Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Most people in America do not really have a choice when it comes to investing in the stock market.

I don't really invest in the stock market anymore unless a 401K through my employer counts. I think it does, but it's not really money that I can touch until I'm much older than I am now. And even then, there will be hoops to jump through because 401K money is one of those things that is both yours and isn't yours simultaneously. For one, you can't withdraw any of it without paying a hefty penalty due to certain restrictions around age and hardship. Additionally, when you do finally qualify, there is a maze of paperwork that needs to be filled out and verified in order to start disbursements. Finally, the balance may be affected by whether or not you are vested. "Vesting" applies to employer contributed funds which may operate on a schedule. So, if the funds aren't "vested" then your balance may not reflect how much money that you actually have.

However, when I think about how our financial system works in this country, putting money into the stock market as opposed to putting money elsewhere doesn't seem to be an actual choice in the way that it used to be. The one caveat to this is if you are already somewhat wealthy and have privilege. In other words, you have a choice of one thing, not two. If you don't choose the one thing, then you remain exactly where you are at in life with no ability to pay end-of-life bills.

For example, I'm looking at the future, and how much end-of-life care costs out of pocket. My father is in a nursing home, and we pay roughly $7500 a month out of pocket that is issued from his estate. My father was a chemical engineer in his heyday, and his entire estate...all that he worked for in life...will got to a C.N.A. who gets a salary to wipe his tush and take care of him around the clock. For clarity purposes, I'm not complaining about this at all. This is how the system works. I will inherit nothing, and dad will be taken care of for the rest of his days. What is the alternative to this? Well...the alternative is not being able to afford any of this and being broke and then the system kicks in and dad gets put on Medicaid and he lives in a nursing home that accepts Medicaid. The end result is the same. He gets the care he needs and the C.N.A. makes the money to wipe his tush and take care of him around the clock.

My point: I either invest in the stock market now to be able to afford the $2,000 a week it will require to take care of me in the last ten (or more) years of my life and eventually go broke. Or I don't invest in the stock market and stay broke and in the last ten years of my life I get cared for in pretty much the same way. The difference is that private care as opposed to that paid by Medicaid tends to be better. I know that my dad's private nurse we hired definitely spoils him, and he loves that. I'm just glad that his estate allowed him this opportunity to exit life on his own terms and with a luxury that few others will ever be able to afford.

So, then my choice is a choice of one thing. I can either shoot for the better luxury care, or I can do nothing and end up with the Medicaid care. Because of this reality, there's really no downside to choosing against putting your money into the stock market. If you lose it all, you just end up poor anyway and on Medicaid. You would have gotten there if you had done nothing. It's the same destination you win if you decide to take a risk and lose everything.

This "reality" of how all of this works is so frustrating to me. Capitalism seems to tout its ability to provide choices to its subscribers. But when it comes to investing in the stock market, there is absolutely no choice for many of us unless we are already independently wealthy. At that point, you could choose to just sit on your cash, or you could choose to spend it on this or that. Whatever. It doesn't matter because your "end of life" years will be as luxurious as you want them to be, or they will be as terrible as you want them to be. But for everyone else in America, the default is only terrible. If you want anything've got to risk it all. That is the only way to reach for something better. Your income will never be enough to guarantee that you can hire a care provider to pay for that level of care (It's basically $2,000 a week now...what will it be 20 years from now?). So, you are literally forced to invest even if you don't want to, because the default is just a standard line of "it will be terrible for you."

I'm not certain why our system is set up like this. Why did anyone think that this was a good thing, and that a choice of "one thing" is all that you get? Anyway, everyone who reads my blog should know that I'm no fan of capitalism, however, I do abide by its rules. I'm just choosing to air a particular criticism against this system that was put into place long before I got here. What would I think of the people who set this all up? I'd call them manipulative and evil. But, I'll play your game. I've got no other choice. I embrace my "choice of one."

