Saturday, February 23, 2019

Amazon and Google in Bed Together?


eBay is almost always cheaper than Amazon, and often has a better selection.  So why does Amazon dominate the search results on Google?   Money is why.

I recently had to buy some things online.  Mark needed new business cards for a pottery show coming up.  I needed a new "chainsaw on a stick" to trim some tree branches.  The dishwasher needed a new part (it's going to go to the curb in the not-too-distant future!).  We wanted a new electronic safe for the new camper.   Where to go?  Amazon?

Fat chance.

Almost everything on Amazon was at least a few dollars more than on eBay - sometimes far more.  And eBay, like Amazon, offers "free shipping" and you don't have to sign up for some $12-a-month deal to get it.

But if I googled the item I was looking for (in the case of the dishwasher part, the actual part number) I ended up with page after page of hits, the first five hits all being from Amazon - and the next 15-20 from sites with much higher prices.   A real no-brainer, right?  Amazon is the best deal!

Not really.  eBay was the best deal I could find - in the limited amount of time I wanted to search, and that right there is the key.   When I searched the same term with the word "eBay" or went right to eBay's search engine, the same products came up at much lower prices.   Funny how that works, right?

Amazon often floats to the top of Google as they have sponsored ads at the top of many product searches.  And I am sure that Google "rewards" Amazon by giving them the top non-sponsored search results as well - and perhaps by suppressing eBay's search results (unless explicitly searched for) or the result of anyone selling anything for cheaper than Amazon.

Or so it would seem, to this outside user who has no access to Google's algorithms, but can see how they work in the real world.

But more and more, I find myself visiting Amazon less and less.   Their prices are often "meh" and the selection of products is often limited.  Yes, I know, this latter comment sounds odd - after all, Amazon has the largest selection of merchandise on the Internet, right?   I mean, they have more than double what Walmart has on their site - so they must have the best selection, right?

Maybe, maybe not.  Depends on what you are looking for.   Since Amazon sells a little of every damn thing, their depth of product selection in any one area can be surprisingly shallow.  And since everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to become an "Amazon merchant" and hopes to buy things at discount stores (or from China) and sell them for a buck more online, there is a lot of crap on Amazon that is overpriced.

Want some crap from China?  Buy it directly from the Chinese, on eBay.  I outfitted my bicycle with accessories for only a few dollars.   If you are prepared to wait a week or two for "China Post" to deliver, you can pay half as much as you would for Amazon to ship it in three days.

If you want specialty products, such as auto parts, Amazon is the last place to look.  I bought new shocks for my truck for $78 apiece - Amazon wants over $80.  And the folks at Stage 3 motorsports can answer any question you have about what shock is right for your truck - do you think Sanjay in India at Amazon's call center even knows what an F-150 is?   I didn't think so, either.

Maybe saving four or five bucks isn't a big deal (hey, it pays for that Starbucks, right?) but it does represent over 6% in savings, just by clicking around.   And it illustrates that Amazon isn't really a stellar place to buy things - the prices are "just OK" not exceptional.   You can end up with a better deal, elsewhere.

So why does Amazon stay in business?   They have reached the point of saturation - they have an installed base of customers who are too lazy to shop around, even when shopping around means clicking once or twice.  They have critical mass as I noted before, so over time, they have been slowly raising prices and hoping people don't notice.

I noticed.  Sorry.

Only a few years ago, I was buying almost everything online on Amazon.  The prices were better than anywhere else on the Internet, and unlike eBay, you didn't have to dick around with auctions and whatnot - as well as sketchy sellers.

Well, that was then, this is now.  Today, eBay and "Mom and Pop" websites have better prices than Amazon, consistently.   Maybe a dollar here or two dollars there - but sometimes significantly less.  And of course, if you are willing to wait and bid, sometimes you can snag a real bargain on eBay buying something lightly used from an individual, who has no real overhead or expectation of making big bucks.

It's gotten to the point where, when I am searching for some obscure part or something to buy, I just bypass Google entirely and enter www.ebay.com as a URL and then search in the eBay search box.   I might check Google and Amazon just to see if the prices are realistic, but lately, Google and Amazon are always returning the high prices, always.

Sadly, this is usually true for Home Depot and Lowes - their prices are always higher than other online stores.   Sometimes the same is true for Walmart, although I finally broke down and ordered new printer paper (a lifetime's supply at this point in my life) and Walmart was the cheapest place for quality paper.   Oh, sure Amazon had a cheaper price, for a three-ream "carton" - which was by itself a little deceptive.

I guess I am a shopping agnostic.   Just because I am on one site doesn't mean I am going to buy all my purchases there without shopping around.

In the past, our parents would drive all over town, comparing prices.  Today, it takes just a click of a mouse - yet our generation seems less inclined to comparison shop than our elders did!

It makes no sense.

Amazon kind of sucks, really.

Do You Need A Pressure-Flushing Toilet? Maybe Not.

Related image

Pressure-Flushing Toilets are a new thing, but maybe not a thing you need.

We still have residual problems with our sewer line.  The part by the road is all clay pipe and the Authority refuses to replace it, but offers to clean it out with a roto-rooter for free, if they become clogged.  I also own my own roto-rooter now, and can run it through the lines in the house periodically to remove tree roots, rust and scale (from the few black-iron pipes we still have) and the occasional non-woven spun fiber clog.  The new PVC drain pipe installed by the previous owner works OK, but goes slightly uphill where the two trees are (since removed) likely because roots moved them.

Also, it seems the plumbers decided to connect the toilet in series with the spa tub and shower, such that if you flush the toilet while someone is in the shower, it may not flush properly.  The only fix for this is to dig up the back yard, dig under the slab and install new drains for the toilet, tub, and shower that each go directly to the main drain, rather than connect in series.  I may end up doing this, eventually.  It is not as onerous as it may first seem, as all three connections are no more than a few feet from the edge of the slab.

Sometimes, it seems the system just "hiccups" and when that happens, I put a temporary plumber's plug into the drain of the shower (after removing the shower drain screen) and then fill the spa tub with 100 gallons of water.  Once full, I open the drain and the pressure of all that water seems to blow things out.

I also put old soup cans over all the drain "vents" in the roof (and there are like five of them).   I punched a hole in the bottom of each can to let air in.  It seems that the roof vents were open to the air, but also open to the pine needles, leaves, and other debris, as well as squirrels and their nuts.  They also make a nice plastic cap for these, for sale at Lowe's and Home Depot, and I may end up getting those eventually.   But a clot of pine needles in the roof vent(s) can prevent your drains from draining.

Since I put on the soup cans, it seems we have fewer "hiccups" in the system.

Mark had the idea of buying a pressure-flush toilet to help the situation.   At first, this seemed like a good idea, as the pressure would force things through.  But on the other hand, if there was a clog, it might also force "things" up through the shower drain like a fountain, which would not be pleasant.  We have had things back up into the shower in the past, and that isn't pretty.

