Archive for the 'Other' Category

The unexplained bizarre deaths of 9 Russian hikers in 1959

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

I just stumbled across the fascinating tale of the Dyatlov Pass Accident. The case is full of bizarre findings. Nine hikers set out into the wilderness and were never seen alive again. Theit bodies were found in groups a good distance from their camp, all in little more than underwear, as if they had to flee their tent in a hurry. Their tent was ripped open from the inside, like they didn’t even have time to use the tent’s door. Five of the hikers showed no signs of trauma and likely died from hypothermia — two of which were found around a temporary fire that they made while in their underwear. None of them seemed to dare to return to the tent. The other four hikers died of internal injuries but showed no external wounds, one from a fractured skull, and two from fractured chests, as if they had been crippled by extreme pressure.

Here are some more facts of the case (from the Wikipedia article):

  • Six of the group members died of hypothermia and three of fatal injuries.
  • There were no indications of other people nearby apart from the nine travellers on Kholat Syakhl, nor anyone in the surrounding areas.
  • The tent had been ripped from within.
  • The victims had died 6 to 8 hours after their last meal.
  • Traces from the camp showed that all group members (including those who were found injured) left the camp of their own accord, by foot. This implies that those with injuries were injured after they left the camp.
  • The fatal injuries of the three bodies could not have been caused by another human being.
  • Forensic radiation tests had shown high doses of radioactive contamination on the clothes of a few victims. These test results were not taken into account for the final verdict.

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Call your credit card company and ask for lower rates. Now

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

I just spent less than five minutes on the phone with Chase, my credit card company, and was rewarded for it with 4 points being knocked off my interest rate. Not a bad use of my time! I haven’t ever carried a balance, so the interest rate isn’t currently a big deal for me, but no one can predict what will happen in the future. I may soon start traveling a lot for work, and since I have to pay for everything and get it reimbursed later, I may end up carrying a balance for one month at a time.

The process was ridiculously simple. I called up, waded through a single robot menu, waited a few seconds for a human, told her I wanted to lower my rates, got transfered to the rates department, waited a few more seconds, and spoke to a man who was able to lower my rates within a minute. The dirty secret of the credit card industry is that all you have to do is ask for a better deal and you’re likely to get one. They’re willing to lower your rate over time as you prove to them that you’re a good customer, but since it’s money directly out of their pocket, they aren’t going to do it automatically. So all you have to do is ask, because by asking, they know you’re comparing rates and shopping around for a better deal, and they don’t want to lose you as a customer.

So, call your credit card company now, even if you don’t habitually carry a balance. Turn your card over, call the 1-800 number, and in less than ten minutes you should find yourself with a lower interest rate (unless you have problems making payments on time). And then call back again every 4-6 months to ask for a lower rate. That’s the approximate timescale of when they re-examine accounts and look for the rates they’re willing to negotiate downwards. The worst that can happen is they say no. It’s really that simple, and you’re stupid if you don’t do it, because you’re just throwing away money in the event that you ever carry a balance.

Don’t be naive and say “I’ll always pay it off in full every month” as an excuse for not doing it now — the future is unpredictable, and all sorts of events could cause you to find yourself short on funds, such as being laid off or facing large unexpected medical bills. And don’t think you can just wait until the situation ever arises when you need to carry a balance before calling for lower rates. When that time comes, you may already have a large balance, putting you at a disadvantageous negotiating position. And they’re only willing to lower your rates by so much each time you ask, so asking early and often will bring you down to a lower rate than if you just ask once right before you aren’t able to pay a bill in full.

Simply calling up and asking also works for increasing credit limits, decreasing annual fees, and possibly increasing rewards or benefits. It never hurts to ask, and you might be surprised with what they’re willing to offer you to keep you on-board as a customer. Of course, the better you are at negotiating, and the more you threaten to switch to another credit card company unless you get some of what you’re asking for, the better your chances of success will be. But even if you aren’t comfortable with doing that, simply calling up and saying “I want a lower interest rate” should pay some dividends.

Adjusting the length of the school year

Monday, July 9th, 2007

It occurs to me that we’re still dealing with an archaic tradition that has persisted despite lots of technology. I’m talking about the school year. Many decades ago, having a three or four month interruption in schooling during the summer made sense. Most Americans lived in rural areas, and many were farmers. The farmers needed all the help they could get during the busy summer harvest season, so of course they needed the assistance of their kids. Even my dad spent a summer or two at his uncle’s farm in Oklahoma, putting up fences, handling cattle, driving a tractor to till the fields, etc. But the times have changed.

More than half of all Americans now live in cities and towns, and the number of people who are actually involved in rudimentary farming are vanishingly small. Technology has also come a long ways, making farms much more mechanized, and requiring the use of less labor. Also, consider the changing American societal attitudes of child labor. Children don’t help out at the farm to the extent that they used to, and they really are no longer needed. So why do they need so many months off in the summer? They don’t.

It would be better for society in general if the school year was radically reshaped. Current school years (in the United States, anyway) have just 180 to 182 school days in them — that’s slightly less than half of the year! Think of all of the extra educational benefit we would get from increasing that number to, say, 70%. Simply eliminate the summer vacation and add more one week vacations, like Spring Break, throughout the year.

Now I’m not saying that summer fun should be eliminated, not at all. I went to a lot of educational summer camps when I was younger and I had a blast. But I also went to a fair number of leisure camps that, although they were fun, didn’t much educate me along the way to my adult life. Summer school should be a bit different than winter school. Kids would go on a lot more field trips. It’d almost be like an educational summer camp, except that it would be paid for and controlled by the state, which would do wonders for kids living in poverty whose parents cannot afford to send them to camp.

Looking back at my life, at the current age of 21, I can say there was a good amount of wasted time. It shouldn’t take so many years to get the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in knowledge. If the antiquated summer break were simply phased out, children would be getting much more instructional time each year, would learn more, would be smarter, and would be able to productively contribute to society at a younger age. One of the big problems we’re currently facing in America is stupidity. Increased schooling would fix that.

How to marry the ultra-rich

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

Money Magazine has a hysterical but fascinating guide on how to meet and marry a billionaire (because millionaires are just so passé). I love the advice, too. It’s like a gold digger’s condensed Bible. It tells you to expand your horizons by considering potential heirs of the super-rich, including children and ex-spouses. The best way to meet an uber rich person, apparently, is at the workplace, so Money suggests getting an MBA. Or, failing that, get into the high class consumption industry, i.e. be the real estate agent that sells that million dollar house to the uber rich.

And the article just keeps going and going. Go to art exhibitions, it says. The uber rich have lots of bare expanses of wall that need covering with something. It has advice on joining charities, not because you care about the charitable causes, but just because rich people tend to be involved in them and that’d be a good way to meet them. Oy vey. There are even “life trainers” you can pay who will give you advice on how to get married by a multimillionaire. Come on!

Of course, the article fails to mention the two most important factors involved in marrying a billionaire: being born into a patrician family and being incredibly good-looking. I guess they failed to mention these because you don’t have any control over them (mostly). Of course, the best way to get rich isn’t to marry into wealth; it’s to become rich on your own through hard work. Or is that attitude just too old-fashioned?