Monday, August 21, 2017

Why Does the Mainstream Media Act Afraid of a Website?

A website run out of someone's basement is not a "powerhouse" of journalism.

The New York Times and the Washington Post are at it again - trying to get us all confused and scared and to keep us clicking on their pages so they can sell ad space.   Trump is good for their Business, and so is Steve Bannon.  What they are selling is fear, and fear, as I have noted time and time again, is never an emotion to be trusted.

The latest gag in fear-mongering is Steve Bannon.   Now ousted as White House Strategist, he is "declared war!" on the Trump Administration, and everyone is waiting with bated breath as to what he will say next.  Behind the desk of his all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful Breitbart News, he can control the news cycle for years to come.   Petty newsletters like the Times and Post cannot possibly compete!
Or can they?   What people fail to realize is that Breitbart is nothing more than a website, that until recently, was operating out of Steve Bannon's old townhouse basement near Capital Hill - and moved to a new location only because of zoning restrictions (operating a business in a residential area).   Their staff is very limited, which is by design - coming up with crackpot "news" stories doesn't require a staff of investigative journalists, just a few people with creative imaginations, lead by a paranoid.

That is reality.   Breitbart is a very small megaphone, that talks only to a small "base" of people who are presupposed to listen to nonsense anyway.   Nothing much will change with Bannon back at the helm, declaring "War" or not.   Mainstream journalism still predominates.  Breitbart and The Druge Report are still in the margins and always will be.

So why does The New York Times and The Washington Post make so much of a website run out of someone's basement?   Well, the short answer is, they need a bogeyman to wave in front of their readers, to convince them that somehow lunatic fringe websites - and that is all they are is websites - are a threat to their readers.   That somehow a website run by three people in a townhouse basement is going to take down the grey lady and that Democracy will Die in the Darkness.

In a way, it is like Twitter.  No one actually uses Twitter except media types, which is why Twitter is losing money.   I've never been on Twitter, but I've been forced to read hundreds of "Tweets" as journalists think that Tweets are News.   Similarly, I've never read an article on Breitbart, but have been exposed to dozens of them by The Times, The Post and other mainstream media outlets which report on stories published on fringe websites.

Maybe - and this is just another one of my wild crazy ideas - if the mainstream media stopped re-posting crap from Breitbart, it would not seem to have as much impact or credibility as the media seems to think it does.   Breitbart is not a megaphone for the alt-right, the New York Times is, when they report on Breitbart as if it were relevant.


Bitcoin Versus Real Estate


When people start building condos in cornfields, the market is overheated.

Within my lifetime there have been two major real estate bubbles, the latter being far more serious than the former.  What happened was that people started buying houses and thinking they were made of gold.  Pretty soon people start to think that any house was worth a lot of money regardless of how well it was built or where it was located.  As a result, builders started building in places where no one really wanted to own a home, such as in the middle of a cornfield, two hours from major city.

A friend of mine bought such a place in 1988.  It was a long, long way from work, but on the weekend when he went out to look at it, it seemed like a short drive in the light weekend traffic.  Besides, everyone was getting in on this Real Estate deal, so why not him?   When the market collapsed in 1989, he had to cash in $10,000 from his 401(k) to bring to the closing to unload the condo, which no one wanted to buy at that point.

Housing bubbles collapse.  I experienced this first in 1989 and then again in 2009, neatly 20 years apart.  People never learn from experience, as their economic memory is only about 18 months old as I have noted time and time again.  I was fortunate in that the free-standing house we bought in 1988, within commuting distance of the city, largely held its value during those lean years.   The entire Real Estate market went down from 1989 to about 1994, but some properties fared better than others, and the condos-in-cornfields did the worst.

Many prognosticators have noted that there appears to be a similar bubble taking place in cryptocurrencies.  It is not that Bitcoin has heated up to an unsustainable level necessarily, but that there are so many other cryptocurrencies hitting the market at once, as everyone wants to get in on this "cryptocurrency" deal.

In terms of a real estate analogy, perhaps Bitcoin represents the prime condominium development located near the center of the city, which was sold out early on and which is still highly desirable, if not overpriced.  Many of these newer Johnny-come-lately cryptocurrencies represent the condominiums built in the cornfields hours away from the center of the city.  People think these later developments are worth as much as the former, but they are mere shadows of the original idea.

In the Real Estate venue, when the market collapsed, the condo-in-a-cornfield depreciated in value very quickly, while the more desirable properties fared better.  However, the entire market was affected as the result of the crash.  Similarly, when stock markets decline, even premier equities decrease in value, as we saw in the stock market crash of early 2009.  The real gems recover quickly, but the real stinkers go bankrupt.

If you apply this analogy to cryptocurrencies - at it is a valid analogy, I think - you can see a similar thing may take place.  A lot of these Johnny-come-lately cryptocurrencies will be like those condos-in-a-cornfield.  They will depreciate rapidly and end up going bankrupt.  But the major players the market will also be affected, and their value will decrease accordingly.  Bitcoin, being the premier cryptocurrency, will be severely affected by the ultimate crash of these other "crap-to currencies" but may recover where others fail.  People will still lose money, however.

There can be too much of a good thing in any Market.  And the market cannot support an infinite number of cryptocurrencies, or condos in cornfields.

Why Staring At The Sun Is Idiotic

Mormon missionaries prepare to view the eclipse.


The media loves to hype things, and for some reason, this year, a relatively routine event - the periodic eclipse of the sun by the moon - is being hyped as the end-all to humanity.   I am not sure why, because we no longer live in the middle ages, and things like comets and eclipses are no longer viewed as signs of God's wrath, witchcraft, or whatever.


We are told that we "must" go to some place to view the eclipse - an event that is over in a matter of minutes - and spend thousands of dollars booking hotel rooms, flights, etc. to see this "once in a lifetime event" - which I have seen at least twice in my lifetime.

What really irks me is that the media has accompanying stock photos with most of these stories, showing grinning yuppies staring at the sun, wearing nothing but sunglasses.   Only one media outlet that I could find actually had an article about the dangers of staring at the sun (it can blind you for life) and a testimonial from a oldster who nearly did just that.

I remember the total eclipse of 1970, and back then, people were advised not to look at the sun, but rather to construct a shadow-box.   Crazy ideas like looking through exposed film were discouraged.  The media was a little more responsible back then, interested less in capturing eyeballs (no pun intended) and more in real journalism.

I am sure there will be plenty of "Eclipse Apocalypse" stories tomorrow, about all the traffic and crowds, and people visiting emergency rooms with eye damage.  And the media will wring its hands and say, "who knew that staring into the sun could be dangerous?   Who knew???"

And we will set ourselves up for the next eclipse mania, which is only a few short years from now.....

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Tourists, not Terrorists

Is tourism destroying Barcelona?   Why did terrorists target the tourism industry there?

A recent article on the BBC profiles a young man who is part of a leftist effort to destroy tourism in Barcelona.  These leftists argue that tourism is destroying the city as it is raising rents and making it harder for locals to find a place to live.  Of course, what they fail to consider is that tourism is a huge part of the local economy, and many of them cannot afford to live there at all if there were no jobs and income generated by tourism.

