Category: Miscellaneous

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”.

Self Driving Cars (or Market Driven Algorithms)

I don’t see much of a future for self-driving passenger vehicles. There are two non-tenable options for crash avoidance algorithms. Either the algorithm prioritizes my life and property (which means it would kill someone else to save my life … good for me, bad for society) or it won’t (great for society, but am I going to pay money for a car that will literally kill me to save someone else?). Does the computer assisted human driving model suffer this flaw? An algorithm that engages the brakes any time there is an obstacle within X feet fails to consider the vehicle that is about to slam into the side of your car if you don’t move it into the shrubbery ahead of you.

Self-driving unoccupied vehicles can simply de-prioritize itself (and the owner needs to accept that financial risk). We may see driving as a service (DaaS?) where a real human is responsible for making these split-second decisions. But allowing people to achieve the metro experience in their own vehicle (i.e. you sit and work for half an hour whilst your conveyance delivers you to your destination) is probably not going to happen.

Introduction to Addition and Subtraction

I came up with a game to visualize the concepts of addition and subtraction. I asked Anya to get a couple of stuffed toys and line them up on the floor. She brought three. I then asked her to hide one under the table and tell me how many there were (2). Then hide two under the table and see how many (0). Then take one out from the table and put it in the pile – now we have one. Add two more – we have three. Add one more … oops, had to run upstairs and get another one. Now we’ve got four. Subtract two – hide them under the table. Now that the terms ‘add’ and ‘subtract’ have been introduced, I began to just say ‘add #’ and ‘subtract #’.

Then we worked on a little algebra — you have two in your pile now. How many do you need to add to make five? Don’t know … well make a second pile … three, four, five. How many are in that second pile? Three – so if you have two and want to have five … you need three more.

Alternative Facts: Maths Edition

Alternative Fact: From Mick Mulvaney (Director of the Office of Management and Budget) on CNN:

“But you could have a long conversation, when you have got a numerator and a denominator, how to arrive at a percentage.”

Real Fact: When you have a numerator (call it X) and a denominator (call it Y), you arrive at a percentage using the formula:

( (X/Y) * 100) %

If this involves a *long conversation*, either you are teaching someone a new concept or they are screwing with you (let’s debate the pros and cons of Excel, long division on paper, the calculator on my phone).

Cultural Appropriation

There’s a lot of talk about the evils of cultural appropriation that I think miss the real issue. No one objects to the cultural exchange where everyone worldwide wearing denim jeans and eating a burger at McDonalds (OK, people object to the global takeover of American ‘fast food’ but that’s more of health objection to the high-calorie/low-nutrient lifestyle the restaurant style represents.). Cultural appropriation is only ‘bad’ to garner sympathy for the source.

There’s something to be said for enjoying aspects of another culture. Experiencing other cultures teaches us about other groups. It’s important not to conflate appropriated cultural elements with the culture as a whole — wearing lederhosen does not impart a deep knowledge of Bavarian culture — so as to avoid stereotyping the culture into just those appropriated elements.

There are certainly problems associated with cultural appropriation — you can appropriate cultural elements but remain prejudice against the culture itself, you can disrespect cultural elements being appropriated, and objecting to cultural appropriation serves as a proxy for actually doing something to help groups being harmed or diminished in modern society.

Trump symbolizes the first problem to me — loudly proclaims that Mexicans in this country are a bunch of thugs, rapists … hold on a sec, let me chow down on this burrito … and drug dealers. And, really, my objection isn’t the guy eating a burrito. It’s the vitriol being spewed about the culture. Cultural appropriation is a red herring in this case.

When appropriated culture subversively or disrespectfully — especially cultural components with a deep religious meaning that is ignored. Satanists with crosses, a teen listening to rap because it anger their parents … and there’s a difference between experiencing/enjoying and mocking. At that, there are different types of mocking. I have a set of espresso cups that are done in the style of traditional English willow patterns but using industrialized areas instead of natural subjects. Irony is a form of mockery – albeit self-mockery since the manufacturer, artist, and I are all part of the ultra-industrialized Western civilization. When objecting to the appropriation of religious symbolism by a particular culture, say a non-Rasta wearing dreadlocks, the objection should be universal. A German non-Rasta, a Egyptian non-Rasta, a Sudanese non-Rasta, hell a Jamaican non-Rasta should all receive the same criticism.

