Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

March 7, 2018
by funny

Driverless Cars: Brave(r) New World?

The Economist is holding forth about the future Brave New World of driverless electric vehicles. This week’s special report contains five articles on the subject, each more effervescent about the future than the last.

That august publication, ever progressive and ever enthusiastic about futuristic improvements to our lives, predicts a fundamental change in the texture of our society once autonomous (self-driving) cars take hold big-time. As the face of Western culture changed with the advent of the automobile, so it will change when cars can drive themselves. Strip malls, for example, will disappear, for stores will “come to you” with automated delivery of your orders. Urban cores, already plenty dense, will grow even denser as the need to provide parking space for commuters and residents disappears.

Suburbs will become “garden cities” once the need to park residents’ vehicles goes away. People will use the streets to walk on, not to drive on. (Uh huh…and these wondrous shared vehicles? They’ll fly?) Garages and driveways will be replaced by gardens.

And (the editors hope) people will no longer feel the need to own a vehicle at all. Everyone will get around on a combination of ride-hailing and public transit. If the light-rail that takes you downtown (elbow-to-elbow with your friendly drug-addicted panhandler) doesn’t go right to your office’s door, you’ll simply hail an Uber to pick you up at the station and take you the rest of the way.

Roads will, they allow, remain congested: crowds of commuters will be replaced by crowds of delivery vehicles. So if you ride from Outer Gardenville to your job in downtown Rabbit Warren City, it will take you just as long to get there in the rosy future as it does now. Well, probably longer. But buck up! You’ll be able to work — or better  yet, sleep — the whole way!

How d’you like them beer and skittles?

Seriously: Are you looking forward to this, or does it sound like Dystopia Redux to you?

As a practical matter, they may be right that when fleets of driverless ride-sharing vehicles become commonplace, a lot of people will want to shed the expense, hassle, and space demands of private cars. And the things probably will be very expensive, indeed. Plus to keep people off roads, legislators may inflict tolls — some would like to do that right now. So the trade-off for convenience, safety, and mobility in old age could be a pretty pricey ride.

And convenience may not be one of the benefits the price purchases. The cars may be so expensive that most people (Economist editorialists hope) will be forced to rely on ride-sharing services.

Consider: if you have to call a cab every time you want to go to work or run to the grocery store or take the kids to soccer, you will have to factor in substantial wait times. And your calculation will be influenced by a whole slew of variables:

  • The day of the week
  • Time of day
  • The season of the year, if you live in a tourist destination
  • Weather conditions
  • Major-league athletic events
  • Whether any civic shindigs are going on
  • What roads are torn up
  • How far a vehicle will have to come to reach you, and from what direction
  • How much it will cost to get from point A to point B

And probably a whole lot of other eventualities I’m not thinking of just now.

Then there’s the question of whether you really want to “share” a ride with everybody and his/her little brother, sister, and long-lost cousin. These vehicles, absent a custodian to ride herd on the Great Unwashed, are likely to be very dirty. The last rider lit up a cigarette: you get a ride that stinks. People will chow down on smelly fast foods and leave the wrappers on the floors. Mothers will change their babies’ diapers and leave the dirties under the seat. Drunks will vomit, leaving you a mess to enjoy on your way to the baseball game. Drug addicts will leave needles for your kids to play with.

Additionally, the companies that operate the vehicles will be able to track your every move, and they will have a centralized set of records available to anyone who can hack it, subpoena it, or pay enough for it. Privacy is already a scarce commodity in our own Brave New World. In the BNW of the endless rent-a-ride, it will be extinct.

Many people may consider true autonomy — owning one’s own vehicle rather than having to rent every ride — to be worth even a pretty exorbitant cost.

So what will happen? The roads will grow far more congested. If every store and restaurant converts to the Amazon model and every purchase you make is delivered to your home in a self-driving truck, then we’ll all be sharing the roads with that many more vehicles. This extra burden of vehicles will crowd roads and slow down traffic enough. Add to that the likelihood that a car that knows what’s best for you will move v-e-r-r-r-y slowly, and voilà! A drive that takes you 20 minutes now will take you 40 minutes or an hour in the balmy future.

