Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Surge Wages?

If fast food workers have to "hump" during the lunch rush, shouldn't they be paid more?

The CEO of Wendy's tried to quell the very bad press they received when they announced they were going to institute "surge pricing" on their electronic menus.  They weren't going to raise prices during rush times, no sirree!  They are just going to offer lower prices during slack times.  And that's an entirely different thing and donchuforgetit!

I am, oddly enough, quite at peace with this, provided of course, that their employee's wages track this "surge" in prices. No doubt, fast-food workers have to work twice as hard between 11:30AM and 1:30PM.  So why not pay them twice as much per hour, during busy times?

I mean, fair is fair.  Merely charging more money during the lunch rush is just generating windfall profits, with no real benefit to the customers or workers - only shareholders.

But all that being said, I doubt it will happen as the coming recession will force fast-food places to revisit the dollar menu again.  We drove by the Chrysler overflow lot today.  Not long ago, weeds were growing through the cracks in the pavement and an actual tree was growing between the beams of a parked car-carrier.

No more.  The place filled up in the last week, first with "Pacifica" minivans, and now with Jeep Grand Cherokees - once a hot seller.  This "Banking" lot was full back in 2019. The pandemic cleaned this place out for a couple of years, but in recent months, we have seen sporadic amounts of vehicles on the site - mostly minivans which are slow-sellers in the era of the SUV (and likely good bargains as a result).  But now the lot is FULL - and with "hot" SUVs to boot!

Jerking customers around over the price of a cheeseburger may sound like the latest gag in money-making - or the last gasp of an industry that has made record profits in recent years and is struggling to find ways to keep the line going up.  But the consumer has the last word in things like this, particularly when they finally run out of money (most already have) and credit (most are about to) and are forced to cut back, not out of principle, but sheer necessity.

So good luck with surge pricing and $100,000 pickup trucks.  When everyone is broke, who will buy?

P.S. - drove by the Chik-Fil-A today at 1:00PM and there was ONE CAR in the drive-through.  Granted this is at the end of the lunch rush on a Wednesday, but here in the Bible Belt, they usually have two lines at the drive through, 20 cars deep.  At the Wendy's?  No one at the drive-through and only employee's cars in the lot.  We went to our favorite Mexican dive and had two tacos al pastor and two chorizo tacos (both with soft corn tortillas, cilantro, and onions, salsa roja - that's it) and two Dos Equis Amber.  Total cost?  $15.  I left a five-dollar tip.  Beats the crap out of American fast food (cheaper, too!) and if it is bad for me, well, I'd rather die eating that that Wendy's shit.

Fuck Wendy's!

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Free Toasters

At one time in this country, your dishes and glassware came from the gas station and your toaster came from the bank.  I kid you not.

I mentioned the term "free toaster" before and realize now that it is a term that might not resonate with the younger generation.  When I was a kid, the local banks would advertise free gifts if you opened a savings or checking account (and deposited a certain amount of money into it).  Often, the gift proffered was a toaster. Buying in bulk, the bank got these for cheap, but in an era where everything went through a convoluted distribution chain (and everything was made in America) such "trivial" items were staggeringly expensive.  So offering a "free toaster" was a "deal" to your average consumer.

It didn't end there. In the era of 35 cent gasoline (equivalent of over $3 today), gas stations would have "price wars" - competing against the station across the street for the lowest possible price - often selling at a loss, trying to drive the other guy out of business.  Bear in mind this was long before the era of gas station mini-marts selling beer, cigarettes and snack foods.  The gas station had little else to sell you to make up for the loss-leader in fuel.  One promotion was to offer a free drinking glass or dish after so many gallons were bought.  Over time, you could accumulate an entire set of glassware or dishware - my family ate off such things during my whole childhood.

Or they offered "S&H Green Stamps" or competing "Plaid Stamps" which as a kid, I happily pasted into the little paper "book" they gave you.  You mailed in so many books and you got..... a free toaster. We ended up with two Proctor-Silex toasters this way (we got rid of one in a garage sale after my Dad found a dead mouse, lightly toasted, in it, hence the need for the second one).  It was the "cheapest" reward you could get with the stamps at the time.

Our local IGA grocery store had a dishware promotion as well - you got one dish for every X dollars spent on groceries (and could buy additional dishes to complete the collection).  When the gas-station dishes wore out, we moved on to IGA dishes.  We were not poor, either, but solidly upper-middle-class. Yet back then, simple things were staggeringly expensive compared to today. My Dad bought his first color TV in 1975 and that 25" RCA Colortrak cost a staggering $500 (about $2800 today!).  We were not poor, but the world was a poorer place, at least in terms of consumer goods.

You see a lot less of this sort of free toaster nonsense these days - people are more fixated on raw cash than on free gifts.  Some companies still do this, of course, just to get publicity - like the car dealer who offered a "free" AR-15 with every car purchase.  That sort of thing can backfire (no pun intended) of course, as most folks are interested in the best possible price and may not be interested in (or already have) a firearm.

Airline miles - proving to be worthless - are giving way to cash-back bonuses. Of course, that doesn't stop them from trying - offering appliances or meals or concert tickets in place of raw cash.  But in nearly every instance, the cash ends up being a better deal, as the "price" (in terms of points) of the toaster is far more than what they charge at Walmart in terms of equivalent cash.

I doubt the era of free toasters will return again anytime soon, thanks to cheap Chinese imports of most consumer products.  You can hate on China all you want to, but you and I are the ones buying all this stuff, because quite frankly, the prices are so low and really no one makes these things anymore in America or Europe, other than boutique manufacturers.

And who wants a $375 boutique toaster?  Famous British Quality, too!

Monday, February 26, 2024

Mint Mobile? No Thanks!

Almost everything advertised as a raw deal.

I've been seeing a lot of advertisements for Mint Mobile on the television.  They're advertising on every single streaming channel that allows advertising. And the ads are all about the same. This actor guy, Ryan Reynolds (who he?*) appears on screen claiming to have bought Mint Mobile, and he promotes how the cost of the service is only $15 per month with "unlimited" data.

There are a few misrepresentations here.  First of all, Ryan Reynolds doesn't "own" Mint Mobile, nor did he "buy" it, but rather is a part owner (20-25% according to some sources) and as of March of 2023, T-Mobile "bought" the company (pending regulatory approval) and Reynolds will remain on as a "spokesperson."

Second, "unlimited" data is a lie that all telcoms engage in.  You get "unlimited" data, but only at normal speeds for the first XX GB of data, then it slows to a crawl, effectively rendering the service unusable.  Granted, in this case, the cap is set at a respectable 40GB, but this lie of "unlimited" data needs to be put to rest by all telcoms, period. Reynolds is selling this "Shucks, we're honest folks" nonsense, so "his" company should be the first to start.

Third, well, it ain't $15 a month, except for a brief promotional period, after which it jumps to $30 a month, paid a year in advance. Mint Mobile does have a $15 a month plan ($45 to sign up, $15 a month after that, provided you pay for a full year in advance) but it only has a paltry 5GB of data a month - enough to send and receive texts, but not enough to stream videos every night.

At the same time Reynolds makes this pitch, at the bottom of the screen is a plethora of fine print that is flashed up so quickly you can barely read it in time. In fact you cannot read the entire thing unless you pause the video. Of course, that's not deceptive - right? Putting the real deal in fine print and not letting you have enough time to read it is deception number four. And I'm supposed to trust this guy as some sort of down-to-earth aw-shucks dude who's trying to give us a good deal.

Right. Whenever you enter into a business arrangement predicated on a lie, no matter how trivial the lie, expect it to go downhill from there.  So down the road, how do you think Mint Mobile T-Mobile is going to treat you?  And who do you have to blame?  They have telegraphed in advance what sort of people they are.  Caveat Emptor.

