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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Auto American


Sometime back this blog reported that electric cars would soon be replacing conventional models in sales popularity. Gas stations would close shop. Older cars would evaporate, simply on the basis of comparative cost of opertation. A humming, pollution-free land of wonder was just around the corner.

Insert crow into mouth. Chew. Actually what’s been happening is that cars themselves are disappearing in favor of the even less economical Carry All. What the hell is a Carry All? It’s the blanket term for an enclosed bed truck, which covers the SUV, minivan and Nissan Cube. That’s what people are buying. Terms such as ‘SUV’ or ‘Durango’ or ‘Jeep’ or ‘Suburban’ are just descriptors of trim level, and not very accurate at that. We’re all buying little freaking trucks. It was Hudson which introduced the step-down slide in and sit car over 50 years ago. Today we have gone back to step up vehicles. And none of them are electric.

But wait! There are electric cars.  There’s the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla and…. There are also red headed left handers, too. And electric cars are about as common.  If one is generous, a claim could be made that electric cars are replaying the adoption rate of the cell phone. No one had one. Doctors, lawyers and bigwigs had them. Then… wait a decade… everyone has one. Even by that scheme the electric car is well past due. I fear that it is time for me to admit defeat.



Allow me to wax moronic explaining my odious predictive failure.  The cell phone analogy is entirely wrong. Cell phones did not replace anything. They were an entirely new idea. They replaced the pay phone—the phone no one owns—and perhaps the pager. But it’s not so much an evolution of the phone as it is a grafted extension of the phone system. At its core the cell phone is a hybrid of the walkie talkie and the telephone. It’s a walkie talkie that calls into the phone system. By contrast, the telephone is something that is wired to your house or wired to a wall and then transmits via wire to other wired receivers. Adopting the cell phone did not require someone to come into your home and yank all the wires out of your walls and then issue you a new receiver with all new parts. Instead, they just hung enough antennas and then made the anchors (the cell phones) cheaper and cheaper. And today the only communication system wired into your house is the internet, usually concurrent with Cable Television. Yes, today no one uses the telephone, now called a land line. But this isn’t because it’s been yanked out. Cars are different.

Cars are car part containers. No matter what brand or model, your car is 90% alike to all other cars. For any car system, there are all of maybe three variations. The spark plugs in your 1978 Delta 88 are identical to the ones in your 2017 Honda Civic. Ditto the nuts and bolts and glass and radio and pads and shocks and catalytic converter. What variation there is can be attributed to size constraints. The gear box of your F-150 is a bit different than the one in your Smart For Two. The greatest differences are in the body--a vast idiosyncratic package for your collection of largely non-unique components--and in the transmission, the mechanical force system, which needs to be custom configured specifically or you will go flopping down the road as opposed to rolling.  It’s a tailored suit and a fancy set of shoes thrown over very similar interior bits.

There are two approaches to building an electric car. Approach One (Techno Salvage): invent only the systems that you need to, specifically the engine and the fuel container. The engine is a bunch of electric stuff and can be distributed. You’re not carrying fuel anymore. You just have to make room for batteries. Approach Two (Rainbow Gold): Reinvent everything. Build the car around the constraints of the electrical drive system.  Both approaches suck equally. Two factors have limited the electric car’s development thus far. First, electric cars, no matter how they are configured, are not 90 % alike to other cars. Many electric cars are not 90% alike to other electric cars. They are more different than other manufactured items. If plumbing were at a similar stage of standardization, only the rich would crap indoors. Second, and most importantly…

Elon Musk is an idiot.

He’s an idiot who can land a spent rocket engine back on its mooring.  He’s an idiot who can plausibly dig a hole to China. He’s an idiot who can successfully design and market a home use flamethrower. (I had the idea first. Really.) He can will a lot of things into being. Without a doubt he is one of the most successful dreamers in the world today. The auto industry is a pile of manure and does not deserve Elon Musk. And the sooner he figures that out the better all humanity is going to be.

When it comes to the electric car, Musk’s Tesla is clearly the pick of the litter.  Of the three electric car start-ups from a decade ago, his is the only one to have produced a car that functions. Second place goes to the group who produced a car that did not function. Third place is from a group which did not produce a car. So Musk is Peggy Flemming in an Olympics in which the two other contestants did not skate.

Musk has followed the accepted historic pattern. Entice investors. Don’t use your own money. Start with a bling car to stir up interest. Once the bling thing is generally perfected, strip it down to a mass production archetype and then scale up manufacturing of the affordable model. Everyone from Columbia to Henry Ford did it this way. Ford’s first car wasn’t the Model T, it was the Cadillac. Once that car was perfected, Ford used what he learned and made the Model T. (Very long story short.) GM’s founding makes were Buick and Cadillac and then they scaled down to Chevrolet and Pontiac and other plebian makes. Although following in their footsteps so far, Musk has missed two steps which will inevitably be his automotive undoing.

Historical Missed Step One: R&D is something you buy. It is not something you do. Innovation is a thing that happens in someone’s garage in the middle of the night. Or it takes place in a university. It cannot be willed into being through spread sheets and benchmarks and project management. It is a creative process with a high failure rate. You hand the successful innovators dump trucks worth of cash. The failures you don’t have to pay.

This goes to the basics of knowing what business you are in. At some point Musk decided that he was a battery manufacturer. This is like owning a monopoly on helium when your aim is to find a use for balloons. Auto manufacturers are in the business of screwing together auto parts and putting such under a nice canopy. They are not in the business of inventing auto parts. Traditionally most auto innovations came from either other basic industries (inevitably exploiting university research) or from auto racing. (Traditionally most innovations come from someone employed in R&D at another auto firm who has been working on a side project on his own in his own garage. He comes to you with an innovation that he could not get green lighted at his employer and is now handing off to you the ready to go perfected product for one large lump sum.) In short, the time to go into the electric car business is AFTER the battery technology is perfected, not before.

