Thursday Morning: Better than a Week

You know the joke: 4:30 p.m. is better than an hour away from 5:00 p.m., right? Thursday is better than a week away from the weekend. For folks traveling home for the Lunar New Year holiday in China, there are four days left to get home, and the train stations are crazy-full. But today is better than five days away from family and friends.

Goldman Sachs questions capitalism
YEAH. I KNOW. I did a double-take when I read the hed on this piece. In a GS analysts’ note they wrote, “There are broader questions to be asked about the efficacy of capitalism.” They’re freaking out because the market isn’t acting the way it’s supposed to, where new entrants respond to fat margins generated by first-to-market or mature producers.

I wonder how much longer it will take them to realize they killed the golden goose with their plutocratic rewards for oligopolies? How long before they realize this isn’t capitalism at all?

Whistleblower tells Swiss (and banks) to get over themselves on whistleblowing
Interviewed last week, former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld said, “We have to make some changes in Switzerland — it’s long overdue … The environment there is hostile toward people exposing corruption.” Birkenfeld’s remarks prod Swiss lawmakers currently at work on whistleblowing legislation. When passed, the law is not expected to offer protections employees have in the U.S. and the UK (and we know those are thin and constantly under attack). But perhaps the law will prevent cases like Nestle SA’s suit against a former executive who disclosed food safety risks. That suit and another alleging a former UBS employee libeled the bank may be affected assuming the EU adopts the same approach toward whistleblowing and corruption reduction.

“Computer failure” at IRS halts acceptance of tax return e-filings
No details about the nature of the “computer failure” apart from a “hardware problem” or “hardware failure” appeared in any reports yesterday afternoon and overnight. The IRS expects to have repairs completed today to allow e-filings once again; filings already submitted are not affected.

FBI agent on new car purchases: entering ‘wild, wild west’
Four cybersecurity experts spoke at a meeting of the Automotive Press Association in Detroit yesterday, one of whom was an FBI cyber squad agent. The feedback from the speakers wasn’t reassuring, apart from the observation by a specialist from a start-up automotive cyber security firm that they did not know of a “real world incident where someone’s vehicle was attacked and taken over remotely by someone hacking into the vehicle.” A lawyer whose firm handles automotive industry cyber threats undercut any feeling of relief with an observation that judges aren’t savvy about cyber crime on vehicles. I think I’ll stick with my old school car for a while longer.

The Repair Coalition formed to protect the ‘Right to Repair’
Speaking of old school car, I hope I can continue to get it repaired in the future without worrying about lawsuits for copyright violations. We’ve already seen tractor owners in conflict with John Deere over repairs, and exemptions to copyright for repair have been granted only after tedious and costly effort, and then to the farmer only, not to their mechanic. Hence the emergence of The Repair Coalition, which takes aim at repealing the DMCA’s Section 1201 — terms in it make it illegal to “circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under [the DMCA].”

It’s long been an American ethic to “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without,” an ethic we need to restore to primacy if we are to reduce our CO2 footprint. Repairing rather than tossing goods is essential to our environmental health, let alone a necessity when wages for lower income workers remain stagnant.

That’s a wrap — I could go on but now we’re better than a day away from Friday. Whew.

24 replies
    • Rayne says:

      bloopie2 (8:27) — LOL no. I’ve had a bad run of insomnia, finally caught up with me. I slept through the night and through the first two alarms. My schedule should be back on track after the first night with 8 hours of sleep. My son, however, could use that much, MUCH louder whistle to get his butt up on time.

  1. lefty665 says:

    Hey Rayne, Here’s one. The Brits are trying another way with driverless cars. They’re funding a study on how to make cars drive more like us and less like robots. Sure lets replicate that, speeding, tailgating, not paying attention, drag racing, all those wonderful things people do behind the wheel. What could go wrong with that?

  2. Peterr says:

    It’s long been an American ethic to “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without,” an ethic we need to restore to primacy if we are to reduce our CO2 footprint. Repairing rather than tossing goods is essential to our environmental health, let alone a necessity when wages for lower income workers remain stagnant.