Monday, July 15, 2024

Quantum computing is terrifying and it doesn't seem to be on anyone's radar.

So, I started listening to the Star Talk podcast this last week. It's hosted by celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson as he tackles subjects that are (quite frankly) really interesting. There's usually a guest of extreme scientific note on the show and a comedian who is there to lighten the mood and to represent "all of us" out here who have trouble with these kinds of concepts. But there was one episode of the show that kind of scared me. It was one that is all about Quantum Computer. You can find it HERE if you'd like to listen to it yourself. The ad-free version has commercials, but you can skip through those easily and get back to the content.

On this particular episode, the guest star was the authority on quantum computers, Dr. Michio Kaku. This guy has more scientific cred than just about anyone, and he really knows what he's talking about on levels that few are prepared to understand. But he's also a great communicator and can boil things down very easily for dummies like me. Now, the reason I clicked on this particular episode was because I was curious. I'd heard that quantum computers "were coming." And I like technology, so I thought, wouldn't it be nice to know a little bit more about this tech that may be "around the corner" so to speak. The answer to me was: uh...I'm sorry I clicked on that. I think I would have preferred to remain ignorant. Now...I'm full of worry.

So if you don't know, I'm going to try to boil this down in the way that Dr. Kaku did. I may fail, but here's what I grasped from the podcast. A quantum computer right now looks like a chandelier with hundreds of cooling pipes. At the bottom is a box that contains the electrons that do the computing. In order to get them into a proper state to be programmable, it requires a temperature close to absolute zero. What is the benefit of doing this? Infinite processing power, which is just crazy to imagine.

The way we do things right now is through transistors. Things are either a "0" or a "1." That's it. And it is through those two choices that all of the computers that we all use everyday now, work. Problems are solved like a rat going through a maze. You make a choice, it ends up being the wrong one, and you backtrack and make another choice. This is also how we do chemistry and how we figure out new medicines. People use petri dishes and take really good notes and observe. It is trial and error, basically "0" and "1."

What a quantum computer does is "0 and 1" and then "every other number in-between." So it's infinite. Dr. Kaku said, if there is a thing that has a trillion combinations, it will do all of those trillion combinations at once, in the time you snap your fingers, and spit out the right answer. He said that the first quantum computer will make all encryption, all passwords, all secrets that are protected by any kind of code completely obsolete. Everything will be laid bare. So there is an arms race going on between the different governments of the world (and the corporations) to make the first programmable quantum computer. There is already a prototype of one that you can play with online right now. But it doesn't have the programming language yet to make it do what people want it to do. However, I think that's just a matter of time. So I suddenly thought of all of our banks being rendered wide open with everyone able to access our funds, to read everything including any state secrets, to suddenly know about every single missive sent between people even on apps that claim they are heavily encrypted. It is all wide open for the world to see.

I myself don't think I have any particular secrets to keep. However, I work hard for the money I have and if it can just be emptied out and my balance go to zero, I thought, "How am I going to survive?"

I kind of wish that people wouldn't go around making these kinds of things. But there is no way to stop them. So, the rest of us just have to live in the aftermath of these creations and hope for the best. It wouldn't worry me so much if I could count on people to "do the right thing by me." But if it's one thing I've learned...people never do the right thing by me.

Friday, July 12, 2024

Here are my thoughts on Amazon Prime's sophomore outing of Invincible

There are spoilers for Invincible season 2 in this post. Proceed with caution. I finally got around to finishing up Invincible season 2 on Amazon. It's been out for a few months now, and following its mid-season break, I just hadn't circled back to it until this last week. Now that I have finished season 2, I'm glad that I did. Overall, it is a much slower season than the first one was. However, I think the character writing in this season was pretty strong. All of the characters seem to have much more agency, and I also enjoyed the ongoing theme of Mark fearing that he could turn out like his dad (Omni-Man).

