Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cart before the Horse

A.S. (Vistage) mentioned at the end of my longevity presentation that a book he had just started would be something I would love - that was an understatement - the book "Triumphs of Experience" by George E. Vaillant was a perfect fit for a self help junkie, statistician, with closet interests in demography, anthropology and psychology.  It is a book about the Men of the Harvard Grant Study - the 75 year longitudinal study of 268 Harvard Sophomores.

Vaillant created the "Decathlon of Flourishing" - the set of 10 outcomes (events) that he could objectively measure with the various data collected over the 75 years.  In 2009, the Atlantic asked Vaillant to identify the most important finding of the Grant Study since it's inception.  Vaillant answered, "the only thing that really matters in life are your relations to other people". This book was his follow-up to that "rash answer" that he felt needed "official evidence". 

Luckily Vaillant provides Chapter 2 for the impatient readers which sums up his "ultimate lessons" (so far) of the Grant Study provided below:

Lesson 1 - Positive mental health does exist, and to some degree can be understood independent of moral and cultural biases.

Lesson 2 - Adaptive coping is crucial  [and provides hope in a flourishing life outcome]

Lesson 3 - The most important influence by far on a flourishing life is love.

Lesson 4 - People really can change, and people really can grow.

Lesson 5 - What goes right [the quality of a child's total experience] is more important than what goes wrong [a particular trauma or relationship]

Lesson 6 - If you follow lives long enough, they change, and so do the factors that affect healthy adjustment.

Lesson 7 - Prospective studies really do elucidate life's mysteries.

How ironic that this book touches the very projects I have been investigating (through my Vistage presentations) over the last four years - life purpose, happiness, luck & risk, and longevity.  Lesson 3 and 2, Vaillant calls the two pillars of happiness - Love and finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away. 

Remember ..... ["Only those who understand that happiness is only the cart; love is the horse"]  that the horse comes before the cart!  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Apple Slider

Susan's iphone arrived a couple of days ago.  This tells me that the Apple market share is saturated and is an early indicator that Apple's shine is over. You might want to consider selling the stock.

I am the last holdout and hope for Microsoft in the family. The cool factor of my Window's phone has worn off and I've still not installed Windows 8 on my laptop.  And the hype over the Surface has died down and economic reality sets in - do I really need a tablet/new laptop to replace what I have?

There is just no real technology gadget (or software app) on the horizon that is exciting the marketplace. 

It's hard to pick a side - when both are sliding.

Postscript - AAPL - $500 on 1/18/2013    and   $456.83 on 1/30/2013  -  that's a slide!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Contagious vs Quarantine

So, when are you most contagious? Most experts agree that adults with a cold or the flu start being contagious about a day before they start experiencing symptoms. For the flu, the contagious period then lasts five to seven days into the illness. For children, the contagious period for the flu can last up to two weeks after they start feeling sick, even if they start feeling better before that. The contagious period for a cold lasts about three to four days into the illness. As a general rule, people with a cold are most contagious about three days after their initial exposure to the virus.

How many people really stop their activities for a week and sequestor themselves?  Hence the resaon flu spreads so rapidly.  Feeling well is relative - yes I feel better than Monday but not well enough to chance infecting others.  If this disease was life threatening then more restrictive measures are put in place - Quarantine. 

Quarantine is confused with isolating sick people - instead it is applied to well people who have been exposed to the sick.  So in my case - everyone who I touched, interacted with from Thursday to today would be Quarantined. This would slow the rate of viral spread to others.

Hmmm -  maybe a new facebook application.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Flu Season

The mighty flu bug hit me this season.  How quickly we forget which season we got the flu and which season we skipped.  The news is reporting that this bug may have reached epidemic portions.  There is no recent graph for 2013 yet but the CDC did have a history of seasons on their web site.

Source: CDC
I think I missed 2012 flu season but this year it hit hard - knocking me out Monday and Tuesday completely with no end in sight.  When you mention the flu to anyone there is an immediate backpedal of the observer trying to keep their distance in order to not be infected.  Then the next question out of their mouth is who gave it to you?   That answer is simple - if I had known that ahead of time I would have never gotten the flu!

