Happy Birthday To Me!

I didn't realize it until someone reminded me, but Financial Rounds just turned one year old on February 15. It's been an interesting year. I've made 533 posts (about 10 a week), had a bit over 28,000 visitors, and made quite a few new acquantances.

Thanks to all the folks who stopped by and to anyone who linked to this blog. It still amazes me that people actually come back on a regular basis. I feel like someone's definition of a blogger (don't recall who, but it's a good one): someone with nothing to say writing for someone with nothing to do.

Almost Done With The Paper

I've spent most of the last few days finishing the paper I'll present during my interview on Friday at Unknown University. It's pretty much done- there's just one more section of results to write up (about a page) plus the conclusions.

I think it should go well - I've got an interesting topic and pretty good results. Just as important, it's a paper that lends itself to "storytelling" during the presentation, so it should be a good one for showing off my capabilities as a researcher and presenter.

With that, it's now time for my beauty rest, so I'll leave you with a great list from Vegreville titled "Why I Like Being An Academic:
  1. You can work on intellectually interesting problems.
  2. Almost everyone you work with is smart: other academics and the students.
  3. It's great to see a student suddenly understand something new.
  4. It's great to understand something new myself. Learning is fun, and that is what I mainly do.
There are quite a few more - read them here.

Lists like this are a good thing. I see too many people in academia that have forgotten what a great job they have - I think it's because they either never had a real job or can't remember what one is like in the outside world.

I do remember (I've had a lot of bad ones), and I'm constantly thankful for this great job I have. I think I'll keep this list on my wall in my office to remind me.

Professor Fired For No-Show Marking

One of the most widely cited perspectives in economics is Spence's model based on the idea that education serves as a signal to reveal intelligence rather than as a tool for building .

Unfortunately, the administration at the University of Prince Edward Island didn't look kindly on professor David Weale's attempt to sort students without coming to class.

He was recently fired after offering students a mark of 70% if they dropped the class;
Weale said his offer was an effort to deal with chronic overcrowding in classrooms, weeding out students who weren't really interested in his course.
Read the whole thing here.

I've got to admit that I've thought of doing the same thing, particularly this semester - my classes are filed to overflowing. It might be an efficient solution - a student who'd take the deal and settle for a "C" probably wouldn't be one of the most motivated, high performing students in the class in any event. If they stayed in the class, they'd just end up damping down the enthusiasm of everyone else.

So, while it might be "selling out", you could look at it as paying a student off for the good of the rest of the class.

But, I'll wait until I'm tenured...

HT: Worthwhile Canadian Initiative

Blogging: Light Due To Upcoming Job Interview

Blogging will probably be a bit light for the next few days unless I'm in serious need of a break.

While I'm happy at my current school (at least for the near term - it's probably not a school where I would be happy for the rest of my career), I applied for a position this past fall at a university that I'll call the Unknown University.

It has pretty much everything I'm looking for - a small doctoral program, a great location, reasonable tenure standards, a great teaching load, and the opportunity to get involved in some programs that are ideally suited to my skills and likes (I really can't say more without giving the school away). And most important, it's just around the corner (about 70 miles on an interstate) from where the Unknown Wife and I grew up. The one downside is that their salary, while still not bad, is a bit (about 10-15%) below the market for schools like this. Still, it's about where I currently am, so at least it's not a decrease.

The upshot of all this is that they had brought out three candidates to campus (of which I wasn't one), and liked all three. Unfortunately for them, thanks to their below-market salary, all three either accepted offers elsewhere (one after stringing them along for a couple of weeks) or subsequently turned out to have some serious flaws.

In any event, I've just been given a fly-out. As part of the interview, I'll be presenting a paper to the faculty. I'm trying to finish the paper right now --it's in pretty good shape, but still can use about 20 more hours of work to shore up a few weak areas and put on the final gloss.