The recent attacks by terrorists on the tourism district underscore that this is not just a cause of the far left, but also the Islamic right. Islamic Terrorists have systematically attacked tourist destinations worldwide, in Islamic leaning countries and elsewhere, where westerners like to vacation.

Many people assume wrongly that their goal is to decrease the influence of decadent foreigners on Islamic societies.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Their goal is to destroy the underlying economy, so that people become so desperate they will embrace radical Islam.

Fascists have known this for decades.  If people become so desperate they are starving, they will embrace fringe ideologies as a means of solving the economic problems.   This is how the Taliban took over Afghanistan and was welcomed as liberating heros at the time.  If conditions are not desperate, then what you need to do is make them desperate.  This is why many on the far left were happy to see Donald Trump elected, as they knew that Bernie Sanders and his ilk could not be elected to public office outside of Vermont, unless conditions became desperate.

This is why the New York Times in the Washington Post report with glee every the mis-step of the Trump Administration.  Every stupid thing that Donald Trump says or does is one more paving brick on the road to an  Elizabeth Warren presidency.

Leftists and Catalonian separatists in Barcelona have the same goal.  If they can destroy the lucrative tourism industry, people become desperate and vote to secede from Spain and institute more far-leftist policies.  When everyone is making money, no one wants to rock the boat. When people are starving, they're willing to try anything.

It seems odd that Islamic radicals and Spanish leftists both have the same goal - to destroy the tourism industry of Barcelona.  But when you think about it, they really have the same goal - to disrupt and destroy in order to promote their own radical agendas.

Maybe what Spain needs - what the world needs -  is more tourists and fewer terrorists.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Why Robotics Are A Sign Of Our Failure

 Are robots the ultimate sign of humanity's defeat?
 
Many people have held that robotics are a sign of the advances of our society.  However, it has occurred to me that the implementation of robotic devices is not a sign of humankind's advance, but rather an admission of its ultimate defeat.

We are traveling in our camper and driving on the highway.  And it's not hard to see why the Federal Highway Administration has been pushing for self-driving cars for several decades now.  People drive horribly.  And by this I don't just mean the people who are inattentive or make mistakes, as we all do on occasion, but the people who intentionally drive badly because they feel they need to get ahead.

If there is even a slight backup, such as when a truck passes a truck, people start racing around each other trying to get advantage.  It is human nature at its worst.  "Out of my way, I'm a motorist!" they seem to say, as if nobody else needs to get anywhere but them.

Self-driving cars, while being a technological advance, are an admission that we no longer have the ability to drive.  Even over-the-road truckers, professionals who were once the "Knights of the Road" swerve in and out of their lanes as they look at their phones and texting devices will driving 50,000 lb rigs.

We stopped at a rest area in South Carolina, and a plaque probably proclaims the restrooms are "fully automated" - everything from the toilets, to the urinals, to the soap dispenser, to the faucets, to the hand dryers, and the paper towel dispensers are automated and only you need only wave your hand to be served with a flush or a wipe or a dollop of soap.

Again, this is an advance in technology that would amaze our ancestors of only a few decades ago.  But the reason for these automated devices has a dark side.  In the past, people would wad up rolls of paper towel and shove them in the toilets and sinks and leave the faucets on or flush the toilet repeatedly in order to flood the restroom in and act of petty vandalism.  And judging by the signs I'm seeing in various public restrooms - imploring people not to flush paper towels down the toilet - this activity still occurs regularly.

Automated soap dispensers and paper towel dispensers are not only convenient and sanitary, they also regulate and control the amount of product dispensed.  People are greedy and selfish, and gladly grab for more paper towels or soap than they really need, not thinking about the cost or the inconvenience to others when the dispensers run out.

The same is true with manufacturing and even retail.  People are concerned that minimum wage jobs in fast food restaurants may go away as kiosks replace order takers, and automated machines flip the burgers and make the french fries.  And indeed, part of this is to save money and in an era where minimum wage unskilled workers are demanding $15 an hour - another sign of our greed and selfishness. We all believe we are due a certain amount of income regardless of our lack of skills or incentive to work.   Where did you think the idea of "guaranteed minimum income" comes from?

But from the customer side of  the equation, we all quietly applaud these moves toward robotics.  The order-taking kiosk is more accurate and easier to use than talking to a person behind the counter who may be heavily accented or barely speak English.  Not only that, the kiosk is faster, as we don't have to wait behind some self-entitled fellow citizen who feels that since they're at the head of the line it's their turn to make everyone else wait.  Again, the baseness of human nature rears its ugly head.

And granted fast food is bad and poorly made, but most of this is because the people making it don't do a very good job.  I've noted before how it may fast food restaurants, there's a passive-aggressive game with a french fry machine, as nobody likes to put down the fries or take them up because they get splattered with grease.  As a result, nobody actually makes the fries until there's a backlog of people in the parking lot, at which point they hastily make several orders of fries which are not cooked sufficiently enough.

An entire Subreddit exists of people posting pictures of what their fast food sandwich is supposed to look like from the pictures on the menu, versus the mashed up piece of crap they actually get in the box or package.  Automation would fix this problem, and the food would be prepared consistently and perfectly every time, something that humans no longer seem interested in doing, but were once capable of.

Of course, the excuse given by the people work at such places is, that since the pay is poor they should do a shitty job.  However pay in restaurants and diners has always been shitty throughout history and yet we have often been able to get very good food from such places in the past, but not today.  As a result, today, we tend to accept shoddy service and poor products.

Even when pay is high, humans no longer seem to be interested in doing good work.  Robotics have already taken over in many industries.  Automobile production today is largely automated, mostly by necessity.  In the past, cars were largely handmade, even if they were made on an assembly line.  If you look at old videos of automobile assembly plants, you'll notice there's dozens of people at each station and thousands of workers overall.  And back then, those were top-paying jobs in the community.

Like the fast-food workers today, auto workers by the 1970s decided been doing a shitty job is all they were paid for, and quality of American automobiles plummeted, mostly because of poor assembly.  Today, we have robots paint cars which come out consistently even and perfect.  Critical and essential elements are assembled by robotics and bolts are no longer missing from cars as they go down the line. Today, no one would accept the build quality of automobiles for the 1970s or should they be expected to.

Robotics represents a failure of American management, failure of the American worker, and the failure of our society as a whole.  The impetus for robotic technology is not necessarily the availability of it, reducing labor, or reducing costs, but the fact that human-based labor has such a poor track record, which is the fault of both labor and management.

Perhaps in the brave new world of robotics, our robot overlords will finally get us straightened out as human beings and put us back to work - this time, not allowing for mistakes and slacking-off.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Deli Meats? Kentucky Legend!

Deli Meats are probably not very good for you.  They can also be expensive.  There are alternatives, however.