What the fine print says and what he doesn't want to say out loud is that the $15 per month service is just a promotional gimmick that expires within a few months and the price reverts to a regular $30 per month or about what I pay for my AT&T prepaid service. In other words there's no advantage for me to switch to Mint Mobile.

And yes, there's not a lot to like about AT&T and Verizon, although AT&T's prepaid service is pretty upfront about the pricing. They've never tried to pull this scheme on me where they offer some promotional price and then change it to another number later on. Maybe they do that with new customers now, but it wasn't the case when I first signed up with the service when it was called GoPhone.

This got me to thinking about the other ads I've seen on streaming services. And they're all for pretty raw deals or just shitty deals or stuff designed to cater to your fears. There are a huge number of ads for laundry detergents, and apparently a lot of people are afraid that their laundry smells bad. The funny thing about these ads is that a lot of black people appear in them. In fact, hardly any white people appear in them, if any. Are they trying to send the message to black people that their laundry stinks? If so it's kind of racist.

The "great replacement theory" is a load of horseshit, except perhaps in television advertising. While I welcome the representation of minorities in advertising, it seems like they've gone overboard in this regard. Based on the advertisements I see on streaming services you would think that the population of the United States was pretty much evenly divided between Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. You would never guess that white people make up 70% of the population based on their representation in internet streaming ads.

Is this another example of so-called "wokeness?" I don't think so. Rather I think it's because  marginalized groups are easier to snag with clever advertising. Racial minorities are over-represented  in poverty statistics, and poor people tend to spend more money on things like brand-name detergents and status items.   Maybe also, they are more likely to be watching "free" streaming services and over-the-air television.

It is interesting to watch how people shop in the stores. We go to the Wholesale Club and carefully look at the price of various detergents and usually end up buying the store-brand which is the cheapest in terms of price per ounce and price per load.

Others just grab the most expensive name brand off the shelf and throw it in their cart without even looking. It's not like we can't afford to buy the name-brand, just that we choose not to.

And maybe that's why the name-brand laundry detergents aren't aimed at us. We're not paranoid about our laundry smelling bad nor do we believe the mythology that a certain brand of detergent cleans better than another one.

In a way, all advertising is predicated on a lie - the lie that one product is superior to another, or that there are scandalously advantageous "deals" available with one company, but not another - as if half the marketplace is paying double for the same service or product, because they are too stupid to listen to television ads.

Streaming ads, of course, get even weirder, particularly on YouTube.  Apparently, people are obsessed about their health and by that, I don't mean the ads for "legitimate" prescription drugs, but the wild-eyed screamers who hawk their quack cures which were outlawed back in the early 1900s.  The snake-oil salesman is alive and well in modern America.  We just call poison a "nutritional supplement" these days.

FOMO abounds as well - you can have "fun" gambling away your last penny on a sports betting site!  Everyone is winning and no one is losing!  Or buy "Crypto!"  This "Crypto Bro" is willing to share his insider secrets out of the goodness of his heart - for a small fee, of course.  Your life's savings, to be exact.

Or maybe you can save "thousands of dollars" on your heating bill (that would be more than an entire season's worth for me!) by heating your home with some sort of "insider secret" that involves an inverted plant pot.  WTF?  People actually fall for this shit?

The world is full of idiots - look around you.

I guess there are people who look at advertisements as legitimate sources of data.  They must think these ads are vetted and approved by the networks or streaming services that host them.  Myself, I look at an advertisement like Police Tape - roping off a bad deal with "Warning!  Ripoff Ahead!"  Because no matter what is advertised on television, odds are, it isn't the great deal they make it out to be.

And today, well, it seems almost all ads are for shitty deals, particularly on the Internet.

* I guess I am officially old.  I Googled his name and read his Wikipedia page and can safely say I have never seen any movie or show he was in.  It is all comic-book explosion movies, which are aimed at the prime demographic - young men aged 15-35.  That's no longer me.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Rather That Fight Change, Guide It!

Change will happen in the world, whether you like it or not.  We can't "go back" to simpler times.  The best you can do is to guide change, not fight it.

I saw a posting online that was humorous.  "Conservatives are always wrong!" they said, and pointed out how, over the years, Conservatives have been on the wrong side of nearly every issue.  I suppose it started in 1776 with the Loyalists.  We don't talk about them much, but they thought things were OK the way they were and saw no reason to change by fomenting revolution.  They were on the wrong side of history.  Like I said, we don't talk about it much, but we put them in internment camps after the war and then shipped them out of the country.  Today, we call them Canadians.

Oddly enough, conservatives today fashion themselves as "revolutionaries" like back in 1776, claiming that only 3% of the population actually fought in or supported the revolutionary war.  But of course, they have it backwards - if anything, Conservatives today are more akin to the Loyalists of 1776, wanting to "go back" to the "good old days" of King and Country.

The Civil War was the same deal.  Conservatives fought to protect the status quo - slavery.  And they lost because they were wrong.  Even the revolutionary "forefathers" of our country foresaw that slavery would eventually have to go away - the only question to them was when and how, and in American tradition, merely kicked the can down the road nearly a century to 1865.

Conservatives today try to glorify the Confederacy and "The Lost Cause" - forgetting that the cause was lost.  Progressives won, because they were right and slavery was wrong.  And no, this is not up for discussion.

Since those days, other issues have come and gone, and in every case, Conservatives have been wrong and always lost.  The suffragette movement - getting the right for women to vote - was opposed by Conservatives, but they were wrong and they lost.  Jim Crow, Segregation, the KKK - all wrong and the lost (and continue to lose) on all fronts.  Conservatives fought the US's entry into both World Wars.  They were wrong and lost.

The few wars that Conservatives promoted ended up being disasters. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan - we lost in all three cases, even as Conservatives fought to spend yet more money and send more "suckers" (as Trump calls them) to die.  And yes, I think we can now safely call Iraq and Afghanistan losses.  Iran won in Iraq, and the Taliban won in Afghanistan.  And no, it was not Obama's fault, but Bush's.

In the few instances where Conservatives have "won" their victory was short-lived.  Prohibition, for example, was a victory for the far-Christian right, but ended up as a disaster and was quickly overturned.  But hey, Conservatives, thanks for creating the Mafia as a result.  You guys really have your heads up your asses.

Desperately fighting change is just stupid, because change always occurs - it is like trying to fight the tides or the winds.  We can't "go back" to the "good old days" because it is physically impossible and the "good old days" sucked, frankly, compared to today.  Yet today, Conservatives are pining for the days of slavery and 40-year lifespans.  Not only are they against equal rights for minorities and women, they are actively campaigning against basic healthcare!  Measles?  It doesn't exist, right?  Just part of a scam perpetrated by the government!

Thank you, but I enjoy not having polio.  And will continue to do so.

Conservatives were not always so consistently wrong, however.  There was a time when being Conservative didn't mean shouting down change entirely, but embracing it, managing it, and guiding it.  And in that last regard, this is where Conservatives really fail. By refusing to embrace and guide change, they let it happen willy-nilly with disastrous results.

In the last two decades, we have seen the rise of social media and the smart phone - things that have had little positive impact on our society and much negative impact.  Yet no one took the helm to manage these things and guide them to a better future.  Any attempts at managing these things was met with cries of "government over-reach" and "first amendment rights!"   Too late, the GOP is realizing that social media is harmful to children, but their only solution is to ban it outright.

Allowing social media sites to ban hate speech and neo-nazis?  Can't have that - that's our voting base!  They really have backed themselves into a corner.

Time was, there was a "Liberal" wing of the Republican Party - a philosophy that government did have legitimate functions and that a properly managed government could be efficient and useful to all of the people.  Believe it or not, New York State had a Republican governor - Nelson Rockefeller - when I was growing up.  Today, the GOP has thrown those sort of folks out of the party in favor of religious "Let's go back to the good old days of stoning" fundamentalists, leaving the Liberal Republicans as stateless individuals.

