Bill Gates, Bill Shatner, and Billionaires

“Yeah, that’s nothing. Peter would spend millions just to mildly annoy Gavin. These are billionaires, Richard. Annoying each other means more to them than we’ll make in a lifetime.” – Silicon Valley20170725_232152 (2)

So, I met William Shatner.  He wasn’t as thrilled as I was. I saw him sign this, for me.  It looked like he wanted to get to the Holiday Inn and soak his feet.

Part of great success is built by luck.

Yes, that’s a declarative sentence, and of course I know my old granddaddy Quintin Tarantino used to say, “The less a man makes declarative statements, the less apt he is to look foolish in retrospect,” but I’ll stick by this one.

One of my favorite stories is about an author who submitted his novel to about a zillion publishers, only to be turned down by all of them.  All of them.

He was working a crappy night job at a dry cleaner, and after the novel came back, in a fit of anger he threw it into the trash, right on top of last night’s dinner.  He had given up.  His wife, however, still had hope.  She picked the novel out of the trash.  She replaced the cover – the old one had gotten spaghetti sauce all over it – and she sent it in.

One more time.

The publisher loved it.  Soon a book contract.  Then a movie, “Carrie.”

Yeah, that was Stephen King.  How many Stephen Kings are there working that just never got a break?  That didn’t have Brian dePalma direct a masterful movie off of their work?  Hundreds?  Thousands?

Heck, I have my own magnum opus I wrote on construction paper about a robot that could kill all of humanity and then died.  Because . . .

Dang, that was the hard part.  Yes.  Because humanity was so strong!!!!!

But, that’s me, not Stephen King.

Stephen King can write fiction that millions want to see.  But he was lucky he married a woman who believed one more time than he did.  Unlike my Mom, who cried on the construction paper.  She told me she was happy, but I still think those weren’t happy tears.

Let’s switch gears . . . .

Pick anyone named Bill who is wildly successful, and I’ll point to the break that they had – the luck – that got them over the top.

I’m NOT saying that Bill Shatner isn’t a gift to the world, because clearly he is.  But he was the second person who sat at the helm of the Enterprise, not the first.  He had a stroke or two of luck in that one . . .  But I follow him on Twitter®, he doesn’t follow me. (Yet)

I’m NOT saying that Bill Gates isn’t brilliant as I write on Microsoft® Word™ on a Microsoft© Windows® operating system (though Microsoft® Explorer™ . . . really, Bill?) because Bill Gates is clearly brilliant.  I follow him on Twitter© – he doesn’t follow me.  (Yet)

There were thousands of people who competed with Gates.  But we should all be honest:  it took more than one lucky break for Gates to end up with enough money to buy up all of the Pez® in the world three times over:

  • Gates was born rich. Not mega-rich, but rich.  As we all know, that’s the best way to get rich (LINK).
  • Gates had access to computers at a private prep school when only NASA, MIT, and The Hair Club for Men had access to that kind of computing power.
  • He met lots of the “right people” at Harvard.
  • He was lucky enough to bring some of those “right people” to Microsoft®.
  • He had a lucky meeting with IBM®. They’d use his new DOS® software, because (laughing) WHO WANTS TO OWN SOFTWARE?  Look at this cool green screen!

Bill eventually won – he built a monolith of a cash-generating company from the ground up.  At the right moment in history, Mr. Gates either developed or found:

  • The Right Vision. As early as 1980, the vision was a computer on every desk, in every home, running Microsoft® software.  By 1998 geriatric grandfathers had them to get e-mail from distant family.  By 2002 they were getting e-mailed photos regularly.  By 2004 they were sending money to Nigerian Princes and sending out virus-encrusted email greeting cards to EVERYONE in their address book.
  • The Right Skills. Bill Gates developed a wide variety of skills beyond his programming chops – he developed team leadership skills, accounting and sales skills, and the skills to hire the best.
  • The Right Team. Windows 1.0 sucked.  So did Word 1.0.  So did Excel 1.0.  They were the WORST.  But the team did second and third versions that were so good, so strong, so well integrated that dominant products like “Lotus 1-2-3” and “WordPerfect” were smashed harder than an Amish girl at spring break in Cancun.
  • The Right Business Environment. The early vision of computers on each desk meant . . . they had to be usable.  They had to provide value.  They had to be something that people wanted to use.  By creating that software, by creating Windows 95™, Gates got rid of the old constraints of the IBM clone as a business machine, and brought it into the home, massively multiplying the user base in a single year.

Mr. Gates was always going to do well.  He had too many factors in his favor from day one, even without the family wealth and support.  That was like having a springboard.  With his intellect at that time and place?  No way Bill walks away with less than $100,000,000.  He was going to create something awesome no matter what.  But one of the largest and most profitable companies on Earth?

Nah.  That wasn’t a cinch.

Again, I’m not saying that these Captains of Industry (Gates, Musk, Jobs, Thiel, Bezos, Brin, Page) aren’t worthy.  They most clearly are.  (But do you think that Page gets mad that I put Brin first?)  Again, clearly, each of them would have been very successful without luck.  But luck has played a part in vaulting each of these men into the massive success that they now enjoy.  (I was tempted to throw “clearly” into that last sentence, but, I think you’ve gotten the point by now.  Clearly.)

So you should Get Lucky.

Good heavens!  There must have been a LOT of bad decisions in the 1980s.  Starting with this album cover.

But, you’re asking, “How, John Wilder, can I, like Loverboy®, Get Lucky©?”

Well, you’re in luck!  I have a fairly short list that I’ll expand at a future point, when the astrological signs are right:

  • Hard Work – There is no substitute for this. Okay, there is.  Massive piles of talent and luck.  And money.
  • Live in a Big City (A Rich One) – For heaven’s sake, if you’re not rich? Hang around rich people!  They have opportunity, and, most importantly, businesses you can learn to work with.  And . . . run.
  • Work In a Job Where The Money Is – There are rich cities and poor cities. And there are rich portions of the economy and poor ones.  Would you rather work at the place where they recycle used water bottles, or the place where they build underground secret bases for aspiring Bond villains?  (I’m looking at you, Elon Musk).
  • Expose Yourself At Your Best – Have you ever seen that show, Cops? It’s every person, ever, at their very worst day.  On film.  Honestly, we all have bad days.  And we all have things we’re bad at (hopefully the thing you’re bad at isn’t personal hygiene – and it wouldn’t be, since you read this blog – you must smell like roses and fresh bread, and that’s on a bad day!).   But when you get a chance and you’re with a billionaire?  Show him what you do best.  Unless what you do best is eat Pez®.  Focus on things you can do for the billionaire that make him even more money.
  • Believe You’re Lucky – Sounds crazy, right? No science behind it?  But if you believe you’re lucky you’ll see good things when others see only bad.  You’ll see opportunity when others only see stone walls.  And if you stare at the Sun long enough . . . WAIT . . . don’t do that.  But I’m not kidding – believing you’re lucky makes you lucky.  Me?  I’m the luckiest guy you’ve ever read, unless you’ve read something that Keanu Reeves wrote, because that man is golden (LINK).