I also love the animation and how bloody it gets, as well as how suddenly characters seem to die. That makes the silliness of the names like "Rex-Plode" or "Dupli-Kate" seem less silly as you watch these characters die on screen. There were also some real "Easter Eggs" in this show this season that I was wondering how they accomplished. For example we saw what might be "Spider-Man" and what might be "the Batman" but it is a dubious connection at best. So maybe "plausible deniability" is how they get away with that in a kind of "crossover." It was still fun though to hear Mark say Aquaman's line from Justice League, "I mean your a man that dresses as a bat...."

By the time I finished the last episode in the season, I felt like the show was in a "we're building for bigger things later." This makes me think season 3 is going to be pretty spectacular, and I wonder if we will see a certain rape scene in the show that I've heard is in the comic books. Seeing as it is pretty gory as is and that it doesn't seem to be pulling its punches, my guess is that it will end up being animated. For those who don't know, it touches on subject matter that media rarely addresses, especially with male victims and female perpetrators. The character in question is Anissa who is one of the Viltrumites...basically a very powerful being similar to Superman. She is a villain and an antagonist and she already beat the crap out of Mark this season, giving him a black eye and probably a few broken bones. Apparently she sexually assaults him in the comics. There are some though who say that it shouldn't be shown. My own opinion on this is that it should, because you just don't see that kind of thing happening to men on film (and it does happen to men). For example, I have a male friend who was raped by a former girlfriend of his, and he is still dealing with the trauma and she is still walking around free as a bird because no one will believe him.

Overall, season 2 of the show took time to linger. It took time to invest in character growth at a reasonable pace. I sometimes think that media has trained people to expect lightning fast development in 12 episodes or less without giving the audience time to actually process the story. The only thing I was disappointed in was the villain Angstrom. There was one episode to build him up as a villain and then one episode to quickly knock him down again. Ultimately, he ended up feeling a bit pointless, as if the whole season could have been done without him and not much in the plot would change. Certainly, nothing in the middle episodes was related to him at all. Anyway, I guess his abilities opened up both the multiverse and time travel, which will probably factor into future seasons. If anything, Angstrom's only reason to exist was to push Mark into new moral territory where the "villain" was a lot more gray. Ultimately, his powers are too "op" and too universe-breaking to keep around. So, that's why the made the Marvel and DC jokes/easter eggs and then killed him off. Just my opinion, anyway.

Anyone else watch Invincible season 2? If so, what did you think?

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Here are three answers that surprised me when I saw them online.

There are a lot of weird answers to situations I've come across lately that took me by surprise. In this post I'm going to share three of them with you.

1) I come across an opinion that "people who are economically challenged (read as poor) may not be the best people for leadership." My take: This sounds ridiculous, and it sounds like it is also discriminatory. But...what answer do you have for this statement?

Their answer: people who have experienced poverty long-term probably have suffered a lot of trauma. Trauma over time rewires the brain. You can have personality disorders and other things as a result of trauma. If the trauma was severe enough, that person may not be the best to select to lead others. My take: Uh...damn...this caught me by surprise, and it actually makes sense. But can it be backed by evidence? I have no idea. But it still shocked me that the answer was so coherent.

2) Another opinion: do you want to know if someone is wealthy? Do they have a clean house? This is a better tell than their Gucci handbag. My take: wait a minute? I would think that conspicuous wealth is the Gucci handbag or the expensive bling. Explain yourself. 

Their answer: it takes a lot of work to keep a house clean. If they aren't doing it themselves, then they probably can afford a cleaner. Cleaners these days (just for one day a week) is about $800 a month. So, if they have that kind of extra-spending cash, it's probably a good sign that you're dealing with someone who has wealth to spare in order to hire help. My take: okay, I wasn't expecting that. But it seems like a good "tell" to see if a person you are dealing with has some extra resources lying around. Do they live in a clean house? Interesting.

3) Here's another opinion I read online: homeless people in Salt Lake City are getting more aggressive and it is making me afraid. Does anyone else notice this and offer an explanation? Here was my take: personality disorders and stress combined with low ability to emotionally regulate can make anyone aggressive (as well as hot summers). I think this is probably normal, but I haven't noticed an increase in aggression. 