I looked into it, as it seemed like it might help.   But when I visited the flushmate site, realized that our present toilet could not be "converted" to a pressure toilet, and what's more, the point of a pressure toilet was to save water, not improve flushing.    So we would have to spend more money to get this toilet, and it might not work as well as our present "gravity feed" toilet does.  With our drain situation the way it is, it pays to flush twice rather than flush once with a fancy toilet that uses less water.  More water moves things down the line, when your sewer line is essentially flat.

There are also other issues.  As folks in this discussion group noted, the pressure-type toilet costs more and may need more maintenance.   In a gravity-feed toilet, the main seals are under the pressure of the water in the tank - about 18" of water pressure or "head".   So the chance of the main toilet-to-tank seal leaking is small.  But in a pressure feed toilet, the entire thing is under house water pressure, which in places like Fairfax County, Virginia, can be as much as 100 psi - a water pressure regulator may be in order!

Tellingly, Amazon sells a replacement "tank" by itself to "fix the leak" problem with these systems.  That says a lot to me. 

How do they work?  It isn't exactly rocket science.  The plastic tank is full of air.  When water enters, it is at system pressure (50-100 psi, depending on your local water company or well pump) which pressurizes the air.  The tank contains about 1 to 1.6 gallons of water (far less than a gravity-feed toilet) and the rest of the tank contains air, now compressed to water system pressure.  When you flush, this smaller quantity of water is forced out at system pressure (again, 50-100 psi) which is a lot more force than a gravity-feed toilet has (about 18" of head, or less than 1 psi).   Needless to say, this forces things down the pipes more resolutely.

Because of this, though, you cannot retrofit a gravity-feed toilet with a pressure-feed system, even though it looks like the pressure-feed system fits into a standard tank.   The simple reason is, the pressure-feed system uses a different bowl plumbing and if you attached a pressure-feed tank to a gravity-feed bowl, you would  likely get a face full of water with every flush, or an inadequate flush, if at all.


Exploding toilets - without having to light your farts!


There are some other minor issues as well.  Apparently some older versions of these toilets have been known to explode, at least under certain circumstances.   Of course, this was for an earlier model unit which has since been recalled.  Seems the two halves of the plastic pressure tank would come apart, which could cause the porcelain tank to blow up (maybe it is time we got away from porcelain toilets?  Just a thought).  Some folks were injured by flying porcelain shards.

Presumably, the design has improved since then, and exploding toilets are now a thing of the past.

While saving water might seem like a good thing, it is not a major expense for us at the present time. Our combined water, sewer, and trash bill is about $70 a month or less (and this is not much above the minimum charge we would receive even if we used no water whatsoever).  Watering the lawn and washing the car are the big offenders in the water bill department.  Flushing the toilet might come in 4th or 5th behind washing dishes and clothes.

But we may revisit this if, down the road, we re-plumb the toilet so it has a direct line to the sewer.  In the meantime, I don't see the pressing need or the savings.  The cost of the toilet would take years to realize in terms of reduced water bills.  And in our situation, power-flushing might actually backfire in our faces - quite literally!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Franklin - First to Market, Last in the Marketplace

Once of the largest auto companies in America, Franklin declared bankruptcy only two decades later.

Syracuse, New York is famous for a lot of inconsequential things.  They used to pump salt brine from the ground and dry it out - thus the moniker "Salt City."  It was also a hub of industry in the early part of the 20th Century.  A fellow named Lipe was quite a machinist, and he had a machine shop that ended up being an incubator for a number of successful businesses that, 100 years later, are gone and forgotten.  Such was the nature of Engineering back then - there were no silicon-valley superstars whose names were household words.   Well, if they were, they were forgotten by the time the next big thing came down the pike.

One of the companies that came out the Lipe incubator was the Franklin Automobile.   H.H. Franklin was an investor and he teamed up with an Engineer who had a novel design for a car with an air-cooled engine.   Most automakers back then gravitated to water-cooling (literally - there was no ethylene glycol back then) to prevent the primitive engines of the day from overheating and seizing.  But the Franklin car used finned cylinders and large fan to keep the car cool, and for the most part, it worked very well.

In the pre-Model T era, cars were build by hand, one at a time, and mostly out wood.  The Franklin had a wooden frame, which was thought to be better for absorbing shocks from the primitive roads of the time.  And bodies were largely made of wood as well.   It was a tedious process to build a car - almost like building a small house!   And the costs were staggering.  Only the very rich had cars, which they ordered to their specifications, often buying a chassis and then having it shipped to a coachbuilder who would custom-build the body to the buyer's tastes.

Franklin did very well, initially.  They engaged in road trips, road racing, and long-distance runs.  One of the "runs" they did regularly went through my home town of Cazenovia, New York.  Today, every August, the Franklin club re-enacts these road runs and puts on a car show at the small college there.

But then the market changed.   Ford came out with the Model-T.  It was not a threat to the large, custom-built cars of the era - the Pierce-Arrow, the Packard, the Stevens-Duryea, and the Franklin.  The wealthy would still order their cars to spec, and would not consider a "mass-produced" car in their garage.

But over time, the mass-produced cars started to predominate, and they started to move upmarket.  GM famously sold a car for "every purse and purpose" from Chevrolet, through Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and up to Cadillac.  Mass-produced cars had several advantages over custom-built cars - besides price.   Since they were made in large numbers, the "bugs" in the cars could be worked out more readily and thus mass-produced cars are more reliable than custom jobs.   It is also easier to get parts for a mass-produced car, and easier to find someone to work on it.   And since they are less expensive, you can afford to trade them in more often, thus keeping up with latest technologies (electric starters, electric lamps!) and the latest styles.

While your old custom-build limousine might have been "in style" for several years, after a while, artillery wheels and the monstrous low-compression engines start to look dated.  You want to trade up, but no one wants your old "circus wagon" as a used car.

The luxury marques hung on for quite a few years, but by the 1950's, the last of them - Packard - threw in the towel, after trying to transition from a custom-built luxury car maker to a mass-production upscale car.   The rest of the marques failed early on or were killed off during the depression.

I recall reading an article in a car mag about old cars of that era - when they became used cars.   The writer bought an old pre-war Packard touring car that had been up on blocks during the war.  It was the object of desire in his youth - such a swell car!  But the year was 1955, and high-compression overhead valve V-8's from Ford, Chevy, and Chrysler ruled the road.   The circus-wagon car was just old and out of place, and he could not afford to keep it in indoors and could not find parts for it.   A neighbor's cat shredded the dry-rotted top one night, and that was the end of that.  His wife forced him to sell it - for a pittance.  Today, it would be a collector's item.

