Just wanted to let avid readers of the website (particularly Mental Math enthusiasts) that I have re-started posting practice exams into their appropriate repositories. I plan on posting a new exam about once a week, so check back here often! Here are the links:
Received word yesterday that the US Patent Office approved my team’s second patent application in a little under a calendar year (here is a link to our first patent, if you’re interested).
I suggest looking at the <Images> tab so that you can see some drawings of the invention as well as some further explanation of what it does. Basically, our team implemented an automated beam diffuser and diagnostic assembly to better increase our work efficiency. It has significantly increased the number of radiation exposures we can produce in a given test week and has allowed for more throughput when it comes to component-level testing. I’m very proud of this accomplishment and my team!
In an effort to combat the planning fallacy, I went into 2018 with only a handful of goals (which are outlined at the end of my 2017 re-cap) in order to make achieving them much more likely. Now that we are about one-third done with the year, I thought I would give a status update.
Goal 1: Read 2 Books of Month. So far, I’ve kept pace with this goal and have completed 9 books. Here is a short recap with a Siskel and Ebert thumbs up/down review (note: you should be able to find all these books from your local library).
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer: A first-hand re-telling of a mid-nineties Everest disaster that claimed 8 lives when an abrupt change of weather caught several expeditions off-guard. What fascinated me most about this book was the in-depth look at the logistics of climbing Everest (from selecting the gear to navigating the route to the ins-and-outs of high-altitude acclimation). Additionally, Krakauer approaches the retelling of the disaster in a matter-of-fact, journalistic way that leaves you in awe how any rational person would willingly choose to attempt the climb (in fact, Krakauer mentions that in order to try the climb you probably are a little crazy to begin with…). <Thumbs Up>
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks: Breakout novel of the famed — and recently deceased — neurologist Oliver Sacks. The novel itself is composed of a series of interesting medical cases detailing some of the most extreme behaviors due to brain abnormalities (either through accidents, drugs, or other measures). Each vignette is interesting on its own and most provide some sort of insight into our daily behaviors. Of particular personal interest was the story of “The Twins” who, despite their significant mental deficiencies, could calculate large prime numbers. <Thumbs Up>
Welcome to the Club by Raquel D’Apice: A humorous look at “100 Parenting Milestones” that every parent can relate to. Ranging from the significant (“First Time You Hold Your Baby”) to the trivial (“First Time You Hold Your Baby Over Your Head and He Vomits All Over You”), each milestone is a hoot to read and, more times than not, is something that, if you are a parent, you have truly experienced. <Thumbs Up for Current Parents>
A Happy Death by Albert Camus: A precursor to Camus’s The Stranger, this book seems more ripped from a sketchbook than a finished project. Although I appreciate the parallels with my quest towards Financial Independence (after all, what could make people more happy than stripping away their dependency on money — albeit, I’d choose a better way than murder!), overall, I found the book lacking in impact. <Thumbs Down>
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris: This was surprisingly the first David Sedaris book I’ve ever read and I found it to be a delight. Similar to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, this book is a collect of stories loosely centered around two autobiographical eras: Sedaris’s youth and his move to France during adulthood. Each story seems to be more hilarious than the previous (with my personal favorite being his fascination with finding the French translations of some very specific words about anatomy) and, if you like witty dialog, you’re sure to like this book. <Thumbs Up>
What Do You Care What Other People Think by Richard Feynman: I liked famed physicist’s Richard Feynman’s previous book Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman a lot so I figured I’d give this one a try. Let me just say that if you are expecting a sequel you are going to be sorely disappointed. There are some interesting stories but they are few and far between. The majority of the book deals with Feynman’s work on determining the root cause of the Space Shuttle Challenger’s mid-air explosion which is very long-winded and filled with pointless conversations about minutia that don’t amount to much. (Tl;dr: the O-ring became misshapen due to the low temperature at launch which led to a faulty seal). <Thumbs Down>
