Lemonade Lessons

September 17th, 2018 by Potato

All summer Blueberry has wanted to set up a lemonade stand. We finally got one set up this weekend.

Lots of lessons in setting up a stand. We didn’t get into the cost of goods sold or turning a profit — all the supplies were donated by us. A big one was about expectations: we did go through two pitchers of fresh-squeezed lemonade (~8 lemons), but did not have to worry about a queueing system for the mob. Lots of down time to contemplate being patient, and that our quiet suburban street only had so many potential customers to reach. However, almost everyone tipped her well above the 25 cents she was charging per cup, so she still walked away with a decent amount of money for her efforts.

Totally of her own volition, she choose to donate half the revenue to Answering TTP (which I matched to hit the minimum donation amount).

There were lessons for me, too: it was funny to see people making solid marketing suggestions, like putting colourful signs up around the neighbourhood to direct people to our sleepy street, and to watch as she just didn’t want to do that. And I could so see myself in that, and I don’t think I would have seen that as clearly if I didn’t see it mirrored in her. “Click-baity subject lines work, you’ll get more people opening your emails that way.” “No, I’ll only use descriptive, boring subjects!

So I’m going to have to work on my marketing skills…

Anyway, I suspect this is not the last we have heard from our little entrepreneur.

Dumplings & Dragons

February 19th, 2018 by Potato

Inspired by a hilarious misunderstanding as Blueberry was trying to get her friend to play D&D, we made up a game called Dumplings and Dragons today and played a quick round.

Scenario: a hungry dragon comes to town and demands to be fed a variety of novel dumplings. The players work together to make dumplings.

There are three phases: recipe creation, cooking, feeding.

First, a player has to invent a kind of dumpling, then roll a d20 modified by INT or WIS to determine if the new recipe is any good. This determines the “damage/satiation” dice to be rolled later: fumble = recipe failure, dragon will reject all dumplings of this type; 0-9, roll d4; 10-13, roll d6; 14-18 roll d8; 19+ roll d10.

Next, a player has to cook the dumplings. Roll a d20 modified by STR or CON. 0-4 and the dumplings are cooked poorly and put on a -2 modifier to the satiation roll (it is possible to make the dragon more hungry this way). 5-9 gets a -1; 10-12 a +0; 13-16 a +1; 17+ a +2.

Then, a player has to throw the dumplings into the dragon’s mouth, a d20 modified by DEX. The dragon starts at a difficulty threshold (AC) of 11, and increases with each recipe or fumble. With a hit, roll the satiation dice, modified by the recipe and cooking results. Each recipe makes enough dumplings for 3 attempts.

The dragon is content after 20 HP/satiation points and will fly away and leave the town. If the players can get 30 satiation points in 3 rounds, the dragon is impressed and will become an ally for a later game. If the players can’t do it in 7 rounds, the dragon flies off in a huff and burns down a building in town.

It’s intended to be easy and quick to play (our players today were both 5-and-three-quarters years old).

The Toddler Morning Efficiency Curve

March 1st, 2015 by Potato

In all my years and all my learning, I have never quite got the hang of mornings. I used to be pretty good at sneaking up on them from the other side, staying up all night to get them when they least expect it, but waking up and facing a new day is just such an impossible concept. I know some people can basically just roll out of bed and be something called “chipper” and “alert”. I am not one of those people. I used to play snooze-button basketball with my alarm clock to gradually wake up over the course of an hour and a half, then search for caffeine before risking communication with other humans.

At several points in my life I have studied the evidence and become convinced of the utility of breakfast, and have woken up early to eat this mystery meal before leaving for work. Inevitably, after a few weeks of that I decide (consciously or not) to forgo breakfast in exchange for more time in bed, or less stress at cramming the rest of my routine into an unrealistically short period of time.

