Saturday, December 23, 2017

Copying What Works

We want to coach our children, we want to give them the best advice we can to help them through life.  Here is a piece of advice I gave my son:  Copy what works.

Here is a perfect example from the obituary of Macon F. Brock Jr, founder of Dollar Tree. (  Mr. Brock was inspired by a chain called Everything’s a Dollar. He believed he could improve on the idea.  Mr. Brock, his brother-in-law and H. Ray Compton, started opening dollar stores in 1986, under the name Only $1.00, starting with five locations.

The chain Everything’s a Dollar was not the country’s only other dollar store, but the company did sue Only $1.00, forcing it to change the name of stores in overlapping markets to Dollar Tree.  “We ripped off what they wanted to be. Not what they were,” Mr. Brock wrote, adding, “We hoped to occupy the same role in the dollar business that Henry Ford had in the car business.”

Macon Brock copied an idea that worked, but his execution was better so his store, Dollar Tree, survived while Everything’s a Dollar did not survive, but eventually went bankrupt.

I have previously written a post, Teaching Our Children Exploitation is Better than Innovation (May 14, 2017).  Copying what works is a benign form of exploitation.  A less benign form is described in the movie The Founder, starring Michael Keaton (2106).  In this movie you see how Ray Kroc became very wealthy from the ideas the McDonald brothers licensed to him, while treating the McDonald brothers with questionable fairness.  Ray Kroc's exploitation of the ideas developed by the McDonald brothers portrays why the word exploitation has negative connotations.

Honor and fairness are lessons we also need to impart to our children.


PS: Mr Brock wrote a book about his business:  One Buck at a Time: An Insider's Account of How Dollar Tree Remade American Retail by Macon Brock and‎ Earl Swift

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Water Balloons from Plano

There is a water balloon inventor in Plano!  The article This Water-Balloon Battle Threatens to Soak Everybody by Ruth Simon, Nov. 15, 2017 New York Times.  Josh Malone, a mechanical engineer in Plano, invented a device called Bunch O Balloons that fills many water balloons at once.  Bunch O Balloons generates about $125 million a year in sales.  It is so nice to hear about a local inventor.  Of course, as soon as you invent something, your invention will get copied.  The NYT article is about the lawsuit between Zuru Ltd., which sells Mr. Malone's Bunch O Balloons, and TeleBrands Corp. which sells a knock-off product.  It is an interesting article that highlights the need for deep pockets to protect your intellectual property.

Here is a picture of the Bunch O Balloons product:

You can order them from Amazon:

This is so cool. I remember how long it took to make water balloons.  I have warm memories of the time I first ran across water balloon cannons:

My son and his friends, when they were young, went to a meadow for a water balloon fight and barrage of water balloons came sailing over the tree tops from water balloon artillery.  Our boys were carpet bombed.  It as a hoot.  Just think of all the extra water balloons you can make with Bunch O Balloons.  Yes indeed, water balloons are part of childhood!


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Watch out for scams

Here is a perfect example of an email scam.  I am forwarding a picture of it to my family to warn them.  I am including copy here to share the warning with you.
Notice the goofy email address:  This is a red flag.
Notice it is not sent to me, but to  This is a red flag.
The email directs you to download a file and open it.  This is a red flag.
It is just one red flag after another.  But if this email goes out to enough people, some will certainly fall for the scam.

If you click on the picture, it will enlarge so you can read it.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Teaching Our Children About Inflation and Debt

Teaching Inflation
I watched a documentary recently that described the impact of inflation on the price of homes.  I put the data in a chart to share with you.
Yes, these numbers are good numbers.  I learned recently that the average price of a new home in Prosper, Texas, is $500,000.  What is scary is that our children will live to see the 2065 house price of $4.5 Million and our grand-children will live to see the 2115 house price of $45 Million.  The driving factor for the rise of house cost is inflation.  If you know the formula, you can determine that it is an inflation rate of 4.7% that makes housing go up ten-fold in 50 years.

