Tuesday, January 29, 2008

For Football (Soccer) Fans

From the Freakonomics 2008 Calendar:

An analysis of soccer penalty kicks found that kicking the ball down the middle is a more effective strategy than kicking it either to the left or right. But in game situations, players rarely go for the middle of the net. Why? Because if you kick it down the middle and don't score, the embarrassment factor is unacceptably high.

I love Steven Levitt.

I think this also might be faulty correlation. Maybe because so many players kick to the sides, that goalies aren't expecting goals down the middle. I don't know.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Kegger Re-Post May 2003

hey everybody,

a few of you have asked about my kegger this weekend. so i wanted to give a brief description.

first, it was really fun. i got a full keg of killian's red, in honor of the first beer that i ever had (which daphne brought to the office, and which i consumed at home when i was age 26).

a full keg is d*mn heavy. but it has to be, to be able to serve 200 12 oz. servings. i both tapped the keg and drank the first beer. the cover charge was $5 at the door. chris was in charge of the music, and brought out some old/new school classics including beastie boys, george clinton & the parliament funkadelic and i helped by provided queen.

i invited close to 20 people and almost everybody came. we even had some friends of friends, which was fun. there was only one ad hoc drinking game, which i did not organize or supervise. no one underage was served beer, and no one was drunk that i know of. but we did put away a good portion of the keg.

some wiseacres decided to litter my home with american flag stickers, half drunk beer cups left in odd & deliberately peculiar places, and one of my pillowcases was replaced by a white pillowcase with the american flag sewn on to it (for the background of that story, please refer questions in a subject line entitled: (elvis impersonator). that even was really fun.

here are some lessons i learned from my first ever kegger (both in terms of going to a kegger and throwing one):

1) start at 9:00 (PM for you smart alecks) or later...probably on a friday.
2) have a beer that people like. for me, i got a generally good response to the killians. a couple people said that they get headaches after drinking too much red beer, but this helped by encouraging moderation.
3) next time, maybe have fat tire, or dutch scotch ale.....but the cover charge would have to go up.
4) make sure your income equals your expenses. with taxes, i paid $86.00 for the keg, and received $79.00 for cover charges (jason smith still owes me a dollar).
5) if you can, have the weather be really hot, to encourage the contrast of the cold beer and the heat. (it was in the 70's earlier that day, so we did pretty good).

this is just a taste of the "kegger" but i had lots of people tell me in the days after that it was really, really fun and that we should do this on a semi-regular basis. if you can make it, i'd love to have you at the next one.


Saturday, January 19, 2008


A few years ago, my sister Tammy made brownies for the family. As a teenager, she started baking and offered to share. Trying to be a good big brother, I agreed to eat some of her early work.

One of the earliest times, I bit (at) the brownie, but nothing happened. I tried moving the brownie to the back of my mouth to break the brownie using my molars. No go. Tried the molars on the opposite side. No go.

Finally, I put the brownie at the front of my mouth and used the palm of my hand to push the brownie against my two front teeth. I was hoping to crack the brownie in half and enable more manageble bites later. Finally, luck. The brownie broke suddenly...my hand kept moving... in essence punching myself in the face and giving me a bloody nose. "Mmmm... these are delicious"

Monday, January 14, 2008

Distinct College Town Dynamics

I went to Asbury College in rural Wilmore, Kentucky. Surrounded by rolling hills, horse farms, and tobacco barns. Beautiful.

Asbury College is a Christian interdenominational school (although it has strong Methodist roots and champions the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition).

I (mostly) loved attending chapel three times a week. I loved the emphasis on confession, sanctification, and worship. I loved that profs and students sang the parts in hymns.

Dynamic #1
Binge and Purge, or Purge and Binge
Due to my cold heart and cynical nature, even though I appreciated people getting right before God and giving up material things that might be hinderances, I also thought about profiting from such "purges".

It seemed like every year there were chapel messages that spurned students to throw away lots of movies, comic books, and CDs. But that those same students often built up their collections again, with often some/all of the same titles that they gave up.