Musk has also decided to reinvent the way cars are sold. That part of the process is actually NOT BROKEN. The whole make cars, ship them to dealers, dealers hit up banks and send you money cycle works. Dealers will also fix your cars and sell your parts. It keeps you in coin and makes life happy for customers. Musk’s system of build them and set them in a lot and then take pot luck ties up a lot of cash. And his custom of using salaried auto hikers to do the customer’s tax and regs and physically drive the car to the buyer’s home has efficiencies only a pizza delivery service can appreciate. How does one buy a Tesla in the first place? As opposed to having dealerships, which would lend some visibility to his product, Musk puts the burden of making the purchase and arranging financing on the customer. With predictable results. *

Musk’s answer to the cash flow issue is to float bonds and then scramble to pay for them. And to seemingly blow weed prior to investor conference calls. Not that the process of business itself is all that high and exalted, but if you fail at it, you fail.

Musk isn’t the con man Tucker was. His car works and can be produced. It’s everything else he’s screwed up, much to the detriment of the electric car field.  Failures such as this are common, since…

Historical Missed Step Two: The Auto Industry is a Mausoleum for Money. Major Auto Manufacturers are Vulture Capitalist Creations. What do Ransom Olds, Henry Ford, David Buick and Walter Chrysler have in common? They were all kicked out of firms that they founded. Not necessarily the firms they are known for, but they were all booted at one time or another. None of the existing Big Three American auto makers is the result of a successful start-up. All of them are cobbled together remains of failed or amalgamated firms. General Motors is an amalgamation of several HUNDRED former manufacturers. Chrysler is what remains of Maxwell, which itself was culled from the wreckage of United Motors, an entity spawned from the failed Bicycle Trust monopoly. Jeep is what is left of Overland, a failed parts client of GM. Jeep was obtained through merger with American Motors, an amalgamation of Nash and Hudson. Hyundai was a program to provide reliable cars to shipyard workers. It was only after merging with KIA that Hyundia obtained drive system technology needed to sustain themselves as an actual exporter. The list of firms which are lumbering husks of other firms runs on and on, with no sunshine seen for start-ups.

It could be argued that Ford is a successful start-up. Ford took a payoff from the original Henry Ford Motor Company (which became Cadillac and then General Motors), took his staff and their experience and went to start a new firm.  That firm, Detroit Automobile Company, failed within a year. The firm we now know as Ford is itself a recapitalization. (“Recapitalization” is a big word for screwing the original investors and making off with the assets.) Like all auto companies, Ford diversified (in one instance funding Dodge) and amalgamated (taking over Lincoln Motors). Ford and Musk are both visionaries of a type, although Ford’s vision had less to do with emergent technology than it did guidance to a specific price point, expanding the reach of the car to the average citizen. Like Musk, Ford had his run-ins with Wall Street and government naysayers. At one point the government threatened to turn over control of Ford to Nash Motors. Musk has gotten into as much trouble as he is likely to—which is to say that Tesla is irrelevant and not worth the government’s lead to shoot. In the end,  Ford was not quite a vulture, but was vulture enough to muddle through. And in the end, I think Tesla is what a vulture eats.

I do still believe that the electric car will be a big thing. Just not anytime soon. And it won’t be coming from Elon Musk, who will be long gone to his orbital habitat to blow weed to his heart’s content by the time we get an electric car under $20,000.00. Musk’s flame out has undoubtedly discouraged others from jumping into the electric car fray. But the global auto industry has other issues.

There is a 40% global production overcapacity in the auto industry. Sounds ominous. Many cryptic and dire things can be plausibly extrapolated from just this factoid. In fact, the industry as a whole ponders this daily. It’s the auto industry’s version of Zen meditation.

What does this factoid boil down to? Remember I told you that modern auto companies are mostly vulture capitalist creations. (There is another factor that I will explain later.) Each firm has inherited a lot of stuff, generally for pennies on the dollar of their actual value. And they are not using 40% of it.  If they actually needed this stuff, it would cost them a fortune to buy it. So they are sitting on it, even though they don’t need it. And they make payments to maintain it. If this sounds silly, then you obviously do not own a storage locker. The auto industry rents lots of storage lockers, figuratively speaking, crammed to the gills with stuff which is highly valuable only to the auto industry.  No one wants to give up their horde. The way the game has been played thus far is to acquire additional hordes when a competitor goes out of business.

Sort of. That game has actually been over for a little while. It can only be played within national borders. The game is over here in America, since there are only two players left. GM and Ford cannot amalgamate. They can only eat foreign car companies, but that capacity is limited by the other factor that I hinted at. Bluntly, many car companies are Government Sponsored Enterprises. Germany has two major car companies, BMW and VW. VW is essentially a jobs program. If Hyundai isn’t an actual bodily appendage of the South Korean government, it certainly qualifies as a condom. Fiat is the crown jewels of Italy, having amalgamated all of its civilian and sports car lines. Japan’s many auto makers are situated somewhat similar to those in the US circa 1950, but their government’s cradle to grave welfare state is not factored into their export’s prices. They are effectively jobs programs also. It’s the same story everywhere. The upswing of this is that the market is littered with irrational actors.

I’m not saying that this is bad. And it’s not unique to the auto industry. It just means that they are not glass eyed utilitarians. They are beholding to labor unions and social factors and humanity in general. Many are the civilian putz-facing ends of national military industrial complexes. Again, this does not make them bad, but it does make their behavior a tad unpredictable. The good news, from an electric car perspective, is that zero emissions is an agreed on goal. The bad news is, electric cars are not the highest priority. There are three priorities ahead of it, one of which is a distraction and one of which is a chimera.

