Scott Adams’ Rules for Finances, A Tiny Bit of Nietzsche

“Nice fish, Ken. You know what Nietzsche said about animals? They were God’s second blunder.” – A Fish Called Wanda

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Kids are very expensive, much more so than the tax deduction you get for them.  But I’m hoping mine pay back in dividends if I ever need a kidney or four.  Don’t think of them as your offspring, think of them as living replacement organ storage.

As most of you know, I’m a big fan not only of Dilbert® (LINK), but also of Scott Adams (LINK).  I think that he is the second most perceptive person in our country today.  Second most.  Ahem.

Back over a decade ago in 2003, he wrote about his financial advice for, well, everyone.  He thought that life was pretty simple, and the rules to not screwing up were likewise simple.  And, in general he followed his own advice.  His list is in bold.  My comments follow without the bold.

 

  1. Make a will. I haven’t done this.  I understand that it would solve a lot of problems if I died, but I won’t be around to watch.  Unless I become a WilderGhost®.  And then I could haunt them as they bickered over who got my circa 1995 mechanical pencil.  This is just asking me to take time out of my day and money out of my pocket now so people won’t have bicker in the future.  Well, they’re gonna bicker regardless.
  2. Pay off your credit cards. January 15, 2001.  That day I paid off my credit cards.  For good.  The reason I had the balances in the first place was to pay for a divorce, which was quite expensive.  Divorces are expensive because they’re worth it.  I kid.  But not really.  Credit card interest rates are high, really high.  Whatever it takes to pay off your credit card debt (outside of an overly complicated heist involving George Clooney and a group of tanned Hollywood sex criminals actors and a French goat) it’s worth it.
  3. Get term life insurance if you have a family to support. I’ve always had this, but as I get older the amounts are less – The Boy and Pugsley have less time at home every year, and The Mrs. is getting older, so will have a day less of need for cash . . . each day.  Again, Mr. Adams is asking me to fork over cash for things that only are beneficial after I’m dead.  Not a great sales pitch.
  4. Fund your 401k to the maximum.   It’s now in a comfortable, identified place for the government to eventually raid so they can buy fighter jets, healthcare for people without jobs, and PEZ® for Albanian albinos with alopecia.  You’re welcome.  I guess I don’t need heat after I retire.
  5. Fund your IRA to the maximum. I’ve never had an IRA.  Again, time off from work to go set one up.  And I’m confused as to what I would do with an Irish Army anyway.
  6. Buy a house if you want to live in a house and can afford it. Nice, simple language.  I’ve owned five houses (on the fifth now) and I think that they’re net neutral as far as investments (I came out well because I negotiated a clause in my offer for my last job.  Without that, I’d only be up $10,000.  But I’m not really up $10,000, since I’ve had to pay much more than that in upkeep over the years.  I don’t expect to make money on my current house when I finally sell it.  Don’t live like you have to make money on the house – houses can be really crappy investments and can also kill your financial soul (LINK).
  7. Put six months’ worth of expenses in a money-market account. This simple measure means that emergencies are not as threatening.  If you have six months – you can get rid of stuff, change your financial structure, and find a new source of income.  If you’re waiting on next week’s check to pay your (late) power bill?  You’ve got no maneuvering room.  Money is stored freedom.  Have some hanging around.  Corollary?  It’s easier to get that level of cash if your expenses are low.
  8. Take whatever money is left over and invest 70% in a stock index fund and 30% in a bond fund through any discount broker and never touch it until retirement. Great advice.  Wish I would have done it.  But my money mainly showed up in lumps.  So, I need to (gradually) get it into the stock index funds.  The last thing I want to do is dump all my cash into a market near an all-time high.  As a side note:  almost every single stock I’ve ever bought has been a poor decision, since I was just picking randomly, not with a value investment strategy like Warren Buffett uses.  Thankfully, I’ve not hurt our family, since my stock picks have been limited in size to the point I only care marginally.
  9. If any of this confuses you, or you have something special going on (retirement, college planning, or tax issues), hire a fee-based financial planner, not one who charges a percentage of your portfolio.   Never trust a person whose income is decided based upon their choices with your money.  Pay them upfront.

Things I would add:

  1. If you’re a guy, don’t marry early. Thirty might be a good number.    Have some really lousy relationships before you select “the one”.  Because the wrong “one” will mess your finances up for years.  But you might walk away with good stories.
  2. If you’re a girl, find the best guy you can. Early (20?) marriage is okay for you, provided he’s on his way in his career and can afford stuff.  It’s probably preferable to marry early.  (Uncomfortable Truth) Oh, and girls?  It appears the stereotypes are true.  Don’t sleep around before you get married – the number of guys a girl has slept with is directly correlated with probability of divorce.  It doesn’t work the other way around, the ability of a guy to be faithful seem to be unaffected by the number of partners they had.  Don’t shoot the messenger – the facts are the facts.
  3. Don’t have kids. I’m joking.  If you’re reading this blog, you should have a dozen or more, because you’re smart, handsome, and the world needs more of your type.  (I’m not kidding.)
  4. Don’t have kids outside of marriage. You’re just as financially entangled, but no snuggle time.
  5. Don’t marry someone you’ll divorce. How would you know? You followed my steps one and two.
  6. Don’t have kids with someone you’ll divorce. Kids rarely make a relationship better.  And they certainly won’t make the house smell better.
  7. Don’t buy a new car. Unless you have a million dollars.  And probably not then. (LINK)
  8. Find a good job (LINK).

 

Nietzsche

Nietzsche, circa 1875.  He was 31 in this picture.  His mustache was 44.  I wonder if when his neighbors were loud and he was trying to sleep if he twirled that thing up and used it to plug his ears?

Now don’t go asking me how many of my adders that I’ve broken.  Okay, I’ve broken 1., 3., 5., 6., and 7. That’s how I knew to add these to the list . . . experience, like a divorce, is expensive.  And worth it.

Remember what Nietzsche said:  “That which does not kill me makes me stronger, but it does make me unable to retire at age 45.”

EyeQue, Tom Cruise, Ben Franklin, and the Coming Optopocalypse

“J-Roc, I’m not a pessimist, I’m an optometrist but you gotta keep your eye on Randy, he’s doin’ stuff. I don’t trust that guy, I don’t.” – Trailer Park Boys

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The Boy with his first pair of glasses.  He might be ready to be an NFL® referee. 

