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Wanted: a Decent Photographer for Internet Shopping

I'll bet you know someone who has wanted to reach across the counter at a store and choke the employee, when they answered your "Have you got a..." question with a sweet smile and a response of, "I could order it for you..."

You could order it for me? Well hell, man, I could order it myself off Amazon! What do I need you for? I came in here to look at the physical object itself, and then walk out with it today.

Sigh. Shopping just isn't my favorite activity, be it brick-and-mortar or online. I'm not complaining so much as wondering how business works.



For instance, the world tells us that online shopping is taking over everything. There is so much noise about it, and so much praise for internet 'technology.'

Forgive me for not being impressed. The photographs are so bad when you shop online. I can't discern any of the nitty-gritty details. Maybe that is what they want. After all, an experienced consumer can see the booby traps built into a produ…

Why Doesn't McDonald's Take Over the Laundromat?

Once upon a time in America long ago, inventors and famous businessmen were held up to schoolchildren as great benefactors of mankind. I wonder if that is still true today.

Businesspersons still become celebrities today, but the nature of their success is different than in the past. Can you really compare Facebook to the Model T Ford? Industrializing agriculture, transforming electricity and magnetism into motion, building an electrical grid, inventing countless products out of petroleum -- all of these triumphs seem so much more important than the latest buzz in tech-fashions or social media trends.

Even a great modern success like Amazon doesn't really contain much that is new compared to a Sears Roebuck wish-book, drooled over on the porch of a farmhouse in the 1890s.


Surely there are still many innovative businesses being born today. But they may be small enough or mundane enough that they haven't become household words.

I would like to suggest a mega-success that is sorely ne…

Always a Sucker for Analogies

One of these days I will outgrow my susceptibility to analogies. Until then I will be charmed by quotes like this, coming from Chris Whalen:

The idea of the Greenspan Put was that lower interest rates would cure the market’s woes. Unfortunately, the FOMC has since fallen into a pattern whereby longer periods of low or even zero interest rates are used to address yesterday’s errors, but this action also leads us into tomorrow’s financial excess. As one observer on Twitter noted in an exchange with Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari: “Central Bankers are much like the US Forest Service of old. Always trying to manage ‘nature’ and put out the little brush fires of the capitalist system, while they seem incapable of recognizing they are the root cause of major conflagrations as a result.”



A traveler in the western states gets to experience a real forest fire every now and then.

A Moral Quandary at the McDonald's Kiosk

This wasn't the first kiosk at McDonald's that I had ever seen. But the first time, it had been optional to use it. Rest assured that I ordered and paid the old-fashioned way.

But today I wasn't even given the choice. The young punk was loud and aggressive about it. I dutifully walked over to the kiosk. But then something deep-within began to express itself.  I starting digging in my heels. Of course he thought that a stupid old man just couldn't figure the thing out, so, before my moral protest had time to get properly organized, he came over, asked the usual questions, and pushed the appropriate buttons.

So why couldn't he have done all that at the cash register -- the old-fashioned way? His final question was, "Pay with your card here, or with cash?" I actually paused and started to get curt. But he assured me that paying cash was still an option, although we had to walk to a special cash register to do it. Why couldn't we have done that right from t…

Perfection at 'Experiencing a Book'

Perfection has never been my ideal. Not everybody thinks like that. Many people may remember Curly's (Jack Palance's) speech about the beautiful woman backlit by the sun, in "City Slickers". Or consider the climax of "The Red Violin". There are other examples of worshiping perfection as an ideal from the days of chivalry, religious devotion, or military courage.

All I can say is, they are welcome to it, if that is what they want. For my part, I will continue to believe in the semi-universal S-shaped curve for Benefits versus Costs. (Notice the 'semi'.)

But it is always fun to make an exception. My recent problems with a broken leaf spring on my trailer resulted in a perfect experience of a certain type.

