Friday, April 30, 2021

The Sedentary Lifestyle

The sedentary lifestyle leads to unhappiness.  It is so popular today, too!

I get e-mails from various Democratic Party affiliates, warning me that dire things are going to happen, unless I send them $25.  It is an interesting thing to read these - before I mark them as SPAM and delete them.  They are catering to the political-obsessives who watch far too much television and are angry all the time about politics.  I am seeing the Democratic side, I am sure the same fundraising and scare-mongering techniques are done by the GOP as well - in fact, I know it.

It is sad that so many people today are so wealthy and well-off and so damn unhappy.  And I think Mr. LaLanne is on to something - our sedentary lifestyle tends to breed unhappiness.  Sit in front of a computer screen or a television screen or a smart phone screen, all day long, without moving a muscle, while absentmindedly munching on unhealthy snack foods, and well, you've got a recipe for depression.

The people I meet who are most angry all the time about politics - and it doesn't matter Left or Right, same shit, different day - tend to be sedentary and watch an awful lot of television and other forms of "screen time".  Many are obese or have other health issues.  They are angry, all the time, for living in the United States and having too much food to eat and too much fuel to burn in their gas-guzzling cars.  It is all so unfair - because someone else has even more.

There is one aspect of Mr. LaLanne's video that I think is inaccurate.  I mentioned before the "Mexican Grimace" that we saw in Mexico and we see in the USA with many recent immigrants.  Simply stated, if you are smiling all the time in a third-world country, someone will assume you have money and try to rob you.  So many people, even if they are happy, will adopt the camouflage of a miserable person so as not to stand out.  It is like riding the NY subway in the 1970s - or indeed, today.  You don't make eye contact, and act as though your dog just died.  If you don't, you will be approached by a beggar - if you are lucky - or a robber, if not.

But outside those confines, he is right - a lot of people in poor countries are often happier than in the West, as they have little, but then again, they are grateful for what they have.  And they have little.  So you would think that we would be ecstatic with our standard of living.  But such is not the case.   Everyone, no matter where they stand on the socioeconomic scale in the US, has a tale of woe and outrage to tell, and yet the poorest among us would be deemed rich in more than half the world.

Turning away from the television and the media is key to getting off the outrage bandwagon.  It is all-too-easy to sit in a chair and watch endless hours of TeeVee and then send out for a pizza, promising yourself to eat only a slice - or two - and saving the rest "for later".  Hours later, the pizza is gone and you feel like shit.   You try to go to bed, but have trouble sleeping - between the belly full of food and the antagonism of the telly, your brain and body are in torment.   This leads to waking up feeling like shit, and staring off another shitty day, which you can feel shitty about - and commiserate with your friends at work about "how hard you have it" - and how the bosses are overpaid and never work hard and it is all so unfair.

Exercise is the key.  Doing things is the key.  The sedentary lifestyle is slow-motion suicide.  As noted in the book, Ten Irrational Ideas, one irrational concept that has great currency in America is the idea that sitting in a huge E-Z chair and watching the largest television possible is the ideal.  As I noted in my posting on the matter:

Irrational Idea #10, you can achieve maximum human happiness by inertia and inaction or by passively and uncommittedly "enjoying yourself." "Kick Back" the rednecks say, opening yet another can of brew. But perpetual partying is not a way to happiness, as each generation of media stars prove, again and again. Life without purpose is an unhappy life.

People think that the ideal vacation is to sit by a pool in a lounge chair, consuming one alcoholic beverage after another, while soaking up the sun.   I have grown to hate lounge chairs.  When I lay in one, I do not feel comfortable, and when I try to get up, I feel like crap.  Turns out, the human body was designed for action, not inaction, and six to eight hours of sleep a night is all you need in terms of  "kicking back" - the rest of the time, you are actually more comfortable doing things.

Inaction is what leads to learned helplessness, which I have written about before - many times.   When you become a passive blob in front of the television, you come to feel worthless and useless and unable to do anything.  You watch shows about people fixing up their houses or their cars or whatever, but don't do these things yourself.  Because the less you do, the more doing things seems scary and impossible for anyone but an "expert" to do.

We have legions of people in this country who claim they "can't cook" but watch food shows all day long (few of which actually teach cooking).  They call themselves "Foodies" but eat out in restaurants for the most part - using their spectacular fancy kitchens only to reheat take-home restaurant leftovers while watching TeeVee.

I use that as an example only.  Once you become helpless, your only recourse in life is to become a complainer - leaving one-star reviews on Yelp! when things don't pan out as they should.  It also means you have no options in life, other than to hire someone to do everything for you.

I recently replaced the shocks in the pickup truck, which bounced like a ball, going down the road when towing the trailer.  I found a set of HD shocks for cheap, and installing the rear ones took only minutes - two bolts each.  But the fronts are "coil over" struts in a dual-control-arm setup (why, dear God, why?  It is like having two suspensions - dual control arms and a McPherson strut!).  I promised myself never to do suspension work again, but then again, the local mechanic wanted a staggering $400 to install the front shocks.  A few YouTube videos later, I thought, "I can do this - it isn't that hard, just time-consuming" - and I did it.  And it was a lot easier to do on a 2WD truck, too.

This is not to say you should attempt this, if your "tool box" comprises a bent pair of pliers and a broken screwdriver.  It is only to say that doing things is better than not doing things.  I feel better doing something than I would have paying $400 to watch someone else do it.

I know other folks - friends in fact - who are helpless as lambs.  They "can't cook", they can't figure out the remote control on the television, they can't figure out their phone, computer, car, whatever.  And not-so-oddly, they tend to be the kind of people who order things "special" at restaurants and then complain loud and long when it doesn't work out as planned.  There is a connection there.  And I am not taking a piss on them, just pointing out a phenomenon. If anything, I feel sorry for them.  People who aren't "handy" at all - that must be like only having one lung.

And it is not that you need be a polymath, but be able to do something in life, other than just consume.  Even going for a walk is doing something.  After a sedentary winter, we got off our ass and started walking and riding our bikes.  It felt great.  Even though I am burning up calories, I feel like I have more energy and want to do things rather than just sit around.  As a result, we are getting things done around the house and also doing more things, which is fun.  The sedentary lifestyle - "hanging out" and looking at screens while sitting in comfy chairs seems like a desirable thing, but it just leads to misery.

It is funny to watch Mr. LaLanne, as back in the day, we considered him to be muscle-bound.  And while he is in good shape for sure, compared to the gym rats of today, his physique looks pretty mild.  On the other hand, compared to the nearly half of us in the USA who are obese, Mr. LaLanne looks pretty darn buff!

This is not to say we all have to become body builders in order to be happy, only that we can be happier than we are, and this lies within our control, and not due to some external forces.  All it takes is to choose action over inaction.

Fitbit - First to Market is Last in the Marketplace

If you bought Fitbit stock at $50 a share, thinking it was "the next big thing!" you are crying in your milk, today.

Fitbit has finally been sold to Google - although technically, I guess a Justice Department anti-trust investigation is still pending.  The sale price was about $7.50 a share - a long fall from the IPO and post-IPO prices that were $30 to $50 and above.

In retrospect, it isn't hard to see why Fitbit failed - or failed to become the next Apple or Microsoft in its market niche.   The hardware was expensive, poorly made, clunky to use, and not very durable.  I wrote about Fitbit before - Mark wanted these to track exercise and weight.  So we got two Fitbits and the Aria II scale.  None of it worked very well.  The early Fitbit models were primitive and didn't provide much in the way of data - and they were wildly inaccurate.  The Aria II scale would log your weight as "guest" and if you went on the Fitbit site to change the data (and assign it to one or the other) it would stubbornly remain as "guest."

But the worst part was how Fitbit responded to these critiques.  If you go to the Fitbit discussion group, if anyone asks a question, and the answer is, "no one knows" or "they all do that" then the question is marked as "Answered".   If you dare to question how great Fitbit is, as I did after posting a question about the Aria II scale, your entry is deleted and you are blocked from the site for 24 hours or more.

In other words, if you say the King has no clothes, you are censored and censured.   Off with their heads!

This lead me to believe that Fitbit has a number of systemic problems, not the least of which is the fact that everyone else has moved into this "space".   The devices themselves were not very durable.  I am hard on watches and jewelry - wearing a Fitbit while working on a car ensured it will be bashed but good.  Mine started to look pretty shoddy fairly quickly - the plastic lens cracked and then I stopped wearing it.  Mark's stopped taking a charge, and he stopped wearing it.  I took the plastic lens off his and put it on mine and reprogrammed it to his account.  He wore it for a month or two and then, well, it ended up on a drawer somewhere, just as I predicted it would.

