Archive for the “Interesting Facts” Category

Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol

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Gatorade makes a drink I am quite fond of called Propel Fitness Water. The label says it is a “water beverage”. What exactly does that mean? Aren’t all beverages water based? I haven’t caught anyone drinking any oil lately. The aren’t many people (living at least) who regularly drink straight alcohol (ethanol) either.

Propel has 25 calories, lots of vitamins, and comes in all sorts of yummy flavors that taste like the Kool-Aid you drank as a kid. I have come to use Propel as a “water replacement beverage”, meaning that I don’t really drink water anymore….only Propel. I now refer to water as “flavorless” Propel.

The artificial sweetener in Propel is Sucralose. What is Sucralose? Well….here is what I got from Wikipedia:

It is 500

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Here is an interesting article by McKinsey on what percentage of jobs, especially in the service sector, could potentially be offshored, and what effect that would have on wages in the US (and in the foreign country).

It also talks about a fact that I saw first hand: Only a very small percentage of foreign workers with the correct university degree for a given field are actually “employable” by multinational companies. 13% was the number they came up with. Interesting…even if there is no way to verify it.

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The headline at reads “Deadly November”. Something about 135 soldiers being killed in Iraq this month….the most since the beginning of the war.

I am sure that is true. However, about 6,500 (not 135) died on D-Day (not month) on the beaches of Normandy in 1945. I couldn’t find a count for the entire month.

If you think that is bad, in about 3 days 51,000 (not 6,500) Americans died at the Battle of Gettysburg …although that isn’t a totally fair comparison since we were on both sides of that battle.

I’m not trivializing death….I’m just saying look on the bright side.

I also looked at, just to see I could find ONE positive story. There are about 40 headlines with links on their frontpage and I found just one with a fairly positive message: “Wal-Mart slashing prices

Actually, I just read the article. The full headline is “Wal-Mart to cut prices after poor sales”. So that isn’t really so positive either.

How about this imaginary press release from a fictional Wal-Mart spokesperson: “Wal-Mart is going to cut prices just because we’re feeling nice… reason in particular. We’re currently the 12th most profitable company on the planet with about 9 billion dollars in profit in 2003. I mean, come one, 9 billion dollars?? We’re like fucking Richy Rich!! I wipe my ass with hundred dollar bills.”

That’ll be the day….

On a side note, I am not really Wal-Mart bashing. Wal-Mart isn’t the most profitable company in the world, but it does have most revenue: 263 billion dollars. To put that in perspective, that’d make Wal-Mart just about on par with Belgium…..the 25th largest economy (not company) in the world.

What I am bashing is MCI. Remember they declared bancruptcy in an accounting scandal arguably as large as Enron’s a few years ago. Last year THEY were the most profitable company on the planet according to Fortune magazine with 22 billion dollars in profits on 27 billion dollars of revenue. Even drugs don’t have a profit margin like that. Maybe I should declare bancruptcy?? I’d certainly be willing to engage in an accounting scandal….if only I had some money to account for.

I looked on too. I couldn’t even find one seemingly positive headline there.

And you wonder why people like to talk about sports and the weather. Life is stressful. Why bother?

But look on the bright side, no matter how many people die in Iraq, no matter how bad the economy is, or how poorly the average man is faring, no matter how many people pull out in front of you on the way home….no matter how much your wife bitches: at least we don’t die in droves of the Bubonic Plague from lack of basic sanitation, living in our own squalor, like we did in the Middle Ages.

The Plague killed about 137 million people in its illustrious history. During one 5 year period in the 14th century, it killed one third of Europe’s population: 25 million people.

So that certainly takes the cake for devastation per capita, far beyond any wars….especially Iraq, but that isn’t the largest death toll in a year: That prize goes to the lowly Flu virus.

WWI killed 9 million men (and women) in 4 years, ending in 1918. In 1919 the plain old flu, albeit a particular virulent strain, killed 25 million people in one year. Phwhoo. In 1919 I bet people were longing for the good ol’ days…..when they were at war!!

Think that’s bad?? We haven’t even scratched the surface!!!