It was so easy to admire the competence and usefulness of the mechanic who drove the tow truck to my trailer, and then repaired it. He knew where to get the replacement part quickly, whereas I would have bounced around on the internet for hours, spendin…

The Yukkie Reality Under the World of Appearances

The other day I went to "Poop Central" in Quartzsite, that famous modern equivalent of Cloaca Maxima of ancient Rome.  I expected to pay 80% as much to dump a 5 gallon porta-pottie as you would pay to dump a 75 gallon tank in a Class A motorhome. That's how things work in this country. Much to my relief (bad pun), the cost was entirely reasonable.

I brought a flexible sheet of plastic along, to make a funnel out of, in order to dump the porta-pottie into the 4" hole without spillage. It was strange the way they brushed me off, just as a busy auto mechanic dismisses the emotional anecdotes of a female motorist who is describing her car problems. The worker at Poop Central pulled up a manhole cover, and told me to just hurl it in.

What? Hurl it in? What was going on down there, anyway? After a couple seconds my eyes adjusted to the shadowy netherworld under the superficial world of appearances, and I saw a milk crate a couple feet below. Why would a milk crate be there?

Asymmetric Warfare When Playing Chicken

While detesting the neo-con/Israel-first/Republican/Rapture Christian doctrine of permanent war, I still have an interest in being an 'armchair general' or military strategist. Yes, it is inconsistent, but if consistency is your hobgoblin, you are at the wrong blog.

The world seems to be beating Washington's pants off lately, with a Russian/Syrian/Iraqi/Iranian axis building up in the Mideast, and China becoming more assertive about its reclaimed islands in the South China Sea. One way to see these developments is as a growth in a new type of asymmetric warfare, aimed straight at the least trusted government on planet Earth.

Do any readers know of any good articles or books about asymmetric warfare? The Wikipedia article is a good place to start. They give several famous examples in history.

What if the world is learning to exploit the fragility and hollowness of the American economy to play 'chicken' with Washington, and to win? Washington's rivals around the wo…

Watching the Automotive-Bubble Drive Home

I really don't know what to believe about the liquidity bubble built by most of the world's central banks since 2009. I have become numb, and simply shake my head in disbelief.

But a recent article on Zero Hedge got me thinking about a more concrete manifestation of the liquidity bubble. They think the motor vehicle bubble is ready to pop. In particular, there are millions of leased cars and trucks that will be turned in soon, creating a glut of 3-year-old used cars and trucks.

Since I think the used truck market is even more over-priced than the new truck market, their prediction is mouth-watering, even more so considering that circa 2013 trucks are likely to be as good as trucks ever get. Of course they could start making smaller pickup trucks, but don't hold your breath.

Have you seen the ridiculous numbers that CAFE, the government-imposed fuel economy requirement, is demanding in the years ahead? What are they planning on doing?  Much of the low-hanging fruit has already…

Financial Turmoil As Opportunity to Crawl Out of the Information Gutter

If our consumption of information was analogous to food-diet, what diet plan would we be on? What is the informational equivalent of vegetarianism, veganism, paleo-carnivorism, or Old Roy dog chow? It is hard to see all the analogies. But one can be seen: most people are on an information-diet analogous to eating all of their food out of gas-station-convenience stores. That is, their informational junk food comes from the mainstream media, mainly television.

What a shame. The financial turmoil going on now should be an opportunity to ask fundamental questions about our banking and political systems. At the very least, the general public should learn how our system really works, not just in theory, but the brutal and unseemly realities of it. 

Who is benefiting from the basic policies?

What are the incestuous relationships between banking and political power?

How do they hide it or at least deodorize it from the general public?

Why are the losers so complacent to the winners?

Why is debt he…

Both Real and Phony Benefits from a Bigger "House"

Do most people see economics as an arcane subject? At other times it might turn them off because they can easily spot the political ideology hiding underneath the surface of mathematical pretense. They should have the experience that I just had.

There is always a tweak or two that can benefit any RV.  Because my "RV" is a customized cargo trailer rather than a 'suburban house on wheels,' I am free to get out the tools and blast away at it as I please. 

There was a noticeable pinch spot in the little cargo trailer that could be felt many times per day. It only took an hour of sawing and orbital-sanding to eliminate the pinch.  

