Sunday, July 31, 2022

What is a Blog Worth?

When you come right down to it, the Internet is nothing but ether.  Why eleven?

Back in the early days of radio, they had no idea how radio waves worked (and pretty much, we still don't).  Waves we understood - having lived near water since the early days of man.  Waves went through water - the medium of transmission.  But what about radio waves?  What was the medium of transmission?  Some clever folks created this idea of "the ether" or Aether, which was a mysterious invisible matter than occupied the universe, though which radio waves made waves.  It turned out to be nothing.  So is the Internet, when you get down to it.

Years from now, your Facebook postings will be discarded or archived and no one will look at them, other than perhaps historians.  What seems so important on the Internet today is thrown away tomorrow.  A reader writes, in response to a previous posting, that they see volumes of old family photos and albums and slides in antique stores, often forgotten and discarded by family members or left behind by people with no heirs. Treasured memories, caught on film for posterity, now just so much junk.

That is the future of data on the Internet.   What is valued on the Internet is only what is going on today - it is completely immersed in trends and "news" and current events and styles.  An hour later, the cute cat video that "went viral" is now just so much electronic detritus that no one remembers.  No wonder people get away with re-posting stuff - no one remembers anything from more than a day ago!

A reader writes, asking what a blog might be worth.  Their friend has a blog and wants to "sell" it - what is is worth?   Again, the Internet is all about the now and not about history.  A blog is worth only how many hits or views it gets.   Everything on the Internet is advertising - selling eyeballs to advertisers.  So if you have a lot of hits or views, it is worth a lot.  Not a lot of views - worth nothing.

I monetized my blog with Blogger AdSense for a year as an experiment.  I netted about $2400 as I recall for the experience, and all sorts of odious ads clogged up my blog.  I wrote about what a shitty deal reverse mortgages were and sure enough, the sidebar is full of ads touting how great reverse mortgages are.  I write about how scandalous payday loans are, and the sidebar ads are for payday loans.

Some folks argue that you can make more money from a blog using other ad channels, or by flogging it more.  For example, you enable comments (and spend all day curating them - otherwise SPAMmers get a free ride on your blog!) and set up a mailing list.  You promote products and services and include links to said same.  You do videos and tie-in to you YouTube channel.  You do podcasts, sell t-shits and other "merch" and of course, do a book online or in print.

It all sounds so exhausting - and becomes a full-time job.  And like any full-time job, it pays about what a working stiff makes.  Very few make millions with blogs or YouTube channels.  It is like the music business. Yes, some rap star makes millions (and spends it all on gaudy champagne before they are shot) but your average working-class musician playing at the local pub is working for tips.

Just because some people get rich doing something doesn't mean you will.   And that mantra, by the way, can be applied to all aspects of life - investments, stocks, bonds, real estate, crypto, gambling, you-name-it.  The media hypes someone who got struck by lightning and every darn Gomer in the country is out in a thunderstorm holding up metal poles, hoping they too, get "lucky."

To answer the reader's question, it is not hard to figure out what a blog is worth, using Future Value (FV) calculations for money.  If we make the assumption that my blog would consistently generate $2400 worth of income every year (indefinitely?) then you can calculate what the Present Value (PV) of that would be.  For example, if we assume a good rate of return on an investment is about 5%, then to generate $2400 a year would require an investment of $48,000 - which would generate $2400 in "interest" every year.

So my blog is worth $48,000 - right?  Wrong.  The problem is, there is a huge assumption here - that it will generate $2400 worth of advertising revenue every year, indefinitely.  Moreover, there is a huge assumption that the person you are selling it to will be able to sustain that level of views and hits (and click-through revenue) indefinitely.

The few hardy souls who read my blog come here to read what I write.  This is akin to a personal performance contract.  My writing is not a fungible commodity - it is not interchangeable with someone else's writing (which would no doubt be much better!).  It would be like a famous hairdresser to the stars selling his boutique in West Hollywood to some Cletus who lives in a trailer park in West-by-God Virginia.  "Cletus went to online hair-cuttin' school!" they would say, 'He's just as good!"  But customers would flee in droves - they came to get the trendy haircuts from Raoul not a bowl haircut from some guy with a $20 clipper from Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  Not that there's anything wrong with $20 clippersWe use them.  We're not trendy, though.  Trendy costs money - too much money.

Ditto for pretty much anything that involves an individual talent.   The Rolling Stones annual farewell tour is scheduled to play Madison Garden tomorrow night.  But we're substituting a teenage grunge garage band from Bayonne, New Jersey - you won't mind, right?  I mean, it's still rock and roll and you'll like it.

Worse yet, when someone buys a website or something like that, they often decide to "take it in a new direction" and "off a cliff" is indeed a "new direction" but not a good one.  I wrote before how Webshots had a nice site for hosting photos.  The new owners thought "enough of that!" and erased the entire content of the website and focused instead on selling screensavers (a dead business) using a subscription service.  Everyone whose credit card information on file was charged.  Turns out, they were just interested in that one file labeled "credit card data."   Who pays money for screen saver photos when they are free with Windows?   Then again, at one time, people paid money for ringtones - or even texts (10 cents apiece!).  Standard messaging data rates may apply...

So even if I was to sell my blog, the new "owner" would likely drive it into the ground by slathering it with ads and putting in odious content promoting commercial interests and readers, such as they are, would flee in droves.  A blog is like a personal service - it is worth little or nothing without the person behind it.

Now, in some cases, highly personal services survive their originators.  Houses of fashion continue on long after their founders are dead.  Versace is sill around even after its namesake was murdered.  Halston hasn't fared as well, sadly.  Once the iconic designer is no longer around, all you have is a trademark, and the value of a trademark is like Aether.   The value may continue, but it all depends on perception, which is a tricky deal.

Of course, some folks are making a little money off my blog by simply copying it.  There are a number of trash blog sites that cut-and-paste a lot of my content and then hope to get a few hits from Google and make a few pennies here and there.  If you can do that with 1000 blogs, you might actually make money.  Most of these sort of sites are from India or other countries where making money is hard to do.  You can't blame them for scraping the Internet for content (and yes, I scrape to - in the form of images).

So what's a blog worth?  Probably nothing.  Even a vaunted Internet "influencer" with a blog, vlog, YouTube channel, Instagram channel, podcases, merch, promotion agreements, monetization and so on, isn't worth much without them.  As much as we despise "influencers" on the Internet, people watch them.  The latest trend for influencers is to do something horrific, like lock a child in a hot car on a sunny day and then post it on Instagram - and get millions of hits from horrified people.   Bad behavior gets more hits than good, it seems.  The whole "influencer" thing is evil.  Stop following influencers!

The graphic above is from some website (which I cropped out - I ain't promoting that crap!) claiming you can "buy" a blog and start making money at home!  Be your own boss!  I doubt it, though.  Unless you can continually create new content every day or nearly every day, for years on end, and have quality content, you aren't going to retain readers or attract new ones.

I have been at this over a decade now, closing in on 5,000 blog entries (over that amount, if you include some pending drafts I never finished).   I can type 100 wpm and just free-associate as I go along (as you may have noticed).  For someone doing hunt-and-peck, it just ain't gonna work.

Like I said, the folks who "make money" on the Internet have to work for it.  That's why we see these "influencers" doing obnoxious things like taking 500 selfies at the Grand Canyon and making everyone wait while they get the "perfect" shot.   It is work - hard work - to make money online.

For me, it is just an amusing hobby and an outlet that helpe me vent my general frustrations with life without having to vent my anger on others.  It also gives me a chance to think, sometimes.

What's that worth?  Ten cents!

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Verti-Go-Go Part Deux

The recent heatwave has caused a lot of people to get sick or even die.  Vertigo can be one of the side effects of the extreme heat.

So, OK, we're idiots.  To escape the heat of Georgia, we decided to go to Alabama.  That's North, right?  Well, we had fun, kayaking in the 95 degree sun and 95% humidity, as well as laying in the sun by the pool while Mark recovered from his skin cancer episode.

Like I said, we're idiots.

After a couple of weeks of this, Mark woke up and went, whoa.   I wrote before about vertigo and how I got it while in our old camper.  Since then, Mark has decided to get it, too, and I had to cajole him into doing the Epley or Seamont maneuver.  When the whole world feels like it is spinning around, the last thing you want to do is spin around.   But it does work.  And drink lots of fluids, too.  For some reason, when you get vertigo, you become as hydrophobic as a rabies victim.

He is slowly getting better, but we kept thinking, what caused this?  Vertigo is a problem with the inner ear, and dehydration can be one cause of this problem - or make it worse.  At first, I was convinced he had CoVid and I got a few test kits (thank you, Obamacare, they were free!) and the came back negative for both of us.  As best we can tell, it was likely heat exhaustion, which can take a while to recover from.   Sitting in the hot sun, dehydrating, not drinking enough water - it can happen to anyone.  If you are drinking any kind of alcoholic beverage, it dehydrates you further.

And therein lies the problem - many people go out in the hot sun and then get thirsty.  What better way to quench your thirst at the beach than with a cold beer, or a wine spritzer, or a margarita?  So many people do it.  We had friends in Pompano Beach who would go out on their boat with suitcases of lite beer, iced down in a cooler the size of a child's coffin.  They drank prodigious amounts of the stuff, all day long, in the hot sun, apparently without ill effect.

Apparently.  The problem with alcoholic beverages is that your body wants to expel the poison that is alcohol, so the kidneys go to work filtering all that out - along with a lot of water - and after a beer or two, you have to go pee.  So you go and now you are dehydrated and thirsty and you think, "Gee, I'll have another beer!" and the process repeats.

