Slow and Steady Wins the Race

The way to get rich is not mysterious.  It’s simple.  All you have to do is live within your means and save your money.  After a while, you’ll have a pretty good sum saved up.

Losing weight is also simple.  All you have to do to lose weight is burn more calories than you consume, through a combination of exercise and diet.

However, as you can infer by the high rates of obesity in America, and her dismally low personal savings rate, a simple thing is not the same as an easy thing.  It requires hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.

Lots of people talk about someday being rich, and for many young adults, it’s a vague expectation.  Likewise, a lot of people talk about going running next week, or getting a gym membership, or someday cutting back on junk food.  I, for one, definitely do this when it comes to diet and exercise.  I’ll start next week, I tell myself.

I’m better when it comes to money.  At some point, I just stopped sitting around thinking about it, and actually did something about it.

I’ve been following a schedule for the past nine months of putting away a modest amount each month into the stock market.  Assuming I can keep saving at this rate, which I expect to be able to, and assuming an average investment return over the long term, I’m on track to make my first million dollars by the time I am 46 years old, and I’ll have several more million to pass on to my sons when I die at 79.

The math is so simple!  If you start young, you don’t have to save as much each month to meet your goal.  And yet, it seems like hardly anyone else does it.  The average net worth of Americans in my age cohort (25-34) is merely $8,525, and by retirement age (65+), the typical American has a net worth of only $232,000–basically, the worth of his house plus a little extra–which is woefully inadequate for retirement.

A little bit saved consistently over time will yield huge dividends.  Why don’t more people live within their means and save the difference?

The Utah War

The Utah War was a 19th century armed conflict between Mormon settlers in Utah Territory and the United States federal government.

Background

The Presidential Election of 1856 was a contest between James Buchanan of the established Democratic party and John C. Frémont of the newly organized Republican party. Buchanan eventually prevailed, but the credibility of the Democratic party had been shaken. The Republicans charged the Democrats with being soft on the “twin relics of barbarism”—polygamy and slavery. To regain credibility for the Democrats, Buchanan needed to address the charge, but was also concerned with maintaining the integrity of the union between the states. The only politically viable option for Buchanan was to take the hard-line on polygamy and depose Brigham Young as governor of the Utah Territory. Buchanan chose to appoint Alfred Cumming as the new governor and ordered the U.S. Army to escort Cumming to the Utah Territory.

Troop movements

The U.S. troops marching toward Utah were originally led by Gen. William S. Harney, but Harney was forced to return to Kansas to deal with a conflict there. Because of Harney’s unavailability, Col. Edmund Alexander was charged with the first detatchment of troops headed for Utah, only to later rendezvous with and relinquish command to Col. Albert Sidney Johnston. The Nauvoo Legion, a Utah militia commanded by Lot Smith and under Young’s leadership, harassed the federal mission while under Alexander’s command. It was only days after Col. Johnston took command of the combined U.S. forces that he decided to settle in at the burned out remains of Fort Bridger for the winter. In spring, reinforcements arrived to resupply and strengthen the military presence in Utah, but negotiations were already underway. In 1858 Young accepted his replacement and peace returned to Deseret.