And yet how much material had been removed? Compared to the overall area (square footage) of the trailer, one part in 500 had been removed. In volume, one part in 3500. In weight, one part in 10,000.

Despite such small numbers, I actually felt a temporary euphoria similar to what a salary-slave feels upon getting a 2% raise, after being told by th…

How Can Morale Be So Good in Some Large Businesses?

Once upon a time, perhaps up to a decade ago, Walmart was a winner. You could feel something amongst its employees. But how would you ever have proved it was real instead of subjective and impressionistic? But I was convinced of an elan vital amongst all those low-wage employees in that giant corporation. But in the middle Aughts, it seemed that spirit started draining out of Walmart.

Today I went to Walmart for a routine oil and lube job. There were no long lines, which was a pleasant surprise. Or was it? The first thing they started doing was fumbling with those handheld gadgets that supposedly "manage information" about your rig: real rocket science stuff, like your name, address, and odometer reading. I've yet to see one of their employees use these gadgets without struggle and delay.  No doubt these handheld gadgets were sold as "productivity enhancers" by some executive in the I.T. (information technology) department, back at corporate headquarters.

The nex…

Just Discovered a New Blog about Consumer Culture

We all get into ruts on the internet, reading blogs that talk about the same thing every time, or are thinly disguised infomercials, or are mere boob-toob level entertainment.  I just found a great blog on consumer culture, money, and financial independence called Living Stingy. It is intelligent, acerbic, and full of common sense. Why did it take so long to find this blog?

The title of the blog is unfortunate. The writer really doesn't allow comments, which I think is a mistake. Well too bad, it is fun to read and written with mordant wit.

Admittedly I am a bit prejudiced when it comes to style. I like to see a writer observe concrete things that seem bizarre to him. Then he must try to explain those things, and in the process of doing that, the blog post moves towards more general and universal principles.

At any rate, give this blog a try and tell me what you think of it.

Some Wise Men Versus the False Prophets of the RV Blogosphere

On one of the tabs at the top of the screen I take issue with the False Prophets of the RV blogosphere. (Must I take the time to point out that many bloggers, including myself, have flirted with asceticism; and it is the Idea, not somebody in particular, that I'm planning on having some tongue-in-cheek fun with.)

The world is divided into three camps on the issue of  'How much crap does a person need to own?' But most people close their minds to the topic. When they hear any criticism of Insatiable Consumption, as promoted in TV commercials, they probably take it as criticism aimed at them

But that makes no sense; they, as individuals, did not invent the consumer culture that we have. They, as individuals, were merely swept along in the rising trends, brought on by advertising and tax policies. So there's nothing personal in merely going along with the prevailing consumer culture.

But there could be something that dignifies the Individual when they rebel against this co…

Part III, A Retro-grouch Goes Pickup Shopping

I was going to be kind and gentle in writing about the pickup truck insanity of modern America. This post was going to start off by discussing several recent trends in the motor vehicle industry that I think are quite positive: 
anti-lock brakes (ABS) as standard equipment across the entire fleet. brake-based traction control systems as standard equipment, since 2010. This eliminates the need for mechanically complex four-wheel drive trucks for the vast majority of suburban cowboys.the replacement of heavy, truck-based, gas-sucking SUVs by lighter, unibody-framed "crossovers".the venerable Ford Econoline full-sized van is being replaced by a unibody-framed "Transit" van. small diesels are being added to the light pickup truck line. And then the bad luck hit. I happened to be driving around a dreadfully congested city (Durango, CO). It was impossible not to notice something weird when driving downtown, with the narrow streets and diagonal parking: full-sized pickup t…

Will the Windows/Nokia Phone Succeed?

"Postscript": At the end of the day I noticed that NOK stock had gone up 13% in European trading. Gosh, I didn't know that this blog had so much clout! Being a "market mover" is just too much responsibility. (grin) 
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People who have no interest in the world of investments are missing out on a fascinating part of our culture. What's worse is that they are doomed to poverty in old age since we will probably be in a Zero Interest environment for many years to come, while real inflation cruises along at two to three times what the government officially admits to. People tend to underestimate the damage that inflation can do to their standard of living. (Unlike cynical ol' Boonie, a true optimist and positive thinker would hope to die before too many years of negative real interest rates reduced him to panhandling.)