My parents went through the same thing.  After the war, my Dad struggled to find a job, and he came home one day with a used pre-war Packard.  New cars were in short supply due to strikes and the steel supply - and he couldn't afford one, anyway.  But boy howdy!  This old Packard was quite the car back in 1936!  And he snagged it for only a couple hundred bucks!   My mother was not pleased, particularly when the steering wheel fell off in her hands.   It was just an old car by the 1950's, and one that was laughably out-of-style and out-of-date.  She made him sell it.

Franklin soldiered on for quite a while, but struggled as car prices dropped in the 1920's.  Hard to believe that car prices would actually go down, but the car business in the 1920's was like the computer business in the 1980's and 1990's.   Personal computers cost thousands of dollars in the early 1980's but by the end of the 1990's they cost a few hundred.  Cars in the early part of the 20th Century were the same way - as the assembly line replaced hand-building, costs dropped precipitously.

It is like old mainframe computers in the 1980's - you couldn't give them away in the PC era.   At the lab, we used an old PDP-8 for data logging.  It was also laughably outdated, but when it came time to replace it, we found that Digital Equipment had brand new in the box PDP-8's which once sold for thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars, for only a few hundred bucks each.   So we bought one, and transferred our old programs to it, using it for several years until we broke down and bought an HP data system.

The Model-T Ford went from nearly $1000 a copy to a low of $365 before rebounding somewhat toward the end of the model run, as more content was added.   But newer cars, like the Model A and the Chevrolet, had more and more features - electric start, electric lights, radios and V-8 engines or overhead valves - once only the province of luxury car builders.

And if you wanted to separate yourself from the masses, you could move upscale to a Lincoln, Cadilliac, or Chrysler.

Franklin had other problems, though.   The look of the car was odd, which turned off buyers (car buyers are like sheep - ask the designers of the Chrysler Airflow or the Graham "Sharknose" - novel designs which sold so poorly they nearly bankrupted their companies!).  Originally it had a Renault-style snub nose.  Then it had a circular grill with a fan behind it.  Dealers revolted and demanded a more "normal" looking car, which was obtained, once the chief Engineer quit in disgust.  But the change only kept the company alive a few more years.

Dealerships were located in odd, rural areas (Montana?) while sales of such cars were concentrated in wealthy suburbs of major cities.   So even when competing with the other "investment grade" cars of the day, Franklin was at a disadvantage.

And improvements in water-cooled engines negated the advantages of the Franklin air-cooled.   Prestone "permanent" anti-freeze replaced the alcohol used early on.  People learned that having an oddball car only meant it was hard to get parts and service for it, and the resale market was limited.

Cars became a commodity item which were sold on price and features - and the profit margins got slimmer and slimmer - and still are today.   That is why it is laughable when someone comes along and says, "I have a great new business idea - to build a revolutionary new car!" - because the business is already one of margins, and it is incredibly hard to break into.  And even if your revolutionary idea has merit - such as the Tesla electric car - others will copy your idea, once it has been proven successful (without making all the teething mistakes you made, of course!).

First to market is last in the marketplace.   And maybe that is why Bitcoin is doomed.  If there is going to be a "there" there in "virtual currency" it has to be in a currency that doesn't have all the teething problems of Bitcoin.  It now takes hours to process a transaction and costs $20 or more - clearly this isn't replacing my credit card anytime soon.   And the well-documented incidents of fraud and theft (as well as people "losing" their coins by throwing out hard drives, forgetting their passwords, or dying and not telling anyone their password) mean that the currency is hardly as secure as even a Visa card.

In general, I shy away from "The Next Big Thing!" altogether.   It is hard to spot winners early on, and even the winners drop the ball, sometimes more than once, before they become successful.  Ford, for example, struggled early on, and started two car companies, before he hit upon the Model-T.  One of those companies eventually became Cadillac, oddly enough.

The Franklin engine soldiered on, even without a car to go with it. It became somewhat popular as an airplane engine (powering the Republic SeaBee, for example) although it was never thought of as being as reliable or powerful as Continental or Lycoming.  Aircooled motors, as it was called, ended up being bought by Preston Tucker (remember him?) who nearly drove it into the ground by cancelling all their aviation contracts.  The company survived Tucker, and the designs were sold to a Polish company in the 1990s, who make the engines today.

So what's the point of this?  Picking winners in the market - and particularly emerging markets - is very hard to do.  What seems like a big company with a banging business can turn into an obsolete has-been in a few very short years.  Maybe if Franklin had switched to a cheap, air-cooled rear-engine car, like VW, they could have triumphed.  But the managers and Engineers at the company didn't have that sort of vision - "We've always done it this way!" I am sure they said.

Save the risky investments for the risk-takers.   You can look back in time and say, "If only I had invested in Microsoft!" and think about how rich you would be.   But what would have been more likely is that you would have invested in Digital Research (the makers of the popular CP/M operating system, obsoleted by MS-DOS) and you would have lost your shirt.

Hindsight is 20:20, but it cuts both ways!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Why Amazon Did the Right Thing

People are envious of success - and they will also try to shake you down, particularly in New York.



Mayor De-Blasé is furious with Amazon for not "sticking around" and "fighting it out" New York style.  After all, this is the "big apple" and you got to play by the rules here!   But maybe Amazon made the right call.

I wrote in a previous posting that I understand why some folks are not happy with this new generation of Benevolent Billionaires.   They come across as liberal (well some of them, anyway) but much of their "disruption" and "tech" amounts to taking crappy jobs and making them even crappier.  They seem the antithesis of traditional Democratic values.  Sure, their companies have transgender bathrooms.   Their labor force is also non-union.   And you wonder why the Democratic party is schizophrenic?

But of course, the jobs Amazon was bringing to New York were not $15-an-hour warehouse jobs, but clean, well-paid white-collar jobs.   So why the push-back on both sides?   I think a number of reasons:

1.  Buyer's Remorse:   Arlington, Virginia offered less than half the incentives that New York did, and ended up with about as much.  There are a lot of empty buildings in Crystal City since the Patent Office and the Navy moved out, but even then, Arlington didn't over-bid on this "auction" deal.   New York did - and realized it after the dust settled.  So they wanted to renegotiate the deal.

2.  Everyone Wants a Taste:   This is New York, and people like Donald Trump know how to make projects move ahead there - you pay off people.   You pay off the politicians.  You pay off the union leaders.   You pay off the Mafia - which often is all three.   Everyone has their hand out, and nothing gets done unless you grease the skids.   Arlington isn't like this - so Amazon did the logical thing and pulled out.  Why fight to get a deal you already signed?

