The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

70 Years of the Stratocaster

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Loz Blain writes on the greatest product designs of the last century:

Leo Fender and his team have made indelible contributions to the arts. The list of innovative Fender products that have gone on to be generational icons is staggering. Telecaster, Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Twin Reverb, Deluxe Reverb, Bassman, Princeton, 5E3 Tweed, P-Bass, Jazz Bass … You’ve seen these names behind just about everyone who’s been anyone since the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll.

And towering over all these giants, the mighty Strat. It remains enticing and intimidating in equal measures to me. It’s so easy to enjoy in all its many forms, there are so many rabbit-holes of tone and style to go down in this one machine, and it becomes unnervingly articulate the better you learn to use it.

But the better I get, the more those iconic tones start to taunt me. So many greats have made this guitar their own that I’m forever hearing hinted echoes of their work through my own amp, snapping me out of my reverie as I notice how much I pale in comparison. That’s part of the weight you take on your shoulders when you pull a Strat out of the rack: if you’re not sounding like the greatest that ever did it, it’s not the guitar’s fault!

As a legacy, though, what a gift to music. And while the team was invaluable to the process, there’s one fella’s name on the headstock. I reckon Leo Fender could rest easy if the Stratocaster was his only contribution. There are surely better guitars some 70 years after its debut, but there are none greater.

No. I would argue that there is no greater guitar designed. The Fender Stratocaster is perfection. Even today, 70 years on, it still feels a designed today. Here is an example released by Fender:

Winning at the Car Dealership

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car triangle

David Dayen on car dealerships:

F&I is the profit center of the dealership. Jase explained that profit margins per vehicle sale run between five and ten percent. In other words, if you want to make $1 million in additional profit, you have to sell $10-$20 million in additional inventory. That’s as many as 500 cars, when the average dealer is selling 100 to 200 cars a month. To do that, you need more salespeople and a bigger lot, with uncertain outcomes for all that expense.

But raising F&I, Jase says, is 100 percent profit. The same labor and operations costs are in place, whether you sell more warranties and insurance or not. That’s not theoretical. The 2023 annual report for Lithia Motors, a nationwide dealership network with 298 U.S. locations, indeed lists its profit margin for F&I at 100 percent. Lithia’s 2022 annual report says the same thing.

One of the biggest tools in the F&I toolkit is delay. Usually, a customer comes out of sales with some sense of the monthly payment. “Once you have the person committed to that payment,” Jase said, “it’s up to the finance person to maximize profit… We have people in the box. They’re boxed in, they can’t go anywhere. Don’t let them out of the box until deal is closed.” The extended wait time sealing the deal creates a sunk cost that customers don’t want to repeat by starting over somewhere else. And it wears down their defenses to every new offer.

Jase has a name for the overall process: The Dealership Triangle, with each point funneling the customer to the next step. The seller is pushed from sales, where installation extras are added, to F&I, where more extras and markups happen. And a major goal for F&I is to sell a service contract—a catch-all term that includes warranties or other insurance bundles—thereby creating a service customer. By Jase’s estimation, more than three-quarters of all buyers maintain brand loyalty by buying their next car at the dealership where they have a service contract.

It’s unbelievable how many people get fleeced at the car dealership. In 2024, the average car payments for new, used, and leased vehicles are $735, $523, and $595, respectively. That’s an awful lot of money to be paying on a depreciating asset!

This is why I follow these rules when buying a car:

  • Only buy what you can afford - This means no loans. Pay in cash.
  • Never lease - Leasing often leads to higher long-term costs and restrictions.
  • Buy the base model with the standard options - Most modern cars come with everything you need in the base model; anything extra is usually a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have.
  • Negotiate on the out-the-door price - This should be lower than the sticker price.
  • Do not buy extended warranties, upgrades, or add-ons - These often provide little value for the cost.
  • Be ready to walk - Remember, you are the buyer. It’s your money, and you are in control.

By following these guidelines, you can avoid getting fleeced and make a smarter, more economical car purchase.

If Dragons Were Real, How Might Fire Breathing Work?

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dragon fire

In George R.R. Martin’s fantastical land of Westeros in Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon, the spectacle of dragons breathing fire captivates his audience through a blend of myth and fantasy.

The images of dragons unleashing torrents of flames on the new series of House of the Dragon got me thinking: if dragons existed, what real-world biological mechanisms and chemical reactions might they use?

As they say nature is stranger than fiction. In this case nature perhaps has an answer:

A dragon could draw on some chemistry used by the bombardier beetle. This insect has evolved reservoirs adapted to store hydrogen peroxide (the stuff you might use to bleach your hair). When threatened, the beetle pushes hydrogen peroxide into a vestibule containing enzymes that rapidly decompose the hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen.

