Category: Miscellaneous

Costco

We’d talked about joining Costco for years — a new store was built not too far from my office, and they had a membership promo. It was rather far away from our house; and, without checking it out first, hard to tell if it was a good deal. Especially without storage space for, say, a gallon of lemon juice. As we’ve been producing more at home — vegetables, meats — we’ve also gotten a lot of storage space. Loads of canning jars, chest freezers, vacuum sealer, shelves. So the idea of buying twenty pounds of apples is now appealing — can a bunch of apple sauce and apple butter 🙂

So, on Friday, we went out to Costco and got a membership. They’ve got a lot of stuff. Unfortunately, we were there about an hour before closing (why in the world would a company have limited hours on the weekend?!) and didn’t get to check out everything. Lots of electronics — a big TV that Scott would have loved to get. A couple of mesh WiFi systems. Fridges (not the one I want to get, unfortunately). And the expected huge containers of foods. Stuff I have a hard time finding in the grocery store too — they never have thick cut pork chops, so I end up getting a whole loin and cutting my own. But there were really nice 1″+ chops sitting right in a cooler. A tasty looking kale pesto. And a huge bag of frozen mango chunks (also a similarly huge bag of blueberries that I hope to not need in a year or two once our bushes start producing!). The coolest thing was that they’re loaded up with organic options (that are generally cheaper than the non-organic variety at the grocery store).

We also learned something about pickup trucks. They are great for hauling home the materials to build a chicken pasture fence. They’re great for hauling chest freezers. They are not great for bringing home groceries … I get why people have those tarp things that pull over the bed. We loaded all of the heavy (and low wind resistance) things into the truck bed, but ended up piling a bunch of lighter / breakable things in the cab with Anya.

Overall, the place seems like a score. And very much in line with my mom’s parents’ approach to living out in the country on a mountain. They’d not plan on going anywhere from October through April — stock up on food, get supplies for any winter projects, and just do their thing for six months. An approach that seems far more reasonable now that I’ve got my own couple hundred foot driveway curving up a mountainside.

On Wealth

People seem to assume the fact you’ve managed to amass money to be a fact that vouches for you … like you cannot be inept / senseless / bad at managing money because, look at that, you’ve got money. Doesn’t matter if you inherited (and subsequently lost much of) a bigger load of money, managed to injure yourself in some stunningly original way that requires some company to fork over millions, tripped over your untied shoelaces and discovered the lost Civil War gold. You have money, so you’re awesome at life.

It makes me think of the towel in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series — encounter someone while you’re wandering and, if they’ve managed to keep track of something so trivial as their towel, then they’ve obviously got it together.

Ten million companys’ immunization and contact tracing processes

Pushing responsibility down as far as possible (local government, companies, individuals) is nice in theory, but we keep running up against the reality that people *aren’t* responsible. And we end up with a menagerie of policies that are, best case, uncoordinated and worst case at odds with each other. Go from town to town, you’ll encounter different restrictions. Go from store to store, you’ll encounter different restrictions. I get wanting freedom — I don’t want someone telling me what colour car I am going to drive or what we’ll be doing to relax Friday night. But I don’t see a difference between “the government taking my freedom” and “the company that I work for taking my freedom”. People like to pretend that it’s my choice to work there, thus not really something being forced upon me. Sure, in theory, you can go find a different workplace (University, elementary school, etc) that doesn’t have the restriction to which you object. The practical reality, though, is different. You need money to support yourself – buy food, pay rent, make sure the heat is on – so you cannot just not work. You may not be able to move halfway across the country to work at your perfect employer. Your perfect employer may not have any openings. Or they may elect to hire someone else. Being financially coerced into ceding my freedom isn’t better than the government enacting a restriction.

And there are just some things that are ineffective without a centrally coordinated policy. And that means that, occasionally, you lose the right to chose for yourself.

Math Time – Delta Edition

An update to my previous mathematical analysis of covid transmission now that I’ve seen R0 estimates for this delta variant …

The R0 value for the delta variant seems to be between 5 and 8. Looks like just over 46% of the US population is vaccinated. The vaccines are published as being 90-something percent effective. That makes an effective transmission rate between (5 * (1- (0.46 * 0.95))) and (8 * (1- (0.46 * 0.9))). Between 2.9 and 4.7 — somewhat surprising given the R0 of slightly under 3 that was published at the start of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. That means that, as health orders and mandates are lifted, we’re basically exactly where we were a year ago even though about half the population is vaccinated.

