How we got Joseph to stay in bed after he figured out that getting up to pee would be rewarded

Our kids have generally been good at staying in their beds after we tuck them in.

Recently, we have been challenged. Joseph is three and a half and is just potty trained. For the last month or so, he has been getting out of bed 4-8 times a night to visit the bathroom. All parties are aware that he doesn’t have to pee that many times, but as parents, we’re basically extorted into cheering for him after he claims to have peed. So he comes to wherever we are and squeals “I peeeeeeeeeeeeed!” and then there are hugs and kisses, and a cheerful re-tucking in.

Basically, he was getting rewarded for getting out of his bed.

Emily, her body full of hormones being a week and a half away from kiddo #3, started to get stressed out about it.

So, it was time for some boundaries. Literally. The door sill of the hallway to the bedrooms and bathrooms became the border that he was not to cross. The punishment was to be that we would lock him in his room. “Locking” is to bungee the door shut so he could struggle to open it and it would make lots of noise so we could get there before he could squeeze his way out.

To rehearse punishment scenario, I had him step across the line, and I’d tell him that he crossed the line so now he was getting locked in his room, and I’d tell him that this is what happens when he steps across the line. Then, I’d put him in his room and hold the door shut until he started to make some light panic noises. I’d open the door, hold him and tell him that once he gets tucked in, he can’t cross the line, and have him tell me what happened if he crossed the line. Then, we went and had him show me where the line. Then, we brushed teeth and I had him tell me where the line was, and what would happen if he crossed the line.  

There was no doubting that he understood the situation.

Two nights in, he has not crossed that threshold. So for two nights, we’ve avoided roughly sixteen stress inducing trips to the bathroom and tucking in series. Pretty good returns on about five minutes of firm parenting.

Social Networking’s Next Filter will be the Next Big Thing

Facebook and Twitter are excellent at giving large numbers of people forums to generate content. The next big thing will filter that content and make it more relevant and interesting to those who are looking at the conent. 

The buzz around these Social Networking applications is around the scope and size of the user base and not on what is revolutionary about what they are doing.

For a long time, when I had leisure moments to do discretionary web browsing, it would be traditional news sites. Now, I find myself drawn to Facebook to see what my contacts are up to. It is because they are essentially generating news about what they are doing and thinking about.

However, most of the content that they post is not interesting to me. There are a couple solutions that will help maintain interest in this new news source.

First, people should realize that they are creating news and think about what is news worthy and interesting. It is unlikely this will improve significantly.

The more effective solution is for filters to be created to determine what is interesting to the viewer. For this to happen, there will essentially be cross references between what the consumer is interested in and what the content generator has posted.

Without that filter, or engine finding things in common, it ends up being clutter that lowers my satisfaction with Facebook. Twitter is even worse.

But if they started tracking what I clicked on, and looking for trends there, or matching key words in their posts vs. my posts and highlighting things in common, that would be a big deal.

When this happens, it will be the next big thing. Think of it as millions of people panning for gold, but where intelligent machines start filtering out the silt from gold, but where every person panning is interested in different valuables, and where the filter knows what is valuable to each person and only giving them the results they want. That would drastically improve the value of these services.

Why the American Economy Needs to Fall

The American economy needs to have its priorities reset. For that to happen, the economy must reset to something sustainable.

First, there must be a positive savings rate. From 2005-2008, the savings rate for the country was negative. I think this was largely due to people tapping into home equity so they could feel as rich as their six-figure house value increase made them feel. 

There seemed to be a standard of living inflation where people treated themselves to a standard of living that they could not afford.

Spending was no longer restrained by income.

For things to become stable, spending needs to return to less than income.

However, large industries have become dependent on excessive spending. They will have to fall to what a sustainable economy can support.

I’m concerned that the bailout is merely designed to slow the fall so inventories don’t create a huge fallout.

For the last year, car companies have been selling significantly less cars, but they didn’t stop making them. All those made cars are now sitting around waiting. It may be a nine month supply of cars. This means that no cars could be built for the next nine months before they started running out of supply. So, if only enough cars were made to sell what was needed, production would need to be reduced by 15% for 60 months (5 years) to make up for a nine month extra supply. However, you can’t hold 2009 model cars for five years, so the reduction in production will need to be far greater than 15%. 

This doesn’t even account for a current overestimation of demand. Say production has been 15% more than a sustainable market would demand. That would lead to more like a 40% reduction for 3 years to cover for the current access inventory, before ramping up around 2012 to what would still be 15% less than the auto production that we use now.

And that is just one industry. Housing is likely more dramatic than cars. By my estimation, the median house in the US should fall to a sustainable level of around 60% of their current values.