Leaving aside insult to religious symbols and adoption of style to create offense, kids are boycotting food service at Uni over the inclusion of sushi in the menu!? The person who taught me to make sushi was a white guy from Connecticut – a fact that in no way diminishes either Japanese culture or the sushi we produced. It’s as if appreciation of arts, foods, and style have become a proxy war for opposing real harms against groups. Many groups of people were enslaved around the world. That sucks, but some white person wearing or not wearing dreadlocks isn’t going to change history any more than it will change the more subtle slights against now-freed races. Muslims have been persecuted (not just in recent years, ‘retaking the Iberian peninsula from the Moors’ or the Crusades weren’t exactly cross-cultural love fests), but refusing to eat a falafel isn’t going to change that. And sushi … yes, the American government imprisoned Japanese Americans during WW2 (I assume ‘for their own good’), but only allowing someone of Japanese descent to layer slices of fish on rice isn’t going to change it.

People want to do something – sometimes for a historically wronged culture, sometimes for a currently harmed culture – without actually doing something hard or admitting the limits of their personal influence. Instead of taking real action to work against racism or to support under-served communities (join an organization, volunteer somewhere, send money somewhere) … we attack people who are enjoying components of the culture. What I find most ironic is that every organisation to promote cross-cultural understanding in which I’ve ever participated has encouraged cultural appropriation. A Turkish American organization that held cooking classes. A Greek American association teaching art, a Native American society teaching traditional dying and weaving methods, an African American organization teaching dance. Which makes me wonder if the cultures in question even object to the appropriation. Certainly, in some cases … where they are significantly losing out on the bargain. Rock and roll comes to mind as a prime example there. But as a general rule, are indigenous Aussies offended that we’re winging boomerangs around in a park?

That being said, why do we have to move dates around? I’m used to American Oktoberfest celebrations being in October (sounds the same, must be right?) although the actual event in Munich starts in September and can run into the first few days of October. There’s a Hindu celebration, Holi … there are several stories behind the celebration, but it is a SPRING celebration. That starts on 12 March this year.

Since that date is coming up, I wanted to find a local kid-friendly Holi celebration … and found a local kids-allowed festival is in September. There are, it seems, many “Festival of Colours” celebrations across the US and a handful actually occur in Spring. We’ll probably still go … never refused to drink a nice eisbock just because it was mid-October either 🙂

Don’t Talk To Strangers

It was 68 degrees, and I took Anya to the beach by a local lake to build sand castles. Three different kids, with three different families, wandered up to us and started playing. I said ‘hi’ to each one, and got a funny look. Each kid spent around fifteen minutes playing with us without saying a word. It was really strange. Until I heard the horrified mother admonishing her kid as they walked away: “you know not to talk to strangers, what were you doing?”. Here’s a guess – he wasn’t talking to strangers. Playing with, yes. Walking around on the beach with, yes. But he dutifully avoided talking.

Kids process language literally. It’s funny, sometimes, what Anya doesn’t get because figurative and abstract reasoning are not well developed in four year old kids. I’ve heard the don’t get into a car with a stranger / don’t talk to strangers/ STRANGER DANGER!!!! through most of its evolution from perfectly reasonable advice (seriously, don’t GO somewhere with a stranger. I remember trying to convey this to friends when I was at University – go to a club, meet a cute guy, don’t go somewhere alone with him. It isn’t like this is advice merely for young kids.) to absolute paranoia (kid lost in the woods who spent his time hiding from the strange people who had volunteered to search the woods looking for the missing child). Until yesterday, it never occurred to me how children process these messages (and I’m not talking about the whole “living in fear of seven billion people” thing that’s got to have psychological ramifications).

I don’t know how we’ll convey an appropriate level of caution to Anya – “don’t go anywhere with a stranger” is a good first step. Especially now that most people carry cell phones – know your phone number and have them call us. Don’t go anywhere, we’ll come to you.


Do you know …

Having a commonly recognized accent often leads to hearing similar illogical thread: Oh, you are from over-yonder-place. Do you know so-and-so. The polite response (“no, I do not”) does nothing to dissuade the asker. I suspect most people want to answer “no, I don’t bloody know David Beckham. There are fifty three million people in bloody England. You’re from Atlanta, do you know Usher?” Which might better get the point across that it is statistically unlikely that I’d know any individual from a country none the less a fairly famous one who, I imagine, has a fairly exclusive social circle.

Evidently it isn’t just accents that prompt this nonsensical assumption. Trump’s press conference today:

Black journalist: “Will you meet with the Congressional Black Caucus?”

Trump: “I would. You want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?”

And he probably thought he was being nice in acquiescing to the meeting. I wish the reporter had responded with a terribly rude and likely honest answer: “No, they aren’t friends of mine. But, as a decently well informed citizen, I am aware of their existence and wanted to know if you planned to meet with them.”