Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 2022

Chia-seed pudding recipe

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A view from directly above of a bowl of chia pudding, chocolate brown, with a silver spoon stuck into the pudding at the edge of the bowl. The pudding looks somewhat like a cake.
Chia pudding with Meridian cocoa powder.

This recipe evolves over time. This most recent update is 5/5/2023, and I’ve added ginger powder and cut back on quantity (but make two breakfasts at a time).

I’ve recently added chia-seed pudding to my breakfast, so now my morning food line-up is pretty strong wrt the Daily Dozen:

• 1 brazil nut (for selenium)
• chia-seed pudding (recipe below)
Fruit: 3 pieces of fruit (today: peach, tangerine, and apple)
• 1 pint of hot tea (I substitute coffee on Wednesday and the weekend)
• 2 sheets of nori (for the iodine)

Also, I take one B12 tablet (cyanocobalamin). Anyone who’s over, say, 50 should do this, regardless of their diet, because one’s ability to absorb B12 declines with age.

The fruit I use varies and recently has included plums of various varieties and nectarines. Fuyu persimmons are a favorite in the fall, and I often have Bosc pears.

Until I added the pudding, I also ate 1 square of 100% cacao chocolate (usually Baker’s unsweetened). ] Now I get the chocolate in the pudding, and now I use natural cocoa powder (not Dutch process cocoa, not so rich in nutrients). You can chop up a square of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate and use it in the pudding instead of the cocoa powder.

There was a chocolate scare about the risk of lead and cadmium contamination, which seems not uncommon — and unfortunately, manufacturers are not required to include in the label information the amount of lead and cadmium in their chocolate. While an occasional cup of hot chocolate or piece of dark chocolate would do no harm, eating it daily for a long period of time seems risky.

But then published a rebuttal to the report from Consumer Reports, and NPR also had a report that rebuts Consumer Reports. Based on these two reports, and also information from, I resumed using natural-process cocoa in the pudding.

However, I now order my cocoa from Meridian Cocoa Co. in Portland, Oregon, one of the companies recommended by DessertGeek. When I emailed an inquiry to them, they replied promptly with a PDF of the analysis of their cocoa for lead and cadmium. So I ordered this cocoa powder. It is noticeably better than what I had been using: richer and more complex taste. It is also darker in color. I got a 5-lb bag (and it is one bag, not five 1-lb bags). Highly recommended.

Someone commented that the recipe seems laborious, but labor is minimized because I have organized making it. I keep all the needed measuring spoons on the countertop in a small jar, and lined up next to that are the jars that contain each ingredient, with my spice-and-nut grinder nearby. The only thing not ready to hand is the oat milk in the refrigerator. Preparing the pudding in the evening takes only 6 minutes. And after it has rested overnight in the refrigerator, the pudding is absolutely delicious and totally satisfying as a breakfast. I look forward to it every day.

So now my breakfast also includes the following, with Daily Dozen components listed in boldface.

Chia-Seed Pudding

I now use a large bowl to mix the ingredients. Once they are mixed, I use a ladle to transfer the pudding to two glass storage containers, about 1.5 cups each, thus making breakfast for 2 days. In boldface before each ingredient, I identify which of Greger’s Daily Dozen the ingredient falls into.

I use my Cuisinart Spice and Nut Grinder for a variety of things, including coffee beans when I have coffee. Here I use it for the seeds and to mix some ingredients.

In a large bowl, put:

Grain – 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
Berries – 1/4 cup dried barberries (available online or at Middle Eastern delis/stores)
Nuts/Seeds – 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Put into the spice grinder’s cup:

Flaxseed – 2 rounded tablespoons flaxseed

Grind that briefly and dump it into the mixing bowl. The put into the spice grinder cup:

Nuts/Seeds – 3 rounded tablespoons chia seed

Grind that briefly and dump it into the mixing bowl, then add:

Berries – 2 rounded teaspoons amla (powdered Indian gooseberries)
Herbs & Spices – 2 rounded teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon (taste + antioxidants) [not Cassia cinnamon]
Herbs & Spices – 2 rounded teaspoons ground ginger (for these reasons)
Herbs & Spices1 teaspoon dried spearmint leaves (had to drop — made me cough)
Herbs & Spices – 1 rounded teaspoon ground cloves (very high in antioxidants)
Herbs & Spices – 2 teaspoons dried marjoram (also very high in antioxidants)
• 1 rounded tablespoon natural cocoa powder (not Dutch process) — I use this one 

Add all that to the bowl with the oats, barberries, and walnuts and mix well. (I use a silicone spatula.) Then add to the bowl:

Berries – 1 cup frozen mixed berries
• 1 tablespoon maple syrup (see note below)
• 1-2 teaspoons vanilla (I use McCormack Vanilla Flavoring — see note below)
• 1 1/2 cups “milk” (oat milk or hazelnut milk or walnut milk — I mostly use vanilla oat milk)

After adding the milk, use a spatula to mix all ingredients well. Then ladle the ingredients into two storage containers, cover the containers, and put them into the refrigerator overnight. You now have two breakfasts.

Note on Maple syrup: I first used 2 tablespoons, then I tried using none. When I used none, the milk was not fully absorbed, leaving some small amount of free liquid. Apparently, the syrup helps in absorption. So I tried using just 1 tablespoon (rather than 2) and that worked: all milk was then absorbed.