3.  Everyone Hates A Winner:  People will despise you, once you become successful - it is human nature.  I wrote before about Pleasant Rowland who sold her "American Doll" company to Mattel for the better part of a billion dollars.  She returned to Aurora, New York, to help the struggling college there and to renovate and rebuild the crumbling infrastructure in the tiny town.   You would think the locals would be grateful, but they had a parade and hung her in effigy.   She left town and almost too late, the locals realized what they had lost.

The same noises about "gentrifying" and "being priced out of our homes!" were raised then - as if making a town or a neighborhood nicer was somehow a bad thing, and living in squalor is desirable.  Yes, it is sad when a Mom-and-Pop coffee shop goes under because of increased rents and a Starbucks takes its place.   But when you go to the Starbucks the day it opens, who is really to blame?

Funny thing - the electrician working on my house today is from Queens.  He didn't seem all that upset about Amazon causing the value of his house to skyrocket.   In fact, he's kind of pissed the whole deal fell through.

4.  Fighting Isn't The Answer:   There are noises that Amazon might come back to the table, once suitable Democrats are humbled.   It remains to be seen.   But Amazon would be right to just walk away and not try to fix a bad deal.  Knowing when to walk away - and not merely as a negotiating tactic - is important.

Amazon could stay and "fight" and end up fighting forever.   Not only will their opponents never be happy, they would continue to try to wring concessions from Amazon, making the location look less and less profitable and desirable.  Meanwhile, the bad press would continue to pile up -  a lose/lose situation for Amazon.

It is like fighting a war for 20 years and then losing - as we did in Vietnam.   Why not just cut to the chase and lose up-front and get it over with?

* * *

Don't get me wrong - I think this whole thing of offering "incentives" for wealthy companies or sports teams to locate to your town is wrong.  These companies end up playing one town off against another, and the "winner" of these deals often learns to regret the decision.

Quite frankly, Arlington is a much better fit for Amazon.  The drab and unimaginative buildings in Crystal City are no architectural wonders.  No one would care if Amazon moves in, tears them down, or what.  And since so many agencies and companies have left the area, there is vacant office space galore.   Plus, the area hosts one of the highest concentration of tech workers outside of silicon valley and the cost of living is much less than New York.

The roads in that area are less congested, and the subway system has two stops there.   Few people in Arlington are upset about their house being worth more money or that there are more available jobs.  Of course, that would also include me - as I still own a condo on the yellow line - about four stops from Crystal City.

That being said, I think Amazon would be foolish to put their hand back on the hot stove and beg New York for a second chance.  Just walk away, and concentrate your energies elsewhere.  When you have the power that Amazon has, it is better to just walk away.  And by power, I don't mean the power to intimidate or to manipulate, but merely the ability to afford to walk away from a bad deal, as they don't need it.

If you have that power, why squander it?

Avoidable Accidents

Who is "at fault" in an accident is rarely a cut-and-dried issue.

One of the more interesting things to watch on YouTube are dashcam videos. Initially, these were mostly from Russia and a few from China, as apparently in those countries there are a lot of staged accidents and litigation, and thus people have installed dashcams in their cars to record events.

Since then, more and more of these videos are showing up depicting accidents in the United States, as dash cams become more popular here.  In fact, I even bought one, as it only cost $18 at Walmart. They attach the windshield with a suction cup and plug into your cigarette lighter. Insert a memory card and they'll record minutes or even hours of video, saving the last few minutes of video before a major impact.

Enterprising YouTubers have put together videos showing series of these accidents.  And once you click on one of these videos, YouTube decides that's all you want to watch and suggests one video after another.  You can spend an entire evening watching cars collide.  Or knitting videos.

These would be good educational videos for kids in high school, but the teacher who showed them would no doubt be chastised for "traumatizing" the students.   We had a 5th grade teacher who showed "highway horror" videos from the 1950's around Halloween.  They were pretty gruesome, showing decapitated heads and mutilated bodies.  Today, she would be fired for that, and counselors brought in to tend to all the traumatized special snowflakes.

These dashcam videos would not be very instructive unless accompanied by some commentary by an adult, however.  Kids look at these videos and try to figure out who is "at fault" - as if you can pin everything bad in life on one event or one person.   But life isn't as cut-and-dried as that - in terms of car accidents or your finances.

What is interesting about these videos as you see certain patterns appear again and again.  It's not that people do stupid things that cause accidents - that is predictable.  What is interesting is that there are clearly opportunities for other people to avoid the accident that was caused by the other person, yet the person who could have avoided the accident didn't do so, often because of their own poor driving habits.

Back when I was younger and used to get a lot of speeding tickets, I had to attend traffic school.  They taught us then what was called Defensive Driving and it illustrated why we have various traffic laws.  We learned that accidents occurred not because one person did something wrong, but because other people didn't anticipate that another person would do something wrong.  Causation is illusory, as I noted before.

There are a number of behaviors that most people engage in that end up placing them a situation where, if somebody else does something egregiously bad, or something happens that no one has control over (weather, etc.), they have no way of avoiding getting into the accident.  Here are a few of these bad behaviors that can cause you to get into an accident, even if it is "caused" by someone else or some other action:


Driving too fast for conditions:  In almost all the videos we watch, the person with the dashcam is driving too fast for conditions.  Granted, there are other people in these videos who do something horrendous that is often the direct cause of the accident.  But usually, the person with the dashcam, if they had been driving slower, could have reacted in time and avoided the collision.

Driving too fast for conditions falls under number of different subcategories. The first is in the city or congested driving. Speed limits in cities and urban areas are lower than in the country for valid reasons.  If you are driving through a development, there's a chance that somebody will be backing out of their driveway or trying to merge from a side street.  If you were going 50 or 60 miles an hour, it's hard for people to merge into traffic.  Moreover, they have a harder time judging how fast you were approaching and they pull out right in front of you thinking you are only going thirty when you are in fact going double the limit.

You have to expect people to pull out of every side street, alleyway, driveway, or parking garage.   If you expect this and watch for it, it is a lot harder to hit such folks, even if they are "inattentive" at "at fault" for pulling out.

Another example occurs during more rural  driving. We see many videos where people are out-driving their headlights or visual distance in rain, snowfall, or darkness.   When driving, the combination of your reaction time and stopping time should be less than the distance you can see.  For example, if at night, you can see a 1/4 mile down the road clearly, and you are travelling at a rate of speed where your reaction time and stopping distance would be 3/8 of a mile, you are basically screwed if a deer jumps out in front of you, or you come upon a wreck in the road.  Never out-drive your sight distance.  

Then there's also the issue of road conditions. Speeding in the rain or snow is idiotic as you can easily lose traction and then have no control over your vehicle and end up hitting a wall.  Yet many of these accident videos show people speeding in snowy, icy, or even just wet weather.


Tailgating:  this one seems self-explanatory, yet many of the dashcam videos show people driving too fast for conditions and too closely to the person ahead of them.  What's worse, they see brake lights going on ahead of them but fail to immediately slow down, assuming the people putting their brakes on or doing so for no real apparent reason.

