Category: Miscellaneous

A Lawyer Dog And A Red Herring

The Louisiana Supreme Court’s recent decision about a suspect who asked for a lawyer, dawg is laughable. I wouldn’t try to convince anyone that a reasonable police officer in the situation would think the fellow was asking for a canine of any sort – that’s patently absurd, regardless of Crichton’s Writ of Centiorari.

Ironically, resting on the phrase ‘lawyer dog/dawg’ may allow appeal. The appellate court would observe evidence determining if the findings of fact are erroneous – and these facts are clearly erroneous. There are probably hundreds of hours of American Idol video where a judge is clearly talking to a contestant and not a dog. The suspect’s entire statement — “if y’all, this is how I feel, if y’all think I did it, I know that I didn’t do it so why don’t you just give me a lawyer dog cause this is not what’s up.” (yes, the court transcript misrepresented the slang term dawg as dog and spawned the whole foray into canine litigators) — might reasonably be considered equivocal. A request like “maybe I should talk to a lawyer”, per Davis v. United States, did not count as invoking right to council. The request in this case, correcting the transcription error, was “I know that I didn’t do it, so why don’t you just give me a lawyer, dawg, ’cause this is not what’s up”. It’s not quite as easily construed as a procedural question (e.g. “Ain’t there supposed to be a lawyer in here or something with y’all?” in Nebraska V Relford (2000) … but it’s not “I want to speak with a lawyer” either. Maybe the SC will agree to hear the appeal and we can debate the proper questionable phrase in his request.

Unimaginably Large Numbers

Unimaginably large numbers are, unfortunately, hard to conceptualize. FEMA has delivered 6,200,000 gallons of water to Puerto Rico in the month since Hurricane Maria hit the island. That sounds like a lot of water and probably makes for a good press release. Problem is there are 3.5 million residents. Who should drink half a gallon or so a day (3/4 of a gallon is the WHO recommendation for an adult, but there are kids there too, and I like lazy math). There have been 30 days since the hurricane stuck. Three and a half million people drinking half a gallon of water a day for thirty days is 52,500,000 gallons of water. Not quite 12% of the water needed and my estimate is significantly low.

Doesn’t sound quite so impressive if you say FEMA has delivered 10% of the water needed in Puerto Rico. It also makes breaking into superfund sites to access water more understandable. 100% chance of death if you don’t get water, even an 98% chance of death from poisoning is a better option.

Aquarium Decorations

We’ve had goldfish in an outdoor pond this summer, but will bring them indoors for the winter. It’s starting to get cold at night, so seems like it is about time to get the aquarium set up. Anya picked this bag of day-glo rocks. The bag says you need 1-2 pounds of rocks for each gallon of aquarium. 30 gallon aquarium … and a 25 pound bag of rocks. So we needed a second bag. Talked her into mixing colours because I couldn’t imagine being a fish and looking at such bright stuff all day. Every day. (And then going into the completely earth-tone pond!). She picked black.

While shopping, there were a lot of plastic-looking decorations … but we’ve got rocks everywhere around here (and Scott’s got a collection of rocks too) and decided to build a cave and add some smaller rocks for decoration.

We took a two gallon pail and mixed the aquarium gravel. She ended up using about 80% black rocks and 20% bright, and it looks quite nice. I used two large rocks from Scott’s collection as pillars along the side. Then stacked some slate for a back pillar.

Placed a large piece of slate on top. Voila, a little fish cave.

Finally, we all selected some favourite rocks. Anya chose where they are placed – the smaller ones at the front centre are sofas and chairs for the fish 🙂

The rainbow under the tank is a quick runner I made for the top of the bookshelf. I didn’t want the piece damaged by the tank, so Anya picked the fabric (puzzle pieces). I cut two pieces, added a really thin quilt batting that isn’t thick enough to use for a bed quilt, made a quick quilted runner to place under the tank & ‘stuff’ (air pump, power strip).