My new (used) Galaxy 7 "Active" has a fitness tracker built-in, which I was not aware of when I bought it - sort of a bonus.  And it works pretty well, but you have to have your phone in your pocket when you go for a walk.   We walk about 2-4 miles a day (a loop around the neighborhood is an even 2.0 miles, door-to-door) - it is funny how the Galaxy talks to you as you walk, offering encouragement and telling you when "workout paused" or "workout resumed" and whatnot - if you stop to talk to neighbors.

So of course, Mark wanted in on this and researched a new fitness tracker and decided he "had to have" a Huawai Pro 3, as it has a color display and GPS - a long way from the early Fitbits we had.   I found one on eBay "open box" for cheap and it arrived in two days.  The people on Amazon promised delivery by the end of June - this "shortage" nonsense is getting out of hand.  Well, that and the Amazon people wanted $40 more for the darn thing.  So he got it and is happy  and playing with it and figuring out what it can and cannot do.  And I am sure that in two years, it will be "in a drawer, somewhere" and there is little I can do about that.  My Samsung Galaxy S7 Active will be right next to it - such is the nature of modern "tech."

But now - Google!  Maybe Fitbit will rise from the ashes and become "The Next Next Big Thing!" or something.  Don't count on it.  While Fitbit has been snoozing, the competition has taken off.  First to market is often last in the marketplace.  The Apple Watch is the favorite of those in the Apple ecosystem - it is a status symbol, and Apple users are all about status.  For the rest of us, well, there are a plethora of choices, from a variety of manufacturers, all at prices undercutting Fitbit and providing the same or better features.  In this latest purchase, Fitbit didn't even make the top 5.

But beyond that is Google's storied habit of acquiring companies and then immediately driving them into the ground.  It isn't just a Google thing - other tech companies do this as well, or fumble the ball with new technologies.  Microsoft, for example, tried to "me too!" the iPod with something called a "Zune" and it flopped, along with the Windows Phone.  Google tried to develop its own phone, only to realize they were competing their own customers.   I am sure that Google will screw up Fitbit as well.

Compounding this are the agreements that Google has made with the EU anti-trust agency to limit cross-pollination of data from Fitbit to the Googleverse.  I am not sure why, but for some reason, people are paranoid that the data they provide to a fitness tracker will be used by third parties. These are often the same people who bare their breast to the world by posting their most intimate information on Facebook or Twitter (often with disastrous results to their lives and careers).  Yes, it was said that the Taliban was using fitness tracker data to stage ambushes of US Servicemen overseas.  I am not sure if that actually happened or was just something that could have, if the Taliban had their shit together.

But data is the name of the game today, and Google might have given away the store by agreeing not to use user's data to sell things.  If you aren't doing that, how do you make money at this?  Selling Fitbits?  Hard to do when the competition in China is undercutting your prices.

Speaking of which, should I be concerned that Dung Chow Ping is reading Mark's fitness tracker data and plotting an evil takeover of the world from it?  Again, I think self-appointed "privacy advocates" might be stretching this a bit much.  If you are so concerned about privacy, then don't use a fitness tracker.  After all, studies show they don't really help much in making you more fit.

But the main thing is how this whole deal was sold to us - much like Zipcar, which made a big splash, saw the stock price climb, the founders sold their shares and made Billions and then after it all came crashing to the ground, was sold to some corporation for pennies-on-the-dollar.  A lot of small "retail" investors got stung by that, and by Fitbit, because they listened to people on the Internet, hyping these stocks and hyping the IPOs.   A lot of little people lost a little, a few big people made out big.  That is the nature of the IPO in modern America.

After Zipcar and Fitbit, what's next?  It ain't hard to figure out.


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Two House Conundrum

Owning two houses sounds like a real luxury- and it is.  A luxury most of us cannot afford.

Sir Elton John and the Dali Lama have one thing in common - they own fabulous homes on every continent except Antarctica.  Of course, they can easily afford this, having hundreds of millions of dollars (or at least millions) to play with.  They can afford to hire people to look after their places, keep them clean, do maintenance and whatnot.  Ordinary people can't.

And that is the conundrum for the "Snowbird" or vacation homeowner.   It is ironic that in an era where many working-class people complain that houses are unaffordable - and in short supply - there are a plethora of people who own two or more homes, and sometimes spend only a few weeks a year - if that - in some of these homes.

There are folks "living" on our island who come one weekend a month, or just for three months in the winter.  There are others who have abandoned homes that have not been occupied in years - sometimes decades.  It boggles the mind of the average person - who can afford to own a half-million-dollar home and let it sit vacant most of the time - and pay taxes, utilities, and insurance?   Some of the "part-time" residents here would be better off renting the Presidential Suite at the Westin hotel here - it would be cheaper and they have maid service.  I mean, if you are coming here one weekend a month, owning a house makes no sense whatsoever.

The problem with owning multiple homes, in addition to the staggering costs involved, is the maintenance.  And by that I don't mean just the repairs that you need to do, replacing appliances, air conditioners, furnaces, roofs, flooring, paint, and whatnot, but also the daily cleaning and polishing that keep a house in order - not to mention the mowing and gardening, if you want it to look presentable.

We gave up our vacation home several years ago - and it was a relief.  Sure it was fun to have a place on the lake with a boat hoist and a big barn and a pottery studio.  It was also a lot of work and expense.  We became home-bound, going North every summer to attack a list of chores.   In retrospect, a simple trailer by the water or a shed or cabin would have been a better bet - to spend a month or two and then lock it up and leave.  Even better, rent someplace.  Or even better - what we do today - travel by RV and move on to another lake every week or so.   Owning sounds like a great deal, until you realize the costs involved, in terms of money and your time.

And since we mere mortals - who have not been knighted by the Queen or funded by the CIA - cannot afford to hire people to do all this labor, we become slaves to houses.

Recently, some of our friends returned from their second homes and the common complaint was that when they got there, there were dead bugs everywhere, and they spent most of their time doing home repairs, cleaning, and maintenance, rather than enjoying the area and its attractions.

So what's the answer?  Well, I think to begin with, is to simplify and downsize, if you are wanting to go the two-house route.  If the vacation home is a simple cabin or beach shack (which is what our ancestors did, back in the day) there is far less in the way of maintenance and repair to do.   We looked at a small lake cottage early on, only to dismiss it out of hand as being "too small" - and ended up buying a four-bedroom house on five acres of land, that was far more house than we needed - and a lot to take care of, as well.   Far easier to walk away from a beach cottage after putting antifreeze in all the pipes and turning off the electricity.

I think the other alternative is what we are doing now - just vacationing, and not trying to "own your vacation".  As I noted before, if you want to screw up a vacation, pick up the local paper and read the real estate listings as well as the rants of the locals as they complain about the insane local politics.  It is a real downer.    When you are vacationing somewhere, it is just a place to have fun.  When you own property there, you get drawn into local politics and controversies, as you are now a taxpayer - often a hefty taxpayer at that!

The other option is to just not give a shit and let the places fall down around you.   You go back and forth between these run-down properties and eventually, you become so old and infirm you stop going back and forth and "land" in one or the other.  And that is how some of the houses here on our island ended up abandoned - the owners are in the nursing home, keeping the house out of "sentiment" even though they haven't seen it in years and never will see it again.  It ain't a freaking keepsake locket!

People are weird.

Stranger still, there are a lot of people who have money - or think they do.  I thought I did, at one time, too.   Tales abound about people trying to buy a house only to be outbid by out-of-state buyers with cash offers.  I mean, this is the stuff that creates social unrest.  Poor Joe Punch-clock is trying to buy his first home, taking out a mortgage he hopes to be able to pay with his meager paycheck, so he will have a place to live, perhaps a place to start a family.  Some asshole from out-of-State comes in and pushes him aside, with a wheelbarrow of cash.  And the punchline is, the asshole who outbid him isn't even going to live there, but leave the house vacant most of the time.

In other instances, the houses are rented out on AirBnB, which I used to be a fan of, until I realized it was just taking the existing hotel business and putting it in residential neighborhoods, and forcing out residents.  And yes, I rented out my condos on VRBO back in the day - displacing some folks who used to live there full-time before I bought it.  It is akin to Uber and the ilk - not creating new technology or a new business model, so much as destroying the taxi business and pushing it onto desperate people who are less paid and less regulated than cab companies.  Progress!   

