The Market Ticker
Commentary on The Capital Markets- Category [Consumer]

Oh my, the stupid it burns!

In the early days of motor racing, the cars didn’t just carry a driver, but also a riding mechanic to take care of any problems that might crop up along the way.

Verizon is now offering the 21st century version of this concept with its Verizon Vehicle service, which taps into a vehicle’s computer system to detect mechanical issues before they lead to breakdowns.

If you were wondering why it sponsored IndyCar, there you go.

It uses a module that plugs into the on board diagnostic II port (OBD II) and links via Bluetooth to a cellular-equipped speaker that you can mount to a sunscreen.

Got an Android (or BlackBerry, for that matter) phone?

Buy Torque.  $5.

Then buy a bluetooth OBD adapter.  Amazon lists dozens from $10 on up. has some very nice (and fast) ones, but unless you're monitoring (e.g. for rally purposes, etc) you don't need those.  The slow (and cheap) ones work just fine.

So now for $15, once, you can check any time the "check engine" light comes on -- yourself.

It's almost-certain that a google search will tell you what's going on -- at least at the basic level, which is all you're going to get without someone looking at the actual vehicle itself.

Never mind that Torque will also tell you (if you wish) a lot about your car in real time. Like the coolant temperature and manifold pressure, for example.  Some of these pieces of data (e.g. mileage) you may have access to on your dash, or maybe not -- but a lot of them are accessible on the car's data bus even though they're not on your instruments.  If you're interested in maximizing your fuel economy or simply interested in what your vehicle is doing (or running like) this is quite-useful information.

Verizon wants $15/month, forever just to tell you what the codes are if the light comes on, and they demand you pay for two years on a contract to get their "deal."

That's $345 (first month is "free") for what you can have (and more) for -- literally -- $15 forever.

Exactly how dumb are you, America?

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Yes, we hear, jobs are plentiful (so says the Obama administration)

Yes, we hear, the economy has mended (so says all the people driving around in new F-150 gas guzzlers)

Yes, we hear, housing is recovering (so says the NAR and the rest of the pump monkeys in housing)

Yes, we hear, it's all going to be ok (so says the stock market near all-time highs)

Ok, if that's true, then how about this?

Approximately 62% of Americans have no emergency savings for things such as a $1,000 emergency room visit or a $500 car repair, according to a new survey of 1,000 adults by personal finance website Faced with an emergency, they say they would raise the money by reducing spending elsewhere (26%), borrowing from family and/or friends (16%) or using credit cards (12%).

So basically if nothing ever goes wrong most of America will be just fine.

Yeah, right -- like that's ever been a reasonable expectation.

Folks, only about 1/3rd of so-called millennials and about 45% of senior citizens can cover one unexpected expense such as their car breaking down and needing $500 worth of repairs or a water heater leaking in their house.

Let me point out that these sorts of expenses are routine through your life.  In fact, during my lifetime it is rare when at least one unexpected "surprise" of a financial sort does not occur on a yearly basis.

$500 is a pretty small one too, although if you're an apartment dweller you might get away with that being the upper limit of expectations.  If you own a house?  There is not a prayer in hell of that being reasonable; $2-5,000 surprises happen all the time and $10,000 ones are not unheard of, even with relatively modest homes.  Hell, a need to replace the washing machine can hit the thousand dollar mark particularly if you need someone to come install it for you!

The article, in point of fact, cites the Affordable Care Act (that is, "Brosurance") as a positive.  Trust me, if you have a Bronze plan and actually get sick you won't think so -- the usual deductible for those plans is around $6,000!  Don't got it?  Too bad, so sad -- that's why you needed an emergency fund!

What's worse -- far worse -- is that every organ of the media and government is screaming at you to make this situation worse rather than better: Go shop, go buy more iCrap, go get a new car, go to college -- and all of it on credit!


Americans, as a group, learned exactly nothing by being bailed out with funemployment and skyrocketing food stamps instead of being forced to reckon with their profligate and reckless abuse of credit during the 2000s.  

When the next financial dislocation comes and jobs are once again lost by the million+ a month, and it will happen as The Fed and Government have only created the illusion of prosperity, the public will find itself in worse condition than it was in 2008!

Here it comes!

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Yes, Mr. Jones, it's great to have an automated home.  May I install this nice NEST thermostat for you, and these digital controls on your hottub, shower, water heater and bidet?  Yes Mr. Jones, it's entirely secure.  Trust us.

I’m referring to the revelation, in a German report released just before Christmas (.pdf), that hackers had struck an unnamed steel mill in Germany. They did so by manipulating and disrupting control systems to such a degree that a blast furnace could not be properly shut down, resulting in “massive”—though unspecified—damage.

This of course is in a facility where people actually should give a damn about security.  How about those in places where they do not -- because you want access to "things"?

