Category Archives: challenge

Wizards Rule! Join the Good Judgement Project

The Good Judgement Project is a large-scale, government-funded prediction game. Similar to the markets where you can bet on who’s gonna be elected president, but with no actual money. You can read more about it in this Freakonomics article from a few years ago.

The project only accepts a limited number of participants at a time, because participating includes free, ongoing training on becoming a better prognosticator. You see, the researchers behind the GJP have actually distilled prediction down to a science, and they’re happy to share it with you.

Perfectly predicting the future still requires a crystal ball, but their training has helped me realize that good forecasting is a skill that one can cultivate, with practice and guidance. In other words, anyone can become a wizard.

I’ll give you a little peak into what I’ve learned: non-wizards tend to focus on the unique qualities of a situation, but wizards increase their forecasting accuracy by abstracting the situation and looking at outcomes of similar past situations. This is called reference class forecasting, and it also involves learning how to reframe problems and hunt for the right information.

Forecasting is a really awesome talent to have, so I’m totally pumped about leveling up.  The GJP is open for enrolment now. Register if you want to become more wizardy: http://www.goodjudgmentproject.com/

Just a heads-up,  registration includes a timed knowledge test that is rather rigorous. It mostly covers politics and current-events, and also includes brain-teasers and a few “personality test” questions. Nobody ever said becoming a wizard would be easy.

Join the March Bike Commute Challenge

lots of bikes Interested in riding your bike more often? Looking for a way to get motivated? Want to save money, have fun, look sexier, and actually enjoy your commute? Tired of all these rhetorical questions? Then look no further!

I help run a monthly commute challenge, and it didn’t occur to me until now that I could actually promote it here on the blog.

If you’re interested in joining, the link to track your miles is here:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Am8qaK8Qf80edENEMVh4ZkJEOC1SRm51S0hyWnRwZEE

Just follow the instructions at the top to add your name to the list. Let me know if you have any questions. Hope to see some new bike commuters starting up now that the weather is maybe not so crummy in the coming weeks? Fingers crossed!

Food Stamp Challenge: Thankful Wrap-up

The Food Stamp Challenge ended Sunday afternoon. We broke the bank by just $2, as you can see by the image to the right, which is close enough to the goal that I consider it a success. If you’re interested, you can also look at the full spreadsheet with lists of what we bought and (much of) what we ate.

The week went by pretty much like a normal week. Venessa might tell you otherwise, since the work of planning and purchasing just the right amount of food fell mostly on her shoulders. I’m very thankful that she’s so willing to go along with my crazy challenges! The biggest change was not going out to lunch with my co-workers, which I usually do a couple times a week.

From looking at the shopping list, the secret to keeping food costs down is obvious: buy individual ingredients, instead of ready-to-eat meals and convenience foods. With the exception of “hamburger buns,” almost everything else on the list is either a food item in its most basic form, or a food home-made prior to the start of the challenge*. Given enough time (and my awesome bread machine) I could have made the buns too. Time is really what is needed to turn ingredients into food. I’m thankful that Venessa and I each work sane schedules so we have time for cooking nutritious meals, and being with the rest of the family.

I was talking about the challenge with a friend, mentioning how I aimed to show that living on a very limited food budget doesn’t mean that one needs to make compromises. She mentioned that simply having the money and mentality to make healthy food choices isn’t sufficient for everyone, since some folks live in a food desert. I’m lucky to live walking-distance from an adequate supermarket and work walking-distance from two very good ones, so it didn’t occur to me that not everyone has that luxury. This is yet another thing to be thankful for.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m dropping a lot of thankful bombs, which can only mean one thing: Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Eat yummy food but don’t overdo it. Remember those who are overworked, not able to get to grocery stores, and getting by on Food Stamps.

* If I really wanted to be tough on myself, I’d also add “wine” and the various dairy products to the list of ready-made food items, since they can both be made at home from basic ingredients.

Food Stamp Challenge Update

As you know, I’m doing the Food Stamp Challenge this week. I’ll take any excuse I can get to make a spreadsheet, so that’s just what I did to track our food spending for the week.

Here’s how I’m making it more realistic: for all foods we’d already purchased or made before the challenge began, I’m adding their approximate value to the list the day we consume them. That way we can finish up leftovers, use bulk goods, etc.

I’m also being very strict and adding stuff like protein powder, wine, and other consumable “food” type items that probably aren’t covered by Food Stamps.