But I digress.

I can only say that if you decide to go the vacation home route, have an end game in mind.  Vacation homes are not forever, but something that you may own for a decade or so, while you are still ambulatory and have the energy to maintain them.  The idea of the family vacation cottage is a little overblown.  I have seen, in multiple instances, where the children have no interest in inheriting Mom and Dad's vacation cottage, other than to immediately sell it and pocket the cash.  The didn't like where Mom and Dad vacationed to begin with, and don't want to be caught up in some financial arrangement with siblings. And in many cases, where the child keeps the home, the results are often disastrous. "It isn't costing me anything!" they say, so they leave the home to rot, visiting it only occasionally, and each time being overwhelmed at the amount of work a house needs when it hasn't been visited in months.

But quite frankly, for the cost of a vacation home, you could spend months on a cruise ship, every year, and come out ahead, in terms of cost.  And you'd see something new every year, too.  There is some attraction to being a "local" in a vacation spot, I guess, but if you are merely a vacation home owner, well, the locals will never warm to you at all - particularly in places like Maine, where anyone who wasn't born there and can trace their ancestry back several generations, is deemed "from away" or a "flatlander" (inexplicably) and viewed with mistrust.   And quite frankly, who the hell wants to be a local in these loco tourist towns?

I don't regret buying the vacation home - and I don't regret selling it, either.  It's like owning a boat - it's only a mistake if you think it is some sort of lifetime commitment.  Buy it, use it, have fun, and move on when you get bored with it.  Ye can say ye did it - and then do something else.  Hanging on to vacation homes, boats, cars, campers, or airplanes, long after the thrill is gone or after you've stopped using them, makes no sense at all.  They go from being a thing of joy to an albatross around your neck.  There is no shame in selling out and moving on.  There is shame in letting a house, a boat, or a car, or whatever, just die of neglect or become the source of unhappiness.

Use things - don't let them use you!

UPDATE: the only thing worse than a two house conundrum is the three house conundrum.  We've met more than one couple in their late 80s or even early 90s who own the three houses that they move to and from during different times of the year. They complain that it's all too much and the places are falling down around them - and their kids want them to sell out and move to something simpler, but they don't want to give up. These are people who probably have less than 48 months to live and yet they cling to these things. I guess they give them some sort of comfort. Nobody wants to be seen as giving up.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Racism Fatigue

You can't win elections by telling voters they are worthless pieces of shit all the time.  The masochist demographic just isn't all that large!  Another BLM protest without any Bs!

A recent article online cites a study that opines that when people are presented with a policy proposal they are less likely to endorse it, if it is couched in terms of racial justice.  This is not to be unexpected.  People get tired of issues after a while, and many Americans, I think, are already getting fatigued by racial justice arguments.

Not everything is racist. And not every incident that involves a "person of color" or other minority, is a result of racism.  Yes, it is possible that just like everyone else, people of color can sometimes be responsible, at least in part, for their own plight. The narrative that some would like to sell us, is little more than externalizing.  You are a victim of racism!  So don't bother trying - "the man" will just strike you down, anyway.

Not only is this an unhealthy message to give to people, it is one that is resonating less and less with the 70% of the population in America that is white (not being replaced anytime soon!).  People are tired of the implication that any success they have in life is somehow predicated on their exploitation of minorities. This whole narrative of "money batons" for example, is just guilt politics and a false narrative as well.  The vast majority of Americans, white or black, didn't receive any inheritance from their parents or grandparents.  As I noted before, the greatest legacy I got from my ancestors was this antiquated notion that hard work was a good thing, getting an education is even better, and improving yourself and your life - and the world - is not a bad thing.  Today, we call those values, "oppression".

But the real risk in all of this is losing elections. You can't win elections telling people they are worthless pieces of shit and responsible for all of the world's problems.  And that is the unstated - or often explicit - reasoning provided by the Left, in many cases.  Whatever the issue is, whether it is national or international, the underlying narrative is that the United States is to blame, and in particular, greedy white people in the United States. Unrest in the Middle East?  Probably due to our support of Israel or our consumption of oil.  No one else is to blame, not even the people who live there or rule there.  Global warming?  Our fault, of course - but we won't talk about the massive pollution from China - they're a developing country! (and not the world's second-largest, soon-to-be-largest, economy).

And of course, racism - that's our fault, too, even if you support the NAACP and march in a BLM protest and support affirmative action.  The best thing you can do, as a white person, is to just off yourself and leave more room for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ persons in the world.

OK, you say, that sounds over the top - it is the message people are getting these days, and a message that will result in a resounding GOP victory in 2022.  People get tired of being told that everything is their fault - people who get up in the morning, go to work, support their families, and never say the N-word or join the Klan or hurt anyone else.  Yet they feel they are being blamed for the world's problems.

Like clockwork, the first person to come along and tell them they are "beautiful" and great, such as Hitler or Trump - will get elected. People respond to positive messages, particularly after being cudgeled for so long.

I said it long before Biden was elected - Democrats will screw up a wet dream.  The far-Left has taken recent election victories to be an endorsement of their radical policies, when in fact, it was a renunciation of Trumpism and the insurrection. Things like Statehood for DC (which will likely die in the Senate - another grand gesture), slave reparations, and the constant hammering that every damn thing that touches a black persons' life is racist is just getting old - and real fast.

We will lose the election in 2022, and Biden will find himself painted into the same corner as Obama before him - limited in power to little more than Presidential decrees, or trying to negotiate with an opposing party that will do anything to deny the President a "win".   If you thought racism is a problem now, wait until 2023, when it all comes undone.

It also is damaging to black people as well.   Yes, we need to reform police procedures - people getting shot in the back is inexcusable.  But then again, running away from the Police is a bad idea as well.   Unfortunately, this hyper-racism argument that is being made today is giving a lot of people an excuse to simply give up trying.  It allows people to externalize their personal problems into political ones - and we already have far too many people doing that already.

Nothing is your fault - and until the world is a perfect and "fair" place, there is no point in trying to get ahead.   But a funny thing - people do manage to get ahead in the world, despite the odds being stacked against them.  They succeed in spite of unfairness.  Do they have it as easy as others?  Do they succeed as far as others who have other advantages?  No, but they do better, because they realize that "fairness" never exists in any time or place in the history of the world.

Oh, and one more thing - the world is a helluva lot more "fair" today than it was 10, 20, or 50 years ago.  Yes, it is shameful that Police have been caught out by cameras - body cameras or cell phone cameras of bystanders.   But at least we are finding out about these things and actions are being taken.  50 years ago?  The same things happened and people got away with it.  "Resisting Arrest" they called it - and you could be beaten up or even shot.   We are seeing progress.

But to hear some tell it, things are actually regressing.   It may seem that way, but I think it is like when you start testing for a disease - the test results skyrocket initially, as people get tested and we realize - for the first time - how many are infected.   And if nothing is done, infection rates will continue to go up.  But something is being done and change is in the air.  We need to embrace that and see it as progress, not a regression.

Sadly, many of these organizations are predicated on a model of continual outrage. No matter how they succeed in advancing their agenda, there is always a new goal, further down the football field.  Organizations take on a life of their own.  The NRA wins nearly every battle it has fought - so now they argue for guns for toddlers or some such nonsense.  Gay marriage is legalized, so the gay rights groups have to find more and more obscure sexual minorities to champion - and more outrages that need to be addressed.   In a way, it is a never-ending deal.

The article cited above didn't surprise me one bit.  It is not that people are necessarily racist, only that they are experiencing racism fatigue - this idea that there is a racist under every rock, and that "silence is violence" and unless you denounce racism with sufficient vigor, you are worse that George Wallace (the former Governor, not the comedian).   It is a sure way to turn away your supporters and give comfort to your enemies.

That is the problem with these trends.  It is akin to the "red scare" of the 1950's when everyone saw a Communist under every rock, and everyone was pressured to renounce each other as being a "fellow traveler" or whatever.   Eventually, the whole thing fell apart when they started going after their supporters and the US Army itself.  People had enough and realized the whole thing had gone too far.  Of course, many on the Left saw early on it went too far.

Same shit, different era.  The folks on the Right - those who are not neo-Nazis or Klansmen (and yes, you can be a Republican without being a racist, ask Clarence Thomas) saw early on that the BLM movement had some signs of excess.  And today, this movement is turning against its own supporters, by decrying those who are not vehemently anti-Police or refuse to "defund the Police" (whatever that means).   Unless you publish a mea culpa on the web page of your vegan organic lesbian co-op, decrying your very whiteness and apologizing for existing on planet earth and consuming oxygen that rightfully belongs to minorities, you are part of the problem.

