Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 10 games of 2011

For the past two years I've written about my favorite 10 games that I was lucky enough to attend in person. If you were curious below are the links for both lists:
2009 - Winner: Game 163
2010 - Winner: Dolphins at Vikings

Now it is on for this year's list.

10. Magic at Timberwolves. Magic won 108-99. Some games are memorable because of exciting plays or a dramatic finish. This wasn't one of those games. It was a mid-season game between a terrible Timberwolves team and a much better Magic team. There wasn't much surprise in the 9 point win, except that maybe the final margin wasn't larger. Still this makes the end of the list because it was fun in person to watch Dwight Howard play in person. Going to see players on the opposing team was a main draw for Timberwolves fans and you might notice a common theme on this year's list.

9. Miami at Minnesota (football). Gophers won 29-23. In my time in Minnesota, I saw Miami play Minnesota in football twice. The first game was a painful double overtime loss at the Metrodome. This year the hope was this was different. Minnesota had just come off a home loss to New Mexico State and ended up finishing the year with a 3-9 record. Miami won the MAC title last year and had a veteran QB that I knew would lead them to a victory over the not so mighty Gophers. On the 3rd play of the game Miami completed a 66 yard pass to Minnesota's 9 yard line. They had to settle for a field goal, but I still felt good about the game. Anyway, it was back and forth for a while. Miami's special teams were terrible (a missed PAT and a blocked punt for a td), but still they had a shot. Down 13 points they finally started throwing on every play. They scored one td to put them down 6 with plenty of time left. When they got the ball on the 34 yard line with 3 minutes to go and a touchdown and a PAT away from a win, I knew this was the year. They drove the ball down to Minnesota's 20 (even completing a 4th and 10) and had one final play with a couple seconds left on the clock. Miami's QB threw his final pass into the endzone and the receiver literally had the ball (and most likely the win) in his hands. The Gophers cornerback was able to knock it out at the last second and Miami lost. It was an exciting game and fun to hang out with M and two other friends (who were rooting for the Gophers). Still this game meant that there would be two "what if" Miami games against Minnesota.

8. Blue Jays at Twins. Blue Jays won 11-3. It is normal in basketball to go see a game because of one player. The #10 game made that list because of Dwight Howard. It is not normally the same in baseball. However, this game was different in that Jose Bautista put on a show that was a new in-game experience for me. He hit three home runs and came up to bat in the 8th inning with a chance to hit four home runs in a game. 15 players have accomplished that feat in game, which makes it more rare than a perfect game. The three home runs were enough to put this game on my list, and with one more swing of the bat it would have easily been the #1 most memorable game of 2011.

7. Miami at Ohio State (hockey). Miami won 5-3. Hockey games can sometime stick together in my mind. I can remember that some team won and the score was probably something like 3-2, but individual plays or incredible players usually skip my mind. This game was slightly different in that it was much more of a high scoring contest, and as someone who now lives in Columbus and is married to an OSU grad it is always nice when Miami can give me bragging rights over Ohio State.

6. LA Clippers at Timberwolves. Clippers won 98-90. It is hard to remember much about this game besides the fact that Blake Griffin is really fun to watch live. I can normally point out this players by who gets M's attention. Off the top of my head I know she knows Dwight Howard, LeBron, Kobe and Blake Griffin. That are the only four current players that I am confident she knows about and can recognize. The reason she knows about Griffin was because I took her to both Clippers games this year because (apologies to the Mavs and the Heat) the 2010/2011 season will be remembered by Blake Griffin. I made her watch the Griffin dunk on the Knicks more than a couple times. Anyway, this game was fun and definitely worth the price of admission.

5. Heat at Timberwolves. Heat won 111-92. Another game, where the main attraction was the opposing team - that might tell you how great the 2011 season was for MN teams. Anyway, pretty much any time I see LeBron play it will be on my list of top 10 games. This year was especially fun because not only did I see LeBron, but also Wade.

4. Giants at Brewers. Giants won 5-4. There were a few highlights from this game. 1) Hanging out with my brother-in-law as he watched his favorite team. 2) Seeing Tim Lincecum pitch. 3) Watching Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam in his first game in the majors. 4) Finding out that Giants relieft pitcher Sergio Romo was born on the exact same day as me.  5) Watching Prince Fielder get thrown at home in a game that wasn't that much different from Buster Posey's injury. It was a fun, close game and it was especially nice seeing two good baseball teams since that was never an option at Target Field this year.

3. Indians at Twins. Twins won 2-1. Last year I bought five season tickets and there were three Twins games on the list. This past year I doubled down and bought 10 season tickets. There are only two Twins games on the list and the first one was only because of how bad the Twins pitching/how awesome Jose Bautista was. This game looked to be like most of the other Twins games this year. It slow, boring and painfully hot. The Twins didn't score a run for 8 innings and didn't really even threaten during that time. However, what is nice about baseball and has been said many times before is there isn't a clock and that any comeback is theoretically possible. The Twins were able to load the bases in 9th inning and won on a 2 run single by Danny Valencia. I love walk-off wins and this walk-off was both exciting and unexpected.

2. Thunder at Timberwolves. Thunder won 118-117 in overtime. I wrote a full review of this game and my *courtside experience back in February. I wrote that I could cross off one spot on my top 10 list and sure enough the game comes in at #2.

*The tickets were listed as courtside even though they were the 4th row.

1. Ohio State at Nebraska. Nebraska won 34-27.  Just like the game above, I also wrote about Nebraska's greatest comeback in Memorial Stadium history back in October. It is a worthy game to hold the #1 spot, and I can only hope I see one game like that in 2012.

Happy New Year's everyone.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Current State of Mind

The funny thing about writing about yourself is the level of criticism that come upon real emotion. If you tend to be nothing but positive, then people will think you are bragging and should show a proper level of modesty. The people on facebook who always write about their great life are pretty annoying - at least according to most of my friends. However, if you do nothing but complain then those same people will be upset at you for being negative. It almost seems like the world is just hoping everyone is as bland as most athletes during a press conference.

For the most part I follow the rules above. On facebook I wanted to write about how great my Christmas gifts were (an iPad, gift certificates to Chick-Fil-A, Skyline, etc), but refrained because I didn't want it to come across as bragging. Also, I'm not someone who likes to complain about big things like a job, family issues, etc. since airing any type of dirty laundry on such a public space seems foolish. Most of my facebook comments seem to fluctuate between thank yous to people or what I consider to be witty comments. Ex. my last facebook post was "I'm not saying that I took a new job just because it was close to a *Chick-Fil-A, but it is an added job perk." 

*I might have a Chick-Fil-A obsession, but that is another post for another day.

Anyway, for those of you that read the blog you get the more honest version. I will brag, complain and comment on my life. The reason is that I don't think many people really read this thing. Sure, I know that I have a few regulars and it isn't like I am going to be 100% unfiltered, since I know this blog is a simple Google search away from any potential friends or employers. Still, this gives me the time and space to write out my thoughts and hope that a few people out there care.
Now that is over let me just say how happy I am with my life. I have a wonderful, supportive wife who complements me in many ways. I admire the way she conducts herself, and we seem to share the same big picture thoughts on how our life should be led. It has been a welcome surprise to me how much I've enjoyed being married. One of the big reasons is that practically speaking it has led to a lot less stress. When you share decisions, responsibilities, etc it just makes things a lot more peaceful.

Also, I recently spent a week back home in Mississippi with my family and friends. It is amazing to me that I haven't lived in Mississippi for 10 years, but still can count on the same people. During the trip, M and I went to visit two of my friends at their parents houses, and we spent the time just sitting around talking. We told stories, provided updates on our lives and just enjoyed each other's company. M remarked that spending so much time with the parents of friends wasn't something that happened as much in Ohio. If that is the case then I am happy to have grown up in Mississippi. It gives me a sense of place to go back and spend time with both my friends and their parents. Also, they spoil me with their compliments and hospitality, so that isn't bad either.