Usually when we make a trip to the grocery store, we stop  by the deli to get some deli meats and cheeses to make sandwiches fo r lunch during the week.   Wal-Mart has good prices - many deli meats are around $6.99 a pound (versus over $10 a pound at Publix) and cheese are fairly cheap, too - about $7 to $8 a pound.   They even have a "deal" where if you buy one pound of deli meat, you get a half-pound of cheese for "free" - all for $9.  This is a good deal if you buy Pastrami at $10.99 a pound and basically get the cheese for free - but that shit's not kosher (mixing meat and cheese).

But the hassle of waiting at the deli and the cost have forced us to look elsewhere.   You can buy pre-sliced swiss at the wholesale club for under $6 a pound, sometimes a lot less.  And recently, we found something called "Kentucky Legend" pre-sliced Turkey and Ham in the meat department (NOT the deli department)  for $5.22 a pound (or less!), which is far less than the $6.99 a pound. they charge in the deli department.

The quality is better, too.  First of all, it is thick sliced which is easier when you are making sandwiches or adding meat to a salad or whatever.  Most delis slice meat razor thin, or worse, cheese razor thin, and it ends up as a massive blob than you cannot pick apart later at home.

 But is it fresh?  Well, it comes in a shrink pack of about 3-5 pounds, and it is the same shrink pack that the ham and turkey comes in at the deli department.  So in terms of "freshness" it is a wash - in fact, deli meats are generally preserved meats anyway - how do you think Ham was invented in the first place?

So today, we skip by the deli department and buy the Kentucky Legend pre-sliced turkey and ham, as well as pre-sliced swiss cheese from the wholesale club or Wal-Mart (often priced less than the deli as well!).   The thicker slices are easier to deal with, and also cheaper in terms of price per pound, sometimes (in the case of the ham) almost half-price.

Sliced some up this morning and made a ham and swiss omelet!   Yea, I know, a real heart-healthy meal.  At least it was affordable!


UPDATE:   A reader notes that these types of foods are not "heart healthy" (actually several readers noted this.   I agree.   But once in a while....

Another reader asks if I am being paid by Wal-Mart or being given free product, as apparently a number of blog sites mention this product and also mention they were given free product by Wal-Mart.

No, Virginia, I wasn't given free food.  Because I am too stupid to think of such things.  Also, I ain't selling out for a bag of chips!  If I mention a product on this blog, it is because I bought it with my own money and liked it.

My monetezation experiment is reaching the six month mark, and I am not sure I will continue it past one year.   Yes, it generates about $200 a month in income.  No, that isn't the price of integrity.

There's A Light....



You can have a lot of fun with cheap Chinese LED lighting strips!

I installed these lights on our golf cart and they are a lot of fun - plus they make the cart more visible to other motorists at night!   I added two strips to the Casita under the "beltline" and it looks pretty cool.   Cheap fun on a budget, to say the least.

The lighting strips come packaged on old reel-to-reel tape deck reels.   Instructions are minimal, so be prepared to figure out things for yourself....


Buy this crap from China while you can, before Trump shuts down all international commerce by imposing tariffs.   It is 1929 all over again, and Trump is the new Hoover!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Glorifying Terrorism

Say hello to your friendly neighborhood Nazi!

Or your neighborhood Anarchist!

Two recent articles, one in USA Today and one in The Washington Post are, in my opinion, a little too cozy with their subjects.  They seem to be normalizing radical thinking as "the boy next door" and making violent political protest seem like a new norm.  Both articles made me throw up.

President Trump is getting a lot of flack for a statement he made before that loser from Ohio (lived with his mom, had a cat instead of a girlfriend, flunked out of basic training) drove a car into the crowd.   Trump noted that there was violence from "many sides" which, while we might not like to think about it, was actually true.  Of course only one side ended up killing anyone, and only one side started the entire melee.

The horrific pictures from this weekend include those of "antifa" protesters wielding clubs and beating people, as well as Nazis and KKK folks doing the same thing.   When you show up at a protest wearing helmets, carrying shields, and brandishing clubs and firearms, you are not there for a peaceful protest.   It doesn't matter what "side" you are on, it is wrong.

Why the Police allow this is beyond me.   When I was a kid, if you brought a sign on a stick, you were turned away from a protest, as the sticks could be easily detached from the signs and used as weapons.

Today, we let people bring guns to protests.  It makes no sense.

And then the media glorifies these idiots, with nice articles and accompanying photos, instead of denouncing these fringe lunatics with the strongest language possible.

I don't want to "meet the anarchist next door" - I want him put in jail for the rest of his life, and ditto for the Nazi Neighbor.   Toss 'em in lockup and throw away the key.  They can work out their political beliefs behind bars while the rest of us get on with real life.

But the media loves this shit - it generates clicks and generates eyeballs for advertisers.  "Protest violence videos coming right up!  But first, a message from your local Chevrolet dealer!  Chevrolet, as American as Basball (bats), Hot Dogs, and Apple Pie!  Drive one through your next protest rally!"

That seems to be where we are going with this...

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Heart Disease and You


Medical history made yesterday when a doctor discovered a heart inside a lawyer!

I'm happy to report that I emerged from my heart catheterization virtually unscathed.  The good news is I didn't need a stent or serious heart surgery.  The bad news is I do have some very mild build up in my arteries and will probably have to be on statins for the rest of my life.

The funny thing is, living on retirement island, when I mentioned I was having this procedure done, nearly everyone I knew recounted how they had the similar or same procedure done in the past or even more extensive procedures.  It seems that everybody I know is on statins at the very least, has been through one or more stress tests, perhaps a heart catheterization, and some have had open heart surgery, pacemakers, and built-in defibrillators just like former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Heart disease isn't some far-off possibility for most of us, but rather a foregone conclusion, if you live long enough.  As I noted in earlier posting, it is a function of diet and exercise, but also heredity.  If heart disease runs in your family, you have a very good chance of getting it.

And as I noted in earlier posting, poor Jim Fixx, the jogging Guru, died of heart disease even after he tried to turn his life around through jogging, exercise, and eating right.  Unfortunately, he failed to address the third leg of the heart disease triangle, that is family visiting a cardiologist and having your heart tested.

Of course, in Jim Fixx's day, the procedures and drugs available were far more primitive. Today, health care has advanced considerably.  When I was a kid, open heart surgery was something that was basically experimental and only for people in very dire conditions. Today, is fairly common and chances are you know somebody who has had a heart bypass operation. This may seem like humdrum commonplace practice, but it wasn't so long ago that this was considered experimental surgery.

There are other less invasive procedures also available such as the heart catheterization I had today. During the catheterization process, they can actually show you a picture of your heart (shown above) and determine whether any of the major blood vessels are clogged. During the procedure they can actually insert a stent without having to perform a second procedure or having to operate.  The stent can then expand the blood vessel and improve the functioning of the heart.

Again, it was not too long ago that these procedures were basically experimental, yet they are commonplace today.

Similarly, statins are the miracle drug for curing heart disease.  I am always very skeptical of miracle drugs, is it seems that every five years, a new miracle drug comes out that everybody claims is the cure-all for everything.  And then like clockwork five years later, bunch of class-action lawyers file suit against the company selling the drug, because people have had horrific side effects from these drugs.

