Monday, October 31, 2022


People at almost any income level can succeed - or fail - based on their life choices.

A reader turns me on to a book he wrote, which is on Amazon as a Kindle download.  It is a book that will be of use to some and piss-off others.  I wrote before about an article I read about a guy who buckled down and put every penny he had toward paying off his debts - his student loans and his mortgage.  And before age 30, he was debt-free.  You'd think congratulations are in order.

Think again - the comments section was full of critical comments about him, saying he "sacrificed" a "social life" just to be financially secure.  It is funny, but a lot of people - myself included - make poor life choices and then act all shocked when they result in poor life outcomes.  They we engage in "sour grapes" and run-down those who make better choices.

Over the years, I have squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more than a million, buying things I didn't need - or even want!  We trade the long-term satisfaction of being debt-free and accumulating real wealth in exchange for the short-term dopamine rush of socialization, buying crap, going to concerts or parties, and of course, drug and alcohol abuse.

One of the early chapters in Unbrokable deals with alcohol and cigarettes.  The author is puzzled as to why people indulge in these things - not only are they not necessary to survive, they actually shorten your life and make you more uncomfortable, particularly as you age. Google "Alcoholic Polyneropathy" sometime for a real scare - it ain't just your liver and kidneys you are damaging!  This is, of course, in addition to your stomach, digestive tract, brain, and well, just about everything.

So why do people engage in various self-destructive behaviors?  That is the real question.  The young person with massive debts doesn't want to pay them back.  They want a new console gaming system, a bad-ass car, some tattoos, concert tickets, the latest smartphone - and so on and so forth.  I know this as this is what I wanted as a youth - different crap, of course, but the same idea.

Robert Heinlein illustrated this problem neatly in his SciFi novella Logic of Empire, which I discussed before.  Wikipedia sums up the plot succinctly:

Two well-off Earth men are arguing about whether there is slavery on Venus, and one of them gets shanghaied there—or so he believes; they later find out that they've bet one another about the topic, gotten drunk, and signed on. Upon his arrival, he finds his contract sold to a farmer. His discovery that it will take him years to work off his debt is compounded by his realization that he cannot get to sleep at night without rhira, an expensive local narcotic, thus increasing his debt every day.

What is interesting is that the "slaves" on Venus could buy their freedom, but few were able to do so.  Most spent their money on drugs, just to make it all bearable, and thus went further into debt, rather than work their way out.  In theory, it was possible to get ahead in that economic system.  In reality, it was damn difficult.

Like a lot of Heinlein's work - and a lot of Science Fiction in general, at least the better stuff - it is not about ray-guns and three-headed aliens, but an allegory about human beings and their problems right here on earth, in the present day.  We fall into the same trap - feeling tired and "wiped out" after a hard day at work, so we order out for a pizza, increasing our credit card debt load a tiny bit and our waistline as well.  Or we have a cocktail, or a bong hit.  I've done all three.  Or people go online and shop to get that hit of dopamine that accompanies it.

When I graduated from law school, we borrowed money to build a pool, as I felt I needed to be "rewarded" for my accomplishment.  I rewarded myself with additional debt and an additional expense.  I don't regret buying the pool (having regrets is foolish) but in retrospect, we would have been better off buying a smaller pool and saving up for it.  It would have cost a lot less, been just as enjoyable, cost less to maintain, and the satisfaction of no debt would have made it more enjoyable as a result.

But we are weak, we human beings, and the marketing people know this.  They sell the siren song of "You'll never get ahead anyway, so you might as well indulge yourself now!" - it is a message in almost every advertisement on television.  Of course, the reality is, you can get ahead, but part and parcel of this is not indulging your every whim.

Our reader has coined the term "UnBrokable" to mean accumulating wealth and having a modest lifestyle, to the point where, being broke becomes nearly impossible.  It is, of course, tempting fate to state such a thing - much as the Titanic was "unsinkable."  Nevertheless, I get what he is saying - if you have no debts and live a comfortable yet modest lifestyle, and manage to accumulate a modest amount of wealth, the idea that you could "lost it all in a heartbeat!" becomes more and more remote.

On the other hand, the guy making over $100,000 a year, who is living in an over-mortgaged house, driving leased cars, and paying monthly subscription fees for a whole host of services they may or may not use (Bundle and save! - NOT!) and has a nagging and intractable credit card debt - he's one paycheck away from homelessness.  And I say this having seen it happen in 2008 when people lost their over-mortgages houses and the leased cars were towed away when they lost their high-paying jobs and never found another job at that salary.

We leverage ourselves - and I say "We" because I did it too, at one time in my life.  I slowly turned things around after starting this blog, realizing that I had a lot of nice "stuff" that I was paying for by mortgaging my future.  And it is not just debt, either.  You buy a car or a boat or a motorcycle or an RV and they depreciate like mad - unless you are using these things all the time, it is pointless to own them. Yet American back yards are full of depreciating motor vehicles that are rarely used.  "It isn't costing me anything to keep it!" the owner claims.  Au Contraire.

Our reader was able to retire at age 40. I had to work an additional 18 years as a result of my poor financial planning. Some folks have to work 10 or 12 more.  Some folks never retire, but die in the harness.  Others claim they will "never retire" but are surprised when retirement is thrust upon them.  It gets pretty ugly.

Of course, there is a happy medium between "living like a monk and eating raman" as losers claim is the only way out, or being an utter spendthrift whose motto is "YOLO!" as they spend their last penny and borrow a dollar more.  You can have nice things in life, the secret is to seek out contentment and not happiness - the latter which results more often than not, in misery.

A young man complains online that Ticketmaster is to blame, because he cannot afford $200 for tickets to the rap battle of the bands, where drinks are $17 apiece.   Of course, it is affordable to go to the local pub where drafts are $1.99 and listen to a local band play - often for free.  But no, he has to have the "status" tickets to the "big name" entertainer.  It is a choice, not a destiny.

Similarly, you can make a nice pizza at home for a few dollars (we buy the crusts pre-made at Sam's Club) rather than spend $20 on takeout pizza.  No worry about tipping the driver, either - and the pizza you make at home is ready before the delivery guy's arrives.  People claim they are "too tired" to cook, but then again, they stay up to midnight binge-watching Netflix.  I wonder why they are so tired?

We all make choices in life.  The real test of character, I believe, is owning up to those choices.  It is one thing to say, "I'm broke, because I blew all my money on stupid shit!" - it is another to say, "I'm broke, because of [Capitalism or Obama or Trump or whatever]!"  People want to externalize their problems, and this rarely leads to real change in their lives.

Our reader has illustrated that it is possible to get ahead in this world, through frugal and careful living and by avoiding or paying down debts.  He'll be as popular as a whore in church.  No one wants to hear those hard truths.  They'd rather tune in to Sooze Orman and hear whether or not they're "Approved!" to lease a new Acura.

It is just human nature.  A trap.  And we all can fall into it, if we are not careful!

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Could Elon Musk Go Bankrupt?

From "richest man in the world" to homeless - in a matter of months?

A reader asks what I thought about Elon Musk buying Twitter.  My first reaction, having worked for Fortune 500 companies (and represented some as well) is that in the "good old days" our CEOs were reserved and serious people who wore expensive suits and ties and were not to be trifled with.  They were not big goofy overgrown kids who said outlandish things or performed stupid stunts like carrying an old sink around to make a really, really stupid pun.

But maybe, once again, our generation won, and today, well, we all dress and act like big goofy overgrown kids.   So maybe this is the new norm - mentally-ill Billionaires.

What is the deal with this deal?  Musk buys a company that is losing $1B a year, and then saddles it with interest payments of $1B a year, and advertisers are already fleeing.  GM pulled its ads from Twitter, which was a smart move.  If they waited for odious content to appear on the site, they would be accused of "cancel culture" by the far-right.  This way, they have pulled a preemptive strike, and walk away with clean hands - and saved themselves a ton of dough.

If other advertisers - and users - follow suit, what is left for Twitter's business model?  Musk himself claimed the site was mostly bots.  Few ordinary people use Twitter - as opposed to say, Facebook (which has its own subscriber problems).  It is - or was - popular with the media, who would concoct an entire front-page story from one 144-word Tweet.   Lately, however, it seems that the media is fixated on Reddit - there is more "red meat" (pun) there to work with.  Reddit, like the mainstream media, loves a good outrage story.

Financially, the people who made out in this deal - besides executives who get golden parachutes - are the shareholders.  Musk paid far too much for the money-losing company, and even in the days leading up to the sale, the share price was below the buyout price.  So those executives he fired, in addition to getting golden parachutes, are probably exercising very lucrative stock options as well.

