Ultra-High Relief (UHR) Palladium Coin from US Mint?

This is actually old news, but I picked it up in a few searches I was doing on Palladium.

It seems that in early April, Max Baucus (Sentator from Montana) put forward a bill (S. 758) to authorize the US Mint to produce a 1 ounce Palladium coin, similar to the very successful 2009 Ultra High Relief gold coin.

CoinNews.net: Palladium Ultra High Relief Coins Come Back, S. 758

History, however, provides insights. Senators Max Baucus [D-MT] and Jon Tester [D-MT] sponsored S. 758 and they also introduced S. 2924 for the same purpose last year. That bill was similar to an earlier and unanimously passed House version, H.R. 5614. The Senate failed to take action on either before the new year, and both died with the end of the 110th congress.

The previous bills would have authorized one-ounce proof and uncirculated palladium coins that were digital reproductions of the famed Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ designed 1907 $20 Double Eagle — often described as the most beautiful coin ever minted in the U.S.

Buyers of the gold 2009 Ultra High Relief $20 Double Eagles can attest to the beauty and detail of that 1907 design. During the first day of Ultra High Relief sales alone, the US Mint sold 28,173. Despite the over $1200 price tag for one, the latest Mint sales figures show 56,527 have been purchased.

You might be wondering why Max Baucus, who is point on driving health care reform in the Senate, would concern himself with coinage.

It turns out that the only mine in the United States that produces Palladium is in Montana, and with the auto industry hurting, it’s a serious jobs issue for the State.

Commodity speculators may be on the outs with regulators in Washington right now, but it seems if you take a commodity and turn it into a coin to spark collector/speculator interest, well, that’s just OK.

In any case, I would love to see this happen.  Buying Palladium right now is incredibly difficult.  2005 & 2006 Canadian Maple Leafs are hard to find without a huge (30%+) markup over the metal.  Ironically, this crash of the auto marketplace is a perfect opportunity to invest in Palladium.  Not surprisingly, however, the lack of demand for the metal also seems to translate into a lack of vehicles to invest in it.

Such is the life of a contrarian coin investor.

Let’s hope Max can take a day off from the health care push and get this one passed.  Given it’s bi-partisan support, maybe it can help revive some form of bi-partisan cooperation in Washington… 🙂

Tomatoes 2009: The Year of the Green Zebra

Thought I’d take a break from posting about pretend farming, and add my annual post on my real life farming efforts.

Those of you who know me, or who have been reading this blog for a while, know that I love to garden.  Despite having a tiny amount of plantable land (I have two 3×3 foot garden boxes, and one 3×6 that I use for tomatoes), I do my best.

I try to balance color and variety each year with my tomato picks.  I only have room for four plants (technically, if I gave them proper space, two plants), so I try to mix demonstrated produces with at least one tomato that I’ve never grown before.

For 2009, I planted:

  • Sweet 100 (Red Cherry)
  • Sungold (Small orange)
  • Lemon Boy (Medium yellow)
  • Green Zebra (Medium Green/Yellow striped)

As usual, I do nothing fancy for my garden boxes.  They have reliable watering through soaker hose on a timer, and I fill each box with new compost every spring.

For volume, Sungold really stole the show this year.  Normally, the Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes are the big producer, but not this year.  The Sungold plant went nuts.  The bush overgrew my 4-foot cage and spilled over the entire box:


Gorgeous fruit, with bountiful bunches of bright orange tomatoes.  Very sweet.  I’m being conservative by saying that we’ve harvested over 200 tomatoes off this one plant already this season, and we’re harvesting another 50+ daily right now.


The clear champion of this summer, however, was the experimental variety, the Green Zebra. The Green Zebra, it turns out, is not an heirloom tomato (although I thought it was when I bought it.)

The plant has been an incredible grower, and has produced several dozen fruits already.  They are a beautiful green striped, medium-sized tomato that turn yellow at the top when they are ripe.


They grow in beautiful clusters, and the vine has been producing several ripe tomatoes every day through August.


They taste delicious, like a slightly acidic version of a typical salad tomato, but with beautiful color.  Fantastic addition to any garden.

So, the 2009 award for best tomato (in my garden) goes to: Green Zebra.

