Sunday, June 30, 2024

What's On The Menu

You can't order Kung Pao Chicken at an Italian Bistro!

I had a dream last night I was at a restaurant with some of my old friends.  It was an Italian bistro and they had the usual pasta dishes and the veal cutlets - good hearty food.  But one friend, who was younger, and believed "The customer is always right!" said, "I'll have Kung Pao Chicken, I'm in the mood for Chinese food!"

The waiter responded, "Ma'am, this is an Italian restaurant, we serve Italian food.  What we have to offer is on the menu in front of you.  What can I get for you?"

But she was having none of it.  "Kung Pao Chicken, like I said!  I'm the customer and I get to have exactly what I want!  No excuses!"

I woke up in a cold sweat and realized why I don't go out to dinner with old friends like that.   But it got me to thinking about the election and the complaints I read online (which are likely from Russian troll-bots) along the lines of "Is this the best we can do with Presidential candidates?  Maybe Biden or Trump should step aside and let someone else run!"

Andrew Yang, the ersatz billionaire (even moreso that Trump) has been beating this drum - Biden should "step aside" and let someone else run!  Yea, someone else!  Maybe Andrew Yang?  Talk about a self-serving argument!

The reality of politics is that you have a menu in front of you and you can only order off the menu.  There are no secret "off-menu" choices that the kitchen can make for you.  And while you can stamp your feet and hold your breath until you turn blue in the face, the kitchen can't make you Kung Pao chicken without the proper ingredients and expertise.

But this does not mean you don't have a choice or that your choices don't matter or that they are poor choices.

The media is having an orgasm over the "debate" as the media likes to generate controversy and drama because they make money this way.  I generally don't watch these "debates" as I am not an idiotic "undecided voter" who thinks "both sides are the same, so why bother?" and other attention-getting statements.  While both political parties are indebted to corporate sponsors and big-money donors (act shocked, and then grow up and grow a pair) they do have markedly different philosophies.

And bear in mind, we are not anointing a king, but electing an administration, which includes twenty-five cabinet members.  Not only that, there are appointments to various administrative agencies, from the Patent Office to the Post Office to the Pentagon - and yes, who is appointed and their philosophies makes a huge difference in how our government is run.

Then there are judicial appointments, which, as we saw during the Trump years, makes a huge, huge difference in how our lives work out.  People are upset at the Supreme Court, but fail to realize it was Trump and a Republican Congress that put the conservative majority there - a majority that is engaging in "judicial activism" in redefining the separation of powers itself.  According to the Supremes, unless Congress specifically authorizes a regulation in excruciating detail, the administration is powerless to interpret and enforce the laws.  This reduces the role of the Executive Branch to little more than an HR office.  Might as well toss the C.F.R. in the trash - promulgating regulations is so last-year!

So yes, it makes a difference who you choose, and you can only choose what is on the menu.  That is still one helluva choice and bear in mind in many parts of the world (e.g., China, Russia) you have no choices.  And one "choice" on the menu this year is to eliminate all future choices and let the waiter order for you, in perpetuity.  One bowl of gruel, coming right up!

But what about third-party candidates?  Why not have a system like in Europe?  Well, taking aside the problem our European friends are having right now, they have Parliamentary Democracies which are structurally different from ours.  Their system is designed to have a plurality of parties and as a result form coalitions of power - which often fall apart.  I am not saying one system is better or worse than the other, only that the odds of completely re-writing our Constitution to move to that system is about as likely as the EU moving toward our two-party system.

It just isn't going to happen.  It isn't on the menu.  So stop trying to order it and having a hissy-fit when they tell you it is not available. That isn't a practical solution to anything.  But yea, when I was younger, I thought I was a genius for pining for pie-in-the-sky ideas.  Then I grew up.

Third party candidates are spoilers, plain and simple. And in a way, they are like the obscure menu items that some restaurants offer on the back pages of the menu that no one in their right mind orders because the kitchen rarely makes it and as a result, it sucks.  It is akin, as I noted before, to my friend ordering an obscure pasta dish at a pier-side shrimp shack.  It not only sucked, it arrived after everyone else had finished eating.  Trying to "get what you want" often backfires.

Crazy Kennedy à la Brain Worm is a poor menu choice.

I mentioned earlier that "debates" are sort of pointless as most people make up their minds early on, based on their political views.  A die-hard MAGA fan isn't going to suddenly change their mind because Biden made a good argument.  Similarly, a pro-choice liberal Democrat isn't going to suddenly become a Trumper because "He didn't seem so bad" in the debates.

The whole political debate thing goes back more than a century.  One of the most famous debates was the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858Lincoln lost.  But the main issue - slavery - was eventually decided against Douglas' position.  I would not place too much weight on debates.

The Nixon-Kennedy debate of 1960 was another famous debate, this time televised. Perhaps the candidates back then were closer together in terms of political spectrum. Kennedy expanded the Vietnam War, as did Nixon, before the latter finally ended it when it was apparent it would never be won and it was draining the coffers of the Treasury. Supposedly, people who watched the debate on television thought Kennedy "won" while those who listened on radio thought Nixon the winner.  I suspect that rural voters with radios tended to vote Republican and city-dwellers with their newfangled tee-vee sets, tended Democratic.  Again, I doubt the debate changed many minds.

The Sarah Palin debate was interesting only in that it sealed the fate of the McCain campaign.  And I guess that is one reason why debates can be important. Elections in the US are close (despite the lopsided appearances of the Electoral College).  And those people who vote based on personality or "which candidate you'd like to have a beer with" or "which candidate eats his pizza with a fork" and other trivial bullshit, can sway an election one way or another.

Trump won because Hillary lost. Biden won, in 2020, the States that Trump beat Hillary in, in 2016 simply because he wasn't Hillary.  I am not taking a dig at the former First Lady, just recognizing that two decades of Hillary-hate on right-wing media seeped into American culture.  Particularly among blue-collar workers, admitted support for Hillary would be akin to announcing you were gay. Now Trump, that's a guy who grabs 'em by the pussy!

Hence why Democracy fails sometimes.

Obama, of course, famously "lost" his first debate (who decides who is the "winner" - the media?) and went on to rout Romney in the second and win re-election.  Maybe Biden is playing the long game here - setting exceptions low, so even a mediocre performance later on is seen as a "win."  It's a trap, Donnie, run!

Myself, picking a candidate is a very simple proposition.  I choose the candidate who is least likely to set up a death camp and have me exterminated.  I know, that is selfish, but that's just me.  And in the past, that seemed like a bit of a long-shot proposition, of course.  But this time around, we have a candidate who has promised to make himself dictator-for-life and extract revenge on his enemies and surrender the country to Russia.

I mean, gee, it is a tough choice!  After all, Biden is old.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Denial - A Powerful And Dangerous Emotion!

When tragedies occur, the first thing people do is deny they happened.

When the Titanic hit the iceberg, the first thing most people did was deny anything was wrong.  After all, it was the largest ship in the world and what could happen hitting some chunk of ice?  And when a steward said there was nothing to worry about, this validated their lack of concern.  Have another glass of champagne!  Thinking about a freezing death in the icy Atlantic certainly was not fun, right?

Others, seeing the danger, took action.  And if more people did the same, perhaps more passengers and crew could have been saved.  Myself, I would be trying to cook up some sort of raft made of deck chairs, life preservers, and whatever wood I could find (doors, bed frames, furniture).  Beats standing around denying it is happening!

What got me started about this was the tragic story of Christine Maggiore, who was diagnosed with HIV back in the 1990s.   She was seeking treatment when she ran into some hokum holistic "doctor" who claimed that AIDS was not caused by the HIV virus and the whole thing was a hoax or conspiracy.

She went on to found an AIDS-denial organization which actually convinced the President of South Africa of this nonsense - causing untold thousands to die needlessly.

And Ms. Maggiore?  Yea, she died, too - of AIDS, but not before her daughter did - who went untreated.

Why did she go down this horrific road?  Denial, plain and simple.  When people are confronted with horrific things, it is comforting to live in denial and pretend they are not happening.  If you had HIV back in the 1990's, it was largely a death sentence.  So to avoid confronting the horror, why not say it doesn't exist?  Problem was, before she died, treatments did become available - working treatments - that would have saved her life and that of her child.

