Posts Tagged ‘money’

US States vs Capitals: Median Household Income

Posted in America on March 10th, 2016 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

The other day I took a train from NYC to Philadelphia. As I passed through the somewhat desolate station in Trenton, NJ, I wondered to myself: How do states' capitals' median household incomes compare to the states themselves? What states are "richer" or "poorer" than their capital cities?

With the help of data from the US Census FactFinder, I put together this map to answer the question. At one end of the scale is Hartford, CT, whose $29313 median household income is only 41.9% of the state's median household income of $69899. At the opposite end is Juneau, AK, whose $84750 MHI is 118% of the state's $71829.

Median Household Incomes of US Capitals versus their States

Only seventeen states have a median household income above that of the state, whereas the remaining 33 capitals lag behind the state's median. On average, state capital MHIs are 90% of their states. And finally, Washington DC, not included in this map, has a $69235 MHI, 129.5% of the overall United States MHI of $53482.

I don't know if there's any conclusions to draw from this. Since this has to do with capital city limits only, there's a possibility that suburbs could influence the findings immensely. (I've been to West Hartford, CT, for example, and found it to be very nice. But it's not the capital of the state, only a directly neighboring city.) Similarly, should there even be a conclusion to be drawn? Austin is a college town with a lot of technology, so it finds itself slightly better off than Texas as a whole. Albany is a Rust Belt city whose industries have been mostly left behind by the changing economy, so perhaps in the past it would have beaten NY as a whole, but today doesn't hold up. In any case, if there's one thing I enjoy, it's answering interesting data-based questions. Raw data below:

US Capitals Median Income Raw Data

What's in a pint?

Posted in Beer on March 19th, 2015 by Nathan – Be the first to comment
Clearly marked pint lines on one of my favorite glasses: Great British Beer Festival 2013

Clearly marked pint, half-pint, and third-pint lines on one of my favorite glasses: Great British Beer Festival 2013

In the United Kingdom, it is illegal to sell a pint of beer with less than 568mL of liquid. This corresponds to 20 imperial ounces, which is about 19.2 US ounces. Similarly, "half pints" must contain no less than 284mL, and "third pints" no less than 189.3mL. To enforce this law, pubs in the UK serve beers in marked glasses, with clear lines that show at what point a pint has been reached. There are inspections. There are regulators. There are customers who politely ask for a "top up" when this line isn't met. And as a result, this line is met. Customers who expect a pint receive an imperial pint at a minimum.

The United States Treasury, through powers granted by Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, defined, in 1832, a gallon as 231 cubic inches. As part of the US Code obligations, every state has, on behalf of the Secretary of Commerce, a complete set of "weights and measures," that include a gallon and divisions thereof: half gallons, quarts, pints, half pints, and gills. Thus, a pint, according to US law, is 28.875 cubic inches, or precisely 16 US ounces (473mL).

And yet, when you buy a pint of beer in this country, there is no guarantee that you will get those 16 ounces. In fact the opposite is true: thanks to under-pouring and misleading glassware, you are likely to get much less.

The "standard American shaker pint" glass, the kind you probably think of as a pint glass, holds exactly 16 ounces. Exactly. No room for spillage, and in fact, pour a tall boy of beer into one and you'll note a "reverse miniscus" of liquid, as surface tension keeps the liquid from pouring over the side. But when was the last time you were served, at a bar, a nearly-overflowing glass of beer? When standard shaker pints are used, you're much more likely to receive around fourteen ounces of beer, accounting for head and empty space to prevent (or caused by) spillage.

And yet the problem compounds further: bantam-weight shaker pints, which have thicker walls, a much thicker floor, and are commonly used with a stainless steel Boston shaker to shake cocktails, hold a maximum of 14 ounces of liquid. Again, this is exact. Any more than 14 ounces, and that surface tension will break, sending liquid spilling over the side. And today, many bars have switched from the already questionable American shaker pint to that bantam-weight shaker pint, meaning that once you account for head and spillage, you're likely receiving only around 12 ounces when you ask for a pint. A 25% discount in liquid that surely is not represented in the price.

