Lots of Luck

Well, the lottery has once more reached Brobdingnagian levels and the crowd is once more madding with the idea of what to do with all that money. (Or “ALL THAT MONEY!!!!” as some are wont to put it.) Ideas range from the stupid [1] to the idiotic [2]. And, not being one to let a good meme go to waste, I’ve once more laid out some ideas for you.

If you take the money as a lump sum (don’t, because [1]) and are the sole winner [3], then you’ll have a total of about $552,600,000 after taxes [4]. If you are smarter and take the annual distribution and are the sole winner [5], then you’ll have about $30,700,000 after taxes every year for 30 years (assuming that they don’t raise the marginal rate); that works out to a total win of $921,000,000 which practically doubles your money right there. (This is the only bet you are guaranteed to win in the lottery business!)

So what can you do with all that lovely lucre? Well, you could start simple and go to the movies to relax; your annual winnings would let you take 3,757,650 people with you (but they’d have to buy their own snacks). Or you could treat a friend to a cup of coffee; the lump sum would buy 67,637,699 cups of joe to go. You could send your kids to school for four years; if you had 321 kids who wanted to go to an out-of-state public university, you could just cover their tuition with your annual pay. But you’d better take the lump sum if they want to go to a private college; doing that would let you send 4,263 students – though you’d be broke afterwards. (Most parents can sympathize with this.)

Or you could pay for your daughter’s wedding. If you had 20,897 daughters you could just cover their costs with the lump-sum. Or you could buy a new house. With the annual payment, you’d be able to pick up 112 houses each year. But what good is a house without a new car? The annual payment would let you buy 915 average new cars each year. Or you could just hire folks. If you were to pay the median wage [6], you could hire 1,064 folks with your annual payment (not including payroll taxes).

As for me, I’d just take it easy. I’d take the annual payment, invest ½ of my annual winnings in long-term stocks and bonds [7], and play with the remaining money. Sure, it would be a bit of a scrimp trying to live on “just” $15,000,000 a year – but I’m willing to make that sacrifice!


[1] E.g., take it as a lump-sum. Doing that is just plain stupid. Time after time, lottery winners take the payout as a lump-sum only to discover that (a) they can spend it faster than they make it and (b0 they forgot to include some vital expense (such as taxes). As a result, they inevitably end up broke. Instead, the smarter thing to do is to take the payoff as an annuity. That way, even if you blow all your money in one year, you’ll get another lump of money the next year to play with.

[2] E.g., the much-derided “Divide it among everyone in America and make us all millionaires!”. That meme was started by someone who doesn’t know the difference between $1,500,000,000 (the amount of the jackpot) and $1,500,000,000,000,000 (what it would take to give everyone in America $4,000,000).

[3] This is extremely unlikely. Typically when the jackpot reaches this level, there are multiple winners. Personally, I expect there to be between three and six winning tickets on this round; each ticket would get an equal share in the prize money (no matter how many people paid into the ticket to buy it). Of course, if I am wrong and the jackpot rolls over again, we could be looking at a $4,000,000,000 jackpot the next time. Wowser!

[4] Why “about”? Two reasons. First, we won’t know the actual jackpot until the drawing is held (and possibly not until after if the fever goes on the way it is right now). And second, your actual tax burden depends on where you bought the ticket and how your state of residence taxes out of state income (if you bought the ticket out of state). For example, I live in Oklahoma but buy my lottery tickets in Texas because Texas has no income tax. As a result, I would only have to pay federal taxes on the jackpot. But someone who lives in New York but bought a Texas ticket might have to pay New York income taxes on the winnings. This is why the experts tell you to consult an expert!

[5] Which you can do even if someone with another winning ticket takes a lump-sum distribution.

[6] There is a difference between the median wage and the average wage because income and net worth distribution in America are decidedly skewed. There are a few folks (the famous 1%) who own 80% of the wealth, and a lot of folks (the 99%) who own the remainder. The median tells us that half of the families in America earn more than $28,581 and half earn less, while the average or mean just tells us that everyone would earn $44,569 if we took all of the income and spread it out evenly. When the mean and the median are far apart, that is typically a bad sign for an economy because it means that there is a wide (and typically hard to bridge) gap between the upper class and everyone else. The gap has actually been increasing over the past few decades which is good evidence that “trickle down economics” is a failure.