And no, Nikki Haley isn't really a moderate or liberal Republican.  She is just hoping Trump has a massive coronary and she becomes the nominee by default.  It is a pretty even-odds bet.

We see change all around us.  On our little island, things have changed dramatically in the last few years, as we are no longer "Georgia's Abandoned Island" but instead morphing into an upscale vacation resort.  From sleepy retirement community for displaced Yankees, to weekend retreat for wealthy Atlantans, it has changed.  Dramatically.

A small group of people, who I call the Coalition to Hate Jekyll Island tried to stop this change, and they failed miserably at it, like most Conservatives do.  And by the way, people who fight change often consider themselves "Liberal" or even "Progressive" but the reality is, if you are fighting change, you are, by definition, Conservative, no matter how many "Free Palestine" bumper stickers you have on you Subaru.

Change was going to happen here.  We are a State Park and live under the benevolent dictatorship of the "Jekyll Island Authority" who, in real terms, has been quite generous to residents - so far.  But the reality is, they own the island, not us, and they can pretty much do at they please with it, and we could not expect the taxpayers of the State of Georgia to subsidize our private retreat (for Yankees, no less!) forever and ever.  Something had to give.

So they invested millions - tens of millions - on island improvements, on the premise that more people would come (and they did) and they could at least break even on the deal.  I am not sure that has happened just yet, but it is turning around slowly.

Change was inevitable, but the only option presented by the opponents was "no change at all."  And when the original company slated to do most of this development went bankrupt in 2008 due to the recession, the anti-change people claimed victory - as if they somehow caused the worldwide recession of that era, just to thwart the redevelopment plans.

But then again, delusional thinking is the hallmark of Conservatives.

It is like a guy I know who refuses to use the bike path - not because he is one of these Lance Armstrong wanna-bes who rides his $5000 bicycle in the road, but because he says - and I am not kidding about this - that the bicycle path is destroying the environment and by not riding on it as a protest, eventually it will force the Island authorities to tear up the bike path.

Dementia's a bitch, ain't it?

But that brings up another point.  A lot of old people get more and more Conservative as they get older, which is a natural thing.  You set up your life a certain way and change can ruin your plans.  You retire on a fixed income and see it wiped out by inflation.  You have a computer you like to use and one day you are told none of your programs will work anymore because you machine is "obsolete" and you need to fork over money to "upgrade."  No one likes change, it seems, particularly as you get older.

But young people - what's up with that?  Well, that is where it gets interesting, as many young people agitate for change, even so-called "Conservatives."  A new generation of young Conservatives, mostly male, are pining for the days when "traditional wives" stayed at home, because then women were much easier to control - and their dating prospects seemed greater (or so they thought).  They want change - to "go back" to a mythical era that may never have existed.  The problem is, once you give people freedom, they tend not to want to give it up.  There isn't a lot of support to repeal the 19th Amendment.

Sadly, there are a plethora of equally delusional young people who want to "go back" to the "good old days" of Soviet Russia, thinking they will get "guaranteed annual income" and a free rent in a brutalist concrete apartment block.  That isn't going to happen, either and those "good old days" were horrific in reality.

A better approach, I think, is to realize that change is inevitable and rather than blindly fight it or pine for non-existent earlier eras, to be part of the force of change and help guide that change, realizing that you are not going to get exactly what you want, every time, but getting something is far better that getting nothing (and pouting about it like a small child).

So how do you go about directing change?  Well, you can vote, or better yet, send money to the political candidate of your choice.  Choose the candidate who is proposing the most rational form of change, whether or not it ticks off all the items on your list of demands.  But part of this also is realizing that change is inevitable and in some instances, merely railing against it is not only futile, but a waste of your own energy and time and makes you look ridiculous.

Choose your battles wisely.  Spend that energy where you can actually help direct change.  Don't bother trying to fight things that are inevitable, or worse yet, trying to deny change entirely.

When you look at the world's economic winners and losers, the losers are usually the ones who spend all their energy on "causes" that they never win at - while at the same time, neglecting causes (like their own personal finances) they could easily win at.

Friday, February 23, 2024

The Weibull Curve and Buying New Stuff

Eventually, everything has to be replaced.

In response to some previous postings, I got some pushback from some readers who thought I was an idiot for coveting my old computers.  So long as they still work, why replace them?  But that being said, eventually they will go in the trash - the Weibull curve cannot be denied.

When I was younger, I fell into the mythology that you could keep any piece of equipment forever, such as a car, for example.  If you "properly maintained it" and took care of it, there was no reason a car can't last forever! Well, except that over time, you'll spend more money fixing an older car than it is worth.  And cars have gotten better over time.  My cousin had a 1972 BMW 2002tii and I thought that was a pretty cool car.  I was shocked when he sold it and bought a Nissan Maxima back in the 1990s.  As he put it, he liked having working air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cruise control leather seats and all the features more modern cars had at the time.

The 2002 was a fun car to bomb around it (I had a 1974 model) but not fun in heavy traffic on a hot summer day.  It turned into a sweatbox quickly - and the aftermarket A/C left much to be desired.  It's OK to move on, after a while.

But there is a matter of timing.  If you are constantly jumping from one new product to another, it is a sure way to go broke - just as putting new (or even used) tires on an end-of-life vehicle is a waste of money.  A lot of people think nothing of trading in cars or phones or computers every few years, so they can have the "latest and greatest" thing (for status purposes) without ever even familiarizing themselves with the product they traded in.  I know more than one person who realized their car had some cool feature only on the way to the dealer to hand over the keys.

The good news is, a lot of technology today does last a lot longer than the "good old days" despite what the old-timers around the cracker-barrel might say.  You can keep a car for well over 100,000 miles these days, without breaking a sweat.  Sounds pretty benign, but back in the "good old days" most cars went to the junkyard long before that.  And smart phones have reached a plateau in terms of features and functionality - there is little point in upgrading to the "latest and greatest" smart phone, other than to impress people you don't know.

But thank God for those trade-in maniacs - they leave behind nearly-new cars and electronics that can be had for half the price new.  Our truck had 20,000 miles on it and was two years old when we bought it - largely indistinguishable from brand-new.  It has 70K on it now, six years later, and should easily last us another six to ten years, with ordinary care.

We paid $99 for our Galaxy 4 phones and $199 when we upgraded years later to Galaxy 7's.  They still work fine, although a few apps are not supported.  Today, AT&T crashed and my phone will not register.  I think it is either AT&T or my SIM chip, as I tried swapping the SIM chip with two other phones and no joy.  But it may be time, in the not-too-distant future, to look for another used phone on eBay.

Of course, there are things we preserve and "keep forever" but even then, they either are entirely rebuilt, or are mere talismans of the objects they once were.   Many a collector car becomes a "garage queen" that is rarely driven, as driving the vehicle ruins the "value" and moreover, such vehicles end up being pretty delicate as they age, as many parts are no longer available (NLA) and used parts have a limited usable life.  And like my cousin's 2002, well, they just aren't as fun to drive as we thought they were.

So no, I am not advocating the "buy it for life" or "keep it forever" mindset, because things eventually wear out over time - even anvils.  And even if they don't wear out, keeping an anvil when you have no use for one isn't being frugal, it is just plain hoarding.

All that being said, by the time I am ready to replace my old laptops, I probably will be dead or no longer blogging.  Some AI program will have taken my place by then!

Brave new world?  You know, I'm kind of glad I won't live to see it.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

How FEAR leads to FRAUD

When you are afraid all the time, you end up getting ripped-off.