Industries that will likely be impacted even more are the unncessary luxuries. Like Starbucks, Ugg boots, Burberry, and overpriced boutiques everywhere. The definition of overpriced is when a product is 10X+ as expensive as a functionally identical alternative. Examples: automatic watches, women’s fashion shoes.

Those are goods that people could completely stop buying and lose no noticable utility.

When large swaths of the economy go from “What can I spend money on this week?” to “Can I avoid making this purchase?” to “What is the cheapest way I can get by with covering this need?”, there is a major adjustment in the works.

And we could see sustained losses accross the entire economy of 30% for the next four years.

But people are resourceful. There will be innovations for how to help people do more with what they currently have.

Car prices will likely drop to historic discounts as surplusses can’t be held back any longer. This will likely hit severly around May or June, when nearly a year’s supply is backed up and the new models are set to hit the showrooms. It will be an epic purge.

Hydrogen is the Answer

My prediction: Hydrogen will be what powers anything larger than a bicycle.

The premise is that a container of hydrogen works like a battery that is endlessly refillable, and can easily be converted into electricity.

The challenges come with the conversion from something else to pure, compressed hydrogen. 

The faulty logic of many people who have written about this is how expensive hydrogen is to convert. If you have a hydrogen creation machine to plug into a wall socket, that arguement is correct. Why burn one energy source to create another? However, if you start looking at other options for creation, hydrogen becomes more plausible.

With wind and solar becomming more and more viable sources of energy, it’s apparent that in most applications, they don’t provide a consistant enough flow of energy not to have an intermediary store. For those who want to go off the grid, they have to use huge batteries to be ready for their energy use when it comes. 

The solution will be hooking up home or neighborhood power generation stations to hydrogen generation stations at the source of creation. The inneficiencies of hydrogen creation will be made up for because the power required to generate it happens right there. There is some amazing power loss over distance of power lines. Removing the distance electricity has to travel makes the creation of hydrogen much more pratical.

Once this happens, people should see a hard cap of how much energy they can use that will only be increased by adding more generation. This should lead to conservation, and if it doesn’t, it will be due to prevelance of a completely clean source of electricity.

Thoughts on the housing/banking bubble

My job has taken me into many of the major culprits of the banking crisis over the last four years: Freddie Mac, Washington Mutual, Countrywide, and many other “mortgage originators”.

Where I first caught wind that something was amiss was at Countrywide in October 2003, when I found out that the acres of cube farms at Countrywide (7000-15000 employees) that were dedicated to loan originations were making well into six figures by originating loans over the phone. After the third loan originiation of the day, every new origination carried a new cash bonus of $500 above their standard commission, so if you could average six a day (many people were averaging seven), that would be $1500 per day above your base pay and bonus package. That seemed non-sensical.

At Freddie Mac in January, 2004, I saw two other faces of the mortgage market. The people on the phones here were the ones dealing with the banks, but four of the five contacts that I had there were part of a scheme that depended on wildly inflated home prices.

Around DC, there was lots of development of townhouses. Before a development would start, the developer would pre-sell the townhouses for 1% down on a sale price of $300,000, with the mortgage starting a year later, when the building was complete. So, the employees at Freddie Mac would put $3,000 down, wait a year, take posession of the townhouse, immediately put it up for sale for $450,000 and have it sold within a week of owning the townhouse. So, for no more than a $4,000 investment, they would turn around a $140,000 profit. And there was no limit for how many times this could happen.

All of this was funded by a housing prices that were rapidly outpacing earnings. As long as housing prices were going up, it would continue to fund the flipping market.

What few seemed to take into consideration was that this was a rapidly inflating bubble that would eventually burst and anyone holding inflated property would be holding a hot potato, and they would be severely burned when it would start to lose value.

At the same time, anyone who owned a home saw the value of their home rise exponentially. So someone who bought a $100,000 home in the DC area around 2000 would have inadvertantly been in a $600,000 home by 2006. But the only way they could capitalize on this would be to sell their house and move to an apartment until after the bubble burst.

So the same banks who were fueling the inflated home prices saw the dollar signs in current homeowners eyes. They hatched a marketing scheme to sell these people home equity loans on the increased values of their homes based on the bubble. All the people who bought and mortgaged a $100,000 house could now be given a $500,000 loan based on the equity on that house, and if the housing prices kept inflating like they had been, that $500,000 could be paid off in a year or two based on the current growth curve. Obviously there would be a market for their 1500 sq. ft. house 30 minutes from downtown DC and someone would pay $1.2 million for it at that point. Or, they would be able to take an additional $500,000 equity loan at that point.

