Ok-To-Wake, My New Car, and A Parenting Fail

So, despite this post that I wrote about a DIY “ok-to-wake” timer, we actually purchased a funky little bug-shaped light that tells W when it’s ok to wake up. This is partly because said bug light is cute, and partly because the fatal flaw in my DIY timer plan was that it was a garden-variety night light, meaning that basically every illuminated night light in our house (or anyone else’s house, for that matter) caused W to ask whether it was time to wake up and “Nee!” (nurse). Anyway, long story short, we have an official “ok-to-wake” light that turns green at wake up time. Consequently, we’ve been spending a lot of time lately talking about the bug light, and that if W (and Doof-the-lovey, of course) wake up before the bug light is green, they need to be very quiet. Once the bug light is green, they can wake Mama up (“Nee!”).

In other news, I recently got a new car. Well, car-ish, anyway. We’re a one-car household in a city with minimal public transportation, and in order to combine exercise with the daily commute, I bike to work. Because hauling W and her accoutrement to and from daycare/gymnastics/etc requires more cargo space than I have available on a normal bike, I decided to purchase an Xtracycle, which is basically a commuter bike with cargo pockets. And an optional child seat. And room to haul a cooler of beer, a hibachi, and a side of beef (not that I’ve tried. No.)

One major advantage of W’s and my new bike is that instead of carting her around in a trailer, which puts her significantly behind and below me (and both precludes conversation and leaves me constantly in fear that her silence is an indication that she’s actively choking on a raisin), she’s close enough that we can chat. Consequently, we talk about what we see around us (Birds! Trees!), we count different colored cars, or we sing the dumb little song I made up to accompany Sandra Boynton’s adorable book “Snuggle Puppy” so many times that I start to go a little crazy.

Today, she asked why I was pushing the button on the post near the street. I told her that it made the light change color so we could ride across the intersection. I showed her the streetlight across from us — currently red — and explained that it meant we had to wait our turn. Pushing the button, I patiently explained to her, caused the light to turn green, which meant we could go. She considered my answer carefully. At the next light, when I pushed the button, she repeated her question. I reminded her that the red light meant we had to wait, and that the button would turn the light green. Then, never one to miss a teaching moment, I asked her, And what happens when the light turns green? She grinned at me.

“Nee!”

Sigh. Parenting fail.

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A Great Read: “All Your Worth”

I’ve always had a pretty laissez faire attitude toward my finances. I’m thrifty by nature (I was one of those kids who would save my little weekly allowance for months on end to buy “big ticket” items like a push-scooter or a Gameboy) and married a thrifty man. We don’t use credit cards, so we’ve always just sort of let things work themselves out. The other day, though, it occurred to me that we’re still in grad student mode: we always pay our bills, but we aren’t really saving for the future (retirement, college for W, etc). Sure, we have our 401Ks through work, but we haven’t really evaluated whether those are well-invested or whether they’re enough to actually provide for us in the future. Consequently, I decided we needed a financial check-up, and possibly a financial makeover.

Unfortunately, while I have a good head for science, I’m not a financial wizard. I’m not even particularly financially literate. My mom, however, is (not just literate, but a wizard). She recommended a book by Elizabeth Warren and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, called “All Your Worth.” I checked it out and loved it so much I had to share.

The premise of the book is relatively simple: for financial security, money needs to be in balance. Balance means that 50% of income goes toward “must haves,” 30% goes toward “wants,” and 20% goes toward lifelong savings. I was a little skeptical at first, both because of the percentages (they seemed off to me, and furthermore, I was suspicious of the notion that the same percentages would work for everyone) and because I didn’t really know whether a plan this simple really required a whole book (I hate reading books that take 200 pages to justify a paragraph’s-worth of information). Upon further reading, however, I realized that the book doesn’t just justify the idea, it actually gives practical, how-to advice on achieving money balance. Furthermore, it has simple investing tips, provides information on getting out of debt (for those who need it), has tips on avoiding common scams, and is packed with common sense advice.