If I were an Optometrist, I’d be afraid, very afraid?

Why?

The Optopocalypse is coming, and it’s coming fast.

What’s the Optopocalypse?

To get to that, you have to start at the beginning . . . .

Optometry was originally the practice of figuring out which glasses went with which eye.  The first pair of glasses for corrective vision were most likely used in Europe about 700 years ago.  They were Ray Bans®.  Tom Cruise (who never ages) may or may not have been the first customer.

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Tom Cruise, circa 1284 AD.  You should see this movie if you’re 18 and haven’t.  (Image via Wikimedia, ©Warner Brothers) 

Books mentioning how to fit people with eyeglasses date at least as far back as 1623, with nary a mention of Johnny Depp, who, to be fair, only smells that old.  And Benjamin Franklin saw that there was a LOT of real estate left on the eyeglass, and he invented bifocals so he could stare at the ladies both far away and up close.  Franklin was a genius, and his invention (probably around 1784) was the most significant invention in optics up to that time.  All so he could see the ladies.  And the Constitution and stuff.

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So, ladies, swipe left or right? (Image Courtesy Federal Reserve)

And that brings us to the most significant innovation in optometry since Franklin’s bifocals.  EyeQue™’s Personal Vision Tracker®.

I might be overstating it, but I don’t think that I am.  EyeQue™ is a system . . . and it’s a pretty cool one.

I have worn glasses since I was about 20.  My original pair were round gold-rimmed glasses, because Indiana Jones® wore those, and it partially made up for the fact that they wouldn’t let me carry a bullwhip and a pistol around the college campus.  It was amazing (the glasses, not the lack of bullwhip, that sucked).  I remember looking out over a valley in winter the day I got them, the outline of the mountain was so crisp in the winter air.  And trees!  They had individual branches that had edges and everything!

My prescription hasn’t changed much since then.  It’s been stable for decades.  Most recently I’ve been wearing glasses that were made before Pugsley was born (Pugsley is 12 now).  They work fine, but they’re twelve year old glasses that are scratched a bit.  I’ve been to the optometrist more recently, but my glasses were getting pretty bad.  One pair was eaten by a puppy (you could still use them but the lenses had little teeth craters in them), one was scratched up and the nylon that kept the lens in place broke.

I’d been meaning to go to the optometrist two years ago (just for a new prescription, no other problems) but she had cancelled my Saturday appointment.  My choices?  Take a day off of work to go see an optometrist, or . . . wait.  Waiting always works.

I waited.  And then one day I saw the ad for EyeQue™ (LINK) Personal Vision Tracker©™®.  Hmmm.  It was available on Amazon®.  The reviews were mixed, but at $30 and at least half a day of my time?  Worth it to take the risk.

Second day air brought me the EyeQue™.  It’s pictured.  It consists of a small plastic cylinder with a rotating eyepiece.  It straps to your phone screen.

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After you get the physical diagnostic piece (which I’m assuming contains prisms, mirrors, elfin magic and a small piece of dark matter) you have to download an app.  Once you’ve done that, you use the serial number that came with the EyeQue™.  The app, curiously, asks if you have a screen protector, but doesn’t ask you to remove it.

I tried it on my cell phone, but since I’d not updated my Android operating system since 2015 (really), I used The Mrs.’ updated phone and logged into the app.

The device/app combination is ridiculously easy to use.  The eyepiece is dialed between 1 and 9.  You start at 1, and use the + and – keys on the screen to make a green line and a red line merge into a gold line.  Most boring video game ever.  The only difficult part (and it isn’t very difficult) was to make sure that you could see both lines at the same time.  After you merge the lines, you tell the app that you’ve done it.

You then turn the eyepiece on the EyeQue™ to 2 (I assume this rotates the elfin dark matter, but if you don’t rotate the eyepiece it won’t work.) . . . and repeat until you’ve gone through all 9 settings.  Then Gandalf’s voice comes on and says, “You shall not pass.”

That’s one eye.  Repeat for your left eye.  Unless you’re a cyclops, in which case Odysseus would like a quick word with you.

Done, right?

No.  You might be not very good at easy tasks, or drunk or something.  EyeQue™ makes you do the same nine measurements at least three times on each eye, for a total of a (minimum) of 54 measurements.  I’m pretty sure this is to make sure that your readings are consistent, as you have to have a minimum cumulative score prior for it giving you the measurements of your eye required to order eyeglasses.  I got the max score each time, so only had to repeat the process three times.

I wrote my EyeGlass™ Number (that’s what EyeQue™ calls it) down.  They looked pretty close to my last prescription, but my last prescription had probably been through the laundry, eaten by prescription-moths, or taken by Russian operatives to be included in the Trump dossier.  Whatever.  It was gone.  But the numbers looked right.

I got online.

I went to Zenni Optical (LINK) and bought a relatively inexpensive pair of glasses to test out the numbers (I won’t call it a prescription) that I got from the Personal Vision Tracker.  I waited nine days, and got my new glasses.

Wow.

Wow.

I’d never had a prescription so good.  My go-to test required the stars to be up . . . I looked at Orion, and, boom, you could see that the third “star” in his sword was really two stars.  I’d read once that this was a test the Sioux had used to see if a young man could be a hunter – he had to be able to see the two stars.  And I could!  Even the bifocals were awesome!  Now I must get ready for the hunt.

I’ve since ordered three more pairs of glasses from Zenni (more on that on Monday).  All of them work stunningly well.  All of them are amazingly inexpensive.

The Boy is similarly nearsighted, and has a fairly recent prescription, but is pretty sure his isn’t as accurate as it could by – he thought my glasses were better than his.  I can buy another subscription to the Personal Vision Tracker® for him (LINK), and will do so tonight so he can get some better glasses.  The cost of the subscription is a bargain – and is fair, reflecting the tremendous amount of time, research and effort put into programming this wonderful App.

The idea that I can, in twenty minutes or so of easy work in my home, get a stunningly accurate set of numbers that I can order cheap glasses online is amazing.  It is revolutionary, Ben Franklin level (but with less time in France).  Let’s be honest – the only reasons anyone goes to the optometrist is:

  1. Because they need glasses,
  2. Because they have other vision issues/symptoms, or
  3. Because they are married to the optometrist.

