Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Smiley's First Board Game

What published games do I play with Smiley?  (My wife and I are now enjoying Arkham Horror.)

The only board game Smiley understands is Uncle Wiggly.  The game is a less well known simpler version of Chutes and Ladders, with only one ladder and all of the chutes only going back three spaces.  It uses number cards instead of a spinner.

When he was two years old it was two games.  We used the board and rabbit-characters that moved on its path as one activity for telling stories.  We used the number cards as another number-identification activity.

Now when Smiley plays he usually has his rabbit ignore the counting cards while my rabbit protagonist my play by the rules.  His rabbit hops about as he wishes, taunting my rabbit whenever it encounters trouble and must move back three spaces.

Sometimes Smiley uses is the only rabbit, and asks me to help him use the cards.  

Smiley does not know the books the game is based on, but he likes the plot of a rabbit going for a walk on a path and meeting "good guys" and "bad guys".  I have placed a hold request at the local library for the Uncle Wiggly Storybook so soon we can meet these characters.

In any case, since Smiley is finally interested in playing a game by the published rules I have added Candyland and Chutes and Ladders to his Amazon Wishlist.  Unfortunately, neither my wife nor I saved our childhood copies of those games.  Our relatives can get them for Smiley for the December holidays.

New Socks

For the past year I have been wearing a new kind of sock.

Remember how I used to wear an "Acrylic Blend Cushion" sock of a brand first called Towncraft and then called Stafford?  J.C. Penny stopped carrying those.

But Costco makes a Kirkland "Outdoor Trail Sock" that also works as the only sock I ever need.  It is soft enough to make my feet happy but thin enough to even work with my dress shoes.

(They also last even longer than the 14 month life of the previous kind.)

Unfortunately, it is a seasonal item.  Just last week they arrived back at our Costco.  Get them while you can!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Arkham Horror: Lies, the King in Yellow, and Statistics

I tried the board game Arkham Horror in May and loved it.  I recently was given the game and the expansion The King in Yellow as birthday presents.

(That expansion sounded like the best to own if I only intend to own one.)

Tangent: The expansion includes three distinct parts.  Foremost are more cards to aid replay value.  Second is a new way to remove sealed gates or gain Doom Track time (special Mythos Cards about the evil theater production can be included in that deck, the more they are placed towards the top the more they add difficulty).  Third is a new set of dire consequences for the Terror Track increasing.  Currently I have only tried using the extra cards.  The game is hard enough without two more ways to increase difficulty.

The only fundamental strategy for the game is to notice that not all unstable locations have an equal probability of turning into a sinister gate to another world.  The team of players should prioritize protecting the high-probability locations by "sealing" them.  (This involves closing a gate while using knowledge gained from clues about the evil forces invading Arkham.)

A consequence is to also notice where clues appear.  When no player has the ability to seal a location, closing a gate may still be worthwhile in a location where many clues are likely to appear before another gate would open there.

So, how does including the cards from that expansion alter the strategy?

The short story is that the "big four" unstable locations are Independence Square, Unvisited Isle, The Witch House, and Woods.  These four locations represent 60% of all potential gate occurrences.

Furthermore, the Science Building, the Historical Society, and Hibb's Roadhouse and are (in that order) the most appropriate places to close but not seal a gate.  These locations often get new clues, but seldom get a new gate.

Here are the new statistics.


13 Occurrences (15%): Independence Square, Unvisited Isle, The Witch House, Woods
8 Occurrences (10%): Black Cave, Graveyard, The Unnameable
2 Occurrences (2%): Hibb's Roadhouse, Historical Society, Science Building, Silver Twilight Lodge


13 Occurrences (17%): Black Cave
12 Occurrences (15%): The Unnameable
11 Occurrences (14%): Science Building
8 Occurrences (10%): Historical Society, Woods
7 Occurrences (9%): Hibb's Roadhouse, Independence Square, Unvisited Isle
2 Occurrences (3%): Graveyard, Silver Twilight Lodge
1 Occurrences (1%): The Witch House

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Yerba Maté

Our hallway closet has a shelf with some teas my wife and I do not normally drink but we keep in case visitors want them.  This stash includes a bag of yerba maté that is several years old.

One evening last weekend my father wanted something with caffeine, but all our coffee is decaffeinated (since my wife is the coffee drinker and she is nursing little Gallant).

