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Weekend Diversion: It’s like going to Mars

March 29, 2009 on 4:43 pm | In Random Stuff | 18 Comments

So, to send a crew to Mars (round-trip), you need them to commit to being completely isolated, with only sporadic communication with Earth, for two years at minimum! And that’s assuming you take the minimum time to get there and back, which means you’re only on the surface for 14 days! Since Mars has about a 25 minute time lag on round-trip communications, you’re going to be very isolated from the world. Which prompts scientists to ask the question: will you go crazy?

Well, to answer this question, they are putting 6 people into an enclosed space with enough supplies and gear to ensure survival, but with no outside contact! They’re going to do this for 90 days, and then, if that works well, a longer experiment where they do it for 520 days! Looking for a job? It pays $6,500 a month!

Because one of the things that there hasn’t been much research on is on the psychological stability (or lack thereof) of a very small group of people being, for an extended period of time, not only isolated from society, but isolated in a small, cramped, enclosed, dark space. Right?

Oh. Right. Submarines. Wouldn’t have thought of that one.

No, there are differences, and the research is useful. I know that. Just wanted to share a neat little bit of news with you this weekend.


The Math of Marriage

March 27, 2009 on 9:44 pm | In Politics, Q & A, Random Stuff | 42 Comments

There was a question on the straight dope message board today that was way too interesting for me to pass up. But it took a long time to crunch the numbers for it, so this post is late!

Someone named Richard Parker wants to know whether he should get married… using math. He writes:

As most of you are likely aware, our federal income tax system imposes a marriage penalty on some couples. If both individuals are making similar income at certain levels, then the combined income will put them in a higher joint bracket (or married filing separately bracket) than if they filed a single taxpayers.

What I want to do is evaluate what potential incomes result in what penalties.

Well, after doing a bit of research on this, I’ve discovered that there are a bunch of other reasons to either get or not get married, both financial and personal, and I’m telling you now that I’m putting those aside.

All I’m looking at is the following: given a certain amount of federally-taxable income for two people, what governs whether, for income tax purposes, they should be married or single? Now, I’m not an economist, but I’m scientifically trained, I’m excellent with numbers and statistics, and I’ve got some interesting findings for you.

First off, there are only two factors that matter for how much you pay in taxes, given two people and a certain amount of taxable income.

1.) How much total income there is. More income = more taxes, and once you pass certain thresholds, the tax rate you pay continues to climb.

2.) How the income is split between the two people. If one person earns 95% of the household income and the other earns 5%, vs. if one earns 45% and the other earns 55%, you may come to two very different conclusions.

So let’s see what happens for low joint incomes, and just go up, and see what we can learn about marriage and federal taxes.

$20,000 joint income: if one person makes significantly more than the other, you should definitely get married, as you wind up in a lower tax bracket. If you make roughly even amounts, it doesn’t matter either way. What if you’re doing a little better than 20k a year?

$40,000 joint income: the disparity has to be pretty large. If one person is pulling in about 80% or more of the household income, then you save money by being married. But if not, there’s not really any difference.

$60,000 joint income: this is really the start of what I’ll call the “sweet spot” for people to get married. Again, if you have identical taxable incomes, there’s no difference between being married and single. But if there’s even a 60/40 disparity, it’s better to be married. Remember this for tax purposes: if one person works and the other doesn’t, it’s always better to be married!

$80,000 joint income: This is still part of the sweet spot for marriage. No marriage penalty, big bonuses for being married if there’s an income disparity. And this continues, but really the $60-80k range of taxable income is where it’s usually significantly better (for tax purposes) to be married.

$100,000 joint income: well, it’s much better to be married if there’s a big income disparity, as you can save thousands of dollars over being single. But unless one of you is out-earning the other by better than 2 to 1, there isn’t going to be any difference that you’ll see.

$125,000 joint income: and at $125,000 in joint income, it’s pretty much the same deal. So, so far, and in fact all the way up to a joint income of $137,050, it is never worse to be married for tax purposes. And if there’s a big income discrepancy between partners, it’s far better to be married than it is to be single. But above $137,050, you start to see something called the marriage penalty.

$150,000 joint income: pretty much the same deal, unless you and your partner bring in roughly the same income! Suddenly, if I make $75k and my partner makes $75k, we’d save $500 on our federal taxes every year by not being married! And the marriage penalty gets more significant at higher incomes:

$200,000 joint income: around $1,000 at this income level.