And time is the big problem with mornings: it doesn’t behave or flow right. I can sit there at night, when everything is sparkly and sleek and working as it should, and time myself as I perform the necessary house-leaving preparatory tasks to plan when I need to haul my ass out of bed for the morning. I can put two poptarts in the toaster, determine that it takes 90 seconds to toast them, 25 seconds to slather them with peanut butter, and all of 195 seconds to shovel them into my food hole and wash them down. Practice run done: 310 seconds for breakfast, add it to the morning time budget, set the alarm clock back appropriately and we will be able to squeeze breakfast in. But then morning comes and time stops working properly. My carefully practiced and timed breakfast routine goes horribly awry. It’s going on 12 minutes and I still have half a pop tart to eat and somehow there’s melted peanut butter dripping on my pants.

I cannot accept that this is merely a subjective time dilation effect, caused by my severe case of night owlism. My toothbrush has a digital timer so that I brush for precisely 2.0 minutes. Yet in the morning, even though it still ticks up towards 2:00, it takes five minutes to get the whole process over with — the morning effect clearly affects even piezoelectric crystal-based time measurement.

Anyway, all this is to say that I am “morning challenged” and pretty much always have been.

Then into my life comes a wonderful bouncing baby, who becomes an amazing little toddler girl. Now instead of an alarm clock I wake up to the sound of “Daddy! Come pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease!” Bopping her on the head does not get me an extra 15 minutes to snooze so I pretty much have to get up at that point. For a long, long while she was waking up too late for me to even see her before I left for work, but then over the last year that has flipped so that she wakes up crazy early, following the ancient toddler urge to be up before dawn so that they can watch the sun rise and ask “why?”

And while to me it all sounds universally crazy early, there is a big difference to waking up at 5:30am and 7:00am, and incredibly it leads to a totally non-linear relationship in the time to be ready for work, a function I call the Toddler Morning Efficiency Curve. You would think that it would take about the same amount of time to do basically the same sets of things each morning, no matter when your wake-up call happened to come in. Indeed, if there was a non-linearity, you’d expect to become more efficient as the time to get out the door for work came closer and you started to hurry or cut non-essential things out of the routine — the hurry-up hypothesis. But it’s not so simple.

The Toddler Morning Efficiency Curve, showing that the amount of time needed to get ready is not a constant -- as you get up earlier and earlier it takes longer and longer, in a non-linear fashion. At some point -- about 5:30am or so -- the inefficiency becomes so severe that even though you have an extra hour and a half to get ready you still somehow end up being late for work.

If she wakes up at a “normal” time (normal for her, not for me), let’s say 6:30 to 7 am, then things proceed reasonably well. We can spend 10 minutes or so where I am just a useless bag of shambling meat, a zombie barely able to greet her and see if she needs a diaper change immediately or if it can wait a few minutes for the strength and dexterity to return to my hands. At some point shortly after waking up, I can go potty, tell her that I’m about to go potty, reassure her that I will be back in just one minute, and then go potty and listen to her wail for daddy to come back because this is a surprising and distressing abandonment and not something we do every. single. day. that daddy always comes back from.

Then we’ll get her dressed, maybe have some time to read a few books, play for a bit, or watch an episode of Mr. Rogers, then we go wake mommy up so I can have a shower and get dressed myself.

If she wakes up later, we can cut down on the playing or TV watching, but then have to deal with the whining that happens around the severe and unfair deprivation we’re causing through that action. The bigger issue though is that sleeping in just a bit seems to activate the lazy sunday lay-in region of her brain (the posterior cingulate? it’s got to be used for something, and seems to deactivate with any other active behaviour) and she no longer wants to get dressed. She wants to wear her PJs all day.

Even more inexplicable and fascinating is the phenomenon of waking up earlier. So many early theorists in parental dynamics predicted that if you had more time in the morning, you would at worst be finished everything by the same deadline — that the lateness barrier could not be breached from the left-hand side of the curve. How wrong we were.

Instead, we have the case where daddy is a nearly-immobile shuffling zombie, eyes 75% closed (often one closed entirely and the other largely closed against the harsh light of a 10 W night light), while the toddler draws unholy manic energies from the predawn night and tears circles around him. When it’s time to get dressed, she becomes and impossible squirming octopus of giggles, pleased as punch that she can so easily avoid having clothes put on her, free to live out her dream of running around the house naked.