Back to the BRAT diet for me.  :)

Saturday, January 12, 2013


He drew a circle that shut me out ---
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
Edwin Markham
From "Shoes of Happiness and other Poems"  1913

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Back End Employment

This graph from The Atlantic "The Jobs With the Highest and Lowest Unemployment Rates in the U.S." demonstrates what happens in a prolonged recession/deflationary economic time. 

Crime (and fear of crime); Medical/Dental needs from stressed out people overeating and drinking; Need for our healthy pets as companions of comfort; and clergy for emotional/spiritual help;   That covers 8 of the 12 occupations listed.

And if you can't cut it as an engineer or a speech pathologist - there is a back end plan (from the bottom) for all others - Septic Tank Services

Pretty Poor Predictions

The results of the Telecombil/Wisner annual prediction lunch are tabulated- and I was re soundly defeated - 8 to 1 (with one category we will rollover to 2013).

Here were my pretty poor 2012 predictions: 

S&P 500  1157   (actual 1370.92 - lost to 1300)
SVP Partners  20  (actual partner units 24 - lost to 22)
Asset under Management for B.S.  $16M (actual $17M - lost to $17M)
Xtown Shootout - Bearcats (60-45 Bearcats win)
Bengals -  9-7 (actual 10-6 ---  B.S. picked this exactly)
Long Stock Pick GLD (lost to LNG)
Short Stock Pick CRM (lost to DTUL)
Unemployment 7% (lost to 7.5%)
Election  Romney (Obama won)
Superbowl XLVII #47 (NFC -  we rolled this over to 2013)

B.S. has appeased me in playing the predictions game each year since 2000 (for 2011 see 12/23/10 and 2/20/12 for results).  While most years have been close (and required a tie breaker), B.S. has trounced me in 2003 and 2012. 

Next years picks vs B.S. (dare I do this again?):

S&P High  1512 vs 1650
S&P Low   1157 vs 1250
Long Stock Pick  NOK vs QIHU
Short Stock Pick AAPL vs DTUL
Xtown Shootout 2013/2014 Season - Bearcats
Bengals   8-8  vs 9-7
Superbowl XLVII #47 NFC  (Kept the 2012 prediction)
Asset under Mgt  $17.25M vs $18.25
SVP Partners 26 vs 28
Unemployment 6.3% vs 7.5%
Senate Confirms Hagel  Yes
BS moves office out of home  No

Here's hoping for 2013 Fabulous Firstplace Forecasts

Postlog -  Just discovered Real Money Doug Kass Predictions for 2013.  It make my contest look like a kindergarden attempt at predicting.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Microlife and Micromort

Dr. J.E. was persuading me to get involved in his public health initiative in Northern Kentucky.  He knew the right "hook" when he mentioned Microlife - a way to measure public health impacts (risks and rewards).

A Microlife is 30 minutes off your life expectancy and is used to measure the chronic risk of unhealthy life styles - like smoking, alcohol consumption, and obesity.  Governments use microlives (and micromorts - which is a one in a million chance of death) in determining policy decisions on treatments to prolong life or where to invest for public safety. 
The United Kingdom National Institute of Clinical Institute puts the value of a microlife at $2.72 (1.70 British Pounds).

This video helps explain how microlives impact our longevity:

So here are the examples in the video (and the web site details)

2 cigarettes = 1 microlife
5kg overweight (11 lbs) = 1 microlife (for each day overweight)
3 UK pints (60 fl oz) of strong beer = 1 microlife

So do the math - a pack a day of cigarettes (20); a six pack of beer (72 oz) on the weekends; and 20 lbs overweight  will cost you 4,346 microlives each year  or 13 weeks off of your life. 