As a result, I probably won't be blogging too much for the next few days, at least until the work's done. I'll have to send it out to the department at Unknown U on Monday, at which point I'll probably have a good glass of wine (or three).

Stay tuned.

Student Tries to Hack Prof's Computer to Change Grade

A University of Utah student was just indicted for hacking into his professor's computer in an attempt to change his grade.

I wonder if he'll be able to count it as an independent study?

If they tried that at my school, it'd serve them right - the tech support group is so bad that anyone on my office computer would end up getting a virus of some kind (computer or otherwise).

Write Gooder Papers

Craig Newmark has two amusing collections of advice to students on how to write better papers here and here.

Online Accounting and Finance Definitions

Whether in an advanced course or in an introductory level one, students invariable ask questions about some finance or accounting term they came across. Here are three excellent references to give them.

For finance definitions, the gold standard is Cambpell Harvey's Hypertext Finance Glossary . He's been generous enough to put it online on his personal website at Duke. Hey - while I generally dog their basketball team whenever possible, I have nothing but admiration for their finance department.

Another finance reference that's relatively new but looks promising is the Reuters Financial Glossary, a wiki developed by the folks at Reuters.

For accounting terminology, the New York State Society of CPAs has put up this Guide To Accounting Terminology.

If you know of any others, let me know.

HT: Truck and Barter

Predictors of Success For Economics Ph.D. Students

What predicts success in graduate school (and beyond) for economists? According to this study,
  • Higher GRE/math scores
  • A more prestigious undergraduate institution
  • A reference letter from a prominent researcher
I'd guess it's similar for Finance Ph.D. programs. - mathematical "chops" should be one of the biggest factors. However if one could come up with a proxy for "determination", I bet that it would also explain a lot (at least in terms of overall productivity over a career).

One of my colleagues once told me, "UP, if you're really smart and work hard, you'll publish a lot in top journals. If you're not quite as smart and you work hard, you'll still publish a lot, just in lower tier journals). Either way, if you work really hard (and intelligently), you'll publish a lot.

HT: Newmark's Door

This Week's Carnival Of The Capitalists

This week's COTC is up and running at The Stalwart. There are a lot of good pieces this week, but here are the ones I particularly liked:
I always like "unintended consequences" articles. Steven Silvers has one where he predicts chaos when new SEC rules on pay disclosure come into force.

Mover Mike is looking at the possibility of widespread derivatives use causing a shock to our financial system.

James Hamilton at EconBrowser discusses why recent oil spikes haven't produced more of a drag on the economy.

Stephen Bainbridge talks about the various functions of The many functions of corporate boards.

Small Biz trends also explores zillow.com and argues that it won't be a threat to realtors.

MyMoneyBlog has a great post that compares current internet scams to the originator of the "ponzi" scheme, Charles Ponzi
As always, these are just the ones I found particularly interesting. Your tastes are almost certainly different, so look around. Something that doesn't do it at all for me might be just what you need.

This Week's Carnival of Personal Finance

This week's Carnival of Personal Finance is up at Free Money Finance. My picks of the week are:
Young Professional's Financial Blog has an interesting article on buying foreclosures, titled A Good Investment for Young Professionals?

Dave Porter at Pacesetter Mortgage looks at zillow.com and asks: Are Realtors going to become extinct?

MightyBargainHunter looks at Re-baits (some of the ways companies try to avoid paying off on rebates.

Jason at Investorgeeks continues his look at 401k plans in Intro to 401k Part 2

Journey to Financial Freedom breaks down APR and APY in Interest Rate is everything in Banking

Car Financing - This post looks at how loan incentives and terms can be modeled using Excel to determine which offers the best value, or if cash should be used.

The always readable Searchlight Crusade discusses Mortgage Loan Rate Locks
Here's the usual disclaimer - my tastes are different than yours, and these are just the ones that caught my eye. Look around, because there's a lot of good article up there. You might find some that really trip your trigger that didn't really do it for me.