[7] Why invest half of my money? Because if I can manage an average annual rate of return of just 4%, then at the end of 30 years (when the annuity runs out), I’d have $48,650,963. I could then pay taxes ($18,779,271) and have $29,871,691 left to play with! If I do the same thing over again with each year’s annuity, I’d have a never ending money machine!

geek points, humor, meme slut

A Little Nonsense

A wise man once said that “a little nonsense every now and then is relished by the wisest men” [1,2]. And so that’s what I present today – a little nonsense for you to chuckle over or chuck out, as you wish [3]. The folks over at the Movoto Real Estate Blog have ranked (almost) every zip code in the US from most desirable to least desirable based on the usual set of characteristics [4]. They came up with a nice map (see below) and a handy-dandy “How’d you do” button.

Movoto's map of the best zip codes to live in
Movoto’s map of the best zip codes to live in

Not one to let a source of amusement lie idle, I’ve put in the zip codes for the top fourteen places that I’ve lived over the past mumbledy-some years. That gives the following results [5]; the ones in bold are where I still own houses for one reason or another:

Place Zip Code Rank
Portland, OR 97239 2,134
Benicia, CA 94510 3,293
Alexandria, VA 22304 3,408
Katy, TX 77450 3,494
La Habra, CA 90631 9,395
Norman, OK 73071 9,959
Houston, TX 77055 15,594
New Orleans, LA 70116 17,957
Narrows, VA 24124 19,216
Chicago, IL 60626 20,497
Miami, FL 33125 23,309
Lafayette, LA 70501 24,357
Oklahoma City, OK 73129 26,515

It is worth noting that I started off on a high note; I was born in the best zip code in the list. (And it’s been all downhill since then – just ask my folks!) And honestly, I don’t agree with a lot of the rankings. I wouldn’t live in Alexandria again on a bet. The city was crowded with terrible transportation and amazingly high prices; if I want that, I’ll live in Houston. (Oh. Wait.) And Oklahoma City is getting very short shrift; it is one of my favorite places to live. (Though having most of my family there might have something to do with that…)

So where was the “most desirable” place that you’ve ever lived? Where was the worst? Can you beat my high score?


[1] Chocolate geek points for the reference!
[2] I am listening to “The Sound of Music” while writing this (don’t judge me!). That phrase fits in perfectly and weirdly (and perfectly weirdly) with the “Do-Re-Mi” tune.
[3] Geek Points of Unusual Size for the reference!
[4] Median income, housing costs, unemployment, number of troll attacks, that sort of thing.
[5] One of the reasons that this sort of thing is nonsense is because those rankings aren’t static; places gentrify and become more desirable (witness Alexandria) or decay and become less desirable (witness Alexandria).


Wild Goose Chase

One of the frustrating tings about my job is that, in the oil and gas industry, companies change on a daily basis. Sometimes the changes are minor (e.g., a reshuffling of upper management [1]) and sometimes they are major (e.g., a merger [2]). Right now, my company is going through a medium-size change; it has just moved from one location in Houston to another. And that has caused me to go through a major change. I’m moving (again [3]).

Why would I voluntarily put myself through the pain and torment of moving? Money and time (but mostly money). In its old location, I could travel to my company in fifteen minutes and never had to get on the highway [4]. In the new location which is located twelve miles from the old one, I have to either drive an extra hour and a half and pay no tolls or drive an extra forty-five minutes and pay $5 in tolls each way. If you add up the extra distance (20 miles @ $0.5/mile * 20 days/month = $200/month) and the extra tolls [5] ($10 per day * 20 days/month = $200), I’m paying $4,800 each year for the privilege of working in the new location [6].