Some materials were ritualistically burned, but those that weren't could be valuable. I thought a few times about collecting these items for resale or to serve as a pawn shop so that students could repurchase their own items.

I do believe, deeply, that these purges were spiritually valuable. They were a call to obedience. Hence, my difficulty in even mentioning my profit motive.

Dynamic #2
Studio Time
This one could probably take place in any college town. When I was at Asbury, it seemed like everyone that wanted to be in a band WAS in a band, no matter the talent level. So these bands were TERRIBLE. There was something in the air about wanting to be Christian bands filling a niche in certain music genres. So I thought again about profiting from such a situation; create a music studio so that every lame band could pay me lots of money to cut a recording demo, which is what everyone seemed to want. The big break....cut a demo and wait for a record label to call.

Dynamic #3
College Towns Are Life-Support Environments for Bad Businesses
This one could also take place in any college town. After being in Wilmore for many, many years, you started to hear about businesses with bad reputations. Like THE car repair place. I took my car there frequently. Usually came out of the shop with something repaired and with something else broke. With a new group of students each year, there were a new group of suckers every year. The car repair shop would never go out of business, because students didn't have enough time to learn it was a scam. Every year another 400+ undergrad students/customers had to learn the hard way that this repair shop was a rip-off. College towns allow bad businesses to stay in business because future customers cannot be warned.

Dynamic #4
This might have more to do being in a small college, rather than a small town. One morning at church, a girl that I knew came to sit down next to me in the pew. She was late getting to church and I'm sure found the closest seat. We knew each other and were friends. In the meet&greet/pass the peace section of the service, one of the greeting pastors asked if we were married and pronounced some blessing on us. In the CPO the next day, I received a note from the girl saying that she did not mean to lead me on. That she just wanted to be friends. I DID NOT DO ANYTHING. THAT WAS THE GREETING PASTOR.

Dynamic #5
Seminary Practicums
After 9 years of attending the same church, one of the ushers asked if this was my first Sunday at the church. This could be related to three things: a) this is often something an usher says (should be stricken from usher-school, b) I had been bad about not integrating myself in that church and being a true part of community, or c) seminarians often have to complete practicums. I'm not sure if ushering qualifies, but I saw lots of seminarians come and go through that church that were newer than me, but thought they weren't. I'm thinking its a combination of all three.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Diamond Class Action Lawsuit

De Beers just settled a class-action lawsuit for price-fixing rough diamonds. They will pay $300 million to settle the dispute without admitting any error. Only $135 million has been set aside for consumers.

If you bought a diamond within the US for a 12 year period, you are elgible to be part of this settlement.

From an NBC Affiliate in NY:

The diamonds could have been purchased from any jewelry store in the country between Jan. 1, 1994, and March 31, 2006.

According to the claims administrator, a consumer who purchased a $2,000 engagement ring would be entitled to a maximum of $640 back. However, consumers are warned not to count that money yet as the formula only takes into account the value of what a consumer purchased and how many people file claims.

For those eligible, the filing deadline is May 19, 2008.

See: https://diamondsclassaction.com/

Everything I've seen on the news cautions against thinking that the personal payouts will be substantial. The more people file claims the smaller the payouts will be. However, I like the idea of sticking it to De Beers, the diamond cartel who is settling the case. They have also been reprehensible in not doing more to stop blood or conflict diamonds.

Evidently, this suit was brought by New Jersey.... Way to go. Maybe some other states can file a similar suit.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Great WMF Related Stories to Ask About

