How I play the credit card game

Credit card companies make all merchants pay a fee. This fee can be higher or lower, but if a merchant accepts one Visa, they must accept all Visas, even though the fee might be higher. Banks then charge higher fees and pass some percent to the credit card holder as a cash back bonus, travel reward, etc. This drive up prices for all the other consumers. So if you don’t play the game, there is a transfer of wealth from non-rewards card users to card users.

Strategy:

Get 5% back on all large categories.
Get “free” Hotel and Rail trips because the reward rate is pretty good for Hotels and Rail companies who don’t pay money out of pocket when I use a reward and take up a hotel room that might have been empty anyhow.

My Game:
My game is optimized to me in that
- I don’t drive much (gasoline cards not so important)
- I like to take rail vacations
- I eat out
- I shop too much on Amazon
- I drive a Chevy Malibu and will likely get another in 3 years, or a Chevy Volt. Or a Hybrid Equinox if they’d just do it already.
- My non-category spend is enough to offset a few credit card fees.

Category Spend
Capitol One Savor – 4% on restaurants. I got lucky and got the card before they started charing an annul fee.
Chase Amazon Prime – 5% on Whole Food & Amazon
American Express Cash Preferred – 6% on groceries. Has annual fee, so effective works out to closer to 3% or 4%
US Bank Cash Plus – 5% on a category of your choice, but restricted to a list. I plan to use mine for Cell Phone bills. Two phones with a data plan can easily run $1000+ a year.

Non-category Spend
It feels like the annual fee cards rack up points fast enough to offset the fee. Of course if you have $0 spend, then this is not true.
Amex Hilton Card – Annual Fee, seems to rack up points at a good clip. Ignoring bonuses, I figure I can get a
Bank of America Amtrak – Annual Fee. I rack up Amtrak points faster than I can use them.
Chase Freedom Unlimited – 1.5% back. I may let this one idle and get a Citi card instead which is 2%.
Capitol One BuyPower Card – 5% towards a new GM car.

Specific Stores
Lowes 5%, Target 5% and Ikea all got store specific money back cards- if you got credit score to burn (and having too many cards doesn’t seem to affect your score too much).

Altogether, this is $500 – $1000 a year of banks just “giving” me stuff for “free”.  But … is it?

Fee hotel cards are sort of like prepaying a hotel night.
Fee rail cards are sort of like prepaying part of a rail ticket.

And part of me knows that some of these rewards are paid by people who are in difficult financial situations and have run up huge credit card bills and are somehow paying them down. So use credit responsibly, don’t play the game if you aren’t going to use credit for what is best use for: occasionally running a balance around the time of huge expenses so as to preserve cash for emergencies. For that I tend to use balance transfers to Discover Card, which used to be charging around 4 to 5%. I figured it was simpler to pay money that to try to catch a 0% promotional and risk making a mistake leading to a 10%-14%-20%-25% interest rate.

Lotto vs Keno vs Pick 3 vs Racetrax for winning $50,000

All my comments are specifically about DC and Maryland lotto, but the games are broadly similar state to state. Private casinos are a different story- when you lose at a casino you are : paying Nevada’s taxes, enriching billionaires, paying for an “entertaining place to hang out”, which calls for a different strategy.

Big Prize Lotto
Lotto is a game about possibilities. It is worth a buck to create the possibility of being a millionaire. However, if you play that bet, make sure you actually have the human capital to manage that much money. Otherwise, you’d be better off playing a game that offers a more human maximum payoff.

Big prize lotto’s prize is too big & odds of winning too small. Anything more than a few bucks bet is just throwing money away, might as well just write a check to the state.

The difference between betting a $1 and $150 is so small your human brain can’t measure it. Why should anyone pay $149 for an immeasurably small increase in your odds of winning?

Keno
Keno feels like a better game when you play it, but that is because it is a hybrid bet. You are making about 6 bets, some of which routinely pay off small amounts and a few that are lousy odds compared to the other available games.

