Wednesday, September 30, 2020

TL; DR: How the Internet Ruined Everything

Trolling started out as a joke - a joke that no one really found to be funny, except maybe sick individuals.

In the Atlantic is a timely piece about how memes and online trolling have basically brought America to where we are today.  It is a timely piece as it explains Trump's bizarre behavior - he is basically trolling America with his outrageous comments, and if you don't "get the joke" then you are one of those scolding schoolmarms that make up the Left these days.

It is an interesting article - and a long one - and that alone is one reason why it will have no impact. No one reads today, they all want short Tweets and Memes - shorthand ideas that can be expressed in a minimum number of bytes and with the least amount of time spent contemplating and consuming. The problem with this model of communication is - as the author points out - that these images and ideas flash right by you faster than you can acknowledge them and analyze them.

When I was a kid, there was always someone at school who told racist or antisemitic jokes, or made fun of "fags" or made disparaging comments about attractive girls who they could never date, or unattractive girls who wouldn't date them, either.   You would chuckle or force a laugh, to be "one of the gang" but it would leave you with a hollow feeling later on, as you realize that the folks he was making fun of were friends of yours, or even you.   But to say, "hey, that's not funny!" would elicit the standard cry of "It's just a joke, man, can't you take a joke?"

My stinking hippie brother got his PhD in puppetry.  He calls himself "doctor" now, but I would not go to him for medical advice, unless you have a sick puppet.   But along the way in his many years in Academia (almost as many as mine, I recall) he did one of his many papers and dissertations about how puppets and jesters are used to say things that a person could not get away with. The ventriloquist dummy says outrageous things, but the man operating the dummy can act just as shocked as you are.  Think Jeff Dunham.

If you say things in jest, you can get away with saying things that if said seriously, would result in condemnation.   And so it goes with the Internet.  You can say horrible things in a meme or a troll and get away with it - most of the time - by passing it off as a joke.  But somewhere along the line, it went from joke to reality.  Surely Qanon started out as a joke, but apparently some people take it to be real.   Flat-earth, anti-vaxxers - things that started out as "I'll bet you $10 I can get people to believe this..." but developed real followers.  The key to trolling, it turns out, is not to pass it off as a joke, but to be deadly serious about it.  The folks you are trolling aren't the idiots who actually believe the nonsense you are pushing, but the folks who try to debate you about it.

If you can get Neil deGrasse Tyson to debate you on a flat-earth society subreddit, you've won.  I don't know if he's ever fallen for that bait, but that is sort of the goal trolls are looking for - to argue with someone who has facts, intelligence, and knowledge on their side, and you just fight back with utter nonsense and bullshit.  Sort of like Trump last night, eh?

Sadly, the Left has fallen into this trap. Things like "micro-aggressions" and "safe spaces" and "cultural appropriation" are ripe for parody and laughter. A young woman of Vietnamese descent complains that the Ba Minh sandwiches at the school cafeteria are "cultural appropriation" but fails to realize that the sandwich itself - based on a French baguette - was a bit of cultural appropriation to begin with, as well as a symbol of French colonialism.

But she was deadly serious about this - the fact they didn't make the sandwich right wasn't just typical cafeteria food, but a micro-aggression against her culture.   As I noted in an earlier posting, if was the case, then Taco Bell is guilty of cultural holocaust.   Tacos made of Dorito chips?  The horror.

Sadly, it used to be the other way around.  The Left was the hipsters, the hippies and yippies, having fun and doing drugs and having wild sex and listening to rock-and-roll music.  The Right was the "uptight" squares, who drank whisky and listened to Country music - and not ironically, either!   My same brother, during his hippie protest parades and puppet shows, would mock conservatives for being so deadly serious and straight.   Now the shoe is on the other foot.

I noted before how the Gay Student Association - once a student organization that was pretty lighthearted and fun - morphed into the "LGBTQ Studies Center" which is full of very serious and scholarly people who are no fun at all.   Such stuff is ripe for parody, even from fellow Leftists.  But no one seems to be laughing on the Left anymore - that would be a "micro-aggression".

I am not sure whether the Left can take back the funny side of politics - or should it. Attempts at similar trolling humor would be met by gasps of astonishment from the same people on the Right who are trolls.  "How dare you!" they would say, "That is beyond the pale!" - as I am sure they are saying right now, on Fox News, because Joe Biden accurately described Trump as a "clown" (in orange make-up with funny hair).

Maybe.  Humor is a funny thing.  If it doesn't work, it falls flat.
Q: What do you call four basement Nazis on the bottom of the ocean? 
A:  A good start!
Hey, it's just a joke man.  Chill out!  Can't you take a joke?  Sheesh!

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Nikola Motors - Another Elio?


Promises of products to be made "next year" and a few prototypes and some great CGI presentations.  This all sounds so familiar.