The Sebastopol Sketches by Leo Tolstoy: Although the Introduction was a bit of a snooze fest, the actual writings of Tolstoy chronicling the Siege of Sebastopol during the Crimean War of the 1850s was surprisingly riveting. Detailing three distinct parts during the siege (December 1854, May 1855, and August 1855), Tolstoy goes from hyper-patriotism regarding the conflict to utter-despondency, questioning the whole point of the war. <Thumbs Up>
Despair by Vladimir Nabokov: Despair is probably one of Nabokov’s most straight-forward, plot-driven novel that he wrote. Centered around a bizarre case of insurance fraud, the novel is a fictional first person retelling (albeit highly biased narration) of a murder-gone-wrong. The book is pretty gripping (the planning and orchestration of the deed leaves you wondering how things could go so wrong!) and has an unusual ending. <Thumbs Up>
Mary by Vladimir Nabokov: Nabokov’s first novel is more like a short story chronicling a coincidental love triangle. What I like most about Nabokov is his inventive and descriptive language — and although his first novel possesses some of these features, it’s certainly better in later works (with my personal favorite being Ada or Ardor). <Thumbs Down -unless you are a Nabokov fanboy like myself>
Goal 2: Run 1000 miles: Definitely have fallen demonstrably short of this goal. The math works out that I should have logged about 295 miles so far, but my Strava shows I’ve only ran a total of 117 miles — a discrepancy of 178 miles! Part of this is due to my re-aggravating my groin injury earlier in the year, but it’s mostly due to my inability to find time to go out for a run. Recently, I’ve picked up the pace a little (running about 41 miles so far in April), but 1000 total miles by the end of the year might be a little out of reach.
Goal 3: Better Time Management: This is definitely not a S.M.A.R.T. Goal as it’s difficult to measure, but I feel like I’ve done a much better job this year. I keep a active note on my phone highlighting my weekly to-do list and recently every Sunday I physically sketch out the week ahead on a printed calendar that gives me a better idea of my available time for each day. I’d give myself a solid “B” grade when it came to improving my time management skills.
Goal 4 (Added): Math Practice: Came to this goal a little late to include in my year-end wrap-up post, but I wanted to become a better math test writer (either through my work with Number Sense or through other, more challenging, competitions). I’ve done a fair amount of work on improving my Number Sense Manual and have begun reviewing some math problem solving books I purchased long ago during my competition days in order to give me guidance (and inspiration!) for my own test writing. Currently, I am engrossed in Paul Zeitz’s The Art and Craft of Problem Solving which is a good book for any aspiring math competitors out there.
Well that about does it! Will check back in over the summer to detail my progress — after all, it has been shown in academic research that making public declarations of your goals (and subsequent progress reports) leads to higher probability that you will achieve them!
Happy to announce I’ve finally completed the revision to the Number Sense Tricks Manual I originally made a little over ten years ago. Here is the direct download link (you can also get it from my webpage here).
I cleaned up a lot of the LaTeX programming and split up each section into it’s own .tex file making it a lot easier to compile individual sections. I also made the .pdf a lot more navigable by adding referencing and a few hyperlinks to my free Middle and High School practice exams. Additionally, I double-checked the question/answer pairing and corrected a fair number of problems. Finally, I added about two dozen more tricks that will help with 3rd and 4th column questions on more recent exams which you can find in Section 4 of the manual.
I wanted to get this version out ASAP to help students with their upcoming UIL regional/state meets. Over the summer, I plan on adding a substantial amount of practice problems to each section and doing another run through to make sure I didn’t miss any commonly tested topics. Hope this material is helpful to you!
I haven’t really talked about it much on this site, but I am a strong proponent of the idea of Financial Independence and the notion of retiring early (and by retirement, I don’t necessarily mean sitting on the beach sipping Mai Tai’s all day — more of an idea that you can choose what you want to do and not be beholden to “the man” for a paycheck).
Anyways, one of the most popular of the Financial Independence websites around is Mr. Money Mustache — a part-financial, part-self-help site of Longmont, Colorado resident Pete Adeney (you can read the story of his path to retirement in his early 30s from his post here). Mr. Money Mustache’s tone is definitely direct and to-the-point, but his message is clear and easily understandable to all: spend less than you earn (preferably by large margins), religiously avoid debt (with the possible exception of a mortgage), and save whatever the surplus is in investments which pay a return that will, eventually, cover your modest expenses. Oh yeah, and ditch you car and ride your bike to most places.
