Monday, January 13, 2020

Ignorance Is Not Bliss - It is Misery!

Being ignorant means you pay higher prices for everything in life.   For some, this is unavoidable.  For others, ignorance is willful and even prideful.

I mentioned before how some folks act like being ignorant is some point of pride.   "I don't know how to work my smart phone!" they chirp, as if being ignorant was a a sign of class distinction.   After all, only "the little people" or "tradesmen" stoop to actually knowing something about how technology works, right?

And maybe back in 1950, there was some truth to that.  The old Norge refrigerator broke down and you hired a repairman to come fix it.  Maybe if he did a good job, you'd tip him a quarter, and he'd tip his hat to you - a hat which was part of his uniform.  Maybe back then, people could afford to be ignorant - or maybe being ignorant then was a sign of social distinction.  Maybe, but I doubt it.  Because that friendly repair man, even back then, would figure out you don't know shit from Shinola, and would pad the repair bill without you even knowing he did it.

Today, technology and finances are far more complicated, and ignorance has a much higher price. We are expected to fund our own retirements with a 401(k) plan, and we are expected to navigate a river full of shitty deals - like refinancing, timeshares, car leasing, and whatnot - and know the good from the bad from the ugly. 

And technology, well we all have computers today - in our pockets.   You can be ignorant and let the "nice man at the phone store" sell you an Apple iPhone for $1000 (paid for as part of a plan, of course) or you can be smarter and buy last year's Samsung model for a hundred bucks and put a SIM chip in it.  The choice is yours - ignorance costs $900 more.

What got me started about this is a friend of mine who is from the "old school" was complaining that a "funny light" came on the dashboard of their car one day.  "It had a picture of a car with little squiggles coming out of it!" they said.   I replied, "that's the anti-lock brakes...." but was quickly interrupted before I could continue, "I don't really care, what it is - these newfangled cars are so hard to figure out!"   What I was able to decipher from the rest of the cargo-cult story is that they accidentally hit the ABS disable switch by accident, which of course lights the ABS light on the dashboard.   A helpful grandchild pressed the switch back in and the problem was solved, at least for the time being.

Or was it?

You see, not knowing what ABS is and how it works can cost you - a lot of money or even your life.  If you are not familiar with ABS, it isn't that complicated.  It was originally developed for aircraft (and indeed is still used today).  In the 1970's, the tried to mandate it for trucks, but it was too complicated for the electronics of the time.   Today, it is pretty much standard equipment on every car sold, so it pays to know something about it.  You own this shit - learn about it.

It is a simple system.  Wheel speed sensors measure the rotational speed of each wheel.  Sounds high-tech, but all it is, is small electromagnetic coil that measures the passing of little teeth machined into each wheel hub.   The teeth make electronic pulses as they pass by the coil (very weak pulses!) and the computer counts these to measure wheel speed.  If one wheel is stopped while the others are rotating, a skid is detected, and an actuator "pulses" the brakes to prevent skidding.   It is like the old days when you would pump your brakes to avoid or stop a skid - something that is a bad idea with ABS brakes.

And that is why I say it can cost you your life.  A lot of ABS systems - particularly on older cars - will "pulse" the brake pedal when the actuator is engaged.  So you get into a situation in the rain where you need to avoid a wreck, and you slam on the brakes.  The actuator engages and the brake pedal pulses.  A lot of people freak out when this happens and take their foot off the brake and as a result, get into a wreck, potentially a fatal one.

The second thing, of course is that you can still steer to avoid the wreck with ABS.  That's the whole every-loving-God point of it.   You can brake and steer and not worry so much about skidding.  So it can help you avoid a wreck, if you understand how it works and how to drive with it

It also helps to understand that if all four wheels stop the system doesn't detect a skid.  So on snow or ice, you slam on the brakes, and all four wheels lockup, ABS isn't going to help you.  You still have to drive the car.

By the way, the same wheel sensors are used for electronic traction control.  Again, the system measures wheel speed, and if it detects that one traction wheel is spinning faster than the other(s), it will either let up on the throttle, or apply braking to the spinning wheel (or all wheels).  It is a remarkably simple system, and rarely goes out of whack, other than those sensors which measure tiny, tiny fragile signals, often go South when the connectors become corroded. And those connectors are right in the wheel well, where they get sprayed with salt and gravel and water.  Keep those connectors clean (and a little dielectric grease) on an older car, and you won't get that dreaded ABS light coming on by itself.

