The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

On school shootings

| February 21, 2018

“five of these incidents have occurred over the past five-plus years since 2013, claiming the lives of 27 victims (17 at Parkland)”


So, that’s an average of 5.4 fatalities per year.

Firearms homicides in the US average around 15,000 per year.


This means school shootings are 0.03% of firearms homicides per year.

So, you ask, if it’s such a small problem, why is it getting so much attention vs the more workaday crimes like drug gangs shooting it out on urban streets?

For that, I look to history, and ask this question – why is marijuana illegal?

The answer is here:

The TL;DR is a cooperation of interests, which result in:

  1. Expansion of government power (Anslinger and the DEA)
  2. Selling newspapers (Hearst)
  3. Chemical industry (Dow, pharmaceuticals, synthetic fibers)

So, flip back to today – school shootings and calls for gun control easily tick the boxes for (1) and (2). Not sure there is a (3) in this gambit, but I have some theories about industry players trying to solidify their hold on government contracts by reducing competition, even though it means sacrificing the civilian market.

Wake up – you’re being manipulated to ignore the elephant in the room that is gun violence resulting from the war on drugs, because that serves the purposes of the statists – it justifies their increased militarization of police forces, surveillance, and so forth, so they’re not going to do anything to stop that anytime soon. All they’d have to do is just end it. Look at how rapidly the violence ended once alcohol prohibition was repealed. The same thing would happen with drugs. But, they don’t want that. Not government, not big pharma.

You are being played.

Planning for the coming trade war

| November 9, 2016

So, now that the die is cast, it’s time to execute on contingency plan T (as opposed to plan C, which was “prepare for war with Russia”).

In the short term, I have some computer hardware that I’m going to buy that, ideally, I was going to wait until after tax time (in case I needed the liquidity), but now I want to make sure to grab it before Trump assumes office and places tariffs on those foreign goods. I think the right play here is to wait until the post-Christmas tech goods price drop, so the time to buy is early January.

I also am replacing my cell phone, but that will be a used one (I am not spending $700 on a phone. $200 is about where I’m comfortable, so a Galaxy S5 from swappa is in my future), so the lifecycle timeframe doesn’t matter, and I will therefore be getting it as soon as I get my VW money.

The only long term CapEx that we wanted to do was a new family hauler in 2018, but the front runner for that is a VW Atlas which is being built in Chattanooga, and is therefore likely to be minimally impacted by tariffs. As such, that remains on plan.

There were some optional things to be done (pave the driveway, add a fireplace to the living room), which may or may not happen depending on wage and market volatility. We’ve put those off for about 5 years due to having kids, and, we can easily put them off for the forseeable future.

I think everything else is just absorbing price increases, minimizing expenditures, and trying to keep ahead of increases in parts I might need (German cars, Japanese tractor, etc.) for service and repairs. But, the savings is likely not worth the cash outlay now.

Finally, as far as investments go, if your employer matches your 401(k), then that’s still the best deal going. Even if it loses 25% of its value, if your employer matches 100%, then you’re still up 50% over your contribution. Plus, as I am only 36, my horizon for collecting off of it is pretty long, and I can handle the world markets hammering it for the next 8 years (just as they have for the past 8 years). I have other investments, mainly in municipal bonds (because they’ve been doing well) and I’ll be meeting with my financial guy in Q2’17 to reevaluate. With any luck, the markets will have sorted themselves out by then, but, I expect they’ll freak out again when Trump starts poking at Obamacare. After all, when Obamacare was being debated, they went nuts, so it’s reasonable to assume they’ll do the same if it starts getting revised.

Eventually, however, the uncertainty (which is really what markets don’t like) will resolve and stabilize. The real question will be how much wealth will be destroyed in the process.

In summary, I expect I’ll just batten down the hatches, paint a bunch of miniatures, and wait for the storm to pass, just like I always do.

World War II

| October 19, 2016


And people wonder why I don’t trust the government…

| October 14, 2016

Worth a watch. Bring tissues. Or alcohol. Or both.

Anonymous – The Story of Aaron Swartz Full Documentary

3 day work week

| October 13, 2016

Apologies for the old article, but I’m catching up on stuff I wanted to write about, and I’ve just been busy.

As some of you know, I have recently been working a 4 day work week (that is, 32 hours). I’ve been enjoying it because it allows us to do more family things on the weekend, and I can do a bunch of “keeping up the house” on the third day. Thinking about doing this “writ large”, it occurred to me that the standard “work week” could become 3 days, with 2 adjacent shifts working in the same space. So, one group works Monday – Wednesday, and the other group works Thursday – Saturday.