-Ask Jared Landreth to retell his "tight, tight" story from Sierra Leone.
-Ask Silas West to retell his "dog" story from Kolkata (there's probably a similar one from Kenya); also ask about a home-made distillery in missionary board school.
-Ask Josh Tucker about his dad and the family cat.
-Ask Chris Heuertz to tell his favorite 3 stories about Skippy Spellings
-Ask Chris Heuertz to tell you about a) the 52 hour film festival he organized in college that was revived every year for more than 10 years, b) his great white-toast eat off to honor the Blues Brothers, c) being a write-in candidate for college student body president and his good showing even though he didn't even attend that school, d) festival of the fluids.
-Ask Matt Ammerman or Jared Landreth to recount any story from their time in Kolkata that involves either a) rats, b) mosquitos,or c) dogs.
-Get Matt Ammerman, Jared, Brent Graeve, and Heuertz in a room together.
-Ask Jared Landreth to show you a picture of his nose from when a spider laid eggs in it.
-Ask David Chronic to try to remember a van ride to Bucharest and his famous "I don't know much about women, but I know that" mini-speech.
-Ask Daphne Eck about Petey the parakeet (I think a parakeet).

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Binary Language...Actually Says Something

01010100 01101000 01100001 01101110 01101011 01110011 00100000 01100110 01101111 01110010 00100000 01110100 01110010 01100001 01101110 01110011 01101100 01100001 01110100 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01110100 01101000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110100 01100101 01111000 01110100 00101110 00100000 00100000 01010010 01100101 01100001 01101100 01101100 01111001 00100000 01100011 01101111 01101111 01101100 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 01110100 01101000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01101111 01100110 01100110 01100101 01110010 01100101 01100100 00100000 01101111 01101110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01110111 01100101 01100010 00101110 00100000 00100000 01010010 01100101 01100001 01101100 01101100 01111001 00100000 01100011 01101111 01101111 01101100 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 01110011 01101111 01101101 01100101 01101111 01101110 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101111 01101111 01101011 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101001 01101101 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01100100 01100101 01100011 01101111 01100100 01100101 00100000 01101001 01110100 00101110 00001101 00001010 00001101 00001010 01010000 00101110 01010011 00101110 00100000 00100000 01000011 01101111 01101101 01101101 01110101 01101110 01101001 01110011 01101101 00100000 01110111 01100001 01110011 01101110 00100111 01110100 00100000 01101011 01101001 01101100 01101100 01100101 01100100 00100000 01100010 01111001 00100000 01010010 01100101 01100001 01100111 01100001 01101110 00101110 00100000 00100000 01001001 01110100 01110011 00100000 01101010 01110101 01110011 01110100 00100000 01100100 01101111 01110010 01101101 01100001 01101110 01110100 00101110

SRI (Socially Responsible Investing)

Years ago, I spearheaded an effort to start socially responsible retirement investments for interested staff. (Chris, the ED, spearheaded the general effort to have staff invest for retirement and encouraged me to pursue this). I did a lot of comparison research based on socially responsible screens and performance data and settled on Citizens Funds. Staff members could elect to set aside pre-tax salary for a 403(b) investment. 403(b) investments are 401K's but for the non-profit world. Staff members defer compensation to invest and the employer, by law, cannot invest on behalf of the staff member.

When I did this research, I was confronted by what "socially responsible" actually means. Its different depending on the criteria used.

Its dizzying to see the number of criteria that different socially responsible mutual funds employ, both to exclude investments and to factor positively in terms of investment. Why do some SRI's get labeled as Christian when not investing in alcohol and tobacco, but when still investing in weapons industries?

For a comparison of the screening employed by many of the major SRI mutual fund companies, please go to: Socialinvest.org. Some particular "Biblical" screens have differentiated themselves from socially responsible screens and are not listed on this site (Timothy Funds).

I'm a little uncomfortable with this distinction, separating "Biblical" screens from socially responsible screens, but its part of the "cookie-cutter" selection criteria for this industry.

Funds can exclude investments related to: abortion, alcohol, animal testing, "anti-family entertainment", gambling, "non-married lifestyles", pornography, tobacco, and defense/weapons industries. Positive criteria include investments in the community, environmental stewardship, human rights records, labor relations records, and equality in employment practices

Unfortunately, there are also funds that employ the converse strategy; they only invest in vice. Vice Funds invest primarily in gambling, alcohol, tobacco, defense industries. (They are doing quite well).

