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Friday, July 2, 2021

FLAMING HEART OF JEEBUS

 

I am learning not to write things off so quickly. The modern world is a maze of mind forged manacles and tantalizing chimeras. And genuine change drivers in the form of new data and innovation. Picking one from the other is an art. There’s a huge pile of things which are partially untrue, a mismatch between a legitimate need and the prevailing solution offered.

Some calls are easy to make. Bitcoin is garbage. Its underlying blockchain truth is a miasma, a much touted nothing to see here. Imagine a world wherein every penny that passes through your hand has a pedigree, a provenance, a trail for every transaction for which it was used, yet no identification of previous owners. Now imagine a world where there is a need for such a thing. You can’t. There isn’t.

But wait, there’s less! Further imagine a world where you can just mint money. Ok, maybe not you or me, but people with high-end computers. This is much better than money printed by governments and managed by central banks, right? The implications to monetary policy, fiscal policy, and the dismal science aside, this is something akin to allowing people to make money out of Play Dough. Cults of people toting tokens which only those in the know will accept as a store of value is nothing new—and most of these people are crooks or tax cheats. What is sort of new is that the store of value itself is so worthless. Put as much encryption and electronic paper trail as you like on it, a bitcoin is a token pegged to nothing and worth what you can get for it. Once the forces of gravitational common sense come into play, bitcoin’s lack of backing turns it back into Play Dough.

Any commodity which oscillates due to the pronouncements of old weed blower Elon Musk doesn’t have much intrinsic going for it. The crackdown is starting in all quarters of all governments. The question is whether the collapse will come before or after the eventual ban. The only known utility for bitcoin is as a transition state for turning yen, rupies, rubles and other third world funny money into something else which can later be cashed in for dollars or euros (or pounds.)  Plus, it seems to be very useful for wholesale clandestine narcotics purchases and ransom payments. I guess it’s not all bad.


Given that I seem to be in the minority on Bitcoin, I have begun to reassess my opinions on other topics our blog covers, starting with Flying Cars. HIL-GLE Wonderblog has led the universe in defining what is and what is not a Flying Car. Briefly:

Definition of a Flying Car


In order to qualify as a 'Flying Car' a vehicle must encompass the following three concepts. 

1. Vehicle must be able to take off and land without a runway or dedicated external support facility of any kind.

2. Vehicle must be capable of conventional garaging.

3. The operation of a Flying Car may be no more complex than that of other conventional consumer commuter vehicles.

By this definition, no one has invented a Flying Car. Ever. There have been some nifty swings at it, however.


This fine 1935 concept eventually matriculated into the helicopter, certainly an innovation, but not something most of us hop into and fly to the grocery store. It is my contention that like the Northwest Passage, the Flying Car concept may prove to be impossible to make reality. The last actual production Flying Car was this model.


The wish fulfillment spirit of the Flying Car concept is to democratize the experience of flight itself. The aim is to leave your door, pick up on wings, and fly off to wherever it is you wish to go.


Although you do not have to Hawkman French kiss the spirit of the Flying Car, you do have to at least air kiss it. If it isn’t making defying gravity fundamentally more obtainable, then the Flying Car concept has no value no matter how close to the letter of the definition one gets.


What has been invented thus far are a set of recreational aids for rich people to show off in. If it isn’t built for the masses, then the Flying Car is immaterial. Our last Flying Car was close to a million dollars a copy, assuming it were ever produced. The Flying Car mentioned in Air Trails above was a little more affordable. It was pricey for a car, reasonable for a crop duster, yet in the end a toy. You want dreams realized to be more than distractions. We shoot for revolution!

With the most modern of our Flying Cars now spirited off to China, we are left with only a quad-drone which seats one and is remote controlled. And this thing…


This is the I-Tec Maverick produced by Indigenous Peoples’ Technology and Education Center. I want one, for two reasons: (1) I hate tailgaters and no one in their right mind would close within fifteen feet of this propeller pushed monstrosity; and (2) It is far and away the coolest dune buggy ever. It is affordable to the point that I could bankrupt myself and buy one. And the people at I-Tec are cozy with the spirit of the Flying Car, phrasing their mission statement as to “provide tools and technologies to God-followers in frontiers (sic) areas to meet their needs.” Not just a French kiss, a soulmate French kiss. Sadly, passion and exuberance count for so little in the world of aerodynamics.

 

Not shown is the method for providing lift and navigation. Because the concept falls down right there. This magnificent thing is actually strapped to a parachute. To be generous, the wing is a glider chute, attached in a specific (I’m hoping) way to various parts of the dune buggy frame. It’s sort of a self-propelled para-glider, a nifty idea on its own and truthfully the making of a fine tourist road-side enterprise if it functioned efficiently.

 

Unfortunately, efficient functioning is not a feature of the Maverick. Also not shown is the comical method by which it gets into the air. In my mind’s eye I imagine that the chute is dragged behind our dune buggy, fills with air, and then we are off on our merry way. In reality, liftoff requires a very large mast thing which holds the chute aloft until the buggy can attain air speed. In insurance terms, the mast would be a  “cumbersome javelin object capable of impaling anyone on the ground during undirected free-fall,” which kills its potential as an ad hoc carnival attraction. It’s unclear at what point the mast becomes jettisoned, however its mere presence is a design flaw which must be overcome if the Maverick is to ever show any promise.

 

How does it fly? It does have a rudder. Whether this is functional or aspirational, I am not sure. My guess is that it has roughly the same handling profile as the average hot air balloon, only less forgiving. Your choices are probably vectored on up or down or the way the wind is blowing. With practice, you might be able to tack into the wind. Much depends on how much flying time the unit delivers and how skilled one can become with the controls offered. We do know that the thing crashes and that the NTSB will not investigate such, because they do not consider the I-Tec Maverick an airplane. Because it is a dune buggy strapped to a parachute.