Here’s the spreadsheet so far:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Am8qaK8Qf80edEJyNVpIUjBrLVFKSGlESEtxaEoxVEE

We’ve spent $80 out of our allotted $94, though there are a few things I haven’t tracked yet. We probably have enough food to last us the rest of the week, but it’s going to be down to the wire!

You’ll notice we’re still eating healthy foods, with a lot of organic produce. Even if we do break the budget by a little, I aim to prove that living on a very limited food budget doesn’t mean that one needs to compromise when it comes to health, nutrition, or values.

Food Stamp Challenge

My Rabbi challenged everyone in our congregation to do a week-long Food Stamp Challenge, starting on Sunday. This means you go a week spending the same amount on groceries that the average person on food-stamps receives in benefits, which is $31.50. It won’t be a huge stretch for our family, since our grocery spending is already at a pretty low level.

In the interest of full disclosure, we’re cheating and allowing ourselves to eat from the food in our pantry (which is modest though well-stocked). I’m talking about stuff like wheat flour to make bread, not caviar.

We’re planning a shopping trip for Sunday to get the food for the week. To make it more realistic, we also won’t be eating lunch in restaurants at work, which is something we normally do a couple times a week.

I’ll let you know how it goes, maybe with a detailed breakdown of how we fed our family for a week, spending only $31.50 per person.

Is anyone else interested in participating?

The Ups and Downs of a Gallon Challenge

[Sorry for the light posting recently. By the time you read this I’ll be in Israel for my sister’s wedding. Mazel Tov, Mindy! Oh and don’t think about robbing my house. We have a house-sitter and she’s a rugby player.]

August is over so let’s take a look at how I did on the Gallon Challenge. Here were the car trips I made in the month*

Date Purpose Miles Gallons
8/02/2012 Dad’s birthday 16 0.8
8/09/2012 Drive babysitter home 4 0.2
8/16/2012 Drive to concert 17 0.85
Totals: 37 1.85

The bad news is that I used almost 2 gallons of gas, twice as much as I wanted to use.

The good news is that I only made 3 car trips for the entire month! Instead of driving, I did a lot of walking and biking (which is better than free, since it’s free + I got exercise). I also rediscovered the joy of reading a good book on the bus (which is free for me since my employer provides a bus pass), and prevented over 100 pounds of CO2 from polluting the atmosphere.

Instead of all that driving, I biked or walked about 100 miles. This included running errands, commuting, and exercise. By not needing to refuel the car, I spent a whopping $0.00 on gas this month, as opposed to an average fuel spend of $97 per month. If I got rid of the car and permanently invested that $97 every month, it would add up to over $17,000 in ten years (including compound interest). Imagine how much more that would be if I also didn’t need to buy auto insurance, oil changes, parking, etc.

As a side note, I also got my blog idol Mr Money Mustache to join in the challenge. He upped the ante by having his wife join in, and the two of them pledged to only use a gallon of gas combined!

All in all, I’d say the positive aspects of this month far outweigh the negative. Oh, and you should see what biking the boys to camp did to my leg muscles. I’m ripped!

* remember, family vacations are excluded. I also excluded times I kept Venessa company in the car while she was delivering food for her catering business.

The cost of a Free Concert

My uncle gave our family free tickets to a concert last week. It was Pink Martini, one of my wife’s favorite bands, so we couldn’t pass it up. The concert was a blast (especially for the kids who got to dance around) and I don’t regret going, but the evening came with an important lesson about the hidden costs of “free” activities.

Transportation: it was too far for the little ones to bike, and the bus ride would have been inconvenient with our picnic supplies, so we took the car. This put me over my limit in the gallon challenge, so although it wasn’t a huge deal to drive for the rest of the family, it was a personal defeat for me.*

Food: we were in too big of a rush to prepare dinner, so we ordered a pizza to go (and they forgot to put tomato sauce on it, WTF!?)

Other temptations: the concert was in a park that had a carousel, so the children wanted to ride on that. Only a couple bucks, and well worth the price for the nostalgic fun. Grandma bought the children some treats too. That’s what grandmas are for, right?

The point here isn’t “don’t leave your house” or “never take anyone up on an offer” since that would make life boring. The point is that it’s rare when things are truly free, and it’s important to think ahead about the actual cost of your choices.

* For those keeping score at home, this trip brought me up to 1.85 gallons.