Poker Totals

Here are the totals for Poker, as of the last time we played. Each total is the net amount gained (or lost), taking into account the payout for each game. The percent return shows the average percent return each player has earned overall. The list is in descending order of wealth.

First Name Balance   % Return
William $ 9,347.00 194%
Chad $ 5,906.00 377%
Chris $ 5,247.00 248%
Corrine $ 1,414.00 114%
Bronwyn $ 1,136.00 120%
Kiren $ (289.00) 86%
John $ (326.00) 85%
Nelson $ (760.00) 64%
Kayla $ (830.00) 61%
Dave $ (1,322.00) 63%
Jessica $ (1,336.00) 6%
Mackenzie $ (1,420.00) 0%
Claire $ (2,130.00) 0%
Joey $ (2,130.00) 0%
Brian $ (2,394.00) 58%
Shelli $ (2,737.00) 23%
Kevin $ (3,064.00) 46%
Cassie $ (3,456.00) 3%

Debt Elimination Update

So I’ve already updated the Debt Elimination Calculator (and yes, I do realize it has only been a couple hours). The new version is version 2.2.1 and can be downloaded here or from the original post (the links in each point to the same file).

Features added for version 2.2.1:

  • The spreadsheet now calculates the information (time required to pay off, interest paid, etc.) when paying at the minimum payments only, for comparison purposes. This functionality had been removed in version 2.0.0.
  • The minimum payment calculators are more robust to inadequate minimum payments.
  • Some slight formatting modifications have been made.
  • Added functionality for sending feedback/asking questions via email.

Also, another interesting note on debt elimination. I was just told by a friend that you can make payments in advance. Let me explain. If your minimum payment is $50 and you pay $100, you have made a bigger dent in you balance, but the minimum payment of $50 still comes due next month. Alternatively, you can make two payments of $50: one labeled for this month and one for next month. Then you have still paid $100 dollars and have the same benefits of less interest accruing, but the next payment to come due is in two months instead of one.

When using debt elimination you usually are paying more than the minimum payment. If you use this method each month you have the added advantage of an ever increasing buffer between you and when your next payment is due. There is more bookkeeping required on your end, but you have an extra margin of safety in case something happens. (Though, if you stop paying because you aren’t required to then you not only lose the advantage of the buffer, but also lose ground on your debt elimination. So if you’re going to do this you have to be very disciplined.)

Special thanks to Dave for this insight.

Budgeting & Debt Elimination

I taught combined Priesthood and Relief Society a week ago on budgeting and debt elimination. I’ve had a number of requests for my budget template and debt elimination calculator. So I decided to put all of the materials here.

Here are the two handouts that were used in class. I wrote the first one and it goes over the debt elimination process and the steps for starting a budget. The second one is the pamphlet put out by the Church, One for the Money, talking about family finances.

(Click on the images to download)

Here is the debt elimination calculator I created. It has the capacity for 10 debts. You fill in the blue information for each debt in the order you want to prioritize them, along with the amount you can allot toward paying off your debts each month. It then calculates when you will pay off each, how much interest you will pay on each, and the payments that are required each month.

Debt Elimination Calculator Spreadsheet
(Click on the image to download)

And finally, here is my budget template. It is the method that I use for budgeting. I’ve used it for years. Though it has undergone some fairly substantial revisions throughout the process, the principles have remained the same.
Budget with Sample Transactions
(Click on the image to download)

I hope to post some further explanation about how to use the two spreadsheets. I think that the budget spreadsheet especially needs explanation. It is not difficult once you get the idea, but to take advantage of all its coolness a little explanation is necessary. For now, feel free to let me know if you have questions—I’d be happy to explain it to you.

I will update and modify both of the spreadsheets above over time. In fact, both have been modified since I taught the class a week ago. As I revise them I will update these links, so the most up-to-date versions will always be found here. Also, for further updates click on the Budgeting category at the right to see all of my future posts about the topic (this one is the first).