We met a guy at one campground who told us his theory of beer drinking: hold it in.   He said that if you do that, eventually the urge to pee goes away and you don't become dehydrated.  "Once you open the drain plug," he said, "you'll be peeing all night!"  I am not sure this is sound medical advice.  Sounds more like a sure-fire way to get a kidney stone.  Maybe that is why people from dry climates get them - they are holding it in.

A better approach is to not try to hydrate with alcohol, but try water instead.  Stay out of the sun (use sunscreen anyway), and don't stay out in the heat for more than a half-hour to an hour at a time.  There is a reason hot weather feels so uncomfortable - it is your body telling you it is in distress.   And exercising in the heat?  Forgetaboutit!

Anyway, in the hills of Missouri (home of drivers worse than Massachusetts, and that's saying a lot!) the weather has cooled off.  It was in the 60's last night and only slowly staring to rise in the morning.  Mark is feeling better and his appetite has come back (he stopped eating for a day, as the dizziness made him want to power-vomit).   Better yet, he isn't dizzy anymore.   We were kind of fortunate in that during this episode, we were in a full-hookup KOA in Kentucky for a couple of days, and it poured rain the entire time, so it wasn't like we were missing out on too much.  I got the oil changed on the truck.

RVing or vacation travel in general can be a crap-shoot.  It can rain, it can be too hot, you can get sick, your car can break down, you can lose your wallet, you can get robbed.   Shit happens, as they say, and some folks go running for the safety of home the moment it does.  But of course, all the things that can happen to you at home can happen on the road, and the secret is to roll with the punches, to the extent possible.  Anything short of a hospitalization (and actually, I went through that with a diverticulitis attack in Alexandria Bay, NY and we kept on going!) or wrecking your rig is really no reason to give up.

We're lucky.  Some people get vertigo and never get rid of it.  My heart goes out to them.  Imagine being dizzy all the time, unable to read a book, use a computer, or drive a car - and being nauseous all the time.  Forever.   The first time I got vertigo and read this online, it scared the crap out of me.  Suppose this is the new normal?  Fortunately for me, a few applications of the Seamont maneuver and I was back in business - but not without suffering for a day, first.

Of course, vertigo is just another one of God's little life lessons.  You realize, as you get older, than you take your body for granted - you assume good health is a norm.  Once you get sick, it becomes abundantly clear that feeling well is a huge deal - the most important thing in life - and suddenly your life priorities become rearranged.  Having "nice stuff" becomes secondary to having life security.

Our ancestors understood this well as they were probably sick most of the time. Why do you think a traditional greeting was, how are you today? or other inquiries as to your state of being.   It was because, back then, being well was the exception, not the rule, and if you read the biographies of famous historical figures, you realize they were in pain, much of the time.

We are fortunate - or were - to grow up in a postwar era where we were all vaccinated - or were - and didn't suffer from things like polio (as FDR did) or other childhood diseases like chicken pox.   Today, we have a host of new illnesses to suffer from and some of the "oldies" are making a comeback, thanks to a blithe ignorance of the realities of human health.  People who live amazingly healthy lives, thanks to medical science and vaccinations are deciding that since they are so healthy, their kids don't need to be vaccinated.  What a shame - the gift of heath, squandered because they read something on Facebook.

I digress.  Or did I?  If you are feeling good today, appreciate it.  Because that feeling won't go on forever, and as you get older, you will experience more and more pain, staring with muscle aches and progressing to joint aches and arthritis.  This is not a possibility but an eventual reality.  And say "hello" to the crickets in your ears, known as tinnitus.  Yea, you'll get that, too, particularly if you went to a lot of loud rock concerts or just listen to your iPods at high volume.

How are you today?  Super! Thanks for asking!.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Online Casinos - Proof That Most People Are Blithering Idiots!

Gambling is stupid.  Gambling online is even stupider.

I have touched on gambling time and time again.  It is stupid and very popular among the poor.  The image that the "gaming industry" likes to project is that of sophisticated wealthy people, dressed like James Bond, in a dinner jacket, saying "Pass the shoe!" to Blowfeldt, before he takes him to the cleaners.

The reality is, the "high rollers" are, in many instances, merely laundering money.  Buy $1M of chips, gamble away $100,000 of it, get a free room and meal (and hooker) and then cash out the rest as gambling "winnings" which you pay taxes on - and are now legally yours.  At least that is the way it used to be done.

But the bulk of "players" are middle-class or lower - often people who have addictive personalities - cigarettes, alcohol, drugs - you name it.  Gambling is just another vice they have.   And oddly enough, I know people who are very religious who are also gamblers.  You'd think that would cause some sort of cognitive dissonance, but when they win, they just assume God loves them, and when they lose, that God is pissed-off.   The original prosperity theology.

A reader chastised me for those postings on gambling - they argued that from an economic standpoint, it was a fair trade.  The gambler spends money on a gambling game, and gets "entertainment value" in return.  It is not different than buying a ticket to see a movie or Broadway show.  And there may be a nugget of truth to that.  I have friends who make annual pilgrimages to Vegas with their friends.  They go, they spend money, they lose money at the slots, they see a show, have a buffet, get shitfaced drunk, and then fly home.  What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas - right?  It is almost their trademark.  Oh, wait, it is!

But what about not going to Vegas or even Atlantic City, or the Poconos or the Mohegan Sun or the Catskills or the gambling boat or.... whatever gambling outlet is within 30 minutes of your home (and there is on, 30 minutes from your home)?   Why not gamble online?  After all, everything else has gone online, right?

Well, I think that in addition to the utter stupidity of playing with your wealth as if it was a toy and not your actual freedom, there are heightened levels of stupidity added on.  To begin with, whatever "entertainment" experience might occur in Las Vegas is utterly lacking in an online gambling one.  Online "gaming" reduces gambling to the Skinner box that gambling ultimately is - people pushing levers and hoping to get a food pellet, with the incidence of "winning" made ever more remote.

Online gambling is just giving up and giving in to your obsessive-compulsive addictive personality.  It is like just saying, "Well, I used to drink a bit, but then I decided to say fuck it all and just start every day with a quart of Vodka and let it go downhill from there, until I wake up in the gutter coated with vomit!"   I mean, that does cut to the chase, but it isn't necessarily an enjoyable experience.

In gambling, the house always wins - otherwise they's go broke.  So statistically, if you gamble consistently, you end up "winning" back 90 cents for every dollar you wager.  So you wager a dollar, you end up with 90 cents.  You wager 90 cents, you end up with 81 cents - and so on and so forth.  Maybe you never completly run out of money this way, but you leave with less than you came in with.

Yes, statically there will be some winners who make more than they wager.  But in order to do that, you have to get lucky, win, and then walk away and never gamble again.  If you go back to the well to try your luck again, odds are, you will lose.  Inevitably, your wins and losses zero out, just like flipping a coin.   You can't predict whether it will be a heads or tails based on how many heads or tails you previously flipped (you are not "due" for a heads after flipping five tails - the odds are always 50/50.  They call this the "gambler's fallacy" - interesting term, no?).  But, over time, if you flip a penny 100 times, your results will center towards that 50/50 mark.

But then there is trust.  If I go to a casino and win $100, I expect to be able to cash out $100 and walk away.  Maybe the casino won't be happy about it, but they will pay.  If I win too consistently, they will cash me out and ask me to leave as they will suspect I am cheating somehow (e.g., card counting) and the house always wins - often by throwing out winners.  Of course, sometimes you can "win" and they still will refuse to pay out - but that's mechanical error, not fraud ( you can't win  $42M on a machine with a max payout of $6500).

But an online casino?  What obligation do they have to pay you at all?  If they are located overseas, it would be nearly impossible to sue them and chances are, it would cost more than you are owed.  Even if you could find a lawyer to take the case and you could track down the people, their judiciary system would probably rule in their favor.  I've seen firsthand how this works.

Of course, the online casinos - like any good casino - touts big winners (real or not, we don't know) by showing smiling people holding big checks with accompanying text saying, "I won!!"   Who knows? They might even have paid out a few people.  Or maybe all of them - even a "legit" online casino would still make money - and the players would all lose money.  So they don't even have to cheat.

So gambling online is stupid to the nth power.  And yet, I get ads online all the time for online casinos.  Somebody is playing them, no doubt.  But in a way, they are not much different than online gaming these days, where video games are provided with "loot boxes" and avatars and flair and weapons you can buy with online money which can be won in the game or bought using real money.  Unlike a casino, however, online money in a video game usually can't be exchanged back into cash.

So why would anyone do it?

I think I already answered that question.  Human beings are just a bundle of bad behaviors - compulsive, obsessive, bad behaviors.  Gambling is just one of the least satisfying and costly of them, say, compared to sex, drinking, drugs,  over-eating, or driving too fast.  The powers-that-be manipulate us using our compulsive behaviors and snare us into a life of servitude.   How many people do you know complain about how "unfair" life is, and how they are underpaid and how rent costs too much - but say this while exhaling bong smoke?   They fail to make the connection.

I know I did.  Yes, I spent my youth doing drugs and drinking and wasting money - and then complaining that life was "unfair".   I gave up that lifestyle for a decade - just a decade - and ended up a millionaire.   In ten years.   I owe a lot to "that guy" who was me, age 30-40 who did all the heavy lifting in my life.  Now I am retired and can indulge in all my compulsive behaviors - well, at least some of them.   There is still the issue of outliving your money - right?

Some are lucky and see this early on - they work hard and save money in their 20's and by age 30 are pretty well set.  Others, well, they continue down the road of self-indulgence and end up broke and bitter in their 50's - and see no way out.  And that sucks, but then again, it is a trap, carefully laid, and when they put their foot in it, they mocked me for not trying it.

And I am sure there are a host of voices out there who would say that online gambling is a good deal - which is why I have comments disabled.  The "gaming industry" would SPAM my comments box with cheery comments about how much they won at online gambling, along with a helpful URL to their gaming site.