Tips For Avoiding Unpleasantness

Mayim Bialik has offered her tips for avoiding sexual harassment and exploitation. This would be like me offering tips to avoid police brutality — be polite, be deferential, don’t make sudden moves, keep your hands visible. Or my tips for avoiding traffic stops in the first place – drive the speed limit, control your vehicle, signal before turns and lane changes. Not bad advice per se, but it completely ignores the fact that my skin tone and gender play a significant part in my success in achieving positive interactions with police officers (or avoiding the interactions to start with). Ignores that, in areas I frequent, police don’t encounter a lot of dangerous traffic stops.

The fact is, her real secret to avoiding harassment wasn’t her clothing or her mannerisms – it was her situation. As others have pointed out, sexual assault is about power. I didn’t wear demure clothing, I had a very open and solicitous personality, but I wasn’t harassed until I needed the job. You need the job to feed your kids or to keep your apartment, then casting directors have a lot of power over you. To start out with, even a lot of skeezy guys stay away from statutory situations. But ignoring age. Get into acting to earn rent money, to feed yourself … that’s a different scenario than Mayim. Get into acting for something to do – you can tell a guy he’s gross. Or refuse to continue the discussion at his hotel restaurant. Then his hotel room.

Corporate Expense Reduction: Energy

One of the things we’ve done with our home automation is tracking energy usage – partially because we want to size out a solar installation and the net metering in Ohio is awesome unless you produce more electricity in a rolling 12 month period than you use. So the installation has to be really close to your actual usage. But also because electricity costs money. Similar approaches may be beneficial to corporations. I’m using our 11 cent per kWh rate as an example. Actual rates depend on location and usage.

Does a company want to devote resources to “office automation” like we have home automation? Coupling motion detectors with smart outlets {or even just office schedules – if the last person is off shift at 7PM, dropping some device power at 8 should have no impact} to turn off power might save a lot in standby draw.

Even without home automation, companies can gather usage data to allow resources to be devoted to their biggest energy draws. The first step is identifying the big draws. We use Aeon Labs zwave clamp on home energy meters, but there are stand-alone energy meters. I’ve seen DIY Arduino based ones (, or high end Fluke devices with clamps do the same thing (@5k+ for the Fluke … that’s a bit of an investment, but if someone’s got an energy metering capable fluke for other work ‘stuff’ … they may just need the 10$ clamps). Whatever equipment – clamp it on one circuit in a panel for a few days. Get a number, move it to the next circuit. Eventually you’ve got daily usage numbers for different circuits and just need to look at what is on those circuits to narrow down potential saving points.

We found obvious stuff – HVAC uses a lot of power. If a company leases a building with outdated equipment, use firm numbers in lease negotiation. The HVAC draws x kWh per year which costs us y $. A middle-road new system should draw z kWh which means we’re spending some concrete dollar figure per year because this system is so old. The same information can be used to cost-justify upgrades/replacements for company-owned buildings. Measure usage on lighting circuits. An office with old ballasts and florescent bulbs – what they are costing to run tells you if switching to LED {and there *are* LED T4/8 tubes that don’t require fixture replacements} makes any sense.

But we also found things I would never have even considered if I made a list of all of our non-trivial electrical draws. 20% of our annual electrical usage is the septic aerator (it literally uses more energy than the geothermal HVAC system in a year). We can get it down to 11% of our projected usage by cycling the thing on during even hours and off during odd (or on/off in twelve hour chunks, or 4 on / 4 off / 4 on / 4 off / 4 on / 4 off … new aerators have scheduling and do this themselves). Now that septic aerator savings is only like 250$ a year. Not a huge amount of money, but it’s 250$ I would never have realized we were spending otherwise.

From an IT perspective – if a server supports wake-on-lan … does a backup server and tape library need to be running 24×7? If someone kicks off a restore, can it be powered up (adds a minute, but saves power whenever restores aren’t running) and can it be programmatically powered on maybe half an hour before its backup jobs are scheduled to kick. Then power back down when no jobs report as running or scheduled for x hours. As a company, we mandate that all computers be left powered on so patches can be deployed overnight. What if the nightly patch check-in then powered the computer down (either because there are no patches or after installation in lieu of a reboot)?

