Ever wanted to buy a stock before it's a rocket or 10 bagger? SBW got you covered.
Hello, you may know me from DD posts about IVZ and 3DP. I'm still heavily in these. But today I bring you SBW. Ok for real, this might be the laziest DD you've read because it was copy pasted direct from hotcopper. But it will also be the best DD you've read (no offence to u/bigjimbeef recent DD on this but he's always drunk and while his DD did get me interested in this, I think maybe some people didn't take his post seriously because the post read like he had a beer in one hand and his dick in the other). But I've been thinking lately... wouldn't it be nice if I could, for once, jump on a stock, before it rockets? Like... Every stock I've been in so far has holders who are already 10 bagging. How do they find these stocks and how can I become one of them? Well, here is your chance. Full disclosure, I'm in at 26.5c, closing price today is 24.5c. It IPOd at 35c so we are still at bargain prices. No rocket yet. If you can think of a reason not to buy, please say so, before I take a larger position tmw morning, as I am trying to keep myself from getting overly keen on yet another stock but so far I can't find a good reason to put money anywhere else. Copy pasta below: I thought it was about time that I made the “Ultimate Guide to SBW” and consolidated months of research and analysis into one comprehensive post. Then we can add bits to it from there as more positive news develops. Let us start with capital structure. Capital Structure and Why This Is Important! There are currently 139 million shares on issue, sitting at a price of 32 cents. This gives a Market Capitalization of approximately ~45 million AUD. Keep this in mind when we discuss partners and peers later - it’s arguably a more important metric than share price. The Top 20 shareholders of SBW (which includes key management as the Top 2 holders) have about 90% of the stock on issue. The interests of management are well-aligned with shareholders. What does this mean in plain English? It means management are extremely incentivized to perform, and are not just idly sitting by collecting an easy paycheck like so many other ASX companies. They have as much at stake as you do! Probably more. The Core Business The core business is a profitable operation which has been selling weighing systems to both retail and healthcare sectors – with reliable recurring revenue from customers including, but not limited to, household names like Toshiba and Fujitsu. SBW have a combination of weighing + artificial intelligence + advanced mathematics which cannot be easily duplicated. The company was first founded in 1971 and was one of the first to shift from mechanical to digital weighing and ultra-thin IoT load sensors. If you are interested in reading up on some of their patents, please see this link: https://patents.justia.com/search?q=Shekel scales I found 11 separate patents here, which are probably not an exhaustive list, but ranging from weighing vehicles in motion, to load cell devices (this is the flagship technology), point of sale apparatus and infant weight systems (for their medical customers) SBW's three main technology pillars, including patented ultra-thin high precision load sensors, can distinguish between Coke, Fanta & Pepsi - even if they are all in 1.5 litre bottles! The Hitachi Project (Hitachi’s Market Cap = roughly ~33 billion USD at time of writing, SBW = ~45 million AUD) http://hlds.co.jp/product-eng/1079 [Translated from Japanese] Hitachi-LG Data Storage. Inc. exhibited in “NRF 2020 Retail’s Big Show” which took place at Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York from 1/12-1/14/2020, where Unmanned Store solution using 3D LiDAR(TOF) was jointly exhibited with Hitachi America, Hitachi Vantara, and Shekel Brainweigh (Israel). Some quotes I found from Hitachi themselves “Micro-markets are the fastest growing segment of convenience shopping. We see them exploding in high traffic areas, such as workplaces, campuses, train stations and airports,” said Hideki Hayashi, Sales and Marketing Manager, Hitachi EU Ltd. “Deploying the joint Shekel-Hitachi solution enables retailers and micro-market operators to provide the 24/7 frictionless shopping experience consumers demand without sacrificing accuracy, performance or profitability.” “As the manager responsible for LiDAR products in EMEA markets, I consider the R&D and commercial collaboration with Shekel Brainweigh to be the perfect partnership as we both bring our respective capabilities to develop a seamless consumer shopping experience. We are extremely pleased to collaborate with Shekel Brainweigh, which we believe is the best digital weighing technology developer globally." “The collaboration builds on our expertise in optical motion sensors, together with Shekel’s advanced Product Aware Technology, and further strengthens our commitment to overcome the challenges, and address the significant opportunities, in global retail store automation.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-uxk2Ycoqw The Open Retail Initiative https://www.lfedge.org/2020/02/13/n...ensor-fusion-for-intelligent-loss-prevention/ For the one-year anniversary of ORI, six initiative members Edgify, Flooid, Shekel and LF Edge members HP, IOTech and Intel inspired by the initiative, worked together on a demo for the Intel booth that showcased the value of Real Time Sensor Fusion for a loss prevention use case at self-checkout. The retail environment has become incredibly complex. The latest technologies enable data-driven experiences and unlock business value like never before, yet there is still a lack of interoperability making it difficult for retailers to deploy integrated solutions with speed and ease. The demo illustrates how integration roadblocks can be a thing of the past. The demo pulls together real time data through the EdgeX middleware from different common systems including POS real-time transaction log, CV-based object detection, scale solution, and RFID, and data fusion—all in a single pane of glass. Here are some PowerPoint slides of IBM, Intel & Hewlett-Packard talking about the joint solution https://wiki.edgexfoundry.org/downl...amp;modificationDate=1579904283000&api=v2 The Fast Track Project https://www.edgify.ai/retail/ Reduce time at till and selection at self-checkout by up to 98%. Computer vision-based product recognition, that continuously learns directly on the till, so the accuracy of the detection always increases. Friction-less stores are great in theory but extremely complicated to scale in practice. Our edge training solution makes autonomous stores scalable, by having all the AI train directly on the camera. No infrastructure costs and no added complications. Reduce incorrect selections by up to 90%. Either intentional or unintentional, use computer vision that is trained directly on the SCO itself to reduce loss by more than half! No barcodes, no packaging, no worries. Simple USB cameras can detect the produce at close to 100% accuracy. Use as a decision support for cashiers, or to avoid consumers having to go through long and confusing menus. https://www.edgify.ai/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Retail_Intro.pdf https://twitter.com/Edgify_AI/status/1277859718413930505 https://twitter.com/Edgify_AI/status/1230534216133332997 Shekel’s Visual Recognition Platform embedded with Edgify’s machine-learning training framework is the world’s first cloudless software that automatically recognises products, including fresh produce, at a retail self-checkout. This ~45 million AUD Market Cap company allows retailers to potentially bypass expensive cloud services from Microsoft, Google and Amazon. Sending data to the cloud is a very costly process with the Google Cloud Platform charging 1,000 stores more than US$7.2 million in cloud computing power per annum. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrpZ56IdFtg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpqwqQ1tJ4A You can see the Shekel system 35 seconds in. Patnership with Madix (2nd Largest Retail Shelves Manufacturer in NA) https://www.bloomberg.com/press-rel...ade-product-aware-cabinets-to-retail-industry NEW YORK -- January 13, 2020 Madix Inc., the second largest retail shelves manufacturer in North America, and Shekel Brainweigh Ltd. (ASX: SBW), the leader in advanced weighing technology, today announced the availability of ready-made Product Aware shelves and solutions for the retail industry. “By seamlessly integrating Product Aware shelves into our hardware, our customers are armed with accessible data giving them reliable inventory visibility and assisting them in addressing over-stock and out-of-stock problems, as well as better control over shrinkage” said Steve Kramer, VP Sales, Madix. “For the retail industry, this is a defined competitive edge that promotes the opportunity to increase profitability.” Conclusion So, remember - the core scales business is what drives the revenue we see today, but the innovation division is where the real potential resides. That will take a few more months/years to play out. I think most people are buying for the fully autonomous frictionless retail technology which comes with a huge addressable market. That’s still being undervalued in my humble opinion. Considering there are quite a few ASX-listed tech companies with no revenue and over 100 million market cap (some even @ 1 billion market cap right now… I don’t see why SBW couldn’t move past ~45m market cap in the near future. Now if you read all this - links included- I commend you for your diligence. It should be obvious now that the Capsule (in partnership with Hitachi) is the “crown jewel” or “holy grail” of retail disruption technology plays (look at the success of Amazon GO for example). So you are probably thinking: "This sounds great @verce but it’s all just aspirational and hypothetical. When will it be put into operation?" Well I’m glad you asked. The answer might surprise you. And it may be sooner than you think. The SBW Half Year Report from 31 August 2020 had a little snippet that I think a lot of people missed. Specifically, the following text: “Flagship micro-market project Capsule is in an advanced stage of pilot in Europe, and expected to be open to the public for trial in the second half of 2020.” Now you are probably wondering: "That’s great but what if it’s just some obscure insignificant corner store somewhere?" Again, the answer may surprise you, and requires a little digging. Enter Groupe Casino. A historic player in French retailing since 1898, the Casino Group is one of the world leaders in food retailing with more than 12,200 stores worldwide, located in France, Latin America and the Indian Ocean and a turnover of 37.8 billion euro. In their Annual Report this year, they mentioned an exciting new disruptive project they were working on with a relatively obscure company. https://www.groupe-casino.fwp-content/uploads/2020/06/RapportActivite_Casino_2019_EN.pdf And we have some commentary from SBW featured on Page 42-43 of their Annual Report plugging "the first fully autonomous store in Europe". I'll leave it to readers to determine the significance of being mentioned in the Annual Report of a leading mass-market retail group with billions of Euro in revenue. The same group who claim to be the source of many innovations such as the first distributor's brand in 1901, the first self-service store in 1948 or even the display of a sell-by date on consumer products in 1959. They are always pushing the boundaries of innovation, and it's an exciting partner to have. It’s also worth keeping in mind that issuing shares are not the only mechanism by which to raise money. And that a placement at a premium to a sophisticated cornerstone investor can yield great results. Kind of like what happened with 3DP and IHR. If I was them, I’d be asking Hitachi to chip in. SBW also have the luxury of generating enough revenue (we are talking USD millions) in 2H20 from the core scales division, that a capital raising may not actually be necessary at this point in time. So they can wait for a better outcome. Source: “Post 30 June 2020, the business has seen a resurgence of orders for Shekel’s products, resulting in July 2020 sales exceeding July 2019 sales by approximately 18%.” The final thing I would like to add (if you have in fact read my other two posts which are worth reading) is coming to an appropriate valuation. This is the tricky part, especially with microcap stocks which are valued on their future potential. We do know that there are medium to high barriers to entry, and that SBW have accumulated a competitive edge with their technology iterated over several decades, with certain patents in place. We also know that the opportunity is global in scope with a huge total addressable market (TAM) - and that traditional retail is ripe for disruption. Remember when there were more human checkout lanes at supermarkets than self-checkout? Now it's the other way around. We are even starting to see self-checkout in Bunnings. The trend for autonomous and friction-less shopping - what some term "Grab & Go" - was inevitable. And coronavirus has only accelerated this trend. https://www.ibtimes.com/5-tech-tren...-end-year-result-coronavirus-pandemic-3011819 5 Tech Trends Expected To Shape Retail Through The End Of The Year As Result Of The Coronavirus Pandemic “Retailers and brands will need to collaborate more than ever with technology startups to futureproof their businesses and be better equipped to meet fast-changing consumer demand and behavior,” Coresight said. Coresight reported the pandemic has piqued consumer interest in cashierless models. Technology firm Shekel Brainweigh said 87% of respondents to its global consumer survey indicated they would choose stores with self-checkout over those with only cashier lines. So if you ask me, when you consider all the different technology projects SBW are working on - most of which we now know are "close to commercialisation*" - is 45m AUD market cap really fair value for something that has the potential to roll out globally? I personally think it is still undervalued, but the market will eventually decide one way or the other. Even at 70 cents per share, the implied market cap with only 139 million shares on issue is about ~97 million AUD. Which is still less than 100m. And still quite low when you compare SBW's proven technology and revenue to a lot of unproven technology companies with no real customers whatsoever. And extremely low when you compare SBW's market cap to their collaborative partner Hitachi (ranked 38th in the 2012 Fortune Global 500). Even at 32 cents as it currently stands, we are still below the IPO price when SBW first listed at 35 cents per share. How does that make any sense?