The above graphic is from "Chumbo Casino" which advertises heavily on the Internet.  "Chumbo?"  What sort of name is that?  It is one letter off from "Chump-o" or "Dumbo" and maybe that is the point  they are leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that only the most dense would fail to see.  It is akin to these scam e-mails you receive which are full of typos.   If you can't see that an e-mail from "McDonald" saying you won a Burger King gift card is fake, well, then they have you.

UPDATE:  It is hard to research these folks.  The Chump-O casino is apparently out of Malta (good luck, there!) and the only "reviews" I can find are ones that say, "This casino is no good, try this other casino instead!"   Yes, people are that stupid - look around you.

The one thing I have come to realize with age is that people are a lot dumber than I thought they could ever be.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Inured to Violence - Does It Have A Purpose?

People today are so blasé about mass-shootings. If a political organization wanted to use violence to achieve its ends, this would come in handy.

We are staying in a gay campground, one of dozens across America.  It was founded many years ago by an organization of men that just wanted a place they could come and relax and be themselves.  And it wasn't without difficulty.  As one of the owners explained it, they initially opened up in Pennsylvania and were harassed to the point where they had to shut down (there are at least three gay campgrounds in Pennsylvania today).  So they reopened here in Tennessee and it wasn't easy - locals would drive by and throw pipe bombs or shoot at the signs.  Fortunately no one was injured or killed.

Of course, today, it is all different, right?  Gays are accepted and people are more open-minded.  Well, at least they were, until about six months ago.  Then Fox News and Tucker Carlson went on this rant that all gays are pedophiles and "groomers" - much like earlier rants about "stop the steal" or "crises actors" or "anti-vaxxer" or "cancel culture" or whatever - just made-up stuff trying to get ratings and viewers and get people all riled up.

But this latest version of hate-speech is troubling, as some of the listeners are taking it seriously and vandalizing and harassing.  One fellow, who promises to "hunt" gay people, goes to stores and makes Tick-Tock videos of himself harassing the store staff to take down "gay flags" - which means anything with a rainbow on it.  Reading Rainbow is now deemed politically incorrect.  Talk about your cancel culture!

What troubles me about this is that there are windup soldiers out there and they might go further.  Usually these are young men in their 20's who are mentally ill.  They go online and read racist and misogynist and homophobic nonsense and then decide they need to shoot people. Usually they have a bowl-head haircut and an AR-15 that Mommy gave them for their birthday.  There was the guy in Charleston who shot up a black church.  There was the guy in Buffalo who shot up a black grocery store. There was the "incel" in California who shot up cafes with attractive women in them.  There have been a plethora of attacks as well on Muslims and Asians.  And yes, there was the guy who shot up the Pulse nightclub in Florida - although law enforcement there bent over backwards to claim that he wasn't targeting gays, just the nightlife.  (WTF???).

There are many more that don't seem to have specific targets, other than school children or fellow students, or like that guy in Las Vegas, just crowds of people.  With each shooting, the outrage is more muted, and the news cycle is even shorter.  We have, like frogs in a pot of water, become used to this, to the point of being boiled to death.

Political violence is nothing new - historically it has gone on for ages, since the dawn of mankind.  You can have a nice mamby-pamby democratic vote, or Og the caveman can just club any dissenters over the head and take power.  Lately, a lot of people have been rooting for Og - "He gets things done!  He stole fire from the other tribe!"  And if enough people are intimidated by Og and his henchmen, well, they go along with it.

You could say this spate of mass-shootings happened organically - just a combination of lax gun laws, untreated mental illness, and the mental illness that is social media.  Toss in lack of action by Congress or the States - plus a Supreme Court willing to toss out century-old gun laws, and you have a perfect storm - by accident or design?

Sure, you can ignore mass shootings when you and no one you know is a victim.  You can ignore them when you live in a gated community and have Secret Service protection.  Funny thing that - one of the Supreme Court Justices who tossed New York's concealed-carry gun law as well as Roe v. Wade lived in an ordinary house just down the street from me in Mt. Vernon.  Boy was he surprised when protesters showed up outside his door!  Good thing they weren't armed - although one guy did show up a Justice's house with a gun, but quickly turned himself in.  Maybe when the nutjobs are doing mass-shootings at the Country Club, the upper classes will pay attention.

When the chickens come home to roost, maybe they will change their mind. So long as it is just young white guys shooting "other people" you're safe, right?  Maybe not.

I have digressed, but what worries me is all this hate-speech on Fox News (and elsewhere) these days, claiming that gays are "groomers" - it is only time before one of these windup soldiers goes off, and gays are a pretty good "soft target."  Mark my words, there will be some sort of mass-shooting at a gay bar, campground, pride event, or other gathering in the near future.  This isn't some wild prediction, you can see this going down.  It is predictable.   But maybe not inevitable - unless it is too late to act.

And maybe there is a nefarious purpose to this - although I don't believe in conspiracy theories.  It may have just fallen into their laps - or not.  Hitler came to power not because he was popular with a majority of the German people, but because a lot of people liked him and a lot more wanted an end to the street violence that was going on.   They gave into Hitler, just as the people of Afghanistan gave into the Taliban after Russia left, just to stop the constant violence.

Keeping a population in fear is useful, as it allows you to manipulate people emotionally.  And we are being taught to fear one another and some folks seem to believe that if the don't get their way at the ballot box, they'll get it at the end of a barrel of a gun.  People are being trained not just to disagree with their neighbor, but to demonize them and, if necessary, kill them in the name of patriotism, or Jesus or whatever.

Sadly, I don't see this getting better, or at least not getting better before it gets a whole lot worse.  I thought the age of unreason was behind us, but it seems that was just a warmup.

Sorry to be a downer, but you have noticed all these mass-shootings lately, right?  Or are you already inured to it?  We all are, you know.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Specific Performance

What is Specific Performance and how does it apply to the Twitter saga?

Musk may have stepped in the dogshit - again.  I opined that the "world's richest man" could end up in bankruptcy court, if things don't go right for him.  He lost interest in Tesla, which hasn't updated its basic models in years.  Meanwhile, every other carmaker in the world is introducing newer and better models of electric cars.  First to market is often last in the marketplace.

Meanwhile, solar city hemorrhages cash, but his family gets to keep their jobs there, I guess.

Space-X may be the one bright spot in his portfolio, but all it takes is one Challenger-like disaster to send that company into a death spiral.  And given how fast-and-loose Musk plays with the rules, one cannot rule out such a disaster.  Space exploration is, by nature, highly dangerous.

So then he goes and tries to buy Twitter for  $54.20 a share.  420 - get it? As in smoking pot!  Hee-hee!  This is the world's richest man?  And it is not the first time he has done this childish coded shit.  He previously said he had a buyer for Tesla at $420 a share but of course, didn't and the SEC wasn't amused.

Is he the world's worst troll or the most clever stock manipulator?  Hard to say.  But his effort to buy Twitter backfired.  Usually, when someone offers to buy a company at a fixed price per share, the share price shoots up to that number and stays there.  I bought some stock in Winn-Dixie for $7.50 a share and another grocery chain made a buyout offer at $9 a share and the stock price went up to... $9 a share... the next day.  Funny how that works.

But with Musk's offer, no one took it seriously and the share price languished.  No doubt Musk was pissed off as he had just bought a chunk of Twitter stock for cheap and was hoping his buyout move would spike the stock price.  It did - a little bit - but the market was clearly saying they didn't think he'd go through with it and moreover they were tired of his games.

So now he has to get out of the deal, and he claims Twitter didn't fulfill their half of the bargain as they didn't provide "bot" data.  He also threatened to re-institute Trump if he bought the company, which may have been a move to get the Twitter board to walk away.

So Twitter sued, and asked for specific performance on the buyout offer contract.  What is specific performance and why it is such a rare thing?  As it turns out, it is more of a threat than a reality.

In most contract law cases, the issue is money - who owes who how much as a result of breach of contract.  Sometimes, this is stated in the contract itself - a liquidated damages clause.  If you fail to perform, well, you pay the stated amount and both parties walk away.  In this instance, the stated amount is one billion dollars (say that in the Dr. Evil voice) and of course, this means litigation until the cows come home.  Both sides can afford to pay $100 Million in attorney's fees over that amount - and they will, too.

Like I said, in most cases, the issue is just money - cold hard cash.   I offer to sell you my antique car and then decide to back out of the deal.  You had offered me $50,000 for the car and had a buyer for it who would pay $70,000.   You could argue that you are out the $20,000 profit and sue me for it.   But it is unlikely the Judge would grant you specific performance on the contract, by actually forcing me to hand over the title to the car in exchange for fifty grand, particularly if I already sold the car to a third party.   A car - even an antique one - is a fungible commodity (and so are Non-Fungible Tokens - ugly cartoons of apes are interchangeable, particularly when there are thousands of them) and the real issue is the loss of money, not the actual car.

Now maybe if it was the Mona Lisa, a judge could force the sale.  But even then, it might just come down to money.  And for some contracts, like personal service contracts, specific performance just might not work.  You can't force a football player to play football if he decides to breach the contract - or a painter to paint a painting or a singer to appear in concert.  They might show up and do a shitty job and then that forces the judge to become an art or music or football critic.  Just pay out cash and be done with it - which is why we have liquidated damages clauses.

So the judge in this Musk/Twitter case is allowing them to go forward with Specific Performance claims, even though the contract they signed has a liquidated damages clause of a billion bucks.  Why is this?  Well the Judge in question has a habit of doing this, and it is, in part, to light a fire under the litigants and get them to settle.  If Musk had just paid the billion dollars (which he does not have in cash, but only in inflated stock values) the whole thing would have gone away.  But if he has to pay $54.20 a share for a stock worth $39 on a good day, he might be out billions of dollars.   It might not bankrupt him, but it sure would put a dent in his net worth!