But as G.B. said during my Vistage presentation on longevity - "When I really want that juicy high cholesterol steak dinner with a bottle of wine, knowing that I may be costing myself longevity time -  at least it's coming off the back end" 

PS - Now I can also do the overweight math -  each pound overweight costs $0.25 per day ( 1 divided by 11 times $2.72) or $91.25 for the year.        I think Anthem was overcharging me   :)      see Blog Jan. 6, 2010  Pound of Flesh = $?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Perfect Moments

Can you describe your "Perfect Moments"?   Immediately spouses will say their wedding day, or birth of a child or the obvious acceptable public affirmation and expected responses.  But ignore the expected, or  the most common - and think of the unexpected - the surprise moment.

Listening the the book "Chasing Daylight" by Eugene O'Kelly, he talks about his impending death and quest to remember his perfect moments with the objective of creating more of those at the end. In a previous chapter he discovered that "the present" (and living in it) was not automatically the prescription for a perfect moment.

So I began to wonder about perfect moments - maybe when you are "in the flow".  Can you create the moments (or create the environment that might spawn one) as O'Kelly postulates, or do they arrive randomly? 

The first challenge is describing exactly what a perfect moment is --  for you (and ignore the paradox that if a moment is perfect - there can be no other moment more perfect - hence only one perfect moment).  You can look back (although our memory half life is fuzzy and inaccurate) and inventory all the favorable moments - from good, better, best and moving toward perfect.  Are you tired yet?

And each future moment is a candidate for a perfect one. The paradox continues since we won't know the extent of our perfect moments until the very end.  Is chasing perfect moments futile?

Maybe that is the wisdom of growing older - each new moment is closer to the perfect one.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Wardrobe Investment

It's been 12 years since I have purchased a men's suit so I was out of practice.  As a Christmas gift, Susan and I decided to give Paul a business suit that he would need for interviewing this winter/spring.  Since my old suits would be too long for Paul, it wasn't worth altering those for his use. So I decided to join Paul in his quest for a men's suit.

Critical to my wardrobe success was the advice and counseling I received from my Dad in how to select and purchase a suit.  His experience was self taught from his retail job at Montgomery Ward and buying his own suits during his career journey as an industrial engineer at  Boeing Aircraft, Sperry Rand, General Electric, Addressograph/Mulitgraph, and Antenna Specialists.  Combining that parental advice with the book "Dress for Success" (by John T. Molloy), I was able to navigate the fashion landscape of conservative men's fashion for my own Consulting career at Accenture.

So it was off to Jos Bank and Men's Warehouse to look over the selection and current styles to help Paul navigate the world of Men's business attire.  We men are so lucky - nothing (other than the price) has really changed in 40 years in men's professional attire.  My advice to Paul was right out of the Dress for Success book - get a plain dark navy, charcoal grey, and black for your first three suits.  Boring yes - but very practical since the jackets can always double for a sport coat (which is great for packing light for travel). 

The specials are tempting - but one get two free (66% off); buy one and for additional $100 get another at equal value (30%-60% off).  Yet the average cost of a decent quality suit is $350 (on sale) with alterations.  A Hickey Freeman suit (the department store brand I remember best) at Nordstroms retails at about $1,500 and a Brooks Brothers suit retails at about  $1,100.

I don't remember the total number of suits I purchased in my 25 year career.  But my wardrobe had accumulated about 20 suits at the peak of my career.  I guess the suit life is about 10 years so a professional (without casual days) can expect to purchase about 40 suits during his career.  At today's price with inflation and quality growth (better suits for VP and up) the career cost of "uniforms" (suit only) is $25K - $35K.

My Return on Wardrobe Investment (ROWI) was worth paying alittle more for the correct suit.  Always remember:

"Dress is an index of your contents"  John Kaspar Lavater

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Holiday Hope

Today, it took four of us (Jenna, Paul, Ellen and I) three hours to dismantle the Holiday decorations.  It is a tradition take down everything the weekend after the New Year and "table" the Christmas feeling for eleven months.  With the house back to normal, Susan will be happy tomorrow as the kids leave for school and the routine begins again.  The cats, nervous throughout the dismantling bustle, appeared after we returned from our Dairy Queen treat for all our hard work.

