"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Are You as Smart as a 20 Year Old?

     Do you get smarter as you get older, or does time slowly erode your cognitive abilities? A study from the University of California at Riverside and Columbia University, with the mind-bending title "Complementary Cognitive Capabilities, Economic Decision Making and Aging" has the answer.

     Researchers tested a group of 20-somethings and people in their 60s and 70s in various subjects, focusing on economic questions such as basic financial literacy, knowledge about debt, how much the participants thought about their financial futures. Despite a general loss of mental acuity, the older group did better than the younger test-takers in virtually every category.

     How is that?

     Researchers explained the results by teasing apart two different kinds of intelligence. "Fluid intelligence" involves short-term memory, problem solving and the ability to manipulate information and process it quickly. "Crystallized intelligence" consists of a "stable repository of knowledge acquired through experiences, culture and education."

     As we age, we lose fluid intelligence, but gain crystallized intelligence. “For decisions that rely heavily on processing new information, it is likely that the negative effects of aging will outweigh its positive effects relatively early in middle age,” the study concludes. “On the other hand, if the decision relies on recognizing previously learned patterns in a stable environment, age may be an advantage.”

     I read in an article in last week's New Yorker about the University of New Hampshire mathematician Yitang Zhang. The article notes that mathematics is a "young man's game" and quoted an expert who said, "I do not know of an instance of a major mathematical advance initiated by a man past fifty."

     As we might imagine, mathematics involves lots of fluid intelligence, not as much crystallized intelligence. But of course, the point of the article was that Zhang is an exception to the rule. He solved a problem about prime numbers called "bound gaps" when he was 55.

     Anyway, it turns out for most day-to-day financial decisions it’s better to rely on knowledge, experience and “previously learned patterns” than it is to exhibit an ability to quickly process new information. Here are just some of the areas where older people in the survey outshined their younger counterparts:

     Perhaps older people can’t solve an equation quite as fast as their sons and daughters, but they demonstrated a better understanding of finance and debt. They are more likely to avoid carrying credit card balances and are wary of incurring other financial costs such as high bank fees.

     Older people show more control over their emotions, and so they are more skeptical about jumping on the latest investment trend or buying a stock on a "hot" tip. Older people are less likely to get sucked into a financial bubble -- whether it was the internet bubble of the early 2000s or the real-estate bubble of the mid-2000s.

     Older investors prove better at avoiding irrelevant information. They can tune out the noise from CNBC and other financial media, and focus on significant trends and their own long-term objectives

     The older people show a sense of their own limitations. Younger people can be cocky and overconfident. But their older brethren are aware that sometimes forecasts don’t pan out, and so they have the mental fortitude to take a small loss now rather than wait around for a complete catastrophe.

     They are more patient, better able to weather the ups and downs of the market, without panicking. Younger people who can process information more quickly make better day traders, but day traders almost always lose money. People who are slowly building up wealth over time are the ones who win out in the end.

     The researchers tested out the difference between fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence in the area of finance and economics. But it seems to me the advantage of crystallized intelligence would carry over into a lot of other areas of life -- such as whether or not to take a new job; how suitable is that boyfriend or girlfriend; maybe you're too young to get married; is that really a good living arrangement.

     I always told my kids that if we all just did what our mothers told us to do -- no questions, no arguments -- we'd all live better lives. Of course, I said that with tongue in cheek. But I really meant it. Or, to put it another way, perhaps father really does know best!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Pizza, and More!

     I'm not the only Baby Boomer who's recently visited the Sunshine state, or who has returned to face snowstorms and freezing temperatures. But Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting has an especially interesting take on the phenomenon. She came home after spending four weeks in the great state of Florida, and now offers some amusing insights about traveling in her post Four Weeks from Home.

     She lists the Ten Benefits of Being Away from Home (one of them: "I do not have to eat leftovers!"). And then she goes on to contemplate the Ten Advantages of Staying at Home ("Really good pizza.")

     As for me, I found a great pizza place when I was in Florida, better than anything I get around my neighborhood at home. So if you're ever in Bradenton Beach, FL, and looking for good pizza, give me a shout. I have a recommendation.