Update: There seems to be some difficulty with the way that some versions of Internet Explorer behave when trying to download the above files. The files are Excel files (they are not zip files). If your computer tries to download it as a zip file then try the following: right click on the link, click Save Target As …, and name the file <something>.xlsx somewhere you’ll be able to find it. That should bypass the problem. As always, if you have trouble then let me know.

Drag Racing

I went to a drag race for the first time last Friday. It was surprisingly fun, in large part because of who I was with: Dave, Andrew, and Janelle.

It was in many ways precisely how I expected it to be: loud, smokey, smelly, and monotonous. Even with all of that, though, it was really quite fun. I definitely like the drifting best, especially when they went two at a time. I think it’d be really fun to try it, though I’d want to use someone else’s car. And I probably wouldn’t want spectators for my first time. I was kind of disappointed that none of the cars ran into the concrete wall, rolled, or smashed into each other. Maybe next time.

I’m not sure how well we blended into the crowd. We probably pored over the program a little bit much trying to figure out the lingo and if anyone heard snatches of our conversation they probably would have found it pretty humorous:

“That’s a Camaro, right?”
[Agreement from everyone else.]
Announcer: “… driving a Corvette.”

“I think ‘red lighting’ means they start before the light turns green. When they do that the red light turns on.”

After being there an hour:

“Hey, I figured out why they call it the Maverick Lane and the Jacket Lane. It’s because it says ‘Maverick’ and ‘Jack-It’ above the lanes.”

After being there over an hour and a half:

“Oh, that’s their speed showing up on the display.”

“I wish someone would run into the concrete wall.”
“Ya, that’s the only reason I’ve been watching.”

Announcer: “How many Ford fans do we have?”
One of us: “YAAAAA!!”
Announcer: “And how many Chevy fans do we have?”
The same one of us: “YAAAAA!!”

“I had no idea this thing took video!”

Some of these were pretty profound observations for the rest of us at the time. Maybe it was a good thing it was so loud, so we could keep these profound insights to ourselves. I did grow a beard for the occasion so I could blend in better. I think that helped a lot.

I have to admit I did kind of feel like a woose because I had earplugs in during a lot of it. I don’t think I saw anyone else with earplugs the whole time, other than me and my friends. It was a whole lot more comfortable wearing them, though. And being able to hear people talking at a normal volume afterward was also a definite perk.

I didn’t think to take a camera; fortunately my friends did. Dave’s got pictures and videos posted on his blog. I think Andrew and Janelle’s will be forthcoming.

Update: Janelle has posted some pictures and videos, too. They turned out really good.

Bold and Italics in Google Chat

I just learned something really cool about Google Chat: you can make things bold or italic. I’ve wanted to do that so many times:

This text is *bold* => This textis bold
This text is _in italics_ => This text is in italics
This text is -struck out-. => This text is struck out.
This is _italicized *and_ bold* => This is italicized and bold

This is seriously one of the coolest things I’ve learned all week.

Update: Apparently this same thing works in Facebook, too.

Why I Don’t Say I’m an Econ Major

When people ask me what my major was or what my degree is in I usually say “mathematics.” I’ve been encouraged a number of times, particularly by my dad, to not leave off the “and economics” because I did double major. So let me explain why I typically only claim mathematics.

Microeconomics versus Macroeconomics

Economics is the study of how economies work and how entities within the economy (individuals and firms) interact with one another. Within economics there are two distinct subfields: microeconomics and macroeconomics. Though very related, these two subfields are actually quite different from one another.

Microeconomics studies the behavior of individuals and firms as they interact in the economy. It studies things like how an individual firm allocates its resources most efficiently to achieve a specific objective (most often profit maximization) or how individuals make consumption decisions to maximize utility when they have limited time and money to allocate. It is a very well defined discipline in which economists agree on most things. It is very mathematical and much of it is rigorously defined. It involves a lot of mathematical analysis to make optimal decisions under some definition of “optimal.”