Stewie Meets Osama

I'm in a weird mood after hours of working on a research paper. It was a good day - up to this point, I had a very interesting empirical result, but didn't have the right story to fit it. Today, I found the story.

So, to celebrate, I did some mindless web surfing, and found this. What can you say to a clip that has Stewie (from the Family Guy) kicking Osama's heinie?

Marginal Revolution: Game theory and the toilet seat problem

If you need a chuckle, Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution applies economic reasoning to whether to keep the toilet seat up or down.

Just don't share it with your wife. Unless she's got a background in economics (or at least a strange sense of humor), I doubt she'd see the humor in it.

Two Papers By Kennedy on Doing Econometrics

Peter Kennedy's book, A Guide To Econometrics saved my hiney in graduate school (in fact, I noticed there's a fifth edition - time to buy another book). I still use it as a first stop whenever I need a simple, low-tech explanation of some econometric technique. If you're a graduate student who needs to use econometrics on a regular basis, it's a must-have.

The New Economist provides links to two of Kennedy's papers:

Sinning in the Basement: What are the Rules? Ten Commandments of Applied Econometrics

Oh no! I got the wrong sign! What should I do?.

Both are in PDF format, and are well worth the time spent reading them.

Note: New Economist provides a link to a post by Andrew Gelman at Statistical Modeling that's also worth reading.

Resolution Watch - Week 7

A bit late, but here's the report on my resolutions for week 7. All in all, not a stellar week.

First off, I'm still not getting myself out of bed by 6 - in fact, other than Saturdays Mornings (I meet with a group of guys from my church at 6:30), I only managed it twice this week by 6:45. The problem, as usual is that I've been doing a bit of writing at 10, which invariably stretches past 11, which makes it difficult to get out of bed in the morning.

As for the research resolution, I actually missed two days this week (the first since the beginniing of the year). Still, 5 out of 7 isn't all that bad. I've realized that, although I've been hitting my minimum target of at lest an hour a day, I need to do more. The key is that I have a lot of small open stretches of time throughout the day (45 minutes here, and hour and a half there) that I could use for brief writing periods. Transitions between teaching and writing seems to be the key.

I worked out only twice for the week (and not at all this week, thanks to the snowstorm). I could do it downstairs on the wind trainer, but I haven't had the heart. Hopefully, it should rain tonight and be cleared out by the afternoon. So, maybe tomorrow.

Don't Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford

How do you manage to stay out of debt? Simple - don't buy stuff you haven't already saved up for. While this sound like something to be filed under the folder marked "Duh", it's amazing how many people don't follow it (hey - in an earlier life, I was one of them).

Here's a great Saturday Night Live skit by Steve Martin titled "Don't Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford" (it's on Salon.com - just click through the adds). Here's another version with no ads, but you have to have the Flash player installed.

I have to go teach my undergrads in a few minutes - I think I'll play it for them. It couldn't hurt, and it might actually do some good.

HT: Consumerism Commentary

Random Thoughts

With apologies to Thomas Sowell, here are a few random thoughts:
As I teach a class additional times, I invariably end up modifying the PowerPoint slides I made previously. This usually means cutting material out rather than adding more material. Fewer concepts taught more in more depth rather than the "laundry list" approach to teaching - that's the ticket.

My school has too many meetings. Meetings suck, and are seldom productive. I chair a committee, and we haven't met once this academic year. The only reason for a meeting is to take care of things that you can't use email (or conversations in the hallway) for.

Record-keeping keeps you honest, and denial isn't just a river in Egypt. Up until this last weekend, I had spent at least an hour each day on research every day since the first of the year. After the string of consecutive days got to 20, I would make sure I put in my hour to keep the string alive.

Good preparation for classes helps down the road. I spend almost no time prepping for my principles class nowadays, and I get higher evaluations and my students get a better grasp of the material each time I teach it.

A bad day in academia is still better than most other jobs.
Since I haven't put in enough time on research yet today, that's enough for now. Time to start the stopwatch and get to work.