 

You do have to appreciate the attempt, however. As spectacular methods of suicide go, the Maverick is reasonably priced, unlike: An anonymous bidder paid $28 million at auction this weekend to join Amazon’s Jeff Bezos on a trip to space. The first crewed flight of his Blue Origin company is set to launch on July 20, for the roughly 10-minute trip. The bidder beat 20 rivals in the charity auction on Saturday with proceeds going to the company’s foundation, which aims to encourage young people to pursue careers in STEM. Bezos is among several of the world’s richest men racing towards space, with Virgin’s Richard Branson and Tesla’s Elon Musk also vying for a place in the commercial space travel industry.


Note to Prospective Wealthy Space Adventurers: Rocket travel is about as safe as tight-rope walking is for tight-rope walkers. The people we send into space are usually highly trained. Like tight-rope walkers, they usually come back in one piece, because they are so highly trained. You are rich. That does not mean that you are magic. If something goes wrong, you have NO SKILLS to help you get out of danger. Mind you, no one is going to miss Jeff Bezos or Elan Musk, but you might be of some import to your own field. In this ventured risk, you are performing no function of value to yourself, your field, or your society. If things go wrong, you get blown to pieces. And that might be the optimistic side of the downside. (I’ll miss Richard Branson, but I will get over it.)

 

On the other hand, there may not be any way to talk these people out of it: Corporate psychopathy, especially in high-level leaders, is a real problem that could cost businesses billions of dollars each year, writes University of San Diego professor Simon Croom in this piece for Fortune. "Psychopathy is up to 12 times more common among senior management than among the general population," he writes. "When some of the defining traits of psychopathy include egocentricity, predatoriness, recklessness, a lack of empathy, and a propensity for manipulation and exploitation, it doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to see how a high percentage of unrecognized psychopathy in senior management could lead to all kinds of problems for organizations, their employees, their customers, and society at large."

 

I suppose comparing the idle rich self-made billionaires to corporate executives might be unfair. I will live with it.

 

I previously un-wrote off the Electric Car. There has been some additional positive prognostication on our Electric Car beat: Electric vehicles should be cheaper to buy on average than combustion vehicles in about five years, without subsidies. Most of the folks currently in the Electric Car field are still the same old actors, which does give some pause. And some of the new actors are embracing another trend on our beat, the hideous SPAC: Lucid Motors, the Saudi-backed electric-vehicle startup waiting to go public via a blank-check company, is ready to take on Tesla—and it has been for a while now. The startup is facing more setbacks thanks to Covid-19 supply chain disruptions and delays, and a global chip shortage.

 

This isn’t enough for me to re-write off the Electric Car as much as it is for me to write off Lucid. Let me get this straight. You are a startup. Backed by Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth funds. And you need money. From SPACs (money invested by people who didn’t know what they were investing in.) This is to take your company to the level it can sell shares to people who do know what they are investing in. Got it. I bet you any money they do not have a functioning car yet. Why don’t you take what money you have left from failing to develop a car and buy yourself a seat on the rocket ship? It’s much less painful than what the Saudis are going to do to you.

 

Even the Rocket Ships are SPAC: This morning, Astra becomes the first space company to trade on the NASDAQ, having completed a SPAC transaction with Holicity, which was started and funded largely by cellular phone pioneer Craig McCaw. The transaction raised $500 million for Astra, which it will use to build out its low-earth orbit satellite platform business. Rocket Lab is close to closing a similar SPAC transition. All told, analysts believe space infrastructure investment will top $10 billion this year, up from a record $8.9 billion in 2020.

 

Best guess: Neither Astra nor Rocket Lab will ever launch anything. They won’t even blow up tourists. If you have any hesitation as to where the SPAC is heading, we conclude with: It’s the latest twist in the world of blank-check mergers: A company plans to go public with a SPAC (that’s a special-purpose acquisition company for the uninitiated) and use it to buy back an affiliate that it took public. How does it plan to do that? By using another SPAC, of course.

 

This is what happens when real assets get bid up. Suddenly there all sorts of synthetic opportunities in the ethers. Some of these are well meaning pipe dreams, but the majority are scams.

 

After China liberated our last Flying Car, I began to rethink my position on them as a power in the world. Surely any government willing to take on an entity like our last Flying Car manufacturer is not infallible. In fact, it shows a certain honest bungling to throw the People’s Money at what was clearly a failed venture without any redeemable public or military application. Maybe the Chinese Communist Party is just stupid as opposed to being actually evil? Then I read this: They’ll find their heads bashed bloody against a great wall of steel.” That’s what Chinese President Xi Jinping, marking 100 years since the founding of the ruling Communist Party today, warned nations that “bully” China. Having achieved “historical inevitability,” he said, the People’s Republic, with 1.4 billion inhabitants, can stand its ground.

 

A fish rots from the head down. That man’s statements have been elevated to the level of “thought itself” amongst the Chinese Communist Party members. They seem to have stupid and evil down pat. Back here on Earth One, no one is bullying China. Some of us Freedom Inclined are a bit tiffed off about concentration camps on its soil, and some weird naval claims it has been making, and it essentially going back on all of the promises made to the people of Hong Kong, and some saber-rattling it is doing over in Taiwan, but no one is bullying 1.4 billion people nor their nuclear-armed government. Perish the freaking thought. Let’s hope they don’t reach for a bottle of insane to go with their Historical Inevitability word jazz. If they do, we’ll all be reaching for the Flaming Heart of Jeebus.

 

For those of you unfamiliar with the Flaming Heart of Jeebus, it is a monotheist icon which exists primarily on mass-produced funeral cards. It certainly cannot be Jesus, since His image cannot be rendered, but it is Jesus-Like. Printed on the card is a promissory statement that a group of holy types will be evoking the supernatural on the undersigned deceased’s behalf. This they are doing at the printed name’s request, one assumes in exchange for some pre-paid gratuity. I get these in the mail all of the time. The vast majority of them also come with an image of Jeebus, holding his flaming pulmonary organ in his hands.

 

Jeebus seems neither happy nor sad about this. In truth, he’s a hard read. The immolating organ is usually rendered with medical accuracy and occasionally adorned with mystical Latinate. When used as a symbol on its own, it is in Valentine’s Day form by way of the Human Torch.