You should at least be three seconds behind the car ahead of you in order to be able to react in time to a sudden stop and also have the necessary stopping distance.  In snowy or rainy weather or other conditions were sight distance is limited and traction is less than optimal, you probably should extend this amount.

Quite frankly, there's no reason to even to be driving even this closely together.  You aren't getting where anywhere any faster by riding on somebody's bumper or even three seconds behind them. You'll get to where you are going even if you're five, ten, or fifteen seconds behind the car ahead of you - and do so much more safely.

Every time we have bad weather in the United States whether it be snow, rain, or fog, there is always some sort of chain-reaction accident where 15, 20, 30, or even 40 cars pile into each other.  And you can see this is a result of people tailgating or driving too closely,  as they cannot respond in time if somebody stops suddenly in front of them or there is a wreck in the road.  Maintaining a safe distance of the car ahead of you and not out driving your sight distance rule avoid these problems entirely.

(Note also, it helps to put your lights on and even flashers, in foggy weather.  It never ceases to amaze me, how people in grey cars will drive 70 mph in dense fog with their lights off - or worse yet, drive 30 mph on the Interstate in a grey car with their lights off.   One wonders if they are trying to stage an accident!)

Sadly, even if you maintain proper distance and driving within your sight distance, the guy behind you might not.  So when you slow down because of a fog bank or a wrecked car in front of you he  is likely to plow into you.  Sometimes, it is best to get off at the next exit, gas up the car, get coffee, and relax for a while - the weather can change quickly and the rain or fog could dissipate by the time you get back on the road.   I learned that one the hard way!


Pulling up too close to the car ahead of you:  oddly enough, a lot of the accidents shown in these dashcam videos are very slow speed accidents that occur when somebody pulls up right behind a car ahead of them at a traffic light.  For one reason or another, the person in front decides to back up - either they want to change direction, or they have pulled too far into the crosswalk.

Since the person behind them is only five feet off their bumper, the guy backs into them at slow speed causing minor damage. What's interesting about these accidents, is the person behind never bothers to sound the horn until after the collision has occurred.  Either they are being inattentive themselves, or they are intentionally staging an accident by pulling right up behind somebody.

Either way, these accidents are entirely avoidable, if you don't pull up right behind somebody's bumper (unless you are Grace Jones) and then pay attention to what's going on.  If you see the guy ahead of you put on his back up lights you should sound the horn immediately, rather than wait for them to plow it in your front bumper.  Seems like a simple thing but it seems to elude a lot of people, at least from what we see on YouTube.

Let 'em in!  The number of accidents (and "road rage" incidents) that we see on these videos occur when people try to merge . Sometimes the person merging is being a jerk, cutting ahead of traffic and trying to get ahead in the game, even if "getting ahead" means being one car length ahead.  Granted, such people are rude and inconsiderate idiots, but trying to make a game out of it by not allowing them to merge isn't solving anything.  And sometimes, they aren't being rude or inconsiderate - they just get stuck in the merge because other idiots won't let them in, so eventually, they have to cut in front of someone.

What usually ends up happening is a minor collision followed by people screaming at each other -each blaming the other for being at fault.  If somebody wants to be rude and inconsiderate individual, you can try it at school them by not allowing them to merge, or you can just let them merge and move on with life.  It's such a trivial thing to get upset about.

And yes, I can confess that I've been upset by this in the past, when we are trying to get through a construction site or other backup and some asshole wants to pull up on the right shoulder and then cut in at the last minute - or use the exit lane as a passing lane to pull ahead of several cars (why?). But thanks to the YouTube, we know that such people often end up getting schooled by the police rather than by other drivers.  There are rewarding so-called "karma" videos, showing where people being pulled over almost right away when they try to pass on the shoulder or fail to allow others to merge. What goes around comes around, and people with poor and sloppy driving habits often end up getting ticket after ticket and paying outrageous insurance premiums. The wheel of karma spins very quickly as I've noted before.  Don't feel you have to enforce Karma - it enforces itself.

Never turn left:  as I noted before in my posting about motorcycles, the vast majority of accidents occur when somebody tries to turn left.  Either the motorcycle tries to turn left in front of traffic and people fail to appreciate the motorcycle is a "real" vehicle and plow into it, or people turn left in front of a motorcycle, failing to appreciate the motorcycle is traveling at a good rate of speed (see my comment above about too fast for conditions) then the motorcycle plows into them.

Either way, left turns are far more dangerous than right turns or any other means of traversing a traffic intersection.  United Parcel Service, one of my former employers, famously reroutes its trucks to try to avoid left hand turns.  It's not always possible to do this, but sometimes three rights make a left.

It never ceases to amaze me that in Old Town Alexandria during rush hour, people try to make left turns from South Washington Street onto King or Duke. Usually, these were proscribed during rush hour for obvious reasons.  Don't you try to make a left hand turn on a busy street, cars will pile up behind you, sometimes literally.  And as you turn left onto another street, some good Samaritan will "let you in" but other people aren't aware of this new arrangement you've made to amend the traffic rules and will try to go around the good Samaritan and then plow into you.

You can argue all day who was right and who is wrong, but usually left turns end up causing accidents so just avoid them when you can.  Make three rights or try to make a left turn where there's a left turn lane with a left turn arrow and then backtrack if necessary.  A few extra minutes you spend doing this could end up saving you an awful lot of hassle and maybe even someone's life.

Goddamn Trolleys:  There are a lot of videos on YouTube showing collisions between cars and trolleys. Most of these are in foreign countries where trolleys are more popular.  However some of them are from the United States were trolleys are gaining acceptance as ill-conceived trolley projects are put into place, often lobbied for by the companies that manufacture these beasts.  The problem is, the trolleys run through the center of the roadway and people fail to realize that these trolleys have the right of way by default.

In the typical accident, the driver turns left in front of the trolley because he can't see it, as it is in his blind spot. There are lights and warning signs that the trolley is going through, but people fail to recognize these. They plow into the trolley which does little damage to the trolley, but usually destroys their car.  In one or two incidents we've seen on YouTube, the trolley actually derails, which is pretty dramatic.

Again, the way to avoid these accidents is to avoid left turns.  Also avoid going to your town council meeting and advocating for a trolley system, as it really is unnecessary.  Myself, when I'm in one of these situations where I see trolley tracks down the middle of street, I try to stay in the right lane, and if I have to make a left, I'll make three rights instead and then cross the intersection when I have a green light, which means that not only is the traffic clear, but the trolley is clear as well.


The A-pillar AccidentI covered this before, and it is almost spooky how the A-pillar on your car can completely block your view of even a garbage truck - until it "suddenly appears" in front of  you and you hit it.   Coming to a complete stop at a stop sign avoids this problem, as your blocked vision area is no longer synchronized with the movement of the other vehicle.