Note on vanilla flavoring: In 2019 Cook’s Illustrated tested “10 of the top-selling products in the country—seven pure extracts and three imitation extracts. The price range was dramatic. We paid $0.12 an ounce for the least expensive imitation extract and $6.19 an ounce for one of the pure extracts. .. We tallied the results of our first two tastings, frosting and pudding, and found that an imitation extract won, followed closely by a pure extract. The rest of the rankings were a jumble. We were surprised. We knew from past tastings that imitation vanilla extracts could be good in baked goods, but we were shocked that Baker’s (a budget imitation extract made by McCormick) won tastings in which the vanilla was stirred in at the end, uncooked. We scrutinized ingredient lists and called in experts to help us understand why.

“For the most part, our tasters could not tell the difference between real and fake vanilla flavor. Bill Carroll, adjunct professor of chemistry at Indiana University, said he’s not surprised. Vanillin that is synthesized in a lab is identical at the molecular level to vanillin derived from an orchid and thus will taste the same.

“We had vanillin levels tested at an independent lab and found that the imitation vanilla extracts ranged from 0.32 to 0.64 grams per 100 milliliters; the pure extracts had just 0.03 to 0.10 grams per 100 milliliters—so the product with the most vanillin had 21 times as much as the product with the least. In general, we liked stronger vanilla flavor, and the product with the second-highest vanillin level at 0.58 grams per 100 milliliters, Baker’s Imitation Vanilla Flavor, was our overall winner.”

Baker’s Imitation Vanilla Flavor has been discontinued, and Cook’s Illustrated recommends McCormack Imitation Vanilla Flavor in its place because it has more vanilla flavor than the best vanilla extract (by Simply Organic). It is also substantially cheaper.  

The nut milk I originally used has just two ingredients: finely ground nuts and water. Some milk analogs contain quite a few ingredients and seem to be more highly processed — manufactured, as it were. I like to keep it simple (and I also like to avoid dairy). I also use Elmhurst 1925 Unsweetened Oat Milk, which has only 3 ingredients (water, oats, and salt).

Nowadays I mostly use Earth’s Own Oat Milk because it is so much cheaper (roughly 1/4 the price per ounce), though it does contain sunflower oil (not a good oil). However, it not only costs less, it is also enriched with various vitamins and minerals, something the Elmhurst Oat Milk lacks. I’ve recently been using Earth’s Own Vanilla Oat Milk, which helps the flavor of the pudding. It does have added sugar, but only 6g a serving. However, Earth’s Own Unsweetened Original has zero sugar, so I use that when it’s available. (It seems to be often sold out.)

I earlier blogged about a chocolate chia pudding, and also a guacamole chia pudding.


Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2022 at 10:34 pm

Universe Price Tiers

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In Universe Pro®™ the laws of physics remain unchanged under time reversal, to maintain backward compatibility.


Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2022 at 6:10 pm

Posted in Humor, Software, Technology

Locus of Control: How It Affects Your Life and How To Manage It

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Locus of control is a primary focus in Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism, in which he discusses how loss of an internal locus of control leads to depression. That is, once a person feels that they have no control over their life because outside forces (others and social circumstances, for example) have control, then they tend to give up and becomes depressed. Of course, in some situations one really does have little control over what happens, and Covey discusses how one should focus their attention and efforts on their Circle of Influence (where one does have an internal locus of control) and not tie one’s attention and sense of well-being to their Circle of Concern (where the locus of control is external). The idea is that it is frustrating, exhausting, and depressing to give all your attention to those things over which you have no control.

Locus of control is also central to Stephen Covey’s Habit 1. That habit is specifically about recognizing when you have abandoned your locus of control (living in what Covey calls the Reactive Model) and reclaiming it (the Proactive Model). For more information, download the synopsis in my Covey post.

A post in Nir and Far has a good discussion of locus of control:

My daughter had just pulled the caramel corn out of the oven, and the sticky-sweet smell was almost irresistible. Despite knowing it wasn’t going to help my diet, I was gnawing for a taste. But instead of kindly asking for a small bite, as I should have, I barked, “Damn this caramel corn!”

Cursing my daughter’s hard work earned me a scowl and, if I’m honest with myself, didn’t set a good example for how a grown-up should handle himself. It wasn’t my daughter’s responsibility to manage what I put in my mouth, and it certainly wasn’t the caramel corn’s. Still, I blamed the caramel corn for tempting me, instead of taking responsibility for my urges.

Your reaction to life events—specifically how you explain them—significantly affects your life outcomes.

Of course, there’s a continuum—nobody thinks their life is 100% in their control. But our orientation toward what we believe influences our life has a profound impact on us.

Psychologists refer to this concept as a “locus of control,” a term psychologist Julian Rotter coined in the 1960s.

People with an external locus of control believe that forces outside them—fate, luck, circumstances, caramel corn—are responsible for the events of their lives.

In contrast, those who perceive an internal locus of control believe that their personal decisions and efforts guide much of their lives.

Interestingly, you could have an external locus of control about one area of your life but an internal locus of control about another: You may believe your health is completely genetic, uninfluenced by your choices, but think the success of your career is a direct result of your hard work.

How does your locus of control affect your behavior?

If you think finding a partner is up to fate, you may not feel the need to actively seek, meet, and get to know new people. But if you think you have control over it, you may try harder to put yourself out there. In professional contexts, if you think a promotion is largely outside of your control, you won’t be driven to pursue it. If you see it as a result of your efforts, you’re more likely to endeavor to deliver good work.

Countless studies have demonstrated the importance of locus of control in determining numerous life outcomes.