This is an exothermic reaction, which transfers energy to the surroundings, and in this case raises the temperature of the mixture to almost boiling point. The reaction is so aggressive it is sometimes used to propel rockets. The increase in pressure caused by the rapid production of oxygen and the boiling water forces the noxious mixture out of a vent in the beetle’s abdomen and towards its prey or threat.

If employed by a dragon, this reaction has a few nice features. It would create the high pressure needed to drive the jet of oily fuel, the exothermic reaction would heat the oils making them more ready to combust, and most importantly, it would generate oxygen that would drive the combustion reaction.

All the dragon would need is some sort of biological equivalent of a petrol engine carburettor to mix the oil with the oxygen and create an explosive mix. As a bonus, the erupting mixture would probably form a fine mist of oil droplets, like an aerosol, which would ignite all the better.

Project 2025

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project 2025

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich on Project 2025:

One key goal of Project 2025 is to purge all government agencies of anyone more loyal to the constitution than to Trump — a process Trump himself started in October 2020 when he thought he would remain in office.

Trump has promised to give rightwing evangelical Christians what they want. Accordingly, Project 2025 calls for withdrawing the abortion pill mifepristone from the market, expelling trans service members from the military, banning life-saving gender affirming care for young people, ending all diversity programs, and using “school choice” to gut public education.

Project 2025 also calls for eliminating “woke propaganda” from all laws and federal regulations — including the terms “sexual orientation”, “diversity, equity, and inclusion”, “gender equality”, and “reproductive rights”.

Other items in the Project 2025 blueprint are precisely what Trump has called for on the campaign trail, including mass arrests and deportations of undocumented people in the United States, ending many worker protections, dropping prosecutions of far-right militias like the Proud Boys, and giving additional tax cuts to big corporations and the rich.

Trump has repeatedly claimed that climate change is a “hoax”. Project 2025 calls for expanding oil drilling in the United States, shrinking the geographic footprint of national monuments, terminating clean energy incentives, and ending fossil fuel regulations.

Trump has said he’d seek vengeance against those who have prosecuted him for his illegal acts. Project 2025 calls for the prosecution of district attorneys Trump doesn’t like, and the takeover of law enforcement in blue cities and states.

This all sounds over the top alarmist until you read it from the 900-page document prepared by Heritage Foundation:

Because liberal states have now become sanctuaries for abortion tourism, HHS should use every available tool, including the cutting of funds, to ensure that every state reports exactly how many abortions take place within its borders, at what gestational age of the child, for what reason, the mother’s state of residence, and by what method.

As Maya Angelou said:

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

If Trump gets into office, America will be nothing like the America we grew up in.

AI Washing

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AI Washing

Mike Elgan’s opinion piece on the AI hype:

The claim that AI improves everything and operates without humans is a delusion.


AI washing is a deceptive marketing practice that overemphasizes the role of artificial intelligence in the product or service being promoted. The phrase is based on “greenwashing,” coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, where consumer products are marketed as environmentally friendly regardless of environmental impact.

Products using old-school algorithms are labeled as “AI-powered,” taking advantage of the absence of a universally agreed upon definition for what AI is and what AI is not. Startups build apps that plug into a publicly available generative AI API and market it as an AI app. Big, bold AI projects that are supposed to showcase technology often rely on people working behind the scenes, because humans are the only way to make the ambitious AI solution work.

I have been saying this for since the beginning of the AI hype cycle - its all just smoke and mirrors.

I Will F***ing Piledrive You if You Mention AI Again

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Nikhil Suresh over at Lucidity:

I myself have formal training as a data scientist, going so far as to dominate a competitive machine learning event at one of Australia’s top universities and writing a Master’s thesis where I wrote all my own libraries from scratch in MATLAB. I’m not God’s gift to the field, but I am clearly better than most of my competition - that is, practitioners like myself who haven’t put in the reps to build their own C libraries in a cave with scraps, but can read textbooks, implement known solutions in high-level languages, and use libraries written by elite institutions.

So it is with great regret that I announce that the next person to talk about rolling out AI is going to receive a complimentary chiropractic adjustment in the style of Dr. Bourne, i.e, I am going to fucking break your neck. I am truly, deeply, sorry.

Although I am the “can read textbooks, implement known solutions in high-level languages, and use libraries written by elite institutions” kind of guy - this is how I feel when anyone talks to me about AI changing anything.

