Category: Miscellaneous

Side Job Accounting

Flaws in the MIT ride-share earning calculations aside, I don’t think ride-share or home-share involves a realistic accounting of expenses against income. I used to use my personal car for work quite regularly. The company reimbursed per mile at a fixed rate, and I started off thinking I scored. Paid like 20 bucks for gas and they cut me a cheque for 100 USD. Then I needed to replace my tires *way* before I expected. Turns out the reimbursement rate wasn’t a major boon. If you consider tires, oil changes, brake pads as part of your auto maintenance budget and don’t book some portion of those expenses against your Uber/Lyft income, then the gig looks artificially profitable.

At the time I looked, Lyft had a 2500 USD deductible on their comprehensive/collision insurance (and both Uber and Lyft only covered comp/collision when passengers were in the car). Drivers incur additional expense for supplemental / commercial insurance policies or live with those restrictions. But most people I know didn’t consider their insurance coverage – which means they incurred risk that would offset income. Same with house-rentals (AirBnB, HomeAway) – apart from people who rented properties as a commercial venture (i.e. people who were using the service as advertising for properties they rented anyway, not just renting out their house for a week or two when they were out of town), I don’t find many people who really understood what, say, AirBnB’s host protection insurance covered  / what their homeowners insurance covered / what was uncovered.

Drum Major Instinct

Somehow Dodge has confused the following text to mean “buy a new big truck”. One with a base price of like 26,000USD. Or this is just the logical conclusion of the post-truth alternative fact world … we can call back to some historical figure with a message that is basically the antithesis of that for which the person stood.

“Now the presence of the drum major instinct is why so many people are “joiners.” You know, there are some people who just join everything. And it’s really a quest for attention and recognition and importance. And they get names that give them that impression. So you get your groups, and they become the “Grand Patron,” and the little fellow who is henpecked at home needs a chance to be the “Most Worthy of the Most Worthy” of something. It is the drum major impulse and longing that runs the gamut of human life. And so we see it everywhere, this quest for recognition. And we join things, overjoin really, that we think that we will find that recognition in.

Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. (Make it plain) In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. (Yes) That’s the way the advertisers do it.”

Desuperheater

We got a desuperheater with our geothermal system. I was really excited for summer, expecting our electrical usage for heating water to drop dramatically. We even hooked up the Aeon Labs energy meters so we’d have numbers to show how much we were saving. Aaaand … we saved nothing. Usage actually went up between the non-HVAC period and the air conditioning season (more work outside, more getting muddy, more showers?). Super hot couple of days in early summer … nothing. I was really disappointed in the desuperheater. It wasn’t expensive or anything, but I thought it would do SOMETHING!

In mid-January, Scott replaced the sink faucet and noticed another plumbing problem. He threw the circuit breaker to the water heater to remind him to look into that other problem once the faucet was installed. A few weeks later, we heard an odd noise … I was walking around trying to isolate the source, and noticed the display on the water heater was off. Kind of worried that the odd noise was the water heater … I told him the display was off. And he remembered throwing the breaker a few weeks ago. Odd, since we’ve been doing silly things like showering in hot water and washing dishes. Haven’t noticed any hot water shortages.

Oooooh, the desuperheater was keeping the water hot. During the 50 degree days, but during the 5 degree days as well!?! When it didn’t manage to heat the water in summer?!? Turns out the desuperheater doesn’t do much if it’s cutoff if close to your water temperature set-point. We set the water heater to its lowest setting – hopefully we see reduced electrical draw. If not, I will probably get the “smart” control panel and write something to put it into vacation mode & only turn into “heat the water” mode when the temp drops significantly during a part of the day when we’re apt to want hot water (i.e. let the desuperheater do its thing if the water temp goes low at 3AM).

Looking at our power usage data, where the slope of the line is the rate of power consumption, there was a change in usage going into winter (odd, since the design is such that summer should have been the noticeable reduction). The slow becomes near horizontal now that there is a significant difference between the water heater’s set point and the desuperheater’s cutoff point.

Or a more telling chart – the red lines indicate times where the water heater was drawing power. It hasn’t cycled on for weeks even on 20 degree days.

Reading Your Own Meter

Most power companies provide “read your own meter” instructions along with every bill. Never thought much of it until we got a really high estimated bill this month. Now our Aeon Labs energy meters give us nice digital integers (well, probably floats but still) … and that number was significantly lower than the power company’s estimate. So we read our meter.

Their dials do not move a uniform amount as they increment — is this 60,### or 59,###? Since the third digit is certainly an 8 … there’s no way it is 60,8## (otherwise the 0 would need to move almost an entire tenth of the circle by the time our 8 rolls to 0). But it seems very odd that the 9 on the second dial literally won’t move while the 8 rolls to a 0 either. Why wouldn’t each needle move constantly over the interval?!?