Macroeconomics, on the other hand, is the study of the economy as a whole and looks at things like unemployment, inflation, monetary policy and fiscal policy in the economy. In contrast to microeconomics, macroeconomics is not as well understood. Economists do agree on a number of aspects of it because it is extremely complex and very difficult to model an economy accurately. Macroeconomics has come a long way in the last few decades but there are still a lot of things that are not fully understood. This is why in the current economic situation many very prominent economists have very divergent views about what the best course of action is.

I personally really enjoy microeconomics. I really fell in love with it the first few days of Economics 380, when the professor started laying out mathematical axioms about how people make decisions, which we then built on for the balance of the semester. My degree heavily emphasizes microeconomics. In contrast, I do not really care for macroeconomics very much. I don’t find it as mathematically rigorous or as interesting. I do appreciate knowing a fair amount about it, particularly in light of the current economic situation, but I am often reluctant to have strong opinions on many policy decisions because I am aware of the extreme complexity of macroeconomic problems and the lack of concrete understanding that macroeconomics has on many important issues. This is not to say that macroeconomists don’t deserve any credit. They do understand a lot; there’s just also a lot they don’t understand fully yet.

In my experience, people have usually heard of both micro- and macroeconomics. When you ask them what the difference is, though, they can’t really tell you, other than that one is “small” and the other is “big.” And when you ask them to describe economics in general, they always describe macroeconomics. Furthermore, when people talk about economists they are almost always meaning macroeconomists. People don’t really know that a microeconomist also exists and they don’t really have any idea what a microeconomist would be.

“Mathematics and Economics”

When I say that I majored in “mathematics and economics,” people always hear the “economics” part and they immediately start thinking about macroeconomics and the current economic crisis. I don’t get the impression that people generally hold macroeconomists in that great of esteem. I don’t blame them, since all you typically hear lately is contradicting things from macroeconomists about how to fix the current global economy. So people almost invariably respond to my major by either starting a discussion about the economy or making some remark about me fixing the economy or me getting a job as an economist.

I don’t really care for either of these responses. On the one hand, I don’t really want to get into a discussion about the economy with everyone that asks me my major. I do enjoy discussing it, but typically only with people that want to intelligently discuss it. I find that just about everyone is very opinionated about what they think is the best way to fix the economy but people often really have no idea what they’re talking about and are not open to the possibility that people who have studied the economy extensively might have insights that they don’t have. So conversations with such people are pointless at best. On the other hand, I don’t really like comments and conversations about me fixing the economy or even about me getting a job as an economist, because I have no desire or intention of doing so. At least not in the sense that most people mean when they say “economist.”

So in sum, when I say “economics” or “economist” I usually mean something far different from what the typical person thinks that I mean. And it’s usually far too tedious (and pointless) to try and explain what I mean because in reality most of them don’t even care. I prefer to simply not have to deal with the issue.

Mathematics versus Economics

Mathematics is inherently superior to economics. Its scope is abstractly all encompassing and it studies structure at a level of abstraction that relieves you of the limitations inherent in specificity. It is a discipline of the mind and of thought and expands your capacity to understand any structure or problem. Because of this, mathematicians are literally “the freest of all thinkers” (Margaret Wertheim).

Economics is simply a special case in mathematics where all the variables have specific names and interpretations. Intellectually it is far less challenging than mathematics. The most difficult aspect of economics is the mathematics it uses, and the mathematics it uses is really quite trivial until you get fairly advanced in economics. I regularly put in far more time and intellectual effort in my math classes and found it far more difficult to get grades comparable to those I achieved relatively easily in my general education or economics classes. I also find that on average you learn far more in a math classes than in any other classes.

Returning to the question of my major, since people don’t really understand what I mean when I tell them I studied economics, the only real benefit in stating both is to emphasize the fact that I double majored and now have two bachelor’s degrees. However, when I do say both majors, economics tends to overshadow mathematics so heavily in people’s minds that they don’t even realize that I said mathematics at all a good portion of the time. It doesn’t seem to matter that I intentionally list mathematics first and tend to emphasize it more.