[Epistemic status: Don’t make me laugh. Just roll with it.] “Why do the good die young, while the rotten sons of bitches live to torment us all well into their old age?” The ancient Norse had a pat explanation why the decent types get shanked to death and the pricks keep coming home from battle alive. The Norse world, like the Greek world, was one that ran on fate. That which will happen, will happen, and there’s no point stressing out about it because it’s going to happen. And they happened to know that their pantheon of gods were doomed- literally doomed- to get genocided. At Ragnarök (“ragna-“ being the ruling gods, “rök” being fate), Odin All-Father is going to gather his family and allies to stare down a bizarre pack of Frost Giants, monsters, zombies, and demons. And he was going to lose, his sons and daughters struck down beside him, and the whole world was going to come crashing down into darkness once Odin loses the battle. The story was specific, too. Odin would walk into it knew he’d get eaten by a wolf the size of Texas. The watchman Heimdall and the poison-crazed traitor Loki would slay each other. Thor would bash the World Serpent to death with his hammer before succumbing to its venom. They would all know the story they were about to enact, and go to their fate anyway. The point is, these gods weren’t going to the grave alone. Fate is miserable, and misery loves company. The hosts of Asgard would include the einherjar (“ein-“ being lone or single or one, “herjar” being fighter or warrior), the fallen heroes of our time. This right here is why the good die young; Odin wants only the best people by his side when he falls. He sends his Valkyrie (“valr-“ being the dead who litter the battlefield by its end, “kjósa” being “to choose”) to, well, choose who dies and who lives. The courageous, formidable fighters are headhunted by the Valkyrie and die writhing on the business end of a spear. After which, they go to Valhalla as einherjar. On the big day, their job (while the gods and goddesses are zipping around being eaten by monsters or clubbing Frost Giants down) is going to be to fight the hosts of dishonorable dead being raised up from Hel. That’s their mission in (after)life. To which end, the einherjar train every day in Valhalla. Their dedication is total- after all, the universe is bent towards Ragnarök and there’s no way to dodge it, and if they were the kind of quivering cowards who’d duck a fight, they wouldn’t have been chosen in the first place. The einherjar don’t train by drill or by kata, or tone muscle and build stamina through PT. They simply wake up every morning, grab some swords, and gleefully hack each other to pieces. But by dinner time, they are miraculously recovered from all wounds and can dine hearty on divine bacon and booze, waited on hand and foot by the very women who had tapped their shoulders and plucked them out of the shield wall. With full bellies and with enough mead inside them to be thoroughly at peace with the floor, they drift off into a happy sleep only to do it all over again in the morning. So. The name “einherjar” is kinda of ambiguous. We can kind of reconstruct it as “lone warriors”, except there is no indication that they’ll fight as individuals instead of as a group. Another possibility is that it means “once-warriors”, meaning they had once been alive but are now, you know, undead. I want to focus in on another angle- “One Time Warriors”. Soldiers of only one battle. One use, mass produced, disposable, environmentally unfriendly fighters. Warriors as inherently expendable as arrows in a quiver, bread in a backpack, and boot leather on a sole. They exist to punch faces at Ragnarök and then die as mayflies, and that is it. For your consideration, I submit the einherjar as the face of the next American Civil War. We’ve seen it as foreshadowing before. In this, the Imperial Japanese Navy was our first glimpse of our own personal Ragnarök; the callous sacrifice of their kamikaze is forever at the foremost of our folk memory of the Second World War. In more recent times, Muslim suicide bombers have trail-blazed to show us lower tech path to self-destruction. American culture traditionally held no room for suicide attacks. Valiant last stands, absolutely. Charging over the top of the trench line into enemy guns, no problem. But the plan never spent men like bullets; casualties were expected, but never counted on. But like a virulent disease evolving into less deadly strains, One Use Soldiering mellowed out until we could stomach it. The plan no longer calls for guaranteed death on the spot. Escaping the carnage to find a nice quiet spot to shoot yourself now works just as fine. You don’t even have to die, not really. Tsarnaev, Dylan Roofe, and a small platoon of other proto-einherjar have shown that you can accept imprisonment in lieu of the ultimate sacrifice, as long as you’re out of the war after you shoot your shot. And it’s never been easier. You don’t need a bomb, only a gun, and we have more guns than humans in America. You don’t even need a gun, a car will do nicely. In theory you can even fulfill your role with a knife, if you pick an easy target. We’ve done the Norse one better, taken their system and streamlined it- we don’t need to take our chances on the shield wall and wait to see if the Valkyrie tap our shoulders. The bar for entry into Valhalla is so low that anybody can be their own Valkyrie. I want to hammer in the details about what makes an einherjar an einherjar, and not a soldier or a militiaman. Black and White Worldview There is no room for ambiguity. Ragnarök is clear cut, gods and heroes on one side and monsters on the other. You needn’t burn a single calorie trying to think through the ethics of the two sides, or figure out a moral dilemma, or agonize over the common humanity of your intended victims, or anything like that. You are a soldier against the looming darkness and that is that. Above all else, Ragnarök is simple. A lot of people need simple, and a lot of those people have been fed simple by their echo chamber of choice for years. That’s possibly the stupidest and most glorious thing. In the Second American Civil War, both sides will cats themselves as the defenders of Valhalla and the enemy as the Frost Giants. The einherjar will look upon from each other across the battlefield and see only the dishonorable dead. Fire and Forgot There will be no attempts to dodge the consequences of striking. Unlike the insurgents of Iraq or the terrorist gangs of Europe in 1970’s, none of them will blend into the surrounding population to hide out and plot anew. Counter-insurgency stresses out about bushwhacker gangs infesting the rear echelon and how to sort out the bad guy from the civilian; that won’t be a problem any more. A man will pick up a weapon, slay an enemy, and then sit down as spent and as cool as an empty shell casing ejected from a gun until the authorities come to collect him. A War of Choice The vast majority of the Norse people will not fight in Ragnarök. Only a few special chosen end up on the front lines. For most people, the end of the world will not happen in front of them. They’ll read about it, talk about it, stress about it, perhaps be unable to buy bananas at the supermarket because of it, but nothing will disrupt their lives or kick their door down. Participation in the war will be mostly voluntary, unless by a fluke of statistics you end up being collateral damage in an einherjar attack. Think of it like a casino. You can only lose money if you place it on the table. Nothing to Lose The key element of being einherjar is that you have to die first. I’ve talked about this before, that the common thread of modern mass murders of all stripes is that they all feel that their life was ruined and that they might as well go out with a bang. Lost jobs, ruined relationships, isolation from family, flunked schooling, anything will do as long as it feels like the world is finally ending for you. You can’t sign up to be a One Use Warrior if you feel in your guts that you have something good to come home to. Male The einherjar will be male. It is vaguely conceivable that a few woman might somehow, possibly, end up in the ranks, but they’ll be a rounding error in terms of proportion. Men are the ones who self-destruct like this. The world isn't built for such as them, nor they for the world. Blame cultural evolution, blame testosterone, blame toxic masculinity. It doesn’t matter. The process will be as it is regardless of the explanation you develop.
[Table] I'm Jeff Galak, Professor of Marketing & Social and Decision Science at Carnegie Mellon University. I have published dozens of academic papers on decision making, consumer behavior, and more. I have also recently launched a new YouTube channel called Data Demystified. AMA! (pt 1/3)
Source | Signoff Note: This table may potentially contain information that can be construed as self-doxxing. Please don't actually try to take advantage of this.
Hey Jeff! I'm a minimalist & find that I'm happier with less stuff & when I give/receive experiences rather than items. Do you find consumer happiness reflects this shift towards minimalism since that is a (small, but seemingly growing) trend, especially among Millennials?
Great question! There is some relatively new research looking at happiness from experiences vs. material possessions. Most of it shows that happiness from equally valued (e.g. price) experiences is higher than for possessions. HOWEVER, and this is a big however, all that work tends to ignore long run happiness with highly prized possessions. For instance, if you have a sentimentally valued object, happiness that stems from that object lasts for a long time. What most possessions don't do is provide long lasting happiness. You buy a new shiny toy and it DOES make you happy...but that happiness goes away quickly. My collaborators and I have termed this idea "Hedonic Decline."
So as for minimalism, there is not evidence that I know of that shows that less possessions make you happier. There's plenty showing that more possessions don't make you happier, but that's not the same thing.
One more layer of complexity: there are two routes to happiness: hedonic and eudaimonic. The former is what we usually think of when we think of happiness: how much joy does XYZ bring me. The latter, however, is closer to self-actualization. It's the happiness the comes from a accomplishing something....even if there was pain involved in getting there. I wonder if minimalism can increase eudaimonic happiness.
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That's interesting. Thank you for responding. In the minimalism community, self-actualization is reflected in endeavors such as achieving certain goals (like, paying off debt) that usually involves some amount of self-discipline &/or self-sacrifice.
I'd say that the vast majority of research in happiness excludes eudaimonic happiness, largely because it's so hard to measure. My personal, non-data supported, take is that eudaimonic happiness is far more important than hedonic happiness. The latter is fleeting, whereas the former can be life changing.
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How does depression affect eudaimonic happiness compared to hedonic happiness?
Great question and I don't know the answer. Social Psychology typical studies what we very poorly term "normal" psychology, which excludes clinical conditions like depression. Sorry!
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What’s your take on “pay to play” - as in, some “hedonic” purchases at are required to signal you’re in the game, making progress on eudaimonic happiness. When you get older and into your career, I’d venture many people have already figured out that hedonic happiness doesn’t do squat long-term, but there’s a balance in terms of how much hedonic happiness to have to acquire for the ultimate long-term eudaimonic happiness. Example: in sales, which I’m in tech analytics sales, companies want to spend for solutions to business problems, but they also want to see, visually, that the person they’re paying is a good representative for them. High cost equals a person that can represent that taste. Nice. Tailored suits, a nice watch and latest tech gadgets. There’s a pay to play aspect that signals to the world who I am, and that in turn actually allows me to get what I want- student loans paid off and early retirement..
I don't think there's any conflict here. If you will find some form of life satisfaction by succeeding in your career, there's no harm in also purchasing items that help you reach that goal. Those items can, in and of themselves, make you happy...nothing wrong with that. More to the point, hedonic and eudaimonic happiness don't have to be in opposition. You can have both!
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I really like this response. While i can jive with basic premise of experiences over possessions...i’m find it used a lot by people who actually just want to shirk obligation. I run HHiring and there is a persistent trend of people not wanting to act like their job is important..just because it’s easier to justify bailing on work/shifts to go do things when you can say you’re doing it for the experience, not focusing on the money you make at a job. I’m trying to figure out the best way to respond to people who think i’m some big bad money grubbing boss for wanting people to do their jobs. Meanwhile, in my personal life...i feel like i’m getting a lot of push back socially from people who think i should only work where i can just make my own schedule and dip put for an “experience” whenever. At the end of the say, it feels like people will just wax philosophic reasons for demanding leisure with all the material perks of having jobs and working.
Great point. This relates to intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. The former is the desire to do something because it's inherently interesting/rewarding. The latter is doing something for compensation. This is more in the realm of organizational behavior, and you'll have to wait for my wife who is also a professor, but of organizational behavior and theory, to do an AMA for more on that :)
Hello, thanks for doing this. Are you familiar with "loot boxes" in video games? I feel like the topics of a lot of your papers would fit right into why consumers/businesses use loot boxes. How does a loot box mechanic differ from gambling and should it be treated the same? (Regulation, age restriction, etc) If they are the same, how do you feel about video games including a loot box mechanic? Sticking with gambling parallels, what are your thoughts on video game companies targeting "whales" given that gamers can be any age nowadays?
I'm not a gamer myself (though I do love TTPRGs and run a D&D 5e campaign), but I'm pretty familiar with loot boxes. Mobile games and social media platforms in general have become very good at continuous reinforcement. It can be the allure of getting a new outfit in a loot box or just an upvote on Reddit...the point is that we are wired to love small rewards, even if those rewards are meaningless. Casinos have mastered this art and loot boxes are an capitalizing of the same basic psychological mechanisms: need for positive reinforcements. So are loot boxes the same as gambling? Probably not the SAME, but damn close. As for regulation, I am strongly in favor of making gambling of all forms only accessible to adults and even then providing access to counseling for those who suffer from gambling addiction.
I have a lot less sympathy towards wealthy adults who choose to gamble as a form of entertainment. The problem is that it's not always obvious who's a whale and who's just pretending to be one for the attention. The latter is highly susceptible to financial ruin and I'd want them protected just the same as they are with standard gambling.
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Do you find the researcher in you observing and asking questions about the players' decision making processes in your D&D campaign? My old DM minored in psychology, and I often felt like a rat in his experiments. I enjoyed it, though. It kind of added an extra facet to the game.
More than my research, teaching has made a huge difference in being a DM. When I lecture, I am forced to be quick on my feet to understand student questions, reply accordingly, and make sure that I'm moving the lecture along. That is the same with DMing. I need to be able to understand the motives of my players, respond appropriately with NPCs, and keep the story going.
I'm sure that my knowledge of psychology helps, but I wouldn't think it influences the way I DM (or play) that much.
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Studying business Psychology in Switzerland and leading the yawning portal atm, seems like I need to start teaching :p
Ha! Sorry, no. It's just close friends and we're months into it. I'm running Waterdeep, if you're curious.
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I'm applying to Carnegie's MBA for what it's worth! If I'm accepted, may I join then? ;-)
How about you get in and then we discuss!
Hi Jeff! What is your favorite heuristic or logical fallacy when it comes to decision making? Can you teach us about one that people might not know about?
Easy: Diversification Bias. That's where I started my career 15 years ago. I didn't discover this bias, but have built on it. Anyway, it's the idea that people choose more variety than they should. For example, if you are going to pick some snacks for the next few days, you might pick: chips, pretzels and an apple. Those are fine, but really chips are your favorite and you picked the other two because you thought you'd get tired of chips every day. Well, turns out you'd be wrong. A day is enough to reset satiation/hedonic-decline in most cases, so you'd be better off always picking your favorite option! Doing otherwise means eating snacks that are less preferred.
A new one that my doctoral student, Julian Givi, and I recently published: The Future Is Now (FIN) Heuristic. It's the idea that people believe that future events will be like present events, even when evidence points to the contrary. An example: if it's sunny today, you're more likely to think it'll be sunny tomorrow, even if the forecast clearly predict rain. What happens is you treat information about the present as having evidentiary value for future events, even when that's just not true.
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I really like that you give your student credit.
PhD students do all the hard work. Professors just bask in the glory :)
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I think diversification bias is how I ended up with 5 shades of blue nail polish that are virtually undistinguishable from each other! Interesting to consider.
Ha! Just might be...
Tell me about your paper "Sentimental value and gift giving: Givers’ fears of getting it wrong prevents them from getting it right". From what I read of the abstract, it seems that gift-givers undervalue sentimental value, seeing it as riskier. Why is that, and how can we give better gifts?
Sure, this is a paper with my former doctoral student, Julian Givi. Basically, people are risk averse in gift giving when they shouldn't be. If I know you like coffee and I have a choice to give you some nice coffee beans or a framed photo of the two of us (presumably since we're friends), I give the former b/c it's a sure bet. But as the recipient, overwhelmingly, people prefer the latter. So givers should take the risk and give the sentimentally valuable gift over one that is more a sure bet.
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Interesting. When giving presents, givers focus too much on the recipient's known wants, which gets in the way of giving a meaningful present. Thank you! I'll be sure to keep that in-mind next Christmas.
That's exactly it.
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I sometimes hesitate at this. I don’t want to come off as the selfie culture of all about me in pictures! But relatives do love getting pics of the kids for gifts. Still, how often is this perceived as a form of narcissism by the gift receiver? Edit: pictures of my kids not just me!
One trick we do: every Christmas holiday we print full size calendars with our kids pictures on them. That's our holiday gift to all the grandparents. They LOVE it.
We also send small photo books to the grandparents throughout the year of some of the best pictures we take.
We have yet to send too many, but that's specific to our family.
The best advice I always have for something like this is: just ask! People are often worried about asking gift recipients about their preferences, but our research shows that a) recipients don't care about being asked and b) you can give better gifts that way.
Hi Jeff ! I have a question regarding involvement in a purchase, is there an increasing trend to become highly involved in the purchase of even low value object ? I find myself doing this during the pandemic doing comparison searches for a bulb which costs 10 dollars. Is this an exception ? Or is there some underlying psychological reason isolated to me ?
Absolutely. Two reasons this could be happening. 1) With more free time, the threshold for what merits deep research drops a lot. 2) Many people are facing financial hardships, and so making sure every dollar is well spent becomes really important.
Hi Jeff, Thank you for the great AMA. Where do you see the future of insights departments in consumer companies? Most companies looks like giving up on ethnographic and in person research and focus on data analytics. I speculate management is under great pressure and in the meantime aspire to Google, Amazon etc. What is your take of insights departments future in large companies?
Thank you! Exploratory research like ethnographies, interviews, and focus groups is really useful for brainstorming. But they are a poor substitute for quantitative data. Now, that doesn't mean "big data"...just data that has larger samples and is better representative of populations. Surveys are still amazing. When we want to forecast an election, we don't use big data, we conduct a political poll. They work.
But yes, right now, AI and machine learning are the hot new ideas on the block and everyone wants in on them. There is plenty of amazing applications of AI/ML, but what they can't do is tell you "why". As in, why did someone choose this option over that one? Or why are people motivated by this goal or that goal? Those types of answers allow you to apply knowledge in completely novel contexts. AI/ML needs to be trained on a specific type of data for a specific type of task. It is AMAZING at that. But as soon as you introduce a new context or new set of experiences, it fails. That's where good old fashioned surveys and behavioral experiments come in.