I noted in an earlier posting that we met a couple who bought a used Model-S Tesla that was seven years old.  Teslas are not only on the market, but on the used car market as well.   Tesla has demonstrated that it is capable of making a real production-quantity of vehicles, although it is hardly at the level of Toyota or General Motors or Volkswagen.

It is interesting how Tesla got started - with small baby-steps at a time.  The first Tesla model - the roadster - was basically a Lotus chassis bought from that company, and then fitted with the Tesla battery pack and motor.   What made it turn heads is that unlike earlier electric cars - that relied on lead-acid batteries - this was not some overgrown golf cart that would be going slow, hogging the lane, honked at, and running out of electricity before you got home.   The Tesla roadster was a hotrod, and capable of performace than rivaled some supercars - certainly better than the Lotus it was based on.

These were expensive cars, but again, they are now hitting the used market and I am reading online about people buying them - fairly cheaply - and having fun with them.   But since they were sold as a premium brand, Tesla could bring in a lot of cash right up front.   From that, they went to the Model-S, which again was positioned as a premium brand car, so they could command six-figure prices for it.   Only when they had established a market and demonstrated they were capable of building a product have they attacked the mid-level market with the Model-3.   We won't talk about the Model-X, which apparently has a lot of reliability issues.   Gull-wing doors never work out well, and just smack of useless "dream car" prototypes.   Maybe they can ditch the fancy doors and just make a regular SUV.  We'll see.

But given all that, Tesla still struggles to make money, and there are many car makers promising to enter this market segment.   But one carmaker - that has yet to make cars - has promised to enter this field as well.  Nikola motors is sort of a Tesla wanna-be, right down to the name chosen (Tesla's first name).   GM recently announced they were investing in the company, but the company has yet to build any vehicles.  In fact, their building plans seem to amount to more of licensing their technology to various manufactures.  No giga-factories here.

This article is one of many that argue that the entire thing could be a scam.  It does seem to sound like one.  I wrote before about the Elio - a car that has never been built, other than as a sketchy prototype, whose color changes regularly.   Elio seems to have gone dormant - perhaps the founders have milked that for all it was worth.  Believe it or not, they are still taking reservations for the cars and selling the stock - although it may be de-listed.   And of course, these cars are coming out "next year" - a convenient term, as you don't have to update your website every year.

Of course, people like to write articles saying such-and-such a company is going under, and then they short-sell the stock.  And some say that is what is happening with Nikola.   But for the small investor, the point is moot:  You have no business investing in Tesla, Elio, Nikola, or any other start-up, period.

The problem with these companies is that the stock prices are constantly being manipulated.   Even Tesla, which has a real product and factories and whatnot, is subject to short sellers and the erratic behavior of its founder.   Again, Joe Littleguy thinks, "These mutual funds are boring!  I need something that will make me a lot of money, fast!  Why not spend a few hundred or a few grand on something that might go somewhere?  Who knows?  I might make out!"

This is not investing, it is gambling.   And unfortunately, a lot of people are compulsive gamblers, and as a result, fritter away a lifetime of income, if not at an actual casino, at the Wall Street casino.   You can gamble at draft kings, on sports betting, or gamble on their stock - and lose money both ways.  Yes, you see the ads all the time on "How this man made a million dollars on draft kings!" just as casinos tout the guy who won the Camaro on the progressive slots.   That guy is not you.   For every winner, there are hundreds of losers.  For every million-dollar winner, thousands of losers.

So when I read about Nikola Motors, I basically put that down under "don't give a shit" because there is no way I am going to invest in something that is sketchy and unproven, or at least during the time of my life when I was investing.   Today, I am invested in nothing, because quite frankly, the whole stock market thing smells bad.   But if I was buying stocks, it would concern me that GM was being drawn into this, given that they have their own line of electric vehicles on the drawing board.   If you read the fine print, however, it seems that GM was given stock in the company in return for agreeing to produce the Nikola pickup truck, which has yet to happen.   So it looks like GM may end up losing nothing out of this bargain, and all Nikola gets is bragging rights to gin up the stock price, perhaps.

Just walk away from "the next big thing!" because chances are, even if there is a "next big thing!" you'll invest in the wrong company (Digital Research instead of Microsoft) and even if the deal pans out, there are no wild profits to be made.

In the car business, this is particularly true - it is a worldwide business that is saturated with over-capacity and narrow profit margins.  There are no fat dividend checks coming out of these companies, even the most profitable ones.

Trying to "win" in the marketplace is the one sure way to lose!


Monday, September 28, 2020

Battle Flags


Battle flags on boats.  Trumpism versus Liberalism.