If the person does hear both majors, they hear them as equal accomplishments and interests and I don’t perceive them that way. Mathematics is my greater interest and it is superior to economics in many ways. I often feel like I am degrading mathematics by placing it as economics’ equal. Therefore, I give mathematics its rightful place as my major and claim economics as a secondary interest when it appropriately doesn’t detract from mathematics. In light of all of this, I think the combined statement “mathematics and economics” is less meaningful and less impressive than the simpler statement “mathematics.”

Accurate Impressions

When people know very little about you, they have to interpolate a lot of conclusions about you based on the small pieces of information that they have. This leads people to ask questions that give the most power in classifying and stereotyping, such as finding out someone’s major. So people’s perception of you can be quite different based on the simply answer “mathematics” versus “mathematics and economics.” If I state both then people come away with the impression that I’ve studied macroeconomics when in reality my primary interest is mathematics and I only have a secondary interest in microeconomics. This is not accurate at all. On the other hand, if I just state “mathematics” then people have a far more accurate picture of what I am interested in and what I have studied. If the conversation persists then I’ll mention that I double majored in economics in the context of explaining what that means.

So that is a brief explanation as to why I typically only claim to be a mathematics major.

Graduation Gifts

As graduation approached it didn’t even cross my mind that people typically give graduations gifts and that I would soon be the recipient of such. Then my grandpa called me to talk to me about the gift my grandparents wanted to give me: a Kitchenaid.

So now I can certainly say I got the coolest set of graduation gifts I could have imagined. I now own a 475 watt, 5 quart Kitchenaid; the Kitchenaid grain mill attachment for grinding wheat;
a 45 pound bucket of 16% protein hard red wheat; an intriguing game of skill, strategy, and magnetic fields called Jishaku; and I’ll soon have the Kitchenaid food slicer attachment. Who could ask for more?

It took me a whole 15 minutes from the time my family left on Thursday (leaving me with my new toys) before I had started making a cheesecake with my new Kitchenaid. I’m really pleased with how well it worked. And the cheesecake turned out quite well, too (it deserves it’s own post). I was looking through my baking cookbook last night and have lots of recipes I want to try, particularly now that I have my Kitchenaid.

The model I have is the Kitchenaid Professional HD Series. Special thanks to the many people that discussed Kitchenaid colors with me at great length. It took me days to decide on the color, but I finally settled on silver. Mine is quite a step above the base Artisan model (which is only 4 quarts with a 325 watt motor) and features a 5 quart bowl, 475 watts of power, and a solid steel drive and gear assembly. You should click on the pictures so you can see it better. Isn’t it beautiful? And doesn’t it look good in it’s natural habitat and new home?

The Kitchenaid Grain Mill will be really cool. I technically don’t have it yet (since it’s still being shipped to my parents’), but should get it soon. I’ve wanted to delve into making homemade stone ground whole wheat bread before. The problem has always been that you need a wheat grinder in order to really do so and they’re typically not too cheap. Once I get it I intend to use it promptly.

My uncle followed the theme quite well by giving me a 45 pound bucket of hard red wheat. What’s more, the wheat is 16% protein (pretty high for wheat) and is free of rocks and other debris. So now I’m all set for making real whole wheat bread. At least I will be as soon as my grain mill arrives.

Finally, I also got a game called Jishaku. I’ve played it several times and it is quite fun. It is an interesting balance of skill and strategy. It reminds me a lot of Jenga, but it uses magnets and is much more fun. I remain undefeated so far.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go bake something with my new Kitchenaid.

A Few of My Favorite Books

A friend just wrote on her blog about how she has recently been reading more, and she asked for recommendations of books readers recommend. I posted a few of my suggestions, and decided to post my thoughts here as well. I really should add more to this list, because it is just a smattering of some of my favorite books; it is by no means complete.