If a program was built to help us make better decisions, do you think we would use it? Do you think we can listen to a program’s advice better than we do from experts?
We already do. Weather forecasts tell us how to dress. Facebook tells us what to think. Tinder tells us who to date. Etc... etc...
A program that EXPLICITLY tells you what to do won't work too well. People like to feel like they have free will. They don't, though. We are greatly influenced by our environment (not just technology) whether we know it or not. As one example: I can guess your weight reasonably well just by knowing your zip code (please don't make me actually do this as I'm not in the business of public shaming!). If we had true free will and agency, that should be impossible. Instead, we are the products of our environment.
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Chicago? I believe Illinois has 30-35% obesity (I'm doing this quickly and not looking at your zip specifically), so pretty high weight.
Hi Jeff! Since I'm a 14 yrs old and knew nothing about what you study, I have very limited questions I can ask. But as I have observed, people are often sheepish and will consume as the trend goes. What is the most unexpected trend, worldwide? P.S. will defo check out your channel
I don't expect most people to know my work (I like to think my ego isn't THAT big!), so no worries!
You're right. Trends will drive a lot of human behavior. We are social creatures and follow what others do much more than we care to admit. As for the most unexpected trend, that's really hard to say. Maybe this is too broad, but I'm surprised by how short people's attention span is when it comes to current events. News cycles used to last for weeks, now they last for hours. I suppose I know that people don't have long attention spans, but I'm still surprised.
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Any underlying reasoning for this?
For the short attention spans? We can invoke evolutionary psychology, which I'm not a big fan of, and it would suggest something like a tensions between exploring and cultivating. So it would argue that our ancestors needed to have some reason to leave their immediate tribe to find new resources. So perhaps our attention spans are short b/c of this and the current environment exaggerates that behavior.
Have you done(or can you point to) any research relating to the decision making/not making around getting rid of possessions? I have a relative who keeps anything that has a perceived value as in could be sold on ebay/garage sale which they never sell. They are otherwise rational, clean, don't over consume..def not hoarder territory.. but I struggle to convince them that the old digital camera that's been sitting for 3 years could just be disposed of.
Hoarding is definitely a thing. There isn't much in the study of item disposition in the empirical world of research (lots of interesting qualitative work that I'm less familiar with). The big exception to this is the Endowment Effect. The short version is that you value items you own more than if you don't own it. So a mug sitting on a store shelf is worth, say $10 to you, but as soon as you own it is worth, say, $20 to you. Nothing changed except your ownership of it. That explains some of hoarding behavior, but not all of it.
I suppose I have the Endowment Effect. Everytime I find something valuable i dont have the will to let it go. Even though i can sell it and re buy it later, or buy something similar haha. It's like I want to take the most of it and use it til it brakes, go missing, or whatever.
The endowment effect isn't infinite. As in, it's not that you won't be willing to sell your items for ANY price, it's just that your willingness to sell is higher than your willingness to buy.
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Hey Professor, appreciate the AMA. A couple of questions: 1) Just from my own thoughts banging around in my head and observations I've made during the pandemic, do you see the pause our society went through and the economic downturn effecting the psychology behind materialism? It seems the American "push for more no matter what" mind state took a eating and I think I'm seeing some consequences of that.
1) It's possible, but my pretty strong prediction is that within 1-2 years of the pandemic ending, we will be back to where we were beforehand in terms of materialism and general behavior. Extreme events like a pandemic seem like they are life changers. For some, that's true (e.g. someone loses a loved one), but for most it's not. We are inherently myopic and think that the thing in front of our noses is the only thing that exists.
2) I'm a current medical student and we get inundated with so many studies that it's overwhelming. Trying to practice evidence based medicine is really hard in an atmosphere that prioritizes publishing with little regard to quality. Do you ha e ways of navigating that I could apply to my day to day? Thanks again.
2) I can't speak to medical research, but that problem exists in all academic fields. The best thing to do is to let science happen. There will always be flashy new findings, but the ones that really matter will get replicated over and over again...and will get built on. The BS ones tend to just die out. That's not a full proof approach to vetting research, but it's better than just assuming everything you see published is true and/or important.
I am a former CMU student. How do you feel about CMU's decision to appoint Richard Grenell as a senior fellow? And how can we do something to fight against it because it seems they are not listening the current student body? Recently, the fence was vandalized against BLM (they wrote "all lives matter" over the previously written "black lives matter"). How are you working to build a more inclusive community at CMU and to fight for those who need it? How can former students help?
I signed the petition to revoke his appointment and stand by that completely. I do understand why the university is upholding it, but I am embarrassed to have him associated with CMU.
As for the fence, the CMU Provost sent a really great letter immediately after it all happened condemning the vandalism and supporting BLM. Personally, I try VERY hard to do things like call on students of all races and genders and not let white men (of which I am one, btw) dominate conversations. I try to make sure that examples I use to highlight ideas include more than just typically white and/or male oriented products. I have been trained in Green Dot deescalation for sexual assault and violence. I am on the university academic disciplinary committee and have direct say over infractions like harassment or discrimination. And I sit on my college's Faculty Diversity Equity and Inclusion committee with the hope of including representation and inclusion of URM and female faculty. I care about this topic a LOT and do what I can...still probably not enough.
As for alums, if you see behavior at CMU that you think is antithetical to inclusiveness, let the administration know. Get your fellow alums to weigh in. The university wants your sweet sweet alumni donations. If you are all pissed off, they'll reply.
Hey Professor! I absolutely love to give. But I feel so awkward being thanked. And I dont really like receiving gifts. What would the psychology behind that be?
Great question. It's hard to know without more detail, but I'd guess that some of that anxiety is about attention...as in, your lack of desire for it. As for not liking receiving gifts, maybe you have just not received that many good gifts? Again, it's really hard to say without knowing a bit more about you and the gift giving contexts you're involved in. If you want to share more, I can try to answer better, but totally understandable if you don't!
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Well, if I think more deeply....whenever I need something, I feel like it's up to me to make me happy. I usually don't really ask anyone else. Whether I need a massage, have a getaway, or get my dream dog, I just do it myself.
As an aside, self-gifts are great! You get what you need, and nothing else. No issues there.
To your question, though, I do wonder if you just haven't receive that many great gifts. Yes, gifts can fall flat and the recipient might not love them, but when they hit, they not only provide the value from the gift itself (e.g. a great bottle of wine) but ALSO the sentimental value from the associations that the gift brings up (e.g. who gave it to you and under what circumstances...like for a birthday or graduation).
Hi Jeff, I have a job application at a place where they do conjoint analysis, something I have never done before. Got any tips? Do you have any thoughts on the technique in general? Personally as someone who takes surveys I find it very abstract (e.g. "Would you rather buy a $5 toaster with two slots vs. a $20 toaster that takes bagels?" I don't know!).
First, good luck with the job application! Conjoint is a really useful tool when used correctly (like any tool, I suppose). The short version is that it lets you extract utility weights for different dimensions (e.g. price, product size, product speed, etc...) without directly asking people to answer questions about those dimensions. So instead of saying "how important is price to you?" you would come up with product profiles that have varying price (among other things) and then have people choose between those profiles. You can then extract, using nothing more than regression analysis (though, practically, no one does it that way...they use software like Sawtooth or SPSS Conjoint), how important those dimensions are for any given person.
the technique is tedious in that respondents have to make LOTS of pair-wise comparisons, but the end product can teach you a lot about what people actually value.
One key is to make the task as simple and realistic as possible. So the example you gave is confusing and wouldn't work too well. But I asked you to choose between a $20 toaster with 2 slots vs. a $30 toaster with 3 slots" that would work (in reality it would be more complex than that). You'd be forced to tell me if you prefer a cheaper toaster with fewer slots or a more expensive one with more slots. There's not right answer, but I would learn about those two dimensions for you. I'd need a lot more pair-wise tradeoffs to do this right, but that's the general idea.
Do you find that there are significant differences between particular groups? Does age influence gift giving habits more then sex, or some other factor? Just curious about the general trends of gift giving between groups. Super general question I know, so feel free to just call me out on it
Definitely difference across genders as you would expect. More jewelry given by men to women. More gadgets given by women to men. Not so much in terms of age, though I've never really directly looked at that. The reality is that most gifts aren't that exciting. They tend to be things that are popular in a given year or old standbys like gift cards and ties. There certainly are amazing gifts and gift givers out there, but the vast majority of actual gifts given are pretty mundane. But that's not a bad thing if the recipient still likes what they get!
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Yeah, sounds about right. And yeah if everyone is chipper it's all good :) Is there a sort of gift quality vs quantity data? Like is it better to get more frequent smaller gifts or largemore expensive gifts less frequently?
Smaller more frequent gifts every time. I have some new work on obligatory vs. non-obligatory gifts. Basically, you can make someone very happy by giving a small gift on a random Tuesday compared to a much nicer gift on their Birthday. More random-tuesday gifts every time!
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Thank you! :) will the results of that be on ur channel?
Probably not. The channel isn't about my research, but rather about how to understand data more broadly. But the results will hopefully be published soon!
How extensive are the consumer psychology divisions in companies like apple?
Lots of variation. Places like apple, google, amazon will have a lot of depth in terms of psychologist and consumer behavior researchers. But those are the gold standard. Most will rely on consultants to help out
How does education on finance and economics affect consumer behavior? Does knowing the way our brains make consumer decisions or how businesses try to get you to buy change how you shop?
If you understand better how firms are trying to entice you to buy their products, you can absolutely counteract that better. For instance, $1.99 is really just $2...we all get that. But it turns out, having a 9-ending price really drives demand. That's nuts, but it does. IF you understand that, you stand a shot and not being duped by something so trivial. So educating yourself can be a big help. On finance and econ eduction, also really helpful, but in other ways. When you go to get a 30-year mortgage for your home, understanding how interest rates work, how inflation might affect home prices, how amortization tables work, etc... will help you make a much more informed decision about what is right for you.
hi! how do you predict consumer happiness/decision making etc during unprecedented times like this, when such a scenario may not have taken place before and you do not have much data to go on? also since the research you do and the data you collect are relevant to sales, do you see advertisements being affected by the pandemic in the long run from any changes in consumer mindset?
It's really hard to predict much of anything right now. There are some basic behaviors and experiences that we can expect during a pandemic (e.g. increased anxiety, defaulting to familiar experiences, increased online shopping), but the reality is you're right...we just don't know. There's virtually no data on pandemic psychology/behavior, and all the pop-science stuff you read is just guessing at what will happen.
As for advertising, I think that once the pandemic is over, life will be back to what it was beforehand in almost every respect. People are amazing to adapting to changing circumstances. We are all doing that now with the pandemic and will all do that again when it's over. I don't think that advertising will be any different. Give it a year after we're all vaccinated (or whatever winds up being the solution) and most people will largely forget that we even had a pandemic. Yes, some will have big changes like lost loved ones or lost jobs, but for most people, life will return to what it was before Covid hit.
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thank you for answering, that is very interesting! the data you collect seems to be applicable to so many different fields. i asked about advertising as a student interested in media, but i can see it being useful in various types of companies be it internet security, food, travel etc. your job sounds really cool and i will definitely check out your YouTube channel :)
Did you ever get to meet Herbert Simon? Wasn't he interested in similar things?
I wish! I've been at CMU for 11 years. Simon passed away in 2001, so I missed him by a few years.
And yes, Simon was one of the original researchers into what's known as Bounded Rationality, it's the idea that humans don't act like computers and process all information simultaneously, but rather use heuristics and shortcuts to accomplish most tasks.
How influential was the work of Daniel Kahnemann to your current teaching?
VERY! I don't know Danny personally, but my advisor got his PhD at Princeton when Danny was there, so lots of indirect influence that way. More generally, the field of decision making was build on his (and others) work, so hard not to be influenced.
Do you have any opinions on investors behavior during covid 19? More specifically how certain financial firms may have targeted people who have or would dabble in market that have recently lost work due to the pandemic?
Caveat: I am not a finance professor. That said, my read is that fear of missing out (FOMO) is driving a lot of unexpected behaviors. The market has rallied like crazy since the March low and everyone wants in on that. It's hard to sit by and watch others make a killing while you don't.
As for practices like getting people who don't typically to invest to do so, there's two sides to this. On the one hand, getting more people involved with investing is a great thing. It used to be only that the very wealthy could invest and reap the benefits of the market, but now with places like Robinhood and fee-free trading on Schwab and the like, everyone can participate. On the other hand, MANY people don't understand risk well at all. They just see the possible upside and ignore the possibility of losing a lot (see that guy that committed suicide b/c of a terrible options trade...that's horrible). So firms and gov't have a responsibility to both educate investors and provide safeguards against uninformed behaviors.
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Hello, I just want to specify something in your comment! The young college student who committed suicide did so because a misprogrammed number on the trading site, Robinhood. Of course at the time he did not know it, but the value loss that was near $800,000, was showing the loss of the entire option, not his equity in the option, which was -$1,000 - -$2,000 if I remember right. It was Robinhood's terrible interface, not his misunderstanding of risk, which is horrible. If you would like a misunderstanding of risk on trading platforms, look no further than wallstreetbets, of course as you said FOMO is a huge factor, or if you're interested, some trading platforms intentionally advertise to consumers without properly representing risk. Thank you very much for this AMA, it has been quite insightful!
Thanks so much for that clarification!
I have a question re: dating sites / apps. Is there a way to structure incentives so that the company is motivated to find good pairings between users? It feels like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, etc. don't have such an incentive currently
I think they do have an incentive to make good pairings. Word of mouth is their strongest asset so having good matches is key. The challenge is that good matches are hard to come by and not everyone agrees on what good is. Is good marriage? Is it a fun night? Not clear.
Hello Professor and thank you for taking this time. As a professional that works in marketing and a person who suffers from mental illnesses, it is often disheartening for me to see so much valuable research and findings be easily made available for use by companies for marketing and consumer exploitation while it is so difficult for those who are struggling to find information that could be beneficial to living their lives more freely. What are your thoughts on this, and do you think there are ways we could change the system to better benefit individuals needs directly?
The connection between marketing academia, marketing industry, and consumers just sucks. No one outside of academia reads marketing academic journals. Few in academia care if their work has applications (even in an applied field like marketing). And consumers can't be bothered (rightfully) to read through academic work to learn.
Some solutions that I've seen that work: - Marketing Science Institute: this is an organization whose entire goal is link academia and practice. They have conferences where they invite folks from both sides to collaborate. More of this please! - Pop-science social science books like Freakonomics, Blink, Predictably Irrational, etc...: They all have plenty of shortcomings, but the authors all do an amazing job of conveying the ideas of academia to the public. I think that's fantastic. More of this too please! - Consulting for non-profits. I do this and many others do as well. We use our knowledge to help non-profits do their amazing work. This is a way to avoid that "exploitation" you mentioned and instead use what we know to help others. There's not much money in this kind of consulting, which is why few do it, but it's really important. Maybe some kind of granting agency could earmark money for non-profits to hire academic consultants to help them use what we know to help the world. That would be awesome
hey, I'm a recent advertisement graduate, it's good to see someone from such a familiar field here anyways, when I do groceries, I always follow the list to a T, and I take no time at all getting the items, basically, I go against every little trick supermarkets have to "seduce" the customer, so my question is: what makes someone a "good customer"? is it someone highly susceptible to the marketing tricks at the market or someone who spends both their money and time more efficiently?