This Week's Carnival Of The Capitalists

This week's COTC is up at Frugal Underground. As always, there's an incredibly diverse group of offerings this week. However, since I'm a finance guy (and it's my blog), I'll focus on a few that were either more finance/econ related or otherwise just tickled my fancy more than others:
Betsy Palmierihas a great guide to the basics of Copyright Law.

Dan Melson At Searchlight Crusade breaks down FSBO (For Sale By Owner) in Facts Of Life On Buying and Selling “Without an Agent”

Free Money Finance shows us the economic impact of getting a college education in Sell College to Your Kids.

Jack Yoest at Yoest.org examines how different cultures interact in business in
Capitalism, Culture and Google.

EarlyRiser explores Index Investing and some new ideas about risk and return, including work by Fama and French (two of the truly "big dogs" in academic finance) in Investment Risk & Indexing.
As always, look around the other articles in the Carnival after you read these. Tastes differ, and you might find some of the articles interesting that didn't do it for me.

This Week's Carnival Of Investing

This week's Carnival of Investing is up at Trader Mike's. My picks of the week include pieces from Financial Revolution, Pacesetter Mortgage, Personal Finance, Retire At 30, and Jose at Anes Weblog:
Financial Revolution has some information on Royalty Trusts.

David at Pacesetter Mortgage takes a look at the slowing pace of mortgage pre-payments.

Jeffrey at Personal Finance Advice tells us about person-to-person lending. Interesting, but there are some serious risks involved, IMO.

Retire at 30 submits an analysis of ROTH vs. Traditional (pre-tax) retirement plans.

Jose provides a lesson on how to calculate the effective after-tax interest of an investment. He even gives a spreadsheet.

As always, look around. There aren't necessarily the best ones, jut the ones that appealed to me. And your tastes are most likely different from mine.

25 words that hurt your resume

On the market for a new job? CNN.com has a list of 25 words that hurt your resume.

The bottom line: Bad applicants use buzz works, good applicants give concrete examples of accomplishments.

Winter Wonderland?

Yes, we were pretty much in the middle of the big snowstorm that hit the East Coast (got about 18-20 inches). Days like today make me realize that I'm not as young as I used to be. I also understand that a back is a terribke thing to waste. Simple solution: I paid the lads next-door $10 to do my driveway. They were excited about having some pcoket change, and I got to keep my back muscles in one piece. So, everyone was happy. The Unknown Wife called me a wimp, but I didn't see her offering to wield the shovel, so I made the call. Hey - at least I made breakfast today, and suffered through 2 hours of "Disney Princesses On Ice" last night for the sake of the kids.

Afterwards, the Unknown Daughter got a big kick out of making a snow fort with her brother, and the Unknown Wife felt bad enough about the "Wimp" comment that she made us both tea.

Since I didn't strain my back shoveling, I later amused the kids by throwing them into the air so that they'd land on their back in a snowdrift - we had 3 feet in some places.

Time for more tea. While the snow's not fun to shovel, it does look good from the window...

The Art of Schmoozing

Let's see-- I just posted about being an Administrative Courtesan, and now I'm blogging on schmoozing. I've been told by many of my close friends that I'm one of the better networkers/schmoozers they know. It's not that I'm so good, it's that most academics (and , truth be told, most non-academics) are so bad at schmoozing that I look good by comparison (kind of like having the best house in a bad neighborhood). So, since I believe most things are learnable, I looked around for a good guide to schmoozing.

