Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Useful Idiots, Liberal Edition (Please Stop "Helping"!)

A transgender art teacher claims to be a "radical climate scientist" and makes anti-Israel postings.  How much are Republicans paying this person?  And no, this is not the Onion.  By the way, they totally don't look like a dude at all.  No siree.

NOTE:  This is an older posting that I was working on and just posted today.  I guess I was in a bad mood when I wrote this.   Conservative readers may love it, though!

An art teacher is in hot water, because apparently they cracked open a box of Franzia Chardonnay and got hammered and started posting obnoxious anti-Israel postings online.  Now they (he/she/it or sh/it?) are contrite, claiming they went off their rocker, as "cancel culture" threatens to claim one of its own.

One of the conundrums of our age is why some people who identify as "liberal" will blindly support conservative causes, provided they come wrapped in a thin veil of revolutionary chic.  Che Guevara, for example, was popular among leftist college students in the 1960s.  But talk to any Cuban exile and you get a different story - a guy so bloodthirsty he personally shot children who he felt were "counter-revolutionary."  Even Castro got tired of his bullshit and sent him packing, and no one shed a tear when he was eventually killed by the CIA.

But hey - the t-shirt!  The look!  Revolutionary Chic!  People were sold an image of the "little guy" fighting for freedom, but the reality was that he was a bourgeoisie hanger-on who came to the party late, in countries that were not his own, and caused more havoc than good.

Similarly, as I wrote before, many liberals, particularly young people, latch onto the Dali Lama as a "cause" without really understanding who he is and what he is fighting for (a dictatorial theocracy with him in charge).  He is very anti-gay and yet many a gay jeep will have a "Free Tibet!" bumper sticker on the back, particularly in places like Ithaca, New York (been there, seen that!).

I am not a big fan of Bill Maher, who is a pompous self-absorbed idiot (even moreso than I, and that's saying a lot!).  But one of the things he does call out is the cognitive dissonance that some liberals have in supporting Arab terrorists who, if given the chance, would kill the very liberal Americans who support them.  I know, I'm weird - I hate people who want to kill me.  Call me strange on that count!

Worse yet, so many view issues like this as right/wrong dichotomies.  If you don't support Hamas and its terrorist attacks on civilians, than you must stand for everything Israel does!  But such is not the case.  One can be sympathetic to the plight of ordinary citizens on the West Bank or Gaza, who are just trying to live their lives and get along - provided, of course, they didn't vote for Hamas in 2006 or are handing over part of their income to terrorists, or are willingly shielding terrorists in their home, or dancing in the streets to "celebrate" a terrorist attack, or grooming their children to be suicide bombers.  To be an innocent civilian, you have to be innocent.

Similarly, the vast majority of Israelis just want to live their lives in peace - but there are a small minority that wants to stir up trouble, too.  No one side is perfect in this world.

Then there is this "lady" who is not even a full professor of art and yet besmirches the name of science by calling "themselves" a "radical climate scientist" - an oxymoron if there ever was one.  Scientists are not "radical" or "conservative" but rather methodical.  Science is not a matter of opinion or emotion.  You have to at least try to be objective.  Experiments have to be repeatable by other scientists, period.  You can't have science based on belief - although today that seems to be spreading, thanks to people like this art-teacher.

She isn't doing anyone any favors.  She is painting the transgender people as a bunch of radical nut-jobs - why not just hand over a good sound bite to Fox News?  Hannity can say, "I told  you so" and we really can't respond to that.  In addition, she is giving the "other side" all the ammunition they need to pooh-pooh climate change.  If this lady is the self-proclaimed face of climate science, there can't be much to it, can there? Bear in mind I did work for NOAA - I'm met real climate scientists and this art teacher isn't one of them - in fact, not close by a million miles!

Please stop "helping"!  The far-left "progressive" radicals are giving ammunition to the GOP and the GOP is willingly using this to sway elections.  They are promoting an image of Democrats as embracing Antifa and "defunding the police" as well as "guaranteed basic income" - among other crazy leftist ideas.  And some leftists think this is great if we lose elections.  Re-elect Trump!  When his minions appoint him dictator-for-life then the real revolution can come!  These are the "Bernie Bros" who voted for Trump or just stayed home on election day, out of spite.

Revolutions come at a cost, however.  And our system of government was designed to allow for social change without revolution.  And social change could occur (and has occurred), unless a few nut-jobs decide to throw a wrench in the works because no amount of change is good enough for them.

We stand to lose so much progress, just to satisfy the hissy-fits of a few weirdos.  Will that be the epitaph of our civilization?

Please, please!  Stop "helping!"

Monday, January 29, 2024

Sunk Cost Fallacy

I already invested this much in it!  Might as well spend more! Or not!

I mentioned sunk cost fallacy in a recent post.  I bought our 1994 EZ-GO golf cart (buggy) for $299 back in 2008, about eight years ago.  It was in pretty bad shape and it is now a staggering 30 years old, although many of the components have been replaced.  I fear I may be falling victim to "sunk cost fallacy" - where you believe that since you spent so much, you might as well spend more to protect your "investment."

And it need not be money, either.  People invest time in a project and then refuse to give up, because they have so much time invested.  You go to a car dealer and they dick you around for hours (average time, six hours for most sales).  They jerk you around on price, trade-in, interest rate, and other terms.  You object, but then think, "I've been here four hours already and I have to get home and get to bed and go to work tomorrow!  If I back out now, then I have to 'invest' more time at another dealer!  Just make it go away!"

And that's how they sell cars - or anything else.  Sunk Cost Fallacy.

It is also how people spend an inordinate amount of money on old cars.  You spend a few thousand putting a rebuilt engine on a 200K mile car and then the transmission goes bad.  You think, "I spent all this money so I might as well spend more on the transmission - then everything will be fixed!"  But there are plenty of other things to break and often the mechanic makes errors in repair work which need to be addressed (or are never addressed).

For example, I had a 1995 Ford F150.  Beautiful truck, not a speck of rust!  But the clearcoat was just starting to show signs where it might peel.  The driver's seat was starting to wear, and so on and so forth.  The engine was overheating - bad head gasket or what?  The transmission had "issues" with a second gear roller clutch.  Sure, I could put a rebuilt engine and transmission in it, but that would run about ten grand when it was all said and done, for a truck that books at $4500 on a good day.  I sold it on eBay - defects disclosed! - for $4500 and moved on with life.

A friend of mine had a similar 1995 F250 and it was running poorly.  Good looking truck, but the engine was making no power.  I suspect it was losing compression and needed a rebuild, but the local "mechanic" decided to "rip out all that emissions stuff" and install headers which made it run even worse.  It was a nightmare under the hood - cut wires and such and parts missing.  You'd have to start all over to sort it all out.  He ended up selling it and buying something newer - which he probably should have done before he paid that "mechanic" thousands of dollars to ruin it.

New rear seat - kind of flimsy, though...

I fear I may have fallen victim to sunk cost fallacy with the buggy.  Golf cart batteries (lead-acid) last about five years, sometimes more.  Fancy AGM batteries may last longer, but you can pay twice as much for them.  Then you have to fuss with distilled water and whatnot and charging sequences and so on (there are discussion groups galore about how to baby your lead-acid batteries).  So after five years, our "12 month" Duracell Sam's Club batteries were pretty much toast - they were using water like a thirsty camel.   I could buy new ones, or fancy AGM kind, but Lithium-Ion battery pack was not much more - and pretty painless once installed.  Charging instructions are: "plug it in" - no fussing or worrying about "boiling the batteries" or whatever.

