Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Construction everywhere

After sitting so long in a recession, it is pretty shocking to once again be in an area that is booming. I took a different route home today and sure enough I passed two major commercial developments under construction. There are quite a few apartment buildings, condos, and new homes going up all over the place as well.

Here are the major residential projects in my area I know of off the top of my head. They range from just a couple units, to over a thousand units:

La Floresta, Brea
Birch Hills, Brea
Shea Homes, Brea
Artisian at Main Street Metro, Corona
Citrus Park, Fullerton
University House, Fullerton
Avo, La Habra
Brio, La Habra
The Palisades, Yorba Linda
The Preserve, Yorba Linda
Villaggio, Yorba Linda

There are also some big commercial projects such as The Source in Buena Park.

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that enough units can actually be constructed here to bring the price of housing down the the price of construction. The NIMBYs have calmed down a little now that it is blatantly obvious the area needs jobs, but they still haven't given up. A large development in Fullerton for example was just shot down by voters, and another development in Diamond Bar was forced to remove all commercial buildings in order to get installed. Thus, the NIMBYs created more traffic by making it impossible to walk anywhere from home.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Where the white people are

This is a pretty impressive data set made from the census data. The maps in particular are neat, you can make graphs of any metro area showing where people of different race, age, income, or education level.

If I was in the housing investment business that would be of some use. Finding areas of high education, low home prices would make for decent bets.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Science majors are below average

There have been quite a lot of articles recently about how we need to encourage STEM education. A common way of arguing this is by pointing to starting salaries of engineers. Nine of the top ten majors for starting salaries were engineers. This makes it look like we have some real shortage of talent which needs filled.

That is probably true in engineering. Not a lot of people major in engineering and there are so many complicated things in the world which need watching over. There should be sufficient demand to keep engineers employed until the devices we engineer make us all irrelevant.

The same is not true for science. From a recent survey engineers are averaging $61,000 a year; business majors $53,000; the average college graduate $44,000; science and math majors $42,000, humanities and social sciences $37,000. So much for a shortage. Science majors make less money than the average college graduate!  This is even worse when you take out the relatively well to do math and physics majors. Biology majors make about the same starting salaries as the much taunted English, Communications, and History majors.

If we believe that America should be doing more science, training more scientists won't help. We have enough people to do a whole lot more science than actually gets done. If we want to do more science, we will have to fund more science.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Not built out

I often hear people in Southern California speak of the areas of suburban sprawl as "built out". This has always bugged me, we are nothing like built out. To see why, take a look at the list of cities proper by population density, and list of cities proper by population. Los Angeles, one of the most built out parts of Southern California, has a population density of about 3,000 people per square kilometer.

Going to the list of population densities we see the highest population density in the world is Manila, with a population density of 43,000 people per square kilometer. This is a population density fourteen times that in Los Angeles!

To put that in perspective, if we just built Los Angeles up to that density level we could fit fifty million people within its city limits. If instead we built out the entire Los Angeles Metropolitan area to that density, we could have nearly four billion people!

Now of course, other limits would start popping up if we went anywhere near the four billion figure I don't see us lining the side of the mountains with sky scrapers, but with a few battles with Central California for water we could easily fit a hundred million.

What we do have though is a whole bunch of NIMBYs and zoning restrictions which drive the prices of homes up, and drive more reasonable people to places like Texas where they can afford a better lifestyle. If we were to construct housing for several million more people in the next decade they wouldn't go vacant though.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

No Way Through Mexico

Because of a conversation about the possibility of driving to El Salvador, I decided to see if I could map out a reasonable way there. I know from articles like this one that not all of Mexico is a war zone, plenty of the country is much safer than America. Surely, there must be a way through Mexico involving a minimal risk beyond the normal car issues.

So, I found Google's suggested map to El Salvador and proceeded to google the names of cities as I would hit them. 

Right off the bat, I hit a snag. The directions send me through the city of Chihuahua. It was pretty clear from reading about it that this is a rough city. Avoiding it to the East is not possible. The next reasonable option is Ciudad Juarez where murder rates top those in Afghanistan. Going West seemed reasonable though. So I moved the map so it would go through the rather calm city of Hermosillo.This actually looked like a reasonable route past the border, so I was thinking I might actually be able to pull this off.

Then I came across the State Department recommendations about where not to travel in Mexico.