Of course, Musk is a large shareholder as well, but since he is buying the company (and not selling) he doesn't get to cash in on this deal.  He is left holding the bag. As the above chart illustrates, he is paying a huge premium for the company (well, he and the Saudis and the hapless banks who agreed to loan him the money).

But speaking of those banks, I'll bet they made him pledge his shares in other companies (Tesla, SpaceX) as collateral for the loans, because the Twitter stock wasn't worth the amount he was borrowing.  If they were ever to call those notes.... Musk might have to sell off a lot of stock or even entire companies.   We'll see.

I mentioned before that Musk could go bankrupt. Maybe this is the way...

Some say he only went through with it to avoid SEC charges over his tweet about buying twitter.  The SEC was already losing patience with him, for example, for his "$420" a share takeover bid for Tesla (which was fictitious).  Again, we have a CEO making bad puns, this time about pot.  Tweets like that are simple stock manipulation - and it worked, as the price of Tesla shares did spike, allowing a few people to make a lot of money and a lot to lose a little.

So when he tweets that he is buying Twitter for $54.20 (420 again?  Immature!) it raises the hackles of the SEC.  The share price spikes on that announcement and not coincidentally, Musk already owns 9% of the company - at a price far less than $54.20 a share.  Spike the price, sell your shares (or leverage with options) and profit.   If the "buyout" was a sham, well he could actually face jail time.

So he makes it official - on paper.  And the Twitter people surprisingly agree.  They know he is overpaying for a company that has never made a profit and in fact has been hemorrhaging cash to the tune of $1B a year.  This year, the net losses have been decreasing ("only" a quarter billion or so) so maybe Twitter is digging itself out of its hole, much as Facebook did (which lost money early on, only to make a lot later).

Maybe, but there are two problems with this scenario.  First, now that Twitter has nearly $1B in interest payments to make every year, Musk has effectively dug that hole a billion dollars deeper.  It will be hard to dig their way out of that hole, unless they can increase the user base significantly, bring on more advertisers, and increase ad rates.  All three are problematic.

GM has already bailed and no doubt other advertisers will follow suit.  If the site becomes a toxic mess of un-moderated "freedum" (antisemitism, racism, misogyny - and the rest of the usual suspects) it will go the way of Parler or Truth Social and both users and advertisers will flee.  With fewer users, the ad rates drop as well - it becomes a death spiral.

With so many choices for "social media" today, people may find Twitter as outdated and quaint as MySpace has become (or maybe MySpace will come back?).   What is and isn't popular is based on the whims of the population.  And if people decide Twitter is "uncool" they may flee in droves - to the next shiny bauble on the Internet.  If only I enabled comments here, that could be me!  Just kidding.

All that being said, I could envision  scenario where Twitter continues to hemorrhage cash as it loses users, requiring Musk to pour more borrowed money into the gig.  Banks, balking at the prospect of setting fire to more cash, would force Musk to sell-off some of his other assets to keep Twitter alive. Either that, or he will try to sell off Twitter to some other chump - at a fraction of the price he paid.  Either way, he loses money.

A year or two ago, some major automaker might have been interested in buying Tesla, rather than develop their own EV technology.  But today, nearly everyone is in the game, and Tesla now has a "dirty halo" as being the car company run by a neo-Nazi (well, not quite neo-Nazi just yet, but stay tuned, he is, after all, South African - right?).  This will turn off liberal customers and of course, the right-wing that Musk is courting hates EVs.   Maybe Musk needs to come out with a coal-powered car?

In a way, the Kanye West debacle illustrates how things can unwind in a hurry.  Musk could say and do outrageous things, as he wasn't dependent on Vogue magazine or Adidas for his income.  But actions have consequences, and no, facing your consequences isn't "censorship" or "cancel culture" - it just is what it is.  And if customers - of Twitter or Tesla - decide that they want to spend their money elsewhere, well, you can't force them or shame them into doing otherwise.

The whole thing could unwind like a chain of dominoes.   All it would take is a fatal mishap with a Falcon-9 rocket and things could turn around in a hurry.  And in the space business, mishaps are the norm.

But I doubt Musk will be found sleeping in a cardboard box anytime soon.  More likely it will be a "What ever happened to...?" kind of deal.

Saturday, October 29, 2022


One of the weirdest developments of the 21st Century was the emergence of sneakerheads.

I did some Design Patent work for a large sneaker company, and it was an interesting experience.  We got prototype sneakers sent to us, hand-made, and they would be floating around the office.  It was fun to look at next year's models before anyone else saw them.  Funny story - one day a homeless bum broke into our office and took off his smelly sneakers (and left them on my desk, thank you very much - I still can't get rid of that "smell memory"!) and stole two of the prototype sneakers. Since they sent us only one of each pair, he had a mis-matched set.  He also rummaged through offices and stole small things and loose change.

Anyway, we called the cops and they took a report.  Meanwhile, one of the guys running the massive photocopiers ("the uncomplaining associate" they called those machines) got a call from his cousin who ran the parking garage across the street.  "You gotta see this, man!  This homeless dude is sporting the most outlandish pair of mismatched sneakers!"  Well, the Police came, and in a rare instance of justice, actually arrested someone for a crime in DC.

To a sneaker collector, those hand-made prototypes would be gold, today.

Back then - the 1990's - people didn't collect sneakers, they wore them.  And at the time, the media was rife with stories about young black kids in the ghetto, pining for a pair of Air Jordans, which cost over $100!  Grandma would buy her grandson a pair, using the money she made as a custodian - money she could ill-afford to lose.  And the next day, in school, the bullies would beat the shit out of that kid and steal his sneakers.  In other cases, people were being killed over them.

It was sort of an embarrassing thing for Nike, as the company was mostly white folks, and they were paying athletes outrageous sums of money to have their name attached to a sneaker, or in some cases, just to sport the logo.  And since the sneakers cost little to make in Korea, the profits were astounding.  For professional athletes, the sneaker endorsement contracts were more lucrative than their million-dollar signing bonuses.   Meanwhile, some black kid in the ghetto is bleeding out in the gutter, with no shoes on - shot for his sneakers.  People will do anything for status, it seems - kill for it, or die for it.

Well, as you might imagine, there was an uproar over this.  And over time, the hoopla died down and people stopped going nuts over what was, in essence, a commodity item.   But in recent years, it has ramped up again, although this time around, fewer people are being shot for their sneakers, as the people buying these $500 shoes are not even wearing them.

Enter the sneakerhead.  These are ideal consumers for the sneaker companies as they don't even use the product (that would ruin its value!) but instead collect and display sneakers like people used to do with Beanie Babies, or shot glasses, or thimble or spoon collections.  It has been so long since I did sneaker work, so I was largely unaware of this phenomenon until recently.

As you get older, you don't give a shit what other people think about your shoes.  You hope to wake up not in pain, and get through another day without going broke.  You start to appreciate contentment over happiness, as the latter, with its dopamine rushes, often costs more in the long run, as you have to pay back that hit with an equally measured amount of misery.  Buying a brand-new car may be "fun" but the back-end part, where you make five years of car and insurance payments, is misery.

So old people generally look for sturdy and comfortable shoes - because glitzy shoes with no support can kill your back.  And you don't give a shit about what people think about your shoes - and you don't give a shit about people who care about what other people are wearing.  You learn, over time, that such people are boorish and toxic and not worth knowing.

But in High School, the opinions of others - including people you hate - are something to live and literally die for.  These "school shooters" are often months or weeks away from graduation - and moving on with life and moving away from what is the worst four years of your life, if you have a soul.  If High School was the highlight of your life, then, hey, you probably still care about what other people are wearing for shoes.  You're an idiot.  Sorry.

Youth is indeed wasted on the young.

Of course, sneakerheads are not showing off their shoes in high school - given the staggering cost of the shoes, they tend to keep them in display boxes, to impress only other sneakerheads, and not people on the street.  They tend to be a little older as well - most high school kids, unless they are living in Hollywood, don't have the cash for $500 sneakers.

Is sneaker collecting stupid?  Well, no more or less than collecting anything else - which is to say, yes, it is stupid.  Collecting stuff is an stultifyingly boring hobby.  Whether it is a philatelist droning on about some "rare" stamp (which is just a scrap of paper with printing on it - which can, and often are, forged), or someone obsessing about old coins, old cars, glass bottles, beer cans - you-name-it, they collect it - it is sort of a pointless pursuit.  Like anything else, the little guy gets ripped-off in these deals. It is just like Bitcoin or gold - the little guy sees "everyone else" making money off these things, not realizing they are making money off chumps like him.

Yes, some of these things become "rare collectibles" and might be worth something, someday.  Others are just mass-produced junk, and the amateur collector has no real shot at accumulating anything of real value, over time.  It is fun to look at some of these collections, as well as old antiques.  But to spend countless hours at is and countless dollars?  You go right ahead with that.  I promise to feign interest in your hobby when you blather on about it.  I will!