 

I am familiar with most Christian iconography, but this one had me stumped. At no time in the gospels does the main character yank out any of his organs, or anyone else’s organs, nor do anyone’s organs burst into fire. This goes for the entire Bible text, which does feature some fantastic stuff, but no blazing body parts.  The closest I could find was a bush setting itself on fire.

The Flaming Heart of Jeebus is clearly extra-canonical. Most icons of this nature are plagiarism from paganism. Even here, however, the detachable burning heart seems to have no parallel. Aztecs and Mayans would be a guess given that we do not have a full view of their belief systems. That said, there are no similar icons found depicted anywhere else in the occult spheres. It is unique.

 

As it turns out, it is of relatively recent origination, dating back to the 17th century. Although it is Catholic, the icon can be found sprouting in various roles among the older Protestant sects. There are several originators on record, all of whom attest to the same story.

 

A nun wishing to read her Bible in the original language petitioned the godhead for comprehensive fluency in Latin. Having been granted such by supernatural blessing, the nun found her gift to be not to her liking. The story’s credibility might have been enhanced somewhat if she had instead discovered that the Bible was not originally written in Latin, but that isn’t the way it is told. Instead, she just doesn’t like it. SO SHE TAKES IT BACK, like she’s returning something from Walgreens. Being customer-focused, the godhead offers to make an in-kind makedo to preserve her goodwill. The nun then asks for the godhead’s heart. In this case, the godhead is known to be dead and doesn’t actually need the heart. Per the story, there is nothing wrong with the nun’s heart. She would just like to have the godhead’s implanted. At no point is a purpose to this mentioned. The godhead proceeds remove his own heart and places it into the nun’s chest. What happens to her heart is not mentioned.

 

All of this would be a phenomenal back story to some subsequent saintly goings on. Little Sister Doesn’t Care For Latin is now the ambulatory vessel of a functioning organ from the House of David. Let the pronouncements and miracles commence! I can see a whole third book of the Bible starting here. Or a book of the Bible. Or something. Instead, she does pretty much diddly. She is a saint. (Actually, several saints.) But she did essentially pull an Iron Vic. Like the old golden age superhero Iron Vic, she’s been handed a lot of potential and she takes it and becomes a minor league baseball player.

 

I’m still at a loss as to why the image is on my funeral cards.


Monday, June 28, 2021

Pulp Football Gag(s)


 Presented for your amusement are two versions of an often-repeated sight gag involving the sport of football from the pulps. Both are take offs on the same theme. 

The first is a mature version of the old Peanuts comic strip's Lucy and the Football bit. 


Talk about freezing the kicker. 

Our second theme, which was repeated more often, requires less explanation. 



While there has been some talk of women playing football, Center is not usually the position mentioned. 


This will mess up the snap count. 


Both scans from Pulpscans. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

It's Coming... along... (I am an Idiot)

 


It's the cover master for our latest edition of WDMA! Under normal circumstances this would indicate progress. This is for the prototype and a few things have come to light which may set me back a tad.  Well, more than a tad.  My printer went out of business. I didn't have a job with this person as yet, but they did hand me the most equitable estimate. (Job here meaning an assignment to print.) The prototype people are very reasonable (and include ebook formatting) but I am not sure how they are going to do for a short run book such as this. 

Right now it looks like a short run book with some of its headers decapitated. Plus someone (me) seemingly repeated a page number. And there is a bit of artwork that I need to replace.  So other than having a potentially defective prototype, a galley with a repeated and labor intensive to fix error and no real printing options for the production run, I have made some real progress here. I think I will go into the pickle business. How hard can it be to screw up cucumbers? 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Interweb Outbin

 


Goodbye to Comic Sans

Long term readers of this blog and website know full well of my love of the type font Comic Sans.  In execution, it is vaguely comic book-like. It stands out in chapter headings and as emphasis in the middle of a sentence. Weird Detective Mystery Adventures, our tribute role-playing game to all things pulp adventure, makes extensive use of the font. In small doses, it is fine.

It is, however, not real. No comic book has ever used Comic Sans nor anything like it. There have been several standards for comic book lettering—some of them actual fonts produced by old time strip spewing font machines—but Comic Sans was never one of them. Only certain greeting card companies made extensive use of it. As a font, it has a number of drawbacks.

Comic Sans scales poorly. The between line space is erratic, often dropping the distending letters of words with g, j, p, q and y. Worse, it is not resident on most browsers, translating into a mash up of itself and spacing regimes belonging to Times Roman or some other fuxtard fontard. I will miss Comic Sans, but I am giving her up. From now on we are in Ariel, the most readable and widespread font in the Microsoft English World. Because blogs are meaningless if they cannot be read.

I have also received notice from my webhosting site Yahoo that they no longer intend to support the web construction tool that they gave me. I will therefore not be able to update my current pages in their current format, but am free to import them into Fuxtard Press where I can marvel with delight as my art elements and text race off like jumping beans. Or I can redo the whole damn thing in something that I can fathom.

I have opted to leave things as they are until I have a chance to learn a new system, locate my previous text and dedicate several months to reconstruction. Given that I will be relaunching WDMA again, I do have an incentive to do this. Time is another question.

Between the time of the notification and now, Yahoo was offloaded from Verizon and bought by a private equity firm which also bought AOL. The new entity will be called Yahoo, but I am not sure what it will be doing. I may have more than one interweb issue on my hands.

In any case, the Wonderblog is now the thing, the outlet, the single most updated space in our place.

 

I Go Utterly Insane and Seemingly Need Meds Bad

I am not buying the fuel pipeline shutdown. I am not buying that it is hackers, Russian or otherwise. Moreover, I do not believe there is anything wrong with the pipeline, its controls or software. I think it has been shut off for the same reason OPEC shuts off Saudi Arabia or Iran. I think it’s a price rigging scheme, just as were the several rounds of suspicious refinery maintenance events which preceded it several summers ago.

