Gas station without pumps

2015 December 1

Are California public universities harder to get into now?

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:00
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The Sacramento Bee has a very misleading headline for an article, AM Alert: Are California public universities harder to get into now?, in which the reporter claims that UC and CSU are harder to get into than in the past, based on the following statistics:

In 2013, for example, 21 percent of California high school graduates applied to at least one UC campus, compared to 17 percent in 1996. But the admissions rate stayed relatively flat during that time, with 14 percent of graduates accepted into the system.The contrast is even more stark at CSU, a much larger and less selective system long seen as the university to educate the masses. While about 27 percent of California high school graduates applied to CSU in 2000, and 20 percent were admitted, that figure had risen to 46 percent of graduates in 2013, with only 32 percent accepted.

But those statistics are saying the UC is remaining equally hard to get into (14% of high-school graduates being admitted) and CSU has gotten easier (32% of high-school graduates being admitted, rather than 20%).

The pressure for more students to attend college and the enormously rising cost of private college has made more students apply to college, so that the admissions process seems more competitive, but the public universities are admitting a greater fraction of Californian high-school students than in the past, so objectively, it is easier for Californians to get into public university than in the past.

Of course, paying for it is harder now, as the state continues its trend of disinvesting in post-secondary education, demanding, for example, that UC take 10,000 more students but paying only half the marginal cost of teaching the students.  I have no idea how UCSC is going to cope with its share of this demand, as we are already standing-room-only in many classrooms (to handle the current demand the fire marshal already gave permission to over-enroll classes by 10%, on the theory that 10% of students wouldn’t show up for class anyway—we can’t just push that any further ).

2015 November 30

Eleventh weight progress report

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:02
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This post continues the series of weight progress reports from the previous one.

My weight has drifted outside my target range this month (Thanksgiving did not help), and I’m likely to have trouble keeping it down over the holidays:

It doesn't show on this plot, but my weight barely got back in my target range today.

It doesn’t show on this plot, but my weight barely got back in my target range today.

I’m still on my strict raw-fruits-and-vegetables-for-lunch diet, but I’ve been snacking a bit too much on peanuts and other high calorie foods in the evening this month.  Maintaining my diet and getting enough exercise after exam week (ending Dec 11) will be difficult, so I’m concerned that December will see my weight going up 5 pounds or more, which would take me a couple of months to lose again. I’m going to try to cut down on evening snacks (or start making them raw vegetables also).

My exercise for November was normal (4.28 miles/day of bicycling, down from 5.1 miles/day in October), close to my normal year-round average of just over 4 miles/day.


2015 November 29

Shaving brush stand

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 12:49
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In January 2014, I ordered a couple of shaving-brush stands from Amazon: one for me and one for my son.  It turns out that the one for my son was a better deal: both cheaper and better quality. The stand I ended up with was chromed steel, while his was stainless steel.

Putting chromed steel in the moist environment of a bathroom to hold a wet shaving brush is stupid design:

Chromed steel rusts

Chromed steel rusts.

I have just ordered myself the stainless steel shaving-brush stand, so that I don’t have to keep cleaning up the rust on the bathroom counter.

2015 November 27

Why don’t I feel rich?

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:03
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When I was a child “millionaire” was synonymous with “rich man” (and, yes, gender was included in the meaning), and being a millionaire meant having a million dollars. I didn’t think about it at the time, but “having a million dollars” probably meant having a net worth that large, not necessarily having that much in cash or even in liquid assets.

Now Zillow tells me that my modest 2-bedroom house that I paid off the mortgage for several years ago has a market value over $1 million.  So I must now be a millionaire.  Why don’t I feel rich?

Perhaps the difference is inflation.  But what index of inflation should we use?  In 1960, the median house price (nationwide) was $12,700, about 2.4× the average salary. So a million dollars would buy about 79 houses.  The median home price now is about  $230,000, so to be a millionaire by 1960 standards, I’d need to have about $18 million.  Of course, not everything is as expensive as housing, and using the consumer price index for inflation puts $1m 1960 dollars at about $8m today.  OK, I don’t have that much money, even if you add all my retirement savings and my son’s college fund.  So, I’m not as rich as a 1960 millionaire.

Granted, I live in one of the most expensive places to buy houses in the country in terms of  median house price/median income.  The median house price is approximately $755,000 and the median household income is $63,000–87,000 (depending whose statistics you believe) making the ratio 8.7–12 years income to buy a house. Rents are not quite as bad: the price-to-rent ratio is about 25 (that is, the price of a house is about 25 times the annual rent for the house), so people are not buying houses as rental income investments.  In this town, a million-dollar house is a 2-bedroom house in a good neighborhood, not a McMansion.

Of course, being “rich” is always a relative term—it is how well off you are compared to others you are aware of.  According to various distribution plots I’ve seen of US household income, our household income has been hovering recently at about the 80–85%ile.  That sounds to me like “upper middle class” or “comfortable”, not rich.