Good can mean different things here. You sound like you're probably super loyal to products. That's pretty great for most companies. The fact that you don't succumb to unintended purchases definitely makes you less attractive in one capacity, but your predictability makes you very attractive in other ways. If I could run a company where every customer always bought the same thing every week, I would LOVE that. I would know how to schedule raw material purchases, delivery schedules, etc... I would have a steady and dependable income. If, however, I relied just on getting lucky and catching the eye of customers as they passed my products on store shelves, that would be a whole lot more difficult a business plan to execute.
Hi Jeff, I have always geared my life towards maxing out the benefits and deducting the losses for example leaving my family in order to search for better life oportunities, ditching jobs where I felt safe in favor of new and more promising ones. And by this logic I have reached quIte far in my life. But at the end achieving all this goals don't yields the expected satisfaction. However I'm pretty sure that don't doing this would be even worse. Why does it seems that no matter if the desitions taken are the best at my point of view it still seems like I need more than the goals I have achieved. Why is disatisfaction the expected result?
Wow, that's a lot to give up for goals! People are inherently likely to make what are known as upward comparisons. We don't look at the people who we have done better than, but instead focus on the few who done better than us. The classic example is Silver Olympic medalists. They should be elated, but instead they just covet the Gold medalist.
Beyond that, in your specific case, it's hard to say for sure, but we know that close relationships are the number one driver of life satisfaction. If you've given those all up in pursuit of some other goal, that might explain things a bit. Take that with a grain of salt as all I know about you is summed up in 100 words or so!
Hello Jeff, glad to see this AMA here! I'm a statistics student in Brazil (one of my professors got his doctorate degree at Carnegie Mellon University, in fact!). Much of what we learn nowadays is related to careers pertaining the finance fields. Other stuff includes academic research mixed with other fields. I see myself as a data analyst for a big bank someday, but I always think: is there any career for a data scientist thats underrated by modern standards but still awesome and rewarding, in your opinion?
Go work for a non-profit! It's now where the money is, but many need help from data scientists. You can actually change the world that way!
Which US dollar bill is your favorite?
Cash? You still use cash?
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For coke yeah
Oh, in that case.... Nope, not replying and losing my tenure :)
The hunt for Xavier Ligonnès is enough to drive you crazy. It’s like looking for a lost object, a bank card for example, of which we can determine the exact moment of disappearance: we used it to pay, it was there, and the next moment it is not there anymore. Logic dictates that we look for it where we usually store it (a wallet, a handbag), then where it could be (a back pocket of pants, a hall cabinet), and the less we find it , the more we seem to see it everywhere. Faced with absence, the brain constructs images (the credit card in an office drawer, as a bookmark in a book, forgotten on the counter of the last store) but these are fictions or mirages; they encourage further research but they do not provide a solution. Xavier Ligonnès’s apparent volatilization follows the same logic and produces the same effects on the investigation. The more weeks and months go by, the more places to look get smaller. Emmanuel Teneur ends up leading the investigators to the Société Générale agency on Place Royale in Nantes, but the safe he holds there is simply empty. A request for information on Joven Soliman is sent to the security attaché for the French Embassy in the Philippines. He is a sedevacantist priest, a fringe of traditionalist Catholicism who considers the Pope to be an imposter. The attaché transmits the hours of mass where he officiates. A trip to the Philippines is being considered, but that would mean going to the other side of the world to look for a needle in the thousands of islands of the archipelago. If this track has never been closed, nothing has supported it to date. Since we must push logic to the end, the investigators even contact the American authorities to corroborate or contradict the story of protected witnesses told by Ligonnès in his famous letter. The DEA has never heard of the individual, and the liaison officer based at the Miami consulate assures us that his last trip to the United States was in 2003: Ligonnès arrived in Florida on July 18 and left on August 22. The study of his entourage also did not highlight anyone capable of providing false papers to the fugitive, and if he had gone through a criminal network, the police believed that an informant would undoubtedly have warned them to protect himself. Then there are the news reports: the portrait of Ligonnès goes around France, and even if he has undoubtedly changed his physical appearance, his hairstyle, perhaps had even resorted to cosmetic surgery, someone, somewhere, might recognize him one day. After all, that’s how John List, a New Jersey insurance salesman who killed his wife and mother in 1971, was arrested. He waited for two of his children to return from school to coldly shoot them, then attended his youngest son’s football game before shooting bullets through him at home. He evaded justice for 18 years until a co-worker recognized him from a report on America’s Most Wanted. Rarely has a criminal case given rise to as many appeals as that of Ligonnès, because his stalking not only bewitches the police, it torments an entire country. More than 1000 reports, thousands of pages of depositions, letters, verifications. You have to imagine the miles of printed paper that this represents when they are stacked on a desk. The most recent: in July, after the broadcast of a Netflix documentary on the subject in the United States, the producers of the film claimed to have received an interesting lead in Chicago; but it’s just one more drop in the bucket. Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès has been seen in Annecy, Nancy, Cholet, Corsica (several times); on the side of a road, thumbs up, by a French tourist in Las Vegas; disguised as a chimney sweep in Nîmes; in a hotel in Cantal and in a pizzeria where he paid cash in a hurry; seen again in Germany, in Italy, and heard on the telephone by the reception of the psychiatric hospital of Troyes. Since he disappeared looking like the ordinary neighbor, since he was a representative and his profession has taken him to all corners of France, there is no less reason to see him in Mulhouse than in Roche-sur-Yon, and you can simply see him everywhere. Aire de Lançon-Provence in July 2020 Extracts: “It was the same look, except that he looked very sad, in the west, but he had the same glasses as in the photo you are showing me”; “He looked like a man like everyone else, but there was something odd in his eyes;” “Yesterday, around 1:00 pm, I was watching the news on television on the TFI channel. I saw a report where an individual killed his children and his wife before disappearing into the wild. (...) Seeing the gentleman in the photo, I made the connection with the person whom I had crossed Sunday afternoon because he had the same smile.” At the Vauvert tourist office: “I hardly look at the news, but Thursday evening I saw the photo of Mr. Ligonnès, I had the impression of having already seen him, my heart was racing.” Between Carpentras and Avignon, when he comes back from the bakery, the manager of one of Nicolas Sarkozy’s brothers crosses paths with a man with a beige bob, which he is certain is the fugitive. “I flashed,” he says. “For me, there is no doubt. This is him.” Still more letters are sent to the police to offer them help. An amateur astrologer requests a copy of the suspect’s birth certificate to establish a birth chart, a woman in child-like writing recommended a great medium who had helped her find her daughter who had become a junkie in Marseille. A prisoner asked in writing to be sent to Guinea to go hunt him down in the jungle, attaching to his letter a list of the necessary equipment, including infrared glasses and a “samurai sword.” With each letter, with each phone call to report a suspicious individual, investigators attempt to cross-reference the information. They patiently collect the testimonies of the depositors to know where Xavier Ligonnès was seen, if he was accompanied or not, what was his size and his outfit. Inconsistent testimonies or those referring to individuals who are too young (Ligonnès would be 59 years old today) and too small (he measures a little over 1.80 meters) are discarded. For the others, investigators check the CCTV recordings, when they have not been erased and when the cameras have actually recorded on tape. If the person has been spotted pumping gasoline, in a Géant Casino, or in a Courtepaille, they trace the means of payment used and seize the duplicates of bank cards. They give priority to the restaurants, especially the Buffalo Grill, Ligonnès’ favorite establishment. And when the trail is still hot and the dishes haven’t been done yet, they collect DNA from the plates and cutlery. A few months after the start of the investigation, the investigating judge in charge of the case will even be forced to ask them to slow down, the seals starting to take on the appearance of a china cabinet in a large restaurant. The Total service station in Lançon-Provence, July 2020 The PJ of Nantes believed on several occasions to finally have in hand the winning ticket and to be on the point of intercepting Ligonnès. This was the case in Borgo, where a photo taken from the video surveillance of a supermarket in this small Corsican town was very similar. Upon verification, it was only a local. They believed in it even more in January 2018 when they were told that an individual with a strong resemblance to Xavier Ligonnès was at the Saint-Désert Notre-Dame de Pitié monastery near Roquebrune-sur-Argens. About twenty police officers raided and searched the premises until they came across Brother Jean-Marie Joseph, who certainly looked disturbingly like Ligonnès, but who was not him. In still other cases, the police were never able to “close the track,” and it is perhaps Ligonnès who was seen. For example, in Lançon-Provence, April 26, 2011. That day, at 2:44 am, Mahjoub B., a handler by profession, parks his vehicle at the Total service station after the Lançon-Provence toll. He fills up, then goes to the store to pay. On his way, he passes a 45- to 50-year-old man, about six feet tall, who hangs out there between the gas pumps and the store. When he returns to his vehicle, his colleague asks him if he has seen the man, whom he is convinced is the one everyone is looking for, the one who killed his family in Nantes. Mahjoub then takes a new look at the individual, notices that he is wearing glasses, light jeans, that he has brown hair a little graying and a beard of a day. At his feet, four rigid shopping bags, one red, one white, one brown and one whose color he cannot distinguish. Inside the store, employees also noticed the individual. He’s been out for almost three hours. At one point, he walks in to ask for free coffee, as part of a promotion. Behind her cash register, Jocelyne H. notes a detail: he is missing a tooth. “The second on the left, I believe,” she says when heard by investigators. This is information that has never filtered out and yet, it’s true – a little detail, Xavier Ligonnès was missing a tooth. Little by little, the space has filled in, but you can always see it when he smiles. The images from the station’s surveillance cameras are confusing: if this man is not the one we are looking for, it must be his twin brother. At 3 a.m., the cameras show him hitchhiking by a Volkswagen Combi, which investigators quickly find. The driver’s name is Christophe B. He has not heard of the case, and he must be one of the only ones in the country; but Christophe is no longer listening to the news because, he says, “the news is bad all the time.” From the hitchhiker on the night of the 25th to the 26th, he remembers that he “did not smell very good” and that he had a growing beard. They didn’t discuss much. The man simply told him that he was coming from Paris where he had gone to see “his sick old father,” and that he wanted to take the train to Aix-en-Provence. Christophe dropped him off at a motorway exit, the 30 or the 31, between 4 a.m. and 4.15 a.m. The surveillance cameras at Aix train station allow you to get back on track. He is filmed on the forecourt at 6 am, he wears light pants, a dark jacket. He buys a ticket at 1.20 euro, free destination. Then we lose track. Despite all the checks, despite all the cameras, it will be impossible to track this man perfectly resembling Dupont de Ligonnès, who could nevertheless have confirmed that he was, at least on this date, still alive. How can one suddenly evaporate in plain sight, and how could a man who has collected chess all his life accomplish this feat? The XDDL mystery makes it possible to scaffold all the theories. These flourish in books, in docudramas and, of course, on the Internet. We imagine Ligonnès protected by the secrecy of a monastery, flown to the United States, where he can go unnoticed thanks to his English without an accent, or even on the escape alongside a woman he would have manipulated. The police officers in charge of the case do not work on theories or psychological profiles, but according to a scientific approach: they always start from a fact, which opens a track, which they then explore until the end, close, and move on to another. This method is also a way to protect yourself from endless guesswork, or insanity, but it doesn’t always work. Several times, the track looks like a highway towards the fugitive, and the police are convinced that they will finally close this investigation. But they end up stumbling upon the worst thing ever, as was the case with the allusion to Emmanuel Teneur’s sailboat: coincidences. Coincidence number 1. When the Ligonnès C5 was discovered in the Formula 1 car park in Roquebrune, the night watchman informed them that two reservations had been made in the name of Dupont Xavier, one on April 5 and the another on April 14. The hotel manager then specifies that the first reservation was actually made for April 6. That day, however, XDDL was in Nantes, probably digging the grave of Thomas, murdered the day before. Had he thought of accomplishing his crimes earlier or had he reserved a room for an accomplice, who might have been hiding something for him? The videos of April 5 and 6 are no longer available, but payment for the room was made with a Crédit Agricole credit card. The number gives a name, Faiçal E., and an address. Could it be an accomplice? The checks are launched immediately lead to a man who simply used “Dupont Xavier” as an assumed name - like Ligonnès - to book a night in the same hotel, the same year, the same month, within ten days. Coincidence number 2. The liaison officer in Miami launches research around the various aliases used by XDDL, for operations of “mystery shopper” or to stay in hotels. In the FBI file, he finds a certain Xavier Laurent, one of Ligonnès’s favorite nicknames, installed in Jacksonville, north of Florida. Jacksonville is not just any city. This is where Hugues, the cousin of XDDL lived, and it is also this locality that Ligonnès and his friend Michel Rétif declared to customs in 1990 during their trip to the United States. At the very end of the personalized letter sent to Michel on April 8, Xavier Ligonnès seemed to allude to it: “I will think about you there.(Not the right to tell you where, but you went there with me...in November 90…a clue to dig.LOL).” But this Xavier Laurent is another twist of fate: the police come across a certain Evan Shaffer, a petty criminal who has chosen this alias to commit crimes. Coincidence number 3. Ten days before the crimes, XDDL reconnects with a childhood sweetheart, Catherine K., whom he met in Versailles in the 1980s. Between March 22 and 24, they exchange text messages and try to find a date to meet the week of April 12, in Chamonix. These messages intrigue the investigators, some answers seem surprising, almost illogical, and they suspect Ligonnès of having wanted to ensure a logistical relay in his escape. A little later, a certain Patrick O. reports having seen XDDL in the queue of a Sixt car rental agency at Nice airport on April 17, 2011. By peeling the names of dozens of people having rented a car that day, the police officers miss the infarction: in capital letters, white on black, appears the surname of Catherine, who would have rented a vehicle at 1:30 am. A few hours later, their heart rate drops again: it was only a perfect disambiguation. Each coincidence causes the same chain of reactions. First a eureka!, the certainty of having finally found the tiny detail from which to trace everything. The police then cast their nets like fishermen on the high seas, telephone or banking requisitions, requests for listings, identity checks. Then they wait. It can last from a few hours to several weeks, and inevitably it is a burning, nagging wait, tense by the fear that the track will fly away. Finally, there is the immense disappointment and the obligation to face reality again: Xavier Ligonnès is still nowhere to be found, a track has flown again, and we have to hoist the rock up the mountain again. Those who have worked or are still working on the affair strive to maintain a cold, rational, police facade. But little by little, by dint of chasing a shadow - not even a shadow, a ghost - obsession lurks. One of them, a police officer with a professional Protestant pastor, now out of the investigation, still returned until recently to consult the investigation file every week, saying he simply wanted to put the 12,000 pages of documents in order. For a year, a criminal analyst has also been mobilized. He enters all the elements of the file in a software which digests them and spits out, perhaps, new threads to draw. In the meantime, the two police officers who are still following the investigation - one at the PJ in Nantes, one at the OCRVP, in Paris - “live” the case, as their colleagues say. Among these thousands of pages there is no doubt a clue that has gone unnoticed or, better, a lead that has not yet been explored. Track number 1. Who typed “fraternité saint-thomas becket” on Google on April 3 at 11:34 pm, before clicking on a link in the Cité-Catholique