As it happens, the State of Texas actually does have a law that deals with this, but the Department of Agriculture, responsible for its enforcement, apparently focuses entirely on its application to fuel pumps. The relevant section that should be applied to bars and restaurants that under-serve is Section 13.035(b)(2): "A person violates this chapter if the person represents the price or the quantity of a commodity, item, or service sold or offered or exposed for sale in a manner intended or tending to mislead or deceive an actual or prospective customer."

I think it's time for this state, and any other state that has similar laws, to begin enforcement of this. The law provides for a fine for every infraction, and I think it's time that those fines be levied. States that don't have similar laws ought to legislate thusly. The customer is being cheated, lied to, and this is a disgrace. I'd like to see marked pint glasses that clearly and correctly show where liquid reaches 16 ounces. I'd like to see the demise of both the American shaker pint and its even more devious bantam-weight cousin as serving vessels. And I'd like to see establishments stop cheating customers, be it through good conscience or through proper application of consumer protection laws.

But it also requires action from the customers. Demand a full pint. Demand top-ups to get to 16 ounces when American shaker pints are used, and stop patronizing establishments that cheat you out of volume. Order cans or 12-ounce bottles and ask for a pint glass, to demonstrate the embarrassing pour that occurs when bantam-weight shaker pints are used. This cheating needs to end, but it'll take a lot of work for us to get our full pour.

The Original db Burger

Posted in Burgers on October 15th, 2014 by Nathan – 1 Comment

I did not take this picture - this is direct from db themselves. Note the construction is very segmented.When I heard about the "Original db Burger" at db Bistro Moderne in Manhattan, and fairly close to my work, I knew I had to try it. Just look at this description:

Sirloin Burger filled with Braised Short Ribs, Foie Gras & Black Truffle
Parmesan Bun, Pommes Frites

Sirloin, okay sounds reasonable enough.

Braised Short Ribs, yeah, I'm following you.

Foie Gras & Black Truffle? Now you have my attention.

Now, with this weighing in at $35, I was justifiably a bit hesitant. But ultimately, I knew, I had to try this burger. So, one recent Saturday, before hopping a train to Elmsford, NY (home of Captain Lawrence Brewing Company, where a sour beer fest awaited me), I stopped in to db and ordered a burger.

I found myself nearly alone in the front dining room. Two ladies-who-lunch sat at the corner table next to me, perusing the menu and gossiping about friends, drama, celebrities, some recent social event, their mimosas, the waitstaff… Off in another corner sat another woman, awaiting a date who would turn up some twenty minutes later, the lateness apparently expected by the woman who had wisely spent the time reading a book and who seemed completely unperturbed. The rest of the room was empty.

When my burger arrived, it was already cut in half, so that I could see the short rib as well as the large portion of foie gras that had been completely encased by the sirloin burger. This fact was not lost on the ladies-who-lunch, who also noticed the burger and felt that it was time to make their presence known to me:

Would you like to give us the name of your cardiologist so we can call him after you finish?

The burger itself was quite tall, which made for a wonderful spectacle, but served to cause problems when I attempted to compress it to take a bite. The foie gras, you see, is more of "seated" inside the patty and thus began to slip out, meaning I would have to eat it earlier than I would have preferred. Not the biggest deal, but by the time I had prevented that havoc, the burger now resembled a much more pedestrian-not-worth-$35 burger.

And this is only where the dismay began. The short rib, darker than the surrounding components, was positioned on both sides of the foie gras, rather than worked into the composition of the beef as ground short rib. This served the purpose of proving that in fact short rib had been part of the composition, but it also made the rather bland sirloin stand alone, as the most substantive part – and only remaining part after a brief period – of the burger.

The black truffle may have been non-existent entirely for all it contributed to the flavor. And the pommes frites? Well yeah, they were fries. Calling something French does not, as I've sadly noted in the past, actually make that thing taste any better. These fries were mediocre at best.