And you should go to an optometrist regularly for b., because going blind isn’t a laughing matter.  But there is no reason to go (anymore) just for an eyeglass prescription, which is the revolutionary part of what EyeQue™ has done.  (Contact lenses are different – and the Personal Vision Tracker® is NOT calibrated for those.  And you people who stick your fingers in your eyes make me shudder.)

Right now there are only 23 colleges that graduate optometrists in the United States.  That’s probably too many.  If you take the ENTIRE population of the United States and say they should get a checkup every four years (young people longer, older people more frequently) and it takes 15 minutes for a checkup, you only need . . . (working 40 hour weeks) 3,500 optometrists.  A visit should cost a little more than $25 for the fifteen minutes for $200,000 of revenue per optometrist.

Currently there are 40,000 optometrists, and they’re trying to sell you expensive glasses, and vision data that you can get very accurately now for a fraction of the cost of even the $25 visit, I can see this profession going down by 36,000 in the coming years.  Maybe if I’m off it will come down a bit less, but even a reduction of 30,000 at an average total compensation rate of $120,000 yields a savings to the economy (and consumers!) of $3.6 billion every year.  And people will see better!  It’s a win-win, unless you’re an optometrist.

So, the Optopocalypse is coming – and I predict a 90% attrition rate.  This type of dislocation always happens with professions where technology changes a profession, just like Ned Ludd (LINK) leading the frame-breakers in response to the industrial revolution.  You can’t stop the tech.

Ned Ludd

Yup, this is a drawing of Ned Ludd.  Great fashion sense.  Also, a giant.  (wikimedia, public domain)

I’ve not been compensated (yet) for any relationship with EyeQue™ or Zenni Optical®.  And I might never be.  But any link that gets me compensation will be noted as such on the page, should that ever happen.

Also, I’m a blogger, NOT A DOCTOR.  THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE.  The only thing “blogger” has in common with “doctor” is that they end in a similar sound.  Do your due diligence on this or any other advice you get from the Internet.  Heck, there’s one site that says you should avoid setting yourself on fire! 

Value Creation and Zombie Steve Jobs

“Lies are like children: they’re hard work, but it’s worth it because the future depends on them.” – House, M.D.

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Pugsley, prior to going for his midnight shift in the PEZ® mines.

I was talking to a friend yesterday when he mentioned that he had been transferred to manage a group of newly graduated college kids.  To be clear – this group of college graduates is in no way typical – I imagine that they’re making in range of $80,000-$90,000 a year.  Not Harvard Law money, but still pretty good for the small(ish) town my friend lives in.  So, as a new manager to the group (he’s been managing people for decades, and he’s a good one) he got the group together to explain what he was looking for from them, what his general expectations were of his employees.  In one line that has been standard for him for years, (I heard it from him when Bill Clinton was President) he indicated that he expected the group to put in, on average, fifty hours a week.

Chaos!

Pandemonium!

My friend had become Literally Hitler.

He eventually backed down to forty-five hours per week, and was demoted to just being Literally Saddam Hussein.

As he told the story, I laughed.

The irony is that these college grads that actually do put in the long hours that my friend suggested will soon be so far ahead of their colleagues that their colleagues will never be able to catch up with them:  the harder worker will have more knowledge, more skills, more credibility, and very soon, much bigger raises and promotions.  Their colleagues will call them, “lucky.”

90% of success is showing up on time.  At least 5% is working just a bit harder, so your skills build up faster, especially when you are young.  (The remaining 5% is turtles.  All the way down.)

What’s the point in all this hard work and achievement?  To be rich?  To stress yourself out to the point where you have a heart attack in your 30s and die?

No.

The point is Value Creation.

One of the coolest aspects of the capitalist system is that it allows you (really, forces you in a purely capitalist system) to be of value to your fellow man.  Capital flows to those that create and provide value.  So, in a truly capitalist system, you create wealth for yourself by creating value for someone you might not even know or ever meet.  Bill Gates made money when I bought my copy of MicroSoft® Word™, and yet he’s never invited me for dinner.  Nor will he, unless that restraining order lapses.  I’ve told him to stop calling me, but that man won’t listen.

Value creation is like magic.  You take an idea or concept to make someone else’s life better, and then you create a product or service out of wood, metal, plastic, or just plain computer code, or, like this blog, just out of pure ideas.  If your idea is good, people will buy it, eat it, or read it, but probably not all three, unless it’s breakfast cereal.

Capitalism is simple – you (should) make money only when you create value for someone else.  Value Creation is nearly alchemy.  Alchemy was (at least in part) focused on turning lead into gold.  Capitalism is better.  It can turn cow poop into gold – when sold as fertilizer.  In a capitalist system, we transmute lower valued items into higher valued items every day.

The flows of capital follow the paths cut by Value Creation.  Those people (and businesses) that are best at creating value get more money.  What do they do with that money?  Do they put it in a box?  No.  They use it to create more value.

And that’s what my friend’s newly graduated college students do not get.  The business isn’t there for them to have a great life.  It doesn’t exist to pay them a living wage.  It won’t pay more because housing is more expensive where the business is.  Companies pay based on the value the employees create.  Don’t create more value than somebody else would for minimum wage?  You’ll get minimum wage.  Don’t create enough value for a three bedroom house on two acres in San Francisco?  Your boss and company don’t care.

In the end, it’s Value Creation.  How do you do it?

There are lots of ways, but perhaps the best way to create value is to solve someone’s problem.  The bigger the problem and the greater the number of people, the greater the value creation, and, generally, the greater the wealth that the person or company can expect to get.  The cell phone is a great example – before it existed, people spent no money on it.  After it was invented, people would spend . . . some money on it.  After the phones got data, and the phones got smart?  Massive floodgates of money poured into a product that had never existed.  Apple© went from a value of $30 billion to a market cap of 30 times as much, nearly a trillion dollars after their innovation with the iPod® and with the iPhone™.  They created a new category, and brought value to people in ways that nobody (except Steve Jobs) anticipated.  I hear that their primary focus right now, however, is bringing Steve Jobs back to life, so they can have a new idea.

The effort that went into creating the new products that Apple® launched was legendary.

And it was more than forty hours per week . . . because changing the world takes more effort than that . . . .

Life on Earth, Supervolcanos, NASA, and Tom Petty

“I must have started drinking again, because the woman who tried to activate a supervolcano with a giant fork is standing here, and you’re all acting like it’s a potluck.” – Warehouse 13

DSC04285A picture of Abraham Lincoln as he was fighting against both the Confederacy and German engineers.