forum? Is it the same person who, the same night at 2:01 am, from an iPhone, did the search for “communion state mortal sin,” bringing it to the same forum? On April 8, the user of this phone will in any case send the search engine the request “hello Chacou”, which will lead him (her) again to the Cité-Catholique forum. Chacou was one of the pseudonyms of Xavier Ligonnès. Investigators saw crazier coincidences, but still: can it really be someone other than Xavier Ligonnès, who himself connected to Cité-Catholique almost every day of his escape? The last article published on the site about Saint-Thomas Becket, an ultra-traditionalist fraternity which practices mass in Latin, dates from January 2009. It indicates the name of its founder, Father Jean-Pierre Gac, and specifies this: “Born in the diocese of Blois where there are two communities (…), the fraternity has also extended in the diocese of Toulon - a parish is also entrusted to them in Ollioules.” Ollioules is located six kilometers from La Seyne-on-Mer, where XDDL spent its penultimate known night, and 94 kilometers from Roquebrune. Jean-Pierre Gac was questioned by the police but claimed to have never been in contact with the fugitive. Investigators have always believed in the possibility that Ligonnès took refuge in a monastery in the Var. They considered to search them one by one, before understanding that there are dozens and dozens of brotherhoods and fraternities, that they are not always castles of the Purple Rivers but sometimes simple farms, lost in the hinterland. To mount a search, it would be necessary to ensure that they do not communicate with each other, and therefore to visit them all at the same time. The examining magistrate quickly tempered the fervor of the police and declared the operation impossible. Track number 2. Xavier Ligonnès had two secret Facebook accounts. The first is named after his favorite country singer, Waylon Jennings. One of his nieces had also found him a month before the crimes, sending him a message, “but who is behind this nickname?,” to which XDDL had immediately replied “How did you manage to arrive on the Waylon Jennings Facebook profile? Too clever! Microsoft Advantage??? Kiss.” The second account concerns a certain “George Town” residing in Nantes and is linked to one of Ligonnès’ many email addresses, [email protected]. The police send a requisition to the management of Facebook in Palo Alto to obtain the creation and connection logs of the two profiles. The answer comes in days: the first was created in February 2010, the second in December 2007, when France had barely discovered the social network. Above all, the response indicates that Ligonnès connected to the two accounts on the night of April 4 to 5, between the first assassinations and that of Thomas. The profiles have since been deleted but suggest he could have used them to communicate with a third party. Catherine K., the youthful lover that XDDL contacted a few days before the tragedy, also reported to the police that she had been approached by a certain Philippe Steiner, whom she did not know, around May 20. He sent her a strange message, suggesting that they might have had a relationship in the past. When she went to respond, the profile had already been deleted. Today there are almost 100 Facebook accounts on behalf of Waylon Jennings, some are created and deleted every day. Track number 3. When the Ligonnès family is having their last meal on April 3, 2011, around 9 pm, a young woman walks through the glass doors of the police station on Place Waldeck-Rousseau in Nantes. Originally from a small village near Vannes, Julie is a BTS student and comes to file a complaint: the Twingo that her father lets her drive has been broken into, probably during the night. There was not much inside, but Julie reported the theft of her car radio as well as the vehicle’s logbook, which she normally stored in a small Renault gray faux leather pouch. This same pouch was found on April 22 in the dresser of the Ligonnès living room where Xavier used to store his papers, during the investigation the day after the discovery of the bodies. The police did not follow this track: they put the break-in of Julie’s car on the account of one of the Ligonnès sons, Arthur, who had already been arrested for theft of a bicycle and driving under the influence of cannabis. But why would Arthur have taken the vehicle papers with the car stereo, and why would he put them in the middle of his father’s papers? And if the theft was committed by Xavier Ligonnès a few hours before killing his family, how can this be explained? Was he able to steal other identity papers to facilitate his escape? In this case, it is always about cars. Those imported by XDDL from the United States, the Citroën C5 from the escape, the vehicles he claimed had been stolen over the years: the first at the Brest police station in 1998, while living in Pornic, a second at the same time at the Saint-Nazaire police station, and then again, in Nantes, on May 17, 2006, a Golf convertible finally found then sold a few months later to a mechanic, a friend of Cédric M. Cédric M. is never far away when it comes to cars. He is also a mechanic, that’s how Ligonnès met him in Vannes a few years earlier. He is one of the recipients of the departure letter, therefore a close friend. He was even the first employee of the RDC. Ligonnès regularly went to visit him in Locmalo in the heart of Morbihan, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Nantes. With Cédric and his partner, Renaud, they went to the local creperie. They had lunch there together on March 31, 2011, four days before the crimes. In the village, it is said that Ligonnès took care of the dark accounts of the “guys,” who have quite a reputation. Could he have built up a slush fund there that no one would have found until now? Cédric and Renaud’s garage is not indicated by any sign. It is at the end of a road. In the yard, wrecks of American cars and a goat on a leash. Inside, Renaud is working on a shiny yellow Cadillac. His attitude is confusing. He is angry with the police who have never come to question him when he is, according to him, “the last to have seen [Xavier] alive. But I will not tell you when, because that the date is important,” he adds before returning to his Cadillac, wrench in hand. To date, Renaud has still not been heard by investigators. At the same time, reports continue to flow. Ligonnès seen in Mulhouse, on the four lanes between Saint-Brieuc and Rennes in a Peugeot 308 and overtaking on the right, Ligonnès seen again in Tunis and Toulouse. Ligonnès seen, but never caught. Next Section-Part 2D
There has not been a time more than now that I have felt like I am going to have an absolute mental breakdown. I am just angry. I just hate everything. I how a bunch of stupid pieces of fucking white trash are willing to put other people’s lives at risk and prolong this pandemic because of their absolute ignorance and politicizing of everything. IT’S OCTOBER... I let that sink in recently. This shit is still not gone. And I believe it is because of absolute pieces of shit like the president who feel so entitled to do whatever the fuck they want regardless of Dr. Anthony Fauci tells us. I had a former coworker die from this shit and even though I didn’t know him well nor was I super close with him, his family is left without a father, husband, grandfather, and sibling. There are still similar stories to his IN OCTOBER because of this disgusting mind set that “my liberties are more important than your health, because I personally don’t think you’re going to get infected.” Not just is there an increase in deaths, but the pandemic society has to continue along because a vast amount of people choose to make absolutely selfish decisions, at least in the U.S. I just feel like I’m going to lose my shit. I’m in my final semester in college, have no job prospects because of this, and had to pick up a minimum wage job in a supermarket where I have had the most ignorant piles of waste for customers tell me shit like “You must be so thankful to have a job.”, and have “dick-nose above the mask” wearing pieces of shit tell me their delusional conspiracy theory for why the masks are pointless and how for some reason it is a political ploy to screw over Trump. Fuck you for that you entitled braindead cunt. Fuck you. I just hate you. I just hate you so much. I don’t usually have physical tears but I’m just pouting for some reason. Oh but I’m not done, I’m not even close to done haha. Ahahahahahahah. So, then I have my dumb bitch of an aunt, cousin, and multiple 55+ aged relatives send me political shit via text as well as post their shit on any platform they desire. Recently, my aunt sent me this video with how Trump had so many similarities with the bible. And this isn’t the first time that I received this from a relative! “Trump was like Jesus/Moses/Abraham/Joseph because he was born on a (whatever the hell it was) and that is why he is a godlike being and that he is backed by the lord himself.” Also, to clairfy. No. I am not some ultra-liberal redditor looking for a handjob from the echo chamber. I am centre-left and just want some calmness in the political sphere. I hate it all. I hate how we still have civil unrest in our major cities, I hate how so many homeless have ruined California and the entire West Coast due to political mismanagement, I hate how so many cops have a god complex, I hate how there are extremists that react to these events and ruin the cities for everyone, I hate the nationalism here - posting a bald eagle on social media does not make you a better person. I hate how I can’t travel because people have been doing stupid shit that has caused travel to still not be safe, I hate how my father manipulates me emotionally by being an amazing person sometimes and then an absolute arrogant headgames prick at other times (he’s bipolar but claims his “manic depression diagnosis in the 70s was nothing of concern”, I hate how my friends and random ppl still see me as the “haha fat friend” even though I dropped 40 lbs since June and went from a BMI of 29 to 24. I hate how the political subreddits are just “Trump bad” circlejerks without real discourse and pragmaticism with the fact that this election is still up for grabs - this should have been learned back in 2016. I hate how my ex (who is actually really nice person) just associates with white trash and how she always tell me about how her bestfriend went to jail again or her mom goes to the casino all the time or the fact that her hillbilly brother knocked up a girl he wasn’t committed to at a fairly young age and now won’t be a father figure in his daughter’s life. I hate deadbeat dads, I wish the absolute worst upon deadbeat dads. Yes, my dad has mentally fucked me up at times (hid my aspergers diagnosis from me until I found out on my own) but at least he was there for me unlike some piece of shit that created a life to fuck up so he can get an orgasm. Back to the ex, she was a good person, but with the pandemic and us having to be long distance mixed with the white trash universe she had (think Shameless), I had to break up with her. I had been pondering the thought of breaking up with her for a while prior to the actual Skype call where I did it. I felt like an absolute piece of shit. Everyone’s relationships should be ended in person. I only did it on Skype because it felt more personable than text or call. But it doesn’t matter, I fucked her up, because she thought I was the one she was going to marry. I visited her dad who was dying of cancer on a 2 hour flight away so I can comfort her (she was up there 4 days before I got up there). It was me going over there to visit that made her think I was the one. Fuck. The only reason I never thought about “playing house” shit like marriage or kids is because 1. I’m scared. I am only 22 yet I still feel like I’m in my youth. I’m just not ready to throw that away yet. 2. I hate young kids and the whole baby culture. I don’t mind having an older kid, but that would involve adoption and eh, idk, there’s so many ramifications. 3. Money. I would rather achieve financial independence prior to having a living being. I have learned a lot about financial literacy over the last 5 years and I now try to save and invest as much as possible to achieve a healthy retirement and eventually wealthy lifestyle. Notice how most young parents are poor as shit, because they don’t think. They think they’re so grown up and that they’re ready, like it’s a fucking fantasy. I hate how my parents curse all the time in the house yet if I curse in front of my mother while my dad is around, my dad lectures me on cursing in front of my mother. Because she’s a woman?! This isn’t the 50s dad. I also have a younger brother and he hates me and I cannot necessarily blame him. Yes, I think his morals are a little fucked and that he is incredibly rude at times, but I haven’t always been supportive older brother of his endeavours nor have I been the brother that should have had his back. I was a deadbeat older brother who only made his situations worse because I somehow thought I was making them better. You know. One of my favorite shows is Bojack Horseman. That show helped me understand my own mental health better. Before any one makes a comment about how it’s stupid when people try be like... Rick Sanchez, The Joker, Walter White etc. because they’re missing the point, I am not one of these people. However, most people that have seen the show have compared me to the main character, Bojack. He is a miserable piece of shit with mental health issues who ends up hurting others because he had such a messed up upbringing. The source of his misery comes from him. He has been given the opportunities to better himself and misses everytime he gets close - I don’t want to be like that. I really don’t. I went to this school for one year before transferring to another state. I made three close friends there. My depression took a toll on me and had some existential crises and ended up drinking myself out of my mind. These three close friends were nice but all nerdy and I slowly ended up making them all resent me in a unique way. The first one to drop me was because I ended up becoming an absolute asshole to them. I’ve tried what I could over the years to get us on talking terms, they haven’t felt comfortable with that and I can’t blame them. The second one I sent an unsolicited snap of myself cutting (my arms) to them and that really bothered them; I haven’t cut since 2018 though at least. I ran into them a half year later where they voiced their disappointment with this and we ended up transitioning into a pleasant conversation where I kind of explained that I was in a bad place and should have NEVER done that. It went well, but then I got ghosted. I wrote a diplomatic sendoff text after a few ghostings from him but never got anything back. The third one and I sorta talk but it’s been on and off and I know they’ve thought I’m an absolute garbage person over these last 4 years. I burned a bridge with that place all because I am a dumbass. Other things that piss me off and have attributed to me having an absolute breakdown: -My first consentual sexual experience was with someone who had just been banging everyone. -I’m bisexual and I hate saying this even though I’m open because a lot of straight people start treating me like I’m gay while a lot of gay people make me feel illegitimate about my sexuality. -Even though my dad always said he would never be bothered with a gay son and told me he supported me when I came out as bi, he still says shit about how it’s gross one when a guy puts his genitals in another guy’s ass and how the balls smack against his rear. He then drops the narrative and talks with me like women are the only people in my dating pool. -Kinda cliche, but I really hate Tik Tok just because it’s so prevalent today and has so much shit that comes with it. -My aunt who always takes candid photos of us at family events where I look like absolute shit and posts them social media. Also, stop having your iPhone be your 8 year-old son’s virtual babysitter. He’s discovered some pretty fucked up shit and lacks any discipline or manners. -I hate entitled parents/dog owners that think that their kid/dog can do no wrong. -The fact that I’ve been so insufferable at times and that there are still people who talk to me but secretly resent me for this. -The fact that I’ve been told “I have a good heart” or that I’m an “old soul”. My “good heart” is the reason I’ve gotten so fucked over in the past and it’s not good. My “old soul” is not “old”. I hate most older people because of their stubborness and bitter attitudes toward anything my generation does. Fuck you. You all were rebels decades ago. -My beard grows so fast so I have to clean shave almost everyday, and no, I’ve grown it out in the past. It looks like shit. People have told me some very hurtful yet truthful things about it when I’ve had it. I just always seem to look gross even though I shower twice a day and wear pretty clothes these days. I just wanna look cute, ya know? But I never do. But I’m not phishing for compliments on my looks. I hate pandering pieces of shit. I accept that I just can’t look cute and hate it. Also, the “fat friend” thing again even though I have a normal bmi these days. Some people just can’t shake the image. Including me. -The expression “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” I’ve gotten jumped/harrassed by sketchy people on the street because that saying made me think nothing was going to happen to me if I kept walking on the same side of the sidewalk as they were even though they looked scary as shit. And I always keep to myself. I never open my mouth unless it’s to eat or say annoying shit to my friends. Fuck that expression by the way. Fuck whoever made that expression. -Getting treated like a number by every college/university to which I have been. -Aggressive Homeless People I don’t know how much more I can write. I want to pass out back can’t fall asleep. I have a feeling I could eventually be successful, but I still won’t be genuinely satisfied unless I’m travelling all the time. For some reason, travel has always been something. But fuck that. Can’t do it safely for a while and it’s not like it’s a free acrivity you can do year-round anyway. Also, regrding my post’s title, I really hate the wholistic stuff. I’m not really sure what I’m looking for here but it will be nice to hear from you all. I’m sorry if this post really demonstrates that I’m a miserable piece of shit. If you come to that conclusion, you’re probably justified in thinking that. Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings. I think the only reason I’ve calmed down at all towards the end of writing this is due to exhaustion. Have a great rest of your day/night.