I think it is good to be skeptical of the pill approach to life.  However it appears these statins can prolong the lives of many people and improve their life experience as well.

There are many things I took away from this procedure.  First, hospitals, like doctors and insurance companies, operate in this netherworld between paperwork and computerization.  Our local hospital is pretty efficiently run, with everything on the computer. When I check in, they have all my information from documents scanned in into their system including who my next of kin is, and who has my authorized medical power of attorney.  It is very efficient.

But they also have reams of paper documents for me to sign which were kept in a binder with my name on it, which I found kind of antiquated.  I presume all these documents are leader scanned in.  And it is probably we lawyers who are to blame for all of this unnecessary paperwork. I'm not sure why somebody couldn't sign on some sort of pad device instead of a photocopy of a document.

Yet other things were highly automated,including use of bar codes to keep track of patients and other types of computerized records. And of course, the actual procedure was highly technical and automated, producing real-time pictures of my heart and even providing printouts and videos.  There were more flat screens in the operating room than on the back wall of a Wal-Mart.

But it still seems like a lot has to be done to bring the medical practice into the 21st century.  One thing I find very odd is that I can go online and track down the entire history of my automobile from the first day was registered to any accidents it  has been in for over 20 years.  However my medical records are scattered among various hospitals and doctors across the country, often in paper form, and often I'm not given copies of these.

I have huge binders with copies of receipts for every nut and bolt I've ever put on my car, as well as every oil change and every document related to its purchase and operation. With regard to my personal medical records, I only have a few years worth of hastily scribbled notes.

Why we can't have a national database of medical records for individuals is beyond me - and it was one of the goals of the Obamacare system.  It would really be nice to have copies of my MRI scans of my neck for example, should that ever give me trouble in the future.  Similarly, it would be nice to have an electronic version of my heart scan for future reference by subsequent doctors if necessary.

The second observation I took away from the experience, while waiting for about two and a half hours in the recovery room, was that there are an awful lot of sick people in this world who have bigger problems than I do.

Because of size and space requirements, private rooms are very rarely used anymore in hospitals. Rather we lay in wheeled gurneys that are separated by curtains that are pulled between patients.  While this may provide visual privacy, you can hear everything that is going on, and often the conversations you here are quite interesting.

In the room next to me was a "woman" having breast implants, although her voice was awfully low and gravely to be that of a female.  The conversation between her and the nurse centered on the drugs that she would be taking as well as the drugs she already was on.  I lost track of the laundry list of drugs, but they included both Percocet and Ambien which I thought would make for an interesting cocktail.  Not only that, but the patient seemed to express a keen familiarity with many of the drugs including powerful antibiotics that were being prescribed.  This sounded an awful like a person who spent a lot of time at hospitals and a lot of time taking various drugs.

Well I was relieved that my heart problems were relatively minor, there were other people leaving the area in their gurneys who look positively grim-faced.  Some were facing open heart surgery, others were having stents installed or needed other types of long-term care.  Again, it was quite interesting to hear the laundry list of prescription medications and procedures that many people had.  Some people are very, very sick in this world.  I think others also like to take pills.

The third observation would be that well I am somewhat overweight, I positively look like Twiggy compared to some of the people in the waiting room in the cardio lab.  We have a saying here in Georgia that there is fat, really fat, and then there's Georgia fat.  And there are people there who weighed over 300 lb and were barely over 5 ft tall. I can only wonder how their knees and hips survive, much less their hearts. It must be painful every waking day.

What is even more amazing, but yet not all that uncommon, was how many of the nurses were overweight.  I noticed this before when I went to pick up a friend of mine who is recovering from open-heart surgery (again, this is frighteningly common where I live) and noticed that most of the nurses in the cardio rehab ward could stand to lose 50 to 75 pounds each.

I don't know if this is part of our general epidemic of obesity in this country, or a function of the job. While nurses spend a lot of time on their feet and do a lot of active physical work, they also spent a lot of time behind desks and chairs which is sedentary behavior and is not good for your physique.  Being a Patent Attorney is even worse.   Perhaps also the long hours lead to casual eating, which often means poor eating habits.  Mark went down to the hospital cafeteria to get a cup of coffee while he was waiting for my procedure to be done, and he said he was shocked to see that the cafeteria food was probably the least healthy in the world.  There was a pizza bar, fried chicken bar, and a french fry display that was 4 ft long.  I kidded him that they would have a bowl filled of statins at the end of the line much like they have mints in most restaurants.


Hi Everybody!  Hi Doctor Nick!

As for the procedure itself, it was remarkably brief.  The video above illustrates how the procedure is done, apparently narrated by Dr. Nick Riviera from The Simpsons.  It took about an hour and a half to two hours just to prepare for the procedure, having an IV inserted, confirming my identity, signing off on various release forms, and also undressing and laying on the gurney.

The procedure itself took barely 15 minutes, once I was prepared and in the room and ready for the Doctor.  Once we had the relatively good news, there was another two to three hours of waiting in the recovery room, mostly because they had pierced my artery in my arm to do the procedure, and I would have to wait until that healed up enough to go home so I didn't bleed to death.  Also they had to make sure the calmative they gave to me had worn off enough so I didn't stumble down the steps of the hospital and sue them.  All told the time in the hospital was about a little over five hours while the procedure itself took about 15 minutes.

I haven't gotten the bill for this yet, however I feel it'll probably max out my deductible for the year. The medical technology we have in this country is amazing, but it is not cheap.  Just a simple outpatient procedure like this involves a concentrated a concerted effort on the part of about a dozen nurses, two technicians, the doctor, patient assistant, and even hospital volunteers. It was orchestrated very well and very efficiently I thought.  However I could also see that it wasn't going to be cheap. An awful lot of stuff gets thrown away by necessity during these medical procedures.

I am fortunate enough that I don't have to worry too much about paying the co-pay on my insurance. Others are less fortunate. And yet many people seem to come up with the money for medical procedures.  When I was kibitzing on the conversation with the shemale next door having her breast implants, the nurse confessed that she had implants done 30 years ago, which started leaking later on - which can be a total nightmare. What was odd was the nurse confessed that she went to the plastic surgeon's office and paged through a magazine of sample breasts she could select from.  she said she felt like she was a kid in a candy store, wondering what her insurance company would pay for or what she could afford. S he noted that she had to pay for her breast implants out of her own pocket which I imagine was probably a very expensive procedure for someone in her income range.  And sadly a procedure that went horribly wrong for her.  She noted that she would never advise anybody to have breast implants ever, after her experience. The way she put it was, they sound like a lot of fun when you're in your twenties, but 30 years later, and after four breast-fed children, it's a whole different deal.

I'm not sure what the point of this is other than I'm doing well and the other thing I realized from this experience is I want to stay the hell out of hospitals as much as I can. Even for a relatively mild procedure like this (where they jam some sort of tube up your artery and into your heart) the level anxiety is pretty high.