Not long-ago oil was so worthless, so plentiful in supply

 that producers had to pay someone to offload it from their tankers. We are at peak production. There is a Global Plague on which has reduced demand to a fraction of normal. Gas should be a buck a gallon. Yet prices go up.

I call foul. I call BS on the whole thing.

 


I AM COOTIES

Let the record show that I have taken full advantage of my Western Privilege during this time of plague.  I live in a society which allows me to earn a living while sheltering in place. I can avoid contact with the world via ordering my every need to my doorstep. I have an abundance of personal preservation materials at my ready disposal should I need to venture out. As a member of several approved castes, I was allowed to obtain the best defense available to this malady and have availed myself of such. I am vaccinated, masked, and thriving. My only wants are for the contact with others my life afforded before. Even in this I have won out. At the start of this plague, I was on my own. Now I am aiding my loved ones, with them nearly every moment of the day. I am indeed a blessed person.

I am now a blessed person in quarantine. Mother’s Day brought contact with a person who has now tested positive for Covid. Just this day I and my housemates went to the drive-thru at our local Walgreens and had our tests proctored/self-administrated. I jammed a swab up my own nose and put the results in a disposable test tube, thus qualifying me for Level Zero as a Lab Tech. In several days, an actual Level One Lab Tech will get around to processing my tube, after which a qualified person will decide if I am diseased or not. Meanwhile, I play proto-zombie, staying away from folks lest I become a plague sprinkler.  

I have no symptoms. The person who tested positive isn’t so lucky. And this person is now marooned in another state. Just when we thought it was safe to go back in the water, Jaws returns. Not to make light of this nor paint the matter more dire than it actually is.

Insert profound point here. This isn’t over yet. As long as there is time on the play clock for this misadventure, anyone can still lose.

 


Flying Cars Now Have a Timeline for Adoption

In 2019, Boeing and Porsche announced they were teaming up to develop an electric flying car concept. Neither company has given any indication of when this might ‘take off’, but in 2018 research by Porsche suggested that the urban air mobility market could start to gain traction as soon as 2025.

By the way, the Wonderblog has now been joined by a Bloomberg email blast covering autotech, from which the above was culled. As with Wonderblog, the Bloomberg mailer will cover Flying Cars and Electric Cars as its focus. We at the Wonderblog welcome them. Come on in, the water is warm.

Sadly, Bloomberg has been finding out in short order what it took the Wonderblog nine years to discern—neither Electric Cars nor Flying Cars are making linear progress. Both fields are fits and starts, two steps forward, one step back with a skip to my loo and a few sidetracks thrown in.



On the heals of Elon Musk’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, one does have to reflect on what the man’s true accomplishment is. Has he made the electric car a commonplace item? Is he the Edison or Ford of the EV concept—a concept that predates the advent of gasoline. Thus far his works are expensive, rare, unprofitable, and prone to explosion accidents. That’s when he bothers with the EV at all and isn’t attempting a corporate takeover of outer space or drilling into the planet or distributing new fangled flamethrowers. (Just what the world needs. A new flamethrower.) He is the blesser of crypto currency, a thing decried by the maggots in Omaha and other slingers of fact-based finance. Should we just accept that he is beyond our mere mortal comprehension and bask in his awesome glow shadow or do we call a Trump a Trump.

The auto world has always had these Elon Musk types. They swoop in from other fields and pigeon distribute their wisdom. After a bloom phase, something like the Pontiac Fiero gets squat out into production, after which the auto industry gleans its own messages. The point of the Pontiac Fiero was to prove that Demming Quality Circles could vastly improve automotive design and assembly. While this turned out to be a boon to the production of auto parts, the One Thought Solves All approach Demming championed was of limited utility in design and assembly. (See the Pontiac Fiero.) The Fiero’s follow-up, an entire division of GM called Saturn did not fare much better. At the time GM ran out of money, the government made it give up on distractions like Pontiac and Saturn. Demming and his circles went by the waysides, with the industry gleaning simply that people would buy cars mostly made out of plastic. (An idea first broached by one Henry Ford the first.) Once most cars became mostly plastic, the all plastic Saturn marquee lost its luster. (1)

There are a lot of Auto History allusions to people like Musk. He’s not Ford. Ford was about affordable mobility. He’s not GM. GM was about market share. He’s not Chrysler. Chrysler was about value for the dollar. In the auto sector, those are the ideas which have won. That leaves the non-winners: Locomobile, Packard, Hudson, Peirce, Stutts and the like. I believe Musk is analogous to Cord (2), a peddler of advanced and expensive products, destined for mass sidelining at the first market downturn. Everything’s fun when its fashionable to be rich. Those times don’t last. Make something people need and can afford or your firm will be bitcoin bankrupt in the next market meltdown.

 


Not to be so US-centric. The above referenced Porsche isn’t really Porsche, it’s VW. VW sells cars to humans. Porsche is sort of Buick where it comes from and Audi is… over-engineered Eurotrash crap meant to separate the unwary of disposable income. (3) Not to disabuse Bloomberg of hopeful tidings, but a report from 2018 projecting the demand for flying cars in 2025 is probably the only product of this partnership. They are already one plane behind Terrafugia at the same stage. Not a hopeful sign.

(1)  The Quality Circles also suggested that people didn’t like the car buying experience at all. In an effort to make it less onerous, the dealerships were ordered to not allow haggling and to ban their salespeople from deploying any of the time-tested tactics. Carmax has since adopted a similar strategy. The new Carvana chain aims to make trips to see your used car prior to purchase a thing of the past. In Saturn’s case, sales took a plunge and never recovered. And if you venture into your local Carmax, you will find creeping vestiges of the soft sale approach being enacted.

(2)  Cord’s makes were Duesenberg, Auburn and Cord. Duesenbergs were priced at the half a mansion level. Auburns priced at the same level as the average supercar. The for the masses Cord, a mini-Duesenberg, came in at the mere Mercedes price point. Of the three marquees, only Auburn was an actual production luxury car. Cord’s primary gift to the venture is that he figured out how to sell the Auburns. Oddly only the Cords and Duesenbergs are well remembered, although almost no one ever owned one.