So my father and I tried the yerba maté.  It was good!  I was surprised that I liked it, remembering it from years ago as an acquired taste I lacked.

We get most of our teas from Stash Tea, which does carry some.  Amazon also has quite a few available with Amazon Prime free shipping.

Do any of you have a favorite source of yerba maté?  Are there big flavor differences between brands?

The Wellness Letter and Naturopathy

My family has read the Berkeley Wellness Letter for years.

Earlier this month I mentioned Bill, a friend and naturopathic physician.  The Wellness Letter has often provided us with topics of conversation.  That publication often recommends against treatments that research-based naturopathy would recommend.

As one example, the April 2011 issue recommended against any chiropractic neck manipulation, concluding with the sentence
Despite some claims, the "click" or popping sound that may occur during neck manipulation does not indicate that the procedure has corrected some problem.
Bill agrees with that statement, but realizes it misses the point.  The Wellness Letter is focusing on some high-publicity cases of chiropractors moving the neck too violently because they are focusing on making sounds happen.

Yes, some people have well-understood risk factors and should avoid chiropractic neck manipulation.  And any chiropractor emphasizing the sounds or judging success by the sounds is indeed behaving dangerously.  But properly performed chiropractic neck manipulation has insignificant risk for most people and when combined with deep tissue massage can aid neck mobility even if no sounds happen.

A second example is from the July 2011 issue.  A full-page article on the benefits of magnesium concludes with a recommendation to not take a magnesium supplement because these can cause diarrhea, or much less often nausea and cramps.

Bill agrees with that risk, but would again claim it misses the point.  The best studies he knows about recommend an average of between 200 and 400 milligrams of magnesium per day for optimal muscle health.  This is much more than most Americans get from food.  Once again there are some risk factors, but many if not most Americans could benefit with no ill effect from a magnesium supplement.

Naturopathy would often recommend trying a magnesium supplement--although not foolishly before a wedding or road trip!  The risk is a brief inconvenience: a day or two of diarrhea.  The potential benefit is a lifetime of better muscle health.

UPDATE: A concluding emphasis that since there are risk factors known for both chiropractic neck manipulation and taking a magnesium supplement it would always be wise to check with your doctor before agreeing to either treatment.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Blendtec Total Blender

My father and step-mother visited us last weekend.  Everyone had a nice time.

My birthday, my wife's birthday, and our anniversary are all close together.  And our blender recently wore out.

Tangent: Our old Oster Designer Cycle Blend blender finally wore out.  It was a present from another math graduate student at UCSB in 1994.  She used blenders to make nut butter, and habitually gave them to friends when the motor had worn down too much for her needs but not enough to be normally noticeable.  It served us well for many years!

We had nothing else important on our wish lists besides a new blender.  And Costco was having a sale on the Blendtec Total Blender.  So that is what we were given as a three-event present.

It's really nifty.

I expect the biggest change will be in making soups. Recall that Smiley naturally likes "fast soup".  Today is a hot day, so right now my wife is experimenting with a cold Mexican-style soup.

The Total Blender should also be a much faster grain mill than the attachment for our mixer.  Hooray!  (That mill works fine, but slowly.  And it heats up the mixer a lot, so we need to pause every twenty minutes or so to let it cool off.)

Putting more carrots in our diet will be healthy but neither exciting nor much extra convenience.  Using all the swiss chard our garden produces just got a lot easier.  I am especially looking forward to no longer peeling broccoli stems--we can use the florets in our typical cooking and simply blend the stems!

The Blendtec website has a few recipes.  The sales rep also recommended Robyn's Blog.  I am sure we will make up plenty of our own recipes.  (I anticipate creating a latke-like celerac pancake in early Winter.)

I also expect many of our favorite recipes will soon include optional ingredients for folks with super-blenders: extra root vegetables or greens for nutrition, along with whatever additional liquids or stuff is required to maintain the right texture and cooking properties.

Lastly, tossing stuff in is fun.  Yesterday I noticed we had half a can of pumpkin in the fridge that Smiley had started last week but lost interest in.  So I combined that with some frozen spinach that needed using up, half a cored apple that was on the counter after Smiley's lunch, two big carrots, enough milk to let it blend well, and as spices a dollop of heavy cream, five whole cloves, ground nutmeg, and ground cinnamon.  The result was a yummy pumpkin pie flavored smoothie.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pangrams and a Cute Book

Ever heard of a pangram?  Those are sentences that use every letter of the alphabet.