     Meanwhile, on a more serious note, Rita Robison, consumer journalist, writes on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide about a consumer group that's questioning the marketing used by Life Line Screening, a national cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis screening company. The company's advertising makes unproven claims ("Helps save thousands of lives!") about the medical benefits of its screening package and omits information about the health and financial risks.

     Kathy at Smart Living 365 tackles an equally important, but much more personal issue, in her post Not My Monkey. Not My Circus. If you want to know what that phrase means -- if you've ever found yourself sucked into involvement and drama that is not of your doing, and not under your control -- then swing over her post and find out how to scramble out of the thicket of other people's problems.

     Finally, Laura Lee Carter, aka The Midlife Crisis Queen, proves that the mainstream media is beginning to take bloggers seriously, She received an invitation to Steve Harvey's Success Summit in Chicago, and will go on an all-expenses-paid jaunt to the conference sponsored by Strayer University, to debate and discuss the meaning of success. Harvey is also holding a mini-press conference just to meet VIP bloggers like Carter.

     Wish her luck!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

What a difference ...

     a day makes, when you say goodbye to Florida

     and wake up, at home in New York.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

When in Florida ...

     There are two basic topics of conversation in Florida -- at least when you're among the Snowbirds, not necessarily the people who live and work here. The first covers all the bad weather we are missing by being in Florida instead of up north.

     "Did you hear it was zero degrees last night back in New York?"

     "There was a foot of snow in Pennsylvania."

     "I called home, and it's raining in St. Louis."

In Jacksonville the roads were crowded, but not the beaches

     One elderly woman told me, "I come here in the beginning of October and stay until the end of April. I miss most of the cold weather back home in Indiana." She has a double-wide trailer out near the airport, she said. She has two sons. One drives her down in October and flies home. The other flies down in April and drives her back. "I'm very lucky," she concluded.

They like their mermaids

     "It was minus 32 degrees when I left home after Christmas," one fellow from Canada told me. "That's centigrade. But still, that's about minus 26 Fahrenheit."

     The other topic of conversation centers around: Where do people come from originally? If you're ever in Florida by yourself, and you get lonely, there is a tried-and-true way to start a conversation with any stranger. Just ask, "Where do you come from?" And the conversation will go from there.

Seafood restaurant on Anna Maria Island

     I was in a coffee shop at the beach the other day, and a fellow walked in sporting an Ohio State sweatshirt. (A lot of people are wearing Ohio State clothing these days, because, in case you don't know, Ohio State beat Oregon to take the national collegiate football championship).

     "Oh, where in Ohio?" someone asks. "Youngstown," comes the reply. "Oh, I'm from Pittsburgh," a man offers. Somebody else is from Wilkes Barre, and then another one chimes in that they know Wilkes Barre. They're from New Jersey, but they have family near Wilkes Barre.

It was warmer farther south in Sarasota

     Then another says, "Oh, my wife comes from Cleveland. But we live outside Atlanta now." Then someone else is from Savannah. And pretty soon we have the country covered from the Eastern seaboard out west to Kansas and Texas. People come to Florida from all over -- but mostly from the East and Midwest. Not too many from the West Coast.

     Douglas, from Boomer Musings, was kind enough to have me join him for a game of golf. He is always the contrarian -- he came to Florida from San Diego. His friend (the guy who won the money!) grew up in Connecticut, but spent 25 years in the Virgin Islands before landing in Florida.

     I read recently that Florida just surpassed New York to become the third most populous state in the Union. First is California, then Texas. And now Florida ranks third with 19,893,297 people. New York has a population of 19,746,227. That seems to me to underscore one trend going on in America today -- more people are retiring than ever before.

Picturesque seaside inn

     The other observation I made came when I visited Disney World. I went to Epcot, and the place was mobbed. If all these people have $100 a head to blow on a day at Disney, then the American middle class can't being doing half as bad as many of our pundits tell us.

Would you wait 1 hour 50 minutes for a ride?