You laugh - I am not exaggerating.  A bookseller in Colorado was shunned not because she sold racist books or posted racist memes on her Twitter account.  Far from it.  Her thought crime was that she did not post such a manuscript online that sufficiently showed her support for BLM causes.   She thought - foolishly - that as a bookseller, it wasn't really part of her business model and she didn't think that her personal beliefs, which supported BLM, needed to be published.  What an idiot!

Meanwhile, my hippie brother's politically-correct puppet theater posts an online diatribe basically apologizing for the fact that hippies (like 70% of America) are mostly white.  Well, duh!

People, I think, are tired of this.  And like with McCarthyism, there will be a turning point where people say, "enough is enough!  You are attacking your own supporters and accomplishing nothing as a result!"

And I think that tipping point may be coming fairly soon.   Well, perhaps by November 2022.

And all the political donations I am being exhorted to make, won't make a rat's ass of difference.

Democrats are very good at screwing up a wet dream.  Fortunately, Republicans are equally as adept.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Mr.Fix-It!

People fix things often for reasons that go beyond cost.

Recently, I tried to fix a few things - succeeding in some cases, failing in others.  Repairing things isn't as simple as it seems.  You need tools, for starters, and usually spare parts.  But the main thing is, by the time something needs "repair" chances are, it may be worn out already.  And no matter how good you are at repairing, oftentimes, you do some damage to the unit when fixing it, and even if you don't, it never it quite as good as it was when new.

I wrote before about the Waddington Effect - how you can actually over-maintain things, and cause trouble by trying to "fix" something that isn't broken.  Or as Rednecks say, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!"  There is a finite and real chance that every time you put a wrench to something, you may snap off a bolt, or cross-thread a nut when you re-attach it.  Even if you do it all right, bolts stretch when tightened, and threads wear when nuts are taken on and off again and again.   It is best to leave things alone, if possible.  In many cases, repairs just extend the life of something by a short period of time.

Unless you rebuild something from the ground up, that is.  But like with collector cars, even the rebuilt version isn't quite the same, and of course, if you ever actually use your meticulously restored car, it loses its value.  So you end up with a 4,000 lb paperweight.

The first thing I tried to fix recently was a sprinkler timer.  We don't have a sprinkler system yet, but seasonally, I put out a few sprinklers to keep the lawn green during the dry season.  We also use drip irrigation to keep specimen plants alive.  One of the timers died, and I took it apart - mostly to see how it worked.  I was hoping it was just a lime thing - clogged with lime and a little lime-away would fix it.  It was interesting how it works - it uses water pressure from the tap side to drive a hydraulic piston to open and close the valve. A small solenoid coil opens and closes a tiny orifice to allow tap-side pressure to drive the piston.  After taking it all apart and playing with it, I realized the solenoid had gone weak - it would move the piston, but not hold it in place.  So water would only dribble through the valve, which would not stay open.  Unless I could solder in a new coil, I could not fix it.  Not having a supply of cheap new parts made repair impossible.  A new timer was $29 at Home Depot, so if you factor in labor costs, it is not economical to repair such a thing.

The second item, shown above, was a small plant stand that Mark's great-grandfather, the one-armed carpenter (who lost an arm in a sawmill in Winn, Maine, nearly a century ago), made for his wife one day.  It was cobbled together from scrap wood and no doubt he would be amazed it was still around well over 70 years later.  Mark took a plant off it and it promptly collapsed, the top being three pieces glued together.  He was going to throw it away, but I thought I would take a stab at it.  I glued the top back together with Gorilla wood glue and then clamped it with some ratchet-strap clamps, carefully removing excess glue.  The next day, it was solid, but the legs were wobbly and the finish was looking tired.  So I re-stained it and gave it a coat of paste wax, and replaced the nails (!) holding the legs in place with some brass screws.  It is solid now and may last another 70 years - or, we'll see, anyway.

It was worth nothing, and simple to repair, requiring only shop supplies and no dedicated parts.  That is the problem with repair these days.  I can often find parts online for things like vacuum cleaners and small electrical appliances.  But the cost of parts often exceeds the cost of the item in question.   A part for a vacuum cleaner is $50 - is that worthwhile to buy, when the device cost only $99 at Walmart?  And since it is many years old, well, chances are, something else is going to break, so you are better off putting that $50 toward a replacement vacuum cleaner, which comes with that $50 part, plus all the other new parts.

Yes, it is sad - we live in a throwaway culture.  But then again, we always have.  Archaeologists often "dig" in trash piles of our ancestors to see how they lived.  They often find more interesting stuff in the garbage dump than in antique houses.  The latter have been made-over (by people like me, who use new parts and materials and change things slightly) and are not "authentic".  Or the old stuff like clothes and whatnot that were in the attic were ornamental things that people didn't wear on a daily basis but only on special occasions.  In the garbage dump, though, you see the stuff people actually used - and you also realize that "planned obsolescence" is something that goes back for centuries.

Simply stated, it isn't efficient to make something that will "last the ages" when it may be outmoded and outdated in a decade or so.  Not only that, the item "made for all time" weighs a ton and is costly to make.  Maybe your musket isn't a durable as all that, but in 20 years, you'll want to upgrade to a rifle anyway.  And besides, who wants to carry around some 100-lb blunderbuss that cost more than a year's wages?   Basic Engineering principals are nothing new.

My "new" used Galaxy S7 arrived - it is an "active" model that has a built-in fitness tracker.  An interesting gimmick, but what attracted me to it was that it was $80 on eBay and when I put my SIM chip in it, I had a working phone again.  My old phone went dead over time - first the camera stopped working intermittently, and then Google Chrome started crashing.  And over time, the camera stopped completely and Chrome crashed so often as to render the thing unusable.  I tried all the "fixes" online - re-partitioning the cache and whatnot.  Finally, it became a brick.

Sure, you could try to take it somewhere to "fix" it, but most places want $50 just to look at it.  For a phone worth less than $100, it isn't even worth my own time (and I wasted hours on it, too!) trying to make it right again.  Likely there was a fault in the internal memory, or the processor.  Those tiny, tiny transistors do go bad, over time.   It is just easier to move on.  Eventually, we will transition to a 5G platform, so this is a good stop-gap measure.   Smart phones are just not worth fixing, once they reach a certain age.

So, why do we play "Mr. Fix-it" if it is so pointless?  Again, learned helplessness.  If you are powerless in your daily life, you don't feel any control over your environment.  So you become depressed.  Putting "hands on" to things makes you feel like you have a modicum of control, and that you can manipulate your environment, even if it just something as dumb as fixing a broken worthless plant stand.

In this day and age, of course, there are fewer and fewer things you can fix yourself.  And part of this is by design, as manufacturers would prefer if you bought new rather than repair old.  But fixing an obsolete smart phone, as I noted, is not cost-effective. Even if the parts were free and you could solder in a new chip, the cost of even an hour of skilled labor isn't worth the value of an obsolete phone - you can just buy a working model for less.

It is like the misapprehension people have about collision insurance.  They buy a car for $10,000 and five years later, smash it up so that it needs $7,000 worth of repairs.  The book value is $5000 at that point, and the insurance company cuts you a check for that amount (minus deductible).  You can just go out and find a nearly identical car for less than the cost of repairing the old one.  Just as I went out and found a working Galaxy 7 for less than the cost of repairing my old one.

So no, it isn't always a grand conspiracy on the part of manufacturers - other than John Deere, of course - to lock you into their maintenance, service, and parts.  Deere is earning the ire of farmers who are finding out that when their fancy new tractors break, there is no one to work on them but the dealer, and no parts source other than the dealer - and that often, ill-trained dealer mechanics have no clue how to fix them.  If you do put third-party parts on the thing, it bricks like an old iPhone.

This sort of shenanigans isn't limited to farm tractors though. Deere sells lawn tractors which hype the feature of "cartridge oil changes!" For your convenience, rather than buy messy oil and filters separately and pour oil into the crankcase, you can buy a cartridge that contains oil and filter and simply snap it into place.  Of course, only John Deere sells the cartridges, unless some licensed third-party seller also has them.   It is like the Keurig of oil changes - you are locked into an ecosystem, whether you like it or not.

