Labor Day Sundry Thoughts

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It's Labor Day, so I don't know if I'm supposed to be writing an article or not. Hopefully, you are all grilling away and not too buried in the Internet.

I had a couple of article ideas for today, but they seemed a little curmudgeon-y. Those articles wouldn't come out well, because I'm in a terrific mood. My last week has been a little like one of Ice Cube's "good days" (warning adult language/themes).

The biggest piece of news is that I am a finalist for a Plutus Lifetime Achievement award. I'm not sure what it really means, but in my head it is everyone unanimously agreeing that I'm the best blogger ever. (Imagine if I believed in proofreading my articles.)

Dog sitting has been continuing to go very well. At one point this weekend, I had 4 golden retrievers in my house.

The kids were with the grandparents for a couple of days giving me and Energi Gal some time to go out and be adults.

My oldest is enjoying his new school. It's a great school... so great that it inspires me. The school's "awesomeness" is contagious. (My wife feels the same way.)

My fantasy baseball team has been doing well. (Thanks, Dustin Pedroia.) Football is starting this week.

Enough about my excitement. I wanted to share a few things with you, just in case you aren't at a BBQ. I presume you aren't, because even no one reads blogs at a BBQ (even if they are Lifetime Achievement finalists).

What to Watch

My wife was looking for a new "laundry show" (a show to watch while putting away laundry) and stumbled on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix (originally on CW). It's a smart, funny show... deserving of all the awards it was nominated for. Created and written by two women, the title isn't as controversial as you might think. We ended up binging 15 episodes this weekend.

What to Read

I'm not usually one for crime dramas, but I got sucked into this story of a PTA Mom framed by two Silicon Valley lawyers. It is amazing how many things had to go exactly right for justice to be served. It will make you think about all the crimes that go on where justice is not served. (So much for my positivity streak.)

What to Save Money On

It turns out that beef and actually all protein is on sale. This explains the really low prices I've been seeing. I thought competition from my grocery stores were creating the great prices. Is everyone else seeing low prices?

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Posted on September 5, 2016.

How Do Like The New Uber gPod?

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I'm doing something a little different with this article. If you like it, please leave a comment and/or share this article with a friend.

It's 2030 and my little man, Giles*, is now a big man. He's a month away from his 18th birthday. He's studied extremely hard and he's got a shot at Stanford next year (finger's crossed).

I'm continually amazed at all the things he's been able to fit in his head. However, this is about the one thing that isn't in there.

Giles doesn't know how to drive a car. Neither do any of his friends.

Since the government passed the new Manual Driver Requirements in 2028, none of them have even taken a driver's test. Why would they?

I couldn't be happier about how things have developed in the last 15 years. When I started this blog nearly 25 years ago in 2006, I had planned to spend thousands on transportation in retirement. Who would have thought that transportation has become a small income stream for me?

Did I lose You? Let me take a step back.

In late 2015, I realized that several technologies were converging to change the world.

My solar panels hadn't celebrated their first birthday, but they already had me thinking: "If only there were reasonably-priced electric SUVs, I could eliminate most of my gas bill. (I'd need something for longer trips.)"

Several months before that, Uber came my town. I've only used it a couple of times, but the idea of on-demand transportation is changing the way millions of people travel.

And the year before that, I was on "the 101" in Silicon Valley and next to me was a Google car without a driver.

A funny thing happens when you put autonomous cars, on-demand transportation, and "free"** solar power together. The cost of car transportation becomes very small.


Uber's future  gPod

Currently, the average American family spends 19% of their money on transportation. (I'll make the assumption that the number is typical, or more, for car owners and those who commute via public transit save money.) However, the average car is in use only 4% of the time according to Morgan Stanley.

So, roughly, 1/5 of the money goes to something that is used 1/25th of the time. That's terribly inefficient.

In a world of autonomous, on-demand cars, people pay for what they use. I choose to save money by riding at off-peak hours to run errands.

What about the cost of human drivers? In 2016, Uber had to pay hundreds of thousands of drivers. Autonomous cars is a huge, huge cost savings for them.

I don't mind one bit, because autonomous cars are great for riders like me as well. We can use our commuting time productively. The average commute to work appears to be about 24.5 minutes. We'll estimate that to be 50 minutes a day (round-trip). It appears that the average hourly wage is $20.43, meaning that the 50 minutes saves people around $17 a day on just their work commute. (This makes the dangerous and possibly false assumption that people would be as productive while in the car. If they aren't being productive, I humbly suggest that they have a higher quality of life.)

In the spirit of the late, great, Steve Jobs, there's One More Thing.