     Because of the crowds, I didn't get into all the rides I wanted, but there was a very impressive acrobat show put on at the Chinese pavilion:

The Chinese put on a show

     Anyway, I hope they didn't count me as a Floridian. I love to spend some time visiting here in the winter. But I don't think I would ever actually live in Florida. I'm headed back to New York.

Says it all!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Should We Protect Them from Themselves?

     I live in New York State, where all motorcycle riders must wear a helmet, and so I'm used to riders on the highways and the country roads wearing protective headgear. I couldn't help but notice that many riders in Florida do not wear helmets. I've seen more than a few speeding along the third lane of the freeway, going 70+ mph -- and, honestly, to me they look like sitting ducks, like a fatality waiting to happen, like road kill. I also noticed several cases where the rider had no helmet, but the woman riding on the back of the bike was protected by headgear.

     So I looked it up. In Florida you're not required to wear a helmet unless you're under 21. Presumably anyone 21 or older is mature enough and wise enough to decide on his own. But chivalry is not dead in Florida, since the men either allow or insist, or at least go along with the idea, that the women riding with them wear a helmet, even if they don't themselves.

     Meanwhile my cousin, who is an engineer-type of person who used to fly airplanes for the military, and then worked in computers for most of his career, is a big motorcycle enthusiast. He's also a family man who's been married for 30-some years.

     He retired a few years ago. His two children had grown up and gone out on their own, so he bought himself a motorcycle -- apparently a dream he'd had for a long time. He likes to go out on the highway, ride the back roads, feel the wind in his hair (not that he has much hair left).

     My cousin recently bought himself a new, bigger bike as a Christmas present to himself. He lives in New Hampshire, where there is no helmet law at all. He concedes that a helmet can protect the rider in certain circumstances . . .  but, oh, how he loves being out there, feeling the wind and getting an unobstructed view of the hills and the mountains towering in front of him.

     So he is pretty vocal about his opposition to any law that would tell him he has to wear a helmet. He knows he's taking a risk, but he's fatalistic about it. He doesn't think the government should "protect" him for his own good. He believes that choice should be up to the individual biker. Apparently, just like the people in Florida.

     I've probably tipped my hand about what I think. But what do you think?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Bittersweet Memory

     When you're on vacation you have a lot of extra time, sitting on the beach, hanging around the pool, lounging on the deck. Believe me, I'm not complaining, but sometimes your mind wanders and you get to remembering about things at home, events in your past, about your family . . .

     It was early one morning toward the end of August. My ex-wife and I bundled our daughter into my old Saab, along with a trunk full of bags and suitcases, and left for JFK airport. At the time my ex-wife, Jane, and I lived around the corner from each other in one of the NewYork suburbs, about an hour's drive from the airport.

     Our daughter was catching a 7 a.m. Jet Blue flight to San Francisco, heading back to California for her senior year in college.

     The sun rose as we came to the end of the Hutchinson River parkway and climbed onto the Whitestone Bridge. "Good flying weather," I announced, as a few wispy clouds caught the first rays of light in the deep blue sky. We had a panoramic view of Manhattan off to the right of the bridge. Even though it had been three years since 9/11, the skyline still looked empty without the Twin Towers, especially on a day like today, with the sky so clear and blue.
     Emily had made this trip to college a dozen times, and she knew the drill. I didn't want to have to park the car out in the lot, with a $15 charge and a 15 minute walk. So I would pull up to the Departures curb, Jane would rush into the terminal with Emily, get her settled, and then meet up with me to go back home after I drove around the airport loop.

     As soon as we arrived at the Jet Blue terminal Emily jumped out of the car and ran around to the trunk to grab her bags. I opened my door, climbed out and helped her haul the suitcases onto the sidewalk. "Got your ticket?" I asked as she zipped a book into her carry-on.

     "Yep," she affirmed.
     "And your driver's license for ID?"


     I helped her drag her bags up to curbside check-in, where Jane had gone to stand in line. Emily gave me a quick hug, and I turned to go. One of the traffic cops shot me a dirty look as I walked back to the car, idling at the curb, but I nevertheless stopped and looked over the roof of the car, taking a moment to watch Emily and Jane.

