostCo versus $38 through Fidelity on their page of tax links, and a 16 GB USB Thumb Drive, which has $37 at CostCo versus $25 at Amazon.

Changing the subject slightly, my brother has collected some horrific stories of a co-worker who frequently abused the CostCo return policy.  The two best are how this fellow not only tried out every HDTV before picking his favorite, but also returned bedsheets after using them for months.

UPDATE: Oops!  I made a mistake.  The only reason TurboTax Premium appeared cheaper with the Fidelity link was that it broke the Federal and State portions into two purchases.  CostCo is cheaper if you are buying both!

More Math Links

Here are some more math links, courtesy of other LCC math instructors.
(What?  Your office has more interesting departmental e-mail?)

Babylonian Math versus Greek Math

The Scale of the Universe


Three nights ago, my wife was sitting in her recliner reading blogs on her laptop.  Smiley was on her lap, looking at blog pictures of animals on Farmgirl Fare and laughing about something.

Something about my wife's laugh provoked the following conversation:
Smiley: You sound like a girl.
My wife: Why do I sound like a girl?
Smiley: You made a funny noise.
My wife: Do girls make funny noises?
Smiley: Yes.
Neither my wife nor I think her laugh is particularly feminine, so we are mystified.

January Fifteenth's Sign of Improving Health

Last year I wrote about how I suffered from a sinus infection from about June through November.  Three weeks in California helped heal my sinuses a lot, even if it was raining half the days of our vacation.  My left sinus still has a slight noticeable constant pressure, but "slight" is a huge improvement.  I no longer have to deal with a headache every day.

During the second half of 2010 my family was dealing with other health issues too.  These have also seen improvement.  I'll blog more about those next week.

Tonight I laughed because it is halfway through January and my wife and I finally took time to sit on the couch together and read the holiday cards we have received.  Some years we send out cards and some years we don't.  Usually when we do we delay and wind up writing New Year's letters instead of holiday letters.  But this is the first Winter that we have been so tired and worn out that we did not even read other people's cards until mid-January.

So, thank you to those who wrote to us.  We'll try to write back before the month's end.

School District - Vedor Payments Online

In a newsworthy precedent, Wichita Public Schools has put their vendor payments online, so the public that supports the school district could see how its money was being spent.

Our local school district is having serious budget problems, which I have been wanting to blog about but have not yet had the time to sift through its budget documentation.  If only its expenses were so clearly shared!

Three Dominion Games

Playing the card game Dominion online was a quickly passing fad.  The game loses most of its excitement without the physical cards to hold and use.

Here are three games I played with my brother-in-law.
In game 2284 I managed to deplete Ironworks, Fishing Villages, and Pawns before he could do a similar trick using Golems.

In game 6773, I won because Bridges worked better than Throne Rooms with the other available cards.

In game 6834, he won because I overestimated the usefulness of Talismans.

Running Ubuntu from a Thumb Drive

I would like to see if owning a netbook helps my family.  Mostly it might help because we are using Skype a lot.  I would get some use from having a computer that travels well in my diaper bag, and from having a computer to use when Smiley is using my laptop.

One source of hesitation is that I have no reason to leave Ubuntu and return to the world of Windows--but the netbooks that are easiest to try out (with the best return policy) are all Windows machines sold at CostCo.  However, this turns out to be a very small problem.

Dual booting is almost obsolete.  Since modern computers are willing to boot of a USB thumb drive, and inexpensive USB thumb drives have more than enough memory for running Ubuntu, the new solution is to book your netbook off a USB thumb drive when you want Ubuntu instead of Windows.

Here is a quick guide to putting a normal Ubuntu Desktop boot on a USB thumb drive.

Bunk Bed

Our CostCo currently sells a great staircase bunkbed for about half the normal price.  We got one for Smiley.  Once he graduates from sleeping in a crib (which he likes, and is in no hurry to leave) he can sleep up high to have plenty of floor space.  Instead of a mattress, we'll use a piece of plywood and a 3" mattress topper so the guard rails seem extra high.

I searched for a picture online, but could only find similar products made by other companies.