I saw this at the dock at Old Forge, New York.  The flag in the foreground on the wake boat is a rainbow flag that has sayings on each stripe.  "Science is Real", "Love is Love", and so on.   The flag in the background on the party barge says, "Trump 2020".  Interesting contrast - old farts in a party barge getting fat and drunk and voting for Trump.  Young dudes in the wake boat, doing stunts on wake boards, smoking pot and (hopefully) voting for Biden.

It was a battle of flags - and values.   When did this whole flag thing get started?

When I was a kid growing up, when you talked about flags there was only one - the American flag. Maybe once in a while they would fly the State flag on a flagpole next to (but lower than) the American flag, or maybe beneath it on the same pole. But back then we didn't give it much thought. Flag meant one thing - the stars and stripes.

But over the years, it seems that people that have adopted various flags to express their political beliefs, and to show unity with other people with similar beliefs. And I'm sorry to say, but I think the gays were the first on the scene with this, with the rainbow flag. It was sort of a covert symbol that could be hoisted to express one's solidarity with gays or express your own gayness.

Of course, the Confederate Battle Flag has been used for generations, again, to show solidarity for a cause (a wrong cause) and today is being removed or banned.   Flags again - used to show solidarity, or to imply a greater support for an issue than perhaps exists.  The Confederate flag is disappearing from the scene (but going underground) but other flags are taking its place.

In recent years many more flags have been created, supporting various causes, viewpoints, and even sexual proclivities.  There is now a Christian flag which is a white flag of surrender with a cross in the corner. There are blacked-out American flags that have single blue stripes or red stripes to show solidarity with police or fireman. Oddly enough, these flags are very similar to the S&M flag which is a black and blue flag with a heart in the corner, or the "bear" flag with a bear paw print where the stars usually are.

A flag from pre-revolutionary war America has also seen resurgence, the "Don't Tread On Me" flag showing a rattlesnake coiled up. This has become to be a favorite with Libertarians and self-appointed "sovereign citizens" who erroneously claim that they are independent states (then they don't get to vote - right?).   Everyone, it seems, has their own flag these days.  Maybe because we are all forming our own countries.

But of course, the Trump flag is today the premiere symbol of right-wing thought. And in recent weeks and months we've seen various parades, protests, and even riots where Trump flags were featured prominently. People will fly them from the back of their pickup truck, or from the back of their boat, or they display them in their front yard.

In our travels across New York, which is considered a "Blue State," the prevalence of Trump flags outnumbers Biden flags by 10 to 1. It's not that Biden isn't very popular, only that people don't feel very exuberant about him, which is troubling for the next election. Fewer people may support Trump, but their emotional attachment to him is stronger.


Nazi Flag GIF - Nazi Flag Rip GIFs
Flags are potent symbols - often symbols of oppression.

The thing about these flags that disturbs me is that it reminds me of the scene from The Sound of Music, when Captain Von Trapp returns home only to find a Nazi flag adorning his mansion. He angrily tears down the flag and rips it in half, even though his family warns him that it's not a good idea to go against society's norms.

And that's the point of these flags. The idea of flying these flags is to show people strength in numbers. When all you see is a bunch of Trump flags, you get the idea that perhaps maybe there is a lot of support for Trump, even - if in fact - only a minority of people actually support him. And the same can be said for the gay flags and other flags as well.  And Nazi flags, while we're at it.

That's why I don't trust this whole flag mentality. While it may seem like an act of pride to show your support for gay rights or for President Trump, the waving of a flag sort of smacks of totalitarianism. And it's no coincidence that totalitarian governments are very fond of flag-waving and flag draping and flags in general.

In short, flags are a crummy substitute for analytical thought.  They are an expression of mindless acceptance and obedience.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Stock Price Disconnect


Stock prices, market cap, and the actual value of a company are often entirely disconnected.

A reader wrote to me asking about Pitney Bowes stock. I wrote about it before, didn't think much of the company, based on my experiences with their products many years ago. I mean, postage meters, how outdated is that?

Recently, I ran into an employee of the company and he explained to be with our new product strategy. They're trying to offer companies a one-stop solution for shipping needs. You can log onto their site and it will determine which is the best shipping option for you, UPS, Federal Express, or the United States Postal Service. And then can print labels for all three services, depending on how fast you want the product to get to its destination, and how much you want to pay.

In this era of e-commerce, it seems like a smart business plan and one with a future. Whether or not it is very profitable or not remains to be seen. There are good business plans out there that make money, and as long as you make a penny more then you spend, you could stay in business. This doesn't mean the company is worth an awful lot of money.  It's a good business plan they have - it is not a license to print money, by a long shot.  I doubt this is "the next big thing!®"

The reader apparently bought a lot of Pitney Bowes stock a while back when somebody was hyping it, claiming it was going to go through the roof. However it didn't go through the roof, it merely sort of did okay, and in fact dropped in value. It went up in value probably because people were hyping the stock and it went back down to earth when people realized it was just a thing not necessarily the next big thing.