In 2016, there were 540 billionaires living in the US.  If 35% of them inherited their great gobs of billionaire cash, that leaves 351 who did it themselves.  Yay, them!  That gives you a 0.000117% chance of being one.

By doing the things I’ve listed above?  If you’re really smart (like 140+ IQ, PLUS read this blog)?  That means you can force those odds several orders of magnitude closer to your own private island.    Maybe even to 0.01% of a shot at the Tres Commas (A Billion has Three Commas) club.

This much, much closer than you could ever become with a lottery ticket.  And, the good news?  You will certainly become a millionaire, you know, with the shameful two commas.

All of this is better than winning the lottery.  Certainly your biggest shame?  You’re only a millionaire.

But none of this will allow you to become as cool as Bill Shatner.  Because there can be Only One True Shatner!

Peak Oil, Fracking, and Fashion

“There’s no such thing as gas shortage man, its all set up by the government, everything’s controlled by the oil companies like I heard about this guy who invented a car that runs on water man, its fiber glass, air cooled and it runs on water!” – That 70’s Show

DSC02359

That twisty line is the road to the North Slope.  The straight line is the Alaska Pipeline, see all the dead wildlife?  No?  Good times.

There are a lot of new readers to the site, so I thought I’d throw out some general notes: 

  • New posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. My time, so if you get up early in London, might not be there yet.  You know who I’m talking about.

  • Mondays are Big Ideas (Wilder Weekly Wisdom). Wednesday is Wealthy Wilder.  And Friday is focused on health, mostly. 

Energy from oil allows us to move at great speed through space, hurl our ideas to one another at nearly the speed of light, and grow and move food to feed billions that would otherwise have no chance at life.  It heats us, cools us, and, most importantly, cools our beer.

Energy from oil is the most critical question of our lifetimes.  Unless you count fashion.  And I have NO IDEA what I’m wearing tomorrow!!!

There’s always some fuddy-duddy in the background during the party on Saturday night saying, “Hey, dudes, you are going to have SUCH a hangover tomorrow.”  In the 1950s, that party was oil and the person was M. King Hubbert.  And everyone smoked and drank martinis, and listened to Sinatra on their gramophones.

In a really short version, Hubbert said that there’s really only so much oil in the ground.  I know that you’re saying, “Duh, John Wilder, we know that, since the Earth is essentially a finite bounded sphere.”

Well, Mr. Internet-Smart-Pants, Hubbert made his claim on a much more immediate basis.  We were going to hit peak production in the whole world in 2000.  Here’s his original graph:

Hubbert_1956

(Source, M. King Hubbert, 1956)

Amazingly, Shell Oil paid him to do stuff like this.  At work!  Sounds like a job John Wilder needs.

From this, you’d take it that we currently live in a Mad Max® style Road Warrior© land populated by ex-football players chasing Mel Gibson.

ROAD WARRIOR

But no, I have it on good advice that Australia is currently engaged in a long term war against New Zealand, where the primary combat mode consists of Australia discussing the quality of wool produced by New Zealand sheep (shameful, what!) and New Zealand continues to pummel Australia in rugby.  (Note to Australia – I’ll get off your back when you get above 1% of my monthly visitor count, and I’ll start drinking Fosters® again.)

So what happened?

Well, Hubbert was really kinda exactly right.

Here’s the graph of what Hubbert predicted for United States oil production.  There’s a lovely peak in 1973.  Hubbert drew this out almost 20 years before then, so he nailed it, within months of actual United States oil production.  This prediction was almost spot on and pointed to the first time that OPEC (Oil Producing and Eating Communists) could use oil as a weapon, which they did with the Oil Embargo of 1973.  Thankfully, the federal government controlled oil prices so that they could ensure that we had very long lines at the gas stations.

hubbert united states

(Source, M. King Hubbert, 1956)

But then we get to something interesting – here’s the graph of oil production since then.  There was a secondary peak in the late 1980’s.

chart

That secondary peak was from production coming from Alaska’s North Slope shooting down the pipeline and buying freedom and crushing the Soviet Union.  Part of Reagan’s strategy to bring down USSR was to deprive it of cash.  The Saudi government opened the spigots, the United States drilled away, and, the Soviet export of crude oil no longer brought it the cash it needed for Pez® and nuclear bomb parts to build more missiles to get through the missile defense screen we were pretending to build.

Reagan destroyed the Soviet Union . . . using cheap oil.

But, like I said, Hubbert was still pretty much on the nose with his US prediction, since he excluded new technology and unconventional (Arctic, Deep Sea) oil.  The Arctic was really the first of the extreme locations that we looked for oil in the United States.  We followed it up with locations mind-numbingly deep in the Gulf of Mexico.  And that’s how we extended Hubbert’s curve.  But then oil hit $120 a barrel.  People freaked out!  The end of cheap oil was everywhere!

First we extended Hubbert’s curve.  Then we blew it out of the water (in BP’s case, they took that a little too literally in the Gulf of Mexico).

That last little spike upward?  That’s oil from fracking.  Yes, whereas “frack” used to just be a made-up cussword (you know, like “felgercarb”) on Battlestar Galactica, “frack” now stands for money.

frack2

Fracking is the process of drilling horizontally into an oil-bearing layer of rock and jacking the pressure up higher than a Colorado bed and breakfast.  Bits of sand and chemicals are introduced to hold open cracks in the rocks to allow oil to flow out.  And how does it work?

Fantastically.

The oil and gas produced from fracking allowed the US to reach near all-time production in a relative eye-blink of a time.  It’s distorted the entire economic picture of the world again, since the US can effectively produce a significant amount of its required production in a fairly quick period of just a few years.

This new technology allowed the world to find new reserves that were unthinkable in the 1950’s.

But are they good reserves?  Fracked oil and gas produces about 85 units for each unit of energy invested.

Let’s compare them to the rest of the crowd:

eroi

By Mrfebruary – Own work Data from Table 2, Murphy, D. J. and Hall, C. A. S. (2010), Year in review—EROI or energy return on (energy) invested. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1185: 102–118. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05282.x http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05282.x/pdf, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16238068

Wow.  Fracked oil produces MUCH more energy than most everything we currently produce.  And while we’re right now fracking only the best spots, and the return on energy will drop, it’s still really, really high.  Oil sands up in Canada have about a 4:1 return, so I expect, based on their relatively poor energy production (plus huge unpopularity) that they’ll not be an investment hub in the near future.

And, I’ll admit – I didn’t see this coming.  My original take on fracking was that it was a side-show – that the energy produced would actually be an energy drag on us – taking almost as much energy to produce as it took to drill the wells.  Nope.  Totally wrong.  Fracking will be with us for decades.