The autonomous cars drive much more efficiently. They merge perfectly because computer sensors direct everything. The same sensors help ensure that there are extremely few accidents. Commuting times are reduced which is allows people to have more time to do the things they want to do.

What about solar? How do I make money from Uber's gPods?

A few years ago, the last of the gas-powered auto companies announced they'd be switching to electric, just like everyone else. At the time of the announcement, I couldn't help but think of the last companies to make typewriters and VCRs.

Our family has always tried to be a little ahead of the curve. In 2015, We were the first house in the neighborhood to get solar power. So when Alphabet's Uber subsidiary announced their latest innovation a couple of years ago, we were quick to sign up.

We make a little money each day renting out a parking space in our driveway (and electricity) to Uber. Uber realized early on that by distributing cars throughout a neighborhood, people would always have fast access to a car. Location, location, location. It was much more efficient than having them in a central parking area. By tapping into the solar power that's already in most people's homes, Uber eliminated the need to "refuel" cars.

I imagine that Uber swaps out cars for maintenance, but it's hard for me to be sure. The cars look mostly the same. The come in any color you want as long as it is black. All I know is that we have size 1, 2, or 3 in our driveway at any given time.

Back in 2016, I was estimating that we'd pay more than $800 a month for our two cars in retirement. That's around $10,000 a year. This system is much, much cheaper. In fact, our car expenses are essentially zero when you factor in Uber's payment to us for the parking space.

We finished paying off our 15 year mortgage 3 years ago in 2027. With our electricity and transportation costs zero we are left few other expenses. I haven't figured out how to eliminate the cost of health care, food, taxes, insurance, and other utilities. For most people health care is one of their biggest expenses. We're very fortunate to have my wife's military coverage. Though it is much more expensive than in was in 2016, it's still a great deal compared to the other options out there.

Thank heavens that we've been able to reduce and/or eliminate all these expenses. This year Stanford is $150,000 a year. Giles' younger brother, Xander, is looking into MIT. That's not any cheaper.

Is it silly to reflect about saving $10,000 a year on transportation when you are spending $300,000 a year between two colleges?

* In traditional Lazy Man fashion, I have substituted real names with a character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

** Solar power isn't free, but the panels are very cheap and efficient in 2030. There's no incremental cost to power cars like there is with gasoline.

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Posted on August 23, 2016.

“Are You *IN* Debt or Do You *HAVE* Debt?”

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This weekend my wife and I had a date night while the kids slept over their grandparents house. We used the opportunity to go to Foxwoods casino for a special dinner and to see comedian Chris D'Elia. He was a co-star in NBC's Whitney and Undateable, two shows that I thought were fantastic. I didn't particularly like them due to D'Elia, but he was the common theme.

I'll get back to Chris D'Elia and the dinner in a bit, but I found the opening comedian somewhat interesting. I think his name was Mike Lomborg. I wish I could find out for sure, but he wasn't mentioned in writing anywhere I could find. My best attempts to dig through Google came up empty.

Comedy usually doesn't pay good money for people at this level. And that's a point that Mike grabbed onto and ran with. Comedy also works best when it's a little self-deprecating. Mike explained that having a scooter instead of a car significant diminishes his dating prospects. He also said this (paraphrased) about one of his break-ups:

"She said that she loves me, but she's not in love with me... That's like me saying that I have debt, but that I'm not IN debt. So I went to the bank and told them that while I have debt with them, I'm not IN debt with them, so I'm not going to be making any more payments."

Obviously, that wouldn't work out very well for Mike's personal finance situation. I found it funny, so I had to share it.

He had another personal finance joke. This one was about student loans. He mentioned how he wrote a $300 check and somehow still owes the same amount of money (it's a comedy show, not math, but let's presume that the interest rate is the reason). He goes on to ask if they are the mafia, because it would be easier if they just broke his legs and called it even.

He warned that this is what happens when you go to college and don't use the degree. That's some sage advice from a guy who started out his act with about 25 pointless swears in the first 2 minutes.

Ever see the movie Memento where the movie's scenes are in reverse and then returns to the present day at the end of the movie? I'm going to steal that idea for this article.

A couple of hours before Mike took the stage, my wife and I sat down for dinner at David Burke's Prime Steakhouse at Foxwoods. This was not going to be a cheap dinner. However, I hoped to have a steak that I wouldn't forget. In a way, they delivered on that promise, just not the way I had hoped. I'll start by saying the service and the table-side Caesar salad were very good. Unfortunately, the 75-day dry aged ribeye was very ordinary... and certainly not of the worth the premium price in my opinion.

Continuing the Memento backwards theme, we were a half-hour early for our reservation. We decided to have a drink at the bar.