Timeline of events

  • July 24, 1847: Mormon Pioneers found Salt Lake City as the first city of Deseret.
  • February 2, 1848: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is signed by the U.S. and Mexico, granting the region of Deseret to the U.S.
  • September 9, 1850: The Great Compromise of 1850 is signed into law, creating the Utah Territory and appointing Brigham Young governor.
  • June 29, 1857: U.S. President James Buchanan declares Utah in rebellion of the U.S. government. Buchanan appoints Alfred Cumming as governor of Utah. Cumming is to be escorted by a regiment of the U.S. army, initially led by Col. Edmund Alexander.
  • July 18, 1857: Two Mormons, Porter Rockwell and Abraham Owen Smoot, learn of Buchanan’s declaration in Kansas City while on a mail run. The same day, Col. Alexander and troops begin the jouney to Utah.
  • July 23, 1857: Rockwell and Smoot arrive in Salt Lake City and inform Brigham Young of the government’s plans.
  • August 28, 1857: Col. Johnston is ordered to replace Gen. Harney in command of the U.S. troops.
  • September 15, 1857: Brigham Young calls out the Nauvoo Legion to fight the U.S. Troops if they enter Utah Territory.
  • September 18, 1857: Col. Johnston and troops leave Fort Leavenworth, Kansas headed for Utah.
  • October 5, 1857: Lot Smith leads the Nauvoo Legion on a guerrilla-style attack on the provision wagons of the U.S. Army. Fifty-two wagons are burned.
  • November 3, 1857: Col. Albert Sidney Johnston catches up with Col. Alexander and replaces him as commander. Johnston orders the regiment to spend the winter in Fort Bridger and to delay the move to Salt Lake City until next spring.
  • March 23, 1858: Brigham Young implements the “Sebastopol Policy.” All faithful are ordered to move south to Provo and to prepare their homes in Salt Lake City for burning.
  • April 12, 1858: The U.S. Army and Cumming arrive in Salt Lake City. Brigham Young surrenders the title of governor to Alfred Cumming.

A Brief History of Utah

Mormon Pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, and immediately began planting and irrigating. Under direction of the church organization, the settlers cooperated to tame the land and its natural resources. At this time, present-day Utah was in Mexican territory.

By 1850, the outlying regions of Bountiful, Farmington, Ogden, Tooele, Provo, and Manti were settled.

Two kinds of colonizing efforts took place: directed settlements and undirected settlements. In directed settlements, colonies were planned, organized, and dispatched by the Church. Companies were appointed and equipped to explore the area, people were appointed to colonize it, and a leader was appointed. The Church gave instructions on the mission of the colony, whether to raise crops, assist Indians, mine coal, or serve as a way station for groups on the trail to California.

Non-directed settlements were founded by individuals, families, and neighborhood groups without direction from the Church. Most of the Wasatch Front communities were non-directed. Although Church leaders did not commission these settlements, they encouraged them, and quickly established wards when the population was great enough to justify them.

When the Mexican War ended in February 1848, the land became part of the United States. The Mormons proposed creating the State of Deseret, but Congress would not admit them to the Union. Instead, the federal government created the Territory of Utah, with Brigham Young as the first territorial governor.

In 1857, President James Buchanan sent a military force to Utah based on false reports of a Mormon rebellion against federal authority. The Utah Expedition was led by General Albert Sidney Johnston. This was part of a conflict known as the Utah War, which ended with only limited bloodshed.

More than 60,000 Mormons had come to the territory by the time the first transcontinental railroad was completed at Promontory, Utah in May of 1869.

After the Church announced the abandonment of polygamy in 1890, Congress finally granted statehood to the people of Utah on January 4, 1896.

Sources

Brief History of Utah, Utah History to Go, by Ron Rood and Linda Thatcher
History, by S. George Ellsworth
Colonization of Utah, Utah History Encyclopedia, by Leonard J. Arrington

Perverse Incentives

In making policy, it seems that sometimes the possibility of unintended consequences is not considered. Unfortunately, whether by oversight or some other force, policies get created which create perverse incentives. Our complicated tax law has got people doing all kinds of unproductive things in order to get around paying taxes. In our welfare programs, we have some systems in place which actually make or keep people impoverished.

For example, consider a program which provides health insurance for families below the poverty line. For a family of four, this would be an income of $21,200 annually. If a job offer were extended to the father of this family for $30,000 per year, without health insurance, should he take it? It appears so, but actually, he might be worse off. If the health care benefit he is receiving is worth $12,100 per year (the average annual premium for an employer health plan covering a family of four), then in the first case, he is making practically $33,300; in the second case, he is only getting $17,900. The perverse incentive is for him to stay below the poverty line by staying underemployed.

What do you get when you extend welfare benefits to unwed mothers? Why, more unwed mothers, of course. This, in turn, creates more poverty. I’m sure the designers of our welfare programs did not intend to make more people impoverished. The fact is, when you pay for something, you get more of it.