I did discover that the company that made our bed, Mountain Furniture LCC, is located in Washington state, and apparently has only two employees and a revenue of $160,000 per year.  The bunk bed says it was made in China.  Those two guys must subcontract everything: buying northwest lumber, shipping it to China, having it made and varnished, and shipping it back.

Their company was established in 2009.  I wonder if the recession prompted them to find new work, and so they started a little business?

Stocks Up But Human Capital Down?

An interesting article and Volokh analysis (by Kenneth Anderson).

The key quotation:
[F]or the first time I can remember in my adult life, we seem to be concluding that investment in human capital is not worth it. That might be true because the training is idiotic and not really “human capital investment” at all, but more like summer camp...But the much more worrying possibility is that structural problems in the US economy mean that there isn’t a need for professionally skilled labor, because the economy can’t deploy people to these higher skilled tasks.

Firewood Moisture Meter

Two years ago I blogged about our two sources of firewood.

Tomorrow I need to find a new supplier.  Gilbert is out of seasoned wood less than 15 inches in length.  James has not responded to phone messages, and his answering machine message does not mention his name or firewood; perhaps he closed down his business?

Modern technology includes digital moisture meters, which are an important tool when shopping for firewood.  Low-quality meters are about $30 and accurate to about 5%.  Last week I purchased a model made by General Tools.  High-quality meters are more accurate but also cost ten times as much.

Seasoned wood should have a moisture rating between 15% and 20%.  Since my meter is low-quality, I will be willing to purchase the wood even if the meter reads 25%, which allows the risk of burning slightly damp wood.

Since we normally have our stove and chimney cleaned annually, even if I am unlucky and get slightly damp wood it will not have any long-term effect.  I'll just get a bit less heat from the wood than otherwise.

Soma Cube

When at the Newport Aquarium last year, I purchased a Soma Cube at the gift shop to give myself extra brain teaser challenges at home.

The latter part of 2010 was too busy for me to use it, but I have been enjoying starting to use it this month.

The gift shop provided a page of sixty more shapes to try to make.  I cannot find this page online, although some web pages have and link to many similar sets of challenges.

I am taking photographs of the sixty shapes as I finish them.  When I have time, I'll put them online so you can try them too (if you own or make a Soma Cube)!

Friday, January 07, 2011

Dominion Card Game - Online

During our December vacation, a friend introduced me to the Dominion card game.

It's a great game for my family.  My wife and I always appreciate finding another two-play game with very little competition, since my wife does not enjoy trying to "hurt" me even in a game.  Dominion is a great example because its "competitive shopping" theme is not at all a zero-sum situation.

I got the special Amazon three-in-one set (which was substantially less expensive at the end of December).

I have also found out that the game can be played for free online.  Moreover, that site also allows downloading an archive of old games, but understanding them will probably require using a website with all the card descriptions.

Coloring Page

Earlier today Smiley expressed interest in a coloring page for the first time.

What happened?  It all starts with how, for various reasons, we made many short trips to CostCo this week.  Smiley really likes climbing on one of their display bunk beds, but not every trip had time for this.  On one trip, because he was being so well behaved while handling his disappointment, I splurged and bought him a singing Thomas book for few dollars.

He loves that book.  We often sit beside each other and sing the songs.  He has such a cute voice, I could listen to him sing for hours.

Anyway, the inside of the cover has a few corporate logos, including a black-and-white drawing of Thomas.  Smiley asked why Thomas was white.  This is understandably confusing, since in his mind the various storybook engines are primarily differentiated by their colors.
Smiley: Why is that Thomas white?

Me: The people that made the book did not color that picture of him.

Smiley: What does Thomas say when he is white?

Me: I don't know.  Maybe he says, "I wish someone would get a crayon and color me."

Smiley: I'll get a crayon.

Me: But we don't color in books.  We only color in paper.

Smiley: Except for coloring books.

Me: Yes.  But this is not a coloring book.  Do you want me to make a color page with Thomas?

Smiley: Yes!
(Smiley knew about coloring books because the waiting room at our old mechanic had some.  My wife purchased a Curious George coloring book once because it was on sale and almost free, but Smiley has never wanted to use it.)