“The world was a web.”

This wasn’t the quote from a Tom Petty song.  These were words that would echo through my head for two decades.

I started to write a novel back a long time ago.  It started with those words.

I still have it somewhere, buried in a backlog of data on one of my computers, right next to a resume that I first entered into a computer on . . . WordPerfect© (yes, that was a word processor before Corel® ate it).  I’m sure they still sell dozens of copies of it a year.

And the novel itself?  Oh my.  I’m sure that if it ever saw the light of day someone would name an award in its honor for the worst novel of the year.

But . . . “The world was a web.”

There are words that haunt you through your life, and this sentence haunts mine, just like wondering how it felt while the Roman Empire was ending (LINK).  I have been, since as long as I can remember, really fascinated by the unravelling of society.  Once I went to the Wikipedia entry for “Apocalyptic Novels” and just nodded.  I’d read nearly all of them.  (I just revisited the page, and it’s all filled with editorial stuff, so, much less useful.  I won’t link it.)

But the late author James P. Hogan (I read most of his stuff) wrote a novel called “Voyage to Yesteryear.”  It’s a good one, though out of print, but to me, it had a fairly stunning philosophical analogy.

We as humans think a lot (and live with) more or less reversible processes.  I put ice in the freezer, it freezes.  And then it melts.  Though once upon a time, I don’t think that there was anything at all in physics that would have predicted that the ice would have floated on the water (most frozen liquids sink – if you freeze gasoline, the frozen stuff drops to the bottom), but it turns out it’s pretty important, especially if you’re a fish.  You can stay in the nice liquid water while the ice freezes above you, which, I imagine is important to a fish.

But the second discussion from the novel is that some changes are irreversible – if you burn your laptop in your charcoal grill, there is simply no thawing it out afterwards to get your keyboard to not look like a bunch of charred Doritos®, or get back all of those downloaded pictures of Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones® or all of your Tom Petty MP3s.  Those are gone, dude.

The fire (presumably from a dragon?) goes beyond the phase change represented by freezing and thawing.  The physical structure has been changed to the point that it’s not remotely recognizable.  And you can’t go back.  There’s no way to find all the carbon atoms that baked off your display and combined with oxygen and put them back in the screen, let alone the same place in the screen that previously held them.

It’s gone, dude.  And even the Roman Stoics (LINK) knew this prior to Rudolf Clausius coining the term “entropy,” which led indirectly to the U.S. Civil War through a series of humorous translation errors that made Abraham Lincoln think that Clausius was making fun of his big hat.

But let’s go back four score years (that’s 80 years, for those who are used to the metric system) from that hatastrophe.  What happened then?  Besides Ben Franklin being in the prime of chasing every young lady who could spell “yes” there seemed to be this revolutionary event.  Pardon.  Revolutionary event.  Like the American Revolution.

If a president being elected every four years is a phase change from ice to water and back again, the American Revolution was burning King George’s laptop and then going after the glowing hard drive with a sledgehammer.  In a real and literal fashion there was no way to go back.  Instead of a political phase change, you had political chemical reaction – there was simply no way to go back from what the Founding Fathers had done.  They changed the way the entire world viewed government with the result that today almost every nation in the world where you can order a Big Mac® has emulated to the greatest extent possible the precepts of the American Revolution.  McDonalds® and Thomas Jefferson© changed it all.

And you just can’t go back.  You can morph into something different, but you can’t go back.  There are some ideas that are so radical, so amazingly simple that once they pop out – they hold the attention of almost everyone who hears them.  The American Revolution was one such thing – you could never turn back after that.

Unless you hit reset.  I was leafing through the Internet as The Boy piloted our car up the road for a short road trip – I alternated between reading and a light nap.  The light naps were ended with (small) bursts of adrenaline when our cars trajectory was different than my half-snoozing mind expected.  It’s like Dad radar.  Even asleep I was looking for that change we could never recover from.

On article popped up during the ride about the Yellowstone Volcano, and how NASA was developing a plan to stop it.

Reread the sentence above.  I’ll wait.

NASA has become convinced that a massive volcano is of greater threat to humanity than asteroids.  I mean, both would ruin your day, but Yellowstone seems to pop off a continent cleansing burst every 600,000 years or so (last one 630,000 years ago) and some folks with a LOT of time on their hands at NASA are convinced that they should be the ones that handle it.

bond volcano

What NASA thinks might be in the volcano.

They’ve even advanced plans on how to stop it.  And, I’ll admit that saving the lives of upwards of two billion people might even be considered a laudable goal in some circles.  But not me.

It’s not the saving all of those people that I object to.  I’m probably neutral on that, unless one of them is me.  Then I become a raving supporter.

I don’t give NASA any slack.  If it doesn’t involve activities that directly get humanity to Mars, I’m thinking that they should just close up shop and give the money to Elon Musk (LINK), who actually seems to be interested in space exploration.

But even worse, it appears that NASA is letting people write stuff that have NO understanding of math:  the NASA plan involves pumping water (which is not exactly in huge supply in the Rocky Mountains) into the magma chamber and to extract the heat.  Which has how much to do with NASA’s mission?  Zero.  Maybe less.

Here’s the latest mission I could find:

To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.

So, if this involves trying to cool hot coffee so you can drink it faster by adding an ice cube or two, I’m on board. Takes a few minutes, doesn’t distract NASA from their actual day job.

But in this case the coffee is 11,500 cubic miles of coffee.  At 1300˚F to 2400˚F.  And NASA wants to cool that.  With water.

Okay, I’m pretty sure that drug testing isn’t required to work at NASA.  But the amount of heat we’re talking about is simply staggering.  At a depth of five miles (that’s 8km to the “people who use money that looks like Christmas paper, and also happen to use metric”) to the top of it, keep in mind that this magma pocket sends pockets of superheated boiling water five miles through rock.  The amount of energy is stunning – almost as much energy as a D.C. NASA bureaucrat with a liberal arts degree uses to avoid doing work on a typical Tuesday.

First, the good news!

I won’t bore you with all the mathy stuff, since The Boy and I figured it out.  It’s not hard, it’s just thermodynamics done in hotel room on three sheets of hotel room note paper.

Let’s say you had to cool the Yellowstone magma chamber.  Latest number that I had on how big it was?  11,500 cubic miles.