Humans appeared about 50 to 60,000 years ago. Since then about 112 billion people have been born. Of those, about 6 billion stragglers (us) are alive on this planet today (some of those of questionable usefulness). That means that approximately 94% of everyone that has ever lived IS DEAD.

And I’ll be completely honest with you: Our odds don’t look so good either. In about a hundred years….we’ll all be dead too, all six billion of us….wars, epidemics and global warming aside.

I think what I’m really saying here is: The Sky is Definitely Falling. Count your blessings….before they are killed in Iraq, die of the flu, are stolen away from you in an accounting scandal, or are underpriced by Wal-Mart.

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I hadn’t thought about the Vector in years until Josh mentioned it the other day. The freaking Vector!!! I was just sure that car was going to rule the world.

Simply put, the Vector was the fastest and most beautiful car ever to be almost made. 0-60 in 4 seconds, street legal top speed of 215+ miles per hour, a 3 speed automatic transmission with enough horsepower to go to the moon, built to airplane specifications, and looked like Knight Rider on steriods. (Later versions of the Vector were even faster: 220+ top speed, 0-60 in 3.3 seconds)

In 1972 Jerry Wiegert stunned the automotive world with the Vector concept car at the Los Angeles Auto Show. 30 years later, we’re still waiting for the damn thing to to built.

To give you an idea of the cult status of this car, after decades of non-production there are still Vector enthusiast groups, speculating on the next great twist in the Vector saga. (I’ve got a pretty good idea of what’ll happen next…..the same thing that’s been happening: nothing.)

The history of Vector reads like a soap opera. It started in Venice, California then to Wilmington, CA for some money…then was bought by an Indonesian group (MegaTech) with ties to Lamborghini. During these moves a few cars, under varying names and designs, were actually produced. Because the design was constantly changing and the cars were individually assembled, no two Vectors are exactly alike.

Then they disappeared for while, then moved to Florida for some more money, Wiegart was kicked out of the company, there was an SEC investigation…and they went out of business….or did they??

Then they were bought by Tradelink International in the late 90s. Bear in mind that since no cars are being made, investors are really buying the name…but how good can a name be when the owner is mired in court battles, won’t talk about the car in public, and no one actually owns a Vector to say if its any good??

So where is Vector now?? I have no idea. Some people say its re-organized as American Aeromotive, Vector Holdings, Avtech Motors, and/or Vector Supercars. Take your pick. One of them might be a real company….but one thing is for sure: None of these companys will be producing any Vectors.

So how many Vectors exist?? As far as I can make out:

1 W2 (this is the original concept car shown at the 1972 LA auto show without an engine. They hadn’t finished it and rolled it in as a shell looking for money…talk about hype!!)
19 W8s
2 Avtechs (one coupe and one roadster).
14 M12s

These cars reportedly sold for between 150,000 and 450,000 dollars. As recently as June 2004, someone tried to sell the only WX-3 (Avtech) coupe in existence on EBay. The top bid of $199,000 failed to meet the reserve price.

So there are few of them out there, but real Vector enthusiasts do not count the M12s. They say they are more reminiscent of Lamborghinis and do not hold true to the Vector style tradition. (I say what tradition?? 20 cars over 20 years is not exactly a strong tradition.)

Regardless, I still love the fictitious Vector and am sure the saga will continue.

Here are some pics. As you look, keep in mind that this design is 30 years old. Even the Avtech in the Ebay photo was made in 1993. These cars were way ahead of their time.

Vector’s jet fighter inspired console:

The Avtech:

The W8 (which looks very similar to the original W2). These are the “real” Vectors:

Here is a link to a photo gallery (one more)

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How long can a human being live for if their sole source of food or drink is beer? And do different beers – ale, lager, stout, mild – confer a better chance of survival?

John Eden , Narara, New South Wales, Australia


Beer has had a reputation since antiquity as being a staple in the diet, often called “liquid bread”. In ancient Egypt, workers received beer as part of their salary, as did the ladies-in-waiting of Queen Elizabeth I of England. In 1492, one gallon of beer per day was the standard allocation for sailors in the navy of Henry VII.