Naima She was going to buy diapers. They were having a sale at Kroger and she was woefully unprepared for how expensive they were, how expensive everything to do with babies was. Mary had her first, and as of now, only child just six months ago. It might as well have been six years at this point. The rumors were true, any hope of sleep was abandoned long ago. Maurice did what he could to help out, he loved feeding their little girl and didn’t mind when she spontaneously vomited on his shirt, or if he did he never showed it. They named the girl Naima, after Maurice’s grandmaw who passed away the day her namesake came into the world. Naima made it to her grandmaw’s funeral where she screamed and cried every second of the service. Mary however was absent. Everyone understood. Her labor wasn’t easy, a grueling sixteen hours of push and breathe, sweat running down her arms and legs in rivulets. They all agreed that a funeral was no place for a woman to be after giving birth just four days ago. But at Easter, Mary was certain they all looked at her a bit different now, like she had failed an important exam and her commitment to the family was thrown into question. The parking lot was nearly deserted, it being almost 10 o'clock at night. She had meant to go earlier in the day, had even set an alarm on her phone to remind herself, but Naima was sick. Mary thought she was sick. She was mostly sure she was sick. She hadn’t eaten anything that day except for a few brown lumps of applesauce that later came out the other end virtually the same. Mary wasn’t scared yet but the anxiety, the vision of rushing to her family doctor only to be told once again that “this is normal Mrs. Hader, happens all the time, she just needs a bit of rest,” was ever present on her mind. She hated that place, hated the smell of it. When she herself was a little girl the atmospheres of hospitals, clinics, dentist offices, all revolted her. The snarky look of the woman behind the counter, watching another new mother panic over a little diarrhea, it was all a bit too much to bear. She tossed an Ativan quickly into her mouth and locked the car door. She checked her phone. No texts from Maurice. He would be working late tonight, they’d been giving him the night shift at the hospital for months now. Even when he got off early he would head to the gun range to “get his aim ready for the apocalypse.” The baby was taking a strain on him. He held up well, remarkably well, better than she had. Naima was the love of her life, as well as the bottomless well where she tossed in every waking hour of her day. Sure she could maybe leave her alone here and there, she was six months after all, but she knew that within ten minutes the screaming and crying would start and there’d she be, holding the squirming mass to her breast. She squinted at the glaring white lights of the store and swung her grocery bag from side to side, not thinking about where she was going as she walked towards the Personal Care aisle. She passed colorful packages of tissues, toothpaste, and tampons, and studied the boxes of diapers, selecting what she gathered was the medium tier. Down the aisle there was a young man looking at conditioner. He was rubbing his mouth and kept looking back and forth from his phone to the bottles. “Having trouble?” she said “I guess so. I’m supposed to get something with coconut oil, but there’s like five of them with that.” “Do what I do.” “What’s that?” She picked up a nondescript bottle and put it in his hands. “Get the cheapest,” she said. He laughed a little at this, “I like the way you think. Who are those for?” he said, pointing to the box in her hand. “Naima- or uh, my daughter.” “Bit late to be running out for that.” She didn’t quite like that, but he gave her a quick sympathetic smile that she returned. “Yeah I was going to earlier but you know how it is,” she started walking back down the aisle. “I can help you,” the man said, his voice even. She stopped and turned back to him. He was still looking at her nicely enough, his eyes almost seemed to be scanning her. “Excuse me, I have to go.” She turned and started walking back again. Suddenly much more aware of how empty the store was at this time. She didn’t hear him follow, just the sound of her own flip flops hitting the floor a bit faster than normal. She cast a glance over at the two employees by the service kiosk who were chatting away, hardly even noticing her. She wanted to be through self check out and back in her car as quickly as possible. Would she tell Maurice about it? No, probably not. He’d get worried, and he already had so much to deal with. The self checkout machine blared out to her in its automated voice, asking if she had a membership card. She cursed it silently and quickly scanned the box of diapers, leaving well before the receipt was curling out of the slot. In the black reflection of the plate glass windows of the store she saw the man calmly scanning the bottle of conditioner. Her heart beat a little louder in her ears, she hadn’t even heard him walking up. She kept her eyes fixed on his reflection as she walked out the sliding doors. The night air was humid and hung still. Across the parking lot a car sat by a stop sign, its red brake lights casting a faint glow on her face. Her little Hyundai was parked thirty yards away. She put her phone up to her ear and pretended to be talking to someone, a trick she had learned in college. This soothed her anxiety a bit, not as much as the Atavil would when she got back into her car, but enough for now. She crossed the lane in front of the store and her footsteps echoed across the empty lot. Twenty yards away. Behind her she heard the sliding door open again, and she began to walk a little faster. Fifteen yards now. She thought she heard someone behind her but she couldn’t be sure, she was too afraid to look. At ten yards her heart was racing in her chest, it was hard to hear anything else. She took out her keys, gripping them tightly in her hands, trying to calm herself down. Her legs felt rubbery and weak, her eyes were hot. She made herself turn. He was standing ten feet away, silhouetted by the dim yellow street light just above and behind him. He looked bigger, much bigger than he did in the store, and he wasn’t moving. Her mind tried to project a face, an identity onto the dark human cut-out before her. She could feel his eyes staring back at her, all over her. He moved towards her. She was yanking at the handle of the driver side door. She didn’t remember moving to get there. The handle pulled but with no click of the opening latch, she forgot to unlock the car. A quiet moan escaped her as she looked up into the reflection of the window and saw that dark figure raise its hand to the back of her head and with sudden force, thrust her head against the side of the door frame. The first thing she noticed was that she was on her back. There was something covering her eyes, it felt soft but was wrapped tight around her head which made the aching pain in her forehead protest even louder. Worse than the pain was the smell. Wherever she was the air smelled cold and closed in, damp, stale. It smelled like overripe cucumbers. She could feel something crawling up her calf and tried to shake it off but her legs were bound tight to what felt like a cold metal table. She went to move her hand to brush it off but her arms were trapped just as her legs, with straps like the ones they used to restrain mentally ill patients. Naima. The word flashed in her head like a big red neon sign outside a Las Vegas casino. The baby, my baby, she’s all alone. God I only left her for ten minutes. Hot tears wet the cloth over her eyes and ran down the side of her face. She thought about screaming but she was too upset, too scared, too confused to do so. Instead she started hyperventilating. She could hear herself gasping, the pressure building up inside here like a crescendo of panic and fear. Her mind flashed to the prescription bottle of Ativan in her car. God, where was her car? Where was she? What was crawling up her leg? “You need to relax,” a voice said, and this time she did scream. “Where’s my baby?!” “Wherever you left- it?” “Oh Jesus, what are you doing? Let me go, please let me go let me go let me go let me-” “It was easy to get you here,” said the voice that she could hear slowly orbiting around her. “Dark parking lot in the middle of the night. You should know better. You weren’t even carrying pepper spray, I know, I checked your bag.” Mary strained against the straps, against the pain in her head, and against the creeping thing that was now marching slowly up her thigh. She began to sob. “Your head must be killing you,” said the voice in a quiet, comforting way. “I’m sorry I had to do… what I did. I was scared you would get away.” “Why are you doing this,” Mary said in between sobs, almost screaming. “What the fuck do you want!?” “You. I want you.” The voice was quiet for a time. The crawling thing was onto her canvas shorts now but she didn’t notice. “I think you’re beautiful, so beautiful, almost perfect. I want to help you become... immaculate. You’re so close. I don’t want you to worry about your head, you’ll never see a scar, I’m good at what I do. You’ll never see.” Before she could respond her phone erupted somewhere distant in the room. It must have been sitting on a table because she could hear a loud buzzing sound. The voice growled in rage and rushed away, a moment later she heard a loud crack that must have been her phone flung shattering against the floor. Her mind tried to gauge how long she had been down here. She could feel the dried blood pulling on the skin of her forehead, maybe a couple hours at the most. Maurice would be home soon, he could take care of the baby, Naima must be screaming loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear. Somewhere in the back of her head she thought she could hear her infant child wailing in the distance. Almost as if he read her mind, the man said: “Please don’t try to scream. No one can hear you down here, it’s just you and I now. But you won’t be down here long. I won’t leave you down here with all these nasty little things.” She heard a quiet crushing sound, like stepping on a pine cone, and the cucumber smell increased. She was much more aware of the creeping crawling sensation that by now was exploring her exposed midriff. Suddenly his hands were on her, one of them resting gently on her thigh, the other plucking up what was just over her navel. In the darkness under her blindfold she could feel the air being displaced as his hand moved it towards her mouth. “Kiss?” And she could feel its antennae frantically probing her lips, its spindly legs scratching them, it released it’s pheromones and the stench made her gag, making a gurgling sound that contrasted sickeningly with the tittering laughter of the man still holding the bug to her face. She would scream but she was afraid if she opened her mouth he would drop it in. The smell was everywhere, in her mouth, in her nose, in her brain. She didn’t sense his hand pull away. She had concentrated every ounce of her being into not throwing up and only distantly heard the sound of the man crushing the insect between his fingers. Then he was back, squeezing her jaw with more force than she thought he possessed and said quietly: “I will help you.” He took off the blindfold. The light that shown in her eyes was blinding but in time she was able to focus on the large mechanical arm, like the ones dentists used, that beamed light down into her face. She gagged again when she saw three stink bugs crawling lazily across its surface, had they been crawling all along her when she was unconscious? She peered around the room. Everything else was bathed in darkness, the vague outline of a shelf, a washing machine, and what looked like a set of ancient narrow stairs leading up out of the basement. To her right she heard the clinking silverware sound and she could see the man hunched over a long metal table. “I’m sorry for the delay, I just want to make sure everything is done correctly. Co-rrect-ly. You’ll be happy to know I use anaesthetic now. It’s much quieter, easier for both of us.” “Wh-what?” “I am going to fix you. Make you what you’re meant to be. I want you to understand I do this all out of love, out of love for your beauty, for what you will become.” He turned around and her eyes grew wide and white with terror at the syringe in his hand. At this she finally screamed, screamed as loud as she could, louder than Naima screamed when she woke her up at 5 AM that morning, standing in her crib and howling. Mary’s arms and legs writhed against the straps and for a split second she thought she felt a give until he slapped her hard across the face. In stunned silence the tears fell freely down her cheeks, she was whimpering. The syringe needle entered just under her left cheekbone. “Local aesthetic, I’d put you under if I thought I could bring you back out.” She strained at the leather strap across her forehead, the back of her head now aching against the cold metal table top. Soon though she could feel her face going numb, a bitter taste in her mouth seemed to flow from there and then down throughout her body, into her arms and legs which laid like lead against her sides. She couldn’t tell if she even had a body anymore, she could feel nothing, not even her own breathing. The man placed the syringe back on the table and in its place appeared a small scalpel. In her mind she was leaping off the table and up those rickety stairs, out of the black nothingness, but still she lay motionless. Near the spot where he injected the paralyzing liquid, the man made what must have been a small circular cut. She could feel a vague pressure on her cheek. She remembered being nineteen, the summer before her sophomore year at WSU, getting her wisdom teeth taken out, the sound of metal scraping against bone, ripping flesh. She could see his fingers maneuvering little metal instruments like chopsticks, covered in crimson blood. He wasn’t wearing gloves. After what could have been an hour or five minutes, the pressure moved from her left cheek to the right, then the center of her face. Soon she wasn’t able to breathe out of her nose, she could feel something oozing into the back of her throat and tried to cough but couldn’t. In some far away corner of her mind she prayed that her gag reflex wouldn’t kick in, fearing she would choke and die on this table. The man yanked hard on her nose, the pressure mounting until with a pop he fell back, holding a white sliver of bone in his hand. More blood oozed down her throat. With equal force he pressed something down hard on her face, whatever was left of it at least, so hard that she could see stars forming in her vision. When he released she could not breathe through her nose at all, stopped up tighter than the worst cold of her life. Apparently satisfied with his work he gave a small chuckle and plugged something into a wall socket behind her head, then she heard the buzzing whine of an electric razor. She heard him unstrap the leather bindings across her forehead and cradled her head in his hand and began to shave her hair off. Stray strands fell into her eyes and she tried to blink them away. The numbing effect was less potent near the back of her head and she could feel the razor travelling across her scalp. A rustling sound and she felt him placing something on her shaved head, a wig. It fit tight, pulling the skin above her eyebrows taut and making it nearly impossible to close her eyes. Letting her head fall back down loudly on the metal table, he restrapped the leather bindings and pried her mouth open, fitting in a metal wire brace to hold it in place. Somewhere in the numb unconscious of her mind her gag reflex finally won her over. With a sickening gurgle she vomited, but it became stuck in her throat and quickly the air was completely cut off. Alarms screamed inside her head but she still could not move, her eyes darted around their sockets. The man, whose face she still couldn’t make out due to the bright light directly above his head, only stared back at her silently. He yanked the wire brace out of her mouth, taking a few teeth with