Motion Activated Faucets

We got motion activated faucets for the kitchens on one of Home Depot’s daily deals. I find myself trying to use my elbow to turn the valve when my hands are covered in whatever we’re cooking, and not needing to touch anything to rinse my hands would be awesome. Until it was installed, though, I never really thought about the mechanism behind the motion sensing valve. There’s still a manual handle that controls temperature and flow rate. The motion-activated valve does not have a separate control for these functions — you essentially leave your faucet turned on all the time to whatever temperature and flow rate you want. Then the motion-activated valve allows water to flow and stops water flow. Obvious, in retrospect, but not something I realized before owning one.

There is a timer that automatically shuts off water flow – but that timer is around three minutes. This seemed like a terrible idea until we accidentally discovered that activating the motion sensor a second time stops water flow. Now that I know how to turn the water off without waiting three minutes … it’s a cool feature, and one I’ll appreciate more after I make something really messy like fish and chips.

Mud Puddle

Robert Munsch’s book Mud Puddle is a really cute book, until the end. Neither Anya nor I like that she hurts the playful mud monster. So we take turns making up new endings – the mud puddle runs away, and finds an Anya. And jumps on her head. Her mom washes her off then dresses her in dingy old clothes and sends her back outside. The mud puddle jumps on her head, she jumps on the mud puddle’s head, her dog jumps on both of their heads. Then Anya picks up her dog and the mud puddle wraps himself around them both in a BIG hug.

What Isn’t Sexual Assault

There’s a rather graphic write-up from a woman who went on a date with Aziz Ansari. I don’t know if something got lost in translation, but I was put off by the claim of a “rushed” dinner – the only bit that the writing conveyed as rushed was between getting the cheque and leaving. I generally take out my card when I request the cheque, glance at the bill when it is delivered and have the server take the card immediately. That’s not to force my dining partner into anything – we’ve already decided we are done and want to leave. If you wanted to finish your glass of wine (or wanted to drink another glass from the not-yet-empty bottle), then you don’t agree to leave yet. You say “I really like this wine, let’s talk for a few minutes while I finish my glass”. Or “I’d like to have a cup of coffee before we leave”.

Off-putting story aside, it’s seemed in a nebulous area between outright assault and a consensual encounter. It’s perfectly reasonable to consent to one particular act but not want to engage in another (they have oral sex that she doesn’t want to progress to intercourse). But what gets me is that throughout most of the story, they were not dressed. I get this from a paragraph *near the end* where the guy says let’s chill on the couch, but with our clothes on this time and she says they got dressed. OK, maybe they were still in their underwear or something … but still.

I totally support the idea that men can control themselves. Whatever a person wears isn’t an invitation to be assaulted. If someone comes back to your house after a date and takes off their blazer, that’s not an invitation to aggressive pursuit. But someone who comes back to your house after a date, gets undressed, engages in some sexual act, does not want to engage in another specific act, but continues to wander around your house without their clothes!?! How in the hell can that person claim to be sending non-verbal signal that you are not interested in continued sexual interactions?? If you aren’t interested, put your bloody clothes back on. *That* is a non-verbal signal that you are not interested. Or send a verbal signal. “I’m not interested in sexual intercourse with someone I’ve just met, and we’ve had as much oral sex as I am comfortable with tonight. If you want to chill out together or talk, that’s fine. Otherwise, I’ll see you later.” The most generous reading is that the woman was sending very mixed signals, and it would be better if men took anything other than an enthusiastic ‘yes’ as ‘no’. Maybe that’s the point she’s making??

I was in University when the ‘ask and receive verbal consent for each move’ was a policy (and a joke) – “I’m going to move my hand to your breast, is that OK?”, “Now I am going to put my other hand on your elbow, is that OK?”. The logical conclusion, as a legally minded individual, was that lawyers should draft and sell a few different written consent contracts. One agreeing to carte blanche access to the other person, one for oral sex, one for penetrative sex with condom, etc. Then both parties sign the agreement. If they want to move farther than originally planned, stop and sign a new agreement. Bonus side effect, you take a break from the heat of the moment and decide if you actually want to move farther than originally intended. Less apt to regret your actions after-the-fact. Obviously you’d need a on-the-spot blood test and breathalyzer reading to confirm that judgement wasn’t impaired. But we’ve all got cell phones with video cameras now, record the test, the results, and the signing. Doesn’t ensure you won’t feel grossly violated the next day, but there was no misunderstanding or “they got me drunk so I’d be down with it”.

I worry that a movement that started with power imbalance coercion and physical force coercion has transmogrified into the same “he misread my signals” from my University years.