In order for this to work, we’d have to divorce health insurance from work (as in, everyone buys it on the open market) so then you don’t have any impediments like “you need to work 30 hours per week to be eligible for our company-sponsored health insurance”. If you want to work more, you can work “double” and work 6 days. Otherwise, you’d just work your 3 days, and then someone else would work the other 3. As a result, you have more free time, and there is less unemployment with similar (if not more) output due to the extra day. That said, the tradeoff is money. You’d have less of it, because you’d only get 3/5 of what you make now. But, you’d have more time.

Apparently, I’m not the only one with this idea.

Does gaming have a white male terrorist problem?

| June 3, 2016

So, I came across this post:

And I am appalled at what she has described. But, it also doesn’t really square with my experience. In uni, half my Shadowrun group was female, and all of the “inappropriate” comments were between people who were already sleeping together (sometimes, I think they viewed gaming as foreplay). In the decade and a half since, I’ve gone to many cons (generally Cold Wars and Carnage) and have played pick up games with lots of folks, and have also played in some RPG campaigns. Yes, it’s a male dominated hobby, but there are a decent amount of girls and women in it (offhand, I’d say 30-40%) and I simply can’t imagine this stuff happening on a regular basis at any of the places I’ve been. Indeed, enough of a proportion of the gamers are chivalrous and polite that if someone did try something like that, you’re probably going to get handed your teeth (or, at the very least, police will be called, if not already there, because a lot of cops play). I mean, hell, my Mom plays, and aside from a few asshats making jokes about how the game might be too complicated for a girl (which is even more hilarious when she beats them), she has never had anything like this happen to her.

Am I wrong here? Or, maybe I’m just out of touch with mainstream gaming enough that this is what it’s like, I just don’t see it because everyone is playing 40k and I’m playing TNT….

$17/day challenge

| April 7, 2016

So, I may be a little late to the party on this, but a few weeks ago I learned about this $17/day challenge legislators had been doing in order to drum up support for raising the minimum wage. Here is a link to the longest article on it I could find. It states:

The $17 figure was calculated based on what a full-time minimum wage worker could expect to have left on a daily basis after basic living expenses

What do they mean by basic living expenses? This other article says:

That figure represents what a minimum wage worker has after the costs of taxes, childcare and housing are deducted from an $8.05-an-hour paycheck.

Okay, so, I make a lot more than $8.05 an hour. However, here is what I actually ate today, with costs. This is retail, no coupons. I don’t have a grocery receipt handy, so I’m using the prices from Price Chopper’s shopper service. Also, I work in an office, but the only thing I’m using there is their hot water, microwave and toaster oven. No free coffee (I fudged that a little, because I do drink it, but I don’t know how much it costs, so I replaced coffee with bags of tea).

  • 2 packets of oatmeal (Quaker) @ $0.30 = $0.60
  • Thai Kitchen Pad Thai Noodle bowl = $3.69
  • Snickers bar (luxury!) – $1.25 from the vending machine.
  • Tea (PG Tips. Price chopper doesn’t sell this, so this is an amazon price) = $10 for 80, so $.125 each.. Say, 8 cups of tea in a day? What can I say, I like tea… $1.
  • Assuming your car gets 25MPG (mine gets 40, but I paid extra for the diesel) and you have a 50 mile round trip (mine is 54) and gas is $2.50/gal (diesel is $2.25), that’s $5 in fuel.
  • Subtotal = $11.54
  • So, I have $5.46 left for dinner and other necessities, and that’s without even trying!

Now, what if I was actually poor.

  1. No vending machine food, saves $1.25
  2. Generic oatmeal, that’s $0.19 each, so saves me $0.20
  3. Ramen noodles for lunch, and those are $0.22 each if you buy a 12 pack @ $2.69.
  4. Don’t want Ramen? Store brand ready to serve soup is $1.59 each. We’ll assume that.

Okay, so:

  • Oatmeal – 2 @ $0.19 = $0.38
  • Store brand soup – $1.59
  • Fuel – $5
  • Subtotal = $6.97

So, you’ve got $10 left for dinner and other necessities. How about this for dinner:

  • Bag of stir-fry vegetables = $1.69
  • Boneless skinless chicken breasts, 1lb = $3.69
  • Long grain rice (white or brown), 2lb = $1.99
  • Subtotal = $7.37
  • And it easily makes enough for 2, so you can have it for lunch the next day for no cost.
  • And that’s way more chicken than you need for that amount of vegetables.
  • And that amount of rice will last for several meals.
  • So, realistically, we’ll say the amount of money is actually half of the above – $3.69
  • Which means our total is $10.66, including dinner, which is less than my 2 meal total of how I actually live.