Keno is entertaining only because some keno bets are worse than others and it takes some computing power to rank them. But once you are done ranking, you’d be better off playing Pick 3, or if in DC or Maryland, Racetrax.

Think of it this way: if someone asked you if you wanted to bet $1 for the possibility of winning $5, you’d say, “I don’t have the time to be bothered”. But we play keno and win $5 and think we’re doing something right because we got some positive feedback. It completely masks that Keno’s big prize of $50,0000 has a odds of like 1 in 8 million, worse than/as bad big prize Lotto games.

Pick 3
Pick three is the simplest game to make a bet that has a human scale. Bet 100 on 1 to 1000 odds to win $50000. That is enough to pay off a car, a down payment on a house, a semester or two at college, or enough to pay for a fraction of end-of-life cancer care.

If you lose, just consider that your Maryland State tax bill was $100 higher.

If you are in a state like Massachusetts, they have parimutuel betting. I suspect this means if you play unpopular numbers, you will maximize the odds of winning the highest possible payout.

Racetrax
Racetrax is like Pick 3, except you need to look up in a complicated table which bet is the equivalent of a 1 in 1000 bet. Once you find the bet at the odds you like, the payout rate is higher than in pick 3, so you’d to win 50,000 you’d only need.

Racetrax (and horse racing in general) makes it easy to make combo-bets. Don’t do it- you’ll turn a good game into Keno- a combo bet where some of the bets pay off, but your odds of winning the big ticket prize is minimized.

I like Racetrax for two reasons:

- You can pick the odds you like – you want a 1 in 2000 bet? You can find it. You can’t do that with pick 3.
- It is a substitute for gambling on live horses. Most animal husbandry involves more slaughter than you’d guess, so betting on digital horses involves less animal exploitation. [That said, I don't have any data-- it could be a complement, i.e. people who enjoy betting on digital horse might move on to betting on live horse races]

Business Travel

So I find myself doing business travel. I’m prone to overthinking things and I have just finished overthinking hotels, so here are my opinions & thoughts.

A hotel is the basics (a bed, not far from an office) and a bunch of amenities, many of which don’t matter because you’re on business travel.

Here are things I care about:

- Beauty. I’m having to travel away from home and family, pleasant surroundings isn’t too much to ask for.
- Stars as a proxy for not having bed bugs, not having surly staff, having working plumbing. 3 starts is suitable for business (i.e. few hassle risks), 4 stars is sometimes outside of my per diem, 5 stars is usually outside my per diem. 1 & 2 stars is for tourists willing to take risks and 5 stars start to include a bunch of amenities that are for the super rich on leisure travel, e.g. concierge service.
- Wifi. Is it free and not crippled and not to painful to connect to?
- Power at the desk. There should be enough plugs and USB power is a nice touch.
- Are they close to the subway and the office? This isn’t hard in NYC. Everything is close to a subway.
- Are they close to vegan restaurants? Oddly, if I’m too close to the office, I’m too far from vegan restaurants, in part because it’s just a bunch of over priced steak houses in the high rent district where office buildings are.
- Are they union? I prefer going to union hotels. In NYC, you can check, but it appears that almost all hotels are union.
- Are they green? It seems like Green hotels tend to be big chains. They have the time and money to get certified, but few hotel directories filter by “green” or what green happens to mean- it could be a certification, a LEED building or trivial towel policies, which are often not followed by the staff anyhow.
- Does my company like them? My company doesn’t like all hotels. They like certain large chains and certain boutique hotels. I don’t know why, but I suspect it has to do with deposit and refunds.
- Do I get points? I happen to get points via Hilton Honors, but my company only likes one Hilton property. I find this mystifying.
- What does the desk look like? Weirdly many hotels have “purse stand” desks that would be too small to actually sit and write code or compose emails.
- Can I get video content from my laptop to the TV? No one advertises what sort of HDMI plugs they take or if it is accessible from a laptop (or is it like 6 feet up a wall)
- Do they have a decent iPod doc? I don’t like TV when I’m working, but I don’t always like dead silence.
- Does the AC keep the room cold at night? This sort of gets in the way of being green, but when you travel, you want every trick in the book to stay healthy and not get so worn out that your mind if fuzzy.
- Gym? Really, I just want to be able to 15 minutes of fixed weight exercises without a TV in the background. Having to track down a neighborhood gym & get a day pass is too burdensome.
- Receipts. Gimmie a proper receipt and email me one and make it easy to get one from the website. Don’t make me have to call you.
- Huge initial charges that they reduce to the actual. This scares the hell out of me every time they do it. I want to see the negotiated price at all times, not some stupid “charge a lot and adjust later in-case they don’t have enough on their credit card or if they use the fridge snacks”
- A fridge for restaurant leftovers. I’ve had to put my leftovers over the air conditioner because the fridge was full of overpriced crap that my company’s policy will not reimburse.
- Pool. I’m torn on this one because I’m not sure I’d have time to actually use it, but it would work instead of a Gym visit.