So, the housing prices was a bubble that was being inflated by the banks loaning money to people who couldn’t afford to pay it backon the premise that housing prices were going up so fast, the banks could merely foreclose on the house and sell it for profit. And, for the people who weren’t foreclosed on, they could breathe out home equity loans based on the inflated values of their home.

If someone wanted to calculate the size of this crisis, I think it could be done this way:

  • Take the historical graph of median house price relative to median income (based on this graph should be around $195,000)
  • Lookat the median mortgaged house value.
  • If the median mortgaged house value is anywhere above $190,000 or so, all those houses should fall relatively down to that value, leaving lots of people holding the bag for their over-mortgages (the hot potatos that they got stuck with) or over extended based on home-equity loans that were made above that.

Another way of looking at it that may work is look at the median home value now ($320,000 based on this graph), subtract the “historical price” based on price to income ($195,000) to get the inflated value ($125,000). Then, multiply that by the total number of houses (58.5 million based on data found here) to get the total inflated value of the housing market: (58,500,000 * $125,000) = $7,312,500,000,000 ($7.3 trillion).

So, the housing bubble size is $7.3 trillion.

Many homeowners didn’t tap into the home equity lines of credit. Many people didn’t buy or sell a home  since 2003, so they won’t be affected much by this bubble. But many other people are heavily leveraged in  the bubble and will be heavily affected by it.

Unfortunately, the bubble doesn’t end there. Lots of banks made loans based on that bubble (that’s where the mortgages and home equity loans were based on). All those loans propped up stock prices of those banks. This is the part of the bubble that we don’t know how big it was, or how far the loan values will fall.

But the housing bubble will be somewhere between $0 and $7.3 trillion. And how far the stock prices will fall based on that is what is being sorted out now, by our semi-free market.

Dallas Tree Shopping

We had a magnolia die this summer due to lack of water. We learned our lesson and started shopping for trees. I figured I’d share this research.

With the goal of getting a fast-growing, big tree, it looks like the Pecan is the best shot for Texas.

List of trees here:
My research of maximum heights:

25–40 m Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
10-12 m Big-tooth maple (Acer grandidentatum)
25-33 m Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
23-27m Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
10-11 m Caddo maple (Acer barbatum)
17-30 m Cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia)
5-6 m Chinese pistachio (Pistacia chinensis)
30 m Chinquapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii)
23 m Deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara)
10-12 m Lacey oak (Quercus laceyi)
13-20 m Live oak (Quercus virginiana)
20-27 m Native pecan (Carya illinoensis)
10-12 m Osage orange (Maclura pomifera)
36 m Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) (after 20 years!)
10 m Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
10-13 m Texas ash (Fraxinus texensis)
33 m Texas red oak (Quercus texana) (12 m after 20 years)
41-50 m Pecan

Reaction to the Election Season so far

I’m voting for Obama, despite the fact that John McCain has done a lot to get me excited about him.

These are things politicians can talk about to get me happy:

  • Balanced budgets
  • Avoiding and stopping wars
  • Making friends and allies out of other countries
  • Giving the impression they care about people more than companies.
  • Talk about balancing the budget. However they choose: raise taxes, cut spending, both?
  • Answer people’s questions like you listened to their question and are trying to answer it.
  • Sacrifices. Good, true change takes sacrifices. Nobody can give change, especially in our government. Our goverment is designed around stopping people from doing thigns.

These are things they can talk about that gets me angry:

  • Abortion: Either side. Just leave it alone. There are bigger problems.
  • Tax cuts. That just means deficit spending.
  • Plans to spend billions here and billions there.
  • Hyping drilling for oil, “clean coal” or anything like that. I think we can go solar/wind/geothermal/hydrogen in the time that it would take to develop the oil. Also, we don’t need any more carbon in the air.

Individual reviews about the candidates (in order of them being chosen):

  • John McCain: My favorite republician. He’s taken a hard-right shift on energy. If it wasn’t for that, I may have voted for him. I like McCain-Feingold, his plan in immigration (and that it almost cost him the nomination), and his prior stance on carbon emissions.

    I loved his line from his acceptance speech:

  • I’ve fought the big spenders in both parties, who waste your money on things you neither need nor want, and the first big-spending pork-barrel earmark bill that comes across my desk, I will veto it. I will make them famous, and you will know their names. You will know their names. (Link)
  • Barack Obama: I like him. It’ll be interesting to see what he means by “change”. I’m inclined to believe him, but am not really sure what that will look like. I believe him enough to vote for him.
  • Joe Biden: My favorite of the Democratic primary candidates. He answers questions. He seems real. He seems like he’d be easy to get along with, but doesn’t seem at all like a pushover.
  • Sarah Palin: That was a great speech. I like how she addressed her executive experience. I don’t like how drilling for oil is her panacea. Check her Charlie Rose interview. “How do you approach fixing schools?” “If we could drill for oil, we’d have money to fix schools.”

