What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Crypto. I hold a vanishingly small position in Bitcoin. Of course, that position has grown even smaller over the last week. The collapse of Bitcoin has been met with the expected gnashing of teeth. Crypto was billed as a lot of things – including the future of online transactions as well as a hedge against inflation and the vagaries of traditional stocks. It was going to be the New Gold. Its behavior in the current downturn hasn’t proven any of that out. I mostly bought in wanting to learn about this new technological wonder, rather than execting Bitcoin would pop to $1,000,000 and I’d make my fortune. Crypto, for all its hype, has an astonishingly unproven record of being useful in the broader economy outside of being an item of curiosity. At best, it’s felt like even more of a casino than your run of the mill investment opportunities, so as they say, “don’t gamble with funds you can’t afford to lose.”

2. People. After attempting to resolve my ants in the well issue last summer by working with well and water experts and meeting with only temporary success, I turned to a local exterminator this spring to get a second opinion. I’m not sure whether I should be insulted or not that the first thing he said to me was “Yeah, don’t dump any poison down the well.” I suppose just the fact that he said that so quickly implies that there’s a non-zero number of my fellow residents of Cecil County who do respond to similar issues by actually running out and poisoning their own water source. I assured him that I had no intention of emptying a bottle of Terro into my drinking water supply and that I was consulting him for alternative approaches that wouldn’t result in potentially killing myself. The more unsettling part of this whole conversation is that the people who do have to be cautioned against drinking poison are also the people we encounter on the roads each day. They’re the people we encounter while we’re getting groceries. They’re the ones who sit in judgment of us as jury members. They’re the people who go to the polls to elect our leaders. Honestly, the fact that such a warning needed to be said explains a lot about why things are the way they are.

3. An unnamed online brokerage. On a lark, I opened an online brokerage account years ago. I threw a few dollars in it and attempted to teach myself a bit about the exciting world of penny stocks. Believe me when I say that didn’t go anywhere beyond giving me a solid lesson that I have no business spending time being a stock picker. As the market began its fall back around the first of the year, I dug out my log in and set up a small weekly buy order for a broad index fund. It was a chance to use the falling knife to begin capturing some shares outside what’s locked up, sacrosanct and untouchable, in my retirement accounts. I try very hard to be a set-it-and-forget-it investor. In fact, going weeks or months between looking at things isn’t uncommon. The fact that this particular broker has somehow managed to bungle my last two automatic transactions, though, has me double checking all their work to this point. Add in the apparent impossibility of getting authoritative answers from customer service and I’m left to wonder if it’s not time to decamp for an alternative platform. That’s its own flavor of pain in the ass, so I’m begrudgingly staying the course for the time being. If the next transaction inexplicably goes wonky, I’ll have to try elsewhere for my own sanity.

On crypto…

Scan the big news sites and it won’t take long to find an article where someone is decrying cryptocurrency as some kind of scam that swindled poor unsuspecting victims out of their life savings and now the bank will inevitably foreclose on the farm while Ma and Pa are tossed out to the ditch.

It makes an attention grabbing headline, but doesn’t garner any sympathy from me. It’s safe to say that most people don’t know the basics of how the Federal Reserve “creates money.” I’d wager that far fewer know with any kind of precision how an asset like Bitcoin really works, but here we are with scads of people wondering how they suddenly lost so much value, even when they didn’t know how it was generated in the first place.

You can almost hear the outcry now, begging for the government to place increasingly restrictive regulations on cryptocurrency and save the ill- and under-informed from themselves. Letting people live or die with their own decisions doesn’t play well in front of the cameras, I suppose.

In the interest of full disclosure, I hold a very small position in crypto. Mostly it’s a hedge against fear of missing out rather than any expectation of it ever shooting the moon. With much of it picked up back in 2017, I guess you can say I’m long on this brave new frontier of finance. I think some interesting things will come of it, even if no one seems quite sure what any of those will be yet.

Trends and how to avoid them…

There was a news report this morning that the number of pedestrians being struck and killed by vehicles is on the rise in America. Frankly I’m not sure anyone should be surprised by this. I drive a 40 mile round trip four days a week and I keep my eyes open for most of that trip. If you’re paying attention, the things you see from behind the wheel of your vehicle might almost be alarming if they weren’t such common occurrences.

The number of pedestrians who roam the roads in the pre-dawn darkness while wearing dark colored clothing is, frankly, a bit staggering. I see at least one and often several of them each morning as they skitter across a four lane divided highway. Sometimes they’re at least doing it at a relatively well lit intersection. Other times they’re crossing without the benefit of light or, seemingly, any concern that there could be a large, heavy, projectile approaching them at a high rate of speed. Sometimes if it’s really dark, you can see the phone in their hand long before you can see that the phone is attached to a person. Personally, if I were schlepping long such a heavily traveled roadway on foot, I’d want to have strobes, reflectors, and perhaps a 1930’s style searchlight broadcasting my location.  I may be slowly eating myself into the grave, but my instinct to preserve myself against such poorly matched contests as those between cars and people is strong.

I see more than just the pedestrians, of course. I see the drivers too – especially the ones who are distracted or entitled or in some way think of the highway as their exclusive preserve. In many ways they seem just as oblivious to their surroundings as their counterparts afoot. My driving record will show you that I’m not without sin as a driver, but I do consciously try to be aware. Admittedly, it’s much easier to focus when driving a manual transmission in my experience. I’ve found that you’re less apt to partake in extraneous activities when one hand is busy steering and the other is grinding through the gears.