Add to this the propensity for shuffling-sleep-zombie daddy to collapse onto any bed, couch, or other soft-looking surface “for just one more minute” of “inspecting his eyelids for holes”, and the whole thing becomes non-linear: the delays and funny effects on the flow of time from the early morning start using up more time than the extra head start provided in the first place, and everyone ends up late for school and work.

Tater’s Takes: Tax Refunds Are Not Windfalls

September 11th, 2014 by Potato

I haven’t had a Tater’s Takes round-up post in approximately forever. Preamble: early summer was crazy at work, so it was good that I finished the draft of my book in the spring so it could sit with the editors over that time. Several people now have copies in their hot little hands and are providing great feedback so I can make one last round of polishing before I start getting proofs made up. I’m getting super excited for the book. I’ve put a tonne of effort into it (way, way more than I expected when I thought I’d just make a PSGtDIYI 2nd edition) and I think it’s shining through in the manuscripts. Most people who haven’t gone completely silent have praised the initial copies, particularly novices to finance (the target audience). There’s still almost two months to go before I run out the clock on the window to hear back from publishers, and at this point I almost want to get rejected because it’s just so close to being ready to go in the self-published route that it would hurt to have to pause to work out the details with a traditional publisher.

Blueberry is (as every proud daddy will say, I’m sure) uncanny smart sometimes. Like most toddlers, she has become attached to a blanket as her “lovie”. We’ve heard the horror stories of kids who lost their lovies or those that get disgusting because it’s hard to separate them long enough from the child to wash, and Wayfare planned in advance. We bought multiple copies of the blanket in question, and have kept them in rotation so there’s always a clean one ready and so that they all have the same degree of wear. These blankets are identical in every way, right down to their electrons sharing the same spin states. So we were caught completely off guard when Wayfare surreptitiously did the blankie swap for laundry and Blueberry instantly noticed and freaked out. How could she tell? How could she tell so quickly and decisively? Baby genius, that’s the only answer.

Ok, links.

First up is yours truly, scraping the bottom of the barrel for active investing ideas. I hardly post at all on that topic, and considering I’ve got a book on how easy index investing can be coming up it was best to shunt it to another venue. Nelson was kind enough to host this post on HNZ over at Financial Uproar.

I’ve just discovered Steve at Kapitalust. I’d suggest starting with this recent post on the intersection of ethics and investing.

Sandi’s back! Or semi-back, as someone else takes over half-way through.

Robb at B&E preaches about the inevitability of changes to embedded commissions for advisors in Canada.

Michael James has a new twist on comparing car salescritters to mutual fund salescritters and why embedded commissions make more sense for one than the other.

Oh, so this is public now.

Dan at OBFW reviews a new book (not mine, despite what you may think when you see the title — I’ll unveil the title of mine in just a few more weeks, be patient kids) and raises an interesting question: “Would you rather get a $1,000 windfall at age 27 when you are trying to scrape together a down payment for a house or a $1,300 windfall at age 70 when you have close to $1 million in savings?” in suggesting that young people use their RRSPs over TFSAs (and spend the refund).

I think that’s unfortunate framing. A tax refund on an RRSP contribution is not a “windfall” — it’s a deferral of a government obligation. Michael James puts it best when it calls it the government’s share of your RRSP. Of course the short answer is that if you really need the money to buy a car or pay down debt then you should just use the money for that rather than investing it and then redirecting a part back towards the more urgent need in a roundabout way that involves filing paperwork with a large government agency. But let’s do the math on this suggestion:

Let’s say you scrape together $1k to invest while you’re in the 20% tax bracket at 27, and expect to end up withdrawing in retirement at age 70 in the 31% tax bracket. We’ll use 6% real returns. If you suddenly realize, no, you need $200 of that back to pay down some debt you forgot about or to buy something shiny, then you could either put just $800 in your TFSA, or contribute $1k to your RRSP and spend the $200 refund.