I talk a lot about emotional things in this blog, which is supposed to be about finances, sort of.  But mental state is very important if you want to get ahead in life.  If you resign yourself to the idea you will "never get ahead in life, anyway" and spend all your money on consumer trash instead, it becomes a self-fulfilling promise.  If you think it is "clever" to post things on Twitter that you "made coffee at home for a year now, and I'm still not a millionaire!" you never will become one.  Take this from someone whose net worth was negative until age 30 or so - but surpassed the seven-figure mark a decade later.

Emotional mindset matters - a lot.  In fact, it is everything. People want "secret tips 'n tricks" to getting rich quickly - and there are none.  Those who sell them to you (and they sell them) are again, relying on your emotions to cheat you.

And among emotions that work against you, the number one is fear.  Fear sells useless extended warranties or loan insurance or "credit protector."  People are so afraid of losing what little they have that they insure trivial things, which collectively, keep them down.  Fear also leads to fraud as well.

Social Engineering relies a lot on fear.  A criminal sends an e-mail to a company employee, telling them that they are the CEO at an important business meeting and need money wired right away to an offshore account to close a deal.  The lowly employee wants to curry favor with the boss and is afraid of being fired, so they ignore the red flags (strange lookalike e-mail address, being implored to keep the transaction secret, etc.) and go ahead and wire a million bucks to an offshore bank account.

Fear drives these fake IRS or "Grandson in jail" scams.  The IRS is going to throw you in jail! (without a trial or without even sending you a letter or auditing your taxes!) - unless you send them five $200 Apple gift cards, because you know, that's how the Federal government is funded, by Apple gift cards!

The "Grandson in jail" scam is the same deal - "Help me, Grandma!  I am in Mexican jail in Cancun on a drug charge!  I need $20,000 but don't tell anyone or I'll lose my scholarship/job!" And fear motivates people to act - and ignore red flags at the same time.

Recently, a lady who writes for "The Cut" which I guess is a column from New York magazine, scammed herself out of fifty grand when some con artist convinced her she was in dire trouble and she needed to take fifty grand out of her savings account and put it in a taped-up cardboard box and hand it to a stranger on the street.  It sounds ridiculous because it is, but she let fear blind her to the obvious.

By the way, this article is only weeks old, but has already spawned its share of online memes.  The Internet works fast!

What is sad is that she writes a financial advice column, but her experience should be a clear disqualification from handing out any further advice.  You can read the article - go ahead, the link is above - I didn't bother much.  And the reason why is she is selling fear as well - a common fear being sold in the media these days.  (That, and like New York Times articles, meander all over the place before getting to the point - they think this kind of writing is clever, apparently).

"Think it can't happen to you?" they say, "Well, it happened to me, it can happen to anyone! So watch out, buster, you're one step away from losing your life's savings!"

Well, maybe not. First of all, since I don't live in New York City, fifty-thousand-dollars is more than mere lunch money to me.  I certainly don't keep that in my savings account.  If someone threatened me, it would take a week, at least, to raise that kind of cash - I would have to sell off some investments and then transfer the money to my investment account and then transfer it to my bank account and then drive into town (calling ahead, as the local bank doesn't consider fifty grand to be lunch money, either) to get the money.  And the local banker who knows me would ask pointed questions as to why I was taking out so much money in cash - or at least the few times I have taken out more than a few grand, they seem curious as to why.

Also, since I used to work for the government and have or had friends who worked for the "three-letter-agencies" as well as the IRS (which is also three letters!) I know that the feds don't rely on mysterious phone calls to get things accomplished.  You can accuse the government of a lot of things, but ineptness is probably the only thing that could stick.  On a good day, the Federal government would have trouble conspiring to make a pot of coffee, much less engage in some weird scheme.

But most people don't know that.  They think the computers at the CIA are like what they say on Mission Impossible where the reality is much less dramatic.  And no, no one in the government would ever ask you for cash in a taped-up box. And why would a guy from the CIA be calling you from the FTC main number?  Even someone from the FTC would be calling from their own number, not the main number.

Oh, and right, I testified for the FTC - they are involved in consumer fraud, not drug deals gone bad South of the border.  But people are ignorant and all they know is stuff they watch on television. And what is on television is mostly aimed at women - crime shows, where women are usually the "Special Victims."

Ugh.  No wonder she fell for it - our entire society is priming women to be passive victims in life.  If you are lucky, you can be the next victim-of-the-week!

So yea, it could happen to you, provided you live in fear that your mechanic is trying to "rip you off" and the Wal-mart slasher is hiding under your minivan, ready to spray you with a "free perfume sample" that will knock you out - only to wake up days later in a bathtub full of ice with a kidney missing.  That could happen!  I saw it on Facebook!

The media loves this shit.  The other "fear" thing they sell - besides the idea that any second now, your identity will be stolen - is that you are mere minutes away from being homeless - and that homelessness is an epidemic affecting millions of people!

The reality is, it is a problem affecting hundreds of thousands of people - less than 1% of the population of the United States.  And to get there, you have to be mentally ill, a drug addict, an alcoholic, or some combination of the three.  People who don't fall into those categories don't stay homeless for long, because rather than hang out on a street corner with a tattered sign saying "just evicted! five children!" they are working with various government agencies and private ones to find shelter, a job, clothing, food, and so on and so forth.  The guy you see living on the streets is there because he is a drug addict or violent and they don't allow that in the shelters.  Getting to rock-bottom takes some work, and while many people live "paycheck to paycheck" they often Tweet this on their new iPhone, which they spend 10 hours a day on. There is a connection.

But fear sells - magazine articles in New York magazine, for example.  You'll never go broke catering to fear.  Watch television "news" sometime (go ahead, I stopped long ago) and you'll see nothing but fear being sold.  We're all going to be nuked! Or raped!  Or robbed! Or whatever.  You never see many things on the news that aren't based on fear, other than the token human interest story, which usually makes us plebes out to be rubes.  She's a Swiftie that teaches adorable squirrels how to water-ski! Google it sometime - it is depressing.

In that regard, Trump has been a godsend for the media.  One media mo-ghoul recently admitted that Trump was good for business as he generates ratings. "50% of Howard Stern listeners love him and listen for an average of two hours. Most common reason given: they want to see what outrageous thing he will say next! 50% of Howard Stern listeners hate him and listen for an average of three hours. Most common reason given: they want to see what outrageous thing he will say next!"  Trump learned a lot from  Howard Stern.  Thanks, Howard!

I know my own blog readership skyrocketed during the 2016 election whenever I wrote about Trump or Hillary.  They want us not to just disagree with the opinions of these characters, but actually hate or fear them.  Because fear (and hate, which is related) are powerful emotions, and if you can grab someone by their fear, well, you have then by the balls (or something else that Trump says he grabs all the time but likely never has).

Of course, while we are allowing ourselves to get all riled up over nothing - such as the latest Hunter Biden allegations (which have been admitted to be fabrications by Russian agents) - we end up acting against our own self-interest.  The media wants to paint Republicans as a bunch of right-wing religious nuts who want to burn books and kill gay people.  And yea, some of those exist - goaded on by Putin's Internet Research Agency.  The same media paints all Democrats as sex-changing weirdos who want to indoctrinate your children into Communism.  And yea, maybe a few of those nutjobs exist as well, but they don't represent mainstream Democrats anymore than Westboro Baptist Church represents mainstream Christianity.

In sort, we are being scammed and falling for it, much like this lady in New York magazine or whatever.  If we believe our neighbors are the enemy and the only solution to our imagined "problems" is violence or covering our pickup truck with stickers, then yea, we have been conned, big-time, out of all of our money.  And they used fear to sell it, too.

So, the idea that "It could happen to anyone" is indeed true, and this lady being scammed out of fifty grand isn't some outlier but what is happening today, across America, to nearly everyone.

...or so it seems.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Free Weekly Credit Reports? Yes.


You don't have to wait 12 months to get your credit report - just next week!