I’ve been reading his blog for a few years now — starting from the very beginning of his 400+ posts — and just this past week, I finally got all caught up. Oftentimes, I found myself e-mailing particularly useful posts to myself, amassing a library of about 40 of my favorite reads. They detail topics ranging from discussions on expenses, explanations of investment strategies, and storytelling of poignant life lessons. Below are links to my favorites, categorized by theme.
Free Yourself From Having to Buy People Gifts
Giving Experiences Rather than Things
Great Ideas for (Nearly) Free Toys for Kids
Psychological Effect of New Things
On the Reduction of Cleaning
Changing Mobile Phone Service Plans
AWD Does Not Make You Safer
Home Purchase and Improvement
How to Buy a House
How to Sell Your House
The Power of Not Having a Mortgage
On the Use of Air Conditioning
Getting Started with Carpentry
The Efficiency and Savings of Having a Metal Roof
Tracking Price to Expense Ratios
Ways to Get Into Retirement Accounts Penalty-Free
Explanation of Managed Payout Funds
Thoughts on Market Cycles with Links to jlcollinsnh Stock Series
Handy Tool to View Market Returns Over Time
Calculating Your Net Worth and Savings Rate
Creative Ways of Giving Money
The Value of Hard Work
Becoming an Efficient Person
To Achieve Greatness, You Must First Acknowledge that you Suck
Thoughts on How Amazing Current Life Is
If Everyone Followed Financial Independence Principles
The Power of a Reducing your News Consumption
Your Circles of Concern and Control
Why We are Irrational Consumers
Life is Not a Contest
Having Kids: Do Whatever Is Right for You
Getting Your Brain Back, Post-Retirement
What MMM is Teaching His Kid About Money
How Your 20s is the Best Time to Develop Financial Independence Habits
Thoughts on Education
2016 Talk at the World Domination Summit
Money and Confidence are Interchangeable
I know these are a lot of posts, but it’s only a sliver of what you can find on the site. By far, the most helpful ones to consider are the Life Lessons. Becoming Financial Independent is a rewarding journey that allows you to focus in on what really is important to you. For me, time spent with my daughter and wife are leaps and bounds more valuable than time spent in the office: why shouldn’t I try my hardest now to make that an actuality? A by-product of striving for a low consumption life also has the added effect of being great for the world, both from a moral and ecological perspective. Anyways, just some things to consider when evaluating your life and what you want to accomplish with your short time spent on Earth!
Just wanted to let all the avid Number Sense participants know that I am (finally!) in the process of revising and editing my Number Sense Manual. I’m about halfway done with revamping the LaTeX code which, hopefully, makes it more readable (a lot has changed in 10 years!). Once I’m done with that I plan on adding a few more sections detailing the tricks that can be used to solve some of the more recent exam questions. I also want to expand the content to include popular Middle School tricks since there seems to be a lot of demand for that. I’m hoping to have an updated manual by the end of March – so stay tuned!
Following in the footsteps of my year-end summary from last year, here is a list of some of my accomplishments as well as my shortcomings from 2017. Taking time to self reflect on major milestones is important to track where you’ve been as well as where you want to go. As nice as it would be to accomplishment everything that you set out for in a give year, life happens. With that in mind, these sort of lists aren’t necessarily chronicling “successes” and “failures” as they are showing what your real priorities are within the past year and how you can adjust them for the future if you find that your aspirations are out-of-sync with your actualities.
- Received our site’s first patent concerning my team’s work on updating our facility’s linear accelerator.
- Submitted a second patent concerning an unrelated efficiency our team implemented on our linear accelerator.
- Presented at the HEART conference this year concerning the capabilities of our radiation test stands.
- Helped spearhead an effort securing a high value, long-term contract (apologies for the vagueness…).
- Became laboratory lead engineer (where else… the linear accelerator group!) and gained more first-time customers than I’ve seen since joining the site.
- Completed all work efforts to the facility’s and customer’s satisfaction — with numerous highly regarded customer reviews.
- Personally recognized at the division level for all of my efforts.
- Submitted application to become a Senior Member of IEEE, having accumulated 10 years of experience and detailing professional growth over the last 5 years
Personal (+ Family!) Achievements
- Ran my first 50 mile race and in a respectable time.
- Saw an exponential growth in my site’s traffic due to the popularity of free number sense practice material for middle and high school students.