I think the same is true of Kodak stock.  People hype the stock on the Internet, and it goes up in value, because the plebes thing their vague and indecipherable plans are the next big thing because of some complicated plan to issue cryptocurrency that has yet to come to fruition (and maybe never will).    People buy into hype, and cryptocurrencies are a prime example.  People are throwing money at anything that has "crypto" attached to it, just as folks threw money at "dot com" back in the day (which was not that long ago!).

There's nothing wrong with just being a thing and not the next big thing. A stock that pays regular dividends from a company that makes regular profits is not a bad idea. I have no idea if this describes Pitney-Bowes, but it describes it awful lot of other companies.

Unfortunately, we have this casino mentality in the stock market these days. People want to latch onto the next big thing and hope that they can take a small amount of money and parlay it into a huge amount of money. But most, like our reader, end up taking a small amount of money and making it even to a smaller amount of money, often an amount of money they can't afford to lose.

There are no get rich quick schemes that actually work. The best thing is to invest in a panoply of different things and hope that some of them make money while maybe a few make spectacular amounts of money - but expect that some will lose money.  Over time – and that's the key, time - you'll accumulate wealth. Not a whole lot at once, but a little bit over a long period of time. And relatively speaking, you have a long period of time to invest, unless you're an old fart like me.

I am out of the game at this point. Stock Investing is no longer of interest to me as I am riding the part of the roller coaster where you put your hands up and go "Whee!" all the way down to the end.

And by the end, well, if you don't know what I'm talking about, then you haven't been listening very closely.  Everyone's investment timeline is finite.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Poor Normative Cues and Restaurant Food


Making meals at home can cost 1/4 or less of the cost of a restaurant meal.  Strong normative cues have to be used to encourage people to engage in what is a very poor financial decision.  By the way, do you think this is how the food will appear when it arrives at your house in a clamshell?

Two readers sent me e-mails recently, coincidentally on the same or a similar subject - restaurant or delivered foods, and how social media tries to market these as rational lifestyle choices.  On Facebook - which is today just one big advertisement channel - a pitch is made the cooking is passé and that all the hip young Millennials are ditching the kitchen for delivered prepared meals:
Apparently Facebook has me tagged as a useless millenial I get these ads constantly. There are a half a dozen companies that advertise this same general principle of “eating healthy takes too much time” or “you are too busy to cook”. Talk about a poor normative cue. 
These people have managed to reinvent the TV dinner.  But we can’t call it that because that’s for boomers. So we will millenial it up with smart ovens, bar codes, delivery via smart phone app, And keto vegan fresh ethical fair trade chef inspired nutrient rich and vitamin infused buzzwords (the most utter BULL SHIT).
You can make a lot of money selling millennials what boomers used to buy but make it more expensive, chic, and “higher class” but not really any better or useful. Example:  most millennials raised in minivans swear we would never have such a boomer-mobile. So instead we buy a car framed family “SUV” that looks as fugly as a minivan but doesn’t have the most useful features of said minivan (like the sliding door and row seats)
Examples of the food ads below.
[URLs deleted so as to not inadvertenlty promote these companies]
Why bother with some dorky "meal kit" which still forces you to do the icky job of cooking food? Just have all your food prepared somewhere else and delivered to your home, lukewarm.   That has to be cost-effective, right?

Cooking food is so hard.  You have to grind grain to make flour, churn milk to make butter - it is a tedious, never-ending task.   Actually, I say that in jest, but in the not-so-recent past, that was how you prepared food, literally from scratch.  Today, "cooking" often means combining prepared ingredients, or even just warming up something that was frozen.  There are all levels of granularity of food preparation, from base ingredients to microwaving a hot-pocket.   And as you might expect, the further up the food chain (so to speak - sorry, pun) you go, the less expensive it is to prepare a food item.  Making your own egg sandwich at home is cheaper than microwaving a Jimmy Dean egg sandwich from the frozen food section, which in turn is cheaper than driving to McDonald's and buying one (or having one delivered - they do that now).

Not everyone can be a gourmet chef, to be sure, but if you are struggling with debt or trying to save for retirement, cutting back on restaurant meals and delivery foods (which used to be just pizza, but today encompasses everything) is one sure way to save a boatload of money.  Even if you "can't cook" you can prepare a packaged food item for a lot less than having prepared foods delivered.

Of course, even with these "delivered meals" there is the messy job of cleaning up afterwards - all those dishes to do!   Perhaps some enterprising person will come up with an "app" that will send someone to your door to wash your dishes for you.   Oh, wait, you can just leave them for the maid to clean up.