As for other things I am happy to have a sister that I can still look up to. She (with help from her spouse of course) has done a great job of parenting my two nephews, and I am thrilled with the new additions to our family. It will be exciting as an uncle to see those two grow over the years. Also, just like always I can look at her life and (hopefully) see what my life will be like in 5-6 years. It was like that with high school, college, marriage, etc. She has always provided a good path for me.

Finally, I am always impressed with the people in my life that are naturally positive and uplifting. It is very motivating to spend time with people like my nephew H, my Mom, my friends, etc. They sometimes get upset (like normal people), but it isn't there natural state. I love being able to relax, smile and enjoy life without feeling like someone is getting short-changed or offended. It might be hard to define the same characteristics that make them that way, but the end result is that you want to spend more time with these people. Also,a a side note, I'm happy because it isn't like you get to pick your parents. It's blind luck. Thankfully, I'm happy with the cards that were dealt, and it is nice that over time the word "want" has replaced "have to" in the sentence "I have to spend time with my parents."

There are still things in my life that are missing. I'm new to a job, and it can be tough starting over again with a new company. I'm optimistic, since the work seems to be rewarding, and I like my coworkers. Also, we need to find a place to live, which means A) finding a house, B) negotiating a fair price, C) moving and D) getting used to a significantly higher mortgage payment. Finally, it has been difficult leaving Minneapolis and starting over in Columbus. I'm hoping to find a friend group that consist of the best of Mississippi and Minnesota, but I know that will likely take effort and time. One of my flaws is that I can be impatient, and that is probably true with the job, house and friend situations.

Anyway, maybe I am just in such a good mood because I had Chick-Fil-A for breakfast and Skyline for lunch (thanks to the gift cards) or because I am feeling especially flush with Christmas spirit. Things are most likely to change soon, so I thought that in the meantime I would write down the reasons for my current state of happiness.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Looking back at 2011

As we approach another new year it is important to be reflective, while also creating a plan for the upcoming year. First to look back, 2011 continued a personal trend of big changes during odd number years. For whatever reason it seems like big changes tend to stick to odd number years.

In 1999, I switched from glasses to contacts and transitioned from a high school sophomore (awkward) to a high junior (a little less awkward). That year brought a new starting position on the basketball team and a girlfriend. Neither of those two points can be understated in terms of importance.

In 2001, I graduated high school and decided to move my life away from the only state I had ever really known. The decision to attend Miami University wasn't an easy one, but is something that I wouldn't ever want to change.

In 2003, nothing much really happened. This is the one big exception to my odd year = big life events.

In 2005, I graduated from Miami and went to work at Target. This again represented a big move as I continued my northern trek up to Minnesota. Also, I started the world of corporate America, which meant sleeping in on a Tuesday was no longer a possibility.

In 2007, I made the decision to stay in Minnesota. I had the opportunity to go to North Carolina (my ideal state), but turned down a job offer for a company in Minnesota. It is hard to think of what life would have been like if I had accepted the role in North Carolina.

In 2009, I (finally to some) proposed to my long time girlfriend M. We found a perfect two bedroom duplex in Edina and moved in together.

And in this past year, M and I and moved from Minnesota back to Ohio. This involved interviewing for new jobs, quitting are old jobs and moving back in with the in-laws. This decision was made with the future in mind. We both really loved Minnesota, but we our families in Mississippi and Ohio, it is probably short-sighted to think that was a reasonable place to live for the next 30 years.

That was the big news of the year and something that I probably couldn't have predicted at the beginning of the year. Besides that though M and I had a wonderful first full year of marriage. One of our main joys was traveling and with that we were very fortunate this year. Below were some of our trips:

  • I met my brother-in-law in Milwaukee for a Giants-Brewers game before driving back with him to Minneapolis. In retrospect this was especially important, since before we left it was nice to show Buck our favorite spots in the Twin Cities. 
  • We went down to Jackson for my nephew H's 4th birthday party. Also, it was great seeing my sister and brother-in-law's new house.
  • M and I spent a week in Mexico with M's parents. I wrote about this on my blog, but it was a great week soaking in a new culture. Also, I wouldn't mind the weather in the Mexico City area.
  • I had my annual Kansas City (a great success), Buffett (#4) and Vegas trips.
  • We also flew down to Columbus for my mother-in-law's 60th birthday. 
  • We had a few small roadtrips including a nice drive down to the Field of Dreams site in Iowa. That trip also included a single A baseball game between the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the Beloit Snappers. 
  • Finally, we were able to get M to attend a Malphurs family trip to Florida. This was really fun and relaxing. Also, the big highlight was meeting my new nephew. 
  • Our 2nd big trip of the year was the one over Thanksgiving to London and Paris. 
Looking forward to 2012, I don't think we will go on as many trips as the previous year. We are trying to do as much as we can for as long as we can because the advice we have been given is to take advantage of traveling while you are young and not tied down with children. Thankfully, I don't think we will look back on 2011 with any regrets.

Besides traveling, M and I enjoyed our final year in Minneapolis. It was tough leaving our friends, restaurants and duplex behind. M did a great job of suggesting a final night out at our favorite restaurant - Amore Victoria. We partially hosted (wine and some appetizers) a party for about 30 of our friends. That was a lot of fun. Also, we were taken aback by the generosity of some of our friends. Two of my good guy friends got me a rare, expensive bottle of whiskey called Pappy Van Winkle's. Also, another friend took me out to lunch, bought me a t-shirt and even lent me her husband to help with the move.

I might have mentioned in the past being disappointed with the number of Minnesota friends that showed up at our wedding. It seemed like after 5 years we should have had at least double digits at the wedding. I know that it was far away in Ohio, but again I was disappointed. However, this past year has reaffirmed my faith in Minnesotans. M made great friends through Junior League and I was happy to continue to spend time with my friends at Honeywell. I learned that the Minnesotans I hung out with might not wear their emotions on their sleeve, but they are genuine people. It has been tough in Ohio to not have the same connections. 

The sporting world could have gone a little better this year. Duke predictably lost in the Sweet 16. UNC

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas (I received an iPad!) and a happy New Year's. I know this has been a long post, but I had a lot to say that didn't make it into the Christmas letter.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My personal guide to making money in your 20s

First off there are more important things than money. There are great friendships, loving families and so much more that makes life worth living. To judge your life strictly by your balance sheet is a crude and simplistic way of looking at something more complex.

