Eagle Grips Has Poor Quality Control

Today I received a set of panel style grips from Eagle Grips for my K frame Smith & Wesson revolver. Eagle markets themselves as the World’s Finest Handgun Grips, but here’s what I received:

What is going on here?

Would  you be happy with this? The two grips are completely different colors. The grip on the right looks like the picture on Eagle’s website, but the one on the left? I have no idea what’s going on there. The finish is different too; the one on the right is polished-ish but the one on the left is dull looking. Keep in mind, I paid $180 for these things. But wait! There’s more:

The grips don’t fit the contours of the gun at all. And this isn’t because I ordered the wrong ones. In fact, I have several other grips for this gun made by other companies and they all fit fine. These things are just simply wrong. It’s not a stretch to say that Eagle Grips are poorly made and their quality control is careless.

I’ve got another set of grips coming from Altamont to replace these ridiculous things. Other Altamont grips I own are excellent and beautiful. I’ll update this post when I receive the Altamont grips and I’ll compare them to the Eagle grips. Oh, and the Eagle ones cost more than five times what the Altamont grips cost. It’s very likely that this is one of those instances where you don’t get what you pay for. All I can say is avoid Eagle Grips and buy something else.

The Truth About Klipsch Heresy Speakers: A Review

Let’s have a little talk about Klipsch Heresy speakers, those little wooden floorstanders that rise only to the knee. They are cool looking, but are they worth owning?

The Heresy is the smallest (and cheapest) member of the Klipsch Heritage family, a line of midcentury Klipsch speakers that the company never stopped making. Even today, Klipsch will sell you a high-end old speaker, with “vintage” sound, brand new from the factory.  The Heritage line has been tweaked over the years, but nothing significant enough to justify replacing an old one with a newer one. Heritage speakers, including the Heresy, are essentially the same speakers available in the 1950s.

Heritage speakers have developed a cult following. The faithful insist that music never sounds as lifelike as it does through a horn-driven Klipsch, at least not for the price, or even double. The speakers are fabled for their dynamics and life-sized sound, and they accomplish all this with an old “vintage” sound. Paul W. Klipsch, the late company founder, is so highly thought of that some regard his designs as the pinnacle of speaker technology. The speakers aren’t cheap: Klipsch wants $1,000 USD per Heresy speaker. As an avid music listener and audiophile, I had to buy a pair of these and hear them for myself.

I found a pair Heresy speakers in the local classifieds for $400. They were in good shape, but they were older Heresys from the 1980s, so I took to refurbishing them. I put in new crossovers from Crites Speakers, which I am told brought the speakers up to date. The tweeters were blown (I’m not sure if I blasted them or if they came that way) so I installed a shiny new pair of tweeters too, also from Crites. The speakers didn’t have the wooden bases that tilt the speakers backward, so I found a pair of those and installed them too. All in all, I’m into the speakers over $800 so I won’t ever sell them. They’re mine now.

How do the Heresys sound? Well, vintage. Perhaps a better term is old. They’re unrefined and they lack the clarity and control of modern speakers. Complex pieces of music with lots of parts confuse the hell out of them and things are muddled. That’s bad. But remove the complexity and they can shine. In music with emphasis on one voice or one instrument, like bebop and cool jazz or Bach’s St. Matthew Passion they really can sing. In cases where straight-up clarity isn’t as important, the Heresys can even be breathtaking. A soprano can sound alive. A saxophone or trumpet sounds there. It’s haunting.

But only every once in a while. Most of the time I hear only the lack of clarity and the hollow sound. Pop sounds terrible, especially tracks with dynamic compression, and rock is messy until a guitar solo shows up. Bass response is bad, too. The Heresys can reach 50Hz, but it sounds more like 100Hz or even higher. Bass does not exist with the Heresys. Poof, gone. They require a subwoofer, and not just for hip-hop or electronic music. They need a subwoofer for everything, always.

I found the horn-loaded tweeters piercing. They don’t exactly sound shouty, as some suggest, but they are shrill. I tamed this problem by using toilet paper – seriously. One piece of bathroom tissue greatly calmed down the midrange drivers, and the tweeters got two pieces overlaid. I taped the tissue to the backside of the grilles; the white paper is visible underneath the grille, but only barely. It’s a workable solution, albeit an annoying one.

Klipsch owners are quick to suggest modifications to improve sound. The toilet paper fix was one such suggestion. Others change out the drivers, modify the crossovers, and even replace the enclosure. The thing is, after a few modifications you no longer have a Klipsch. You instead have a Ship of Theseus. It begs the question, if Klipsch Heresy speakers greatly benefit from modification, or even replacement, are they worthy of praise in the first place?

I find the Heresys frustrating because they have such huge strengths yet such glaring shortcomings. Music often sounds like it’s coming from down a hallway and around a corner, and just as quickly it can grab my attention as something amazing comes through. They’re dynamic as advertised, that much is true, and they can run on very low power, if you care (I don’t). Sure, they can go loud, but that's hardly unusual. The Heresys' big selling point is style, and they are so cool. Retro-chic is in, and if you want a midcentury speaker that looks (and sounds) the part, look no further than the Klipsch Heresy. I’m keeping mine because they're cool and because I can’t sell them for what I paid. Right now, they’re disconnected and serving as stands for a pair of modern bookshelf speakers – an apt allegory, I think.

Let the flaming begin.

The Klipsch Heresy is priced at $2,000/pair, but better speakers are available for less. I suggest Bowers and Wilkins CM5 or KEF LS50 instead.

How “Spiral Jetty” Looks to One Who Lives Near It

The New York Times Magazine this month published a piece by Heidi Julavits entitled The Art at the End of the World: A pilgrimage (with children) to see “Spiral Jetty.” In it, she discusses her 2,000 mile journey to finally see Robert Smithson’s masterpiece of land art. It was an exciting read, partly because I enjoy art, but even more because I live in Spiral Jetty’s neighborhood.

I mean “in the neighborhood” in Utah terms. I live in Salt Lake City, which is 2.5 hours from the jetty, and considering the bigness of the American west, that is close by. It’s about as close as civilization gets to “Spiral Jetty,” anyhow. I had meant to visit for years but I never got around to it. I considered stopping by when I decided on a whim to circumnavigate the lake a few summers ago, but I skipped it. Not enough time. There have been a handful of other such occasions.

To Julavits, a New Yorker from Maine, the landscape of western Utah was so imposing, so dead, so foreign that it demanded a heathy dose of staring. Ignoring my mild offense at her suggestion that my city’s setting resembles “how our planet might appear following a nuclear holocaust” (although to be honest it kind of does look that way, at least west of the city) I was even more struck by her shock. I became accustomed to this desert landscape long ago and had forgotten how it appeared to me when I was an easterner first arriving in the American west.

The Great Basin, home of “Spiral Jetty,” can be overwhelming to those who haven’t witnessed it. The better known Utah of red rock arches and deep canyons is not here. Neither are the ski slopes. In this “Utah” there are only low mountain ranges and the dry basins between them, sagebrush, and, at the higher elevations, juniper bushes. The Great Basin is not beautiful in a traditional sense, but the spareness and vastness of the region is alluring nonetheless. My entire adult life I’ve immersed myself in that landscape.

To me the landscape isn’t alien, it isn’t foreboding. It is home.

Yet an important component of “Spiral Jetty” is the landscape itself. The work depends upon its starkness, on its oddity, to affect visitors and to make it complete. But what if that starkness was commonplace? Would the artwork still matter? Perhaps it can be enjoyed only by those who come from far away and it would always be lost on those nearest to it. I had to know.

In short, I wanted to see if Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” would be meaningful if the foreignness of its setting is removed.

The day after I read the article, armed only with a half page of directions, a hat, a camera case, and my trusty Jeep, I set out for the jetty. I drove the Jeep because Julavits described the drive as being along a rough road. (Geoff Dyer of The New Yorker also described such a road in his article, Poles Apart: Notes from a pilgrimage.) I needn’t have bothered with the Jeep. The road was excellent the entire way to the jetty; I could have brought my sedan. I’m being unfair though. Julavits went in the rain and that lakeside dirt turns to Vaseline when it gets wet. Still, the road conditions weren’t challenging or even rough. I allowed myself a haughty but half-hearted “Easterners!” quip.