We saw the same thing with school shootings.  The horror of grade-school children being blasted by some armed nut-job is too much to bear.  So isn't it comforting to pretend it didn't happen?  And while you are at it, go and mock those who insist on the truth - as Ms. Maggiore did with AIDS activists.  By shouting down the truth, you can live in a comfortable insulated igloo cooler of denial.  "I can't hear you! La! La! La!"

Or take anti-vaxxers.  Please.  The prospect of a pandemic killing millions of Americans (and millions more worldwide) was too grim to bear.  So people reached out to the life-ring of anti-vaxxer denialism.  CoVid didn't exist!  Or if it did, it was no worse than the flu.  I know I felt the latter - at first.  And if you want to stay in your denial comfort zone, then attack those who are telling you the truth!  The vaccines are the problem, not the solution!

Right? Wrong.

The list goes on and on.  Trumpism is a major form of denialism.  Trump famously said he could shoot someone in broad daylight on 5th Avenue and get away with it.  And over the years, he has done one horrific thing after another and yet his simps refuse to see it.  They retreat into denial - latching on to far-right news outlets that tell them that anything bad Trump did never happened or if it did, it was part of some conspiracy to get him.

Denial is a powerful and dangerous emotion.  There is a lot of sunk cost fallacy involved.  If you engage in denial early on ("The Titanic isn't sinking!") it gets harder and harder as time goes by to change your mind ("Get in a lifeboat! Now!").  You have to admit you were wrong and that is hard for most of us - perhaps all of us - to do.

So people double-down on conspiracy theories, alternate facts, and fake news.  They long ago forgot what the point was, other than to "own the libs!" whatever that means.  I don't think they even know, anymore.

And since people attach such personal feelings to denial, it is hard to convince them otherwise.  In fact, a head-on approach often backfires, as the person you are confronting will say you are just an alarmist and that your attempts to convince them otherwise are evidence that they are correct and you are wrong. "But I was just down in the orlop deck and it was knee-deep in water!" you say. "But of course!" they counter, "The orlop deck is below the waterline.  They were probably just washing the floors and you misunderstood the situation!  Don't you think the Captain would say something if we were sinking?" (The old appeal-to-authority gag).

You can't convince them of anything so don't try.  Your trying to convince them otherwise only serves to push them into a corner.  They feel they are being personally attacked and will lash out and entrench their denial even further.  Just do your own thing and hope they come around eventually.  When they come to the truth by themselves, they don't feel they are "wrong" just changing their mind. And of course, it pays to lead by example - they see you getting in the lifeboat and they might start to wonder.

But confronting denial is pointless - like trying to deprogram a cult member (which is, in fact, the same exact thing - a cult member denies they are in a cult until the Kool-Aid comes out). The harder you try, the more they cling to it.  After all, the cult leader told them you would try to convince them to leave the cult!  And here you are, making the very arguments the cult leader said you would make.  You are doing more harm that good by trying to convince them to leave.

I felt sad reading about Ms. Maggiore and her child.  I had never heard of her or her organization.  Apparently the "Foo-Fighers" were big promoters of her organization and AIDS-deniers themselves.  They quietly took down their postings when it became clear they were an embarrassment to the band. Quite frankly, I cannot name a single one of their songs and I doubt I missed much from that brain trust!

But that is probably another good reason celebrities should keep their political views to themselves.  No profit in alienating a portion of you fan base!

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Red Lobster Redux

Red Lobster is in trouble - again.  This time, by design.

I wrote about Red Lobster a decade ago, shortly before Darden group spun it off to private investors.  If you read (or watch) the history of many of these restaurant chains, you realize they are bought, sold, and spun-off many times in their history, before sputtering out over time - which they all seem to do.

Joe Chef comes up with a restaurant idea, "Joe's Burger Shack" and pours his life's blood into it.  It makes a little money and he expands it into a three-restaurant chain.  He is doing OK and a large corporate owner of several chains, "GoodFoodCo," buys him out for a few million dollars, which is good for him, as he had no capital to expand further, and he was running out of energy and would have gone bankrupt eventually if he kept trying to "go it alone."

GoodFoodCo quickly expands the chain to 25 States and three overseas locations, both by franchising and through company-owned "stores".  Before long, it has restaurants in every state - hundreds nationwide - and has expanded into 25 foreign countrues.  You can go to a Joe's Burger Shack in Beijing or Tel Aviv.  They are everywhere.  They even selll Joe's signature burger sauce at Walmart!

Over time, the novelty of smashed burgers dies off and the franchisees get antsy.  GoodFoodCo cuts back on advertising and raises the prices of supplies - which captive franchisees must buy from GoodFoodCo.  As franchisees go bust (including some that are chains themselves!) GoodFoodCo buys them back - for cheap.  Once they own a majority of the "stores" the advertising budget suddenly increases (magically!) and GoodFoodCo shows a healthy profit.

Then, for whatever reason, GoodFoodCo spins off Joe's Burger Shack to Rayleon, Inc., a manufacturer of nuclear missiles or whatever, who wants to "diversify" their portfolio away from the defense industry.  I guess they think they can apply their business practices to the restaurant world.  The results are predictable, and the new menu items ("Joe's Atomic Burger!") flop.  More franchisees go bust and company-owned stores close, one after another.  The abandoned hulks of Joe's Burger Shacks dot the landscape.  Even the original location has closed!

Rayleon then spins-off the remains of Joe's Burger Shack to Kraven, Krakhed & Klegal ("KKK"), a group of "private equity" investors, who load up the chain with massive amounts of debt and come up with a "turnaround" plan for the chain.  KKK then sells off the land that the Burger Shacks are located on, to another company, LandCo, that the principals of KKK own a large part of.  The Burger Shack chain then pays an exorbitant rent to LandCo.  They do the same with the "intellectual property" of Joe's Burger Shack.  Joe, now retired in Florida, is chagrined to discover his likeness has been sold off - he gets a cease-and-desist letter from the law firm of  Dewey, Screwem, & Howe, after he tries to open a restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale, using his smiling face as a logo.

Of course, none of this is sustainable.  The principals of KKK are making money through their land leases and intellectual property royalties.  They are also raking in huge salaries they get for "managing" this demolition-derby.

Where they go from there depends on the market and timing.  Generally, it is a good idea to pump up the numbers (and hype them with a "roadshow" as well as online) and then do an IPO.  This allows the principals of KKK to sell their interest in Burger Shack (or "BS" as the kids call it) to "retail investors" on Reddit, who believe, beyond all logical reasoning, that this "meme stonk" is going places.

The dumpster is indeed a place.  But thanks to the Internet, you can keep these geeky incels buying the junk stock forever - convincing them that a dying restaurant chain will suddenly turn around and make billions overnight.  Float rumors of a Burger Shack Meme Coin and watch them wet themselves with excitement.  When it all goes horribly wrong, simply blame Joe Biden and the Democrats for their pesky SEC regulations -  that's what ended the party - right?

Now, I am not saying this is what happened to Redneck Lobster, but the word on the street is that what is driving the chain towards bankruptcy isn't "endless shrimp" or anything like that, but the fact they cannot service their debts. It is Sears all over again, with the death spiral of lack of foot traffic compounded by cost-cutting to try to break even - which leads to a loss of foot traffic.

I remember visiting a Sears in Ithaca, New York and feeling like I was in an abandoned bus station.  Stained ceiling tiles were falling to the floor and whole empty sections of the store were cordoned-off with Police tape (crime scene?).  I did buy a weed-wacker, one of five available (open box) for what I presume was below cost.  It was a sad sight.

But you can make money this way - in a "bust out."  Like the movie The Producers (and Broadway musical, which then became a movie again), you can make more money from a flop than from a hit.   When the musical fails, no one demands forensic accounting as to where the money all went (and thus discover that the musical was "oversold" by 1000%).  It is only when you make a profit that people demand an accounting!  Mel Brooks is to blame for modern Corporate practices, it seems.