What did I like best about the book? Unlike most financial books out there, which tell people who already have lots of money how to make MORE money (“don’t work for your money! make your money work for you!”), this one tells the average person who doesn’t have a pile of investments how to build a solid nest egg for later in life. Definitely worth a read.

How about you? Have you read any great finance books?

 

Reclaiming Skepticism

The other day, while poking around on the Interwebs, I ran across a quote that I’ve seen more than once, never attributed, along the lines of:

To the believer, no proof is required; to the skeptic, no proof is sufficient.

Though this statement is partially accurate — a person who believes in God, for instance, does so on faith and neither requires nor looks for evidence to justify those beliefs — its inaccuracies distress me. The term skeptic seems to have come to mean, at least in common usage, a person who does not believe in {xyz}, even when presented with evidence. For instance, those individuals (mostly Americans) who continue to doggedly refuse to acknowledge the reality of global warming, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, are often called (and call themselves) climate skeptics. I take issue with this. A skeptic is a person who insists upon seeing and evaluating the evidence before passing judgment. A skeptic appropriately reassesses his or her beliefs when presented with new evidence. A skeptic is a critical thinker, and is not emotionally attached to the outcome of his or her thinking process. A person who found the hypothesis of global warming interesting — but not necessarily convincing — back in the late 1970s when the National Academy of Sciences released the first major report on climate change would have been appropriate called a skeptic. A person who refuses to believe in global warming today — when every major government on Earth except that of the U.S. openly acknowledges the problem, when empirical evidence drawn from weather patterns, animal behavior patterns, and atmospheric data all support significant warming patterns — is not a skeptic, but a denier.

In my attempt to find an original source for the believer/skeptic quote, I ran across the following on a web forum for discussion of paranormal phenomena; I thought it was absolutely fabulously stated:

To the skeptic, evidence is everything. To the believer, everything is evidence.

-A forum user who calls himself TheBoyPaj on JREF

As there appears to be no other reference on Google to this particular quote, I believe it’s an original. As such, to TheBoyPaj — wherever and whomever you are — thank you. I’d like to shake your hand.

“To the skeptic, evidence is everything,” he says. No doubt. In this age of the University of Google, though, examining evidence is less a matter of finding information than it is of evaluating that information for its quality. Take, for instance, the growing concern in some circles that vaccines are linked to autism. I had one of my university classes read Seth Mnookin’s wonderful book The Panic Virus recently; in it, Mnookin explains that the “evidence” used to support this conviction ranges from the wildly inaccurate to the irrelevant. An example of the former is the poorly conducted, fraudulent study published in The Lancet by Andrew Wakefield et al. An example of the latter is toxicological data on methyl mercury (the kind in seafood), which is a potent neurotoxin in very small doses. Anti-vaccine advocates refer to such data in support of their objection to the presence and quantity of mercury in vaccines. However such references are almost always made without specification of the particular form of mercury present; thimerosal, used as a vaccine preservative, contains not methyl but ethyl mercury. This distinction seems small (after all, mercury is mercury, right?), but is, in fact, critical. Methyl mercury and ethyl mercury are as different as methyl alcohol and ethyl alcohol: the former is lethal even in small doses, while the latter is the alcohol in beer, wine, and liquor; while toxic in large doses, it’s safe and pleasurable in appropriate quantities. Maybe the most descriptive and accurate phrasing would be, “To the skeptic, the quantity and quality of evidence is everything,” but then, that wouldn’t sound nearly as graceful.

On the flip side, there’s the matter of blind belief. The Panic Virus is excellently researched and beautifully written, and I won’t do it the disservice of trying to summarize it here. To the point, though, Mnookin interviews a number of higher-ups in autism societies who firmly believe in the thoroughly-debunked vaccine-autism link and who tell him (in paraphrased terms) that it doesn’t matter what the science shows; we will continue to believe — we know in our hearts — that vaccines cause autism. “To the believer, everything is evidence,” TheBoyPaj says, and he’s absolutely right.

 

References

Wakefield et al. Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet. 1998 Feb 28;351:637-41. RETRACTED (see Lancet. 2010 Feb 6;375:445)