Why do I predict this?

  1. People like driving.
  2. People like plastic things.
  3. People don’t like living cold and in the dark.
  4. Given the current return on energy invested? Fracked oil is huge.

I would guess we have at least 10 years’ worth of high quality fracked oil, if not 20 or 30.  I don’t have the data (and couldn’t find it easily) but this may be the most important question of your life – how does fracked oil impact the Hubbert curve?

I know that many folks are of the hope that we will get rid of oil, natural gas, and especially coal.  I’m sorry for you, really, because as the graph of United States energy consumption shows (below):

renewable energy

  • Renewables are pitifully small and, if they keep growing at this rate, might be 20% of the energy in the country by 2435.
  • Oil use dropped when it was a $120 a barrel. Headed back up now.
  • Natural gas is now much cheaper than a decade ago since they’re finding it everywhere (fracking). Huge growth.
  • Coal has dropped, primarily due to making it tough on coal electricity providers. Still a huge player in electricity production.
  • Nuclear is level. The things are horribly hard to build and hard to get rid of, too.
  • Biomass is steady-ish.
  • Hydroelectric (our best ROI!) is flat and at the bottom. Nobody wants a new dam, but you have to have dams to have the cleanest energy source possible.

But let’s see how that compares to the rest of the world:

Bp_world_energy_consumption_2016

By Martinburo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53803246Oil
  • Oil, increasing.
  • Coal, increasing. A bit of a drop off (probably mainly the US).
  • Natural gas.   Steady.
  • Meh.  Mainly replacing nuclear.
  • Nuclear – dropping off.

I’m pretty much at the point where, although I see that forests of wind farms have been built, and California has this Death Star® array where they fry birds with a million mirrors focused on a big Rubik’s Cube® filled with molten salt, I’m not impressed.  Okay, I really am impressed that they talked someone into building this Dr. Evil-style structure out in the desert, and I’m expecting it to show up in the 2028 movie, Kingsmen:  Diamonds Sunlight are is Forever.

Just like you, I’d love to live in a world powered by clean, renewable energy, where everyone loved one another, and Disney® wasn’t in the process of destroying Star Wars©, but that’s not where we live, and if we tried to go there?

Billions would die. (not from the Star Wars™ thing, but from the lack of energy thing)

Fortunately, not many would die where I live, but mainly in the rest of the world.  I’d be fine, and, probably you too since you’re a reader of this blog and thus smarter than 99.999% of humanity and everyone in Australia (again, Australia, I know you speak English, so start visiting and I’ll activate a truce).

Unless we get a breakthrough in physics or oil suddenly disappears from the Earth due to a virus cunningly devised by an evil scientist named Mike, oil will be the primary power source for decades.  After that?

It’s the most crucial question that we’ll ever face as a species.

Except for fashion.

Oh, I do know what I’ll wear tomorrow!  That was easy!

Why Fitbit and Cheat Day Might Be Making You Fatter

“What is wrong with these people? They have no willpower. I once went 28 years without having sex. And then again for seven years.” – The Office

DSC03308

How Cheat Day feels.

Fitbit® will not make you skinny.  In fact, Fitbit™ might make you fatter (or, make you lose less weight).

Why?  Although exercise is very, very, good for you, you still can’t run faster than your teeth (LINK) . . . exercise is not the biggest factor in losing weight – it’s calorie intake(we’ve covered that before, too (LINK) – remember the Scottish dude who didn’t eat . . . for over a year?  Yeah.  He got skinny.  Remember, he started at 456 pounds.

Sure, he exercised, but his ace in the hole was the “not eating” component of his plan.  But if he would have had a Fitbit® . . .

It’s not just Fitbit™ – it’s any fitness tracking device.

Why?  Well, it’s all in your head.  Really.

The most crucial part of the equation when it comes to weight loss (or, really, kicking any habit) is hacking your own brain first.  And if you don’t do it, there are tons of companies that want to do it for you.

Let me give an example:

Once upon a time after I graduated college, I was in a department store (this is in the BA time – Before Amazon) and was looking at a stereo.  It was awesome!  Speakers big enough to use as a coffin for a large dog.  I wanted it, but knew that I shouldn’t.  I owed people money, like my mortgage company.  I had just moved.  It was expensive.  Ohhh, but it was pretty!  And it had . . . surround sound!  I could listen to my TV with speakers located behind my head!

I would have walked away, but the person I was in the store with said, “You studied really hard in school.  You work really hard at work.  You deserve it!”

Brain hacked.

I bought the stereo (and ended up paying probably 10% more than the price in interest) since I couldn’t pay it off that month.

But I deserved it, right?

No.

I totally didn’t deserve it.  In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Nobody Deserves Anything.  If we could just tattoo that on each other’s foreheads, we’d all be better off.  I never hear The Boy or Pugsley EVER say deserve.  It’s a dirty word around our house, and no one wants to hear the 45 minute lecture that goes with that word.

That word successfully hacked my brain, though.  In a way, that was worth the whole price of the stereo, five times over.

And that’s what Fitbit© does.  It creates the concept of deserve in your brain – and that’s the danger.  I walked 10,000 steps today!  I deserve . . . a pizza.  Not a slice.  A pizza.  I walked 15,000 steps – that’s a pizza and some ice cream.  Oh, and beer.

So, an activity tracker might just make you fatter.  Are there other self-sabotaging behaviors we engage in that might add in to the mess?  Sure there are:

  • “I’ve already slipped up today, so I’ll eat the whole pizza.” – This makes sense – it combines a temporary defeat with a complete and total surrender of the day. Yay!
  • “I’ll restart the diet after the weekend. And this pizza.” – Ah, the good old future you, paying for the sins of present you.
  • “My cheat meal can be a cheat day.” – Well, meal is a lot like day in that they’re both words.
  • “My cheat day can be a cheat weekend.” – And what weekend isn’t made up of days?
  • “Chips are good for you, right?” – Only if you own stock in Frito-Lay©.
  • “Those cookies will go stale if I don’t eat them?” – And they will slowly kill you if you do . . . .

These have the common theme of “deserve” followed by “victim” followed by “extreme rationalization.”

And how do these come to mind?  These are already tricks I use to convince myself that this makes sense.  I’ve had to abandon cheat meals because . . . I’m not good enough to deal with them.  Likewise, any system that depends upon your willpower to for long term support, especially when you have a friend like your brain, is doomed.

Scott Adams works the idea that he uses choices to work around willpower.  Now I’m not sure that Scott has ever weighed a pound over his ideal weight, but he does have a point – willpower for a long term diet is a difficult partner, so he has a system.  Sadly, as a vegetarian, none of his choices involve bacon, and my choice the other night to eat all those chips was probably not as bad as it could have been (I might have tried to inject them into my eyes), but it wasn’t a great choice.

So, an activity tracker might be a calorie enabler, and another tool for your mind to tell you that you deserve something.  And whatever you do – don’t make me give you that talk.