I had a reminder on my calendar to download my Transunion credit report.  At the suggestion of a reader, I set up my calendar to remind me three times a year to do this - one for each credit reporting agency.  That way, I am alerted to changes in my credit history more often.

Of course, the point is moot.  My credit reports are all frozen (more on that later) which is something everyone should do.  Also, since I am debt-free, I have no real need for credit, other than to "steal the cheese" with some 10% off, one-year-same-as-cash deal on a new appliance or something (which, as I have noted before, is just a tasty baited mousetrap for the unwary -  a bear trap, really).

But I do it anyway - out of habit mostly.  I was pleasantly surprised this morning when I logged on to (the only legit free credit reporting site) and saw a banner indicating that credit reports were now free on a weekly basis.  So I tried it and it worked - sort of.  The only one that didn't work was Experion, which claimed there was some sort of problem and told me to send a written request. Oddly enough, Experion was the only reporting agency that I had not queried in over 12 months.

Transunion and Equifax both coughed up the goods - after a two-step authentication process.  Equifax helpfully provided a "summary" page so I didn't have to scroll through a dozen pages of individual reports from numerous lenders.  Transunion provided long form, Experion, like I said, did bubkis.

This is an improvement over the old system as you can order your credit report at almost any time, rather than after the one-year anniversary from the last report.  It also is illustrative of how the whole industry has changed over time.  It was an industry created in my lifetime and for much of that time, the various agencies protected the data like a State Secret.

Then, the government stepped in (Boo!  Hiss!  Gubmnent Bad! - right?) because people were being maligned by inaccurate credit report data and not only did they not have an avenue to correct it, but they weren't even allowed to look at it!  I remember those days, when a car salesman would tell me he would "lose his job" if he showed me the ultra-secret credit report with my data on it.  Not only that, since the consumer couldn't see their own data, they had no idea if someone was fraudulently using their identity - until it was too late.

So annual credit reports were born.  You could see your data, once a year, by mail, if you requested it and paid a small fee - or for free if you were denied credit.  It was a hassle, but you could do it.  And was next, which made the process easier.  But of course, "free enterprise" decided to step in and offer "free credit reports!" on the television using catchy jingles and directing people to a site that was totally not free.  It took years for that shit to die down.

Of course, the credit reporting agencies were not giving up without a fight.  Your "credit score" was created using proprietary algorithms and they claimed this as protected Intellectual Property, which, as an IP Attorney, makes my skin crawl - almost as much as HP putting unnecessary chips in their toner cartridges so they can claim copyright protection long after their Patents have expired.  Do not buy an HP printer! Once the go-to source for printing, HP has systematically destroyed its own near-monopoly.  What a shame for such a storied old company - but I digress.

But of course, others figured out the "algorithm" or should I say - algorithms - as there are multiple credit scores, depending on whether you are buying a house or a car or getting a credit card.  And of course, banks have their own system of grading customers as well.  But regardless, anyone can create their own "score" system and they do.  My bank and credit card companies give me "scores" that are not "Fair Issac" (who is anything but fair - right?) but track closely enough - within a few points - that it doesn't really matter.

And how the score is calculated is insane.  You pay off a mortgage or car loan or are debt-free and your score may go down.  Rack up some debt, and you score may go up!  It is indeed a mystery.

But following closely on credit scores was the idea of "locking" your credit report to prevent identity theft. Now, identity theft is a real buzzword these days, or at least it was a few years ago when "journalists" (which is a word that should be pronounced with a silent "j") use alarming headlines to make it seem that we are all one step away from having our identity stolen, and some "criminal" will buy a mansion and a Ferrari and live high on the hog and we will be on the hook to pay for it all for the rest of our lives.  I kid you not about these articles - it is only on the last page, in tiny type that they state the obvious - that you are not liable for loans you never took out and banks that recklessly loan money to people without checking their identification are liable instead.

It happens, too.  Mark was at a real estate closing and the closing attorney said, "Now, I just need to see your driver's license or other ID and make a copy of it."  The husband and wife said, "Oh, we left that in the car!" and went out of the room and never came back.  People do try to sell houses they don't own and pocket the cash.  Sometimes it actually works, but only if people are unwary.

Two other things were overlooked when selling the over-hyped myth of identity theft.  First, the credit industry started calling routine credit card fraud, "identity theft" when years ago it was just called credit card fraud.  Someone copies down your credit card number and charges stuff on your card.  And again, you are not liable for those charges, so dispute them, cancel the card, and order a new card.  Period.

Second, most of the real identity theft that occurs isn't from strangers but friends, family members, or co-workers.  Your cousin steals your driver's license and credit card and goes on a shopping spree.  They sort of look like you so they get away with it - until you notice.  A drug-addicted husband takes out a loan, using his estranged wife as co-signer (forging her signature) as happened to a lawyer friend of mine.  It is much easier to steal an "identity" from someone you know, as you don't have to guess their mother's maiden name or the name of their first pet.  Bonus points if you look similar in appearance, which can happen with siblings and close relatives.

So yea, identity theft is overblown to sell online articles and "credit protector" services.  Fear (as we will discuss in my next posting) is a powerful way to get at people's pocketbooks.  Fortunately, big bad onerous government once again stepped in and forced credit reporting agencies to offer a "credit lock" service, which originally may have required a small fee to lock and unlock your credit report, but today is mostly free. Once "locked" the notation appears on your credit report, and most legitimate lenders will not loan money to you until you unlock it.  And some agencies allow you to unlock it for a set period (days, weeks, months) and then automatically re-lock.  This comes in handy if you are shopping for a car or house or whatever, and don't want to deal with locking and re-locking all the time.

Should you lock your credit history with all three agencies?  I say "YES" - for everyone.  It protects you from the worst credit criminal of all - yourself.  When you make taking out new credit a royal pain-in-the-ass, well, you tend to do it less. When the chirpy checkout clerk (who gets a commission) at the big-box store offers you 10% off your purchase if you take out a credit card with the company, it is tempting to say "yes" to an onerous loan agreement.  If your score is locked and you realize you'll have to go to the score company site, remember your login information, and dick around with unlocking it (and make sure you get the site that the store is using to check credit reports), you are less likely to fall into the trap.

On the other hand, if clicking YES on a screen is all it takes to take on another credit card DEBT, well, that's how people end up with tens of thousands of dollars in revolving credit at onerous interest rates.  Time was, it was seen as a sign of financial success to have a wallet full of credit cards - my Dad used to think so, anyway.  Today, it is seen as a sign of financial weakness - of lack of self-control or resolve.  Remember how wallets used to have that plastic fold-out deal that was three-feet long, for holding credit cards?  They don't sell them no more, do they?

But locking your credit, which is largely free these days, does give one "peace of mind" so to speak, that no one will take out credit in your name, which is more of a hassle than any real risk of you having to pay back a loan you never took out.  Of course, this doesn't protect you from ordinary credit card theft - but checking your credit card balance daily and getting notifications via e-mail and text of any new charges - and immediately disputing bogus charges - is a sure-fire way to avoid any problems with credit card theft.

So yea, it is great you can check your credit report on a weekly basis.  On the other hand, you shouldn't have to, not if you're checking your bank balance and credit card balance on a weekly basis, instead.

Monday, February 19, 2024

When Upgrades are Downgrades....

Upgrade your software - so we can better track you and prevent you from ad-blocking!

NOTE:  This is an older posting that I just finished today.

A couple of years ago I decided to experiment with a Chromebook.  After all, my old Toshiba C655 laptops were at least a decade old, if not older.  They are running Windows 7 Ultimate and have their memory and hard drive space maxed out.  I own three of them - I can buy working examples online for under $50 - sometimes far under - and I have a box of spare motherboards, memory sticks, hard drives, and keyboards, - perhaps enough to build a fourth one.