When I saw “Spiral Jetty” to my left, my first though was, “Yep, that’s about what the entire lakeshore looks like.” Except for the artwork, of course. Its shape was strange but it looked like it belonged, like it had somehow been created naturally.

The sun was low in the sky — I wanted to be there for sunset — so I traded my flip-flops for tall Wellington boots, which I had inside a plastic bag inside a bucket in case it was mucky (I’ve learned not to put cloth or leather in the Great Salt Lake mud, and don’t get it in your car — it’ll stink for years) and headed out to walk the jetty.

Turns out “Spiral Jetty” was dry, although it didn’t look convincingly that way from the Jeep. It was all basalt rock and chalky dust, and each crunch of my footsteps echoed oddly from the big rubber boots, making my steps boomy and strange. Every few steps I stopped and looked around. I didn’t feel anything. I did marvel at the engineering project that the jetty must have required, the tractors and the work and the time. Still, this was Utah and it looked commonplace enough. My mind was still in driving mode, still in me, me, me mode, still looking down at the artwork rather than being part of it.

All at once, somewhere along the outside ring of the jetty, I remembered notion that the spiral should recall a primordial landscape, and suddenly the scene turned quiet, my mind quit churning, and all that remained were the rocks, the horizon, and the sound of the gentle wind. Dyer paraphrases the artist John Coplans who explained that “entering the spiral involved walking counterclockwise, going back in time; exiting, you go forward again.” The basin and lake took on a new personality, and as I traveled through time, I seemed transported to a world long past, a quiet place before the arrival of life, perhaps even anticipating life. If I looked toward the west the illusion was complete; no life appeared there. It was barren but not dead: life was being born for the first time.

The holiest, most sacred places aren’t the cathedrals or the mosques or the temples, but enclaves within nature that embody what those religious structures try artificially to create. In such places, like the coastal redwood forests of California and “Spiral Jetty”, there is a quiet stillness in the air that reveals the world, reveals the universe, reveals time, as it really is. It is continuous, inconceivably large, and mankind is only the tiniest component within it, yet still a part of the whole.

Sunset at the Spiral Jetty

The center of the spiral seemed the most appropriate place to stop and sit. As time passed and the sky turned pink, I sat upon a rock and still little belied the spiral’s illusion, only the occasional call from a gull or a raven, an inconsiderate airliner whispering far above, and if I turned around, a hill scattered with brush. The sun came closer to the horizon as it had done many billions of times before and will do billions more, now two hand widths away, now only one, and it entered a haze layer that turned the disc bright red and dim enough to look directly into. Now only two widths of the sun to the ground, now only one, and the sun not only invited itself to be seen, but now was truly dim, blood red, more ancient, wilder. I quietly awaited its setting.

The bubble was popped suddenly by the raucous arrival of a too-fast car and its six occupants loudly laughing and carrying on as they walked toward the spiral. “Why is this here?” “This is weird.” “That sunset is so ugly.” The selfies started, the splashing in the water, the inconsiderate crossing of the arms of the spiral as if it was no big deal. I was irked. They were doing nothing wrong, of course. Anyone is free to visit “Spiral Jetty” in any fashion they choose; there’s no right way. But my illusion was over. I started circling my way out of the spiral as the sun dipped below the horizon.

As I walked out, I noted that the spiral curves outward, yet it somehow seems also to curve upward as I walked around it. Deep from the past, far back in time, I climbed toward the present. Soon my visitors seemed appropriate and I didn’t mind them. They fit. They fit with the outside edge whereas they had clashed with the center.

I arrived at my car, still somewhat in a quiet trance, and came out of it as I drove home.

I’ve later considered that while the jetty and its setting to me suggested the early Earth awaiting the arrival of life, it could just as easily be the Earth after life has departed, as Julavits envisioned. The setting sun that evening surely fit with her narrative, whereas a visit at sunrise would better suit mine. Either way, of course, Earth remains. In both scenarios it spins on its axis, it orbits the sun. It’s indifferent to us. It is the constant, we are the variable, the earth is a setting only and life acts upon its stage.

I prefer to optimistically envision “Spiral Jetty” as a world awaiting life, and by extension awaiting us, rather than one that has bid us farewell. Or I like to imagine a similar scene on another world like ours, far away, perhaps this very moment anticipating life the way our earth did so long ago.

With proper stimulus, in this case a simple artwork in the desert, even the commonplace can transform into the fantastical and the experience loses none of its punch. At least it seems so to me, Utahan or no.

[Note: My imagined scene never existed in reality of course. Life created the earth’s atmosphere, our blue skies, our oxygen. The earth before life didn’t look much like our planet does now. And after life has gone from the planet, or perhaps before, the earth’s rotation will slow and become tidally locked with one hemisphere always toward the sun. We’ll have no moon, and the sun gradually will swell, heat up, boil away our oceans, and probably destroy the earth altogether. But none of that is all that relevant when it comes to art, and my fantasy, at least to me, remains significant.]

Spark Plugs: Male Spark Plug, Female Wire, What Gives?

I’m sure that every half-capable home auto mechanic on the planet already knows this, but if you’re a total spark plug amateur like I was this afternoon, this might save you some time.

Sometimes your spark plug wires have female plug connectors, and sometimes they’re male. Same goes for spark plugs. I bought plugs this morning and they had female ends, and so did my wires, like this:

I thought I had purchased the wrong plugs so I headed back to the auto parts store. Turns out — ta-da! — the ends of spark plugs are removable; you just unscrew the female ends to reveal the male connector. I felt dumb but I’m glad I know.

I had to use a pair of pliers to break the ends free, but they came right off. Anyway, if you’re having this problem, now you know.

LDS / Mormon Church Growth Statistics, 2018

UPDATED April 11, 2018: This article includes data through year-end 2017.

In the past, the Mormon church has released a statistical report as part of their General Conference each spring. This year, for the first time since at least 1970, it appears that the statistical report was released separately as a news bulletin and not as a presentation during conference itself. It’s an interesting detail. I do hope, for all of us who follow Mormon church growth, that the Mormon church isn’t considering discontinuing the report altogether.

Even so, it’s time again to look at these new numbers and add them to the charts. If you’re interested in checking my numbers, you can download a very large and very boring CSV file which contains the raw data I’m using here so you don’t have to go through years of General Conference Statistical Reports, including the really old ones that are only available on video, like I did.

Please note that these figures come straight from the LDS church. They voluntarily self-report this information, which they don’t have to do, and there’s no way to verify anything. Still, I have no reason to think that the Mormon church is not being truthful about their statistics.

Total Mormon Church Membeship

In 2017, the Mormon church grew to 16.1 million members. That’s about what we should expect, considering the trend since 1970. The LDS church is not growing exponentially, and the numbers show that it’s not; the growth is quite linear, especially since about 1990. Yearly membership is rather predictable. There aren’t any peaks or valleys in this chart, and growth has been steady. For more information, let’s have a look at year-over-year figures:

Change in Church Membership

This graph shows year-over-year growth for each year. It’s simple to calculate. From the previous graph, we know how many members the Mormon church has each year, so to calculate the change in membership, we subtract the membership for each year from the preceding year. This figure isn’t specific about how these members are added; it’s simply a year over year change. Since 1995, there have been an average of 308,000 members added each year. The past four years have been down years, and 2016 was actually quite low, at 248,218, which is the fewest since 1987.

Mormon Church Growth Rate

The graph above shows the growth rate of the Mormon church. This graph is calculated by dividing each year’s change in membership by total membership for each year. In 2013, the growth rate dropped below 2% for the first time and it has gone down since, with 2017 at 1.46%. The growth was erratic before 1992, but it has smoothed out and steadily declined since. Put simply, a smaller percentage of Mormons are new members than ever before. Like any other organization, it’s easier to have large growth rates when things are small. Now that the Mormon church is large, it’s harder to add ever-increasing numbers of people. To look at one component of that growth, we can examine convert baptisms.

