Category: Miscellaneous


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.

Suet Feeder In Action

We’ve had a week of mid-teen highs and snow squalls. The birds have been enjoying the suet we made for them. We have a large upside down suet feeder for larger birds, a standard little green cage feeder for pretty much anything that happens by, and these little citrus rinds are perfect for small birds. Larger birds don’t really have anywhere to perch to eat from them, but the small guys swing on the rinds while they eat. We’ll probably be making more suet next weekend and refill these rinds, but the suet lasts a long time when it’s eaten by chickadees, nuthatches, and sparrows.

Citrus rind suet feeder for small birds

The Santa Myth

Anya’s preschool is writing letters to Santa and otherwise celebrating the secular commercial iteration of Christmas. I just don’t get why this myth is perpetuated in any setting where you don’t know everyone’s financial situation and religious beliefs. Or even their views on commercialism and manufacturing practices.

Religious beliefs, to some degree, are obvious … it’s not a really big Sikh holiday, for instance. But even within the subset of Christian Americans … the secular version of Christmas can be offensive. And, hell, when I was a kid I thought Christmas absolutely sucked for Jesus – could you imagine how bad your birthday would be if it was celebrated by giving everyone ELSE presents?

Financial situation — the Santa story is that you won’t get what you want if you aren’t good. All the good behaviour in the world isn’t going to make a hundred bucks show up for a family with an empty bank account. Maybe their income and expenses mean the family barely subsists. Maybe an emergency sucked up the family’s spare money. If good behaviour means you get the toys you want, not getting the toys means you were bad. And that’s a terrible lesson to be conveying to young kids who are already disadvantaged due to financial circumstances.

Commercialism — this is the one that applies to me. I don’t like thing presents. Some are thoughtful and well used, but a lot of wastes of resources that take up space. I much prefer to plan a special experience for a celebration. Spend time together, do something unique, and you don’t have to find storage space for anything when you’re done. Telling my kid that presents should be tangible things — and that you can consult this toy flyer for ideas — is offensive. This isn’t to say Anya has never gotten a tangible present from us, but it’s part of an experience. Go ice skating and here are some ice skates.

Manufacturing — beyond the “be good or else”, Santa has elves that spend the year making all of the stuff that constitutes Christmas presents. Baring incredibly conscientious purchasing decisions that are not the norm … the elf is some kid in a third world country, victims of debt bondage … sure you got the toy for a pittance, but that’s because the labor didn’t even get a pittance. The image of cute elves singing and making toys in some gingerbread cottage looking room is not the reality of international manufacturing. Your kid may not be old enough to understand the socioeconomic ramifications of globalization … but that doesn’t mean you need to tell them elves make their toys.

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.