Right now one U.S. dollar will buy 111 Japanese yen, so the yen is worth less than one U.S. penny.  Clearly, the dollar our grand-children receive in their salaries will be worth one penny in today's dollar.  Our currency will be like the Japanese yen.  Here is a statement from 2015: "The average price of a newly constructed house listed for sale in the Tokyo 23 Wards in May [2015] was ¥62,710,000."  That is 62 million yen for an average house in Tokyo, Japan, so 45 million dollars for an average American house in 100 years makes sense, aside from the mathematics.  (I was asked in September 2018 what ¥62,710,000 meant, it means $600,249 for the average house in Tokyo while the average price of a house in the U.S. is $188,900 in September 2018.)

We need to educate our children about inflation because the government is a major contributor to inflation.  Here is what Milton Friedman said about inflation:  "Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon in the sense that it is and can be produced only by a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output."  Only the government controls the money supply.  And the government loves inflation because it is a hidden tax.  Most people do not understand inflation, making theft through inflation like stealing candy from a baby.  Our government will continue robbing us until we make it stop.  If we or our children cannot put the brakes on inflation, it will be too late for our grand-children to make a difference.

Teaching Debt

This article,  Student Debt Gets Attention of States by Melissa Korn, Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2017, has these quotes:

Study after study shows that college students are terrible at keeping track of how much debt they are racking up in school, so states are working to make the cost of higher education crystal clear.  This month, Florida joined Indiana and Nebraska in requiring that colleges and universities provide detailed information about student debt and projected loan payments.

A 2014 Brookings Institution report found about half of all first-year students in the U.S. “seriously underestimate” how much debt they have, and less than one-third can estimate their debt loads within a reasonable margin of error. Many also don’t understand that their financial aid is in the form of a loan. More than one-quarter of students with federal loans reported having no federal debt and 14% said they didn’t have any student debt at all.

It is we parents who are responsible for teaching our children about debt and for guiding them though the college loan process.  When state legislatures dictate colleges must prepare reports for individual students, then the legislators create more costs that increase tuition bills.  College tuition has been rising sharply because of all the reporting requirements forced onto colleges by legislatures.  And we have to foot the bill for all the overhead and administrative costs for these reports.  A Nanny State is an expensive state.


We work for money and inflation waters down our money, which is a form of theft.  Debt reduces the amount of money we are free to spend.  Inflation is bad and debt is dangerous.  This fits into a fortune cookie.  We need to fit this into our kids' minds.


Previous articles:
Teaching Our Kids About Interest and Inflation  April 11, 2015
Debt is Dangerous October 20, 2015

Film Reference: The film Agenda 2 by Curtis Bowers had the illustration on inflation of home prices.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

English Grammar Early

I was cleaning out old books and I ran across a 6th grade workbook with this note on the cover: "Save. Some material here not in college handbooks."  Education is cumulative and it so happens in America that the time English grammar is taught is the early years.  I remember from my youth that the last big push to teach grammar was in 5th or 6th grade.  When I was sent off to middle school the English curriculum changed to literature.  Grammar is not taught in high school or college, you are simply marked down for poor grammar.

The 6th grade workbook I used with my son had sections on "helping verbs" and "linking verbs" and college handbooks say very little about helping verbs and linking verbs. 

The best college writer's handbook, in my opinion, is The Hodges Harbrace Handbook, created by John C. Hodges in 1941, now in its eighteenth edition. It is one of the most widely used grammar reference books at colleges and universities in the United States.  I have compared it to other well liked handbooks and I do prefer The Hodges Harbrace Handbook, but it does have very little in it about helping verbs and linking verbs.  So if you have not learned about them in elementary school, you won't learn about them in college.  From a University of Tennessee website we have this insight on why Hodges Harbrace Handbook has been so successful:  Dr. John Hodges studied the frequency of errors in college students’ essays. He collected 20,000 student-penned papers, counted and analyzed the errors in those papers, and created the taxonomy he used to organize the original Harbrace Handbook of English.  The English professor used a scientific approach to analyze the problem!

The 6th grade English grammar workbook that I used with my son was Spectrum Language Arts, Grade 6.  I have mentioned it before.  Here is a snapshot of the table of contents.  Notice the workbook has a section on transitive verbs, but not one on intransitive verbs. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
I worked with my son on English Grammar during grades 4, 5, and 6.  Grade 7 was a big push into mastering word problems in math, then 8th grade was all about mastering Algebra, the gateway to high income professions.