Annual Convert Baptisms

When missionaries baptize a new Mormon, that is a convert baptism. There were 233,729 such baptisms in 2017. In 2013, we saw a big surge in the number of missionaries, but as we will see later, the number of missionaries and the number of convert baptisms does not always correspond. In 2017 there were fewer convert baptisms than we’ve seen since 1987, which is slightly fewer than even the less productive raise-the-bar era of 2003-2005.

Convert Baptisms as Percentage of Total Membership

The graph above shows the percentage of Mormons who were baptized in the last year. This year, 1.45% of all members were baptized in the last year, or about 1 in 70. The percentage had been mostly flat since 2003, but it went down considerably in 2015 and has continued since. It’s very different from 1980, for example, when nearly 1 in 20 Mormons had been baptized within the previous year.

Children of Record and 8-Year-Olds Baptized - 2016

The graph above is more complicated. The Mormon church has been inconsistent with its reporting of new members by birth, that is, members that were born to a Mormon parent. Sometimes they have reported 8-year-olds baptized, sometimes children of record, and sometimes both. The resulting graph is erratic and broken, but it is what it is, and we can only do our best to interpret it. I’ve tried my hand at interpretation in previous articles, but from now on I’ll simply present the data.

In the United States, in 2012, the birth rate was 12.6 per 1,000 people. Using this very rough estimate for the Mormon church as a whole, which admittedly has members outside the United States, we would expect Mormons to have about 193,000 children in 2015. But they had fewer children of record, only 115,000, so either Mormons are having fewer kids than the American population as a whole, which doesn’t seem likely, or not all children born to Mormons are being added as children of record.

Children of Record Baptized as Percentage of Total Membership

Similar to the graph showing the percentage of Mormons who were baptized in the past year, this graph shows the percentage of all Mormons who were born or baptized in the past year. Despite the erratic data, the Mormon birth rate has clearly dropped significantly since 1970 — Mormon families are having fewer kids — but the numbers say that the rate has stayed at a similar level since the mid-1990s.

Anomale Graph

The preceding graph is my signature graph, a wholly confusing affair. Next year I hope to have a better way of depicting this. Apologies.

I’ll explain. (We’re dealing with percentages here, not whole numbers.) From the second graph, we know the yearly change in membership. I’ve made that number 100%, and it’s indicated by the bright red line. Two components of the change in membership, new members and new births, are indicated by the blue and green bars, respectively, while the total of the two are shown by the gray bars. We expect the gray bars to stick out above the red line a little, because there’s also negative pressure on membership — members who leave and members who die — that’s why the conversions and births don’t actually add up to 100%.

I won’t focus on years where the gray bars don’t stick out above the red line, like 1989, which must mean that members were added through a means other than baptisms and births, seemingly out of thin air. Those years are anomalies, and no one knows what’s going on, aside from record keepers inside the Mormon church. It’s likely that those oddball years denote some kind of census or housekeeping update.

It is interesting that the grays bars stick up quite far since about 2002, meaning that a larger percentage of Mormons are dying each year, or a larger percentage of Mormons are leaving, or a combination of both. For 2017, that discrepancy approaches 50% — a decrease of 105,000 people — and virtually offsets the increase in children of record. This graph may be the best numbers-based representation of member resignations and excommunications, because it’s not likely that such a high percentage of Mormons are dying, although dying members are included in the figure.

Full Time Missionaries

Now let’s look at missionaries. The missionary surge of 2013 has largely tapered off. Many people, including me, predicted a corresponding drop in missionaries once the 19-year-old and 21-year-old group left mission service in 2014, but it didn’t happen that year. From the comments section below, commenter Dave mentioned that I wasn’t taking into account high school graduation schedules related to the then-new surge. He was right; the drop-off wasn’t seen until 2015.

It seems plausible that an increased number of missionaries would lead to an increased number of converts, but we haven’t seen that correlation in the number of convert baptisms. Four years into the surge, we can confidently say that the number of missionaries is not reliably predictive of the number of convert baptisms.

Percentage of Mormons Serving Full Time Missions

Here we see the percentage of Mormons who are serving full-time missions. After staying pretty consistent since the early ’80s, the percentage began to decrease in 2002, and reached a low point in 2010, during the “raise the bar” period for missionary requirements. The percentage recovered by 2013-14 during the missionary surge and was momentarily consistent with percentages of the 1980s and 1990s, but since then the percentage has dropped back to mid-2000s levels.

Convert Baptisms Per Mormon Missionary

Here we see baptisms per missionary. There has been a downward plunge corresponding with the increase in missionaries, although that level has remained about the same since the first year of the missionary surge at about 3.5 baptisms per missionary. It remains to be seen whether the Mormon church can find a way to increase the converts per missionary with the larger missionary force, but as of 2017 they have not.

For reference, please read my previous Mormon Church statistical updates. Reports are available for year-end 2012 and year-end 2013.

LDS Church Growth Statistics, Anomalies Since 1970 (2013 Edition)


(This article is an update to my previous LDS church growth article written for year-end 2012.)

It’s April and Mormons are having a General Conference!  April’s conference—like other conferences held in recent years—features a statistical report that tells everyone how last year went for the church.  And for or the second year in a row, I’ll be taking those numbers and creating my own  report on Mormon church growth.  I totally geek out on this stuff.  Really.

2013 looked to be a very interesting year for Mormon Church growth because of a major shakeup in missionary proselytizing service.  Previously, Mormon males could go on missions when they turned 19, and Mormon females were eligible at 21.  Last year the Mormon church revised this so  males can go now on missions at 18 and females at 19.  As a result, missionary numbers have exploded because, in addition to already-serving missionaries, the new eligibility let them get a jump start and bring in younger missionaries.  This has big implications for my articles, because more missionaries might lead to more converts.  Let’s see how it went!

Please note, I’m basing my data entirely on LDS Church data released in general conferences since 1970.  If the statistics don’t reflect reality, there’s no way for me (or anyone else) to know.  We’re trusting them to be accurate.  If you want to check my work, you can download my raw data sheet here (it’s a comma delimited file so paste it into a spreadsheet).  Everything in this article comes from this data sheet.  If I’m inaccurate someplace, please let me know.

Total LDS Church Membership

First thing’s first; let’s have a look at total LDS Church membership as of the end of 2013:

Total LDS Church Membership

As in previous years, 2o13 total membership ended up linear and right in line.  With an official membership of 15,082,028 it’s right where we  expect it to be.  Since 1970, and especially since 1990, we don’t have evidence of exponential growth.  It’s much more linear.  In fact, since 1990 you can lay a piece of paper on the screen and see that growth’s essentially been straight as an arrow.  This means that Mormon Church growth is reliable and increases each year without fail.  A good rule of thumb is that the LDS church adds roughly 1 million members every three years, and has maintained that rate for 25 years.

To illustrate annual membership increase, we simply subtract the previous year’s membership total from the current year.  That gives us a graph that looks like this:

Year over Year change in membership

It’s a pretty erratic graph, so let’s simplify things by showing a five year rolling average:


That makes things easier to see.  Again, we’re only looking at the change in members from one year to another.  We can see that the LDS church added an increasing amount of members almost every year from 1970 until 1992.  After 1992, there has been a (slight) downward or level trend in the total number of members added to the Mormon Church each year—300,000 members, give or take.  In other words, since the early ’90s, the Mormon Church has added about the same or slightly fewer total members to church rolls each year.  This includes both convert baptisms and children born into the church.

Let’s have a look at the rate of growth for the LDS Church.  To find it, we calculate the percentage increase for each year compared to the previous year.  That gives us a graph that looks like this:


Again, this is an erratic graph, so let’s smooth things out by illustrating a five year rolling average:


This graph shows the percentage of Mormons who were baptized in the past year, every year.  There’s a definite downward trend here, meaning that every year the Mormon Church will probably add a smaller percentage of members to the rolls.  This is apparent given the rule of thumb that the Mormon church adds one million members every three years: a million members is a huge percentage increase for a five million member church, but not so much for a 50 million member church.  From the late ’70s to the early ’80s, and again in the early ’90s, the church added new members at a fast pace.  Since 1993, things have slowed significantly.  It’s worth noting that the LDS Church growth rate hit a new low in 2013—just 1.99%.  It’s the first time since 1970 that the church growth rate has fallen below 2%/year.  Next year might be more than 2%, but on average, the growth rate is slowing significantly.

It’s important to remember that it’s much easier to grow a small organization than a big one, and it’s natural for growth rates to decrease over time.  Still, the LDS Church growth rate still outpaces the world population growth rate of 1.1%.  This means that each year, a larger percentage of the world becomes Mormon.  Indeed, if the current LDS Church growth rate stayed consistent, eventually everyone in the world would be Mormon.  With the slowing Mormon Church growth rate, though, it’s unlikely to happen.

Missionary Work: Convert Baptisms

Now let’s remove child baptisms from the picture and focus only on convert baptisms.  Usually these are baptisms resulting from missionary proselytizing.  It’ll be interesting to see if there’s an increase from the huge number of missionaries sent out by the Mormon Church.  First, let’s look at convert baptisms by year:


To be clear, this graph shows the total number of convert (non-child) baptisms each year.  The first striking thing is the enormous explosion of converts baptized from 1974 to 1981 and from 1983 t0 1992.  In fact, convert baptisms have never again reached the highs of the 1990s.  Things have recovered somewhat from a depressed period during the early 2000s, however, and the number of convert baptisms has hovered around 275,000/year since, including 2013.  While 2013 convert baptisms were higher than 2012, both years fall in line with numbers from the past ten years.  There may yet be a spike in convert baptisms in 2014 with the increased number of missionaries, but so far it hasn’t happened.

Now let’s have a look at convert baptisms as a percentage of total Mormon church membership:


This graph can be described as the yearly percentage of all Mormons who were converted by the missionaries within the past year.  The trend is pretty similar to the overall growth rate.  The late 70s to the early 80s was a high conversion period, as was the late 80s to the early 90s.  Since 1990 things have trended downward.  Today about 1.9% of all Mormons were converted by the missionaries within the past year—about 1 in 50.  Year-end 2012 was the lowest conversion percentage year on record, with an insignificant increase in 2013.

There’s another interesting thing to consider with the spike in missionaries, especially the increase in female missionaries.  With more young women leaving home to become missionaries, there will also be fewer women of that age having children.  I can’t predict all the effects of the missionary age change, but it will be very interesting to see if there’s an echo drop-spike in the increase of children of record.  There are bound to be unforeseen changes within the LDS church with women serving missions in significant numbers, but there’s no way to look ahead.  I can’t wait to find out.  This brings me to children born into the Mormon church:


This frustratingly murky graph shows yearly increases in children of record, which are kids who are added to LDS church rolls each year.  An explanation: in 1970 the Mormon church counted both children of record (kids born to Mormon parents) and 8-year-olds baptized (kids who are officially initiated into the church through baptism at age eight).  In the early 80s the LDS church stopped counting children of record and counted only 8-year-olds baptized.  Then they reversed course in the late 90s and stopped counting 8-year-olds baptized and started counting children of record again.  Aside from that, the graph gets pretty erratic after the late-90s change. Unfortunately we only have are these numbers so we’ll do our best.  For continuity I’ll follow the 8-year-olds baptized line until the late 90s, and switch to children of record thereafter.  I can’t think of a better way.

That aside, the graph shows an overall upward trend in the number of children born into the Mormon church every year.  This makes sense because the number of Mormons is increasing: more Mormons will contribute more children to the membership total.  Now let’s look at children of record as a percentage of total LDS church membership:


Like the new convert percentages, this graph illustrates an overall downward trend in the percentage of new children added to the Mormon church each year.  This means that overall, each year, there is a smaller percentage of new members added through birth to the Mormon church, whether it’s through baptism or simply birth to Mormon parents.  There’s a caveat though, because this trend seems to be changing somewhat since a low in 2002.  But with the data’s inherent cloudiness it’s hard to say.  After a few years these numbers should become clearer as long as the sampling stays consistent.

The takeaway here, I think, is that individual Mormon women are having fewer kids than they used to.  If they weren’t, the lines would be flat.  Even with the difficult data, that much is obvious.  In 1970 about 2% of all Mormons had come into the church through birth within the past year.  Today that numbers is only about 0.75%.    As time goes on it will be very interesting to see how the lower birth rates affect LDS church growth.

Now let’s take a look at a final graph, which shows anomalies in the data:


You may need to click on the image to make it readable; there’s a lot going on here.  It looks complicated at first, but it’s not too bad.   The objective here is to determine which source (missionaries, births) is contributing new members, and when in history it was happening.  This graph also allows us to see outgoing members, Mormons who are no longer counted in the membership total.  We don’t know why these people are no longer counted, although a number of Mormons must die each year.  Resignations and excommunications may also contribute, but that is not implicit in the data.

The bright red line at 100% represents the membership increase for that year.  From the second graph in this article we know that change in membership is different each year, but on this graph every year is 100%.  Then we represent the contributing statistical components for that year with the bar graphs.  Convert baptisms are in yellow, children are in orange, and the total of the two are in gray.  We expect the gray lines to slightly exceed the 100% line because, as we mentioned, a number of Mormons must exit the church each year.

Some anomalies are readily apparent.  1973 stands out because the Mormon church added 150% of that year’s membership increase through convert baptisms and births, leaving 45,000 members unaccounted for.  Perhaps almost as many members died as were added through births.  We see similar things happen on numerous occasions on this graph like in 1983 and 1987.  In fact, the number of members unaccounted for has been overall increasing since about 2000; could an increasing percentage of Mormons be dying each year?

1989 is even stranger.  That year, the total members added through convert baptisms and births falls well short of the total increase in membership, as if members were added out of thin air.  We see this same anomaly six other times on the graph, but not since 1999.

It is presumptuous and unfair to assume wrongdoing based on these numbers alone.  Perhaps the Mormon church was less meticulous with record keeping in the past and there have been attempts to true up the numbers.  Perhaps the numbers came from independent departments and were reported during General Conference without a high-level audit.  I think it’s important to recognize the line between statistics and our own assumptions, wherever they may fall.

I find parsing these numbers fascinating.  We see here that the Mormon church is unquestionably growing, and growing quickly.  But we also see that declining growth rates mean that the church is not growing exponentially, but more linearly.

Over the coming years we’ll see changes.  As the Mormon church grows it will gain exposure, both positive and negative.  The LDS church must sway with the sociological and cultural shifts of our time, and scrutiny will continue to come from within and from without.  Many factors will come into play, and it will be interesting to see their effects on Mormon church growth.

Stay tuned for an update next spring.  2014 should show the full effect of the missionary age shift, which will be very interesting.  As always, if I’ve screwed something up, please let me know.

UPDATE: Missionary Statistics

There’s been a lot of excitement within the Mormon church about growing numbers of proselytizing missionaries since a 2012 church policy change allowed men and women to serve missions at a younger age. Mormon youth were formerly eligible to serve full-time proselytizing missions at age 19 for men and age 21 for women. Now men may serve at age 18 and women at age 19. As expected, the number of Mormons serving missions drastically increased, perhaps only temporarily, as younger new missionaries joined the existing missionary force.

The following chart shows the number of Mormons serving full-time missions per year, since 1977. Please note that the LDS church has only released information about missionaries since 1977, so the following charts are different from the charts earlier in this article, most of which start at 1970.

LDS_Full_Time_MissionariesA recent spike in the number of missionaries is very evident here. There are more Mormons serving missions than ever before, by far.

Following a strong drop in the number of missionaries during 2003-04, there was a sustained period of fewer missionaries which lasted until 2010. This is a period when the LDS church decided to Raise the Bar by tightening the requirements to become a full-time missionary. Missionary ranks decreased to just over 50,000 missionaries, significantly lower than the more than 60,000 missionaries serving previously. In 2011, a year before the new age eligibilities were announced, the number of missionaries had began to go up — missionary enrollment went up by 6% that year. Another 7% were added the following year, in 2012. It is impossible to know whether these pre-2013 increases were because the Mormon church relaxed their Raise the Bar policies, or whether these increases were simply organic. Some of the increase, in 2012, could include the initial waves of new missionaries which departed following the church’s eligibility announcement in October of that year.

It is interesting that the current spike in missionaries — reaching 83,000 at year-end 2013 — brings the missionary force more-or-less in line with the growth trend from 1982-2002, before the disruption from Raise the Bar in the 2000s. In this view the growth in Mormon missionaries has been quite linear and consistent since 1982, including the current spike, except for Raise the Bar.

Percent-of-Mormons-serving-missionsThe percentage of Mormons currently serving full-time missions further demonstrates this consistency. About 0.5% to 0.55% of Mormons, roughly 1 in 180, were serving as missionaries from 1982-2002. The Raise the Bar period saw the lowest percentage of Mormons serving missions, reaching a low of 0.37% in 2010, or about 1 in 270 Mormons. The current spike in missionaries has caused the percentage of Mormons to suddenly snap back in line, reaching 0.55% again, or 1 in 180. There has been a remarkably consistent percentage of Mormons serving as missionaries since 1982, except for Raise the Bar, showing that the Mormon church has remained capable of motivating its members to serve proselytizing missions.

Converts-Per-MissionaryThere is some bad news when analyzing convert baptisms per missionary. The LDS church has seen an overall decrease in per-missionary conversions since 1982, except for a brief improvement from 1988-1990, and during the Raise the Bar period. There were gains in per-missionary baptisms from 2004-2009 during Raise the Bar, improving from a low of about four baptisms per missionary, in 2003, to almost 6 per missionary, in 2009. These gains were significant; instead of baptizing eight people during a two-year mission in 2003, or 16 per companionship, a missionary could could expect to baptize 12 people by 2009, and be a part of 24 baptisms per companionship.

The numbers began to slip again, in 2009, perhaps in the aftermath of Raise the Bar, while the missionary spike of 2013 has seen per-missionary baptisms fall dramatically to their lowest-ever level  — just 3.4 baptisms per missionary. This means that a two-year missionary can expect to only baptize about seven people and be part of 14 baptisms per companionship during their mission. This is much lower, for example, than 1989, when a two-year missionary might expect to baptize 32 people in his or her companionship during their mission, or even 2009, when 24 baptisms might be expected.

The Mormon missionary effort has grown but has become far less efficient since 1977. It will be interesting to see how these numbers look at year-end 2014. The new numbers should be released this April.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Two-Door: 2.5 Inch Lift with 33 Inch Tires

This is my Jeep. It's a 2014 two-door with an AEV 2.5" lift kit and 285 series tires (33").

It was surprisingly hard to find anything on the internet dedicated to showing a very specific setup for Jeep Wranglers, specifically what a Jeep looks like with a 2.5″ lift with 33″ tires.  So here you go, if you’re looking for such a thing.

Here's a straight-on detail shot of the side of the Jeep with the AEV 2.5" lift and 33" tires. I think it looks significantly meaner (and will perform better) than stock without looking extreme. In fact, a lot of people think it is stock.

Seems like everybody in Jeep forums buys the biggest tires they can stuff into their wheel wells, which for a 2.5″ lift is 35″ tires.  For me, that’s just too big.  I’m not into rock crawling or driving over obstacles for the sake of it.  I’m more of an explorer, sort of a Jeep-equipped adventure rider.  I want the Jeep to take me adventuring without worrying about capability.  Also, 35″ inch tires have a lot of rolling resistance and require a lot more horsepower (and gasoline).  I’m no fuel miser, but range is an important consideration while exploring.  Thus, 33″ tires worked for me.

The Jeep at Sand Hollow 2014-2

I also went with a shorter lift–just 2.5 inches.  In my case, I went with AEV’s 2.5″ JK DualSport XT Suspension.  As you can see from the pictures, the Jeep sits considerably higher than stock, but not extremely.  My reasoning behind the 2.5″ lift is much the same as the tires: I love adventuring, not rock crawling.  Also, no matter what, and even though it’s not a daily driver for me, my Jeep will spend most of its life on pavement.  I didn’t want a silly-huge lift with horrible handling day-to-day.

Wrangler Rubicon Wheel Detail

For reference, in addition to the AEV 2.5″ DualSport lift, I have the following pictured items installed:

  1. 33″ (285/70/17) BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO tires
  2. 17″ AEV JK Pintler Wheels in Silver
  3. Steel AEV bumpers front and rear
  4. A crapload of assorted lights everywhere

UPDATE May 2016: In a weak moment I decided to change out my 33″ tires for 35″ tires. Here’s the result.


After a couple years with the 33″ BFG AT/KO tires, I decided to try out 35″ tires this time instead. (The 33s weren’t bald; I just wanted a change. I sold them.) I decided to change over from the 33″ BFGs to 35″ Goodyear Wrangler Duratracs. Immediately the ride was softer — much softer. I don’t know if this is more a result of the bigger tires (probably) or tires with a thinner sidewall (also possible) but now I’m running the tires at 30 PSI and the Jeep is far more livable. It’s a pleasing result that I didn’t expect or try for. It just happened.


This is a great chance to see how 33″ tires compare to 35″ tires on the same Jeep with otherwise the exact same setup. If you’re looking at which tires to fit to your Jeep, this might make your choice easier. While the suspension setup is the same, I’ve fitted different driving light covers and when I took these photos I had removed the doors and I have a lightweight flatbed attached to the hitch. So the doors would have made the Jeep marginally lighter and the trailer probably drooped the rear bumper by maybe 1/2″. Yeah, but seriously, the setup is the same. Splitting hairs that exactly is, frankly, pretty pointless. It’s the same Jeep.


Immediately you’ll notice the taller stance and the more filled out wheel wells. The 35″ tires don’t actually jack up the Jeep that much, but you do feel it when you’re hopping up into the seats. Gas mileage has suffered of course, but not by more than 2 MPG, and tire noise has increased somewhat. The look is decidedly tougher and more, well, off-roadish and it more closely matches the other Jeeps driving around here in the Salt Lake City area — and there are tons of Jeeps here.

You might like the 35″ tires more or you might like them less — for me they’re worthwhile for ride quality alone — but if you’re shopping for tires this hopefully will help your decision. Both are seriously great options. I personally won’t go any bigger than 35″, and I’d have to get a bigger lift to fit larger tires anyway  (AND bigger axles, AND bigger differentials, AND new suspension, AND bigger brakes; yikes) which would be antithetical to my intentions for this Jeep. I’m not against fitting 33s again either, but I probably won’t return to the thick, heavy BFGs. Just buy the tires that are best for your situation. Both sizes are great.

2014 Mazda6 Bluetooth Stopped Working

2014 Mazda6 and Bluetooth Entertainment Console

I like my new 2014 Mazda6 a lot.  It’s a good car, but within a couple months the Bluetooth stopped working.  Definitely not something you want to see, especially on a new car.

I’m writing this post to help anyone who might have the same problem.

My car has the touchscreen entertainment system, which includes Bluetooth for streaming my telephone and media through the stereo.  The Bluetooth worked perfectly with my iPhone–until it stopped.  When I say stopped, I mean the car’s bluetooth shut off on its own.  When I pressed “PHONE” it wouldn’t respond.  If I pressed the Bluetooth buttons on the steering wheel, the screen would say “Starting Bluetooth Hands-Free System, please wait…” but nothing would change.  The Bluetooth tab in on the stereo was grayed out.  It was impossible to reach the Bluetooth pairing screen.

I ran into this thread on the Mazda 6 Club Forums, where user GeraldEGB suggested disconnecting the battery for a few moments.  This fixed everything.  Cutting the power must have reset the system because once I reconnected the battery, the Bluetooth started working again.  It’s a very, very simple fix.

For reference, here’s the battery on the 2014 Mazda 6:

2014 Mazda6 Battery Terminal Location

To fix it, I disconnected the negative battery terminal (shown with the red arrow) for about three minutes or so.  There’s no need to disconnect both wires or remove the battery.  I don’t know if the Bluetooth system will quit working again, but if happens infrequently, performing this fix a time or two per year is fine with me.

Before doing this I contacted the proper channels for help, including Mazda USA and my dealership, Orem Mazda in Utah.  Included with the car is a handy pamphlet called 2014 Mazda6 Smart Start Guide which includes Bluetooth setup instructions.  On the Bluetooth pairing page (p. 29), it includes this information:

Mazda Smart Start Guide

When my Bluetooth stopped working, I called the toll-free number (1-800-430-0153).  The Mazda tech was friendly but told me it wasn’t a software problem; something was physically wrong with my car and I should call my dealership.  Perhaps the Bluetooth had come unplugged from the entertainment system, he said, and my dealer would correct it.

At Orem Mazda, they said they couldn’t fix Bluetooth problems, and they wrote a Bluetooth support phone number on a card.  Apparently I needed to call this number for a ticket number before they could do any repairs.  As you may have guessed, the phone number from the dealer ended up being the same one that referred me to my dealership in the first place.  This is the same circular, lazy, pass-the-buck routine I see between techs and dealers in almost any industry.

All this, and I only had to disconnect a battery terminal.

More and more, looking for answers online beats talking to professional technicians.  I’m bugged that the techs never bothered to check online for an answer.  And I ignored a major rule of electronics: If it’s not working, unplug it and plug it back in.


UPDATE August 2015:

A while ago my in-dash GPS system stopped working. The map was stuck in one location, which was on a freeway onramp near my house, and it never moved from that spot, even though I had driven thousands of miles in the meantime. Today I decided to try the trick above — unplugging the battery and plugging it back in — and it reset the GPS. Now my maps work perfectly and the GPS follows me as I drive.

So, in case you have trouble with your GPS, the unplugging trick works for that too. Since it has now fixed two computer glitches, I’m guessing there are lots of other Mazda6 computer issues that can be fixed by simply unplugging the battery.


UPDATE August 2017:

It has become obvious that Mazda’s infotainment system is buggy, and not just for a few people. It’s a really common problem. From the comments I’ve learned that this works on CX-5, Mazda3 — really, any Mazda with the infotainment system shown above. Apparently they’ve used it in lots of different models since, oh, 2010 or so. I only own one Mazda, but I’m guessing this system is still being installed in new cars. Thankfully this fix works for all of them, not just Mazda6, and not just 2014.

Camaros, Corvettes, Mustangs and Vipers


I’ve been reading car magazines since long before I could drive.  I still read them.  Usually I read paper magazines too, although I’m young enough to have actually poked a paper magazine with my finger to “click” something I wanted more information about.

Recently though American car magazines like Road & Track, Car and Driver and Motor Trend made me bubble over with frustration.

“ENOUGH WITH THE MUSTANGS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD” may or may not have come out of my mouth.  The same goes for Camaros, Corvettes and Vipers.  Recently I seem to be drowning in magazine covers about a Mustang vs. Camaro shootout,  yet another feature about the new Corvette, or some snake innuendo related to the new Dodge Viper.  Once I noticed it, I became more and more annoyed about the obsession with these four particular car models.

Full disclosure: I mostly dislike every aspect American “muscle” cars, so I have immediate and admitted bias going on here.  That these cars (and their motorcycle analogues) do everything possible to make their exhaust sound like chili-contest flatulence makes it even worse.  And so help me, I will do everything I can to avoid strangling the next person I hear refer to a Camaro or a Mustang as a “sports car.”

“Actually, they’re not sports cars.  They’re…” I start to say until trailing off, realizing I sound like a doofus.

So I wanted to know whether my frustration was just my Euro-sissy-car bias shining through or if there really is something to all this.  And hey, I live in the United States and it only makes sense that American cars will get focus in American magazines.  But just four models?  Aren’t there more options out there?

To get to the bottom of it, I’ve created a spreadsheet (download CSV here) showing data gathered from all the covers of Road & Track, Car and Driver and Motor Trend since January 2011.  For each month I’ve checked for the following criteria:

1. Mustang pictured
2. Camaro pictured
3. Corvette pictured
4. Viper pictured
5. Mustang mentioned
6. Camaro mentioned
7. Corvette mentioned
8. Viper mentioned
9. BONUS: Mustang vs. Camaro shootout! (kill me)
10. No mention

And yeah, there’s some room for subjectivity here.  Like #9 for instance, if a cover depicts an in-your-face Camaro being stalked by a distant Mustang (or the opposite), I’m going to consider that a shootout feature.  And of course “mentioned” can be HUGE or small text, but any mention qualifies.  It gets stickier when there’s mention of a Shelby GT500, for example, which is just a modified Mustang, but there’s no actual mention of a Mustang.  I decided that if there’s a big, fat picture of a Mustang on the cover, even if it’s a Shelby, then it counts as a picture of a Mustang.  If there’s only text that says “GT500” or something similar, then I’m not considering it a Mustang mention.

Got all that?  Great!  Let’s go!

Frequency that Target Cars are Pictured or Mentioned

Let’s get this one out of the way right now.  Based on the past 30 months of car magazines from the three publications, I have better than even odds that my next issue will either picture or mention a Camaro, Corvette, Mustang or a Viper on the cover.  In fact, it’s almost a 60% chance.  All isn’t equal among the publications however.  If I pick up a Motor Trend or a Road & Track, my odds of seeing an image or a mention is exactly 50/50 based on these numbers.  Car and Driver is different though.  There’s over a 75% chance that I’ll see a picture or a mention on my next issue’s cover.

Car and Driver, it seems, really loves Camaros, Corvettes, Mustangs and Vipers.  Motor Trend and Road & Track like them too, but not as much.

It’s interesting that Car & Driver and Road & Track are both owned by the Hearst Corporation but they have different tendencies.  My best guess is that the two magazines target different segments of automotive enthusiasts.  This makes sense in the numbers and considering that Hearst probably doesn’t want these publications to compete for the same readers.  Perhaps Hearst is targeting different tastes, for instance perhaps Road & Track is meant more for people who like to read about exotics while Car and Driver is meant for people who like to read about more common domestic cars.  Or maybe there’s an economic consideration and Road & Track focuses on higher end foreign cars while Car & Driver goes after lower income enthusiasts.  This is all speculation of course, and while we can make some guesses about this, nothing is certain from the numbers.

Well, while we’re at it why don’t we take a swallow from the Ford vs. Chevy trough?  Let’s see which of the cars is featured the most across all three publications.  First, let’s start with images of the cars and forget about mentions for a minute.

Popularity of Each Car y Publication, by Cover Pictures

Focusing only on cover picture appearances we can see a few interesting tidbits.  First, we can see that on average, Mustangs are pictured on more covers than the other three cars.  Score one for Ford.  Second place goes to the Camaro, with the Corvette close behind.  The Viper is a distant fourth, being pictured the least frequently on all three magazines’ covers.

Second, Car and Driver and Motor Trend seem to like picturing Mustangs most, while Road & Track likes picturing Corvettes.  R&T appears evenly split on Mustang vs. Camaro.

Finally, Car and Driver‘s preference for these cars is again evident.  Mustangs are pictured on that magazine’s covers fully 30% of the time, with Camaros somewhat less common, appearing on 23.3% of their covers.  We can also see a difference between Motor Trend and Road & Track as far as cover photos are concerned.  While the two magazines were evenly matched when looking at both pictures and mentions, when only pictures are considered Road & Track is obviously the least likely to show photos of these particular cars on their cover.

Now let’s forget about pictures for a moment and consider only textual mentions of the cars.