But of course, with this nice new battery, the rest of the buggy looks pretty shabby.   Why not upgrade with a new rear seat?  New upholstery?  And maybe it is time to put in real 12V wiring and a real fusebox instead of just one 20A fuse for all the accessories?  Pretty soon, well, you've spent some money - and time.

And there is a lot to spend on.  How about a long roof to overhang the new rear seat?   Only $499!  Or a fake woodgrain "dashboard" with locking gloveboxes for only $199?  Or a brush guard?  Diamond plate trim pieces?  Off-road lights?  The list goes on an on.  You can throw thousands of dollars at a "buggy" before you know it.  And a newer one can be had for under ten grand - although many top $15,000 or more at the dealer.  Some cost more than cars.

So far, after eight years, we have maybe $5000 into this thing (yes, I log every expense in Quickbooks) which comes to about $625 a year or so.  And maybe we won't have to spend much in the coming years, although the rear axle and electric motor are 30 years old - how much longer will they last?  And the steering is kind of janky - maybe that steering box rebuilt kit is in order!  You can spend as much as you want to.

But should we?

In some regards, this is a hobby and hobbies never pass the cost/benefit analysis, at least in terms of dollars.  Mark has made thousands of dollars selling his pottery, but we've easily spent tens of thousands of dollars on the studio and equipment and supplies.  So it isn't a money-making proposition and one sure way to sour on a hobby is trying to make a profit at it.  He gets satisfaction from the hobby, not a profit.  Even if he was to make some money at it, his hourly "wage" would be measured in pennies.

With the buggy the same is true.  I get satisfaction from working on it, as well as an educational experience regarding the technology.  I know a little more about lithium-ion batteries than I did before I started.  And it was fun, believe it or not - even if frustrating at times.  And we do get a form of transportation out of it, too.

All that being said, I am not sure I want to throw any more money at it, at least in the near future.  Time to let the darn thing work for me, instead of vice-versa!

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Open Deck Versus Closed Deck Engine Designs

It didn't start with the Vega, but that's one example of open deck design.

A reader writes asking about car repair.  The mechanic says his friend's Volvo has a cracked cylinder wall causing misfiring.  At first I was skeptical - a far more common (and cheaper) cause of misfire is a bad coil.  Modern engines use coil-over plugs, with one coil for each spark plug, eliminating the distributor and instead firing each plug using a computer signal.  Cheap and easy to install. But a cracked cylinder?  Just not a common thing!

Or is it?  I searched online some more and discovered that some Volvo engines are of an "open deck" design and indeed, the cylinders can crack.  A long way from the indestructible old Volvo 240 of the 1970s!  But this may be an issue caused by open deck design.

I saw a video about this design on YouTube, relating to GM's ill-fated "fuel-pincher" diesel, which was a short-lived (in both senses of the word) engine from Detroit Diesel.  It was so bad, GM was forced to sell the division to Penske.  One of the issues with the engine was that it was of open deck design.  Open deck, as shown above, has no flat surface surrounding the cylinders.  The cylinder head acts as the "top" of the cooling jacket.  This provides better cooling for the top of the cylinder, but since the pistons are - at some point in the stroke - pushing against the sidewall of the cylinder, it can cause the cylinder to "walk" and bend, which over time can cause fatigue and indeed, cracks.

The Vega engine was famous for this design and today it is used in a variety of applications, usually in relatively low-power vehicles - not race cars or diesels.  It is easier to manufacture (die casting, as in the Vega, can be used in place of tricky sand-casting) and again, has some cooling advantages and weight savings.  While the Vega engine was ill-fated, much of the technology used in it was adopted by other manufacturers, including BMW, and not without difficulty.  The Reynolds high-tectate silica aluminum did give BMW fits when the high-sulfur content gas in the 1990s (in the US only) caused cylinder wall erosion.

But such is the nature of modern engine design - we do things today to save weight, improve efficiency, and increase power.  These things often have reliability issues that are not detected until millions of cars are in the field and have over 100,000 miles on them.  It is the golden age of internal combustion - but perhaps also the last gasps of a dying technology.

Closed-deck designs are what we think of traditionally.

In the old days, when engine blocks and cylinder heads were made of (sand) cast iron, we were used to seeing the closed block design as shown above.  Even a child can see that the open block has less support for the tops of the cylinders, which look more like flower vases than a proper engine block.  Aluminum blocks had another issue we weren't familiar with "back in the day" and that was galvanic corrosion.  Many engines (again, BMW) had iron blocks and aluminum heads (the reverse of the Vega) and the two metals, when immersed in a liquid solution (say, for example, coolant!) would cause aggressive internal corrosion.  Special coolants were needed to reduce this corrosion, but many car owners were blissfully unaware of this requirement until it was too late.   Don't get me started on "water wetter" - it reduced surface tension of coolant to prevent cavitation in some diesel engines.

And of course, the different coefficients of thermal expansion of iron and aluminum could cause all shorts of hi-jinks when the engine overheats.  Such was the fate of our Vega when my idiot brother ignored the "temp" light.

Like I noted before, they change this technology and don't explicitly tell us.  A homeowner puts galvanized decking screws in his new "greenwood" pressure treated deck planks, unaware that this new kind of wood will eat through the screws and bolts within a few years.  Hilarity ensues.

Are open-deck engines a bad design?  Not necessarily and you may not have a choice in the matter as more and more manufacturers go to designs like this.  Try buying a car without variable valve timing these days - it just can't be done!  Again, referring to the Vega, aluminum cylinder walls don't wear well, unless you pull some sort of "trick" like GM (and later, BMW) did by using this high-tectate silica which had microscopic bits of silica in the aluminum, which were exposed using an etching process during manufacturing, creating a diamond-hard wear surface.  In theory, anyway.

Sleeving engines was another approach - and one done to repair engines where blocks are damaged.  On older engines where there is plenty of "meat" left in the block, they can be bored out and steel sleeves driven in (press fit) to create a new cylinder wall.  Supposedly, many a Vega engine was "fixed" this way.  Others use sleeves from the factory and apparently Volvo is one of these (from what I read and for certain engines).  The cracked sleeve can be bored out and a new one driven in.  But of course, that costs thousands of dollars - just removing the engine is an all-day job, as is re-installing it.  I would think a cheaper solution would be a junkyard engine from a wrecked, low-mileage car.  But that's just me.

Should you buy an open-deck engine car?  Chances are, you may already own one or have owned one without knowing it.  It isn't exactly a car feature that manufacturers crow about in the literature.  And there is no real data on whether open-deck designs work better than closed deck designs.  Our Kia Soul with the "Theta" engine is a semi-closed deck design with little ribs supporting parts of the cylinders, unlike the "flower vase" design of the Vega.  Our "ecoboost" 3.5 in the King Ranch is an open deck design (cranking out over 350 HP from 3.5 liters!).  So much for open deck being limited to "low output" engines.  Very few "closed deck" designs remain out there as they cost more to make and weigh more.  The old "small block" Chevy V-8 is still a closed-deck design (AFAIK) and maybe a few other "old school" engines.  Meanwhile, over at BMW, even the "high performance" engines are of open-deck design.

I suspect that, if properly designed, an open-deck engine can be as reliable and long-lived as any other design - closed or semi-closed, for example.  However, it seems every vehicle has its own share of esoteric failure modes as they age - few are "bulletproof" as some folks like to claim.  Even a Subaru has timing belt issues.

Funny thing is, if you go back historically in time, engines were cast as a block and the cylinders separately (sometimes in pairs) and then bolted to the block.  Head gasket materials were somewhat weak back then, so often the cylinder head was cast as one piece with the cylinder itself - which made machining for the valves a little tricky.  Some general aviation aircraft engines use this technique, where the "jugs" (cylinders) bolt up to the block.   Of course, way back in the day, the "cooling jacket" on a car engine was literally that - a thin brass sheetmetal jacket soldered around the cylinders!