The latest chapter in the sneaker saga, of course, is that Sleazy Wheezy lost his Billion-dollar sneaker contract with Adidas.   We used to think a million bucks was a scandalous amount of money to endorse a sneaker - and here is a guy who isn't even an athlete attaching his name to a product.   But of course, it has all come undone, rather quickly, just as endorsement contracts fall apart when athletes are caught cheating, doing drugs, beating their wives, or fighting dogs.  And in each instance, the true fans get all outraged that their false God is being called into account.

Don't be a fan - of someone else. It is about as stupid as being a sneaker collector.  Be your own #1 fan - you need all the help you can get.  The superstars?  Not so much!

While one can at least appreciate that the upside-down flying Jenny stamp is a rare collectible - they aren't making more of them - it is hard to understand why anyone would "collect" a manufactured good that is still in production, and literally millions of them could be made.  That was what unwound the "Beanie Baby" collection saga - people finally realized there was an unlimited supply and they were not worth thousands of dollars.  In fact, those ugly little bears were not even worth their sales price.

Another episode from my sneaker saga illustrates the point.  The reason why we got Design Patents on sneakers (and why every sneaker company does) is that people will make knock-offs, once they see the shoes (which back then cost under $10 to make and sold for $200) are selling like hotcakes.  The problem is, the people making the knock-offs are the same people making the real thing.  They fill an order for the US sneaker company and then keep the production line running to make "bootleg" sneakers for the overseas markets. It wasn't just a cheap copy, it was the real thing.

What is funny to me about sneakers is how inexpensive they can be.  I have been a fan of the Merrill Moab sneakers - between the two of us, we've bought about ten pairs.  They can be had for under $100 a pair, which is still a lot of money.  Like most sneakers, they last about a year or two before the expanded polyurethane foam compresses and they get dirty and nasty.  Better to just buy new ones every so often.  Unlike old leather shoes, they cannot be resoled - not that cobblers even exist anymore!

Recently, Mark took me to Bass Pro Shop to buy a pair of "Sketchers" which I was not a big fan of.  Why?  Because a few years ago, they were a "hip" sneaker and people were paying top dollar for them, and the soles were hard as rock.  I guess they were designed to skip and slide around in or something.  Well, now they are out-of-fashion and have soft comfy soles which are nice for around-the-house wearing.

And they were little over $30 a pair.

I have not been a fan of cheap shoes - I had a bad experience with a pair of Walmart sneakers back in the day - they fit poorly and the soles were hard as rock - made of some bizarre plastic material.  But cheap sneakers have improved quite a bit.  This summer, our kayaking sandals (Tevas) fell apart and we stopped by "Shoe World" in Missouri and found really nice sandals for like $30 a pair - far cheaper than Tevas or the over-rated Birkenstocks.

Now, of course, if you are really wealthy (as opposed to say, having a nice salary) you can afford to wear Prada.  You are not the Pope, however.  What kills the middle-class is when they try to ape the characteristics of the very wealthy.  A billionaire can wear a Swiss watch costing thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.  A middle-class person really can't afford to go around with that kind of money on his wrist.

And why?  No one wears "watches" anymore, except perhaps Apple watches, which, while overpriced, don't cost thousands - just yet.  The whole point of an expensive watch - or shoes, or handbags or whatever, is to try to project an image of power or status and superiority.  If you are a billionaire, maybe these are trivial expenses.  For the average American, just a waste of wealth - and you can't accumulate wealth by spending it.

I have a feeling that the "sneakerhead" phenomenon will go bust as Beanie Babies did.  When a recession comes, the middle-class collector will try to sell his coveted collector sneakers and discover, to his dismay, that every other chump is trying to unload his as well.  We saw this in 2008 with guns - people realized they had a very expensive paperweight in their closet, and they needed the money for more important things, like food and rent.

Collecting anything is really a dead-end.  Like I said, if you find it an amusing hobby, so be it.  But to throw hundreds or thousands of dollars at "collections" - as a middle-class person - is really an utter waste of money.  You are better off investing in something that earns money (and by that, I don't mean speculating - that is just another form of collecting!).   You can't accumulate wealthy by spending it. 

And if someone tries to tell you that someday, their sneaker collection will be worth millions, just back away slowly.  You're dealing with a crazy person.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Mr. Fix-It?

It is virtually impossible to repair something forever.

I recently saw a posting online from a clueless individual.  "Our local library hosts a fix-it day, where people can bring in broken things, and volunteers fix those things for them!  Re-use, recycle, save the planet!"


It is clueless because, first of all, who in their right mind volunteers to fix things for people?  Suppose you "fix" someone's toaster and they get electrocuted by it?  Gee, that was a great deal - you didn't even get paid for taking that risk!  Or the toaster just breaks again (which it will, as it is near the end of its design life) and the hapless owner comes back and says, "you didn't fix it right!"

I say this from experience.  You try to help people and they throw it right back at you.  Working on someone's car or house may be "helpful" but chances are, the people are so cheap they don't want to pay money for parts, and without parts you can't fix anything.  That's just the way things work.  You can't make a new microprocessor by whittling it out of wood.

Things wear out over time, and eventually, every part wears out.  You could try to replace all those parts, if they are available.  In most cases, they aren't - either the manufacturer doesn't sell them, or they are NLA because the product is so old.  There is only so much you can do with superglue and bailing twine.  Sure, you could cannibalize used parts from a broken machine (why not repair that?) but they are worn as well, and will eventually fail in short order.

You see these antique and "classic" cars at car shows and you notice the owners hardly ever drive them except at parade speeds around the parking lot.  The reason is simple - while they have been "restored" to look good, the restoration is skin-deep.  There are a host of parts that you simply cannot find for many cars - particularly trim pieces.  Yes, they make replacement door panels for a '66 Chevelle, but not for more offbeat makes and models.  You can find Mustang parts all over the place - for a 1968 Mustang.  Good Luck finding them for a Mustang II - no one covets or restores those.

Even if  you can find all the parts you need, eventually the item becomes a Ship of Theseus - you replace every single part and is it really the same ship?  The staggering cost of parts makes this uneconomical - the resultant machine would cost ten times as much as a new one.

Back in 2002, BMW made a big deal about building, from scratch, a 1972 BMW 2002 car, using parts from their inventory.  Two guys, working in a glass box on display, slowly assembled the car from parts.  Even assuming the labor was free, we are talking tens of thousands of dollars in parts - maybe over a hundred thousand - easily.  You could have bought a new BMW 3-series for far less - or a well-maintained or restored 2002 for even far, far less.  There reaches a point where restoration is uneconomical.

Recently, I had a few things break, and I am in the middle of fixing them.  First, one of my Toshiba C655 laptops broke - the "F" key doesn't work.  Not a big problem, as you can buy brand-new keyboards all day long on eBay for $12 including shipping, and they take 10 minutes to replace - you just snap off the trim piece, remove a few screws, and plug in the new keyboard.

Of course, you hope the plastic trim piece you snap off doesn't just snap, as plastic gets brittle with age.  That is one reason why modern cars will be so hard to restore in 30-40 years - all that plastic on the interior will crack and fade, and unlike the vinyl-and-steel interiors of the 1950's and 1960's, it will be very hard to make replacements - and the carmakers will not be keen on stocking those parts.

So for $12, maybe it worth fixing.  Of course, I have already replaced the motherboard, the hard drive, and the memory on that machine.  I "repaired" the broken plastic (brittle, again) that supported the hinge, using the "Marty's Matchbox Makeover" technique of superglue and baking soda (it sets right away and you can fill in missing pieces of plastic).  So maybe the new keyboard will keep it going - for a while longer.

My other laptop (identical model) has a line through the screen.  Either the screen is shot, or the built-in graphics card is going South.  Do I live with a line in the screen?  Or will the display get worse and worse over time?

Some folks sell junked laptops on eBay and sometimes they are cheap - but no word on what is working and what isn't, in some cases.  And in others, people want astronomical prices for laptops where virtually nothing is workingThere reaches a point where maybe putting that cash, as trivial as it is, toward a new machine, is a better bet.

Again, you are putting used parts into a used machine - you might extend the life a bit further, but not forever.  That is why, for a used car, if the motor blows up, it makes sense to find a low-mileage engine from a wrecked car, rather than pay top dollar for a new one.  The car is already halfway worn out, why bother putting a brand-new engine in it?  It will outlast the carThe same is true for EV batteries - if they fail, look to a junkyard, not a dealer! (Note, why did that article have the title, "Families shocked at cost of EV replacement batteries"?  I'll  bet Villagers are shocked, too!)