This burger was a novelty. It was pretty. It was,to borrow from Aristotle's Poetics, all spectacle and no story. Sure, it will elicit a reaction from nearby ladies-who-lunch, and sure, it is probably as haute cuisine as you can get in the burger world, but frankly, it was just average at best.

Craft beer is underpriced

Posted in Beer on April 9th, 2014 by Nathan – 17 Comments

If quantity cannot increase fast enough, price must.I've written a lot about this topic in various other locations, but I figured it's time to talk about it here: much of craft beer is absurdly underpriced. I've touched on supply/demand before in this blog, but a quick refresher can't hurt. Basically, to the left is a supply and demand curve. It's basic. Where that dot labeled "equilibrium" is is the magical world where supply matches demand. In that world there's an equilibrium price and an equilibrium quantity. It's magical, of course, because it rarely exists with specific goods.

Craft beer is one of those goods where the equilibrium seems to be a fantasy, impossible to reach. Instead, we're at a point on the supply curve down and to the left of the equilibrium: quantity is low, price is low.

The symptoms of this are obvious in many craft beer scenes around the country: super quick sellouts, the recent Hunahpu's Day disaster, beer scalpers, etc. When demand outpaces supply, these types of things happen. These are simple market inefficiencies. And there's only two ways to fix these inefficiencies: increase supply or decrease demand.

Increasing supply is a somewhat nice idea, and in the market overall, this is already underway. More and more craft breweries are opening, expanding, increasing production. However, because beers are not perfect substitute goods, an increase in supply in the overall market does not translate to an increase in supply for particular beers. As a result, rare or limited releases continue to see the problems described above. In fact, this is precisely where the problem is most evident and these beers are the exact ones I would argue are underpriced.

Thus, demand must be decreased. And as the supply/demand curve image shows, if the quantity can't increase, the price must. And as it does, the consumer appetite will decrease, demand will drop as prices approach equilibrium. Note that there's nothing "fair" about this – it's a purely capitalist system, but it's also a system that, with the scarcity that exists, works.

Jester King's Aurelian Lure and Nocturn Chrysalis were priced at sixteen dollars per 500ml bottle. There were about 500 bottles of each. Every bottle sold out within three minutes. That's absurd. Jester King could have easily charged twice that and the sellout would still have occurred, albeit at a slightly slower rate. In fact, I would argue that Jester King could have charged ten times as much – an unheard of (some might say obscene) $160 per bottle, and still sold out in a reasonable amount of time. (Of course, they would have had to remove the "limit one per person" stipulation. And I wouldn't have gotten any.)

A six-pack of Saint Arnold Divine Reserve may run you as much as twenty dollars. Look on Craigslist a day or two after it's been sold out in Houston, and you'll see postings asking for fifty or one hundred dollars. No matter how often people flag the posts (myself included) as prohibited, those sellers will sell the beer they bought. If they wouldn't, then we wouldn't see the same thing after every somewhat limited release. The prices they request are closer to the market equilibrium, and the gray market rewards them for taking advantage of a massive market inefficiency.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that there seems to be some kind of "noble pricing" that breweries implement. Reputational risk is probably a concern, but honestly, a lot of breweries are owned by or started by people who find it abhorrent to charge more than what they think is fair. Freetail is a great example of this, and they have stated before that they purposely keep prices low, intentionally do not capitalize on the extreme demand for Ananke and other special releases, and do not plan to change this in the future. Honestly, I think that's noble, wonderful for my wallet and those wallets of my friends, and unsustainable.

The prices probably won't rise in the near future, unfortunately, because of this reason and other reasons. But I repeat that I believe this is unsustainable. The growth in craft beer demand looks to continue at ridiculous rates, while supply simply cannot keep up. The result will be increased gray market activity, more catastrophes at beer releases, more rapid sellouts and angry consumers, and ultimately chaos. It's not impossible to envision a future in which a brewer throws his hands up and sells out or quits, in retaliation to this chaos. And that benefits nobody.