- In the last 6 months of 2017, had over 13,000 individual downloads — 1,250 of which was of my Number Sense Manual (which I plan on updating in 2018).
- Successfully flew on a plane with an infant/toddler twice (!!)
- Maintained my “photos of the week” through the first year of my child’s life.
- Supplied some questions for the Utah State Math Contest and became an exam reviewer.
- Continued being valued contributors to our family’s endowment as well as other local charities and causes.
Where I Came Up Short (a lot of areas! — because having a child is tough!)
- Still have not taken the Project Management Professional (PMP) Exam and receive certification which complemented some of my MBA coursework — will DEFINITELY accomplish this year since this has been on the list for two years now.
- Did not become certified National Instruments LabVIEW Developer — however, I don’t think this is a priority anymore, so I’ll scrub it for next year.
- Did not read as many books as I would prefer. (As an aside: highly recommend newly minted Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler’s book Nudge — at least the first half where he explains sources of personal biases). I’m setting a goal of 24 books for 2018.
- Did not actually run a lot of miles last year (282, to be exact). After my 50 mile race, I kind-of slacked for a few months. When I tried to get back into the swing of things, I suffered a pulled groin muscle that sidelined me for most of fall. I’m setting a goal of 1,000 miles in 2018.
- Kind-of sucked with time management in 2017. Yes, having a kid is part of it — and I didn’t fully appreciate that part of it until Eleanor started to crawl — but, overall, I had an incredibly busy work year that bled into my free-time a lot. My goal is letting myself be OK with better allocating work amongst my team as well as to getting myself more on a schedule.
Anyways, here’s to a very action-packed 2017 and the hope that 2018 will be just as fulfilling!
Can’t believe I’ve had this website up and running for a full year now! With the help of Google Analytics, I’ve been looking at plots of different traffic data and I thought I would share with you two that are most telling.
This first shows a plot of unique website users since last November, while the second shows unique downloads (mostly of the .pdfs of my Number Sense practice materials) during the same time period. (Note: I only have been keeping track of that information since mid-July — shout-out to my buddy Jerod for helping me out with that.)
As you can see, the exponential growth is pretty evident which validates what I’ve thought all along: students and teachers are thirsty for free practice material to help their students succeed in STEM-fields.
Anyway, I plan on helping out where I can in the coming years and have some exciting things I want to put together! Here’s to another fruitful year!
Funny thing happened earlier this past week: after being a relatively inactive user for the past 9 years, I decided to submit a recent NY Times piece outlining the proposed US House of Representatives’ Tax Plan to one of my favorite subreddits, /r/financialindependence.
Outside of the daily discussion threads, this subreddit’s typical activity is far less than what the 300,000+ subscribes would suggest. So it came as a little bit of a shock that my post garnered so much interest (almost 1000 “upvotes” and just as many comments).
Perusing the comments sections, I helped some people understand the US Tax Code a little bit better and outlined some obvious winners and losers of the proopsed changes. In a nutshell: if your household* taxable income (less your standard pre-tax contributions such as for 401(k) and HSA plans) is around $90,000 — enough to cap out the lowest proposed tax bracket of 12% — , you have children, and you have previously been filing using the standard deduction then, CONGRATULATIONS, you are the biggest winner of the new tax plan.**
As for the losers, if you are a dual-income household who make around $200,000 to $400,000, have children, and have previously heavily itemized, you are the biggest losers and will, most likely, be paying more for taxes. This mostly describes households in high-cost of living areas (California, New York City, etc…) that are traditionally blue-state stalwarts.
Anyways, I highly recommend people who pay taxes educate themselves on how exactly the bulk of the US Tax Code works (if you are a “normal person,” it’s actually not too complicated) and judge for yourself how the proposed changes would affect you.
* This is presuming you are married filing-jointly. If you are an individual, cut the income levels approximately in half for the big winners/losers.
** Note: the top 1% (or more specifically, the top 0.2%) are truly the biggest winners as the estate tax repeal would far exceed any modest benefits the “middle class” would get from the new plan (also the elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax is a huge benefit to certain wealthy people who make specific types of income).
Now that the college application process is in full swing for you High School Seniors out there, I thought I’d do a follow-up on my Advice for College-Bound Students and focus in on providing a few insights when trying to select an appropriate college.