With Fear for Our Democracy, I Dissent

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Supreme Court

The Supreme Court ruled today that Donald Trump may claim immunity from criminal prosecution for some of the actions he took as president in a decision that will likely further delay a trial on the federal election subversion charges against him. The decision was 6-3, with the liberals in dissent.

From Justice Sotomayor’s dissent (starting on page 96):

The President of the United States is the most powerful person in the country, and possibly the world. When he uses his official powers in any way, under the majority’s reasoning, he now will be insulated from criminal prosecution. Orders the Navy’s Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival? Immune. Organizes a military coup to hold onto power? Immune. Takes a bribe in exchange for a pardon? Immune. Immune, immune, immune.

Let the President violate the law, let him exploit the trappings of his office for personal gain, let him use his official power for evil ends. Because if he knew that he may one day face liability for breaking the law, he might not be as bold and fearless as we would like him to be. That is the majority’s message today.

Even if these nightmare scenarios never play out, and I pray they never do, the damage has been done. The relationship between the President and the people he serves has shifted irrevocably. In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law.

And in closing:

Never in the history of our Republic has a President had reason to believe that he would be immune from criminal prosecution if he used the trappings of his office to violate the criminal law. Moving forward, however, all former Presidents will be cloaked in such immunity. If the occupant of that office misuses official power for personal gain, the criminal law that the rest of us must abide will not provide a backstop.

With fear for our democracy, I dissent.

We can never again say that no one one in our nation is above the law. In the United States, the President is above the law. I am in shock.

Surge Pricing at the Grocery Store

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Walmart Surge Pricing

Lola Murti reporting for NPR:

Grocery store prices are changing faster than ever before — literally. This month, Walmart became the latest retailer to announce it’s replacing the price stickers in its aisles with electronic shelf labels. The new labels allow employees to change prices as often as every ten seconds.

“If it’s hot outside, we can raise the price of water and ice cream. If there’s something that’s close to the expiration date, we can lower the price — that’s the good news,” said Phil Lempert, a grocery industry analyst.

Dealing with skyrocketing grocery prices is frustrating enough, but now I’m expected to time my milk purchases? This adds no value to consumers and only serves as another way for businesses to take advantage of us.

If anyone needed another reason to boycott Walmart, well, now you have it.

Why Music Is Getting Worse

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Rick Beato nails why today’s music sucks and is getting worse. People have no patience or discipline to learn to play instruments or the basics of music theory. And why would our instant gratification culture bother? Autotune, BeatDoctor, plugins and the new AI algorithms allow anyone to create music with a few keypresses and a well thought out query.

The end result is everyone sounds like everyone else. We aren’t listening to an artists creation - but an algorithm’s generated plagiarized data stream.

As ChatGPT admits:

Creative AI tools can be seen as sophisticated plagiarism software, as they do not produce genuinely original content but rather emulate and modify existing works by artists, subtly enough to circumvent copyright laws.

Imagine if Jimmy Page, Brian May or Kurt Cobain didn’t play their instruments and just typed a query into AI - do you think we would have had albums like Led Zeppelin I - IV, A Night at the Opera or Nevermind?

No. Because nothing like it every existed before - and AI wouldn’t have anything to plagiarize.

50 True Things...

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50 true things

Palestinian-American Mo Husseini, posted a list of 50 Completely True Things. Two facts that really stand out in this politically charged era:

FACT No. 34.

You can advocate for Palestine without being a racist, antisemitic piece of shit.

FACT No. 35.

You can advocate for Israel without being a racist, anti-Arab piece of shit.

Donald Trump Guilty on All 34 Felony Counts

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Donald Trump has been found guilty of all 34 counts of falsifying business records in a criminal hush-money scheme to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. First President to become a felon.

Hugo Lowell and Victoria Bekiempis writing for The Guardian:

For the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, the verdict was an astonishing victory, coming after some scepticism of the wisdom of bringing such a case and the huge risks involved.

He said after the verdict: “Twelve everyday jurors vowed to make a decision based on the evidence and the law and the evidence and the law alone. Their deliberations led them to a unanimous conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant Donald J Trump is guilty.”

He added: “While this defendant might be unlike any other in American history, we arrived at this trial and ultimately today this verdict in the same manner as every other case.”

Congratulations Donald - can’t wait to see you in the orange jumpsuit.

The Junk Up There

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Space junk

From the editors of Scientific American:

Space should not be a garbage dump. Nevertheless, we have treated the sky as a wrecker’s yard for more than half a century, and the amount of space junk orbiting Earth has skyrocketed in recent years. Now filled with the decaying hulks of defunct rockets and satellites, our polluted orbital environment is becoming more crowded by the day, threatening the growing space economy. It’s time for nations—and the billionaires commoditizing space—to clean up Earth’s near orbit.