That being written I think that being financially well-off is important in a life. It just makes things easier. For example M and I just got back from London and Paris. If we didn't feel comfortable with the amount of money we had saved up and plan to make in the future then we wouldn't spend the money to go on that trip. My father always would say something like "we can do anything we want - just not everything" to describe our financial situation. I always liked that saying and tried to emulate my parents by recreating that situation. I think M and I are at that point in our life, which is a product of good luck and hard work. I feel confident saying that our financial situation is very healthy and looking back on the decisions we made here is my advice to people. 
  1. Make your own decisions. It is your own financial life and you should trust your own judgement if for no other reason than ultimately you are the only facing the consequences of your financial decisions. If you've done the research and feel comfortable with your analytical abilities then disregard what other people might say. This doesn't mean you can just play things by emotion and turn a blind eye to rational thought. Just because someone at work says a stock is a great buy doesn't mean you are off the hook on thinking about it yourself. In the end the money you put into that stock is your money and you have to take full responsibility for that.
  2. Don't buy a starter home. I am very strict about certain rules about home buying and this is one of them. The reasoning I have on this is that starter homes don't make much sense for a variety of reasons. First off it is a starter home then it means their are some less than desirable characteristics about the home. It might not have enough bedrooms or be in a bad school district. Why would you lock yourself into that type of home? Also, once it is time to sell then you have to pay the real estate fees to go from a starter home into your next home. The transaction costs are too high. Finally, while you are in your 20s there is a decent chance your salary will increase. I wouldn't have wanted to buy a home based on the salary I made at 22 compared to the salary I make now. 
  3. Don't buy a home until you are a married. There is too much risk if you lose your job and if you plan on getting married then your situation will completely change. You will go from one to two incomes and what you might want/need will change with another person's opinion. The result is that the type of home you might want and could afford will change. If you want to get married then just wait till then before you buy a home.
  4. Put 20% down on a home. If you can't put 20% down on a home then you probably shouldn't buy a home. It might be tough to do, but that type of financial discipline should be required before you buy a home.
  5. There is good debt and bad debt, but mostly debt is bad. Debt is an albatross that you carry until it is paid off. Depending on the interest rate you can pay 2 to 3 times the amount the product/good is actually worth. Now their are good types of debt, like for example my one friend who went to a prestigious law school and is now making a healthy salary as a lawyer. That type of debt is understandable. However, besides the obvious bad debt (credit card bill thanks to a new 60 inch tv) their is good debt (school loans or mortgage) that will severely limit your ability to accumulate money. If you want to go to a random private school then by all means go for it. However, just know the $120K in student loans you took on will eventually have to be paid. Again, I am not writing that going to a private school is a wrong decision for your personal life, but financially it might set you back. 
  6. Luck plays an important part in your life and one should not to discount that variable. There is a difference between making a bad decision and getting a bad outcome and making a bad decision and getting a good outcome. In the first scenario you get what you deserve and probably will keep that in mind when you face a similar situation. In the second scenario though you might think that you made the correct decision because of the outcome. The best example of this would be something simple like blackjack. If you hit on a 14 when the dealer is showing a 6 then you made a poor decision. It doesn't matter if you get a 7 and win the hand. Another real world example of this would be back when I first started investing in 2007. I felt that investing in the stock market was a good idea and even when the market crashed in 2008 and 2009, I kept my money (and even added money) into the market. I am happy that I did that and didn't think that the bad luck of investing at the wrong time made the decision to invest a bad one. Anyway, understand the importance of luck and distinguish between making good decisions and being lucky.
  7. Keep a budget. It could be as simple as writing down the amount of money in each one of your accounts (checking, savings, 401K, etc) and also the amount of money you make and spend. Find something that works for you. I keep the data in about 15 categories (rent, entertainment, groceries, etc), but the important thing is to know whether or not you gross or lose money every month. From M and I's budget I know how much legroom we have between what we make and spend. That money we save and also reinvest in the stock market.
  8. Do well at your job, but also don't be unduly loyal to a company. I've enjoyed both of my previous companies, but I always knew that any given moment I could be let go. I was an at-will employee and I have enjoyed that freedom to quit. The ability to quit has provided me the two largest raises of my career. There are many things to consider with a company (the people you work with, vacation hours, etc), but unfortunately sometimes the best way of getting ahead in terms of salary is to leave for another company. Again there are plenty of exceptions to that rule, but that has been my experience and I wouldn't want somebody to rot away at a company that most likely doesn't care about you.
  9. The earlier you find out what you want to do with your career the better off you will be. Just like switching homes can be costly, it also be costly to switch careers. You can make money in most professional avenues, but normally the salary you make is tied to your experience level. If you completely switch careers you probably go to the bottom of the ladder. 
  10. ETFs are better than Mutual Funds because of their low expense ratio. Unless you really believe a Mutual Fund manager can consistently beat the market (I don't) then pick the type of portfolio you want (large/mid/small cap, growth/value, etc) and look at the expense ratio. 
  11. Save aggressively when you can because eventually you will have a mortgage, kids (I was just told by a friend to estimate day care as another mortgage) and other expenses. The more you can bank away now (6 months of living expenses can be tough to save up, but is important) the better. It should go without saying, but it is wise to invest in your company's 401K to at least the percent that the company matches.
  12. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to money. If you think that just by ignoring something then it will magically get better then you need to grow up. When I was a teenager I didn't really worry about money besides what I had in my pocket. However, that excuse doesn't really work when you are an adult. You should know where your money is, what it is doing there and why you are choosing that path for your money. You probably work hard for your money, so take care of it.
  13. The morning coffee at Starbucks adds up, but the real cost you should be worried about are your big expenses. Most money advice articles I read suggest giving something up like a $3 cup of coffee to help with your financial situation. If you get a $3 cup of coffee every day at work for the 49 weeks your work (assuming 2 weeks of vacation and 1 week of holidays) then you spend $735 a year. That is definitely important and adds up, but it isn't as important as choosing a Civic instead of a Lexus or a reasonable apartment compared to luxury apartment. M and I spend money on smaller expenses, but I think the main reason we have been able to save money is by managing our big (I call them fixed costs on our budget) expenses.
  14. Understand the risks/rewards and the worst case scenario. Often people can be too optimistic (e.g. home prices will always go up) and don't factor in what might go wrong. It might not be the best way of living life, but I have found that a lot of my best choices I've made are ones that I've decided against because of the added risk and possible worst case scenario. 
Also, despite the fact that I've spent four years as a forecaster doesn't mean I can predict the future. I might make mistakes as soon as we put an offer on a home, and I try to understand that. Things have worked out in M and I's favor and for that I primarily thank both of our parents. They have provided good examples of a strong work ethic and/or good decision making. The luck of who are parents are (because you can't really choose them) was the most important factor in where we are now. That factor is out of your control, but what should be in your control are the 14 points above.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

House Hunting in Ohio

Big changes happening in M and I's life. My last post was from Paris, and since then we flew back to Minnesota, spent a week packing, hosted a going away party, said goodbyes to our friends and drove to Ohio.That all led up to a day of house hunting yesterday. We are looking at this small city about 10 minutes from downtown Columbus and 15 minutes from where we will work. The homes were mostly built in the 1920s and the neighborhood seems to be a very close-knit community. At lunch our real estate agent knew about 5 different people at the restaurant. Everyone seems to know everybody else in Bexley.

Anyway, we found three different homes we really liked. Since then one went under contract, but there are still a few options. Below is what we were considering.

303 S. Ardmore Road:
  • Pros: Great kitchen and lower level (family room, sun room, etc). Also, really nicely maintained. Finally, a better price.
  • Cons: 3 bedrooms and the 3rd bedroom is more the size (8' x 10') of a nursery.
2354 Bexley Park Road:
  • Pros: Really great lower level. There is a finished basement, but it is small.
  • Cons: Expensive. Also, the backyard could use improvement. The kitchen is small too, but there might be an easy fix on that.
There is a 3rd option as well, but it is a home this guy bought and is rehabbing the entire inside. It looks terrible now, but should look amazing when he is finished. We saw another home he rehabbed and were extremely impressed. Lots of big decisions ahead. Do we buy one of the ones above? Do we wait till more come on the market? Do we go with the rehab one? We will be doing another round of house hunting tomorrow.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Paris Day Three

Here are some pictures from the busiest day of the trip.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Paris (day two)

Below are the pictures from how M and I spent Thanksgiving in Paris.

In a market near our hotel.

In the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles
The Catacombs of Paris where 6 million Parisians are buried

Saint Sulpice (famous in the Da Vinci Code) and also the 2nd largest church in Paris
Dinner at a restaurant about 20 feet away from our hotel. It was featured on Rick Steves (we found this out by seeing a picture of him with the owner and then also realizing that two other groups in the restaurant were talking about Rick Steves). It was an excellent meal.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Paris pictures

From our 1st night in Paris:

Trip to London

The risk of going abroad is pretty substantial. I know I talked about risk/reward in my last long blog post about quitting my job and moving to Columbus, but bear with me on that concept. The risk of going abroad is that you will spend too much money at a place you don't like with people you can't stand. Also, there is the risk that if you pick one place over another then maybe in your life you won't get the opportunity to go the silver medal site. Life isn't like the movie Groundhog Day because you can't go back in time and try to get it right again. You have one shot. (I loved the quote below from a street in London.)