Distraction: Waiting for Godot. China has a billion potential auto buyers. The minute, the second, the microsecond, China swings those doors open all global production overcapacity evaporates. Or at least mine does as I carve out my unfair share of this virgin and prosperous market. Heh heh heh. Wrong, round eye! Wrong, rising sun bastard! Wrong, fish and chips, frog eating, kraut eating eurosimpleton! The Glorious People’s Republic which is rising to consume all the Earth will make its own damn cars. China’s people are not your customers. They are China’s customers. Mother Mao Funny Money stays home. If there is one thing that we can take away from decades’ worth of economic engagement with the People’s Republic of Chinese Earth it’s is that they are a giant leech black hole squatting on the face of global capitalism. If allowed to, the Chinese may sell us cars—replicas of western cars, really—but they will largely drive their own cars—also replicas of western cars, really. The Chinese may eventually even have electric cars, provided we make the batteries easy enough for them to copy. So Godot is a no go.

Chimera: Sometime some time ago all of the great IT minds migrated away from dull science fiction science to the heady Wall Street fairyland of the Hedge Fund. There they toiled away, night and day, on computers which would make NASA blush, plugging in predictive programs which would guide the already well to do in becoming even more so. The behavior being predicted was binary in nature, buy or sell. And after many decades of continual development involving some of the best paid mathematicians and theoretical programming architects on Earth, the net cumulative result of these efforts HAVE ZERO EFFICACY.  Given this, what makes anyone think that we can program a car to drive itself?  

Wait! We have autonomous drones which fly and shoot missiles and kill people. No, we do not. The drones that kill people are radio controlled. They have human operators. We do have autonomous munitions, which react well to sensors and can read maps to hit stationary targets. In theory, we could have flying killer robots any day now, but that’s not the benchmark that we are attempting to have parity with. Both flying and killing are comparatively easy. A flying killer robot does not have to stop behind the school bus which is halted at the railroad tracks even though no train is coming.

Wait! Computer models are getting better all the time. We now predict the weather with near flawless accuracy. While this may be true, I remind you of the collective failures at predicting the stock market. The weather follow’s God’s rules—and God is pretty consistent. Driving is the weather, plus human psychology, plus physics in random ratios changing by the second. It’s easy enough for a 16 year old to be passably good at, but beyond the capacity of a machine which adds in groupings of two no matter how kryptonian its sensor array may be nor majestic its branch routines.

Wait! There already ARE self-driving cars! What are you blathering about? Long answer short: they’re not safe.  The only way to make them workable is to designate “auto-pilot” only lanes. If we go down that route, we might as well just have an effective mass transportation system and dispense with cars altogether.

Look, I’m probably going to have to hang up another ‘I was wrong’ sign here. But I cannot help but feel that we are all being sold a load of crud. The first delusion is that the self-driving cars are for us consumers--that we will all be entitled to flop down in our buggies one day muttering “home, James” and be mystically whisked off while we enjoy nappy time. As fun as that sounds, we are not the market. Nor are they attempting to put the Ubers under. It’s the truck drivers that they are out to un-employ. Mark my words, once it becomes obvious that robo-trucks are a hazard to the highways, the trucking firms are going to demand “auto-pilot only” lanes. (And they will ask that the robot delivery trucks be allowed to operate at night in urban areas.) This is all a not very high tech scheme to avoid paying rednecks as well as claim ownership of the public way. I say we nip this in the bud. If you want to send freight across the country largely unattended there’s a thing called the choo-choo. But if you are using the roads that were made for us, for our enjoyment, for our personal transportation, and are sending corporate farm hog sludge from Amarillo to Providence, then we demand that you hire a redneck to guide it. **

A factoid frequently pitched by the computer car people goes “Did you know that the average car is only in operation 2 % of the time?” As if the entire auto thing wasn’t massively wasteful in and of itself. The pitch then goes on to postulate “Imagine a world where an operating car could simply be summoned to your door as needed? When not in use the car moves to places where it is likely to be summoned. In such a future, no one would need personal cars at all.” Imagine a world where your wife summons an automated car at 3:00 AM only to find the podmobile’s faux leather bucket seats encrusted in vomit. Imagine a world where your wife has done her grocery shopping and decides to leave such in the podmobile until someone gets home to hike them in. Wait! She can’t! Imagine a world where at a high volume time of day your wife has to share a podmobile with someone who smells. Or because of the communal nature of podmobiles, she is not allowed to stow stuff for future use, rearrange her face, fart, sing off key or do any of the other personal Zen things the dickless are so fond of. We can’t get women to use mass transportation as it is. By what fit of Imagineering is this going to work? Until you can reprogram women, this is a non-starter.

What appears to be in it for the car companies is a belief that these roving automatic car fleets will need to be replaced on a consistently short-cycle basis. As it stands, the average current car is lasting in excess of a decade. Not surprisingly concurrent with this phenomena, car payments are now extending well past their traditional three year horizon. I don’t know how great these cars are, but few people are prone to give up on something they are still making payments on. And once you’re through paying on something for five to seven years, most folks are content to drive it into the ground. Beyond stockpiles of crud, this is where the rest of the 40% overcapacity is coming from. People are just holding onto cars longer.

Lost in this is Ford’s original idea of making cars affordable. Given the constant median wage in the United States, an affordable car would be from $12,000 to 16,000. If you look around, you will find that there are few if any new cars at that price. There are a number of reasons for this all of which boil down to (A) the car manufacturer needs to make $2000 per unit just to send you a box and (B) the retailer needs to make $1000 just to sell you a box. You can also add in about $5000 worth of mandated crud on each car. That’s $8,000 out the door to give you about a ton of nothing. Any further things, such as a door handle, are going to cost you more. The next big auto innovation, whatever it might be, will address this issue, but for the moment the entire industry is stuck.

Right now selling you a hybrid or electric vehicle is a dicey proposition. Both have systems which may not last the life of the payments. Both require replenishments costing thousands of dollars at the five to seven year mark. This is not a design for a happy customer.