And apparently, some people like this.  My friends with Keurigs also have iPhones and iMacs -  they pay 2-3 times as much (sometimes ten times as much) for the same "technology" (coffee is apparently a technology now) as others pay to own more open-architecture products. Sure, they whine and complain when these things break down and are basically unfixable - and cost a lot to replace - but they seem to like the idea of always having "new" - getting a "free upgrade" to the latest-and-greatest smart phone, every three years.  And I guess if you can afford that, great.  A lot of people think they can afford that, I can't.  I used to think I could, too.

But beyond that, some of us like the idea that we can buy our coffee from anyone, even if they didn't pay a royalty to the Keurig people.  I can buy my roasted beans from some oddball guy who runs a coffee shop (but makes great coffee) without my choices limited to who is in compliance with an Intellectual Property license - and I say this as a (former) Patent Attorney.  It seems to me that so much of our "technology" today is creating Intellectual Property "moats" that prevent or stifle competition and limit choices for consumers.  Before they abandoned the printing business, HP pioneered the use of useless microchips in their printer cartridges. Their only "purpose" was to contain some copyrighted code, which was then read by the printer to insure the cartridge was "OEM" and not some third-party knockoff or worse yet, refilled.  We have technology that exists only to insure that no one can work on their own hardware.

And some folks say this is wave of the future - that in the future we will own nothing and lease everything.  You won't own a car - who could afford one?  You want to go somewhere, you call Uber auto-cabs, and in 20 minutes, a robotic car shows up at your door.  No oil to change, no tires to rotate, not even a windshield to clean or a body to wax.  Oh, brave new world!  Then again, no 40,000 dead on the roadways every year, either.  I'm not saying all of this is downside.

There are still things I can do, although every year, it seems the technology changes and my tools and knowledge becomes more obsolete. I can still sheetrock a wall - and frame it up, first.  But the plethora of new fasteners for sale is somewhat confusing.  Nails are so 30 years ago!  I went to the plumbing aisle to install a new faucet in Mr. See's studio, and was chagrined to see that compression fittings are now considered passe - everything was PEX and "Shark Bite" - the latter of which are nothing short of magic, but cost $12 apiece.  No one sweats copper anymore.  It just isn't done.  Even PVC and CPVC may have already had their day in the sun.

Maybe that is why Mark likes the pottery thing - a "technology" that hasn't really changed much in thousands of years.  You don't have to worry about clay becoming obsolete or being replaced with some proprietary format that requires a special kiln.   Well, not yet, anyway.

And yes, I will continue to tinker with things, although I am doing this less and less.  I will replace the struts on the F150 - a messy task I promised myself I would never do again after the last time.  But as a reader wrote, oftentimes people tinker with things not because they need to be tinkered with, but because people want something to do to keep their hands occupied - to stave off, perhaps, learned helplessness.

There are many things we didn't have to do, like paint the house and put in hardwood floors. On the other hand, if you wait until the house is falling down around you, it may be too late for a coat of paint. It is like hobbies - you don't have to make clay pots or do needlepoint - but it is mentally rewarding. The alternative - sitting around watching television and getting depressed - isn't all that attractive.

So yes, maybe there is a "need" to keep your hands busy, even if it is doing pointless or unnecessary things.  It is exercise - mental exercise.  You stop walking and exercising, your muscles will atrophy and your health will go downhill over time.  Maybe not right away, but eventually.

The need to tinker is present in all of us. It defines who we are.  We are a tool-making species, one of the few on the planet - and the most successful of all time.  Tinkering in the garage - or the kitchen, or the garden - isn't just wasted time, it is something we need to do.

UPDATE:  A neighbor throws away a box fan because it is dirty.  This is the second one I have overhauled.  It takes only a few minutes to remove the plastic grills, the fan blade itself, the handle and power knob, and any other plastic parts that snap on.  I scrub these with dollar store orange cleaner spray and they look like new.   I put painter's tape over the motor and clean the power cord and give it a light sanding and paint it with some leftover spray cans.  It comes out looking like new.  Handy to have when camping - it blows the bugs away.  Or on the porch this time of year when it is starting to get just a little muggy.

Sure, it is only a $18 box fan - probably easier to just buy a new one.  Then again, 20 bucks (with tax) is twenty bucks.  About an hour of my time and a can of paint I was going to throw away......not all that costly!

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Lime


No, not Harry Lime, but lime deposits....

Water is called "the universal solvent" and for good reason - just about everything dissolves in it.  In fact, the water you drink, whether from the tap or a bottle, often has minerals added to it, as pure distilled water is pretty tasteless and suitable only for your car battery and steam iron.

We have "hard water" here on the island, but it isn't really much harder than water in other places in the country.  In fact, hard water is pretty much the norm.  You may recall the fiasco in Flint, Michigan (well, the latest fiasco - Flint has a recent history of them) where they decided to switch water supplies.  The new water had less minerals in it, and it dissolved the coating on the old lead pipes that had built up for decade after decade, and as a result, the lead was exposed and dissolved in the water, poisoning the population.  Water is a tricky thing.

I grew up with really hard water.  We lived by the lake, but had a well, and the water was full of iron.  It turned the toilets brown in about a month and we had a potassium permanganate water "softener" system that was a royal pain-in-the-ass to maintain, as it required "backwashing" frequently and adding more of this purple potassium permanganate crystals into it - often turning the water purple for a while.  It never worked quite right - the water always smelled like sulfur and left iron stains everywhere.

Some bad iron stains!

Back then, we were unaware of any products to remove lime and rust deposits from our toilets and sinks.  Sure, you could run vinegar (a mild acid) through your steam iron or coffee maker, and it would remove some lime and scale deposits.  But it wasn't until they came out with CLR - Calcium, Lime, Rust remover, that there was anything more powerful than vinegar for the average homeowner, although I suppose more resourceful people would get some acetic acid - often used to etch brick and whatnot - which is probably the active ingredient in these various commercial products.

Today, they sell "Lime-away" at the Dollar Tree (for guess how much?) and it works wonders.  Soak a sprinkler head or shower head in it, and the crusted lime falls away.  Spray some in the dishwasher and run it and the stainless steel actually looks stainless.  Rub it on the seals and the dishwasher no longer leaks.  Faucets that were developing a weird crusty formation look new again.  But it is acidic, so be careful, it will etch metals!

They make it in a spray and a "gel" - the latter of which is useful for removing lime and rust stains from toilets.  Be aware, though, that it may take many, many applications to remove encrusted lime deposits from a toilet.  It took 15 years to get them there, they ain't going away overnight.

It also removes rust from other things.  If you have something that you want to keep, that got rusty, a little lime-away may save the day.  Of course, when the rust washes off, it may leave a depression in the metal where the metal used to be.

Limeaway is a regular part of our cleaning supplies these days.  But again, you have to use it carefully.  It will clean away lime deposits from your sink - or dissolve the very metal you are trying to restore!



Friday, April 23, 2021

Could You Live Without A Smart Phone? Yes, Actually, You Could, Quite Well, Maybe Better Than With!


Could you live without a smart phone?  Or at least without smart phone data service?  I suspect many do.

Back from my walk... and some work in the garden.  It's a beautiful day and I'm waiting for Mr. See to make lunch.

My phone died.  First the camera stopped working, then Chrome would "stop" and reboot, and it got slower and did weird things.  Then other "apps" would crash.  I tried all the things they mentioned on the internet - clearing data, booting the system and resetting the cache, but finally the damn thing just bricked. (I ordered a used one for a few bucks, but I think we will eventually have to look into a 5G phone next year).

Funny thing, here I am typing in the Internet.  I just asked Mark to turn on his WiFi hotspot and I am online again - on a pad device or on my laptop.  The only thing I am missing is text messages (which I hate anyway) and phone calls from India offering to extend my car warranty or lower the interest rate on my non-existent Discover card.

Gee, I ain't missing much, am I?

It got me to thinking that if I was poor (or poorer than I am) I could just own a pad device or an older smart phone, and then use free WiFi at work (Walmart) or the local cafe or whatever, to access e-mails and the Internet and whatnot.  As for phone calls, well, a free Obamaphone would serve that purpose.  Other than the cost of a pad device or older cell phone (pretty cheap) the net cost would be... free.  No monthly fees or other costs.

Of course, this means you are not available 24/7 to answer texts and e-mails.  Sounds like heaven to me!

I notice that outside the Walmart "Ghetto Gourmet" (Neighborhood Market) there is a Redbox vending machine.  I have never used Redbox, but apparently someone is (there is another one next to every drugs store as well).  And this also makes some sense - why pay for internet and streaming services or for cable TV when you can just rent a video now and again - or buy last year's "hot new releases!" in the bargain bit at Wally-World for a few dollars.