How times have changed.  For the better, in most part.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

How Publishers Killed Magazines (Not Smart Phones!)

When a "magazine" is mostly just ads (even the articles) why pay to read it?

A friend dropped off a pile of lifestyle magazines they get - titles like "Veranda" and "Magnolia" and "Southern Living" or "Garden and Gun" (I kid-you-not on that last one).  Some of them look like they were never read.  And it ain't hard to figure out why.  It seems most magazines - the few that are left and the few that were around a few years ago and are no more - are just advertising supplements.  The articles are buried between pages and pages of ads and the ads look like articles and vice-versa.  And this was by design - a bad design choice that turned off readers.

In the old days, the cover of a magazine would have a compelling photo and it would be captioned with the title of the accompanying article and what page it was on.  Not so today - you have to hunt for the article (again, by design, to get you to flip through the ads, or to prevent you from reading the article and then putting the magazine back on the rack).  I noticed a new trend - cover photos that are compelling but have no accompanying article or any relationship whatsoever to the content of the magazine.  It is mildly infuriating - false advertising, if you will.  It is like a third-grader assembled these magazines - a third-grader with an amazingly short attention span.

What articles still exist are shorter than ever before - if they are not, in fact, thinly disguised advertisements.  I am looking at you, New Yorker!  What was this obsession with Las Vegas themed articles?  Oh, right, they paid big bucks for "advertising supplements" so you went along with it and made the articles adverts as well. The New Yorker used to be famous for its "fact-checking" section (which was spoofed in the movie Desk Set).  They even wrote an article about their fact-checking department, right before they laid them all off.   The New Yorker used to be staid and intellectual, but today, our generation has taken over and we have cartoons by Bruce McCall and humorous articles by David Sedaris.  A lot has changed over the years.  Our generation won  -  a Pyrrhic victory.

So, I flip through modern "magazines" in a matter of minutes and them toss them aside.  They are as annoying as these "news" sites that have pop-ups, pop-unders, and auto-play videos (as well as the inevitable "before you may be interested in..." screens).  The articles on such sites are little more than a repetition of the headline.  "Three found dead in domestic shooting in Aurora, Colorado" screams the headline - the "article" basically re-states this, with a quote from the local Sheriff.  No names, no details, no motives, no nothing.  News today is a big nothingburger.

And these "magazines" are about the same.  It is no wonder that the format is essentially dead.  You try to read a magazine and it is like the aforementioned annoying news sites.  You have to scroll turn through pages of ads just to read the next paragraph of an article.  And 50% of the text of the article is "continued on page xx" because they chop up the articles to get you to paw through more pages of ads.  Magazines have been SPAMed.

At the same time, content has suffered as writers and photographers have been laid off and editors let go.  The content is no longer a rich stew but a thin gruel that is totally unappetizing.  I guess money drives this - put in more ads, make more money.  Cut costs by cutting real content.  Profit.  Or perhaps it is the inevitable result of more and more "screen time."  People read less and less, so the number of subscribers has dropped.  To keep up profits, more ads have to go in and more content goes out.  This, in turn, drives more subscribers away, as they can get shitty, ad-laced content for free, on their phones.  Why pay to be advertised to?  They should be paying us!

For a long time the financial model of newspapers and magazines worked that way.  Subscription fees and newsstand sales covered the cost of production, while advertising revenue was pure profit.  Many magazines would discount subscription rates or even give out subscriptions for free in order to boost circulation numbers.  Since ad rates are based on circulation (much as television ad rates are based on ratings) it can be more profitable to simply give away the magazine and rely entirely on ad revenue. In fact, we have magazines like that locally - "Coastal Living" and whatnot, which have few articles, lots of photos of locals at charity events and ads - lots of ads.  You can find these mags for free in the lobby of hotels and restaurants, usually upscale ones.

Of course, a lot of people like to look at ads - hence the rise of "influencers" online.  If there was no one to tell you what to buy, what on earth would you ever do?  You might end up being laughed at for not having a Stanley cup in a collectible color!  The horror of it all!

Sadly, it seems there are a host of people who need and crave that kind of guidance.  These are the folks who follow cult religions mindlessly because they crave a finite set of rules, or failing that, a charismatic leader who tells them what to do and think.  They want advice columnists to give them explicit instruction in life.  Hell, people even ask me for advice - and I ain't giving it!

So we have adverts.  And apparently, from what I can divine from reading and seeing them, people are paranoid they have some sort of weird disease or that their laundry smells funny.  At least that is what I see on Pluto TV.  And in the magazines, too.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Failed and Kept Promises of New Technology

There wasn't a lot to like about incandescent light bulbs and lead-acid batteries.  Do their replacements live up to the hype?  Yes and No.

I was put in charge of the lighting in the art gallery.  We have an old track lighting system that is about 30-40 years old and no longer in production.  It is an un-grounded track and the world has moved on to a three-wired track since then, to the extent that anyone uses track lighting anymore (it was trendy in the 1980s and 1990s).  So new heads are no longer available, except on closeout, and the track is NLA.  We have well over 100 heads and bulbs to deal with here.

We converted from blistering hot halogens to LEDs and that caused a lot of controversy as well as a steep learning curve.  Early on, some artists objected, as their impression of LED lighting was the cold, almost blue light of early LED bulbs.  They thought it would look like "cool white" CFL's - which indeed, some confused the two.  We had to try several different "Kelvin" bulbs before settling on the "warm white" 2700-3000 K bulbs.

Compounding the problem was that each "head" had a 12V DC power supply and sometimes the bulbs would not "turn on" because they drew too little current.  Someone suggested soldering a resistor across the leads to create a parasitic current.  This is getting too complicated!

Confounding this is the age of the units - transformers burning out, sockets wearing out, and locking taps snapping off.  So maybe it is time - eventually - to upgrade to a more current (no pun intended) system that uses the standard 110V grounded track.  But with over 100 heads, that will get expensive and time-consuming.

So what I am going to do is replace the smaller tracks in the upper floors first and use the leftover heads to keep the main gallery supplied with spares for a few years more.  Maybe the lighting company will donate some leftover heads - I asked, and they are thinking about it.

The weird thing about LEDs is, well, a few things.  They were promised to last for years - decades even - and it appears that some may.  Traditional incandescent bulbs burned out with regularity and were a pain in the ass to replace.  Florescent bulb were not much better - they went dim over time and then started to flicker and sometimes the "ballasts" or "starters" would go bad.  Hey, they're full of mercury, too!  What's not to like?

When I worked for GM, we had a team of two guys who replaced florescent bulbs in the factory - 22 acres under one roof.  They started in one corner of the factory and replaced bulbs, whether they were "good" or not and then worked their way across the place over a year or so until they were done and then started over again.  Sort of like how they paint the Golden Gate Bridge - continuously.  You can see it is a big expense and how LEDs can save industry a lot of money.

Speaking of burned-out bulbs, I mentioned before how frustrating it was growing up as my parents would put the burned-out bulbs back in the package and back on the shelf in our laundry room.  I never understood this odd bulb hoarding until I was reading about the old Edison DC system (which my parents had in their first apartment, post-war) where users could bring back burned-out bulbs for free replacement.  No wonder the DC system failed!  They took a reliable revenue stream and gave it away for free!

Nevertheless, the threaded base on a standard light bulb - even an LED bulb - is called an "Edison Thread" or"Edison Screw" and is sometimes denoted as, for example, "E27" where "E" stands for "Edison" and 27 is the diameter in millimeters.  Talk about backward compatibility!  That's over 100 years!