Luckily, Guy Kawasaki at Let The Good Times Roll has written one. Here's a shortened version of his suggestions (in bold type) followed by my comments:
  1. Understand the goal - it's not about what the other person can do for you, it's what you can do for them. This is the single most important thing to remember. Bad schmoozers look out for number one. Good schmoozers look around and think "what can I do for the other guy".
  2. Get Out - scmoozing is an analog, contact sport. You can't do it from your computer. For an academic, this means that you should be going to at least one or two and preferebly more meetings a year.
  3. Ask good questions, then shut up- the best way to be a sparkiling conversationalist is to let the other person talk. If you're an academic, ask them what research they're working on - trust me - it's their favorite subject.
  4. Unveil your passions - for me, it's almost anything, but sushi, japanese food in general, and learning about other cultures are several of my favorites. Whenever I meet someone from a new country, I get them to tell me how to say "hello", "thank you", "beer" and "bathroom". Then I write it phonetically. When I see them next time, I'll try to greet them in their language. I also organize sushi outings at conferences with new friends.
  5. Read voraciously - this isn't a problem for most academics. In fact, asking the other guy what he's been reading (see #3) is a great question.
  6. Follow Up - when I meet someone, I make a few notes in my daytimer as soon as I can. I review my notes on the plane after the conference. I've been doing this since I went to my first conference over 10 years ago, and it works extremely well. By making short notes, you can more easily send a short, personalized email. And even if you don't, you'll remember wht you talked about next time you bump into them.
  7. Make it easy for them to follow up - always keep a few business cards on hand.
  8. Give favors - smart people look out for how they can help others. It'll come back to you. Here's a good example - I happen to be a pretty good SAS (statistical programming language widely used by academics). At any conference, if I meet people, I let them know that they can email me if they have questions. I've made friend with a lot of junior faculty and grad students this way. It may pay off some day, but if not, I still get a get a lot of free drinks aat conferences (and that's a good thing).
  9. Ask for favors - if you give a favor, ask for one. This way (not right away, but don't wait too long). This often makes the other person more comfortable - no-one likes to owe people something. One of the best ways to ask for favors is to ask them for comments on a paper (if it's in their area, or even if not).
Read the whole thing here.

The bottom line is that schmoozing is mostly about letting the other person know you're interested in them, you remember them, and you're willing to help them. One of the reasons I'm a good schmoozer is that I get a kick out of most people, and I like to be helpful. The rest is just technique. It's not that technique isn't important, but if you have the right attitude, techniqque comes easily. If not, don't even try.

Now go out and do something nice for someone at the next meeting you go to.

Are You An Administration Courtesan?

Inside Higher Ed recently had a very interesting piece on being an "administrative courtesan":
It'’s not in the job description. Few of your colleagues will mentor you in this line of work. It is the by-path on the road to tenure that no one wants to talk about - — providing certain benefits to The Administration that it passionately desires and can only obtain from a young, fresh, junior member of the faculty such as yourself. We do not wish to be misunderstood; despite some less-than-flattering appellations by which we might be known, we are proposing nothing illegal, or even unethical. If you follow our advice, you will not hate yourself in the morning. But you might get tenure.

Most of the time junior professors don'’t seem to get noticed by The Administration , but when your moment comes, you must know what The Administration wants. It is a fickle Leviathan of great appetites that will devour you if you do not approach it carefully. Above all, it serves the god Mammon. The reliable sources of its satisfaction are twofold: parents and donors.
Read the whole thing here.

The article makes a simple point - keeping the people in the Administration happy and helping them accomplish their goals is a good way to help yourself to tenure.

And what's their main goal? When you're at a research school, the focus is on donors, and when you're at a teaching one, you need to keep parents happy. But, the principle is the same. The important thing on the administration's mind is (big surprise here):

Getting money out of alumni and keeping parents happy (so they might give money too).

Unfortunately, academics often look at fundraising as something that's either beneath (or, they look at it as "selling out"). I think part of this attitude is due to the fact that many (if not most) of my tribe are less than extremely interpersonally gifted. Some are, but they are the exception, and I'm not sure they're all that trusted by their peers. By nature, we're not at our best in the public eye, and most of us are not exactly born schmoozers (I'm lucky that way, since my father was a salesman, and so is my brother).