it, and then he kicked the table over on its side. The dark room lurched before her eyes as she slammed into the concrete floor, the heavy metal table bearing down on her from above. She vomited again but could now feel air roaring back into her burning lungs. Rasps escaped her and just as violently as she was flung down the man heaved the table back up into place and secured the straps. The feeling was beginning to return into her legs, she felt a wetness around her crotch. “You’ll learn to keep it down now won’t you? God you stink, not much left to do.” He opened her mouth, put the brace back in, and soon she felt immense pressure on her top gums, a yank, and a sound like a wine cork being pulled. He held up one of her incisors, gripped by his pliers, in front of her eyes. Tossing it aside, he fit the pliers around her other incisor, the pressure came, and then suddenly a hideous cracking, like a branch being snapped. Her tooth had shattered. “Don’t worry I have new ones for you. Not too big, bright and shiny.” Her fingertips were coming to life then, she could feel the cold air of the basement again and with horror she began to imagine the pain that would engulf her entire mind when the aesthetic wore off. The pain would blot out the world, would blot out the terror, would even blot out Naima. She wished for death. “Darren, son you need to go to bed it’s late.” The black figure snapped into attention like a deer in the headlights at the sound of feeble voice calling from far away, somewhere above their heads. “I’ll be up soon momma, you just go on to bed now.” His voice when he had spoken to her sounded frantic, monotone, inhuman. Now when he replied to that voice from above he affected a submissive whine. Sensation was reentering her body faster and faster by now. She could feel the raw skin of her wrists where she had pulled against the straps, and then her arms. She had to escape before the pain hit and blinded every sensibility. The black figure named Darren was back at his instrument table muttering soft curses to his mother who by now must have shuffled back into whatever stale bedroom she came from. Without really planning it, the thought entered her head. She began rocking back and forth on the table. The leather straps creaked a bit and the loose bolts holding the legs to the table squeaked but not enough for Darren to notice. She rocked harder and harder, urging against the leg straps that were looser than they should have been, he had neglected to secure them after knocking her over before. The table groaned as two of its legs were now leaving the ground at a time. Darren whipped around, the light finally catching his face. He was handsome, young, but that disarming grin he gave her in the supermarket was replaced by the bared teeth and all-white eyes of a man enraged. He lept up to catch her but the table fell again. The strap holding her head down snapped and her forehead hit the concrete with a hollow sounding thud. The room went black before her eyes. Vaguely she felt her body dry heaving. The numbness was gone but the pain was distant, she was detached now from her body. Hovering in the air of the basement she saw her torso half laying out of the leather restraints of the table, her body violently spasming. Darren was pacing frantically beside her bleeding head, the area just above her left eye a red mass of flesh and blood already pasting strands of the bad blonde wig to her forehead. His nerve broke. “Oh fuckfuckfuck I’m sorry. I wanted to help you, I did, I promise I wanted to make you better, I-. I’m going to let you go, but you can’t tell anyone, you can’t. You don’t know me.” Inarticulate groans came out of her mouth, her tongue lazily exploring the gap where her two front teeth had been. He knelt down beside her and began undoing the straps, her eyes focused on a stink bug crawling slowly through the puddle of blood that her head had left. Red on green. The bug became two, then four, and then her vision fractalled out of existence. When it returned she woke up on the cold dewey grass of a front lawn. She could hear automatic sprinklers chirping off somewhere distant. Her head was a mountain of pain, every pulse of her heart beat like a drum that throbbed and pushed even more agony than she thought could exist into consciousness. She pulled herself into a ball, groaning with each tiny muscle movement. She could not move her face, it felt like a mask. Her eyes burned and her vision was foggy, she peered out through blades of finely cut grass to a small one story house. Her house. Naima. In an instant pain was replaced by a bottomless fear for her baby. She was on her feet. A distant place in her brain informed her that her left leg had been broken somewhere below her knee, and there was a crunching grinding sound as she walked. The motion sensing lights went on and cast a crooked shadow behind her. Her sticky hands felt behind her and by some miracle produced her house keys. She fumbled with the lock, it was hard as her vision kept blurring in and out of focus. Her head, God her head was killing her. She slid through the door and headed down past the kitchen to Naima’s room. Maurice got off early that night and he was driving home. His floor had been quiet, just watchinng the clock spin. He wanted to go to the range but he hadn’t really seen Mary in three days. She worked hard for that child, every day of maternity leave from the school was spent in dedication to their little Naima. So he decided to surprise her, turn the engine off and coast into the driveway in neutral like he had done when they were in highschool while sneaking out. About a block away he flicked away a half smoked cigarette out the window. He promised her and himself that he’d quit soon. Lung cancer got his grandmother. He’d do it for Naima. But with these back to back shifts at the hospital, a man needed something to take the edge off, and when he couldn’t go to the shooting range a camel or two would do the trick. The car rolled silently into the driveway. He got out and walked to the door, not noticing the droplets of blood on the grass or the red bricks of their walkway. He’d get into bed with her, pull her close to him, and if the baby was quiet, they’d sleep the whole night through for the first time in months. Then he caught sight of the bloody smudges around the lock and his heart stopped, it froze then and there in time. He saw his eyes in the reflection of the glass door, they were recessed now, drawn back into his face and alert. He moved to his car, never looking away from the house. Opening the passenger door as quietly as he could he felt under the seat for his .38, the one his dad got him for Christmas that year. He was back at the front door. He held the gun tightly in his right hand and pushed on the doorknob, feeling it give, it was unlocked. His breath came slow, he could feel streams of sweat pouring cold down from his armpits. He stared into the darkness of the living room. Framed family pictures, not even as old as Naima, stared at him in amazement, at the man in scrubs carrying a gun. It was still and quiet save for his hissing breath, until he heard the baby begin to scream. His legs lost their strength and his whole body, an impressive 190 pounds of bulk and muscle began to shake. As quietly and as quickly as he could he moved down the carpeted hall to Naima’s room. The light was on, he could see a tall shadow swaying across the bedroom wall, the smiling faces of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet juxtaposed against his own, covered in beads of sweat. He entered the doorway, the gun held firmly with both hands, hammer cocked back and finger on the trigger. His eyes were wide open. Over by Naima’s crib there was a woman. She was bent over, peering down at his infant daughter who was screaming louder than he had ever heard. Blonde hair hung limp from her head, and he could see blood seeping out of her scalp and falling into the crib. The woman’s body was shaking in waves, as if she were crying, or laughing. He heard his voice yell to get away and she lifted her head up to see him. Her eyes were wide open in a look of shock, they were bloodshot and he thought he could see a grey film of dust over them. Her eyebrows arched grotesquely high and far to the sides of her face, a face that was red and puffy. Her nose was impossibly thin and crooked on her face. Both her lips were pulled back in a hideous oval around the few teeth she had, they were bloodstained, a large gap right front and center. He was sure of nothing in that moment other than that he was staring straight at a monster. He aimed, held his breath, and pulled the trigger. Dead center, her forehead exploded in red. Her body jumped a little and then slid over onto the crib, for a moment he was worried it would collapse under the weight but she slumped off of it and onto the carpeted floor, her filmy eyes staring up at the ceiling that he and Mary had pasted glow in the dark stars to the summer before. He ran over to the crib and picked up Naima whose little blue singlet was speckled in blood and viscera. She was no longer crying, but Maurice was. He cradled his daughter, trying to keep her face away from that dead woman on the floor. He called out for Mary and collapsed to the floor of the hallway, holding Naima in his arms, until the police came. They got him out of the house fast and took him in for questioning, he couldn’t understand why. They weren’t telling him anything, they wouldn’t let Mary see him. They even brought in a public attorney who just looked at him in sad confusion. He was sitting on a metal chair in an interrogation room, just like the ones he saw all the time on TV. He looked at the wall-length mirror and wondered who was behind it. A deputy came in and sat down across from him, he looked uncomfortable, wouldn’t make eye contact. He held up a manilla folder and slid it across the table to Maurice. Looking down at his hands the deputy spoke. “Uh, sir, we’re having trouble identifying the victim, and we-” “What do you mean victim? Victim my ass, that.. thing, that thing was in my house. I was protecting my daughter.” “Yes sir, we understand it’s just, can you look at these photos please.” “I want to know where my daughter is being kept first, I want to know where Mary is.” The deputy rubbed his eyes. It was late, probably close to 4:30 in the morning. “Your daughter, Mr. Hader, is with social services right now. We’ve contacted your wife’s mother who should be there to pick her up soon.” “And Mary?” “We’re looking for your wife now.” Maurice let out a long moan that filled the interrogation room. He still had blood on his scrubs and his shoes. The deputy pushed the file towards him and sat back in his chair, eyes locked on his hands. Maurice opened the first page which held photographs taken in his little girl’s room. He had to look away and shut his eyes tight so he wouldn’t scream. Most of the woman’s head was gone above the nose. Blood and brains were covering the flower print carpet in Naima’s room. He quickly flipped the photo over. The next shot was of the woman’s torso, one arm crossed over a shirt so caked in blood you couldn’t read what was on the design. He almost flipped that photo over too, until he recognized the ring on his wife’s finger.
Just completed an awesome 2 month road trip in EU and wanted to share my experience.
My wife and I are both retired, low-budget seniors. We have been in Europe several times before, but this trip we decided to extend to two months, much longer than previous trips. Since we are somewhat budget travelers, we wanted to keep costs as low as possible, however, we are too old to want to travel as backpackers. We decided on a road trip since the cost of renting a car is dirt cheap, way cheaper than trains and it gave us the opportunity to stop when we want, explore the smaller centres and just generally be more flexible. We are not huge fans of big cities and have seen a lot of the major attractions before, so we wanted to travel at a slower pace and experience more of the backroads. Our Itinerary: Flew Vancouver to Gatwick via WestJet return, then Easyjet to Edinburgh. We rented a car in Edinburgh and after a couple of days touring Edinburgh, road tripped the Highlands for a week then returned to Edinburgh. We flew Edinburgh to Basel, Switzerland by EasyJet, took the train to Freiburg and rented our long-term car there. We drove through the Alsace area of France 4 days, then drove into Switzerland 3 days, back into Germany about 10 days touring Rhine Valley, east into Bavaria, then 5 days Czech Republic and Prague, then 3 days in Slovakia, 5 days in Hungary and Budapest, 4 days in Austria, 3 in Slovenia, 7 days in Italy, back into Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and returned the car in Freiburg. We flew out Basel to Gatwick and home. Total trip cost was $220Can/day for 55 days. Ways we economized:
We saved on all luggage fees by having only cabin baggage. We packed very light. Once we had the long term car, we provisioned up with a cooler bag, utensils, some cooking supplies at a dollar store in France, bought used clothes at a couple of thrift stores.
We bought a cheap Sim card in Freiburg at an internet cafe when we arrived. We used a Lebara Sim card which gave us 30 days / 5 gigs, 3G coverage for 20 euro. We renewed the 30 days once. Our primary usage was Google Maps and the Airbnb app.
For driving, we set GMaps to avoid all toll roads and it did an excellent job doing that. I can't tell you how great that option is. Avoiding toll roads slowed our pace substantially, it gave us the opportunity to see the small towns and villages, and we paid zero toll charges - except the time the dumbass driver decided not to listen to GMaps and drove into a toll zone. The car was a very economical Skoda and gas costs were not a significant part of our overall costs. In mainland EU, we rented through Europcar and the rate was 8 euros/day throughout the trip. I insured the car through our Visa Platinum.
Airbnb was excellent. We set the filter as low as possible to get bookings in areas we were traveling through. Rates are much lower in fall and we had no problems booking the same day, but we tried to book at least a day or two ahead once we decided on the general route.
If traveling to large cities, we tried to book on the fringes, then rode transit into town, that way we kept our accommodation cost lower, we were more likely to find places to ourselves with a private bath, we didn't have to drive in the large cities and less noise.
Most places we stayed had at least a microwave oven and fridge so about 80% of the time we ate meals from supermarkets like Lidl, Tesco (our favourite) and Coop. We bought wine in the supermarkets in 3L boxes (we would also splurge on the good stuff), bought beer there as well - super cheap. Some accommodations had a full kitchen so we would buy ingredients to actually cook a nice meal.
Total cost was $220Can/day for 55 days. Areas we traveled that were a pleasant surprise:
Alsace region. Beautiful architecture, rolling hills, the FOOOOD.
Switzerland was actually very reasonable cost-wise as a road trip. The Airbnb was in the country, we traveled through the area around Bern and brought our own food, we had to pay a $40euro highway pass, but that was about our only significant cost.
Rhine valley, Germany
Spa region of western Czechia. Wow! Cheb, Karlovy Vary, Pilsen. This region was my favourite.
Rural Slovakia, particularly the area around Martin
The drive from Linz, Austria into Slovenia.
Lake Bled region has been mentioned here many times, but is really worth visiting. We splurged here and got a 100 Euro room at a new casino in Kranjska Gora. Beautiful spa there.
Mountainous region of Tuscany.
Naples and the Amalfi Coast region.
For major cities, I'd say Budapest was number one, although Prague, Edinburgh, Vienna, Rome, Naples were all phenomenal. Bern and Luzern were also very beautiful. As I said though, major cities were not really a big part of the overall trip.
I could go on, but really, there were very few disappointments, perhaps the farming regions of Germany and northeast Italy and maybe the beach zones along the coasts of Italy.