Changes in diet and exercise are definitely in order.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Why They Sell Vacuum Cleaners Door-To-Door in Poor Neighborhoods


The rawest deals are offered to the poor, who snap them up.   Hence they are poor.  It is a vicious cycle.

One of the greater educational experiences in my life was watching my older brother struggle after college trying to find a career or even a job.   I was fortunate that I was already working for GM, and when I left there, quickly found a job with Carrier.   But I was studying Engineering, not "Communications" and there are not a lot of jobs out there for a "Communications."   Well, there are some jobs, but there are far too many applicants.

Anyway, my brother stumbled around for a few years before he went back to college and got a Masters degree - the new Bachelors degree today.   And between colleges, he fell into some of these con-jobs and struggled.   The first was the "freezer scam" which I talked about before.  They put you in a "boiler room" and get you to call people to sell them a side of beef.  Since most folks don't have a freezer to hold all that beef, you sell them a freezer too, on time, of course, and for double what they sell for at Sears.

The other con-job he fell into was selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door.   I "interviewed" with a similar place (and quickly left) that wanted me to sell cassette tapes door-to-door.  I quickly realized it was a scam, when they wanted us to sing the company song.   Yes, the vacuum cleaner people do that, too.   It isn't that the products are no good, only that the way they are marketed sucks - high-pressure, cold-calling, door-to-door, often by fly-by-night operators who never pay their salesmen.

One of my brother's observations was telling - "They didn't take us to the rich neighborhoods to sell these $600 vacuum cleaners, but to the poorest places in town!  Places where people had plastic on their windows and junk cars in the driveways!  It made no sense to me!"

But, alas, it did make sense.   The very rich have a maid, and aren't interested in some door-to-door salesman, even if he got by the security fence and trained guard dogs.   They buy their appliances at a store and can afford the best.   They didn't get rich buying stuff "on time" from some cold-calling high-pressure salesman.

But the poor, that's all they do, which is why you see some of the nicest cars in the poorest neighborhoods (along with the best Christmas displays, natch!).   You can sell them anything and they will buy, if you tell them it is only $12 a month (for the rest of their lives).

I was thinking about this the other day with regard to the Elio car - which is now slated for production in the fourth quarter of 2019 - almost a decade after the idea was introduced.   It is looking like it will never happen and in fact, may have been a con-job from the get-go, as the insiders are making a lot of money in the deal, but nothing other than blog entries actually seems to be getting done.

The folks who put down non-refundable deposits were by and large fairly poor people.   Middle-class and lower, some college students, and one even a high-school student wanting to buy "his first car."  Of course, he is in college now and already bought a car, not having time to wait for dream cars to be built.   But they all lost their deposits - some $1000 or more, which is a lot of money to someone in that income level.

People who could least afford to lose money, lost money on this deal.   The middle-class and up are not buying tiny three-wheeled cars.   They can afford a regular car, and they know better than to give a non-refundable deposit for a car from a company that has no cars or history of making cars.   The rich save speculation for the stock market - and even then, only on things that seem pretty sure, not wild-eyed crazy schemes.  That's how they become rich - not by "exploiting the masses" but by not being exploited themselves.

The very rich are rarely targeted as victims for scams.   Sure, Bernie Madoff ripped off a few people, but when you read about the victims of his con, you realize these were not Billionaires he was scamming, but more middle-class people who came into some money and thought Bernie would make them rich, in some mysterious way, and weren't curious enough to ask questions as to why and how.   When poor people come into money, they don't have it for very long.  Ask any lottery winner in the trailer park.

But the Madoffs of the world are the exception to the rule.   Most scams and cons are aimed at the poor and the near poor.   I wrote about the "Invention Broker" scam many times, and it has been around for decades.  They promise to make people rich from their inventions, but instead just take $5000 to $10,000 from their victims.   One poor guy I met, borrowed $5000 from his Grandmother to give to an invention broker.  He was living with his Mom, unemployed, but still managed to get five grand.

I'll say it again and again until I am blue in the face - the poor don't need money, they need to educate themselves on how to use money.   A lot of money passes through the hands of a "poor" person.  They make good money in many cases, they just can't hang on to it.   You read about these kids in the fracking fields, making $150,000 a year or more - sometimes far more - and spending it all and borrowing more.  When the wells tap out and the jobs go away, they are bankrupt, even after having earned over a million dollars in a few short years.

Payday loans, rent-to-own furniture, check-cashing stores, sleazy used car dealers, liquor stores selling fifths of cheap booze - they all predominate in the poor neighborhoods, because poor folks are the only ones who will bite on these poor deals.   Scams and cons are aimed at the poor, because they are the most likely to bite on them.

So, in a nutshell, that's why they left my brother on a street corner in a rural ghetto, on a wintry day, lugging a 60-lbs vacuum cleaner and accessories door-to-door for eight hours.   He had a better shot at selling to the poor than he ever would have had, selling to the rich or even middle-class.

This is, of course scandalous.   You should be outraged that these sort of cons are aimed at the folks who can least afford them!   You should be marching on Washington!  Writing your Congressman!   Protesting the White House!

Of course, chances are, you aren't.   Because you work for the credit card company that offers odious deals to the poor, or for the sub-prime car finance company that writes them car loans, or the car dealer that pressures them to buy a new Camaro, even though you know they will default within 12 months.  Odds are, if you are middle-class, you have some connection to this exploitation.   And even if you don't, maybe you voted for the candidate who promised to "reduce regulations that are strangling legitimate businesses!" which means, of course, reducing regulations that would protect consumers, particularly poor consumers.

But it isn't all bad news.   In fact, there is a big chunk of good news in this.   If you take a look at all the shitty deals offered and aimed at the poor and just not take any of them, you can get ahead in life.   As I noted in an earlier posting, you can learn to spot these things from 100 yards away just from how they are marketed to you.   When they talk down to you and offer "Sales!" and "Bargains!" and "Savings!" you pretty much know they are trying to fuck you.

I get cards in the mail from the cable company and the dish company, desperately wanting me to sign up for $100-a-month cable TeeVee.   The way they package the deal is so odious, with come-on pricing and fake discounts and whatnot - and lots and lots of fine print, of course!   I toss this crap in the trash.  Television is just garbage - more ad time than air time.

But a lot of the middle-class today seems entranced by this carnival-barker type of advertising and come-ons.   Middle-class people actually believe that cars go "on sale" on a certain date and cost less one day than the day before.   People of higher classes are throwing more and more of their wealth away these days, and then wondering where it all went.  The middle class is acting poor and thus becoming poor.   It is no big mystery to me why we have income disparity.

The evil 1%'ers didn't take our money away, we gave it to them, willingly and with our blubbering thanks.  In return, they gave us shiny trinkets, beads, mirrored glass, and jet-skis.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Sad Story of Jim Fixx


Poor Jim Fixx.   A simple visit to the cardiologist could have extended his life by 30 years.