The price of wine at David Burke's Prime was shocking. The cheapest bottle on the menu was $82. I'd say only 20% of the bottles were in two digits. I'd say the median was probably around $125. With four glasses of wine per a bottle, that's anywhere from $20-$30 a glass. They had good wine, but having been to several of the vineyards, they weren't extremely premium-priced ones. The interesting thing to me is that if you bought wine by the glass, there were many selections between $18-22. That seems to be the best way to go... if you want wine.

I went with the beer myself. At $7-$8 for most of the drafts, you can have 2-3 before you get to the price of a glass of wine... or around 15-18 drafts for the price of (my estimated) median bottle of wine. (Note: Please don't try to drink 15-18 beers.)

I don't think I'll be back. It's not because it was bad, but I found David Burke's Prime Steakhouse was a slightly above average experience for an extreme price.

Before we went to David Burke's, we stopped to play some craps. I'm a big fan of craps, probably because I know many of the odds. That helps you minimize the house's advantage... which is the best that most people can hope for.

We proceeded to lose $50 fairly quickly. What are the odds of three straight rolls of 3 on the come out roll? Well, it's 3/36 for one roll. My math skills are very, very rusty, but I think it's something like 27 in 46,656... or about 1 in 1725. That's exactly what happened to us.

We figured that we might as well move on to dinner. Though it was early for our reservation, maybe they'd be able to seat us early. Worse case, we could pass the time to dinner with a drink at the bar.

Now we jump to ten minutes before the Chris D'Elia show starts. I decide to hop on Twitter and see if people in the audience are Tweeting about him. I do a search and see tweets saying that his show Undateable was cancelled by NBC hours before. I figured that this could be very interesting...

... it didn't get interesting as he didn't mention it until near the end of his act when someone in the audience brought up Whitney. He said something about his stand-up routine being different from his television stuff. So that was disappointing. He also seemed to be so tired that he'd laugh at his own jokes before he told them. One time he told a joke and ad-libbed something and said, "Hey someone Tweet me that so I remember that."

This is nitpicky stuff as most of his act was very good. He had two financial jokes (that I remember).

The first was about Wells Fargo greeters. It was funny, but I couldn't related because: 1) Wells Fargo is barely in New England and 2) Who actually goes in banks? I've been inside a bank about 3 times in 5 years... and they were for fairly unusual circumstances such as getting a HELOC for solar power and opening a business account.

The second joke, and I'm not sure this was supposed to be a joke, was D'Elia admitting that he has no idea how to switch banks. He thought that perhaps they give you bags of money with money signs on them when you leave the bank.

I wonder, is this really a problem that people can relate to? I understand that it's a joke, but it seems like the joke would be funnier if there was basis of truth that people could laugh as if to say, "It's funny, because it's true."

My favorite joke of D'Elia's was about how we are the stars of our own movies. While we might all agree that he's the star right now with the literal spotlight on him addressing a large crowd, there's an entirely different perspective to consider. For some couples, such as ones on a date, he's just a small part of their evening... he might as well be "Comedian #2."

Let's end this rambling article on that sage thought from "Comedian #2."

P.S. If you are still reading, I'm going to be releasing a special deal exclusively on my mailing list tomorrow. It's free, so you might want to sign up if you aren't a member already.

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Posted on May 16, 2016.

Should We Pay Criminals to NOT Commit Crimes?

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This is an article that I've been kicking around for a few months. I'd like to say that I came up with that "banana pants" title, but it is largely stolen borrowed from this Washington Post article: Paying criminals not to commit crime may not be so funny after all.

I'd like to be more original with my titles, but...

... being a stay-at-home dad makes working very difficult. I'm usually trying to play with and educate Little Man, which is obviously time-consuming in and of itself.

However, when trying to carve out some time to work, I put on a television show. The show that Little Man wants to watch is Bo on the Go. The show is annoying on so many levels. It's so very far from TumbleLeaf. It's almost like Bo on the Go is trying to annoy people so much that they won't notice that the "solution" is almost always to put the "problem maker" in a Sisyphean task. For example, the current episode I'm watching punishes the "Neat Freak" with a "Never-Ending Puzzle."

It's almost impossible to write a good post in that kind of environment. I'm going to lean on heavily on the "almost"... it's up to you decide what "good" is.

Sorry, that rant escalated quickly. Let's get back to the original topic.

The article from The Washington Post makes a convincing case that paying criminals not to commit crimes actually makes sense. A funny thing about writing is that you never anticipate putting a string of words like that. The article doesn't mince words, focusing on the controversy and "optics" at the start.

I put "optics" in quotes there because "optics" seem too often to be used as a way to hide the "meat" of the issue. (Yes that's a lot of quotes.)