Incandescent bulbs have a filament across the main leads, which would appear to be a dead short, because it is.  When you first turn on an incandescent bulb, it has almost zero resistance and the inrush current is pretty steep. But as the filament heats up - in fractions of a second - the resistance increases and the current drops off quickly.   As a result, 90% of the "wear" on an incandescent bulb occurs when you switch it on, which is why these "firehouse lights" from the 1900s which were never switched off, still burn today (albeit on a transformer at low voltage these days).  If you want to burn out an incandescent bulb in a hurry, just turn it off and on rapidly for a few minutes.  It is one reason why these bulbs often burn out when you turn them on.

LEDs either work or they don't - or as they get older do weird electronic things.  For example, sometimes they flash on when you apply power, and then go out.  Or they "flash" on and off.  Or they don't turn on until after a minute or two after you've switched them on.  They sort of give you warning they are about to go.

And about 10% of them fail fairly early on.  The remaining 90% seem to last for years, although the calendar will tell us more about that in the future.  The promise of 10-year bulbs, however, may be overstated.

Incandescent bulbs got hot as hell and in our kitchen or in the gallery, having a dozen incandescent bulbs or worse yet, halogens, can be like working under a heat lamp.  LEDs are much cooler, but not cold, of course.  I don't burn my hands on them (unlike incandescent bulbs or halogens) but they do get quite warm.

Another weird thing about them is, well, they seem to be voltage agnostic.  I ordered a set for our camper and was flummoxed as to whether they were for 12V DC or AC or 24V or what.  I called the manufacture's help line and they said "YES" when I asked which was the correct current for these bulbs.  Perhaps this is not true for all LEDs - check the manufacturer's specs to be sure.  It is interesting that many LED bulbs have heat sinks on them for some sort of internal power supply.

Are LEDs better?  Sure are! No way am I going back to old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, even if I had the choice.  Did they live up to all the hype? Of course not, nothing ever does.  But they are a vast improvement over the past.

Lithium-Ion batteries are another case in point.  No one "loves" a lead-acid battery - just the name is enough to turn you off.  Lead causes brain damage and acid can burn your face.  And yes, lead-acid batteries can explode when charging, as they give off hydrogen gas.  All it takes is a spark, say, from a jumper cable, and BAM! - the damn thing explodes, splashing sulfuric acid in your face.  That's why they recommend attaching the negative cable last, and not to the battery, but to a grounding point away from it.

No acid spills, no having to add water - two big pluses.  And the Lithium-Ion type weighs less than half that of the lead (which is heavy!) acid battery. Even the kind in my golf cart (Which is technically a "LIFe-PO4" battery) is less than half the weight of its acid brethren.  Of course, it has less lead than the old school, but has its own share of toxic metals to deal with at disposal time.  And while they might not explode, they can catch fire and, by generating their own oxygen, can be impossible to extinguish until they basically burn themselves out.  What's not to like about that?

In terms of electric cars, they have boosted energy density by a factor of four at least. The old GM EV-1 with its lead-acid batteries was really a non-starter (no pun intended).  But with Lithium-Ion, well, cars like Tesla (and others) are at least somewhat practical.

However, as advanced as this new battery tech is, it still is a long, long way off from the energy density of internal combustion engines.  The new "Cybertruck" (named, apparently, from a competition of middle-school students) is claimed to have a 150-200 mile range in real life.  This is far less than the advertised range and the "gold standard" of at least 300 miles that most electric car makes strive for.  And they are heavy, too!  The electric "Hummer" from GM is said to weigh in at a hefty 9,000 lbs, making it unsuitable for real off-road travel, particularly in muddy terrain (and think about fording streams with enough electricity underfoot to literally kill you!).

The range of the "Cybertruck" is embarrassing, really.  I met a Canadian fellow who was towing a travel trailer with his Model X, and he claimed to be getting 150 miles on a charge.  I guess it depends a lot on how you drive.  But all that being said, the King Ranch has a 38-gallon fuel tank and gets 22 MPG without the trailer attached, giving it theoretical range of over 800 miles before refueling (which can be done in ten minutes).

Speaking of refueling, I was at a campground the other day and they had a sign saying, "recharging electric vehicles from campsite hookup is prohibited!"  Many campsites today have 50A, 220V plugs and can recharge an electric vehicle pretty quickly.  But it does use a lot of electricity and campground owners have to pay for that.  It also could overload the system if a dozen people were using max current all at once.  I have had Tesla owners tell me that they will check into a campground and pay the nightly rate, just to charge their car - if no other locations are available.  They go have a picnic, enjoy the park, and come back to a charged car.

At least they are paying.  Others plug into outlets in public garages to get "free" electricity and some vigilantes go around unplugging their cars. On our island they put free 110V charging stations for electric vehicles (mostly for golf carts) but I notice these have been largely removed - and commercial charging stations installed nearby.  I said it before - the Tesla may go the way of Packard or Kaiser-Frazer, but the charging infrastructure might end up being the moneymaker for Tesla - and their only legacy.  No doubt Musk is kicking himself for not renaming the company "Musk" or "X" as the infrastructure may be around for 100 years - like the Edison Thread.  Too late, now!

But getting back to topic, the Lithium-Ion battery is a huge improvement over lead-acid, but won't replace it entirely.  Apparently the 12V Lithium batteries are suitable for trolling motors or RVs (we plan on getting one for the camper down the road) but don't have the large surge current necessary to run a starter motor.  Even for trolling motors, the manufacturer recommends that the battery have at least twice the current capacity as the max load from the trolling motor.  So lead-acid, or at least its relatives (AGM, etc.) will soldier on in the automotive starter battery world.

So has Lithium-Ion lived up to the hype?  Like with LED lights, yes and no.   Yes, they have the energy density to make laptops and cell phones workable (as opposed to Nickle metal hydride batteries).  And yea, they work well for home solar installations, RVs, boats (house electric), and golf carts.  They have made electric cars more practical for many if not most applications.  Most cars are used for short trips under 30 miles - but once a year, most folks drive on long trips for vacations, etc.  Whether they make economic sense remains to be seen.  Right now, they seem to be marketed more toward upper-end luxury buyers.  There does not seem to be any incentive to offer an "entry level" electric car under 30 grand or even around 20.  It seems the costs are such that 50-100 grand is the target audience, at least for the time being.

As for the weight and range issues, I am not sure that "more research" will ever solve those.  I noted before in a posting on the air-powered car that the laws of physics mean that no amount of "research" will ever fix the problems of energy density and efficiency in using compressed air as an energy storage media.  In fact, it is interesting that Lithium-Ion is replacing compressed air in the tool world - no more dragging heavy hoses around the repair bay,  when a relatively lightweight battery-powered impact wrench does the job better and cheaper (and quieter, too!).

More research and development might increase the range and reduce the weight of Lithium-Ion batteries.  But I suspect it will still take longer to charge them than to fill a tank with 38 gallons of E85.  And I suspect the range and weight - and cost - factors will never be quite equivalent.

All that being said, this technology isn't going to go away, even as some folks would like to smother the baby in the crib (that baby is all grown up now and strong enough to smother back!).   The market, however, is seeing a bit of an EV recession as numerous makers (Volvo, Ford, GM, Toyota, KIA, BMW, etc.) jump into the EV market, creating more product than demand can satisfy.  Everyone who wanted an electric car apparently has already bought one, and many more who want one, but live in an apartment or condo or townhouse, can't own one because there is no place to plug it in at home - which to me, at least, is a non-starter.