One reason M and I picked London and Paris were because they were two places on our bucket list. They were two places that we couldn't go through life without seeing. M has actually been to both places, but only briefly in Paris and maybe (hopefully?) not the same type of trip as she had done before in London. Those two places were worth the risk because of all we have heard and seen about the cities.

Now the good news is that so far this trip has been amazing. I am sitting in a small hotel room a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower and thinking back on our trip to London. Those were four wonderful days that I will look back fondly on. The food was much better than the expectations of English food. Whether or not we were in a pub (which we went to a decent amount) or a real restaurant we were consistently impressed. My favorite traditional English meal was a simple fish & chips meal at a place near Trafalgar Square. My favorite overall meal was the duck confit at a place called Henry's (located on the road Piccadilly Circus).

Other than eating our way through London, we also did the big tourist sights. A quick rundown of what we saw:
  • Tower of London
  • National Gallery
  • Buckingham Palace (we went to see the changing of the guard one day)
  • Imperial War Museum

    • London Eye
    • Westminster Abbey
    • Harrod's
    • Big Ben
    • Backbeat (a play at the Duke of York theater)
    Out of the list above our favorites were the National Gallery, Imperial War Museum (we spent about 3 hours there) and the play (Backbeat) about the forming of the Beatles. I could go on and on about the merits of those three activities specifically.

  • I am going to get some rest now in anticipation of our first full day in the *Kansas City of Western Europe.

    *I'm assuming that if Kansas City is known as the "Paris of the Plains" then actual Paris must be knowns as something like the Kansas City of Western Europe.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011


    Unfortunately I don't have much time to post, because I can't figure out a way to charge my computer. Here are some quick pictures from M and I's trip to London. So far it has been a really great trip. We are looking forward to going to Paris tomorrow.

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Risk, Reward and Big Life Changes

    One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received was from my Finance professor at Miami University, Dr. Terry Nixon. He said to understand finance you needed to first realize the risk vs. reward scale. If risk goes up then expected reward should also go up. Subsequently if risk goes down then your expected reward should go down. This made logical sense, but until that moment I guess I had never really thought about the direct relationship between risk and reward. It is a useful guide though when faced with both financial and personal decisions.

    The reason I bring up the risk/reward is that M and I are going to be taking on a big risk. We are moving from Minneapolis to Columbus, Ohio. This is a *huge life change and something that will in the short term bring in a lot of complex situation. There is risk that we won't like living in Columbus or that our jobs won't be as fulfilling as they have been in Minneapolis. There is also risk leaving behind a great friend group here because their is no guarantee that we will be able to have as nice of a social scene there. I can list out other risks, but by moving away from the status quo we are taking on additional risk.

    *A few months ago my brother-in-law wrote a small post on the big life changes that seem to happen every summer for him. He referenced the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, which lists out "43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness." Well it looks like M and I are heading down a pretty stressful fall/winter.

    However, the other side of the scale means that with this extra risk we should expect additional rewards because otherwise we wouldn't make the decision to move. And the reason we are moving is because the rewards of moving back to Columbus justify the potential risks. We get to be closer to both families, which should be invaluable if/when we decide to have children. The cost of living and salary information means that we will be making more money. The fact that we have decided to make Columbus our long-term home means that we can take on the *risk of buying a home.

    *Rewards: 1) Home prices might go up. 2) We can build equity. 3) We can join a society that seems to look more kindly on home owners compared to renters. 4) We will have a bigger, nicer place.

    We have the reward of being more centrally located. Columbus is within 4 hours of Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Louisville. Also, we are only a day's drive away from New York City, Philadelphia, DC, Atlanta, St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago. Minneapolis is unfortunately only really near *cabins that are "up north." You are a day's drive away from Kansas City, Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis, but there aren't nearly as many options around **Minneapolis.

    *I have been in Minneapolis for over 6 years and still never been to a friend's cabin up here. This is something I will always find very strange and unfortunate.

    **However, in the city itself there is more stuff to do in Minneapolis than Columbus. I will miss seeing the Twins and Timberwolves. Also, I love the selection of restaurants here. I know there will be places to eat in Columbus, but I doubt there will be as nice of a variety as there is here.

    We are taking on additional risk, but I'm excited for the move. I will look back fondly on my time in Minneapolis working for two great companies. This is the city where I experienced a lot of personal and professional growth, met great friends and had a wonderful time. I am looking forward to living in Columbus, but I am not looking forward in leaving Minneapolis.

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Trickle Down Economics

    Do tax cuts pay for themselves? For example when President Bush lowered the top tax rates on those making over *$250K from 36% to 33% some thought that by freeing up money then people would buy more goods, start or invest in more businesses and generally help the economy. This is a common conservative theme repeated almost as much as "government is the problem."

    *Why set the bar at $250K? I remember reading an article that asked the question "why does LeBron James pay the same tax rate as his dentist?" and thinking that it was a very good question. In 1913 the marginal tax rates were introduced and the top level was defined as $500K. That was quickly changed in 1916 to have a top level be a $1M. The top % on those that made $1M year rose to an incredible 94% in 1944. The level stayed above 90% until it was replaced with a top level being defined as $250K. That top level has fluctuated with a downward trend to the current level of 33%. Why did the United States decide to make such a big swing from taxing the ultra-rich at such a high rate to not even differentiating between the rich and the ultra-rich? Would it make more sense for a progressive tax rate to have those making between $250K and $500K to pay 33%, those making between $500K and $1M pay 40% (near Clinton's level for the top rate) and those making over $1M to pay $45%? You can disagree with the %s, but it seems like a logical plan to tax the $250,001th dollar at a different rate than the $1,000,001th dollar.

    So do supply side economics work? I will look at this at a very micro level and look at my own financial situation with my wife. We are in the lucky position that we make more than we spend. What do we do with our extra money? After you take away the money we spend on restaurants, rent, car maintenance, groceries,entertainment etc the rest of the money goes to the following;
    • Stock market: The majority of our extra money goes to the stock market. We are saving up for a house, kids, retirement, etc. What happens to this money? It goes to corporations like Target, Apple, Diageo Chipotle and Intel. The majority of the corporations are headquartered in America, but also have significant operations in other countries. It is rare to find a large company that doesn't have an internationalal presence
    • Our savings account
    • Trips: Most of our trips are domestic, but occasionally we go to places like Spain, Austria or our upcoming trip to London and Paris.
    • Gifts: I enjoy giving back to Miami University as well as buying normal birthday/Christmas gifts for family and friends.
    From the above four points I can see that a good portion of my money does trickle down to help the domestic economy out. (Example: I went to Las Vegas this weekend and my group of four did our part to help the local economy.) However, a lot of my money does not trickle down to help create any jobs in America. If I invest in a stock that then decides to employ someone in Russia that doesn't help the unemployment here very much. If I save my money then I don't see how that helps anybody but myself. If I go on a trip to London and spend all my money buying William and Kate decorative items then I'm probably not helping some factory in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

    My point is that if you give me a tax break then there is a good chance I will spend more money, and likely some of that will trickle down to the domestic economy.  However, there is zero chance that will be a 1 to 1 ratio, which makes the theory that trickle down economics will pay for themselves invalid.