Maybe I can get Zynga to add it to Farmville as a “Super” crop?  🙂

More Farmville Economics: Treeconomics

Wow.  The traffic from the first two blog posts on Farmville has been high.  In fact, the Zynga blog even picked up the two articles.  Very flattering.

I was all set to write a post tonight on the economics of trees in Farmville… but then I caught Pablo’s post on “Treeconomics”.

Brilliant.  Leveraging some of the work I had done, he does a evaluation of a 16-square of trees in terms of “yield” vs. crops.  Very interesting, confirming that a 16-square of Date trees can compare very favorably to almost everything. Before we continue diving into the games, lets come back out into the real world, trees are good for the environment, but if you really need to get them out of your way and plant them somewhere else, then click here to get the best prices on stump grinding from this company. Now back to business…

I’m going to have to think about this a bit more – I want to build a model where I incorporate a few additional factors:

  • The “down payment” for trees.
  • The freedom to never have to “plow” or “plant” again. (value of time)
  • The freedom from working capital for seeds on an ongoing basis.
  • The removal of “withering risk”.  Crops wither after 20% of their growing time, yielding a complete loss of the capital to plow & plant.  Trees never wither.
  • The lack of experience points from trees
  • Incorporate the data from all the trees, not just the ones you can buy.

I’ll still write a follow up here, but tonight there is no need.  Check out this table from Pablo as  sample:

Cost Revenue/Harvest Days to Harvest Daily Revenue Daily Rev/ Invested $ Days to Payback
Date $800.0 $69.0 3 $23.00 2.88% 35
Lime $750.0 $75.0 5 $15.00 2.00% 50
Lemon $475.0 $41.0 3 $13.67 2.88% 35
Peach $500.0 $47.0 4 $11.75 2.35% 43
Fig $350.0 $33.0 3 $11.00 3.14% 32
Plum $350.0 $30.0 3 $10.00 2.86% 35
Orange $425.0 $40.0 4 $10.00 2.35% 43
Apple $325.0 $28.0 3 $9.33 2.87% 35
Cherry $225.0 $18.0 2 $9.00 4.00% 25

And this one:

Daily Profit Total Profit Initial investment Residual Value Profit
Super Berries $900.0 $81,000.0 $81,000.0
Date tree square $368.0 $33,120.0 $12,800 $640.0 $20,960.0
Tomatoes $174.0 $15,660.0 $15,660.0
Raspberries $132.0 $11,880.0 $11,880.0

Too cool.

Now go read it.

Updates: I’ve now posted additional articles on Farmville Economics:

The Personal Economics of Farmville, Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote a fairly popular post about the personal economics of Farmville, the extremely popular Facebook game by Zynga.  There were enough comments and emails about the original post, I decided to write a quick follow-up to cover some of the most common ideas and concerns.


I was also able to get the data on Red Wheat and Yellow Mellon, which were missing from my original post.  Also, this weekend saw the (temporary?) advent of “Super Berries”.  I’ve updated my original table here, showing the rank of all Farmville crops based on net profit per day per square.  Let’s just say there is a reason Super Berries are, well, super:

Crop Profit / Day
Super Berries 900.00
Tomatoes 174.00
Sunflowers 165.00
Coffee 162.00
Blueberries 156.00
Carrots 150.00
Raspberries 132.00
Broccoli 129.00
Red Wheat 84.67
Yellow Mellon 77.00
Peppers 77.00
Rice 72.00
Corn 71.67
Pumpkin 69.00
Pineapple 66.00
Potatoes 65.00
Strawberries 60.00
Yellow Bell 54.00
Watermelon 50.75
Cotton 39.00
Soybeans 33.00
Squash 33.00
Artichoke 29.75
Eggplant 24.00
Wheat 21.67

The most interesting questions and comments came from Abhi Kumar, product manager for Farmville at Zynga.  Needless to say, it was extremely flattering to have Abhi interested in my post, and to hear his thoughts on the topic.

The first point Abhi raised was interesting.  The question was, how would I factor experience into these calculations.  Clearly, experience is crucial to the game in several regards:

  • It’s crucial for rising in the technology tree, to get access to new crops, tools, and other beneficial items.
  • It’s a basic game mechanic that drives people to see their “score” rise.
  • It’s public to your neighbors.  As a social game, this adds an additional game mechanic, similar to a leaderboard, that encourages you to boost your score.