Pangrams came up in a recent conversation, so I had to mention a delightful book named Ella Minnow Pea that celebrates the alphabet and the challenge of inventing a new pangram.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Fed's Unprecendted Declaration

Earlier this month I wrote about a funny unprecedented economic development.

That week something else unprecedented, but more significant, also happened.  The Fed "promised" to keep interest rates low for two years.

M2 has doubled since the recession began.  Government spending has hopefully removed the threat of debt-deflation.  So we should expect inflation when the velocity of money finally increases and that increase in M2 shifts from bank holdings into consumer spending.

Will we see reasonable and controlled inflation with corresponding increases to wages?  That would help with both the residue of the mortgage crisis and our Federal debt.  (If the dollar is worth less, then debt measured in dollars is a smaller burden.)

Unfortunately, probably not.  Vowing to keep interest rates low despite the pressure of sharply increasing M2 is like plugging a leaky dam with a finger.  I am not sure why the Fed is acting like it is.

Perhaps our leaders our trying to avoid antagonizing other countries.  If a few years from now America is in a panic because of sudden and steep inflation then our future President will not look as malicious when he tells the leadership of other nations, "Oops.  Sorry the 32% of our debt that you hold just tanked in value.  Not quite sure what happened.  Our wages will adjust to our inflation, but you're plain out of luck."

Password Strength

Another illuminating xkcd comic.  As passwords go, Tr0ub4dor&3 is almost 67 thousand times easier to crack than correct horse battery staple.

Discounting our Presidents

I realize that we Americans have independence and self-reliance that often makes us resistant to being led.  But I am not sure why this so readily translates into discounting what our leaders have actually done.

A great example was how many people claim that Bush helped cause the mortgage crisis and recession, when actually he was one of the few politicians who regularly spoke warnings against what was happening with Federal regulations and with Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac.  Special interests and moneyed politicians who were blinded by misleading math, refused to heed his warnings, and caused our current economic woes.

Recently I noticed another example.  Some people are now claiming that President Obama did not offer any plan during the credit limit and downgrade talks.  But he did propose a very controversial plan (although he did not put it in writing and then he backpedaled).

Hm.  Perhaps both these stories highlight a second oddity.  Even though we know we resist being led we often attribute to our leaders much more credit or blame than they could really deserve!  (Even if Bush's warnings or President Obama's plan were heeded, what would implementation finally look like?)

Medieval Myths

Here is a fun web page: the Top Ten Mythos about the Middle Ages.

Too Much Federal Regulation

A recent new article has a stunning graph that shows the increase in Federal regulators.  Those were not the "shovel ready" jobs that Federal spending is supposed to be encouraging!
Regulatory agencies have seen their combined budgets grow a healthy 16% since 2008, topping $54 billion, according to the annual "Regulator's Budget," compiled by George Washington University and Washington University in St. Louis.

That's at a time when the overall economy grew a paltry 5%.

Meanwhile, employment at these agencies has climbed 13% since Obama took office to more than 281,000, while private-sector jobs shrank by 5.6%.
I have some friends who have bought into the lie that "not enough regulation" caused the mortgage crisis and recession.  I have blogged in the past about how regulation caused these problems by pressuring banks into making unwise loans.

But governments tend to grow instead of learning from their mistakes.

I have no philosophical or economic opposition to a little wise regulation because naked capitalism too easily encourages and rewards vices.  But today most Federal regulation is neither little nor wise.

Last night I had a talk with my father about one damaging side effect.  Realize that regulation often takes years to solidify into reality: after a new law is passed then enforcers need to be hired and trained, and details of phrasing and implication need to be tested in court rooms.  Many companies are postponing hiring because the immense amount of recent new regulation is still "in process" and so the economy cannot yet determine the value of new property or hiring a new worker.

Smiley's Types of Roughhousing

Smiley is an active three-year-old who has invented (or re-invented) many types of roughhousing.

(He calls rough play "wrestling" because we tell him things like "No wrestling on the stairs, that's not safe.")

1. Running in Circles

This is his oldest type of roughhousing.  I kneel in the middle of the sitting room.  He runs around me.  I try to grab him.  Sometimes we are the big bad wolf and a little pig/goat and I "eat" his side when I catch him.  Other times I just tickle him.