(Me: Holy Shit!! A gallon of beer a day??? I’d be wasted all the time. 1492…that was when Colombus found America right?? Shit, if his crew was on the same ration as the English sailors…he was probably lost. No wonder he didn’t find an all water route to the East Indies…..He was bombed!!!)

This high reputation for beer came about because it was made from malted barley, which is rich in vitamins. This is still true today. A quick check using nutritional tables shows that a pint can provide more than 5 per cent of the daily recommended intake of several vitamins, such as B9, B6 and B2, although other vitamins such as A, C and D are lacking.

It is of course unethical to conduct an experiment to see whether one can live on beer alone. (Me: Really?? I know people who would gladly volunteer for such an experiment!) However, during the Seven Years War of 1756-63, John Clephane, physician to the English fleet, conducted a clinical trial. Three ships were sent from England to America. One, the Grampus, was supplied with plenty of beer, while the two control ships, the Daedalus and the Tortoise, had only the common allowance of spirits. After an unusually long voyage due to bad weather, Clephane reported that the Daedalus and Tortoise had 112 and 62 men respectively requiring hospitalisation. The Grampus, on the other hand, had only 13, arguably a clear-cut result.

Needless to say, the sailors’ allowance of eight pints of beer per day is no longer within the accepted confines of current moderate alcohol consumption. One can only speculate on the state of their livers. Living on beer alone may be a fantasy for some, but it is not a good health strategy.

This is an excerpt taken from an article at the New Scientist, one of my favorite websites.

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I would write about work but I can’t be bothered to think about it right now. It is too depressing.

So I’ll give you a little alternative education about the economics of stock offerings. Put on your thinking caps.

What is money by fiat? It is when some party, usually a government, says something is valuable and can be used for exchange and that thing (usually paper) has no value of its own. Fiat money is worth something only because people think it can be exchanged for something at a later time. If faith in the issuer disappears, so does the value of the money.

In contrast, up until WWI most currencies were back by gold or silver or some other commodity so that, in theory at least, one could trade in their paper money for some quantity of gold. (That begs the question why gold is really valuable since it has no practical purpose…again, its value is based soley on the expectation that it may be used in a later exchange.)

There are advantages and disadvantages to fiat money, which I won’t go into here, but to say that it is generally a fair system to value worthless money issued by a stable government.

One may think, “Great!! Why not just print more money, then you’d be richer?” Not really, whatever quantity of money you’ve printed represents some underlying, intrinsic value of the issuer. If you print more money, you simply dilute the value of it (inflation)….the underlying value doesn’t change. The money would just be worth less on the world market. Things would cost more at home.

So that is a little history on fiat money…what does it have to do with the stock market?

What are stock certificates? Although most of us have never seen any, they are pieces of paper, sort of like money.

What are stock certificates worth? Their worth today is based on what others think their potential for trade is in the future. If the potential for future trade is high, the stock price goes up. It sounds a lot like money so far. Its value is based on its perception of future value, which is based on the perceived underlying value of the issuer (company).

But with stocks you actually own something, right? You own a little part of the company. Money has no trade in value. Theorectically at least, stocks can be traded in for a little piece of the company.

Really? Have you ever tried to trade it in? Have you ever knocked on the door of GE headquarters and attempted to speak to the CEO waving a stock certificate in hand claiming partial ownership? Do you think your shares would get you into a board meeting? Stock certificates have the same value as money, just what others perceive the value to be.

But if a governments folds, the money is worthless, if a company goes bankrupt you own a little of it, so you would get a portion of whatever is liquidated right?

Theorectically, yes. In practice, not a chance in hell. Stockholders are dead last in the pecking order of the assets of insolvent companies.

If I remember correctly, first is accounts payable and then creditors (like a bank). Bottom line, if a company has enough assets to get all the way down to stockholders during a liquidation….they have enough money to stay in business. You’ll never see a dime if the company goes bankrupt…just like your money will be worthless if a government folds.

What about shareholder meetings? Legally, if you own even one share, you are entitled to speak at the annual shareholder meeting and your share entitles you to a vote in whatever issue is put to ballot. You do have some rights as a shareholder.