So we are seeing the final death throes of Red Lobster.  Or not.  They may sell the tattered remains to some other operator, or the remnants will emerge from bankruptcy court, only to be bought out by another "private equity" firm, who will close stores, revamp the menu, show three quarters of increasing profits, and then do an IPO.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

E-Bikes? Cool New Toy? Illegal Motorcycles? E-Assist For The Elderly? Spawn of Satan Himself? (You Decide)

E-Bikes are here to stay,  This gives me mixed feelings.

We like to ride our "beach cruiser" bikes on the 20+ miles of bucolic bike paths here on our island.  When we first moved here, I rode a lot - making cheesy videos along the way.  But as I get older, I find myself riding less and less.  Perhaps we need to ride more.

In the last 10 years or so, we've seen the rise of the e-bike, from primitive early models to bicycles-with-e-assist, to full-blown roadworthy motorcycles or at least mopeds, with DOT-spec lighting and brakes and whatnot.

I had mixed feelings about them.  They can go fast, and on a bucolic winding bike path, a mini-motorcycle going 25 MPH or more doesn't mix well with children on sidewalk bikes or elderly pedestrians walking their dogs.  On the other hand, so many of our friends gave up on bicycling as they got older, as they no longer had the muscle mass they had in their 40s or 50s.  Past age 50, you body gives up and slowly starts dying.  You can delay the process, but not avoid it entirely.

A friend of ours had two spanking new e-bikes with zero miles on them.  They bought them, but due to balance issues, decided instead to go with three-wheelers (also popular with our age group).  So he says, "I'll let you have 'em - cheap!"

I didn't want to take advantage of a friend, but he insisted on the price and we went to look at them.  Mark always had the idea in the back of his mind that someday, maybe at age 70, an e-bike might be the ticket to continued mobility.  And that makes sense - we see a lot of older folks riding e-bikes, keeping up with their children and grandchildren on conventional bikes.  If not for the e-bike, grandma would have stayed home.

On the other hand, is this another sign of the end times - where we rely more and more on electronic assists to the point where we become fat blobs with no muscle strength?  It is a disturbing thought, as so much of research and technology today is directed at artificial means of enhancing our strength, from muscle assists to entire suits of electronic servos that do everything for you.  Good news for the paralyzed or those with muscular dystrophy.  But eventually these things trickle down to the fit and able, much as the electric shopping carts at Walmart have become fat-mobiles.

The above video is an excerpt from the Pixar movie Wall-E.  In a not-so-distant future, the planet becomes overwhelmed by consumer product trash from the wholesale club, that humans leave for a perpetual space cruise.  Hoverchairs are provided - according to an archived advertisement - as a way for "granny" to join the fun.  But as years go by, everyone ends up in a hoverchair, so obese as to be unable to even walk or get up, if they fall down.  The "Otto-Pilot" a form of AI, merely wants to keep the humans anesthetized and wallowing in a sea of consumerism - perpetually.

People end up spending all their lives in the hoverchair, drinking their meals from "big gulp" cups and staring into virtual screens, wondering what new amusement might distract them for yet another day.  It was all-too-frighteningly-real sixteen years ago.  Since then, this behavior has become normalized.  We wallow in fast-food and sit and watch My 600-lb life and think nothing of 250-lb children or 350-lb teens.  And "screen time"?  It has taken over our lives.

Although maybe this too, shall pass.  I find myself turning away from the false friend that is the phone.  So much of the "content" to day is click-bait and AI-generated.  A recent posting purports to show "rare pink dolphins" which according to actually exist, although they are albino dolphins with a very light pink hue.  The posting - which was quickly taken down - showed shocking pink dolphins which looked like a bad photoshop job.  Clearly AI content. And text content? Almost all AI these days.

The only ones "reading", liking, and commenting on these AI posts are other AI-bots.  You guys go ahead and have an AI-party with each other.  We humans are not really intrigued.  That is the weird thing about AI is that it is really boring and maybe that is one way to spot AI content - the boredom factor.

But getting back to e-bikes, I was hesitant to buy them as I wasn't really in the market even if the price was such a bargain.  I felt like I was one step closer to the hoverchair.  And quite frankly, our regular bikes have been gathering dust as of late.  No point in even keeping them, now.

What's next?  e-Kayaks? We used to call those motorboats.  And yea, they do exist, too!

Pretty soon, I'll be just a brain-in-a-beaker!

Friday, June 21, 2024

EV Market Crashing or Booming? Or Neither? (Bureau of Specious Statistics Strikes Again!)

EV sales are down - or up - depending on how you look at it.

I saw this chart online and it was accompanied by text proclaiming that Tesla sales are "cratering."  Even if we assume the data is correct (and nothing on the Internet is ever a lie or just AI-generated crap!) the "meme" overstates the case quit a bit.

The first thing to notice is that they are comparing sales from the first quarter of 2024 with the first quarter of 2023.  This is a common gag in the auto-journalist business as they argue that car sales are seasonal (which they can be) and thus comparing the same quarter to that of the year prior is valid.  However, this technique doesn't take into account other things, such as the overall economy slowing down (or speeding up) - factors out of the control of any one company.

Funny thing, too, as "Auto Journalists" (which are now auto-mated, apparently) are all-too-willing to compare, say, the fourth quarter of 2023 with the third, if it makes Tesla look bad - or good - depending on what they set out to prove in the first place.

The second thing to notice is that while Tesla sales may be "cratering" they still sell (in America) more EVs than all other makers combined.  If that's a "crater" it's one helluva nice one.  They are still Number 1 in the EV market, by a wide margin.

The third thing is that Ford sold over a half-million vehicles in Q1 2024, and that is just one company.  The EV market is still a tiny slice of the overall car and truck market in the US.  Teslas seem to be "everwhere" only because, like VW Beetles in the early 1960s, they were so noticeable compared to the rest of the vehicle population.  I  was passed by a "Cybertruck" on the causeway the other day (he was doing 50 in a 25 zone and cut me off - Tesla drivers are the new BMW drivers!) and the only reason I remember it was that I was temporarily blinded by the sheer ugliness of the damn thing.  If it had been a Ford or Chevy or Ram, I would have forgotten about it in five minutes.

So, we are talking about a tiny market share here when talking about EVs. Yet the incel simping neckbeard stans have bid up the price of the Tesla "meme stonk" to the point where it's "market cap" is greater than companies making five times more vehicles and greater profits.  But as we know, "market cap" only reflects what the chumps paid for the last share sold, and doesn't reflect the real value of the company - or indeed, anything.

Tesla is due for a reckoning in its share price and place in the auto world.  The cars have not been updated for many years and newer designs from mainstream automakers look and feel more modern.  Tesla's latest creation, the "cybertruck" is the butt of jokes - and has been compared (unfavorably) to the Pontiac Aztec, which in its defense, had a hatchback tent that actually worked and sold for a few hundred dollars, as compared to a few thousand.

Musk's "pay package" has basically gutted Tesla like a fish - taking away billions of dollars in capital that could have been used to fund new R&D but instead is being set ablaze on the dumpster fire that is Twitter.

But that's just the sideshow.  EV sales were destined to tank after a while, once the "early adopters" who were willing to pay top-dollar for a Tesla already bought one.  To make EVs work, in a real-life sense, you need a charging station near your home or in your home or at your place of work.  While the charging network has expanded considerably, the average middle-class or lower-middle-class person living in an apartment doesn't have access to a charging station or, in many cases, even a guaranteed parking space.

People have noted before that the idea of home solar and home charging stations (once the backbone idea behind Tesla, with its acquisition of Solar City) only works for people who own their own home, plan on staying there for quite a while, and have disposable income to spend on these things.  A friend of mine (recently deceased) put a set of leased solar panels on his house.  He also cooked up his own diesel fuel in his back yard.  He was a tinkerer and hobbyist and could afford these things.

He sold the house long before he died and the word is, the new owner wasn't too keen on the solar panels.  Something went awry with the system (most likely the inverter circuitry) and the quoted cost to repair is was far, far more than the benefit of charging back into the grid, particularly now that Georgia Power only pays wholesale rates to home solar users, for surplus electricity.  I wonder if this is an isolated incident or a trend.  Already, home solar installs have fallen off a cliff due to higher interest rates and decreased rates for buying back excess power.