Oddly the "pay-for-peace" plan seems to work. I'm conflicted on the idea. By nature I'm idealistic, but the extremely strong logical side of me appreciates a cost-effective solution to an obviously very complex problem.

In the end, I'm going to agree with the author:

"But then someone asked more of them. They took trips to college campuses, and they were forced to make friends with rivals. For every month they attended meetings, listened to mentors, didn’t get in trouble, they got $1,000.

The cash helped pay rent and buy food. But ultimately, it was the attention to them, their futures and their success that kept those guys coming back, that kept them straight. It’s focused attention to their well-being that many never had before."

So criminals got regular money, not just for avoiding crime, but for actively showing that they are turning their life around. And it's hard to argue that giving positive focused attention is a bad thing.

What do you think? Is paying criminal to be good bad? If that question is too deep, let me know the kids' television show that annoys you (ha, ha).

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Posted on May 9, 2016.

Of Bill and Brady

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I didn't get as much writing done this week. I was a little blocked, but I had a bunch of other priorities to take care of.

Since it is Saturday, I'm going to test something a little new... something not related to money. Consider it bonus reading.

In reading the news this I found a story that showed, Bill Cosby had been accused of sexual assault multiple times nearly 10 years ago. It seems like for nearly 10 years the public didn't notice.

As more and more accusers came on over the last several months, I blocked it out. I couldn't reconcile these things with Bill Cosby. Fat Albert and Dr. Huxtable would be shocked at all these accusations. At 39, I understand that these are simply characters, but the characters have become synonymous with the man. I don't think I'm alone in having difficulty redefining a viewpoint that has been established for decades.

At the same time, I've been enthralled by everything that's come out about DeflateGate. I'm originally from the Boston area. I've been a Patriots fan since before they were 1-15 embarrassment that sexually harassed a female reporter in the locker room. I have no tolerance for sexual harassment. That was a team that was easy to hate.

I don't want to get too much into DeflateGate, but unfortunately I'm going to have to. The objective coverage is very different that what was reported on the national news back in January.

I'm sure that most people don't want to read more, but it is very important to the point I want to make at the end.

Houston Texan's fan and lawyer Steph Stradley covers it quite well. By now we know that science shows no deflating of footballs occurred. That's from an independent unpaid source, which is a whole lot better than the well-known science-for-hire firm Exponent (according to the LA Times). Of course it is also statistically impossible balls were deflated and it required. Additionally, the NFL had to conclude the referee's memory was wrong about the gauge used, because that would have also exonerated the Patriots.

Why wouldn't the NFL want to exonerate the Patriots? Because it appears they've orchestrated the witch hunt in the first place. It wasn't a big story until "league sources" leaked to ESPN's Chris Mortensen that 11 of the 12 Patriots footballs were 2 pounds PSI under the legal limit. This information was not only false, but the Patriots BEGGED the league to correct it... and they didn't. Maybe the NFL liked being the first story in national news getting attention on Saturday Night Live. It sure seemed like that was case, because they could have deflated the story by releasing the correct information that only they had.

As DeadSpin reports Chris Mortensen won't disclose who the lying source is. I used to like Mortensen, but I don't see why he'd have allegiance to those who lie to him. A respectable journalist would out that source as untrustworthy to send a message to all sources that you better not use reporters to defame others. Deadspin writes:

"Whoever Mort heard this from, it’s someone powerful enough that he can’t afford to burn them, because he’ll need that source in the future. This is the devil’s bargain made all sports league “insiders” like Mortensen: being plugged-in means they always run the risk of being used for their sources’ agendas—and every once in a while, just rarely enough to maintain trust—their sources’ lies."

I guess it does make sense why Mortensen doesn't talk. He needs to be on the NFL's league office good side if he's going to get truthful information in the future.

By why would the NFL have an agenda against the Patriots? The strong rumor is that the NFL's Mike Kensil was Mortensen's source. Mike Kensil has long worked for Patriots rival the NY Jets... especially during a time when Patriots coach Bill Belichick spurned the organization. Kensil's father, Jim Kensil, was the President of the Jets.

Kensil at halftime reportedly said to the Patriots equipment manager: "We weighed the balls. You are in big f------ trouble." Obviously that's unprofessional behavior, but beyond that, it is strong evidence of a witch hunt. He certainly wasn't qualified to do the mathematical analysis in a rushed halftime that didn't allow the NFL to check all the Colt's footballs.