But not only should you avoid causing an A-pillar accident, you should expect others to try to cause them.   When you come to an intersection, particularly a two-way stop (where you have right-of-way) you should expect the person on the cross street to roll or run the stop sign (it is a popular sport as of late).   Don't be afraid to honk your horn if they seem inclined to roll it, are looking the other way, or otherwise seem inattentive.  Be prepared to stop if they pull out in front of you.  Slowing down often changes your speed enough so they will see you around the A-pillar.   The point is, there are things you can do other than be a passive victim in a collision.

* * *

The list goes on and on. They are very simple things you can do while driving that will help you avoid getting into accidents caused by the malfeasance of other people.

What is this have to do with personal finances? Well, to begin with, the fewer speeding tickets you get means your insurance rates will plummet.  I currently pay only a few tens of dollars a month to ensure each of our vehicles, where some people pay hundreds of dollars a month. This is an enormous savings right there.

When I was younger, I drove like a maniac, and not only that, I didn't take into account that other people would do idiotic things while driving. As a result, I got a lot of tickets and got into a couple of accidents - until my insurance premiums were more than my car payments. This was completely idiotic. At that age, I should have bought a second-hand jalopy and not bother paying collision insurance on it.

(I should note that my parents were horrible drivers as well - they were routine speeders and late brakers - often not applying the brakes until they were in the crosswalk!  They also rolled stop signs, tailgated, and got into a number of wrecks.  Of course, I mimicked their behavior, which terrified my driver ed teacher!).

It doesn't matter if the other guy is at fault. My experience of being in car accidents is that you never come out 100% whole on these deals.  Oh sure, you might see these billboards down in Florida for two smiling people - shown in a headshot - proclaim how some law firm got them a half a million dollars.   What they don't show is the lower half of the picture where they have a leg missing or are confined to a wheelchair.  There is no winning in a car accident.

In your financial life, similar effects can occur.  Other people do stupid things or things will happen to you that are outside of your control, and if you're not prepared, bad things could happen to you.

For example, the President decides to shut down the government, and you are a low level government employee who is living paycheck-to-paycheck. You have leveraged yourself into debt and payments because you want to have all the channels of cable TV, a leased car, in a fancy apartment that you think you're entitled to. You have no savings, and once the money train stops, you're basically screwed.  And since your credit cards are all maxed out, you can't even charge your groceries on those until you get paid back by the government.

Whose fault is it?   You can blame the government, the Republicans, or the Democrats.   But just like a car wreck, they might be at fault, but if you weren't tailgating with your paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle, you could have stopped in time, or at least swerved off onto the shoulder and been safe.

Or worse yet, you're a government contractor, and you are immediately laid off as your employer is no longer getting paid by the government.  You'll never get paid back, since you don't work for the government, and since you're living paycheck-to-paycheck you are utterly screwed and probably facing foreclosure or eviction.  But again, whose fault is it not to have any savings, while at the same time having a new iPhone?   And  you laugh - a lot of people live this way.  I know this from experience, being a former government employee, and seeing how my co-workers structured their lives around their weekly paycheck.

You can argue with the other guy's fault - and maybe it is.  But these things are sort of to be expected over time.  Whether it's a government shutdown or an economic recession or being laid off from your job or some other downturn.  If drive your car long enough, you can expect to be in an accident - on the average every 11 years.  It is a predictable outcome.  Accidents happen and they happen at quite a regular frequency.  In fact, death by motor vehicle is a very common form of dying in the United States - with about 40,000 people passing away every year behind the wheel.

Sure, maybe self-driving cars will solve this problem. But that's not going to happen for at least a decade. In the meantime we have to look out for each other and drive carefully and also look out for the people who aren't driving carefully.

Similarly, You could argue that electing Democrat Socialists will solve all your personal economic problems, but that's not likely to happen for at least a decade - if ever.  Counting on political solutions to solve personal problems is never a good idea.  Rather, you should drive carefully in your financial life and be prepared for the inevitable, as the inevitable will happen to you eventually.

It could be a layoff, or an illness, or a recession, or your house burning down.   Bad things are likely to happen, and if you go through life without these happening, consider yourself lucky, but don't plan on being lucky.  Drive defensively - in your finances, as well as with  your car!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Your Electrical Panel and You



The breaker box and wiring to your house can actually wear out over time.

If you own an older home, you start to realize that it is merely the sum of a number of expensive parts that are an the verge of wearing out.   Buildings are just like cars or people - they have a design life.  Some last longer then others, but in the end, they either need to be entirely overhauled or just scrapped, so you can start over.

If you live in homes for more than 30 years, you understand this.  Having owned a number of homes and rental properties, the inevitable repairs and remodeling are expected.   However, to a lot of young people, particularly first-time buyers, the need to repair, upgrade, overhaul, and tear down seem mysterious.   In our condo development, there was a lot of rending of garments and tearing of hair when special assessments were needed to repair balconies that were falling off the buildings.   Buildings last forever, right?  Or at least it seems that way when you are 25.

I have written before about your sewer line, your water line, your service drop, replacement windows, various appliances, plumbing repairs, your HVAC system, your toilet (and toilet flange), your disposal, as well as a host of other small things.   When you buy your first house, don't be in a hurry to run out to Home Depot to buy things for it like solar-powered lawn lights or other tchotchke - you will be forced to buy necessary things in short order.

And tearing out perfectly good kitchens because you don't like the color of the appliances is just idiotic.   But we've seen people do this - throwing away five-year-old appliances and nice cabinets, just so they can have the stainless steel their neighbors have.   Resist the urge to buy a cement lawn donkey - there are other things you will need to spend on.

Today it is our main breaker box, so I am typing this on a laptop under battery power.  I had better type fast!  As I noted before, we had something called a Federal Pacific "Stab-Lock" breaker panel in our home.  It has been known to start fires in the home, as the breakers would not break under a short-circuit condition (but would break under overload) and thus cause the wiring to heat up until it started a fire, burning your house down.

In order to sell the house someday, we have to replace this panel - and arguably the people who remodeled this house 13 years ago should have - but didn't.   When the time comes to put the home on the market, the panel would have to be replaced.  A simple home inspection would spike the sale based on the panel.  As I noted in an earlier posting, it pays to always have your home ready for sale, as you never know when you have to sell it - due to a job loss, or illness, or whatever.

This is not to say you should stage your home like a real estate photo shoot, or have a perpetual "for sale" sign in the front yard, only that you should not let broken things accumulate and repairs linger, as if you have to sell someday (and you will - on the average of every 5-10 years or so) it will be massively inconvenient for you to have to line up contractors on a moments notice to get all these repairs done.