Could the same happen to EV sales?  Overall, as the chart above shows, EV sales are up (except for Tesla).  There are reports that some EV owners (as many as 46%?) trade-in their EVs - for one reason or another - for an IC-engine car.  Hertz dumped 20,000 EVs - mostly Teslas - in favor of IC engine cars.  For the rental market, you want a mid-level Camry which any idiot can drive without a half-hour of training.  Hertz's sale of 20,000 Teslas may explain the dip in Tesla sales.

No matter how you slice it, though, the EV is a product of left-wing thinking.  You can't be a global-warming denier and sell EVs.  You can't decry government subsidies on your social media site and then rake them in with your EV factory.  It makes no sense at all to be right-wing and the largest maker of EVs in the world (at least for a time).  Could that explain why Musk is apparently trying to destroy his own company?  He is like a teenage alt-right follower tearing down his Bernie Sanders poster from his bedroom wall, only to replace it with a MAGA sign.  Go far enough left, you end up right.

All that being said, the chart above hardly shows a "cratering" in Tesla sales. It could, however, be a foreshadowing of things to come, both for Tesla and the EV market as a whole,

My take?  The car market in the USA circa 1910 was dominated by super-expensive automobiles for the very wealthy. The "Three P's" - Peerless, Packard, and Pierce-Arrow were the epitome of automobile luxury and technology. Then came the Model T, Chevrolet, and then the model A - inexpensive cars not designed to last a lifetime, but a few scant years. Only Packard survived the depression and even then, just barely,  By the end of the 1950's, it was gone as well.  The lifespan of many a company is measured only in a scant few decades - and pioneers are often kicked under the bus.

I suspect there will be a shakeout in the EV business in short order.  In order to expand to a greater market, EVs need to not only meet gas engine cars in price, but beat them.  If government mandates for fuel economy and emissions are to be met, the mainstream automakers will have to sell a lot of EVs, and that means expanding the market beyond the stans and simps.  When an EV costs less than a IC engine car, the middle-class will be more likely to buy them.

And there is no reason why an EV can't cost less  - just take away stupid screen shit that no one wants or needs, or blindingly fast 0-60 times that just waste range.  When you get down to it, an EV is not more complicated than an IC-engine car, it is simpler.

It should be cheaper, too!

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Windows 10 Was Not An Upgrade!

Forcing upgrades on older machines can render them effectively useless.

I bought yet another Toshiba C655 laptop on eBay for $30.  It had all its components, even the power supply.  The right hand hinge is broken, but that can be fixed with superglue and baking soda.   It is a nice machine and now I have four working and one as a box of spare parts.

The only downside, in addition to the hinge - is that it was loaded with Windows 10.  Running Windows 7 Ultimate, these are usable machines.  But with Windows 10, well, they are slow and clunky.  So I "upgraded" it back to Windows 7.

When Windows 10 came out, Microsoft "forced" the install of this operating system through Windows Update.  I got wind of this and disabled Windows Update on all my machines (there are no more updates for Windows 7 anyway) and dodged that bullet.

Microsoft perhaps remembers what happened when Windows 95 came out.  Before then, we were using things like Windows 3.1 (as I recall) and the latter worked pretty well on the old 486 machines we had back then.  The computer industry was abuzz with excitement over Windows 95 as it had many new features - features (and bloatware) that would require users to buy new computers to run it.  Sure, you could install it on an older machine, but it wouldn't work very well.

At the time, half the country was using WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft had yet to dominate the PC market, outside of operating systems.  People were content with what they had - which worked - and saw no need to throw out perfectly good computers that they had bought only a few years prior, just to get the "latest and greatest."  Bear in mind these PCs cost thousands of dollars back then (figure that out in today's dollars) and if you had a firm of say, 50 employees, that was hundreds of thousands of dollars you'd have to spend to upgrade, plus the disruption of training and learning.

"Yea, we'll upgrade - next time!" more than one Senior Partner told me.  And they did, three years later, going from 3.1 to Win98 or even Windows 2000.  Skipping a generation proved to be a smart move, financially.  It never pays to be on the "bleeding edge" of technology.

Problem was, the chip-makers and PC-makers had ramped up to sell new machines loaded with Windows 95 and.... no one showed up to buy them.  One of Silicon Valley's periodic recessions kicked in, and in fact, that was the start of the trend away from silicon to bullshit.  We used to make chips, now we make apps.

So Windows 10 was a genius move.  Force it onto people's machines and watch them slow to a crawl.  Users would get frustrated and buy new machines - each coming with a spanking new copy of Windows 10 (and pay for it as part of the purchase price!).  Imagine other industries doing this - forcing an upgrade to your car that makes it run 50% slower!   Well, I am sure Tesla is thinking about it.  And apparently Mercedes already has done it - making users pay $100 a month to unlock "speed" levels as if it were some sort of video game item.

Pretty soon, they'll be giving cars away for free - but charging you for micro-transactions and forcing you to watch ads as you drive.  There I go again, giving them ideas!  Back in the 1980s, we started putting computers (microprocessors) into cars.  Today, we are putting cars into computers. Musk was right - Tesla is a technology company, not a car company.

But I digress...

I guess that is why I am fond of obsolete tech.  Sure, everyone has moved on to streaming.   But I can still get DVDs for free at the campground or check them out at the library.  And there are no ads, either. And no ads in the operating system of my computer. We are losing something when the personal computer is no longer personal but merely a pipeline for corporations to shill and grift us.

Well that and our cell phones...

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Obsessing About Insurance

Sometimes insurance blinds us to the obvious.

I tried to make an appointment with the eye doctor to have my eyes checked as it's been a couple of years since I had my last prescription done. I called the doctor's number and receptionist answered and immediately asked me what my insurance was. Although we have Ambetter (Obamacare) I don't think we have eyeglass or eye doctor coverage. She immediately told me that they don't take Ambetter and even suggested I go to a different doctor for my prescription.


I kept trying to make the appointment and she kept going around and around about insurance. Finally, I asked her how much it costs to have the eye exam and she said "$95". I said, "I think we can swing that."

People get so obsessed with the covering trivial expenses with insurance and forget the big picture. This receptionist was actually turning patients away from the practice.  Crazy!

Ambetter offers plans in three basic levels, gold, silver and bronze. We opted for the low-cost "zinc" plan which provides very little other than some basic services and 50% of medical costs once you reach your $9,000 deductible. After you reach the max out-of-pocket they cover 100% of expenses and I believe the max out-of-pocket is $16,000. In other words, we are interested in catastrophic coverage not nickel and dime bullshit. I'd rather pay a smaller annual premium than cover scraped knees and infected toenails.

And we're not talking about a small difference in premiums, either. The difference between our plan and the gold plan is about a thousand dollars more per month – and not covered by any Obamacare subsidy, either. So I could get rid of my $9000 deductible if I paid only $12,000 more per year.  Thanks, but no thanks!

Of course come I'm in the minority with this opinion.  Others want cradle-to-grave coverage and they're willing to pay exorbitant sums to get it.

Just to be sure, I logged onto the Ambetter site and checked my coverage and indeed ophthalmology and optometry are not covered under the plan other than for pediatric optical care and emergency care (such as getting your eye poked out). But for routine eye doctor appointments, it's not covered - nor are eyeglasses.

I mean, sure, it would be nice to get a lot of free stuff - but it doesn't work that way with insurance in America. You have to pay a monthly premium and you get what you pay for. If we had signed up for the gold or diamond or platinum plans or whatever, I'm sure they would cover this stuff.  But the premiums would be $500 to $1000 to thousand dollars more per month. I can buy a lot of glasses online and have many eye doctor appointments for that much money. 

What I thought was interesting was the receptionist at the doctor's office looked at everything through the prison of insurance. She wanted to know immediately what insurance we had and whether they accepted it. She warned me direly that they would not accept my policy and therefore I should shop elsewhere!  I wonder if the doctor knows that she is turning away customers?