Many people today don't know about the sad story of Jim Fixx.  You may recall in the movie Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks' character ends up brushing with greatness on many occasions - accompanying Richard Nixon to China, and later on, reporting the break-in at the Watergate Hotel.  In one vignette, they make Gump out to be a guru of the jogging movement, appearing on the cover of Running magazine and energizing a generation to get jogging.

Jim Fixx was the guy in real life - what Tony Hawk is to Skateboarding, or  Lance Armstrong is to Bicycling.   Fixx appeared on the cover of Running many times, wrote books about jogging and marathon running, and basically could be said to have ignited the whole running craze in the 1970's.

His motivation was simple - a two-pack-a-day smoker, his own Father died at age 43 of heart attack - due to clogged arteries in the heart.   He set out to quit smoking, improve his diet, and started exercising - running mostly - and lost weight and felt better.   But diet and exercise are only two parts of the equation.  Heredity is the other part, and since his Father had heart disease, he should have been conscious that he likely would as well - despite all the running and organic produce.

Sadly, he collapsed on the side of the road in Vermont one day, while jogging.  He was 52 years old.

It came as a shock to the running community.  And of course, a lot of people who ate poorly and drank too much used his death as an excuse to engage in further excess.   "See what happens?  Eat right, exercise, and die anyway!"   But that is drawing a false conclusion from the data.   As an another observer noted, Fixx would likely have died at age 43 like his Father, had he not begun running and controlling his diet.

It is just a shame he didn't consult a cardiologist back then - or have the treatments available today.   Back then, the only treatment was angioplasty, where they tried to expand the blood vessels by using a balloon.   Or they would try to scrape away the plaque in the vessels, which was a sure way to get a stroke. 


  The other alternative was heart bypass surgery, which my Father had - removing veins form his legs to insert into the heart to allow blood to flow.   During this surgery, they found a hole between two chambers of his heart, which he had since birth - and they fixed this.  I suspect I may have the same congenital defect - which would explain my low blood pressure.



Today, there are new options.   A heart catherterization is a process where a tube is inserted into a vein, either in the groin or arm, and up into the heart.  A dye may be used to see how the blood flows in real-time.  If a blockage is detected, a stent may be inserted, which is a metal expandable tube impregnated with a medication to prevent rejection by the body.  The stent expands the blood vessel to allow blood flow, and eventually the vessel grows over the wire-mesh-like stent.   Or at least that is how it was explained to me.

It would likely have saved Jim Fixx's life, had it been available at the time.

What's Wrong With Healthcare


Our health care system in the US is state-of-the-art.  However, the way doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and patients communicate is stuck in the 20th century.   While it has died a quiet death everywhere else in the world, in the medical field, the fax machine still reigns as king. Yabba-dabba-doo!

A lot of people have spilled a lot of ink in recent years about what's wrong with our healthcare system.   Let me spill a little more.  For the most part, I have not had much interaction with our healthcare system, other to visit the doctor on occasion and get a prescription filled.  I never gave it much thought.  I paid a lot in health insurance premiums, but didn't take out much in terms of services.

My recent health problems have increased my exposure to the world of healthcare and it is interesting to observe.  Years ago I wrote a patent application for a number of doctors out in Arizona, who were trying to develop an automated system for managing healthcare records.  It was a pretty ingenious invention, as it would put all records online and carefully monitor who had access to which records at what level.  A doctor could automatically send prescriptions to the pharmacy and then the pharmacy would notify the doctor when the prescription had been filled.  Apparently, patients not filling prescriptions is a big problem in medicine.

And since then, some of these ideas have been adopted in the medical industry - and it is indeed an industry.  For example, I went to an emergency care place once to get a prescription for an antibiotic when I had a diverticulitis attack.  The doctor was using a pad device and had all my data on there and was able to enter the prescription into the pad device and have it electronically transferred to the nearest pharmacy.  It was all very automated and efficient and really the way it should be.

When my regular doctor passed away, we were given hard copies of our medical records which were all handwritten.  Like most small practices, she had a wall of paper files in her office and everything was done manually on paper.  Many smaller practices still do this today, as automated systems are very expensive.

It is the same problem for the small firm or solo practitioner in the law business. There are companies that offer highly automated docketing and other systems which automatically generate reporting letters and other legal documents for you, but they can cost upwards of $20,000 to $50,000 a year or more.   I simply could not afford such a system.  However, during my brief tenure with the odious big law firm, I did help set up their system, which they had paid dearly for but were not using to the full extent.   And I suspect this is a problem for many medical practices - they are "too busy" to figure out how all the automation features work, so they use the basic parts and do everything else manually, which creates the "busy" which prevents them from automating.

And  I am sure that is one reason my former doctor did not have an automated documentation system - it was just too damn expensive and too hard to learn.  She grew up in the old school where everything was on paper and she saw no reason to change, particularly when change would be hugely expensive and require a lot of training of her staff.

Today, everyone communicates electronically, either through cell phone - although not usually by voice or even email, but through texting and other messaging systems, and apps.  I can order a pizza through a cell phone app and have it delivered to my house or make one click on Amazon order a new hot water heater for my camper.  But for some reason communications in the medical industry are stuck firmly in the stone age.

From the doctor's office, to the insurance company, to the hospital, the telephone call and the fax are still king.  My doctor's office has an enormous fax machine constantly being jammed with papers by the clerks who are sending off paper written forms to the insurance company for approval.  It is almost comical, as they have their credit card machine hooked up to the same phone line (another relic from an earlier era) and they try to process co-pays on the credit card machine at the same time they are sending faxes for pre-authorization of medical procedures.

The clerks at the doctor's office are named Tiffany, Crystal, and Amber and are all blond and have big bazooms.  They were not selected for the size of their brains.   They literally cannot figure out why the credit card machine doesn't work when you are sending a fax, but they think the two might be related.   And they all have that horrible Georgia accent, not the charming accent of a Southern Gentleman or Southern Lady, but the grating noise of the trailer park.   So far, I have not been charged a single co-pay, which brings the tab to $225.  If the doctor knew how much money he was leaving on the table he would be livid (Office visits are $140, of which BCBS pays $65 - he's losing more than 50% of his income to incompetence).

I find this mind-boggling, as the practice actually has a website that was hosted by Square.  You know Square, that company that processes credit card transactions at the craft show and does it so seamlessly and effortlessly, sending you an email confirming the credit card charge.  For some reason my doctor has a website managed by Square, but they don't have a Square payment processing system for the co-pays, instead relying on a creaky old dial up credit card machine that spools out a thin paper receipt for manual signature - when Tiffany and Amber get it to work.

I'm not taking a piss on this particular doctor, it seems that most medical offices have antiquated communication methods.  When I called Blue Cross to find out what was holding up this procedure (which is not scheduled until Friday at this point) I was told that the approval was given within 24 hours.  However the staff at the doctor's office delayed nearly 48 hours, by not sending in the paperwork in a timely manner (again, by fax) to Blue Cross for approval.  Then, the office staff waits for Blue Cross to fax back a piece of paper with approval instead of sending it instantaneously over the internet.    And in most cases, the one fax machine is so busy, it takes forever for them to send or receive faxes.