Which brings us to the electric car’s final impediment, the last auto industry distraction. In order to stay in business the auto makers have to sell cars people want to buy. Largely these are the aforementioned Carry Alls in their various plumage. The industry makes good money on these things even though they are entirely a technological and environmental dead end.  It’s good money now, but it is just treading water. The industry as a whole is going to have to pick a future and then go there.


*Tesla’s claim is that they are manufacturing vehicles which they have already sold. In short, everything off of their assembly line already has a buyer.

**The Interstates were not really made “for us” although interconnecting roads were. Prior to the rise of the automobile, the roads in America did not connect. It was the auto industry, and us the consumers, who pushed to put through connecting and improved roads. The interstate system, which is where a lot of the freight travels, was dreamed up by Eisenhower as a military necessity. Like the internet, it just happens to have civilian applications. It was felt that the interstates would encourage intra-American tourism, mostly via car. They were NEVER intended as freightways and the trucks should not have been allowed on them. We have railroads.



Note: Our Grand Opening for the WDMA site had been delayed a bit. We hope to have the front page redesign done relatively soon.


Sunday, July 21, 2019

Weird Detective Mystery Adventures Living Edition Soft Premier




Psst! It’s alive… ALIVE! The latest edition of Weird Detective Mystery Adventures is now alive and resident on the HIL-GLE.com website. We’re a couple of years late on our initial promise, but this is not simply a cut and paste job. The entire text has been re-written and re-formatted for ease of play.  WDMA has been expanded with new ability listings and streamlined reference sections. We believe our changes have improved the material as well as the game experience. Please let us know what you think.

We will be installing snappy promo text on our front page sometime in August. As time goes on, we intend to update and upgrade the game’s various pages. In its current form, the text is standing in as the preliminary draft of our new Streamlined Edition.

The Streamlined Edition will appear in PDF, EBook, Print On Demand and Print editions at some time in the future. The first steps in this direction will be made near the end of the year. This edition has been in the planning and testing stage for the past five years. We are also looking forward to the release of campaign setting and judge materials in support of this edition.

At this point we are inviting your input. We are still in the process of pruning the text for typos as well as detecting those areas which are in need of improvement. To this end we will be announcing a play test and revision incentive program on our home page soon.      

Sunday, July 7, 2019

WDMA New Power: Weirdo Magnet


WEIRDO MAGNET
User has a sympathetic affinity for supernatural forces, is something of an EMPATH for the otherworldly. This is a less parasitic take on the idea expressed in LEECH. The user is acts like a vitamin for extranormal events. Persons endowed with this ability can enhance, negate, bestow and sense any type of extraordinary force.

Base Cost: 50 plus SAVE. Min Link: Mutant. Suggested Link: WILL, CON, CHAR. Ability Type: At Whim. Ability Class: Ability Suite.

Attributes: May deploy one function on any given action. Unless noted otherwise, all functions are At Whim, meaning that they can be activated at any time during the action. All functions have a Range of SAVE in meters from the user.

Functions

Enhance: May enhance another being’s supernatural effect in ONE of the following ways: (1) Increase damage or tangle or healing by the ACT in dice; (2) Increase the range by SAVE or double the range; (3) Increase the duration by the ACT in actions; (4) Increase the Area of Effect by the ACT in meters or (5) reduce the target’s Defending level by 1 to 6 levels. The user may only add to those aspects that the effect is already endowed with. (You cannot add a duration to an effect which does not have one.)

Enhance requires that the target of the effect (the person who got zapped with the lightning bolt) be within the SAVE in meters from the user and that the effect was initiated on the same action as the enhancement or the next time the user has a chance to act. (Within one second in game time.) It also requires that the user make a successful combat stunt roll.

Negate. Reduces either the damage potential of an effect or the duration.  It reduces the damage inflicted by the SAVE in points or the ACT in dice. (If the attack calculates results in dice, subtract the dice. If the effect is measured in points, subtract the SAVE.) It may reduce the duration of an effect by the ACT in actions, but only down to one action.

Negate requires a successful combat roll if the target is in motion and a successful Double Ones roll if stationary. Negation of damage must take place within the action it was caused or on the next action that the user has activity. Negation of duration may take place at any time.

Negating an effect which has an indefinite duration requires a successful stunt roll using the power’s level as the active level and Omega as the defending level. It may only be attempted once. Success does not snap the target out of the effect, but does impose a duration of 1 to 6 actions. (As opposed to being stone forever, the target will now only be stone for the next 1 to 6 actions.)

User may not deploy negate on himself/herself.  

Magnet: User may draw any projected attack intended for others to himself. Attack must be visible or known to the user. (Users will have a good idea of what an attack is. See the Sense function.) The intended target of the attack must be within the SAVE in meters from the user. This function successfully activates on a successful Contested Roll if the attack is of supernatural origin.  If the attack form is based on some other format, (weapons fire, thrown objects) the Magnet function activates on a successful Double Ones roll.

During game action, the player will inform the judge of any attack he wishes to use Magnet on. It is assumed that this is a landed attack, an attack which has hit its intended target. As opposed to rolling damage (or determining the effect upon) the target, such will be ascribed against the user. The user’s own defenses, such as damage reduction from DEFL may be applied, however the user is otherwise treated as if he has been hit and will suffer the full consequences of the attack.


Bestow: User has the ability to give one of his own powers to another person. The receiver of the ability will be endowed with the power at the user’s level and with all of the user’s options. There are two modes to this ability. In either mode, the user may only Bestow one power to one person at any time.

Mode One: User gives the ability to another person. For as long as the other person possesses the ability, the user is denied the ability. The user is effectively projecting his power through another person. The user is free to rescind the Bestow on any action. Either Bestowing or rescinding counts as an application of the Weirdo Magnet ability.