And that’s why I’m moving. I can sell my house in Katy and make a nice profit on it (about 25%) and use most of that money to buy a new place and the rest to pay off a mortgage on one of my rental homes. I’ll end up with a new home that is closer to the office, which will save me that $400/month, and a lower mortgage payment, which will save me even more, and pay off a mortgage, which will – well, you get the picture. So, as is often the case, I’ll have to go through a little short-term pain (moving, selling the place, setting up the new one) in order to reap a long-term gain.

Just call it the story of my life…



[1] Which only matters if the upper management starts moving “downstream”; i.e., becoming less involved with oil and gas and more involved with making money. That inevitably signals a shift to a company that is less focused on finding hydrocarbons and more focused on making money. Strangely enough, once that happens, they inevitably make less money. Go figure.

[2] I fully expect a wave of mergers in the oil and gas industry sometime soon. If you look at the annual balance sheets (the “book value” of the company) and compare them to the stock capitalization (the “market value” of the company found by multiplying the number of shares by the price per share), you’ll see that most oil and gas companies are undervalued by 20-40%. Put another way, they are on sale for 40% off. A big company could snap up a little one for cheap and increase its assets at a lower cost than actually drilling for oil and gas.

[3] This will be my tenth move overall and my second since coming back to Houston.

[4] In Houston, this is a good thing. Though they aren’t as bad as Miami drivers, Houston drivers still exude a combination of machismo and idiocy that lends a certain piquant uncertainty to every trip.

[5] There ain’t no way I’m sitting in that traffic. I value my sanity and my time much more highly than that!

[6] For the record, Houston mass transit doesn’t go to the new location (unless you want to go downtown, swap buses and come back out) and my company doesn’t have van pools.



It struck me today that the world needs a new word. What kicked it off was remembering the trouble that my car’s GPS caused me when it insisted that the address I wanted to go to didn’t exist [1]. And that spurred thoughts of all of the times that technology has let me down and the realization that most of the times it has been when I relied on the technology [2]. And that led to a reflection on all of the words that we have for specialized occurrences and the realization that if there is a word for this [3], I don’t know it.

I have therefore invented one: techschmertz – the feeling that you get when your technology fails to work. As with weltschmertz, the feeling is hideously complex, with elements of sadness, frustration, and “well, that wasn’t so bad”. Unlike weltschmertz, having another beer rarely helps. Fortunately, techschmertz is relatively easy to fix; all you have to do is find something that the technology will help you with or find another technology to play with for a bit [4].

So that feeling you get when your watch battery quits just as you look at the time? Techschmertz. That ineffable feeling of woe when your computer loses all your files? Techschmertz. That indescribable annoyance when your car stops clicking just as you pull into the mechanic’s? Techschmertz. That insufferable bundle of grr in your chest when your Google search refuses to return that site you found yesterday? Techschmertz. And, above all, the next time that your technological cookie crumbles, just remember that the techschmertz you are feeling is only temporary.


[1] The address one block before? Yes. The one a block later? Sure thing. The exact address where I wanted to go? No way, Jose.

[2] Which is one reason that I still add things up by hand and look at paper maps from time to time; if the technology went away, then I’d still be able to function as well as I do now (i.e., not at all).

[3] The Greeks undoubtedly have a word for it, at least if it involves some types of technology.

[4] My favorite technology to play with is the oven.

humor, meme slut

Cookie for your thoughts

Just when you thought it was safe to go back onto the blog, here is something that combines the two worst [1] inventions of the 20th century: personality quizzes [2] and Girl Scout Cookies.

Jezebel’s “What Kind of Girl Scout Cookie Are You” quiz is refreshingly simple. It has five questions and even asks you to tally the score yourself. Unfortunately, it is also a little non-diagnostic. My score was “one of each”. Either I’m not a cookie [3] or I’m a sampler tray. Either way, it was a fun little quiz.


[1] By which I mean “most addictive”.

[2] A typical guy personality quiz: “Are you breathing?” A typical non-guy personality quiz: “It is the ninth of May. The weather is sunny and fair. Your best friend’s uncle’s niece’s teacher just had a car accident. What do you have for breakfast?”

[3] “Dammit, Jim, I’m a breakfast cereal, not a cookie!” (Classic geek points for the reference!)


In which I apologize, yet again.