Reminder:  John Wilder is STILL not a doctor, nor will he regenerate as one.  Consult your Doctor, Attorney, Car Mechanic, and Podiatrist prior to following any advice that you might get from here.

RV Ownership for Fun and Profit

“What? Come on! Man, you’re smart. You made poison out of beans, yo. Look, we got, we got an entire lab right here. Alright? How about you pick some of these chemicals and mix up some rocket fuel? That way you could just send up a signal flare. Or you make some kind of robot to get us help, or a homing device, or build a new battery, or wait. No. What if we just take some stuff off of the RV and build it into something completely different? You know, like a like a dune buggy?” – Breaking Bad

overview

Our camp, as viewed by the disembodied spirit of Elvis.

“I can’t believe you did this,” The Boy was flat out surprised.

“Why not?”

“This . . . this is so not like you.”

“This” was buying a Recreational Vehicle (RV), specifically a travel trailer.  You have to be specific when you describe what exactly your RV is, since (upon checking the Internet) everything from a little red wagon to the Death Star© qualifies as someone’s RV.

And, I’ll admit it, when you have a guy that drives a 12 year old car (LINK) until it gets totaled (LINK) it would seem a bit out of character for him to buy what can only be considered a luxury item.  Or at least that’s what I thought of, when I thought of RVs.

The Mrs. and I had actually discussed purchasing an RV for the last 15 or so years.  At first it was a little pop-up camper that occupied our dreams.  When we moved to Alaska, we looked at several different campers and camper types, and were pretty close to offering some money for a little integrated camper with its own engine, etc., but I couldn’t quite get comfortable driving in the bush in Alaska where there were no cell phones with a camper that had 271,000 miles on it.  That’s just asking for Hollywood to make an “Into The Wild”-type movie starring your family and a grizzly bear that stalks you for 231 miles of your trek back to civilization while you have to fight it off with marshmallow roasting forks.

I like to think that they’d get Liam Neeson to play me.  If he works out and gets some bigger biceps.

Anyway, we put the idea of an RV on the back burner living in Texas, because the last thing you want to be is a Texan with an RV.  That’s like ALL Texans, and, since The Mrs. and I have never read Harry Potter, we figured why join the crowd now?

But I like camping, and after a few camping adventures that seem more like a horror movie to The Mrs. (Just a little farther, dear – you can stop throwing up whenever you get to the top!), she decided that she liked . . . showers.  And a bed.  And not throwing up on the trail.

But, to buy a camper seemed so frivolous.  And not that I don’t buy frivolous crap – I do.  Right now I’m wearing a 2016 Campaign t-shirt for The Flight of the Conchords (Jemaine & Brett 2016 – It’s Business Time).

It’s worth the watch – 3:55 minutes of New Zealand’s second most popular comedy-folk duo.

Anyway, it seems so frivolous, something that someone with LOTS of money would do.  It’s something that . . . rich people would do?  Or old retired people who wanted to drive a house around slowly so they could have their house be in different places.  Kind of like the Tardis, but with Social Security.

I started stalking Craigslist around where we live.  And, after getting a whole lot of free Styrofoam packing peanuts, I finally found two candidates.  I’d also looked at a dealer, but the brand new one he showed me had a table that was split open due to humidity.  Not a great selling point.  The one I liked best was an R-Pod.

An R-Pod was designed to be smaller.  We have a generic pickup, and a youth-skewed 4×4 SUV that The Mrs. likes to remind me is older than Pugsley.  Pugsley is 12.  She is not exaggerating.  It doesn’t have a cassette deck, but . . . close.  Both of these vehicles could pull the R-Pod, which weighs in at a whopping 2800 pounds, with a cargo capacity of at least another half-ton.  This is important, since we’d have two vehicles capable of pulling the beast around, since our 4×4 was capable of “only” pulling 5,000 pounds.

First lesson?  If I wanted to do this cheaply (and, Internet, you know I do!) I would have to buy something light, or I’d have to buy a trailer AND a car.

Again, we’d found two of these located two hours away in River City, Lower-Northern Midwestia.  We texted and, without hearing back, turned our pickup to go buy an RV.

Now, I’m not opposed to other people buying brand-new RVs.  If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have a pool of cheap used ones to pick from.  Make no mistake – an RV isn’t an asset.  All it does is either take you to the lake for fishing (or gold panning! (LINK)) or sit in a storage space.  It creates no income.  And every second it sits on the planet it depreciates, until it turns 50 and becomes either “classic” or “constructed entirely of prohibited components like lead and asbestos.”

An RV is not an investment.

So, on our way to River City someone returned my Craigslist email, and said they’d be there when we got there.

They were.  They were a nice couple who had bought the RV to go to musical concerts, but the wife couldn’t manage to get around the trailer.  I looked the trailer over, checked what I could figure out, and then, consulting Kelley’s Blue Book for RVs® (yes, this is a thing), made an offer of $1,000 less than the asking price.  Unbeknownst to me, The Mrs. had been talking to the Mrs. of the owner’s side, and, they’d had it on the market for some time and were just getting ready to lower the price.

So, while I felt like a wheeler-dealer, I probably pegged the number that they really wanted.  I wrote out a check, they wrote out a title, and we hooked OUR RV to the truck and headed back home.  It looked strange, since most RPods have decals that make them look all pretty.  In this case, the original owner (not the one we bought from) had painted over everything to advertise his traveling patent medicine show that he ran with Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.

I know, I know, but you have to give the 70’s some slack.  They’d just discovered polyester.

The Mrs. and I talked about what to do about our generic, white RV.  In general, we decided we should either paint it like the mystery machine or like the shuttle Galileo from TOS Star Trek.  In general, we both liked the way that we imagined the shuttle . . . . and we’ve gotta paint it . . . but can we bring our phasers?

Upon getting it home and hooking it up to power, I found that everything was functional, except the refrigerator and sensors that indicate the levels in the waste tanks and battery.  RV refrigerators are mind-numbingly expensive, since they are configured to run on propane, plug-in power, batteries, and hope.  They are apparently only made in Germany by small gnomes that live in the Harz Mountains.  I resigned myself to buy a cheap college dorm fridge (there was a plug in) and move on.  I went to work (mildy) brooding on this.  Primarily I was depressed because the nice man hadn’t told me the fridge was on the fritz.  I would have still bought it.

Most RV folks say the sensors are useless, and often stop working quickly.  Not a problem.

I decided to not make our new toy a source of sadness.  I buried any disappointment in a determination to fix it.

Pugsley had spent the night in the trailer.  The Mrs. had bet he’d get in the first night it was home, but he waited until the second night to make his move.

Upon returning home from work, I decided to check out other systems.

Nothing electrical worked.  Nothing, except the air conditioning, microwave . . . . hmmm.