Mode Two: User is bestowing the ACT in actions of the ability, which may be deployed by the target at any time in the next SAVE in actions. In this mode, the user does not lose access to the ability. Bestowing in this mode requires the user and the target spend the ACT in actions of charging time. Once charged, the target is free to deploy the ability, regardless of range from the user. The user may rescind the ability at any time, but only if he is within SAVE in meters. Extending the duration of the ability further effectively makes it Mode One.  

Sense. User knows the nature and magnitude of any supernatural effect. Requires that the effect take place within the SAVE in meters from the user. This comprehensive knowledge is activated on a Double Ones roll if the user is the target or the effect, on a Contested Roll if someone or something nearby is the target of the effect and on a Doubles Only roll in all other cases.

Sense essentially reveals game mechanics behind an effect—what power caused it, what level it is, how much damage and range it has and other details. The user can sense extranormal potential in an individual or object on a successful Double Six roll. Otherwise the effect must have taken place in the relative recent past, the present or be ongoing.

Options

Extend Range: 3 points per meter.

Bestow Function Only:  Cost 20 plus ACT. One mode only.




Saturday, July 6, 2019

WDMA New Power: Bio Agent


BIO AGENT
User has the ability to promote rapid changes in biological matter. This is a somewhat cropped version of Elemental, meant to simulate the ability to control the growth of plants. It also can cover accelerating normal changes in any living thing. It has more influence over plants than it does animals or other fully autonomous lifeforms. (Whatever “other fully autonomous lifeform” may mean.) The ability can work on a mass of like plants up to the basestat level as if it were SIZE. (See the SIZE listing in the Character Dynamics unit. Match the basetat level to what its SIZE would be and that is the gross amount of alike plant matter that the power can affect.) This power is single target when it comes to animals.

Base Cost: 40 plus SAVE. Min Link: Mutant. Suggested Link: CON, WILL, STR. Ability Type: At Will. Ability Class: Ability Suite.

Attributes:  Adds ACT in points to HTH Damage. DEFL + ACT. HTK + SAVE.

Functions: User may deploy one of the following options at a time.  

Plant Effects: Can cause plants to grow instantly and in a specific direction. May order the limbs of such to reach out or tangle. May also order the plant to grow on or envelop a target. Rate of growth is equal to the ACT in meters per action. Tangle inflicted is equal to the ACT in dice. User may apply additional tangle to target, depending on the type of plant being used. Tangling someone with domesticated lawn grass would be limited. Tangling something with a tree when you are in a heavily wooded forest, is unlimited.

Harm/Heal: Range SAVE. Requires a standard combat roll to affect target. Heal restores ACT in dice HTK to a single target. Heal may not be used on self. Harm has three options
1.    As a standard attack, requires a successful combat roll and inflicts the ACT in dice of damage.
3.    As a special attack, requires both a successful combat roll and a successful stunt roll using the power’s linked level as the Active Level and the target’s CON as the defending level. Inflicts the SAVE in points of damage for the ACT in actions, bypassing the target’s DEFL. This option does not function on targets endowed with CONTAINMENT, BODY CONTROL  and potentially some other abilities.

Options
Increase Damage: 3 allocation points per dice.
Increase Range: 1 allocation point per meter.

WDMA Ability Arsenal Update

BULLSEYE
The user possesses a capacity to launch near inerrant attacks on a limited basis. Whether this capacity reflects mnemonic focus, a mystical blessing or enhancements provided by devices should be determined by the character concept. The power only provides potential bonuses to the landing of attacks which cause physical damage and is primarily intended for those characters using weapons or deploying projected attack forms.  This is a slightly less supernatural version of BATTLE REFLEXES.

Base Cost: 15 plus SAVE. Min Link: Skilled. Suggested Link: AGIL, KNOW, PERC. Ability Type: Limited. Ability Class: Bonus. Equipment Discount: None.

Attributes: This ability has two complimentary functions.

Conditional Advantage Pool: Provides a pool of the ACT in points which may be applied to one or many attacks. Each pool point spent creates a Conditional Advantage of +1 per point. This pool renews on a 24-hour basis. Pool points may also be spent on activating this ability’s Special Advantages. Each Special Advantage costs two pool points.

Special Advantages: May either be purchased with pool points or triggered by an activation roll. Whether purchased or activated, only one advantage may be deployed on any one action.

            Advantage One: Double Ones roll to hit any target

            Advantage Two: Damage increased by ACT in dice

            Advantage Three: Successful hit reduces the target’s DEFL by SAVE for 1 to 6 actions.
           
Activation: Bound by a 24-hour cycle.
First Use: Successful Double Ones roll
Second Use: Successful Contested Roll
Third Use: Successful Doubles Only Roll
After the Third Use in a 24-hour period: Successful Double Six Roll.  

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Ideas We Will Outlive




Can we fast-forward to the part where Trump dies in prison? This maudlin Punch and Judy show has gone on long enough.  It has now become clear that our President is on intimate terms with more wacky Muppets than Oscar the Grouch is.   

Other than perhaps ending all life as we know it BECAUSE HE CAN, the risks of the Trump presidency seem to be on the downside. At this moment the only real risk Trump poses to the future is that his tactics may be taken up by another politician, that Trumpism and Trump-Like figures could become a mainstay of the American political environment.

The odds are against it. Nixonism, Clintonism, Hooverism never took off, never became a going thing. Reaganism, Jacksonian and Kennedy-esque did. (There was also a craze involving Teddy Roosevelt which even Teddy Roosevelt himself could not successfully harness.) What does and does not stick has more to do with a memorable style than anything else. Like it or not, Trump does have a distinct and memorable style.