Speaking of new machines - the Chromebook went nuts after a "Chrome Update" - it refused to recognize the Internet or load any webpages.  I did a "Powerwash" to reset the machine to factory settings (good thing nothing of importance was stored on it!) and it rebooted and works fine, now.   Of course, this meant re-installing the apps and reconfiguring it with my user data.  It is an interesting toy, but I am not sure it is ready for prime-time.  The theory is, I guess, everything is stored in the cloud (which you pay for) and all your media is streams (which you pay for) and nothing is really yours.  The machine is just an interface - a dumb terminal or "thin client" as we used to call it.  I am not a big fan of that - I would rather own things than lease them.  But maybe that is the brave new world we are moving to, as technology becomes so complicated that no one wants to actually keep it around.

So, this shit comes in threes, and our beloved Bissell 1984 Air Ram vacuum - the best vacuum cleaner in the world, in my opinion, broke.  Well, the power switch broke, which is not surprising.  If you are a fan of MIL-SPEC 217D (I guess they are up to F now) you know that the highest failure rate for electrical components are switches, light bulbs, and power supplies.

The power switch is a membrane switch, mounted behind a hinged cover, like a giant keyboard key.  It gets mashed a lot with feet and has a hard life.  Still, it should have lasted longer than three-and-a-half years.  It is an intermittent push-button switch, connected to some sort of motherboard.  It senses a press and turns on, senses a press and turns off.  I learned this by testing it with a jumper wire. I also realized the switch was broken after putting my Volt-Ohm meter on it - no continuity when pressed.

I found some guy in England selling just the switch for $16 plus shipping from the UK.  Maybe they sell it there because of "right to repair" laws.  Still, $20 is a lot of dough for a tiny switch!  I would have to solder it into place, of course.  Or, I could just mount a push-button (like the one shown above) on the outer casing for $10 and call it a day.  Not pretty, but it would work.

It is a standing joke between Mark and I about these buttons.  I put one on our golf cart for the FIAMMA air horns (you have to have those on your golf cart, right?  And why not on the Hamster as well?).  You see, back in the day, his Grandmother Betty-D's purple Cadillac Coupe DeVille had a "rim-blow" horn.  It sounds dirty, I know, but it was a 1970's thing - you squeezed the rim of the steering wheel and the horn would blow.  It resulted in a lot of accidental horn-blowing, as you might imagine.  It also broke, and the Cadillac people wanted a lot of money for a whole new steering wheel to fix it.  So grandpa screwed a button like the one above, to the dashboard and Betty-D would drive around with one hand near this button, ready to honk at a moment's notice.

It was a repair job that would do Red Green proud. So maybe I will continue the tradition, at least for the vacuum cleaner.

Bissell does not sell replacement switches, at least in the US.  They sell the power head, the battery pack, the removable filter canister, the handle, and the charging cord.  And the price of these is, well, pretty reasonable.  We paid $200 for the original unit.  Today it is $266, but you can get 15% off by Halloween, so that brings it down to $226, which isn't bad, considering inflation. Or, I could just buy the powerhead for $144 ($122 on sale) and re-use the battery ($150 new!) and filter canister(s) (I have two) and handle.  As you can see, at these prices,spending more than $50 on "repairs" makes no sense.

And if I had to hire someone to repair it, well, it would be over $100 with parts and labor. Most shops charge at least $75 for just one shop hour of labor.  This makes fixing things too expensive, versus replacement.

Vacuum cleaners have a rough life.  While we studiously try to keep dirt and dust out of our electronics (you fail at this at your own peril!  Have you cleaned your computer lately?) with vacuum cleaners the whole point is to cram them with dirt.  Not only that, they get dragged across the floor, slammed into furniture, and generally abused.  Inspecting the power head on this unit reveals a lot of wear and tear, and I wonder how long it will be before a motor fails or some other part breaks.

Sure, Mother's Electrolux lasted a lifetime.  Then again, it was made of steel, mostly, and she took it to the "Vacuum Cleaner Repair Man" every other year to be rebuilt - and he could get parts for it, cheaply.  Not so much, today.  The vacuum cleaner repair man went the way of the small engine repair guy - it is just cheaper, even with inflation, to buy a new lawnmower at Lowe's.

So my battle plan is to put an aftermarket switch on the case (which will be more durable than the original switch) and keep using it to failure, at which point, I will investigate buying a new powerhead.  I still love the vacuum cleaner (and my hoary old Toshiba laptops) but I realize that nothing lasts forever in this world, or at least, there is a cost/benefit analysis that has to be performed on any product, if you have to make the decision whether to repair or replace.

UPDATE: I ordered the switch from the UK.  Also, I discovered online that Bissell replaced some folk's powerheads for free, when they contacted Bissell.  So I did that as well.  Can't hurt to ask!!

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Hey, It Worked For Trump... No Wait, It Didn't!

The latest gag from the far-right is that you can win any argument simply by winning.
Who buys sneakers or clothes because someone's name is on them? Dumb!

The trial of yet another mass killer in America just ended and he was, not surprisingly, found guilty.  The fellow styled himself as a "Sovereign Citizen" which - and let's be clear about this - is an entirely made-up thing.  He defended himself in court, eschewing an insanity defense, and when given the opportunity to call witnesses and make his defense, basically punted.  He argued that he should be found not guilty simply, well, because.  He didn't do it!  It was some other guy!  It was an accident!  He tried to honk his horn!  But of course, he was not willing to testify under oath to this - nor would any other witness come forward to testify.

You can bet, of course, there will be an appeal, based on inadequate representation - he should have been forced to have an appointed attorney and plead insanity!  We'll see how that works out.  Most legal experts say he doesn't have a chance in hell.  And if a court wanted to make a "test case" out of self-representation and inadequate counsel, they probably would choose a case where the crime was auto theft.  No one wants to be the judge who lets a mass-murder go free.

But it struck me that his "defense" was the same arguments Trump made - I should win just because I should!  The "Stop the Steal!" arguments claimed there were "mountains of evidence" of voter fraud, and that they had this evidence in their possession.  But for some reason, they could not show it to anyone or produce it in court.   They felt, apparently, that they should just win because they should, and maybe a Republican-appointed Judge would go along with this.  In many third-world countries, this is how it works.  It is how things are headed in Poland- if they are not already there.

And maybe in the US, too.  The investigation into documents hoarded at Mar-A-Lago is being hampered by a Trump-appointed judge, who really should have recused themselves from the case.  They are making decisions that are puzzling most legal scholars - decisions based mostly, it seems, on where their loyalties lie, politically.  Clarence Thomas seems to be going down the same road.

Of course, these sorts of "arguments" didn't hold water for Trump in the past - at best his numerous lawsuits were an attempt at a delaying action or a means of appeasing his voters, most of who believe that legal proceedings go along the lines of "Judge Judy" - where the Judge early on decides who is right and wrong and then gives a long finger-wagging speech from the bench.   Some people apparently believe the Judge Judy show is real - I saw a posting online where someone referred to one of her diatribes from the bench as delivering "justice" when in fact, it is a Tee-Vee show and the "litigants" are paid to participate.  What consolation prizes do we have for the loser, Johnny?  A new gas grill from Arkla!

And the winner gets a new Ford Pinto.  Justice!

It doesn't work that way in real life.  You can't just say, "My side should win" without presenting evidence and cogent arguments supporting your case.  As a lawyer, this is what irks me about these raging true-believers who think the 2020 election was "stolen."   Where is the evidence?  "Oh, there is tons of it!"  Really?  Where?  "Well, you know, they caught that one lady in Texas, and there were a few in Florida..."   That is hardly evidence of massive voter fraud.

But people want to "win" so badly, and eventually it comes down to "I want my side to win" as much as they root for their favorite ball team.  We were driving back from Jacksonville and saw a million-dollar motorhome going the other way.  We talked about it and thought that, for the money involved, you could stay at five-star resorts, driving up in your Mercedes, and have the staff unpack your luggage and put it on coat hangers in the closet.  A maid would make the bed every day and provide fresh towels.  You could afford to eat at restaurants - or get room service.  It would be far cheaper than the cost of "Motorcoach Resorts" and $5.59 diesel fuel (at 8 MPG if that) and the P&I on a million-dollar coach.

Some folks just have to "win" at everything - and these folks want to "win" at the game of RVing with the biggest and baddest RV in the resort (never in a campground - Please!).  I saw a picture online of a center console boat with six 400-HP engines on the back.  2400 Horsepower - for what? The fuel consumption would be staggering and the cost of each engine is in the tens of thousands of dollars.  The point is to say, "I can afford this" even if it makes no logical sense.  The point is to win.  At boating.

It is an extension of the Culture of Belligerence and it is popular with the more stupid people on the planet (who sometimes, inexplicably, fall into money).   Winning becomes everything to them.  We saw this on our little island, where an Easter Egg hunt was marred by white-trash kids from the country knocking over toddlers and stealing their candy, so they could "win" at Easter-Egg hunt. "Way to go, Little Bubba!  Knock that infant down!  Step on his face!  He's a weakling, he deserves to lose!"