It was hot, I was sweating, and I began to check various components.  I suppressed the burning desire to choke Pugsley.  I really reasoned that he was only a bystander – and honestly, the fact that everything was broken was really encouraging.

I know, that sounds weird.  But when one thing breaks?  Yeah, that thing is generally broken.  When it all breaks?  That means your mind can generally fix it if you think smart enough, or have a great deal of experience really screwing things up.  Me?  I have a great running history of not giving up when I should (LINK).

After a bit of investigation, I found that two main fuses were blown.  I sent The Boy to buy new ones.  During his absence, I flipped the battery terminals on the brand new battery the previous owner had installed.  The Boy arrives.  I pop in the fuses.

Everything works.  Everything.  Including the German Ice Machine!  Even the sensors that tell me how much onboard poop we have!

So, in best Star Trek® fashion?  REVERSE THE POLARITY AND EVERYTHING WORKS!!!!

picard polarity

The previous owner had flopped the terminals on the battery.  Now I had a flawlessly working system.  Yay!  And, unlike constructing tire chains by hand, this didn’t take sixteen hours to noodle through.

During this time, I remembered that the previous owner had stressed I should look at the wheel bearings.  For those of you that may not be aware, a wheel spins.  But the trailer does not.  The contact part for the spinny-part to meet the non-spinny-part is the wheel bearing.  It’s essentially a bunch of greased up balls (no jokes here) that allow everything to spin around without getting hot or grinding the nice metal into a pile of hot, combusting metal dust.

vulcan stand up

On side had a great place to inject grease into the bearing, which is what we used to do when Nixon was president (or so I’m told).  Now most cars have sealed bearings that would last to Jupiter and back, but in the 1960’s (I’m told) you had to grease stuff all the time or else you’d die when the wheels flew off of your Model T at 22 miles per hour.

My crappy $500 trailer has sealed bearings.  Not this trailer.  Nope.  It has bearings that must be greased.  So I greased the ditch-side (think about it) bearing.  There’s a small dust cap that covers the grease Zerk.  The grease Zerk is the fitting that allows grease to be pumped on a one-way journey to the bearing, and is named for . . . Austrian engineer Otto U. Zerk.  I know it sounds like a joke.  It’s not.  It should be.  It’s not.  Otto.  U.  Zerk.

Anyway – one side done, new grease covering all the nice bearing parts.

Next side . . . where’s the Zerk?  Where’s the cap that holds the grease in?

I pulled the Zerk off the other side – Otto’s THREADED Zerk!!! – and put it on the other wheel.  And pumped in a LOT of grease.  And resolved on our trip to gold country that I’d pump grease into that wheel every hundred miles.  (Spoiler, that seemed to work.)

Things I never really thought about:

  1. It takes a LOT of gas to pull even a small trailer. I thought that perhaps if I had one much larger that I’d need to pull a small refinery behind me to supply me with gasoline.
  2. Even a slight uphill was devastating to our progress. Speeding?  Uphill?  Ha!  Never, never, never going to happen.
  3. What I could normally do at the Real Speed Limit (normal speed limit +5 miles per hour) I now had to do at my Maximum Thermodynamic Speed Limit – which was often normal speed limit -5 miles per hour, sometimes -20 miles per hour.
  4. It matters how you load a trailer. For the first 90 miles, whenever I approached 55 miles per hour, the trailer would start to sway from side to side like a break-dancing backup singer during a seizure.  When I stopped to fill the Wildermobile with gas the first time I looked up “Trailer Sway” on the Internets.  It turns out you simply have to put most of the weight forward so that there’s more weight on the hitch.  I moved a bunch of things forward, and it worked like to stop the sway.
  5. I’m not comfortable running a consumer engine at 5000 RPM for 12 hours. I let it back down to 3000 RPM just so I didn’t wreck the family’s hearing.  Mine is already shot.  Thank you very much, Iron Maiden.

But it worked.  We even had one offer at a gas station (while we were on our way) to buy the trailer from us for what we paid for it.  Nope.

The issue we had that concerned me the most was the trailer breaking.  Apparently all travel trailers have electric brakes.  These brakes interact with the braking system on the vehicle pulling the trailer and have the trailer brakes slow the trailer at a (similar) rate to the pulling vehicle.  Why?

Because if not, the trailer would be pushing the pulling vehicle as it tried to stop.  Worst case, it would keep going during an emergency stop (Newton’s Second Law – A fully loaded travel trailer in motion without brakes will keep going even when you’ve decided that stopping might be in your best interest.)

What concerned me were the mountain passes in gold country.  They’re steep.  And, while going up would certainly be slow, I wanted going down to be at something less than the speed of sound and not resemble CW McCall’s Wolf Creek Pass.

For these brakes to work, however, an electric controller has to be installed.  While I am pretty sure I could install one okay, I’m not going to settle for pretty sure when it comes to preserving my pretty face, unless I want them to pick my remains up off the highway with a stick and a spoon.  I farmed it out.  But halfway to the mountains, it wasn’t working – showing a code that it had short circuited.

Well, when we stopped to buy a new fuse because Pugsley had plugged a Cray2200 supercomputer into the power outlet.  While stopped, I looked a bit closer, traced the wires from the battery back, and found one of the crimped connections that the mechanic had installed had worked its way loose.  Ten seconds later?  Electric brakes back in business.

We got the camper to gold country, and then, well, camped.  In a never-before-happened event, the family decided to extend the vacation for an additional day.

Here is my personal review of the camper:

Sunday Night:  Omigosh.  We’re here after 70 hours of driving today.  And now?  We have to set it up.  In the dark.  Without waking other campers. Three occupants. Only I will pee in camper restroom, and only when no one around.  Camper cold, windows left open by Pugsley.  Found the next day.  Closed windows.

Monday Night:  Everyone now fine with peeing in the camper – bathroom walk way too long at 40˚F.  Camper way too hot.  Four of us.  I open the windows.

Tuesday Night:  Four of us.  Firefly.  The Mrs. closes the windows, causing me to have a dream that I live in Houston again.  Aaaaargh!

Wednesday Night:  Four of us.  Lots more Firefly.  Slept great all nights.  Too many stupid little dogs with stupid hot dog breath.

JayneNVera

Thursday Night:  Going to stay in it overnight at some nameless city, but we had the “great rush home” which was unanimously approved by the Family Subcommittee on Travel Hours.  Sometimes it’s better to sleep in your “other” own bed.  Plus I get to wake the neighbors by trying to back the trailer into my driveway at 3AM.

Once I bought the trailer, I now notice that there are trailers . . . everywhere.  There are trailers parked out in front of houses where the trailer would CLEARLY be a better place to live than the home it’s in front of.  I’m not sure I understand how you can afford a $20,000 or $30,000 RV when you clearly make less than $50,000; but then again, I don’t understand fashion.

I read that since they look like a home that interest a trailer loan is tax deductible?  DO NOT use me as a source, unless you’d like to spend a long time in prison for “Using Internet Blogs As Tax Advice.”