Sadly, HATE as a political philosophy will always be with us. This whole gloomy gob of right-wing puss is always looking for a stylish wrapper for its cartoonish slogan “Our problems are all the faults of others.” Adding Mexicans to the mix (thank you Victor Davis Hanson), is Trump’s only recipe augmentation. Evil exists and it will manifest itself anew to meet the times. The good news is that most of this stuff has a shelf life. Tonight our featured correspondent Mister Fun will give his take on  bad ideas which are on the way out.  In a way they are all tied to each other and, in a way, all of them are heading out the door for the same reason.  And in a way, all of these predictions are pipe dreams and magical thinking on the part of Mister Fun himself, which leads us to…



Disclaimer: Mister Fun’s statements, opinions, predictions, run-on sentences, variable verb-noun tense oppositions, rare alliterations (he promised to cut that out), philosophical pronouncements and venting of vendettas are his and his alone and do not represent Hil-Gle Mind-Rot Quality Creative Newsstand Fiction Unit, the Hil-Glea Wonderblog, its ownership, operators, employees, surfs or slaves. (Not saying that Hil-Gle has surfs or slaves, which would be an admission of guilt in certain quarters and something that Hil-Gle, as an aspiring international conglomerate, would never do—that is, admit or confess to anything.)  Hil-Gle is a good international citizen, obeying global mores and values as they are found, specifically in Liberia and the Central African Republic, which Hil-Gle may someday own outright—although this should not be construed as a forward looking statement for prospectus purposes. Mister Fun’s words as represented here come to him, as per terms of a one hundred year leasing agreement via undisclosed 3rd parties in the Virgin Islands, often in unmarked brown packages sent media mail. These words are generally found in a hermetically sealed condition and are then removed from their packaging at first with a set of kitchen scissors but eventually with Mister Fun’s teeth. He spits those words and hopefully not also his teeth out for you now.

1950s Nostalgia

The Skinny: A belief that the mid 1950s was the apex of American society, that people were far better off in this time period than in those previous or since. It has never been beat, in terms of music (Rock & Roll), manufacturing (1957 Chevy), overall standard of living and position of military power.

The Draw: Like Gay 90s nostalgia, which we have covered, the 1950s had a lot of design and popular arts firepower.  It has trends in almost everything other than architecture.  In reality, it’s not much of a break with other emergent trends—an extension of Art Decco in design, an offshoot of Rhythm & Blues in music, a continuation in mechanization. The unprecedented break is reverse urbanization, leading to the mass creation of homogenized suburbia. Effectively ‘mass homogenization’ is the buzz word for the era.

Its Flaw:  Like all nostalgia, it ages out. People who had first-hand experience of the 1950s are now climbing into their 80s.  And many of them may be more nostalgic for the 1960s. What people like about the 1950s was somewhat unequally present in the reality of the times. If you were poor, rural or not white, much of what was attractive about this era may have passed you by.  The political paranoia and mass conformity of the era were also not a boon to many.


Fascism/Populism/Nationalism:

The Skinny: All of these are various aspects of tribalism or localism and, in an increasingly more interactive and interwoven world, have no real place in the future.  All of them tout “A WAY” as a specific ideal end state. Proponents discount or denigrate impediments to reaching that end and squelch debate as to its worthiness. It’s a big version of “I’m right. You’re wrong. Move on.”

The Draw: It would be nice to have a few simple solutions to our many problems. Almost all religions uphold the same ideals.  There does seem to be an agreed on set of moral values, virtues, goals. Certainly there is a good and agreed on method. All of these are methods which feel best, which seem like the ways in which we conduct ourselves within our families. It’s time to dispense with the red tape and do what’s right!

Its Flaw: Too numerous to mention, so we will just go with the fatal ones. First, not all ideals are equally valued. Everyone has their own little pyramid. In an effort to enforce a specific ordering of values, the tribal types spend all of their capital scapegoating “the other” or pruning the masses of deviance. Second, red tape exists for a reason. Each rule and regulation has a mountain of human suffering as its parent. You ignore red tape at your peril.

Communism

The Skinny: The rich really do suck. There are no honest fortunes. Capitalism seems to only work for the few and the connected. Surely a more egalitarian distribution of the rewards of mechanization can be contrived to supersede the lopsided windfalls afforded to the financial sector.

The Draw: Egalitarian outcomes always sound good. Enforced fairness sounds good.  Bankers are just government-backed rich people toadies.

Its Flaw: There are all of three communist regimes left in existence. To the extent that they function, each does so to the extent that they are Capitalist. The most successful of these, China, makes its international living by pimping out its poor masses to foreign capitalist manufacturers. And a great big clique of know-nothing, do nothings (whose only talent is for conformity) gleans the cream of the worker’s labor. All in all, no real improvement over rule by the rich. For bonus points, the ones which still exist are held together by systemic murder. In our only example of a nuclear armed communist state collapsing, Russia, it simply became a totalitarian regime without an ideology. But no one can predict what happens when a nuclear armed communist state in the midst of failure will really act. And all communist regimes have failed. And none are successful by any measure. So sleep soundly, assured that the end of the world is likely to be the result of a nuclear armed Chinese civil war.

Mission Statement

The Skinny: A run on sentence, about the length of a candy bar’s list of ingredients, which proports to explain what a business organization’s purpose is, its product or service and the market segment it wishes to operate profitably within. At their best, Mission Statements were both focusing and reassuring, a long-form advertisement in the guise of noble purpose. At their worst, they were gibberish goulash suffering from too many chefs.

The Draw: Putting the superstructure of your business plan front and center is a good way of informing at least your own employees what you are out to do. The idea is to get everyone on the same page. It keeps your mezzanine finance unit from pouncing into online sub-prime auto consumer loans. It’s as close to commissioned poetry as the modern world provides.  

Its Flaw: Once contrived, printed, framed and hung prominently, most were never interacted with again. Almost all of them became embarrassments over time.  The fact of the matter is that a business’s sweet spot evolves over time. Your Fast Casual restaurant branches out into Drive Through or Fresh Sushi. None of them were honest, otherwise they all would read “We intend to operate profitably until we are bought out, merged or bankrupt. Whichever comes first.”