Or a printer — there is no need for the printer to be in standby mode for the 15 hours a day no one is around to print. Or the weekends when no one is around. Or company holidays. One of the fairly large Xerox printers we have draws a continuous 11 Watts in sleep mode uses 71 kWh each year between 17:30 and 07:30 M-F and all day Saturday and Sunday. Maybe 72 kWh if you add company holidays. That’s not quite eight dollars a year in savings (and power consumption won’t be 0 if the device can be woken remotely) – but saving 6$ per printer in a company with 2000 printers is 12,000$ each year. Some of the older printers don’t even have a lower power sleep mode and draw 95 Watts in standby mode – 620 Watts per year when no one is around, and just under 70$ in electricity. Even better – HP offers an auto-off / auto-on on activity feature that allows energy to be saved during working hours.

Are there intangible benefits to energy saving initiatives? Get into the automation side of energy savings, would some tech magazine profiling the effort (free publicity, and tech magazines are a good place to advertise a company offering network services)? Can companies form partnerships with geothermal / solar / wind / whatever manufacturers to get cheap installations + publicity? Sadly, in some markets that may not play well (what, you don’t want to burn coal!?!) … but it might not be seen as a negative if it approached as a “save money, do right by stockholders AND customers” message instead of a “green, save the planet, global warming is bad” message.

Corporate Expense Reduction Strategy: Procurement

We have a 3D printer, and have an evolving list of things to 3D print. Custom design work comprises most of the list now. Originally, I anticipated printing a whole bunch of little plastic bits that are seriously overpriced in retail stores. The bobbins for embroidery thread come to mind — 20 cents a piece (although I’ve subsequently found them at Walmart for 10 cents a piece). They weigh practically nothing. 3D printer filament runs between one and a half cent per gram and four cents per gram (not getting into pricey exotic stuff which doesn’t make sense to use as a base for winding embroidery threads!). I can print six for Walmart’s super cheap price!

And then I thought to check AliExpress – two cents a piece. I can buy 100 for less than the price of 28 at Walmart. Material cost would be a little lower printing with the cheapest filament. But there’s electricity and time to consider as well. I ended up ordering the things shipped from China.

But in the process started wondering if companies use either of these techniques for reducing expenses. 3D printing would be an interesting endeavor – include the company logo, make items the *exact* size needed for an application. But direct ordering from overseas manufacturers has a larger opportunity for expense reduction. Pens for a cent or two each. Ten thousand staples for five bucks. Paper clips, wires and cords, clip boards … there are all manner of random little consumable things companies buy. Start running low on staples, order another ten thousand. So what it takes six weeks to arrive? You’re just refilling a supply closet.

OnStar Basic

We used the free OnStar that came with our Chevy Volt for the first time today. Anya had brought the snack for her preschool class today, so I had a large metal serving tray and container of apple cider along with the other phones / bags / purses / random junk I usually carry. Set stuff down on passenger seat, and she wanted food now. Conveniently, I had sent a few extra little tangerine pumpkins — so we had two left over.  So I handed her one and opened her door. “I cannot eat in the car” says the kid who has no problem eating all manner of other things whilst in the car. But I didn’t really want to get sticky juice all over the car either. Shut her door and went to open the front door again to retrieve my stuff. Except BEEP and the car locked itself. Ack!

So here’s the first problem with OnStar — you need to communicate via the Internet. And for some reason my phone has been going into emergency call only or no Internet but weak cell signal in the preschool carpark for the last week or so. D’oh. So I called Scott – three password resets later (and a whole new app, the My Chevy wasn’t letting us log in even with a reset password so he got the OnStar app. Once that was installed, logged onto, and verified … WooHoo, one click and the car is unlocked.

Back when I worked for a cellular company and cellular data was just becoming a thing, it was slow. But I remember the sales guy saying getting online and doing whatever on your super slow phone connection was going to be way quicker than driving back to the office, getting on your computer there, doing your thing, getting back out to the site … yeah, he had a point. I’m sure it won’t be a thirty minute ordeal if we get locked out again … but even if it is, it would be about the same amount of time as waiting for a locksmith to come jimmy the thing. Or for someone to drive the spare key out.