Their answer: people are inherently tribal. The thing that keeps people civil is civilization. When civilization breaks down, people form tribes as small as two, and nothing else matters outside that tribe. That's the way people are. What you are seeing in homelessness is the breakdown of a society. Civilization isn't working for those folks, so being civil is also out the window to anyone who is not part of their tribe. My take: damn...once again...this answer surprised me. But can see this in war-torn countries where warlords rise up or where gangs take over when a state fails and collapses in on itself. People are tribal.

What do you guys think of these answers? Any of them shock your previously held beliefs?

Monday, July 8, 2024

How important to you are the answers in a story?

I read an online homage to Ridley Scott's Alien (the original), which has spawned a lot of sequels. In this article that I stumbled upon (in my daily browsing), the author claimed that it is still a perfect movie. I also agree with this statement. However, they pointed out something about its storytelling (that I hadn't quite noticed before) that may be the main reason it is a perfect movie. It sets up a bunch of mysteries and it never resolves them. It also explains that for these same reasons, Prometheus is a failure of a story. It seeks to answer those questions set up by Alien.

So, this was a weird but important take on storytelling that I wasn't prepared for: knowing the answer spoils the story. But in most situations, this seems to be true. In Alien, we are introduced to a crew on some kind of industrial vessel that gets diverted to answer a distress beacon. We later assume that the distress beacon was from an alien vessel, and then the android on the ship ends up being a villain because the company knew that there were creatures on that planet, and the company that built the android wanted a sample brought back to them.

But there are never any answers given in any of that. How did the company know that the alien vessel was on that weird planet? Why did they want a sample brought back? And so on and so forth. As human beings, I think that we are programmed to want to follow questions back until we either come up with nothing, or an answer surfaces and then we can find some level of satisfaction and move on. But in storytelling, it is probably better to have an arc where you set up mysteries and just never resolve them. For example, in Amazon's Open Range you have a big hole in a field that has no bottom and allows people to time travel to different eras if they fall in. Answering the "why" as to this thing's existence just ruins the show. You can't be bothered by "why." It's better to have people just react to the weird thing that makes no sense. This also probably takes a big burden off the author or the "idea creator," because they don't need to know the "why" and the "how." All that matters is that the mystery "is."

I think that this is the genius of the X-Files, and why it worked so well. They had an alien arc that ran across the show's life, interwoven with "monster of the week" episodes that wrapped up nicely in an hour. However, it can also be overdone. Some people (like myself) do get annoyed with shows or movies that continuously introduce more and more mystery without ever fully resolving anything. Lost is probably the best example of this kind of storytelling.

Some people like to refer to this kind of tale spinning as "high concept." As a refresher, high-concept narratives are typically characterized by an overarching "what if" scenario that catalyzes the following events. Jurassic Park and its sequels are "high concept" in that it takes a question of "what if we could clone dinosaurs?" and then proceeds to answer that question. But in my experience, most high concept storylines write themselves into a corner, and then they can't figure out where to go with the story to make it where you care about the characters enough to keep coming back. In other words, it becomes more about the concept that it does the characters. And then they have no idea how to answer all the many questions that pop up in any satisfactory way. The Walking Dead is a perfect example of this. I read Robert Kirkman's explanation of how the zombie apocalypse started and he said that it came from outer space. He decided never to answer the mystery of how the zombies all started, because doing so lessened the story.

So, having said all of the above, I'm wondering: how important to you are the answers in a story? Are you okay with endless mysteries just so long as the present narrative of people/characters dealing with those mysteries is interesting and well-written? 

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

What word processor do you use to write with?

I hope everyone who visits my blog today has a wonderful July 4th. Along with it being "America's Birthday," it is also time to do the July 2024 installment of the Insecure Writer's Support Group (sign up for it at this LINK). This blogfest was started a long time ago by author Alex J. Cavanaugh. If you have never checked out his books, you should.