Blue Cross was very efficient in processing the request, once it was received.  But even their systems for communication are also very clunky and antiquated.  The verbal telephone call is still the primary method of communication with Blue Cross, that and ubiquitous fax machine.   While waiting on hold with Blue Cross to talk the actual person, I was exhorted to fax my requests to their fax number. Again, I find this almost amusing in its antiquated notions, as no one actually uses faxes anymore except perhaps the medical industry.

And it's not like none of these participants in the medical industry don't already have websites or internet interfaces.  Blue Cross has an extensive website which is very clunky and difficult to use, although I've noticed it's getting better with time.  They claim they update their doctor search engine on a daily basis so when you look for which doctors accept your plan, the data should be relevant and current.  In the past, the site was almost useless as it would list doctors that were accepting patients and accepting your plan, and you would call them and find out they were accepting neither.

The problem is, is you can really do very little with the site.  You cannot send any requests or do much other than pay your bill.  You cannot communicate with anybody regarding medical issues, and perhaps this is part of the HIPAA regulations or some other Federal Regulations or privacy concerns. In the medical industry, it seems people are paranoid about somebody finding out that you have bad knees or gout or perhaps a sexually transmitted disease.  I'm not sure why people are embarrassed by illness, but apparently it is right up there with sexual peccadilloes as being the number one source of embarrassment for most human beings.

In fact when visiting the doctor's office, we were required to sign a form authorizing who could see our medical information, including even our spouses.  Believe it or not, the doctor and the nurses reported that some people don't want their own spouse to know about their own medical conditions. That struck me as very, very odd, and sad at the same time.

It's been exactly a week since I had my stress test and at which point the doctor recommended the heart catheterization.  This has been a week waiting for Tiffany and Amber to fill out paperwork and  faxing it back and forth order to get an appointment.  The doctor wanted to perform the test the next day if possible or the day after, however the clerical staff informed him that it would take "at least a week" to get approval from Blue Cross which turned out to be a lie.

I believe the clerical staff was using Blue Cross as a whipping boy to cover up their own malfeasance.  Since nobody actually bothers to check with Blue Cross to find out the status of request, the doctor's staff can claim the delay was not their fault.  However, I've documented that the staff waited at least 24 hours in one case and 48 hours in another, before sending a request to the insurance company.   Blue Cross approved the procedure the same day and in fact uses an outside service (AIM) to expedite these matters.   Once Blue Cross approved the procedure the doctor's staff delayed in scheduling the appointment as well.  We could have had this procedure done five days ago if the staff have been on their toes.  They chose not to be.

What is needed in the medical industry, is a seamless medical information system that can process data and transmit it back and forth between health insurance companies, the government, pharmacies, doctors, doctors offices, specialists, and patients.  Much like the system proposed by my client many years ago, such a system would allow everyone to communicate back and forth in a effortless seamless manner and speed up the process and reduce the costs of medical care.

Of course, the question is, which system do we use?  If one vendor is chosen by the government or other agencies to process this data, it could be problematic.  On the other hand, a government-run data system doesn't sound like a the most efficient way getting things done.

I raised some of these concerns with my doctor, and he professed ignorance as to how the front office was run at his own practice.  He said "I don't get involved in the money issues, as I don't want it to affect my professional opinions."  I thought this was short-sighted, as the money issues are very important to everybody in the chain including himself.  If his office is inefficiently run and they lose money, he could end up going out of business or making less money than he thought he would be -  having to pay off all those medical school student loans.

What I discovered running a law practice was that knowing the law was only half the business.  You could be a superstar lawyer or superstar doctor and still failed miserably if you're not collecting your billing from the insurance company, or getting your co-pays for your clients and keeping an eye on the bottom line.  Unfortunately this attitude toward expenses and income seems to be prevalent in the medical field, which is why doctors and hospitals merely raise prices when their costs go up and do not make much of an effort at cost controls.

Blood tests are a case in point.  Again, it's almost comical, but the results of laboratory testing appear on a printed piece of paper which is mailed to you and mailed to the doctor, or perhaps sent by fax. Nobody sends anything electronically by computer.  Even the test request was done on paper.  In my last test, they ran a complete panel which cost over $1,300 of which I had to pay $36 of.  BlueCross picked up the rest which means they lost my month's premium in the deal.

The reason why the full panel was run was that the lab request by the doctor was on a photocopied sheet of paper with which he checked off boxes using a pencil.  This is really high-tech stuff here. The lab claimed they could not read the document and therefore ordered a full panel, which was no doubt convenient for them as they got to charge Blue Cross for a lot of tests I didn't need, including hepatitis A & C, for which I was vaccinated for many years ago, when we went to Mexico.

Again, this is an area where savings would be found, if the doctor was using a pad device and there was a commonality of software with the laboratory and the hospital and other participants in the medical field.  He could tick off which test he wanted, which would be very clear to the blood lab. It would have saved close to $1,000 on the blood test that I recently had done.  Again, no one cares, as they just charge the insurance company.

The question remains, why hasn't the medical industry upgraded to more electronically-based information systems which would no doubt streamline things and improve productivity and save an awful lot of money and time. I think the answer lies in the fact that it's not a consumer-driven industry.  Both Amazon and eBay understand that if it's too difficult for a user to click on the icon and purchase a product they will navigate away from the page and the merchant will lose the sale. There is a strong financial incentive to make things streamlined and easy in the commercial field.

With medicine, you largely have a captive audience.  People come to the doctor when they're not feeling well and they don't usually shop around on doctor, based on price.  In fact, there usually isn't much of a choice in many parts of the country as many doctors are no longer accepting patients or will no longer accept your insurance.  You go to the doctor you can go to and accept whatever terms they give you.

Since insurance companies will pay whatever the doctors charge, for the most part, there's no incentive for the doctors to keep costs down.  It is just like a government contract with Lockheed on a cost-plus basis.  They merely do whatever it is they feel they need to do, and then charge the insurance company that amount, plus an appropriate profit margin.

But that is a larger problem that will take a lot longer to solve and be far more difficult to figure out. In the meantime, it seems that having a better communication systems would be low-hanging fruit and we can go after.  There's no reason we should be using paper forms, phone calls, and fax machines in the year 2017.    There is no reason it should take a week to approve and schedule a procedure as life-saving as a heart catherterization.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Your Personal Health Crises

Eventually if you live long enough you will have a personal Health crisis.
Life does not go on forever, that is a given.  Many people live under the delusion that perhaps they are there Methuselah and they will live forever.  Health issues, infirmity, and death will never strike them down.  Sickness is something that happens to other people.

By the time you reach your 40s, you may get an inkling that this is not the case.  You may have one or two minor health issues which are a tip-off that all is not right with the world.  For me, it was the combined one-two punch of gout and diverticulitis, two of the most painful ailments you can have other than kidney stones and childbirth.  I am safe from the latter.