Amenities that are not amenities in NYC.
- Coffee. There is better coffee a block away. I can’t fault them for offering something tho, because for everyone else, something is better than nothing.
- Restaurant. Why should I eat at a restaurant with one expensive vegan option when there are six all vegan restaurants in walking distance?
- Breakfast. Why would I want to try to cobble together a vegan breakfast from a buffet when there is a better one a block away?
- Room service. Why would I want overpriced food with few or unimpressive vegan options when there is
- Minifridge stuff. Drives me up the wall to see this, it’s like asking someone if they want to be mugged in return for booze or candy.
- Extra room in a suite. Not sure what I’d do with that room unless it was a kitchenette.

Amenities I wish (more) Hotels offered
- An empty mini fridge.
- Effortless way(s) to connect laptop to the TV
- Wifi authentication that lasts for the duration of your stay.
- websites and apps, although what features are killer features I’m not sure yet.
- something else, but I’m not sure what. I’m just pretty sure no one is bringing their dog with them on a business trip (yes, that is one of the filters on my search website, which I imagine has a 100% business clientele)
- some way to know if you are looking out at a wall, park or street or city scape.
- effortless early check in (I hate having to wait til 3) or a locked place to leave my luggage until 3.

Things that hotels think I care about as a business traveller:
- PC/Fax/Photocopier center. I wouldn’t want to be bother with trying to get this reimbursed if it wasn’t automatically included.
- Conference room. Well, I guess it matters if I was a *conference* organizer.
- Meeting rooms. I guess if the sign up was low friction. I’ve never needed one.

Anyhow, what comes to mind for business travel is a bedroom with an office with the sort of office things you might get at a WeWork, a company that provides office space to freelancers.

Nonauthoritative discussion of how to do discussion with Robert’s Rules

A key principle in Roberts Rules is that people can’t just talk when they feel like it.