I’ve been reading a lot of the classics the last few years, especially those that I read during high school. I personally hated most of the books I read for school. I think the fact that I had to read them invariably made it a miserable experience. In reading many of them again recently I have almost always found them to be quite enjoyable.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is one of my all time favorite books. I read it in 9th grade and hated it; I’ve read it twice in the last few years and loved it. It is medium lengthened and pretty enthralling from start to finish. You come to know and love many of the characters, while coming to understand the horror of slavery. The book is perfectly balanced with social commentary. I think everyone should read it. Be prepared to cry at least a few times.

Dracula by Bram Stoker is a short read and is extremely enjoyable. You won’t be able to put it down. It is written in 1st person from the perspective of all of the main characters in turn and is very well done. It is well worth reading just for the fun of it.

I just finished reading My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. It is a short, but fascinating autobiographical account of a neuroanatomist that experiences a severe stroke. She describes what it was like to experience the total deterioration of her brain’s left hemisphere capacities and functions over the course of 4 hours and her subsequent 8 year complete recovery. It sheds a lot of light on the way the brain works and the distinction between the two hemispheres of the brain. (For more information, read this post.)

I really enjoyed Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, but I think that one is a little more difficult to get through than some others. I found it very insightful in understanding obsession to the point of complete self destruction.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is well worth a reread if you’re like me and didn’t get anything out of the books you read in high school. It is lengthy but not too difficult—be sure to read the unabridged version. The themes and messages in the book are much more powerful than those in any of the movies made about it.

The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis is a great book. It is pretty short, but is one of the most quoted nonscripture religious books out there. It’s not too difficult, entertaining, and quite insightful.

Continuing the religous theme, another book I’ve read recently that I wholeheartedly recommend is The Broken Heart by Bruce C Hafen. Elder Hafen discusses what it means to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit and how that relates to the Atonement.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky is also on my list of favorites. It is a rather dark psychological exploration of the main character committing a serious crime and the subsequent mental punishment he experienced thereafter. I found it frighteningly similar to my own thought patterns and mental tendencies and quite insightful into the human psyche. I think it is a phenomenal book, though I know many people who hated it and found it quite depressing.

Finally, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is among my favorites. It’s very long and a much more difficult book to get through. I don’t recommend it early on in your rediscovery of reading, but you should read it later at some point. Hugo goes on a number of long tangents (like 50 to 100 pages each) on what some would say are completely irrelevant topics. When you do read it, it is still worth reading the unabridged version (about 1500 pages) even with the tangents because of the detail, particular in the background and development of each of the characters.

The Complicated Task of Hard Boiling Eggs

I realize that I’m posting a lot about eggs and cooking, but I can’t help but mention this.

As I was perusing my new Joy of Cooking yesterday, I came across the fact that the method for hard boiling eggs that the new version recommends is different from the method that the old version recommended and different from any method I’ve tried myself. Last night my roommates wanted me to teach them how to hard boil eggs, so I decided to try the new method out.

I think many people consider hard boiling eggs to be a trivial kitchen endeavor requiring no skill or precision. I’ve thought so myself. However, many people use very different techniques. The hard boiled eggs last night were significantly better tasting than most that I have had in my life. So I think there’s more to hard boiling eggs than first meets the eye, and I think that it’s worth the extra effort to make them perfectly.

So here’s the new recipe from the Joy of Cooking website:

Place in a pot in a single layer:
Unshelled eggs
Cover them by 1 inch with:
Cold water
Put the pan over high heat and bring to a boil. Promptly remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let the eggs stand: 15 minutes for large eggs, 12 minutes for small and medium eggs, 18 minutes for extra-large and jumbo eggs. Eggs that are not room temperature will require an additional 2 minutes. When cooking is complete, run cold water over eggs to stop cooking.

The Joy of Cooking also recommended poking a hole through the end of the eggshell with a pin to prevent the eggs from breaking. I did so and didn’t have any break (though I don’t usually). The eggs last night were done all the way through and they seemed more moist and had better flavor than normal. I think I’m very accustomed to eating inferior, overcooked hard boiled eggs. When they are not overcooked they are pretty amazingly delectable.

Mobile Blogging

This post was sent from my cell phone. Technology’s pretty cool.