Corporate Values

The Skinny: Your business needs a religion. Why? Because many of your employees don’t seem to have been raised right. It’s a proactive listing of expectations, common virtues and things which will get you fired. Add some glop about how without customers you have no business. Season to taste and post in meeting rooms.

The Draw: This became an absolute obsession with large corporations. The Big Cheeses suddenly all decided that they were philosopher kings, that their positions were attained through some sort of virtuous cycle. Lords of the meritocracy spewed forth with such nasal noises as “Commit to Life-Long Learning” and “Always be growing.” (My own favorite was “Know your place.”) Despite the fact that most of this stuff was rather interchangeable and mundane, it gave the successful a platform from which to crow.

Its Flaw: Ethical lapses on the part of front-line employees have never ruined a company. The ethical lapses that smart are launched from the Executive Suite.  Most of these value regimes were thought up after an organization has been busted for a crime. Given that the values almost never apply to management, value statements are viewed as the dual track double stuffed eyewash that they are. Eventually most of these degraded into statements about pretending your mother was watching you.

Six Sigma/Quality First/Accountability

The Skinny: That which gets measured, gets done. You should provide the best product or service that you can. The end results of a process can only be measured on a step by step basis. Improving or removing steps will lead to a better result.

The Draw: An excellent method for sidetracking rivals for management leadership.  Created an entire class of people who had oversight responsibility without any actionable authority. Also allows managers the freedom to hide out in their offices reading charts and dashboards, as if they were rocket pilots. Proposed an entire language designed to obscure numbers and facts.

Its Flaw: I am picking on a largely dead horse here.  This is a progression of the idea’s degradation. Six Sigma was remedial scientific, with Quality First being its overall goal. Accountability is the state of the idea now—and all it boils down to is blame. Its major flaw was that it is NOT TRUE. Quality is not everything and sometimes it’s not the most important thing. And sometimes quality cannot be measured.  That said, parts of the Quality First regime are valid, to the degree that they apply. The sin is in applying its methods to everything or making method a shrine unto itself.

Empowerment/Controllership

The Skinny: These are ideas in opposition to each other—and yet they are often both attempted simultaneously. Empowerment in the corporate sense is a dust off of the old Management By Objectives.  You hire good people, tell them what you expect and then give them the freedom to proceed as they like. Controllership is all about putting baby bumpers and training wheels on things. It’s about assigning dollar values to someone’s authority, about restricting access and withholding information.  In Controllership roles are narrowly defined.

The Draw: Optimally these two concepts should work together. You’re guiding someone’s progress, establishing firm goals and boundaries.  This pairing is usually not about operational efficiency, but rather an attempt to be attractive to all of an organization’s constituencies. Empowerment helps attract employees. Controllership attracts customers and investors. No one really notices the contradictions.

Its Flaw: It is not functional. All that happens is that you burn out your HR department. And its never uniform, compliance depending entirely on the managers directly above the front line. It’s too much to do and too much effort to make sense of. Every single moment spent mounting screen shots into an SOP is a moment hopelessly wasted.

Rock & Roll:

The Skinny: A splicing of up-tempo Rhythm & Blues and Country Western music forms. Rose in opposition to Champagne Music, a degradation of the Big Band Jazz form. Featured drums, bases, guitar and often a piano. Thrived through a number of periods of musical electrification, which it embraced in all of its nuances. Spawned numerous subgenres all slated at a tween to young adult market. The majority popular musical form in the developed world for several decades.

The Draw: Spoke to the emotional state of young people. Embraced its times.

Its Flaw: Its designed demographic lost much of its market power. Was more dependent on a “Music Industry” for creating interest in new acts than other forms. No new act in this genre has caught on in more than a decade. Largely supplanted by electronica, hip hop. Survives in nostalgia mode.


Mindfulness

The Skinny: Live in the moment and contemplate the moment as the moment is here. Remain at an even keel. Represent memory as a resource and not a confinement. Seek the best results for all.

The Draw: Treats stress. Legal. No known withdrawal symptoms.

Its Flaw: It’s Yoga without yoga.  Yoga itself is Buddhism minus theology. Mindfulness is Yoga plus something else other than Buddhism which is indistinguishable from Buddhism. There’s nothing wrong with Zen Buddhism. I’m a freaking ZEN MASTER myself. But it has its limits. At the retail level, Mindfulness is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair as a group study. In the let’s meet after class at the Mat Master’s personal dojo version, it’s that religion which is like Judaism that the Yoga Mat people have been attempting to push as a sideline for the past decade or so, only under a new name. I’m not sure that’s what the Yoga Mat Ladies are really up for. If you need something more from Yoga—let us say an actual religion with a worked out cosmology and whatnot—may I suggest something less alien, perplexing and malleable, like Catholicism or its evil twins Lutheranism, Methodism and Church of England. Your chances of being molested or taken are far less with these than with some bearded nonsense speaker who shares storefront space with a potter.

Culture Wars

The Skinny: Satanists in the popular guise of secular humanism (so called humanitarians) are out to drive God (in the specific form of the Trinity, but with a carve out for Jews and a weird exclusion for Islam) from the public square and replace the attendant values and structures (primarily the father led nuclear heterosexual family unit) of such with idolatry for homosexual socialist ape people. Actually an outgrowth of invective against Secular Humanism which all Christian churches have been promoting for decades, with an appended extremist superstructure.

The Draw: The advantage here is primarily to the political class, of a specific financial elitist stripe.  The Evangelical movement is inherent to the United States, achieving a majority of religious affiliates in suburban, ex urban and rural areas. As a whole, persons of this religious affiliation are a majority in the United States. But they are not a set sect, denomination or organization. Most are mom and pop single church affairs, with a few Mega Church denominations in the low tens of thousands. What little commonality these churches had was that they were largely apolitical, many advancing a “come out of the world” approach to current concerns. Like all Christian churches of the time, most touted the invective against Secular Humanism. Seeking additional voters to tap into, the wealthy water carrier Republican Party politically aligned with this amorphous crusade and its various permutations.

