Wheel of Time: the end approaches

OK, I’ll admit it: I’m a huge fan of Robert Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time series. It is a long, long story set in a different world. In fact, it’s so long that the original author was unable to finish it before his death in 2007, even though it stretched out to 11 novels.

So how could the series be finished? The original author left behind extensive notes and his widow chose Brandon Sanderson to complete the series. I have just finished the two joint novels, and they are excellent. Now only one novel remains to finish Jordan’s original tale.

It’s hard to summarize what this is all about, but I’ll try: A country boy named Rand turns out to be the Dragon Reborn — a prophesied leader who literally can save the world. Rand has two friends, Mat and Perrin, who also have key roles to play in this world’s future. Along the way, Jordan invented so many appealing characters and subplots, I just had to keep reading.

But I’m looking forward to the 14th and final volume, A Memory of Light. The authors have made me care about the characters and I’d like to see them all live happily ever after. Knowing fantasy literature, I doubt they will.

One thing I’m serious about

I’m serious about the connection between faith and economics. My paper on subprime lending and social justice was the lead article in the Journal of Markets and Morality. My book on the subject, Getting a Grip on Your Money, explored the subject and provided practical advice. I’m a member of the Association of Christian Economists, which provides a forum for many of us to discuss these issues. I’m also a member of the James Madison Christian Faculty Fellowship. But that’s mostly intellectual, and for me following Jesus Christ is much more than an intellectual pursuit. It has become my life goal and career goal.

To be specific about just one point, Jesus tells us how the King will respond to our efforts to meet the needs of the poor and visit those in prison: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” This means more than just dropping the occasional dollar into the Salvation Army bucket. For me as a Christian economist specifically, it means favoring the reforms that will truly empower the poor. And yet, the most important thing of all is not a matter of abstract reasoning or public policy. It is being faithful to God.

Winter’s Bone and redemption

This is months behind the curve, I know, but we just saw Winter’s Bone at our house. I was truly impressed by this film. I saw everything the critics and fans did in this film, but maybe one more thing: This was a film that treated the rural poor with respect. The characters were real people, not Disney-fied or villified.

I thought I saw that in the film first time around, but listening to the director’s commentary convinced me. The people who did this film in rural Missouri went in to understand the people in Daniel Woodrell’s novel and bring them to life on the screen. The film’s heroine, Ree Dolly, redeems a lot of pain with her struggle to help her family make ends meet on their land.

At our house, we have a nodding acquaintance with rural poverty — not the kind as mean and threatening as depicted in the film, but a somewhat kinder and gentler southwestern Virginia variant of it. The authenticity of Winter’s Bone made it especially chilling, and uplifting, to us.

Pandora: lots of jollies per dollar

Here’s an idea with lots of jollies per dollar: Pandora Internet radio. The idea is pretty much like a radio station: music plays with only a few commercials. Where Pandora excels is in figuring out, automatically, what you’d like to hear. You start by giving it the name of a favorite artist or song, with some basic information about yourself. Pandora then picks music you would like. You can vote to “like” a song, in which case Pandora will play additional similar songs for you. Or you can vote to “unlike” a song and Pandora will move on to another one. As you vote on more songs, Pandora gets even better at figuring out what you like. Try it out at www.pandora.com . Oh, did I mention it’s free?

Don’t forget the economics!

My latest project is a book, Economic Episodes in American History, forthcoming from Wohl. This book shows how economics shaped key parts of economic history. You can read about it here. Mark Schug and I worked hard putting it together, and we think it will be great for history teachers. Personally, I enjoyed finding out lots of neat things I didn’t know about American history. I hope history teachers will enjoy it, and use it to show students the economic side of history. We’re beginning to get a little buzz about it: see here and here.

Amazing smartphone strategy

There’s a lot to like about a smartphone — voice and text, together with Internet access and email and apps. But the service is so expensive every month. Is there any way around it?

Yes, there is. Here is how I have smartphone service for under $10 per month: I bought a new, unlocked LG Optimus T for $185 from a well-regarded eBay vendor. I got AT&T prepaid GoPhone service, put $100 on that, and bought 100MB of data for $19.99.

Now, here’s the key: I use as much data as I want without charge wherever there’s free wifi (including my office, my home, and my favorite restaurant). When I’m out of range I use data for any reasonable purpose — but don’t stream any music or videos. The result: 100MB of data lasts a long time. To keep my data current, I roll it over once a month for $4.99. Text + data + voice runs less than $10 a month, on average.

This is not for everyone. If you want instant access to Internet, music and video anywhere — or if you spend a lot of time talking and texting — you’re better off with an unlimited plan.

Finally, for those who think $185 is a lot to pay for a phone and get one “free” with an unlimited plan for only $60 a month: That adds up to $1440 over two years. My approximate expense for those two years is about $240 for service plus $185 for the phone, or $425.

For more on this strategy, here’s a thread with full details that gave me the idea. Update: If you look at this link, you’ll see that AT&T — and others — are trying to eliminate the strategy I’m suggesting. For now, my AT&T limited data plan is still working. If it’s eliminated, I’ll probably go to this T-mobile plan (not nearly as good a deal, but possibly the best that can be had for now).

The grammar game

Here’s a fun game to play with people who care about grammar (word use, sentence structure and all that):

1. You hear incorrect grammar spoken, either by another person in the room or by someone in the media.

2. You repeat the thought, but with the grammar corrected. (This must be an actual grammatical error, and not just a matter of taste.)

3. If no one else in the room catches you doing that, you get one point. If others catch you, they call “correction!” and you lose one point.

Example: A news reporter says, “There’s lots of reasons why the opposition party will gain seats.” You say, “That’s right. There are lots of reasons why the opposition party will gain seats.”

Hint: When you’re playing against an experienced player, wait a few minutes before making a correction, preferably when someone’s phone is ringing, a dog is barking, and Girl Scouts have arrived at the door to sell cookies.

One other thing: At our house, correcting sportscasters will get you zero points. It’s just too easy.

“Lost” time

Even today, people have strong opinions about the series finale of Lost on ABC television. I can’t add much to what the reviewers said, but there are three things that come to mind:

  1. Overall, I liked the series.
  2. For a supposedly intellectual series, there sure was a lot of on-camera time devoted violence and threats of violence. Lots of beatings and shootings.
  3. Like some fans, I was hoping the finale would provide some coherent story of what the island was and how it worked. It didn’t. The producers even apologized a bit in the two-hour leadin to the series finale, saying the series was always about the people and not so much the mythology of the island.

And with it all, yes, I liked the series.