(3)  Audi is a hold-over from that time when every European make needed to badge an unreliable performance car to compete with Jaguar. The thrill of owning a fine car which does not function still has a mysterious hold over the gentry.   

 

 


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Bonfire of the SPACs (S.P.A.C.-D.O.A.-R.I.P.)

 


We here in the blogosphere are constantly on the hunt for niche subjects to monopolize the edification of the masses about. It’s what we do. It makes us feel important and gains us a patina of uniqueness over and above the lamestream media.(1) Of late this blog’s search has lit upon the subject of SPACs, or Special Purpose Acquisition Companies. Although a brief reiteration of what said SPACs are might be in order at this point, it is more to my point to wax poetic about how much fun it would have been to be the informational hub of everything about them. What joy I would have taken in defining and refining the different classes and styles of SPACs and venturing guesses about the viability of each. My writing days would be mapped out for months in advance as I bloviate endlessly, a guru of the financial cutting edge like all of the crypto currency gurus.

Sadly, that’s exactly what it would be like. Just as crypto currencies are money issued by no one, SPACs are collections of money given in blind trust to someone who promises to make you rich by finding a going business to marry it into. The SPAC is then drained of all funds and you and the others in this collective now own a business, arguably still under the control of the person who promised to make you rich. This person then magically lists the business on the stock exchange and cashes you all out for oodles more money, as investors seek shares of your fine viable enterprise.

To date, at least part of the process has worked exactly once:

Grab Holdings, the largest ride-hailing and food delivery firm in Southeast Asia, clinched a merger on Tuesday with special-purpose acquisition company Altimeter Growth Corp securing a valuation of nearly $40 billion and paving the way for a coveted U.S. listing. The merger, the biggest blank-check company deal ever, underscores the frenzy on Wall Street as shell firms have raised $99 billion in the United States so far this year after a record $83 billion in 2020.

Cue stirring theme music and condor swooping animation. Opportunity has been sought and found! Just what the world needs… a combination of Grub Hub and Uber… in Southeast Asia, no less. Not exactly cold fusion, is it? Especially when one considers that the non-knock-off versions of both concepts have done nothing but bleed tranches and tranches of red ink here in the first world. I’m sure it will do just zingo business in a part of the world where they eat cats and drive bicycles. (2) Can’t wait for the NASDAQ listing. Oh, the vast promise of SPAC Land has the dreamers dreaming…

Frith expects more early-stage battery startups to go public through special-purpose acquisition companies, a trend currently sweeping through Wall Street, in part because management teams get the latitude to make future projections, unlike with conventional initial public offerings. If the secrecy in the battery industry remains as tight as it is now, you can expect more Scorpion Capital-style short seller attacks.

The above named Mr. Frith was deemed a bunko artist by a bunch of short sellers and is now envisioning MIGHTY SPAC as the savior for his venture. This is in opposition to the much dreaded path of actual financial transparency. Perish the freaking thought. Better to hide in a coop with birds of a feather.

And just as the story wends further, adding with complexity like a fine White Zinfandel, the spiked punch bowl is suddenly pulled. The Golden Age of SPACs is over…

SPAC mania has come to a screeching halt. Just last month, special purpose acquisition companies celebrated a head-turning milestone by breaking their 2020 issuance record in just three-month’s time. After more than 100 new deals in March alone, issuance is nearly at a standstill with just 10 SPACs in April, according to data from SPAC Research.

Kinda leaves the poor SPAC Research specialty prognosticator without a gun to holster or a bug to net. When, one wonders, did the whiz-bang consultancy have a chance to whip up a SPAC Research ™ wing in the first place? How much specialty experience can they have? From whence doth they cull their empirical data and seasoned insight? Lucky for those folks unemployment has been extended. Or you can accept being folded back into the Etherium Crypto Research pool at a junior level. Your call.

There’s trouble in SPAC land. (3) The SEC is mulling a new definition on the warrants given to SPAC insiders, a move that could weigh on the bottom line of these blank-check IPO mills.            

While SEC mullings have never stopped those truly inspired to blow money like drunken sailors, it ain’t good news. Bad mojo lurks in the fine print of the offers to those whose money is better than that of others. These halo-suckers (4) are often offered sneak peeks, tranche return protection, first pennies of every dollar collected or some sort of bonus dice blow--very little of which is kosher and none of which has ever prevented a dime’s worth of the catastrophic losses destined to inflict all. In short, warrants are come ons to start with, so exactly how shady they are is a matter of degree.

You will note that during the fly-like lifespan of the SPAC, the second cashing out phase never culminated. No one saw their pennies turned into IPO dollars nor bloated listings of equities on the NASDAQ. Which means that the 99 Billion dollars subdivided into 100 SPACs are now worth… wait for it… zilch. This clearly cannot be, since the SPACs themselves are simple balloons full of cash and should still have cash in them. Which can easily be returned. And I have a bridge in Brooklyn that you may buy with your returned SPAC funds.

During my first bout of opining and prognosticating on the wonderful SPAC Future I estimated that the originating parties numbered in the handful and that most of them were refugees from OTC pump and dump scams. I was close.

SPAC king. Former Facebooker and so-called king of the SPACs, Chamath Palihapitiya, has become the face of the great unraveling of these blank-check new issues. He raised billions for a series of SPACs which he regularly promotes on his social media channel. How are they doing? Per Bloomberg "Palihapitiya’s SPACs... have been among the worst bets."

By “Facebooker” our pals at Bloomberg are not referring to sub literates posting kitty photos and relationship updates in some sort of advertising supported internet garden. Nor are they actually referencing anyone who operationally works at Facebook. Instead, they are referring to a caste of people who became instant narco republic Richie Riches at the time Facebook became listed on the stock market. As I recall the investor pool’s story—which was made into a movie—most of these people were potential litigants against Facebook’s operator who took a piece of the action instead of suing the place into oblivion. Had they acted, there would be no Facebook, no Zuckerberg and they would have netted nothing other than goodwill assets (cups with the Facebook logo on it) and legal bills. In short, their qualification amounts to being ripped off by an internet start-up guy who stole their ideas and stole the money he was given to work on their projects and instead used all of it to start his own thing. Their improbable gain has been humanity’s loss. While I might want to rub one of these bozos for luck, their path to riches most resembles the one employed by Rodney King. Not the type of folks one should take advice from. (5)

In any case, I am going to have to find another niche to squander your attention with.