Google promptly provided this website, from which I printed two copies of a coloring page.  Smiley took them to the art table in his playroom, and colored on both of them very excitedly.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Corporate Taxes - The Very Big Picture

According to the IRS website, the Federal government collects about 2.3 trillion dollars of tax income in recent years.

50% of this is personal income taxes.  37% is employment taxes.  Only 10% are corporate taxes.  (The remaining 3% is excise, estate, and gift taxes.)

Why are corporate taxes such a small portion?  Because the corporate tax law, as Dilbert recently pointed out, is designed to employ lawyers instead of take in tax revenue.

That lowly 10% is still about 225 billion dollars of tax income.  How much does it cost the Federal government to collect that amount?  I cannot say for sure.

This IRS page shares that overall the IRS has operating costs of about 12 billion dollars: only 0.5% of the money it collects.  The IRS is very efficient, despite how our country's tax laws are not efficient.

That page suggests that collecting corporate taxes perhaps requires around 5 billion dollars, or about 2% of what is collected from corporations.  Even when pursuing corporations who have many lawyers and many loopholes, the IRS is quite efficient.

Google on Google: the Dutch Sandwich

A recent Dilbert cartoon mentioned the tax loophole called a Dutch Sandwich.

Amusingly, a Google search for that term reveals that the company most known for success in using the technique is Google!

Common Misconceptions

Yesterday's xkcd comic is something I appreciate as a teacher.  It offers an entertaining and easy way to make the world a better place, using the wikipedia page about common misconceptions which I am sure should be much lengthier.

No Snow in the CA-OR Pass

My family's recent vacation to Southern California was unexpectedly wet.  Half the days it was raining!

We were slightly worried about encountering snow in the mountian pass at the California-Oregon border.  But the weather report predicted less than an inch of accumulation and the cameras showed clear roads.

We departed a day early, just in case.  We met some snow, but there was no accumulation on the freeway during our road trip.

Modern technology is pretty amazing.

Blogger Delay

Strangely, I tried to do some blogging last night before going to bed but the "create new post" page would not finish loading and display the editor.  This morning it works fine again.

For once, it's not my fault to fail to post something each day!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Elantra Touring Mileage Part 3 - Driving versus Amtrak

Happy Gregorian New Year!

We're back from our vacation, which included driving to Southern California and back.  Since I have blogged twice about our new car's mileage, I thought I should finish the story by documenting how it did with a long road trip.

We filled up the tank before leaving Eugene on December 15th, and then thirteen times while away, and then a final time today at Costco.  We drove 3,228 miles (including that initial fill-up before leaving town), with an average of 30.2 miles per gallon.

The highest mileage tank was our smallest fill-up, after driving from relatives in San Diego to other relatives in Mission Viejo: 37.8 mpg after driving on a relatively flat freeway in light traffic.  Our lowest mileage tank was after driving from Willows to Yreka, 24.5 mpg after driving faster and uphill.

In 2008 we did a similar vacation but took the train.  That worked great with a teething infant, since we could pace the parlor car all night long.

How does Amtrak's prices compare with our road trip?

Our total cost of gas for the road trips from Eugene to San Diego and then back (ignoring the gas used driving around during the rest of the vacation) and three nights of hotels was $612.44.

Amtrak's smallest room, the Superliner Roomette, would have been less expensive at $584 round trip.  That is what we did in 2008.  The room has no floor space, so Smiley had to play with toys in the parlor car.  Also, Smiley was so tiny that he could sleep on the floor under the bunk beds.  This size room could work again, but we would need to take shifts sleeping.

The middle-sized room, the Superliner Bedroom, would be more expensive than driving, at $992 round trip.  That room has enough floor space for playing with toys.  It also has only two beds, but the lower bed is large enough for an adult and toddler to sleep together more comfortably.

Now that Uncle Nathan lives a block away, perhaps next time we visit our relatives in California we will all take the train.  We could get the Superliner Bedroom and the three adults could take shifts sleeping.  It would be only slightly more expensive than a road trip with a second hotel room each night, and much faster and easier.