A mathematically interesting thing — if you could get the vaccine efficacy up to 100% (a third shot, a tenth shot, a different vaccine, whatever)? We’d still have an effective transmission rate between 2.7 and 4.3 — the value goes down, but not significantly. On the other hand, increasing the percentage of fully vaccinated individuals by 10% gives us an effective rate of transmission between 2.5 and 4.0. Having 70% of the population vaccinated would yield an effective rate of transmission between 1.8 and 3.0. We’d need to get somewhere between 90 and 98% of the population vaccinated to bring the delta variant’s effective rate down below 1 (the point where it would die out naturally)!

That tells me this virus is going to be around for a long time — especially since the R0 for some upcoming variants might be higher. Also, I’m curious to see if the government authorizes a third dose given the minimal impact increasing efficacy has on the effective rate of spread.

Freedom!!?

About a year ago, my boss observed that this entire pandemic sitch is just a nightmare for those with analytical thought processes.. Engineering, science, analytic types. Mathematically? The country was basically in a worse place when the health orders were lifted than it was when the orders were put in place last year. That was astonishing to me. And kind of like the anti-environmentalists who don’t seem to realize they need to drink the water and breath the air … even if you’re vaccinated and have a very good probability of avoiding hospitalization? Getting sick for a week sucks. It sucked ten years ago, it’ll suck ten years from now. But, if you can mitigate your risk of feeling like an elephant is roosting on your chest for a week … what’s the reasonable thought process that leads to someone saying “I’m going to show how very free I am by getting painfully ill”?!

I mean, there are plenty of ways to partake in your American Freedoms that aren’t painful illness. Head out to the range, rent a gun for a few hours, and fire off a couple dozen 50 caliber rounds. Publish a rant against whatever part of government irked you this week. Spend the weekend attending church services for ten different religions. Hell, marvel at the fact there’s not an uninvited soldier camped out in your spare bedroom and that the cops aren’t rifling through your belongings. And that just covers the first five articles in the bill of rights.

In fact …

Article Way to enjoy it
I Spend a weekend attending services for a dozen different churches (synagogs, mosques, etc)
II Hire a gun at a range and spend the afternoon popping off 50-cal rounds
III Marvel at how your spare bedroom is not occupied by an uninvited soldier
IV Notice how the police are not rifling through your personal belongings just because they can
V, VI, VII, VIII Don’t know that I’d commit a crime just to enjoy my right not to provide evidence against myself, be subjected to cruel or unusual pubishment, or experience a speedy, public trial … but you do you.
IX Go to work?
X Oooh, experience all of the things your state does control — maybe hang at the DMV and renew your license
XI Umm … well Michigan hasn’t sued Ohio today. Does that count?
XII Well, you cannot be part of the electoral college … but you CAN vote
XII No more slaves
XIV The state isn’t depriving me of life, liberty and such.
XV My rights aren’t being abridged because of my race
XVI Taxes were withheld from my paycheque this week. Yeah!???
XVII My state has tw senators
XVIII Grab a pint!
XIX I’m a woman, and I can vote!
XX Watch the certification of the election
XXI Grab another pint!

Towel Money

People seem to assume the fact you’ve managed to amass money to be a fact that vouches for you … like you cannot be inept / senseless / bad at managing money because, look at that, you’ve got money. Doesn’t matter if you inherited (and subsequently lost much of) a bigger load of money, managed to injure yourself in some stunningly original way that requires some company to fork over millions, tripped over your untied shoelaces and discovered the lost Civil War gold. You have money, so you’re awesome at life.
It makes me think of the towel in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series — encounter someone while you’re wandering and, if they’ve managed to keep track of something so trivial as their towel, then they’ve obviously got it together.

Math Time — COVID Edition

Scott’s dad gets on our cases about being paranoid hypochondriacs (or whatever) because we’re still wearing masks and have Anya in online school for another year. The governor dropped the health orders, after all. Anya is too young to be vaccinated, but he’s safe … and kids don’t get sick anyway. Now, I don’t believe the latter two “facts” — kids do get sick, even if it’s less virulent. And I’ve never seen anything published that indicates vaccinated individuals don’t spread the virus. Just that they don’t feel unwell (which, in my mind, makes them more likely to spread it ’cause they don’t know they are sick … the Yankees having so many vaccinated people test positive sticks in my mind. They wouldn’t have known they were sick if it weren’t for what I assume is routine team-wide testing). And it’s difficult to explain to someone who has already made a decision … but the math just doesn’t support the “it’s all good” attitude people are adopting. I’m not an epidemiologist — I went to school for theoretical physics and work in computer science. I have done a lot of data mining and analysis, so I’ve got a decent understanding of the math side of epidemiology without any of the “so what do we do about it” medical knowledge. That being said … the math side of it can be helpful.