We may see a price war and in fact are already seeing one as Tesla has slashed prices again and again too keep up with competition.  This of course, cuts into Tesla's famous profitability which is what attracted other makers to the business to begin with.  As profits decline, the P/E ratio will climb, and the stock price - already hugely over-inflated - will decline as well.  Tesla may go the way of Packard, in terms of selling cars, but may go the way of Packard Electric in terms of making money from licensing its Patented plugs.

We'll just have to wait and see.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Bob's Buggy Upgrade - Lithium Ion!

After 30 years, the EZ-GO was ready for the new Century.

Our 1994 EZ-GO Marathon has been a fun and interesting project.  We bought it in the fall of 2006 for $300 and it needed some work.  Like most golf carts, it only went 11 MPH on stock wheels, and that was slow enough to be dangerous.  The previous owner had used it on a farm, towing an old bed frame behind it, to "grade" his gravel road, so it was pretty beat up.

We found the roof for it (the owner said it was buried, literally, behind his garage) and installed that along with a tinted windshield.  Mr. See put on a lift kit and I bought my first set of "Seely" Chinese off-road tires.  It was a 36V cart and we added two more batteries to it along with a bypass switch and a diode (suggested by an online source).  That boosted it to nearly 17 MPH, but when you hit that switch, it basically rocketed off.

Yes, it is a 36V motor running 48V and has been for over eight years.

I got tired of the diode thing and frankly, I think it fried the Curtis solid-state controller. 1994 was the first year for these - they are pretty standard on the newer EZ-GO TXT models, which were introduced around 1995 and are still in production.  Those, of course, have a steel frame and a fiberglass "body."  Our 1994 Marathon is all-steel and enameled like a brooch.

My neighbor moved away, leaving behind a broken aluminum folding yard cart, sans one wheel.  I took it apart and cut it up and riveted it together to make a cargo box for the back and it has served us well for nearly a decade - but may go away soon.

The previous lead-acid incarnation.  What a mess!

It is a bit of a "found object" work of art.  Mark won a Karoke machine at Bingo at a gay campground and I riveted it under the roof - it even lights up to the music.  Of course, I added undercarriage chaser lights (132 different patterns! cheap on eBay) and a FIAMMA air horn, turn signals, and a brake light switch.  A friend sold us a set of seatbelts for cheap.  It was a rocking buggy!

After the controller died, I bought a new Curtis controller online for cheap.  They showed a generic controller on the eBay listing but when it arrived, I was shocked to see it was a genuine Curtis (or a fake knock-off).  It has worked well.  More modern golf carts have electronic throttles, where the "gas" pedal sends a signal to the controller.  Our cart has a Rube Goldberg linkage that disengages the brake and connects to a potentiometer (0-50 Ohms or something) to control speed.  I ended up buying a new potentiometer as the old one broke.  Thirty years is a long time!

Along the way, I made various small repairs.  Last year, I put a new wheel bearing in the rear axle (which was harder than it sounds - stuff sticks together after 30 years!).  Along the way, the new Seely tires went bald and I found a new set online - alloy wheels this time - for cheap.  Nice street tread, too - no more noisy tires!

Fancy wheels, too!

By now, we had over $2000 into our $300 cart and the original batteries, which the previous owner claimed were "nearly new" (suspiciously, one was an oddball battery) went South.  Lead-acid batteries don't die all at once, but the range gets less and less and the cart gets slower and slower.  We bought new "Duracell" 8V batteries (six of them) at Sam's Club - 12 month batteries.  They lasted five years.  This year, they barely were able to carry us to the historic district and back.  And they started using a LOT of distilled water.  It was time to move on or move up.

The local "buggy" place wants $14,000 for a de-luxe cart.  Lowe's was selling Chinese-made carts with hydraulic disc brakes (!) for $9000 or so (probably ten grand when done).  I thought about this but was wary that parts for a Chinese-made cart might be hard to come by.

New 12-month Duracell batteries, which were $89 apiece were now over $130.   Fancy AGM batteries were close to $200 - a $1200 investment in a 30-year-old cart!  I was aware of the "sunk cost fallacy" involved.  Should I throw money at this three-decade old machine, or just junk it and start over?

I looked online and saw that Lithium-Ion batteries were not much more.  You could buy four 12-volt Lithium-Ion batteries for under $1000.  Or, you could buy a huge 48V battery pack with smart charger for about $1400.  I thought about it and talked with the seller and decided to do it.  The 12V batteries sounded like a better option, but they explained that I would have to charge them in parallel before connecting them in series so they would  "learn" and I thought that was too complicated. The 12V batteries were slightly larger than the stock 8V batteries, so it would have involved some rearranging of the battery trays.  So I went with the 48V pack and charger which arrived within a week.

I won't be missing these fellas!

The first step was to remove the old batteries - what a mess!  Over the years, they spilled acid, needed water, and out-gassed hydrogen.  One of the "repairs" I made over the years was to cut away the rusted-out battery brackets and bolt and rivet in new ones.  I was going to have to clear some space for this new battery pack.  Also, I wanted to seal up the compartment better, so road dirt wasn't being slung into the battery compartment.  With lead-acid batteries, the whole thing is open to the road below and it gets filthy.  They make these carts in a gas version, so I guess the open-ness works well for that - you need some air cooling.

Some old shelf boards filled in the gaping holes where the batteries once lay

A friend came by and was throwing away a set of shelves, so I took this as a sign from God and cut them up and filled in the battery trays.  I added a thin piece of plywood (pilfered from a dumpster in the Historic district) to make it all nice and level.  Then I put a thicker piece of plywood on top of that to make a nice flat load floor.  I painted it all white with enamel paint so it would be easy to keep clean.

Nice clean work area now!

I did some measuring and realized that the new battery pack would not fit unless I moved three things. First, the Curtis Controller would have to move over.  I puzzled about this for a while and realized I could rotate it 180 degrees and mount the potentiometer on the outside of the mounting bracket.  That didn't take too long.  The forward/reverse switch was a bit of a beast as its mounting bracket is welded in place.  I used a cutoff saw to grind down the welds (sparks a-flying!) and mounted the bracket where the "ignition" switch was (riveting and bolting it in place).  I put the ignition switch where the forward/reverse switch was - so no need to drill new holes in the body.

I cleaned all the connections and the components and used the larger gauge wires I bought for the batteries to replace some of the controller wires.  I used my label maker to label each wire.  It took some time, to say the least.  I used some old PVC trim to enclose the center section.  I will use some PVC flashing to seal off the side compartments, which I will use for the "smart" charger as well as the 12V power supplies for the accessory items (lights, turn signals, horn, stereo, etc.)

I hooked it all up and it worked.  But first I charged the battery - it arrived 66% charged, which I know because THE BATTERY HAS BLUETOOTH!!!  I wasn't expecting this but it really is a nice feature, as it the "smart" charger which is smarter than I am, as I hooked it up backwards and instead of exploding, it said "error!"   I was pretty tired at that point - this has been a four or five day project and there are more days coming.

The "app" tells you more about your battery than you ever wanted to know!

It even tells you the voltage of individual cells.  Why, I don't know.

There is still some things to do. I need to secure the battery pack so it doesn't slide around.  I also need to install the 12V power supply (on order) and wire that.  AND.... I bought a back seat for the buggy as they were on sale for $270. Folds into a cargo platform, too!  For years I wanted one, but since the Marathon is so old, they wanted $350 for them while TXT seats went for $275.  I guess they decided to get rid of the Marathon seat inventory while they still can - not many of these buggies left on the road!