I know that I haven’t been posting very regularly of late. I’d like to apologize and cop a plea, then throw myself on the mercy of the court.

First the apology: I’m sorry. I could have posted more, and I should have.

Now for the plea: I’ve been very busy posting on my other, other blog, adding a post a day. I seriously under-estimated the amount of time that it would take to do the research for the posts and that has swallowed up a significant part of my time. The rest of my time has been swallowed by being ill (nothing serious, just seriously annoying) and traveling hither and yon (Virginia for Christmas, New Orleans for Mardi Gras). I’ll try not to let it happen again, but it will. I’m headed to ConDFW in February and may be headed to Kuala Lumpur in March.

And now to throw myself onto the mercy of the court: I will try to post at least twice a month on this blog, which I am reserving for more personal tales of silliness and sarcasm than would be appropriate on my other two blogs (one for planetology and kid science, the other for citizen science). So please don’t send me to the chopping block yet, Mr. Guillotine! I promise to reform!




In case you haven’t noticed, I’m an idiot. I don’t play one on TV, I’m an idiot in real life. And for some reason, my worst idiocies always happen on bikes [1]. For the latest example of this, I give you my Great Swamp Adventure!

The adventure started well enough. I like to ride my bicycle along the nature trails in nearby George Bush Park. The park was originally set up as a flood control area (which will become important in a moment), but also has miles of biking trails (some paved and some not, which will again become important in a moment) and lots and lots of wildlife. So riding the bike along the trails is almost always fun and provides me with that nice, low-impact aerobic activity that my doctors all want me to have [2].

A red-tailed hawk
A red-tailed hawk
A snowy egret
A snowy egret





Question mark butterflies
Question mark butterflies
A plover
A plover







A Night Heron
A Night Heron
Looking along the bayou
Looking along the bayou







So I went for a bike ride yesterday. But, being me, I like to explore different trails when I ride. After all, you can only look at the same set of trees and buzzards so long before you start to get a little strange [3]. So this time, I went off on the Oxbow Bayou South Side Trail, which is an unpaved trail that leads through the woods and back along the bayou. Unfortunately, the trail is not well maintained [4] and intersects animal trails at several points. As a result, I ended up headed off into the middle of the park where the swamp and the animal trails intersect [5]. And, since I started the trip at 3 PM, it was getting dark before I gave up and called for help [6].

The path I was supposed to take
The path I was supposed to take
The path I did take
The path I did take








Fortunately, it only took three tries before I got the right number [7]. Unfortunately, the constable that answered the phone decided that I had to have entered via a different trail (indeed, she had never heard of the trail that I did use). So I sat in one place for the better part of an hour as it got darker and darker and they tried trail after trail on the far west side of the park (“A” on the map). She did finally tell me to start heading back west, so I abandoned my bike and began the trek.

After crossing two different branches of the main river [8], her supervisor called and told me to stay in one place so that they could find me (“B” on the map). So I spent another hour in the even darker darkness, waiting patiently as they whistled and I shouted in vain. He finally decide that I was so far east that I may as well head that way and so I began heading east(ish) again. They turned on the siren for one of the squad cars so I could hear it and I used that for my bearings, along with Jupiter [9].

Naturally, this involved crossing those same two bayous again. In the dark. In the dark and wet. In the dark and wet bayou, filled with (imaginary {I sincerely prayed}) water moccasins. And, of course, it was when I was exactly in the middle of one, up to my chest in water, that the sergeant called again to tell me to head south (“C” on map). If you have never attempted to answer a cell phone in the dark while standing in chest-deep water and waiting for a snake to bite you, may I recommend it as an excellent way to put the rest of your troubles into perspective?

So I climbed out of the bayou and turned south. And ran into another bayou. You see, one of the benefits of being a catchment for flood waters is that the area is very wet and has multiple bayous. So no matter which way I went, I’d be in deep (animal) doo-doo covered by deep water. As I crossed that bayou, the sergeant called again, just to keep my spirits up and to tell me that they were trying to get a helicopter out to hunt for me but I should keep walking. So walk I did, across that bayou and into a patch of saw grass which left all sorts of fun abrasions on my legs [10]. After that it was dry land for a minute and then back into (you guessed it) yet another bayou.