Unfortunately, Citizens Funds had a poor record in the time-frame WMF staff members invested. For cash-poor, support raising missionaries, its hard to see investments lose money even if it is for a good cause...after all that can be done through straight charitable giving that is more efficient. To be fair to Citizens Funds, we started this 403(b) option during the 2000 bubble. Most funds took a significant hit in the year or two afterwards. Citizens Funds was just hit harder than most.

Jason Zweig, Money Magazine writer, counters some popular myths about socially responsible investing: "Data from fund watcher Morningstar and research by finance professor Meir Statman of Santa Clara University show that over the long run the difference in returns between SRI funds and regular funds isn't all that big.

During the past five years, socially responsible funds have lagged conventionally run funds by an average of 0.7 percentage points annually." He also writes that you'll pay fees roughly 0.7 percentage points higher than those you'd pay for the average S&P 500 index fund." But these issues are minor compared to investing in something you believe in.

He also prognosticates that in the future, you may be able to design your own socially responsible mutual fund.

"There's not enough dialogue going back and forth between SRI firms and their investors," says David Wieder, the former CEO of Domini Social Investments and now a private investor. "The investment options for SRI should offer more flexibility and control."

Wieder thinks the day will come when you'll be able to create a unique, roll-your-own SRI fund that would invest according to your personal set of beliefs.

Zweig writes "Technologically, that's not such a great leap for SRI fund companies to make. But they haven't made it yet."

I'd like to reconsider investing in socially responsible ways. I'm an idealist, so I would like to use more screening, not less. I would not just positively rate a company based on environmental stewardship but exclude companies with poor environmental records. A stricter criteria, but important. I would exclude also based on poor human rights records, abortion, pornography, defense industries, tobacco, and gambling. And would be severely restrictive with alcohol, labor relations, animal testing, etc.

And as to accusations of hypocrisy? You're right. Why not invest in tobacco companies if every quarter I smoke a pipe or some cloves? Why not invest in companies that facilitate gambling if I frequented the horse tracks in Kentucky? I guess I still consider these past-times to be fine, but less than perfect. By not investing in them, I do not support the industry itself. Maybe its a poor distinction.

What would you screen for?

For more information on socially responsible investing and some good options that Adam Thada has found, see http://athada.blogspot.com November 7, 2007 entry and June 3, 2006 entry.

Quotes are from: Money
The Intelligent investor: Do the right thing AND make money
Friday December 21, 4:36 pm ET
By Jason Zweig, Money Magazine senior writer/columnist

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Next Sports Cheating Scandal??

I'm a big fan of watching poker on television. Especially Texas No-Limit Hold-'Em.

I don't get the travel channel or ESPN, so I don't get to watch as much as I'd like.

I was wondering what might be a competitive advantage for poker. Special commissions are naming baseball players who have used human growth hormone and steroids because it's considered cheating...it gives an unfair advantage (its not the illegality since HGH is legal and steroids was often prescribed by a physician thereby making it legal). So what is that secret X factor for poker players?

Poker players must keep poker faces. They must keep their cards close to their vest. They must not show any difference in how they play depending on whether they have good or bad cards. In the big tournaments, a person's "tells" mean the difference between losing $10K and becoming a millionaire.

Some players wear sunglasses. Others wear hoodie sweat-shirts that they pull over their entire face. But isn't this just going half-way?

Is Botox the next sports cheating scandal?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Kudos to OPPD

Thanks to our public power utility OPPD for their recent policy change.

They have changed their summer pricing policy to eliminate the incentive to waste electricity. Previously, pricing was tiered and homeowners paid LESS per Kwh the more electricity they used. OPPD has eliminated this benefit to encourage conservation.

It has a long way to go, because it continues building new coal fired plants and being worse, even against other utilities, in the percentage of renewable energy sources it funds and uses.

But I have heard they are considering hiring someone to be an advocate for energy conservation in Omaha and that is another good start. Hopefully they will hire a team to perform home energy audits in Omaha and this will save the area from needing to build more polluting plants (reference Grand Island plant, not under OPPD, that produces 4 times the mercury allowable under federal standards).