The responsible but unpopular thing to do is to raise prices. Craft beer is massively underpriced and unless this changes, there may be a crisis ahead.

What if Sean Payton was the source of the bounty leak?

Posted in Sports and Games on September 24th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Is there a more valuable coach right now than Sean Payton, in his absence? I think not.When the hammer fell on the New Orleans bounty program, a lot of people asked a lot of questions. Some pointed out that these programs existed all over and questioned why New Orleans should be singled out for punishment? Others suggested that Roger Goodell was looking for a distraction from the various health and safety issues that are now coming to light in relation to concussions. This bred a lot of various conspiracy theories, crackpot ideas from people who thought that everything wasn't exactly right.

Although I don't allow myself to believe in conspiracy theories, except for one, I'd like to propose a new one I haven't heard discussed before.

One of the questions that hasn't gone away is who the NFL's source was for the bounty leak. At some point, it became obvious that Goodell had evidence against Jonathan Vilma and other members of the New Orleans Saints, and used this evidence to suspend him and others, including head coach Sean Payton, from the league for various sentence lengths. But the contents of this evidence, as well as its source, remain unknown.

At one point, Jonathan Vilma sued the NFL for defamation, claiming that he did not participate in any bounty program. The NFL, apparently desiring to avoid a public suit, attempted to settle with him immediately. When this did not work, Vilma and seven others testified in an arbitration court, in front of a federal judge, who ordered the NFL to reinstate the players. Sean Payton, Gregg Williams, and Joe Vitt, and Mickey Loomis, the coaches and front office staff suspended, were not similarly reinstated.

They did appeal, but their appeal was turned down by Goodell himself. Rather than take it further, they ended their protest there.

Some have suggested that these coaches/front office staff have a long future with the NFL and taking it further would damage that relationship. However, I'd like to offer another possible explanation. One that I do not believe in, but would still like to propose just in the interest of "what if."

What if Sean Payton were the source of the bounty program evidence? That is to say, what if he leaked his own involvement and the involvement of others in his staff to Goodell, knowing he would be suspended, punished, and that his team would be harshly dealt with?

There are a few things that Payton would stand to lose in this scenario: he obviously loses a year of coaching, and all that entails. And he suffers a hit to his reputation as the bounty program took place on his watch and was allegedly covered up by him. If no one knows that he was the source, that is, I believe, where his personal losses end: with blows to his career and his legacy.

The bounty scandal opened up a wide inquiry into the violence of the sport, something that many, including those deeply involved with the sport (such as Payton) would like to see curtailed to some extent. This is a more altruistic rationale, though, so it's not that convincing. There is one, much larger reason why Payton benefits from the bounty system.

Sean Payton gets a year off. Not a suspension, but a vacation. And when he returns from his enforced vacation (the only reputationally acceptable way he'd be able to keep his job after a sabbatical would be such a suspension), he will be sorely missed, welcomed back with open arms. The New Orleans Saints, one of last year's strongest teams, have started the season, through three weeks, without a win. All three of the teams they have lost to are not great teams; the only wins they have are the wins against New Orleans. For all intents and purposes, they look like a terrible team, and the only other 0-3 team is the Cleveland Browns, the team that many picked to lose the whole year.

When Payton comes back, he'll have the benefit of a team that hasn't gotten worse in terms of talent. He'll have a high second-round draft pick (assuming Goodell reinstates that pick, which is being discussed) or a high third-round draft pick. He'll have the support of his front office. And he'll have everyone in the world realizing just how important a head coach is.

Right now the phrase "coaching matters" is more meaningful than ever before. And when it's time for Payton to cash out on that belief, there's no question he'll do so big time. If he is the source of the documents that exposed this scandal, it was an investment. An investment on which he stands to make glorious returns.

What if Clemens pitched for the Astros?