(1)  Lamestream Media: Also known as the press. To be distinguished from hate mongers and conduits for Russian disinformation or other social media rubes. An institution which has defended democracy world-wide, is professionally researched and deserving of trust.

(2) Massively unfair of me and racist. Still, if you could buy anything, why buy this? Why not buy a bunch of shoe stores. People actually need shoes.

(3) SPAC land. Also known by me as SPAC Land. Even though I did not coin the term, I insist that the Land itself be given its own prominence. At 99 Billion dollars it’s worth more than a lot of Lands out there.

(4) Halo-Suckers. Derived from the term Halo-Car, meaning a type of vehicle designed to bring people into the showroom, but which is seldom if ever purchased. A Halo-Sucker is an investor whose participation is attractive to other investors.

(5)  If Chamath Palihapitiya is so damn wise and prosperous, why is he peddling investments on a social media channel? Ditto Motley Fool and all of the other high profile investment touts. The answer to this question is both obvious and amazing.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Man Dreams and Science Provides


 

Greetings Blog Readers and Other Confused Lost Souls.

Amazing news has crossed our desk in regards to three topics this blog claims to cover. As usual, we are about two months behind the curve. It’s our obvious hope that you have been living in a cave,  unwilling to formulate an opinion until you have heard from us. That’s our target demographic. Our topics for this post are Flying Cars, Brain Damaged Fascists and New Dubious Methods Wall Street Has Devised To Make Your Money Melt Away. That makes our target demographic leftist hermits with a thing for tech. That explains our readership statistics in a nutshell.

My arm is currently swelling with a toxin I voluntarily allowed the infusion of. Said gunk is supposed to spare my skanky self from the plague we have been experiencing lo these many months. If it seems like a year ago that we were all consigned to lives of remote existence, it is only because it was. I and everyone who has had this shot may count ourselves amongst the world’s elite. Hopefully there will be more of us elitists in the coming days. The way mass production works is that things wedge in. As of this moment, the availability of the gift is limited to people near first-world distribution points on a scattershot basis. I was administered my dose in a Walgreens rather distant from my house while another person received a dose from the Walgreens close to my house even though he resides far away. In a week or two this stuff will be everywhere and the only people not receiving it will be those inclined to decline it regardless of availability. In the meantime, the willing play musical Walgreens. I know of a family of three who got theirs administered in three different places. Such is the randomness of the slating.

We are profoundly lucky. More than half a million of my countrymen did not make it to this point. And the body count still has a way to go. It may take some time to get things normal again. Without Trump in charge, it will take less time. As hope dawns, so does my desire to talk about something else.

Man dreams and science provides. This has been the story of the modern world. It has only occasionally been interrupted by outbreaks of calamity and need. If it wasn’t for WWII, we would have had television and photo offset printing as real industries ten years earlier than when they appeared. It’s a minor casualty, but who knows what this plague has delayed and by how long. I fear a wave of mass automation in the restaurant industry may be in the offing. People are starting to talk about life after this, to throw their nets widely. Our pal the Flying Car has made two recent sightings. To remind people what a Flying Car is, we will reaffirm our criteria in short form:

Definition of a Flying Car


In order to qualify as a 'Flying Car' a vehicle must encompass the following three concepts. 

1. Vehicle must be able to take off and land without a runway or dedicated external support facility of any kind.

2. Vehicle must be capable of conventional garaging.

3. The operation of a Flying Car may be no more complex than that of other conventional consumer commuter vehicles.

Hil-Gle has decided to take the lead in defining the flying car, mostly because no one else will. Even the manufacturers seem a little iffy on the concept. We use the term manufacturer with some hesitation. It’s not that no one has ever built one, but rather that they have been hand-crafted pieces even when offered for sale to the masses. There have been two makes and models of vehicles sold as flying cars thus far. Total production for both has been under 100 and there are no currently available examples for sale new. Not in decades. If any are still intact, they exist as curiosities exhibited at museums and air shows. In short, they did not do well. They did not revolutionize personal transportation. They were not breakthroughs to be emulated. They were just bad planes. Which brings us to the Terrafugia Transition.

We first reported on the Terrafugia April 21, 2012. Nine years later the same plane has changed names from the Terrafugia to the Terrafugia Transition, signifying that there is another model on its way out and that Terrafugia would now be the marquee (or make) of the aircraft and the un-trademark-able Transition would be the badge (or model). Other progress included:

Kevin Colburn, general manager of Terrafugia, said the company was “excited” to obtain the FAA certificate. He added that the group improved the Transition’s quality system, completed the critical design aspects, and built the vehicle. Terrafugia also delivered 150 technical documents to pass the FAA audit. “This is a major accomplishment that builds momentum in executing our mission to deliver the world’s first practical flying car,” he said.

The Transition, in airplane mode, will now be for sale for pilots and flight schools, but the driving side of its persona won’t be completed for another year. Colburn said the goal was to have the complete version legal in both the sky and on the roads in 2022.

That was in January. In February the company fired 100 or so of its workers (almost everyone) and said it was relocating operations to China. Its website never functioned that well and is currently in a state of dysfunction. So, don’t hold your breath. From what I can see they produced all of two actual Transition planes and had plans for a radical redesign, which they hoped to fund by selling you a copy of the plane they decided needed to be radically redesigned.

One wonders what they were doing for nine years. I fear the story covers all of our Flying Cars, Brain Damaged Fascists and New Dubious Methods Wall Street Has Devised To Make Your Money Melt Away topics in one elephant shaped car like thing scoop. Before I break bad on this cluster of MIT dreamers, a little time should be spent lauding the progress they did make.