Anyway, I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic to the plight of the poor, and will concede that if you had kids it would be way more difficult (but, if you did, you could get food stamps, etc. Heck, you can get food stamps as a single person on minimum wage, can’t you?). And, realistically, the way to make more money is:

  • Live as described above.
  • Learn more skills / gain more experience.
  • Get a better job.
  • Make more money.

I’m going to let people in on a little secret – the reason you make minimum wage is because you are doing a minimum-wage job. There are two conceivable reasons you are doing a minimum-wage job:

  1. You want to even though you’re over qualified.
    • I know people who are well over qualified for being a clerk at a shop making minimum wage, but they’re typically working as supplemental income when their primary, seasonal employer isn’t open (think school aides, etc.)
  2. You don’t have the job skills to get a better job.
    • In this case, you need to get those skills, as described above.

Firing family

| March 7, 2016

As a follow-on to my post on firing friends, I think people should extend it to family as well. I mean, you at least chose your friends; you didn’t chose your family. Why hang around with toxic people just because of an accident of biology? You might have met them because of a family connection, but continuing to associate with them should be voluntary on the part of both people. We accept divorcing an abusive spouse, why not an abusive parent, aunt or uncle, cousin, grandparent, etc?

The $15 minimum wage is government pushing people off a cliff.

| December 17, 2015

So, there has been a lot of talk about a $15 minimum wage. Any idea where what number comes from? I have a theory. But first, a graph:

Graph of welfare cliffs. Click graph to open larger in a new tab.

Now, this is for Pennsylvania, and is a few years old, so the numbers have varied slightly. For example, that first big cliff is now about $32,000 as opposed to $29,000.

Now, some math – $15/hr 40 hrs/week 52 weeks a year (aka US full time work) = $31,200. This means that, at best, you are going to be pushed right up to the edge of the cliff and, at worst, over it, which would mean that you won’t be doing nearly as well as you would have if the government hadn’t raised the minimum wage.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the government pays you $30,000 if you make up to $32,000 and then pays you $25,000 if you make $32,001 (this is loosely extrapolated from the graph, and assumes that the minimum wage WON’T push you over the cliff). So, in the former case, you get $62,000, and in the latter, you only get $57,001.

This gives a few different sequences of events:

  1. If Alice is working for the current minimum wage of, say $8/hr, her current pay is $16,640 and, with benefit, that will go to $46,640. If the minimum wage is raised, she suddenly goes to $61,200. The government can legitimately claim this is helping her (and it is) while costing the government nothing (assuming that her employer can absorb the cost, which we will assume it can). So, she remains getting the same subsidy and the government just forces employers to pay more.
  2. If Alice then gets a raise to $15.50/hr, she will now be making $32,240 and therefore will get $57,240 after her subsidy. In this way, she is made worse off, but the government saves $5,000 annually whilst simultaneously being able to claim that it helped the poor by raising the minimum wage (because, remember, it helped Alice in the above scenario). As long as people never make the connection of the former causing a problem here, they can get away with it. Further, even though Alice has fallen off a cliff, she is still better off than before the minimum wage raise because before she was making $46,640 and now she’s making $57,240.
  3. If, however, Alice is a sharp person, she will realize that she is better off not working full time, and instead dropping back to 51 weeks a year rather than 52 (essentially, taking just the right amount of unpaid leave), which would get her $31,620 in pay ($61,620 after benefit), or cutting back to just 39 hours a week, which would give her $31,434 ($61,434 after benefit). Once you apply this logic to a large enough population, what happens? For every few dozen people who do this, businesses will likely have to hire an extra person to make up the hours. As such, the government won’t have to pay those people unemployment benefit and it will make the unemployment numbers look better. The more raises Alice gets, the less she has to work, and the more people would need to be employed to make up for her reduced hours. Now, this is all assuming it doesn’t push her over the cliff and looks pretty shady. If you tweak the numbers so that the cliff is at $31,000, then she is immediately pushed out of full time work because she’d be making $31,200.

So, is this really about trying to give people a living wage, or about externalizing costs while having the government have to pay less out of its various social welfare programs?

Protectionist tariffs are ultimately self-defeating

| December 17, 2015

So, the whole idea that we’re “losing the trade war” gets trotted out as a populist meme every few elections, and it’s apparently that time again, because I’m hearing it again, this time from a rather loud fellow with bad spray-tan-esque makeup and vastly more hair than I have. At the risk of trying to resist the idea that bravado and follicular fortitude automatically win arguments, allow me to try and offer some logic. Typically, the way you fight in the trade war is to adjust your tariffs to protect domestic industries, which is what I will address here.