So there is still a lot to do.  I just "finished" the install an hour ago and took it for a test ride around the block. Before, with new lead-acid batteries, they would charge up to 52 volts and at open throttle, it would be running at 48V tops - usually far less.  Well, this thing charges up to 53.5 Volts and runs at 51 Volts!  So it probably is going faster (I did not set up the GPS to check, I will update).  Best of all, with Lithium-Ion, the voltage doesn't drop off as it discharges (as much as Lead-Acid does) so you don't have the "slower and slower" feeling.

Did I mention the battery pack weighs less than half of what the Lead-Acid batteries weigh?  No water to monitor or add.  No acid staining the floor or eating through metal.  So far, at least, this has been a very good upgrade to the old buggy!

Which probably has over $4000 "invested" in it by now.  Sunk cost fallacy strikes again!

Friday, January 19, 2024

The Generation Gap - Then And Now (And Who's Behind It!)

Divide and conquer is the oldest game in the book.  And a lamb shall lead them!

A reader writes, wondering whether they are being trolled by Fox News (say it ain't so!) by "articles" claiming that "Boomers" bought up all the houses and "Millennials with children" only own 14% of the housing stock.  The reader points out that Millennials with children make up 14% of the population.  If anything, they are over-represented in the statistics - do none of them rent?

But it is true today - and 50 years ago - that older people tend to have more wealth by dint of being around for a long time and saving money and taking advantage of compound interest. I saw a plea from a 30-year-old online who cried that the world was "unfair" because at age 30 they had hardly any savings!  How could they afford to retire at this rate?

Well, as I noted time and time again, at age 30, my net worth was negative.  I had started a 401(k) but it was vastly overshadowed by $38,000 in student loans - about the equivalent of $90,000 today.  But less than 30 years later, I retired and today am living comfortably, if not extravagantly.  Life isn't all that bad.

Of course, when I was 20-something it seemed like I was getting a raw deal - or I could have looked at it that way.  Our generation, or should I say, my older siblings' generation (the "Woodstock Generation" - no thank you, Hillary!) whined a lot about the "generation gap" during the 1960's.  "They don't understand us!  We just want peace and love!  We don't want to turn to materialism like their generation!"

A scant decade later, they cut their hair and quit marijuana and took up cocaine and invented Disco. Yea, boomers - I hate them too!  They went from peace and love to "I've got mine, jack!  You get yours!"  One of the authors of "Steal This Book" became a Wall Street investor and right-wing Republican.  People change over time.

And yea, life is unfair and each succeeding generation has it different than the previous.  Some things are better, some worse.  For example, I was never at risk for polio, which was a disease that scared the crap out of my parents as they were at risk for it (and even their President had it!).  Today, well, the new generation is at risk for it, but because they are making shitty choices - egged on by foreign agents.

My parents had a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired home on a lake.  Pretty sweet deal, although my older siblings had left home by then - they had to grow up in more plebeian circumstances.   And even though I made as much if not more (even adjusting for inflation) as my Dad did, I would never be able to afford a house like that - or even pay the taxes!  I know this because I tried.  It was fun, but expensive fun.

As population increases, some things become more scarce.  And land is one of those things.  So it never struck me as "unfair" that my parents could afford a lake house and I could not.  Indeed, when I was a kid, some of the mansions on the lake were selling for cheap, as no one could afford the heating bills!  Today, they have been sold to a new generation of wealthy people who have lovingly restored them to their former glory.  They are all pretty much out of reach from me, though.  For some reason, I am not angry about this - it just is what it is, and my life is different than theirs.

Maybe growing up there gave me another perspective, too.  A lot of these "rich folks" that we are supposed to be jealous of are, in fact, miserable souls.  I recounted before about the alcoholism, mental illness, and suicide rates among the people who equated money with happiness.  Think about it, why is the "richest man in the world" (he isn't) so freaking unhappy all the time?  Why do his own children want nothing to do with him?  It is a pattern often repeated.

I have also believed that much of the "counter-culture" and "generation gap" of the 1960's was aided and abetted by foreign influencers.  It is not some astounding claim - our own agencies spread influence in foreign countries in that era - and even today.  We literally installed governments in some third-world countries.  We beamed propaganda behind the iron curtain.  It is a game every country plays, so let's be grown-ups and stop pretending it isn't happening and didn't happen.  And let's stop  pretending that we are not influenced by it.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that Vietnam war protests, free love, drug use, and so on were helpful to the cause of the Soviet bloc and harmful to America. This is not to say these were caused by Soviet agents, only that, no doubt, they fanned the flames of domestic discontent. There have always been people protesting for "Peace" in America, but positing that the only way to achieve it is to surrender.  In order to have "Peace" you either have to have a meeting of the minds between the two opposing parties, or have one party completely surrender.  You can't do peace from one side only.

And the sex and drugs?  Lots of fun, but they derailed the minds of a generation of young people.  And I say this from personal experience, having taken a twelve-year detour in life in pursuit of getting high.   Some pull out from this nosedive, others crash and burn - I've seen it.  And it still goes on today - with far more powerful drugs, too.

Today we have social media and our friends from overseas are quite good at breeding discontent.  Whenever you see a posting about how rotten things are and how someone else has it so much better, well, you can bet the seeds of this are being nourished by the Russian Internet Research Agency.  Not a day goes by when I don't see some posting that "Guaranteed Annual Income" or "Redistributing the Wealth" are the only solutions to our problems.

Problem is, neither has a snowball's chance in hell of ever happening, which is by design, as this creates perpetual discontent.  And even if enacted, well, they would not change much.  If you have $100,000 in student loans from your degree in religious studies and are working at Starbucks, nothing is going to change much.  But whose fault is that?  Oh, yea, "They" told you to go to college and get a useless degree and "They" told you to borrow money.  Problem is, the "student loan crises" has been going on for well over a decade - were you not aware of this when you signed the loan documents?  Or did you think you were a special case and this would not apply to you?

It is true that a lot of the housing stock in America is owned by older Americans.  And I know people who own two or three or even four homes and visit them for only a few weeks a year.  It makes no sense to me as you can stay at a top-of-the-line hotel in the Presidential Suite for less money that what they are paying in property taxes and insurance. But all of that is about to change.

Some are calling it the "Silver Tsunami" - when all the boomers start to shuffle off the mortal coil, an awful lot of real estate will hit the market at once.  Of course, much of it will be in retirement communities and resort areas - of little use to working-class younger people.  But it will affect the overall housing market and perhaps soften prices if not outright cause them to collapse - as they did in 2008 and in 1989.  Demographics drives markets.

When will this happen? Hard to say as people don't die off all at once (except during wars and epidemics).  The earliest boomers, if we use the standard definition, were born in 1947.  The trend peaked in 1960, the year I was born, and tapered off until 1964 - although I don't think someone born in 1964 is a "post-war" baby, particularly since two wars had intervened since World War II.  If we assume the "average" lifespan in America of about 77 years, well, the first boomers should have all died off last year.  But they didn't.

Lifespan averages are misleading.  They include things like infant mortality (far more common with the older generation than with ours) and youthful mishaps (motorcycle accidents, etc.).   If you live to be 60 years old, the odds of you living beyond 77 are much higher as a result.  But then again, the oldest person in the world is maybe in the hundred-teens and that crown changes hands on a weekly basis. From what I see, living in God's waiting room, most folks who live beyond 60, shuffle off the mortal coil, in their mid-to-late 80s or maybe 90s.  A few make it to 100, but not far beyond.  Those that do, usually sell their houses before then.

So the "boomers" should start dying off between 2030 and 2040 or so - in the near future, but not the immediate future.  Meanwhile, the population of America keeps increasing, due to birth rates as well as immigration.  The "Silver Tsunami" may not be a sudden event, but a gradual easing, if that.

