A couple of days ago, I stumbled across Geni, which is a website which allows you to construct your family tree. It’s very intuitive to use, and it has quite a lot of functionality. For every person you add, it also emails that person and invites them to join.
I was idly trying out the service and seeded by family tree with my parents, an aunt, uncle and a cousin. Then I logged in today and saw the Loh family tree had turned into this:
I was very pleasantly surprised. And this is just a partial display – there are several more branches which you can drill down into. The tree is tracking well over 100 family members. It looks like my relatives picked up the idea and ran with it and things spread virally as everyone filled in their area of the family tree (I guess no one wants to feel left out!). My dad has 7 siblings, so the tree mushroomed very quickly from there. I found out a lot about my extended family, including several great aunts and uncles I have never heard of, and the explosive multiplication that can result from an era where polygamy was legal.
Interestingly, much of the heavy lifting was done by relatives in my parents’ generation – people in their 50s and 60s – so it looks like we’ve finally entered an age where everyone is beginning to feel comfortable with technology. I am still bemused by the knowledge that my grandfather uses Skype.
Geni also hooks into the usual array of social networks, and helps you to keep track of far flung relatives (I discovered that the relatives on the tree are living in about a dozen different countries) and record biographical information about them. Geni also tells you the actual relationship you have with someone, so now you can confidently identify your second cousin, twice removed. Very cool!
An article in Stanford Magazine about research on how language shapes how we think and view the world. I’ve always found this issue fascinating:
English is not that precise, but it is true that every time you use a verb in English, you are conveying information about time. Depending on whether something has happened already (I made dinner), is happening now (I am making dinner), or will happen in the future (I will make dinner), the speaker must pick different verb forms. Without the temporal information, the utterance would feel incomplete, ungrammatical. You couldn’t just say I make dinner in all three cases.
Not so in Indonesian. Unlike English, Indonesian verbs never change to express time: Make is always just make. Although Indonesian speakers can add words like already or soon, this is optional. It doesn’t feel incomplete or ungrammatical to just say, I make dinner.
This led to another fascinating experimental result—and to Boroditsky’s opening up a laboratory in Indonesia. A student from Indonesia assured Boroditsky, who was still skeptical, that most Indonesians simply do not bother to mark time when they speak. So she challenged the student to set up an experiment where Indonesian speakers would be shown photographs of the same act in a time progression: a man about to kick a soccer ball, a man kicking a soccer ball, a man who has kicked the ball, which is flying away. Boroditsky and the student made a bet. Is it possible that Indonesian speakers wouldn’t mark time progression? If they did not care about time, what would they pay attention to?
The article has plenty of other interesting examples, such as how time is a “horizontal” concept for English speakers (past is behind, future is ahead) but a “vertical” concept for Mandarin speaker (past is down, future is up).
It’s fascinating how such a fundamental part of being human (communication via a spoken language) manifests itself in completely different ways around the world – to the extent that the way cultures have figured out how to communicate belong to a myriad of systems which are often completely incompatible and require a very different way of thinking to interpret.
Net-worth Obsession is a Times article about people who track and publicize their net worth online. They total their assets, take away their liabilities, and are left with their net worth (or, if they were a company, equity). It’s a single number which encapsulates their economic well-being. Kind of like a score in a computer game.
Kincer happened upon a Web site called NetworthIQ, which allows people to record their net worths and display the ups and downs for anyone to view. Most people who share their data do so anonymously, but Kincer posts a link to his personal Web site, where he uses his real name. Kincer especially liked that the site allowed him to compare himself with others. It appealed to the Mega Man player in him. “NetworthIQ is kind of a game,” he said. “Can I get ahead of everyone? Can I be up there with the big shots?”
The interest in net worth is a kind of reaction to using salary as the benchmark number. Like a company’s income statement, even if you pull in a healthy revenue, if your expenses exceed your revenue, you’re not in good financial health. The converse is true, of course. If you only look at the balance sheet (net worth), you’re only seeing one part of the picture.
This is intuitive because managing personal finances is really not that different to running a business. You have your revenue (salary, interest on deposits, cap gains on investments, one-off bonuses like winning the lottery, etc.), and you have your costs (rent, entertainment, interest on loans, etc.). The difference between the two is hopefully profit. And how you deploy your profit, over the long run, can impact your net worth as much as what your salary is. Bankruptcy happens when your costs exceed your revenue, and your negative net worth exceeds your credit limit.
Eric Mills has tracked his net worth over time, which results in a pretty cool graph.
Mill now saves a quarter to half of his take-home pay in a savings account in an online bank, but he is not making as many extra payments as he could on the $20,000 or so in student loans he is carrying, nor does he have any money set aside for retirement. “I put a much higher value on flexibility,” he says. “And I feel like the better investment right now is in me. It’s much more important that I have as much freedom and liquidity as I can.”
Net worth is not precisely calibrated with financial freedom. If Mill used all of his savings to pay down some debt, his net-worth figure would remain the same, but he would have no emergency fund if he lost his job. For this reason, he has come to think of the figure as a number that doesn’t really tell his whole story.
However, to be more accurate, if he used some savings to pay down his debt, his net-worth figure would be higher over time. (Personally, Mill’s approach strikes me as a little myopic, but personal financial circumstances differ so much that any comment like that would be just speculation on my part.)
Tangentially, the U.S. has been running huge budget deficits, but unlike you or I, it can simply increase its own credit limit if Congress approves… which it would always do, otherwise the U.S. would default on its loans and the world economy would collapse. The U.S.’s self-issued line of credit – the debt limit – is now almost $14.3 trillion.
Hopefully, one thing that will occur to most of us while reading this article is the thought that crops up in the back of our mind that “happiness is not about maxing a number”. True, but in the case of net worth, it is one aspect of it, although research has typically shown it’s diminishing returns after a certain point.