Hi folks, Any feedback is welcome whether it's advice, TLC, or some hard home-truths. I'll be as succinct as I can be:* \having just finished I can see that I've given a lot of history and can be a bit 'ranty' at times. I hope it's still worth reading.) TL/DR:Allow financially ruined MIL to move in; snoop on MIL's phone; discover MIL's revived gambling addiction; discover MIL slandering me to DW and BIL1; I want MIL gone but DW doesn't; I've actually become the bully. The distant past I started dating my wife (DW) 18 years ago (we're both 36 now) and have been married the last 7. DW comes from a different cultural background (W. African) but has grown up here in the UK since the latter part of her childhood. I have always got on well with MIL as she is an amiable person who is very good at making friends. There are some cultural issues that I struggled to accept. For example, there is an expectation to almost venerate anyone even slightly older (I've seen DW look down on people 6 months her junior) even if their character or actions are not worthy of respect. I feel that MIL has used such cultural differences to subtly manipulate her children in an effort to shield herself not just from criticism but from a mere questioning of her position. On a personal level, MIL is just absolutely terrible with money; she is very materialistic and flashy; she has a gambling problem; has spent years out of work; been indebted to loan sharks; applied for store cards in her childrens' names. I initially found it quite shocking when we started dating at 18 years of age that MIL's BF would march DW crying to the nearest ATM to withdraw cash from the little money she earned from her Saturday job. If my DW did not acquiesce she was called 'stingy' or made to feel that she was ungrateful towards her mother. This all came to a head at the start of the recession in 2009 when MIL declared herself bankrupt. I'm not sure of the exact details but she was able to avoid foreclosure of her home and continued to live there until around 2016 when the eventual rise in property prices meant the bank would be able to recover their debts. Although she was unemployed for almost all of this period she did make a successful effort to curb her gambling and limit her extravagance. She also rented out literally every room in her house to source an income, and, of course, continued to 'borrow' thousands from DW and BIL1,2,3 This time roughly coincides with the birth of our daughter (DD) who was/is extremely sick. DD has a very complex heart and lung disease as a result of a genetic disorder and spent most of the first 2 years of life in hospital. I have lost count of the number of surgeries and interventions she has had or the number of times that we've been told that 'this was it'. I have had to perform CPR on her myself on 2 occasions. Around the time of my daughter's second birthday her health had begun to make a turn for the better and it looked as though we might be discharged home for good. However, DD would be coming home on a ventilator and would need constant 1:1 supervision. With my MIL's pending homelessness and our obvious need for practical support someone had the bright idea (I don't even know who's idea it was) that MIL moves in with us. I was apprehensive given her poor financial history and I thought that living with someone who demanded the respect she did might be difficult. Further still, it was obvious (certainly now) that it would be very difficult to extricate ourselves from this arrangement without causing a great deal of upset. BIL1,2,3 all had their own properties but no room for MIL and although we were renting we were the only ones with room for her. I eventually agreed that she could live in our house and said that I would expect no rent from her. Firstly, I thought she could do with a helping hand in finding her feet again, financially speaking; secondly, that by accepting rent from her would grant her tenant rights and would make it difficult to ask her to leave should things not work out. This arrangement was conditional on the understanding that whatever money she would recover from the sale of her property (less debts) she would gift towards a deposit for a more suitable property for the benefit of us all. If we found ourselves in financial difficulty we would expect her to contribute whatever she could to keep a roof over our heads and we would expect her help with the domestic running of the house and the care of our daughter. Lastly, she should never, ever ask us for money again. As it happens, she contributed nothing towards a deposit after she moved in. I expected that there might be little or nothing left over the sale of her property when accounting for her debts so this did not surprise me, however, it was irritating to find her cagey when asked about the matter (remember that she doesn't like being questioned) and was always vague when asked about the precise numbers involved. Oh well! She did find work again but also found herself back in the local casinos. Whilst I thought this was very foolish on her part I was also a little sympathetic that she had no social life. She had, after all, lost many of her friends through arguments over money. At least this was a way to get her out of the house and if she wasn't troubling me or DW for money then what did it matter? Being bankrupt meant that she had no access to 'traditional' credit so it would be difficult for her to cause any financial difficulties for us in any case. However, she soon began asking her children for money to which they always caved in. I just don't understand! She an addict guys, you're not helping her! Aside from the fact this is breaking a second condition for her moving in, I don't understand how someone with a steady income and with no outgoings is having to beg for money. As part of her domestic contribution, DW would ask MIL to pick up essential household items. This too soon descended into farce; MIL would refuse to pay even £2 for a load of bread and pint of milk, not even on a you-now-owe-me-£2-I-collect-later basis. MIL would stand in front at a cashier for up to 30 minutes on the phone to DW harassing her to transfer some money. Often this would be when DW was dealing with an emergent situation with my daughter and couldn't respond. I cannot understand how you cannot spare two fricking pounds!! To resolve the issue DW thought it would be a good idea to give the MIL a debit card to an unused bank account where we would put in money from our joint account to use entirely for these sort of circumstances. Her argument would be that it would give us more visibility on what the money was being spent on. Stupidly, I agreed. Very soon I was seeing payments for fuel, the occasional spend at a department store, or a cash withdrawal. There was never anything super extravagant but it would always be hidden amongst other household expenditure and would occasionally cause the account to go overdrawn. I began to grow more frustrated; not only did she not contribute anything from the sale of her property, and not only is she not contributing anything from her current income, she was becoming a financial drain. I don't mind helping anyone out but we are not talking about someone going through hard times (we still willingly send money to her Dad in W Africa) or someone who is sick, elderly, or disabled. We are talking about a grown woman of working age who is in full-time employment and who should have learned a very hard lesson about financial management by now. At the very least she should be thinking of her own future and retirement and using the last years of her working life to save at least something to live on. At this point the cultural paradigm of having to frequently gift one's elders with money was beginning to cause division between DW and I. When I would ask DW about such transactions she would attempt to cover up MIL's behaviour by trying to claim some of these transactions were made on her behalf. Ultimately, DW thinks that I should just let this low-level theft slide. I think from the sake of my own sanity that she's right but I just cannot understand why DW and BIL1,2,3 do not stand up to MIL. In her favour, MIL was actually very good with the domestic running of the house; always making sure meals were cooked and that the laundry was done. DW thinks I am ungrateful and fail to recognise what she does do, but whilst I am actually very grateful I point out that this was a condition of her moving in. There are there are the other typical issues that go with living with a MIL (and this MIL in particular). Aside from the obvious loss of privacy I feel that she would try to influence my daughter's upbringing in a way I'm not totally comfortable with. She would chastise my daughter's carers over petty things like the way they might greet her in the morning. Whilst she is very good at cooking and she leaves dirt and grease all over the kitchen and finger print marks on the walls throughout the house. She's heavy handed and constantly breaks things. Just the usual living-with-other-people stuff that I might ordinarily let slide but when coupled with the other issues her presence eventually became like a dripping tap and I knew I would snap very soon. The recent past\* \3 months ago.) DW and I have both tried to work despite having a very sick child. We aspire to move out of the ghetto we live in and lead as normal and happy a life as possible given our circumstances. DW earns at least twice as much as I do but there is so much more of a demand on her in her role, particularly in terms of commuting and travelling overseas. On the other hand, I work two miles from our home, in a role I have more a less defined myself, and for an employer who is very easy to impress. Therefore, it makes sense that it falls upon me to do the pick-up and drop-off for DD, and although both DW and I attend the more important appointments, it is solely up to me to attend the many less important ones she has. I am left with DD after she comes back from school until DW comes home in the evening, and it usually falls upon me to do my daughter's daily medical cares with one of our carers. I'm not looking for pity as DW does a tremendous amount to balance a demanding job with looking after DD, but if anything goes wrong it is the unspoken expectation that I be the one to pick things up. Both our employers have been extremely flexible with us particularly when our daughter's been in hospital. DW thinks I can do better for myself. Whilst I agree, I think that given how hard, under present circumstances, to give enough to an already flexible employer, in a role I should be able to do with my eyes closed, that it would be almost impossible to take on a more demanding role. MIL is supposed to help look after our daughter some afternoons and during school breaks whilst I 'work from home', but I often found myself pulled away from my work as MIL has become preoccupied; preparing a meal (I know I shouldn't moan about that) or getting ready for bingo (which I feel okay to moan about). I have found her to be carelessly inattentive; occasionally she has brought a 2 y/o cousin round and I have often caught him about to run out onto the road and once had found him at the bottom of the stairs after having fallen down from the top. Basically, I am picking up more of the slack than DW realises and my position at work is becoming increasingly untenable. One day this spring break, the MIL disappeared on three separate occasions when she was supposed to be looking after DD. The first was to go to the supermarket, the second to visit a friend, and the last to go to the casino. I'm supposed to be getting work done from home and she had already agreed to childmind so I begin to quietly seethe. When DW came home that evening I blew up over all the issues with MIL and what I saw as DW's unwillingness to challenge her. I felt that she was refusing to see how her behaviour was becoming impossibly burdensome to the family but particularly to me. I left home and stayed at a hotel for a few nights primarily to get away from it all but also to put DW in the position I was in. i.e. having to juggle care whilst doing a full-time job. In hindsight I've not been able to decide if going away for a few nights was a good idea or not; certainly, for my sake of mind it felt like I had no other option but since returning home I have begun to suspect that MIL has started to turn DW against me. Things settle down a bit and we spent the following weekend with some family friends. On the way back, DW gets a call from MIL to say she has found some a bug in her bed and that we (DW and I) will have to pay £300 to have her room fumigated. I say nothing but find myself keeping my feelings bottled up once again. I have no idea where these bed bugs cam from but the infestation seems confined to MIL's room, yet we find ourselves having to pay for it despite her never paying a frigging penny in the house! Not a few days later I see two separate £100 cash withdrawals from the card the MIL had been given so now I'm furious. I ask DW about these and she has no idea what they're about. She calls her mum and apparently an Aunty had left her purse on the train, so MIL had decided to give £200 of our money away without even asking. At this point I am about to blow my top! The next day (or the day after) I see MIL's phone alone in the kitchen and knowing she has no security on it I decide to snoop through her messages (remember to give it to me straight, Reddit). My intention was to see any messages between this Aunty and MIL that either verified or otherwise her version of events. What I see are messages that show that on a typical night that they are at the casino (maybe 3/4 times a week) they might spend £200-300 a night. In one message I see that MIL is asking Aunty to transfer ~£1200 to her account. I don't know if this was because it was shared winnings or if it was to cover a significant loss but it's clear to me the sums of money they are dealing in. Bear in mind that she cannot even spend a mere £2 on bread and milk. I am almost apoplectic, but not quite. Suspecting that MIL was turning her against me I decided to snoop further. What I see are messages calling me selfish, a bully, an idiot, a chameleon who pretends to be nice to her face. These are a little irritating to see but do not over concern me because there is probably some truth in them all; having children has certainly made me realise that I am more selfish than I had noticed, and perhaps I truly am an idiot for letting MIL into our home. I do pretend to be nice to her despite my feelings for the sake of peace in my home, so I see the chameleon thing more as a compliment that the insult it was intended to be. What was more troubling were messages along the lines of 'he's not worth it'. I sense the implication behind those words but having since asked DW what she thought MIL meant I have yet to receive a straight answer. The closest I get to an answer from DW is that 'I am my own woman and can make up my own mind!'. What really blind-sided me was the message she had sent to BIL1 accusing me of abandoning DD. She said almost unintelligibly 'whys his pledge to his daughter?' and 'he calls himself a dad, pfft'. She made out that I didn't like spending time with DD. BIL1's response was merely that I am an attention seeker. Again, DW has since tried to downplay these remarks because MIL doesn't explicitly say 'cherrygander is a terrible father', but for me the intent is there. After seeing these messages I immediately approached DW to ask if she thought I was a bad father. She looked shocked at the question and firmly said 'no' but asked who had said that I was. I told DW it was MIL that said this and with MIL being in the next room I immediately confronted her about it. She tried to play dumb and DW asked where this had all come from. I told her she had better ask BIL1. I went upstairs to get a few things before heading out and punched the wall in a fit of rage and ended up breaking my hand. I have long had issues with anger but I have learned over time to become more stoic. This was a total failure! In hindsight I feel disappointed not in the harm I caused myself but that I couldn't use this anger more constructively (or cunningly). In any case these were just the opinions of an imbecile and shouldn't have mattered to me. I think because of all the trauma we have been through with the well-being of DD, seeing her so close to death so many times, it was hard to hear anyone question my fatherhood. No-one could say that either DW or I have been any less than totally and utterly devoted to DD but yet here they were doing just that. This felt like an attack on my perception of reality and my extension my very sanity. The MIL has since moved in with my BIL ostensibly because of the bed bugs. My anger has not even subsided a little bit since then and feel that MIL had stabbed me in the back. More worryingly I feel a little betrayed by DW too for even lending her ear to that sort of nonsense. I feel that we might be able to work things out if she appreciated just how strongly I feel about this or how much it matters but feel like I'm not being listened to at all. Consequently, our marriage has begun to suffer. At a recent gathering with mutual friends I was asked if MIL was still living with us. I say 'no' and quickly move on. When someone later says to DW that they hear MIL has moved out she thinks I've been telling all and sundry about our family life. She looks at me with total contempt and says that MIL and I have just had a 'tiff' and that no-one has moved out. I'm being made to feel like I'm just having a 'hissy fit'. DW tells me that she cannot kick her own mother of our house and feels that I am forcing her to make an unreasonable choice between MIL on one hand and me on the other. I can see why she might think this but it is an inaccurate perception. My request is not that she must never talk to MIL again but that I should not be forced to live with a woman that I neither chose to marry or bring into this world. MIL's claims of me being a bully are suddenly becoming self-fulfilling as it seems (from their point of view) that I am trying to control who DW has contact with. In DW's mind her mind, MIL hasn't left at all but as far as I am concerned she is gone for good. To avoid being seen as trying to stoke the flames I have foolishly not forced the issue of what to do with MIL's belongings. In hindsight, I think this may have given the impression that there is a possibility that may change my position. I would like to sit down, just the two of us, to work out our differences but DW wants a three-way discussion involving MIL which I see as an attempt to coerce me to into letting MIL stay. When I ask for a one to one conversation she says that I am too difficult to talk to. She is probably right too but I refuse to have my intelligence insulted with horse-shit excuses on behalf of MIL. Increasingly, it feels like there is a growing gulf between us and I worry resentment is beginning to set in. The now This Sunday, whilst we were doing our daughter's medical cares, we hear someone coming through the front door. DW pops her head out of my daughter's bedroom and see that it's MIL. We finish up and I make it clear to DW that I want MIL to leave. I tell her that her being in the house is as provocative as if I brought my (hypothetical) girlfriend round and I'm liable to say some unpleasant things if she says. DW was typically dismissive and I was made to feel like I was acting up. I stayed upstairs out of the way for the next 5, 15, 45 minutes. Eventually MIL goes and I ask DW if she let her know that she cannot be here whilst I am in the house. She answered in the negative and said MIL would coming back shortly. I simply repeated my request. MIL did come back and left again soon after and this happened a couple more times. The last time she came back she came with FIL who had arrived in the UK just 2 days prior. I repeat my displeasure to DW several more times but my concerns are dismissed. In the end I go down and confront MIL who is in the kitchen cooking a meal for FIL. I ask her to tell me what this supposed pledge to me daughter is that I broke. She just looks disdainfully at me and starts playing dumb. At this point I lose patience in playing these games and tell her to leave. She tells me she's not going anywhere, kisses her teeth, and turns back to her cooking. I just see red! I grab the saucepan and throw it across the floor (very stupid, yes, I know) before shouting at her to leave. Chaos descend with much shouting and pointing fingers in each other's faces. I point out her hypocrisy as she 'abandoned' her own children to a supposedly abusive man in Africa whilst she sought out employment here. I said much, much nastier and personal stuff. She threatened to call the police which I encouraged her to, but she didn't. She did eventually leave but the argument rumbled on between DW and I with FIL seemingly oblivious to events of the past few months. It was a bizarre afternoon, with my parents showing up out of the blue (everyone has a key and our house seems to have a revolving door). Perhaps 20 minutes later, BIL1,2 barge their way into the house push, slap, and attempt to punch me. It's all a frigging circus at this point; I'm shouting at everyone to leave, DW is screaming at everybody hysterically, BIL1 is threatening to cut my throat. At this point I have no option but to call the police myself. By the time the police show up BIL1,2 have gone. Statements are taken and assurances are given that they will follow up on allegations of assault. I said that I didn't want to press charges unless they show up again. However, the police ask me to spend the night away from home until things cool down. The future? It all feels like a bit of a game, like we're all acting out our perceived roles in the Karpman drama triangle (and there definitely is an element of acting). I've decided that I want to stop playing this game and have cut off contact until I'm asked to do otherwise. Apart from a brief 10 minutes to collect some belongings I haven't been back. I'm just waiting for more accusations that I've again abandoned my family. This week we were supposed to be on what would have been our first vacation in five years. As it happens, I've confined myself to a room in my parent's house to mull things over. I don't even know what to do any more. I'm afraid I've become the bully that MIL said I am. This is challenging my perception of reality and actually driving me insane. Then again, how many bullies thinks of themselves as such? I don't think it's true but if that's how DW sees me then it doesn't really matter what I think. I would really appreciate some sage advice right now. Edit: I'm surprised anyone has been able to read this with all the typos. I've tidied up a few. Edit2: I hear clearly the need for therapy, individually and collectively, and it's something I'll to get sorted if DW agrees. I'm glad to see that I'm not going crazy or being totally unreasonable. I appreciate everyone will probably be seeing things from my perspective but it is helpful to have a more external perspective on things. In the immediacy, I am going to give it a few more days before I try going back home or making contact just so that I can clear my head. Thank you all for your replies and words of support. I'll update the sub with any new developments. Edit3: The text messages
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