The city of Nogales, where I would cross the border is also on the do not visit list. OK, fine. They also suggest that the crossing at Sonoyta is actually pretty good. This still left me with a reasonable path a few hundred miles into Mexico without going anywhere actually dangerous.

Then I returned to checking city by city all the ones I was passing through. Culiacan unfortunately came up quickly. The second most dangerous city in Mexico and another one on the state department don't go here list.

Now it became clear. It is not possible to drive into Mexico without going through an area the state department considers too dangerous to be worth your trouble. There is a triangle from Culican all the way to Ciudad Juarez  and in to the state of Tamaulipas on the Atlantic coast which is not considered safe.

The reasonable routes I saw at this point would send me through the most dangerous city in Mexico, the second most dangerous city in Mexico, or Chihuahua which is not very nice. None of these seemed particularly appealing; although the suggestion Google makes of going through Chihuahua would probably be fine. If nothing else it would be high traffic from all the people Google sends that direction.

There does appear to be a ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan. Baja California and Tijuana are generally considered safe by the State Department. So you could make it pretty far without going anywhere too rough.  Still, once you leave Mazatlan you will be in areas the State Department does not consider safe. A five hour drive from Mazatlan though would put you in Guadalajara which has no suggested cautions from the State Department. You won't spend much time in the area it suggests against, and you should be able to make it in one shot on a toll road. That left me with this route, which really does seem the way to through Mexico which does the best job of avoiding places the state department says to avoid. Still, even then it is not possible to drive across Mexico without passing through some of these areas.

On the plus sides, Homicides in El Salvador are down 40% in a year, and Mexico is even doing a bit better than it was. So now would be a much more reasonable time to make the trip than a few years ago would have been. In reality, murder is probably not a risk worth worrying too much about. Even in the bad cities most people killed are gang members and the total murder rates rarely go much over 150 per 100,000 people per year. A few hours there wouldn't much exceed the risk I faced living in Pico Rivera or Fresno. However an American would be a real target for kidnapping since it would be obvious they are not a local and have money.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Just something that will fit in his mouth

I have known for some time that doctors really had no idea what babies should be eating beyond don't choke the baby and don't feed them a few types of food like honey which often make them sick.

Since my son is 4 months I decided to see if things were any less confused than when my daughter was little though. Nope. No one seems to bother doing the really good controlled studies where you pick a large group of babies, enforce different diets, then see who does better and worse. So we remain with a long list of things which we have done long enough that we are pretty sure the baby will live through.

I was glad to see that a few of the more annoying superstitions relating to allergies have been slowly dying though. Poking through WebMD I found the following paragraph:

Until very recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended waiting until at least a year to offer babies certain highly allergenic foods, including wheat, eggs, fish and shellfish, and peanuts and tree nuts. But in early 2008, it revised that recommendation, saying that there is no evidence that waiting to introduce these foods makes babies less likely to develop allergies. In fact, there is some evidence that eating some of these foods earlier may protect babies against allergies.
This had been pretty clear for some time, if nothing else the institution of those dietary rules had clearly not even put a dent into the worsening of allergies in America. At the same time there were countries feeding peanuts to babies all the time without producing any worse allergies than we have. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Now I am perfect!

After all that drama I had trying to get a credit score, I finally have one! All I had to do was buy two lunches and two nights in a hotel on my credit card, then have my wife add me to her card.

The really impressive thing is that those two actions gave me an 805 credit score. After all the trouble they gave me, now I have a higher credit score than my wife!

Friday, January 11, 2013

The difference between jiu jitsu and

One of my jiu jitsu instructors had a good description between the difference between jiu jitsu and most other martial arts:

In most martial arts they start you off doing a bunch of punching pads and similar things intended to build confidence. These exercises give you the idea that you are big and tough and could take on anyone.

In jiu jitsu the opposite happens. You spend several years getting pounded on. Instead of walking around with the confidence, you spend a few years walking around worried about everyone because that little 130lb high school student the other day just stomped on you and you just don't know who does and does not have that sort of training.

This is probably a sign of how effective and large a martial art it is. At least for the first five years someone who has been practicing it for two or three more years than you will almost always dominate the fight even if they are comparatively small and weak.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Reddit knows everything

While thinking about ideas for my future back yard I decided it would be a good idea to focus on perennial herbs and berries. Both of these are fairly expensive in stores and easy to grow. They might even be able to survive my world famous neglect.