The No Child Left Behind Act seems like a good idea, right? I mean, nobody wants to leave a child behind. The Act requires that schools show improvement in student test scores. This provides an incentive for the school to encourage low-performing students to drop out before they take the test. Oops.

Or, consider the various Digital Rights Management schemes which make it harder to copy and access music, movies, or video games. It seems like a good idea, right? But there are some fair uses of copyrighted material which DRM prevents, like saving your movies to your computer’s hard drive so you can watch them without having to bother with the discs. Since pirated content doesn’t have these restrictions, it creates a perverse incentive for people to pirate content instead of buying it, which is exactly the opposite of what the designers intended.

Instead of blindly reforming, we need to carefully consider all the implications of a policy before implementing it. There is an ecological balance, and if you adjust one side of the equation, you’ve got to deal with the other side, too.

The People of Bountiful Are Extremely Friendly

My family recently moved into a new neighborhood in Bountiful, Utah. We are in a bigger house now, the drive to work is much shorter, and we have lots of fruit trees. My wife and I made a lovely pie from our fresh backyard peaches on Sunday. I couldn’t be happier.

One thing that has pleasantly surprised me is just how warm and friendly our neighbors are. I feel like my family has received a very warm welcome into the local community. I have experienced this sense of hospitality in other places where I have lived, but never quite as strongly as in Bountiful. When we were moving in, my mother told me how happy she was for us, because “the people are so polite and courteous there.” I haven’t been disappointed.

I’ve lived in four different neighborhoods in Bountiful and the people have been friendly in each of them. This begs the question: Is this a trend, or a coincidence? Are the people of Bountiful really friendlier than in other places, and, if so, why?

My theories are thus:

  1. The low crime rate makes people feel safe opening up to others in the community.
  2. The homogeneity in religion, culture, and heritage help people feel at home with one another. People feel comfortable around people who are like them.
  3. The very family-oriented lifestyle here helps people to love one another.
  4. The slower pace of life makes people more relaxed and less in a hurry.
  5. The people here are older (Bountiful’s median age is 32 compared to Utah’s 27, making it the 9th oldest in the state), and old people are friendlier.

Or, perhaps I am just starry-eyed. It’s impossible to determine something like this quantitatively, so I think I will never know for sure. But of all the places I’ve lived in Utah, this place feels the most like Zion.

The Commoditization of Computers

Refrigerators, televisions, and computers all cost about the same amount. You can get a good one for $2,000; a decent one for $1,200; or a cheap one for $300.

Computers stopped being cool once they started selling them at Walmart and at furniture stores.

People see computers now as just another appliance. They aren’t something to be experienced, just something to get the job done. Nobody cares how a refrigerator works, they just want their food cold.

I remember when computers had mystique. When it was something special to know how one works and to have the ability to build, fix, and modify a computer. When people used to have computer hobbyist clubs. Now, computers are built in boring factories in east Asia using slave labor, and they’re serviced by clueless drones at Best Buy.

These days, it seems like nobody cares. I have almost no emotional attachment to my home computer. I can’t even remember the processor speed, what kind of video card it has, or how much RAM is in it. The fact is, it doesn’t matter anymore. When it starts to get slow, you just go out and buy a new one. Ho hum.

There seems to still be some magic left in software, at least.

Little House on the Freeway

Last night, my wife and I finally signed the papers to sell our first home.

We bought the place in October 2005, and moved in during General Conference. We were a young married couple expecting our first child, and we wanted a place of our own to raise him in. After a couple of months searching for a place we could afford, we found this one and fell in love with it. We negotiated the price and the terms with the previous owners over the kitchen table.

Compared to the other places we had looked at, it seemed wonderful. In our price range, we had been stuck looking at old houses in bad condition in questionable neighborhoods in Layton, Utah. So when my mother-in-law told us about this for-sale-by-owner house in Kaysville that she discovered, we were pleasantly surprised. It was newer (only 8 years old) and less expensive than the ones we had been looking at, and it was closer to Bountiful, which is were we both grew up and were living at the time.