2. Chase

Now that he is older and runs faster we do not chase each other around the house much.  But sometimes we still do.  This morning I was a rhinoceros, crawling while using only one arm, trying to get him with my "horn" (my other fist, on my forehead).

3. "Baby Push-ups" and "Baby-Situps"

He is too big for these exercises now.  I used to lie and my back and use him as a weight.  As an infant he would naturally keep his little legs up when I held his torso and did a straight-up chest press.  He also sat back against my legs while I did knee-up sit-ups.

4. Horseback Rides

He likes these, but not as much as the next one...

5. Horseback Won't Fall Off

He grabs my back and I try to make him fall off by slowly tilting to one side, leaning forward or back, or moving erratically.  Sometimes I pretend I do not know where he is and am looking for him.

6. Jump off Daddy

When he was younger I would lie flat on my stomach, and he would jump off my back onto the carpet. Now that he is older I kneel on my hands and knees and he leaps from my back.

7. Charging Chest Bump

This game was inspired by the Busy Penguins board book. I kneel with my torso upright, chest held forward, and knees apart. He runs at me with his chest held forward and we crash together. If he impacts me forcefully and accurately (without involving his arms, hands, or head) then I pretend he knocked me over, and fall backwards while hugging him to my chest.

8. Toss into the Air

While kneeling or standing I throw him up and catch him.

9. Foot Rides

He likes two kinds of foot rides. Sometimes he stands on both my feet and we hold hands. Other times he sits on one foot and wraps his legs and arms around that leg.

Usually we just walk. Sometimes I pretend I do not realize he is there, and moan and complain about how my shoe(s) feel heavy.

10. Hitting and Kicking

Like all toddlers he likes to hit and kick but is normally prohibited from doing so. But if he asks me while we roughhouse then he is allowed to hit my arms or kick my legs. Of course, then I get to hit his arms or kick his legs. I do so with moderate intensity: not hard enough to cause any pain or hurt but forceful enough that he gains some idea why hitting and kicking is considered "not nice" in most circumstances.

UPDATE: Two years later I wrote an updated list.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Deconstructing a B'nei Mitzvah Coming of Age Ritual

Nathen asks what makes a good coming of age ritual.

As someone who has had a Bar Mitzvah service and officiated other people's B'nei Mitzvot services, that is an interesting question and easy to answer.  What makes this Jewish tradition such an effective coming of age ritual?

(I will only discuss the traditional elements, not the very recent trend to emphasize a party after the religious service.)

Receive a Related Pair of Adult Responsibility and Privilege

It is sensible that a coming of age ceremony is when the new adult first receives some of the responsibilities and privileges that adults share but children do not have.

The phrase "Bar Mitzvah" literally means "Son of the Commandment".  People become a Bar Mitzvah, not have one.  (Similarly "Bat" means "Daughter" and "B'nei" means "Children".)  In Jewish tradition this ceremony marks when a new adult becomes responsible for his own morality and behavior, departing from being under his parents' responsibility.  The corresponding privilege is that the new adult may now participate in adult discussions and judgments about morality.  (For example, the how do the ancient Jewish precedents about gossip and slander apply to when congregants write falsely and maliciously on Facebook?)

This is also easy to translate into a secular coming of age ceremony.  Find a related pair of a responsibility and a privilege with which the new adult can participate.

Lead an Adult Community Activity

The core of becoming a Bar Mitzvah is that the new adult takes a turn leading the weekly religious service.  Traditionally, the new adult is responsible for all of the rabbi's normal roles: directing the congregation in prayer, calling up the other people who have turns participating, reading from scripture, and presenting a sermon.  (The cantor still helps lead the singing.)

This is probably the first time the new adult has complete responsibility for a meeting or event.  It is the new adult's fault if things fall flat.

This is easy to translate into a secular coming of age ceremony.  Lead a community activity.

Learn from a Non-Parental Authority Figure

For months prior to the ceremony the new adult studied under the rabbi.  These days a one-on-one mentoring relationship may not be so significant.  Historically, before communal schooling of children, this could be the new adult's first structured learning under a non-parental authority figure.  As a child, the Bar Mitzvah would have attended many public discussions of scripture and religious issues.  But this would probably be the first one-on-one training outside the home.

Part of becoming an adult is identifying non-parental authority figures worth following.  Also, a new adult who proved teachable by the rabbi could be viewed as teachable by master craftsmen looking for apprentices.