    It’s another longheld American ethic for producers to make their products as hard for ordinary folks to repair as possible, so as to encourage either the use of “authorized” repair shops or simply to seek a replacement entirely.
    See the growing use of non-standard screwheads (no slotheads or Phillips heads allowed), critical components encased in molded plastic (gotta break the casing to get at the problem), the auto industry’s fetish for crafting a new part for each new model (especially headlights), etc.
    Ease of service is NOT a design criteria that is part of this longheld American manufacturing ethic.

    • bloopie2 says:

      And the auto industry’s fetish for reducing manufacturing costs by using “assemblies” that are expensive to replace when one component goes bad. Your radiator fan motor quits, you need to buy a fan and a shroud also, because it’s all one piece. Way to help the environment, guys (and my pocketbook).

    • lefty665 says:

      Yeah but… As assembly lines get more efficient, meaning more automation and less direct labor, the economics of repair get worse. How much time for an expensive skilled service person can you afford to repair something that retailed for $500. As stuff gets more sophisticated the skills needed to diagnose and repair get more sophisticated too. That means that needed diagnostic skills and tools are less accessible to most people.
      The days when stuff was mostly mechanical with a few large scale electrical components are long gone. First radio I worked on you could see the signal and power paths and figure out what it was doing just by following the wires. Can’t do that today. With LSI and surface mount components you need a magnifying glass to even identify the components. OTOH, there’s stuff cheap today that was unavailable at any price when I took the case off that first radio.
      I haven’t seen many things that looked like they were actually engineered to prevent repair, but lots where most of the effort went into ease of manufacture , little into ease of repair, and with some thought about liability and keeping casual prying hands out. In recent years the Google has saved me a lot of time by showing me how to get into stuff so I can fix it. With most things there’s a trick, once you know it stuff pops open.
      Newer screw heads are designed to feed in screw machines and to hold onto the bit better. Carpenters today have them all in inexpensive sets of bits that fit in their electric/electronic impact drivers, no old fashioned electric drills/screwdrivers need apply. Tools are getting better too.
      Boy I sure agree with you on headlights. Doesn’t seem that long ago there only a couple of choices for round sealed beams, and they were cheap. Now it’s $50-$250 for the plastic housing and 15 bucks for the halogen bulb that goes in it. I recently had to replace the plastic headlights in a car because they had become opaque. That never happened with glass sealed beams.

      • bloopie2 says:

        HID headlight bulbs run about $100, I found out recently. But boy, are those lights great, even better than good halogens. Especially as I get older, their wonderful illumination makes driving so much easier and safer. That, to me, is an expensive technology upgrade that is worth the price. (And by the way, standard halogens these days are an order of magnitude better than sealed beams ever were.)

      • Peterr says:

        As assembly lines get more efficient, meaning more automation and less direct labor, the economics of repair get worse. . . .
        I haven’t seen many things that looked like they were actually engineered to prevent repair, but lots where most of the effort went into ease of manufacture , little into ease of repair, and with some thought about liability and keeping casual prying hands out.

        Your later words that I’ve bolded have far more to do with the problem, rather than the simple use of the assembly line. Assembly lines do what the engineers tell them to do, and if they design them to build something that is easier to toss than repair, that’s what the line will do.
        Why, you might even get the idea that this is a feature, not a bug.
        I get what you’re saying about things like computers in cars that have changed what an ordinary person can do in their garage. What gripes me is how little things – vacuum cleaners, clothes irons, etc. – are seemingly unrepairable by anyone save the Authorized Service Technicians.
        I’ve gone out and gotten lots of those specialized bits for various screw heads, but it seems as if each time I want to work on something, someone has invented a new head for that last, most critical screw. At best, it means a trip to the hardware store to get the appropriate tool. At worst, I make the trip and they not only don’t have it, but can’t get it.