There were only two problems. First, that it was small (1,213 square feet), although it was rather bigger than the one-bedroom basement apartment we had been living in. Second, it abutted Interstate 15, which was very noisy. I-15 is the major thoroughfare for Davis County residents going to and from Salt Lake County, so it gets a lot of use.

Easy Freeway Access

We decided to go through with it anyway, and were happy with it. I planted strawberries and had my own lawn to mow. I felt like I had more roots in the community because I was a landowner. The local ward had lots of young families like us, and we made very good friends with a couple of those families, even sharing Family Home Evening with them. After a couple of days, I didn’t even hear the freeway noise, but it bothered my wife the whole time we lived there.

Eventually, I changed jobs from a software company in North Salt Lake to one in South Jordan, which changed my commute time from 20 minutes to 60. The long drive came to wear on me and so we decided to move closer to work. We fixed up and decorated the house, put it on the market, and spent a few months keeping it spotless. It all finally came to a close yesterday.

So, this is adieu to my first bit of soil. I’m happy for the memories and hope to make many new ones in our next place.

Home Again

My little family has been living with my wife’s parents in Bountiful for the past couple of months, because my wife had some complications with her pregnancy of our second child, William. (They are both doing fine now.) Her parents have been very helpful and supportive and I am very grateful that they helped take care of us while Chelsea was incapacitated. It was a good experience and I enjoyed getting to know her parents better.

We moved back into our house in Kaysville last night. It is good to be in a place of our own again, with all our familiar furniture, utensils, and appliances. Still, it doesn’t feel quite like home. We put our house up for sale about the time we moved in with her parents, and it hasn’t sold yet. It has been getting a lot of showings, but no offers. I understand this is pretty typical of the market right now. As part of our preparation to sell the house, we gave up our emotional attachment to it. So, it feels kind of like we are living in a hotel.

I am looking forward to when we can sell the place and buy our next house, and start that new chapter of life. It will be nice to finally settle down again. For now, though, I am just happy to be able to walk around the house in my underwear again.

Jaywalker Sighting

My wife and I were driving up to the University Hospital in Salt Lake City yesterday afternoon. As we were heading up South Temple street in the Avenues neighborhood, there was a man staggering lackadaisically in the middle of the road. He loosely waved to us as we changed lanes to avoid hitting him. He must have been stoned.

Only in Salt Lake.

C# Generic Lists

I remember the many frustrating hours I spent in C and C++ dealing with arrays. I remember the nights hunting down the cause of a bug, only to realize it was the result of exceeding my array bounds. I remember having to redefine and copy arrays when I wanted to change the number of elements in the array, because in C, array length is fixed.

When I learned about linked lists, it got better. Rather than allocating a specific chunk of memory, like a static array did, linked lists are much more flexible because each element simply contains a memory pointer to the next one. This is very flexible, because you can add, remove, or change the nodes in a linked list quite easily.

However, accessing the elements of a linked list is more complicated than accessing an array. In an array, if you wanted to loop through and output all the elements of an array, you could do the following:

for (int i=0; i < sizeof(arrMyArray) / sizeof(int); i++) {
cout << arrMyArray[i] << endl;
}

A linked list is not much more complicated:

for (LinkedList objNode = objMyLinkedList; objNode != null; objNode = objMyLinkedList->Next) {
cout << objMyLinkedList.m_Data << endl;
}

However, the linked list really showed its limitation when trying to access elements randomly. You can do the following with a C array, but not a linked list:

cout << arrMyArray[27];

Thankfully, in C++, the standard template library introduced vectors, which are a kind of dynamic array. The stl::vector saved me a lot of headaches once I learned how to use it.

In C#, you can use what are called generic lists, which are like C++ vectors. As I was programming my GEDCOM importer last night, I really came to appreciate generic lists. They have all the conveniences of the C array and the C++ vector. You can create them dynamically, but you can also access them just like an array. They’re really easy to use, too:

using System.Collections.Generic;

List intNumbers = new List();

intNumbers.Add(3);
intNumbers.Add(7);
intNumbers.Add(8);

for (int i = 0; i < intNumbers.Count; i++) {
Console.WriteLine(intNumbers[i] + “\n”);
}