Personally, I would very much welcome a self-driving vehicle: it would mean I could stay in my home until I die (with any luck), and hugely improve the odds against my having one day to check myself into a warehouse for old folks. BUT…

  • Only if it were my vehicle.
  • Only if it and the roads were available when I need them, not at some regulator’s behest.
  • Only if the cost were less than the cost of moving into an old-folkerie.
  • Only if it didn’t jack up the cost of my  power bills to unaffordable levels — i.e., more than the $40 to $60 a month I pay for gasoline now.
  • Only if it were as reliable as a Toyota.
  • Only if it were not tracking me and reporting my comings and goings to a central server.
  • Only if…only if…only if….

Communal living has never appealed to me. Communal riding doesn’t look much better. I do not play nice with the other kids and do not want to share…let’s be frank about that. And I’ll bet that most Americans, deep in their hearts, feel the same way. That, after all, would be why we have sprawling suburbs of single-family homes and vast herds of sheeple driving to work over bumper-to-bumper freeways.

It’s a trade-off. And the choices Americans have already made say something about how they’ll receive the scheme to “improve” private transportation with fleets of driverless ride-shares.

How about you? Ready for the brave new driverless world?


March 6, 2018
by funny

Another Fine Day in the ‘Hood…Another “Fine” Apple Product

Y’know, just once it would be nice to sit outside on a beautiful afternoon and not have one’s loafing interrupted by a police chase.

Talk about your forlorn hopes… 😉

This afternoon I ensconce myself on the back porch, put my feet up on a chair and the computer on my lap, and start pasting and formatting chapters 2 and 3 of Ella’s Story into the Plain & Simple Press website.

And, by dayum! before I can even format the first heading, along come not one, not two, but THREE cop and TV helicopters. As it develops, a band of armed robbers committed some crime on the far west side. One of them made his way into east Phoenix (so we’re told) and hijacked a woman’s car. When the cops threw down a bunch of tire-busters, he jumped out and hijacked another woman’s pickup.

From there he led the cops on a merry chase, ultimately running up Conduit of Blight Blvd, across Gangbanger’s Way and into SunnySlop, where he abandoned the truck and ran into his mom and dad’s miserable slum apartment. They caught the poor schmuck, but not before considerable property damage was done, large numbers of taxpayer dollars were expended, and an abrupt end was brought to anything resembling peace and quiet.

It gets tiresome. Once again I had to pack up everything, call the dogs inside, lock up all the doors, and forget any silly ideas about enjoying my backyard.

Speaking of silly ideas, remember that great Apple slogan, “It just works”?

Have you noticed how they’ve stopped using that?

Presumably because the operative phrase is now “It just doesn’t work.” And lest you think that is not a widespread phenomenon: it is Tuesday afternoon just now. The SOONEST I can get this practically brand-new MacBook in to the purported “Geniuses” to see if they can and will fix it is 4:15 — the height of rush hour — next Friday afternoon!

The key for the B character has stopped working. The only way I can type a letter “B” is by copying and pasting it.

Look this up on the Web and discover it’s a known issue that’s been happening since 2016!

How long do you suppose it takes Apple to fix a thing like this?

My other two Macs are upwards of nine years old, and they’ve never had a key just stop working.

uying Purchasing this pricey little bastard was a big mistake. Clearly, it was time to go back to the PC, with all its equally annoying headaches. At least a PC is relatively cheap — when it craps out you can go buy a new one.

The magically self-disabling “b” is not the only irritant with this keyboard. The keys are slightly larger and slightly further apart than they were on earlier models. Result: every third time a finger reaches for a key, it either hits the wrong key or it hits two keys. This means what once used to be a fast, accurate typing style now produces a mish-mash of typos: to wit, gobbledy-gook.

Looks like it’s time to go out and get an inexpensive PC from Costco and re-learn Windows. Then figure out how to get all the MacData into Windows format — shouldn’t be hard, because every file that matters was produced in Office programs, and they’re all stashed on DropBox. But it will add to the endless hassle factor.


Copy, Paste….B b

March 6, 2018
by funny

The Latest Online: Two more chapters of Ella’s Story *FREE!*

Chapter 2 seemed a little short and its ending seemed a little abrupt… So I threw in chapter 3 of Ella’s Story. So, two chapters: today’s contribution to the ongoing round of FREE offerings of Fine Literature from Plain & Simple Press.


If you like this stuff and want to spread the word, would you go on over to the Plain & Simple Facebook page and “like” the page? Apparently that’s a lagniappe in the Facebook world.

March 5, 2018
by funny

New [*FREE!*] chapter online: THE COMPLETE WRITER

Okay, so far I’ve managed to squeeze in one (count it: 1) productive task around a day of busy socializing and loafing: Posted Chapter 3 of The Complete Writer at the Plain & Simple Press website.