        • lefty665 says:

          My Dad was an engineer and from the time I could get my nose over the edge of his workbench I was fascinated watching him fix things. It’s a tradition I’ve followed as much as I can. I’ve hit my limit with 2nd generation surface mount electronics. They are very small and I don’t have the tools (or patience) to deal with them. OTOH, they’re often replaceable at the board level, and often inexpensive. Diagnosis, as always, is the trick. Once you do that, and get the box open, repair is often not too hard.
          I quit working on cars for about a decade because the smog controls added so much stuff to an engine it was hard to figure out where in the control circuitry the fault was. The first ODB tool I got in the early 90’s was expensive, but paid for itself the first time it pointed me directly at the failed part. It’s been a piece of cake since. Good diagnostic tools and skills are ground zero for almost everything from plumbers to docs and in between.
          The economics of assembly lines are interesting. Say I can engineer a product that is easy to service and sells for $1,000. Then suppose that I can engineer one that is efficient to produce and because of demand curves profitably sell 4 times as many at $500. That changes the equation. If repair/replace decisions are commonly made at about 50% of replacement cost, with the $250 tipping point of the less expensive item repair by a skilled technician gets uneconomical quickly.
          Doing it ourselves is a different story, and asking the Google how to get into something can easily cut my repair time in half. Google can also help with parts. I recently found an impeller on line for my old upright vac for 9 bucks and change. It took about a half hour to replace with part of that spent fishing old broken impeller pieces out of a variety of places.
          FWIW, when I got started in computers (in prehistoric days), the field service techs were just switching from troubleshooting problems and replacing individual large scale ICs to localizing the problem, replacing an entire circuit board and sending it back to the factory where they had the economies of a centralized repair facility. Today a lot defective boards go in the trash. Not sure I think it was a change for the better, but they were able to improve equipment uptime with a less skilled and less expensive field service operation.
          I hear you on the different fastener heads. A month ago I broke down and bought a current set of bits. The nice part is that it was about 3 dozen bits for less than 20 bucks and included straight, Phillips (0,1 & 2), Torx and square, long and short. Still have to have a separate set of security Torx that have the hole in the center, but got those long and merry ago.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Quite right. “Ease of service” applies only to commercial relations. Products for consumer use are intended as far as possible to be “black boxes” that only the manufacturer or distributor can open without “voiding” the warranty. “No user serviceable parts inside” is commonly printed on the backs of many products. No surprise: service income is a major component in the “value chain” promoted by manufacturers. There’s also the long-held American business belief in planned obsolescence, which forces consumers to replace rather than repair old products. Abusing copyright laws to get there is a common tactic.

    • P J Evans says:

      I’ve been joking for years that my car (’02 Prius) should have a label that says ‘No user-serviceable parts inside’.

      As for weird screws: that’s been going on as long as I can remember. Torx and hex-socket are pretty common and you can find drivers and bits for them. I had a lamp with screws that had two holes – the solution was trimming the end off a paper clip and putting it in a clamp.

  3. bloopie2 says:

    “News” today. “Facebook’s data team writes that it crunched the Friend graph and determined we actually have only slightly more than three and-a-half degrees of separation. In other words, each of the 1.59 billion people active on Facebook is connected to every other person by an average of three and-a-half other people.”
    What if I’m not on Facebook? What if I go to a family event and no one pays any attention to me? What if I come home in the evening and my dogs don’t bark at me? Am I the only one, or are there 1.59 billion of me?

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “Computer failure” at the IRS? Plausible. But like late delivery of hard copy tax forms, the IRS has long been creative in devising ways to delay processing returns and paying refunds.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    FBI agent on security vulnerability of newer cars? Barry Eisler’s assassination via hacking a new car’s wireless access and electronic controls (God’s Eye View) may be fictional. But car makers have vastly increased drive-by-wire features and wireless access to them; they are cheap, light, convenient – when they work. Cost concerns suggest the s/w and h/w may not be adequately ruggedized to withstand even street level criminality. Ask Jeep. Potential abuse by corporate/government partners requires little stretch of the imagination, only the technology and the will. They are already abusing such things as cellphone tower puppets and remote license plate readers.

  6. Rayne says:

    Peterr (9:29) — “Planned obsolescence” is a more recent concept (I won’t call it an ethic, it’s the opposite, unethical). The rise of the corporation and assembly line production were precursors. The concept really took off with the emergence of “Mad Men” — marketing driving sales revenues by pushing ever-newer products at a population tired of post-Depression and WWII limitations on consumption. Entering the computer age only fed this monster amphetamines.