For example, the perception that 10-year-olds have of their own agency has been shown to significantly predict their health outcomes in their thirties, including obesity, overall health, and psychological distress; those with a more internal locus of control in childhood have a reduced risk of poor health later on. Internal locus of control is also associated with psychological well-being, and academic and professional success.

However, there is no “correct” locus of control, even though studies generally suggest that having an internal locus of control is advantageous. Both extremes can present disadvantages.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum, you may benefit from understanding your own orientation and how it may shape your behavior.

Discover your locus of control

Rotter’s full Locus of Control Scale is a 29-item questionnaire (PDF). But to get a quick sense of where you fall on the spectrum, consider which group of statements below resonates more with you.

Internal locus of control:

  • In my case, getting what I want has little or nothing to do with luck.
  • It is impossible for me to believe that chance or luck plays an important role in my life.
  • People are lonely because they don’t try to be friendly.
  • In the long run, people get the respect they deserve in this world.
  • There is a direct connection between how hard I study/ied and the grades I get/got.

External locus of control:

  • Many times we . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2022 at 10:31 am

Being virtuous benefits health

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Nice that there’s a payoff to being virtuous beyond merely the satisfaction of doing the right thing(s). In the Harvard Gazette Clea Simon interviews Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska:

Being good is good for you, say the authors of research that explored the role of character in physical and mental health. In a study of more than 1,200 U.S. adults, a team of researchers from Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program and the SHINE program at Harvard Chan School found that acting with high moral character is associated with a lower risk of depression — and may have cardiovascular benefits as well. We spoke with Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska, a co-author of the findings, about the results. The interview was edited for clarity and length.


GAZETTE: What is moral character?

WEZIAK-BIALOWOLSKA: We define it as adherence to high standards of moral behaviors and acting in a way which contributes to the good of oneself and others. So it’s reflected in excellent character, but also in an orientation to promote good and engaging in good deeds, even in difficult or challenging situations.

GAZETTE: How did you measure character?

WEZIAK-BIALOWOLSKA: We asked people to assess themselves in five dimensions: “I always act to promote good in all circumstances, even in difficult and challenging situations”; “I always know what is the right thing to do”; “I always treat everyone with kindness”; “I am always able to give up some happiness now for greater happiness later”; and “I use my strength to help others.”

GAZETTE: Wouldn’t everyone answer these questions to make themselves look good?

WEZIAK-BIALOWOLSKA: You’ll notice we didn’t ask directly: “Are you a good person?” The overall well-being assessment consists of 40 items, and we collected this data in two waves, so we were able to account for reporting bias. Especially when you do a longitudinal study, you account for this bias because it’s present always.

GAZETTE: What are the main takeaways from the paper?

WEZIAK-BIALOWOLSKA: For us, the aim was to look for unconventional health resources — positive factors that may be influential for health and well-being — and character strength is one example. What was quite interesting was the association between delayed gratification and health outcomes. We found an association with depression, but also with anxiety and cardiovascular disease. In health studies we know that delayed gratification is good. When you think about health behaviors like smoking or drinking, if you can refrain from them, you can expect that it will be good for you. But we asked about the statement: “I am always able to give up some happiness now for greater happiness later.” There was no direct indication to health. It was about happiness, something abstract, but we found an association with health outcomes.

We were looking for a recommendation for public health policies. The takeaway is that character-related policies or interventions may be relevant for population health. It’s also very likely that they would be received well by the population because they are aligned with what most of us want: to become a better person. It was very reassuring for us that we found these associations, and for me, personally. I thought it’s wonderful that when I am a better human being I can contribute to the better well-being of others, but also, maybe, for myself.

GAZETTE: What’s next?

WEZIAK-BIALOWOLSKA: Both the Human Flourishing Program and SHINE have plans to . . ..

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2022 at 9:47 am

A stout-fragranced shave

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Mystic Water Oatmeal Stout has a fine fragrance, and the lather this morning was excellent. I continue to be pleased by loading the brush — this morning, my RazoRock Key Hole brush, a very nice 22mm synthetic at a good price — for a few seconds more after I feel that it has been fully loaded. I think my sense of “sufficiently loaded” was set a couple of notches low, and by loading a bit longer (LABL), the lather is noticeably improved. 

My stainless-steel RazoRock Mamba is a very nice razor — very comfortable, quite efficient — and in three easy and enjoyable passes I achieve a perfect outcome.

A splash of Mickey Lee Soapworks The Drunken Goat — another hit stout fragrance — mixed with a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel completed the shave.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Vanilla Jasmine: “A balanced blend of black, green, and oolong teas, with an enticing aroma of vanilla, jasmine, and magnolia.”

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2022 at 8:40 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

Democratic administrations historically are better for business than Republican ones. It looks as though Biden will continue the trend.

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Heather Cox Richardson:

The big news until shortly before midnight tonight was that businesses do indeed seem to be coming home after the pandemic illustrated the dangers of stretched supply lines, the global minimum tax reduced the incentives to flee to other countries with lower taxes, and the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act spurred investment in technology.

Yesterday, Honda and LG Energy Solution announced they would spend $4.4 billion to construct a new battery plant in the U.S. to join the plants General Motors is building in Ohio, Michigan, and Tennessee; the ones Ford is building in Kentucky and Tennessee; the one Toyota is building in North Carolina; and the one Stellantis is building in Indiana. The plants are part of the switch to electric vehicles.  According to auto industry reporter Neal E. Boudette of the New York Times, they represent “one of the most profound shifts the auto industry has experienced in its century-long history.”