Random Trivia

Anya randomly asked how many footballers it would take to make the weight of the Earth. Well, that’s quick enough to calculate. Average footballer is just under 80 kg … rounded up because the number is going to be so huge anyway.

That would be just over 74 sextillion footballers.  74,650,000,000,000,000,000,000! Which is a lot of people. To get an idea of order of magnitude, I divided by the population of Earth. We’re talking ten trillion times more people that we’ve got today.

The moon, on the other hand, is a mere 123 billion times more people than we’ve got today.

Facebook’s Offensive Advertising Profiles

As a programmer, I assumed Facebook used some sort of statistical analysis to generate advertising categories based on user input rather than employing a marketing group. A statistical analysis of the phrases being typed is *generally* an accurate reflection of what people type, although I’ve encountered situations where their code does not appropriately weight adjectives (FB thought I was a Trump supporter because incompetent, misogynist, unqualified, etc didn’t clue them into my real beliefs). But I don’t think the listings causing an uproar this week were factually wrong.
Sure, the market segment name is offensive; but computers don’t natively identify human offense. I used to manage the spam filtering platform for a large company (back before hourly anti-spam definition updates were a thing). It is impossible to write every iteration of every potentially offensive string out there. We would get e-mails for \/|@GR@! As such, there isn’t a simple list of word combinations that shouldn’t appear in your marketing profiles. It would be quite limiting to avoid ‘kill’ or ‘hate’ in profiles too — a group of people who hate vegetables is a viable target market. Or those who make killer mods to their car.
FB’s failing, from a development standpoint, is not having a sufficiently robust set of heuristic principals against which target demo’s are analysed for non-publication. They may have considered the list would be self-pruning: no company is going to buy ads to target “kill all women”. Any advertising string that receives under some threshold of buys in a delta-time gets dropped. Lazy, but I’m a lazy programmer and could *totally* see myself going down that path. And spinning it as the most efficient mechanism at that. To me, this is the difference between a computer science major and an information sciences major. Computer science is about perfecting the algorithm to build categories from user input and optimizing the results by mining purchase data to determine which categories are worth retaining. Information science teaches you to consider the business impact of customers seeing the categories which emerge from user input. 
There are ad demo’s for all sorts of other offensive groups, so it isn’t like the algorithm unfairly targeted a specific group. Facebook makes money from selling advertisements to companies based on what FB users talk about. It isn’t a specific attempt to profit by advertising to hate groups; it’s an attempt to profit by dynamically creating marketing demographic categories and sorting people into their bins.
This isn’t limited to Facebook either – any scenario where it is possible to make money but costs nothing to create entries for sale … someone will write an algorithm to create passive income. Why WOULDN’T they? You can sell shirts on Amazon. Amazon’s Marketplace Web Service allows resellers to automate product listings. Custom write some code to insert random (adjectives | nouns | verbs) into a template string then throw together a PNG of the logo superimposed on a product. Have a production facility with an API to order, make the product once it has been ordered, and you’ve got passive income. And people did. I’m sure some were wary programmers – a sufficiently paranoid person might even have a human approve the new list of phrases. Someone less paranoid might make a banned word list (or even a banned word list and source one’s words from a dictionary and look for the banned words in the definition too). But a poorly conceived implementation will just glom words together and assume something stupid/offensive just won’t sell. Works that way sometimes. Bad publicity sinks the company other times.
The only thing that really offends me about this story is that unpleasant people are partaking in unpleasant conversations. Which isn’t news, nor is it really FB’s fault beyond creating a platform to facilitate the discussion. Possibly some unpleasant companies are targeting their ads to these individuals … although that’s not entirely FB’s fault either. Buy an ad in Breitbart and you can target a bunch of white supremacists too. Not creating a marketing demographic for them doesn’t make the belief disappear.