Category: Miscellaneous

Amazon Acquisition Of Whole Foods

I don’t know why everyone is talking about Amazon Fresh expanding to a radius around every Whole Foods store. There’s not a lot of cost savings or synergy there. Amazon will use their own logistics solution to move thousands of orders to a Whole Foods distribution center and those orders ride on trucks already headed out to the Whole Foods stores. You will stop in after work / on the weekend and pick them up. Saves the expensive last-mile shipping bit (where Amazon currently has to pay money to Fedex or UPS to get a package from their distribution centre to your doorstep). And may increase Whole Foods grocery market share … if you are going there anyway to pick up your stuff, saves time getting your groceries too.

Witch hunts and reasonable enquiries

This morning Donald Trump twitted “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt”. The thing he’s neglecting to consider is that motivation matters in employment cases. I used to work with corporate HR, gathering data when employees were being investigated for breach of company policy. Thing is, the breach was rarely the impetus for firing the individual. It was just the easiest and most defensible reason for firing an individual. Even in an at-will work state, a company is still open to charges of discrimination when terminating an individual.

An example was a call centre rep who had no interest in being polite to customers. He was rude, sometimes vulgar, and happy to convey how little he cared about the callers problem beyond “dad made me get a job, so I’m stuck here talking to people like you for three more hours”. Sure, he could have been reviewed poorly on each quarterly cycle, placed in the performance improvement program designed to assist employees become at least average contributing members of the company, reviewed poorly another time or two, and then fired for poor performance. That’s 18 months of bad customer service to provide overly-cautious legal coverage for a possible wrongful termination suit.

Or we find some policy that he has violated — there are a lot of laws, there are a lot of company policies. Look hard enough and you can find a violation for just about anyone. Held the door for the person walking behind you? That violates security protocols. Printed a pass for a concert you’re heading to after work – misuse of corporate resources. Forwarding jokes via e-mail to coworkers, using company computer resources to surf the Internet … in this particular chap’s case, it was consistently signing back in after his break a few minutes late. I wrote a job that compared his sign-on time for the phone system with his break times and automatically alerted supervisor and HR when sign-on was late. The first day, he was verbally warned about signing in late. The next day he was written up. Day three was another write-up with a warning that the next infraction would result in termination. And the next day, he was terminated. Now this is an extreme example because the employee did absolutely nothing to change his the proximal cause of his firing (i.e. had he started signing into the phone when his break ended, they would have needed to come up with something else). But the fact remains, he violated a company policy. Termination was recommended to redress his repeatedly late return from break.

Equally possible that the call center manager could have a old dude that they want to fire because they are old. It isn’t like I was told of the guy’s failings that led to the investigation. Found that out later from office chatter. Sign into the system late, get fired … and still have a perfectly valid wrongful termination suit for age discrimination.

What does all this have to do with Trump? Well, he decides he doesn’t like Comey because the guy isn’t finding a convenient scapegoat and ending the Russia investigation. Trump asks some of his administration for their opinion of Comey’s actions regarding the Clinton investigation last year and gets honest feedback (the call center dude DID sign in late from his break). The distal cause for termination can still constitute obstruction of justice. And, yes, the very people who recommended the termination when provided the proximal cause may well consider the distal cause distressing.

Alternative Fact: Witch Hunts

Alternative Fact: “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history” — Donald Trump, on Twitter (where else).

Real Fact: Donald Trump may have been a little young at the time, but hello: Joseph McCarthy’s hunt for Communists in America!?! Now if “great” doesn’t mean widespread or terrible but rather goofy, I have to go with Christine O’Donnell.

Bonus real fact: Hyperbolic untruth is still lying.

Alternative Facts: NATO

Alternative Fact: NATO countries owe money for defence expenditures the US has made.

Real Fact: The target was for member nations to devote 2% of GDP to defence spending. A target is not a guarantee. Not meeting a target may be disappointing, but it doesn’t mean you owe someone money. If your target is to donate 5% of your net income to charity … but at the end of the year have only managed 3%, it does not mean you owe charities 2% of your net income! It means you didn’t meet your goal. Consistently missing goals can also be a clue that the goal is not realistic. Take, for instance, someone whose goal is to donate 80% of their net income to charity. But they also pay their rent/mortgage, buy some food, turn the lights on occasionally. And don’t have 80% of their net income available after covering essentials. The person can commit to the goal and evaluate their other spending (move into a smaller residence, buy cheaper food, conserve on utilities) or they can change their goal to meet the 10% of their net income that is actually discretionary.

Another real fact? NATO countries, by and large, fund their own military. One might make the argument that the US would have been able to scale back the military budget if only other partners increased their expenditures. *But* that’s disingenuous from someone seeking an enormous increase in the military budget whilst questioning the nation’s continued commitment to NATO. But even if the ‘target’ was actually a contractual obligation … it would be to NATO and not the US.

Alternative Fact: Those Who Do Not Know History Are Doomed To Sound Foolish

Alternative Fact: Trump, speaking at the US Coast Guard Academy commencement, claimed “No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly“. Had he gone with ‘and’ instead of ‘or’, the assertion would be subjective. But NO politician in HISTORY has been treated WORSE?!?

