Category Archives: Random

Life in a trailer

This article (via Tyler Cowen) describes life in a senior citizen trailer park, where elderly persons cash out the values of their homes and move into a permanent trailer. Living is cheap, and the parks are quite a bit nicer than the stereotypical housing that begets the trailer trash stereotype.

The article pretends the phenomenon is new even while documenting that it has been around for decades. The parks seem viable in states like California and Florida – where climates are mild and even bad weather like hurricanes can be forecast a few days out. Not so good for Midwestern states, where every year wind and hail threaten to severely damage the property. The storms arrive with such suddenness that the occupants might not have time to escape.

My parents lived in one in the 1980s, in Zephyrhills, Fla. They liked it. It had a lively social scene, as the article portrays. When I visited – often (I lived in Miami) – they seemed happy there, as did most residents.

I always likened it to college life. You had a bunch of strangers from all over, thrown together because they happened to move into the same place at the same stage in their lives. They quickly realized their common social standing – most were middle-class Midwesterners in their mid-50s, living off defined-benefit pensions. (Won’t be seeing that sort anymore.) Freed from the social strictures of a hometown, they indulged a bit of age-adjusted rowdiness. If there was a dance at the clubhouse, for example, someone would spike the punch.

My parents moved out after about five years. As the article notes, the value of the home depreciates, which they did not like. Also, you own the home but rent the underlying property. The article mentions this, but probably should emphasize it, as my parents grew dissatisfied with that, too.

Maybe the new crop of seniors are used to seeing the value of their homes depreciate, so won’t have the objections my parents had.

They ended up in a single-family home in New Port Richey, also a senior community. They lived there a few years. Then they moved back to Illinois, where they had raised their kids. Moving “back home” for the final years is surprisingly common among snowbirds. My dad passed away in Illinois a decade ago. My mom, as some of you likely know, still lives there (92) and plans to remain.


Catching up

Got a smartphone, and it’s thrown some funny kinks into my life.

Cool: Going to the store with the bluetooth over my ear. The world thinks I’m on the phone when, in reality, I’m talking to myself.

Not cool: The logistics of blogging. The smartphone takes you away from your computer – that’s the point, right? – but that also makes it harder to post. WordPress has a smartphone app, but it seems clunky, especially in creating hyperlinks. Maybe it’ll get easier as I play around with it.

So I haven’t had the chance to link to this really cool interactive map of the interstate highway system, redrawn to look like a subway map. A copy appears above.

I also wanted to note the passing of centenarian George Keller, who died on his 25th birthday Feb. 29.

Also didn’t get a chance to tell you that the radio program This American Life featured a short bit on kidnap and ransom insurance. (Podcast here. The insurance bit occupies the first five minutes or so.)

It mentions that you are forbidden to tell anyone you have purchased a K&R policy (It makes you more likely to actually be kidnapped.) It didn’t mention that your employer is generally forbidden to tell you if it has purchased K&R cover for you, lest you fall into cahoots with some “kidnappers.”


  • If you’re kidnapped in a Christian company, ask for a Bible. It helps your captor look at you as a human being – safer for you. It also gives you something to read, which helps pass time. However, this is not recommended if you’re held in the Middle East.
  • Don’t look your captor in the eye. It can seem defiant.
  • Don’t try to escape. Most captives are held for ransom, which is a business deal. Says host Ira Glass: “And they need you alive to make money.” If they wanted you dead, you’d already be dead.


Testing 1… 2… 3…

Got a smartphone and going mobile.

Math problems

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution frets that as people age, a shrinking proportion answer $400,000 to the following question:

If five people all have the winning number in the lottery, and the prize is $2 million, how much will each of them get?

But of course the answer is not $400,000. As most big-ticket lottery stories point out, the prize is a nominal amount spread out over something like 20 years. And in most cases, the winners take the present value of the winnings. Which is less than $400,000 as long as interest rates stay above zero.

On top of that, there’s taxes to think about, which are always withheld from winnings that big.

So, contra Tabarrok, maybe people are getting smarter as they age.

Monty Python Allusion Alert

Tulsa World:

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Insurance Department apologized Thursday for what it described as “an unauthorized draft of an e-mail” about an upcoming tornado summit that contains “offensive and unacceptable language.”

The email about the National Tornado Preparedness Summit, set for March in Oklahoma City, includes a slang term for women’s breasts in describing the criteria for winning an award.

Email, correction and apology here (pdf).

The All-England Summarize Proust Competition here:

That was 40 years ago.


Stunt professional. Do not attempt.

An Austrian skydiver, Felix Baumgartner, will attempt to parachute from a record 120,000 feet. That’s about 23 miles.

The Guardian puts that height in perspective, at right. The more you know about physics and atmospheric science, the scarier the chart.

The cool part: Baumgartner will hurtle toward Earth so fast that he will become the first person to break the sound barrier without an airplane or somesuch propulsion.

So why shouldn’t you try this?

First, you’d need a pressurized suit.

[It] completely encases him to maintain air pressure and provide an oxygen supply.

The suit is similar to those worn by astronauts but it has to be tougher and more mobile than a Nasa space suit.

Do you have a suit like that? You better:

It will have to maintain its integrity in the near vacuum of the very high atmosphere: if there is a serious breach in the suit, Mr Baumgartner’s tissues would start to swell and the moisture in his eyes and mouth would start to boil.

Called upon to comment, the RAF’s David Gradwell freaked out.

“[Mr Baumgartner] will be falling very fast so he will have to be sure he remains stable so that he doesn’t spin out of control,” he told BBC News.

“He needs to see through the visor of his pressure helmet to see what’s going on in order to operate his parachute properly and see that it has properly deployed.”

I’m not so sure how much he needs a crystal clear visor. Suppose the suit shreds like a flag in a hurricane and Mr. B’s internal fluids turn his body into a bloated cauldron while he rifles downward faster – literally – than a speeding bullet. Who wants to see that?

San Diego State: Where East meets West

Nothing particularly new (or actuarial) about this, but starting in 2013, San Diego State will be in the Big East conference for football and the Big West conference for all other sports.


Math problems

As in, this story has math problems:

The National Chicken Council predicts Americans will eat more than 1.25 billion wings on February 5 as they watch the New York Giants battle it out against the New England Patriots.

That’s a lot of wings. Later on in the story we learn that 111 million people watched last year’s Big Game, so this year, let’s guess that 115 million will watch. And of those 115 million, according to the story, only 23% will eat wings. In other words, something like 27 million people will eat 1.25 billion wings.

Or 46 wings per person.

That’s 4,600 calories, using a conversion factor found here. (Typical adult consumes 2,500 calories a day, and Thanksgiving dinner runs between 2,000 and 4,000.)

Whattaya think?


My fellow Americans . . .

Betting on the first cliche in tonight’s State of the Union.

My money is on “As I stand here today.”