For those that didn’t read through the prior post, here is a tl;dr version of my college experience from a decade ago:
- Got accepted into a few top-tier universities (including Rice) as well as the usual lineup of Texas public universities (UT, A&M, and TTU).
- At the time much to my regret (but in retrospect, probably the smartest thing I’ve done), I decided to attend Texas Tech University under a full-scholarship.
- Had a pretty rough transition period where I was close to transferring, but ultimately decided to stick it out and get more involved with stuff outside the classroom.
- Wound up with a handful of degrees (both Bachelor’s and Master’s) and some incredible life experiences that shaped me into what I am today!
As you can see, my college experience – especially the application and decision-making process of where to go – was a roller coaster of emotions. I only highlight this fact to show you that I’ve been through what most of you are probably starting to experience now and, through the lens of hindsight, I feel like I can give you a few things to chew to help with your own decision making.
(1) College is what you make of it. I harped on this point in my prior post, but it is true. Opportunities exist everywhere at pretty much every single college or university out there and it’s up to you to seek them out.
(2) Educationally speaking, Bachelor’s degree coursework is virtually universal across all accredited institutions. Regardless of where you go you are pretty much going to learn the same stuff in order to get your Bachelor’s degree. This is based off of a plethora of anecdotal evidence and the fact that universities typically structure curriculum to meet accreditation requirements. As a result, the stuff you learn is fairly homogenous across institutions.
(3) The true value of the Ivy’s and other prestigious universities is that there are more opportunities per student and there is incredible social value attached with a degree from there. This makes it easier to form meaningful connections with important people and “move up the chain” faster (whether that be starting off a career a ladder rung or two higher or gaining entrance into well-known graduate programs). Other would, however, argue about this benefit…
(4) Student loan debt sucks. I wish I could shake every incoming freshman and yell this fact to them. Although I was super upset at the time, one the best thing’s my parents have done for me is vehemently refuse to co-sign on any sort of student loans. This made it difficult to secure funding at reasonable interest rates and forced me to re-examine my decision under a more rational lens, ultimately leading to my making the financially prudent decision to go where I had a full-ride.
I know all of these crazy high tuition amounts ($20-$50k+ per year) seem like monopoly money. Eventually though, you actually have to pay it back. Even if you have an incredibly well-paying job, this debt almost never gets resolved under short timeframes. I can’t stress this enough: student debt incredibly stunts your financial trajectory and really does affect your long-term goals. Because you’ll be paying off student loans early in your career, this means that you won’t be saving up for whatever future big-ticket items you have in mind. This creates a domino effect: you’ll buy a house later in life, you’ll (most likely) be married and have kids later in life, and you’ll retire later in the life. This is a very real thing and has a very large impact on your future. (In fact, I plan on doing a more in-depth post about this very topic later).
(5) Once you have your foot in the door for whatever post-college endeavor you find yourself in, no one really cares about your Bachelor degree anymore. I subscribe to the screening theory of education that a college degree’s value is not derived from the curriculum but rather from the soft-skills – stuff like grit, time management, and prioritizing – that you gain over the four years of constant deadlines and projects. These are the skills that you take to your next step (whether it’s a job or a grad degree or whatever) and once you are jumping off from that entry-job or Master’s degree, no one really cares about where you did your undergrad from.
Keeping these things in mind, it’s pretty easy to see what the optimal strategy from selecting an appropriate college would be:
- Go to wherever gives you the best financial deal to minimize your student loan debt. Strive to apply for any scholarships in order to lessen the financial hit.
- Explore opportunities outside the classroom that that university has to offer that align with your interests and what you like doing. Ultimately, make a mark with those opportunities and connect with similar people. Basically, become that big fish in a small pond.
- If you decide to pursue a graduate school, explore universities that are well-known in whatever sub-field you’re interested in (this is the time when prestige starts to matter). If you decide to enter the workplace, best of luck! Keep in mind that because of the extra-curricular and the informal networking you developed with others, you are a leg-up in getting hired!
Anyways, just some thoughts for you to consider. Of course, this approach isn’t for everyone and there are unique situations out there, but as a whole I stand by it being the best path for extracting the most value for the least amount of cost out of your higher education.