But her attitude is very common among people who are obsessed with trivial expenses - and not seeing the big picture.  Before we had Obamacare - before Obamacare existed - we had a high deductible Blue Cross plan that cost very little per month but had a ten thousand dollar deductible. A friend of mine were shocked at this, asking me where I would get the ten thousand dollars if I ever got sick. I asked about the policy he had for him and his wife and they had a very low deductible, but were paying $10,000 more per year than I was, in premiums. "To answer your question," I said, "I would get the $10,000 from the same place you're getting the $10,000 you pay every year for your health insurance premiums!  And if I'm not sick that year, I'll bank that money for next year."

He still look flummoxed.  His wife made him buy an expensive plan because, "what if something happened?"  They were spending their way into the poor house based on what-ifs rather than what-is.  Obsessed with the thought of routine medical costs, they insured themselves to the hilt.  The only way to win that  game is to hope you have a chronic, expensive, illness,  Even then, though, I could afford ten grand a year - easily.

And I can afford to pay $95 for an optician, without insurance!

So far, I have gone over 30 years paying for my own insurance and not having a major medical issue.  My friend who spends $10,000 more per year has spent $300,000 in the same time period.  Imagine that invested over 30 years at even 5%.

More than enough to offset the cost of deductibles later on...

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Sovereign Citizens and Tax Deniers (Same Shit, Different Day)


What do the Constitution and the Bible have in common?  Conservatives claim to have read both but never actually have- or understand either.

The latest trend in YouTube videos is 100MPH car chases by the Police, often ending in horrific accidents or even death.  I had to turn one off the other night as a young man committed "suicide by cop" by leading Police on a long chase and the emerging from his car with a gun. They played the 911 call he made where he basically spelled out his intention to die. "I want to call my daughter first to say goodbye" he says.

What a waste. How can you have children and be so irresponsible?  Granted, his life was a mess.  But you can bounce back from even two DUIs and all he had to do was surrender.  But mental illness is never rational, I guess.

If you watch enough of these videos, YouTube will "suggest" Sovereign Citizen videos, where idiots are taken down by the Police - or Judges - when they try to pull that "laws don't apply to me" crapola. How people end up believing this shit is beyond me, other than, again, mental illness and also I think meth use.

It got me to thinking about the "tax denier" craze of a few years back and how the arguments (if you can call them that) for that scam were about the same as for this "Sovereign Citizen" grift.  Someone sells a seminar or kit online, telling people things they want to hear - you don't have to pay taxes, you don't have to obey laws.  Of course, these are lies, but the grifter makes a few hundred from each victim, selling them the "kit."  And since the victims end up in jail, you never have to worry about them coming after you.

How does this work?  Well, it is like the Bible - a large book that has a lot of stories in it that contradict each other.  Whatever it is you want to believe, you can find it in the Bible - or find the exact opposite!  It is just a matter of where you look and how you interpret it.  If you want a lot of right-wing nonsense, try the Old Testament, which has a lot of pissed-off God, smiting people.  You want left-wing?  Try the New Testament, where Jesus goes all woke and commie, handing out free fish and bread like he's a walking EBT card.

And if you still can't find what you want, take something that means the opposite and twist it around.  I recounted more than once how I heard an AM radio preacher once argue that "Judge not lest ye be judged" was a call to Christians to go around judging everyone all the time as Christians were prepared to be judged themselves (and after all, they are perfect in God's eyes!).  It was a perversion of Bible verse but in a weird way, it could be deemed as making sense - to those of limited intellect who don't understand "context."

Tax denial works the same way.  And in a way it is like any other conspiracy theory.  In a conspiracy theory, the theorist doesn't address the obvious issues but instead picks away at trivial details.  If some document is dated wrong due to a clerical error, that is prima facie proof, in their minds, that the conspiracy exists.  In the mind of the theorist, all details are of equal merit, so one minor inconsistency outweighs a mountain of evidence.  In their minds, anyway.

So, for example, our tax system relies on you voluntarily reporting your income every year on a form 1040. The tax deniers twist this around to mean that the entire tax system is voluntary and if you get audited all you need to to is repeat some secret incantations and the IRS agent will let you go, scot-free. Of course, this is just nonsense - you have to voluntary report your income, and if you don't and owe taxes, well, you can end up paying those taxes, plus penalties and interest, or like Wesley Snipes, end up in jail.

Which brings up why people do this.  I started this blog over a decade ago when I was socked with an unexpected (but expected) capital gains bill of $40,000.  I noted before how a friend of mine at the IRS once remarked that their two greatest assets were (a) withholding and (b) the unnatural fear people have of the agency.  Without withholding, which takes a portion of each paycheck, taxpayers would get a huge bill at the end of the year and have no realistic way to pay it.

Hence why some rich people are upset about taxes - they have huge tax bills, often because they used tax dodges in earlier years - and no way to pay it.  In my case, it was "depreciating" my office building down to zero and then having to pay capital gains tax on the entire sales price as a result, years later.  I expected the bill, but I didn't expect it to be so high.  Elon Musk's problem was using loans to avoid paying any taxes in one year, but failing to appreciate that those loans would have to be paid back, eventually, which means selling stock and paying capital gains taxes.  And no one likes paying taxes.

So the "tax denial" scheme is appealing to folks who end up socked with tax bills or who are audited by the IRS because the small business they were running was showing fraudulent losses for ten years running.  They have no way out and the tax denial sounds appealing.

The same effect is true for this "Sovereign Citizen" movement.  You get a couple of DUIs and they take away your license.  In America, this is tantamount to being imprisoned as you have to rely on rides from friends and family just to get to work or get your groceries.  In fact, courts recognize this and often allow those so convicted to drive - but just to and from work or the store or church.  I recounted before how I met a young man - swinging a fifth of cheap booze - lamenting how he can't afford the rental on his car breathalyzer.  The system is trying to work for him, but he's not cooperating.

And no, there is no taxi, bus, or "uber" in many rural places in America.  For someone living on the side of a mountain in West Virginia, there are no other options than to drive.  So naturally, "Sovereign Citizen" nonsense sounds appealing.  All your problems solved at once!  Just print your own license plates and if you are stopped, just recite the mystical incantations ("I am not driving, I am travelling") and Officer Friendly will let you go free!

Well, not exactly.  He will bust the window out ya car and then taser you. And the fun is just beginning!  But even in court or in their jail cells, the "Sov Cits" don't give up.  They may be serving a year in jail, but the entire justice system is just an illusion.  They are here voluntarily!  It's in the Constitution - somewhere!  Or maybe the Bible - is there a difference?

How do you avoid falling into traps like this?  Well, for me, it is easy - and not because I am smarter than anyone or anything.  Rather, I was brought up to believe (correctly) that life is hard and anything worthwhile takes effort - and even then, you are likely to fail half the time. I expect my toast to land butter-side-down.  So I tend to be distrustful of anything that sounds too convenient to me.

Go to a casino?  I would expect to lose - not just because I took a course in probability, but because I understand these businesses are not a charity and far, far more people will lose than win.  And given how life works, I know which side of the coin I will end up on.

70% off sale?  I assume there is a catch.  Great lease deal?  Of course there is a catch, or two, or a baited bear trap.   Maybe you can call me a pessimist, but realist is more accurate.  Why indeed does the Catholic church teach that life is all about suffering (and finding meaning from it)?

The sort of folks who fall for these scams - or indeed, any con - tend to believe in something-for-nothing and that they can get ahead not through hard work (or dumb luck or inherited wealth) but by knowing the secret inside tips 'n tricks that only the wealthy know about - and you can know, too!  Just send three Urethium to the following wallet for our special "Sov Cit" kit!  Buy now and you get this laminated copy of the US Constitution - valid in all countries!  And, for the next five callers, you'll also get our tax denier kit to boot!

With all of this, how can you afford not to buy?

You know, funny thing, but you never see these  "Sov Cit" home-made license plates on a Rolls Royce parked at the country club.  You'd think the very rich would be on to this!

Monday, June 17, 2024


You never want to buy something that has only a single source for parts.