The Fakies and Rushdie

I may not be a stable genius, but I know enough history to know an unpopular figure with a large counter-following is not going to reduce interest in a book or media outlet by condemning it. Great bit of showmanship for the 20% or so who actually enjoy the ‘burn it down’ approach to governing, but sending cease-and-desist letters trying to bar distribution of a book or identifying a media outlet / show / individual as the pinnacle of “fake news” is counter-productive. As evidenced by the publisher moving up the release date to hit shelves during the invented controversy.

Random curiosity makes people want to experience forbidden things. I sat in a radio station that had a little box with a button. Taped to the box was a sign that said “DO NOT PRESS THIS BUTTON”. Now there was a fairly large board in the studio, along with turntables, DAT players, and CD players. There were probably a good hundred buttons in that studio. I pressed a good number of them to play a specific song or switch to a specific input, but I was absolutely never inclined to randomly hit any of those buttons. Except the one with a sign. Every time I was in that studio, I had to resist the temptation to hit THAT button. Morbid curiosity – it quite evidently does something bad, but how bad? Personally, I just asked the station manager what the button did – it controlled the transmission to the tower. Turn it off, the station goes off the air. (Perfectly valid question: why in the hell is that button located in the studio? No one knew, but I assume there had to be some mechanism to drop broadcast in an emergency. Otherwise why wouldn’t the button be locked in the manager’s office?) Why not put a sign that says why the button needs to be left alone? Everyone in the studio has an interest in the station being on air, and maybe someone would think it a funny joke to turn the broadcast off at the end of their shift so the next guy is silent … but that’s an HR problem to me (i.e. cancel the miscreant’s show). I wouldn’t have been the least bit tempted to hit the button that said “BUTTON NEEDS TO REMAIN ON FOR STATION TO BROADCAST”.

In trying to explain my belief to the station manager, I cited Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. It wasn’t a bad book. Midnight’s Children was well received, and I had read it because it appeared on a list of Man Booker Prize for Fiction winning novels. Same reason I read Something to Answer For and Saville. Wasn’t interested enough in the author that I followed his works, and this was before database driven promotions where I could just supply my e-mail address and be notified whenever an author hosts an event or publishes a new book. There were a finite list of authors I found interesting enough to look for at the local book store. Until the uproar. Book burnings in the UK, although that was a little Fahrenheit 451 to me it wasn’t enough to prompt me to buy the book. Then came riots in Pakistan. And Ayatollah Khomeini issued the fatwa. I absolutely had to know what was so sacrilegious that it was worth rioting and killing a man over. The book, and its author, became generally recognizable based on the objection to his book (and somewhat who was objecting).

Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code is another example of popularizing a work through objection. Cardinal Bertone said not to buy the book. Father Cantalamessa, at an Easter service in St Peter’s basilica no less, spoke indirectly about the book “manipulat[ing] the figure of Christ under the cover of imaginary new discoveries”. Catholic groups organized boycotts of the movie. Now the movie itself was already a big-budget affair that would have been promoted by the studio … but how many non-Catholics had their interest piqued by the fact Catholics considered the story to be rotten food for the soul? When the Vatican banned Angels & Demons from entering the Holy See and any church in Rome, I wanted to see what made that book worse than Da Vinci Code.

So while I am looking forward to Trump’s Fake News Awards on Monday – especially as an exercise in trying to limit freedom of the press – I essentially consider the award ‘losers’ to be paragons of forthright reporting. Not exactly what Trump was going for.

Robinhood

I have had what I would term full service brokers before — wealth management firms with a dedicated account manager. I remember chatting with mine in the mid 90’s and providing technical IT/Internet/ISP knowledge that aided in profiting from both the .net boom and bust. Not insider information, just professional expertise in the field. I didn’t know a thing about Netscape’s internal business plans, but I knew what they did as a business and how customers used (and paid / didn’t pay for) their products. But the service for which I paid was someone who followed industry trends, engaged people with industry knowledge, and distilled it into investment recommendations. Laughable .net proposals that beget our role reversal aside, it was generally sage advice and saved me having to learn a lot about dozens of verticals.

Now that I don’t have a dedicated wealth management dude, I’ve found the “full service” brokerage to be a bit of a joke. They provide research for you to make decisions. Yeah, so does the company. The SEC. Google, Yahoo, etc. There’s no one doing the research for me – I’m paying trade commissions to fund a source of research for myself. And yeah, it’s all in one place. But it’s all in one of a number of other places too. Not really worth 5$ a trade.

But I happened across a no trading fee brokerage app today – Robinhood. I’ve found a few drawbacks – biggest one is that there is no provision to short stocks, which is a great way to make money in a market crash. They don’t seem to float you money via margin either. But they’ve got some of the iShares funds, the “we keep gold in a vault in London” fund shares, and just about every high dividend stock out there. Buying stock in ten high dividend companies cost me exactly zero dollars. I’ll keep my “full service” brokerage account for shorting stocks (margin trading isn’t my thing – spent too much time studying the great depression) … but all of my straight purchases are going to be made through this service now.