     My ex-wife was short and a little hunched over. She had long blonde hair hanging down in front of her shoulders, covering part of her face. That was an intentional look. She liked to hide behind her hair. At that moment she was standing there, peering anxiously through her hair to the front of the line.

     I caught sight of Emily, bent over a suitcase making last minute adjustments to her baggage. Emily was always in motion, doing two or three things at once. Her copper-colored hair -- the color it got from overexposure to chlorine in the swimming pool -- swung back and forth as she moved her head and shoulders. She looked purposeful, confident, eager to get on with school and life.

     I opened the car door, slid into the front seat, yanked off the parking brake and started down the ramp from the Departures building. I drove out about three miles to the return lane next to the airport police station, then circled back to the Jet Blue terminal. By then, maybe eight or ten minutes later, Emily had disappeared inside the building and Jane was waiting  for me at the curb.

     She pulled open the door and climbed in the front seat. "So, everything went okay?" I asked her.

     She didn't answer.

     "Did you get Emily to the security gate?"

     Still no answer.

     "Is there a problem?" I pressed.

     "No, everything's fine," she finally replied, staring straight ahead through the windshield. I checked the traffic and started to pull away from the curb.

     Then she burst out crying.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The "Real" Florida

     As I mentioned, there is the "other" Florida. But most people come to Florida for the beaches and the warm weather. Here's what I saw when I went out for a walk early this morning:

     And then the bay, just a little later . . .

     And finally, about 7:30 a.m., overlooking the Gulf of Mexico

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The "Other" Florida

     When most of us think of Florida we picture the sand and the beach and the golf courses; and images of Disney World dance through our heads. But when you drive from the east coast to the west coast, you travel through central Florida, and that shows a whole different side of the state.

     For example, we forget that Florida -- and much of the South -- was once a major producer of timber and paper. Not so much anymore, but there are a few remnants . . .

     And before the tourists and the retirees, there was a "real" economy that actually made things . . .

     In some places you can still find two-story houses . . .

     Here is downtown Palatka, FL, a small town in the center of the state . . .

     Overlooking the St. John's river, one of the few waterways in America that flows to the north . . .

     You don't see many alligators in Florida anymore, but I found one (or is it a dinosaur?) . . .

     I thought this place was abandoned but discovered, much to my chagrin, that someone lives here . . .

     Some people in Florida worship the sun, others . . .

     Many of the orange groves have been cut down to build developments to house all the people moving in from the north; but they still do sell oranges in Florida . . .

     And I told you I found an alligator. Would I lie?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

We'll Follow the Sun

     I have fled the wintry mix that is the Northeast and joined the great Snowbird migration to warmer and sunnier shores. So I woke up yesterday, a little after 7 a.m., to see a sunrise over the Atlantic . . .

      Later, I walked down to the beach. It's a little chilly, granted, but I checked the weather site and saw that at home today it is 5 degrees, and with northwest winds at 16 mph and gusts up to 30 mph, it "feels like -13 degrees," according to the weather channel.

     Hello Florida! Isn't retirement great!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Answer to: How Long Will You Live?

     I consulted several how-long-will-you-live websites to compile this quiz, along with various government statistics. So everyone starts with the number 84, which according to Social Security actuarial tables represents the overall average life expectancy of Americans in their mid-60s. Then, to figure out your own individual life expectancy, add and subtract according to the following schedule.

      1. If you're in your 50s, subtract 2 years. In your 60s, no change. In your 70s, add 3 years; in your 80s, add 7 years. (If you're younger than 50, you shouldn't be reading this blog; and if you're in your 90s, you're way beyond a quiz like this!)
     2. If you're a white male, subtract one year. White female, add two years. Non-white male, subtract 4 years. Non-white female, subtract one year. (Figures are from the CDC).

     3. Never married: subtract one year. Currently married: add one year. Divorced or widowed, no change

     4. If you answered A) add one year. If you answered D) subtract one year. If you answered B), then it's hard to generalize, but cancer survival rates are improving all the time. On average, subtract 3 years.