This aspect of a coming of age ceremony is difficult to translate into secular culture.  So many American subcultures have authority figures that are not mentors but idols.

Perhaps the only useful generalization is an essay question:  Reflect about which adults besides your parents you look to as respectable authority figures.  Why those adults?  What teaching do they provide?  How do they guide you?  What does all this say about you?

Teach Adults

During the ceremony the most stressful part is usually presenting the sermon.  This is probably the first time the new adult has taught a room full of adults.

This is also easy to translate into a secular coming of age ceremony.  Teach a gathering of adults something.

Begin Cooperatively Process Group History

Children are often taught "Our family does this..." or "Our people value this..."  A coming of age ceremony is a time to discuss your family's historical narrative: what your ancestors have experienced and what path is most open before you.  Which elements of group identity and destiny is the new adult free to accept and reject?  Which are unavoidable?

Similarly, it is a time to ponder which group beliefs are time-tested values, which are dysfunctional historical relics or prejudices, and which are the idiosyncrasies of parents or community leaders that have added flavor and perhaps joys or aggravations to childhood years.

Older children do think about these issues.  But they are seldom provided with structured time over several months to really discuss them with a non-parental adult who is judged by the community as insightful and worthy of respect.

In Jewish culture this discussion happens extensively during the months before the ceremony when the new adult studies and talks with the rabbi.  But the issues are the same in all subcultures: the only difficulty in translate into a secular coming of age ceremony is identifying an appropriate non-parental adult.

How do we translate this into a secular coming of age ceremony?  Discuss how you fit into the history, values, and world-views of the group(s) to which you belong.  Learn enough to represent those groups with explanation, even in those aspects you choose not to represent in habit and deed.

Begin to Earn Adult Respect

One problem with being an American teenager is that society does not give you ways to earn esteem.  The ways children earn esteem no longer apply: sharing, playing nice, trying hard, and being open to new experiences are now assumptions rather than rewarded behaviors.  The ways adults earn esteem probably do not apply: outside of very agrarian subcultures most teenagers simply cannot do significant work to help support their families, and in recent generations most families have lost the ways to contribute economically at home by using dried beans, canning and dehydrating, etc.  Teenagers are given only unreasonable sources of esteem: be a straight A student, be a sports star, etc.  No wonder teenagers get in trouble for inventing their own sources of esteem and pursuing these unhealthily!

There is another nearly universal source of adult esteem that is often overlooked because most American adults fail to acquire it: participating well in conversations about religion, politics, and culture.  Most adults simply take turns sharing their own observations or opinions rather than building off what others have said to create a genuine conversation.  How many people do you know whose contributions in discussions about those topics routine add clarity or insight to the conversation?

I have already mentioned sermon preparation and reflection upon group history, identity, and values.  One goal of that preparation for the coming of age ritual is to make the new adult someone that does talk well about religion, politics, and culture.  As a new adult this ability might not have much breadth: the number of topics for which the person can contribute with clarity and insight will probably be small.  But the skills of effective participation and contribution are widely applicable.

This is also easy to translate into a secular coming of age ceremony.  Be mentored in the knowledge and conversational skills shared by people who others enjoy having lunch with while talking about religion, politics, and culture.

Community Debut

Together all of these provide a chance to demonstrate why other adults should now pay more attention to the new adult.  Instead of a child who runs and plays at the periphery of the community, the new adult is a central member of the community.  Does it matter?

This is the new adult's chance to say, "Look at me.  See that I can handle adult responsibility.  Hear what I have to contribute to adult conversations.  Sample why I am pleasant to spend time with as an adult."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Gallant at Two Months

Last week Gallant had his two month doctor's visit.  His measurements were length 22.3 inches (25%), weight 9 pounds, 14 ounces (15%), and head 15.5 inches (30%).

I told you that he was just like his older brother. Smiley at that age was almost exactly the same: 0.2" shorter, 1 ounce heavier, and of identical head size.

So.. how is Gallant doing?  I have already written about Gallant's birth and how Smiley is doing as a big brother.  Time to complete the picture by finally sharing about the baby!

The short answer is that he is a very healthy and sociable baby, who behaves just like all other healthy and sociable two-month olds.

When his tummy is full and his digestive system is not causing trouble he is wide awake and wants to play.  He love to stare into people's eyes, and also likes looking at trees.  He smiles very often at his favorite social cues: other smiles, having his arms or legs wiggled while singing to him, having his cheeks lightly touched.  He sometimes makes adorable cooing noises.