And at that point, the miracle occurred. I began to hear the constables. So I sped up and then could actually see their flashlights after getting only butt deep in the bayou! So I continued on (as if I had a choice) and finally, finally made it to the constables. Total time in the swamp? Nearly eight hours, most of which was spent in slogging across bayous.

The second miracle was that the constables not only didn’t cuss me out for getting lost [11], they gave me a ride back to my house where i spent the next twenty minutes trying to shower out the smell of unidentified organic ooze from in between my every-frickin’-part. And so I am now home safe and considering buying a new bike to replace the one that I had to leave in the swamp. But I think that I’ll leave that adventure for another day…


[1] For example, there was the time that the front tire on my bike folded in half while I was going full speed down hill. All that one gave me was a broken arm and a fun story to tell.

My bike after the tire folded

[2] Yes, my body is falling apart fast enough that I now have multiple doctors. Fortunately, I like all of them.

[3] This explains the “captains” on the Jungle Boat Cruise at Disneyland.

[4] The sign was down on the ground, which should tell you something right there.

[5]Part of the reason that i got so lost is that I could hear the shooting range and I knew that it was near to the main trail. So I kept heading for the shooting range, thinking that it would only be a few yards more. I did mention that I’m an idiot, didn’t I?

[6] Literally called; there is excellent cell phone coverage in the swamp. Now we know how Kermit keeps in touch with his agent.

[7] I made the mistake of asking T-Mobile to give me the non-emergency number for the Houston police department. The first time, they directed my call to the police chief (who wasn’t in on Saturday at 5 PM for some reason); the second time, they sent me to the Houston Police Charity association. I finally gave in and called 911 and was directed to the right place in under ten seconds.

[8] Yes, I had crossed them coming east. Yes, they should have been a signal that I was on the wrong trail. Have I mentioned that I’m an idiot?

[9] Explaining to the sergeant that I knew where east was because I could see Jupiter and that I could tell where the siren was because I knew where east was was an exercise in annoyance. He apparently wasn’t used to smart idiots and insisted that I “face the bright star and then turn 90 degrees to the right” so I’d know where south was.

[10] Sandals and shorts aren’t much protection against saw grass and mud. Please remember this if ever you plan on getting lost in a swamp.

[11] Someone gets lost in the park about once a week. But very, very few manage to get quite as lost as I did. I think that’s a good thing.

humor, meme slut

Meme slut: How scholarly is your discourse?

There’s an amusing report out this week that discusses the deplorable level of discourse in the Congress. Of course, what they deplore isn’t what you and I might. They don’t care that the two sides have gotten further from the middle, nor that they have gotten less likely to compromise, nor that they are playing politics with our future even more than is their standard wont. No, what the report deplores is the ever-decreasing level of education apparent in the rhetoric [1]. In 1996, the typical Congressman spoke at a twelfth-grade level, with words such as “foreasmuch” and “heretofore” peppering an otherwise bland spate of political drivel [2]. This year’s Congress took it down a couple of notches and speaks at a tenth-grade level  [3].

But this begs the question – at what level do we speak? Is the level of discourse on my blog elevated above the norm, or are we dull, plebeians suited for nought but a life of reality TV and lottery tickets? With that in mind, I hied me hence to a Reliability Index Calculator similar to the one used by the Sunlight  Foundation to rank Congress’ speeches. The results were interesting. In general [4], my entries on this blog come in at about an eleventh-grade level. So, if you are reading my stuff here, you are at least as smart as the typical Congresscritter [5]. And my “Secret Science Society” entries on the other blog come in at a sixth-grade level, which is exactly where i wanted them to be [6]. But my entries on planetology are coming in at a twelfth-grade level. Honestly, I don’t know if this is good (raise the level of discussion) or bad (limit the number of readers). But there it is.

So – where do you rank?


[1] To the extent that some members of Congress cannot even spell rhetoric, much less use it.

[2] The drivel part has unfortunately not changed.