In order to calculate the experience for each crop, I took the experience that each crop delivers per cycle, added one experience point per cycle for re-plowing, and then normalized the values for a single day (24 hours) and a single square.

Crop Experience / Day
Super Berries 24.00
Blueberries 12.00
Strawberries 12.00
Raspberries 12.00
Tomatoes 6.00
Pumpkin 6.00
Carrots 4.00
Rice 4.00
Peppers 3.00
Soybeans 3.00
Coffee 3.00
Broccoli 2.50
Sunflowers 2.00
Pineapple 1.50
Yellow Bell 1.50
Squash 1.50
Eggplant 1.50
Red Wheat 1.00
Corn 1.00
Potatoes 1.00
Cotton 1.00
Wheat 1.00
Yellow Mellon 0.75
Watermelon 0.75
Artichoke 0.75

Not surprisingly, the quick cycle-time of the berries dominates this table.

The question is, how do you blend the value of experience and coins? The truth is, the function for valuing experience is probably too complicated to get right.

However, I did find a simplistic proxy.  1 experience point = 15 coins.

Why? Well, it turns out you can just sit there, plow a square for 15 coins, and get 1 experience point.  You can then delete the square and do it again.  So at least, in theory, you can “buy” an infinite supply of experience points for 15 coins each.

When you include experience at this price, the rank of the crops changes significantly from the original “coins only” version of the most profitable crops:

Crop Profit + XP / Day
Super Berries 1260.00
Blueberries 336.00
Raspberries 312.00
Tomatoes 264.00
Strawberries 240.00
Carrots 210.00
Coffee 207.00
Sunflowers 195.00
Broccoli 166.50
Pumpkin 159.00
Rice 132.00
Peppers 122.00
Red Wheat 99.67
Pineapple 88.50
Yellow Mellon 88.25
Corn 86.67
Potatoes 80.00
Soybeans 78.00
Yellow Bell 76.50
Watermelon 62.00
Squash 55.50
Cotton 54.00
Eggplant 46.50
Artichoke 41.00
Wheat 36.67

In many ways, this final table is a more satisfying answer on what to plant, since it gives a fairly balanced view across coins (which are needed to buy seeds, tools, and other items) and experience (which is also needed to raise your level to buy seeds, tools, and other items).

Clearly, this analysis is very sensitive to the value of an experience point. The more value you ascribe to experience, the more the compound table begins to resemble the experience-only version.

As part of my original post, I had run some analysis that suggested that if you value the time that it requires to check on your crops, harvest them, and re-plow & plant, then you might get a different order.  I’ve now updated the chart to include the three crops that I didn’t have yesterday.


click to see the enlarged chart graphic

Based on the addition of the new crops, the top five crops in terms of their value in $ US / hour are:

  1. Yellow Mellon
  2. Broccoli
  3. Red Wheat
  4. Corn
  5. Watermelon

All of the values are still well below $1 / hour.

I re-ran these numbers utilizing the experience points.  While they did shift the numbers to the right, they didn’t alter the ranking significantly.  This is likely because the cost in time (15 minutes) for each cycle and the high conversion rate (1500 coins / $1 US) means that the time cost of checking dwarfs the incremental value of the experience per cycle.

That’s why you can see that one wacky line, Super Berries, which starts so high it’s off the chart, but crashes down under the weight of 12 cycle refreshes per day.

A couple people specifically wanted to see this analysis taking into account the new Tractor, which speeds plowing by up to 4x (although you need to buy fuel).  Since I don’t have a Tractor yet (working on it), I estimated what would happen if a cycle plow/plant took only 5 minutes instead of 15.  Here is the updated chart:

Farmville Economics Updated Tractor

click to see the enlarged chart graphic

For those of you playing at home, sorry to disappoint.  It turns out that dropping the time it takes does shift the value per hour out almost linearly.  You’ll note that in this chart, now the equivalent value for Yellow Mellon is over $2.62 / hour.  The order of the most valuable crops, however, does not change, because even five minutes dominates with such a high US $ to Farmville coin exchange rate.

Abhi did make one last point that I agree with completely.  The primary value of the game is not the coins you make.  (In fact, since you can’t really convert coins back to dollars, they are arguably worthless.)  The value is the fun and enjoyment you get from the time spent.

In fact, I could theorize that if you normally bill $50/hour for your time, the delta between your normal rate and the amount you are making with Farmville crops shows just how much you value playing Farmville.