Popularity of Each Car by Publication, by Cover Mentions

It looks like the three magazines are more likely to mention these cars on their covers than they are to picture them.  This makes sense since cover space is limited, and it’s a lot easier to put some text on the cover about these cars than it is to take up valuable space with their photos.  We have a few 30% occurrences here.  Car and Driver mentions Camaro and Corvette on 30% of covers each, while Motor Trend mentions Camaro and Mustang this often.  There’s also a curious lack of cover mentions of the Corvette by Motor Trend, while again the Viper sits in last place overall.  Again Road & Track lags behind the other two and goes for more diversity.  On average the Camaro gets mentioned on the most covers (26.7%) while the Mustang comes in second (23.3%).  I guess publishers find the Mustang more photogenic even though they like talking about the Camaro.  (Can’t say that I blame them.)

Well, I guess we should take a moment to look at the dreaded Mustang vs. Camaro shootout.

Frequency of the Mustang vs. Camaro Shootout! Featured on Covers

If there’s an article formula I’ve read more times through the years than this one, I can’t imagine what it would be.  There are just so many versions of the Mustangs and Camaros–from V6s to convertibles to V8s to THE MOST POWERFUL __________ EVER to special editions to track versions–I don’t know how anyone could possibly store that much information in their brain.  And yeah, the two cars have different rear suspension setups.  We know.  Anyway, one thing’s for certain, all that versioning makes for prolific Mustang vs. Camaro fodder.

Yet the shootouts, at least as far as cover features are concerned, aren’t as common as I guessed.  Remember that these numbers only go for cover appearances, and it counts Mustang/Camaro shootout photos and shootout mentions of any type.  It’s worth mentioning too that my sample only covers 30 months of magazines, which is less than three years, so if a magazine has a yearly shootout it’s possible that the numbers are skewed because the shootout hasn’t happened yet in 2013.  Even so, in the sample Car and Driver and Road & Track are having fewer than one cover-featured shootout per year.  Motor Trend is having Mustang vs. Camaro shootouts more often than that.  Overall the shootouts appear on covers a little less than 10% of the time.

I’ve probably grown so bored with this same exact article over the years that I over guessed its frequency.  So my bad on this one.

About my bias (and whether I’m being a jerk about this or not) I’d say yes and no.  On one hand Car and Driver is featuring an appearance of these four cars on more than three-quarters of their magazine covers.  That’s a helluva lot for just four cars.  And the other two magazines are at 50%.  Half, which is still a lot.  But on the other hand, how many exciting cars are there today?  More specifically, how many exciting cars are there that people can actually afford and use as a somewhat practical daily driver?  It’s a short list.

It’s also worth noting that within the past 30 months a new Corvette was introduced (which happens very rarely) and a new Viper was introduced (which is even rarer).  When these cars get a refresh or a re-release, it’s an automotive event.  These releases could account for a lot of the perceived flood.

I think there’s more than anecdotal proof that cars today are very safe, very practical and very reliable but they’re also more boring and cookie-cutter-identical than ever before.  Sure AMG is putting out some incredible models and McLaren is hitting a new stride, but who can drive these cars?  Few people can or should spend $100,000 on an E-Class, much less an exotic.  And newer generations don’t see cars the same way either.  These days, people are a lot more likely to view their cars as transportation tools and cell phone accessories than anything else.  In other words, enthusiast cars are getting squeezed out of the mainstream.  It’s easy to understand why, even easy to agree, but it’s just not very much fun.

So even if you don’t prefer the philosophies of Camaro, Corvette, Mustang and Viper, as I don’t, all enthusiasts have to celebrate those cars at least a little.  Hell, it’s completely possible that I’ll have to buy a Mustang one day if I want anything even approaching fun to drive, just as one day the Wrangler will probably be the only SUV capable of driving off-road.  No one wants to only read articles about crossovers and Camrys and all their snoozefest segment parity.

I guess I have to open myself to the possibility that I’ve been misplacing my frustration all along.  Maybe I should stop blaming the US automotive press and start realizing that cars have changed forever and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.  All the magazines are doing is trying to hold onto what remains, and these four American enthusiast cars represent a lot of it.

Certainly Mustang and Camaro represent a huge piece of the affordable and livable fun car market.  Can most people really buy a tiny 2-seat Nissan Z or a giant $120k Panamera S?  Or an Evora?

I’ll try to look more fondly upon the Mustangs and Camaros of the world.  But damn it I’m still not buying one until they’re all that’s left.

LDS Church Growth Statistics, Anomalies Since 1970

(Note: A 2015 version of this article is available here, which includes the latest numbers from the Mormon church’s 2014 year-end statistical report.)

I’m kind of a stats geek and I have to admit, I have a real fascination with parsing LDS Church (Mormon) self-reported statistical figures.

Just last month the LDS Church released their statistical report for 2012 at their General Conference held in Salt Lake City.  They release these reports every spring, and you can review the historical data (and check my numbers) from the LDS General Conference archive here.  Since the General Conference archive only goes back to 1971 (which includes 1970 data) we’ll only to analyze data from 1970 onward.

In this post I’ll analyze these numbers and see what information we can pull from the data.  It’s important to note that these figures are self-reported by the LDS Church and, as far as I know, the figures are not audited or verified by any third party.  The information they choose to release, accurate or inaccurate as it may be, is all that’s available.  Everything else is just guesswork, and I’ll do some of that later on just for fun in a later post.

Total LDS Church Membership

First let’s look at the self-reported total membership of the LDS Church over time.

Total LDS Church Membership

There’s some strong growth here.  The LDS Church grew from about 3 million members in 1970 to about 15 million in 2012, which means it grew five times larger in a little more than 40 years.  The graph appears to show some exponential growth, but the trend has also been quite linear since about 1990 or so.

Okay, so what about year-over-year change in membership?  To get this information, I simply calculated the difference in total church membership for each consecutive year.  Nothing else was taken into account.  Here’s the graph.

LDS Church Year-Over-Year Change in Membership

On average, it’s obvious that the LDS Church is adding an increasing number of members each year although it’s a pretty erratic graph.  Let’s smooth things out by graphing this data as a five-year rolling average.

LDS Church Year-Over-Year Change in Membership, Five Year Average

It’s much easier to see now.  There’s still an upward trend in year-over-year change in membership since 1970, but there’s also a notable downward trend since the peak in the early 1990s.  To be clear, this doesn’t mean that the LDS church is not growing (the first graph proves that) but that the number of members added each year is down from its peak 20 years ago.

So all this is showing growth trends in terms of members added, but what happens when we look at growth trends as growth rate?

This next graph shows the percentage of year-over-year change in membership compared to the total number of members, which is effectively the church rate of growth.  Again, we’re not being specific about anything other than the change in year-over-year membership.  It could be due to missionary work or 8-year-old baptisms, but this data is completely neutral.

LDS Church Growth Rate, %

We’re seeing a downward trend, but again it’s pretty erratic so let’s smooth it out with a 5-year rolling average.

LDS Church Growth Rate, 5-Year Rolling Average

Over the past 40 years, the year-over-year rate of growth for the LDS church has been slowing.  This is to be expected because it’s easier for a small organization to display huge growth rates than it is for a large one.  There are a number of reasons for this, but a big reason is that each year, it’s more and more likely that receptive converts have already joined the church.

Still, the LDS Church’s current growth rate of about 2.25% well outpaces the world population growth rate of 1.15% and the United States’ population growth rate of 0.72%.  This means that, if the growth rate held firm, every person in the world would eventually be a member of the LDS Church.  This is highly unlikely though, given the steady, predictable erosion of the LDS Church’s growth rate.  However it’s worth noting that, at the current growth rate, each year a (slightly) larger percentage of the world’s population belongs to the LDS Church.  With about 6,973,700,000 people on earth, that means 0.21% of them are Mormon, or about 1 in 472.  By next year, another 0.0045% of the world will probably be Mormon.  Modest no doubt, but growing nonetheless.

Missionary Work

Evangelism is important in the LDS Church and their pursuit of new members is a proportionally gigantic effort.  They have released self-reported conversion statistics as part of their annual reports since at least 1970, so we can take a peek at how the missionary effort is progressing.