The laws governing satellite orbits were written during the cold war in the mid to late 20th century, at a time when only a few governments operated only a few satellites. We live in a new era of private space exploration, one that is more extractive and invasive than before, with many nations and companies participating. We need better rules to keep us from trashing Earth’s orbit as badly as we have trashed Earth itself.

The private companies and governments must be forced to pay for clean up and maintenance of our Earth orbit resources. To suggest that companies and the billionaires that run them will simply regulate themselves and do the right thing is insanity. Just look how well it has worked for Earth’s climate so far.

Most Common PIN Numbers

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Information is Beautiful made this visualization of the most common PINs:

common pin numbers

According to the analysis, just 20 4-digit numbers account for 27% of all PINs:

1234 0000 7777 2000 2222 9999 5555 1122 8888 2001
1111 1212 1004 4444 6969 3333 6666 1313 4321 1010

Its frightening to know that a little over ¼ PIN codes can be cracked with just these 20 PINs! If you are one of the ones using on of these numbers - it is highly recommended that you pick another PIN.

Unguessable PINs would seem to be unrepeated pairs of numbers greater than 50 — so 8957, 7064, 9653, etc. Choose wisely.

Gordon Bell Dies at 89

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Gordon Bell

Gordon Bell, who as an early employee of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) played a key role in the development of several influential minicomputer systems and also co-founded the first major computer museum, passed away on Friday, according to Bell Labs veteran John Mashey. Mashey announced Bell’s passing in a social media post on Tuesday morning.

From the CHM portrait:

Gordon Bell joined Digital Equipment Corporation in 1960 and spent 23 years (1960-1983) there as Vice President of Research and Development. When he started at DEC, he immediately began promoting the PDP-1 as an example of a ‘VW Beetle’ of computing–a mass market, inexpensive, moderately-fast computer.

Justice Alito Flew the Seditionist Flag

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seditionist flag

Jodi Kantor, reporting for The New York Times:

After the 2020 presidential election, as some Trump supporters falsely claimed that President Biden had stolen the office, many of them displayed a startling symbol outside their homes, on their cars and in online posts: an upside-down American flag.

One of the homes flying an inverted flag during that time was the residence of Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., in Alexandria, Va., according to photographs and interviews with neighbors.

How is Alito still on the Supreme Court? Congress needs to act and start an impeachment investigation. Oh thats right - we only conduct impeachment inquiries for Presidents who help family members with car loans.

AI Is Just Software

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Paul Ford writing about AI:

There’s a truism that helps me whenever the new big tech thing has every brain melting: I repeat to myself, “It’s just software.” Word processing was going to make it too easy to write novels, Photoshop looked like it would let us erase history, Bitcoin was going to replace money, and now AI is going to ruin society, but … it’s just software. And not even that much software: Lots of AI models could fit on a thumb drive with enough room left over for the entire run of Game of Thrones (or Microsoft Office). They’re interdimensional ZIP files, glitchy JPEGs, but for all of human knowledge. And yet they serve such large portions!

Lets all just keep our witts about us - its just software.

'The Hunt for Gollum' to Be Release in 2026

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Jennifer Maas reporting for Veriety:

Original “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy filmmaker Peter Jackson and his partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens are producing the movie and “will be involved every step of the way,” Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said during an earnings call Thursday.


In a press release from Warner Bros. later Thursday morning, the studio revealed that the working title for the film is “Lord of the Rings: The Hunt for Gollum,” and it will be directed by and star Serkis in his iconic titular role. The film will be executive produced by Ken Kamins, with Serkis and The Imaginarium’s Jonathan Cavendish.

With Peter Jackson producing, Andy Serkis directing and Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens writing the script - the movie is in good hands.

A Population This Moronic

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The United States will not be brought down by an invasion of immigrants from the southern border - but buy the total lack of intelligence of its citizenry.

A Jail of His Own Making

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As always, Lawrence O’Donnell sums up Donald Trump’s situation. For the first time in Donald Trump’s life he’s been forced to spend time in confinement - a jail of his own making.

Drop Testing Phones From 300 Feet

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Joanna Stern from The Wall Street journal tests drops phone from 300 feet to see what happens.

So what did we learn from dropping all these phones today? Physics is cool. Yes phones have gotten more durable too. Even 30 foot drops on to asphalt didn’t destroy these phones. But yea, if you happen to drop your phone out of an airplane, make sure it lands on grass.