Would the judge actually go through with a Specific Performance ruling and force Musk to buy all the outstanding Twitter stock at $54.20 a share?  Probably not, and even if she did, well, there are appeals galore that could take years.  By then, the stock might be worth $54.20 a share.

Or worth nothing.  Social media is awfully crowded these days, what with Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tick-Tock, and a host of other wanna-bes and newcomers.   Is Twitter - which has never really made much in the way of profits - really worth anything to anyone?   Social Media sites are like child's toys - an obsessive fascination one moment, tossed aside and found buried in the sandbox a year later.

What is clear to me is that Musk screwed up.  He made this offer to Twitter, hoping to jazz up the stock price and hoping Twitter would back out of the deal.  He would unload his Twitter shares and make a nice drive-by profit with no effort other than a couple of tweets.  But Twitter called his bluff - put up or shut up.  You want to buy us?  Buy us - at the ridiculous price you picked out of the air.

If the Judge merely allowed them to litigate over damages, well then, the most Musk would be on the hook for was the $1B liquidated damages.  And given how litigation works, both sides would spend millions on attorney's fees and then settle for far less than $1B.  This would, in effect, reward Musk for his malfeasance - and the judge is having none of that.  By putting Specific Performance on the table, the damages could be much more.

How much more?  Well, if we assume that today's share price of about $40 a share is the actual market value of Twitter, then Musk is over-paying by $14.20 a share.  Multiply that by the approximately 750 million shares of Twitter stock and you get about $10 Billion dollars.  This is not to say Musk will pay that, only that he could have paid $1B and gotten out of the deal, but that bird has flown.

This calls into question Musk's competence.  Many fan-boys worship him and think he has some insight into technology and isn't just some guy who was struck by lighting (at birth, for starters).  This, in turn, may have a negative effect on Tesla share prices (it already has, by at least 20%) as fan-boys were the one driving up the share prices of "meme stocks" for no apparent reason, in the first place.  You live by the meme stock, you die by it.

If people start to think that maybe Musk is deranged or stoned all the time (420? Hello?  Does he have to leave a trail of breadcrumbs?) his "empire" may collapse and collapse rather quickly.

And by allowing Twitter to litigate for Specific Performance, that could actually happen.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Just Don't Go!

If enough people don't go, prices will go down.

A recent article online says that "some fans" of Bruce Springsteen are upset that Ticketmaster is using "dynamic pricing" and offering tickets for as much as $4000 apiece - and sometimes more, not including "convenience fees."  What is going on here and how can you change it?

With regard to the latter question, the answer is simple: Don't Go.   If you pay outrageous prices for concert tickets, you have no one but yourself to blame for it.  You have forfeited all right to complain about high prices if you pay them.  After all, a concert is not like oxygen, water, or food - things you need to survive.  When you pay the "outrageous" price, well, that validates to Ticketmaster that the price is indeed correct - the optimal pricing strategyYou paid it and by doing so, told them that is how much you were willing to pay.

I noted before how James Taylor was coming to Jacksonville and we thought about going for all of ten minutes, until we saw the ticket prices - starting at $200 for seats in the back of a huge stadium.  Uh, no thanks, we don't really like James Taylor all that much, and concert experiences are often less than optimal - people standing in front of you, holding up their stupid smart phones, and the performers on the stage looking like ants.  Some fun.  Better off watching a YouTube video of it.

What was interesting is that as the concert date approached, suddenly the prices come down. They didn't get too many takers at $200 a pop, so they lower the prices.  Empty seats represent no revenue at all (and look bad to the people who paid top dollar to be there).  So even at half-price or less, they are increasing their profit margin.   It's why no two seats on an airliner are the same price.  It is why GM had a car for "every purse and purpose."  It is basic economics 101.

But what about the first question?  Why are prices so crazy and who is paying $4000 for a seat?  Springsteen is not alone in this, either.  I saw online, a menu from a "rap" festival, offering entrees starting at $160 and up, with bottles of bubbly in the four-figures.  I've seen receipts from Coachella-type events in the five-figures for some of these gigs - a few bottles of wine, some food, and it isn't hard to do - not that I would ever do that myself!

I guess the closest I came to that was going to see the Charlie Daniels band, which is Charlie Daniels and some backup musicians, doing the songs that made him famous back in the day ("Heard it in a Love Song").  I was not a fan, but a friend suggested we go with them and "VIP" tickets for the event on intimate Rainbow Island (at Sea Island) were a little over $120 each, but included two free drinks and some food items.  That was a freaking bargain and we got to sit up-front in a venue of less than 200 people.  It was a good time.  Ol' Charlie has James Taylor beat, hands down.  I guess I was spoiled by that experience.

But some others think nothing of spending thousands to attend these events, and some of them even have the money, too.  The problem - as it always has been - is the "strivers" who are not entertaining guests of the firm on expense account, but rather are just rabid fans trying to buy their way into the VIP zone.  Those poor bastards bankrupt themselves trying to keep up with the real rich.  It is like the working man who buys a Rolex watch for several thousand dollars.  He really can't afford it, but he wants to be in the club so badly.

And like the guy who bites the bullet and buys the Springsteen tickets, he ends up squandering a lot of dough.  Most of those $4000 tickets are going to be sold to very rich people or to companies with expense accounts.  A few will be sold to rabid "fans" who will max out their credit card to attend.  There is a huge difference between these two kinds of people.  One can afford it, the other only thinks they can.

Quite frankly, I really can't recall a stadium concert I went to that was any fun.  We used to go to the Birchmere in Arlington, and they served food and beer which was nice - and you got to see some acts that were on there way up - before they commanded stadium crowds. Ditto for Club 9:30 in Washington - they have a cigar-and-martini bar there, and it is a lot of fun - and doesn't cost that much.  but that was 30 years ago, of course.  Much has changed.

But stadium shows?  Usually the acoustics suck and you are so far from the stage you can't see the performers except on the Jumbotron.  Paying $200 to watch television.  And the ringing in your ears and the hearing damage (what?) - I never had a good time at places like that.

Of course, the E-Street band is playing innocent in all of this.  Stevie Van Zandt claims he has "nothing to do with ticket prices" but he still cashes his paychecks.  The band engaged that venue, which in turn engaged Ticketron.  If they really felt strongly about it (and they don't) they'd cancel the gig or use another outlet than Ticketron.  Sadly, there have been few alternatives, and if you sell tickets at face value, well, you are just putting money in the pockets of scalpers - and the "fans" end up screwed either way.

Just don't be a fan and you'll be surprised how much money you'll save.  Not going is always your ace-in-the-hole. If more people did that, well, prices would come down.

Simple econmics.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Another Day of Freedom, Cost, $100

When you think about how much your lifestyle costs per day, you may realize you are pissing away your freedom on stupid things.  Freedom isn't really all that expensive, but you do have to pay for it.

A friend of ours was talking to us and said something about making mortgage payments.  "We have no mortgage" Mark replied, and you could see our friend's brain melting down like one of those robots on an early episode of Star Trek.  "But everyone has a mortgage.... the television says you have to have a mortgage.... you never actually pay off your mortgage.... DOES NOT COMPUTE!"

But you can winnow down your lifestyle and as I noted before, we've figured out (so far) how to live on $100 a day or less than $36,500 a year, which sounds scandalous to some of our friends.  After all, they are making "six figures" or close to it, and yet their lifestyle isn't much different than ours.  But if you subtract $36,000 in annual mortgage payments, and the $8,000 a year in annual car payments, you realize that their actual income is pretty close to ours, they just pay banks a shitload of interest instead.

Mark just got a check from the Arts Association for $97.50 for the sale of some of his pottery.  It isn't a lot of money in the greater scheme of things, but it is close to $100 or basically buys us another day of freedom.  When you start to look at things that way, you realize that (a) freedom isn't all that expensive to obtain, and (b) spending money on dumb things basically is selling your freedom for a pittance.

$100 on a restaurant meal doesn't sound like much these days.  But from my perspective, that is a day of freedom - a day I don't have to work in order to keep my financial head above water.  A $36,000 car represents a year of my life, or if you are still working, think of it as another year you have to work before you can retire.

Hey, but this is America, you "have to have" a car, right?  Maybe so, but I can count on two hands the number of cars I bought that were not really necessary and in retrospect, not very satisfying.  On the other hand, I can also count a number of cars I could have kept for a few more years than I did and thus negate the need for those other cars.   But at the time, I didn't think about money in terms of my freedom, I thought of money as something to be spent as quickly as possible, to buy shiny trinkets and restaurant meals.

This is not to say you should live like a Monk, of course.  We stopped by a nice Thai restaurant in Alabama the other day.  We were going to just make a sandwich for lunch and we saw the place in the parking lot we were in.  Well, $48 later we were quite satiated - it was excellent food.  But then again, that's a lot of money to spend on lunch - at least on a regular basis.  You'd be surprised how many do just that - and can ill afford to.  They blow money on restaurant food and then complain about being broke all the time.  Pick one - you can't do both.

Yet the Internet abounds with "memes" about how it is "impossible to save" and that saving money is for chumps.  I think that is just people telling themselves what they want to hear, quite frankly.  The game is stacked against you, so you might as well give up, get that tattoo and smoke some meth.  YOLO!  Right?

There are two approaches to this game, of course, and it can be played at any level.  If you are living on $150,000 a year, then a day of freedom costs you $400, which is probably what someone in that income level spends on a good restaurant meal (or at least I did, back when I thought I was wealthy).  Or, you could reduce that daily "nut" and pocket the difference, on day of freedom at a time.  When you accumulate enough money, there may be enough to "live off the interest" or at least have enough to last you the rest of your life.