For the most part, wiring doesn't "wear out" over time - at least not modern wiring.   If you have a  modern Square-D panel with modern copper "Romex" wiring, you are probably set for years if not decades.  However, there are a lot of older homes with antiquated wiring systems still out there that need upgrading, as older style wire insulation can crack and short, and outmoded electrical panels can cause fires.

You don't see them so much today, but in my lifetime, I have owned or rented homes with knob-and-tube wiring or old-style fuse boxes, complete with screw-in fuses.   Our local hardware store in Alexandria sold screw-in fuses, as some of the residents in our neighborhood still had these vintage 1949 electrical systems.   Back in the day, fuses would blow, and you'd have to go "mend a fuse" as Paul McCartney would say, by unscrewing it and screwing in a new one.

Sadly, sometimes people would "fix" a broken fuse by screwing in a larger one because the correct fuse kept blowing (because the circuit was overloaded) or worse yet, screwing a penny into the fuse socket completely defeating the system.

By the way, what do fuses and circuit breakers do, anyway?   Seems like an obvious question, but many people really don't know.  In any electrical circuit, there is always a weak point that will burn out if the circuit is overloaded.   If there is a dead short somewhere, for example, whatever wire in the circuit is thinnest will start to overheat and get hot - eventually melting, but not before potentially setting fire to something.   A fuse is just a thinned piece of material designed to melt above a certain amperage.  The rest of the circuit should be designed to handled more amperage than the fuse. Thus, rather than your house wiring turning red hot, melting the insulation and setting fire to a 2x4, the fuse simply melts and the power goes off.   If you blow a fuse, you should figure out why, before replacing it - and certainly not replacing it with a larger fuse (30 amp versus 20 amp) - or you'll just make the wiring in your house the new "fuse" that will melt the next time around.

Circuit breakers work the same way, but instead of melting, they measure current through a circuit and "trip" magnetically when a certain amperage is reached.  Again, the circuit breaker should be sized so it is the weakest link in the system.   Yet a lot of amateur electricians will put 15 amp wiring (14 ga) in a 20 Amp circuit (which should be 12 ga) - effectively making the wiring into one long fuse.   And this is why having a home inspection is a good idea, as a good home inspector can spot these boners before they burn your house down.

Then there are electrical upgrades to consider.  My house in Chittenango had 60-amp service, albeit through a new breaker box (the previous owner had replaced the balky fuse box as part of an upgrade).   The furnace was gas, the hot water heater was gas, the stove was gas, and even the dryer was gas.  There was little in the way of electrical loads in the house, other than the refrigerator.   As a result, 60 amps was more than enough for lighting and such.

Today, most houses have 200 Amp service or better.   Even small condos have 100 Amps.  And many mega-houses today are going to 400 Amps.   The simple reason is air conditioning - along with electric dryers, electric hot water heaters, heat pumps, electric ranges, and so forth.   If you want to install central A/C or a heat pump, you are going to need more power, if the home was not designed for such things.  When I grew up in New York, Connecticut, and Illinois, few people had air conditioning in their homes - even in Old Greenwich or Lake Forest!   We worried more about heating back then, as it rarely got hot in the summers.   All that has changed.

Odds are, the house you live in today has adequate wiring, if it was built in the last 20-30 years.  Like I said, I've seen otherwise, but perhaps that is because I am older and have lived in older homes back in the 1970's.   Back then, a 40-year-old home was built in the 1930's - when knob-and-tube and fuse boxes were still in vogue.   I've seen houses with the "wiring sampler" of new romex, older metallic sheathed, and even knob-and-tube - the latter of which should be removed and replaced right away.  The problem with older types of wiring is that as they age, the rubber or fabric used as insulator tends to dry out and crack, exposing the bare wires, which can short out.

The other problem with older homes is poorly done amateur repairs and additions, where circuits are overloaded or patched or added onto.   Ideally, there should be no more than one wire to each breaker in the electric box.   When your electrician takes off the panel cover and sees two, three, or four wires to a breaker, something isn't right.

And speaking of electrician, this is something you don't want to do yourself.   Even with an Electrical Engineering degree, I hired this one out (after doing my own power drop) as we have a local guy who can do the work for not a lot more than I would pay for the materials (as a contractor, he pays less than I do) and he knows the electrical codes and practices better than I do.   As an Electrical Engineer, I learned how microstructures are formed to make semiconductor circuits.  We were not trained on how to wire houses.   A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing!  This is not to say I have never replaced a breaker box, only that at this point in my life, I really don't feel like doing this.

The local electrician charges less than $1000 to do this upgrade, which is very reasonable.   In metropolitan areas, they might charge more.  And in some instances, it may take overnight, which means your refrigerator may be without power for a long time - something to consider before they start ripping things out.

Of course, one problem with these sorts of things is that some electricians will want to upgrade other systems as well - installing a new meter box, a new master-breaker, and maybe even new main power leads.   It is possible that once you start digging into this kind of thing you end up with a cascade of repairs.

Owning a home - a house - is just owning a thing.   It is a complex thing made of a number of parts that wear out over time.  If you are looking at a home that is more than 20-30 years old, odds are a lot of these things (roofs, appliances, HVAC, plumbing, wiring, etc.) have already been replaced or are ready to be replaced.   Factor these repairs into the cost of home ownership.   If the basic costs of ownership - mortgage, utilities, taxes, etc. - are already higher than the cost of renting, then ask yourself why you want to own as opposed to renting.   Sadly, so many people get caught up in this "dream of home ownership" that they overlook the cost, in terms of monthly cash flow and overall transaction costs.

Budget and set aside monies for every system in your house, based on how old it is, how long you expect it to last, and how much it will cost to replace.   There really is no such thing as an "unexpected" home repair, despite what the news media likes to sell you in some sob-story.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Pardon Me For Not Giving a Shit


Is it a bad thing that I really don't care about "the wall" one way or another?

Lately, it seems that people in America are polarized over political issues.  Let me amend that - it seems, according to the media, that we are polarized over political issues.  Maybe people who spend a lot of time plugged into the Media (either Left or Right - it doesn't matter, just different flavors of the same bullshit) give a damn about all these "pressing issues of the day" but the rest of us, well, we could care less.

There are folks who feel they have to inflict the political opinions on you, and I don't hate them for that - they are just victims of this 24-hour news cycle.  They watch too much television and spend too much time staring at the smart phone (something I am trying to wean myself from) and think that being outraged at all times is the norm.

Whether they are espousing the latest Trump-hate, or trying to convince me that Trump is the greatest President of the 21st Century, I just nod my head and say, "You may very well be right about that!" which is a great thing to say, as people think you are agreeing with them, when in fact you are basically being noncommittal.   You may very well be right about that - or very wrong.  It plays either way.