$250,000 joint income: around $3,000 at this level. By this point, it’s only going to get worse. The marriage penalty has been getting worse, to be sure, but have you also noticed that at large income disparities, like 95%/5% splits, you can save around $5,000 by being married? This number has also been going up, significantly, in all of our charts. Let’s go further:

$300,000 joint income: the marriage penalty starts to get more and more people, now. Unless there’s an 85/15 or more split in income (which means one of you out-earns the other by at least 6 to 1), you are looking at a penalty, just for being married, of over $5,000! But, on the other hand, if one of you doesn’t work at all, you can save over $7,000 just for being married!

$400,000 joint income: this crosses over into the highest tax bracket. Whether you’re married or single, the highest tax rate comes for those earning over $372,950. The marriage penalty is close to $10,000 here, and doesn’t go away unless one out-earns the other by 10 to 1!

$500,000 joint income: notice how the differences are pretty much the same as before. About $10,000 in “marriage penalty” for making the same incomes, but about $7,000 in savings for a one-income marriage.

$750,000 joint income: here you can see that, while the savings never gets better for one-income marriages, the marriage penalty continues to get worse for very large incomes, both in terms of who has to pay it and in terms of how much it is.

$1,000,000 joint income: and finally, the marriage penalty bottoms out here. The marriage penalty is, maximally, about $15,000 a year for the wealthiest Americans. Which is, honestly, enough reason for many people not to marry someone with similar earning power to themselves.

So the overall conclusion? If you’re making under $137,050 of joint taxable income this year, it won’t hurt you at all to be married, and it may save you money if one of you is making more than the other. But, if you’re making more than that, being married will hurt you if you have roughly the same incomes, but will help you immensely if one of you makes virtually no money compared to the other. So feel free to use the charts all you like — and do whatever it is that respects marriage, money, and everything else that makes you happy — but now you can do it with this information in hand!

And the other obvious conclusion? I need to start making enough money so that I can start complaining about the marriage penalty!


Weekend Diversion: f my life

March 22, 2009 on 11:16 am | In Random Stuff | 14 Comments

Schadenfreude (IPA: [ˈʃaːdənˌfʁɔʏ̯də]) — largely unanticipated delight in the suffering of another which is cognized as trivial and/or appropriate.

Every once in awhile, everyone has a bad day. I had one on Wednesday, where nothing seemed to go right the entire day. And sometimes, immature though it is, it just makes you feel like you’re not alone when you realize that other people are having lousy days as well. Some of those people’s days get so bad they’re absurd, and when that happens, it can even make you laugh! Right, Nelson?

Well, I’d like to introduce you to the newest addition to my links section — fmylife.com — where you can get your daily dose of schadenfreude in categories such as love, money, kids, work, and health. You can also vote on whether the person deserves your sympathy or whether they got exactly what they deserved. Some of them are sad, some of them are disgusting, and some of them just make you squirm. And some of them really make you think, “Man, I’m glad that’s not me.”

Today, I saw an elderly man fall in a crosswalk, so I jumped off my bike to help. As I helped him across, the light turned green. At that point I noticed my phone had fallen out of my pocket in the street and was run over by several cars. I then watched across a 6 lane street as someone stole my bike.

Today, I was reported to my principal because someone caught me shooting up at the cafeteria lunch table and as a result I have been suspended from school. I am a diabetic, I was giving myself insulin before I ate crappy school food.

Today, I texted my college boyfriend to tell him how terrible I felt about cheating. He replied saying he was so relieved because he had been cheating on me with a girl in his dorm. I was talking about my math exam.

And some of them make you think, “Wow, you’re a total fool, and this is your comeuppance!”

Today, I was a TA for a history class and the class was taking a test. About halfway through, I noticed one kid had a small piece of paper in his hand. I ran up the row, grabbed his test, and ripped it into four pieces. Then I took the note from him. It said “I believe in you, -Mom.”

Today, I went to a movie with my boyfriend. In the lobby, I asked why the glasses were not working. I said, “Do they only work inside the theater?” My boyfriend replied, “3-D glasses just work inside the movie, everything else in the World is pretty much 3-D.”

Today, my mom came to me and asked if I had drank her wine. I’m 16, so I lied and said “no”. The next morning there was a DVD on my bed labeled “pool house security cameras- love mom.” It was a video of me downing two bottles of red wine and having sex with my boyfriend.