The buggy broke the other night. We were on the way home and Mark hit the throttle and it took off - faster than it ever went before!  We were a little giddy at first, but when we stopped at a stop sign, it wouldn't start up again.   We pushed it to a parking lot (surprisingly little resistance!) and Mark walked home and got the car.

It was not a far walk - we do it (or used to do it before it got hot) nearly every day. He came back with the car and we had the "tow of shame" back home. Once home, I tested the system. The battery was making power (53 volts) and all the accessories (lights, horn, etc.) were working.  The BMS system (Battery Maintenance) is readable via app on my phone.  Charge was OK, voltage fine, temps fine as well.  I put the charger on it just to be sure.  The throttle potentiometer was putting out 0-5 KΩ like it should. The main power relay was working.  There was 53 volts in to the controller, but nothing coming out, even at full throttle.

I plugged in my controller programmer and there were no error codes but it showed motor voltage as zero at all throttle positions.  It also showed the "duty cycle" at zero regardless of throttle position (and it showed the throttle going from 0 to 100% and back as I worked the pedal). I am guessing it is the controller or possibly the motor.  The motor is only 30 years old and is rated for only 36 Volts.  I searched online and discovered these motors can (and do) run on 36 or 48V and series wound motors like this can be had all day long from various sources from $500 to $1000.  A place in Syracuse New York has a nice upgrade motor (11 HP!) that might bring our speed up to 25MPH and cost about $500.  They claim to be the only motor maker left in the USA (others are imported - guess where from?)..

But I suspect it is the "Curtis" solid-state controller that failed.  It varies motor speed by pulsing a solid-state relay based on the resistance of the throttle potentiometer.  These can be had all day long on eBay for about $120, so I ordered one and it should be here Monday.  If that doesn't fix it, I will break down and buy the motor from Syracuse.

This golf cart is rapidly becoming a ship of Theseus. And maybe I should have quit early on and bought something newer - like only 25 years old. There isn't much except the frame and transaxle that hasn't been replaced just yet.  Well maybe the springs.  I found a source for them online...

What makes these things somewhat affordable is that there is a plethora of parts available from a plurality of sources.  The EZ-GO Marathon may be outdated, but much of the hardware is the same as the later TXT models (with the series motor) so there are parts a-plenty.

You can rent golf carts here on the island and drive them around.  Red Bug Motors originally rented GEM electrics - once a division of Chrysler, now Bombardier.  They are nice buggies and all, but as I noted before, if you ever need service, the only place to get parts is from GEM electric through a local dealer.  I even tried to talk to a dealer out of my area to see if I could get better pricing - but was transferred to a local dealer.  Single-source for parts!

The stories I have heard about the GEM is that if the display panel goes bad, the entire thing shuts down and the panel is only available from the GEM dealer and costs a lot of money.  So you have no options other than to pay.   I wrote before about these Chinese-made carts sold at Lowe's (and elsewhere) that look cool and all, but where do you get parts for them if they break? 

Any piece of machinery is part of an underlying system of support, from consumable supplies to repair and replacement parts.  The IC engine car didn't take off until a network of service stations selling gas and providing repair service, was available,.  Before that, you had to buy gasoline at the pharmacy or hardware store and service was whatever your local blacksmith could conjure up.

A good supply of cheap parts is key. I can keep my old laptops running because no one else wants them and parts are cheap.  When they become rare and parts are expensive, well, the scheme no longer works and I will have to move on. Old cars at a certain age (15-20 years) can be a bargain as no one wants them and the dealers and wholesalers would just assume get rid of their inventory of parts before they become worthless.  After 20-30 years, parts become scarce and the cost curve goes up.

Today many automakers are trying to keep their parts and service proprietary such that only authorized dealers can work on the cars.  You want to add a built-in trailer brake controller to your F150, you can find the part online (as one friend did) for $50.  Ten minutes to install!  The dealer wants $70 to program the ECU to recognize the part - otherwise it won't work.  And this is true for many other electrical parts on a vehicle as well.  Fortunately, other than oil changes and new tires, the only repair I had had to make to mine was the sunroof "rails" which were like $150 online and took an hour to install.  Hope my luck keeps holding.

HP famously programmed its printers to only work with HP ink cartridges - inserting "copyrighted" code into a chip on the cartridge.  The only purpose of the chip was to assert IP rights to the cartridge.  As a (former) IP Attorney, that sort of shit makes my blood boil.

But, the market may speak, and already you can buy refillable inkjet printers (HP even sells one now - no doubt, they put nanochips in the ink /s) or other brands of cartridge printers that accept 3rd-party cartridges..  My old Canon B&W laser printer works like a Swiss Watch using 3rd party cartridges I buy on eBay.  But who prints anything anymore anyway?  All HP did with its nefarious schemes was to advance the death of printing.

There was a posting online where a Tesla owner claimed the "service center" charged him $2000 to fix the horn on his Tesla.  I suspect it was a faked "invoice" as it was awfully sparse in detail.  Nevertheless, one wonders where you can get your Tesla serviced other than the authorized service center.  Some owners have manged to "hack" repairs to their vehicles and exchange repair info online (as we did back in the day with BMWs and other "foreign" makes).  However, Tesla, like Apple, isn't taking this well and I have heard stories about warranties being voided or service centers refusing to work on cars that have had 3rd party repairs.  Apple was called out on this practice, no doubt Tesla would be as well, if these stories are true.

But again, maybe the market will decide - provided the market is an informed market. Most people buy HP inkjet printers not knowing about the cartridge scam.  They get frustrated that the cartridges don't last long and cost so much.  It is only after throwing a lot of money at HP that they learn the truth.  This is why we have (or used to have) laws about this sort of thing.

Similarly, a lot of people bought Teslas not realizing the CEO would lose his mind and turn into a right-wing nutjob.  Just kidding, but I suspect the earth-shoe wearing contingent is no longer keen on the brand.  And brands do have followings based on perceived social values - real or not.  Just ask Subaru - the official car of Lesbianism.  Ask any Lesbian - they will confirm this.

Speaking of Tesla and Musk, supposedly he finally got his $59Billion raise or bonus or whatever - at a time when the company is facing a price war in the EV marketplace and the initial enthusiasm for EVs is cooling off.  Is this just his last desperate cash-grab before the entire company collapses?  My gut instinct is yes.  He is ready to move on to brain implants, AI-bots and Mars colonies.  His interest in EVs is waning and the billions he was paid were not a guarantee he would devote more time to Tesla but a golden parachute on his way out the door.

I think we may see the horrifically over-valued price of Tesla shares - propped up, like Gamestop or AMC as a "meme stonk" by online incels - finally pop, particularly once Musk starts dumping stock to fund his next passing fancy or prop-up money-losing Twitter.  But we'll see.

If I was to buy an EV - and maybe in 5-10 years I would - I would want to buy something that has multiple options for both service and parts. And maybe in 5-10 years an aftermarket will exist to provide such service and parts.  But today?  EVs are still enough of a niche product that the aftermarket hasn't really caught up yet.  And manufacturers aren't helping matters much.

UPDATE: I installed the new controller and no joy.  It was then I realized the A2 (armature) wire was melted at the motor connection (and the bolt holding it on won't come off!).  Time for four-gauge wires and a motor upgrade, I guess.

I tested the motor with a jumper cable first and it worked!

So I spent an hour removing the nut which was welded in place and ran two older power wires in parallel.  I think in the fall I will spring for the upgraded motor and 4 ga wiring for the motor wires.

It's always something...

UPDATE: This may have been an example of operator error. I installed a new 4 gauge power cable to the A2 terminal but failed to provide enough slack in the cable.  As the axle moves up and down going over bumps (along with the motor) it tugged on the connection, loosening it. I think this caused arcing (we saw an intermittent drop in power on occasion) which welded through the connector, breaking the circuit.  The two new cables have a nice slack loop in them.

I still want to get a new motor and all new 4GA cables!  Next year!

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Supreme Court Goes Woke! (Not Really)

Two recent decisions by the Supreme Court seem to go against its conservative image - or not.

