Friday, March 28, 2008

Life Economics

Home economics is a dying discipline. When I went through school the classroom existed, but not the corresponding class. Much like civics it is being relegated to a niche of society in such a manner that it is being forgotten…at a price.

For years I have lived by the philosophy that I manage my life like I manage a business. On the surface it may seem cold, perhaps even callous—but that isn’t necessarily the case at all. In fact, improved efficiency and effectiveness makes for a better life. A few examples:

1. The Budget. Face it—you stand to get rich if you suddenly run into a large sum of money, but the chances of that happening aren’t such that you should count on it. Instead, the world of finance stresses the time value of money and leveraging your current assets. Your income is the best wealth-building tool which you have and by reducing your debt obligations you effectively increase the power of your income to produce wealth. You do this most efficiently by producing a budget and watching and managing every dollar that flows through your household. By taking this approach you can “make every dollar scream.” What to do after you get to the point where your debt is paid off and you have extra money lying around? Invest!

2. Buy Like a Business. Once upon a time we’re all financially struggling people—whether that be as a poor college student or in a period of personal financial contraction—but we’re not in that position forever. It is rarely a static condition, however, and we progress onto better financial times. At this point in time we can move from buying-to-survive towards purchasing-to-thrive. We learn to buy in bulk—and start to think like an accountant. Price items on a per-unit basis, for instance. When I worked in a grocery store, once upon a time, I noticed that the tags that accompanied stock on the shelves would always have a “price per ounce” or related entry on the tag. By making some observations a person notices where the “sweet spot” is for purchase of a particular item: To buy the smaller box of cereal or the larger, “value-sized?” The larger the package—think bulk— usually the better value per unit. Take this concept one step further and develop a product mix of products that are economical and meet your personal utility or that of your family. For instance—I purchased the specific Rubbermaid containers meant for cereal and have no problems with purchasing the “bag cereals” which are often very close to the recipe of the corresponding name brand “box cereals.” On the other hand, I am very picky about the hot dogs which I purchase.

Another step in which to take this notion relies upon you realizing that sometimes you pay more in up-front costs to save money across the lifespan of a particular item; a concept which accountants like to refer to as “total cost of ownership.” A good example is the typical inkjet printer: Cheap and comes with some ink; it may or may not come with a USB cable, and certainly comes with a notorious “power brick.” Sure, you may spend $30 on the machine, but you will likely end up purchasing a lot of ink cartridges—just black and color, if you’re lucky—over the course of your time with the printer. On top of this these ink cartridges are fickle in such a way that the printheads can easily become non-working if they aren’t treated right or used correctly. Although they can have great resolution—past 1200x1200 dots per inch—they do so by spitting small ink blobs onto the paper; this makes for a very dirty process. By contrast—if you can do without resolutions higher than 1200x1200 dpi then a laser (or LED) printer is for you. They are much cleaner, have longer lives, and are generally more efficient. Of course, there are makes and models that are better or worse than others, but a little research or stop by your local printer service shop will give you a leg up.

One project which I’m planning is to replace my cans-of-soda drinking ways with a fountain soda machine. Although the initial costs are high (several hundred dollars for the initial setup), the cost of consumables—the soda syrup itself—can be less than half the cost of a serving of its canned alternative.

While this is merely the tip of the iceberg, it is a starting point for to get you to thinking about how you, too, could make your life better!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Two Weeks is Too Long

Too weeks is too long for a new post. More this weekend, but in the meantime proof that a different perspective can increase your effectiveness or efficiency by...a single move.

Taken from

"A scrambled Rubik's cube can be solved in just 25 moves, regardless of the starting configuration. Tomas Rosicki, a Stanford-trained mathematician, has proven the new limit (down from 26 which was proved last year) using a neat piece of computer science. Rather than study individual moves, he's used the symmetry of the cube to study its transformations in sets. This allows him to separate the "cube space" into 2 billion sets each containing 20 billion elements. He then shows that a large number of these sets are essentially equivalent to other sets and so can be ignored. Even then, to crunch through the remaining sets, he needed a workstation with 8GB of memory and around 1500 hours of time on a Q6600 CPU running at 1.6GHz. Next up, 24 moves."