Unfortunately, little babies are largely a problematic digestive system.   They spit up, get cranky or do not sleep well when needing to pass gas for hours, and are disturbed by the wet, explosive poops they make almost hourly.

So about half his waking hours are adorably cute and fun, and the other half are fussy and needing comforting.  Similarly, some nights we get to sleep for four hours at a time and other nights we are woken every two hours because Gallant needs to fart.

Comforting him usually involves his sucking on a pinky finger.  When overtired he also gets rocked or held with his head wobbling slightly on an elbow.  When trying to pass gas he also gets his legs wiggled.

What can Gallant do?  Again, the normal things for healthy two-month olds.

He can roll from his back onto either side, reach out to touch something, hold up his head, and grasp something (but not maintain a grip very well)

He has learned to put his fist in his mouth.  This was a marvelous development that considerably reduced wear-and-tear on our pinky fingers.  He does not use a pacifier yet, although we're working on that for car trips (one notable complication for a second child is that the seat next to him in the car now has a sibling instead of an adult to provide a pinky to suck on).

He likes being held in a standing position so he can practice standing and taking steps.

He does a slouchy sitting position if propped, which is useful for watching Smiley and Daddy roughhouse.

He prefers being on his tummy with his chest elevated (so on a firm pillow or on his boppy) since he can see more than when his tummy is on the floor.

He nurses well, reliably falls asleep in the Ergo on walks, and in his car seat protests when traffic requires us to stop.

He has never had a diaper rash.  He recently started getting fussy when needing a new diaper.

That's about it: not much that most parents of a two-month-old would not also say.  But I suppose it's still worth saying.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Debt and Leverage

I'm trying to learn more about economics, to better understand the interesting news of the past two weeks.

Tonight I was reading about corporate leverage.  To summarize: borrowing to consume is a bad economic strategy, but it can be wise to borrow to pay for increased profit potential (better farm equipment, building another factory, etc.).  Mathematically, leverage is the ratio of a company's operating income to net income.  The issue relevant to recent news is that leverage attempts to increase profit by increasing risk.

Households borrow also--usually to consume, but sometimes for leverage.

So, how healthy is the economy in regards to debt and leverage?

As a preface, here is a chart about total U.S. household asset value:

What does this chart mean?  It depends upon how real you believe the value is.

If you think that value is now more-or-less accurate then this chart is good news.  Households are acquiring more despite the recession.

On the other hand, if you think that either home prices (purple) or the market (green and red) are over-inflated then this chart is bad news.  People might think they own a bit more than they did in 2008, but they really don't.

Now to answer the main question.  Here is a similar chart (but different years) about U.S. debt.

The green band shows that financial institutions are de-leveraging.  That is a trend I have not read about before.  Banks are reducing risk even if it reduces profit.  That seems like good news.

The red band has become a stable width: households are not changing their amount of debt.  We can combine this with the first chart that shows household asset growth and it also seems like good news.  Households are borrowing a smaller amount compared to their valued assets.  Whether or not the value is real, Americans are trying to borrow less.

The blue band shows that other companies also have a stable amount of debt.  How is their leverage?  Corporate incomes are slightly up, so companies are leveraging as usual.  I expect that is good news too.  We want companies to grow with more equipment and factories and stuff.

However, a complication arises because corporate asset values are dropping (the real estate and equipment owned by companies are worth less because of lower real estate prices, lower demand for reselling it, and inflation).  The leverage ratio is not changed since it compares operating and net income.  But the amount of risk created by the same amount of leverage increases since a larger portion of assets is gained through borrowed money.  (The company still has a nice new factory built by borrowing $x, but now the other, older, paid-off factory is worth $x/2 instead of also being worth $x.)

So we reach three conclusions by looking at debt and leverage.  Banks are shedding risk.  Households are trying to reduce debt.  Companies are trying to use leverage to grow despite facing more risk from using leverage.

Did I get this right?  I'd appreciate if anyone with more economic expertise offered correction or confirmation.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

One-Page Dungeon Contest 2011

The past two years I mentioned the annual One-Page Dungeon Contest.

I just got around to looking at the entries for the 2011 contest, which happened in April and May.

So far my favorite is Swamp Chaos (link is a pdf) by Dennis Filipiak which features a small map and complex situation that could be fun for any solo adventurer or group of heroes.