They work for what I want to do - surf the net, create documents, transfer data. Chrome keeps reminding me that it cannot upgrade itself until I go to Window 10 or higher.  Such a shame!  Oh me, oh my, what will I ever do?  Use old Chrome?  The horror of it all.

(In the smartphone world, they are already forcing upgrades.  One of my banking "apps" refuses to run on my Samsung Galaxy 7, and I suspect, over time, other "upgraded" apps will not work, either.  I suppose then, I will have to buy another used Galaxy.  But that's a few years down the road - we hope!  Oddly enough, some people look forward to upgrading their phones, as if losing an entire day's productivity is some kind of treat!  Oh, right, status again).

The Chromebook proved to be fairly useless to me.  It will only run "apps" and many of these apps, such as Quickbooks, require a subscription fee.  Ain't doing that.  My old copy of Quickbooks Pro 2002 is working perfectly fine, thank you. And my Hudson Hornet still runs like the day it was made. Microsoft Word 2000 is really all you need for word processing - actually far more than anyone really needs, unless you want to format a book or something.

So my hardware and software is "obsolete" - so obsolete in fact that it doesn't detect whether I am running adblock plus or not, and thus does not trigger YouTube's new ad-block blocker which I was introduced to last night - on the chromebook.  (UPDATE:  YouTube finally caught on to this and seems to show some ads now).

Yes, the Chromebook is running Chrome, which is made by Google who also makes YouTube.  And although I thought I told the Chromebook not to update the O/S, I have been getting messages to update the "firmware" and I suspect these were forced onto the Chromebook without my consent - along with upgrades to Chrome itself.  Chrome announced that they would be updating their O/S in 2023 to enable detection of ad blocking software.  That's when I disabled updates on my Toshibas (redundant, as Chrome now refuses to update, boo-hoo!).  But the Chromebook updated somehow, and now YouTube is just a blank screen.

Time was, an update or upgrade was just that.  You got a better operating system or version of a program with a bug fixed or a new feature.  Or an exploit was plugged to prevent a virus infection.  You set your computer to automatically update because that was advantageous.  And updates and upgrades didn't happen every night or every other night, but once a month, if that.

Today, we see updates every time we power up our computer.  And we are encouraged to leave our computers on, 24/7, so these updates and upgrades can occur overnight.  And the updates and upgrades we get don't help us at all, but are usually include ways to better track our behavior online and suggest things we might want to buy, based on our search history, website use, or even what we type in our e-mails.

It is almost better off to just disable updates.  Unless you are prone to opening up e-mails from a Nigerian Prince, odds are you aren't at much risk for a virus or hacking.  Then again, all the updates in the world cannot withstand social engineering. Two-factor authentication means nothing, if a hacker calls you on the phone and asks you for that six-digit code - after convincing you they are from Microsoft or your Bank or whatever.

I used the Chromebook to stream video as the old television only has Netflix and Hulu as factory apps.  The instructions claim you can add "apps" to the TV, but when I try to do this, it bombs out.  Easier to use a retired laptop or Chromebook connected through an HDMI connector to the TV and stream video through there.  A remote keyboard and mouse makes it possible to surf for programs from my easy chair.

For the Toshiba, I had to buy a VGA-to-HDMI adapter for $5 on eBay.  Is the resolution great?  Well, at my age, I can't really tell, and quite frankly, most people can't. I learned long ago, doing Patents on early Bell Atlantic video streaming services, as well as MPEG encoding devices and VGA adapters that screen resolution isn't the end-all of video.  The human eye sends signals to the brain which in turn "assembles" an image in the mind.  You literally cannot see everything at once, but only what your eye is aimed at and focused on, at a particular given moment.  The rest is filled in by the brain with old data, interpolation, or just guesswork.  Without this, magicians would be out of business.

So when you watch a football game and they kick the ball, you eye looks at the football, not at the shoes the second cheerleader from the left is wearing.  Unless she had really big titties, you probably would not even be aware she was in the frame.  And in fact, that is how MPEG and other compression schemes work - concentrating on what is important and using old data to fill in the lesser important parts.

So things like 4G are really a waste of bandwidth and I suspect a lot of what is hyped as 4G video is not actually 4G, particularly when older media is broadcast.  There is likely a lot of pixel interpolation going on (and geez, there are hundreds of algorithms for that!) and what you are seeing is not literally 4G.  But even if it was, well, odds are you don't notice the difference much.  If you were doing a frame-by-frame forensic analysis, maybe that level of resolution is helpful.  For re-runs of I Dream of Jeanie, not so much.

Bear in mind the old NTSC television was 525 "lines" of video and likely 25 of those were overscan, not to mention vsync and hsync and other embedded data.  Our old VGA monitors had a pitiful 640x480 resolution and today are not much better, in real terms.  The old Toshibas run at  1366x768, and quite frankly, with my eyesight, that is more than I need.

So, one of the old laptops might be dragooned back into YouTube duty and the Chromebook will.... become a doorstop.  I suppose I could sell it or something.   It really is of no use to me.  This whole idea of renting software and storing things in someone's "cloud" server (where it will never, ever be lost!) is alien to me.

And sure, you can call me lazy and outdated and a technophobe and a Luddite.

Maybe there will be a run on old laptops on eBay now.  I'm sitting on a goldmine, Jerry!

Sunday, February 18, 2024

What the Hell is Mode S?

Microsoft is trying to use cheap Jedi mind tricks on us.

I tried to help my friend with their new computer and we got some things accomplished.  The printer (HP, sorry!) is WiFi enabled and it keeps losing its WiFi connection for some reason.  But I think we got it logged on for good.  If not, a good old USB cable should fix it permanently.

I was able to download their photos from their iPhone to the hard drive. It tried to load them to Microsoft's cloud, but there wasn't enough room - but they helpfully suggested we could buy more room if we wanted to.  Gee, thanks.  No.

I tried to load Chrome onto the machine.  At first, it said, "You don't need Chrome, you already have the best web browser ever made! These aren't the (an)droids you are looking for!"  When I tried to install Chrome, it warned me, in a scary voice, that in order to do so, I would have to exit "S mode" so I said, "why not?"

Another scary screen pops up, telling me I will expose my computer to viruses because, you know, the number one Internet browser used by billions of people is some sketchy "app" from who-knows-where (Gina?).  It would no doubt say the same thing about Firefox as well.

So I say, "screw that!" and click "continue."

The next page (yes, there are several) then ominously warns me that if I leave "S Mode" then as far as Microsoft as concerned, I am dead to them.  No coming back, mister! Tossed out of the house like a gay teen who came out to his MAGA Dad.  You'll have to live on the streets now, buster - see how you like that, gayboy!

Fine. If it was my computer, I would say, "See ya later, Dad!" to Bill Gates and move on with life.  But it wasn't my computer.  Besides, their son-in-law is coming over next week and he is more proficient in modern operating systems than I am.  Their grandson, aged 10, would be even more adept.

I go back home to my homely black Toshiba laptop, where I can look at the contents of my hard drive simply by typing C:\ DIR

It is my comfort zone - I have at least a vague idea of what is going on and where my data is stored.  It doesn't have that uneasy feel you get with smart phones and netbooks, that somehow your data is lost in the void.

By the way, my friend had a Mac and it died and they had a two-week wait for an "appointment" at the "Genius Bar."  They bought an Acer laptop instead - it cost less than an hour at the "genius bar" and no doubt, the "genius" would have recommended buying a new iMac for two grand. Real genius there!

"They always make me feel like an idiot at the 'Genius' bar!" they said.

"That's the idea," I replied.  Apple makes it such that - like the old days of IBM mainframes - no one can really know how the damn things work, except the anointed few.  And Microsoft is going the same way with Windows 11.

My friend will figure it out over time, and maybe I will, too.  But Windows 11 is a whole different beast than older Windows. Everything is hidden from view.  It is like a Chromebook - every program is an "app" and it has a very phone-y feeling (in both senses of the word).