In politics we see the same thing.  People are willing to vote for legislators who vow to abolish the voter's only social safety nets - Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.   Many of these voters are recipients of these benefits, but are willing to starve themselves to death (or their grandma) and go into medical bankruptcy just to "own the libs" and win, win, win!

The Republicans have twisted politics into an identity-sport, where you choose your team and root for it, and boo the other guy.  Well, they've done this for one team.   People pledge allegiance to Trump, but few Democrats go berserk over their own candidates.  It's just voting, it's just politics.  These aren't celebrities or superstars, they are just elected representatives who have an important job to do.  But dumb people - and let''s face it, you have to be pretty dumb today to still think Trump is a real Republican or even a decent human being - fall for this sort of sport.  It becomes all about winning and our side should win... just because!

And when they lose, well, the game was unfair!  Someone cheated!  Never mind that they played the game poorly - advancing nonsense policies or no policies at all.  It has been over a decade now, and "any minute" the Republicans are going to announce their replacement for Obamacare.  But like the election fraud evidence, it must be locked up in a vault somewhere.

Or it doesn't exist.   It doesn't exist.  When someone claims to have something revolutionary but they can't show it to you, they are lying.  Whether it is a perpetual motion machine or election fraud, it is the same deal.

But then again, Trump supporters actually believe that "you have to keep your evidence secret until trial!" where you introduce surprise witnesses at the last minute, like they do on Perry Mason.  That's a television show.  In real life, you have to present your evidence before trial, and there is no legitimate reason to conceal it.  Well, that is, unless it doesn't exist.  And surprise witnesses are generally not allowed at trial, other than to rebut an opposing witness.  The surprise witness strategy rarely is allowed, except on television.

There is an old saying in the law business, that if you have the law on your side, you pound on the law.  If you have the evidence on your side, you pound on the evidence.  If you have neither, you pound on the table.   This is what we saw in Wisconsin, and what we are seeing in politics today.  No evidence, no law, just unsupported arguments.

It isn't just sovereign citizens, either.  The whole "tax denial" thing works the same way.  It comes down to "I don't want to pay taxes!  Wah!" - a temper tantrum, not a legal argument.  If you scream loud and long enough, maybe people will capitulate.  Sadly, sometimes they do, which leads to more screaming and tantrums down the road.

We see the same argument being made by Mr. Wheezy - apparently thinking he deserves to win, "just because" - and again, mental illness is at work here.  Why anyone would pay extra for a pair of sneakers, or a shirt, or whatever, just because it has the name of a has-been rapper (or any celebrity) is beyond me.  And by the way, screaming obscenities into the microphone is still considered "music?"  Maybe it is time we put that dog down - rap is crap, let's face it.  It is almost as bad as "New Country Music!" where men sing in whiny tones about how Trump lost or their pickup truck broke down.

But, maybe that is the point.  It isn't that these individual actors are acting badly, but that a vast army of idiotic people support them.  Yes, every mass-murderer gets tons of fan mail in prison - and marriage proposals as well.  Some women even marry such convicts - who were convicted for raping and killing women.  Wonder how that plays out?

I've said it before: Be your own celebrity.  Found your own fan club - with one member, who idolizes you.  Live your own life, not someone else's, vicariously.

But I digress.

It just struck me that this fellow in Wisconsin was repeating a lot of nonsense we are hearing all over the country today, mostly from mentally deranged people.  They want to get their own way, simply because they want it.   But that's not enough, in a society where there are other people.

In a way, it is like the paradox of tolerance.  You cannot be so tolerant as to tolerate intolerance - otherwise the intolerant take over and use your tolerance as a weapon against you.  We see this today, with people who want to burn and ban books, claiming to be representing "free speech" - which they define as forcing other people to platform their intolerance.

Or, like in some countries in the world, where free elections are held for the first time, the first thing people vote for is no more elections.  And if you think this is a third-world phenomenon, be patient, it is coming to a Western Democracy near you.  Very near you.

It kind of makes you want to give up on humanity.

But we'll have to see how this plays out.  We've seen this pattern before in history - people who enjoy freedom are not obsessed about it.  People who pine for totalitarianism make their whole identity about it. They should win because they should - they are on a holy crusade!  No one is a bleeding fan of Joe Biden - he was just a guy they voted for.  Trump supporters literally think he was anointed by Jesus.  I'm not kidding about this, either!

This is the end game of the age of unreason.

Maybe we should reopen the mental hospitals again.  Folks like this should not be running around causing trouble for everyone.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Generational Slurs....

When someone labels a person or group of people with a generational label, it is usually intended as a slur.

In my previous posting about tissues, I jokingly opined that Millennials have ruined tissues - using paper towels for everything.  It is a standing joke that Millennials have "ruined" everything from coffee, to work, to avocados, to... whatever the newspaper editors felt they needed to use to fill space in the paper this week or generate a click-bait headline.

A reader notes that when people slap the label "Millennial" on something, they are referring to young people in general, often in their 20's which may be more "Gen Z" or whatever label they have come up with lately.

I thought about it, and it occurred to me that whenever these generational labels are slapped on someone, some group, or something, it is not laudatory.  In fact, it is often a slur.

Younger people like to say "OK Boomer!" as if the person they were addressing was some old fuddy-duddy who didn't have a clue.  And of course, you can label entire groups of people based on when they were born - right?  I mean, it works for Astrology - and it is about as accurate.

Of course, I am not even sure what generation I am in, or where the cutoff of these generations are.  Who assigns these labels, anyway?  Is there some sort of government agency in charge of this?  Of course not.  It is just bullshit of the first order.  From what I can divine online, the various generations - or at least the ones with labels - suss out as follows:

The Lost Generation: (1883-1900)  Gertrude Stein coined this phrase, while talking to Ernest Hemingway.  "Yours is a lost generation" she said, referring in part to the large number of young men who never returned from the trenches of World War I.  Like I've said before, war has always been mankind's most effective form of birth control - and evolution.  Each war creates new technologies, and in most wars, the best and brightest stay behind the lines to survive and reproduce.

The Lost Generation is truly lost at this point, unless there is some fucker out there who was born in 1900 and lived to 122 and no one noticed.  Perhaps this is the first "generation" to be slapped with a label - or perhaps not.  Maybe previous generations simply didn't have labels.

Greatest (and most modest) Generation Ever:  (1901-1927) This was my parents' generation and Mark's parents' generation as well.  They are lauded for surviving the depression and winning World War II.  And while many experienced privation and were shot at and were wounded or died, many others did not.  For example, Mark's Dad ran out after Pearl Harbor and signed up for the Army.  They trained him as a B-17 navigator and he was shot down, early in the war, after seeing the pilot's head blown off.  He was taken prisoner - and was lucky, as angry townspeople hung some of the aviators from lamp posts.  He spent nearly four years in a POW camp and saw friends waste away and others shot.

My Dad partied his way through World War II.  He wasn't so sure about this Hitler fellow and after December 7th, 1942, he decided to take a wait-and-see approach as he was in college at the time.  Before his draft number came up, he took a leave of absence and joined the Army.  They sent him back to college - Texas A&M and Officer Candidate School.  As the war was winding down, he was charged with supervising a shipment of gold to North Africa to pay back some of the Arabs who agreed to be on our side - for a price. The C-54 lost an engine over Bermuda, so he left the shipment in charge of a Sergeant and went into town and had a rum swizzle and got laid.  Later on, he was in Italy, long after it had surrendered, and was put in charge of a Jeep parts depot.  He left this in charge of a Sergeant and went to dinner parties hosted by a countess - and got drunk and got laid.  They also serve....who had a good time.

The point is, not everyone was storming the beaches in Normandy or Iwo Jima.  And both our parents benefited from the rebounding economy after the war.  Yes, they sacrificed.  But "Greatest Generation Ever?"  I think Tom Brokaw coined that phrase, and it is a little over-the-top and immodest.  I am sure many of that "generation" are embarrassed by it.

Bear in mind these generational labels are entirely arbitrary.  Why range from 1901-1927 and not from 1910 to 1935?  It was someone's arbitrary choice.  Generational labels mean nothing - as the divergent experiences of our parents illustrate.

The Silent Generation: (1928-1945)  When you think of "old people" today, they may be of this era.  The "Greatest Generation Ever" has largely shuffled off the mortal coil, so this generation is what is left in the nursing homes - until the Baby Boomers push them out.   These were the war babies and guys who served in Korea.  They grew up with us winning World War II, but not being a part of it, other that perhaps to participate in a scrap drive.   People forgot about Korea, which is one reason why they call it the Silent generation.