     5. If you answered A) add one year. If you answered D) subtract one year. If you answered B) then again, it's hard to generalize, but treatments are continually getting more effective. So on average, subtract 2 years.

     6. Add one year if you tend to drive in the right-hand lane, and another year if you answered always wear your seat belt. Subtract one year if you drive in the left-hand lane (in other words, if you are prone to speeding) and subtract another year for answering C), or over 15,000 miles a year.

     7. Add 2 years if you never smoked; add one if you gave up more than 10 years ago. Subtract one year if you smoke occasionally (one pack of cigarettes a month, or one cigar a week = "occasionally"); subtract 2 years if you smoke half a pack or more a day.

     8. Add one year if you checked no items. Subtract one year if you checked 2 or 3 items; subtract 2 years if you checked all 4 items.

     9. Add one year if you checked both B) and C); subtract one year if you checked both A) and D). Otherwise, no change.

     10. Add two years if you checked A) for regular exercise. Subtract one year if you answered D) for never.

     11.  Subtract one year if you checked A) and have no college experience. Add one year if you checked C) or D) -- there's a benefit to graduating from college but no appreciable actuarial benefit to more education.

     12.  Subtract one year if you answered A). (You're too gullible.) Subtract one year if you answered D). (You're too cynical). Add one year if you answered C) -- because no matter what our age we can always improve our prospects for a long and healthy life.

     The final number you end up with is an estimate of how long you can expect to live. But as you might imagine, this is a fairly short-handed quiz, and it's more a suggestion than a prediction. If you want something more comprehensive and therefore more accurate, I'd recommend the long-form calculator from the University of Pennsylvania.

     P. S. According to this quiz, I'll live until age 89, and B will live to 96. Which seems about right to me. Good luck ... and good health in the New Year!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Quiz: How Long Will You Live?

     When we're young, we think we will live forever. But we know it's not true. According to the Social Security Administration, roughly 10 percent of the original Baby Boomers have already died -- a few in Vietnam, many more from heart disease, cancer or car accident.

     But as we get older, it's hard not to wonder: Just how much more time do we have left? Take this quiz, based on several longevity sources, and get a best-guess estimate:

     1. Are you ...
     A) In your 50s
     B) In your 60s
     C) In your 70s
     D) In your 80s

     2. What is your demographic?
     A) White male
     B) White female
     C) Non-white male
     D) Non-white female

     3. What's your current marital status?
     A) Never married
     B) Married
     C) Divorced
     D) Widowed   

     4. Do you have a family history of cancer? (check only one)
     A) No
     B) I've had cancer
     C) A parent or sibling has had cancer
     D) More than one relative has had cancer

     5. Do you have a history of heart disease? (Check only one)
     A) No
     B) I have heart disease
     C) A parent or sibling has had heart disease
     D) More than one relative has had heart disease

     6. How do you drive? (Check all that apply)
     A) Usually in the left-hand lane
     B) Usually in the right-hand lane
     C) Over 15,000 miles/year
     D) Always wear a seat belt

     7. Do you smoke?
     A) Yes
     B) Only occasionally
     C) Never smoked
     D) Gave up more than 10 years ago

     8. How's your stress level? (Check all that apply within the past year)
     A) Serious worry about family member
     B) Death in family
     C) Divorced or separated
     D) Financial trouble

     9. Do you eat right? (Check all that apply)
     A) Lots of sweet drinks
     B) Lots of vegetables
     C) Lots of fruit
     D) Lots of carbs

     10. Do you exercise to the point of sweating?
     A) Regularly
     B) Sometimes
     C) Occasionally
     D) Never

     11. What's your education level?
     A) Attended high school
     B) Some college
     C) College graduate
     D) Graduate school

     12. Wait a second here ... how seriously can we take this quiz?
     A) It's science so I believe it
     B) Helpful but not authoritative
     C) Might inspire me to improve my lifestyle
     D) Utter nonsense

     Look for the answers and more detailed information -- and of course a few caveats -- in my next post. Meantime, Happy New Year!