Happy St. Urho’s Day!

St. Urho is the patron saint of Finland, and March 16th is a celebration day for great merriment and drinking throughout all of the North. As it says on www.sturho.com, St. Urho was the saint who drove the grasshoppers out of Finland, saving the wine crop. His colors are Royal Purple and Nile Green. He did this by uttering the phrase: “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen” (roughly translated: “Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to Hell!”).

sturhoNow, you might perhaps suggest that there are no grasshoppers in the coniferous forests and ice lands of Finland, where 25% of the land lies above the Arctic Circle. Thank to St. Urho, of course! You might perhaps suggest that Finland is not particularly known for its great wines, but neither is Ireland known for its vodka despite the ballyhoo about the potato crop. And Finland is known for its great drinking, as it ranks 9th in the world for death by alcoholism, compared with the US which is a mere 39th and Ireland which is way down at #63.

Continue reading “Happy St. Urho’s Day!”

Your Tax Dollars at Work

When doing someone’s taxes, divorce seems to be the most painful situation to handle. The dissolution of a household and its financial entanglements are difficult to pick apart. Even standard questions about whether there’s alimony or who provides 50% of the household support for children push emotional buttons. It’s also very hard to tell someone they’ve been under-withheld and have to pay, especially when they’re making less than $30,000 a year. The financial entrails of the tax year reveal volumes about the miseries and joys within people lives – worker’s compensation claims that speak to turmoil on the job, brand new exemptions heralding a childbirth, or filing statuses that change from Single to Married to Single, Single to Married to Widowed to Single again.

Since transitioning out of my corporate job, I have navigated – by accident or fate – into helping prepare taxes for two services. My venerable friend Jeff, also a former bank finance employee, had mentioned for a couple of years his involvement with a volunteer program that handles taxes for low income earners. The program has many names – VITA, TCE, or Earn it! Keep it! Save It! – and many sponsors, from United Way to AARP, all including training, software, and processes under the aegis of the IRS. This sounded like a good way to redirect my energies while deciding what else to do with my time (aside from blogging for you good readers). As I was completing my required exams to certify, I was also asked out of the blue if I wanted to work a few hours a week by my local tax preparer, and it seemed natural to be entering tax data on two fronts, one for free and one for data-entry level wages. Continue reading “Your Tax Dollars at Work”

Uncle Oscar’s Birthday

Well, that didn’t go exactly like I thought it would. I had this entry half drafted Sunday afternoon, speculating on the culturally tragic implications of The Revenant winning Best Picture and sweeping most of the Academy Awards, but there were quite a few surprises, weren’t there?

8uncleoscarIt was Uncle Oscar’s birthday, and like going to that family dinner, you love it and dread it simultaneously. You love Aunt Sadie’s meatballs, but her inappropriate comments make you cringe. Your cousin corners you about some business venture or cause that bores you to tears or requires a donation. It will go on too long with too much bland food, and you know you’re going to fight with your spouse on the drive there and on the way home. And yet you’d never miss it.

Results notwithstanding, my original question is worth asking: Is it a crime against humanity or a travesty of justice if the Best Picture of the year is a movie you didn’t particularly like? Or one which, from the moment you saw the trailer, you had no interest in seeing? Is the Best Picture the “best picture” artistically or popularly, or sometimes one and sometimes the other?

As the 88th Academy Awards unfolded, I wondered if the movies I happen to like would get the recognition they so clearly deserve in the World According to ME or if those cretinous voters would demonstrate that they were drugged out of their mind or kidnapped by Moonies. My answer, as with most years, is probably a little of both.

Continue reading “Uncle Oscar’s Birthday”

The Most Awesomest Graphs in the World

When I was poking around on Valentine’s Day, I came across the coolest mathematical pictures to illustrate love. It got me thinking about how visually representing the information that we want to convey is so important.  Now, I totally dig numbers. And I dig artwork. I took that test this week on whether you are more left or right brained, and I scored a 53 – ambi-brained. My undergraduate study was equal measures of English Literature and Accounting, but that shouldn’t be surprising. I worked with many excellent banking and finance professionals who had degrees in English, Religious Studies, Music, Art History, and Humanities. People who analyze often appreciate the aesthetic beauty of analysis for its own sake.

Hence, it’s no surprise that pictures of numbers and data can be inherently beautiful. For example, I found this one posted by Utsav Goyal,  named “The Love Function.”  LoveFn

Change one of those squares to a 3 or a 1, and you’ve just got a squiggle. There are also tons of beautiful patterns in the natural world – the whole science of fractals blossomed a few decades ago to show just that. The Greeks understood the connection of beauty in math and aesthetics as they were passionate about both. Aristotle, for instance, coined the concept of the Golden Mean, a ratio in nature which would reveal everything from the structure of a nautilus shell to a rose to the human ear.

Continue reading “The Most Awesomest Graphs in the World”

Stay Together for 39 Years with this One Simple Trick…

Let’s throw away anxiety, let’s quite forget propriety,
Respectable society, the rector and his piety,
And contemplate l’amour in all its infinite variety,
My dear, let’s talk about love

–Cole Porter

It’s February and there’s spring in the air. That means this past Sunday there were long lines of men standing outside the See’s candy store, roadside stands full of red hearts and teddy bears, and women with a particular gleam in their eye and a knowing smile. February is also the month that Karin and I celebrate our anniversary, so it’s the love month for us, too. This upcoming one is #39 – poor 39, such a lonely number, being right under the shadow of 40 and neither even nor prime. It’s still a pretty good number as longevity goes, so it seems appropriate to discuss the question I often get: What’s the secret to such a long relationship?

lastinglovehandsOddly enough, I feel both expert and novice in this. I can speak with superior knowledge about how to make it last, and I have the statistically significant number of years to prove it. Having been in only one relationship, though, I don’t really have a clue about what attracts people to each other in the first place, so I can’t offer any advice on that. (Sorry, I won the multi-billion dollar lottery on that one.) I only know how to get your hooks in good and tight once you got ’em.

Continue reading “Stay Together for 39 Years with this One Simple Trick…”