And for whatever that says about me, sometimes it makes me feel a little bit better for having read these. Have a great, schadenfreude-filled weekend!


Weekend Diversion: One trillion dollars!

March 14, 2009 on 8:20 am | In Random Stuff | 40 Comments

Some people have a hard enough time wrapping their head around large numbers when it comes to astronomy. I’ve tried to explain orders of magnitude before, but perhaps this explanation (courtesy of Landon) will serve us better. When you look out at a clear night sky and see all those stars twinkling against the blackness of space, you’re only seeing a few thousand stars.

Which, of course, is not only way too many to count, but is only about 0.000001% of the stars in our galaxy. You see, we have something like 400 billion (that’s 400,000,000,000) stars that make up our Milky Way galaxy.

These numbers are really hard to imagine. So let’s show you, with a little bit of money — okay, a ridiculously large amount of money — how to get a handle on numbers that are this large. Let’s start with a simple US bill, the largest bill in common circulation, the $100 bill:

For my wife and I, this is enough to buy about 4 days worth of groceries. A fair bit of money, but nothing that’ll change your life. Now, we’re going to go up by a factor of 100. What if, instead of just one of these, I had a stack of 100 $100 bills, totaling $10,000?

Well, now we’re talking! This is about a year’s worth of rent for my entire living quarters, a pretty sweet deal! It’s a lot of money, to be sure, and it still fits in your pocket. But, let’s not stop here. Let’s go up by another factor of 100. What if we took 100 of these stacks of 100 $100 bills each, to bring us up to a cool $1,000,000?

Oh, look, someone just left a million dollars lying around on the street! Not something you could fit in your pocket anymore, but you could easily fit it into a purse or a grocery bag. This is about as much money as the typical American family makes over the course of 18 years. This is about enough money to take 10 crazy adventure tourism trips, such as going to Antarctica, Mt. Everest, or outer space. Yes, a million dollars is a lot of money. But we’re just getting started. What if we increased this by another factor of 100, so that we had 100 of the stacks we have right now?

One hundred million dollars. $100,000,000. As much money as Alex Rodriguez makes in 4 years. As much money as I will make, at my current job, in a little over 2,000 years. This is about the GDP of a very small Caribbean island. And enough to make a very impressive stack on a standard palette. Let’s just go up one factor of 10 this time, to one billion dollars:

$1,000,000,000. So hard to fathom. This is the GDP of a reasonably-sized country like Guyana, which has over 800,000 people living in it, or about the population of San Francisco. And enough to make 10 large palettes of this. But this is enough money to buy and build the dynamic tower skyscraper, and to still have enough left over to buy a major league baseball team. A ridiculous amount of money, to be sure. But I asked about one trillion dollars, didn’t I? That’s 1,000,000,000,000 dollars. If we had the same palettes, double stacked them, and laid them out, what would $1,000,000,000,000 look like?

And that, my friends, is just about how big our stimulus package is. Yikes. One trillion dollars.

On that note, have a great weekend!


I’ll Make Ya Famous!

March 12, 2009 on 11:17 am | In Blog info, Random Stuff | 239 Comments

Well, it was bound to happen. We’ve been around for just about 14 months now, and as of right now, we have 306 posts (including this one), 1,735 comments, and 271,834 pageviews. Not bad for something that started, legitimately, because I was simply interesting in telling you about these things — astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, and the Universe — that I found too fascinating to keep to myself.

Things like planets and stars:

Like galaxies and clusters of galaxies:

and like dark matter, dark energy, and the effects of gravity.

Well, I’ve really enjoyed doing it so far, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading it! Because I have news for you. Ever hear of ScienceBlogs?

One of my favorite science blogs, The Intersection, lives there, as do many others, such as one about (mostly) quantum physics, one about science, society and politics, and a uniquely irate biologist. Well, guess who’s been invited to move over there?

That’s right, kids; someday soon, Starts With A Bang will be joining forces with Scienceblogs to help bring you all the stories you’re used to seeing here. But I need some help — I need a banner! I can make one myself, but I’m not nearly as artistic as many of you are. So, let’s have a banner-designing contest, and the winner will get their banner for the new Starts With A Bang displayed all over our new site! The only restrictions are that it must display the words “Starts With A Bang” somewhere, and it must be 756 x 95 pixels. The best I can do on my own is something like this:

But this is your chance to help out; send suggestions and submissions to me (address is on the Q & A Page), and I’ll let you know when the big switchover takes place!


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