My big financial advice on campers – don’t buy one if you can’t do or pay for:

  • Maintenance: It’s like owning an additional home.  There are electrical systems, plumbing, and structural systems.  The first night I got it, it attracted ants from five counties away.
  • Tow Vehicle: No, your Prius™ (LINK) won’t pull one.  If you don’t have a good tow vehicle and need one, can you afford the trailer?
  • Gasoline: You will have to use more gasoline than you ever have, since Elon Musk hasn’t invented an electric trailer puller.  He will, I have no doubt, but it’ll be on Mars.

Economics?  Cheapest vacation we’ve taken in years (except for the whole “buying the trailer” thing).  Didn’t buy restaurant food except twice.  Didn’t spend much on attractions.  And we saw things like this:

This is a video I took.  Felt like Francis Ford Coppola shooting Apocaforest Now.  That’s our trailer at the end.

I did the economics, and it will likely pay out in four or so years, which is better than most investments do.  I may bore you with them at a future time.  But you’re not Vulcans® so you might not like math jokes.

We are planning on using it for many vacations where we’d normally use hotels, so you’ll hear more about it soon.

Dorothy said there’s nowhere like home.  And it’s not home, but it’s like home.  So, I guess there is somewhere like home, and it’s on wheels.  The Boy and Pugsley and The Mrs. rated it the best vacation except for one where we went to Alaska on spring break (yes, we really did this, and maybe I’ll post about it sometime).

So, verdict?  It was wonderful.  It was economical.  It was peaceful (LINK).  I learned about gold panning (LINK).

The Mrs. and They Boy are painting it right now to resemble a Shuttlecraft® from Original™ Star Trek©.  Will keep you posted.

Gold Panning, Little Dogs, and Opportunity

“Ever prospected? Ever hit pay dirt? I’ve dug for gold, silver, lead, mercury. I’ve dug more holes than a whole regiment of gophers. I ain’t never dug a decent day’s wages yet.” – Bite the Bullet

pic 9

How can you not find the river???

Mankind has been chasing gold forever (Gold, Relativity, Black Holes, Niburu, and Warren Buffett).  Probably the most iconic image associated with prospectors is the gold pan.  Oh, and the whiskey.  But gold panning has been documented to exist at least since the Romans did it, and gold panning exists across cultures – the Japanese gold pan is called the Yuri-ita, and gets much better mileage than one made in Detroit.

The Boy, Pugsley and I headed towards a small river, intent on prospecting.  The Mrs. came with us, intent on trout fishing.

This, of course, is where the trouble started.  I had fished this river as a young boy, but it had been many presidents since I had hiked down there, since the only reason that I had gone fishing was for the adventure.  I had never had, not one time, even one fish bite on any lure or worm or fly I’d ever put in the water.  Half the time I went fishing with my friend, C.R. (you would use initials too if your first name was Clyde) we’d end up just playing in the ice cold river.  Because?  Because we were 11.

As I said, I’d hiked down there dozens, if not hundreds of times, that had been long ago.  The walk to the river started as a nice walk along a sage brush plain.  Then there was steep gravel drop off – as steep as a gravel slope could be.  As an 11 year old, I’d have half jumped down the slope.  Now?  Not so much.  Plus there was the factor of the gear we were carrying:

  • Two five gallon pails
  • Shovel
  • Pick
  • Metal detector
  • Sluice box (only about 36” long, and more about this later)
  • Waders for The Boy and Pugsley
  • Gold pans
  • Snuffer bottle (sucks up itsy bitsy pieces of gold)
  • Lunch
  • Fishing pole
  • Folding chair
  • Two small dogs on leads
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen
  • A drone (that’s what took I took the pictures on)

So, we were carrying nearly everything we own.  But the drone allowed me to take videos like this:

The Mrs. was carrying her folding chair, fishing pole, and previously listed two idiot dogs.  The dogs, relatively unused to being on leashes, would constantly attempt to kill The Mrs. as she walked down the steep gravel slope by wrapping the leashes around each other and her legs.  As we stepped into the thick forest, it got worse, since now, in addition to trying to kill The Mrs., the dogs now had the option of trying to kill themselves by wrapping their leashes around trees.

To top it off, the smaller of the two dogs had to be carried over some of the fallen timber, being, apparently afraid in its dog brain of falling down a cliff on the other side of the dead tree.  To top it off, there had been record snowpack, so areas that had never been wet when I was a child were swampy.

Everyone who has a wife recognizes “that” tone, when they’ve nearly reached the end of their rope, and the emotion will be jumping out full force.  “That” tone showed up.

“Okay, everybody put the stuff down.  I’ll go ahead and find the easiest way.”

I dropped the things I was carrying and headed toward the forest, and, I hoped, the river.

I could hear the river, and started that way.  I wove around trees and over fallen trees, and through at least one (small) swamp.  Right next to the river, however, I was faced with a relatively impenetrable wall of willows.  I could have made it through, but would have needed a machete.

So, falling the wall of willows, I made my way back around and found . . . the steep gravel slope.  I had come in a full circle.  Fortunately, I found both the way to the river, and an easy way for our stupid, frightened dog to walk.  The big plus?  An easy path back out for when we left.  And right there was the fishing hole I hadn’t seen since the Soviets were a thing.

The Boy, Pugsley and I got to work.  We used the metal detector in the water (it’s waterproof) and then The Boy and I began to dig up the area.

Now, I had panned for gold before, but only in a half-hearted way.  This time?  I wanted to get serious and really understand it.

The gold pan kit that I’d bought (LINK) came with a screen that we used to get rid of the bigger rocks.  I figured that if we started getting gold nuggets the size of my fist that I might be able to recognize them, and screening out the bigger rocks allowed us to fill the bucket with smaller material so we could go to step two . . . the sluice box.

A sluice box is a device that uses the current from the flowing river to wash most of the smaller material away.  The idea is that gold is quite heavy, and will fall down in the water faster than the surrounding soil and will get caught in the carpet, riffles, and parts of the sluice box.  A good picture of the sluice box we used is here (LINK).

After you wash the sluice box, then it’s time to pan.

And one thing I will say – the biggest mistake I made was being too gentle with my initial panning.  Again, gold is heavy.  Gold is ten times denser than sand.  It is four times denser than magnetite sand (also called “black sand”), which is what is left over after you’ve panned out the regular sand, and are getting to the point where you’ve eliminated most of the material.  And you won’t just swish the magnetite out of the bottom of your five gallon pail – it, like gold, drops out fast.

So, as we panned, we got down to the black sand, and I’d use the snuffer bottle (it came with the gold pans) to pick out the very, very small flecks of gold – nearly gold dust – that would appear in the bottom of the pan.

I still have about five pounds of black sand to go through to find all the gold dust – I imagine that by the time I’ve gotten through it we’ll have gotten $10 or $20 worth of gold, which is the product of three people working eight hours.