In either case, though, it pays to cut back that daily requirement.  It is a lot easier to live on $100 a day than $400.  It's a lot easier to save up that smaller amount of money, too!

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Catfish Noodling and Jugging

If you see a chunk of pool noodle apparently moving under its own power, leave it alone.

We were out kayaking at Wind Creek State Park in Alabama when we came upon a small cove with several small chunks of pool noodle attached to small lines.  What were these?  Floats marking crab traps?  But we were in fresh water.

Suddenly, one of the noodles started moving - jerking up and down - and then it started moving toward us.  It was creepy as fuck and we paddled the hell out of there!

What was on the other end of that pool noodle?  Why did people leave those noodles out there?

Well, it took us a while to figure it out - we were out of cell service the next day.

If you google "Catfish Noodling" you get a whole other meaning of the term.  Noodling a catfish is a technique to trick the catfish to emerge from his "hole" and then grab him and haul him out of the water.  Apparently, the catfish doesn't like this and will bite you if he can.

Jug fishing or jugging is another deal, and the name comes from the iconic milk jugs which used to be used for this kind of fishing.  You attach a baited line to a milk jug, set it out, and wait for a catfish to bite on it.  If you see the jug moving, you've caught something.  You can leave these out for days at a time (depending on the jurisdiction) and come back later and pick up your fish at your leisure.

As milk jugs went by the wayside, people started using pool noodles - which created confusion as to the use of the term "catfish noodling".  The noodle chunks - about 10" long - float flat when there is nothing on the line.  When a fish is hooked, however, the noodle stands straight up, or will bob up and down, which makes it identifiable from a distance.

At about the same time, Mark saw a news story about a "Florida Man" who shot someone who was messing with his catfish jug line.  You don't mess with a man's jug line!  It is akin to messing with a lobster trap in Maine or a crab trap on the Chesapeake.  They ain't yours and the locals don't take kindly to people poaching their seafood.

I've never been much of a fried catfish aficionado myself.  They sure are ugly beasts to be sure.  While farmed catfish can have a mild taste, wild-caught catfish can have a fishy or muddy taste to it.  Of course, this is because they are bottom feeders - like shrimps, crabs, or lobsters.  Sadly, as we scoop out more and more sea life from the sea, we are working our way down the food chain further and further - we are becoming bottom-feeders as well.

But in the country, fried catfish has a long history and a rabid following.  And jugging for catfish - where legal - is a time-honored tradition.

It just is creepy to see these pool noodle things moving around and apparently following you.  But I'll take an animated pool noodle over a 10-foot gator any day.  And yes, we've seen both, at close range, while in the kayak.

Paddle faster - I hear banjo music!

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Evil Isn't

People who are evil don't see themselves as evil.

We have been passing the time reading free paperbacks from the local book exchange.  Mark likes mystery novels and I am reading my first "Doc Ford" novel.  Been to the restaurant, might as well read the book, no?

One of my literary vices is reading trashy Clive Cussler novels.  It is not exactly high art.  The hero is always handsome and has steely grey eyes, the body of an athlete, but who walks with cat-like grace on the balls of his feet - or some such nonsense.  The heroine is beautiful, of course, but not in a supermodel way - and she is smart, too - usually the one to hack into the villain's computer system.  The villain, of course, is the height of evil and has an underground (or underwater) "lair" usually in an hollowed-out extinct volcano, or perhaps on skull island.

The plots are predictable - the hero gets captured, the villain takes the heroine hostage, they escape, and then are recaptured.  But in the end, the villain always gets killed, usually in some gruesome way, and the hero and heroine escape, and end up at a restaurant in Paris toasting their good fortune.

It is cotton-candy junk-food literature, and there is a lot of it out there.  Cussler has written dozens of such books (lately with the help of co-authors) and in a way he was a Ian Fleming wanna-be.  If you actually read any of the Bond novels, you'd realize they are pretty much the same way - two-dimensional characters and paper-thin plots.  Not a lot of character development in action-adventure novels.

(Cussler was kind of screwed by Hollywood.  They made at least two of his novels into movies, and Cussler wasn't really happy with the second one and said so.  Hollywood sued him for breach of contract and took him to the cleaners for millions of dollars.  That wasn't really fair).

But what struck me about these kind of books is that the "bad guys" - and there are always bad guys, the world is very black-and-white in such books - are really bad, know they are bad, and enjoy being bad.  In fact, evil is their business model, often for little or no real reason, other than to be evil.  And of course, they have armies of henchmen whose motive for being evil is never really stated.  Does Dr.. Evil have a good 401(k) and dental plan?  The henchmen are usually gunned-down en masse in these books (and movies) so I don't see the point of being a henchman.

The reality of evil, I think, it a little more nuanced.  People who we think of as evil don't think of themselves as evil.  They think we are evil.  Whether it is internal rationalization or whatever, they think that what they are doing is good, and people who oppose them are bad.

The most evil people in history didn't consider themselves to be evil.  Far from it, they felt what they were doing was good for their own people, and perhaps the world.  People like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and of course, Hitler, killed millions if not tens of millions of people each.  And yet each had a rationalization for their actions - rationalizing that their "evil" plans were actually good for the country and the world.

Hitler felt that massacring the Jews would result in a better Germany and a better world.  He rationalized that invading Poland and massacring Slavic peoples would provide "Lebensraum" or Living Space for the German people.  In his mind, what he was doing was good - for his own people.  Too bad about those others, though!

The same could be said to be true for Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.  They were reshaping their societies to improve them (or so they thought) by forcing collectivism, bootstrapping industrialization (or in the case of Pol Pot, the inverse) and improving their own countries.   If people stood in the way of that, well too bad for them.  And if there was collateral damage and ancillary causalities, that's a real shame.  But the ends justified the means, in their minds, and they were not being "evil" but just practical.

They were. of course, wrong.  Not only did millions upon millions suffer and die, their grandiose plans, like that of Dr. Evil and every other two-dimensional villain, failed.  But that is not the point. The point is, they didn't rub their hands together like the dimestore novel villains and say, "Let's be evil!" accompanied by a maniacal laugh.  They didn't think what they were doing was evil.

Look around the world today.  We see Islamic fundamentalists engaging in terrorism or in the case of ISIS or whatever you call them, trying to establish a "Caliphate".  In their minds, it is we who are the evil ones - suppressing Islam and supporting Israel, not to mention invading Iraq and Afghanistan.  They don't see blowing up an embassy as evil, but rather a guerrilla action against a much stronger foe - a foe they see as evil.

Or take Putin - please!  We paint him as this evildoer who is out to conquer the world.  And of course, he is evil.  But I suspect he doesn't see himself that way.  Rather, he sees himself as a protector and savior of Russia, and his goal - clearly - is to re-establish the power of the former Soviet Union by annexing, one at a time, the former satellite States.  Of course, it isn't going well for him, is it?

We look at the Ukrainians as heroes and talk about bringing more Baltic countries into NATO or even the EU.  But the reality of many of these countries is that they are hardly Democratic, and have some evil in and of themselves.  Before the current President of Ukraine was elected, the government was rife with corruption.  And yes, there is a battalion of Ukrainians who are basically fascists.  Once the war is over, we'll have to deal with that as well.

We laud the Poles for their support of Ukraine, and yet we have a lot of issues with their far-right government and its muzzling of the judiciary.  The EU has been fining Poland for these abuses, but for now, we sweep these issues under the rug, as we face a common enemy.    The rest of the former Soviet-bloc States are little better - some dictatorships, others openly siding with Russia.

Then we have countries like Finland, which too late are realizing that being neutral is not a very smart move.  Even among EU countries there is dissent and disagreement.  And then you have the Swiss, which are not part of the EU but are willing to be secret bankers and arms dealers to the world.  Nice folks, those Swiss - it ain't all just chocolate bars and cuckoo-clocks over there.

We, of course, don't see ourselves as evil, but over the years, the United States has done some pretty evil things.  We "liberated" the Philippines from the Spanish, and then slaughtered the members of the Philippine liberation  front.  There is a reason we are not so popular there.  We invaded Central America to protect the United Fruit company so Americans can have their Cavendish bananas.  The whole region is in turmoil even today and we wonder why.

Of course, some argue that if we don't intervene in these countries, others will, and have, of course.  Russia and China have tried to exert their influence worldwide over the years and even today.   International politics isn't a matter of patty-cake, and sadly these small countries get caught in this chess game as pawns - saddled with debts and manufactured dictators. And neither side sees themselves as evil, only acting their best interests - and if pushed, will say they are acting in the best interests of these third-world countries.

Of course, in America, we are still (somewhat) free to talk about these things.  And some folks think that talking about these things is being un-American.  So when a demagogue comes along and tells people they are "great" and America will be "great" again, they latch onto that message.

To me, America's greatness lies not in jingoistic patriotism, but in the fact that we can disagree and have opinions and .not be thrown in jail for them.   Our greatness lies in the fact that a Pol Pot or a Stalin or a Hitler could not take power here - under Democracy - and slaughter millions in the name of progress.  We all have voices that need to be heard and often messy compromise is real freedom, not absolutism.

We are sold this narrative that we are the good guys and the rest of the world is evil - and enjoys being evil and does so intentionally.  The reality is, of course, that sometimes we do bad things and the "other guy" doesn't see what he is doing as bad, only what is in their own self-interest.  And it shouldn't shock anyone that other people do what they perceive to be in their own self-interest.

For the most part, we are the good guys even if we have done some bad things in the past (and continue to do so).  The good that the world sees in the United States is the idea of democracy, even if it is somewhat flawed in places and tarnished in recent years.  It is the idealism of our country that is admired, if we are admired at all.