1) At ease (meeting on hold, talk amongst yourselves)– this is for when Chair is consulting, looking up rules. Also for meeting breaks.
2) Talking with out pending motion (at chair’s sufferance or until point of order at which point a motion *must be made* or stop talking)
3) Move to read a document (“right to read”), member asks permission of assembly to read something
4) Officer and committee reports (opportunity to just talk, usually on regular agenda & favors officers, committees)
5) Guest reports  (opportunity for just anyone to talk like officers do.)
6) Small board rules (no limits on debate, may interrupt, other things)
7) Committee rules. (no limits on debate) May talk without a motion pending, in fact, if the whole point of a committee is to come up with a motion no motion will be pending. Also, if the point of a committee is to merely report, then again, no motion would be pending.
8) (Quasi) Committee of the whole (whole assembly/board acts as a committee temporarily). Ends as soon as a motion is adopted/ready to make a motion. (Quasi means chair stays the same)
9) Informal consideration (similar to small board rules, except still requires a motion to be under consideration?) Wikipedia says same as usual except no limit on # of times someone can speak to a topic. This is not as lax as the name sounds.
10) “Informal consultation to assist the framing of a motion” When the member rises to speak and promises to make a motion, but has some preliminaries to say.
11) Programs. E.g. watching a movie, listening to music, and I suppose, other non-deliberative entertainments.
12) Explanation of a pending, undebatable motion. Brief statement of fact about why we gotta adjourn. Otherwise, it’d be against the rules to say, “The game starts in 10, we gotta adjourn”
13) Hearings. This is something that happens in committees. The committee calls people before it to talk. People can talk without a motion pending. Only committee members have a right to talk.
14) Recess. Temporary break in meeting. Talking between the meeting not governed by any particular parliamentary procedure. Same for just before and after the meeting.
15) Adjournment. Discussion between meetings, which can be subject to condo & HOA rules.

 

Dancing around the real advice

Eat more fiber? Only plants have fiber.
Eat less saturated fat? There are only a handful of exotic plants that have palatable saturated fats, palm, palm kernel and coconut. Otherwise, it’s only in animal products.
Eat less cholesterol? Only animal products have cholesterol. The body can regulate it’s own cholesterol.
Too much iron? Only animal products have heme iron which the body can’t regulate.
Hormonal imbalances? Only animal products have hormones similar enough to our own to disrupt our endocrine system.
Eat more fruits and vegetables? At only 100 calories per lb, these are displacing many animal products, but they sure aren’t made of animals.

I think science is just picking up on all the qualities of animal products, but the researchers, either addicted to meat and gluttons for more are unable to bring themselves to a conclusion that the optimal amount of animal products in the diet is zero.

Small Donor Charity Strategies

No Charities
As an individual, no donation I make makes a noticeable difference, ie. it’s all rounding errors.

But, if everyone though so, no one would donate and the small donor part of charities funding would evaporate and that would make a difference.

One Charity
Economies of scale and transaction costs favor giving one big chunk of money to one charity, this minimizes the amount of money wasted on administration and marketing.

If charity == uncoordinated wealth redistribution, then it doesn’t matter who gets the money (but by this reasoning, it doesn’t matter how many recipients either)

“Selfish” charities (giving only to your own community, alma matter, family, kids, or donating to the public library or museum that you use) favors giving to fewer charities, the more organizations you give to, the less and less likely that those donations will positively impact you.

Many Charities
Membership == political clout. If I care about chimp rights and voting rights, if I only contribute to chimp rights, congress thinks I don’t care about farm animal rights. I should split up my contributions to give each group head count.

I don’t know which charities are effective, give money to many charities to maximize the odds that one of them is effective.

Some charities are funded mostly by small donors and care what the small donors think, others are funded mostly by large donors and presumably care less about what small donors think.

Fewer Charities
Obviously some charities should be eliminated from consideration because they are too small to make a difference with that money or put it to significant use (the 6 member animal right group at a community college), or because they squander it on administrative and marketing costs.

A point that doesn’t fit in– charities with low “leverage” shouldn’t get as much money. If you give money to feed children, it creates positive effects for their family, siblings, etc. College scholarships for the middle class, generate benefits for one person– the effects don’t spread far.

Tipping points. Smoking is mostly a won battle. Sort of. Gay rights are at a tipping point. In the US, veganism is far from a tipping point, but in England and German, it might be close to a tipping point. Small donations make the best impact on issues near a tipping point, where the whole of society is about to change their mind, and just needs a $20 shove. Or 100,000 $20 shoves.

The first rule of Math Club is you can only talk about it in symbols and notation

I could give a flying f about little league. I care about Robotics and Math club.