    Some businesses have made names and long lives from good products. Craftsman, for example, used to be as good as its name. There’s still an underserved market for truly durable goods; note the Grizzly Cooler’s success.

  7. Rayne says:

    lefty665 (12:20) — So many people get ranty about Google, but between Google search and YouTube videos, our household has saved beaucoup time and money and landfill space by learning how to do our own diagnostics and repairs.

    Like the flipping water heater, which needed a $10 part twice inside the last 10 years since this house. Or the Maytag dryer that needed a new switch, cost us $25 and time to take the dryer apart and install the switch (really helped safety, too, as entire dryer and exhaust were cleaned at the same time). WRT water heater, I know the repair place would have tried to push a new water heater on me instead of the last repair because it’s now 10 years old. Nope. A new one would be no more efficient, and no guarantee same part wouldn’t die inside the first year.

    Even the kids have learned how to fix and build computers using Google and YouTube. Daughter saved a PS2 a visiting kid accidentally dropped; son built a new computer two years ago, then upgraded it this winter. Saved us about $1000 in all just on these two machines. Thank you, GOOG.

    • haarmeyer says:

      Oh, brother. I’m hoping that isn’t a ref to my rant about Google.

      I have a serious problem with their privacy morals. They have caused more than one scare about confidential information they shouldn’t be reading that they disagree on the “shouldn’t” part. As in something quite horrible could happen, falling into the “evil” part of “Don’t do evil.” For their part, they won’t even agree to talk about it.
      I use YouTube videos too. I think of them as that head shaking eyelid fluttering process that Trinity did in Matrix when she learned how to work a helicopter.

      But I think changes in privacy policies should be vetted with the people who agreed to the old ones, and if there is a problem, something should be worked out. The “We’re announcing our new privacy policy, if you don’t like it FO, if you have a problem read our FAQ” thing doesn’t work well here.

    • lefty665 says:

      Yep, I’ve even got an old computer in the garage just to look up car stuff on the web. Doesn’t take much horsepower or a new OS to run a browser or spread sheet with maintenance history. Doesn’t hurt that the current ODB tool is bluetooth so I’ve got full screen diagnostics right there too. Nobody complains about the greasy mouse and keyboard either. Don’t know that I could count the time I’ve saved by starting car repairs with Google/YouTube. Even the ones you run across where your thought is “moron” help illustrate a problem as you head to the next link.
      Having the local auto parts store on-line helps too. It quickly locates the right part for my vehicle and will order it for either home or store delivery if it’s not in stock, and wait, there’s more, they keep sending me discount coupons. Dunno how we lived without computers. I keep an old “Motor’s” manual on a shelf to show my grand kids how we used to have to do it in the olden days. Not sure they believe it. I think they hit the ground swiping left.
      With one big exception, heating elements, thermostats and limit switches are about all there is to go wrong with a water heater. What’s your guess about how long before it rusts out? It’s impressive how much water one holds when you spread it out on the floor. Dryers are even simpler, heating elements, couple of limit switches, drum, drive motor, belt & idler, and a timer. My wife finally made me get a new one because she was sick of looking at the old one. I thought “harvest gold” was attractive.
      Nice work, never too young to get ’em started building ‘puters!

  8. Denis says:

    @ PJ #13
    Careful about what you disclose. That adapted paper-clip might have infringed someone’s patent, which could cost you a bundle to defend.
    It’s an old trick used in the car industry and perfected by Apple — patent a unique connector and tool combination. Then mechanics/repairmen have to buy the tool to get the product apart to fix it. If consumers or repairmen come up w/ a work-around tool, like a bent paper clip, they infringe the patent. When the patent expires, patent a new connector/tool and you’re good for another 20 years.
    In a number of respects we’ve gotten to the point where IP protection laws are doing more damage to the economy than good. But the lawyers are doing fine.