[3] This still puts them ahead of the typical American, who speaks at an eighth-grade level. Sad, isn’t it?

[4] I.e., by using the first three entries to catch my eye.

[5] If you don’t know whether to laugh or weep at that, join the club.

[6] Yeah!


Big money

Well, lottery fever is once more upon us. The Mega Millions jackpot has hit $500,000,000 [1] and people are just screaming to buy it. But how much money is that? What does that number mean in practical terms?

Well, the mean net worth of the American family is $556,300, so you would be worth about 856 times as much as the mean American. But many people argue that the median net worth is a better metric [2]; at $120,300, you’d be worth the same as 3,957 families. And the typical member of Congress is worth but $725,000 [3], so you could only afford to buy 657 of them. However, since there are only 535 members of Congress, you could collect the whole set and still have $88,125,000 left to live on [4].

Or you could just hire people. A lot of people. If you hired a typical American worker, you’d pay $41,674 in wages and could afford 11,422 people for a year (or one person for 11,422 years). If you decided to go offshore, you could hire a Chinese worker for $7647, which would allow you to staff a factory of 59,897 people.

Of course, if shopping is your thing, you could buy 16,760 new cars (better get a bigger garage), a year’s worth of gasoline for 108,182 families, 6,025,316 Kindles, 848,485 iPads, 13,236,930 books, or 19,043 sailboats.

If you’d rather spend the money on experiences, you could take 2,800,000 hot air balloon rides, 3,547 around the world cruises, fourteen rides to the ISS on a Soyuz as a space tourist, or three rides to the Moon and back [5]. But you could only pay for 1/3 of a Shuttle launch (those suckers were expensive!).

Of course, this assumes that you’d actually be able to win the ticket. The odds of winning are 1 in 175,711,536 [6]. If half of the people who live in states with Mega Millions were to buy one unique ticket each, then the prize would be won. But not everyone buys a ticket and not all tickets are unique [7], so there is no guarantee that this jackpot will be won. And, if it isn’t, there is one bet that is a sure thing – people will get even crazier!


[1] Assuming that you take the 20 year annuity. If you take the cash-value option, you’ll only get about $359,000,000. Not exactly spare change, but a definite drop in net value.
[2] This is because income and net worth distribution in America are decidedly skewed. There are a few folks (the famous 1%) who own 80% of the wealth, and a lot of folks (the 99%) who own the remainder. The median tells us that half of the families in America are worth more than $120,300 and half are worth less than that, while the mean just tells us what would happen if we took all of the wealth and spread it out evenly.
[3] Which puts them solidly in the 1%.
[4] This assumes, of course, that they are honest politicians…
[5] I know some folks who’d be willing to pay extra if my trip didn’t include the “and back” portion!
[6] That assumes that you buy one ticket. If you buy two unique tickets, your chances are roughly 2 in 175,223,510 – but most people don’t buy two totally unique tickets. If any of the numbers are re-used, then you get less of a boost than that. The math is ugly [i], but you can see what I mean if you consider what would happen to the odds if you bought two identical tickets.
[7] Which raises the problem that you probably wouldn’t win that much money even if you did match all 6 numbers; someone else is likely to have the same numbers as you, and so the payout would be half the amount advertised even if you take it as an annuity.
[i] Translation: I didn’t want to do the full Bayesian analysis.


Appy-polly-loggies [1]

I apologize to you folks for the long delay in my posting. I’ve been busy trying to reduce the number of photos from Antarctica to a number that will fit on a single DVD. Not an easy task; I started with some 20,000 pictures many of which were almost acceptable [2]. My task is almost done, but there are still a few days worth of work to go before I can get back to having some fun [3].


[1] Ultra-geek points for the reference!

[2]  One of the problems with modern technology: cheap memory means that you can take lots and lots of photos. But then you have to sort through all of those suckers…

[3] OK, so I haven’t been entirely monkish in my habits. On February 4, I went to the annual Krewe du Vieux parade, where my costume consisted of a wig, two suspenders, and a white tie (you may now run out of the room, screaming in terror). And I did sleep sometime last week. But other than that. it has been work, work, work…