Today, Kentucky governor Andy Beshear (D) announced that Kentucky has secured more than $8.5 billion for investment in the production of electric vehicle batteries, which should produce more than 8,000 jobs in the EV sector. “Kentuckians will literally be powering the future,” he said.

Also today, First Solar, the largest solar panel maker in the U.S., announced that it would construct a new solar panel plant in the Southeast, investing up to $1 billion. It credited the Inflation Reduction Act with making solar construction attractive enough in the U.S. to build here rather than elsewhere. First Solar has also said it will upgrade and expand an existing plant in Ohio, spending $185 million.

Corning has announced a new manufacturing plant outside Phoenix, Arizona, to build fiber-optic cable to help supply the $42.5 billion high-speed internet infrastructure investment made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. AT&T will also build a new fiber internet network in Arizona.

The CHIPS and Science Act is spurring investment in the manufacturing of chips in the U.S. Earlier this month, Micron announced a $40 billion investment in the next eight years, producing up to 40,000 new jobs. Qualcomm has also committed to investing $4.2 billion in chips from the New York facility of GlobalFoundries. Qualcomm says it intends to increase chip production in the U.S. by 50% over the next five years. In January, Intel announced it would invest $20 billion, and possibly as much as $100 billion, in a chip plant in Ohio.

This investment is part of a larger trend in which U.S. companies are bringing their operations back to the U.S. Last week, a report by the Reshoring Initiative noted that nearly 350,000 U.S. jobs have come home this year. The coronavirus pandemic, Russia’s war on Ukraine, and China’s instability were the push to bring jobs home, while the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act were the pull. Dion Rabouin notes in the Wall Street Journal that this reshoring will not necessarily translate to blue-collar jobs, as companies will likely increase automation to avoid higher labor costs.

President Joe Biden’s record is unexpectedly strong going into the midterms, and he is directly challenging Republicans on the issues they formerly considered their own. Today, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, he challenged the Republicans on their claim to be the party of law and order, calling out their recent demands to “defund” the FBI and saying he wants to increase funding for law enforcement to enable it to have more social workers, mental health care specialists, and so on.

He noted that law enforcement officers want a ban on assault weapons and that he would work to pass one like that of 1994. When that law expired in 2004, mass shootings in the U.S. tripled.

Then the president took on MAGA Republicans: “A . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2022 at 4:34 am

Badges Instead of Grades

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Of course, it could be both badges and grades, either as a transition from grades only to badges only or as a hybrid system of badges and grades.

I find the idea of badges very attractive. For one thing, it gives more granular information. In a semester, you might acquire a dozen or two badges in different skills and knowledge in some course, and that collection provides much more information about what you known than does (for example) “B-“. Moreover, one gets much more pleasure from earning a badge (particularly if the badge has a good design) than from getting a grade. In addition, badges appeal to the collecting instinct that many have (cf. baseball cards, kitchen gadgets, razors and shaving soaps, and so on).

Rory Hough writes at Usable Knowledge, a website of the Harvard Graduate School of Education:

Mention “earning a badge” to most people and they think of the scouts, where you collect sew-on patches for learning skills such as fire safety or how to play the bugle.

Harvard professor Danielle Allen and her team at the Democratic Knowledge Project think it’s time a similar “badging” approach be used in schools across the country to replace traditional letter grades. As they spell out in their new white paper, A Call to More Equitable Learning: How Next-Generation Badging Improves Education for All, badging is a more accurate, equitable way to measure, record, and report K–12 student learning.

“What badges do is replace that very rough, crude way of reporting on student learning with something that is much more transparent with regard to the components of what’s been mastered,” Allen says. “It’s much more flexible because students can really bring out different components of their mastery and make their case for why their specific learning journey has been the right one for them and so forth.”

Badging isn’t a completely new idea, or a fancy one, says Allen — in some ways, traditional grading is its own basic form of using badges. “There’s a sense in which every grade is already a badge,” Allen says. “If I have an A in trigonometry, that’s my trig badge.”

What elevates badging from the traditional letter grade system, however, is what’s “behind” the badging, says David Kidd, the project’s chief assessment scientist and a research director at Project Zero.

“The badge itself is just a signifier. It signifies that a competency has been developed with pre-defined definitions,” he says. “Essentially, what we’re trying to do is make sure the badges have credibility that they’re backed by meaning.”

The problem with using traditional grades to measure and report learning to colleges and even future employers is that it’s not clear what the student has actually learned, says Allen. A student does an assignment and is given a grade and then a transcript of grades. “You really don’t know what the student has mastered,” she says. A student earns a “C+” on a history test but turns in a neat binder on time, and the grade gets bumped to a “B-.” Their mastery of the history material never changed — another, unknown factor (being neat) did.

“The key culprit is the Carnegie Unit,” says Kidd, referring to the unit developed in 1906 to measure the amount of time students spend “learning” each subject, and to standardize experiences across schools. A total of 120 hours of “seat time” in a subject earns a high school student in the United States one unit of credit. “It’s come to dominate how we learn in this country.”

Unfortunately, seat time, and the way we currently measure what goes on during that seat time, doesn’t accurately show what skills students master.