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Fun with interest rates

    During the week when I don't have any plans for lunch it isn't uncommon to find me reading the paper in my work's library. It is a nice change of pace to be able to sit down, relax and read the WSJ, New York Times and occasionally the Star Tribune. One thing that I keep reading about is how interest rates on mortgages are declining and/or at an all-time low. This has been a common refrain when writers bring up home buying. Anyway, all of this commotion made wonder what this all meant in terms of actual dollars. I decided to do my own research using the national mortgage rates of today compared to previous years. It is pretty interesting to see how your monthly mortgage changes based on the rate. Below is the scenario I set up.

    I went to Edina Reality and found a $300K home and set the inputs to have $60K down (creating a $240K loan) over 30 years with a yearly property tax of $3,671 and a yearly property insurance of $900. These inputs were based on real data from this random home I found in Minneapolis. Anyway, below is the difference based on the interest rates:
    • Current Rate of 3.94% = Monthly payment of $1518.
    • October 2010 Rate of 4.24% = Monthly payment of $1560
    • October 2009 Rate of 4.95% = Monthly payment of $1662
    • October 2008 Rate of 6.2% = Monthly payment of $1851
    • October 2005 Rate of 6.07% = Monthly payment of $1831
    • October 2000 Rate of 7.79% = Monthly payment of $2107
    • October 1995 Rate of 7.48% = Monthly payment of $2056
    • October 1990 Rate of 10.17% = Monthly payment of $2517
    • October 1985 Rate of 12.14% = Monthly payment of $2875
    • October 1980 Rate of 13.79% = Monthly payment of $3185
    Back in October 1980 you would have to pay twice as much as per month by just changing the interest rate. What is even more shocking to me was that you would pay $333 more per month (22% more) back only 3 years ago in 2008.

    Can the interest rate go lower? I looked at the data that included every month from 1971 to now and the current rate is at an all-time low. That doesn't mean it can't go lower (the trend is certainly pointing that way), but the rates are certainly a lot better than they were at pretty much any other time in the recent history.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Home Buying - 20/20 hindsight analysis

    Two and a half years ago I proposed to M and we began looking at where we were going to live. Also, we had to decide on whether or not we wanted to buy or rent. I was a big fan of renting for a few reasons, but I thought we should still do a little research on what houses were available. Interests rates were low and house prices had dropped from their peaks. Anyway, I found 17 houses listed that fit our criteria and kept that list on an excel spreadsheet.

    Now, 2.5 years down the road I was cleaning up my computer and found that same excel grid. Being curious I decided to see what happened to those houses. I have the listing price from 2.5 years ago, so I wanted to compare what the actual sell price was to the listing price. From that analysis below is what I found:
    • 9 of those homes have not been sold in the past 2.5 years. Some have been taken on and off the market a few times and others just have been taken off the market completely. This was the biggest thing I found. Over half of the home buyers have decided for whatever reason not to sell their home. Are they renting it out? Do they think the market will rebound? Did the get no interest when they tried to sell it? It is kind of scary to think that such a high percentage would not be able to sell their home.
    • The 8 homes that sold were sold for on average 10% less than their listing price. This probably has something to do with the fact that the listing price is rarely the price people actually are willing to sell their house at.
    • The average price of the house has dropped 16% in 2.5 years. Now I don't know how accurate Zillow's estimate is, but if it is true than that is a pretty big drop. In the same time the SP500 has grown 38%.
    Now did we not buy a house because we knew what was going to happen in the stock and housing markets? Did we do some great analysis that influenced our decision to rent, save money and invest it in stocks? No. We didn't buy because of a few reasons, but a clear understanding of the markets was not one of them. We were lucky.

    Monday, October 10, 2011

    Memorial Stadium

    Life is like a roller coaster, but not for the normal reason you might think. Sure life is filled with ups and downs (like a roller coaster), but for most people life isn't as exciting as a roller coaster. Generally speaking each day is the same. You eat the same breakfast before going to the same job in the same city that you spend most of your time. Most people live in the same house for a long time and hope to have a long and happy marriage with the same person. Life consists of the boring monotony of the day to day living, which should make you wonder why I am comparing it to a roller coaster.

    The reason is that to go on a roller coaster you need to wait in line. For some popular rides at places like Cedar Point you have to wait in lines that last at least an hour. You wait and wait for a ride that can be over in less than a minute. That is like life. Life is boring and you find yourself waiting for those few exciting moments that make it all worth while. You work 5 days a week, so that you can let loose over the 2 day weekend. You plan for a year to take a European trip that only lasts a week. You put in a lot of time in hopes of a few moments of freedom.

    Sports can be like that in that you wait and wait for transcendent moments. I had one of those this weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska watching the Cornhuskers come from a 21 point defecit to defeat Ohio State

    The context of the experience is that I grew up a huge Huskers fan. My Mom's side of the family is from Nebraska and one of my extended family members indoctrinated me with posters of Memorial Stadium and a subscription to Huskers Illustrated. I was as big of a fan of Nebraska as I was Duke, the Jazz, etc. Something happened in college (a combination of the Huskers hiring Bill Callahan and the Redhawks becoming a good team with Roethlisberger) though as I found myself to drift away from rooting for Nebraska. I still wanted them to win, but Huskers football was no longer appointment viewing.

    Still, I am and always will be a Nebraska fan. One thing that I needed to do as a fan is make the trip down to Lincoln for a football game. When Johnny suggested that we meet there for the game this past weekend against Ohio State, it gave me a chance to change the fact that I had never been there before. This weekend consisted of about 16 hours of driving for only about 7 hours of tailgating and watching the game. That is a high driving/activity ratio, but it was worth it. The game was incredible and the fact that I saw a Nebraska home game is one thing that I will always remember. I will forget the drive, but the game is something that was much better to experience live than on the TV.

    In the end I had an amazing time this weekend. My only regrets are not doing enough in Lincoln. I wish we would have a better tailgating spot (an open lot next to Huskers fans), better seats (not that ours were bad, but the sideline would be better than the end zone) and time to go out on O street after the game. There will be a chance to do things better for a future game. However, when I compare driving that way and going to the game compared to my previous weekend plans of sitting around and watching TV then it is clear that I made the right decision. Also, when I think about how even though I want to go back there is no guarantee that I will go back. Instead of making me upset though, that thought actually brings a smile to my face because I know that at least I went to one game at Memorial Stadium.

    Games like this past one make being a sports fan worthwhile. It remind you why you follow sports and why a 16 hour drive to see a game played by a bunch of people you don't know isn't crazy. It is nice that when things can get bad (and for most of my favorite teams things are bad) you can have moments of joy. What a great game and a great experience in Nebraska.

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Sports Nadir?

    Just over a year ago I wrote a post asking if I had reached the sports pinnacle? Life was pretty good for my favorite teams. Duke had just won the National Title and was coming back as the consensus favorite to win the 2011 title. The Miami Redhawks were on their way to a MAC championship winning year in football and had just completed back to back Frozen Fours in hockey. The Jazz had just finished a 50+ win season and were adding one of of my favorite players Al Jefferson. The Dolphins were 2-0 with two impressive road wins. The Twins were headed towards the playoffs and adjusting to life as a "big revenue team" with Target Field.

    Also, I didn't write about it then, but my fantasy football teams were stacked with the likes of Arian Foster, Peyton Hillis (2 teams), Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Michael Vick, etc.

    Now it looks like their has been a dramatic change for the worse. Below is the update:

    Duke basketball - They were blown out in the Sweet 16 to Arizona, which marked the final game for Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Kyrie Irving. While it wasn't a terrible year (going 2-1 against UNC, winning the ACC tournament title) it also wasn't nearly up to the considerably high expectations. Also, it was a terrible year considering UNC won the ACC regular season title, made it to the elite 8 and Roy Williams somehow worked his jedi magic to convince 4 first round picks (Barnes, Marshall, Henson and Zeller) to come back to school. The team can now literally start a roster of 1st round picks because of the addition of James McAdoo. They are going to be good and my only hope is that the small sample size of the NCAA tournament gives them a bad roll of the dice.