So, take environmental and pro-war stuff out out of the mix, and I think John McCain has the best plan and chance to change Washington. But he’s wrong enough on Iraq and his hard-right shift on the environment to lose my vote.

Notes on also-rans:

  • Mitt Romney seems like a bully with a temper. Not a statesman. Check the video of a reporter calling him out here
  • Fred Thompson: It’s a breath of fresh air that you can’t get elected by being an actor towing the party line.
  • Dennis Kucinich: That guy is an ideallistic kook. I like that he’s around, but I hope this is his last presidential run.
  • Hillarie Clinton: the primary was too bloody. She hung around too long. I’m glad running on inevitability didn’t work. But, otherwise, I liked her campaign. Since she bailed, she’s been a gem.
  • Bill Richardson: Seemed way to into his past and not hungry. I got the impression that he was more about getting known than anything else.
  • John Edwards: I don’t see him as presidential, almost goofy.
  • Rudy Gullianni: This guy is a myopic moron. I’m glad he didn’t win.

If the only point of competing is to win, what is the point of competing at all?

Watching the Olympics Athletics competition (Track and Field in the US), it’s striking the difference in attitudes that different athletes have.

By far the most fun athletes to watch are those who celebrate their finishes, and see victory in the places where they do place are my favorites. Sally McLellan and Richard Thompson finished second in their events and celebrated like it was the best thing ever.

The problem with sore losers seems to be that expectations become an entitlement, and that there is no plan B. Sayna Richards and Jeremy Warnier  were disappointed with their medals, and just soured the proceedings. There is also no excuse for the attitudes of Jen Stuczynski’s coach, who acted like her performance killed puppies after she finished second to someone who set a world record.

If the only point of competing is to win, what is the point of competing at all? The best case is to be relieved that you won. The worst case is all other cases, because you didn’t. That’s a pretty miserable scenario.

So, now dead to me: Rick Suhr, Jeremy Warnier, Sayna Richards, and Brazil’s crying fuutballing women.

The persistance of that attitude may be why there is not more adult sport participation in the US. it’s the attitude I had when running the 800 and 1600m as a freshman in high school. I went back and read my journal, and it was full of misery and fear even as I was experiencing the thrill of winning races. Winning was a great thrill, but it was always more relief than elation.

The joy should be in a competition well played, and modified only marginally based on placement. Or at least, that’s this Ben Fact.

Update: Carolina Kluft was the best heptathlete in the world from 2003-2007. By far. While she did it, she was a live wire, joking around with the other competitors, dancing, being an entertainer. In early 2008, she decided it wasn’t fun anymore, so she stopped. This exemplifies the mentality that I think is ideal: love to compete first, love to win second.

Origin of “Ben Facts”

There are certain things that I accept as truth. Some of these things are based on facts. Others are things that got into my brain somehow, but not from reputible sources.

For this reason, I have to avoid The Onion.

Other things, I say in public and Emily will ask me about how/where I knew something, and I will realize I don’t know.

A few months ago, I had a long conversation with a welder about welding, and knew a remarkable amount, but I had no idea why. After several days of soul searching, it turns out that my welding information was from things I learned while shopping for bicycles, and the welding that goes into those, with their different materials.

So, welcome to Ben Facts. The blog where I write about things that I find interesting that may not exist anywhere else, and may not be true anywhere except my brain.

How to get a two year old to syringe his own nose

As defined by me: Pull is leading by example. Push is leading through orders.

Ideally, children will respond to both. Our children are currently one and two and the effectiveness of Push sticks for about 5 seconds (“Stop! Don’t go in the road.” – They wait for up to five seconds before they resume.)

Pull parenting seems like it would be similiarly effective, but I’ve had remarkable success with it.

Both of our children hated the nose syringe, but fighting through it was better than hearing them be stuffed up. One night, I decided to try something else, and gave myself the nose syringe, and made it look fun. Joseph was immediately piqued. After I syringed myself about three times, he wanted to do it himself. He tried a couple times, and after he didn’t have success, he then <em>wanted</em> me to help him syringe his nose.

That shift took less than a minute.

Since this epiphany, this method has been used with general success in many other situations.

It also likely translates to management. It’s much easier to follow a lead than it is to be ordered to strike off in uncharted territory.

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