“When we talk about ‘GPA’ or ‘test scores,’ there’s an assumption that those things mean something,” Kidd says. But they don’t, and they don’t mean the same things across districts or states. They might not even mean the same thing across one department in one school. The traditional system also doesn’t acknowledge learning that happens outside the classroom, in extracurriculars like writing for the student newspaper or being captain of the cross-country team. Skills gained working at part-time jobs rarely get noticed. There’s also the issue of accuracy. A second-generation immigrant may not take Portuguese classes at school but speaks fluently with elderly residents who come into their family’s store. “This understanding of Portuguese wouldn’t show up on a transcript,” Kidd says. “We have no real way of showing this to admissions officers.”

In contrast, under the Democratic Knowledge Project’s proposed badging plan, badges would be awarded not on seat time, but once a student masters a skill and demonstrates that mastery (and not just in school settings). Students also wouldn’t earn just one badge per subject, like they currently earn one grade per subject (an A in geometry). They’d earn multiple badges within a subject. For example, students taking an English language arts course might earn a badge for identifying ideas and details in text and another for their ability to collaborate or problem-solve. At one school, badges might be earned through projects, at another using quizzes and essays.

Kidd says future employers looking for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

The Cantillon Effect and Credit Cards: The $257 Billion Payments Mess

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I use a (Visa) credit card for all my shopping — the last time I used cash was before the pandemic — but I use a no-fee card and I maintain a credit balance (i.e., a balance in my favor). At the beginning of the month, I transfer to my credit card the amount I have budgeted for daily expenses (groceries, discretionary items, and miscellaneous). That gives me a relatively large credit balance on the card, and then I chip away at that over the month as I made my purchases.  I never pay any interest on an unpaid balance on my card because I never have an unpaid balance.

It took me a while to work this out and to learn to stay within my monthly budget. (For me, the secret was to focus on staying within my weekly budget. That turns out to be relatively easy, and if I stay within my weekly budget, I end up being within my monthly budget.

But Matt Stoller has a good column in which he points out that for most people credit cards can be a trip. He writes:

In The Man Who Broke Capitalism, journalist David Gelles profiles how General Electric CEO Jack Welch transformed an icon of America from an industrial giant to a financial house of cards. Preferring to issue high-margin financial products instead of bending metal, Welch was at the forefront of the shift in the American economy towards banking and away from making things. And no other product symbolizes this shift more than the credit card, a business GE made its own in the 1990s, where the firm dominated the private label issuance market.

There’s a reason Welch went into this market in a big way. Credit cards are insanely profitable, roughly four and a half times more lucrative for the lender than any other form of credit. If you add up the two main streams of revenue, this industry generates up to $257 billion in revenue every year, which is about $780 for every man, woman and child. That’s a ridiculous amount of money for a payments system, far more than it should cost (and far more than it costs in almost every other country.) And as you’d expect, the reason for the excess profits is simple. Monopoly power and cheating. The American payments system is deeply concentrated, beset with unfair practices designed to sustain market power and hide true prices. As one industry consultant put it, financial institutions “hide the fees and the customers will still have to pay for them.”

Let’s start with the basics. Credit cards are two products combined into one. The first is access to a global payments network that lets a consumer and merchant transact. For consumers, a payments network seems free, but merchants must pay between 1.5-3.5% to middlemen on every single transaction, which amounts to between $61 billion to $137 billion a year. These swipe fees – which go to networks like VISA, Mastercard, or American Express, as well as issuing banks and processors – are essentially a private sales tax that goes to credit card networks and banks.

There’s very little competition in the payments system. VISA and Mastercard control 70% of this highly concentrated market. To give you a sense of the market power at work here, last year credit card networks raised their swipe fee prices to merchants by 24% and swipe fees are now the second highest cost for most businesses, after labor. In Europe, fees are much lower, because there’s a straight cap of 0.2% per transaction.

Where does this market power come from? Well merchants, even big ones, can’t afford to not accept Visa and Mastercard, so they have to accept whatever terms they are given. One key to this market power are credit card rewards, which are the points you get when you spend money through a certain card. These rewards are roughly $20 billion a year, mostly going to high-income customers and coming from the poor. According to the Boston Fed, “the lowest-income household ($20,000 or less annually) pays $21 and the highest-income household ($150,000 or more annually) receives $750 every year” as a result of these reward systems. Naturally, the credit card networks and banks keep most of the swipe fee money, but they pass enough of it back to cardholders to create switching costs in the form of customer loyalty. Almost everyone would be better off if swipe fees were lower than they are, but credit card users see a direct cash benefit, which ensures that they will continue using their cards, and that merchants will have to accept them.

The power these reward programs generate is then turned onto merchants, who aren’t even allowed foster competition between the big credit card networks. Visa, American Express and Mastercard have anti-steering provisions in their contracts with merchants, so merchants are not allowed to distinguish between different cards. That’s why you don’t see signs that say ‘use VISA and get a discount’ in local stores, even though VISA’s swipe fees are cheaper than American Express. Such a practice should be illegal, but it’s not. After years of legal wrangling, in 2018, the Supreme Court legalized this practice on procedural grounds, ensuring that this revenue stream would continue unabated.

The good news is there’s policy movement; Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and Republican Senator Roger Marshall just released a bill to address the problem by fostering more competition among credit card networks. And since every merchant in the country is angry about the excess fees they must pay, the politics here aren’t insurmountable.