So, what is the Insecure Writer's Support Group anyway? Allow me to explain.

What is the purpose?: It is to share and encourage. Writers participating in the IWSG can express their doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s meant to be a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.

When do we post?: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. On this day, you should write your thoughts on your own blog. Some examples of what to write might involve talking about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. You could also discuss your struggles and your triumphs. Another idea is to offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Along with your post, you should try to visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writers. A good rule of thumb might be to aim for a dozen new people each time. When you return comments, you will find that you gather followers and connect. So, prior to that, you will want to make sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. These are the digital breadcrumbs you will leave behind that make certain others can find you in the huge ocean that is the internet.

The X handle for the Insecure Writer's Support Group is @TheIWSG and the hashtag everyone uses is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the July 3 posting of the IWSG are JS Pailly, Rebecca Douglass, Pat Garcia, Louise-Fundy Blue, and Natalie Aguirre!

Now, every month, the IWSG announces a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience, or a story. If it does, you could totally use this as your post. But you should remember that the question is optional.

July 3rd question: What are your favorite writing processing (e.g. Word, Scrivener, yWriter, Dabble), writing apps, software, and tools? Why do you recommend them? And which one is your all-time favorite that you cannot live without and use daily or at least whenever you write?

For me, it is Microsoft Word. I think it is an indispensable tool now, and I know how to format everything. I make it so that my spacing between lines is automatic, that the indent is automatic (I don't press the "tab" button anymore), and it has some fantastic a.i. driven spell check as well as "document review" editing options. I never use a.i. to write. However, I would be a fool if I didn't use its power to read my document and look for errors. It does this literally for free. I'm old enough to remember when people needed to hire editors to look through their stuff. This new way is incredibly good, and I think it is better than trying to find someone who will take the time to go through hundreds of pages of material looking for errors. It's also extremely easy to format things for online publishing, like Kindle or Lulu. The only downside to Microsoft 365 is that it requires a subscription now. But I've installed some copies of it on computers owned by friends, and they've paid me a modest sum, so the cost is relatively modest.

Thanks for visiting, and may all of you find the word/writing processors that suit your style.


Monday, July 1, 2024

House of the Dragon season 2 is off to a strong start.

House of the Dragon
is so damned good. Now that I've stopped nitpicking things as much as I did when I was younger, I can fully appreciate just how far we've come in our entertainment options to actually have a fantasy series that looks as incredible as House of the Dragon. I looks better than movies with $200 million dollar budgets looked back around year 2000. And we get this weekly until season 2 ends for the price of a subscription to Max.

I've only seen two episodes in season 2 thus far, but both of them just hit the ground running. The first episode fed right into an assassination plot that was as gruesome as Game of Thrones could plaster on screen, and then this went into another assassination plot. Out of all of the new and returning characters, I think I dislike Otto Hightower the most. The civil war in House of the Dragon is entirely his own making because he assumes that the Realm won't accept a female heir to the throne. In my opinion, Rhaenyra would definitely have experienced a ton of sexism and low-level resistance to her rule, but that would have passed with time and reminders of the power of dragons.

Otto's weakness (which I will go into in just a minute) is also why I kind of despise him as a character. He's a fantastic political mind, but it's cold and calculating. When it came to his own daughter, he just pimped her out to the king so that she would be queen. However, the king was a decidedly gross individual and House of the Dragon never failed to remind us of how gross he was. 

Otto always fails to understand the people who are close to him. Examples are ignoring the fact that Aegon is completely unsuited to rule. Another example happens after the assassination (done by Blood and Cheese) of Aegon's heir happens in the castle. Otto decides that displaying the dead body through town would garner a lot of sympathy, even though the two women he commands to ride on the wagon behind the funeral procession don't want to do it.

Anyway, the season is off to a strong start. Anyone else care to weigh in?

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