However, being able to "talk the talk" with alumni (or parents) makes the administrative fund raisers' job much easier.

Getting tenure involves publishing enough research and teaching well enough that you meet whatever standards there are at your university. But just as important, you have to have the people who vote on your tenure on your side. First of all, that means being a good enough colleague that the senior faculty in your department and school will feel comfortable having you around for a long time (once you're tenured, they're stuck with you).

Even more important, you have to have the administration on your side. And being an "administrative courtesan" is one way to do it.

I've never said that I can't be bought. I just try to keep the price high enough to keep out the window shoppers.

Managing Cash Flow

The Kauffman Foundation has a great collection of articles on managing cash flow for small businesses. There's a bit of everything there-- anecdotes/stories, tools, and a number of very good "how-to" guides. As I tell my corporate finance class, it's Cash Flows, Not Profits, that matter.

HT: The always educational The Entrepreneurial Mind

“Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams for 2006

The IRS recently announced its 2006 "Dirty Dozen" list of tax scams. Since this is the season, many people will be persuaded to try an easy way out of paying taxes. Here are a few of the items on the IRS list:
Zero Wages - in this one, a taxpayer attaches to his or her return either a Form 4852 (Substitute Form W-2) or a "corrected"” Form 1099 that shows zero or little wages or other income. This might also involve the taxpayer including a statement indicating the taxpayer is rebutting information submitted to the IRS by the payer.

Form 843 Tax Abatement -
This scam, also new to the Dirty Dozen, rests on faulty interpretation of the Internal Revenue Code. It involves the filer requesting abatement of previously assessed tax using Form 843.

Phishing - Internet-based criminals pose as representatives of a financial institution and send out fictitious e-mail correspondence in an attempt to trick consumers into disclosing private information. Sometimes scammers pose as the IRS itself. In recent months, some taxpayers have received e-mails that appear to come from the IRS. A typical e-mail notifies a taxpayer of an outstanding refund and urges the taxpayer to click on a hyperlink and visit an official-looking Web site. The Web site then solicits a social security and credit card number. REMEMBER - never give out your private information over the internet (or a phone) unless you're initiated it and you know who you're giving it to.

Zero Return - Promoters instruct taxpayers to enter all zeros on their federal income tax filings. In a twist on this scheme, filers enter zero income, report their withholding and then write "“nunc pro tunc", Latin for "“now for then" –on the return. They often also do this with amended returns in the hope the IRS will disregard the original return in which they reported wages and other income.

Trust Misuse - For years unscrupulous promoters have urged taxpayers to transfer assets into trusts. They promise reduction of income subject to tax, deductions for personal expenses and reduced estate or gift taxes. However, some trusts do not deliver the promised tax benefits, and the IRS is actively examining these arrangements, and currently has more than 200 active investigations underway and three dozen injunctions against promoters since 2001.

Frivolous Arguments - Promoters have been known to make the following outlandish claims: the Sixteenth Amendment concerning congressional power to lay and collect income taxes was never ratified; wages are not income; filing a return and paying taxes are merely voluntary; and being required to file Form 1040 violates the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination or the Fourth Amendment right to privacy. These arguments are false and have been thrown out of court.

Return Preparer Fraud - Dishonest return preparers can cause many headaches for taxpayers who fall victim to their schemes. Such preparers derive financial gain by skimming a portion of their clients'’ refunds and charging inflated fees for return preparation services. They attract new clients by promising large refunds.

“No Gain” Deduction - Filers attempt to eliminate their entire adjusted gross income (AGI) by deducting it on Schedule A. The filer lists his or her AGI under the Schedule A section labeled "“Other Miscellaneous Deductions"” and attaches a statement to the return that refers to court documents and includes the words "“No Gain Realized."
There are others - read the whole list here.

A few things to keep in mind:
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
  • Consult a reputable tax preparer (one you trust) before you try any "non-standard" approach to your taxes.
Hey, paying taxes surely stinks. But not nearly as much as going to jail or paying the taxes you would have anyway along with huge penalties and interest.