Ahh... the maid.  You see, that is the real problem with all of this.  While these ads show perky Karens having fun ordering food ("who cooks anymore?") the reality is, if you did this regularly, you would end up fat, slovenly, and heavily in credit card debt.   And since you are sitting around all day with nothing to do, learned helplessness kicks in, and you get even more depressed, and order even more prepared meals.  Drown your sorrows in a pork tenderloin with heirloom vegetables!

Another reader sends me this tidbit:
Bob, you'll love to hate this. Someone online shared a restaurant check and remarked how much cheaper it was to eat out in Indianapolis than in San Diego. The check was $94 for dinner. Was this a dinner of fine wine, steak and lobster, and great ambiance? No--it was a burger, loaded fries, and enough booze to fill a kiddie pool. I'd never heard of most of the drinks--13 of them for two people! I looked them up--some had cool sounding names like electric lemonade and liquid marijuana, but they're basically Koolaid with alcohol. But the item I can't get over--the item presumably ordered by and for adults--was Scooby snacks. Treats for a cartoon dog! 
A hundred dollars blown on gut bombs and a hangover. That's not a bargain at any price! 
Again, Facebook is one giant advertisement, and no doubt this posting was a plant, either for the restaurant, or one of the food products.  Sadly, we are starting to see inflation in a lot of things.  We went to Walmart the other day to buy groceries and were shocked to see the tab was nearly $400.  Now, granted, $40 of this was a for a new camp chair, and some medicines.   But still....   It wasn't that any one thing was expensive, only that Walmart - and every other store - has been raising its prices slightly since the pandemic - and getting away with it.

Nevertheless, that $400 bought a lot more food that it would as meal kits, restaurant meals, or delivered meals - a month's worth, versus less than a week.

Mark and I have remarked to each other than $50 is the new $20.   It used to be, we could go to a restaurant, split a plate of fried shrimp and have a couple of glasses of house wine, for about twenty bucks.  Today, it seems that costs $40 or more. Prices have been edging up, and will continue to edge up, as the government prints more and more money - the classic cause of inflation in any economy.  The right-wing nutjobs who have been complaining about "high inflation" in recent years (1%?  Be serious!) will finally have something real to complain about - and understand what we went through in 1979.

But I digress.   The point is, we are entering a recessionary economy - companies are limping along on life support, often with no sales at all, and bankruptcies are common.   The stock market is doing well - but the stock market is not the economy.   The economy is people working and making money and spending - and a lot of people are out of work now.  If Trump loses the election, well, you can be sure Republicans will blame Biden for the inevitable recession that is already starting.  If Trump wins, they will blame Nancy Pelosi.

But again, I digress.  The point is, this isn't a good time to be ordering-out for all your meals, or blowing wads of cash on restaurant food - particularly bad restaurant food and what some people derisively refer to as "chick drinks" (sugar and vodka).

The common denominator isn't the food or the food cost, but how social media is being used to make it seem "normal" to drop huge sums of money on something that should cost a trivial amount - your sustenance.  In order to sell the idea that you should do something so basically opposed to your own well-being, they have to sell the idea that it is "normal" and "everyone is doing it" - whether it is $100,000 SUVs, or overwrought mini-mansions, or meal kits or whatever.

So what is interesting about these two e-mails is that both address the same issue - how Facebook is used by corporations to sell ideas to people - ideas about consumption and behavior.   And in that regard, Facebook is a very evil influence on anyone's life, even if you don't subscribe to Qanon or Anti-vaxxing or whatever.   Just the promotion of consumption and bad lifestyle choices is enough to make me say "no" to Facebook.   It is just one big advertisement.

Other people, well, they just can't live without it - or so they think.  Yet, they lived without it, before it was invented, didn't they?   Interesting thought.

Moreover, most Facebook users are "useful idiots" for these corporations or even for Vladimir Putin. They "like" and "share" posts that are little more than ads.   Or they post their own content which inadvertently promotes a company or product.  The whole idea of taking pictures of restaurant meals or you and a group "having fun" at Applebee's is just a way of promoting a chain restaurant at your own expense.  And while we all like to think our postings on Facebook are original and unique, as I noted before everyone's Facebook page looks the same and Facebook is about as original as playing a piano with only four keys.

Odds are, whatever you post on Facebook, it is something similar to something you've seen before, and thus were subtly influenced by.   Like I said before, in this day and age, we can't even trust our own minds.   We think we are being logical and analytical, but in reality, we are just reacting to subtle normative cues.

Speaking of which, you'll have to excuse me while I go order my lunch to be delivered...

Friday, September 25, 2020

Identity-Theft Politics Again

 Image: Benjamin Hung (U.S. District Court for Central California)
I suppose if white people are pretending to be black, we should not be surprised that some minorities are pretending to be white.

Another bizarre twist on the protests and riots going on, a young asian man was charged with firearms violations after attempting to drive his pickup truck, adorned with Trump flags, through a crowd of protesters in California.