If you just trusted your original decision to invest $1000 in your TFSA, you’d have $12.3k to spend in retirement. But to be more fair, the invest-$800-in-your-TFSA scenario would leave you with $9800 to spend at age 70. If you put the $1000 in your RRSP and got a $200 refund to spend on stuff then you’d only have $8453 to spend after the CRA took their cut in retirement. Spending the government’s share and mistaking the TFSA vs RRSP issue adds up to a much bigger deal than just $1000 when you’re young or $1300 when you need it less — you could spend the same “windfall” amount on whatever necessities you have when you’re young in that case, still use your TFSA, and come out way ahead.

If you only decided to spend the refund because it came months later and you were weak (and you didn’t get commiserate value from the dollars spent), then picking the RRSP over $1k in the TFSA would be like borrowing $200 from your future self and paying an interest rate of nearly 7%. But, maybe spending $200 now is more important than spending $3847 when you’re 70 and don’t need it. Of course that logic of “X now is more important than Y later” can lead to a lot of debt if you don’t put some reasonable limit on it.

Nelson also posted about why he prefers the RRSP to the TFSA. I left a weak, off-the-cuff comment about why I still like the TFSA. One other point that came to me when re-reading it is the issue of the refund timing: if you run the math, assuming you’ll be in the same tax bracket before and after retirement then the two shelters come out neck-and-neck in terms of outcomes. If you end up in a lower tax bracket the RRSP provides an advantage; higher and the TFSA will win out. However, the canonical comparison assumes you invest with pre-tax money and avoid withholding (or have the funds available to invest the refund in advance). In practice not only do people run the risk of squandering the refund, it also tends to come later, so the TFSA gets a tiny, miniscule head start on compounding (when looking at it from multiple decades in the future). Anyway, nitpicky.

Blueberry: Life at Two

May 12th, 2014 by Potato

I had a good day with Blueberry today. In reading the anecdotes I chose to share it might not sound that way, but any day that includes an uninterrupted 2.25-hour nap and a few hours snuggling and reading books is a pretty good day.

We had our first potty-training accident of the past few days at lunch. I should have known better and asked if she needed a break before giving her the blueberry* course: nothing interrupts blueberry dessert. She’s started learning her numbers and counting, which means that at lunch I can now say that “she stuffed 8 blueberries in her mouth” rather than the previous estimates of “holy crap she just stuck two giant handfuls of blueberries in her mouth at once!” Counting them individually as she crams them in is also way cuter and seems more refined than the simultaneous two-handed “holy crap, Blueberries! I need them all in my face right now!” approach she used before.

As she is now entering the “terrible twos” I have seen a lot more random meltdowns. Today’s meltdown seemed to be triggered by the fact that the inside of her mouth was wet. We had just finished on the potty, and she was crying “wet, wet, weeeeeet.” I tried to reassure her that in fact she was a good girl and had done everything in the potty, and had kept everything important bone-dry. “No, wet.” She’d continue to scream and cry. Then she’d start pointing to her mouth, finally licking and goobering all over her hands and showing me: “WeeeEEEeeEEEeeeEEEEt!!!!”

“…Your mouth is wet?”


“Ummm… Daddy doesn’t know how to make this better.”

She has a little sweater that says “bookworm” on it, and we did spend a large part of the day reading books. Today’s innovation was to read a book, then read the same book backwards. I personally didn’t find it added much to the experience, but she seemed to think it worked. I’m just hoping she didn’t overhear the idiom of knowing something “forwards and backwards” and taking it literally. She knows that her sweater says that on it, and pointed that out many times through the process (in a way that is way more adorable than I’m making it sound).

We also built a little garage for her toy boats and cat. She’s really into her building blocks lately, but usually gets frustrated when I try to help engineer things (though she also gets frustrated when her towers collapse under their own weight). So today she seemed fully willing to take direction, and listened raptly as I explained at a level entirely unlike that appropriate for a toddler, how important braces and structural support were for stiffening the frame against sheer forces. One day she’s going to talk like a total weirdo and I don’t know if it will be my proudest moment as a father, or if I will realize the folly of letting scientists raise small children in their crucial language-development years.

* – She acquired the Blueberry nickname when she was that size in the womb, but they’re also totally her favourite fruit.