It's clear that Goodell had something to gain in this. He's had a very tough year starting with the Ray Rice incident. The best way for him to restore his image is punish a team that most of the nation loves to hate. After all, the Patriots have routinely beat the rest of the NFL over the last 14 years. They are still believed to have a "history of cheating" based on 2007's SpyGate (which other teams were doing) even though they have only two players from that time on their roster. Many of the coaches are different as well.

However as the Washington Post points out In trying to restore his authority through DeflateGate, Roger Goodell undermined his credibility.

The NFL realized that it was getting nowhere with the deflated footballs. When science proves it didn't happen, it is hard to indict a team. This is when they changed the story to it being about Brady's cooperation. The independent report that the NFL paid $5 million dollar for said that Brady was "totally cooperative."

Brady upgraded his phone and destroyed his old phone as all celebrities are advised to do. This gave the NFL a new straw to grasp at. They didn't want the phone before. They had all the communications from other Patriots employees. Brady gave them all the phone numbers and times of texts. He identified the 28 people associated with the NFL, so that the NFL could contact them. The NFL said that it would be too much work.

Of course the NFL is overstepping its bounds in asking for the phone in the first place. As Brady is part of a player's union that protects the players and their privacy, it would be terrible if Brady set the precedent that the NFL can accuse and demand a player give up its privacy.

Goodell asked Brady to bring new information to his appeal. Of course, since science concluded that nothing occurred there's no evidence to bring. Goodell gave Brady a fool's errand.

The aforementioned lawyer, Steph Stradley illustrates how it doesn't matter what you say, you're still going to be guilty.

Throughout this whole thing, many have asked Brady to just admit wrongdoing and take the punishment and move on. As many others have pointed out, this is like accepting a life sentence for being merely suspected of jay-walking. No reasonably intelligent person would take the punishment and no reasonably intelligent person should make such a statement.

Comparing Bill Cosby and Tom Brady

It probably doesn't make much to compare the two, but I find it interesting how easy we've lost objectivity.

We have a culture that can ignore dozens of rape accusations if the alleged raper is funny and personable. We ignore the issue for a decade.

On the other hand, we are going on a witch hunt to nail Tom Brady who has been a squeaky clean ideal NFL ambassador for his 15 year career. It's unfathomable that he might have told some equipment people to remove air of footballs. And though there's no evidence of him having anything to do with it or that air was let out of footballs at all, we'll throw the book at him.

When you put them both together it seems really crazy right? That's cognitive dissonance for you. And if nothing else, hopefully you'll take a minute to read about the term and understand how crazy us humans can be.

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Posted on August 1, 2015.

Perhaps one of the Best Weeks Ever (and a Screaming Deal on a New PC)

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It was Thursday morning around 10AM when I had the thought, "Everything is coming up Lazy Man this week! Maybe things are just going too good?"

Two weeks ago, things hadn't been as good.

We had two feet of snow. Some people get snow days, but the blogging world doesn't stop. I had just started writing for a new blog Be Better Now and wanted to get it going on the right foot. Unfortunately, the snow means that daycare would be cancelled so I'd have to watch two kids, shovel two feet of snow, and somehow try to cobble the time to do double the blogging that I had done for years.

Oh and all this while the most inspiration sporting organization in the last two decades come under attack. The United States had become with the Falcons admitting to illegally pumping noise into the stadium. They admited doing wrong and thus cheating and no one blinked, proving that the nation doesn't care about the integrity of the game... just jealousy over success.

You can mess with a lot of things, but you don't mess with the Patriots. You might as well say that Mother Teresa was promiscuous, because it makes as much sense. By the time I publish this, there will probably be more evidence on Mother Teresa than against the Patiots as media reports are essentially exonerating them.

Sorry, I got off track there.

The week started great with the Super Bowl win. That should be enough for any week to be great.

On Monday, I read about a tremendous deal that Staples has on clearance computers. It's 50% off any PC. I scored a Toshiba C55-B5356 Laptop that's $550 on Amazon for $220 after rebate and taxes. On Black Friday, it was offered for $399. When you can beat Black Friday deals, almost by 50%, it's a screaming deal.

Looks like the low-end computer my wife has been using since 2011 is getting replaced. It's actually a faster processor and more memory than my computer has.

You might be able to still take advantage of this deal. It runs until Feb 14th. Whether you get the deal depends mostly on the stock available at your local Staples store. Unfortunately, you can't do anything online. You have to go and ask them if they clearance PCs... typically they are in the back.

And though this is not related to me in any way, how awesome is it that cast of Saved by the Bell had a reunion on Jimmy Fallon:

It even came complete with Jessie's awesome acting of being "so excited" that I've previously cited on the blog.

I've been blogging for almost 9 years now and I'm not sure I've had a week with a few different things coming together like that.