First let’s take a look at total yearly convert baptisms, which means conversions coming from outside the LDS Church, and not children of church members.  These are straightforward numbers, and no retention information is included here.  Here’s the graph.

LDS Church Convert Baptisms

This convert baptisms graph generally corresponds with trends we’ve seen in previous graphs.  Numbers of annual convert baptisms exploded from about 1974 until 1980, and again from 1985 until 1990.  Since 1990 the trend has generally tapered downward with an obvious low spot in the mid-2000s.  It has somewhat recovered in the past few years, but the current number of annual baptisms still falls short of the rates seen during the 1990s.

Now let’s look at those same convert baptisms figures as a percentage of total reported church membership.  Take a look.

LDS Church Convert Baptisms, % of Total Membership

When looking at the growth rate of convert baptisms we see a definite downward trend.  The recurring peak in the early 1990s appears here too, but an even higher peak happens in 1980, showing just how effective, proportionally, the Mormon missionary effort was from the late 1970s until the early 1980s.

Another way of saying this is that each year, it’s probable that a smaller percentage of Mormons will be new converts than in previous years.  This is pretty easily shown on a graph.  In any given year, a certain percentage of Mormons will have been baptized within the past five years and we can display this trend, year by year, with this graph.

LDS Church Percentage of Recent Converts (Past Five Years)

Over time, new converts are becoming rarer in the Mormon church.  In 1980 nearly 1/5 of all members had been baptized within the previous five years.  By 1990 the number had fallen to about 1/6, and in 2012 fewer than 1/10 of members had been baptized within the past five years.  The opposite is true too; more than 90% of all current LDS church members have been Mormon for over five years (92.3%).

Children of Record and 8-Year-Old Baptisms

In the LDS church, children are eligible for baptism when they turn eight years old.  For statistical purposes the church has historically separated convert baptisms from child baptisms, probably to differentiate growth from missionary work versus growth from natural population growth.

There’s some statistical trouble here though because the LDS church hasn’t always counted growth from reproduction the same way through the years.  In 1970, which is our statistical starting year for this study, the LDS church reported the number of 8-year-old baptisms as well as the number of children of record.  I assume these two numbers show the number of children added to the official member tally (8-year-old baptisms) and the number of new babies which were blessed but not added to the membership tally (children of record).  This reporting changed for 1984 when the LDS church began reporting only 8-year-old baptisms and stopped reporting children of record.  This continued until 1997 when the reporting reversed, and the church started reporting children of record and not specifically 8-year-old baptisms.  This reporting continues from 1997 forward.  It’s unclear whether the church merely changed the title of the statistic, or if they actually began counting a different set of people.  We don’t know so we won’t assume that we know what’s going on.  For our purposes here we’ll only look at the numbers.

To reflect these statistical inconsistencies I’ll need to show more than one line on the next graph.  One line (green) shows the number of children of record, while the other line (blue) shows the number of 8-year-olds baptized.  Here’s what it looks like.

LDS Church Children of Record and 8-Year-Olds Baptized

To be really honest, I don’t know what’s going on.  There’s no way to be certain.  There are a few things we can gather, however.  First, things are trending upward for both metrics indicating that there are more children in the LDS church each year, regardless of their classification.  Second, it’s pretty apparent that the green line (children of record) in the upper left is unrelated to the other lines.  It’s on a whole different trajectory, and to make things worse, it just stops until 1997 when the “children of record” term comes back but seems to more closely correspond to the “8-year-olds baptized” line.  It seems far more plausible that the LDS church may have just changed the terminology for 8-year-old baptisms to children of record, and the green line in 1997 is just a continuation of the blue line before it.  It’s a little strange, though, because the line gets a lot more erratic and choppier after the change.  Maybe that’s just real numbers, and again, we’ll never know for sure.

One other thing we can know is how these rather inconsistent numbers look as a growth rate.  This is the percentage of total membership that’s either an 8-year-old baptism or a change in children of record.  Here’s the graph.

LDS Church Growth Rate for 8-Year-Olds Baptized and Children of Record

Things are clear as mud here too, but we can draw a lot of the same conclusions as before.  First, we’re seeing an overall declining growth rate for these figures, regardless of how they’re classified.  We can be quite confident in saying there are an increasing number of children in the LDS church each year, but each year the percentage of the membership that is either an 8-year-old baptism or an increase in children of record is smaller.

Statistical Anomales

Now I want to point out some interesting statistical anomalies found in the data.  The second graph, Year-Over-Year Change in Membership, shows the yearly difference in the total number of LDS church members.  I got this number by simply subtracting the previous year’s membership total from each year’s membership total since 1970.  (For 1970 I subtracted 1969’s total, which is available from the LDS Church.)  Each year the number is positive, meaning that each year there are more Mormons than the year before, at least since 1970, and we know how many more there are.  We also have conversion and children of record statistics, so we can readily compare  conversion details to membership numbers as a whole.

The next bar graph shows how the conversion numbers break down.  Let me try to explain this.  From the second graph in this entry (Year-Over-Year Change in Membership) we know how many more LDS church members there are that year versus the year before, and for each year shown here we’ll call that 100% since it’s the total growth.  To break down this yearly 100%, we’ll take the percentage of the growth that’s due to convert baptisms, 8-year-olds baptized, and the total of the two.  Together each year, the two statistics should add up to about 100%, allowing some wiggle room for members who have died or left.  However, these totals shouldn’t be too far from 100% because, well, you can’t convert more than 100% of the members added and you can’t add members that you don’t baptize.

The green bars show the percentage of the total from convert baptisms, the blue bars show the percentage of the total from increase of children of record or 8-year-olds baptized and the orange bars show the total of the two compared to the reported change in membership.  Please note that before 1997 I counted 8-year-old baptisms for the blue bars and after 1997 I counted children of record because I didn’t have much choice.  Here’s the graph.  You’ll probably have to click on the image to increase the size to make it legible.

LDS Church Grown Breakdown

This graph uncovers some very interesting anomalies in the data.  For instance in 1973 the Mormon church membership was reported to have increased to 3,306,658 from 3,218,908 the previous year, a difference of 87,750 members.  But the church also reported that they had baptized 80,128 new converts and 52,789 8-year-olds (totaling 132,917) or over 150% of the membership increase that year.  That leaves 45,167 members unaccounted for.  When looking again at the graph Year-Over-Year Change in Membership we see that 1973 is the lowest year for increase in membership, the only year lower than 100,000.  We see this same phenomenon quite a few times in the graph.  In 2011 there were 91,350 members unaccounted for.  Again, perhaps these members died or left, but there’s a notable discrepancy between baptisms and increase in total church membership.

Even stranger are years like 1989, when the total number of baptisms falls short of the Mormon church membership increase for that year.  The LDS church shows a membership increase of 587,234 in 1989, but there were only 318,940 convert baptisms and 75,000 8-year-old baptisms, meaning that 193,294 members were added to the membership total that weren’t baptized.  We see the same thing in 1990, in 1999 and in several years in the 1970s and 80s. The phenomenon hasn’t occurred in the past ten years.

It’s anyone’s guess as to what’s going on.  Perhaps the LDS church has had a difficult time keeping such vast records straight and the numbers show errors in their collected data, or perhaps the church has made some calculation mistakes in their yearly General Conference reports over the years.  We know with certainty that a number of Mormon church members die each year and those decreases could be reflected here.  We don’t know whether the LDS church removes resigned members or excommunicated members from their tally, but if they do, that could explain some of the discrepancies.

The LDS church is growing.  The church adds a significant number of converts and baptized children to its membership total each year.  From the first graph in this post you can see a strikingly linear growth chart showing that LDS church growth is robust and will likely continue indefinitely.  Even so, there is a notable decrease in the overall LDS church growth rate, both among converts baptized and among children baptized.

In a follow up post I’ll have a little fun with these numbers and do a little prognosticating on my own.  I’ll try to create a reasonable projection for future Mormon church growth and future membership totals based on the trends we’ve seen here.  I’ll also compare my numbers to the famous (and laughable) projections created by Rodney Stark of the University of Washington and Baylor University.  Stay tuned.