The second revenue stream for credit cards comes from credit products that allows a consumer to take out a short-term loan by carrying a monthly balance. Consumers pay interest and fees for the privilege, roughly $120 billion a year. Some of these charges include annual fees, fees for cash advances and balance transfers, rebates, minimum finance charges, over-the-limit fees, and late payment charges. Here too it’s quite lucrative. There’s about a trillion dollars in credit card debt outstanding, out of a total of $16 trillion in total household debt. While credit card defaults are higher than other forms of debt, total bank profitability in the U.S. was $279.1 billion in 2021. With $120 billion of revenue coming in just from interest payments and fees, you can see how good a business credit cards really are. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 3:37 pm

Happiness as a skill that can be learned

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I have talked about the awkwardness that adults experience as they try to learn a new skill, but when the skill is happiness, persisting through the awkward stage seems worthwhile. In the blog Less Wrong, lukeprog sets out a program to learn the skill of happiness. Will it work for you? Maybe. As Rudyard Kipling wrote,

“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And every single one of them is right!”

lukeprog writes:

One day a coworker said to me, “Luke! You’re, like, the happiest person I know! How come you’re so happy all the time?”

It was probably a rhetorical question, but I had a very long answer to give. See, I was unhappy for most of my life,1 and even considered suicide a few times. Then I spent two years studying the science of happiness. Now, happiness is my natural state. I can’t remember the last time I felt unhappy for longer than 20 minutes.

That kind of change won’t happen for everyone, or even most people (beware of other-optimizing), but it’s worth a shot!

We all want to be happy, and happiness is useful for other things, too.2 For example, happiness improves physical health,3 improves creativity,4 and even enables you to make better decisions.5 (It’s harder to be rational when you’re unhappy.6) So, as part of a series on how to win at life with science and rationality, let’s review the science of happiness.

The correlates of happiness

Earlier, I noted that there is an abundance of research on factors that correlate with subjective well-being (individuals’ own assessments of their happiness and life satisfaction).

Factors that don’t correlate much with happiness include: age,7 gender,8 parenthood,9 intelligence,10 physical attractiveness,11 and money12 (as long as you’re above the poverty line). Factors that correlate moderately with happiness include: health,13 social activity,14 and religiosity.15 Factors that correlate strongly with happiness include: genetics,16 love and relationship satisfaction,17 and work satisfaction.18

But correlation is not enough. We want to know what causes happiness. And that is a trickier thing to measure. But we do know a few things.

Happiness, personality, and skills

Genes account for about 50% of the variance in happiness.19 Even lottery winners and newly-made quadriplegics do not see as much of a change in happiness as you would expect.20 Presumably, genes shape your happiness by shaping your personality, which is known to be quite heritable.21

So which personality traits tend to correlate most with happiness? Extroversion is among the best predictors of happiness,22 as are conscientiousness, agreeableness, self-esteem, and optimism.23

What if you don’t have those traits? The first thing to say is that you might be capable of them without knowing it. Introversion, for example, can be exacerbated by a lack of social skills. If you decide to learn and practice social skills, you might find that you are more extroverted than you thought! (That’s what happened to me.) The same goes for conscientiousnessagreeablenessself-esteem, and optimism – these are only partly linked to personality. They are to some extent learnable skills, and learning these skills (or even “acting as if”) can increase happiness.24

The second thing to say is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 2:15 pm

Dialect: A Game About Language and How It Dies

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Dialect looks like an interesting game — and it has won quite a few awards.

Dialect is a game about an isolated community, their language, and what it means for that language to be lost. In this game, you’ll tell the story of the Isolation by building their language. New words will come from the fundamental aspects of the community: who they are, what they believe in, and how they respond to a changing world.

Players take away both the story they’ve told and the dialect they’ve built together. Includes hardcover book, deck of language generating cards, 4 core playsets, 11 contributed playsets by renowned game designers, linguists and activists, and a digital copy delivered immediately. [They also offer a Standard Edition with physical pieces. – LG]

A story game for 3-5 players in 3-4 hours. 

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Games

Global map showing birthplaces of notable persons

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The map is on this page, and you can experiment with zooming in and out and use click-and-drag to find a region of interest. The first surprise I encountered was that Ron Howard was born in Oklahoma — Duncan, Oklahoma, as I found when I looked at Wikipedia.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

Depression: New Treatments, New Hopes

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From the Nature newsletter, which linked to a page of articles on depression:

Biological factors that might contribute to clinical depression are coming into light. One increasingly supported theory is that depression is linked to a slowing of nerve growth — so measures that encourage neuron formation could help to stave off the condition. Obesity is both a cause and a consequence of depression, creating a vicious cycle. And the disruptions of ancient sleep patterns by electric lighting, smartphones and modern conveniences wreak havoc on mental health. Researchers around the world are finding links between depression and COVID-19, heart health, exercise and the use of social media.

Depression rates are rising fastest in young people. The condition is also disproportionately experienced by women, because the ebb and flow of hormones during menstruation, during pregnancy, after childbirth and during menopause can trigger biochemical cascades that result in the condition. These hormonal effects are very common around the time of menopause — yet the link is still ignored by many health-care professionals.

Antidepressant drugs are commonly prescribed as a treatment, but none is universally helpful. Other types of therapy are beginning to enter the scene, from psychedelic compounds such as psilocybin to implanted devices that zap the brain with pulses of electricity.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 12:24 pm

China’s property marker ≈ Beanie Baby market

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Chiina’s Ghost Cities are filled with apartment towers that lack doors, windows, elevators, stairwells, and the like. These apartments were not built for occupancy but for use tokens in an “investment” scheme very like the craze in Beanie Babies, also intrinsically of very little value. But: “Sure, this Beanie Baby cost me $35, but I can sell it on eBay for $50!” And for a while, that held true.