Chapter 3, online now!

Each chapter of three books will appear, one at a time, at the P&S blog, “News & Chat,” and at the same time, each chapter will be added to a separate page, in normal print-book order, so that eventually the entire book will appear on its dedicated web page. Thus…

This weekend was fairly hectic. Saturday morning we had a special coaching session for the All Saints’ choir, engineered by our new choir director, featuring a guest speaker who is an expert on the human voice. It was extremely interesting — in addition to learning a lot about how humans make vocal sounds, we got a whole slew of exercises and advice.

So…watch out, Metropolitan Opera! Here we come.

Sunday morning’s service was fairly long, and handsomely embellished by a rousing sermon from a guest pastor. Our guy is good, very good indeed…this lady was awesome. Plus the women’s chant choir got to sing the Psalm. So that was all highly satisfactory.

Then it was OUT of there like a rocket to meet WonderAccountant. We had tickets to the Phoenix Chorale’s Sunday afternoon performance: Scandinavian music! As usual with the Chorale, that also was pretty awesome.

First, of course, we had to go to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants…thereby piling on another pound for me to get rid of (again). Great food. Two margaritas. She was driving, thank God: for those who live and dine out in Phoenix, Otro serves real margaritas with a full portion of tequila, not frozen bottled margarita mix. Two will put you under the table. 😀

This morning I was reduced to having to pick up the mess preparatory to house-cleaning. This sounds simple but…well…when the occupant is in the habit of simply dropping things wherever she happens to finish with them, picking up the house can be a challenge. This is a lifelong bad habit: gotta quit doing that!

Today: off to La Maya’s place: home-made tamales for lunch! Now am so stuffed I can barely waddle. But very, very happy.

In less than an hour, I want to tune in to Chuck Bartok’s talk show: the emanation of a marketing guru who spends a fair amount of time and effort sharing what he’s learned. This could be interesting.

The day’s two remaining to-do’s — deposit checks and pay bills — will not get done between now and then, meaning little or no time & energy will be left to finish the Ella chapter I’m supposedly writing as we speak. Oh well.

Who would imagine “retirement” could be so effing busy?

March 2, 2018
by funny

Woo HOO! THREE new *FREE* books up at P&S Press!

Yes. That means exactly what it seems to mean: come on over to Plain & Simple Press and check out my new, ever-so-profitable (to you!) marketing scheme: GIVING AWAY books to you and all your friends, relations, lovers, and enemies. For free.

Y’know, I’ve had several books in progress for quite some time. Two of them are now finished. One is still wandering around the veldt.

But… Y’also know that I find the present publishing landscape profoundly discouraging, far more so than it was in the Good Ole Days when all you had to do was engage a talented agent to get your Fine Works of Literature published. I’ve sold two books on my own — academic presses are pretty easy — and one through an agent. All three, we might add, to real-world, heavy-hitting publishers.

But my last agent passed on to her Heavenly Father some years ago. At the time I was so engaged in my academic career — which mostly entailed teaching and managing university programs — that I failed to bestir myself to find someone to take her place. And of course when one reaches one’s dotage, hiring a literary agent is about as lost a cause as getting hired by a company or government agency that will pay you a living wage.

Hence: Amazon.

Yeah. Amazon will let you (and all your brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and long-lost grade-school friends) publish your golden words in Kindle format and try to sell them on your own.

Therein lies the problem: marketing. I am not a marketer. I do not want to be a marketer. And so I do not market. Thus the golden words — five real books and an uncountable number of “romantic erotica” squibs — rake in about $15 a month. Wowzers.

Yet I write.

I write because I am.

That’s what writers do.

One recent day it struck me that if I’m not going to make any fortune on my written opus, I might as well…not make any fortune. Why not simply give it away?

Selling on Amazon is roughly the equivalent of giving your work away. Why pay Amazon for the privilege?

Why pay anyone for the privilege, when you can give your books away yourself? That, after all, is what a website is for: giving your writing away. No?

An acquaintance of mine does exactly that, with the result that he sells far more books off his own sites than he ever could sell on Amazon…and he doesn’t have to split the proceeds with that vast heart of darkness. Exactly how his marketing plan works, I do not fully understand, though I study it. Someday I may figure it out. Or not.

Meanwhile, I write.

It’s always gratifying when someone reads your work. That, after all, is why you write. More or less.

Not for any pecuniary reason. Really.