This one is the biggest joke. They hold those meetings at places like Aspen, Colorado during peak season and rent out the most expensive hotel. No normal person can afford to go.

Additionally, while you do get to vote, the vote is for issues that are already foredrawn conclusions, like a name change from AOL to AOL Time Warner. You can be sure that whatever is put to ballot is an inconsequential token decision, otherwise they would’ve made it behind closed doors.

Watch close. Here is how Wall Street creates money out of thin air in a very clever financial slight of hand: During an IPO a company issues worthless pieces of paper and we trade real money for those shares.

They started with nothing…they printed some paper (stock certificates)…we bought it, and they pocket the cash.

Usually, when a company gets large chunks of cash, they go into debt for it. But not this time. There is no debt. If a company goes insolvent, stockholders never see a dime.

So now they have a boatload of new cash and they didn’t pay a dime for it. Where did it come from? Money by Fiat….from thin air.

Remember the AOL Time Warner merger? AOL (the junior and smaller company) “bought” Time Warner for 183 billion dollars, the largest corporate merger ever.

AOL must’ve been really rich, right? No. AOL “paid” Time Warner 166 billion dollars in stock and assumed 17 billion dollars of Time Warner’s debt.

Out of pocket cost for AOL to buy Time Warner (one of the largest media conglomerates in the world): $0.

Because that stock didn’t cost them a dime. They just printed up paper and everyone gave them money.

They had just as much cash in the bank before the deal as they did after the deal. There was no additional debt. They paid nothing!!! They bought something (a media conglomerate) with nothing. Amazing.

So is it a scam? No, not really. There is always a chance it will work out for you, unlike a real scam…where you are sure to lose. You can definitely get rich in the stock market…but you can definitely get rich in Vegas too.

I’m thinking about having an IPO for me. Anyone wanna buy shares?

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I always keep a bottle of stimulant handy in case I see a snake-which I also keep handy.
— W. C. Fields (1880-1946)

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
— Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

It takes one drink to get me drunk, but I can’t remember if it’s the thirteenth or the fourteenth.
— George Burns (1896-1996)

“When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.”
— Henny Youngman (1906-1998) British-born American comedian

“Time is never wasted when you’re wasted all the time.”
— Catherine Zandonella (I don’t know who she is, but that is some real wisdom!!)

Hey Josh, how do you like the last one???

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When I moved to Atlanta I decided not to have a TV because I didn’t feel like paying for cable….too expensive.

Guess what?? I didn’t think I would really miss TV and I found out I didn’t.

I got a cable internet connection instead. Its only 30 bucks a month. I read stuff and learn stuff…its much more stimulating and interactive. I can download movies and listen to CD quality radio. I love it.

Then I got to thinking about how cable works. Basic cable is broadcast to everyone with a live cable jack.

In essence, cable doesn’t send you the channels you order….it just sends all the channels to everyone and uses filters to restrict access. The filters are extra work.

Oversimplifying, cable internet uses empty channels to surf the web. My cable modem is sort of permanently set to watch the “internet channel”.

So I plugged in a TV to watch the other channels. And now I get free cable.

I’m thinking about giving the TV back. It is a time vacuum.

Not that I have anything else to do.

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I like the idea of simple living. It means consuming what is needed and trading more stuff for more free time. Things cost money, but money costs time…so instead of buying that 50 dollar sweater you could instead trade that for 3 extra hours with friends or family….since that is approximately how much time it would take to earn the money. If you count after tax dollars to buy the sweater, which you should, it would be more like 4 or 5 hours. Which would you prefer: 4.5 hours of free time, or an extra sweater?

Well there is an organization that advocates simple living as alternative to consumerism and a way to get back to more human values, instead of market values. I don’t think there is much chance of it ever taking off. It is only really attractive to a small minority who already favors leisure and/or harbors some latent resentment of the current system.

But I am interested anyway, so I called a lady who had signed up to be a local representative here in Greenville. I want to talk to people who have actually tried to scale back their lifestyles.