In the meantime, enjoy the lamb.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Ignorance Versus Stupidity

We are all ignorant of some things in our life.  And sometimes we are stupid as well.  Stupidity is embracing ignorance as superior to knowledge.

A reader writes, confounded as to why people support Trump - a man who goes on long confused rants about toilets and lightbulbs, and more recently, "slates."  The guy is off his rocker - why would anyone support him? The reader cites an article about how the media is trying to "understand" Trump supporters, when in fact, there is nothing to understand.

I digress, but I was taking the camper to Jacksonville to have a window replaced under a recall.  I turned the radio on to NPR and they have a new speech-impediment announcer (everyone gets a participation award at NPR!) who speaks in a high-pitched, almost feathery voice with a slight British accent.  She pronounced "New Hampshire" as "New Hamp-SHIRE" as if it was part of the downs or something.  Not as bad as my favorite YouTubers (Ocean Liner Designs) who mangled "Schenectady" New York, as well, "SHEN-NES-TADY."  Oh, well, it was just the home of General Electric, nothing major.  But in his defense, it is an odd spelling and he is foreign.

Anyway, they had a "political commentator" on there gushing about Trump's "30-point landslide victory!" where he won 51%  of the "voters" in the caucuses.  Of course, you could also look at this as him squeaking by with a 1% margin of victory, against 49% of the caucus-goers who wanted someone else (and the other choices were not so hot, either!).  As the weaker candidates drop out, you may see these "victory" margins get slimmer.  I was shocked that NPR of all people was sort of cheer-leading for Trump.  But then again, one reason I stopped listening to NPR was that, like rabid Trump supporters, they could be ignorant as well as stupid.

Stupidity - it's the new "in" thing to do!

What is stupidity?  And why is it different from ignorance?   Well, ignorance is just not knowing something.  We are all ignorant about something - in fact, most things.  I know nothing about heart surgery other than one procedure I endured and what I read in the papers.  I am ignorant of the process, the technique, the skills, and the experience needed to do that complicated task.  On the other hand, most heart surgeons don't know much about Patent Law (which admittedly is a lot simpler and easier - I never had a client die on the table while prosecuting his Patent).  But it illustrates how we are all ignorant of some subject or another.  The heart surgeon might not know how to fix the fuel injection on his new Porsche, either.

And this is not abnormal.  As a species, we all have to specialize in one field or another and learn certain skills and knowledge as well as get experience.  Once we have that knowledge, our value to society is greater and in most cases, we end up getting paid more.  Now granted, in addition to all that is talent - the natural ability to be able to do certain things well, such as throwing a football or playing a musical instrument or baking a cake or whatever.  But without knowledge and skills and experience (practice) even the most talented person fails.

Stupidity, on the other hand is embracing ignorance as superior to knowledge.  And we see a lot of stupidity around these days - and have for decades.  Stupidity is a form of laziness and often the two are conflated - as in, "He's lazy and stupid!"   It is a lot easier to be stupid than to actually try to learn.  So a lot of lazy people embrace stupidity as an alternative lifestyle, because it is the easy thing to do.  Why waste time with all that "book larnin" when you can just declare ignorance as truth and call it a day?  This way, you win!

And it is all about "winning" - at least in the minds of the Stupid.  Like I said, we are all ignorant about some things in our lives - that is normal.  But if you are intelligent, you respect those who have knowledge you don't have, rather than just write it off as dumb stuff that no one needs to know.  I may not know anything about heart surgery, but I respect the level of knowledge and skill involved.  Just because I don't know something doesn't mean I think it isn't worth knowing - even if I will never know it.

You hear this all the time with the MAGA set - they are obsessed with "winning" at things.  "We owned the libs!" they say, "We made them cry!" or something along those lines.   They don't understand much, so they posit that not knowing is better than knowing and thus they "win."   And that is why they fall down these rabbit-holes of Qanonsense and other conspiracy-theory crap.  Yea, it is hard to understand astrophysics, so it is a lot easier to make-up "science" that the Earth is flat.  You are never wrong because it is made-up nonsense that cannot be verified or refuted.  And the best part is, you can always make up more nonsense if someone calls you out on the nonsense you are spewing.

Like I said, this sort of thing has been around a long time.  "Poverty stories" I called them, twice.  People sit around the cracker-barrel at the old country store and tell these tales that those smart city-folk don't know.  You always end up "winning" when all your personal problems can be laid at the feet of the "big oil companies" or the trilateral commission or whatever.  It is, in fact, a form of externalization, which is why MAGA-think is marked by a lot of grievance-airing.  Life would be so sweet, if not for all those transgender people! (or whatever outgroup is being pilloried this week).

(Lest you think I am picking only on the far-right, as I noted above, the left does this as well, with its own versions of Qanon.  "Guaranteed Basic Income" for example, ignores the reality that it would triple the national budget and cut Social Security benefits by 2/3rds for most people.  Building houses for the homeless sounds like a "solution" to the problem, but if you give away free houses, even if you could afford to do so, to mentally ill and drug-addicted people, they would either trash them or sell them in short order.  Both the far-left and far-right have a lot of pie-in-the-sky simple solutions to complex problems, because, let's face it, it is a lot more "fun" to believe in fantasies!).

I see this all the time with so-called "car buffs" who piss and moan about how great the old days were when you could buy a car with a 350 cubic inch engine, which on a good day might make 300 HP.  Drum brakes, bias-ply tires, steel dashboards, no seatbelts, and an AM radio with one speaker!  Life was so much better back then!  Meanwhile, one of my neighbors bought a Hellcat, which makes 700+ horsepower, although I am not sure why.   The dude is nearly 80 and we live on an island with a speed limit of 35 mph (max!).  You can hear when he cranks that thing up, though!

But of course, it has that "fancy" electronic fuel injection, variable valve timing, and so on and so forth.  You can't repair it with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers.  The good news is, you don't have to.  Unlike cars of the "glory days" which were junk before 100,000 miles and needed major service every 20,000 miles, cars today routinely go a hundred thousand miles before needing major fluid changes.  And things like valve jobs or ring jobs are rarely done - if ever.  Lube job?  Other than oil changes, they largely don't exist.  The zerk fitting is dead.  Back in the day, cars would have a dozen or more lube points.  Times have changed - for the better!

But then again, one needs to learn a new skill set and acquire new tools to work on modern cars.  A simple code reader can be had for under $20 though.  And one has to understand how computers work (and how they malfunction) as well as have a basic understanding of modern fuel injection and engine control systems.  It isn't "harder" than learning how to tune a carburetor - in fact it is easier!  But it is different and a lot of people, as they get older, just refuse to learn new things.  I know this as I am one of those people - why can't we leave well enough alone?

When we were in New York, there was a local mechanic who simply refused to learn about anything new.  If it didn't have a carburetor on it, he didn't want to work on it. Needless to say, this meant that his customer base shrank with each passing year.  He did State emissions inspections and his way of "fixing" cars out of spec was to put his wife's Buick through the machine (it was new and would pass) and use that to pass the "test" for Uncle Earl's old Chevy which has a check engine light on and is throwing several codes.  Needless to say, the State caught wind of this and shut him down and he decided to retire.

Sad, too, as he could have brought in some younger person who was getting into the business - someone who wanted to learn the new technology - and he could have brought him along and sold him the business eventually and retired.  But it is a pattern I've seen before.  In Arlington, Virginia, I went to a BMW "specialist" who would not work on any BMW newer than 1993 (OBD-II) as he felt they were "too electronic."  Ironic to me as that was 30 years ago and since then, cars have gotten more complex, not less.  I suspect he is long out of business.