The Terrafugia “Only Model We Actually Made” Transition is much more of an innovation than other flying cars have been. It didn’t use aviation fuel. You could get away with mere racing gas or high test. The difference in kerosene-like explosive properties is the one between merely having an insurance rider on your home and making whatever dwelling is adjacent to the plane’s garage uninsurable. There are lots of reasons planes are kept at airports and one of them is the properties of their fuel.

Second, its entirely possible to put the plane in a garage without dismantling it or leaving some important system lying back at the airport. The previously most successful Flying Car left its wings at the airport. And the Transition does transition from plane to car without undo overt mechanical manipulation. While the wings and tail don’t flower out and retract back, what configuring it does require is no worse than the set up of your standard sail catamaran. Thirty to ninety minutes of monkeying with the thing and you’re set to go.

Finally, they were working on making it a little more user friendly to actually fly. How is a bit of a mystery, but according to the now defunct website, you only needed a Sport Pilot’s license to operate the Transition. I don’t know where this falls in the spectrum of single engine prop certifications, however they were making a big deal out of it.

(Up With People People May Now Stop Reading. I am about to crack on them mightily.) Part of the problem with the Terrafugia was in how the vehicle appeared and what the manufacturer omitted in his pitch. What the prospective buyer saw when the plane was in the air was a two-seater with no cargo room and a 400 mile range. They highlight the 100 MPH airspeed, which is zippy indeed for a car but sort of Datsun 210 for a plane. Specifically, it’s sort of Piper Cub-like—a Piper Cub being a low-end two-seater single prop plane which retails for far less than the probable million all in that Terrafugia seemed destined for. (Last list price was $400k. It started at $140k.) True, the Piper Cub doesn’t come equipped with a parachute built into its frame as the Transition does, but it probably also doesn’t drop like a freaking stone when its motor shuts off. This doesn’t say anything horrible about the Transition. I’m sure the Piper Cub would drop like a stone too if its undercarriage were appended to a Mazda 6. The question was: what advantage did the Transition net over and above owning a comparable Cessna and a comparable car. At maybe three times the price.

Wait. Transition was said to have many luxury appointments. Only a leather interior is specified but it possibly also had a killer sound system. So there’s bling factor to consider—bling factor offset by a product which greatly resembles a Piper Cub being eaten by a Datsun 210. Not the thing of visions of George Jetson dancing in your head.

Finally, they made two. Two actual planes. Of a model they decided to entirely redesign between the production of Plane One and Plane Two. And they had 100 employees. To make two planes in nine years. Had I been given the parts and a salary, I could have made more than two planes in nine years. And I have problems screwing together IKEA furniture.

The Terrafugia people led a miserable existence by MIT engineering grad standards. Much of their time was spent pushing the plane from one tradeshow to the next. They had a two-fold task. Gin up free publicity and attempt to gain funding. In this, they were largely successful. But even P.T. Barnum can’t tour the same act for nearly a decade without the novelty wearing thin. They never got to the point where they could actually sell one to someone with money to buy one. Announcements about dates to make appointments to potentially buy a Transition came and went four times. And from what I can read, the FAA and other authorities granted them every exemption possible largely out of pity for the nearly decade old start-up. Money flowed into the thing in several batches, called tranches, each successive one having more onerous strings attached. The first investors are burning mad money and are willing to take a flyer on anything. Everyone after that is in the loan for a piece of the company game. Then you get to the final tranche, the people who know you are out of money and credit. They offer to bail you out at essentially the cost of all other investors. Heads, they get an outsized chunk of the venture, Tails they get all of it. Enter the Chinese.

In this case the Chinese are here in their guise as Volvo. It seems the Chinese bought Volvo through one of their special not really private enterprise funds and used Volvo to bail out Terrafugia. The idea is to net the R&D value of Terrafugia for a fraction of its cash pay in. You pony up enough for them to keep the lights on and then you wait. Either you wind up owning 49% of it as a going firm or you get all of it. In either case, it’s secrets are yours. It’s not a bad way to spirit off technology and the practice is neither new nor illegal. GM and GE and any number of amalgamations do it all the time. (It’s how GE bought and saved Xerox.) That said, GM is not a mass murdering totalitarian criminal enterprise out to rule the world.

If there is a bright side to this, I think the Chinese got rooked. This is not to say that the Terrafugia people are scam artist. I see no evidence of that. Rather they are what they seem to be: the kind of guys who build two planes and then scrap the idea for something better and hope the cash will keep coming. Sadly, even communists have a creeping belief in money at least as a capacitor of a nation’s potential energy, as a store of the worker’s efforts. There’s somebody in a rice paddy somewhere making all of this crap possible. The cold hard math of Terrafugia had to bubble up, even to designated techno privateers: 100 employees + 9 years = 2 planes. It took them two years, but the Chinese did finally pull the plug. If they were smart, they would cut their losses and just leave the two damn planes behind. I doubt they’re even worth the cost of transportation.

(One of the planes had to be retired last year because it was no longer safe to fly. This means that the Red Airforce netted one plane and a parts plane with parts that may not entirely be compatible. The two existent Transitions are not identical models. One is a proof of concept and the other is the model for production.)

Did the Red Airforce gain a flying car? No. It does not meet our criteria. If it functions, Terrafugia is an overly rugged bush plane with shallow range. That defeats the purpose. The Chinese have no need for a roadable aircraft, which is what the Transition is. If the Chinese want to take off and land on their own roadways, there’s certainly no technical reason they need a special plane to do so. I fear that the Terrafugia has transitioned in custody from MIT Grads playing Aviation Moguls to Commie Apparatchiks playing Spies. Our next entrant shows far more promise in becoming something akin to a flying car.

Billed as the “world’s first flying electric racing car,” the Mk3 is a full-sized, remotely operated eVTOL that’s reportedly capable of reaching speeds of up to 75 mph (120 km/h). It takes design cues from the classic F1 machines and features a svelte carbon-fiber frame and fuselage that’s light as a feather. In fact, the racer tips the scales at just 200 pounds (100KG) unmanned.