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Last updated on October 13, 2015.

What’s the Difference between a Promotion and a Lottery?

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A few months ago, a friend pointed me to this news story about a Seattle car dealership, Jet Chevrolet, having to pay out money for a promotion it ran. The promotion was that if the Seattle Seahawks shut out the NY Giants, they'd give away $420,000 to 12 people ($35,000 each). I'm not sure where they came up with the $35,000 number, but I'm guessing the picked the 12 for Seattle's famous 12th man, another term for the fans.

Life does crazy things sometimes. This time, it caused havoc for the car dealership as the Seahawks actually did shut out the Giants. One of the owners said, "This is crazy. We never expected that we'd actually be giving away the money." My response would be, then don't offer it and advertise it everywhere.

Fortunately for the dealership, they bought insurance for $7,000. They were paying $7,000 anyway, so this is almost a best case scenario since it got them so much extra publicity. Sure that insurance company is going to raise the insurance premiums on the car dealership, but I hope they'll never run a promotion like this again they ran it again with increased premiums, but didn't have to pay up again.

Before I get to the main point of the article, I'll share one other oddity that my friend, Kosmo, spotted:

Reached Sunday night, Johnson said he still doesn't know how the dealership will actually work the drawing and was waiting on guidance from the insurance company.

"We're a car dealership, we're not used to doing something like this," Johnson said.

His email to me nailed exactly what I was thinking:

Uh, what? You paid the insurance company $7000 to insure against a shutout. Once they give you a check for $420K, their job is done. If they are smart, they don’t touch the drawing with a ten foot pole – that’s just begging for a lawsuit.

Ahhh the drawing. Let me tell you about those details. The company worked with their legal department (kudos to them) and realized that they had to make the opportunity available to everyone. It's for the same reason you always hear the "no purchase necessary." If you charge people money for a chance to win a big jackpot you are essentially running a lottery, which is only legal for the government I guess. Similarly, in many states 50/50 raffles are illegal... and in some they have extensive restrictions.

Jet Chevrolet made the opportunity available to the public. You could enter the drawing without buying a car (I presume by going to the dealership and filling out an entry.) If you bought a car during the promotion, you got 100 entries. It turns out that 12 people filled out a form who didn't buy cars and 20 people bought cars. Thus there should have been 2012 entries in the "hat" when the 12 names were picked.

There's some information on the winners here, but I couldn't tell if they were the ones who bought cars.

Clearly the odds are greatly, greatly (it bears repeating) in favor for those who bought cars, right? Jet Chevrolet made up their own terms for the promotion and they had their legal team involved, so of course everything is on the level, right?

I'm not going to comment on the specific representation of their promotion. They said that they ran it by their lawyers and it was legal. However, I was thinking about extrapolating it as an example for myself. Let's imagine that I create a one-page ebook with just average content... nothing special about it at all. I sell it for $10 and offer a prize of $100 where people who buy the book get a million entries and other people can enter once for free. While it is technically open to the public, it is essentially a contest where the only reasonable chance to win is to buy my book.

Suddenly it looks a lot like running a lottery, right? Running a lottery is illegal in most states (perhaps all of them).

At what point does running a "promotion" become running a lottery? I don't have the answer, so I'll just end with that question.

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Last updated on March 20, 2014.

Forget Money…

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It seems like everyday I come to this space to write something related to money (which should surprise you due to the blog name). Today, I'd like to tell you to forget about money. We'll have a lot of other days to deal with money. Plus if you are reading this, you are likely pretty responsible with your money anyway.

It's okay to be irresponsible sometimes. One of the best times to be irresponsible is Valentine's Day. So while I may write about dozens of ways to save money on Valentine’s Day, I must admit that today can be like one of those cheat days on your diet.

Consider this to be a reminder that money is (typically) most valuable when it is spent. (Having it also valuable from a piece of mind perspective.)

Take the day to tell someone you love them. Hey if Bill Belichick is going to say he loves you, it should be easy, right?

I've already spent too many words on money for this article about not about money. With that in mind, I'm quit while I'm behind.

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Posted on February 14, 2014.

Ten Things I Think I Think

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It's been a long time since I put out a random post of things I think I think (which I shameless ripped off of Peter King... though I won't steal his convention this time by enumerating them).

I hope everyone is coming off a good Memorial Day. Just when I think I can't have any great appreciation for the military, some terrorist event like the recent Boston Bombings brings it up a notch. I've read so many great words were said about the military the last couple of days that anything I could add would just sound like a rehash and I'd probably be subconsciously plagerizing someone.