The young man in question was also displaying several flags and symbols of white supremacist groups, and apparently his social media accounts reinforce this notion that he considers himself a "white supremacist." I guess he didn't get the memo about the Chinese exclusion act. He didn't understand that white supremacist groups believe that whites are superior to all other races - including asians.

It's about as ridiculous as a black man joining the Klu Klux Klan. Dave Chappelle did a comedy sketch about this, but I never thought it would actually occur in reality.

You'd have to be blind to be a black white supremacist.

But of course, this is not an isolated incident. I recall having lunch with a number of gay men from Georgia. Yes, real redneck gays exist, in plenty. We were talking about President Obama, and one of them said, "that [N-word]?" They all piled on about what a horrible person Obama was and how they didn't like black people.

I was sort of floored by this, as when the Klan gets done with the blacks, and the asians, and the hispanics, they certainly will come after the gays. You can't be gay and join the Ku Klux Klan or any white supremacy group. It just doesn't work.  It just doesn't make any sense.

Similarly, you can't be asian and support white supremacy - unless you are laboring under the delusion that white supremacists will count you as "white" - which they won't.

I guess it illustrates how racial prejudice is pretty illogical. It also illustrates how this identity politics thing makes no sense at all, particularly when people just latch onto identities, willy-nilly.

I mentioned before, how in Latin American countries, your social status is often indicated by the paleness of your skin. Your lawn care guy isn't wearing a mask over his face to avoid covid-19 or to prevent skin cancer, he's trying to keep his skin pale, lest he be viewed as a lower class person in his culture.  This whiteness thing - and prejudice from it - is a worldwide phenomenon.

And I noted before, how I stepped on the cultural land mine when talking with a friend from Costa Rica by saying he had a very distinguished Mayan-looking face. He was adamant that he was with 100% Spanish heritage, with no Indian or negro genes in his body. It turns out that racism is rampant even among minorities.

And yes, many Hispanics consider themselves to be white, and thus not a minority group. But again, from the standards of the hate groups, they would have another think coming. You can't be Hispanic and be a white supremacist.  Sorry, but whites don't count you as part of their club.

Even Spanish people from Spain would be looked upon with suspicion by white supremacists.  And Italians?  Well, maybe on probation.  White supremacy has its roots in Anglo-Saxon Protestantism.  Scots?  Yes.  Irish-Catholics?  No.  Germans?  Yes.  French? Probably not.  And No to all you Slavic peoples as well - yet so many join that cause these days.  That's the problem with these hate groups - you join, thinking they are hating other people, and it turns out, they are hating you.

And no, you can't be Asian to be a white supremacist either, unless you are filled with self-loathing.

And I suspect that is the case here - some form of mental derangement.  In fact, I suspect a lot of these protesters - on the left and right - are suffering from some sort of mental illness, drug use, or a combination of the two.

Why we give them so much airtime and why we take them seriously is beyond me.  Why the National Guard hasn't been called out, after 100+ days of protest, is also beyond me.   These are crazy people - they are never going to stop with their craziness, unless forced to.

And sadly, crap like this ensures that Trump will be re-elected, as once again, Democrats come off as weak and ineffectal.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

RV Physics


You can't expect an RV to do things that are beyond the bounds of physics.

We met a nice couple who just bought a new Class-C camper and are very unhappy with it.  It is not that it doesn't work as a camper, but that the promises made by the dealer and perhaps even manufacturer didn't pan out - largely due to the laws of physics.  And since they are not tech-savvy, the couple is unhappy and unable to understand why their coach can't do the impossible.

The industry is partly to blame - selling the idea that RVs can do things that, while theoretically are possible, are practically impossible.   For example, I noted before that the furnaces in RVs work as advertised - they heat up the inside of the camper.  But with twin 20-lb propane tanks, they won't heat it up for very long.   Run the furnace at 72 degrees overnight, and you may wake up to two empty tanks and a refrigerator with a "check" light lit.   You spend the morning trying to find a propane tank exchange place that is open.

Sure, you could "upgrade" to 30-lb tanks, but that just forestalls the inevitable, and makes it so you can't use those propane tank exchange places (which are often the only places to get propane in some parts).  Campers who stay in one place for the season will call a local propane company and have a "snowman" propane tank delivered and hooked up, so they don't run out like this.

So yea, the furnace works, but in a practical sense, it isn't like the furnace in your home, where you can just set the temperature and be warm.   At best, you can use it to "take the chill off" to warm up before bed, or to keep the place from completely freezing.   In the cold weather we have been having (28 degrees yesterday morning) we have the thermostat set at 45 degrees - because we know, realistically, what to expect from these furnaces, after 30+ years and five RVs.  Even so, we've had to go find propane as it sucks one of the tanks dry.