First impressions of Math Clubs.
A math class is like a contract. “Student, learn this algorithm for problems of this type and you will get an A.” Importantly, in math class, everyone in theory can get an A. Math club looks like a math class with a different agreement, “Participants, train on problems of increasing difficulty. You will get a test where the last problems are so hard, no one will solve them. This will minimize the chance of ties and the participants will get fame and glory based on their rank, either on a per team basis or a per participant basis”  But otherwise, it looks like a math class.

Second impression of Math Clubs.It looks like a sport.  In sports, everyone can run. Not everyone can run fast. Not everyone can figure out that only about 10 or so of the numbers from 1 to 100 can be written as a non-terminating decimal. Some not at all. So a fair sport in the math sense is like mental math– everyone can do arithmetic, some can do it faster or more accurately that others.  A similar analogy can be made with spelling bees- everyone can spell something, some can spell more words, the winning word is still something that in theory any participant could do. I admit, I haven’t completely rigorously worked out how a speed arithmetic test is like running, but solving increasingly difficult “puzzle” problems isn’t.

Third impression of Math Clubs.It is a game among players and team where there the actions of the other teams do not figure much into your decisions about how you play the game.

Grades 0-5
Arithmetic Club. I have no idea if these exist. If they did, they should be kind of like spelling bees, with round 1 mental math, round 2 calculator math and round 3 historical devices (e.g. abacus)
Kumon. Worksheets with a focus on speed and arithmetic.

[Arithmetic, Pre-calc]
[Typing!]
[Scratch]

Grades 4- 8
Math Olimpiad. The contest for the youngest participants, 4th grade. http://www.moems.org/contests.htm

Grades 6-12
Math Club. Works like a study group, solving problems to practice
e.g. National Math Club/MathCounts
Math Contests. Big sit down tests.
e.g. AMC 8, AMC 10
Mu Alpha Theta National Convention, Log1

Math League- http://www.mathleague.com/

[Pre-Algebra, Algebra, Pre-Calc] — Why so late?
[Python, Ruby, Javascript]

Grades 9-12
Robotics Club. Building robots and programming them in C++ and Java.

[Geometry, Calculus, Discrete Mathematics]

Votes get suppressed. What can you do to replace a vote?

Okay, for the last two elections, lines started to get really long. Now when I changed states, I couldn’t vote because I didn’t have a driver’s license. I take the metro. So apparently, anyone who takes mass transit is liable to commit voter fraud, or more likely, not Republican enough for the corrupt voting boards.

Voter suppression is the rightwing strategy to make voting difficult for women and minorities and city dwellers so that Republicans will remain a viable party.

Unlike the the poor, black, asian and so on that the Republicans really wanted to suppress, this time they suppress the vote of a white guy. I wasn’t going to vote for Republicans anyhow, but now I’m mad. So I’m joining as many progressive political groups as I can, top among those MoveOn and the ACLU, both which are working on voter’s rights. So here are some things I will be doing in my spare time over the next 40 years since voting isn’t a sure thing anymore. I’ve added my rough estimate of how many vote equivalents each is worth, and given that the Electoral College system makes the marginal vote about as important as mouse farts, maybe in the long run this will work out of the better. All the same, better than a successful revolution after a nearly stolen election, I’d rather not have the Sith Lords take over in the first place.

Donate to GA, TX and AR Democratic party. Worth 50 Votes.
Money talks, well, as long as you have an attractive candidate. And the Dems have more attractive candidates. If GA, TX and AR turn blue, the GOP will be excluded from the presidency for generations. There aren’t enough old white men in those states for the GOP to govern without repeal non-white and women franchise and maybe the repeal of voting altogether.

I’m going to read the news Worth 25 votes.
The poor and disenfranchised are getting screwed because they aren’t paying attention. I can read, I read fast and I use RSS and I can amplify the the news that is being ignored. I even have truth on myside– since as a progressive I won’t need to make up material.