    Miami Redhawks football - They are 0-4 and not particularly competitive. They lost this weekend to their rival Cincinnati 27-0 despite winning the turnover battle 4 to 2. Their special teams are awful (33.1 average punt in the last game and a kicking game that has missed multiple extra points during the season) and their running game can be summed up by the fact that I rushed for more yards than Miami did against Cincy (38 carries for -3 yards). They have lost as underdogs (to Missouri and Cincy) as a favorite (against Bowling Green) and as a slight underdog to a Minnesota team that has lost to New Mexico State, North Dakota State and by 58 points to Michigan. This is shaping up to be just like the 2007 season, when the Gophers only won one game all year and that just happened to be against Miami.

    Miami Redhawks hockey - They lost in the 1st round of the hockey tournament this past year, but they are ranked #1 (or #2 depending on the poll) in the preseason hockey rankings. This is definitely a bright spot among my favorite teams.

    Nebraska football - They were destroyed by Wisconsin on Saturday. I lost a small bet to my friend because I thought that at least the Huskers could cover a 7 point spread.

    Utah Jazz - They traded away their best player (Deron Williams), missed the playoffs after finishing 39-43 and had Coach Sloan resign in the middle of the season. Their 2nd half collapse was a sight to see as the team almost overnight went from being one of the better 10 teams in the league to being one of the 5 worst. The team has a bunch of young talent, but right now the roster is strangely constructed (too many post players and not enough guards) and their is no guarantee that players like Enes Kanter or Derrick Favors will ever turn into All-Stars. They are just a collection of average to slightly above-average players in a league that requires you to have at least one (normally 2 or 3) superstar.

    Miami Dolphins - Last year started off well and ended very poorly. They finished 7-9, which is bad enough to never really feel like they are a playoff team, but good enough to miss out on a top draft pick. In the off-season they kept a coach they should have fired, drafted a center best known for not being able to snap the ball, cut a fullback that was 14 out of 15 in 3rd/4th and 1 situations and decided to hand the offense back to Chad Henne. They have started this year 0-4 and I have decided to root against them in hopes of getting Andrew Luck. Really the best thing you can say about how this team was constructed and has played is that they are much closer to getting the #1 pick than making the playoffs. This year will only be a "success" if they finish with the worst record in the NFL. That is my only positive spin on this year.

    Minnesota Twins - The Twins won 94 games last year, which was only 3 wins off the best record in MLB. Of course that still didn't prevent them from getting swept (again) by the Yankees. At the time I was lamenting the fact that I had seen four Twins teams play more than 162 games and zero playoff victories. They were 0-9 in the three series against the A's and Yankees (2). Also, their was the 1-0 loss to the White Sox in Game 163 of the 2008 season. However, at least those teams played good baseball over the course of the year. This year's team won 31 less games than last year and finished as the 2nd worst baseball team in the majors. Every move they made turned against them (example: turning Santana into Gomez into Hardy into Jim Hoey) and the future of the franchise is pretty bleak. Joe Mauer hasn't stayed healthy and Justin Morneau has been worse than a minor league replacement player. They didn't get production from their best players and their worst players (Nishioka, Butera, Tolbert) have been some of the worst MLB players you could ever watch on a day to day basis. It was one of the worst years one can imagine considering the expectations (high), payroll (9th highest in baseball) and end results.

    Also, while it isn't a "real" sport team my fantasy football teams are a combined 4-8. I lost Jamaal Charles for the season in two leagues and have had some bounces go the wrong way. For example I lost by half a point in a league because of any number of reasons, but one that stood out was getting a negative point because Alex Henery's missed a 63 yard field goal. This week I lost in a game when I had the 2nd most points in the league, but just happened to be playing the guy with the most points thanks to Aaron Rodgers, Matt Forte and the Ravens D.

    I ended last year's post with the comment "Let's see how the Twins and the rest of my favorite teams do in the next 365 days." The answer is not well.

    Thursday, September 29, 2011

    Two nights of baseball

    Baseball is a unique sport for Americans. Compared to basketball and hockey it is slow. Compared to football it is less exciting. Compared to soccer...well it is much better than soccer, but I guess compared to soccer (and the other sports) it doesn't have a clock. It is called America's pastime, but more people will watch a random NFL regular season game than the World Series. Think about that for a second. More people will watch a game that will most likely not matter in one sport compared to the ultimate pinnacle in another sport.

    For me baseball is even more unique. I loved baseball growing up. It didn't really matter that I couldn't hit the ball (I could bunt and walk) and that my chance of making it to the majors was zero. I loved the stats, the stories and the game. I vividly remember watching the taped games of the 1991 World Series between the Braves and the Twins. My Dad stayed up and taped the games and after the dramatic game 7, I can only imagine what he was thinking the next day when he put the video in. He had to have known that I was going to see one of the greatest baseball games of all time.

    Then their was the 1994 strike, which I have said many times before, destroyed my love for baseball. After that I might have had a casual curiosity in baseball, but that interest was easily eclipsed by my interest in football and basketball. It took the 2006 Twins to bring back my full interest in baseball, and only then it was focused on the Twins. Still to this day I don't know if I would call myself a baseball fan, but rather a Twins fan. It is strange because I would easily pay a lot of money to see the Twins play in the World Series, but if another team makes it I might not even watch. That same thing doesn't happen in basketball or football because I make plans to turn on the NBA Finals and Super Bowl regardless of who is playing.

    It is always surprising when something in baseball that isn't Twins related catches my attention. Over the past two nights I didn't spend 1 second watching the Twins play (I am glad they avoided 100 losses), but baseball was the theme of both evenings. The first night I went to go see Moneyball (M and I were supposed to go on Friday, but that didn't work out) and then last night I watched the wild card drama in the AL.

    Moneyball was a disappointing movie. I agree with Joe Posnanski (like normal) when he wrote that his expectations were too high and there was no way that they would be filled. How could a movie come close to recreating the enjoyment of my favorite book? The answer is that it couldn't. The movie was slow, boring and something I never really want to watch again. M liked it, but she also missed many of the main points of the movie/book.

    I know I was supposed to look past some of the obvious Hollywood gloss-overs (is that a word?). It is impossible for the director of a 2 hour movie include every detail about the 2002 Athletics and the concept of Moneyball. It made it difficult, but not impossible to enjoy the movie knowing full well that a lot of the context is completely omitted from the movie. This is what Michael Lewis does so well in his books, and one that made the book Moneyball, so great. He had the time and the pages to go through the details and in a book about statistics the details matter. The details are the reason for the book, because the action (players taking walks, a team losing in the 1st round) is pretty boring. The details bring to life a concept that is fascinating. The fact that there is value in challenging conventional wisdom is one of the main themes in the book, and to understand that you need to fully understand the context of both sides.

    The movie only had two hours to explain the details and a lot of that time was spent with Billy Beane talking to his daughter (I don't remember one sentence being used on that in the book) and driving around while a game was being played. There was just too much for the movie to try and explain in that short of time, and the only chance it had of being successful would be if it was a documentary. However, this was to be a big picture, Brad Pitt movie and from the beginning that set the movie up to be a failure.

    The movie might give you a small glimpse into the impact of stats in baseball (the used the phrase small sample size), but in the end it was a fulfilling as low-fat kettle corn. The book should have never been made into a movie.