Cubic miles.  Drive from Seattle to Los Angeles.  That’s 1137 miles.  Do it 10 times. Next to a mile high wall of magma.  Or just once.  Next to a ten mile high wall of magma.  That’s a mile thick.

Hmmm.

But, let’s pretend we can cool that 52,800 foot high wall with water.  Where do we get it?

Well, the Colorado River is a big one.  Let’s pump all of that to Yellowstone to cool it down.  I’m not going to bore you with even more thermodynamics, but you have to heat the water, and then add even more heat so it boils.  (I actually saw one billion dollar business venture implode because they didn’t know you had to add the extra heat to make it boil).

At the current flowrate of the Colorado River, it would take 435,843 years to cool the lava.

I know that NASA seems to not math very well anymore, but, given past rates, Yellowstone would have exploded at least one more time, if not two.  And the people in Los Angeles would have to go nearly a half of a million years between bottled-water drinks.

And that’s the good news – that only half a million years of concerted effort beyond anything the world has ever seen will maybe stop one human extinction.

But some scientists worry that the addition of the cooling water might turn the magma chamber brittle – increasing the likelihood that Yellowstone would explode in a big catastrophe.  And that’s the good news!

Second – the bad news.

But that’s really not the point.  There are a whole host of things that are much more likely (given the last 100 years or so) than a 600,000 year periodicity (like Yellowstone has) volcano to mess with our world.

But most folks look at this risk incorrectly – there’s a probability of occurrence, but also a severity related to the risk.  Low probability events occur everyday, but they have low severity.  I might lose yet another hair on my head, never to return.  But the impact?  Not very big.

An asteroid the size of Dallas heading towards, well, anywhere at 50 miles per second?  Bad day.  For everyone.  Yet heart disease is more likely to kill me than the kinetic impact of an asteroid.

As catastrophes go, that’s pretty bad.  But research (dating back 15 years or so) on genetics of humanity indicate that it’s likely that 70,000 years ago after the supervolcano Toba lit off, only 2,000 humans remained.  Not on Toba.  Anywhere.

We were that close to the lights going out on us forever.

These big, nonlinear events are very low probability, but they have a huge impact, and may impact the ability of the human race to appreciate Tom Petty.

Think aliens like Tom Petty?  They should.  But who can account for taste?

 

The Lighter Side of Identity Theft

“Truth is, identity theft isn’t hard. A number and an ID is all you need to drain a bank account and return some money to some very surprised retirees. But why stop there? As long as you’re stealing someone’s identity, why not use it to contact some known terrorist organizations on unsecured phone lines? Why not use it to threaten federal judges and insult the local drug cartel? Most fun I’ve had in Miami.” – Burn Notice

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Come and Take It was a Texan callback to Leonidas and his comment to the King of Persia.  Not an invitation to my bank account, weasels!

It was a Friday afternoon, and I’d just finished a business meeting about 250 miles from home.  As I got into my car for the drive home, literally as my butt hit the seat my phone rang.  It was an 800 number, so I have expected that it would be some sort of telemarketer selling off-brand Pez© knockoffs – the cheap stuff made by Elon Musk’s offplanet Martian robots (LINK).  I answered anyway.

Turns out it was my credit card company.  I only have two credit cards, pay ‘em off in full each month, and they’re issued by the same bank.  Why two credit cards?  That will become apparent shortly . . .

Bank Lady:  “Mr. Wilder, did you open an account with us on July 12?”

Since opening a credit card account is something I do, on average, every five years or so, I shook my head.

Since this isn’t the future, she just waited until I answered in actual words.  “No, I’m pretty sure I’d remember that.  Besides, I’m too busy digging in the blogging mine each night to take valuable minutes of my day to eat, or open a completely redundant credit card account.”

“Well, someone did.  And, Mr. Wilder, they have your birthdate.  And your Social Security Number.”

Great.  There’s another one of me out there – exactly like me, but with a goatee.  Oh, wait, no . . .

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I need a gold sash.  Does it matter if yours is on the left or right?

Name, birthdate, and Social Security Number are the trifecta for an identity thief.  Those were the Holy Grail of information.  With that information, anyone can open an account.  It wasn’t another person – it was a thief!

Me:  “How much did they charge?”

Bank Lady:  “This is weird – looks like nothing.  Only the annual fee.  We sent the card and it was returned to us.  I’ll cancel this account.”

Me:  “Where did they send the card?”

Bank Lady:  “Looks like Texas.”

Great.  Stupid hot summers, and now full of credit thieves.  Stupid Texas.

The Bank Lady (who was very nice) promised to send me information on the fraudulent account, along with an identity fraud kit.  She gave me the number for Experian©, which is one of the three credit rating agencies that lenders check with prior to issuing credit.  Experian®, she explained, would put out a fraud alert and let Transunion™ and Farkleknobber© (I forget the other stupid made up corporate name) know about the fraud.  Any new credit applications would have to be proceeded by a phone call to me prior to issuing credit.

And I wondered how I got hit?  I’ve tried very much to practice safe financial practices:

  • No online banking.
  • Shred all personal information and credit card offers before throwing away. Preferably treat like a witch and burn.  Bonus points if the credit card offers scream while burning.
  • Only share information with those that “need” it. I had to punch a Nun one time because she was too nosy.  My religion?  That’s “need to know.”
  • I wear latex gloves while in any bank. No reason.  It freaks them out, though.

I had dreaded this moment.  There is some portion of my personality that is works off of fear.  There is some part of your personality that works off of fear, too (LINK).  The oddest part of this fear coming true?

The dread was gone.  The identity theft had happened, and it was “go” time.  Let’s fix it!

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Me meeting evil me.  Or is it me meeting nice me?  Probably me meeting nice me.

My second call was to my bank.  I verified my account balances and wasn’t missing any money, though I did tell my banker about the time that over 10% of my net worth went missing from my account (LINK).

She laughed.  (And you will too – read the story).

I also asked her about account security.  Since she wouldn’t talk to me without a special code that was texted to me, that was nice.  Additionally, she said:

“I see that you don’t online bank, and you don’t have a debit card.  You should be good.”

Let that sink in.  My banker just pointed out that online banking and debit cards are huge potential security holes.

And they are.  I did some research, and it turns out if you online bank and get hacked?  You’re screwed.  This one gentleman had nearly $1,000,000 lifted from his accounts over the course of months because his laptop was hacked.  And debit cards?  That’s like walking around a pitbull pen in porkchop panties.  Not a good idea.