Hope this post was as interesting to folks as the last.  I’ve got to go harvest some Super Berries…

Updates: I’ve now posted additional articles on Farmville Economics:

The Personal Economics of Farmville

I’ve been playing Farmville, a social video game by Zynga, over the past week, and I have to say that I’m extremely impressed.  It’s a very simple simulation game, with well integrated social aspects to promote virality, a good technology tree, and clever virtual goods integration.


If you’ve played the game (and at this point, approximately 9 million people have), then you are likely already familiar with the primary economics of the game.  As a farmer, you have a certain number of plots.  It costs money (coins) to plow a plot and plant seeds.  Different crops take different amounts of time to grow, and are worth different amounts at harvest.  Quite simply, the question is:

Which crops should you plant?

Since I do love an excuse to crack open Excel, I built a simple model that tells you what crops are the “most valuable” to plant.  My model was simple:

  • Revenue is just the value of the crop at harvest
  • Cost is the cost of the seeds + the cost to plow the square

In order to compare crops, I had to normalize the values:

  • Normalized all revenue and costs to “one square”
  • Normalized all revenue and costs to “one day”, namely 24 hours

Thus a crop like Strawberries, which takes 4 hours to grow, can be theoretically planted 6 times in a single day.  Eggplant, which takes 2 days to grow, can be planted 0.5 times in a single day.

This model gives you the following simple table as output, ranked by “coins per square per day”:

Crop Profit / Day
Tomatoes 174.00
Sunflowers 165.00
Coffee 162.00
Blueberries 156.00
Carrots 150.00
Raspberries 132.00
Broccoli 129.00
Peppers 77.00
Rice 72.00
Corn 71.67
Pumpkin 69.00
Pineapple 66.00
Potatoes 65.00
Strawberries 60.00
Yellow Bell 54.00
Watermelon 50.75
Cotton 39.00
Soybeans 33.00
Squash 33.00
Artichoke 29.75
Eggplant 24.00
Wheat 21.67

(Note: I still haven’t gotten the revenue and cycle time for the new crops, Red Wheat and Yellow Mellon)

Most of the strategy guides that I’ve found across the web have basically gone just this far.

The problem with this model, however, is pretty obvious:

It assumes that your time has no value!

Listen, Raspberries might be #6 on this list, but you have to actually harvest and replant 12 times per day! (It’s a two-hour crop).  That only seems reasonable if you truly value your time at $0.  Theoretically, we should give some non-zero value to the time it takes to replant, and see how it affects the rankings.

To do this, I changed the model based on the following assumptions:

  • It takes roughly 15 minutes to replant your farm with a crop
  • 1500 Farmville coins are worth $1 (which is what Zynga charges to buy coins with PayPal or your credit card).

I then graphed out the ranking of the crops on a spectrum from $0.00 / hour value for your time, all the way to $1.00 / hour.

As you can tell from the range, the bad news is that even the best crop flips to being “negative value” per day at a monetary value of approximately $0.70 / hour.


click the image to see enlarged verson

This graph paints a very different picture.  If you rank crops by what hourly wage “zeroes them out” in value, you find that actually, your top three crops should be:

  1. Broccoli ($0.69 / hour)
  2. Corn ($0.57 / hour)
  3. Watermelon ($0.54 / hour)

If you accept the idea that 1500 Farmville coins is worth $1 (which is a bit of a stretch since you can’t convert back to dollars…), then these are the crops that pay you the best “hourly wage” for your time.

There are a few things I’ve left out here:

  • Trees / Animals. I haven’t run these numbers for trees or animals, but it would be trivial to do so.
  • Working capital. These crops require different amounts of liquid cash in your Farmville account.  That capital theoretically has a cost, but I didn’t model it.
  • Experience. Some people are playing for experience points, not coins.  Ignored here.
  • Capital Risk. The different crops have different windows of time to harvest before your revenue goes to zero and your crops wither.  This analysis assumes a “perfect farmer”.

If you find this model interesting or useful, would love to see links back here from anyone who pursues any of these different issues. I first got the idea to do this from this article on GamingBuff.com, so I just wanted to give them a little credit.

Of course, that assumes that there is someone else out there twisted enough to spend time analyzing the personal economics of Farmville…

Updates: I’ve now posted several follow-on posts about Farmville Economics: