Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Autism Nation - Single People on the Road!

Have Americans gotten weirder or are they just now more noticeable?

We went on a boat tour on Rainy Lake and Lake Kabetogama and it was interesting.  We like just riding in boats, so that was sufficient for us.  After the tour, we had a picnic lunch and dunked our kayak in and paddled around.  We were happy.

What is interesting about these boat tours or tours in general is that you see a lot of single people traveling alone.  I noted before we met an Indian tech guy traveling alone by RV (and working) and he mentioned going on a similar boat tour.  I guess it makes sense - if you are by yourself, it pays to seek out some organized activity rather than sit around by yourself, pouting.

But what was interesting to me was how people were acting very strangely on this boat tour - and not just single people!  Let me give you some examples:

The Influencers:  A Chinese couple who were desperately trying to appear young (but were not) spent the entire trip, not looking for bald eagles, but instead taking endless selfies and photos of themselves.   They got kind of antsy when other people were in the picture (I guess they wanted Facebook to think this was their private yacht) so I made a point of photo-bombing them (just kidding - I wanted to, though!).  They were an odd couple.  She had long hair going halfway down her back.  I guess she had died it pink at one time (anime?) but it was growing out, so the last 9" were pink, the middle 9" were platinum blonde, and the first 9" were black.  It was not a good look.  What was weird was they acted like we should all know who they were - I guess they were Internet celebrities in China or something.  They kind of got frustrated, I think, that no one asked them for their autograph.

Gamer Boy was there with his family and was full-on Asperger's.  He was about 15 or so, wearing noise-cancelling headphones and carrying a pad device that never left his hands.  He really didn't want to be there, so he spent the entire trip playing some sort of game on his pad and isolating himself from his surroundings.  It was kind of surreal.  I guess the parents couldn't leave him alone at the trailer or hotel room, so they had to bring him - like hauling a sack of cement around.   He was innocuous, though, largely keeping to himself, although his sense of personal space was kind of off.

Lambchop was a nervous, very nervous, skinny girl in her 20's, who carried a backpack with a stuffed toy lamb poking his head out of one zipper.  Her service animal, I guess.  She joined us on the fantail of the boat, where we went to get away from everyone else (I include ourselves in the weirdos category).  She seemed somewhat normal, but I got the impression she wasn't interested in conversation.  She sort of shook and trembled a lot.  I got up to look at something (those damn eagles again - they're everywhere!) and when I went to sit down, the influencer had taken my seat.  So I sat on the other side of Mr. See, next to Lambchop, albeit about a half-seat away.  She started trembling and I got the impression I was making her nervous.  So, when Mr. Influencer got up, I quickly reclaimed my seat and Lambchop stopped vibrating so much.  She gave me a look like "thank you" as apparently being in close proximity to other people made her freak out (I understand this fully - I don't like humans, either - their track record speaks for itself).  The oddest thing she did was, when it got a bit colder out, was to put a tiny hoodie on her stuffed lamb so he wouldn't get cold.

UPDATE:  Mark tells me it was a Llama, not a lamb, as he talked to the lady and she said his name was Larry the Llama.  OK.

Hatman was a handsome older gentleman travelling alone, and he had an immaculate Stetson crush-able hat in the most interesting color - sort of a pumpkin color.  The rest of his wardrobe was a contrasting moss green, except his t-shirt, which you could catch a glimpse of now and then, was an exact match of hat in color, along with a poncho (Suddenly, it's 1970!) in the same pumpkin shade.  He was very well-groomed as well, and I felt like some sort of dirty car mechanic next to him.  How he went ashore and never got dirt and sand on his boots was beyond me (we stopped at an island with an abandoned gold mine).   Nice fellow, but again, the behavior was off.  And it may be simply because he was alone and not with his partner.  I wrote about this before - we all behave differently when alone than with a partner or in a group.

There were a few more single people on the cruise.  There was another Asian fellow, for example, and the noticeable thing about him was that he wanted nothing to do with the Influencers.   No doubt there was some cultural thing going on there, or maybe he just didn't like influencers.  I mentioned before how in "Latin" countries there is a lot of prejudice against people with darker skin colors, as well as prejudice against people from other Latin countries.  The same is true in Asia - each country thinks theirs is superior to others.  The Japanese sort of took that to extreme, of course, in 1939.  So maybe that was the deal.  It was interesting to watch.

But what was interesting to me was how many of these behaviors would not have been seen, even a dozen years ago.  It made me wonder whether we've become a weirder nation, or the freaks are all out of the closet now.  In the past, your oddball Aunt Edna would be shut away and not allowed out in "proper society" lest she bring shame on the rest of the family when she started uncontrollably shouting obscenities.  Today, she can go out and about and we accommodate her behavior.

And maybe this is a good thing - up to a point.  Carrying around a stuffed lamb for security isn't harming anyone or inconveniencing anyone.  If it makes you feel better, why not?  Bringing your Vietnamese Potbellied Pig on an airplane for calming purposes on the other hand, infringes on the rights of others.

As does endless selfies for your influencer channel.

But maybe there is another aspect to this.  Is the whole world going crazy?  You can see where the anti-vaxxers get the idea that vaccines cause autism - it seems everyone is (or claims to be) "on the spectrum" these days.   But I don't think that is the case that vaccines are to blame.

I think that autism has come out of the closet and it is trendy to identify yourself as Aspberger's or whatever.  Everyone also claims to be ADHD or dyslexic or whatever.  We've made being handicapped attractive to most people.  You get attention.  You get special meal.  You get preferred parking and early boarding.  Why not be different?  Being "normal" these days means only having to put up with (and pay for, through taxes) the "abnormal" behavior of others.

This is not to attack the mentally ill or the handicapped.  The really disabled people I have met (mentally or physically) don't really want "special treatment" so much as equal opportunity.  And no, the really handicapped are not annoyed with the terms "handicapped' or "disabled" - only able-bodied people spread that "differently-abled" crap, just as it is tall people who claim that dwarfs and midgets (which are different conditions) demand to be called "little people."  Give me a freaking break.

In fact, the only really annoying behavior on the boat was the influencers, who seemed to think that because of their alleged celebrity status (in another country) they were due special treatment and we all had to move out of their way while he took pictures of his "pretty" wife or girlfriend.

I think this is why we are seeing a lot of push-back on the right these days, against minorities, both racial and sexual.  People are pretty accepting, but they bristle at others getting special advantages that are not offered to them.  People who never went to college or paid back their student loans are upset that others are getting a free $10,000 lopped off their debt.  The fact that others got PPP loans forgiven or corporations get big handouts doesn't appease them at all - they didn't get those freebies, either!  You can't argue "everyone else is getting free money" to the one guy who isn't.

Similarly, I think this whole "trans" thing (both sides of which are being fueled by gasoline thrown on the fire by external forces - is that you, Vlad?) pisses people off because they are being told they not only have to accept someone else's lifestyle, but have to use "correct" pronouns, and if they slip up, even once, they are worse than Hitler. It makes no sense to tell them we have to change the English Language to accommodate the needs of a very few.  Not only that, tell people that they have to pay for expensive elective surgery through their taxes or health insurance premiums.  And worse yet, none of this is up for discussion.

That is not healthy - it will backfire, too.

But I digress.  Maybe I never noticed people being a little off when I was a kid.  After all, in the 1960's, the urge to conform to societal norms was strong.  Charles Nelson Riley or Liberace weren't gay - they were just "confirmed bachelors" (like Lindsey Graham) who "haven't found the right woman yet" (one with a penis).  Today, that's a lot easier to find.

Maybe we've become a nation of weirdos - and I'm one of them.  Maybe we are just more accepting of differences - and that's a good thing.  I just hope we don't take a good thing too far - or that we already have.

Seems a lot of people these days are wanting to go back to the days of conformity.  And that's not progress!

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

When Kleptocracy Takes Over - The Florida Roofing Insurance Scam

Florida will sink out of sight long before global warming raises water levels.

I used to live in Florida - for about three years.  We had a home address there, paid our taxes there (property - more on that, later), had Florida driver's licenses, and voted there.   But just before the meltdown of 2008, we sold out and left - and moved to Georgia.  Why was this?

Well, there is a lot to Florida not to like.   Too many damn people moved there, seeking jobs or easy money.  "Florida Man" has become more than just a meme - it is a way of life down there.  The culture of belligerence - strong across America - has its spiritual home there.  Everyone, it seems, in Florida, has some sort of angle or scam going on.  It was, of course, the home of the "Florida land scam" - dating back to long before World War II.

Lately, however, things have gotten out of control - to the point where ordinary people cannot afford their homes anymore.  And maybe we'll see a breaking point as a result - maybe not.  What is this scam?  How does it work?  Why doesn't anyone do anything about it?  How will it affect you?  One question at a time, please.

The scam has been explained elsewhere, but the gist is this - crooked roofers, working with crooked lawyers, go door-to-door with homeowners (or homeowners call them, after seeing ads promising a "free roof!") and tell them the slight damage or ordinary wear-and-tear on their roof is due to hurricane damage - sometimes from years' past.  They sign a contract with the homeowner, strip off the roof and leave the house with a tarp over it.  They charge the insurance company for a new roof, but the insurance company refuses (rightly so) to pay for "damage" that is nonexistant or is just ordinary wear.

The crooked lawyers who have an arrangement with the roofer then sue the insurance company and years later, the company settles and (hopefully) the money pays for the new roof - after years of living under a tarp.  The homeowner then regales his friends how he "got a free roof" from the insurance company (because, as we know, screwing insurance companies is American as Apple Pie - right?) and others get the keen idea that maybe they too, should get a free roof.

Florida is the land of billboard lawyer advertising.  Everyone, it seems, is suing everyone else, for injuries real or imagined.   Get into a car accident?  No matter how minor, it is grounds for a lawsuit.  Fall down in the grocery store?  Sue the store!  One billboard near Miami even suggests how to stage such an accident - by throwing a container of orange juice on the floor and than claiming you "slipped" on the liquid.

The problem is, the insurance companies can't just absorb these costs forever.  Many have gone bankrupt, others have simply left the State.  Rates for remaining companies have soared.  I addressed this before - how hurricane and flood and homeowner's insurance (often three separate policies) have risen so much in Florida - even before this roofing scam crises - that properties are expensive to own.  Libertarian Florida touts its lack of State income tax as an example of good fiscal management, but they fail to mention the sky-high property taxes.

One reason we left Florida was the property taxes were going up - and up.  We're talking thousands of dollars a year for what were ordinary properties.  Today, some are tens of thousands of dollars a year.  When Mark's stepmother died, we inherited a house along with his siblings.  Between the three of them, none could afford to keep the house, as the property taxes would exceed $15,000 a year and the insurance $5000 or more (today, double that, due to this scam).  We would have had to rent the house out all year long, to vacationers, just to break even - and that would mean we couldn't use the home.

Meanwhile, back in Georgia, we are paying $2800 a year for property taxes and less than half that for insurance - including flood and hurricane.  We're glad we moved.

So why should you care?  Why has no one done anything about this?  Well, people should care - and do care - because they are being priced out of their homes.  Retirees flocked to Florida years ago for the low taxes (property taxes weren't too crazy back then, and if you've been living there for decades, your taxes are "locked in" by the homestead exemption).  Many owned their homes outright or had small mortgages.  Insurance was not cheap, but not unaffordable, either.

When people sell their homes, the potential buyers may balk at these staggering insurance (and property tax) costs and thus offer much lower prices.  When insurance and taxes cost more per month than the mortgage P&I, something isn't right - and something has to give.  Sales price is the only variable - yet most people think these are set in stone!.

So why doesn't someone do something about this?   Well, the State Legislature and the Governor are on it!  They passed legislation to "don't say gay!" in school and then voided Disney's special tax status when the company had the audacity to publicly criticize the law.  Yes, under Citizens United, Corporations are deemed to be people, too!0  But apparently, Corporate Citizens are not allowed first amendment rights if they are voicing opinions unpopular with Republicans.

The governor and the legislature took further decisive actions to fix the problem - banning books and banning transgender athletes.  They fired the State Statistician when she published unflattering Covid numbers.   They are not just sitting on their hands, here!

What do those actions have to do with roofing fraud?  Nothing.  Everything. You see, the governor and the legislature can't do anything about the fraud - or the numerous other scams and cons going on in Florida because the lawyer's guild and the roofer's guild own these politicians and pay for their political campaigns.   So they make big noises about fixing the problem, but in the end, do nothing.

Well, they do something.  They get the plebes all riled up about stupid and even nonexistant "social issues" to get elected and get re-elected.   The plebes, distracted like a small child by a shiny object, don't seem to notice what is really going on.

Well, they notice when they get their tax bill and insurance bill.  But even then, the Republican governor and Republican legislature will blame Democrats for the problem - and a lot of really stupid people in Florida will believe it.  Have you ever been to the Villages?   It is chock full of stupid.

OK, so you don't live in Florida.  This doesn't affect you, right?  Maybe not yet.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow.  But in 2024, Governor DeSantis is running for President, and he wants to continue the grifting that Trump was just getting started with (and was poor at executing).  Once the Federal government is entrenched with legislators beholden to money interests, the whole system will fall apart - America will turn into a kleptocracy like Russia or Mexico or South Korea - where a few wealthy families own everything and control everything.

Now, in this instance, it is the GOP who is behind this sort of shenanigans, but in the past and even today, Democratic politicians have put the interests of special interests above that of their constituents.  And yes, Democrats use "social issues" (such as abortion) to rile up the plebes to get them to vote, even as the real constituents loot the pockets of Joe Voter. It is just that Republicans have been far better at this game as of late.

There does seem to be hope, however.  Both political parties rail against "special interests" even as they lap up special interest money.  Trump ran on that platform - that he was going to "clean up the swamp" and I guess as a career swamp creature, he would know how that works.  But of course, he didn't do squat, other than to sell out to a different set of special interests before he was booted from office.

Eventually, something has to give.  The younger generation is getting a little fed-up with the promises they were made and then not kept.   They are exhorted to work long hours at minimum-wage jobs and then told it is their fault they are broke all the time and cannot afford to rent their own place, much less own their own home.  Meanwhile, mega-corporations are buying up real estate and renting it out to middle-class citizens.  Is it already too late?  Maybe we are already a kleptocracy.

I think, however, that the tide is turning.  You can distract people with "social issues" only for so long.  Once they get the bill for all of this and are forced out of their homes (or indeed, cannot afford to buy one in the first place) they may change their minds.  They may just say, "You know, I don't really give a rat's ass (no pun intended) if Mickey Mouse comes out as transgender - I just want my homeowner's insurance to be something reasonable!" 

But, we'll have to wait-and-see about that.  So far, it seems social issues are winning and winning big - people are showing up at Gay Pride events with weapons - and many others are being cancelled out of fear.   Bad news, as we are going to Duluth this weekend and had no idea it was Gay Pride weekend.

UPDATE:  When searching for the image above, I came across dozens of blogs and websites and articles by lawyers and roofers, talking about "hidden damage" from hurricanes in the past, and suggesting you hire them to sue your insurance com9pany for a whole new roof.   It's like these guys organized this or something.  Once again, a conspiracy theory right out there in the open - and one that is rational and well-documented. But again, people would rather be distracted by Qanon than their bank balance.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Cast Iron

Sometimes the old-timey cheap stuff is the best.

I wrote before about pots and pans.  When Mark was working at Williams-Sonoma, he came home with some "Calphlon" pans which were basically consumer-grade versions of the aluminum restaurant pans that they used to use.  They worked OK, but everything stuck to them, so I never saw the point to them.  They certainly looked cool hanging from the $500 pot rack in the kitchen, though!   I think now that perhaps that was the point - they were featured on all those home shows.  It was a status thing.

Years later, we bought a set of Tfal pans at the wholesale club to use in the camper and the condo.  They were cheap, durable, nothing stuck to them, and they worked well.  They didn't last more than a few years - particularly the frying pan - as the teflon would wear off and, being aluminum, they would warp over time, like Calphlon did.   But for the price of one Calphlon pan, you could buy a whole set of Tfal pans.

In response to that posting, a reader wrote to remind me of the virtues of cast iron. And recently, it seems cast iron is achieving cult status amongst the younger set - there are websites, blogsites, and discussion groups devoted to cast iron cookery.

It's not like we didn't already own cast-iron cookery.  But we used it only for certain things, such as making Maine "egg pancake" or roasting wild Georgia shrimps over a bed of rock salt.  The idea of cast-iron for everyday use was beyond us.

Maybe that was because of the mysteries surrounding cast iron and the cult-like following it had.  I had a bad experience in college when I washed my roommate's cast-iron frying pan.  "My grandmother brought that from the old country!" he shouted.  "It took a century for it to be seasoned like this!  It will never be the same!"

Of course, he was wrong.  And "seasoning" is one of those great mysteries of cast-iron cookery that is really no mystery at all.  Over time - a very short period of time - the oil and grease absorb into the surface of the iron and make a no-stick surface.  Just oil it and heat it up again and wipe it clean and you're back in business.  Sadly, a lot of people want to make a big deal about this in discussion groups, which probably serves to chase off more people from cast iron than it attracts.  And maybe that is the point - after all, you can't have plebes and newbies using the almighty cast-iron cookery, right?  Close the door behind you!  Only hipsters allowed in!

But it is cheap.  Walmart carries a whole line of Lodge cast iron - in the camping section, not the home section, for some reason.  Cast iron is only for camping - that is the message they are sending, I guess.

On this trip, though, we have embraced the cast iron fry pan fully.  Our Tfal pan finally bit the dust.  It  was warped (aluminum, again) and the teflon coating was starting to wear off (in your food - nice!).  So we dusted off the cast-iron "spider" (frying pan) we carried with us, put a little olive oil on it, heated it up and wiped it out and have been using it for a month now.  We've forgotten how simple and easy it is to use a cast-iron pan and how inexpensive they are as well.  Some times the old things are the best.

It is just sad that for 30 years or so, we chased the false gods of Calphlon and Teflon.

The cast iron frying pan has other uses as well.  It makes an ideal murder weapon, as Cicely Tyson illustrated (as "Sipsey") in Fried Green Tomatoes.

It's not just for frying green tomatoes!  You can kill Klansmen with it!

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Cruising the Campground - Don't!

If you feel like cruising through a campground to see what's going on, just don't.

I was reading online reviews of a campground in Provincetown (for next year?) and there were a number of one-star reviews from people who never even camped there.  One said they "accidentally" drove through the campground as there were "no signs" (there is a huge one, out front, and a guard shack as well!).  Another claimed they were "just checking it out" for future reference.  They were upset that the management asked them to leave and weren't very nice about it.  Funny thing, that!

Now granted, I have been to that campground back when it was family-owned and run and they only accepted cash (hello IRS?) and yea, the people running it were a bit antsy.  But it is under new management now and they accept credit cards.  They still don't appreciate people driving through the campground out of curiosity.  Like anyone else in the hospitality business, they don't appreciate people who make life difficult for the other guests or for management.   Again, what a funny thing, eh?

We see these sort of people, all the time in all sorts of campgrounds and frankly, it is creepy as fuck.  People drive through the campground, slowing down at each site to "check it out" as to who is camping where and in what kind of rig.  It is annoying as all get out, particularly when people do it late at night.  At one municipal park we stayed at on the Mississippi (in Missouri) it seemed that every citizen in town had to cruise through the campground, in cars, trucks, ATVs and golf carts (allowed on the road in that town).  One fellow drove through the place several times, apparently to show off his new straight-pipe exhaust system.  We were going to stay for three days - we left the next day.

Why is this creepy? Well, it is on a number of levels. Imagine you live in a suburban or rural neighborhood and people went "cruising" down your street at all hours of the day and night and even drove up your driveway "just to see what's going on."  You'd be pissed.  You're trying to get to sleep in what you thought was a peaceful suburban or rural environment and some idiot's headlights are blaring into your bedroom or the same said jerk is doing a zero-radius turn on your freshly paved driveway.

It is the same thing, camping. You go out to the wilderness to experience wilderness, or at least something other than urban living.  An endless stream of curiosity-seekers wasn't on your menu.  And what's more, we aren't creatures in a zoo to be gawked and stared at - anymore than anyone else is.  Some days, I am tempted to follow these idiots into town, park in front of their house and just sit there for an hour, staring at their front door.  No doubt, they would call the Police and rightfully so.

Nearly every single campground in the nation has a sign up front saying, "registered campers only" which translated into plain English (in case you didn't get it) means, gethefuckouttahere!

Now of course, you may argue that you might want to stay at said same campground and want to see what it's like.  And in most cases, you can visit a campground and ask for a tour or ask if you can just look around.  Most campground owners, hosts, or rangers, will accommodate this.  But that is the exception to the rule.  99% of these creepy campground cruisers are not potential customers but rather people from area just "checking things out."

Which brings us to this: One reason some of these folks are "checking things out" is that they are looking for stuff to steal.  Sometimes they steal entire RVs, particularly trailers.  They grind off the serial numbers and register it as a "homebuilt" trailer (popular in Georgia) or use it as a hunting camp and never bother to register it.   But thieves also look for loose gear, boats, outboard motors, bicycles and anything else not nailed down.  Crimes of opportunity.

It doesn't happen often.  Many RVers are also gun owners and if you go nosing around someone's campsite or trying to open doors or compartments, you might end up getting shot.

Like I said, it is pretty rare. But creepy people cruising the campground tend to make the campers feel less secure and vulnerable. We were at a county park in Kansas once and it was in the middle of nowhere.  It seemed like a nice place to stay for the night, but then the local teens started "cruising" the place, playing music loudly, throwing beer cans (and bottles) around and generally making a nuisance of themselves.  Maybe they were harmless kids just having fun.  Maybe not.  We didn't stick around to find out - we left.

Now granted, if you live on a public street, particularly in a city, you get traffic all the time.  People drive by on their way from Point A to Point B.  But if you are suburban Mom at home during the day, and you saw some guy slowly cruising down the street, slowing at each house and examining them in detail, you would likely get creeped out, if not in fact call the cops (or post something alarming on Facebook).  I wouldn't blame you - it is odd behavior in my book.  So why would people do this at campgrounds?

Mark's Dad used to do this, and maybe 50 years ago, people didn't see it as creepy.  He would drive the family station wagon (Rambler) through the local campground to "see what's going on!"  Oddly enough, they were RVers - at least renting RVs on several occasions.  I guess he didn't see the connection between his behavior and that of others creepy-cruising when he was camped out.

It seems like a harmless enough thing to do, but it is weird and unsettling, so just don't do it, OK?  Respect the privacy of the campers - they have so little as it is.  They are not an exhibit at a museum or a zoo.  They are not a freak show for your enjoyment.

Just say NO to cruising the campground!   That is, unless you are camping there.  And even then....

Saturday, August 27, 2022


Some people, it seems, just can't give you a straight answer when you ask for their address.

I wrote before about information hoarders - who want to keep important information for themselves, so everyone has to ask them (and find them first!) whenever they need a key bit of information.  Folks do this for a number of reasons, mostly to feel important and the need to create the impression with management that they are essential workers.  If you have an employee like this, carefully squeeze all the information you can out of them, and then fire them.  An employee that can be replaced by a binder of information or a FAQ page isn't worth keeping.   Employees who refuse to document their work are toxic.  It may be costly to get rid of them, but it is less costly in the long-run.

When traveling, information hoarders are particularly problematic. In Vermont (and most of New England) there is the tired old trope of the local farmer, in response to a request by "flatlander" tourists for directions, to scratch his chin and say, "Well, you caaan't get there from here!"

Haw-haw.  It isn't funny.

What got me started on this was an "address" for an Army Corps park (provided with our reservation confirmation) that was listed as "Route 46, Northome, MN" which seemed kind of vague to begin with.  No street address?  Just a street?  Nevertheless, I plugged it into the GPS and it took us to Northome, and a few miles out of town, it said, "you have arrived" - but no campground was in sight.  30 miles later, we come to the intersections of Route 46 and Route 9 and there it is.  Nowhere near Northome.  Why would someone put that down as their address?  Even the post office wouldn't deliver there!  And it would be so much easier to state, if you just wanted to list a road, the road you are on.

(Note: The website provides "directions" and latitude and longitude, the latter of which cannot be entered into the Ford GPS - but you have to navigate to the "about' page on that site.  No street address provided!  And why provide the wrong address on the reservation confirmation?).

We've seen this before in a number of iterations.  In one case, the "address" for a Virginia State Park was the home address of the park ranger, in a subdivision in a nearby town, ten miles away.  Neighbors told us we weren't the first ones to come to his house, looking for a State Park.  Dead-end street, too!  No way to turn around with a trailer!  Why list the park ranger's home address on the website?  It makes no sense.

We eventually find the parks, of course, and often Google Maps has a better feel for where things are than any built-in or dashboard GPS in your car.  And that is why car GPS systems are falling from favor - they become obsolete pretty quickly as new roads are constructed.  Magellan at least, had a "free lifetime upgrade" offer on a cheap GPS that we bought for the Frontier, and that worked great until it died, five years later. The F150 is now six years out of date, and Ford sends me a letter helpfully suggesting I take it to the Ford dealer for a map update for "only" $240.  Who are they fucking kidding?

I ask a park ranger or a desk clerk at a commercial park why they don't have their address listed, but instead have "directions."  They smugly reply that "You can't find this place on GPS - GPS doesn't work here!  Hee-hee!" as if the global positioning system somehow had dead zones.  They will literally refuse to give you their street address over the phone or on their website, relying instead on a set of obtuse "directions" which are sure to get you lost.  Even when I show the clerk or ranger that I was able to navigate there by GPS using their street address they refuse to believe it. "Well, that doesn't always work for some GPS systems - they're all different, you know!"

No, I don't know.  Maybe in the early days of in-car nav systems, like the one in my 2002 X5, this may have been true.  That system was pretty primitive, had a tiny display, and made you change CDs (yes, CDs) every time you crossed a State line.  That was 20 years ago.  The database has improved since then.  But even back then, you could plug in latitude and longitude numbers, if nothing else, and find your way there.  But these same sorts of people refuse to provide even that.  I mentioned this to one park owner, and they said, "Gee, I've been meaning to put that on my website - can you provide me with those numbers?" And I did.

I'm just guessing, but maybe they are reluctant to provide latitude and longitude data, lest someone sick a Bayraker drone on them or something - a disgruntled customer, perhaps.

Now, granted, GPS isn't perfect.  In many rural areas, addresses - even correct ones - may be off by a mile or two, as the mapping system relies on "segments" and thus doesn't give a correct location within a few feet.  But, funny thing, people have address numbers on their mailboxes - and if the idiots at the campground would just give you their address in the first place, you could easily find it by reading mailbox numbers.  Funny thing that, many campground and business owners refuse to put street numbers on their mailboxes or businesses!   You'd think you'd want to attract customers, not send them away in confusion. But it seems to be the norm, particularly in those hideous areas with divided highways bordered by fast-food, muffler shops, Walmarts, and whatnot - no one has a street address on their building or mailbox.  Why?

But what is worse is the "Directions" they do give.  I learned early on that giving directions is a totally different thing than providing an address.  Someone asked me for directions to my house in Virginia, and I realized that depending on whether you were coming from the North, South, East, or West, the directions were vastly different.  I ended up printing them out - it took a full page.  Here in Minnesota, when a campground gives directions, they always assume you are coming from the twin cities area.  Hey, that's where everyone lives, right?  Why would you be coming from somewhere else?   So you have to get out a map and decode the "directions" (which never, ever, include the actual street address, but always end with, "the campground is a mile down the road, on the right" - and you're lucky if you get that last part) and find out where the damn place is and how to get there from where you are.  Sometimes, you can scroll around the GPS and find the place using the "directions" and then hit "Start" but not always.

And many times, the directions are whacked.  I recounted before the directions I once got that included, "Be sure to turn right at the barn that used to be painted green and then drive until you see some cows on your left..."  Great directions, but the barn is no longer green and they did a good job of painting it red, and the cows are being pastured somewhere else - if indeed they were not sent to slaughter.

Like I said, it is information hoarding - and I think these types of front desk workers and park rangers like to make people feel stupid for asking directions, when they could just put a fucking accurate address on their website for Chrissake!  There, I feel better, now. Information hoarders love lording over other people and pretending they are "smart" because they know a street address but they won't tell you what it is.  That's freaking pathetic, if you ask me.

Of course, it is, in part, my fault that I plugged in the wrong address.  I sensed it was wrong when there was no street address, just a road number (of a road that was 100+ miles long).  Usually when I see something like this, I double-check the address with my phone (Google Maps) and a paper map, just to be sure.  Oftentimes, on the Ford GPS, the park shows up as a green part of the map, and oftentimes even the roads to the campsites are shown on the map.  Not always - Winnie Dam campground doesn't exist, according to Ford.  But Google Maps had it nailed.

For example, we were taking a boat tour out of Voyageurs National Park from aptly named Rainy Lake Visotrs' Center.  We went kayaking there as well.  The Ford GPS found the site by name, but gave the address as the entrance to the park.  Google Maps gave the actual street address of the visitor's center, which was within 100 feet of where we wanted to be.   Between the two systems, we got where we needed to go (with a park map in hand to confirm!).

I run into a lot of people who don't bother ordering a GPS in their car, or, if they have one, rarely use it - relying on their phone instead.  Quite frankly, this seems like a better solution and many a time we use the Google Maps instead of the built-in, particularly when trying to find commercial establishments.  Google Maps can find a Trader Joe's far easier than Ford can - particularly when your database is six years out of date. But beware - Google Maps sometimes gives you audible cues as to turns and whatnot, but sometimes doesn't - until you've driven past your turn or gone miles out of your way.  You have to look a the phone to see where to turn, and that is just not an option when you are driving.  That is why I don't rely exclusively on Google Maps - or if I use it, Mr. See holds the phone and keeps track of turns as we go.

There are some, however, who just hate GPS of any sort.  I had some friends who said they never used it, hated it, and even hated it when other people used it in their own cars when they were riding with them.  They have a lot of issues.  That sounds fine and all, but going back to reading paper maps circa 1968 has its disadvantages. For example, a road map or road atlas only has so much resolution, particularly outside urban areas (which usually have enlargements on paper maps).  You want to find a store or restaurant or a post office?  Good luck with your paper map.  You have to rely on what you see as you drive by.  So instead of trying a really fine Thai restaurant that is one block off the thoroughfare, you end up eating at McDonald's because that is all you see when driving through town. Being a Luddite has its disadvantages.

But I learned my lesson. When we travel to our next park, I would double-check the address with Google Maps and also zoom in on the actual park.

But if you are a park ranger, campground owner, or designing a website for a campground or RV park, for the love of God, put down the correct street address - and maybe the latitude and longitude as well!  Make it prominent, too - on the first page, not buried!  And stop putting the office address on your confirmation e-mails!  And bear in mind that no one wants your wacky directions and sorry, but GPS does work there.

Friday, August 26, 2022

The Eagle and the Osprey

An Eagle on lake Winnie, looking for a meal to steal.  Truly the symbol of America!

On a boat tour on Lake Kabetogama, the guide was gushing every time we saw an American Bald  Eagle.  "The noble symbol of our nation!" she said, nearly saluting every Eagle we saw.  I had to suppress a laugh.

A few years ago, we went kayaking in Maine with Mark's brother.  It was fun, and as we were pulling our kayaks out of the water, we were treated to an aerial dogfight that went on for at least a half-hour.  Seems an Osprey had caught a fish.  That itself was amusing enough, watching the Osprey adjust his talons on the fish's back so that the fish was in the direction of travel.  A perpendicular fish presented a lot of aerodynamic drag!

I was musing that Mr. Fish was probably enjoying the view.  "Look at me!  I'm flying! Wheee! Look at all the people down below!  Oh, wait, this isn't good is it?"  Poor Mr. Fish.

But we were not the only ones to take notice.  A Bald Eagle - the great and noble symbol of America - decided that this was an easy free lunch.  What transpired next was a dogfight right out of World War I.  The Eagle had the wingspread and the power and could climb up high and dive down at a high speed on the Osprey, trying to get him to drop his fish.

But the Osprey was more nimble and could turn inside of the Eagle.  The Eagle overshot and would stall in flight, having turned too quickly.  Even with his fish "drop tank" the Osprey could outmaneuver the Eagle.   But could he keep this up forever?  Eventually, they would both become exhausted and maybe the Osprey - with babies to feed - would drop the fish and move on with life.

Neither side wanted to give up.  They went at it again and again, climbing, diving, wheeling, turning.  A half-hour at least, until both were worn down and eventually the Eagle gave up and flew away, humiliated by a mere Osprey!

I later learned, from researching online and from talking to others, that this is not abnormal behavior by Eagles.  They are birds of prey and opportunists - doing anything to get an advantage or just stay alive.  They will hunt, or steal food from even other Eagles, and of course, Ospreys, who they view with disdain (my take, anyway).  They will even eat roadkill, just like a vulture.

And it struck me, what a great symbol for our country!  No wonder Benjamin Franklin suggested (perhaps in jest) that the wild turkey be our nation's symbol.  The Eagle is a jerk.

As a national symbol, it is somewhat odd.  Bald Eagles are rapors - birds of prey that eat other animals.  Yet on our national seal is a Bald Eagle, "spread eagled" and clutching 13 arrows in one claw, and an olive branch in the other.  Yet, in real life, a Bald Eagle is not likely to be offering an olive branch to anyone.  In fact, he will sit his lazy fat ass on a perch for hours, waiting for some other chump to catch something, and then intimidate them into giving it up.

An Osprey catches a fish, and is about to eat it, when an Eagle lands nearby.

Eagle: Hey there, what's ya got?

Osprey (nervous):  Uh, a fish I caught....

Eagle:  Nice fish, be a shame if something happened to it, if you know what I mean!

Osprey: No, I don't know what you mean.

Eagle:  Well, the forest is a dangerous place.  Things can happen.  Birds can get hurt.  But I can help you out.

Osprey:  How's that?

Eagle:  Protection.  For every five fish you catch, you give me one.  I look out for you and make sure no one tries to steal your fish.

Osprey:  But isn't that what you're doing?

Eagle:  Look, you catch five fish - that's a lot.  More than enough to feed yourself and your family.  What's one lousy fish in return for security?  Which would you rather do, catch one extra fish for me, and be secure, or have to fight off every Eagle and Raptor in the forest? It's an offer you can't refuse.

Osprey:  And if I refuse?

Eagle:  I know where your nest is.  Nice eggs ya go there.  Shame if something happened to them.  I know a raccoon who can climb trees.  That information is of value to him.

You get the idea - the Eagle is the mafioso of the bird world.  We think it is noble and kind, but it is self-serving like most of the animal kingdom is - and has to be, to survive.  Stealing food is just a way of getting along.  So they do it.

And by doing so, makes them the perfect symbol of our Capitalist country.   Say, nice banana republic you got there.  Shame if something happened to it.....I can help you out...

Thursday, August 25, 2022


The concept of online avatars is nothing new.

Many years ago, in the 1990's, I used to fly out to silicon valley to meet with various tech companies to interview Engineers and "take cases" - get data to write Patent Applications.  I would spend time with the Engineers and in-house counsel and take them out to Chinese buffet luncheons.  It was a different world back then, and I was a different person.  It seems all like a dream, now.

I recall spending a luncheon with a friend who was in-house counsel, and he regaled me with tales of a brave new online world that would come to being - sooner than we expected - with everyone living a "second life" online, in a virtual reality world, where we could chose our own "avatar" to represent us.  It could be a 3-D rendering of our image, or a cartoon-like copy, or perhaps even some sort of animal or other creature.  It would be fun and interactive.  There would be games, there would be work, meetings, shopping, online storefronts.  Your whole life could exist in this virtual world.

That was the 1990's.  In 2011, someone published a book called "ready player one" which also described this online world.  But by then, it already existed in an online "community" called "Second Life" which is still around, but isn't very popular anymore.  When it first came out, people rushed to buy land ("islands") in this new virtual world, often paying enormous sums of money for the privilege.  IBM famously bought an "island" in second life.  I think they abandoned it later on.

Of course, the idea goes back further than that.  Over a century ago, E.M. Forster wrote about a future world where we would all cocoon in underground lairs, catered to by machines, and interact online via video, exchanging our pointless and often incorrect ideas about the world.  It didn't end well.

Maybe that is why "Second Life" never took off, and why Zuckerberg is struggling with the "Metaverse."  It isn't that the plebes can't appreciate how wonderful a virtual world will be, but realize it is a dead-end to civilization - trading our real world, with all its problems, for a clean, sanitized virtual land - and then abandoning the real one in the process.

Maybe too, Zuckerberg is late to the game.  A legion of "gamers" has already been sucked into this virtual world, in the form of interactive, 3-D, online games, where they can play against people from across the globe and interact with them as well.  When authoritarian regimes try to suppress social media, they usally forget about online games, which have interactive social media aspects to them as well.   Dissidents took notice.

"Meta" as Zuckerberg now calls it, wants to co-opt that entire space - make it so that the "Metaverse" becomes the default platform for all online games, so that if you want to be a "gamer" you have to go to Zuck.  Whether the marketplace would embrace such a monopoly remains to be seen.  Facebook is already facing stiff competition from competing online services.  Most young people today spend more time on Tick-Tock and YouTube than they do on Facebook.  The "metaverse" may be his answer to this trend.

But as the above "avatars" illustrate, making 3-D real-time moving images is a lot harder than it looks (no pun intended).  The rendering engines needed to do this, for a virtual world where dozens if not hundreds of elements and avatars are in real-time motion, are hard enough.  Rendering them on a VR headset without any lagging or delay is even harder.  One way to "fix" this is to simplify the images so that they don't require a lot of processing.  The end result, as Second Life illustrated, was bland-looking avatars that are not all that convincing.

I tried Second Life when it first came out, but our internet connection and desktop computers were not fast enough.  It was a slow, buggy experience that took minutes to load motion images that should have taken seconds.  I quickly gave up.

But even if the technical hurdles can be fixed (and eventually, they will, if people throw enough money at it) and I get a super-high-speed internet connection and a powerful new computer (will Zuckerberg pay for these things?  Because I won't!) I wonder whether I would spend much time in a "metaverse" environment.  I suspect it will just be like a 3-D Facebook, with the usual banalities from bored Granddads and hysterical housewives.  And yea, there will be bullying and disinformation and bots and trolls.  Qanonsense goes 3-D!  I can hardly wait.

I suppose the gaming aspect of it might be attractive to some, but it doesn't seem like Zuckerberg is attracting the best and brightest of the gaming coders.  And gamers are noted for being fiercely independent and not married to one platform over another (the ultimate gaming station doesn't have an Xbox, a PS-whatever, a Nintendo Switch, or a PC but all of the above.  And gamers seem, from what I can divine, to be brand-agnostic - notoriously dumping one game or platform when the new edition of "Kill a Hooker XXXIV" doesn't meet up to expectations (or maybe was written by a woman - yuk!).

But Avatars?  This is being pushed as some sort of new technology It is an idea that is a century old, has been tried before, and has yet to be successful.   And I don't think the technical problems are to blame.  I think the reality is, outside the gaming world, the rest of us don't want to spend the majority of our lives online.

But I could be wrong about this.  Maybe "Second Life" was just the Myspace of Virtual Reality - and maybe Zuckerberg is smart to jump on this and make it work after others failed at it.

Maybe.  But I doubt it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

They Wrote a Book About It...

Real conspiracies are not kept secret, but are right out in the open.

I wrote before how conspiracy theories are hooey.  They are far-fetched schemes that make no sense whatsoever.  They are designed to distract us from the real things going on.  It is easier to believe in some complicated "Q-anon" conspiracy than to realize that the marketing arm of a credit card company knows more about your internal psyche than you do.  But they do, and that's why you're broke all the time - if you are the kind who follows conspiracy theories.

Many people have noted that American politics (and indeed, world politics) have become more polarized lately.  People are divided, we are told.  Nationalism and fascism are on the rise.  Extremist solutions to simple problems are promoted.  What we need is a strong-man leader! Succession!  Communism!  Religious Theocracy!  Free Money!  Whatever the extreme, they all have one thing in common - they are not workable solutions, they have no chance of actually happening, and a substantial number of people (usually the majority) think they are a really bad idea.

Some folks say, "Well, politics were always this way - look at America before the Civil War - Senators beating each other with canes on the Senate floor!" (well at least one, anyway).  Look at the Civil Rights era - the assassination of the Kennedy's and MLK, riots in the streets!  Politics today are no worse than back then.

And maybe this is true - I have noted these things as well.

But recent events in Russia have exposed what was not a hidden conspiracy, but an actual plan to disrupt world politics, using the Internet, to divide and conquer the West.  And it worked pretty well, too - and is still working.  But more and more people are starting to see through the charade.

In Russia, a young woman was blown up by a car bomb, planted by a resistance movement who wants to overthrow the dictator Putin.  The actual target was her father, who some are calling a modern-day Rasputin - he has the ear of Putin and had advanced political philosophies that Russia should take over the world (so far, it ain't working out very well - they can't even take the Ukraine!).  To do this, he proposed creating a disinformation campaign to undermine and divide the West.

And he wrote a book about it.  And it is a popular book in Russia among the military and police.

The Russian Internet Research Agency is a fact, and their goal is to undermine the West by trolling social media to encourage dissent.  They have been caught, more than once, trying to set up flash mobs or create protests.  This isn't some hidden conspiracy - it is right out in the open.

You mention this to a Qanonsense believer or a Trump supporter and they reply, "You're just seeing a Russian behind every tree!"  Check out the forest - it's full of them. Or, they argue that they are not seeing blatant Russian propaganda on YouTube or Twitter.  No postings saying "Russia great! America sucks!"

It isn't that blatant.  As we are starting to find out, they use bots and trolls to create division among us - chaos works in their favor.  So you promote "white nationalism" and "replacement theory" to get whites riled up against blacks.  You promote "defund the police" to get blacks riled up against whites.  You encourage people to come out as "trans" and tell them that being called by the wrong pronoun is worse that being stabbed in the eye.  You tell the people on the right that trans people just want to rape your daughter in the restroom.  You make up utter shit and people believe it.  The "Queen of Canada" wants "sovereign citizens" to do a "people's arrest" of the police for "Covid Crimes."

You can't make this shit up - but the folks at the Russian Internet Research Agency can.  They have active imaginations and they try a panoply of things to see what sticks.  And apparently, people are wiling to believe the most outlandish lies - the more outlandish the more likely they are to believe them.

But maybe the tide is turning.  Russia's invasion of the Ukraine showed the world what their real goal was - conquest of their former satellite states from the glory days of the Soviet Union.  And Russian media has been quite explicit about this - threatening Poland and even "friendly" Belarus.  Americans are starting to see that the election of Donald Trump was indeed aided and abetted by Putin and his cronies.  And the goal, once again, was just to sow chaos, and maybe perhaps have a friendly ear in the White House.

We drive all across America and in the past, we'd see "TRUMP" signs in many, many yards in rural and even some suburban areas.  But in the last two years, they seem to have evaporated.  Sure, there are still a few die-hards, who have the weed-filled lawn in front of their dilapidated trailer filled with TRUMP signs and flags and hateful political discourse (usually painted by hand on sheets of plywood).  But the vast majority are either hiding their true feelings or realizing that a lot of the political noise being generated is just nonsense designed to get us all riled up over nothing.

Well, that's my hope, anyway.

America has been through this before.  The democratic system we have (such as it is) seems weak and flawed.  The rabble can be lead in a torch-and-pitchfork parade all-too-easily.  But eventually, people come to their senses, or as Abraham Lincoln put it, "You can fool some of the people some of the time..."

Americans went off the deep end in 1865 - with many believing that succession was the only way to deal with the issue of slavery.  Today, there is still a tiny minority of racists who think slavery "wasn't so bad" but even the GOP at least pays lip-service to the idea of racial equality.  In the years leading up to our involvement in World War I and World War II, many people pushed a pacifist agenda, claiming that we should avoid "foreign entanglements" as Washington once said.  But once people realized what was really going on, the country changed direction.  Similarly, we were all taken in by the domino theory and the Vietnam war, until years later, even Nixon realized it was an unwinnable battle to prop up an unpopular and corrupt government.

9/11 had us all dancing a jingoistic tune - we would topple Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass-destruction (that turned out not to exist) and bring democracy to Afghanistan, whether they wanted it or not!  20 years later, we realize what every leader from Napoleon to Hitler found out the hard way - fighting a two-front war is futile.  We gave up, declared victory, and went home.

Eventually, we figure out we are being snookered.  And maybe - just maybe - we are starting to figure it out once again - that maybe tax cuts for billionaires don't "trickle down" to the rest of us, and that keeping out immigrants doesn't "create jobs" but just creates a labor shortage.  And maybe we'll figure out that the weird oddball comments on YouTube videos and Tick-Tock and Instagram and Facebook and Twitter are not from real people but from bots and trolls just trying to get us all riled up and depressed.

Maybe we'll figure this out.  I hope we do so, before it is too late.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Why FIRE is stupid!

Fads are not a way to invest or manage your money.

A reader writes asking why I made snarky comments about the "FIRE" movement.  And in a nutshell, it answers the question itself - it is a movement, not a rational way of financial planning.  It is akin to these real estate schemes - and they are schemes - such as "BRRR."

And again, some would say, "Well Bob, didn't you Buy, Rehab, Rent and Re-fiance your properties? And the answer is, well, yes of course, but with two caveats.  Important caveats.   First, I refinanced the properties not to take out cash to spend (and call it "income" as those scam artists do!) but to take advantage of lower rates and if I took out cash it was to buy another property.  Second, I did this on my own, without paying some online yahoo for a "BRRR investment kit! Everything you need to know to make money in Real Estate!"

You want to make real money in real estate?  Sell investment kits.  No risk, no worries, no effort.  But that market is saturated, quite frankly.

FIRE falls along similar lines.  Yes, I became financially independent and retired early.  But no, I didn't buy a "FIRE kit" or a FIRE book, or attend a FIRE seminar, or waste all my life online on FIRE discussion groups.

The problem I have with things like FIRE is they take a good thing, slap a trendy name on it, and then take it too far.   You can't sell a financial independence and early retirement plan to a 20-something if you tell them to save 10-15% of their money in a 401(k) or IRA and that, if they work for 30-40 years, they may be able to retire "early" in their 50's.  That just doesn't sound so appealing.

So instead, they say, "Save 70% of your $100,000 salary and retire by age 40 - maybe age 30!" and they promise this on the basis that you can live on an absurdly small amount of money.  One "Financial Kung-Fu" advocate claimed you could live on $7000 a year in retirement.  Well, I am retired and it is damn hard to live on $36,000 a year, what with inflation and all.  Living on less than 1/4 that amount?  Even the homeless have an income greater than that!

What is worse is that these schemes and kits and books set people up to fail.  The schmuck who spends $49.95 or whatever to sign up for this sort of nonsense, can't make it work, because like an MLM scheme, it wasn't designed to work.   The victim then believes (and the key word is "believes") that they somehow failed because they weren't good enough at flipping houses or cars or BRRRing or FIREing or MLMing or whatever, and they slide furhter into depression - which is what sent them to these hucksters in the first place.

I noted before that belief s evil, and that is how these hucksters work.  They get people to believe in something, rather than use logic.  Once they are bought into the idea, they will hand over their money.  It is how cults and churches work (I am being redundant) and how MLM schemes and Nigerian scams work.

If you go on these sort of discussion groups, you see it all the time - people raving and ranting about how great it is to believe in these things - and this includes "crypto" and "stonks" as well. They feel part of a community and exclude contrary opinions that don't mesh with the group-think.  Like I said, it's a cult.  Our political parties are the same way, particularly one of them.

Are all these books, such as the ones shown above, scams?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps some of them teach prudent savings, cutting back on unnecessary expenses, and teach how to retire early on a smaller but reasonable income.  I have no truck with that, but when you attach a trendy name to what was, in earlier years, just ordinary thinking, it becomes wrong.

I noted before how a friend of my Dad's went to Saudi Arabia back in the 1950's as a petroleum engineer for ARAMCO and made quite a bit of money (and had no place to spend it, as he lived in company housing with his family).  So he banked it - almost all of it.  And when he came back to the States, years later, he was able to "retire" in his late 40's.   He did all that without having to buy a book on "how-to" or attend a seminar or spend countless hours in a discussion group replying to bot, shill, and troll postings.

Imagine that.

(I have a young friend who is doing the same thing, with different results.  He flies to war-torn areas of the world (mostly in Africa) to work on oil rigs.  He gets paid a hefty six-figure salary (plus expenses) to do this.  He is saving none of it.   Unlike my Dad's friend, he is assuming that he can do this work, indefinitely, and always have this big income.  It ain't so - they chuck you out before age 50.)

You don't need a "system" when the "system" can be summed up in two words:  Common Sense.

That's it, in a nutshell.   You can blow all your dough on a new leased Acura, or you can invest.  Every car you buy or lease is another year (or two) you have to work before you can retire.  It is pretty simple when you look at it that way.

And you don't have to spend a penny to realize this!

Monday, August 22, 2022

Anthony Bourdain - Second Acts in American Life

There are second acts in American lives - and final acts, as well.

I was reading an "oral biography" of Anthony Bourdain, which is an interesting gimmick. Rather then reporting the who/what/where/when/why sort of thing, the author talked to people in "Tony's" life and then reported verbatim, what they said.  Kind of interesting, hearing different perspectives on the same events.

What was interesting was that Bourdain was a big stoner (no surprise there) and went to Vassar because his girlfriend was going there (Men - always thinking with the wrong head!). He would write term papers for other students for drug money - and they would get an A+ on them.  His own work, he sort of phoned it in.  His parents, who were not very wealthy, were livid that he was "wasting" an expensive education.

One summer, he went to Provincetown and got a job as a dishwasher (when his roommate got sick of Bourdain freeloading!) and the rest is history.  He dropped out of Vassar and was accepted by the CIA (Culinary Institute of America - not the other CIA!).   With his writing skills and cooking skills, he became wildly famous, particularly after Kitchen Confidential came out.  Never send back a steak!

Of course, his life had a tragic ending - he was still into drugs for a long time, from what I can divine, and killed himself at the height of his fame.   But that's not the point.

Many young people in his situation would stay at Vassar, be miserable, and get mediocre grades because they thought it was what they were supposed to do or what their parents wanted them to do, and of course, you can't go against your parents, right?  When you are under age 25 it is hard to think for yourself - the human mind is still unfinished and easily influenced by outside forces.  It takes courage to say, "This isn't what I want" and move in a new direction.

UPDATE: Actually, he reinvented himself several times.  While working as a chef, he wrote two fictional crime novels.  So he went from chef to author in transition #2.  And then he became a "celebrity" and television personality.  In fact, he kept reinventing himself throughout his life.  It can be done!

Yet, a surprisingly large number of people do this.  When I was at GMI, they told us that 1/3 of freshmen eventually dropped out.  Many other schools are the same way.  Those people find something to do - they don't just fall off the face of the Earth.  Similarly, maybe one in ten young associates at a law firm become partner.  What happens to the other nine?   They don't end up homeless.

What is a mistake, in some cases, is to "stick it out" and "finish what you started" as my Dad used to say (he dropped out of Engineering school and got a management degree, I later found out.  I am so ashamed!).  So a young man graduates with student loan debt, a mediocre grade average and a pretty useless degree in a subject he found out he doesn't really like.  Was that a wise choice?

The point is - and I did have one - is that you can change your mind.  There are second acts in American lives, no matter what that loser F. Scott Fitzgerald said.  We all end up finding our path, and the idea that your life has a "story arc" is utter bullshit.

As for "Tony?"   Well, I am sure he was a nice guy and also an asshole, like most of us.  I am not into celebrity worship as you might already know.  I read his "Kitchen Confidential" and maybe saw a couple of episodes of his show.  I am not a fanboy of any celebrity - sorry!  And apparently, he did some bad things in his life - like paying off a boy that his girlfriend "molested" when he was 17.  Ironic, as his girlfriend was the one who blew the whistle on Harvey Weinstein.   Life is more complication that good versus evil, it seems.

Life takes some interesting paths!

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Toys 4 Sale!

Is a recession coming?  Sure.  What gets sold first?  Toys.

A reader writes asking whether the RV shortage is over, and if so, whether there are used RVs now hitting the market, particularly as the "CoVid Campers" get sick of RVing.  From what I can see, the answer to both questions is "YES."

We drive by RV dealerships, such as one mega-dealer in Brainerd, Minnesota, and see row upon row of trailers, Class-C motorhomes, Class-A motorhomes, Bus coaches, and Class-B vans.   Dozens of them.  Hundreds of them.  All lined up in a row, and no one out looking at them.  If there is a "shortage" of RVs, you can't tell by the inventory at the RV dealers - they have row upon row of them.

Trucks?  Maybe still in short supply.  We've driven by dealers earlier in the year - rural Ford dealers where we used to see, literally (and I mean literally in the literal sense!) 100 F150 pickup trucks lined up in a row - all colors, all trim levels, you-name-it.  They had inventory before the pandemic.  But in recent years, we've driven by car dealers and seen maybe a half-dozen sad-looking used trucks for sale, if that.  Many smaller independent used-car dealers have nothing - they went out of business and were shuttered.

But slowly, that is changing as well - we are seeing a trickle of trucks coming back to the car dealers - maybe a dozen lined up.  Not a lot, but quite a bit compared to last year.  So maybe that shortage is easing as well.  The lack of semiconductors seems to be the real bottleneck in the car and truck business.  This too, shall change, over time.

But what about used rigs?  Are CoVid Campers discovering that RVing isn't all they thought it would be?  Now that the airlines are cancelling 31,000 flights a month (!!) and people are going back into the skies (and behaving badly - worse than before!) and Disney World, freed of its burden of providing fire and police services (That backfired, didn't it, DeSantis?) is once again open, are people dumping their RVs?

Again, this is anecdotal data, but we are seeing more and more RVs for sale - along with other toys - by the side of the road.  Yesterday, on the way to Voyageurs National Park, we saw the redneck trifecta - a monster pickup truck, a bass boat, and a Harley motorcycle, all parked together with "for sale" signs on them, by the side of the road.  It had to be the same guy, as the bass boat was hooked up to the monster truck.  I guess he needs the money more than he needs the toys.

Whenever there is a recession, toys are the first thing to go on the chopping block. There is, of course, a hysteresis effect - people deny they are in economic trouble for as long as possible, and try to "hang on" to toys, thinking that they are "giving up" by making the rational decision to untie the stone from around their neck, as they slowly are pulled underwater.   But eventually, the stuff gets sold - either by the owner, or by the bank, when they repossess.

Of course, this plethora of toys for sale by the side of the road could be an example of constipated commerce. In northern climes (Central New York, Maine, rural Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) during "tourist season" many a local puts all their junk out by the side of the road with ridiculous prices on them - hoping some "flatlander tourist" with more money than common sense, will buy it.  It rarely works, but the sailboat or TransAm gets pushed back into the garage for next year's sale season.

That is another possibility, particularly since the yahoos are hearing poverty stories about how their clapped-out pickup truck is now worth more than a new Mercedes S-class.

But I think not.  The fellow selling his truck, his bike, and his bass-boat - that just smacks of desperation.  Or perhaps divorce or death.  But if that was the case, there are an awful lot of divorces and deaths going on, based on the number of RVs we are seeing by the side of the road with "for sale" signs on them.

Incidentally, that is about the worst way to go about buying or selling a car.  Buying something because you drive by it on the way to work every day is usually a bad idea.  And in terms of best price and largest audience, well, whoever drives by your house isn't going to hit either target.

The crazy years may be wearing off - or ready to go into high gear.  Who knows?  All I know is, this party can't go on forever.   With so many people hurting for cash, eventually something has to give.  I wrote before how WalMart is going to lower prices (any time now, Wally - don't hold back!) as they have "excess inventory" as people have stopped buying.  Target reports a 90% drop in profits, because of slimmer margins - again, people stopped buying.  No word whether that 90% drop is relative to the obscene profits all retailers were raking in, due to "inflation" (read: arbitrarily raising prices).

 But the upshot is, every Walmart we have visited on this trip is overflowing with inventory.  The one in Brainerd was storing inventory, still in the shipping boxes, in the garden section, as they were running out of room in the store and the back.  We are seeing people driving more slowly and carefully as well - cutting back on gas usage (we've been getting a whopping 15 MPG with the trailer here in Minnesota!).  Just a few percentage points change in demand versus supply can cause huge swings in prices - just wait for it.  We saw this in 2008-9 when gas went from $5 in some places, to $2 within months.

I suspect we may see the same thing happen shortly, again.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

The New Full-Time RVers - Young People!

We've met a number of younger people in our travels who have hit the road and decided to full-time RV - while still working!

I wrote before about full-time RVing and how it is a difficult financial proposition.  Simply stated, even an "inexpensive" RV site, rented by the month, can cost nearly as much as an apartment in some areas.  Factor in the depreciation on the rig, the cost of fuel and repairs, and it is more expensive to live in an RV than in many other situations.   Sure, you can save money by parking in a Walmart Parking lot - but that is just glam-homelessness.  What's the point?

But in recent years, thanks to the pandemic, more and more people were working from "home" - wherever that would be, and since they didn't have to be at an office they found cheaper and more pleasant places to live, far away from crowded cities.  Of course, this was nothing new - I was "working from home" since about the year 2000, so I'm not too impressed by this "new trend."  Each generation has to claim it invented everything.   Young people call them "tiny homes" - Grandma calls it a "Park Model."  Same shit, different generation.

With this remote working model, some have taken it to the next step and are taking it on the road - which is a lot easier to do these days with satellite Internet and ubiquitous 4G and 5G cell service, even in rural areas.  When we went cross-country with our 5th wheel back in the 1990's, I was still working - and constantly searching for a FedEx drop box or a Kinko's where I could make photocopies, send faxes or even access my e-mails.  It is a lot easier today, thanks to technology.

Most of these folks we've met work in some sort of computer-related field.  One fellow was a "project manager" (whatever that is - I am so out-of-the-loop and quite happy to be so).  Others do some sort of software coding or something like that.  So long as you can interact online and don't have to "be" somewhere, it cam work.

Of course, to us, it seems kind of strange.  As I noted, we took a cross-country trip back in the 1990's that lasted more than a month.  And quite frankly, since I had to work along the way, it was not as relaxing and fun as it should have been.  I don't remember too much of that trip, in fact, possibly because I was preoccupied with work.  The folks we have met have to discipline themselves to work a certain number of hours every day.   Today, we went on a hike, brought our hammocks, tied them to trees, had a glass of Emma Reichart dry rosé and then fell asleep in the hammock, listening to the waters of lake Kabetogama lap against the shore.  Our working friend was in a Zoom meeting.

I am happy to say I don't know how to Zoom and I doubt my ancient laptop could handle it (although a sticker on it helpfully says it is "Skype compatible" - does anyone even Skype anymore?  It is the MySpace of online meetings!).   I doubt my hotspot could handle the bandwidth, either.  Our full-time working friend is using Elon Musk's Skylink, I think.  Seems to work for him.

Is this a trend that will continue unabated, forever and ever, amen?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  Perhaps only in part.  There is a concerted effort to get people to "come back to the office" and whether it works or not remains to be seen.  If you have a particular talent, as I did, you can work from home and get away with it.  But eventually, you lose touch with other people and it does become isolating.  Keeping up on the latest changes in the law and technology becomes hard, for example.  You'd have to Zoom your ass off to keep current with your peers.

I think also, it would get old over time.  People want to settle down, raise a family, and so on and so forth.  We've seen people with kids "full-timing" in gi-normous three-axle fifth-wheel trailers.  They tend to stay in one place for months, though, usually for work.  Mom home-schools the kids.  I am not sure it is a healthy environment for children to be raised in, but who's to say?   Our friend here in the campground has a wife and child who have gone back home (overseas) to visit family.  I wonder how that will work out when she returns - will she be content to hang around a trailer in a foreign country, or want something more permanent?  I have no answers, only questions.

I think also, once you have visited every National Park and State Park and tourist town and world's largest ball of twine, you might get sick of it.  We like the RVing - for a month or so at a time.  Full-time?  I think it might drive me batty.  I could see a time when we give it up, particularly if we want to travel overseas or get another boat and live on that for a few months at a time (or full-time?).  Hard to say, but I don't see myself RVing at age 80, even though we see folks doing it all the time (not always successfully).

What is interesting to me is that on this trip, we have met at least a half-dozen people, usually computer geeks, who are living full-time in an RV in their late 20's or early 30's.  One fellow confided that he was just sick of paying rent in Manhattan, so the RV lifestyle seemed cheaper to him.  He wasn't able to save a penny, paying rent, and now he has a little left over every month.  RVing is expensive, but not as expensive as living in New York City or San Francisco.

It is an interesting development.  I don't recall meeting so many young people full-timing in the past.  In fact, as recent as last year, maybe none.  It is changing the dynamic of RVing, which was traditionally something older people did when they retired, or working people did with their families, on weekends and holidays, or perhaps two-weeks a year during "vacation."

Today, we are seeing young people hitting the road and saying, "screw rent, screw mortgages!" and RVing full-time.  I just hope they are not trading rent payments for RV payments, as it is all-too-easy to get upside-down on an RV loan.

The peak earning years, at least for me, were from age 30 to age 50 or so.  Beyond that, they toss you away and look for younger people - you know, old enough to know how to do the work, young enough and naive enough to believe in unwritten promises of untold wealth if they just worked 20-30 hours of unpaid overtime every week.  Employers want the 2-5 years experience, no more, no less.

So I wonder how this will work out for our young full-timers down the road, particularly if a nasty recession hits.   Upside-down on an RV loan (and maybe with student loans still to be paid off) and now unemployed.  Hiring managers will have more leverage to force employees "back to the office" which leaves our freewheeling RV friends in a bind - do they sell the RV and move back to an apartment, or find an urban RV park close enough to work to commute in?  Either way, it will be expensive.

I hope it works out for them.  I suspect that this full-timing will be a chapter in their lives, but not the book.  Eventually, they will get tired of it and settle somewhere - unless they can keep doing it until retirement.

P.S. - I should make special mention of the "Van Life" idiots who are populating the Internet these days.  They argue that you can "retire" at age 25 and live in a van for free and never have to work again.  This is called homelessness.  And it hasn't worked out well for some people  It is one thing to work while RVing, it is another to try to "retire" at age 30 or age 40, with little savings and little more than a used van to live in.  It is like these FIRE idiots, one of whom tried to say you could retire and live on $7000 a year.  Not.  Even. Possible.