The difference is that the total collapse of the Beanie Baby market hurt only a few, and not too badly at that. (That’s on the whole: one person was murdered, but in general some people just lost some money.) The collapse of the housing market in China, particularly all the worthless unliveable properties, will intensely hurt billions.)

Let me make it perfectly clear: I never once bought a Beanie Baby or even considered buying one. I don’t play with such toys, and as an investment, a Beanie Baby is worth something only if you can find a greater fool to buy it from you at a higher price (like crypto currency). The supply of fools, though clearly quite large, is still finite. And, FWIW, I also have never purchased a Ghost City apartment. Thank god.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 11:15 am

Practical humility (and a great shave)

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Today I’m using another Meißner Tremonia shaving paste, Woody Almond, and again the fragrance is very present to my nose. The almond comes through clearly, as does its modulation with Texas cedar. It’s a fine fragrance, and MT shaving paste makes a great lather. Part of that is of course attributable to the brush (and one cannot ignore the contribution made by very soft tap water), and this brush is a favorite. It has good resilience, my preferred knot diameter (22mm) and a good loft, with enough density to fill the loft but still leave it open enough to generate and hold a lot of lather. In addition, this brush, filled with warm lather, feels very good on my face.

When Gillette decided to re-enter the double-edge safety razor market, they (fortunately for us and for them) recognized that they had lost the experience and expertise in designing and making DE razors they once had. They showed practical humility by copying a good current head design (the Mühle/Edwin Jagger head) and contributed merely the handle design, based on the Gillette NEW from 90 years ago. 

As a result, their razor is comfortable and efficient (if uninspired). I fully enjoyed my shave, and the result is remarkably good.

Bathhouse no longer sells the aftershave shown in the photo (which, as you see, has interesting ingredients). However, you can buy a similar formula in bulk and add your own fragrance. A gallon of that is $25, and you could design your own label and fill 40 four-ounce bottles (gifts for years to come). 

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Royal Grey: “It smells of berries and sugar, like sugared fruit. The taste is fruit-forwardjuicy black currant hitting first, followed by citrusy bergamot that lingers and grounds the blend; vanilla smooths it out with a comforting creamy note.”

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 11:10 am

Posted in Business, Caffeine, Shaving

66 tempeh recipes

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I just received an email from Better Nature, a company with an interesting backstory. That page has at the bottom a link to download a free cookbook of 11 of their favorite tempeh recipes, but check out the page of 66 recipes on their website. The photo above is from one of those recipes (Creamy Lemon & Garlic Tempeh Pasta).

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2022 at 8:06 am

Americans are looking seriously for a safe haven in case things go to hell

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Ashley Fetters Maloy reports in the Washington Post (gift link, no paywall):

On the morning of June 27, Julie Schäfer logged into her work computer and sat stunned at what she saw. The lawyer at Schlun & Elseven in Düsseldorf often helps Americans obtain dual citizenship in Germany, and that Monday morning, she scrolled and scrolled and kept scrolling. A flood of more than 300 inquiries had piled up in the firm’s inbox.

The Friday before, the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned the 49-year-old precedent Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to legal abortion nationwide; in Germany, abortion is decriminalized before 12 weeks with mandatory counseling, and in other cases when a pregnancy is deemed a threat to the pregnant person’s mental or physical health. Following the ruling, which came just as the staff in Germany was clocking out for the night, frantic Americans flocked to the firm’s website, creating a tenfold spike in clicks on its questionnaire to determine eligibility for dual citizenship.

After inquiries poured in all weekend, Schäfer says, Monday felt like “the aftermath.” Many were seeking dual citizenship through a German ancestor; a handful mentioned in their messages that they were fearful about losing access to abortion care. Of those, a plurality came from Texas.

By now, we all know the stirring stories about immigrants’ arduous journeys to America ― about Ellis Island, about huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Now, though, the sudden nationwide curtailing of abortion rights and the assorted political turmoil of the summer have pushed many U.S. citizens to start the process of obtaining second citizenships in countries that grant them to direct descendants of nationals. Immigrants’ American-born grand- and great-grandchildren are grasping backward through time and bureaucracy, hoping their ancestors might now provide them with a way to start over back in the motherland. Or at least provide them with a quick, visa-free way to live and work elsewhere for a while, in case of emergency. An escape hatch, some say. A backup plan. A parachute.

In 1910, 10-year-old Calogero Cirafisi left his birthplace of Agrigento, Sicily, with his family. They landed in Norristown, Pa., where Calogero became Charles, according to his granddaughter, Helen Kirbo. A 22-year-old photography student who lives in Atlanta, Kirbo has learned all of this in the process of seeking dual citizenship in Italy.

When a draft of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision leaked in early May, Kirbo was disturbed by the notion that, if what was outlined in the draft came to pass, “my mom would have had more rights to her body than I [do now], growing up.” She began to explore the idea of moving abroad after she graduates from college in 2023.

In June, though, Kirbo learned from a friend about Italy’s jure sanguinis policy, which essentially guarantees citizenship eligibility to anyone who can prove themselves to be a direct descendant of an Italian citizen (with a few caveats). “It was like the out I was always looking for,” Kirbo says. “And immediately after Roe v. Wade was officially overturned, it was like, there was no question for me.” In Italy, abortion has been legal upon request and performed free of charge since 1978. . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

29 August 2022 at 6:26 pm

Portrait of Molly

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The Wife took this portrait-quality photo of Molly today as Molly sat on her table by the window.