I've had an automated home for about 15 years now.  It runs on my own software although it will talk to a number of allegedly-standard types of equipment, such as Z-Wave devices.  The software in question is published and, while written for a time when CPU cycles were dear and quick response required far more attention than it does now and thus it is rather arcane and twisted internally (today's processors are fast enough to obviate most of that concern) the fact remains that it works well enough that I've had no real reason to re-write it over the last decade.

Maybe I will in my copious spare time -- there are certainly many things I could do now given the "small computer" form factors and power available that were impossible without severe compromise in responsiveness when the world ran on 90Mhz (no, that's NOT a typo!) Pentiums....

The worst part of mass-market items is just that -- they're mass-market.  That is, a vector found in such a device opens up destructive capability across thousands or even millions of homes and businesses at once.

Consider just the benign one -- an attempt to drive your utility bill to the moon.  Simply wait until your "thermostat" indicates you're not at home for an extended period of time (more than 24 hours), signalling that you're probably on vacation.  Then ramp the inside temperature up to 99 degrees and hold it there, effectively locking your heating system "on" -- when it's 20 below outside.

Or do the converse on a hot summer day -- set the "cool" mode with a desired inside temperature of 50F!

Guess what -- you're going to get the bill for that and if you're gone for a couple of weeks before you discover it you'll have a spaz attack when the electric and/or gas bill arrives.

And that's the benign case.  Consider the bidet that is electronically controlled and can be gotten to and commanded to squirt -- when you're not on it.  Do that to a house where nobody is home and the damage could be catastrophic by the time it's discovered.

There are of course many other examples.  An electronically-controlled ice-maker in an internet-accessible refrigerator.  Lock the water valve on, flood the house.  Same deal with a washer.  Yes, you can turn the water off to the house when you go on vacation or are gone for more than 24 hours -- how many people do?  Few to none, and yet occasionally not doing so leads to bad outcomes from a simple hose failure.

I'm anticipating some sort of attack like this in the not-so-distant future, and when it comes it's going to shine a whole new light on those nice "cloud" mass-market devices and services offered to the American Sheeple.

Oh, and if you think that's bad, I'll lay odds that our power grid and other critical infrastructure is no better protected than that steel mill was, and probably is in worse shape from a security point of view.  In fact, given how much people value convenience over security, especially in corporate environments, I'll bet on it.

Sleep well folks.....

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There are times you shake your head at the stupidity of people, and then there are times when you get*****ed off at the media for fabricating a good story out of whole cloth.

This would be one of those latter times.

The rusting 1994 Oldsmobile sitting in a driveway just outside St. Louis was an unlikely cash machine.

That was until the car’s owner, a 30-year-old hospital lab technician, saw a television commercial describing how to get cash from just such a car, in the form of a short-term loan.

The lab technician, Caroline O’Connor, who needed about $1,000 to cover her rent and electricity bills, believed she had found a financial lifeline.

“It was a relief,” she said. “I did not have to beg everyone for the money.”

Her loan carried an annual interest rate of 171 percent. More than two years and $992.78 in debt later, her car was repossessed.

The rusting 1994 Olds was not worth more than $1,000 in the first place.

She didn't get a loan, she sold the car with a right of redemption (that she should not have exercised.)

Yeah, I know, it's not called that.  But that's what it was.

And similar to how a red-hot mortgage market once coaxed millions of borrowers into recklessly tapping the equity in their homes, the new boom is also leading people to take out risky lines of credit known as title loans.


No, what's "leading" people to do this is their own stupidity and demand to live beyond their means.  They demand a bigscreen TV, $100+ a month in cable or satellite bills (I have personally seen bills of nearly $200 a month that people simply refuse to cut back on even though they don't have the extra $2,000 a year to blow) and $100+ monthly cellphone bills when you can have unlimited talk and text for $35 -- or a "landline replacement" that runs over cell service for about $15!

For many borrowers, title loans, also sometimes known as motor-vehicle equity lines of credit or title pawns, are having ruinous financial consequences, causing owners to lose their vehicles and plunging them further into debt.

These are not "loans" or "lines of credit"; they are effectively a sale of your vehicle.

Yes, I know, they're not sold that way because with the "redemption right" (effectively) you get to keep driving the car for a while -- right up until you can't pay the rollover costs and it goes "poof."

The lenders argue that they are providing a source of credit for people who cannot obtain less-expensive loans from banks. The high interest rates, the lenders say, are necessary to offset the risk that borrowers will stop paying their bills.

No such use of credit is reasonable.  Ever.  Yes, I know all the excuses, but that's what they are -- excuses.

Credit is not necessary to life.  You find yourself in that situation due to your lack of planning or demand to live beyond your means, and once you get into the hole it is damned hard to get out of.  But the blame is yours, not someone else's, for being stupid.

As for these so-called "industries" there is a clean argument to be made that they are inherently deceitful and thus ought to be shut down.  But don't bet on that happening any time soon any more than robosigning or drug-money-laundering banks will be prosecuted either.

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