The Christmas storage closet hit capacity this year since Jenna had procured and decorated yet another tree (the fourth in the house).  So much of the overflow went to the unfinished basement until I can determine a suitable storage location. 

This year may be the first year that our job was 100% complete.  Growing up, I told the girls that there is always one "crafty" decoration that hides from us during the flurry of putting away everything  It's always been a side contest in the family to be the one to discover the elusive decoration months after this weekend.

The reindeer antlers on Susan's car and the wreath that Jenna secretly attached to my front bumper are gone.  The dog's Christmas suits and LED flashing collars are put away.  The outside wreath and lights are missing from the bushes and house.  Most of the snow has now melted away. As decorator queen Jenna said, it's sad to see the house suddenly look barren - inside and out.

But one hidden decoration remains - persistently extending its Holiday hope.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Middle Tax Riddle

Once again a tax law has added more complexity to the Middle Class tax.  As the details emerge, the wage earners will only discover the details first when they compare their paycheck in 2012 to 2013 and finally when they submit their 2013 1040 to the IRS.

This tax law claiming to not increase taxes on 99% of the populace, is false advertising (more political spin).  Ignoring the expiration of the temporary stimulus of 2% payroll tax holiday, the phase out of exemptions and cap on deductions at certain income levels, the press (and politicians) focused on the marginal rate brackets to make their case of no tax increase on the middle class.

Defining the middle class is a statistical and demographic challenge in itself.  Attempting to use one measure (Adjusted Gross Income) to define the middle class ignores family size, number of income earners, cost of living locations, pre AGI deductions, age and upward income growth potential, work autonomy and stability, parental background and responsibility, marital status, assets, liabilities and net worth and the list goes on and on.

Regardless - progressive taxes require definition of brackets and rates.  So let's review (and name) the new brackets:

Tax BracketSingleMarried Filing JointlyHead of Household
10% Bracket$0 – $8,950$0 – $17,900$0 – $12,900
15% Bracket$8,950 – $36,250$17,900 – $72,500$12,750 – $48,600
25% Bracket$36,250 – $87,850$72,500 – $146,400$48,600 – $125,450
28% Bracket$87,850 – $183,250$146,400 – $223,050$125,450 – $203,150
33% Bracket$183,250 – $400,000$223,050 – $450,000$203,150 – $400,000
39.6% Bracket$400,000+$450,000+$400,000+

10% - Lower Class
15% - Upper Lower Class
25% - Lower Middle Class
28% - Upper Middle Class  (note - these two classes are the argument)
33% - Lower Upper Class   (note - these two classes are the argument)
39.6% - Upper Class

The rules are now in place.  The classes are defined.  Let the games begin.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Power of Belief

It was the first call to R.M. of the new year.  A chance for us to plan the traditional visit during the Superbowl and tee up the early discussions about sports, politics, stock market predictions, philosophy, and history.  The call ended with a preliminary discussion about the Military and Power.

R.M. had the last word about power with the following riddle (taken from the HBO season 2 of "The Game of Thrones").

"Three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man. Between them stands a common sellsword. Each great man bids the sellsword kill the other two. Who lives, who dies? Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall and a very small man can cast a very large shadow."

Something to ponder.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Morning

I slept through this new year - an exception since the Murray family was available to be up with Ellen.  Instead, I went to bed about 30 minutes after Jenna's 10:45pm curfew (who needed to get up this morning at 6am to get to work).  I was up with Jenna to fix some breakfast, take her to work, and then relax in a quiet household to await the first sunrise of 2013.

It could be a good sign that the first business of the year (2:07am) was a compromise by the Senate on taxes - awaiting the House's reaction later this morning.  Maybe they can cool down and relax with the rising of the 2013 sun also and find a way to accept the compromise.

Last night, at dinner, I asked each of the girls what their single goal for 2013 would be.  Not a New Years resolution - just a simple hope for the year. 

Jenna - To graduate with a 3.5 or better.
Ellen - To study harder

Having goals is a critical part of happiness.  Having a new year (a new morning) is a welcome demarcation of a "fresh slate" to improve on those goals.   Maybe our politicians are thinking this also.