Personally, I see several major obstacles to “simple living” that would make it almost unfeasible for most people with normal aspirations. The most important is that it forces you to drop out of normal society. You cannot participate in the conversations about houses and cars, nor can you go out to dinner and bars to drop 80 bucks a night. You won’t be able to afford to live near those that would be your social and intellectual equals. At Christmas you wouldn’t be able to give the thousands of dollars in gifts that most people give. You would have plenty of free time to spend with your friends and family, but since they work all the time, it would still be difficult to coordinate schedules since most of their free time is spend in money spending activities such as expensive dinners or lavish vacations…which you couldn’t do. Your children would not be afforded the same opportunities as you had. Your decision to scale back would be forced onto your children.

In short, “Simple Living” is alienating and could be construed as exile from society, not an escape from conspicuous spending. If you are prepared to leave, be sure of your next best alternative as returning is hard to do. Also be prepared to leave for good as keeping your hand in both cookie jars leaves you realizing both alternatives poorly instead of having the best of both worlds.

So the lady was an ex-CPA who worked for twenty years and raised 3 kids before she went on to “simple living”. Her husband still works. I was highly unimpressed as she had not overcome any of the objections I raised above, but simply chosen not to buy the new Mercedes every few years or vacation in the Hamptons for the summer. She was quite proud of herself anyway, and I applaud her for the effort, which seemed sincere.

Being an accountant gave her a good head for business and we had a long conversation about the escalating importance of work and the toll it is taking on our lives. It is amazing that nearly any discussion executed well enough always ends in the same stalemate: it comes down to a question of values.

It is horribly difficult to prove anything, even appeals to history can be said to represent single data points, not trends, or to be misrepresentative because the situation was not analogous.

Statistics are often employed as proof as well, but they depend on the way the survey was structured, how the questions were asked, to whom they were asked, and how the numbers were analyzed. They give off an air of empirical science, but are largely just value judgments repackaged in numerical form. If you torture the numbers long enough, they’ll say anything you want them to. Just ask Enron.

Take this data for instance: While our GDP is skyrocketing, poverty levels have remained nearly constant. The largest bulk of the gains in wealth over the last 20 years has gone to the rich. Income inequality is the highest it has been since before WWII. These are all facts, undeniable.

I can even throw in some statistics to back it up if I feel like finding the data on my computer…but I don’t. Actually I’ll throw in one chart just to make it seem more scientific:

This kind of information could really sour one on the economy and the structure of our society. It could be used by politicians, by labor unions…by anyone that stands to gain from it. But it doesn’t prove anything…though I often quote statistics like this myself. Data is never scientific; people pick the facts they want, the ones that back up what they believe. If they don’t find the right facts, they keep looking until they do.

Consider this alternative view: The reason the lower income brackets are not rising as fast as the higher ones is immigration. Through the 1980s and 1990s, America accepted more than a million legal immigrants annually – for each of the last twenty years the US has accepted more legal immigrants than all other nations of the world combined, along with a huge influx of illegals, estimated at 8 million currently within our borders.

The result is that today 11 percent of the US population is foreign-born, the highest proportion since the 1930s. Immigrants start at the bottom of the bell curve, often below the poverty level and keep blue collar wages from rising because the low-skilled labor pool is kept artificially plentiful by immigration.

Does this explain all of the rising income inequality in the US?? The source from which I got those stats (a book I’m reading called “The Progress Paradox”) says largely yes.

And I am sure it explains some of it, especially the persistence of poverty. Although no number of immigrants can explain the ballooning of CEO pay:
All across Europe it never exceeds 40 times the pay of the average worker.

Anyway, the short moral to this long story is this: don’t listen to all these “experts”. There certainly are experts in this world, but it is so hard to tell the difference between someone who is very well-informed on a subject and someone who is very well-informed and has an agenda to promote…..that I hesitate to believe what any of them say.

I think I’ll stop here since this post has dragged on long enough. Next time I’ll continue with the specifics of our conversation, how it came down to value judgments and how it contrasted with a similar conversation I had with Arlie Hochschild yesterday. She is a leading researcher at UC Berkeley on the work/life and family movements.

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