So. I’ve decided I’m going to give these things away.

Plain & Simple Press will post a chapter or a section of each book every few days. You can read them at the site blog, one chapter at a time. Or, if you’d like to read a whole book online, you can go to the site’s pages dedicated to the respective Great Works:

Ella’s Story

An e-telenovela about people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire.

The Complete Writer: The Ultimate Guide to Writing, Publishing, and Living the Writer’s Life

Brings twenty-five years of writing, publishing, and academic experience to bear on issues that most concern people who want to be writers.

If You’d Asked Me, I’d Have Told You

Sassy, staid, off-the-wall, matronly, bitchy, conservative, liberal: with you I share the wisdom of the ages. The ages of a very long life.

Alternatively, you could buy one of these books in its entirety! I can provide it to you as a PDF, an ePub, or a printed paperback, handsomely designed and packaged. The Complete Writer and If You’d Asked Me are all set to go: come on over to the site for more details. Ella’s Story is a true work in progress: you can follow it as it grows. I expect there’ll be several Empire books: watch for them.

Don’t go gestalt: Go whole hog! Buy a book…feed a writer.

March 1, 2018
by funny

How to Make Your Tax Accountant Crazy…

First, you hire her.

Well, I take that back. First you major in English, instead of a useful subject like, say, accountancy. Then you will be perfectly situated for making any accountant of any variety crazy as a loon.

Then, get yourself a Mac, a nifty machine powered by software that is devilishly incompatible with Intuit’s software. This will cause one snafu after another, which the accountant will be able to handle pretty well during most of the year. As tax time approaches, though, it will drive her right off the rails.

Back in the day when I worked exclusively on PCs and knew Microsoft Windows and its compatible programs backward and forward, I did all my bookkeeping in Quicken. During the Dark Ages, it was a wonderful program. But as time marched on, its designer (Intuit) decided that it must be made ever more incomprehensibly complex and quirky. Managed to keep up with it, more or less, until the fateful day that I purchased a Mac.

That was the end of Quicken for me: Intuit made a sort-of, patched-together, shitty little low-end version that would kind of run on a Mac. But it just wasn’t worth the effort.

So started doing my books in Excel, which is pretty easy, pretty straightforward, and very hard to screw up. I can screw it up, of course, because I’m an English major and quite a creative one. But most humans: not so much.

My tax lawyer, the ex-husband’s ex-partner, retired from preparing tax returns for friends and former business acquaintances. Luckily for me, WonderAccountant came along about then.

WonderAccountant is an Intuit aficionado. She takes annual courses to keep up with that fine software, and she’s very, very good at using it for her clients’ manifold purposes. But of course it won’t work on my software. My attempt to learn the Cloud version of Quickbooks made my head hurt back in the day when it bore a faint resemblance to a shadow of Quicken. Today, when it has become clear that Quickbooks actually is code from aliens dwelling in Andromeda: out of the question.

So what we’ve done is set up a QB account to which she has accountantly access, and into which she can engross the emanations of my bank accounts and credit card accounts.

Sounds good (if you’re not an accountant), doesn’t it?

Well. No. The problem is of course she has no idea what any given deposit represents or to whom any exotic  check was written, or for what…

Meanwhile, my records are in Excel. They don’t speak Andromedan. Don’t speak any Earth language, either. So this means we have to compare notes so I can clarify the many transactions that Quickbooks uses to make corned-beef hash.

So now she has come up with A Solution: A spreadsheet that can be made to upload into Quickbooks (it’s really just a matter of correct formatting). This is a whizbang little fellow that hears what you’re sayin’ and fills in the blanks. Asked nicely enough, it can categorize all of your transactions by the appropriate “account” category, of which we have about 20. This is pretty cool.

This requires the English-major client to perform a seemingly simple task: Download transaction data from the credit union and the credit card companies and fit it into this spreadsheet by copying and pasting columns. Clarify transactions where necessary.

You see where this is going, don’t you?

Yes. We have an incorporated entity here. It has its own bank accounts and credit cards. And we have a living breathing human being: it has bank accounts and credit cards, too, which have little or nothing to do with the S-corp’s books.

And…heh…the human being is an English major.

Well, eventually I figured out (I think) (sort of) how to get these documents right (sort of), and after three hours of dorking around sent them off to her. She has lapsed into stunned silence.

Probably catatonic.

So that’s it. All you need is an English major, a Mac, Quicken, and Excel. Piece o’ cake!