So, a parable of what actually happens.

Alice starts a company making widgets. She is an excellent widget maker, and her widgets are top notch. Perhaps they are patented, perhaps not, not really relevant. She makes widgets for years, is renowned for the quality, and her widgets are sold for $500 each.

Now, some time passes, the patent expires, or someone else sees a market opportunity. Enter Bob. He makes widgets similar to Alice’s, but at about half the quality, and he can charge $200 for his (either because of lower cost or lower profit margins, but that’s not really relevant, it’s merely his business model).

Time passes and Alice starts to notice her sales drop, investigates why and finds out that some foreigner, Bob, is making widgets. She does some market research and finds out that the people buying her widgets are willing to pay for quality whereas the people buying Bob’s widgets don’t care that the widgets wear out, because they’re used in more disposable or lower use applications. (This is akin to the whole “if you want a tool that lasts, go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and select said tool from the good/better/best sections. If you want to tool that is cheap, you go to Harbor Freight. The Lowe’s/Home Depot tool will generally be better and last longer, but the Harbor Freight tool is so cheap you can literally throw it away when you’re done with it, and thus build it into the cost of the project.)

Let’s assume that half of the widget buyers in the world want quality, and half of the widget buyers want cheap. Hence, Alice and Bob each control half of the worldwide market.

Now, Alice has a few options:

  1. Compromise on quality, perhaps by introducing a cheaper version to compete with Bob.
  2. Compromise on price, likely either by investing more heavily in automation thus lowering the cost of production, or by cutting profits.
  3. Convince people that they should buy her widgets and not Bob’s due to some motivator (superior quality, “buy local”, etc.). This is essentially advertising.
  4. Lobby the government for protection. Of course, since we’re talking about tariffs, she’s going to lobby for protection.

So, she goes to her friendly local government and convinces them that she is facing unfair competition from that evil foreigner Bob, that her business is vital to the local economy since she provides jobs, and that they should help her by “leveling the playing field” and “making it fair” (two common phrases I hear a lot). The government looks at it and says “well, if Alice sells for $500 and Bob sells for $200, let’s charge a $300 tariff on Bob’s widgets because then people will buy Alice’s widgets because they get superior quality for the same cost”. So, what happens when they do that?

  1. Many people in Alice’s domestic market will switch to buying Alice’s widgets.
  2. Any one who doesn’t will pay $200 to Bob and $300 to the government. This is, of course, the government’s incentive – they get money here. If they were truly clever about it, they might make Bob’s tariff slightly less so that more people would buy Bob’s widgets than if the costs were equal, thus increasing tariff revenue. Meanwhile, Alice can’t complain because some people switched back to buy her widgets, so she is made better off.
  3. Since the tariffs are for domestic sales, worldwide sales are unaffected.
  4. Anyone who had been Bob’s stuff domestically is made worse off because they need to spend $300 more than they used to because Bob’s widgets at $200 are no longer an option. Hence, their costs go up and they have to raise prices or reduce profits. So, we’ll say that Alice now has 90% of the domestic market, with Bob having the remaining 10% and Bob and Alice both still have 50% of the worldwide market. Alice is not as well off as she was before Bob’s competition, because then she had 100% of both markets, but she’s better off than in a truly free market, because the government has effectively subsidized her business for the cost of some amount of lobbying.

Then time passes and there are more entrants into the market. On the worldwide scale, they have to all compete with each other on delivering varying quality for the cost. However, in the domestic market, cost is fixed, so you can only compete on quality. Alice remains strong domestically, because her quality is still the best, but her worldwide sales are gradually eaten by competitors.

Then, however, tragedy strikes. The domestic market slows, if not outright implodes, and Alice now has nearly no domestic revenue and only a very small amount of worldwide revenue. Alice goes out of business.

So, in the end:

  1. Alice is out of business.
  2. Domestic customers had to pay more for widgets for years, thus driving up the cost of their widget-using products which limits their ability to compete on the world stage because their parts cost is higher. Now, if the government had told Alice “no”, what would have happened? She would have either gone out of business right then (which happened eventually anyway) or (more likely) she would have had to actually compete, meaning she would have probably ended up with a greater worldwide market share (because her quality/cost ratio would have been better) and a lesser domestic share and thus have been more insulated from domestic demand fluctuations.

Hopefully this makes sense and explains things a bit for folks.

Comments, as always, are welcome.