Yak Shaving Razor #39 (from the Evangelical Outpost)

Joe Carter has the latest collection of Yak Shaving Razors up at Evangelical Outpost. In case you didn't know, a Yak Shaviing Razor is
Any seemingly pointless activity which is actually necessary to solve a problem which solves a problem which, several levels of recursion later, solves the real problem you're working on.
Basically, YSRs are ways of solving common problems using tools that were developed form other purposes.


The phrase "cool" has been, well, cool for longer than just about any slang. Here's a very cool history of cool.

HT: Newmark's Door who for a middle aged economist is actually somewhat cool himself.

This Week's Carnival of The Capitalists

This week's COTC is up at AnyLetter. Sorry for the delay in linking, but blogger was down last night. In any event, here are my picks of the week, late but not forgotten:
First off, Daniel Harrison at The Global Perspective does a takedown of a particularly bad piece of journalism about IPOs. This was my favorite piece of the week - suitable to give to some of my students. Well done- he's getting an MBA, and he'd be welcome in m y class any time.

Joy Levin is guesting at Small Business Trends, and has a great piece on doing marketing research. Good advice, and lots of resources.

FMF at Free Money Finance tells us to Make Sure Your Financial Advisor is Not a Loser. Sounds like good advice to me.

Most bloggers figure stuff out as they go along. Steve Nipper at The Invent Blog has been blogging for two years now, and he shares a few things he wished he'd known when he started.

Jeff Cornwall at the Entrepreneurial Mind has some good thoughts on the importance of forecasting revenue accurately for a new venture.

Dan Melson at Searchlight Crusade has another great piece on in his continuing series titled Should I Buy A Home? Part 3: Consequences.

James Hamilton at Econbrowser discusses the latest employment data and finds it good.

TT at Retire at 30 the story of an English kid who turnd a crazy idea into a cool milion in Million Dollar Idea - Pixels for Sale.
As usual browse around when you've read these. There's always lots of good stuff at a Carnival, and everyone's tastes (and needs) are different.

Resolution Update - Week 6

Here's the latest in the continuing saga of my New Year's resolutions.

First off, still not getting myself out of bed by 6 - I only managed it three times this week. Again, I need to get to bed by 10:30.

I'm still holding on to the research resolution. In fact, I'm now up to 35 straight days in which I've spent at least an hour of research each day. I only managed an hour on four of the last seven days (as you might recall, we had some hectic stuff going on), I put in 3 1/2 hours one day, and 6 another. So, I only managed about an hour and a half a day, but as I've heard, it's the "zero productivity days that'll kill your output. Most of the week was dedicated to putting together a research grant for the summer (due tomorrow). It still has a few wrinkles to iron out, but should be done by tomorrow noon. Then it's on to other projects.

I worked out four times this week (once inside on the wind trainer for 20 minutes, and thrice outside). So far, I've been doing an eight mile route. It's not that much, but it's a start, and it's beginning to get a lot easier. I've come to the conclusion that wearing a wind breaker is like a drag chute when you open the zipper. On Friday, it got up to 60 degrees, so I got out the tight bike shirt. With the lower wind resistance, I rode about 2 mph faster with a lot less effort. Once it gets warm enough to go without the windbreaker, I should start adding miles pretty quickly.

And, since it;s now 10:30, time for bed.

"It's the [something], stupid" (via Vegreville)

Many people remember the "It's the Economy, Stupid" phrase from the Clinton campaign. It was a good way of focusing the campaign on what they though was the one key issue. The idea was that they had one message that they wanted to keep pounding home, and the sentence was a good reminder.

Unfortunately, it's too easy to forget this idea when we're preparing a paper, a lecture, or a talk. Every time we're preparing for one of those, we should have a "It's the [something],stupid" sentence in mind.