Now granted, this takes more than a sentence or a Tweet to explain, and you have to want to learn about it.   The person I was talking to just shut down and literally closed their eyes.  They didn't want to learn, they wanted to complain about the "light with the squiggly lines" because that was more fun to do - to be a victim of technology and the modern world, rather than try to adapt to it.  And so long as there is a helpful grandchild around, I suppose such a technique could work - provided said same grandchild is around to constantly bail out the grandparents from their latest "Dagnabbit!" dilemma.  Eventually the grandchild gets tired of it, though - or grows up and moves away.  It is never a good idea to make yourself totally reliant on other people, particularly for things you can do yourself (the same person complained they didn't know how to pump gas after their spouse died.  Being that helpless is, to me, mind-boggling).

In finances, ignorance is not bliss, but blinding pain. The same person told me - with a straight face - that their kids all leased brand-new cars every three years because "they're poor and that's the only way they can afford a car!"  Again, I tried to explain to them that I was the one buying their cars when they came off-lease and that leasing a brand-new car every three years is about the most expensive way to own a car (other than just setting piles of money on fire).   But no, again, they didn't want to hear it.  If you can't "afford" a new car, then leasing is cheaper!

Cheaper in terms of monthly payment, more costly in terms of overall cost.  Once again, we are back to the waitress here on the island who was paying the $6 toll to get on the island, every day, rather than buy a $45 annual pass, because "I won't have that kind of money until payday" - which was nine days away.   She was going to pay more for a series of daily passes in a little over a week, than she would have for an annual one.  Ignorance is not bliss.

But again, this plays into the victim mentality.   The reality of car leasing is that people do it not because "it is the only way they can afford a car" but because it is "the only way they can afford a car they cannot afford."   Rather than buying a lightly used car (which, thanks to leasing, are around in droves - I just bought one last year!) and owning it outright after making three years of payments, they buy a brand-new car, and after three years are walking to work unless they want to sign up again for yet more payments.   And this is not even factoring in the back-end charges and fees, which are often used to snare people into serial leases of one car after another.

It is very sad to watch, and you try to warn people about this stuff, but they push back.  Not only do they not want to hear it, but they basically call you an idiot for thinking otherwise.  Now that I think of it, this is the same person who complained I was "rich" because I was driving a 10-year-old BMW (a "fancy car" to the plebes) while I was riding in their brand-new leased $50,000 pickup truck.  I paid $17,000 several years before that for the BMW - it was hardly an expensive car.

Again, explaining calculus to a dog.  And oh-by-the-way, the reason I was so "rich" was that I was "lucky" and had money - it just fell into my lap without any effort or work on my part.   In a way, it is not only infuriating trying to talk to people like this, it is very insulting.   I mean, I spent 14 years in night school, busted my ass to start my own law practice, risked everything I owned, and worked like a dog for decades, and they write off my success to "luck".  Yea, fuck you, too.

Sadly, I have family members who believe and say the same things, which is one reason I don't talk with them anymore. And the funny thing is, too, that both engage in the same sort of externalization - long-winded and boring stories about how every woe and setback in their lives is the result of some unseen others - the government, wall street, the 1%'ers, the rich, management, welfare queens, or whatever.  Nothing they did in life was to blame - not the massive student loan debt, serial leasing, drug and alcohol abuse, or willful ignorance.

And I say this knowing full well that we all do this on occasion and I did it in the past - and try to do it a lot less today.  That's why I am not jealous of the 1%'ers, or hate the Koch brothers, or Scientology or whatever.   I focus on my own game - not giving them my money - or at least as little as possible.   I don't go to timeshare sales presentations, nor Scientology seminars.   I don't waste hours on Facebook or texting or tweeting - or watching Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC.

It is funny, too.  These folks I meet who externalize everything are constantly plugged into the media and terribly, terribly unhappy - convinced that the world is a wicked, rotten place, ready to fall apart at a moment's notice.   These are bitter and angry people, who want it all now, and they pay for it later - and blame others when the bill comes due.

What is really depressing is to be around a group of such people - because the discussion quickly devolves into how rotten things are, how the government is corrupt, and how the "whole system" is stacked against them - but at the same time, they want to show you their fancy new leased car and new iPhone (because only plebes have a Samsung Galaxy, right?).   It just kind of makes you sad to be around such people, because they are depressed people, and depressed people make excellent consumers.

The idea of living with less, accumulating wealth and living debt-free is alien to them - calculus to a dog, once again.  And since they have bought into this poverty mentality, lock, stock, and barrel, they don't want to hear it when you suggest there is another way.

So what do you do?  You smile and grin and bear it, even as they blather on about how rotten it is to live in the world's wealthiest country, and make veiled insults to you that you are somehow "lucky" not to be perpetually in debt as they are, or that maybe you somehow "sold out" to "the man" to get where you are.   You just grin and bear it and move on and try not to hang out with people like that.

Because when you get right down to it, you can't save people from themselves, and most people do eventually figure out a way to survive - maybe not the way they envisioned, but a way, nevertheless.  The best thing you can do, as an individual, is concentrate on your own game, learn from the mistakes of others, and vow never to end up like they are, if you can help it.