The 4th grade English grammar workbook that I used with my son was Brighter Child English & Grammar for Grade 4.  The table of contents is below.  Notice that the 4th grade workbook does have a section on intransitive verbs.
Using grammar workbooks with your children in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades can be an invaluable help to your children.  You put your child's education at risk if you rely too much on the Plano ISD and its teachers to teach grammar to your children.  Do not let these years slip by,  they won't come back again!


Saturday, June 17, 2017

More Tips for Writing

Orwell's Rules for Writing

It is nice to have a short list of tips for writing to share with your children.  Teaching good writing is such matter of taste and style that it is hard teach writing.  This short list of 6 rules from George Orwell is famous.  It is from his essay, "Politics and the English Language."
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Rule 6 about barbarous writing is silly, but he wrote it.

I also found in the internet these 6 questions to use for examining your writing.  These are supposed to be from Orwell as well.
1.  What am I trying to say?
2.  What words will express it?
3.  What image or idiom will make it clearer?
4.  Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
5.  Could I put it more shortly?
6.  Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

I believe question 6 explains what Orwell meant by his 6th rule.

Vonnegut's Rules for Writing Fiction

Here I found 8 rules for writing fiction by Kurt Vonnegut.
  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
George Orwell is a British writer most famous for the books Animal Farm and 1984.  Kurt Vonnegut's most famous book was Slaughterhouse-Five, which was turned into a movie.

College is too late to learn to write.  A number of classes require papers to be written.  Some tests have essay questions.  Whatever weaknesses are in your child's writing will cost your child  points again and again.  I believe middle-school and the freshman year of high school are important years to work with your child's writing.  After the freshman year the young people tend to become stubborn and difficult to coach on their writing.

These are great rules from Georg Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut.  I hope you and your children find them helpful.


A Good Book for Self-Editing

Editing your words and sentences is an important part of writing.  The best book I have run across for self-editing is Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words by Bruce Ross-Larson.  My favorite chapters are chapter 1, Fat, chapter 2, The Better Word, and chapter 6, Dangling Constructions.

H1-B Visas for Accounting

I usually only hear about H1-B visas for engineers.  I saw an article recently [1] saying some people are trying to get accounting designated a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) in order to increase the number of H1-B visas available for accountants.  Well, that was a surprise to me.  As an engineer I did not know accountants were being brought into the country on H1-B visas.  This website says Ernst & Young brought in 1,564 accountants into the U.S. on H1-B visas in 2016.

On the positive side, if you have family or friends in another country who want to come to America, then an accounting H1-B visa is an option.  On the negative side, if your child is studying accounting, then your child will be competing for an accounting job against people from all over the world.

Also, it turns out that H1-B visas are available for lawyers.  This website says that  Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom brought in 34 lawyers in 2016 on H1-B visas.  Here is a nice report on all the professional  H1-B visas in 2016.  The top five on the list all all for programmers of different sorts, and the total 2016 visas for computer people totaled 379,440.  That is the population of a small city.

The world is getting more competitive all the time.


[1]  Accountants Jump Into the Immigration Debate by Michael Rapoport, Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2016, page B14.
Since websites are unstable, here are screen shots of the websites I referenced. Click on the images and they will enlarge.
Accounting H1-B
Lawyers H1-B
Top 10 H1-B, Computers are the top 5

Sunday, May 14, 2017

They Are Out to Get Us

The only break we in the middle class get is the mortgage interest deduction on our taxes.  I had a friend refer to his house as a money-pit because we have to spend money on maintenance.  And I've had friends who lost a lot of money selling a house that had gone "upside down" (selling for less than the existing mortgage).  Buying a house is a risk and has many challenges.  A new challenge is people who want to take away our mortgage interest tax deduction.

The New York Times article , How Home Ownership Became the Engine of American Inequality by Matthew Desmond, May 9, 2017 ( says our owning our homes increases inequality in America.  Well, our saving for retirement or saving for our children's education can also be said to increase inequality.  If you went to college, you increased income inequality.

When you hear people talking about income inequality, you better grab your wallet because someone wants to redistribute your wealth.  We in the middle class need to be alert to efforts to separate us from our money.


If you get the print edition or want to see this in the library, the article is in the Sunday 5-14-2017 New York Times Magazine, page 48.  Notice the cover article of this issue of the New York Times Magazine discusses open marriages. I just shake my head at how the NYT has changed over the years.