If you think about it, you can live quite well, on not a lot of money.  Of course, to qualify for an "Obamaphone" (which now comes with over 4GB of data, free) your income has to be 135% of the poverty line or about $17K for a family of two.  We are over that number - but not by much!

Again, people like to paint life in America as some sort of Dickensian workhouse, where people toil like galley slaves on a slave ship.  But even if you don't make a lot of money in the USA, we offer a lot of lifelines to make life a little easier.  As I noted before, even if you make a "minimum wage" job, with all the government swag that qualifies you for, you can live a pretty middle-class lifestyle.

No, I don't anticipate giving up my smart phone entirely and searching out internet cafes or parking in the parking lot of McDonald's to read e-mails.   BTDT - back in the day before smart phones.   But I did notice that GoPhone - now called AT&T prepaid, has a 15GB plan for about $40 a month, which is cheaper than the 20GB plan I have right now, by $15.  So I may switch to that plan, as we aren't even using the 20GB we have right now.

You have to keep shopping these things.

I was approached by a nice young man at the wholesale club who wanted to sell me an AT&T "Plan" for 30 months.  He kept harping the "free phone!" I would get, or a fancier phone for a few dollar a month.  "Unlimited Data!" he said, and only $56 a month!  "Is that the whole charge, including federal, state and local taxes and the universal access fee?" I asked and he gave me a blank stare.  What was the universal access fee?  (it pays for Obamaphones).   I also asked at what level they started throttling the "unlimted" data and he hemmed and hawed and said, "Oh, never, or like 100GB or something!"

Something.   Yes, technically my current month-to-month plan has "unlimited data" but after 22 GB they throttle it down to dial-up modem speeds.   There is no such thing as unlimited, and the prices they quote are always - always - about $10 to $20 less than the actual bill you will get.  You can bank on it.

He said he would call me with more information.  I never heard from him - and that was two weeks ago.  But then again, my phone is broken - maybe he is trying to call me right now!

Or not....

Streaming Services Compared (Update)

I couldn't even get Paramount+ to stream.  Damn IT idiots!

Netflix has been in the streaming business since day 1, and not surprisingly, from a technical standpoint, they have it nailed.  You could be accessing the internet with two old tin cans and a piece of string and Netflix will stream just fine, without jitter, without hourglasses, without the sound mismatched to the picture (the latter an artifact of MPEG encoding, and yes, I wrote a Patent on that, long, long ago).

Problem is, for Netflix, each movie studio and copyright holder is taking back their content, so Netflix no longer has the huge library of video to watch - as they did in the early days.  Too much of the content is "Netflix Originals!" which are hit or miss - mostly miss.  Instead of watching great movies, we are watching what are, in effect, television shows, and Netflix is hoping we get addicted to them and watch them as comfort food, much as people watched the four decades of M*A*S*H (well, it seemed like four decades - of the same damn episode!).

Of course, YouTube was there before Netflix (I think, anyway) and their technical aspects are pretty robust.  Once in a while, you get the hourglass.  But not often.  In terms of content, it is hit-or-miss.  The free version of YouTube, anyway, hosts all sorts of videos from wanna-be Internet influencers, to guys from Russia hoping to make a buck on Google AdSense, to people like me who post home movies.  There is also a lot of older public domain stuff (with ads - more and more every day) and also copyright violators, which eventually get taken down.  So, for example, we were watching old episodes of Mannix for a while and then one day, they disappeared - surely to reappear on some pay site soon.

Disney+ has the technical aspect down, once you realize that they default to 4K streaming (!!!) and you can reset this to a lower resolution.  No point in streaming 4K to an older television that won't display it.  Content-wise, it is pretty thin gruel - lots of kiddie shows and princess cartoons.  That is the problem with the streaming model.  When it was just Netflix, it was a Pandora's box of content.  Now that everyone wants in on this, each "channel" has less content.  We watched all we wanted to watch on Disney+ in less than a month for $5.99.   A good bargain, I guess.

Speaking of Netflix, we did go back to the DVD plan for a month, for the staggering sum of $12.99.  It was OK, but again, the content seems to have thinned out.  We watched an old British spy series that was very poorly converted to DVD from an old 35mm print, apparently.  But then again, I'd watch Alec Guinness read the phone book, even if the audio quality is poor.  Again, we cancelled in a month and they threaten you with a $15 fine if you don't return the last DVD within 7 days.   Since you have no way of tracking these in the mail, this seems ripe for fraud.  "We never received your DVD!" - and you know how that game plays out.

We had a "deal" with Bank of America for 30% off on Paramount+ so we thought we would try that next.  Some smart-ass IT guy set up the site, thinking that his powerful computer, and light-speed internet connection were typical of most users.  The interface is slow and frustrating and just to start the service you have to pick three videos from a roster of 30 so they can "tune" your preferences.  I didn't like any of them.  I picked a random three.

The pricing is screwy.  You can pay a $5.99 or so for "some ads" or $9.99 for "no ads" - but in either case, you have to disable ad blocker plus in order to make it work.  So I did, and it still didn't work.  Just an hourglass and no video loaded.  Whatever streaming engine they are using, it requires a lot of bandwidth - and there was no option to adjust resolution.  Their "help" page is a lot of useless .pdf files and a "chat box" that is a 'bot.  Mostly they just say it is your fault it isn't working.  Again, IT guys - should be shot like dogs.

Like Disney, they have lots of cartoons and kiddie stuff prominently displayed.  Is this because it is mostly children watching television, or part of the overall infantilization of America?  I think both - we have become a cartoon and comic book (excuse me, graphic novel) nation..  So we cancelled the service - sorry Paramount! and did something constructive with our lives.

I digress, but the Jekyll Island Visitors Center gift shop had three volumes of a graphic novel about Jekyll Island - sort of a steampunk story with superheros and the fantastically wealthy robber-barons of the era, working together for world peace or something.  I bought the first volume, and while I am sure it is good (the artwork is nice) I had a hard time following the story line - there was little in the way of text and lot in the way of action.  I could not understand the motivation of the characters.  I just don't "get" this whole modern era of superhero graphic novels and story lines and "universes" and cosplay and whatnot.  And maybe I am not digressing, as a lot of the content on these streaming channels is based on comic books.  Not interested.

We have been doing home improvement projects.   We started painting the inside rooms last year (and replacing the carpet in the bedrooms with hardwood floors) and are still working on that.  The living room was next, and we sanded and spray-painted more of those free shutters we got from the Club Hotel dumpster.  We tried painting them with a brush and it was a PITA.  I thought, "Gee, it would be nice to spray paint these with a spray gun and compressor!" and then I realized I owned a spray gun - actually two - and a compressor.  Duh!  So I put up some tarps in Bob's Buggy Barn to make a spray booth and Mr. See went to town on those shutters.   Got it done in two days.

We do this every year, it seems.  In the winter, we hibernate and gain weight and get depressed in the dark, cold days - and the pollen!  Then in the spring, the pollen dissipates (or we get used to it) and get motivated to clean house and fix things up - and lose weight.  I hope the cycle breaks itself, though!   So not watching television is really the best thing, as it is just hours of sitting sedentary and eating and drinking - a recipe for a heart attack.  It is how most Americans live, though.

The weather is pleasant and we have been walking - at least 2-4 miles a day, sometimes more.  It takes effort to do this.  We were dog-sitting for a week, and the nice thing about owning a dog is that it forces you to go for a walk.  Well, it can, until people get tired of it and just let the dog out into the back yard, and then get depressed and watch television.  The dog gets depressed, too.

The television is "the depression box"as I noted before - early on in this blog - and one nice thing about our trips in the RV is that it has no television.  Maybe once a week, we stream something on the laptop or watch a DVD from the campground library.  But it is more fun to actually do things.  Most RV'ers set up their satellite dish first thing, and then sit outside their motorhome watching television in the woods. Worse yet, they leave it on and then walk away, because they want everyone to know they have an outdoor TV! (and two or three more in the coach!).

The real movers and shakers in this world are not watching television and certainly not the 4.6 hours a day the average American watches.  In unguarded moments, you will hear a TV star admit that they don't watch their own medium.  Who has time?  If you are an anchor on a morning show, you have to get up at 4AM just to get to the studio in time to do makeup and get briefed on what is going on today.

Maybe we can't all be TeeVee stars, but we can be more proactive and active in our lives.  That is what divides the 1% from the rest of us.  The stock market whiz-kid isn't up until 2AM binge-watching some Netflix series.  I doubt Jeff Bezos spends all day watching Amazon TV - or even a few hours a night.