Now if you'll pardon me, I am going to listen to my old bakelite 78 rpm records on my Gramaphone.  No electricity needed!

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Windows 11 - Ugh!

I don't wanna learn a new O/S!  I don't wanna! I don't wanna!

A friend of mine just bought a new Windows 11 laptop, which was brave of them, as they are coming from the Apple-world, where everything is spoon-fed to them.  They asked me for help with it on the basis that "I know about computers" which was true 30 years ago.  My current O/S is Windows 7 Ultimate and I am running Microsoft Office 2000 and Quickbooks Pro 2002.  Yes, I am running software that is over two decades old on laptops that are nearly as old, that I assembled from parts laptops bought on eBay for less than fifty bucks.

Yet, they work.  You are reading this, right?  So they do what I want them to do.  I am not a gamer, so I don't need the latest Nvida card or fancy processor.  For basic computing needs, not much has changed in the last two decades.

I tried to use my friend's laptop but it was loaded with bloatware and they smartly declined offers for anti-virus add-ons.  I showed them how Microsoft Security Essentials worked and really that is all you need for most computing - and it is free (and works even on "unsupported" Windows 7 machines!).  But the rest of it was puzzling and annoying.   I guess we will learn Windows 11 together  Another friend tells me that "legacy" software, such as what I am using, won't run on Windows 11, not even in "Win95 mode" or other legacy modes.  I guess I could run a virtual machine to do that, but that sounds like a lot of hassle.

What irked me was that everything was promoted as a subscription model, with your data stored "in the cloud."  My friend wanted to run a spreadsheet program and Microsoft helpfully offered a subscription to the program for so many dollars a month.  What's worse, when we tried to save a backup copy of the spreadsheet, it wouldn't let us do that - on the hard drive or anywhere else.  You get one copy and that's it.  Maybe I am doing it wrong - I have a lot to learn about this brave new world.

The personal computer was designed to free us from the tyranny of "Big Blue" IBM and the world of mainframes.  Back in the day (1960's and 1970's) mainframe IBM 360 machines were the deal - programmed with punch cards.  Yes, I am that old, learning FORTRAN on punchcards on a mainframe.  Leave the cards with the "machine operator" they will run it overnight and get the results back to you.  It was a primitive time.

Michael Crichton - who basically lost his mind along the way - wrote about big mainframes going "haywire" in all of his books (even one set in the jungles of Africa!).  He wrote about how the "computer rooms" of the era were like hushed churches - with acolytes and priests attending to the almighty machines.  Computer rooms (and I assume server rooms today) had "computer room floors" which were elevated about a foot above the real floor.  The A/C air handler used this space as a return air duct, so cool, air-conditioned air would be sucked into all the computer cabinets and back to the central station air handler.  It was a pretty complicated setup.

Back then, if you wanted a program written, you had to beg the computer Gods for permission - and pay them handsomely.  This is why, when I worked at Carrier, my boss was happy that I could write programs for Tektronix graphics systems and Apple II computers (both with X-Y plotters) so we could input data and then plot charts of the performance of chillers and air handlers.  Asking the mainframe guys to do this meant waiting months for changes and paying thousands of dollars in development money.

The PC era was just starting - and the IBM-PC which ironically destroyed IBM's monopoly on the computer business, was still a few years away.  We made do with CP/M systems (some of which our parent company sold) and even oddball devices like an Olivetti PC, which was little more than a typewriter.   The Personal Computer (which was not yet THE PC, as in IBM PC) would liberate us from the tyranny of the mainframe and the almighty programmers.

And for a while, it worked, too.

But eventually, someone got the bright idea of networking computers together.  It made sense, to share files and share printers and other devices.  And why not have a central "server" to store data on a RAID array?  It was an improvement, but also a beginning to the end of the independence of the PC.  By the late 1980s, something called "thin client" came along.  Why have a fleet of PCs, one on each employee's desk, with expensive hard drives (40 MB, baby!) that were prone to failure, in each one?  Make each PC just a motherboard and a floppy to boot from (or better yet, boot from the network) and everyone can store their data on the "server."

In theory, it was a great idea, provided your "computer guy" (the term "IT" was years away) backed up the RAID array onto a tape drive (remember those nightmare devices?).  If the server crashed - as happened at one law firm I worked at - no one could get any work done.  Well, we could, if you put the essential WordPerfect files and DOS on a high-density floppy and ran the "thin client" off that.  The secretaries were pissed-off when I showed them how to do this - it ruined a three-day vacation for them!

Thin client was the nose in the camel's tent - or something like that.  It took away the independence of the PC and made it dependent.  And over the years, companies have tried, again and again, to rein-in these free-ranging PC's and make them docile slaves once more - little more than "dumb terminals" like the VT-50 of yore.  Of course, the Internet accelerated this trend.  Today there are many devices out there that simply won't work unless connected to the Internet, even for a local print job, for example. The manufacturer wants to control the device, even after they sold it to you.  It is kind of a frightening Big Brother kind of deal, quite frankly.

Today, it is all about "the cloud" and the hard drive is going away in favor of "netbooks" which have limited storage capacities, but use the Internet instead as their hard drive and (hopefully) backup.  Once again, "thin client" raises it ugly head - and once again, for what appears to be a good reason, but is also a nefarious purpose.  Subscription models are far better revenue generators for software (or even hardware) companies.  Back in the day, you might "upgrade" to the latest version of DOS or Windows, because it wasn't all that expensive.  The O/S and program makers would provide free updates ("support") over time, to fix glitches and tamp down viruses.

Problem was - and is - these updates cost money to create and distribute.  At the same time, users started to decline periodic upgreades, particularly when the latest version of Windows or Apple iOS or Chrome will "brick" an older phone or pad or laptop, which was not designed to accommodate the increased processor demands of a later operating system.  I know this personally, when I tried to "upgrade" an older laptop to a later version of Windows and it slowed it down to a crawl.

So the subscription model makes sense - for the software (and hardware) suppliers.  We've gone back to the old days of "Big Blue" IBM, where companies paid monthly lease payments on their Hollerith machines, and bought all their punch cards from IBM directly.  Woe be to the lessee who was caught using generic punchcards when the IBM rep came around.  And IBM was a stickler about those lease fees, too - collecting back payments from Germany after the war for punch card machines used to tabulate murdered Jews.  Business is business, right?

The liberty of the PC was that you bought it and owned it, outright.  Maybe you might upgrade the hardware over time.  Maybe you might buy another program for it.  But once you bought these things, you owned them outright and didn't have to pay again and again for them.  That was freedom - to do your own thing and run your own machine.  And it was pretty inexpensive, too, even in an era where a "nice" computer (640K of memory, 40M of hard drive, SVGA tube monitor) was close to $5000.

Today, the machines are cheaper, both in real terms and in inflationary ones.  PCs are far more powerful and cost pennies when adjusted for inflation.   But when you add up the subscription costs, well, maybe it is something of a wash.  And it seems with every improvement in hardware comes a corresponding bloat in software, such that programs never seem to run faster than before.  A simple ASCII text document took a few kilobytes to store.  A WordPerfect (DOS) document maybe a few hundred kilobytes.  A blank WORD for Windows document takes a Megabyte or more - or so it seems.  And while programs can do so much more than before, the dreaded hourglass (or its bretheren) never seems to go away - entirely.

Of course, it isn't just computer and software makers that are exploiting this new subscription model.  BMW made the worst sort of headlines lately by experimenting with offering heated seats as a subscription model (Money saving tip 'n trick: subscribe only in the winter and then cancel in the summer months! /s).  This pretty much ensured that I will never own a BMW ever again.   They were fun, for a while, and at least the generations that I owned could be worked on, as there were "work-arounds" for proprietary systems.   I am not so sure that is the case today.