    Tuesday night might have been disappointing because of the movie, but last night was as thrilling as it was unexpected. The Rays came back from a 7-0 deficit to defeat the Yankees 8-7 in extra innings. During this time the Red Sox lost a 3-2 lead, when they had the Orioles down to their last out and nobody on base. The swings in both games were truly amazing. Below is a graph showing the wild card probabilities from the site

    The games last night didn't feature the Twins and really I had no investment in the Rays comeback, but still it was sweet to see the underdog overtake the heavy favorite. Tampa Bay spent $42M on payroll, while the Red Sox spent $160M. That nearly 4 to 1 ratio is absurd when you think about it. The Red Sox top 3 players (Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Carl Crawford) on the payroll make more than the entire Rays roster. In fact the Red Sox 4-6 highest paid players (JD Drew, David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon) combined also make more than the entire Rays roster. The Red Sox have 10 players that make more money than the Rays highest paid player. Check out the numbers for the Red Sox compared to the Rays. How did the Rays win more games than the Red Sox?

    The underdog winning over the heavy favorite is one of the reasons I watch sports. There is something about watching Boise State challenged the BCS conference schools every year. Or watching Appalachian State beat Michigan. Maybe it is because I went to a MAC school or come from a much maligned state, but I can relate to the underdog. Congrats to the Rays and good luck in the crapshoot.

    Friday, September 23, 2011


    In retrospect it was a pretty big moment, but at the time I didn't think much of my decision to buy another book in the Chicago airport before heading off to China on a study abroad program. At the time I just thought I might need another book for the times I wouldn't be sleeping on the planes, bullet trains and buses. As casually as I would pick up a magazine, I decided to buy Moneyball by Michael Lewis. I had read the New York Times Magazine except from the book and had been intrigued, but for whatever reason (probably because it was college and I didn't read as many "for fun" books) I hadn't read the book yet.

    In fact at that moment in my life I had never read Michael Lewis before and I didn't even have a favorite baseball team. My expectations of the book were low, and I just hoped that it held my attention enough to make it through the book. However, my worries about the book were misguided as it has become one of my two favorite books all time and one of the few books I've read more than once. Also, I've gone on to read many other Michael Lewis books including The Blind Side, Liar's Poker, The Big Short and consider him to be one of my favorite writers.

    I love Moneyball and since the movie is coming out this weekend  there have been many articles out the book, movie and concept. I have tried to read everything from the criticisms to a well-balanced review of the movie. Now it is time to see the movie. Tonight M and I are going out to dinner before seeing the movie. I'm excited and somewhat nervous about seeing the movie. I am afraid that the movie will make the Moneyball more generic than when it was just a book. The movie will be more accessible (people are more willing to spend 2 hours at a movie than the time it takes to read 400 pages) and unfortunately that means a lot of what came from the book will probably be dumb downed or misinterpreted.

    My fear is that when people ask me about my favorite book and I tell them it is Moneyball that they will say something about the movie and completely miss the point. Moneyball didn't became my favorite book because of Brad Pitt or a Hollywood storyline. Moneyball became my favorite book more for the way that it challenged my traditional thinking than for the story about the 2002 Oakland Athletics. The true story of the book was about finding market inefficiencies (the full title is Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game) and exploiting them. This combined two of my greatest loves; statistics and sports. Even if Michael Lewis wouldn't have written a wonderful story about compelling characters (one of my favorite nicknames ever is the Greek God of Walks), I still would have enjoyed reading this book.

    Anyway, I am hoping the movie is good, but strangely I am also hoping it isn't too much of a success. Maybe this is the same feeling a fan of a small time rock band feels when the band suddenly becomes popular? I don't know. I don't want to be possessive about Moneyball (not that I even can, since it was a very successful book and pretty well-known concept), but my relationship with the book has always felt personal. It felt like the book was written just for me and now a bunch of people who don't like sports or statistics will be watching it because they think Brad Pitt is cute.

    Monday, August 22, 2011

    The Help: A simple movie about a complicated time

    Back in June 2010, I wrote about the book The Help and my connection with Mississippi, and now that the movie is out I wanted to revisit the subject. M and I went to see the movie yesterday, and it was pretty much what expected. The story didn't stray too much from the book and their weren't many surprises. In that way the movie did an excellent job of capturing the essence of the book in only 2+ hours.

    However, something I didn't address then and wanted to bring up was the criticisms of the book/movie. My brother-in-law linked the following on his facebook page: "open statement to the fans of The Help."  Also, there is a good editor's note in the Jackson Free Press called "Of anger and alternative endings" by Donna Ladd. I recommend you read both, since they should present another side of the story.  Below are the key quotes I thought needed highlighting:

    Association of Black Women Historians:
    "The popularity of this most recent iteration is troubling because it reveals a contemporary nostalgia for the days when a black woman could only hope to clean the White House rather than reside in it."
    "Both versions of The Help also misrepresent African American speech and culture."
    "Furthermore, African American domestic workers often suffered sexual harassment as well as physical and verbal abuse in the homes of the white employers."
    "Similarly, the film is woefully silent on the rich and vibrant history of black Civil Rights activists in Mississippi."
    From Donna Ladd:
    "The movies are a problem because they dredge up a white version of a much more complicated past (and present) rich with courageous black heroes finding the faith and courage to reclaim a family structure destroyed by slavery, and ultimately changing this nation. But Hollywood seems to believe it takes a white hero saving poor blacks to sell the story. An occasional film like that would be fine - it did happen, too - but it is an injustice when only a victim narrative breaks through."
    "...I know our history well enough to see how the movie's naive ending softens our history for newer generations."
    My response back is that this was a fiction story from a white, Jackson Prep graduate and of course there would be criticisms of its omissions and authenticity. Kathryn Stockett wrote a novel with a compelling storyline that wasn't meant to be a historical textbook. I agree that she could have done more to address the complicated and volatile world of Mississippi in the 1960s. Also, her research on the subject wasn't at the level that I would trust her to teach a course on the Civil Rights movement. However, I don' think her incomplete knowledge of that time period should prevent her from writing a book with that as the background.

    However, my response back (my criticism of the criticism) is that it is a story. It might be a simple story with *uncomplicated characters that lack depth, but in the end it gets by with a interesting plot. It doesn't tell the full story or even most of the story, but instead gives a small glimpse into the author's own portrayal of her home state. She shouldn't be criticized too much for not not including every detail of that time period, since as far as I can tell she never claimed this was the one stop shop for all information about the Civil Rights movement. Also, I disagree with the claim that it was a story that was nostalgic about the past. In no way do I think she was glamouring that time period and if you asked her I am sure she would be disappointed if people read the book and thought that in any way she was endorsing that lifestyle.

    *Characters are either bad or good. In the real world people exist as both bad and good people, and I imagine that was even more pronounced in Mississippi in the 1960s. It would have been nice to seen good characters acting without the purest intentions and bad characters not always portrayed as 100% bad. The character development is the main reason I consider the book/movie to be simple.

    Stockett tried to write a fictional novel, where the main character was a a white writer who wrote a book called The Help before moving to New York. Sound familiar because it is basically Kathryn Stockett's biography? It seems clear that it is a story of what she would have liked to have done if she was born in 1939 and not 1969. She has a strong connection to Mississippi and wrote a novel based on her viewpoint. I can relate to that, and I do not judge her for writing the story.

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    2011 Minnesota Twins

    The 2011 MLB season is 75% finished, but it is time for the 2011 Twins obiturary. The season is over and the only two things that I care about as a Twins fan are Jim Thome's 600th home run and the 2012 season. As the 2007 season was to the 2006 season (a big disappointment) the 2011 season has been to the 2010 season. Every move that worked the previous years have hurt the team. The signings, trade and injuries have all worked agains the Twins this year.

    Consider this: The Twins top 3 players (Mauer, Morneau and Nathan) will make $48,000,000 and produce a combined -0.2 wins over a replacement player. That means the Twins would have been better off (and much cheaperg) playing an average AAA player over those three players.