Sadly, the narrative being sold today is that any form of introspection or critical thought is to be considered treason.   We don't need to examine our own actions, but just assume that everything we do is right (after all, we're God's favorites, right?).  Problem is, "the other guy" thinks that God is on his side and that we are the evil ones in our hollowed-out volcano.

What is really scary is that some folks, in the name of "greatness" would toss away our greatest attribute - democracy - and replace it with a mindless dictatorship,, to "get things done" and squelch dissent and have everyone march in lock-step.  They fail to see how that worked out for our historic enemies, who felt that, they too, were doing the right thing to make their country great.

We are already great, but our greatness is slipping away from us.  And yes, it seems that this new generation of evildoers in part, seems to relish the evil - just like in the paperback novels.  They want to "own the libs" and "make them cry" not because they believe in some overarching political philosophy, but because they relish belligerence, violence, and cruelty.

Maybe that is the difference.  While world leaders may not see themselves as "evil" many of their followers are willing to embrace evil wholeheartedly.   And some leaders are willing to tap into that.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Internet Withdrawal (And my long tortured history with computers)

I have been addicted to computers since puberty.  Where has it gotten me.  Where has it gotten us?

I have been playing with computers since about 1973, when I was 13 years old.  My math teacher, Mr. Wilbur ("Greasy Pete" we called him, because of his love of Vitalis - the 60 second workout!) decided that computer programming could be learned at almost any age.  Before that, only "Seniors" were deemed worthy of learning the ins and outs of writing code.   Mr. Wilbur proved the skeptics wrong.

My first "machine" was a time-shared PDP-8 which had less memory and a slower processor than what's in a simple kitchen timer today. 4K of hand-wound "core" memory, consisting of little metal ferrules or "cores" with wires intersecting and wrapped around them. These were "knit" by hand by little old Italian ladies in the suburbs of Boston - one of them was a grandmother of my roommate at GMI. The "processor" was a series of logic gates - each on its own removable "flip card" hand-wired with a wire-wrapping tool. We communicated with this high-tech monster using a Western Electric teletype machine, hooked up to a phone line via a 110 Baud modem (MODulator-DEModulator) connection. If you wanted to "save" a program you were working on, you could either print it out (and re-type it later) or make a copy on "paper tape" which would spit out from the side of the teletype in a 1" wide yellow paper strip. Later on, you could run this tape through the reader (also built-in to the teletype) and "load" your program - basically re-typing the entire program using the automated tape feed.

And I was addicted.

I would spend every spare moment playing with that computer. I would type in programs I found in "Byte" magazine, or faded copies on brown printer paper (tractor feed? Don't get fancy!) handed to me by older boys. I wrote a few original programs of my own, including a "Star Wars" program that simulated - via text - the climatic ending of that movie.  My other math teacher - Miss White - the fireplug-shaped lesbian, would scream at me as the rat-a-tat-tat of the teletype machine interrupted her class.

It was pretty primitive.  I was hooked.

I went away to prep school and they had a brand-spanking new PDP-11 with dual 8" floppy drives! Wow! You could write a program and store it on a disc. I learned early on, to my dismay, the importance of backing up your programs, as those old low-density floppy discs could easily un-format themselves and you'd lose all your data. It was fun and again, I spent all my free time playing on the computer. We even had a DEC VT-100 monochome CRT monitor! No more punching keys on a teletype or wasting paper. And speaking of paper, we had a Digital Equipment LA-36 DecWriter, which used 11" wide tractor-feed "computer paper" in alternating bars of white and blue - just like the big boys had!

I went away to college and it was harder to get my computer fix. GMI had a hoary old IBM 360 mainframe on which we were "taught" to program FORTRAN on punched cards. You used a punch card machine to write your program - one card for each line of code - and then you presented it to the computer Gods who ran the almighty mainframe. Overnight (!) they would "run" your program and present you with a list of error codes it generated (if any) the next day. If you were like me, and wrote code and then ran it to debug, this was frustrating. It was like having sex over long-distance, or one of those chess games people play by mail.

I found my fix elsewhere. At the factory, they bought a CP/M machine which sort of looked like what would become the IBM PC in a few years - a CRT (monochrome) monitor, a box containing the 8080 processor and S100 bus, and a separate keyboard. If only Gary Kildall had signed that license agreement! Bill Gates would be a third-shift IT guy at some obscure company today.

Of course, this being General Motors, someone had ordered this computer on the premise that we were moving into the future and needed "computers" even though no one really knew what for. Of course, being all of 18 years old, I turned it on and started playing with it. One of the draftsmen said, "turn that off! You'll break it! That's an expensive computer!" Translated: Stop showing me up. Computers scare me. Make it all go away!

I left GM and went to work for Carrier and bought an IBM PC Jr. What a piece of junk. To save money, they eliminated the parity bit in the memory and processor, so it ran on seven bits instead of eight, insuring regular crashes. Inexplicably, they made it incompatible with all regular IBM-PC software. Sure, you could "run" some programs (like the early version of flight simulator) but the colors would all be "off".

At work, they had a motley collection of machines, including a TEKTRONICS graphics computer which used a phosphor screen. This kind of screen didn't need to be "refreshed" at 60Hz or whatever. You drew on it and the image stayed for hours until you "wiped" the screen. It also had a four-color (four pen) X-Y plotter that could draw graphs. For some reason, people think these are a new invention, and I see "Tick-Tock" videos online of an X-Y plotter drawing funny things and people saying, "Look! The computer can draw!" as if this "invention" that was around in 1981 was novel. Whatever it takes for those Tick-Tock hits, I guess.

Anyway, we used the TEKTRONICS to input data and draw graphs, and like at GM, there was a mainframe department and the acolytes there guarded the temple with fury. No one was allowed in! No one may program the sacred machines! They stooped to writing a simple program for the TEKTRONICS, but charged our department thousands of dollars. My boss was excited I could write better programs for free. And like a lot of machines in that era, it ran on BASIC, which was clunky, but easy to use. Of course, each brand of machine had its own version of BASIC, so you had to learn the nuances between them. For example, the TEKTRONICS machine had its own graphics command set to run the X-Y plotter and draw vector graphics. Slowly.

We actually had an old PDP-8 in the heavy machinery lab, which logged data from the test equipment on giant "hard drives" the size of garbage can lids. These "disc packs" could be removed (they probably stored 1MB or so) and replaced. We also had those reel-to-reel tapes, as I recall, like you see in old movies, whenever the plot calls for "a computer". The PDP-8 ran a hoary old program in BASIC that the lab engineer had written years ago. They thought about replacing the PDP-8 with a Hewlett-Packard "Mini-Mainframe" computer, but by then, you could buy a surplus, new-in-the-box PDP-8 for a few hundred dollars. So they bought that and delayed buying the H-P for a few years. The mighty PDP-8, once time-shared, and once worth tens of thousands of dollars, was now just so much scrap to be thrown away or sold for whatever price it could command.

There is a pattern here - stay tuned.

They wanted to test an Hitachi centrifugal chiller in the packaged A/C building in TR-20, which didn't have the same computer setup. They had a PR1ME computer (no, that is not a typo!) because UTC foolishly bought PR1ME. Think IBM mainframe, but an orphan. The PR1ME was a piece of junk and could not log data in real-time from a number of test rooms. So they bought a plethora of Apple III computers with floppy drives and color monitors (!!) to "store" the data and then later upload it in a stream to the PR1ME for "processing." The data would then be "downloaded" to the Apple III to be plotted on an x-y 4-pen plotter (again, not a novelty back then, or today). It was a cantankerous solution to the problem, and done only to save face for executives who ordered the PR1ME computer for TR-20.

Well, I looked at the setup and realized the Apple III was more than capable of logging the data, processing it, and printing it out. I got a copy of the original PDP-8 BASIC processing program from my friend in the TR-1 heavy machinery lab, and entered it into the Apple III (making backup copies to be sure!) translating when necessary from DEC Basic to Apple Basic. And it worked.

Of course, I also had to install the chiller, wire it up and instrument it - and then connect the instruments to an interface board that converted the 4-20mA analog data to digital and then loaded it into the Apple III. But after it was all done - in less than a month - We ran the machine and printed out the data. Some "suits" came by to see the work and I ran a test run and showed them how it could print out a graph in near-real-time.

"That's all very well and fine," one said, "But where is the step where you upload the data to the PR1ME computer for processing?" I didn't realize the guy I was talking to was the one who ordered the expensive and useless PR1ME computer. So I replied, "Oh, we don't need to do that - all the processing is in the Apple!"

Awkward silence.

I am sure they agreed that "the kid" didn't know what he was doing and the data was no good, and probably re-did all the work using the PR1ME computer (and paying a month's salary to a "programmer" to rewrite the processing software in COBOL of whatever, and then translate it all back into BASIC for the Apple to plot). But at that point, I was back in school working on my Engineering degree.

School was a computer desert, oddly enough. One of the professors there was keen on an obscure computer language called "APL" as he had a hand in promoting it. To program in APL, you used Greek letters as commands. So the first thing you did was tear all the keys off your computer and replace them with new keys with these Greek letters on them. I'll bet that asshole at S.U. had a hand in selling the replacement keys, too! If you had an oddball machine (like the ill-fated PC Jr.), then you had to put little stickers on the keys. The idea was, each greek letter stood for a command, so instead of having to write "LET X=1" which took six keystrokes, you could replace "LET" with <alpha> (or whatever, APL freaks can go fuck themselves) and save three keystrokes!

The idea was that everything was expressed as vectors and arrays, so you could process whole arrays of data at once, which might be useful, for example, in graphics rendering (they claim). But I am not so sure. Maybe it makes it easier for the programmer to write code to process a graphics array, but the machine still has to crunch the numbers, one bit at a time. Tellingly, not many people use APL today, and the Wikipedia entry seems like a long-winded apology for it. Some claim it is not even a programming language but rather a calculating tool.