Its Flaw: Several, however we will stick to the fatal ones.  The fight against Secular Humanism is illogically extrapolated from Christ’s teachings against materialism and hedonism, comfort and worldly goods. Humanitarian ethos and Christian ethos are identical, one having heavily inspired and influenced the other. The humanitarian ethic is the Be Attitudes reworded, making this a distinction without a difference. As initially construed, Secular Humanism was the churchman’s cudgel for use against psychology—not science, not ration and not modernity in general. Most priests now embrace and even practice psychology today. The extrapolated fights against foreign philosophy, abortion, birth control, woman’s equality and liberalism writ large have not been winners, either for the Republican Party or the churches. Moreover it has enabled literalists, bigots and classical iconoclasts.  The modern Evangelical Movement is repellant, losing more voters than it attracts. Thanks to its ascendance we are approaching a non-religious majority in the United States. Good work, guys!

It is what it is

The Skinny: Learned helplessness as a imposed condition. The speaker would like to cut off debate or restrict resources. The net cause of the problem is not to be addressed—or not to be addressed here or by you. Let us surrender to the inevitable and get on with the work around.

The Draw: Not everything is open for freaking debate.  Very few business decisions recquire ratification by consensus approval.  Some people, especially the dickless, go on and on about crap that either can’t be undone or happened in the distant past. Uttering words are always better than resorting to force and “It is what it is” is a fairly neutral way of acknowledging bad news and setting another direction.

The Flaw: Although the construction does follow the rules found in my HOW TO ACHIEVE GREAT BIG HUGE OPULENCE (found on the HIL-GLE website), the statement suffers from overuse by the overly smug.  A few moments of explanation as to why you have eliminated, curtailed, postponed, reversed or bypassed something important are usually in order, even if you are the Old Testament God. Unless fixing the underlying problem does indeed involve the use of a Time Machine, then the expression of this phrase should be avoided. 

Flat Organization

The Skinny: Something of an outgrowth of Six Sigma, this is an organizational structure which functions without what was once called Middle Management.  The structure has limited enterprise-wide departments and functions largely without secretaries. Most flat organizations are centered around specific customers or specific deliverables (products or services). Most operational managers will also have a production oriented role. For example, a factory’s production manager—the person above all of the people working making stuff in the factory—will split this responsibility with a role providing production forecasts.

The Draw: In any downturn, the first employees to be shed in the corporate structure are the Middle Managers, role administrators and purchasing agents. Why operate with them in the first place?

The Flaw:  Several. We will focus on the killer two. Human nature has not changed. For every five employees you need a designated shepherd. For every ten employees you need a sheriff.  These numbers can be multiplied by 2 to 10 depending on how similar the employee’s roles are.  If you have 10 people in a department, all of whom have distinct roles, you need two people who are familiar with all of the roles and one person who can be called on to wield necessary authority. This arithmetic came to us from the Romans—and they probably stole the idea. Violate this math and you are NOT MANAGING. Most flat organizations are controlled by their HR Departments, and not well. As a Six Sigma augmentation, many organizations routinely fire their bottom 10% performers every year.  This seldom translates into any type of reality, since most flat organizations cannot retain employees in front line roles.
 Flat organizations discourage the type of people you want to retain. A well motivated employee gives something extra to his/her work. For these people work is “their thing”, their primary interest, a part of their identity.  While it is wonderful to have people who just show up, do what their told and then pick up checks, any enterprise of note is driven by careerists. Without these people you go nowhere. Such people require encouragement, tokens denoting worth. Flat organizations limit the number of tokens that can be awarded, often causing the careerist to seek another pool to swim in. In point of fact, most flat organizations will inflate over time, creating distinction in roles and manufacturing jobs simply to keep good workers. But the orthodoxy drives a lot of good people away unnecessarily.



Proactive

The Skinny: Preemptive action generally designed to accomplish a task well ahead of deadline or to ready a contingency strategy in case of a failure in planning or to cut off the cowboys at the pass before they can get to Dodge City and rob the bank. Being engaged in a far-sighted and hyperactive sort of way. Not just prepared, but permanently coiled and ready to strike in any direction at a moment’s notice.

The Draw: Proactive is the fairy dust sprinkled on hedging and options and credit default swaps and other financial instruments. Outside of finance it means you’re really smart and you read up on things and can swoop in whenever your big data finds you a nice juicy fat worm to eat. It also means that you have disaster plans. You are telemetry god!

Its Flaw: The hell you are.  Man plans, God laughs. The more you stock up on fire extinguishers, the greater your likelihood is of being hit with a flood. This may come as a shock to some, but PSYCHIC POWERS DO NOT EXIST.  Also risk mitigation is profit suppression. Being prepared to navigate around reasonable and known hazards is not a particularly rare talent/skill set. Claiming that you are able to do more than that is horse crap.

Meritocracy

The Skinny: This is the Divine Right of Kings in new clothes.  The rich, the powerful, the successful and the beautiful would like to inform you that they are equal parts worthy.  Achievement within the system is part of an unbiased set of rational measures. We are better than you by a true yardstick. None of us got here by blowing or knowing anyone. We have obtained our status fairly and are the products of an organization capable of exact measurement. Know your place and lick my booties.

The Draw: Fun to say. One of those aspirational ideal ideals. For those in power, a justification for all sorts of unfairness. Related to the once fashionable “It’s like high school with money.”

Its Flaw: To put it mildly, it is an overestimation.  It denotes an organization which has entirely overestimated itself and is likely to be dismissive of outside ideas.  Many organizations are run by cliques of like-minded people and function perfectly well.  But once you’ve determined that you’re perfect, you’re done.

Coming Soon!



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