Pretty quickly I realized that gold panning was like life and opportunity.

  1. If you don’t pan, you won’t get any gold. This is true of opportunity.  You might have a wonderful idea for a novel.  You might have a great business idea.  If you don’t get up and get going?  You’ll never know.
  2. The more material we processed, the more black sand, and thus, the more gold we’d get. If we had stopped after the first bucket, we’d only have had 1/6 of the gold.  And opportunity is like that – the harder you work, the more opportunity you’ll have in life.
  3. Most of the gold is very, very small. Most opportunities are small.
  4. There’s gold everywhere, but in most of those places it’s not worth getting because it’s too diffuse. There’s 20 million tons of gold in the world’s oceans, but only a 13 billionths of a gram in each liter.  Nuggets are rare everywhere.  Most huge opportunities are rare, too.  That doesn’t mean that you should stop looking, but you should look in the right places (LINK).
  5. The better I get at panning, the more gold I’ll find. The better I get at reviewing places that might hold opportunity, the more of them I’ll find.
  6. More experience will tell me what’s worth panning, and what I should ignore. Many opportunities (most!) aren’t worth your time.  Experience tells you which ones to focus on.
  7. Most people who strike it rich in gold spend every bit of what they found . . . looking for more gold. I’ve seen this in life, too.  How many people look for that same set of conditions to arrive again and again and fail as the moment has past?
  8. Everything goes better with big, heavy equipment.   Huge pumps!  Water cannons!  Now we’re talking!  If you have a business with tax lawyers and accountants and experts?  The size of the opportunity you can jump on increases.

Oh, and The Mrs. and her fishing?  A nice trout hit her lure on her second cast.  But she didn’t get that one reeled in.  But still that was a better fishing day than any I’d ever had there, but I did get another insight on life, and got to play in the rivers of my youth one more time.

Fortunately, my fishing streak is still unbroken!

Information Vacation – More than a Rhyme, it’s Good For You

“Mulder, the Internet is not good for you.” – X-Files

DSC04813

The Boy, looking out over the Fruited Plain.  Sadly, cell reception is great there.

As I’ve alluded to in the previous two posts (GOLDand SUDDEN WEALTH), The Mrs., The Boy, Pugsley, and our borderline idiot dogs (who try ever so hard) recently went on a vacation.  We took off for the Fourth of July, which in Great Britain is known as Benjamin Franklin is a Jerk Day.  Part of the idea was to have some fun experiences (which we did, and I’ll describe in future, meaningful posts) but when we finished I had some other observations, as well that I’ll share in the next few posts . . . anyway . . .

We went off to the mountains, because:

  • that’s where the gold is, and
  • that’s where the cold is.

Lower Northern Midwestia summers bounce between hellishly hot and molten iron, although this year the summer has been quite mild and pleasant.  One other nice thing about the mountains is that they don’t have large populations – lots of solitude is possible.  And there are reasons for the low population:

  1. It’s really, really cold in winter, like -40˚F. I know.  I grew up there.  People (outside of my family) don’t appear to cryogenic levels of cold where plastic turns as brittle as Shia LeBeouf’s temper.
  2. Since there’s not much atmosphere above you when you’re over 8,000 feet in altitude (that’s over 100 meters!), it doesn’t block the Sun’s incoming pain rays. I can walk around in Midwestia all day long without sunscreen.  Up high?  I burn like a California resort town during a drought in about 15 minutes.
  3. Economic activity (mainly) consists of tourism, which, because of the whole “bitter cold and five feet of snow on October 1 and no ski area” ambiance, only lasts four to six months out of the year, but mortgages are a 12 month out of the year affair. It’s a poor area, except for the really rich people that own cool summer chalets.  They’re all Texans.
  4. Services are bleak. From our campground, the nearest gas station was 30 miles away (17 meters).  There is no natural gas to any house or business.  Propane is trucked from 30,000 miles away.  Electrical service is beamed from the moon, since that’s closer than any power plant, and, most importantly for today’s post:
  5. There is no cable, no cell phone service, and only a tiny bit of Internet.

Honestly, that was part of the allure of the camping spot, and part of what we were paying for, that dwindling of focus and distraction . . . we’d had that before . . . in Alaska.

In Alaska, even though we had gotten media from “Outside” (Outside means “Not Alaska”) we just . . . didn’t care.  It was too far away.  Bush fighting with Democrats (this was 2004-6)?  Who cares – not us.  Sinkhole swallows Florida?  Sounds rough – yawn.  A not news story about some subject guaranteed to polarize and produce outrage?  Unless it happened in Alaska we didn’t care.  At all.

When we moved back down to The States, we started caring again: we got meshed back into The Matrix.

  • We started worrying about issues that we couldn’t impact – but like attempting to teach a Kardashian to fetch, it just frustrates you since the Kardashian clearly cannot understand the basic concept.
  • We started using Google® as our arbiter of facts. Around the year 2000, we stopped arguing about facts.  In Alaska, we started again.  When we moved back to the states?  Stopped arguing.  Google® is wonderful to find out when Richard Dawson hosted Family Feud®.  What have we lost because we don’t argue about facts anymore?  In my case, I stretched some mind muscles on this trip I hadn’t used in a while, and we thought about the facts not as discrete digital bits, but as part of the continuum of knowledge.  When did that volcano pop up?  How did the valley form?  Why are the rocks near the stream bed at 8,400 feet in elevation rounded, while the rocks near the ridgeline at 11,000 feet angular?  The arguments about facts we don’t know is in and of itself a valuable mental process, and teaches us how to think.  (Imagine Kim even understanding that!)  We don’t need to know how a Kardashian gets into yoga pants.  We can, if we have a strong enough stomach, think it through.  (shudder)

As a family we fight back against The Matrix.  We have designated activities and times when we unplug.  No cell phones when we go out to dinner.  Gourmet Night (LINK).  These things make us turn away from our distractions, (LINK) and focus on each other, and on the present moment.  We have a secondary rule:  we don’t allow The Boy and Pugsley begin to huddle in an autistic mind meld about computers.  No computer discussions allowed.

And as we travelled?  Eventually we hit dead zones with no communication.  At our campsite?  No communication whatsoever.  No cell.  No Internet.

No phone, no lights, no motor car,
Not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
It’s primitive as can be.

Okay, we had lights, and a car, and wine, and a dvd player that we watched Firefly® on, and they had something resembling a primitive WIFI made of smoke signals (it’s digital, right?) but it was really isolated.  I confiscated devices gently encouraged The Boy and Pugsley to embrace unplugging from the Infosphere.

And it worked.

For over 90 hours (with one small break to visit the gas station) we avoided even radio.  Even AM radio.

What did we do?