Not watching television is always an option - but you would be surprised how many people think it is like oxygen!  They can't even go camping without television - or their smart phone (the subject of my next posting).   But unplugging from these things means a better life for you, as you spend more time living your life and less time staring at screens.  And yes, I realize the irony of this, typing it on a screen and you reading it on a screen.

So, on that note, let me put my Merril Moab's on and go for that walk....

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Ceiling Fans and Car Bras (the 1990's)

Things come and go as fads. What was once "must have" is later seen as passé

I mentioned in a previous posting that I had a car bra on my car.  Actually, I owned a few of these.  The first one, I think we had on Mark's 1987 VW GTI, which was an odd car.  It had the eight-valve engine, manual transmission and manual steering, and low-profile Pierelli tires, which never lasted more than 30,000 miles.  Considering that Michelins (or even Goodrich) tires last over 50,000 miles, that is not very good tire life.  But if you want "performance" you have to pay.  Most people don't want "performance" - they want a way to get to work.

Anyway, Mark had a small fender-bender in the parking lot and creased the front corner of the car by the headlight - and broke the headlight mount.  I found a used headlight in a junkyard and pounded out the dent and fiberglassed it.  We were broke at the time, so that was the best we could do.  I put a "nose bra" on the car, which covered up the fiberglassed area and also the rock chips that form on the leading edge of a car, particularly if you are prone to tailgating or live in snow country.

There were two schools of thought on car bras.  The first was that they would protect the nose of the car from rock chips and bugs and what not.   The second was that they were a useless accessory that would actually wear a pattern in the paint over time.  And over time, I found the second philosophy was pretty true.  You can get your car repainted after five years to repair the rock chips and whatnot, or you can get it repainted after five years to erase the rub marks from the nose bra.  The second option is more expensive, as you also spend $99 to $199 on the nose bra.

Or.... you can just tailgate less and learn to live with the fact that cars are not forever, and after a decade, the front of your car is going to have some chips and bug marks on it and whatnot - and just live with this until you eventually trade in the heap.   It's just a thing, trying to keep it perfect is kind of dumb.  And yes, I am kind of dumb.   Funny thing, too, I used to wax my cars like once a week, but today it is more of a once a year kind of thing.   Sure I want to keep the car clean - or clean-ish, particularly inside - but I don't obsess about it so much anymore.  After you've sent 30 cars to the junkyard, you become less attached to them.  And no, I have no interest in having a collection of 4,000-lb paperweights.  Yes, it was cool to have a garage full of BMWs, but it was a fleeting pleasure - and maybe a false one.  But I digress.

What is interesting to me was how these automotive accessories went from hot to not in about ten years.  And as I noted in a very early posting, a lot of these accessories are kind of worthless, including the auto bra.  Strut-tower braces were very popular at one time - and might still be with the rice-racer set, but getting hard data on how they improve handling is elusive.  Cold Air Intakes ("CAI") and cone filters look cool, but even the manufacturer's own data shows them to add little horsepower, and most of that at redline (that is, before the manufacturer took the data down from their site!).   Tellingly, most of this stuff is chromed and glitzed and glamored up, so a 20-something boy can pop the hood on his Honda and have all his friends Ooooh! and Ahhh! over it.   It is just wallet-lightener is all.

I was thinking also about ceiling fans, which became popular in the 1970's during the energy crises, and were sold (up North) as an accessory to your new wood stove, to circulate the heat around the house.  They are useful, too.  We had four in our house when we bought it. We added one in the breakfast nook, and replaced two of them - which then became part of Mark's studio.  We also have two, on the front porch and back porch (outdoor models - never use an inside ceiling fan outside!) for a staggering total of nine ceiling fans.   Do you think that is enough?

It got me to thinking, though, whether they were also a fad, and whether they are falling from favor.  Turns out, they are increasing in sales, not dramatically, but linearly, over time.  But then again, the number of homes is increasing over time as well.   But I wonder if the trend will ever reverse - if some designer will say, "Ugh!  Ceiling fans!  A travesty!" and just as suddenly as everyone "had to have one" they dump them all at the curb.  And indeed, some of the fans they sell are, well, kind of tacky, particularly those with Olde Tyme light fixtures.  Apparently some designers already despise them.

Of course, they are more functional than a car bra - or are they?  Just a thought - air circulates in your house anyway, and many modern HVAC systems, such as our new one, have a "circulate" feature that turns the fan on for 15 minutes every couple of hours or so - combined with a HEPA filter in the air handler, it picks up a lot of dust in your house.  Ceiling fans, on the other hand, seem to just circulate the dust - and also accumulate it.  They require cleaning at least twice annually, if not more often, as the leading edges of the fan and the motor housing encrust with grey dust.

Maybe in a few years, people will look at a house and say, "Ceiling fans!  Remember those?  I can't believe these folks still have them!" and the ceiling fan will look as outdated and dorky as the ceiling light fixture it replaced.  Maybe.   It is funny how we lived without them for so long!

DC Statehood? Just a Power Grab

Making a city into a State is a bad idea.

Every so often, the idea of DC Statehood is bandied about.  Proponents argue that people living in the city of DC have no real representation in Congress or the Senate, although they can vote for President.  So they argue, DC should be a 51st State.  While we're at it, let's make Chicago, LA, New York, and any other city dominated by Democrats, a State as well.  Sorry, Houston!

That is what it comes down to - a power grab.  If you make DC a State, they get TWO Senators, which would tip the power balance in the Senate further in the hands of the Democrats.  I am not against that, but do it through legitimate means - winning elections, which Democrats can do, when they present themselves as centrists (sorry, AOC!) and when Republicans get off the leash and show their dark side (as happened January 6th).

Sadly, as I noted before, Democrats will screw up a wet dream when they get into power.  Republicans do the same thing.  If they lose an election, they claim that it was because they weren't radical enough!  If they win an election, they claim it was because people voted for radical change!  The reality is, people want predictability and stability in their government, not wild swings from right to left.   But those people, sadly, never vote in primaries which is how we ended up with Our Miss Margie in Congress, giving away guns this week to anyone who votes for her (just not bottled water, though!).

But without Statehood, how do you fix the raging injustice that is being visited on DC residents?  Well, first realize it isn't such a raging injustice.  Move a mile away, say across the river to Alexandria or Arlington, and you can vote for a House and Senate member.   Funny thing, that - both cities were once part of the District of Columbia, but were ceded to Virginia as part of a slave compromise (so that slavery would be illegal in DC).

So.... why not cede the District of Columbia to Maryland?   Then, like Baltimore or Annapolis, it would be a regular city and citizens there would have the right to vote for representatives and Senators - of the State of Maryland.  That might even add enough population to add a House rep or two to Maryland.  But you don't get your two Senators, doya?

That is the whole point of "Statehood for DC" - it is a power grab, plain and simple, and the proponents,who unfortunately dominate DC politics, will never consider an alternative such as becoming part of Maryland (what fun is that?), so DC Statehood will never happen - or at least it seems very unlikely.

Oddly enough, the threshold for Statehood is pretty low - If it passes both Houses of Congress and is signed by the President, a territory can be come a State.  There are two caveats, though.  First, if the territory is part of another State, that State's legislature has to approve the excise of its territory to form a new State.  The other caveat, of course, is the filibuster - which is preventing much of the non-financial programs of the Democrats from passing into law.   Sure, there is talk of abolishing the filibuster, but the Democrats know all-too-well how that would work out if (and when) the GOP regains power in the Senate.

But like I said, it is a bad idea, and the whole idea behind it is to increase representation of Democrats in the House and Senate.   No other city has a statehood movement, nor should there be one.  The Constitution was structured to prevent the dominance of urban areas over rural and vice-versa.  That is why Wyoming has two Senators and so does New York.  It is why we have the Electoral College, so that candidates who don't bother campaigning in the Midwest end up losing elections (Hello, Hillary?).

The DC government has a horrible track record of inefficiency and outright corruption.  While DC as a State would have the highest per-capita GDP and educational levels, it is not because the DC school system (which spends more per capita on education and has the lowest test scores) is so efficient or that the DC government well-run and honest.

I was in my office one night at Thomas Circle, back in the day, working late, and when I tried to leave, I was blocked by several police cars.  What was happening?  Well, the next day, I found out.  They were arresting the Mayor, who was smoking crack with a prostitute in a hotel next door.  Not only did he go to jail, the people of DC re-elected him as mayor.   Gee.  Swell.