Teaching Our Children Exploitation is Better than Innovation

The public schools talk about teaching innovation.  Business consultants say they can teach innovation.  There has been a steady drum beat for increased innovation. Here is an article from the Wall Street Journal:  The Economy’s Hidden Problem: We’re Out of Big Ideas by Greg Ip, Dec. 20, 2016 (  The article says dwindling gains in science, medicine and technology are holding back growth.  We as parents need to coach our children about how innovation actually works:  people who exploit the innovations of other people profit much more that the innovators.

Today's New York Times,  Sunday May 14, 2017, on page ST-9, has an informative article about innovation:  The Hour's Hot Toy Has a Long History by Alex Williams (  This article says the fidget spinner is #17 in the list of top 20 toys sold on  However, the inventor of this toy, Catherine Hettinger, has not made money off of her invention.

We need to tell our children that selling is harder than inventing.  If you cannot sell you invention; if you cannot exploit your innovation, then you leave it to other people to exploit and profit from your innovations.  After Catherine Hettinger's patent on the fidget spinner expired in 2005, then other people started manufacturing and selling her toy.

If your child wants wealth, then your child should learn about selling; about starting businesses; about exploiting the innovations of other people.  Remember Steve Wozniak was the Apple II computer creator, but Steve Jobs was the computer salesman and probably got most of the wealth.


I have written on this topic before, on my Texas Ascendant blog (

The Exploitation of Innovation, March 13, 2010:
Exploitation, Not Innovation,  August 5, 2012:

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mathematics is the Doorway to Good Salaries

Not All College Degrees are Worth Having
Above is a chart of the top four salaries for new college graduates in 2017.  Notice they are all math intensive.  I have a friend who studied Anthropology and he drove a bread truck for a living.  Another fellow got a History degree and worked as a roofer.  Many people say a college degree is important, but some college degrees are more valuable.

The University of Texas - Dallas offers a bachelors degree in Actuarial Science from their School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics:  So it is possible to get a bachelor's in Actuarial Science.  I had thought you needed a master's degree for this field.

The data in this blog was in today's (Saturday May 13, 2017) Wall Street Journal in an article on page B13, "Outlook is Rosier for Class of 2017" by Kelsey Gee. The newspaper had a great graphic, but their website article had a terrible graphic and I had to make an Excel table to post here.  The WSJ had one version of the article here:
The WSJ had another version of the article here:

Math instruction is usually mediocre in most public schools, so remember to be involved in teaching your children math.  A plan like this might work for your children: addition in 1st grade, subtraction in 2nd grade, multiplication in 3rd grade, and division in 4th grade.  My youngest is in college, so my memory is a bit hazy, but this plan is close if not precise.  You must drill your children on their math facts because the schools will not do it.

My best wishes for the success of your children.


Update:  see the article The Quants Run Wall Street Now by Gregory Zuckerman and Bradley Hope, May 21, 2017 Wall Street Journal on line.  Mathematicians are making great money on Wall Street.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale

I have a VHS video of The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale.  My copy is 18 minutes long and I purchased it after I saw it as part of a professional training event.  I showed it to may daughter when she was young, but it did not make an impression on her then.  I showed it to her again, recently, after she has graduated from college and gotten a few years of work experience.  This time her jaw dropped.  She now saw the truth and value of what Earl Nightingale.

Earl  Nightingale asks why we live like we do.  How is it that most people set the path of their lives.  He makes you stop and think.

The video is now available on YouTube:
Earl Nightingale - The Strangest Secret to Success of All Time

I encourage you to view it and show it to your children if you like it.  It is only 18 minutes long. Youngsters are still receptive in middle-school.  They might understand it better in high school, but few young people are receptive to parental influence in high school.  Then show them the video again after they've worked for a few years.  That is what worked in my family.

 Mr.  Nightingale presented a checklist.  Here it is, in abbreviated form:
  1. A goal
  2. Attitude
  3. Think
  4. As you sow, so will you reap.
  5. Truth
  6. Research and development
  7. You become what you think about most of the time.

Mr.  Nightingale mentioned a play, The Secret of Freedom by Archibald MacLeish.  Here is a link to what Mr.  Nightingale felt about that play:

I hope The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale will be a boon to your children.

Your friend and neighbor,