The other reason being the stereotype of the keep-your-head-down-and-don't-rock-the-boat attitudes of the 1950s, when America rebounded from the mild post-war depression.  People were, supposedly, conservative and Republican and conformist, in that era.

But don't tell that to the beatniks, or Alan Ginsberg or Jack Kerouac - right? Because the "Beat Generation" also has its roots here - and were the precursors of the hippies of the next "generation."

What is interesting to note, is that, so far, these generations are defined by wars.  The "Lost Generation" with World War I, the "Greatest Generation Ever" by World War II, and now the "Silent Generation" with the Korean War (or Conflict or Police Action or whatever - technically it is not over).

Baby Boomers: (1946-1964)  Technically I am part of this generation - although some sources place the cutoff dates as 1940-1960.  Like I said, this is not an exact "science" and in fact is not science at all.  It is just bullshit.  These are the children of the "Greatest Generation" and "The Silent Generation" and to hear the media tell it, we all became hippies, went to Woodstock, smoked dope, and then, in the 1970's became disco kings and queens.

Except, maybe not.  I noted before, I was once talking to an older friend of mine at Carrier who was at Kent State at the time of the shootings, and I asked him what it was like. "I don't know," he replied, "I was studying Engineering and not protesting.  I read about it in the paper the next day.  It was a large campus - I never even saw it going on!"

So you see, slapping a "generation" label on people is stupid.  Like my friend at Carrier, I was studying Engineering and worked at GM as well.  My eldest brother and sister went to Woodstock - it rained and they left early.  It was not the defining moment of their lives, or their "generation." None of us became Disco enthusiasts, either. You see, people are individuals, not focus groups or demographics to be spelunked and categorized.

Once again, a war defines a generation - Vietnam.  And while many served and many died, the vast majority of that generation had little to do with the war, and college kids, like my oldest brother, had little chance of being drafted.  He protested against it, however.  Oddly enough, my brother-in-law didn't - and he ended up in the Army.  Divergent experiences, again.

Baby Boomers, of course, are the widest part of the age pyramid which sort of maxes out the year I was born, in 1960.  So Boomers are plentiful and they have dominated politics and industry and entertainment for the last few decades - to the point where everyone is sort of fed up with them.

But fear not, they too are rapidly shuffling off the mortal coil and within a couple of decades will be as rare as World War II veterans are today.  Be patient.

Generation X: (1965-1980)  Generation X got the short end of the stick being only 15 years in length.  Once again, we see how arbitrary these labels are.  I was taught that a generation was more or less 20 years.  I guess Gen-X got less.

Generation X was my first recollection as to the media's obsession with these "Generations." Lame magazines like Time and Newsweek would run articles about "Generation X: What they want, and why?" or something along those lines.  And we were told this "new generation" was entirely different than previous ones, and not just ordinary human beings like the rest of us.

Whether or not Generation X is part of the "Me Generation" I do not know.   That seemed to be a label slapped on young people (again, as a slur) in the mid 1980s because young people were trying to better themselves, instead of protesting something or another.  It seems to have fallen by the wayside since then. 

That really started this whole inter-generational warfare, in my opinion.  Because once you create the "Gen X" label, you have to have catchy labels for the next generations as well.

Millennials: (1981-1996) You can see these "generations" are getting shorter and shorter, over time.  They started calling this "Generation Y" but then the millennium came along and someone decided (Who? When? Why? who gave them the authority?) that since this was "the defining moment of their generation" to slap this label on it.   Maybe a better label is the 9/11 generation - if we are going to categorize these things based on wars.

Again, Millennials are best known for "ruining everything" by refusing to consume, for example.  The label is rarely used as anything but an ageist slur. 

Generation Z: (1997-2012)  While the "Greatest Generation" was 26 years in length, we have whittled this down to a mere 15 for this latest generation of do-nothing slackers.  Nothing good is ever said of Generation Z - they just sit around all day long and play video games - right?  Why haven't they accomplished more?  Well, for starters, most of them are still in their 20's, and when I was that age, I was hanging around and drinking beer and smoking dope.  But for us it was different, of course, right?

Generation Alpha: (2010-?) Proof that this whole "generation" thing is running out of steam.  We have no real tag to put on these folks as many are still in pre-school.  But that's not too early to label them with defining characteristics that will scar them for life.  I am not sure what these children did to deserve a generational label or to be stereotyped as being all of one thing.  I suppose they will call these kids "The Social Media Generation" as they were handed smart phones literally in the crib.  We'll see.

So what's the point of all this?  Only that people are individuals, not focus groups, demographic slices, or other forms of cubby-hole-ism.  It seems that some folks want to label us all and put us into our designated bins and then hammer shut the hatches so we can't escape.

Whenever you hear one of these "generation" labels batted about, chances are, it is an insult.  "Millennials destroyed [whatever]" or "Gen Z is quiet quitting!" or "OK Boomer!".   No one ever says nice things about these generational groups.

In a way, it is no different than saying blacks are all criminals or Mexicans are lazy or that Jews are secretly running the world (hello Sleazy Yeezy?).  They are harmful stereotypes and serve no good purpose, other than to pit "us" against "them."

Stereotypes are so powerful, too.  People tell "Boomer" jokes, even if they are part of the demographic.  Similarly, I've heard more than one "Millennial" repeat a "Millennial" stereotype and more than one "Gen-Z" person complain about how lazy and unmotivated "kids are these days!"  Is is like a black person running a white supremacy group or selling "White Lives Matter" t-shits.  I guess they think if they denounce their own group, the other group will let them in on a day-pass.  If I denounce Baby Boomers, then I'm not one of them, right?  Or maybe the whole structure is just suspect.

You are not a statistic or a demographic.  You are an individual.  The stereotypes made about people of certain ages, religions, or races are not helpful, but harmful. And maybe in this modern era, where making jokes about Jews or Blacks or Hispanics is considered vulgar, it is fair game to go after someone based on what year they were born.

It is rude, but moreover makes no sense.  The "Bernie Bros" who are mostly from the Millennial age group, decry the "Boomers" for ruining the country.  Yet they want to elect an 80-something-year-old Boomer as their leader.   You can't have it both ways - you can't say "all Boomers are like this" and then say the solution is to make a Boomer President (we've already had a few!).  Maybe the answer is to address policies, not ages.

People are individuals.  There are people I know in their 80's who are far-left Liberals, and I know teenagers who think Donald Trump is a God - as the inverse is also true.   You can't pigeon-hole people based on their age.

About the only thing you can do with age demographics is sell products based on age-based needs.  You can sell zit-cream to teenagers and adult diapers to old people.  That's about it.  Trying to make more out of age demographics is just silliness.

So... the next time you hear someone say, "OK, Boomer" or "Millennials ruined this" or "Gen-Z is lazy!" just do me a favor...

...Punch them in the face.   This shit needs to go away, like yesterday!

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Issues With Tissues

Are paper towels a better deal?

Mr. See loves his tissues.  He keeps boxes all over the house - by the bed, by his chair, in the car, you name it!  And for some reason when he uses a tissue, he leaves it next to the box.  So every morning, I go on tissue patrol and pick up the used tissues and throw them all away.   Why he saves them, I do not know.

I have issues with tissues.  They are flimsy and fall apart.  So if I have to sneeze, I grab two.  Good luck with that.  Tissue boxes seem to have two modes of operation.  When new, they begrudgingly let you have a half a torn tissue, as the box is packed tight. As they empty, they tend to make you pull out a wad of 15 tissues or so - forcing you to separate out two and stuff the rest back in.  In the meantime, you have already sneezed.

They are expensive, too - and deceptively marketed.  You have to look at each box carefully, as a "large" box may hold fewer tissues than the smaller ones.  The worse at the "boutique" boxes, which are square.  Cute to look at, but they generally hold half as many tissues as the rectangular boxes.

Then there is the texture - soft.  Too soft.  They leave tissue lint all over your face and make you sneeze yet again.  The whole concept is so poorly thought out, really.

Mark wanted me to find a tissue box holder for the camper, so the tissue boxes aren't floating around.  Good luck with that.  In addition to the various sizes (boutique box, large rectangular, small rectangular) there are few choices to be had - and they are expensive!  $35 for a tissue box holder?  Be serious.  And the cheap plastic kind from China are metric and designed to fit metric sized boxes - measure before ordering!

So, what's not to like about tissues?

I read online a few years ago that "Millenials are ruining tissues!" - yes, everyone's favorite whipping boys (and girls) have gone and ruined yet another thing.  It seems that, according to the article, broke Millenials are making the logical decision to just use paper towels - as paper towels, tissues, and napkins (no word on toilet paper - you have to draw the line somewhere!).  Fold a mini-sheet in half, it even makes a nice coaster!