Readers know that I'm not a qualified investment adviser, so they must promis…

A Twinkies Bailout Coming?

You can easily imagine president Obama taking a few days off, maybe even a vacation, after a hard-fought reelection campaign. That's not to say that the next four years don't look frightening enough; in fact, "winning" the White House in 2012 might ironically turn out to be a curse for his party, or for the other one if it had won. But still, shouldn't he be able to act like a human being and soak it up for awhile?

Alas, political life can be cruel. His post-election Era of Good Feeling is already cut short by the crisis at hand. I'm not referring to the General Petraeus scandal or the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Those are just sideshows. I'm referring to the liquidation of Hostess Brands, the makers of Ho Ho's, Ding Dongs, and Twinkies.

Although it's good to see that a crisis of this gravity is being given proper attention by the business media, nobody is yet discussing the necessity of a bailout. (Perhaps in a day or two, we'll see pro-bailout e…

"Of Two Minds" Rocks!

This morning I had the pleasure of reading the best financial post in a long time, on "Of Two Minds." Why doesn't the destruction of middle class wealth by the ratholes of health care, higher education, and housing get more attention than tanned female Olympic athletes frolicking in cheeky leotards or exultant NASA nerds imitating Olympic victory celebrations for their latest successful Giga-boondoggle?

What a 25 year old SHOULD Do

With the exception of a doctor repairing our body, is there anything that relieves us of worry like getting our motor vehicle repaired? I thought about this after a long-distance tow to town, recently. Both the van and the trailer were towed, so I could sleep overnight in the repair shop's parking lot. Being stranded at an inopportune place could cause a lot of worry for an RVer.
I envied the owner of the repair shop. He did a job that was tangible and crucial to his customers. Contrast that with some insignificant college boy in a cubicle at a large organization, wasting his life by writing reports that no one will read, attending useless meetings, following arbitrary organizational rules, laughing at the boss's jokes whether they are funny or not, and hoping to dodge layoffs in middle age. Of course there are a number of reasons why my mechanic might think that running a car-repair business is a hard way to make a living. Do you think he subscribes to the one-time American Dr…

If You Were Starting Off at Age 25...

I read on Mish Shedlock that the birthrate has fallen to a 25-year-low, in part because young adults are having such a hard time finding jobs. Mish believes that America is in for a decade or two of structurally high unemployment. I certainly don't envy young people starting off in life today, since greedy and irresponsible Baby Boomers -- America's Worst Generation -- have stacked the odds against them. But what advice would you give to a frustrated and discouraged 25-year-old today about making a living? 

We must guard against the tendency of oldsters to get suckered into 'grass is greener on the other side of the mountain.' Otherwise we will tend to romanticize a dream job as an antidote to decades of frustration and disappointment suffered in a real job.

It is easier to say what you wouldn't start off in, if you were 25 today. Manufacturing is ancient history in our post-industrial society, of course. And yet I'll bet colleges still teach useless subjects li…

Gasoholics Should Stay on the Wagon

Springerville AZ, the White Mountains. James Howard Kunstler must be furious. American gasoholics (virtually all of us) feel that 'happy days are here again,' now that regular gasoline has plummeted to $3.50 per gallon. Let's hope they are still making money on snacks, cigs, or the 40 ounce buckets of fructose fizz they are known for. Gee maybe it's time to bring back the Hummer?
Has Kunstler ever written an essay about the RV industry? It would be amusing to read it, if you could handle his goose quill, dipped in venom. For my part I think that RVers have their work cut out for them if they want their lifestyle to continue long into the future in a way that is recognizable. Sure, they could camp in one place forever and drive around town in a tiny "towed", but too much of that would represent a completely different lifestyle. 
Despite the recent -- and no doubt temporary -- relief at the fuel pump I continue to press against promiscuous driving, that is, the s…