Posted in Sports and Games on August 25th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Remember those days? All the way to the World Series. And even if he probably can't help that much on the field, maybe Roger will somehow help the Astros get there again.Again, that is.

Roger Clemens is pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters tonight, and Astros scouts will be available. If he still has some stuff, expect a high chance of him signing to the Astros. Why would he do this? Probably not love of the game, but much more likely to delay his Hall of Fame eligibility five years so as to increase the likelihood of his election into Cooperstown on the first ballot.

Some people suggest that this would be a circus sideshow for the worst team in baseball, and I’ve also heard talk that this would be a way for Jim Crane to recoup some of his investment and nothing more. These people are giving up on the Astros future by assuming that Crane is interested only in the immediate payout and not in building a long-term winner.

This seems ridiculous because as a businessman, Crane is best served by a long-term good team with steady attendance draws. He will have the best investment if he builds a juggernaut.

Unfortunately, adding Roger Clemens to the team will not create that juggernaut. What would it do? What if Clemens played for the Astros, again?


Unquestionably attendance would go up, a large reason why Jim Crane would even consider signing him. This would in fact generate revenue, likely more than the cost of Clemens. And this is good. At this point, any profit can go into rebuilding the team and making it better. The park is usually empty and I can’t imagine that fares well for the future.

Pitching Help

Forget about winning: it’s not going to happen, nor is it desired. We’d rather have more first round picks than be mediocre. But Clemens can help down the road with pitching coaching. There’s a lot of coaching on the chopping block these days and if Clemens pitches for the Astros and gets along well with everyone, he’d make a great coach in the future, should he desire such a job.


Anything that gets Houston on ESPN is a good thing. Sure, the Astros are dead last, but they are dead last in a way that doesn’t scream “Pirates” and instead sounds a lot more like “Rays.” Rebuilding is a long process but it helps if the national sports media is paying attention again. With Jeremy Lin on the Rockets and the Rocket on the Astros, there could be a little more national excitement, enough to drum up more local excitement.

All in all, I don’t think it’s as likely as others suggest for Roger Clemens to pitch for the Astros again. But if he does, I think we owe him a welcome and I think we ought to give Crane a little more leeway to make moves like this. It’s not a circus sideshow if it ultimately helps, and there is no perceptible downside: the salary of the Astros is too low for a signing like this to possibly hurt.

I doubt Biggie had a yacht

Posted in Music on August 5th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment Come On, and for that matter, also in a couple “freestyles” that encourage me to think they are not so free after all, the Notorious B.I.G., claims that he’s exorbitantly wealthy:

“Biggie Smalls, the millionaire, the mansion, the yacht.”

The first two claims are easy to verify. His first album went quadruple platinum and before he died, he saw six singles chart. He had a hand in producing Lil’ Kim and others. He won several music awards from Billboard and Source. It’s difficult to find exact figures on his wealth before his death, but every number pegs it in the tens of millions. Clearly, “the millionaire” is not unrealistic.

And though I can’t find anything proving he did in fact have a mansion, it would be mindboggling to think that he didn’t, given his wealth and the usual behavior of people who come into wealth having grown up with none. The examples of such people are endless, and they nearly always spend money on massive houses immediately. Wayne Gretzky comes to mind first, but the resulting conclusion is that “the mansion” is almost certainly accurate.

But “the yacht”? Here I think Biggie is exaggerating. Yachts are exorbitant in price. There are many mansions but few yachts. There are many millionaires, but being a millionaire is not enough qualification to own a yacht. There’s not just the cost of a yacht (many millions of dollars, essentially leaving no room for Biggie’s mansion) but also the high expense of upkeep.

There’s no proof that he said it, but the famous quotation from J.P.Morgan to banker Henry Pierce, “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” refers to the cost of yacht ownership. Even Diddy, who is alive and well, and who has made significantly more money than Biggie ended his life with, rents his yachts. It just seems unrealistic to believe Biggie in this claim. “The yacht?” Only in the music videos.