Now I’m not a fancy pants big city scientist or demographer or statistician, but common sense seems to tell me that as there are more people in the country, more of them will be walking and more of them will be driving and the chances of those two activities intersecting at some point would also increase. That is to say it would increase naturally in the absence of some concerted measures to offset it. I guess in a pinch you could pass a bevy of new laws calling on people not to be stupid and limiting the amount of allowed asshattery, but as a country we don’t have a particularly strong track record of controlling for either one of those factors.

My guess is this is a trend that’s going to continue indefinitely into the future. In the absence of people acting like they have even the smallest shred of common sense, I think the safest place to be during human and vehicle interface will continue to be behind the wheel. There, even if stupid does happen, I’ve got a more of a fighting chance than the family of three who unintentionally have themselves installed as human hood ornaments. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Twatwaffles. Here’s a fun fact – the more condescending your tone the more I will go out of my way to make even the easiest things difficult for you to do. If you insist on speaking to me in such a manner, I’ll smile happily at your jabs and then proceed to frustrate your efforts at every available opportunity. I can out-snark you on every imaginable level. Your powers are weak and pitiful compared to the untempered brunt of my sarcasm. You, my dear, clearly have no understanding of with whom you trifle. I will take great joy at your discomfiture, you hapless twatwaffle.

2. Self-driving cars. While conceptually interesting enough, I find the practical side of the idea to be something less desirable. If there’s anything I trust less than a human being behind the wheel it’s a computer programmed by a human behind the wheel. At least, at some point, one might hope that a human driver might as a last resort be expected to fall back on their instinct for self-preservation. I don’t have any such fleeting hope for a truly autonomous vehicle. It will do precisely what its programming tells it to do right up until it hits a buggy line of code and then does something completely different. If the computer on my desk at work is any indication, by the time we clog up our car’s computer with sufficient software to protect it from hackers, advertising bloatware, and the actual programming needed to perform mechanical and navigational operations, well, I expect to be about 17 minutes into my commute before the damned thing starts throwing off errors and just gives up and shuts itself off. I’m sure there is an enormous market for these fantastical autonomous cars, but I think I’d like to keep the 20th century simplicity of a steering wheel, a throttle, a brake, and a gear stick (clutch optional).

3. Falling out of the sky. I’m not sure if there are actually more planes falling out of the sky now than there were in the past or if we just hear more about them now than we use to. I’m sure there’s some handy website that keeps track of that information that’s only a Google search away, but really the actual numbers don’t matter as much as perception. It just seems like these contraptions are hurtling back towards earth like giant man-carrying lawn darts way more often than they should. This isn’t likely to stop me from boarding my next flight, but I’d be lying if I said a certainly unnerving series of “what if” thoughts won’t spend the entirety of that flight lurking around in the dark recesses of my mind.

Home stretch…

I was in the home stretch this afternoon. Four turns and maybe 2 miles from the house. I was even running a few minutes ahead of the normal arrival time. It was good right up until I approached the start of a sharp series of turns running alongside the state forest and saw the flashing lights blocking the road. Apparently some doucheknocker took the turn a little fast and a little wide and ended up getting his machine mangled for his trouble. I know from experience that the turns in that spot are tricky. The road is narrow, with guardrails and 20 foot drop offs on either side. It’s precisely the kind of turn you don’t want to be in when you realize you’re driving beyond your meager abilities. I’d be hard pressed to tell you the number of days a year I pass through that stretch and see fresh damage on the guardrails, thrashed car parts off in the woods, or the shimmer of freshly broken glass dust catching my headlights in the morning. It’s easily in the double digits. Those days are going to get more frequent now that the trees are filling in and you can’t see what’s coming in the opposite direction.

I wasn’t able to tell the full story this afternoon, but there’s a good chance I can read the road and tell you what happened when I drive through there in the morning. It’s not so much that care if someone outdrove their abilities. It’s not so much that I care they closed the road at just the moment I was trying to go through. It’s mostly that based on where I decided to live, a road closure in that one stretch of road causes me a 20-odd minute detour because there’s really no other good way to get here from there. Sure, that’s more of an inconvenience for the driver who smashed up his ride than it is for me, but it was just one more in a series of reminders today that this week has been and apparently plans to continue being one pain in the ass after another.

Wall-to-wall…

I’m a news junkie. Most weekends, you’ll find the television parked on FoxNews, CNN, or SkyNews running as background noise while I go about the day. While I’m not selling short the importance of knowing why a fully-loaded Boeing 777 inexplicably disappeared three weeks ago, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that at this point, we don’t need 24×7, wall-to-wall coverage of it as a news story. In fact, I’d go so far as to posit that “nothing new to report” is the antithesis of “news.”

Like any other television outlet, the news channels aren’t so much about their content as they are avenues to put consumer’s eyes on advertisements. Even after three weeks, apparently the missing airliner story brings in the viewers, so that’s what they’re staying with. As with most stories of this type, the fact that it’s still commanding the top over every cycle says more about us than it does about any of the news outlets. Still, I’m a little curious what else has been happening on the planet while we’ve all been busy looking at grainy satellite photos of a decidedly empty slice of the Indian Ocean.

It feels like a fair guess that there might be one or two other vaguely important things going on somewhere. I’m sure right now this story feels like the most important issue in the world for the friends and family of the people who are still missing, but for the rest of us, it’s starting to feel a lot like rubbernecking… and that’s just tacky.