I want to avoid using the words FLYING COFFIN here. Mk3 is a roto drone, like the ones that are making aerial photography commonplace even in student film projects. It’s scaled up to roughly coffin size so that a prospective nitwit can sit in it. But that person is no more a pilot—or racer—than the monkeys on the Gemini rocket tests. These upscaled pizza delivery drones are ladled with programs which keep them from running into each other, keep them from violating God’s Laws of physics and keep them in relative formation. Any race involving such machines has all the real autonomy of marching band practice or slot car racing. It’s largely a spectacle and not a competition.

That aside, I think this is where the flying car concept is headed. No authority in its right mind is going to allow me to take my eleven minutes worth of flight time electric man zipper wherever I want. Doing such would place me in your powerlines and trees faster than it took me to unbox the thing. And that’s assuming constantly level flight magically happens and I immediately get the feel for the up/down, right/left and thrust controls. No matter how affordable you make the vehicle, you cannot graft fundamental concepts of three-dimensional movement into a critter that walks. Pilot is a graduated and stratified certification for a reason. In order for the Flying Car to work on any real level it needs some aggressive baby buggy bumpers.

It would be a largely auto pilot affair. The thing flies from its central charging station to that little granite pad you have on your lawn and waits. You kiss your wife, kiss your mistress, kiss the kids and then go out to the lawn where its majestic gull-wing doors lift at your chipper approach. After you plop your butt down and switch the station from Classical to Smooth Jazz, you hit the button for your destination. The gull wing doors fold down, sealing you in. The smell of honeydew melon fills the cabin, disguising the aerosol sedative which has just been administered. It heads up and then off to an imaginary preset avenue at a preset altitude and then whisks you into a line of other flying cars, all at preset spacing. You arrive shortly at Hedge Fund Control, your flying car circling with other flying cars as the flying car on the roof pad is unloaded. Eventually it is your turn to disembark. Once you are out of decapitation range, your craft seals and wings off on its mission to be recharged and fumigated. At about 5:15, after all of the presidents and directors have left but before the comptroller, you take the reverse flight home. It’s so commonplace you don’t think about it, you overstuffed pampered parasite.

I am not at all discounting the occasional rich guy who sat through 1000 hours of flight training being allowed to fly his flying car into my trees and powerlines. That happens with planes now. (Just last week I spotted a guy in one of those go-carts with wings buzzing over my house.) I fear the irresponsible rich will always be with us. And it is with only limited sadness that I consign the flying car to a fate as low end helicopter service for an emerging caste of low end helicopter slightly more responsible rich people. Before then I am sure we will see the flying car in use with the police or paramedics. So you may get to fly in one eventually, if you are supremely unfortunate. What I am sure of is that the first group of MIT grads who comes up with a model and a systematic approach to the flying car will have his or her (his) choice of SPACs to mate with.

What the heck is a SPAC? It’s a “Special Purpose Acquisition Company.” They are publicly-listed companies, but otherwise have no operations. They’re not making anything, selling anything or earning anything. They’re just a blank check. You might call a SPAC a host. They exist solely to find a mate—in this case, a private company, one with actual operations, that will reverse-merge with the blank check SPAC and, together, will flower into a publicly listed stock.

I want to be generous here. The generosity of my government and its capitalistic system has provided me with a shot that will keep me from dying in this plague. For that I am profoundly grateful. Nor is it the place for someone with a mind and perspective as profoundly small and narrow as mine to question the mechanisms by which my utopia has been delivered. It should be said that General Motors was not much more than a SPAC when it started. All you got for your GM stock originally was Flying Bill’s promise that he would buy companies in the automotive business and he would keep buying them until he ran out of people to buy his stock. And he wasn’t the only one. United Motors ran the exact same scheme. Together GM and United* founded two of the Big Three automakers. And they all lived happily ever after until they went broke 80 years later.

That said, GM and United at least gave you an idea of what they were buying. All the SPAC people have are condor logos and theme songs. The dream is that you are getting in on the floor of the NEXT BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY. No one says the word CONGLOMERATION or cites the NEXT ITT or the NEXT ENRON, because those are not great examples and would screw up the whole swooping condor with music animation. Nor is the slogan GIVE US MONEY TO BUY SOMETHING seem all that superlative in all of its accuracy. Not even when appended to a prefixed tag line along the lines of WE’RE REALLY SMART.

If I were a betting man, I would bet that the world of SPAC has many circles all surrounding just a few key players—many SPACs being offered by just a few parties with most SPACs eventually sharing the same salesmen and guides. And that many SPACs will one day merge with other SPACs just to keep the lights on. As opposed to Flying Cars, you will find your SPAC filled with the dregs of the always bloated commercial real estate world floating in a thick broth of HELOC** and secondary mobile home mortgages. Plus dead shopping malls redeveloped into dead office towers redeveloped into condos redeveloped into section eight housing, SPAC by bloody SPAC.  If it is any consolation, you will be providing a damn fine living to a very few undeserving and untalented white men. Who will have to go back to the OTC market where they belong once the SPAC thing has played its dismal self out.  Or are you unable to think that way?

The study’s lead author, Leor Zmigrod, told the Guardian that the variance was likely due to the black-and-white nature of how these individuals saw the world, making elaborate thought processes that much more difficult to execute. “Individuals or brains that struggle to process and plan complex action sequences may be more drawn to extreme ideologies, or authoritarian ideologies that simplify the world,” she said.

At HIL-GLE we hold these truths to be self-evident: People who promise you nothing deliver exactly that. While investing in ETFs and stocks and number 15 at Churchill Downs can all be dubious surrenders of your autonomy, it beats throwing money at beggars. Yeah, they’ll buy something. People willing to accept condor logos and parades as substitutions for complex explanations are the life’s blood of everything evil and wrong in the world.

(*) United went on to become Maxwell which went on to become Chrysler. It should be said that none of the other companies involved in the automotive sector were stock market animals. And I am not sure that the stock market was much of a boon to the industry at all.

(**) HELOC: Home equity line of credit or construction lines of credit loans.

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