I learned this early on in my legal career, as I would meet clients from all walks of life.  Some wildly conservative, some wildly liberal - most middle-of-the-road or people who kept politics to themselves.  But the "politicos" always felt they had to raise their political views in a conversation and assumed that everyone in the room agreed with them.   And as their attorney, it made no sense to engage them in a political debate - you would convince them of nothing and lose a client in the process, the latter being something the partnership frowned upon.

So you say, "You may very well be right about that!" and try to redirect the conversation to the matters at hand, although they often resisted this and went back to politics.   Now that I am retired, I can afford to offend people by challenging their political beliefs.  But I have found that it is not a very rewarding thing to do. You rarely convince anyone of anything by challenging their long-held beliefs - all you do is piss them off.   But also, I have learned, over time, that no one side is really 100% wrong all the time and no one side is 100% right.   So you can be a right- or left-wing "politico" and spout the talking points of your rage group, and half the time, probably what you are saying is nonsense.   It just doesn't pay to get sucked into someone else's political agenda.

And that's all this nonsense is - someone else's agenda - at least most of the time.  They try to foment outrage to build up support for their issues by making it seem like it affects us.  But most of the time, these issues are not as pressing as you might think.  And most of the time, the people pushing outrage are pushing an agenda - usually their desire to get elected and obtain power.

Take this wall nonsense.  Folks on the right chant, "build the wall!" as though it were the most important and pressing issue facing the country today (I would opt for the $22 trillion debt as a more pressing issue, but I am in the minority here).  Folks on the left say the wall will never be built - as if somehow extending and enhancing an existing barrier is going to be the end of the world.  The butterflies will not be able to migrate to Mexico!  Really?  They can't just fly over it?   Or even through it?   From what I've seen, it looks more like slats than a wall.   But I digress.

Both sides are full of it, methinks.   This stopped being about "the wall" a long time ago and became all about winning and losing.   It is like a fight between two small children over a toy.  They really don't care about the toy itself - that long ago stopped being the issue.  It is all about throwing a tantrum until you get your way and you are vindicated and the other side chastised.   What usually ends up happening - or should anyway - is both children are spanked and made to sit facing opposite corners.

I just don't give a shit about the wall, one way or another.  Build it.  Or not.  Who cares?  People on the Left say it won't affect "migration" at all - if so, why object to it?   People on the right say it will prevent "illegal immigration" - maybe so, or maybe not.   But shutting down the government and costing the taxpayers $8 billion in order to protest a $5 billion wall expenditure seems kind of nonsensical - and the fault of both parties.

The government shutdown - something else I don't give a shit about.  Oh, sure, there were people affected by this.  My brother-in-law couldn't sell his house because the buyer's FHA approval was delayed by a few weeks.  TSA agents didn't get paid (they actually pay those folks?) on time.   Some government workers living "paycheck to paycheck" discovered too late that leveraging yourself into debt and relying on a "job" to keep everything going is very short-sighted.   Sure, the press tried to get me to care, by profiling some government slug who couldn't pay their cable bill.   But it reeked of one of those one-sided stories, with lots of missing informationIt was just another attempt to get me outraged.

And that right there is the problem.   We are supposed to be outraged - and the articles are designed to make us outraged.  When I look at the "news" app (I am running an older version of the MSN app that for some reason blocks all the ads and sponsored content), I immediately have to discount anything from Fox News, Washington Post, New York Times, etc   I have to look at the source of the news before reading it, so I know in advance what narrative they are trying to sell me.

But lately, it seems to me that maybe no narrative at all is the best way to go, and the best way to do this is to not read the news or watch it whatsoever.   When we travel by RV, sometimes we are out of communication for days at a time.  There are places in the United States (believe it or not) where there is still no cell service.   In Canada, particularly so, once you get more than 100 miles North of the Border (and unless you have a rocking roaming plan, you might not get service in metropolitan areas in Canada).

What we find is, that after being "off the grid" for several days, that several "news cycles" have gone by and we missed being outraged by one thing or another.  It is almost comical to try to "catch up" on the news, as since you missed the original story, you have no idea what the subsequent stories are about - often the "journalists" of today write as though you have been breathlessly following this nonsense (and often it is nonsense) for weeks on end.  I end up getting a lot of my news from Wikipedia as a result - as historic events rather than late-breaking news.

And maybe this isn't such a bad thing.  We only find out weeks, months, years, or even decades later that what the press reported was all wrong.  I pointed out before that on the 10th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, we discovered that pretty much all of the "narratives" the media put forth following that tragedy were basically fabricated from whole cloth.  It was just two mentally ill teenagers with guns - and as a result, the tragedy has been repeated time and time again.

And maybe that is the danger with being outraged all the time - it skews our perceptions and prevents us from seeing what really is going on.   One group of people wanted to characterize it as two kids being "bullied by jocks" as that fit their narrative about school bullying.  Another group spread the story that "Christian" students were targeted by the duo, each asking first, "Do you believe in God?" before firing at those who said "yes."  We all want pat answers to complex questions, and we want reasons behind these sorts of events.  And the news media, acting on rumors, often provides us with what we want to hear.  This, in turn, prevents us from hearing what we need to know.

Maybe ten years from now this wall thing will be put into perspective.   I can see four possible outcomes.   In a first scenario, they build the wall and it turns out to be a white elephant.   It does little to deter illegal immigration (walls can be scaled, jack-hammered, tunneled under, and even blown up), and in retrospect it was just a waste of time and money.

In a second scenario, the wall turns out to be effective in deterring illegal immigration, but does little to deter the tens of thousands of "asylum" seekers who bypass the wall and go right up to the gates and ask for asylum.

In a third scenario, the wall doesn't get built, and not much really happens.   Or in a fourth scenario, maybe the wall doesn't get built and hordes of "migrants" flood into America and enact Sharia law - or something like that.

I suspect that what will actually happen is that parts of the wall will get built - near populated areas and places in the desert where illegal immigrants are already known to cross.  But in places like Big Bend National Park - which is a desolate place that is basically inaccessible from Mexico - there will be no point in building a wall.  There is a town on the Mexican side, Boquilles, which has its own unmanned border entry to America - for the simple reason that there is no other way to access Boquilles than from America.  No one is smuggling people through that checkpoint, as there is no way to even get to the Mexican side from Mexico.  I doubt the wall will get built there, or if it does, it will be the last place to see it.

I think what will happen is that the wall will be partially effective - there will always be the climbers, the tunnelers, the drillers, or whatever, who get around or over or under or through whatever wall you build.  And hopefully, over time, economic conditions in Central America will improve to the point where floods of people won't be "migrating" to America - although this seems less likely.

But whatever happens, it will happen without my intervention, other than who I vote for and whose political party I donate money to.  Being upset 24/7 over this will accomplish nothing, other than to raise my blood pressure and shorten my life expectancy.  Being outraged by it all really accomplishes nothing.