The stories I could tell you about DC could go on for pages.  My friend who worked at the school system teaching kids to read.  She was assigned an "assistant" who was the principal's son.  He never showed up for work and there were no consequences.  Ghost Teachers - the "no show" job - strikes again.  And you want to know why your school taxes are so high.

Then there is the DC Motor Vehicle Department.  Want to register a car?  Take a day off from work and get there by 6AM.   Expect to get your tags by 5PM - if you are lucky.   Get a parking ticket?  Go to court, again, at 6AM, and maybe - maybe - you can plead your case that day.  Most people can't afford a day off from work to do this, so they pay the fine.  The Police know this - and issue bogus tickets all the time.  Paying for underground parking is cheaper than parking on the street.   Then there is the Department of Public works, which for some reason uses a very fine asphalt on the DC streets. Looks great for parades, but in the hot summer sun, it literally wrinkles up into ridges sometimes several inches high - and also forms mean potholes.   If you want self-government, shouldn't you first show you can govern yourself?

But the worst thing about this "DC Statehood" talk - and things like "Slave reparations" is that it will not only insure GOP victories in the 2022 elections, but perhaps a landslide in both the House and Senate. Folks in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and other "flyover" States will be alarmed by these proposals, even if they are just window-dressing designed to appeal to the "base" of the Democratic Party.  They may placate Ms. AOC (don't count on it - people like her are never happy even if you declared tomorrow to be Karl Marx Day) but they will more than energize the far-right, and more importantly, the center - reasonable people who don't want to see unreasonable solutions.

Like I said, it is a pretty predictable pattern - each party gets into power and instead of consolidating power, screws it all up by pandering to extremism.  When the Republicans take over (again) they will screw things up by talking up Our Miss Margie's plan for cancelling free school lunches in favor of free school guns - all in bright primary crayola colors, for the kiddies!  Whee!  What fun!

You can bank on it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Money Train Fatigue

Eventually, people get tired of riding the money train.

In a long-ago post, I mentioned how teenagers get after-school jobs, so they can afford a car.  When you ask them why they need a car, they say, "to get to my after-school job!"   We expect that of teenagers, but many adults live the same way.

One gets tired of riding the money train - having to make money to pay for "things" and then have these things wear out, become obsolete, or just depreciate down to nothing.  (My smartphone broke today, so I am on a tear).

Prior to World War II, if you look at the car brochures of that era, you will notice that the styling of the cars changed very gradually - usually major overhauls were only every three or four years.  And this was at a time when auto technology was rapidly changing - from the Model T with its solid axles and mechanical brakes, to independent front suspensions, enclosed bodies, and hydraulic brakes (on all four wheels, no less!).

But after the war, particularly in the late 1950's, the car makers started changing the styling on a yearly basis, in some instances.  They realized that cars were more than transportation, but a style statement as well - your car said something about who you were.  And back then, even the most plebeian car make showed people in ball gowns and tuxedos lounging in the back seat.  Cars were all about glamour!

Well, at least they convinced people of that - for a while.  Between annual style changes and price wars, the "Big-3" slowly squeezed the independents dry.  But not before Rambler and Studebaker introduced smaller, less expensive, and less complex cars.  Combined with a recession in the late 1950's, sales of small cars took off - and sales of land yachts, such as shown above, tanked (if you'll pardon the pun).

Of course, the "Big-3" followed suit with their own small cars - the Falcon, the Chevy II, the Dart - and eventually Studebaker threw in the towel, and Rambler became AMC and struggled for another two decades before being absorbed by Chrysler (well, almost vice-versa, talk about two drunks holding each other up!).

What happened in the late 1950's was that people got tired of spending enormous amounts of money on cars that only lasted a few years before they looked dented, faded, and rusty.  People don't remember this, but a five-year-old car back then was junk - the seats were shredded (why do you think seat covers were so popular back then?) and the sheetmetal rusted through. Batteries, exhaust systems, brakes - all needed to be replaced by the three year mark.   It was costly to buy and maintain these land barges, and when the economy hiccuped, people moved on to something less costly.

So they bought a VW Beetle - something that, in retrospect, was barely a car.  But you paid nothing for it, drove the wheels off it, and bought another one.  But surprisingly, they lasted just as long, if not longer that the overwrought American cars of the era.  And since the styling never changed, there was no stigma of "driving an old car".  Yes, people are motivated mostly by fear and pride - psychology sells, not logic.

If you had a "good job" back then - or even today - you traded your cars in every three years or so (at least the automakers suggested such a thing) before "something went wrong" - like all the things I mentioned above.   The car dealer would make those repairs and then put your heap on the "OK Used Cars!" lot - and someone else could "buy your troubles".

Today, it is leasing that is sold to the plebes.  Get a new car every three years!  Just pay car payments perpetually!   And the same is true with cell phones.  Buy a new one every three years!  You "plan" gives you "free" upgrades!  Always have the latest and smartest smart phone to impress your brain-dead friends!

It is a good system - for the merchants.  But for the consumer, it means an endless string of payments, for life, to pay for "things" in your life.   Televisions last about three-to-five years these days, and then they go flakey and you have to buy a new one.  Why not?  The new TeeVee is half the cost of your old one, and one the same price is half-again as large.  The only exception to this rule seems to be smart phones, which keep edging up in price.  $500 was the first barrier, then $1000.  Today, $1200 or more is bandied about, if you want the "latest and greatest" phone.   Sadly, since they all look alike, you can't impress your friends, particularly if your case obscures the Apple logo (which is why some cases have an apple-shaped hole for display purposes).

I digress, but I put a vinyl bra on my car once - there are pros and cons about these, which maybe I will address in another posting - they seem to have fallen from fashion, anyway.  But for the BMW, they offered the bra with and without a little hole for the BMW "Roundel" to show through.  What's the point of having a BMW if you can't rub other people's noses in it?  I no longer own any BMWs.  It was fun, but the other owners were a real turn-off.  But I digress. Or did I?

The money train is frustrating - you get tired of spending and spending and spending, just to maintain things you already have.   You just want to buy something and keep it forever, without having to renew or replenish or replace it every so often.   But such is the nature of technology - and life itself.  The only "final" purchase you will ever make is a coffin, and even then, there are maintenance fees on your "plot".

I noted before that appliances have a design life of about 15 years.  Our house was remodeled about 15 years ago, so guess what?  Yea, we are replacing things, one at a time, every year, it seems.   When you buy a "brand new" house or condo, there are few "repairs" to be made for a decade or more, which can lull a homeowner into a false sense of security.  But once that honeymoon period is over, well, welcome to the real world.  Climb aboard the money train!

Of course, the easiest way to avoid the money train - as much as you can - is to live with less and choose simpler alternatives.   I cry because my $99 used smartphone died - after several years.  Imagine the anguish of dropping your $1200 iPhone and cracking the glass!  That's why people actually buy insurance on those things.   Hmmmm...... a good indicator of owning something too expensive for your income level - if you have to insure it.  Phones, cars, etc.  I mean, you should insure your house, of course, but one way to get off the money train is to own a secondhand car worth little and costing little to insure - if you insure it at all.

That is why people didn't buy many 1958 Oldsmobiles - or even Chevies.  They were expensive and overwrought, and people craved something simpler.  Of course, by the mid-1960's, the cycle took off again, this time people wanting "Personal Luxury Cars" or "Muscle Cars" or "Pony Cars" - all of which carried a higher price tag.   The small car craze took off again, with compact cars being supplanted by a new class of "subcompacts".   A crappy economy and high-priced gas, of course, goosed the whole thing.  But I think also, people just wanted basic transportation and not a perpetual drain on their wallets.  My parents could afford a fancy car, but my Mother drove a Vega.   Why give money to a car dealer, when you can put it in the bank instead?

It almost seems that you could make your whole life into a subscription service.  I buy new sneakers every couple of years (the same make and model!).  Why not just have them shipped on schedule, or better yet, lease them?  (of course, there is no residual value).  And the same is true for household appliances and whatnot.  We paid $5000 for a new central air system, which lasts about 15 years.  That works out to about $27 a month, if you look at it in terms of cash-flow.

Of course, some things last longer than others - failure rates follow a bell curve.   And how you use or care for things can help determine how long they last.   So, owning has an advantage over leasing or some subscription.   And in owning, you can decide how complex and how expensive you want to make the technology you use.   You can choose simplicity over complexity, durability over status.

Maybe we can't get 100% off the money train, but at least we can slow it down!