My last call was to LifeLock®.  I vaguely remember the CEO put his Social Security Number (457-55-5462) on billboards, on commercials, and everywhere.  I also remember that someone opened a fraudulent line of credit on the guy.  And I seem to recall hearing that the CEO went to the thief’s house and kicked his butt – I think it was a story I heard on the radio.  I can’t find any record of this online, but I like the concept:  “If someone messes with you, our CEO will go to his house and beat him with a broken pool cue.”  That’s one way to earn a consumer dollar!

Signing up with Lifelock© was easy, if somewhat like talking to a living, breathing infomercial.  Everything was an upsell:  “Did you know that a fetus can have his identity hacked in the womb by skilled psychics who can take the baby’s Social Security Number . . . before it’s born????”

I normally hate the hard sell, but this day I was okay with it.

So, I got the double-platinum bejeweled version of LifeLock®.  Normally I like to think about financial decisions before I make them, you know, let a bit of reason kick in so I make a sound decision.

This wasn’t rational thinking.  It was total, complete reflex action.  Doctor taps my knee with rubber hammer?  Knee jerks.  Robber takes personal information?  Wallet jerks.  I want the best plan, you know, the CEO ass-kicking plan.  Can LifeLock™ waterboard?  If so, I want to add that to the plan.

Can I get the “Wet Electrodes on the Nipples” plan?  Oh, yes, I’d pay double.

In retrospect, I did some looking online about LifeLock©.  It turns out that it’s pretty highly rated, but it’s also thought to be a bit overpriced.

What the heck does LifeLock™ do for you, anyway?

What LifeLock® does is send you alerts on people messing with your credit or other accounts.  Since I don’t online bank, LifeLock© can’t see my accounts, but I’ll check those regularly.  LifeLock® also offers a pretty professional team to help you after your Social Security Number has been popped naked into the world.  And, in theory, it will replace up to $1,000,000 in losses, but I’d bet $10 that they’ve never (or rarely) ponied up that money, since they have fine print and lawyers, and also due to laws that limit your losses due to identity fraud.   Mainly, banks have to take the hit, and since they have skin in the game they’ve developed algorithms that look for fraudulent accounts and purchase patterns.  And they’re effective.

A thief took my information.  Could they get more?  Yup.

At 6:50 AM Monday morning, my bank (credit card) texted me, asking if I’d made a purchase from an online store at 5AM for $300.  They’d declined the purchase.

Did I make the purchase?  No.

If there is anything that all Wilder family members are in agreement on?  5AM is the devil’s time.  We should sleep through that.  And, my bank probably noticed that.  And also noticed I don’t live within 750 miles of the state where they asked the stuff to be delivered.

So a thief has my Social Security Number, my birthday, my name AND my credit card number.  One of those I can change (credit card).  Actually, two if I decided I was transgender.  Then I could change my name, too.  But I would be an UGLY woman.  But I could be Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Has a ring to it?

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I have not been nor ever will be a geologist.  Just sayin’.

My bank politely asked me to call them.  When I did, they asked me if there were any purchases that I had to make today?

No.  I’m okay.

(THAT’S WHY I HAVE A SECOND CARD!  Two is one, and one is none.  Always have a backup on important stuff.  And I even carry emergency cash.  And a small parachute.  And a nosehair trimmer.)

The credit card number I’d had for nearly 14 years was cancelled.  A new one, with a new number, would be headed my way immediately, per my bank.

I’d gone through the data that LifeLock™ had provided.  LifeLock© also said my credit score was good, really good – 800, so any nonsense on my account had just barely started.

And it turns out this is fairly common.  11,000,000 people a year have to go through this.  So, statistically?  It’s not if, it’s when it hits you.  Sorry to be the voice of bad news.

But now I have to deal with other stuff.  Notify the IRS (there’s a number for that) and notify the Social Security Administration (there’s a number for that, too), because both of those are also conduits for fraudsters to mess with my life.  Somebody messing with my tax return, which in some years would buy a small country in South America (very small country, like an acre or so).  Somebody taking my Social Security (don’t want to get old and find out that somebody other than politicians has stolen my Social Security).

And it gets even more twisted – identity thieves are also stealing identities for getting prescription drugs.  And for having medical bills charged to other people.

And, honestly, I think that’s where my leak was.  I think an M.D. I went to hired a sticky fingered weasel that deserves to be nipple-electrocuted like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, since that’s one of the few places where I can see all the above information being in one place.

I’d pay extra if they let me be Gary Busey.  Not in the movie.  I’d pay extra just to be Gary Busey.

Note:  John Wilder has received no compensation for this post, or any of them, yet.  If LifeLock(R) offers me a big pot of money?  I’m on it.

 

 

Lonely? Ditch Facebook, Find Real People. Live Longer.

“When a man of Scotty’s years falls in love, the loneliness of his life is suddenly revealed to him. His whole heart once throbbed only to the ship’s engines.” – Star Trek

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Why, oh, why does it not say Texas Pain RELIEF Institute?

Daniel and I were friends from second grade onward, until I moved away.

I’m not sure if it was our mutual love of Mad® magazine, parody, or wearing army fatigues that we found here and there and the unearned ranks, units, and qualifications we’d poorly sew onto the faded olive drab fabric (I’m pretty sure I was a sergeant of a unit that never existed).  We’d regularly sleep over at each other’s houses, throw up poorly breathing nylon tents in the back yard, and then go on maneuvers with our toy rifles; fording quickly flowing rivers or assaulting fortified hills.  Daniel even managed to find a Korean-era K-ration we were too scared to eat.  I mean, it smelled okay, but . . . .  And we each shared magazines we certainly didn’t want to let our parents know we had (hint: boobies).  And I still have one book he made me promise I’d return to him because it wasn’t his, this really has weighed on me, and I’m not kidding.

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What magazines we looked at may or may not have looked like. I plead the fifth.

During the school day we skipped lunch together, talked science fiction together, and told bad jokes together.  Our conclusion on Mel Brooks and Hogan’s Heroes?  The best things on television, ever.  Carrie Fisher and Sigourney Weaver?  Our goddesses, along with Madeline Kahn.  Especially when we saw Carrie in a bikini one night at Daniel’s house.  Wow.