Real Fact: Real assassination — literally killing a person — is worse than character assassination. Robespierre – both large numbers of politicians during his reign of terror and his eventual demise – worse. Defenestration of Prague (both 1 and 2) – worse. But let us be generous: place in scope only politicians during Trump’s adult lifetime. Anwar Sadat – worse. No one is a better friend to Israel than Trump (and with friends like this …), so how can he forget Rabin – worse. John F Kennedy – worse.

Energy Usage

We’ve now been using our WaterFurnace geothermal system for a few months. This winter has been an odd combination of fifteen degree highs and seventy degree highs (yes, we went to the beach and played in the sand in February), but we’re starting to see significant energy savings v/s the Trane XV20i air exchange heat pump. Not only are we seeing lower electrical usage, but we keep the house at 72 degrees this year — almost too warm on occasion. With the air exchange heat pump, we were layering up, keeping the house at 68, and still feeling cold.

Energy use by the heat strips was my biggest concern with the system — that we’d still see the heat strips engaged in the middle of winter. Glad to report auxiliary heating system was not engaged since the earth loop was installed (December 2016, before the earth loop was hooked up, we used emergency mode to provide some heat from the coils – supplementing wood burned in our fireplace).

Our HVAC-related energy costs for the first three months of usage:

Jan 2017     131$ total, 75$ stage 1, 55$ stage 2
Feb 2017      93$ total, 55$ stage 1, 38$ stage 2
Mar 2017      81$ total, 43$ stage 1, 38$ stage 2

Comparing our kWh used year-to-year, our total consumption is significantly reduced during colder weather.

Our septic aerator used slightly less electricity than our HVAC did in March! As the temperatures warm up, I’m sure we’ll reach a point where the aerator is our high draw item (i.e. the thing that gets replaced next). We’re going to use our AeonLabs HEMs and some smart outlets that report energy usage to isolate other high-draw items and see what can be eliminated or upgraded … but we’ve certainly made progress in purchasing the geothermal system.

The Story Within The Story

There have been a lot of instances in the past few months where a story about Trump contains a throw-away line that seems more important than the story being conveyed. Not reading EOs in a NYTimes piece not long after the inauguration, for instance.

Today’s reporting on Paul Manafort seems to be following this trend. The guy had a multi-million dollar contract with Oleg Deripaska … who is, in turn, a friend/ally of Putin. There’s a lot of focus on the money involved, the farther involvement of Trump associates with Russians, and the speeches and policy changes that were made pre-convention last year. But the scope of the work seems to be overlooked. He provided strategies on how to advance Russian interests around the world and undermine Putin’s political rivals. Which sounds a lot like advancing Russia’s interests by undermining rivals … or hacking the DNC and releasing information that negatively reflects on Clinton. And releasing more when she still looked to be leading in the weeks prior to the election.

The campaign chair potentially came up with the strategy that may or may not have involved collusion from Trump’s team. Even if they’re a bunch of stooges … the fact that the chap who consulted on the policy in the first place then took a high-level position with the campaign looks REALLY bad.

Alternative Fact: Incidental Intercept

Alternative Fact: The Obama administration has “wiretapped” (now in quotes, which evidently means intercepted some type of communication using any number of means) Trump. Or his associates.

Real Fact: If an investigative agency has legitimate orders permitting them to intercept communications of a specific individual or location and they happen to pick you up because you are communicating with that individual or location, *you* are not being spied on.

The Russian Ambassador in DC was being spied on – but I’m sure Kislyak knew that a decade or so before when he took the role so this isn’t exactly earth shattering news as much as “standard operating procedure”. If it makes you feel better, I’m sure the Russians surveil Spaso House. And anyone who happens to ring that number gets their communication intercepted too. Hell, I would bet that Ambassadors.

If you really want to think about it, all sorts of people are probably picked up in incidental intercepts. Why is that? Start reading the actual laws that supposedly allow surveiling foreigners without impugning the rights of American citizens. And how poorly those protections actually protect our rights. Actually read the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Too long, at least read up on Section 702 surveillance. In a bit of extra irony, it was Nunes who was called out for misrepresenting the risk of ‘backdoor’ searches where American citizens have communications intercepted under these “save us all from the terrorists” laws. Before getting a warrant for *you* specifically (well, provided you’re doing something dodgy), I’m certain law enforcement queries their database of collected information to see if they’ve already got something on you. So basically Nunes is sure the existing laws protect us, ordinary citizens … but the exact same laws were horribly abused to spy on Trump. Basically it’s fine for everyone else, but this law shouldn’t apply to ME.

 

From Russia, With Love

The more I hear about Flynn communicating with Ambassador Kislyak, the stranger it seems. Why the subterfuge? Surely the Russians knew Trump won the election, and they knew when he took power. Even if they didn’t think Trump would remove any sanctions put in place (why object to something you know is going to be rescinded in a few weeks?), the strategic move would be to wait for an inexperienced administration before taking any retaliatory action. There was absolutely no reason to tell the Russians “hey, don’t worry about the sanctions being put in place by the current administration. we’ll get you sorted in January”.