Vegreville has a post that's hits this topic dead on. He also a great line to put in a referee's report:
"This paper does not kick any ass. Sorry."
To steal a phrase, "heh"

Mortgage Resources (from the WSJ)

Today's Wall Street Journal has a piece titled "Getting Wise to Mortgages" that mentions several online tools geared towards helping consumers better evaluate their mortgage options:
A few entrepreneurs are developing new tools to help home buyers tackle one of the most confusing projects they face: figuring out whether a mortgage is a fair deal.

Comparison-shopping for mortgages has long been a job only a masochist could love -- a world of "points," "ARMs" and a barrage of surprise fees. In recent years, it has become tougher amid the proliferation of complex new interest-only mortgages and others designed to enable buyers to delay more of the pain of paying off that debt.
Now, as interest rates climb, it is important for mortgage borrowers to aggressively shop around for the best terms. Over 10 years, a difference of just 0.125 percentage point on the mortgage rate on a $500,000 loan can rack up more than $6,000 in extra interest payments.

The problem for borrowers is that lenders have a vested interest in making it tough to compare rival offerings.

"The general public, they think they know how to shop for mortgages," says Mike Stoffer, who owns a mortgage brokerage in North Canton, Ohio. "They have no clue."

Some entrepreneurs are stepping in to give consumers some added muscle. One of the quirkiest tools available is a Web site, www.mtgprofessor.com, by a maverick retired finance professor who has made a hobby of skewering mortgage lenders. The site is a compilation of tutorials, calculators and a glossary defining everything from "balloon mortgage" (one that is payable in full at an early date) to "right of recission" (your right to back out of a refinancing within three days of closing).

Click here for the whole thing (Note: online subscription required.

The article makes a good point - once you get outside the "plain vanilla" 30-year fixed mortgage market, a mortgage loan can be an extremely complicated product. It becomes very hard to compare all the facets of a loan. So, good resources are golden. I have a finance Ph.D., and I'm a bit of a research junkie (it comes with the academic turf - people like me often end up in the academy, since we don't fit anywhere else). But, even with those advantages, getting my first mortgage was extremely frustrating.

The best option is to have a good, honest mortgage broker on your side. Unfortunately, since it's a complicated product, it's not just hard to evaluate the product, but also to evaluate the competence and honesty of the person selling it to you.

Having checked out the www.mtgprofessor.com site, I'd definitely recommend it. Another good site is Bankrate.com, which has a wealth of resources.

Finally, there are a couple of bloggers that I regularly read that have a lot of good mortgage-related content - Searchlight Crusade and Pacesetter Mortgage. Of course, as I mention them, I realize that I've been reading them for months, I never got around to adding them to the blogroll. Sorry guys, you're on now.

Bad News

Blogging's been a bit light lately because of some bad news in the Unknown Household. As some of you may recall, our son was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma in October of 2002 (at age 4). After three years of treatment (chemo, radiation, surgery, and some very experimental stuff), he went into remission this last fall, to cheers all around.

This week, we found out that the cancer has recurred. The latest set of scans showed a small spot on his right femur (large leg bone). It's one of the sites where the cancer previously manifested (in fact, it was the last one to "clear"). At present , he shows no visible symptoms, and probably won't for some time, but it is pretty disheartening. Not unexpected, since cases like his often relapse, but disheartening nonetheless.

We're fortunate in that we've previously met (and even had the boy treated by) many of the top people in the field, and in fact we'll be consulting with one of them next week. So, blogging will likely be a bit sketchy for a while what with the medical stuff combined with beginning-of-semester madness and a few major deadlines. It never gets easy.

We're probably in better shape emotionally than you'd expect, for a number of reasons. One is that we've been here before, The other is that (without going into too much detail), we have what most would describe as a "spiritual" view of the world. In any event, prayers are appreciated if you're so inclined. We're big believers in it.

Of course, in typical bloggy fashion, I'll keep you all up to date as things unfold. Stay tuned.