It was also Daniel who taught me that in Tom and Jerry, Jerry was the evil one.

When I visited him at Easter I knelt and did the novena, even though I wasn’t Catholic.  We were brothers.  Daniel and I belonged to the same tribe, until time and distance pulled us (mainly me) away.

This week a study (really, a metastudy, or summary of other studies, which is like a summary of Game of Thrones for your friends who don’t watch Game of Thrones) was released about loneliness and how being lonely negatively impacts health.  (Hint, being lonely is worse than being obese, drinking too much, or not having enough Pez® to stick to your eyebrows on St. Johns’ Day in Nova Scotia.)

AARP commissioned a study that says that 42 million people older than 45 suffer from “chronic” loneliness.  Since there were only 120 million people older than 45 when they did the study, that means that over 35% of those people over 45 are . . . sad.  And it’s very sad when that many old people with that many wrinkles are sad.

What does chronic loneliness do to you?

Nothing good.

It increases your odds of death by . . . 50%.  That sounds like a lot, and it is.  That’s almost worse than the wrinkles.

So in the age of Facebook®, people are less connected to one another.  In fact, in another study they found that old people who relied less on email and social media for their social connections were . . . happier.  Let me write that in blazing letters across the sky:

Facebook® is no substitute for calling the people you know and love and talking to them.  Period.

I’ve watched Facebook™ grow, and I’ve viewed social media with skepticism.  I tried to get on Facebook®, but it never was able to engage me.  Facebook® seemed so much shallower than blogging.  Also, I’ve always thought that Facebook© was a tailor-made infidelity machine – putting people who used to have sex back together, while removing all of their bad qualities in a haze of boozy memories.  There is no way that I wanted to fight off all of the girls who were chasing me like I was a Roadrunner®.  Heavens, who has that energy??

Let this be a reminder, the people on Facebook™ have bad morning breath, have bad armpit smells, and leave their socks all over the place (except, of course, me).  But to a lonely spouse, or worse, and idealized memory?  Not so much.

Let’s pretend that Facebook© was really, really good at helping people really connect on a spiritual level?  They’d disable that feature in a second.

Why?

Facebook® makes money when you’re dissatisfied, and makes money upon your dopamine receptors which are always looking for novelty.  Facebook™ makes money when you hit refresh and scroll through more updates and see more ads, or look to see how many people “Liked” you.  Facebook© is free to you because your attention is the product.  And your dissatisfaction is the way to maximize their return.  Thank heavens for youtube videos of cats!!!

Why are older folks getting lonely?

Well, my parents had dinner parties.  When they were in their 50’s I was still a pup, and had to got to go to their dinner parties, at least when they were at our house.  The couples would get together, and they’d immediately split up.  The ladies would go the kitchen and drink whatever Mom made for ‘em, even though it smelled like something that would catch on fire if a stray spark veered by.

The men would retire to the dining room (nobody smoked anymore) and drink bourbon, scotch and talk about elk hunting, war (real, actual war) stories, or how the weather was, or what the crops were like.  Someone would make an off-color joke, and give me a wink and a nudge.  Really, it was always Vern that did that.  Honestly, most of the jokes were right over my head unless they were directly and obviously about boobs, but at least I was part of the game.

After drinks, there would be dinner.  Which would also include drinks.

Afterwards?  Cards and a communal gathering, until the time came that people would head home.  The game of cards itself was meaningless, merely a reason to sit around the table and talk more.  And drink more.  It was a good thing that they mainly left before Star Trek©.

The gatherings were even more wide ranging than that – on occasion we’d go spend the night, for instance, at a cabin deep in the mountains that one of the families owned.  During the course of that weekend we built a mountain road with a road grader, rode horses, and I outshot all of them with Pop Wilder’s .222.  Oh, I and won a game or three of Risk®.

We hunted together with Pop Wilder’s friends.  We went on wide-ranging 4×4 trips deep into the forest at 12,000 feet.  We rode snowmachines together.  Although I was certainly the junior member, more than anything it looked like a tribe – a group of friends that supported each other and shared in each other’s joys and sorrows as we snacked on ziplock-fresh sandwiches at 12,000 feet.

And today I don’t see that.  Although I know a zillion adults, most of them don’t get together like this.  Most of the adults I could get together with like this (there’s a pretty big implied trust) live very far away.

In our current world, we spend our time chasing our children on their adventures (wrestling, football, academics, Boy Scouts, etc.) and focusing on our spousal relationship, and finally, work.  I know that sounds like the best way to spend your time, but . . . is it, really?

Right now, as a family, we depend upon the iron triad of children, work and spouse.  All of my adult friends (locally) come from either my children or my work, or, IS The Mrs.  What happens when work changes (this is a minority of friends we see, so not much) or the kids get older?  Two thirds of the local social network dries up.  That day.

And, I recall that the social network for my parents lived on with them after I graduated.  After Pop Wilder retired.  It was a durable network.  They may have been alone, but they were never lonely.

In some weird way, we seem to have taken the informal support networks from men and women.  We seem to have replaced them with the evanescence of work and children.

We have, when those support networks crumble over time, ignored those left over.  And they get lonely.  They don’t have Vern attempting to turn the butter into my thumb when he passed it to me (it never worked, I was young and fast, and he was older and a bit inebriated).

Where are they now?  Are they in our past, those who trust us with their very souls?

There is an endless summer.

That endless summer contains every single day young boys spent together in a world bound only by imagination, in a world where each barley field represented a chance to crawl on our bellies toward enemy lines to stop the Germans in their tracks, or to stop the Cylons® before they could hit our main base.  One last swig from the canteen before we braved the minefields and tried to take out the German 88mm gun before it savaged our boys to pieces.

We played at life, at courage, at understanding where we fit in our tribe.  We discussed love before we knew what it was.  We discussed right and wrong when we were living it.  We displayed strength because it was intertwined with our being.

I called Daniel’s number tonight for the first time in years.  I remember their house, and I know right where they were when they picked up the phone, heck, the number was familiar with me.  They remembered me through the fog of ages.

I’ll talk to Daniel soon.

Why did I wait so long?  Guilt.  I felt (and still feel) that I’m the one who killed our endless summer with the starting of my car and the loss of my virginity.  I’d left the fields of play behind.  I’d left the best friend that I’d ever had or will ever have behind.