In one recent decision, the court held that the Federal Government will have to pony up money to help pay for management of tribal healthcare, now that it is being taken over by native tribes.  This was a split decision 5-4 which may indicate a growing gap between some of the more moderately conservative judges and the extreme right-wing. Tribal leaders fought to have self-determination in managing their tribe's healthcare and the government went along, but failed to provide funding to administer the program.  I was sort of a left-handed gift (Indian giving? Sorry!) in that while giving the tribes what they wanted, by not funding the mandate, essentially nullified it.

The conservative minority played that same old tired violin song about how this was best left up to Congress to implement - knowing full well their supporters in Congress would block any legislation to provide such funding.  The old song-and-dance from the Right.

So maybe in a way it was a minor victory for centrists and the left, in that there are apparently cracks in the conservative majority and the court is not entirely heartless and bound by "strict interpretation" of "plain text" and other legal chicanery used to avoid making decisions.

In another recent decision, the court held that plaintiffs (a number of doctors) didn't have "standing" to sue to prevent access to the abortion drug mifepristone.  While this may seem like an about-face from its previous decision in the Dobbs case, Dobbs didn't ban abortion outright, or indeed, at all.  It merely relied on this tired trope of "States Rights" to argue that abortion should be handled at a State level, not a Federal one.  And of course, this has caused chaos as some States (looking at you, Texas!) have threatened to prosecute women who travel outside of their State to obtain an abortion. States rights to meddle in the affairs of other States, apparently.

What's next?  Arresting people in Texas for smoking weed in Colorado?  I don't want to give them any ideas!

But once again, "strict interpretation" of the "letter of the law" leads to odd bedfellows.  In this case, the conservative wing of the court is not passing judgement on the legality of this drug, but rather refusing to "legislate from the bench" and punting to Congress to decide.

And it goes without saying that if a conservative Congress is elected in November 2024, well, they will try to outlaw the drug.

But it is weird how this "plain text" interpretation of laws and the Constitution (as opposed to the "penumbra" approach) ends up in strange places.

Perhaps some members of the court are having second thoughts about dramatic moves to the Right.  It has happened before - Justices change their views over time, as they no longer need to heed some political master (other than Clarence Thomas, who needs to make payments on his motorhome).  Some conservative justices end up disappointing their puppet masters, as they brazenly cut the strings.

But I'm not holding my breath.  I am sure Kavanaugh will say, if Trump is elected this year, "Well, the Constitution doesn't explicitly say you can't run death camps!"

"Strict Interpretation" for thee, but not for me!  When it starts to rain, conservatives suddenly find a need for their penumbra.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Missing Out On AI?

Maybe obsolete software and hardware will become valuable commodities in the future!

The latest brouhaha with so-called "AI" is a pissing match between Elon Musk and Apple.  Musk, as is his habit, is seeing a new technology getting a lot of press, so he wants to get in front of the parade and tell everyone he invented it.  He was supposedly an early investor in OpenAI and then left when they wanted more money.  He sued them, claiming that OpenAI was planning to no longer be "open" but sell its services to commercial users.  Then he dropped the suit after e-mails emerged where he apparently advocated for the same thing.

People who pointed this out were banned from Twitter because, you know, free speech absolutist.  Between Trump and Musk, I feel like I'm living in a daycare center for preschool kids.  Oh, no, not another tantrum! Time Out! Go sit in the corner young man!

But it goes on.  Musk diverted a zillion chips (and that's a lot!) from Tesla to his own AI project (supposedly) which, if true, would be a massive conflict of interest.  Imagine the President of GM having company employees paint his her house - for free.  There would be a shareholder derivative suit!

But the fun continues.  Apple is promising to put AI into its O/S somehow, which will surely mean the platform will be even more stable than before! Of course, you'll have to have the latest-and-greatest Apple phone to participate in this nightmare.

Whew! I am safe! My woefully obsolete hardware and software won't support these latest "innovations. The Galaxy 7 "Active" won't even update anymore.  Thank God!

I was on eBay the other day and snagged another Toshiba C-series (C655) laptop for $30.  Now I have four - and a box of spare parts to boot.  It is in working order with 500GB of hard drive (the max this machine will support - I use about 1/3 of it) and 4GB of RAM which I can easily upgrade to eight.  It has a broken hinge (they all do) but I am adept at fixing those now, with superglue and baking soda. The only downside is someone loaded (or Microsoft auto-loaded) Windows 10 on it, but we can fix that with all our legacy copies of Windows 7 Ultimate, which is far more stable and easier to use.

State of the art?  Hardly - they started making this series in 2010.  Yes, it is a decade-old technology, but it runs my two-decade-old software just fine.  Word 2000 and Quickbooks 2002 as well as Adobe Acrobat 8 are all paid-for and work just fine (and Adobe has no IP rights to my creations, either!).  Of course, this is a temporary solution - eventually they will make it so I can't use these machines. Chrome already informs me, ominously, that they cannot update Chrome to the latest adblock-proof version unless I upgrade my O/S and of course, that would require a new computer.  I learned the hard way, years ago, that the latest-and-greatest O/S effectively bricks older computers or phones.  Best to turn OFF "autoupdate" on any older machine!

(And yes, my Canon laser printer makes nice B&W copies using generic third-party cartridges, printing hundreds and hundreds of pages without complaint or asking for a royalty.  I will have that printer until I die!).

But in the meantime, it got me to thinking, maybe I am sitting on a goldmine!  When AI takes over the Internet and even your phone and computer, where will people go to seek refuge from this nightmare? And the answer is, equipment so obsolete that it can't run AI programming.  After the upcoming wars between man-and-machine, survivors will covet old-school machines such as these.  Linux will be a firewall to insidious AI infiltration!

Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  In its effort to finally rid itself of its "Don't be evil" heritage and render its search engine utterly useless, Google now has AI responses (in addition to "sponsored content") as the first hits on its search results.  The net effect is that Google, once the card catalog of the Internet, is rendered useless.  Keyword searching had its limitations, to be sure, but AI searching is far, far worse, telling you what it thinks you want to know rather than what you need to know.

And what it thinks you want to know is where to spend more money, at the highest prices possible, on utterly useless crap you don't need or even want.  We need a Google for Google - a search engine that scans the search results and then searches them for really relevant data.  These days, the best hits seem to be on the third or fourth pages of results - if Google even deigns to show you those.  Time was, a simple search produced pages of hits.  Today, you get one page of sponsored content and increasingly, the "there doesn't seem to be anything there" message.  Really Google? You searched the entire database of planet Earth and found nothing?  I don't believe you.   You are just lazy.  No one wants to work anymore - not even AI bots!

I miss the days when I could go online and with a few keystrokes find the lowest price on goods on the planet.  I could go on Amazon or eBay and find great deals at astounding prices.  Today?  Well, half the items for sale on eBay are just arbitrage (reseller) bots relisting an item sold directly from Amazon for $5 more.  And Amazon always steers you to the highest priced option, it seems, particularly if they are selling it directly.

I guess it finally happened.  The "Personal" computer is no longer personal, but merely a portal to download and display carefully curated data from our corporate overlords.  The Internet is no longer an equal-access database for everyman, but a set of silos all under lock-and-key.  The bottom line is you gotta pay-to-play.  And it seems most people willingly do so - spending real money to put useless "flair" on a cartoon character in a video game, for example.

We need an online revolution to take back what is ours from the Zuckerbergs, Gates, Bezos, and Musks, of the world.  So long as we keep playing - and paying - they will own us.

Friday, June 14, 2024

The Clickbait News Part XXXIV

OMG! Boeing is going bankrupt!  Not exactly.

A recent article online says that Boeing's plane orders are "tumbling" and of course, if you read the comments about the article (which are NOT from Airbus trolls and don't forget it!) you'd think that Boeing was on the brink of bankruptcy or something.

Granted, Boeing is facing a lot of issues, but seems to be working through them.  A lot of the "problems" I think, are just people piling on.  Online sleuths have divined a sinister plan to assassinate "whistle-blowers" - but that of course, is just ridiculous hyperbole.