Another "it works but it doesn't work" deals is the idea that you can put a bank of batteries in an RV and then, using an inverter, run your air conditioner or television when you are "off the grid".  In theory, this should work.  In theory.  And this is where the couple was upset.   The coach had four 12V AGM batteries and a solar panel.   If you run an inverter from those batteries, you'd run them dry pretty much in an hour or so, if you have any kind of load at all.

When we bought the Escape,we ordered it with two 6-volt golf-car batteries (in series) to provide more capacity when boondocking.  The guy who did the pre-delivery asked us, "Why did you get the solar panel?" and I told him, "Mainly to keep the batteries charged in storage and to provide extra charging when dry-camping."   He replied, "OK, then.  You'll do just fine."

You see, a lot of people think a 4'x4' solar panel is going to run the air conditioner. I kid you not.  We saw a nice bearded man who probably was more at home in (liberal arts) academia, explain to his friend that, "The solar panel runs the generator, I think" on his new motorhome.  He had this piece of equipment but no idea how it worked (the generator runs on gasoline or diesel - duh!).

In order to run serious home appliances from a battery, you'd really need a Lithium-Ion battery pack from a Toyota Prius or a Tesla.  And some RVs are starting to experiment with this idea and it may have promise.  But conventional lead-acid batteries?   It just isn't happening.  The energy density is just way too low.

But even with a Tesla battery, there is a problem - getting it charged.  We met a nice couple who bought a used Tesla model-S - nearly seven years old!  Hard to believe they have been making them that long.  It still ran and worked well, but charging it was always an issue.  If you had access to a "supercharging" station and had time for lunch, it was not a problem.  But we were in a rural campground in West Virginia with only 20-amp 110V service.   They had to leave the Tesla plugged in to a wall outlet the whole time they were there.

It would be like trying to fill a tanker truck with a garden hose.  Yes, you can do it - but it may take a day or more.  Using a fire hose, it may take only an hour.  So even if you installed a Tesla battery in your RV - and used it to run the A/C and whatnot - the problem would be in keeping it charged.  The coach engine or generator couldn't charge the battery faster than it was draining, and anything other than 50 Amp, 220V service would be insufficient to charge it rapidly enough.  Maybe that explains why the motorcoach set is so paranoid about not having 50-amp service.

So the couple was upset because this bank of batteries took a long time to charge.   Charging from the motorhome engine is problematic.  Even with a heavy-duty alternator, it could take some time to charge these batteries, particularly from dead, even assuming you had a 50 amp wire running from the alternator - which they didn't, of course.  At most, maybe a 10-gauge wire giving you 10 amps or so.  And likely it would burn out the alternator, eventually.  (We noted that the Escape is not wired to charge from the truck electrical system, and after going through alternators in the old F150 and the X5, perhaps I see why).

I also suspect that the power supply (the power panel with 12V charging circuit) isn't sufficient for the battery load.   I put a huge battery in the Casita, and eventually, the power supply failed.  I put a new one in - a small one - and it struggled to handle such a large battery.  Lesson learned - never try to fill a tanker truck with a garden hose.  You'd think an electrical engineer would figure that out pretty quickly, eh?  Well, it took me a while.  Sometimes it doesn't pay to be cheap.

Oddly enough, the "solution" to their problem might be in getting rid of two or three of those batteries and just running the coach as a normal RV with one "house" battery to run the lights and control board for the refrigerator.  Use propane for the refrigerator and hot water, and plug in if you want air conditioning. Trying to make a setup that defies the laws of physics "work" is just an exercise in frustration.  And they were frustrated.

Camping off-the-grid in the last few weeks has been interesting.  When we are in direct sunlight, the solar panel keeps the batteries charged.  But most campsites are in the shade, and the panel puts out fractions of an amp in those conditions.    After several days of no sunlight, we are forced to start up the generator, as the batteries approach that 10V level where things stop working.  Bear in mind, we are only using the 12V system to power the lights and the control board for the refrigerator, and perhaps charge our cell phones.   That's enough to drain two golf cart batteries in a matter of days.  Now imagine running the refrigerator or the A/C unit off them - you'd drain them in minutes.

It's basic physics.   And it cannot be denied.  And unfortunately,the RV industry has been making a lot of promises that the laws of physics can't fulfill.   The bank-of-batteries approach to camping is a flawed idea, unless you have some super-duper way of recharging them, again and again.  A car alternator or a 20-amp plug, or a Honda eu2000i generator isn't going to cut it.

I felt sorry for the couple - they had a nice coach and were very unhappy with it because it was promised to do things that really are not practical to do.   If they just accepted it as a regular RV, they would be happy.  But I suspect there are other issues involved - that usually is the case with buyer's remorse.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Summer Kayaking

It has a been a busy summer!