It's worth noting that we shouldn't forget the Oklahoma tornado. Living in New England, I can't begin to comprehend what I saw on the news with that. The next time we get three feet of snow and the governor makes it illegal to drive on public roads, remind not to complain.

It made me smile that the Comfort Dogs are helping the people affected by the Oklahoma tornado. Have you never heard of the Comfort Dogs? I can't believe they fly all over the country... seems like there should be a pack in every state, just ready to deploy.

One last Oklahoma and Comfort Dog thought: Should You Have an Emergency Charity Fund?

Deal of the Week

Kentucky Fried Chicken (don't give me that KFC re-branding crap) has a buy one get one free coupon for 2 pieces of boneless chicken, a side, a biscuit, and a drink for $4.99. I've been to restaurants that charge $5 for two soft drinks alone. The Angioplasty Association of America suggests you print out as many as you can and use them up by June 4th.

Entertainment

Did you know there were so many Great Gatsby movies? Me neither. With the new remake of that and of course the new Superman reboot, I've been thinking that it's time to remake Brewster's Millions. Most people I know don't it was originally a play, and has been released as a film 6 times according to IMDB. The last one, in 1985 had a gap of 40 years between films... and we are approaching a 30 year gap. Short of resurrecting Chris Farley and pairing him with Adam Sandler, I don't know how you can match the Pryor/Candy of the last film. Part of me says, "Why remake a classic?" when it was done to perfection. The other part of me says "How do we introduce a great concept of a movie a new generation?"

Having finished off season 3 of Arrested Development over the last week, I found the format of season 4 (streaming on Netflix) to be greatly disappointing. I suppose that getting the actors together for real episodes just wasn't possible, but I feel like I'm watching just one watered-down episode of Arrested Development. I'm only a few episodes in and the biggest highlight was seeing that many of the actors of the Outsourced make an appearance.

The three teams with the best records in baseball are all Red-based teams... the Cardinals, Reds, and Red Sox. (Okay the Red Sox are tied with the Rangers, but don't rain on my parade.)

Household

Strange world... I can get some millions of random products delivered from Amazon in 2 days or less, but it takes the fence contractor we hired a month to get the most common fence materials delivered to him.

My "luck" with service people doesn't end with fence contractors. My wife and I tried to get a cleaning service for our home. In San Francisco, I was able to complete that task on my to-do list in about a half hour. In New England it seems no one wants my business. I called three places and my wife called five more. No one picked up or returned our calls. This includes the popular The Maids brand. We found one person who quoted us an estimated price of $135 over the phone, who offers a 15% military discount. I was expecting a price of $115. During the walk-through she asked if we were military and then came back with the price of... $135.

When I asked about the $135 price after it was quoted as being $135 on the phone previously, the cleaning service lady said, "Well a house this size is usually $150, but with the military discount it will be $135." Being a bit of a math nerd, I realized that even if it was usually $150 that's only honoring a 10% military discount. I waited a week and when no other cleaning services returned my phone calls, I decided to counter offer at $125, explaining that it is very close to a 15% military discount on $150. Weeks later, I still have no response to what I thought was a pretty fair proposal.

In the meantime, I checked with a local directory of trusted businesses and found an awesome cleaning service for $75. In all my other searches it didn't come up. They were ready to clean the same day they toured the home and quoted the price!

I know some people might think I'm living up to my Lazy name with a cleaning service, and in some ways I am. However, one of the reasons I am frugal in many areas is so that I can splurge for a cleaning service.

Technology

CNET had a great article about upcoming seemless wifi connections. The promise is that your phone will automatically use a wifi connection when it is available without you having to select it or log in... as long as you have privileges to be on that network. (Sounds a little like Republic Wireless.)

I'm sure they'll get the technology piece solved, there aren't any great barriers to storing login credentials on a phone in advance and logging into wifi. The barrier to making this useful to consumers is a unifying entity to make wifi networks interoperable. For example, if my Bank of America ATM card only worked at Bank of America, it would be serviceable, but it is much better when it works at Chase, US Bank, Wells Fargo, and that shady place near Tijuana where Salma Hayek dances with a snake. Even if I have a pay a small roaming fee to use my wifi out-of-network, it is better than having to buy into that network completely.

Maybe cell carriers realizes that this is a good way to monetize these wifi networks and charge an extra $5-7 a month for roaming on the WiFi SuperNet (which I'll use for lack of a better name).

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Posted on May 28, 2013.

Thoughts on Sandy Hook

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I thought twice about writing this article today. When I've had such feelings, I've found it's a sign that the article is either going to be really good or really bad. We'll see which way this one goes.

I feel obliged to write about the Newtown, CT shootings on Friday. Unlike many people, I've been to Newtown (not often, but a couple of times). My wife has friends there from when she lived in nearby Danbury. There's a place called King's that has a fantastic breakfast about 5 miles from the elementary school.