    • lefty665 says:

      Denis @ 19, “perfected by Apple — patent a unique connector and tool combination.” You got it. Apple, another term for “proprietary”. That’s why I was never willing to pay the premium the bastards wanted for everything they peddled. .
      Martin @21 Neat, there’s nothing like a good mechanic, they just make things work. What a wonderful model you had for an approach to life. Someone when asked how long it took to get over losing their father responded “You don’t get over it, you get used to it”. I still miss my Dad. Like yours, he’d look at something, fiddle with it, and viola it would work.

  9. Rayne says:

    lefty665 (3:37) — Tank-type gas hot water heater technology hasn’t changed much in decades. Last one I had was still ticking along at 32 years old, just wrapped with tank insulation. No idea when rust would be a problem, more likely to fill with scale first, I think.

    But dryers are a different story. The Maytag I bought 10 years ago is digital, not analog; when the switch goes, it’s a small board that runs the panel display.

    As for the kids: older one is in 4th year engineering school now, the younger will start his computer science minor next year (no idea what major will be yet). Access to how-to DIY online helped spur their interests.

    • lefty665 says:

      Rayne (5:34) You’re luckier than I am, different water I guess. I’ve had several heaters spill their guts. Neat on kids. I’ve got one who’s having an incredible ride as a EE. The other’s got a degree in fine arts, sculpture, but having a harder time at it. ’08 took a big bite out of the arts that hasn’t come back. They both learned how to build computers as kids.

  10. martin says:

    “Speaking of old school car, I hope I can continue to get it repaired in the future without worrying about lawsuits for copyright violations.”

    Ha! This is why I STILL drive my good ole 82 Toyota Corolla station wagon. Having a car fixed today is beyond absurd. Just replaced an alternator. Last year, two wheel bearings, brake job and wheel cylinders. Been stocking up on parts too. Since I live in a non-smog equipment required state, and thanks to a youtuber who showed how, I also tore out every last piece of smog gear, and did a couple of adjustments. Runs perfect. As for fixing things, I’ve always been a dollar short when it comes to buying things, so I’ve learned to fix most anything I need, except board level electronics, which almost without exception have been mechanical repairs. Even then I’ve learned enough to build computers.
    And, sometimes, as my mechanic dad showed me, when the chips are down, there are non-linear thinking workarounds the average person won’t think about. Like, for lack of money to buy a new one, fixing burned out diodes on a Datsun 1200, by bolting the rear half of a Dodge alternator(which housed diodes) to the firewall, and soldering wires to the Datsun alternator diode connections. Ran like that for 5 years. That’s only one of many many improvised solutions he showed me over the years.

    Speaking of when the “chips are down”, he learned this stuff the hard way. At 11 yrs old, while traveling Grapes of Wrath style from Oklahoma to California, in a 27′ Model T pickup across the Mohave desert, a main bearing fried. Dad had been tinkering with cars since he was six. I won’t go into the details, but he saved the day, by his leather belt three old wrenches. That leather “bearing” lasted all the way to Corning California..approx 500 miles. Needless to say, he taught me my whole life. Btw, at 18 yrs old, he joined the Navy during WW11, and because of his skills, was trained as a flight mechanic on PBY’s. He happened to be part of the PBY crew that discovered the Jap fleet heading towards Midway. His pic is in the Smithsonian. However, what the official story doesn’t tell, is an engine developed a serious oil leak 75 kilometers from the fleet. Had he not fixed it via improvisation using things on hand, the pilot would have had to ditch the plane in bad weather. Not only did they go on to find the Jap fleet, they made it all the way back to base. Had he not fixed it.. the fleet would not have been discovered early enough to plan an attack. And that would have changed history.

    ok, nuff bla bla bla..carry on.

  11. Rayne says:

    lefty665 (7:27) — Come to think of it, I don’t know anybody in my area whose water heater spilled. They burn out first. Definitely a local water issue. I wonder how folks with well water outside this municipality fare? They have a lot of dissolved salts, water looks almost milky.

    Tell your artist kid to get a certificate in a computer science field as a backup. There’s work out there for folks who can do things like curate art and historical document collections online, as just one example.

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