    It doesn't look much better when you look at other highly paid Twins with the notable exception of Michael Cuddyer. Other busts for the Twins have been Carl Pavano ($8M for 0.8 WAR), Matt Capps ($7M for 0.3 WAR, while Wilson Ramos is at $415K for 1.5 WAR) and Delmon Young ($5M for 0.2 WAR). There is a lot of dead weight on the Twins roster, which helps explain the Twins 52-67 record despite the $100M+ payroll.

    Another reason the Twins have underperformed is that they have two regulars that have to be in the running for worst players in the majors. Drew Butera's line is .170/.211/.261 with an OPS+ of 31 and a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.57. Tsuyoshi Nishioka's line is .226/.269/.253 with an OPS+ of 47. How those two players have combined for 376 at bats without being sent to the minors is beyond my comprehension?

    Overall the batting stats aren't pretty (3rd last in runs per game, 2nd last in OBP%, 2nd last in SLG%, last in walks, 2nd last in home runs) and the only reason they aren't worse is because of the Seattle Mariners. Pitching isn't much better with the 3rd worst ERA+, worst strikeouts, 2nd worst in runs given up per game and 3rd worst in WHIP. Is there any surprise that the Twins have a -111 run differential, which is only better than the Orioles and Astros.

    What is terrible about the Twins has been how boring things have gotten at Target Field. The new car smells is off the new ballpark and there needs to be a winning team there or otherwise the fair weather Twins fans will make Target Field feel like the Metrodome on a random Tuesday night game. The place has still been packed this year, but that is primarily because people (like me) bought season tickets last October. We will see how many people renew their tickets for next year.

    Their is hope along the horizon. One thing is that this year has been a Murphy's Law type of season and one could expect a regression back to the mean next year. The key will be a healthy and productive Mauer and Morneau, but also contributions from whatever outfielders they keep between Young, Kubel and Cuddyer. If you combine those players with a healthy Span and improved Valencia then the offense will be much better next year. It will be tough without Thome (assuming he leaves) and the odds are against the Twins keeping Cuddyer (their best offensive player), but the team was the 5th best offense in 2010 and it is hard to believe that things have changed that much in a year.

    The pitching situation is a little more difficult. I first thought that the pitchers were young and should improve, but a quick look shows a 26 year old Liriano, 28 year old Baker, 28 year old Blackburn, 27 year old Duensing and 26 year old Slowly. Those ages don't suggest that the Twins have to worry about their starting pitchers retiring, but it also doesn't suggest that their best days are necessarily ahead of them. The best hope for the Twins is Kyle Gibson and the return to even year Liriano (average ERA+ in even years 143+ compared to odd years of 78).

    There is one other Twins related news I like to follow and that is Brian Dozier. I've written about him last May and am happy to report that things have only gotten better since them. I follow his stats on baseballreference and his .306/.379/.406 minor league line is pretty impressive. He started at high A Fort Myers, but was promoted to AA New Britain. He has done well in New Britain and was recently named by Gardy as someone who could help the Twins out next year. My hope is that he starts next year in Rochester before being promoted after 2-3 months to help the Twins win the division next year.

    As for the 2011 Twins, there really isn't much more to report. I will hopefully be in attendance for Thome's 600th home run, but other than that the 2012 season can't come soon enough.

    Friday, August 12, 2011

    Debt, politics and the issue that no one seems to be talking about

    Last night I watched part of the Republican debate from Ames, Iowa. The focus from most of the candidates was on the recent debt ceiling debate. Michelle Bachmann took credit for "*being right" about not extending the debt ceiling and her proof was the Standard and Poors downgrade and the declining stock market. Others pointed out how much the deficit was hurting us quantitatively (here is a picture of the 2011 national budget if you were curious - net interest represents 7% of the 2011 federal budget) and qualitatively (Wall Street doesn't like this uncertainty). The candidates made their points in different ways, but here were the persistent themes; it is President Obama's fault, raising taxes isn't the answer, the growing federal debt was bad and the key was cutting spending.

    *From the SP report: "The political brinkmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed." That quote makes it seem like Bachmann has no idea what she is talking about on that issue.

    There were other questions on social issues (bravo Jon Huntsman for at least showing some level of civility towards equality) and other topics, but the main focus was on the economy and federal deficit. I agree that the federal deficit is an issue, but it isn't the main thing I think politicians should focus on. The main issue with the country is the increasing income gap. This country has been divided into a small % of people that are doing extremely well and then the majority of people who are struggling to get by. There really isn't much of a middle class. Here are some good charts showing the gap. Below is another chart showing the income earned from the top 1% compared to the bottom 80% from

    No matter what graph you look at or article you read it is clear that income inequality gap is growing. I challenge anyone to debate that as a fact. Now the funny thing is that despite all of this, the top 1% have been seeing their tax rates decline. Why would that be? Part of the reason is that most Republicans are against any type of tax increase, and the Democrats aren't willing to challenge them on this point. The Bush tax cuts were extended and the budget deal was worked out through spending cuts alone. The people are the top are making more money and having to pay (compared to previous years) less.

    This is the main issue facing America. I don't know the solution, but I would vote for pretty much any politician that would address this issue. We need programs, taxes, and solutions to this gap. Rana Foroohar from Time wrote this great article called Stuck in the Middle that is unfortunately only available for subscribers. If you get a chance, pick up last week's Time magazine and read this article. Until we solve the income inequality gap, then I don't think we should be wasting so much time talking about the deficit.


    People like humor. It is one of life's joys to have an honest (not forced) laugh. Laughter comes from friends, stories, comedians and the more I think about it negativity. People don't find Louis CK funny because he is hugely successful and has everything going for him. His humor comes from his challenges of being a middle-aged, divorced father. The funniest person on Seinfield wasn't the comedian, but his dim-witted, stocky friend. Comedies like There's Something About Mary, The Hangover and Meet The Parents all were loved because of the negative situations the characters faced in the movie. Sure, not all humor comes from negative comments, but my guess is that people find negativity funnier than the alternative.

    However, people don't tend to like a negative person. Negativity in life can serve as a funny backbone to a good joke or story, but a negative person is normally shunned in social situations. Pop culture includes examples like Debbie Downer and Eeyore. There is a fine balance between recognizing negative situations and being a negative person. This can be especially true for people that like to use humor. The best comedians are probably those people that are able to talk about negative situations, while still being portrayed as a positive person.

    That finished, I would like to bring up the exciting things that have happened recently in my life. I will try to forget about the wild ride in the stock market, the riots in London, the Twins losing streak and certain industry challenges at the Well. Below are the positive things that probably all deserve their own blog post:
    • Andrew Ojus was born on Friday. He weighed in at 9lbs 6 ounces and from all indications the entire Cooperphurs family is doing well with the new addition. I am pleased to be an Uncle (times 2) and am looking forward to the days were I can take the Cooper boys out to the basketball court. M and I celebrated the birth with champagne and a home-cooked steak dinner.
    • Field of Dreams: M and I decided to drive down to Iowa to go see the Field of Dreams and catch a minor league baseball game in Cedar Rapids. The entire trip was a huge success. The drive down along the Mississippi River was scenic and easy. The Field of Dreams movie site was perfect in its simplicity. It looked exactly how I expected and it was great that it was open to the public. I was able to pitch, play the field and bat and enjoy being outside on a movie set.
    • Columbus trip: M and I went back to Columbus to help her Mother celebrate her 60th birthday. It was a fun, relaxing trip that included my personal favorites; sleeping in, visiting friends, drinking whiskey, Skyline chili and generally eating great food. 
    I am sure I am missing some of the other positive things in my life, but for now that will have to stand.

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    Hunger Games

    Last week I wrote a *little post for M's blog about the three Hunger Games books that I had just finished. Check it out here: The Hunger Games - Guest Post. If you have finished the Hunger Games trilogy then check out the post and let me know what you think.

    *1500 words is little when compared to a novel I guess.