I’m going to blog. Worth 6 votes.
My task as a political blogger is much easier than for conservative bloggers as I only need teach people how to resist voter suppression, where as conservatives have to move the opinions of their sole audience of old white men to political la-la land and get them to vote. Despite the barriers.

I’m joining about about 22-25 groups. Worth about 20 votes.
Votes in congress are only one way that policy gets made. I don’t have $300 million for attack ads, but I got a few hundred bucks to fund a variety of lawyers, think tanks, activists, watch groups that help decide what congress will be voting on in the first place.

I organize meetups. Worth about 15 votes.
I’ve organized so many meetups I’ve lost count. I create groups like I sneeze. In this election I saw that right wing literature is outselling progressive books. I suspect that in part that is because a lefty will read the original, say, Darwin’s Descent of Man, which is not the the politics section, while right wingers need to have their books written by ideological hacks, which will end up in the politics section.

I’m taking election day off. Forever. Worth 20 votes.
I’m not working class. I can afford to use my vacation days to vote and to spend the day driving people to the polls.

It’s time to take America back from the corrupt right wing voting boards.

(First posted Nov 12, 2012)

The uncle I never met has moved on

Some free verse my dad wrote on the passing of my uncle:

The Morning Sun

The sun is steaming through my window,
Gods gift of warmth for all people
Be you Jew, Muslim or Follower of Christ
The sun warms the body
His spirit warms our souls
How blessed  we are !

The sun will fade later and night will follow day
So it is in our personal lives
Sorrow follows joy
And then just like sun the coming up again
Joy warms our hearts again
How blessed we are !

I have been blessed all my life with a big brother
Last night his light went out and he is no longer with us
He will not be there in the morning to impart his wisdom
But his memory lives on in my mind’s eye
And in a sense he lives on within me
How blessed I am !

This morning my sister,Ann, called tears in her eyes grief in her heart
She  her self is near death, in constant pain
Yet she puts aside her pain to grieve for her brother
Her beloved husband is nearing his last days
But she has vowed to be there for him until the end
How blessed he is to have her love for him !

The sun is streaming through my window again
Reminding me that in life’s cycle warmth will reappear again
Even now my family grows with the birth of my grandson Tano
 And  my great grandson, Lincoln.
And if that is not enough a new great grandson is due in July
How blessed I am !

So for today grieve over the loss of Franklin Martin
But in the morning, as the sun comes up rejoice with me
As our lives are blessed with new new life !

Measuring myself

I’ve been super excited about my ‘quantified self’ project. I now measure:

Goals –  I use joesgoals.com to track things like brushing teeth, sleep debt/sleep debt paid, doing flash cards

Weight – Usually 145, sometimes up to 155. Measured with Withings scale.

Blood Pressure- Usually 120/70, with BPM 60 to 80. Measured with Withings BP cuff.

Sleep –  Now that I have a fitbit, it says I’ve slept about 7.5 hours the last two nights and slept like a stone.

Steps taken per day-  Anywhere from 4000-10,000, typically 10,000, up to 15,000 if I go hiking.

In fact I now have two pedometers, the Nintendo DS pedometer and the fitbit.

The DS only displays if you hit your goal unless you tranfer the data to your device. The DS appears to be a bit stricter. It stops counting when I take off my cloths in the evening, but the fit bit gets moved to my wrist and keeps counting. And it seems that the Fitbit is just counting more things as a steps.

Flights of stairs. Thanks to the fit bit, but no data yet.

Challenges- Slowly changing metrics

The metris are the same day to day, except steps taken. If I don’t walk enough, I can do something about it, like go to the gym for 20 minutes. If no metrics have changes noticably from yesterday, then all I can do is carry on, since my metric are all in the healthy range (although my weight is chronically a bit on the low side and my blood pressure while in the ‘normal’ low range, could be lower according to some studies about strokes.  If I could get to 110 or 100, then my stroke risk would bottom out.)