In a way, it makes a lot of sense:

  • One less thing to buy
  • Better strength and texture
  • Small-sheet paper towels are about the same size
  • Handier to have around - multiple uses
  • Better selection of towel holders.

If you go to a wholesale club, you can buy a package of paper towels that is so large, it won't fit in your car - and for not a lot of money!   And they come in variable sizes - about 1/3 the size of a "traditional" sheet.  Clever, those Millenials!

And in a way, we are already using them as tissues.  When you have to sneeze and the tissue box is not around, but the paper towels are, you can use those.  They are nice and thick, so they don't fall to pieces when you use them.

But are paper towels cheaper than tissues? Let's "do the math!" on this.

We bought a giant package of paper towels at Sam's Club for $18.98 for 15 "mega-rolls" of 150 (mini) sheets each, or about 0.843 cents per sheet.  Down at the Dollar Tree, a box of "Scotties" 2-ply tissues contains 128 sheets and costs $1.25 or about 0.97 cents per sheet.  Clearly the paper towels win, mostly because they don't come in a box.

By the way, it pays to look at tissue boxes - and paper towels as well.   The number of sheets can vary considerably, even for the same sized box or roll.  And it goes without saying that prices are all over the map - with some name-brand paper towels selling for nearly twice that of store brand.  And by the way, buying single rolls of paper towels at Dollar Tree is probably the worst bargain.  They are not very good quality, they don't come in the mini-sheet tear size, they are small rolls, and they are $1.25 a roll, whereas the "mega-rolls" at the wholesale club are under a dollar.

So what does this mean?  Maybe I will buy Mr. See another paper towel holder for the camper, instead of a tissue box holder.  Yea, I know, the tissue people advertise how "soft" their tissues are (one even promotes a brand that is pre-moistened! Disgusting!).  But quite frankly, my schnoz is not that sensitive, and actually, the "soft" tissues tickle my nose and make me sneeze, and since they have such fine dusty lint, that makes it even worse.

Of course, there are aesthetics to consider.  Your friends and neighbors are not going to be impressed if they come to visit and there is a roll of paper towels on the coffee table.  A box of tissues in an attractive holder, such as this Longerberger basket tissue box (yes, we have one, a friend was into it, and yes, it is an MLM scheme, and yes the company went bankrupt, and yes, their office building was shaped like a basket, and yes, I hear they are back in business again).  After all, you want to be stylin' and you care what the neighbors think!  Of course, there are cheaper tissue box covers available.  Check out the thrift store or local garage sales.

So maybe the tissue is not extinct.  But then again, I find myself reaching for paper towels more and more, when I need a tissue, napkin, or coaster.  Of course, paper towels as we know them, are a relatively modern invention that became popular in my lifetime.  What did we do before thenWell, we had old kitchen rags laying about (germ nightmare) and the "pocket handkerchief" which was also disgusting.  I am not sure we are going back to those anytime soon - although our kitchen is well-stocked with tea towels and we don't use paper towels for plebian things like drying our hands.

But tissues - I have issues with them, beginning with how they all come out at once from the box (or not at all).  I don't recall the packaging fighting me so much back in the day.  Perhaps it is a scheme from Big Paper Towel to get me to over-consume.


NOTE:  I have not called tissues, "Kleenex" here, as that is a registered trademark of Kimberly-Clark, and not a generic descriptor of tissues.  You can spot a Boomer or "Greatest Generation Ever" person by the way they throw trademarks around like that.  "Let me Xerox that for you!" they say, or "Let's Simonize the car!" or "hand me a Kleenex" or "Put a Band-Aid on that!"

It is quaint, and back in the day, companies encouraged people to use their trademarks as verbs or as generic terms - until they risked losing their marks by becoming generic. That's why the Johnson&Johnson people refer to it as "Band-Aid® brand adhesive strips" - in an attempt to claw-back their trademark rights.

As for Xerox - are they even still in business?

Monday, October 24, 2022

Send in the Drones...

Militaries are always prepared to fight the previous war.

The weird thing about this war in Ukraine is that you can go online and see gory real war footage in almost real-time.  It is horrific and yet fascinating.  On television and in the movies, you shoot someone and they fall dead right away.  In real life, people might be shot several times or get hit by a grenade and take minutes or hours to die, as they slowly bleed out.  Like I said, it is horrific, and even if they are Russians, they are real human beings (well, some say, anyway) and many didn't choose to be there.

There is an old saying that the military is always ready to fight the previous war.  In the revolutionary war, the British lined up in neat rows and took turns shooting at their enemy.  Wily Americans took pot-shots at them from behind trees.  That's just not cricket!

In the Civil War, the same thing, with rows of soldiers advancing across the battlefield only to be blown up by artillery.  In World War I, the machine gun changed battle strategy, but not before a lot of people were gunned down. Trench warfare was the new thing, and after the war, the Maginot line would protect France.  But a newer form of warfare - Blitzkrieg, rendered trench warfare pointless.

On the sea, the battleship was king - until the submarine.  Battleships were refitted with "torpedo bulges" and accompanied by destroyer escorts.  But when World War II started the battleship was largely obsolete and the Carrier become dominate.  Battleships were just handy targets for dive bombers.

We learned a lot from World War II - air supremacy being one thing.  But in Vietnam, we had to learn a new type of warfare - the insurgency.  Where was the enemy?  Why wouldn't they wear different colored uniforms than ours, with clearly marked insignia?  The guy cutting your hair in the afternoon could be the same guy slitting your throat that evening.  That's just not cricket!

We kept learning the same lesson in Iraq and Afghanistan - those insurgents just refused to wear uniforms and meet us on the battlefield, preferably in neat formations.  We spend 20 years and billions of dollars and they still won.

Today, Russia is trying to fight a "conventional" war with conventional and often outdated arms and tactics.  And yet, Ukrainians are doing things like dropping grenades with cheap drones - right down the hatch of a tank.  It has changed-up warfare once again.

Sure, we have drones - big multi-million-dollar deals that shoot hellfire missiles.  The Iranians are providing "suicide" drones that are little more than radio-controlled airplanes powered by lawnmower engines.  But tiny electric drones, guided by a cell phone and armed with a single grenade, cost little to buy, nothing to operate, and are silent and deadly.

There are videos galore of Russian soldiers "digging in" into trenches, only the be blown away by some cheap drone dropping a grenade on them.  You can see them squirming as they hear the buzz of the drone and know their time may be up.  Once the drone drops the grenade, they crawl out of the trench, peppered with shrapnel, bleeding to death.  It is horrific.

But it is modern warfare.  The idea you can "dig in" and protect yourself from gunfire or mortar fire, is kind of obsolete.  If you can see sky, they can see you.

Of course, this will lead to anti-drone jamming techniques, which may require broadband radio frequency jamming signals.  I am sure such equipment exists or is under development, but like any other form of warfare, one side raises the stakes, and so does the other.  Maybe you can jam RF signals, but what about modulated laser signals?  Or maybe signals from satellites?  Or just an autonomous vehicle that picks its own target and annihilates it.  Scary thought.

Defense contractors and the Pentagon are no doubt watching this war closely - like most "proxy wars" it has turned into a proving ground for weapons tech.  We are seeing in real-time what weapons systems work - and which ones don't.  And militaries across the globe are deciding to cancel their arms orders from Russia and buy American  - or from the West. Why buy Russian tech, when it is shown to be so utterly outmatched?

You can't buy PR like this - and sadly, this is what it comes down to.  It is like the air shows in Paris or Farnborough, where each country shows off their latest military and civilian aircraft - and hopes to fill their order books as well.  While it is nice to "kick the tires" on a new jet fighter, it is even nicer to see the gear in action against an opponent.  And this war in Ukraine is giving buyers a chance to do just that.

But I wonder whether the future lies not with million- or billion-dollar defense systems, but with cheap, inexpensive, and small drones.  Put 1,000 of them in the sky - they can't shoot them all down.  And 1,000 of them cost less than one fancy "reaper" drone from a major defense contractor.

I guess we'll see how this pans out.  It is a shame so many people will die over nothing, other than the vanity of a Russian dictator.

Maybe the military will be ready to fight the next war, though.  And there will be a next war - it is in our DNA.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Adios, Amazon!

Websites become popular and then fade from view.  Will this happen to Amazon?

Websites are funny in that you become obsessed with one and check it out every day.  Then you use it less and less, and then forget about it entirely.  It is like your favorite sweater - you wore it all the time, and then one day, years later, you find it in the back of the closet and say, "Oh, yea, I remember this.  I wonder why I stopped wearing it?"  And you put it on and it doesn't fit and it is frayed and pilled and has burn mark on it and you go, "Oh, yea, now I remember!"