While it is good that people bring malfeasance to light, bear in mind that a lot of people who obsess about exposing what they see as wrongdoing, are, well, a little unhinged.  There was a guy in the famous Scientology copyright case, who spent all his time online trying to debunk Scientology.  He was pissed-off because he gave them a lot of his money and felt used.  Rather than move on and move away, he decided to dedicate his life to "saving" other idiots from joining the cult respectable mainstream religion.

Well, one thing I learned is that idiots don't need saving, and the guy ended up in court and sort of losing it all, on the altar of being an activist.  Sadly, a lot of these "little guy standing up for the rest of us" types are more than a little crazy.  Consider the windshield wiper guy - they made a movie about him, but it wasn't quite the heroic battle they made it out to be.

I mean, I get it - it is all Edgelord to make ominous comments that Epstein didn't kill himself but was assassinated before he could turn State's evidence.  But the reality is, people kill themselves in jail all the time, which is why they take away your shoelaces when you get busted for even a traffic violation. Jail is depressing as hell.  Besides, Epstein was the defendant - he had no leverage to get a plea deal.  And they already had the names of the perpetrators - and victims willing to testify, too.

But as GM learned the hard way, attacking your critics only serves to embolden them.  Ralph Nader would have faded from history if not for the fact GM sic'ed private investigators on him.  Nader wrote a similar scathing critique of the Volkswagen but no one cared because Volkswagen didn't react.  When someone calls you names, it only is effective if you act like it bothers you.

It makes no sense that Boeing would assassinate a "whistle-blower" after they already blew the whistle. Only in the movies does killing off an informant quash information.  Good thing those whistle-blowers never wrote anything down or documented anything!  The whole premise is just childish bullshit.

Anyway, getting back to the article, they make a big deal out of the "fact" that Boeing sold "only" four planes last month and none of them were the 737 Max.  OMG!  The chickens have come home to roost!  Shut down the production lines!  Lay off the workers!  Boeing is going broke!

Well, not exactly.  At the very end of the article after you scroll through several ads, is this teeny, tiny, tidbit:

Despite the slow pace of recent sales, Boeing still has a huge backlog of more than 5,600 orders.
Now it is hard to find reliable numbers online about how many planes Boeing "delivers" in a given month.  I have seen numbers as high as 50 and as low as 24 (recently, due to FAA scrutiny, I suspect). Even using the upper-end number, Boeing has over a nine-year backlog of plane orders - enough to keep them busy for nearly a decade.

Of course, in the wacky world of commercial aviation, an "order" doesn't mean much, other than saving your place in line.  Orders are made and then rescinded all the time (in fact, Boeing lost one order last month, reducing its "sales book" to three for the month).  An order for a plane that may not be built until nine years from now might not mean much, other than a generalized desire to eventually replace aging aircraft at some point.

The point is or isn't that Boeing is good or Boeing is bad or the 737 is a shitty plane or not. The point is, "news articles" like this are pointless piling-on clickbait designed to get engagement. And they know that people will click on a "Boeing sucks!" article as they are the whipping-boy du jour and hey, maybe someone is shorting the stock.  Well, not "maybe" - right?

And a "tumble" to four sales in one month is about as relevant as The Chevette Index - drawing conclusions from limited data.   Not to mention correlation versus causation.  Perhaps one reason Boeing sales might be slowing is that with the backlog of orders, airlines might be looking more closely at Airbus.

Sure, you can say a lot of bad things about Boeing. For example, how they used an anti-dumping complaint to try to destroy the Canadian aircraft industry (and not for the first time!).  Boeing took a radical step in designing the 787 "Dreamliner" which tried out too many new technologies (e.g., composite fuselage, lithium-batteries) all at once - and paid the price.  Every aviation pioneer who tried "too much, too soon" paid the penalty and lost sales to competitors who took a more incremental approach.  Airbus learned this with the A380 as well.

That might explain why they pushed out the 737 MAX based on an antiquated design, rather than starting with a clean sheet - they had run out of clean sheets after the 787.  Perhaps!

Or perhaps, like Lockheed, they will realize there is far less risk - and a guaranteed profit - in military sales and eventually will leave the passenger airliner market, particularly if China is able to ramp-up its efforts down the road.  It could be a different world in 10 years.

But in the meantime, this "article" is just trash - designed to get Boeing-haters to click on it, just as Newsweek has gone to an all-Trump-hate format.

I never bother to click on Newsweek articles anymore.  In every case, the click-bait headline overstates the case if in fact, does not manufacture it.  This sort of shit only provides ammunition for Trump's claims of victimization.

Click-bait.  Ugh.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

The IT Loop!

You need an e-mail address to log in.  You need a phone number to set up your e-mail address!

Mark wanted to go to Michaels to get art supplies because, you know, he's an artist.  He has been tapped for another gallery show in 2025, which means he has to get busy now making things to have enough for then.

Michaels is one of those stores I love to hate. They offer 70% off coupons, which means the "regular retail price" is little more than a joke. And if you don't sign up for their frequent flyer discount plan, well, you end up way overpaying for your stuff.  So we set up an account and thought all was well and good.  Just type in your phone number at checkout and save!  Well, that and you can download the "app" and display bar codes from virtual coupons to get these 70% off deals or $15 off on a purchase of $50 or whatever.

So, on the way there Mark says, "can you go on the phone and see if there are any coupon deals at Michaels?" which I do.  But first, it wants me to update the "app."  Oh boy, do I hate smartphones!  Why do apps need updating every five days?  Oh, right, the IT Geek Employment Act of 2021 - guaranteeing perpetual and unnecessary updates to software into perpetuity!  Gotta keep those incels busy!

So ten minutes later the app is updated and I log in - or at least try to.  It asks me for a username (e-mail) and password.  I type in what I think is the correct combination and it says "error."  So I hit the "forgot password" link and enter the e-mail address.  "No such e-mail address found!" it says - for both our e-mail addresses.

OK, I'll just set up a new account.  I enter the e-mail address, name, and phone number as requested and it bombs out, saying, "there is already an account with that phone number!"

I try again several different times, but no joy.  It has no record of either of our e-mail addresses, but when I try to set up an account, it blocks me because our phone numbers are already associated with an existing account.  Perpetual do-loop.

And shitty programming.  And no, I don't want to spend an hour on the phone talking to someone in the Philippines or India trying (in vain) to get it fixed.  No thank you!

Fortunately, the coupons are still visible but today there is only one - 70% off on framing.  The can do a good job on framing at Michael's (depends on who you get - like so much else of corporate retail these days) but boy-howdy do they charge high prices!  I ask at the front why there are no coupons online and they explain they are charging "regular low prices" this month instead of using coupons.  Maybe the public has succumbed to coupon fatigue.  If so, this is a good sign.

A bad sign is that, other than three "Goth" teens (they still exist!) we were the only ones in the store.  How they stay in business is beyond me.

We tried visiting the Hobby Lobby (sort of a Jesus Office Depot to the Staples of Michaels) and weren't too impressed there.  It was also empty of customers and while they had some nice things, almost all of it had Jesus on it.  They did have some great deals in the closeout section on real authentic Biblical artifacts, though!

UPDATE: I finally got it to work today for some reason, but it insisted I set up a new account, so our "rewards points" were wiped out.  I was able to log in on the laptop, but on the phone, I got the message shown above - and it won't go away!  Even reloading the app brings it up again!

For some reason, it has Mark's "store" listed at Wichita Kansas.  When I try to change this, the local store comes up, but the bar to "change my store" won't work.  Glitchy!


UPDATE II:  It is interesting, but the "coupons" and "deals" are all directed toward ordering online.  Is Michaels going to become an online store and ditch brick-and-mortar?  It would seem so and the huge expense of renting store space, staffing it, and stocking it, isn't going to even begin to pay for itself based on the foot traffic I am seeing.  Something is up!

The "everyday low prices" idea is attractive to ME, but as the experience with JC Penny illustrates, a lot of older woman love sales and coupons and they are not attracted to everyday low prices, even if they are lower than "sale" prices.

Americans think a 1/3-pound burger is smaller than a 1/4-pound burger, too.  You can't fix stupid!

But you can market to it!