  • We talked to each other.
  • We panned for gold (next post).
  • Played games. (This one is called Poor Choices and it was a LOT of fun – disclosure:  when I start up an Amazon affiliate link I’ll get paid for it, but not as of this writing)
  • Drove the High Country backroads.
  • Fished.  (no, didn’t catch any)
  • Focused on now.
  • Ate the precious, precious Pez® we brought with us.

We moved away from information saturation, from caring about each and every issue to a life where we were free . . . not to care.

Then, too quickly, we headed for home.  Like a body returning to life, with each passing mile more information was available to us, first AM, then FM, then finally actual cell phone towers.  Then personal email, finally work email.  Then, we got home, and found that our DVR had dutifully watched TV for us in our absence.

So, driving to work this week I ditched news radio.  I started by trying to listen to music, but at drive time all they want to do is talk about butts and farting.  Not that I don’t enjoy having a butt, and, well, the very first joke was probably about a fart and not a no-load mutual fund, so we’re hardwired to find those funny.  Today I drove in silence, just listening to my thoughts accompanied with the back beat of the tires on the road.

Listing to talk radio plays on your emotions – no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on.  That’s what the radio folks intend.  And I had an idea while driving in silence.  Maybe a life changing one.  Maybe not.  But as Kiyosaki (LINK) tweeted the other day, you control what goes in your mind.

And I do control what goes in my mind.  (Which is why you should read this blog, since it is rated totally awesome for your mind!)  I even can control the things that I say to myself – after all, would I want to be friends with a person who says as many meant things as my inner dialogue could?

Nope.

And I can control that, too.  But there’s no way that I can make the British love Benjamin Franklin, or teach Kim to fetch.

Risk of Sudden Wealth . . . Over Rated? Are you Nic Cage, or Keanu Reeves?

“What’s in the bag? A shark or something?” – Nic Cage, The Wicker Man

DSC03299

How I imagine Elon Musk hunts for ducks.

In panning for gold, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I found a whole bunch, all at once.  My mind wanders.  All the beef jerky I could wear.  All the Lear® Jets I could eat.  I’d be fine, right?

Well, it seems like there are a pair of psychologists (Joan DiFuria and Stephen Goldbart, LINK) who described “Sudden Wealth Syndrome.”  They describe the following symptoms (my comments in parenthesis):

  • Anxiety/Panic Attacks (Try the Panic Attack from not being able to pay your Pez© dealer, I assure you they don’t take kindly to folks who can’t pay for the sugar)
  • Worries About Money (Hmmm, this seems a bit forced?)
  • Worries About Stock Market Volatility (Elon Musk probably doesn’t lose much sleep in his orbital habitat)
  • Insomnia (I can see millions of dollars keeping me awake all night – especially since I’d be partying in Elon’s orbital habitat)
  • Irritable Mood (Yes, I can see being irritable because I was too flush with cash, and I get mad because my pancakes are too fluffy)
  • Guilt About Having Money (This is real – otherwise explain why every Hollywood actor wants ME to pay more in taxes)
  • Identity Confusion (Once I found a twenty dollar bill, and became convinced I was Luke Skywalker© – but in truth, I was 12)
  • Fear of Loss of Control (The idea of being without a mortgage should make us all shake with fear)
  • Paranoia (Are you threatening me?)
  • Depression (I’m so sad, I can’t count as high as my money, no matter how long I live!)

From that description, it sounds like winning sucks, eh?  I assure you that, in the choice between having money and not having money, I MUCH prefer having money, and as a business model, catering to very, very wealthy people with neurosis is probably very profitable.  I like the way those guys think!

But let’s put this in context.  Think about the behavior of the typical twenty-something starlet or rock star that’s rolling in cash?  They tend to make a lot of poor choices, primarily because nothing in their experience has prepared them for the sudden onset of cash.  By contrast, many of the folks who do really well with money at an early age (Think Bill Gates and Paul Allen) had a really well-to-do upbringing.  Not rock star rich, but they were going to exclusive private schools.  They’d been taught how to deal with money early on, and, likely never had to worry much about not having it.

But let’s pick on Nicolas Cage.  Why?  Face/Off is probably reason enough.  Really?  Swapping faces with John Travolta?  That’s the movie plot?  I won’t pick on Shia Lebeouf because that’s like a velociraptor picking on a kitten.

Nic Cage (he told me he didn’t mind me calling him that when I imagined talking to him) made millions as an actor.  He could have done that if they only paid him a dollar a movie, but he made much more, at least $20 per movie.  Again, he made millions.  $150,000,000.  Yes.  ONE HUNDRED FIFTY MILLION dollars.  American dollars, not fake ones like they print in Canada.

He spent it all.  ALL OF IT.

On what?

  • An $8 million dollar castle in England. He spent millions fixing it up.  Never spent a night there.
  • An island.
  • Four yachts. At the same time.
  • A pair of rare albino king cobras.

Let’s face it, the man had a whole small country plus a navy (yes, four boats is more than in all of Canada) plus king cobras.  I’m not sure why he didn’t get three albino king cobras, but, he settled for two.

Seriously – was Nic Cage trying to live exactly like the bad guy in an Austin Powers movie?  No, I think that there’s something missing, plus nobody can figure out how to tell a guy not to blow all of his money on shiny things.

From observation, I do think that sudden wealth, or worse, sudden wealth and fame is not really good for you.  I think that it can greatly distort the sense of self.  Bill Murray said that everyone is a jerk (not exactly the word he used, but you get the idea) for the first year after they become rich and famous.  He then followed up with the observation that some people never snap out of it.

And, from the way that stars handle fame, it looks like many of them fall into DiFuria and Goldbart’s Sudden Wealth Syndrome.  They’ve got money but the feelings that they have wrapped up around the money give them a lot of guilt.  Some, however, seem a bit more grounded:

It has been reported that Reeves gave approximately US$80 million of his US$114 million earnings of The Matrix sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, to the special effects and makeup staff. – Wikipedia

That seems a bit more grounded.  Warren Buffett lives in a house that (per the Intertubes) is worth $652,000.  I’m pretty sure it’s paid for, since Warren is worth $76.7 billion dollars.  That also seems pretty stable, since he bought it in 1958.

Lottery winners also seem to have a problem.  The first problem they have is the inability to do math.  Now, if there’s a tax that I like, it’s a tax on folks who can’t do math.  But the general saw is that some sort of karma hits the lottery winners, and makes them miserable.  And those stories are the big ones in the news.  But the reality?  85% of winners keep going to work (based on one study I saw) and most of those (60%) were still working at the same place they were before they won the lottery.

It seems that we almost want to hear the tragedy, because it suits our sense of fairness – this poor person who didn’t know math lucked out, but, boy, karma got ‘em in the end.  Nah.  Most of them seem to do just fine – more like Warren Buffett, less like Nic Cage.

Me, if someone bought me a lottery ticket that one, or I hit a pocket of gold worth $150,000,000?  An 8,500 pound (that’s about 17 kilograms) pocket of gold?

I’m headed to the Musk’s space habitat.  Beer’s on me.