Part of the contest's fun is looking at the websites of the contestants.  For example, I noticed that someone is giving away free map tileset PDFs.  And someone else invented a tactile dungeon map.

Debt Ceiling 2011 and the S&P 500

The past two days have had some interesting financial news as Congress finally made a Federal debt ceiling deal.

Today marks another time this year that the S&P 500 is down for the year.  Now, it is up 85% since its low in March 2009, so avoiding the stock market because of the recession would have been a poor choice.  But families (like mine) that sold some investments in December 2010 for tax reasons and have been waiting, uncertain how to wisely reinvest, should not feel guilty for their indecision.

Yesterday had quite historic news: not only did several companies then have more cash reserves than the Federal government, but the amount of Federal operating cash was then less than the estimated net worth of Bill Gates.  Neither comparison is meaningful, but both are clever.  The first comparison focused on the size of Apple's cash reserves when the better questions are how Apple manages so well to have free cash and why Apple has been hoarding cash since January when other companies, such as Berkshire Hathaway, have been shrinking their cash reserves.  The second comparison neglects to mention that all of us without trillions of dollars of debt are "richer" than the Federal government (although the average American is in debt 107% of his or her income, compared to the Federal government's 94%).

The debate about the debt ceiling is not over.  I think one analyst was correct in writing that Wall Street cares most about whether Congress is able to make the kind of bipartisan compromises that will eventually be needed to fix the entitlement crisis.  This week's deal proved that Congress is definitely not yet ready.

Bill and Margot

For many months I have been meaning to blog about the websites of two friends, Bill and Margot.

Bill Walter of Golden Apple Healthcare is my naturopathic physician, whom I mentioned in April.  With his help I have enjoyed a much nicer quality of health and life during the recent high-allergy season.  He also helped me by teaching me about fascia and using deep tissue massage to restore to me the flexibility I had lost from years of poor posture.  I can wholeheartedly recommend him to anyone local who struggles with allergies or poor posture.

His wife, Margot, is a artist famous in fabric-arts circles who makes quilts that look like paintings.  I would be impossible for her website to really convey how astounding it is to see across the room what looks like an oil painting that up close is merely carefully layered sheer fabrics.

Their son has no website and is one of Smiley's regular playmates.

Smiley as a Big Brother

I promised an account of how Smiley is doing as a big brother.  He is doing great!

He likes being a big brother and helping take care of a baby.
Yesterday I asked him, "When you are bigger will you be a daddy and have a baby?"

He replied, "Yes.  But first I have to do a lot of planning"

Sadly, my subsequent questions were unable to discover what kind of planning he had in mind.

Hi likes hugging his baby brother.

He enjoys the ways he can entertain the baby.  When Gallant is lying on his back, Smiley can wiggle the baby's arms or move its legs, which often provokes a smile and sometimes even cooing.  When Gallant is fussing, Smiley can help keep a pacifier in Gallant's mouth or offer his pinkey as an even better pacifier.

Smiley also helps with Gallant's two toys for touching and hitting.  When they rotate so the black-and-white side is no longer faces Gallant, Smiley can reposition them.

Smiley also helps us keep an ear out for Gallant waking up.  Gallant's favorite daytime nap spot is in his swing, outside on the back porch.  If Smiley is playing in the back yard he will let us know if Gallant wakes up.

The two boys can both sit and hear a story.  Smiley has started helping by holding the book and turning the pages while mommy or daddy have Gallant on their lap with a pinky in his mouth.

Taking care of a baby is exhausting. Today Smiley had two play dates, as well as helping with Gallant, and he fell asleep outside in his big box.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Comcast, Ubuntu, and YouTube

I have a new laptop.  Like my old Ubuntu laptop, this one has trouble loading YouTube videos at home with Comcast as my internet service provider.

Any ideas why?

(At school my laptop works great with YouTube.  At home my wife's Windows Vista laptop works great with YouTube.)

A Great Two-Legged Griffin

I hoped to write more today about Smiley and Gallant.

But today was a day of all sorts of extra things happening, as well as expected things happen with additionally enjoyable duration.

So I have no time or brain-power to write about family.

Instead I'll share a delightful short story I was able to read today, "The Griffin and the Minor Cannon", from The Bee-Man of Orn and Other Tales by Frank R. Stockton.

You get the story online.  I read it in my current pleasure reading book, Tales Before Tolkien.