Written by Leisureguy

29 August 2022 at 6:13 pm

Posted in Cats, Daily life, Molly

College rankings: Washington Monthly’s rankings vs. US News & World Report’s rankings

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An email I received this morning from Paul Glastris, Editor in Chief, Washington Monthly, regarding the latest issue of the magazine. I figured this email would be to anyone who has a friend or relation involved in picking a college. Here’s the first part of the email:

With rising high school seniors and their families awaiting the latest U.S. News & World Report college rankings amid news that several brand-name universities fudged their data to the magazine, the Washington Monthly today is releasing its alternative rankings, which have avoided such scandals by focusing on data that is more reliable and relevant to the majority of students, as well as to policy makers. The new issue of the Monthly also features a story by James Fallows, the acclaimed journalist and former U.S. News editor fired by U.S. News’s owner after questioning that magazine’s rankings metrics.

This summer, U.S. News “deranked” Columbia University and removed Villanova University from its Best Value list for “misreporting” their data. An internal University of Southern California review recently confirmed a similar U.S. News numbers-boosting scheme, and a Temple University administrator is now serving time in prison for such activity.

The common source of these controversies is that U.S. News’s metrics rely on a proprietary survey on which colleges have an incentive to cheat. The Washington Monthly’s measures, by contrast, are based on publicly available data largely collected by the federal government—so to cheat on the Monthly’s rankings, colleges must intentionally lie to the federal government, which they are loath to do.

In addition to greater reliability, the Washington Monthly rankings offer measures of student outcomes that are more useful and relevant to students, the majority of whom are neither wealthy nor applying to highly selective schools, as well as to policy makers at the federal and state levels who must make funding decisions for colleges and universities based on the broader public interest. Whereas U.S. News & World Report rewards colleges for their wealth, prestige, and exclusivity, the Monthly ranks schools based on upward mobility, public service, and research. The Monthly’s focus on how colleges serve middle- and lower-income students is especially relevant in the wake of President Joe Biden’s executive order providing loan forgiveness for such students.

A Tale of Two Rankings

Many colleges that do poorly on U.S. News’s rankings do well on the Washington Monthly’s, and vice versa:

  • The Monthly’s top 20 list includes six state schools—among them UC Davis and National Louis University in Chicago—while only one public university makes it onto the U.S. News’s top 20.
  • Utah State University, #22 on the Monthly list, is #249 on the U.S. News list (a 227-point difference).
  • Tulane University is #407 in the Monthly ranking; U.S. News puts it at #42 (365-point difference).
  • Baylor University is #382 in the Monthly; U.S. News has it at #75 (307-point difference).
  • Hofstra University is #438 in the Monthly, and #162 in U.S. News (276-point difference).
  • Pepperdine University is #232 in the Monthly; U.S. News puts it at #49 (183-point difference).

The September/October Washington Monthly also ranks master’s universities, liberal arts and bachelor’s colleges, and America’s “Best Bang for the Buck” colleges—a one-of-a-kind list of schools that help nonwealthy students attain marketable degrees at affordable prices.

Colin Diver, author of Breaking Ranks: How the Rankings Industry Rules Higher Education and What to Do About It, recently said, “My advice to applicants is … start with the Washington Monthly … They’re trying to rank based on what the college does for the community, which is very different from the obvious wealth and prestige focus of U.S. News and several others.”

The September/October Washington Monthly also includes “America’s Best and Worst Colleges for Vocational Certificates,” a long-overdue ranking of the programs where millions of Americans seek job skills, and a “Best Colleges for Student Voting” ranking that is especially relevant because young voters could be a deciding factor in the upcoming midterm elections.

“America needs a new definition of higher education excellence, one that measures what colleges do for their country, instead of for themselves,” says Washington Monthly editor in chief Paul Glastris. “U.S. News rewards colleges for their wealth, prestige, and exclusivity, thereby aggravating America’s racial and class divides, whereas the Monthly ranks schools based on very different criteria meant to do the opposite.”

Other highlights from the issue are:

  • James Fallows writes about “When Gown Embraces Town,” focusing on why it’s time to judge colleges by their contribution to the economic and civic life of their communities, and why Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, passes the test brilliantly by running the city’s failing public schools. In “The (Student) Paper of Record,” Deborah Fallows explains how The Ball State Daily News has filled a local journalism gap.
  • Rob Wolfe examines “The Invisible College Barrier,” which are admissions requirements for popular majors that rob underprivileged students of future income—and their dreams.
  • Jamaal Abdul-Alim writes about how “dual enrollment” programs are the hottest reform in education. In “A Job and a College Degree Before You Graduate High School,” he explains that they haven’t worked for lower-income students of color—until now.
  • Laura Colarusso reports on “Breaking the Cycle of Privilege,” highlighting how administrators at Bunker Hill Community College in Massachusetts noticed that their paid internships weren’t reaching minorities and women in the numbers they intended, and how they fixed it.
  • Jodie Adams Kirshner writes about “The Memphis Post-COVID Community College Blues,” and how in the best of times, poor students struggle against long odds to graduate—and these are not the best of times.
  • Anne Kim explains in her article “Train in Vain” why the government’s workforce training system includes the worst colleges and excludes the best.

Written by Leisureguy

29 August 2022 at 11:50 am

The best diet for healthy aging

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We all age, but healthy aging minimizes pain and suffering, and that sounds good me.

Written by Leisureguy

29 August 2022 at 11:24 am

John Atkinson is a great cartoonist

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Check out the mother lode.

Written by Leisureguy

29 August 2022 at 9:40 am

Posted in Art, Books, Daily life, Humor, Music

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