Amazon, like Facebook, or Google is a website.  Yea, they sell things and have warehouses and trucks and stuff, but the main thing is that it is just a site you visit - or visited - and over time, these get stale, particularly when they start to take on the air of a carnival barker.

Early on, Amazon was a lot of fun - you could find things for cheap online and they were shipped quickly.  The whole "kindle" thing was sort of a bust.  You could find old books and compilations (the complete works of Shakespeare!) for 99 cents.  But the big publishing houses, early on, wanted $29.95 for an e-copy of a best-seller.  Might as well wait for it to come out in paperback.

Or, as I did, rediscover the local library, where everything was free.

Over time, Amazon became a retail colossus - almost bigger than Walmart - and of course, the largest retailer on the Internet. The book business sort of became a tiny part of this - who reads anymore?  Certainly not the Qanon people or the Trumpers.   I mean, they read 4chan, but that's about it.

And over time, the retail part got shittier and shittier.  In typical Silicon Valley fashion, they "got big, fast!" by selling at a loss  or by breaking even (or at very low profit margins).  Once people got hooked on "one-click buying" and "Prime" (which was not a real bargain) they slowly raised prices to the point where, today, Amazon is no real bargain at all.

When I buy something online, I open a number of windows, and odds are, there is a cheaper source out there than Amazon - often from the manufacturer's website.  Amazon's weird pricing algorithms (which change prices in real-time) are a turn-off as well.  One reader reports that if he leaves a product in his Amazon "cart" but does not buy it, he will get an e-mail in a day or two advising him that the price has dropped.   Wait a few days, and it drops further.  Amazon has all the charm of a used car dealer!

So I stopped going for the most part.  The chart above shows the number of orders I made with Amazon over the years and in recent years, it has declined a lot.  I bought everything from tires to books to tools to a hot tub (which turned into a real shipping headache - and they lowered the price right after I bought it!).  Amazon just left a bad taste in my mouth.  The last "big purchase" I made was a rechargeable circular saw, and the only reason I went with Amazon is that I could get next-day shipping by signing up for "Prime" (and then cancelling it the next day once the item arrived) as we were rehabbing the condo and I needed to cut down some doors to fit the carpeting.

If I was to buy the hot tub again, I would go directly to the manufacturer's website.  Tires?  I have found 100 places online that are cheaper and have just as good service, if not better.  For the most part, I have just given up on Amazon.

Others, well, they are shopaholics.  I know people who just go on Amazon and buy shit they don't need, simply to get a dopamine hit.  It is sad, really - they fill up their houses with junk like a hoarder, but it is all brand-new junk, some never leaving the boxes it came in.  Yes, people do this, get into intractable credit card debt, and then blame Joe Biden for their personal problems.

Of course, the less I use Amazon, the harder it is to use it.  I log on and they've changed the site, or I have to scroll through pages of offers for Prime or whatever.  What was the password, again?  I'd better look that up!  The less engaged you get with a site, the less you use it, until you stop using it entirely.

When a site becomes toxic - like Amazon is becoming (and PayPal already has) then you tend to stop using it entirely.  No, I am not interested in buying "crypto" through PayPal, thank you very much!  But they keep pushing it, the few times I log in, which is why I do not have any bank account or credit card linked to PayPal.  It just isn't safe - or doesn't provide a feeling of safety.

By the way, speaking of PayPal, I got an e-mail the other day that did NOT go into my SPAM basket, and it was  pretty well done.  The return address was and it was addressed to me.  It said an "estimate" for a new iPhone had been made and maybe my account was breached - call this 1-800 number if you wish to contest this!  It had all the graphics and everything down to the last detail - not even any typos or British English in it.  The only tip-off was the salutation to someone else's name.

Of course, I did not click on the internal links, but out of curiosity, checked my PayPal account and sure enough, the balance was still $4.  Kind of hard to steal from someone who is broke, eh?

But getting back to Amazon, a reader sent me a link to a book he wrote and I wanted to check it out.  I tried to click on the "free" button, but that wanted to sell me "Kindle Unlimited" for free (one month) or $4.99 for three months, going to $9.99 a month after that.  $120 a year to read "free" books - no thank you!  I get a lot of books from the local lending library and even the church has a book exchange - and campgrounds as well.  And there is the public library, too.  Nice try, Amazon.  No sale.

So I paid the 99 cents for a kindle copy.  I tried to load it to my ancient Kindle, but it no longer supports the Amazon store.  I was able to order it on the computer and have it delivered to the Kindle.  Reading a book on a phone just isn't an option!

But all of this got me to thinking, "Gee, I haven't been on the Amazon site a lot lately!" and maybe part of this is we are spending less because, you know, the invisible recession no one is talking about.  Maybe part of this is that we are just buying less "stuff" than we used to (like most Americans, we are already drowning in stuff - I don't need more!).  Or maybe part of this is just that Amazon has no real bargains anymore.  Like I said, for many things I find better deals on manufacturer's sites, in the store at Walmart, or on eBay.  Amazon usually comes in a distant last, in terms of pricing.

eBay doesn't have historical ordering data for me, but for the last two years, I ordered 28 items on eBay in 2021, and 34 items so far in 2022.  My purchases are going more toward eBay than toward Amazon.

With the labor unrest at Amazon, it isn't hard to see that this isn't going to get better over time.  Bezos squeezed his employees as much as possible, treating them like robots and paying them squat.  Maybe in 2010 when unemployment was high, you could get away with that.  But one by one, the distribution centers will all eventually unionize (odd the union has to do it piecemeal this way - or is it by choice?) and as their operating costs escalate, so will prices.

There are noises about Amazon closing distribution centers and not opening ones they recently built.  They are blaming this on the pandemic, or more precisely, the end of the pandemic.  People are moving back to brick-and-mortar, so Amazon doesn't need so many distribution centers, they claim.  The reality is, their sales are down, and the actual reason could be the pandemic thing, or maybe people are just tapped out with the inflation and all, or maybe Amazon's prices are just too high.

Or maybe, like any website (and it is a website) people just tire of it and latch on to the next big shiny trinket dangled in front of them.   Facebook is facing a similar problem - once the only social media site, it now has to compete with Tick-Tock and Twitter, and increasingly for young people, YouTube.  Every site has its day in the sun and then fades to oblivion, it seems.  Usually it is because the site owners (or the people they sell the site to) decide they need to make more profits, so they pack it with ads (or in the case of Amazon, raise prices) and people turn away.

Will Amazon go broke?  I doubt it.  But then again, they have a lot of infrastructure to support and have grown rapidly.  Any decrease in revenue could be problematic for them.  Remember that closed distribution centers have to be paid for, even when they are empty and not making money for the company.  And as the world's largest private employer, they have a lot of overhead as well.

I mentioned before that one reason my MLM schemes are a bad bet is that any enterprise that is predicated on selling stuff you could buy anywhere is going to be a game of margins.  You sell a product for a dollar and the guy across the street cuts his price to 99 cents.  It is the great American game of capitalism - which sometimes works to the advantage of the consumer (provided the consumer plays his only hole card on occasion - not to consume).

There was an "old joke" posted online today that illustrates the problem for mercantile endeavors: 

A supermarket opened up next to a small grocer and to show how much cheaper they were put a big sign out the front advertising butter.

The grocer used to sell butter for 50p a packet, but the supermarket advertised it for 49p. The next day the grocer put a big sign on the front saying:

Butter: 48p

The supermarket couldn't afford to lose face so the next day it was loudly advertising:


However the grocer soon changed his sign to

Butter: 46p

This went on for days until the supermarket was advertising butter for ONLY 10p but the grocer still beat it:

Butter: 9p

The supermarket owner was now losing a lot of money by selling butter this cheap and went next door to the grocer to see if they could work out a deal. However the grocer wasn't too concerned and didn't want to. The supermarket owner said "I can't understand how you can survive selling butter this cheap, I pay 40p each for it and so I'm losing 30p on every sale!".

The grocer said "Oh, I'm only losing 1p on every sale, I just buy it from you".

You see the point - selling stuff just isn't all that profitable - not compared to making it.  And maybe that is why Amazon is expanding outside of its merchant roots.  The new center in Crystal City (in my old Patent Office digs) isn't selling crap online, it is selling computer services to the Pentagon.  Because while Amazon may be the world's largest private employer with 1.5 Million employees (by some counts), the Pentagon has it beat handily with 3.0 Million.

You go where the money is.  Maybe in 20 years, Amazon will just be another defense contractor.

Weirder things have happened.  At one time, Sears, Roebuck (remember them?) was the largest retailer in America.  But like so many other retailers over the years, it went bust.  IBM used to be the largest computer maker.  GM the largest carmaker.  Times change, and no one stays on top forever.

As for me, I doubt I will be running back into the arms of Amazon anytime soon, unless their stop acting like chiselers on their website and their prices come down.