Hewlett-Packard bears special mention - and yes, my friend bought an HP printer with their new computer.  The head of HP has admitted that they want to make printing a subscription service and their printers are designed to brick themselves if you try to install a non-HP cartridge.  I've had some of these inkjet printers and written about them before.  If you don't print regularly, the cartridges dry up and the machine won't print - even in black-and-white - if even one color cartridge is empty.  Those machines were sold cheap or often given away - again, the subscription model.  I threw all my inkjet printers away - they are literally worthless.

I have a Canon laser printer that I bought cheaply online.  It replaced my two HP-4P laserjets from the 1990s that ran like (and smelled like) diesel engines for decades.  Eventually the pinch rollers go bad and they started to jam - such is the fate of all paper-handling devices.  The new Canon (now about five or six years old) just loves to print (and scan) and seems quite happy with whatever generic toner cartridge I feed it.  I can find cartridges on eBay for cheap.  Canon apparently made their money selling the machine, not a subscription.  I hear good things about Brother, too, although we have one at the gallery and it has a habit of going into "sleep" mode and slipping into a coma.  The operating manual actually has several suggestions about how to wake it, too.  It's not a bug, it's a feature!

But getting back to topic, no, I am not being a big crybaby by not wanting to "learn" Windows 11.  Rather, I am mourning the end of an era and the loss of something valuable - our independence.  I fear that these systems, which remove the user from the functionality of their machines more and more, will somehow make us more slaves to the machine than vice-versa.  Windows (and Apple) already put so many layers of abstraction between us and the computer hardware that we have no idea how they work or how to adjust, set, or troubleshoot them.  The whole Windows "registry" thing, for example, it a mystery to most people - and best left alone in most cases.

Back in the olden days, I could tell you what every byte was on my (floppy) disc.  Even with primitive hard drives, you could list all the programs and data files - with few, if any, "hidden" files on the drive.  You had your Config.sys and your Autoexec.bat and if you could control those, you could control the machine.  Computer viruses were virtually unheard of.  Today?  Who knows what the hell is going on in these black boxes?  It might as well be magic, and we have little other choice than to dance to their tune - and pay their subscription fees.

Of course, that only applies if you want to use computers.  As a retiree, I find the need to use the PC less and less.  I print out a few primitive documents in WORD and type nonsense in my blog (which yes, is in the "cloud" although I have periodically backed up copies of it).  And yes, the "cloud" has its uses, too.  The aforementioned Brother (color) printer is accessible only by WiFi, but I can store files in Google Drive and then download them to the printer (after having set up their convoluted method of linking the printer to my largely unused Google Drive account) and print - without having to lug my laptop there.

Speaking of which, that is another interesting aspect of all of this.  I find I am more of a Google person these days than a Microsoft one.  Sure, I am running Windows and Word, but I use Chrome and Google Calendar and Blogger and YouTube and Google itself (now mostly an advertising site) more often than Microsoft products themselves.  Even for things like spreadsheets and word processing, you can use Google's free online version of these programs.  And who needs Adobe reader anymore, when you can create PDF files by "printing" from Word (or any other program) and display them in Chrome?

So yea, I already have my head in the "clouds" it seems.

All that being said, I will try to load the legacy programs to my friend's computer - if it will allow it.  I'll be sure to bring my external DVD drive!  

Talk about archaic!

Friday, February 16, 2024

Passive-Aggressive Communication

Passive-Aggressive people are annoying.

I see this all the time on Old People Island.  Edna is talking with friends and her husband is present.  She says, "The important thing is..." and then her voice fades off. quieter and quieter.

Her husband replies, "I didn't catch that last part, what did you say?"

"I SAID!" she nearly screams, "The Important thing is..."  and then her voice fades off. quieter and quieter.

Husband asks for clarification yet again, and she says, "It doesn't matter!" which is a way of saying he doesn't matter.

Then she goes on a five-minute diatribe about how her husband is losing his hearing and how he won't wear his hearing aids and then go through a litany of his other faults and medical issues, including his erectile dysfunction or whatever.

I just want to scream, "Lady!  He's sitting right here!"  How emasculating to be humiliated in front of friends by your own wife.  Love, what's not to like?

I see this all the time - spouses unwilling to repeat what they said (in an almost whisper) but willing to spend ten times the energy in verbally beating up their spouse about it.  It takes less time and effort to just repeat what you said, in a clear and consistent voice without this stupid dumbass dropping off at the end of a sentence.

And for all you "soft talkers" out there - FUCK YOU. It's isn't "cute" and it isn't "sexy" - it is just annoying as all get out.

Ditto for people who try to talk to you while facing away or even walking away.  It is just passive-aggressive nonsense.

And speaking of which, mumbling and muttering things under your breath isn't clever, it is a sign of mental illness - get help!  You are talking to yourself!

Of course, teenagers engage in this sort of nonsense - we all did it as teens.  Being powerless in terms of control over their lives and their economic conditions, teens tend to rely on slang to befuddle the older generation and communicate under-the-radar.  It is annoying as all get out to older people, of course, who have no interest in learning the latest slang - which will be obsolete in a week or two.

If you are a teen and you think this won't happen to you, in ten years time, you'll cringe when you look back at your yearbook and see things like "rizz" under your senior photo.  Trust me, you won't be saying that in 2034.

Teenagers, of course, have an excuse.  Like I said, they are going through a tough part of life.  But they grow up (most do, anyway) and learn to communicate - or at least the successful ones do.  Learning to communicate clearly and succinctly isn't easy, but you'll find those that succeed in any profession are the ones that can get their ideas across.

In some professions, you don't have a choice.  In Engineering, we can't say, "Make the bridge beams about yea wide and so-so long with bolts about as thick as my thumb!"  In the law, we can't ask for a "bad court thingy" as Lionel Hutz tried to do.  In medicine, the surgeon can't say to the nurse in the operating theater, "hand me that do-hickey, willya?"  Specialized language has evolved in a number of professions, to make communication more succinct and clear.

But in everyday life, the same is true.  Dealing with people who are vague and ambiguous - two of the hallmarks or passive-aggression - is just annoying. People like that sometimes succeed by using buzzwords and such, but in the end, they often crash and burn - or the company that hired people like that crashes and burns.  Being able to tell the difference between real communication and bullshit is important, for example, in investing.

We see this all the time these days. A new company comes along with a startling new discovery.  But they can't tell you how it works, other than to throw around a lot of bullshit words.  People who don't understand the difference between bullshit and real technology, invest in bullshit and lose their shirts.  Every day, it seems, some high-flying "new tech" company comes crashing to the ground when reality catches up with the bullshit.

Yet people still throw their money at things like bitcoin or Theranos or whatever.

Language is the exchange of symbols - symbols with an agreed-upon meaning.  When someone starts throwing around symbols that sound like something important but have no agreed-upon meaning - or worse yet, no meaning at all - then all hell will break loose quite shortly.

This is a long way from deaf spouses, but the essential message is the same.  Ambiguity is a sign of poor communication, whether it is someone soft-talking at the end of a sentence, or a con-artist throwing around bullshit words to dazzle you out of your last dime.  Same shit, different day.

As for the hearing aid thing, I have seen this happen many a time.  Dad finally breaks down and gets a hearing aid.  He is ecstatic!  "I can really hear again!" he says.  But a month later, you talk to him and he says "what?" and you realize he doesn't have the hearing aids in.  They are uncomfortable and in a crowd can create a cacophony of noise that can be painful.  I have talked with someone with a hearing aid and I could hear the squeal of feedback from their ears.

So they stop wearing them.  Or they wear them infrequently, which is sort of a cruel trick as you can never tell if they can hear you or not.  You say something to the wife and the husband - in the next room - says, "I heard that!"  Sneaky bastard!