Dots on Soda Cans

At Perdido, Kelly pointed out that there are colored dots on the bottom of soda cans. Different cans have different colors. I checked all the cans and they all had a dot of some color on the bottom. Even cans from the same 12-pack will have different colors. I thought there had to be a reason, but didn’t know what it might be. I did a search on Google and had the answer in minutes:

In a factory there might be several machines printing the cans and each machine prints a different color dot on the bottom of the can. This way, if there is a problem they will know which machine to shut down while the other machines continue working.

Retirement Savings

In April of 1992, as a still fairly new employee at the DOT, I started contributing to the state version of a 401k: a deferred compensation plan. I started pretty small and put my money in Fidelity Magellan. This was my first exposure to investing in the stock market. I have been contributing ever since, slow and steady. By January of 2000 I calculated that my savings had doubled in value and I had more in gains than I had invested. But by September 2002 that gain had been completely wiped out and my savings were worth *less* than what I had put into the account.

The amount of my contributions varied over time so it was hard to calculate an average rate of return to see how I was doing. I finally figured out a way by guessing an interest rate and applying that to every quarterly balance in my spreadsheet. If the total of all those quarters of interest and my contributions adds up to what I actually have in the account, then that’s my number, otherwise I just guess higher or lower until I zero in.

My original estimate when calculating the hundreds of thousands I would have saved up by retirement was 7% which reflects the historic stock market return of 10% minus 3% for the historic inflation rate. I have been investing now for 13 lucky years. And I finally have the answer for the average annual rate of return during that entire period: 1.75%.


While watching Avondale’s excellent fireworks with Mom (down from 16 people) last night I saw some kids playing with sparklers. For years sparklers were the only fireworks you could buy legally in Georgia and we got to play with them when we were kids. But I got hurt worse and more often from sparklers than any kind of firework I can think of. Sparklers consist of a flaming hot wire spewing sparks that kids wave around while burning each others retinas out. Meanwhile with regular fireworks everyone knows the rules: light fuse and get away. What could be simpler than that?

Gadget Convergence

Once you get enough gadgets you can do just about anything. For example, on Saturday I got a new smart card for my satellite receiver to replace my old one which was probably too easy to hack into. When I replaced the card about a quarter of my stations disappeared. I ran some diagnostics and figured out that half of the stations from one satellite (the “odd” transponders, the “even” ones came in fine) were not coming in at enough strength (the dish receives signals from satellites at two different locations in the sky about 9 degrees apart which I think is amazing). Technical support said I needed to fine tune the aim of the dish, which made no sense to me since the only thing that had changed was I put a new card into the receiver. And since I was getting the even transponders it didn’t make much sense that I couldn’t get the odd ones. But it’s hard to argue with people who know what they are talking about.

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When I was at Petsmart recently a funny thing happened. I don’t bring my dogs, but it is allowed, and I always like seeing people bringing their dogs to the store. I noticed a lady there with a boston terrier near the toy section as I was going back to get food. When I came back she was trying to pull a toy away from her dog. I don’t know if she gave the toy to the dog or if he got it off the shelf but he was loving pulling on that toy. Somehow before I got to the checkout this lady and her boston terrier were in front of me and the dog still had the toy in its mouth. I guess the lady had decided to buy the toy. As they were checking out the dog tried to walk out the front doors with the toy without paying for it, but he was on a stretchy leash and was stopped before he could get out the door. He really wanted to get out of there with the toy. His owner paid for everything else and now the cashier needed to scan the toy. But the dog wasn’t going to give it up. The owner tried to get it from him but he just pulled on it and growled. So the cashier just leaned over and scanned the tag on the toy while it was still in the dog’s mouth. And finally the dog got to leave with its toy!