I guess it is a natural instinct - we see something that requires effort and knowledge to learn and instead of trying to learn it - or at least respect the fact of our ignorance - we shout it down and call it stupid and worthless.  And we all do this on occasion - we are all stupid about some things.  There is so much of modern culture and social media that I don't like - and don't want to bother to learn.  So I just call it dumb and myself smart for not bothering to know.  That is far easier and more comfortable.

The world is a scary place - it always has been.  And change is hard to deal with, particularly rapid changes.  Today, we see a lot of change going on - moves toward renewable energy that are actually viable, electric cars being routinely sold at dealerships, people questioning the very foundations of our growth-based economic system, as well as people exploring the limits of gender identity and sexuality.  There are valid criticisms of some of these things, as well as valid reasons for some of these changes.  But nuanced discussion requires intellect and it is far easier to just shout down change with a slogan or two.

That is why you see Trump deriding LED light-bulbs and low-flush toilets.  Anything "newfangled" has to be bad for America - right?  And I have to say, it is challenging to learn, particularly as we get older.  I have had to learn hard lessons about LEDs and am still learning (more on that, later).  And the results are not always as promised - true they use less electricity, false they last 10 years or more.  The same is true for new battery technology.  I am installing a Lithium-Ion battery pack in the buggy and boy is it a steep learning curve!  Run the battery too low, it disables itself!  You either have to hit it with a higher voltage charge to "unlock" it, or buy the bluetooth version of the battery so you can unlock it with your phone (and monitor battery status in real-time!).  Oh, brave new world!

Ignorance is bliss they used to say, but I am not sure what that really meant.  Maybe it means that embracing ignorance is bliss, as you don't have to put any energy into learning things.  But in the long run, ignorance costs us money, as consumers as well as citizens.  Being stupid is no Swiss Picnic.

The above image is of Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump, which took an obscure novel and turned it into the ultimate feel-good boomer movie (well, next to American Graffiti).  The book was a little darker and not so sunshine optimistic.  In the movie, Gump says, "Momma says life is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get!" which Americans embraced for its optimism.  In the book, however, the quote is, being an idiot is no box of chocolates, which has a much different meaning.

Of course, in this context, "Idiot" is used as a slur against someone with a low IQ - someone for whom ignorance is not a lifestyle choice.  Stupid people are smart enough to learn, but embrace ignorance as being superior to knowledge.  Someone with a low IQ doesn't make that conscious choice - but often have respect for those who have knowledge.

"Stupid is as stupid does" is another quote from the movie, and like "box of chocolates" makes little sense but sounds thoughtful (spoiler alert - most boxes of chocolates have a little map in the lid telling you exactly what you gonna get!).  But maybe it makes more sense than the bastardized chocolate quote.  Gump was not stupid but merely mentally retarded (and no, "retarded" is not a slur - take that PC crap elsewhere, please!).  He may have been ignorant of much, but not by choice.  Stupid people, on the other hand, have a choice, but prefer to wallow in ignorance - and claim it is superior to actually knowing things.

Therein lies the difference.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The Drop Shipper Scam - Is It Really A Scam?

Caveat Emptor, Bob, Caveat Emptor!

I recently fell for sort of a scam, which was not really a scam but just me being lazy.  We have about 50 folding chairs at the Parcheesi club and the rubber feet fall off them when the members decide to play games al fresco.  The chairs sink into the lawn and when they pull them out, the feet remain buried.  Later on, the raw steel legs gouge the floor in the clubhouse.

I found a stash of replacement feet someone had bought and forgot about.  They were in packages of four which sell for more than four dollars apiece which is a buck-a-foot for each chair.  I installed as many as I could, getting the worst offenders fixed first, but I quickly ran out.

So I went online to order more.  I figured eBay might have them in bulk and they did - the Shepherd Hardware 8753E bag of 24 feet for about $17.  I'm saving money over buying them in blister packs of four!

For some reason, each seller has only one in stock, so I order four, one each from a different seller, or four sellers in all.  A few days later, they arrive in Amazon Prime packaging with a "gift receipt" so I can't see how much they cost.  Curious, I go on Amazon and look at the pricing and lo and behold, they are on the site for $11.95 a bag.  When I originally searched on "white rubber feet" that bulk package never showed up - only the overpriced blister-packs of four.  That's when I switched to my eBay tab and found them in bulk there.  When I went back to Amazon and searched on "8753E" well, it was right there, the first hit, $11.95 a bag.

This is not the first time it has happened to me, either!

Some people call this "arbitrage" while others call it reselling or drop-shipping.  It is a pretty simple deal and I think they program a bot to do it (hence each seller had only one bag in stock - too hard to code multiple orders!).  You find something on Amazon that sells for higher elsewhere and then list it on eBay for 50% more (or thereabouts) and if someone clicks "buy now" your bot uses your Amazon Prime account to order the item and have it shipped directly to the buyer as a "gift" item.  You don't even get your hands dirty!

Is it a scam?  Well, I feel foolish for over-paying a total of $20 on $80 worth of feet.  On the other hand, I paid less than the last guy to order these, who bought them in a dozen or so blister-packs of four.  Caveat Emptor - buyer beware.  In a free-market economy, anything goes, and increasingly anything does.

People are already starting to notice that sites like Wayfair have flexible prices.  You click on something and it lists for $99.95.  You decide to think about it and are pleased that the next day, it is $89.99.  Maybe wait longer and the price will go down further!  But that evening, the price is now $111.99!  Better buy before the price goes up further! In some cases, this backfires, at least with me, as I resent being jerked around and decide I really don't need what they are selling.

Nevertheless, these sort of pricing games are on the rise, and a merchant can figure out how badly you want something by looking at your search history and even your e-mails and texts, I presume.  If you want it badly enough, you'll pay more.

Others have noticed a reverse effect - you put something in your "cart" or watchlist and the next day, you get an offer to buy the item for 7% off.  This happened to me recently with the buggy upgrade (more on that in another posting - Lithium-Ion, baby!) as I got "offers" for items that I merely looked at on eBay and clearly eBay communicates that to the sellers.

In that instance, I cross-shopped on Amazon and Amazon's price was 10-20% higher - from the same merchant!

The problem was, I didn't search by manufacturer or by part number.  I typed in something lame like "Rubber feet that go on the bottom of folding chairs" which might work with an AI interface but only flummoxed the search engines of Amazon and eBay (I foolishly didn't search Google).  After I found the bulk package with the part number, I should have gone back to Amazon and searched again - I would have found it.

And the way I found it on eBay was after finding the blister-pack of four, beneath it was "Other items you might like" and after struggling for a half-hour, $17 seemed like a decent price, which in retrospect, I guess it was - I was willing to pay it.

But beware of the drop-shipper!  I suppose it is inevitable you will be snared by one or two in your life, particularly if you are lazy about cross-shopping on price.  In retrospect, they are not hard to spot as the listings are often very short on details or are very vague, which makes me nervous.  You don't want to order what you think is 24 pieces and receive only four, as the listing was vague on quantity or buried the quantity under a wall of text.

On the other hand, should you do this "Arbitrage" thing yourself?  What I noticed was that each seller had the same item at a slightly different price - each nickle-and-diming the other to death.  One fellow wanted $17.99 while another offered $17.63.  Oddly enough there were outliers at $29.99 which I guess some folks would just click on and not care about the cost.

Like any merchant endeavor it is a business of margins, and so long as someone is willing to sell for a dime cheaper, they will, and presumably put you out of business.  In the long run, I am not sure it is a workable "get rich quick!" business model.  But I suppose if you could set up thousands of these listings, you might make a few bucks at it, presuming you could automate the process efficiently.