So, many people set the snooze bar on this alarm and assume that a few pills or whatnot will take care of the problem, and life will go on as before.  However it is indication that your life is changing and that you better had be in a situation later on in life to deal with this.

In the news, you hear often from people interviewed saying that they plan to work until their 70's or beyond - perhaps never retiring at all, because they have nothing saved for retirement.  This sounds like an interesting theory, until you realize that as you get older your health will become more and more fragile and working long hours at a job might not be in the cards.

Simply stated, when you reach the age of 60 or 70 years old, you don't want to be in a situation where you have to go to work in order to make ends meet, as you may end up having to take days or weeks or even months off from work to deal with personal health issues.

And employers realize this, which is why they often lay off people in their 50s because they don't want to pay the high health care premiums for older employees and also have them absent from work for extended periods of time.  You may say you want to work until you're 70, your employer may have other ideas.

For me, the latest wake up call is heart problems.  My family has a history of heart difficulties.  My mother died of congestive heart failure mostly brought on by smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diet, and utter lack of exercise.  My father, the other hand quit smoking after his father died of lung cancer and was quite athletic playing tennis, jogging, and riding his bicycle.  He was in good shape but nevertheless. at age 78 required a quadruple bypass to repair his heart which had come become clogged with plaque from coronary artery disease.

For me, the age of 40 brought on problems like gout and diverticulitis.  At the age of 50 I started to notice I was becoming shorter of breath and having a harder time doing simple tasks.  I realized that my health was in decline.  That is one reason I've decided to retire from the Patent business, not only because I could afford to do so, but because I didn't want to do it anymore - the stress was not good for my health, nor was the sedendary lifestyle.  To be an effective Patent Attorney, you need to sit in front of a computer screen for at least eight hours a day.

And I am in a fortunate situation with right now I have a lot of time on my hands to deal with health issues.  I may be suspending my blog for a week or so to deal with this heart issue, which may involve a catheterization of the heart to test it for blockage and possible inserting of a stent into the artery if it is indeed clogged.  I am certainly not looking forward to this, but it is better to discover this fairly early on then to wait for a heart attack.

With any luck at all, I can expect to live out a normal span of life even with these health issues.  My father, after his quadruple bypass, lived to the age of 95, almost 20 years after his operation and certainly a respectable lifespan in this day and age.

But life is finite, that's for sure.  And I'm very happy that I am in a situation now where I don't have to work.  Because I need to concentrate on maintaining my health for the last 20-30 years of my life, if God is willing to grant me that.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Problem With Timing Bubbles


Elon Musk looks like a Bond villain, but will probably be a victim of the next tech bust.
Bond villain Dominic Greene from "Quantum of Solace"

A reader alerts me to a recent New York Times article that tries to define when a bubble will burst and whether we are heading toward Tech Bubble 2.0 (or 3.0, I lose count).    The article starts off with this humorous description of what bubbles are like.
At the height of a market mania in 1967, the author George Goodman captured the mood perfectly, comparing it to a surreal party that ends only when “black horsemen” burst through the doors and cut down all the revelers who remain. “Those who leave early are saved, but the ball is so splendid no one wants to leave while there is still time. So everybody keeps asking — what time is it? But none of the clocks have hands.”
And that right there is the problem - you want to leave the party early, but everyone is having so much fun.  I left the party early in 2005 before the Real Estate Bubble burst and everyone told me I was a party-pooper.   I should have known when to leave before the Stock Market melted down as well.   But we survived that, mostly by hanging on.

The article goes on to point out some indicators of a possible bubble - companies with outrageously high P/E ratios that are leveraged heavily and are subject to regulatory whims.   I wonder who that would be this time around?

Oh, right, poor Elon Musk and Tesla.   Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of Mr. Musk (but not a fan-boy) and the electric car is the future of technology.   It is just that he is trying to build a car company from scratch - an heroic task if there ever was one.   And it could all be for naught in an era of cheap gas, cheap natural gas, and increasingly hostile regulations from the Trump administration, directed toward both electric cars and solar power.

Tesla is presently losing money and has a negative P/E ratio.  Even the best estimates show the P/E ratio at over 350 by 2018, dropping down to a still-staggering 80-plus in 2019.   And a lot can happen between now and 2019.   Musk is betting the entire company on the new model-3 electric car, and it has been rushed into production.   While advanced reservations are coming in at over 1800 per day, Tesla has also lost 63,000 reservations (they are refundable) over the last year.

I am thinking maybe a couple of things are going on here.   First, the reservation deposits are refundable (unlike Elio, who still managed to garner about 60,000 reservations for his non-existent car).  So there is little risk in taking a flyer on Tesla and changing your mind later.  And many might have changed their mind once they realize the $35,000 model-3 costs more like $44,000 and up, and that if you want the cheaper model, you had better be prepared to wait until well into 2018 or 2019.

By then, people may have decided that at $2 a gallon, a good used Camry is not a bad alternative, and the $1500 it costs to install a charging station in your home would buy about 750 gallons of gas - propelling the used Camry for at least two years.  Throw in the $200 a year electric car registration fee we have here in Georgia, and it becomes less appealing (and expect more Red States to inflict such regulatory punishments in the future - and today, nearly all States are Red States, because the Democratic Party has been asleep at the switch).

Maybe some other Tesla reservation holders decided to not wait and buy a Chevy Bolt instead.  Or maybe they thought they could sell their place in line in the reservation queue.  Who knows?

But even if we assume the model-3 is a hit - and there is no reason not to think so - the P/E ratio shows a company that is severely overvalued, today, tomorrow, and at least two years out, possibly more.   A few hiccups in the market and people will pull back and look again at companies like Tesla and Amazon.  Amazon is making money, to be sure, but not enough to justify its share price.

The problem with these bubbles, is that all it takes is for a few people to panic, and the party is over.  Then everyone flees in fear and if you are the  guy sitting on a lot of cash, you might be able to buy something at a bargain price - but even then, it is dicey.  Timing markets is the hardest thing to do and a lot smarter people than you and I went broke trying to do it.

The Times article left out the one primary indicator of a possible bubble - and that is articles talking about whether there is a bubble or not.   It seems that in each of the bubbles I've been through, from the Real Estate crash of 1989, the tech crash of the 1990's to the Real Estate crash of 2007 and the market crash of 2009, I recall reading in the papers, lots of long-winded articles about whether there was a bubble - usually published right before the bubble burst, and usually decrying that a bubble exists at all.

I would say that is the prime indicator.  If people are thinking "Gee, I wonder if this is a bubble or not?" it probably is.

We are already seeing signs of retreat in the Canadian Real Estate market (which has never had a bubble of course!) despite Warren Buffet propping up a failing mortgage bank.   Papers are decrying bubbles in California, Denver, Washington and New York.   When houses become unaffordable, people will stop buying them - it is a pattern I have seen three times in my life so far and a lesson I have well-learned.   Rising interest rates, triggering higher mortgage rates, may in turn lead to a decline in sales, which could be the trigger for a decline in the market.    Sort of like what happened, oh, I don't know, exactly a decade ago?