Tonight I gathered up the courage to make the call back towards summer, the call back to the innocence of boys bound together in blood, in bad comedy, in Steve Martin, in mutual, total trust.

And we’ll go back to the summer, where we belong.  At least for a few minutes when we talk.

Did it get dusty in here?  My eyes seem to be watering.

Nobody gets to be lonely in summer . . . especially not an endless one.

The Lighter Side of The Collapse of Complex Societies

“But on this Earth, Rome never fell. A world ruled by emperors who can trace their line back two thousand years, to their own Julius and Augustus Caesars.” – Star Trek

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Wilderus, Welthius, and Wisus, the original Roman Edition.

 

When a star starts its fusion cycle, it starts off with nice, ecologically friendly hydrogen.  The star transforms this into helium, using just a bit of energy to send to nearby planets so that they can make Pez®.  Eventually, the star will start fusing helium in its core.  This causes the boundary of the star to move outward, and the star becomes a red giant.

If the star is big enough, it will continue creating heavier and heavier elements through fusion, each of them in turn making heavier elements.  Until the star starts creating iron.  Whereas the fusion reactions (including those that form iron) all produce excess energy, iron fusion actually consumes energy.  The collapse of a star that starts fusing iron is rapid – the energy required to push the mass away from the center of the star disappears.  The mass begins to (quite rapidly) fall inward back to the star.  All of it.  All at once.

And we call that a “Supernova,” which I hear is a pretty neat surf ride.   I voted to name it “Wildernova” but was overruled on the grounds I hadn’t been born yet.

Great cultures have fallen in the past – Rome is forefront among them, since, from founding until the fall of Byzantium (that’s the Eastern Roman Empire) it lasted 2200 years.  But there were others, the Mayans, the Greeks, and my next door neighbor when I lived in Alaska.  All of those cultures passed away over time.

Since you can’t be a professor and not make up theories and stuff (the job has to look like work at least some of the time) Joseph Tainter came up with his theory of The Collapse of Complex Societies, which he published in a book in 1988.  Like many people who have really good ideas, Tainter has been milking this one for quite a while, which I heartily approve of.  If they’re gonna buy the same stuff from you again and again?  Keep selling it!  Heaven knows Aerosmith hasn’t had a new song since 1985.

Tainter’s book is quite accessible, and much shorter than one would imagine with a good idea.  Most people take twenty pages of fascinating ideas and stretch them into several thousand pages of books, PowerPoints, and training sessions.  Not Tainter.  He packs his twenty pages of ideas into a Spartan 267 pages, including end notes.

A note about buying the book:  DON’T.  I spent $35 for my copy nearly a decade ago, and now a new copy is $47.  Plus tax.  So, unless you like paying $0.176 per page of book, DON’T.  Why did I spend so much?  Dunno.  I’m cheap, but this book kept being referenced EVERYWHERE, so I thought I’d buy it.

I think it’s so expensive because it’s technically a textbook, and thus normal supply and demand economics don’t work with textbook publishers.  Boy, when the Internet takes that group down, I’ll be smiling.

Anyhow . . .

Tainter suggests that societies start small, and aren’t very complex at the beginning.  As the society grows in size and scope, it begins to become more complex.  And then?  Problems start.  We have a water heater that supports four normal-human length showers, or one shower by The Boy.  Thus, a new rule.  Everyone showers BEFORE The Boy.  But that has unintended consequences.  Now I have to get up earlier to make sure I don’t have to take a shower in water colder than Shia LeBeouf’s jail cell.

Now I have to get up earlier.  Since I have to get up earlier, I’m groggy while I drive to work.  Since I’m groggy, I forget my coffee, now I’m double groggy and less sharp at work, and don’t create as much value.  Then the Cubans invade, sensing weakness, and we have to move to the Rockies to defend against the Soviets.  Go Wolverines!

You see how this works.

Actually, the above is a (slight) exaggeration of Tainter’s theory.  You start with one rule, and it has unintended consequences that require other rules.  Which . . . create more unintended consequences, requiring . . . more rules.

Pretty soon, most of society is either closely governed by the rules, or is so enmeshed in all the rules that they just want to get out – rather than society’s efforts going to create a comfortable life for the citizens, society’s efforts go into . . . supporting society’s rules.

I was reading Seneca’s (the dead Roman) Letters several years ago when one passage struck me . . . Seneca was writing to his friend and mentioned in passing boating regulations in Imperial Rome.  Boating regulations.  From that you can infer that the Romans had entire bureaucracies working on the correct size of a gladiator’s loincloth to the proper number of grapes in a bowl to be served to the Caesar.  And, eventually, people got tired of the regulation.  How bad did it get?  Bad enough that they had to make a regulation stating that if you were the first born son, you had to do what your dad did.  Farms were going unplanted because farmers’ sons were walking away to go do something less regulated, so they had to force them to be farmers.  Except they just ignored the rule and walked away, in time.

Additionally, Rome had to support the infrastructure required by the Empire.  An Empire requires food, roads, and bridges.  And slaves.  And Pez® factories.  And an Army.  And this stuff costs money.  Retard the economic progress of the productive folks through regulation and add in a bunch of stuff they have to pay for, and you’ve got trouble.

Plus, let’s say you’re a Roman dealer in granite countertops.  When your great-grandfather started business, all the granite was nearby, but the best stuff was used 20 years ago.  Now they have to bring it in by ship.  The cost of your business goes up and so does the societal energy required to get that granite.  Food and wine have to be brought from farther and farther away because, in order to feed over a million people living in Rome, you had to get the stuff here, and it wasn’t like you could walk down to Caesar-Mart to get Hot Pockets® at 2AM.  It took much more energy to feed the people of Rome.

And did you see that there were a million people living in Rome?  There were as low as 200 million on the whole planet, which would be like a modern city having 0.5% of the world’s population living there, or 350 million people living in one city.  (Tokyo is currently the biggest in the world, at only 33 million.)  While not overpopulation, this population concentration was costly in an economic sense.

The outward signs of Rome’s weakness were the Goths, Vandals, and Jocks sacking Rome – but Rome had to defeat itself first, just like the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

Eventually, Rome fell, but primarily because its citizens decided, quite voluntarily and rationally to shed a layer of complexity that no longer served their purpose.  It was as if they were a star, and started fusing iron.  And all the Romans ran together at once at full speed into the center of Rome and mushed into each other.  And exploded outward at the speed of light.

Ummm, metaphorically.