What does APL stand for?  "A Programming Language" - the language itself is equally as clever.

As I noted before, back then, "Computer Science" wasn't considered "Science" but "Art" and if you got a Computer Science degree, it was a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Liberal Arts department, not from the Engineering school. "Computer Engineering" didn't exist. There was Electrical Engineering - where you might learn how to design a microprocessor, but not how to program it.  Even the Patent Office didn't recognize "Computer Science" as "Science" and would not hire CE graduates as Examiners or indeed, allow Patents directed to computer software (which, they argued, was just human thoughts expressed electronically).

This reflected a longstanding prejudice against programmers (which is probably justified - IT people and gamers are gross, let's face it!) The money was in the hardware - the mainframe and the circuitry. In the case of IBM, the money was in the punch cards - they sold (leased) the machines at cost and made their money selling you punch cards, which like with a McDonald's franchisee, you had to buy from them only. Woe be to the IBM user who was caught using 3rd-party punch cards. They would rip the leased machine out of your building overnight.

Programming was seen as merely "using" the machine. Think of it this way: You sell a car to someone, and you make money selling them a car. You don't pay them to drive it. And that is how computers were viewed back then. You hired a "programmer" who was paid very poorly (compared to today) and the major cost was the lease payments on the mainframe, or maybe your punch cards. Programmers didn't have the stature or the leverage they had to day.

But at about that time, of course, the IBM-PC was introduced. And while it took a few years to get going, it turned out that the key to the personal computer wasn't in the hardware, but the operating system and software. When I bought that PCJr, I didn't buy programs with it (like a primitive checkbook program for $99!) because I always wrote my own programs - that is what one did back then. Off-the-shelf software? Pray tell, why?

But just as the folks at Syracuse University were blinded by APL and the dichotomy between "real" Engineering and computer programming, many of us at the time were blinded by the new reality of the Personal Computer. Thousands - and eventually millions - of computers out there, and all of them would need software and 99.9999% of the users would be unable to write their own code (and unwilling even if they could).

Like the orphan CP/M machine at GM, people bought computers without really knowing why they wanted or needed one. They needed programs to run, and that's where the real money was to be made. And like so many other people, I was blind to the opportunities in computer programming. Programmers made little money back then, because they were captive employees of one company, and wrote custom software for that company. My Dad's little truck-clutch factory had its own IBM 360 mainframe, along with a number of "operators" and at least one programmer. They were slated to replace it, and by then you could buy PCs and network them together. But the IBM guy said some silly little PC couldn't do all the heavy lifting of a mainframe computer! The opposite was actually true.

But the point is, a programmer was on salary to one company and wrote software for that one company. In the PC world, you would write a program and sell millions of copies of it - hundreds of millions, in fact. It is akin to being a local lounge singer, playing the piano and signing for tip money at the local bar, and being a stadium-filling, Platinum-record-selling superstar who is worth millions. Just as mass-media made superstars of a few people, the PC ended up creating tech superstars.

And most of us were blind to this at the time.

I digress, but many think this is the start of the Bill Gates story - that he saw this all coming and "designed" DOS and Windows and became a billionaire. The reality, as I noted before, was that a lucrative IBM contract to supply IBM-DOS landed in his lap. He paid someone else to write the first version of DOS, and pocketed the difference. The contract allowed him to sell copies of DOS to third parties. IBM did this because who would want a copy of DOS? After all, IBM gave it away for free with each computer. But the "clone" market took off and eventually forced IBM out of the computer business, and all those clones needed copies of DOS - which Gates pretty much had the monopoly on.

I graduated from Syracuse University having learned little or nothing about computers or computer programming. What I knew about programming I learned on the job - as so many do. You spend 40+ hours a week doing something, you learn it. You spend an hour or two a week in class, you get a rough idea.

I went to work for the Patent Office and we had no computers there, other than shared terminals for UNIX machines that could access the Patent Office database, using obscure Boolean search terms, displayed on monochrome (orange) screen or printed out on a nine-pin dot matrix printer. Many of the Examiners would bring computers from home, as writing out office actions on paper with pencil was tedious. I still had that old PCJr., believe it or not, and I guess it worked better than I remember, as I used it for a year or so at the PTO before buying a new Hyundai 286 machine, with a 15" VGA monitor and a 20 MB hard drive (!!) for about $2500.

By then, I had not only had a nine-pin dox matrix machine hooked into the PCJr., but a Smith-Corona daisywheel "letter quality" printer. It was basically an old Smith-Corona typewriter (from Ithaca New York) without a keyboard. When you printed with it, it sounded like a machine gun going off. One of the other Examiners "found" an acoustical enclosure for it, and it sat on its own printer stand. When the new Hyundai arrived, I bought a 27-pin "near letter quality" Panasonic KXP-1132 printer and ditched the daisy wheel and the nine-pin. I was in the big time now - running WordPerfect and all. I could even "dial up" to the USPTO database using my US Robotics 2400 Baud external modem. Whoo-whee! That was lightning fast!

I mentioned the Patent Office database, and IBM comes into play once again. Back in the 1960's, the Patents were typeset to be printed, and they used IBM tapes to record the typesetting instructions. Someone saved all those tapes, from the 1960's onward and by the 1980's someone had the bright idea that maybe you could put that data on a large hard drive or drives, and then index it and make it into a searchable database. It was not so much designed as a database, we just happened to fall ass-backwards into it. The computer world is full of such happy accidents.

Although PCs were well known by then, and networking was even a thing, the USPTO was dogged by an antiquated WANG computer system. Seems the office wanted to go to PCs and a network, and they put it out for bid. WANG, by then a struggling mini-mainframe company, protested the bidding process, saying it was "unfair" that a certain operating system (DOS) should be used. They won the protest, and the Patent Office was saddled - for a decade - with some surplus WANG machines that kept that company solvent for yet another quarter.

So when I typed my office actions on my computer, I could print them out and then hand them to the typist, who would then re-type them into the Wang machine. It was a laborious and cantankerous way of doing business, Eventually, with the rise of "near letter quality" printers, we were allowed to use our own printouts attached to the Office Actions, rather than have them re-typed.

After two years, I left the Patent Office and went to work for a law firm. Once again, computers were not provided, and many of us had to bring our own computers from home. This was 1990, by the way, not some dark ages of the 1980s. Everyone - and I mean everyone - ran WordPefect back then, and they had a near monopoly in the word processing field. It was easy to exchange documents via 5-1/4" floppy disks in the pre-networking world.

Windows became a thing about that time, and I ran out to buy a copy - and a mouse and a mouse "card" and a memory "card" along with 256K RAM "chips" to populate it (via soldering iron). I upgraded my old 286 machine and got...nothing. Windows ran slowly and unless I wanted to spend several hundred dollars on a "suite" of Microsoft Windows programs, it was little more than a glorified shell program. I sent it back to Microsoft and asked for my money back - which they cheerfully gave.

The problem with being an early adapter is that if no one else is on your platform, you are kind of out there on your own. Imagine being the only one on Facebook - kind of pointless, no? Since the firm I worked at was on WordPerfect and DOS, running windows was kind of pointless.

Of course the next year, the firm bought all new PCs for everyone, and they all ran windows and were networked together. 486 machines! Who-hoo! Maybe even 17" monitors, too! And we had access to the network's HP-4P "laser printers" which churned out documents and smelled like diesel engines.

Our firm made the mistake of going to WordPerfect for Windows, which required that everyone re-learn how to use WordPerfect. WordPerfect wasn't a WYSIWYG system - you had to embed "codes" in the text (like HTML) to format the document. Each one of the "function keys" performed a different formatting or other function, and after a while, you got used to hitting CTRL-F7 to do something (I forget what - print?) and you could really make time if you were a keyboardist.

WordPerfect for Windows changed all that. Actually WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS did as well - changing the function of the function keys so that "save document" was now "delete all documents and format hard drive" or something to that effect. Did Bill Gates plant a mole at WordPerfect to destroy it? If not, it certainly worked out that way.

So like the rest of the world, overnight, we all switched to Microsoft WORD and WordPerfect went from flying superstar to out-of-business overnight - a pattern we would see again and again in the brave new computer world.

Again and again.

Computers became less of a novelty and more of a tool. About that time, I was "building" my own machines, which is to say, assembling them from parts. That was the fun of owning a PC, as compared to a MAC. You could go through catalogs and pick out parts and find the best prices - or swap parts with friends or find them for sale locally (on a dialup BBS!) - and "build" your own PC. The day you put it all together and turned it on and loaded DOS - and it worked! - was a magic day. And it never ended there, either, as you could constantly upgrade your machine as time progressed.

I ended up building several. Back then, a new computer was still a couple of thousand dollars, so building your own could cut that cost in half, particularly if you could "find" some parts laying around. Parts were expensive back then. But prices came down. By the time I had my own practice, I was chagrined to see that DELL was selling complete systems for about $500 - so I ordered four and networked them together. I recall buying parts to repair one of my old computers and being shocked that a keyboard could be had for as little as $10 and a complete case and power supply for only a little more. On a $500 computer, the most expensive component was Microsoft Windows.

The world had changed and no one told me.  Software was now the main game.

About that time, I was flying out to Silicon Valley to write Patents for tech companies. My computer education, such as it was, was quickly becoming obsolete. A lot of the new tech made little sense to me. Why create a new "Universal Serial Bus" when parallel ports are so much faster? And what's all this hullabaloo about "wireless" communication? And why did we name it after some Viking dude with bad teeth?