Several people asked us where we have been all summer, and I started adding up all the lakes, streams. ponds and rivers we have been kayaking on.   We are hardly hard-core kayakers.  We load up the kayak with a picnic lunch and a bottle of wine, paddle upstream or upwind on calm waters until we are tired, and then have lunch and let the current or wind push us back to where we started (about half the time, the wind does not cooperate - changing directions 180 degrees!).   We go out for maybe three hours or so.  No whitewater rapids, no portaging, overnighting, tenting, or any of that.  Still it is fun and good exercise.

We've also gone on some good bike rides - again not pushing ourselves too hard (well, maybe once)  - as well as a few hikes - one being the hike from hell. But all in all, it has been a great escape from the current realities of life.  Being without cell service, for example, for days at a time, is a blessing, not a curse.  We get back to online "civilization" and we find we missed nothing - or nothing we can do much about, other than worry.

Anyway, here's where we've been:




Letchworth State Park (just a visit - no kayaking allowed!)

Webster City park (Irondequoit bay and Erie Canal)



Robert Wehele State Park (great place for a mountain bike ride and picnic)










One wonders why we didn't do the more obvious places - Raquette Lake and so forth. They were booked solid and we had to sort of make reservations on the fly.  Our plans to visit the Îles de la Madeleine were shattered, sad to say, so the Adirondacks had to fill in for us.  We tried to stay several days at each place - sometimes a week or so.

Governor Cuomo gave us this nice certificate allowing us to enter New York State!  And the bribes weren't all that bad, either!

We did NOT go to Maine or Vermont because of their more restrictive travel policies.

Places left to go:


Green Lakes State Park (Erie Canal and Cazenovia Lake)

Skyline Drive & Blue Ridge Parkway, including:
Matthews Arm 
Loft Mountain 
Goose Point (Army Corps)
Rocky Knob
Julian Price
Plus a few wineries, distilleries, breweries, and museums that are part of Harvest Hosts.

I can't take any credit for any of this planning-on-the-fly.  Mark did it all.  I just drive.



Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Wait, What? How Many of These Are There? Identity-Theft Politics Again?


What's the deal with white people pretending to be minorities?

In the news again, another "person" - and yes, "they" want to be referred to as "they" - has been exposed as posing as a minority when in fact they are white.  And sadly, once again, this isn't just some delusional person who pretends to be a minority before their friends and family, but someone who decides to take a leadership position based on this false claim of minority status.

In case you are keeping score, we had Rachel Doezel, who was head of the local chapter of the NAACP before her parents "outed" her.  Then there was Jessica Krug, a professor at GWU teaching racial whatever (a sure path to a secure job!), before she was outed as white.  Then there was Ward Churchill, who was pretending to be an Indian while poisoning the minds of young students at CSU by arguing - among other things - that the victims of the 9/11 attacks had it coming. Then there was "CV Vitolo-Haddad" - another one of these "they" people, also teaching in academia, also forced to step down when it was found out she/he/it was posing as another race (and apparently, gender).

It is like when you switch the lights on in the kitchen and the cockroaches scatter.  How many more of these fuckers are out there?

A lot.

You see, in addition to  the numerous people who are brazenly claiming racial identity, often for personal gain (teaching position, position of leadership, attention) there are many other who are not claiming racial identity, but hijacking racial causes.  In a recent incident, some "Antifart" protesters climbed on top of a police car and started smashing in the windows with hammers - with officers inside!  They claimed it was an "outrage" when the officers tried to drive off to save themselves.  I mean, can't they just sit still while we bludgeon them to death with the hammers?  Sheesh!

But what was interesting about the attack was they interviewed one of the young men who jumped on the police car and he said something along the lines of  "Well, me and another organizer jumped on the police car to get it to stop!"   Now, both these kids were white as ghosts and from the comfortable suburbs.  Where do they get off calling themselves organizers of a Black Lives Matter protest?  And when do protest organizers attack the police?  I mean legitimate protest organizers, that is.

But these were just bored kids who anointed themselves as "organizers" of a BLM protest, because, you know, black people are too dumb to do that themselves, right?  Sheesh!

The point is, this racial appropriation (don't they call it "Cultural Appropriation" in the school cafeteria?) is much greater than we think.   And I suspect in the coming days, more and more people will be "outed" as posing as people of color, or as sexual minorities (much easier to do - since we abolished the initiation ceremonies) or whatever.

What is alarming is so much of this nonsense is going on in academia.  This "they" crap for example - it has no traction outside of colleges and universities.  But the media has bit on this as well, and goes along with calling people by their "preferred pronouns".

What is really disgusting about this latest revelation is that the person renamed themselves (what is it with the renaming?) as "Satchuel" and their online persona is "Satch Paige" - a misspelling of the name of that famous black baseball player.

What's next?  Some white guy coloring his skin and calling himself "Malcomb EX"?

Just wait for it....