What am I going to write about that you haven't already read or heard? My reaction on Friday was just of speechlessness. There's really nothing to say. You can't fix anything. It's a helpless feeling.

My wife waited and waited to see the list to see if she recognized any names. When the list finally came out she didn't recognize any of them. My response: "Well that's a... ummm... thing. I guess." I certainly couldn't call it a "good" thing.

I found out about the shooting in probably an unusual way. My wife and I were running around town getting errands done after our move across country. I was checking my email and I got an alert that a friend who doesn't update his Facebook very often made an update. He was at a loss on how to keep his kids, same age as those in the Newtown school, safe. What does he do when he's taken all the precautions such as move to safe town with good schools like Newtown? He asked what nearly every working parent must have asked, "How do I go to work and be productive know that this can happen?"

My only rational thought is that you can't let it impact you. Easier said than done, I know. However, airplanes crash sometimes, and people still fly. Disgrunted workers have shot up their workplaces. There have been mass shootings at at least one fast food restaurant and movie theater. People still go to those places. While the threat of danger is always going to present, we must remember that it is infitisimal. (I'm tempted to make a comparison about winning the lottery here, but let's not mix the good infitisimal chances with the bad.)

Thoughts on Gun control

There's been a lot of talk of gun control and mental illness, so I thought I'd add my two cents in.

I haven't listened to a lot of the gun control stuff. I'm not a gun person. If you are one, that's fine, good for you, I support your right to bear arms. However, I saw that Sean Hannity made some comments that I simply found puzzling. (I had no idea who this guy was until driving across the country and found his radio show with what seemed like one train wreck of a segment after another). He made a comment along the lines that since tire irons and knives can also kill people maybe we should ban those too. Rush Limbaugh made a similar remark in response to Bob Costas' talk about gun control on Sunday Night Football before Sandy Hook happened.

I've got an opinion where you draw the line, but you can't put a tool like a knife or tire iron being used for an unintended purpose in the same classification with a gun. While I can respect one's opinion that they need a gun for protection, I can't understand how that would apply to a semi-automatic gun. Maybe I don't follow the news close enough, but I'm not sure the last time someone got in a situation domestically where the right answer was a semi-automatic gun. And if someone is going to take the discussion to the tire iron level, you might as go in the direction and demand that everyone have access to bazookas and rocket launchers.

A lot of people will say "guns don't kill people, people kill people." There's some logic there, but do you really think Sandy Hook would have had the same outcome if Adam Lanza came in with a tire iron?

Thoughts on Mental Illness

I'm going to start off by saying read this: 'I Am Adam Lanza's Mother': A Mom's Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America. It's a great article. It tells of a story of a mother who has a child with mental illness. Most of the time he's great, and insanely brilliant, but a small amount of the time he's a ticking time bomb... almost like a real life River Tam.

It seems like there should be some resources for her, but it sounds like she's explored them and come up empty. With all the talk of the fiscal cliff and the idea of reducing spending, where do we come up with the money to solve this problem? Or do we just punt on it, save the money instead of helping those with mental illnesses and risk further Sandy Hook incidents?

Strangely, it seems those who are strong advocates of gun ownership are also on the side of focusing on cutting spending with the fiscal cliff. I can't imagine they think is seriously a winning combination. It almost reminds me of some friends in college who wanted to have a candlelight keg party... open flames and drunk people, what could possibly go wrong?

What Can Be Done?

In the end, I think that to some degree there's always going to be a danger of a Sandy Hook incident. You can take a lot of steps to minimize it, but as Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the Challenger explosion, we better get used to the possibilities of such disasters. (I highly encourage you to read that article.)

Sometimes I think a lot of problems can be better understood with a simple baseball analogy. Home runs happen when either the pitcher makes a bad pitch or a hitter has a great swing... but most often it's a combination of the two. If you have a great pitcher who is on his game, he probably won't give up a home run. If you have a great (power) hitter, he'll probably end the season with his fair share of home runs.

When I think of what happened in Sandy Hook, you had a combination of a great hitter and a poor pitcher... mental illness combined with access to guns with the ability to kill large amounts of people in a very short time. Just like in baseball, it may be possible to prevent home runs with a great pitcher, but nothing is perfect. Maybe you can try to eliminate the great hitters (this is where my baseball analogy breaks down a little, because there's little you can do about the other team having good hitters), but that's not a perfect solution either.

However, if you work on both, and are successful, maybe you can limit the Sandy Hook incidents.

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Random thoughts

Posted on December 19, 2012.

 
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