Back then, the PC was still not king. Sun Microsystems was making and selling something called a "SPARC Workstation" and all the Silicon Valley techies were using them, along with something called "MATLAB" to emulate circuit design. Yes, circuits. Hardware was still king in Silicon Valley, where actual silicon was made, or at least designed. But a sea change was coming. The messy business of designing and making hardware - which was quickly becoming a commodity item - was fading or being off-shored or sent to places like Boulder or Austin. Software was now king.

And the Internet - which had been around for decades - started to become a "thing.. About that time, we all signed up for an "ISP" and dialed-up to access our "e-mails" and primitive discussion groups. Websites started to become popular, and we all loaded Netscape Navigator to view them. I was not amused - I preferred to run my computer in "terminal mode" and type in my commands on the command prompt - and read data in ASCII format on the screen. It was fast and simple and there was no slow-loading graphics to distract you. And back then, websites were pretty useless. You couldn't order things online or check your bank balance - the system wasn't that secure!

Of course, all that would change over time, and I was dragged, reluctantly, into the Windows world and into the world of the World Wide Web.

For most people at the time, computers and the Internet were a literal waste of time. People would buy a PC or get one for Christmas and then have no idea what to do with it. You could play a few simple games or balance your checkbook or use a primitive word processor. Sears attempted to start an online service called "Prodigy" and sold computers as well. Sadly, they never synergized this with their famous catalog to create the first online shopping portal. The bandwidth was just to narrow and the graphics too basic.  And catalog shopping was on its way out - Malls were in!

We were all so blind - even major corporations!

America Online or AoL filled in that space - giving ordinary people "something to do" on the Internet. It had primitive discussion groups and even retail outlets. You would type in an "AOL Keyword" to find a merchant's site, and for a while, every billboard and TV ad would obnoxiously mention the advertiser's AOL Keyword - much as many today say, "find us on Facebook!"

AOL was the wading pool of the Internet, and initially, AOL made it hard for users to access the real Internet. But eventually they had to relent, particularly as the World Wide Web thing took off. AOL users found themselves in the deep end of the pool - filled with sharks - and often found themselves making fools of themselves. "AOLamers" we called them, and having an "" e-mail address marked you as a novice. Overnight - once again - a high-flying company came crashing down. AOL once bought Time-Warner. Time-Warner had to pay someone to take AOL off their hands.

Gee, never seen that happen before, eh?

You see a pattern here - companies make it big in the computer world and are forgotten just as quickly. My sister-in-law's family was involved in the creation of Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet software. Yea, it is gone as well, replaced with Microsoft Excel. They made a lot of money during their brief time in the sun - but the sun sets quickly in silicon valley.

Most of the companies I have discussed so far have faded from view. HP, Wang, DEC, Lotus, WordPerfect, AOL, and even IBM - which does some sort of software thing now and is the same company in name only. There would be many more to skyrocket and then fizzle and fall - and many more to come in the future. Exactly how many social network apps can the world support - particularly since many are losing money? It is an interesting question that will be answered in due course.

Of course, the story doesn't end there. In fact, the modern era just started. After the Windows 95 tech crash, a lot of hardware companies, hoping to sell new machines to run Windows 95, went bankrupt. Seems that people stopped being so anxious to "upgrade" every time a new version of their favorite program came out. The old version of WordPefect worked fine - why change horses. If you can wait even a few years, you can switch later on, when the new program has all the bugs worked out.

So we had a world where almost everyone had a computer - or at least people with means, which is a nice advertising demographic. What could they do online, other than work? Well, games started to take off, and online shopping sites like eBay skyrocketed, taking PayPal along with it. And you could buy books on Amazon or download them to your kindle!

Discussion groups were still a thing, of course, but they left the "alt" platforms of primitive text sites and were increasingly hosted on websites. The "alt" groups were largely un-moderated and they became inundated with SPAM and toxic content to the point where they were unreadable. When only 1 out of 100 messages is from a real person, well, it is just noise drowning out signal.

I used to go to discussion groups, for example, to exchange repair tip for BMWs. Over time, some groups gained in popularity, while others fell by the wayside. Most of these sites lost money or made little for their owners, so they sold them off and the new owners "changed direction" and erased all the old postings and photos.

But I noticed something else. Many of these sites were more than factual discussions about repairs or cars or whatever, but became social sites. Sometimes people wanted to meet up in person or attend events. Other times, they just wanted to chat with each other. So you are discussing repairing a control arm bushing and "Ted" chimes in with, "so, Ed, how's the wife and kids?"

People wanted to socialize online. And this was the "genius" of Mark Zuckerberg, such as it was. Sites like Second Life and MySpace preceded him and has some limited success. But they kept screwing the pooch as they never made money and when they tried to monetize in the worst possible way, the users fled. Facebook was in the right place at the right time, when there was a critical mass of installed computers and a lot of bored people looking for something to do, other than play computer solitaire.

And it took off - although like its predecessors, struggled to make money. Early ads on Facebook were mostly for weight-loss scams or outright identity theft. "Obama want's Moms to go back to school!" they would scream, while showing a disturbing photo of some homeless man. This was the future of the Internet? Hard pass!

Zuckerberg did see that "mobile" was the future for Facebook, and by this time, having survived so many computer world booms and busts, I was fatigued of it all. Now we have to buy smart phones? Ugh! This wasn't something I looked forward to. My love affair with computer died with Windows - when I could not longer "see" what was on my hard drive but rather had to trust Microsoft to do what's best for me. My love for computers died when you could no longer just shut them off by hitting the power button.

And smart phone are more of the same. You're never really certain whether some sort of virus or bot or whatever isn't running on your computer or smart phone anymore. There are too many layers of bullshit between you and the 0's and 1's and this is mostly because the vast majority of users would break their machines if allowed access at the root level.

So I resisted buying a smart phone for as long as possible. I saw what it did to people - and what it would eventually do to myself. People had to have these damn things with them at all times, stare at them, scroll, hoping for a hit of dopamine - that someone would "like" their Facebook posting of a picture of their cat. People would scroll Facebook on their phone while you were talking to them. It was rude and yea, we've all done it - which makes it so much worse. Somehow Zuckerberg tapped into the darkest part of humanity - and won it over.

Computers turned from a useful tool to an annoying distraction to a highly-addictive electronic drug. And as people spent more and more time on "social media" they started doing more and more odious things. Political opinions started to move to the extremes. Ideas that had been dumped in the trash-heap of history were dug out, dusted off, and given new names. Communism, Anarchy, Nazism, Fascism, White Supremacy - all proven again and again to be really really bad ideas, have been re-branded as "Democratic Socialism" or "Antifa" or "Neo-Nazi" or "Alt-Right" or "Replacement Theory" and no one seems to notice.

It took a long time to get where we are today, but it seems the pace of change is accelerating. Streaming services are quickly overtaking cable television, which is struggling to adapt to this new reality. But like the alt-discussion groups in the days of ASCII, cable TV has turned into little more than SPAM these days - 50% of airtime on many channels is for advertising - a ratio which makes it unwatchable for all but the most dense of people - who are often in no position to buy the advertisers' products.

Where we go from here and what the future has in store, I do not know. Based on the patterns I've seen, the one sure constant is change. Companies that seem to be part of the landscape today may be gone tomorrow as the short-attention-span of humanity moves on to the next brightly-colored object of their fancy.

I guess what got me started on this, was the fact we are out of Internet and phone service range for a few days. Yes, imagine the horror. Phones are shut off and stone cold. No updates on the news, no text messages from friends or even the bank. It can all wait a few days and that's OK. There was a world before the Internet - before the personal computer - and before the smart phone or even the analog cell phone.

Surprisingly, it didn't take too long to adapt. You quickly - almost immediately - stop looking at your phone. It doesn't work, shut it off. We've been reading books - old paperbacks for me, Mark perusing the 1,000 titles on a mildly malfunctioning tablet device. We've been kayaking, riding our bicycles, or just sitting on the deck overhanging the water, playing gin-rummy and drinking inexpensive Cava. Life could be a whole lot worse.

Of course, some of our neighbors are still "plugged in" - rarely leaving their campers because of the heat and instead staying inside to watch satellite TeeVee and getting angry over something Tucker Carlson told them to be angry about - in air-conditioned comfort. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing of the Russkies blew up a couple of our satellites. But then again, the Russians love Fox News and vice-versa.

Since we are "offline" I am typing this on my laptop in Word 2000 - a 22-year-old program, nearly as old as my bicycle. I can store it and then cut-and-paste it to Blogger when we get back to what passes for "civilization" these days.

It is funny, but as a kid of 13, I was enthralled by computers, and my elders weren't so sure about them. My Mother would go on drunken rampages and say, "what are all these computers going to be good for, anyway?" And I would try to explain how a microprocessor-controlled engine computer could easily double the gas mileage of that era's cars, while reducing emissions. But that fell on deaf ears.

Most people don't realize how computers allow us to survive this way - by bringing order to chaos, efficiency to waste. But when it comes to the human machine, it seems computers do the opposite - encourage primitive thinking and the cargo-cult mentality. The dumbest ides of humanity - flat earth, faked moon landing, anti-vaxx, conspiracy theories - have more followers today than ever before, and I think that is on a per capita basis as well.

Being "unplugged" from the Internet wasn't such a bad thing. Of course, it was only for three days. And I am sure once we are in cell tower range, our phones will go berserk with text messages and e-mails asking where the hell we've been. (UPDATE, yea, that).

I guess the takeaway from this is two things.  First, if I had trusted my instincts early on, I could have been writing software instead of studying the dead-end job of designing circuits.  The former became a path to riches, the latter merely a commodity.  Maybe both are, today.

Second, nothing on the Internet or in the computer world is permanent, no matter how permanent it look or how hard they try to make it look permanent.

Nothing is constant except change.