I then decided it would be neat to try and plant a couple native berry plants. I know from hiking and poking around nurseries that there are quite a few edible native berries. Which ones to plant though? Online research turned up a dozen or so possibilities, but not very much I could do to differentiate among them.

So I turned to reddit. I made a post on /r/gardening and /r/berries. Sure enough, I was able to find people who had actually tried most of the berries native to the state of California.

Sounds like my best bets are Nevin's Barberry, Holly-Leafed Cherry, Lemonade Berry, and Golden Currant. I might give in and do a Manzanita too though just because they are awesome. These are all native to my general area of California so they should be low maintenance, although most are found at higher elevations.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 Spending

I decided to record all of my spending last year. Not sure if I had anything exactly in mind when I did this but I thought it might result in something interesting. If nothing else it should answer that never-ending question of "where did all that money go?"

This is a fairly limited view of my spending because it is missing two things. It does not include my wife's spending which includes such things as car insurance, and it does not include anything directly taken out of my paycheck such as health insurance and money I put into my 401(k).

Here is a chart of my overall spending:

The typical middle class person in Los Angeles spends 65% of their income on housing and transportation. I have always found this to be a bit silly, these are the areas where you really get the least benefit for your money. I at least have managed to stay well under this trend. About 25% of my income went to rent, 8% went to my car, and 6% to airline tickets. That adds up to 39% of my income spent on housing and transportation. This is much lower than this when you consider that my wife does not pay rent and pays far less on transportation. I doubt our total percentage of income spent on these two things exceeds 30%.

My spending on food and dining was 10% of my income. This is somewhat higher than I would have guessed, but does not seem particularly out of line considering how much time I spend cooking or at restaurants. What was a little more surprising was the break down of this component. A whopping 73% of this spending was at restaurants and bars. Only 27% of my spending on food goes to grocery stores.

The little bit that did go to grocery stores at least seems to follow my philosophy well enough. I have tried hard to avoid spending at stores with reward programs. Apparently I have succeeded. Here are the 5 grocery stores I spent the most at in 2012 with the percentage of my income that went to each:

1: Sprouts, 0.67%
2: 99 Ranch Market, 0.5%
3: Stater Brothers, 0.46%
4: Northgate, 0.33%
5: Ralphs, 0.17%

On that list only Ralphs has a reward card program, and I only spent so much there because it happens to be the closest supermarket to me.

Restaurants were harder to interpret anything interesting from. I rarely go to the same restaurant twice so the list is dominated by places I hardly even remember. Still, there a few places which did manage to get the bulk of my money, fast food places I go to lunch at, places within walking distance to home, or places I only went to once but paid for a large group. Here are the 5 restaurants I spent the most at with the percentage of my income that went to each:

1. Chipotle, 0.3%
2. Don Jose, 0.23%
3. Panda Express, 0.21%
4. In-N-Out, 0.20%
5. Punjab Palace, 0.18%

I was a bit surprised just how much I spend at Shell gas stations. I don't particularly like Shell gas stations since they have picked up on the grocery store rewards band wagon. However for some reason I seem to spend a lot at them. Here are the 5 gas station franchises I spent the most at with the percentage of my income that went to each:

1. Shell, 1.38%
2. Arco, 0.93%
3. Mobil, 0.47%
4. Chevron, 0.45%
5. Exxon, 0.25%

Clothing is just strange. Most of my spending on clothing was for clothing I wore only once or twice. Either it was for a few days in an Alaska winter or to wear to someone's wedding. I think of work clothes as being expensive since I had to spend so much when I first started and was broke, but as a percentage of my income it is negligible. Here are the 5 clothing places I spent the most at with the percentage of my income thatwent to each:

1. REI, 1.05%
2. Macy's, 0.24%
3. JC Penny, 0.21%
4. Van Heusen, 0.21%
5. Famous Footwear, 0.14%

What I usually think of as shopping and silly spending hardly puts a dent in my budget. All those hobbies and books I buy which often feels a bit over the top only added up to about 7% of my income. This 7% includes a lot of money which went to gifts to other people or basic everyday items. Here are the 5 generic shopping places I spent the most at with the percentage of my income that went to each:

1. Amazon, 2.41%
2. Target, 1.00%
3. Apple, 0.91%
4. Orvac Electronics, 0.26%
5. Digikey, 0.22

I was glad to notice one thing on the list which I won't be seeing again. That is student loans. I spent 4.8% of my income last year on student loans, finally finishing them off.