However, because I have paid off my mortgage and my house has appreciated so much, together with the amount I’ve saved for retirement, I’m probably in the top 1–2%ile of net worth for households in the US (I’m not really sure of that, because it is so hard to get consistent information about the wealth distribution in the US).

Of course, those retirement savings and my son’s college fund have come by being very frugal—I’ve never owned a car, I don’t take vacations most years, I buy a new bike about once every 15 years, I get a new computer about every 4 years, many of my clothes come from the thrift stores or garage sales, most of my books are used paperbacks, we don’t turn the heat on until the temperature in the house drops below 60°F, most of our furniture was bought cheaply 25–30 years ago, we only eat meat once or twice a week, and so forth. By one definition of “middle-class”—the one based on consumption rather than income, I’m solidly middle class, and only getting to that level because my wife and I eat out once a week.

Wait, that’s not quite right—we’re paying full-freight for my son’s college tuition and housing, and that combined with even very frugal living makes our spending more than the middle fifth of the population. College has gotten very expensive even at state schools, now that the state pays almost none of the cost.

So perhaps the reason I don’t feel rich is that I’m still living much the way I did when I was grad student—even though my retirement savings are now large enough that I could probably retire this year and still have enough money to last the rest of my life (unless medical insurance and medical expenses eat it all up—apparently a very common scenario these days).



Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 12:26
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I get inundated with requests to donate money to worthy causes—most of my hardcopy mail consists of such appeals.  Some I recycle unopened, some I open and glance over before recycling, and a very few I respond to.  I’ve started making some rules for myself about which ones I respond to:

  • Ones that are based just on emotional appeals with pictures of the supposed beneficiaries: recycle.
  • Ones that send me letters frequently (more than twice a year): recycle unopened.
  • Ones that tell me when I last donated and how much: seriously consider donating the same amount or more again, as long as it has been at least 10 months since the last donation.
  • Donations to politicians: recycle unopened.
  • Ones that I’ve looked up on various charity-watch websites and determined to be scams (or at least very inefficient charities): recycle unopened.
  • Year-end appeals: recycle.  (I prefer to make my donations in the spring or summer—trying to guilt-trip people who may have winter depression or holiday stress strikes me as too cynical a ploy.)

There are a few exceptions to these guidelines:

  • Newsletters from organizations that I have signed up for newsletters from are welcome (Southern Poverty Law Center, Jewel Theatre, Museum of Art and History, Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, … )
  • Notices of special events from organizations that I donate to don’t count against the “frequent nagger” penalty, but end-of-year donation requests and “matching-fund” donation requests most certainly do.
  • I do give to political campaigns occasionally (which is how I got on the “sucker” lists for political donations), but I do it on my own timing and never in response to mailings. The ones asking by mail for me to donate are rarely for politicians I would want to support, even though they may belong to the same political party as people I have supported. If someone is taking money from billionaires, then they don’t need my money and aren’t going to listen to my voice—they’ve already been bought, and I’m not about to throw my money away supporting yet another voice for the billionaires.

My biggest donations are done by payroll reduction, split between United Way, Planned Parenthood, and Second Harvest Food Bank.  My next biggest donation is to Santa Cruz Shakespeare, which is going to need a lot this year in order to build a new performance space, now that UCSC has refused to let them continue to use the Festival Glen (a very short-sighted decision on UCSC’s part, in my opinion, as the community goodwill and press coverage were worth a lot, not even mentioning the rent they collected).  After this year, I may be splitting my theater donations up more (I didn’t donate to Jewel Theatre or West Performing Arts this year, but probably will next year).

I give token amounts or membership dues to a number of charitable organizations.  From most of them, what I’d like is a monthly newsletter by e-mail (so I can see what they are doing) and an annual reminder that it is time to renew (with the date of the last donation).  Hardcopy newsletters are ok, but e-mail generally wastes less of the donated money.

I’ve started dropping from my list any that send several donation requests a year, hoping to double dip by taking advantage of donor forgetfulness.  Generally I start by missing a year—if they send me a single letter saying when I last donated and asking if I missed donating to them, then I generally renew.  If they start flooding my mailbox with generic pleas for money, I drop them.

This year, I’m thinking of giving to two organizations that have done particularly good appeals—ones that stood out from the pile of trash that usually comes in the mail:

The Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Library, whom we usually join every year, have started a "New Year's Eve Gala" for introverts—the idea is you stay home and read a book.

The Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Library, whom we usually join every year, have started a “New Year’s Eve Gala” for introverts—the idea is you stay home and read a book.

I've not donated to UNICEF for decades, I think, but the idea of buying yourself off a donor mailing list is appealing (the first time—if other charities start doing it, it'll be recycle-unopened status for them).

I’ve not donated to UNICEF for decades, I think, but the idea of buying yourself off a donor mailing list is appealing (the first time—if other charities start doing it, it’ll be recycle-unopened status for them).

I think I’ll give some extra money to Friends of the Library, and a one-time donation to UNICEF, just to reward them for having more imaginative campaigns that stood out against the relentless give-me-your-money-or-the-baby-dies guilt-tripping of most charitable organizations.

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