There’s a rate of spread for infections — computer viruses or human, in fact. There’s an initial rate of spread when no one has any immunity / has patched their computer (R0 to epidemiologist). If one person gets the virus, they give it to x people over the course of their infection. This is where you either see the total number of infected people trend toward zero of infinity — that is, if one infected person infects 0.5 (i.e. for every two infected people, you get one more person infected) … eventually the virus dies out. If one infected person infects ten others? This is a ever increasing progression — those ten each infect ten more for 100 infected people. Who each infect 10 for 1000 infected people. Which doesn’t seem bad — but those each infect 10 for 10,000 infected. Then 100,000. For each iteration, the number of infected people is 10^n — 10,000,000,000 is ten iterations down.

But preventative measures get taken — in one case, a computer virus caused my employer to shut down the LAN facing ports on every router in the company. Techs had to walk around with a fix-it CD, clean up every computer on a subnet, and then request the subnet be returned to the network. And, if we saw the virus propagating from that subnet? It got locked down again. Highly disruptive, but effective. And that’s where we were last spring with stay-at-home orders.

There are less severe precautions — computers have anti-virus software that look for virus-like activity for day zero identification. In human terms, that means we’re washing our hands after coming home from an outing. Or, as of last spring, wearing masks. Any of these precautions reduce the R0 value — but it can be difficult to predict exactly how much these actions will reduce the rate of spread.

Vaccines, on the other hand, have a quantified (and published) impact on spread. That efficacy and the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated scale the R0 value. The effective rate of spread is R0 * (1 – ( (vaccine efficacy) * (% of population that is vaccinated) ) ). If a vaccine prevents infection for half of the people who are exposed, then the effective rate of spread after vaccination is R0 * (1 – 0.5 * % of population that is vaccinated)). If a vaccine can prevent 90% of infections from occurring, the effective rate of spread after vaccination is R0 * (1 – 0.9 * % of population that is vaccinated)).

For convenience, I am going to ignore partially vaccinated individuals because I don’t know how effective a partial dose is at preventing transmission. The R0 published last year was around 3 — with about 40% of the population vaccinated with a 95% effective vaccine, that’s an effective rate of spread around 1.86 without other precautions being taken.

Now my numbers aren’t perfect — but this is almost a best-case effective rate of transmission. Another ten percent or so of the population is half-way vaccinated even if I don’t want to get that granular with my maths. But plenty of people got a 80-something percent effective vaccine, too. And the efficacy of each vaccine is reduced against variants. Having an effective transmission rate hovering around 2 seems, to me, like a premature time to cease taking other precautions.

The hazard of curbside pickup

I’ve had an ongoing problem with the curbside grocery pickup — it’s a great time saver (and basically eliminates off-list purchasing / impulse shopping), and I get the limitations of asking someone else to think for you (I add a note that indicates the exact number of large/small *bunches* of bananas I actually want whilst ordering unit “1” banana, and I know they are not just going to figure it out and get jicama when they’re out of celery root). My problem is that the quality of the food that ends up in my order is absolutely not something I’d have bought. I won’t buy mushy, rotten oranges. Or visibly moldy strawberries. Or meat with huge chunks of fat. I’ve taken to putting in a big order of shelf-stable staples for pickup a few times a year and selecting the perishables myself. And accepting the time / quality trade-off when I ask them to select my produce for me.

Thought that was a problem unique to the grocery store, but we picked up chicken chow from Tractor Supply today. Last time, the 6 pound bag that was brought out instead of a 40 pound bag was really obvious. And quickly corrected. This time? We bought two bags of food — the first one was fine. Upon lifting the first bag out of the car, though, I discovered the second bag. A bag which looks like it was dragged across the warehouse floor and then taped up to retain whatever was left in the bag. This certainly isn’t a bag someone would have put into their cart at full price. I’ve seen other companies slap a discount sticker on a mostly full taped up bag. Unloading the ripped bag of something close to 40 pounds of chicken food, at full price, on a curbside pickup? Kinda sucky!

Luckily, Tractor Supply has excellent customer service policies. I used the ‘contact us’ form to tell them about the problem — and, yeah, I could have just brought it back to the store. But … had I been in the car park when I noticed the bag, I certainly would have asked for the bag to be swapped out. A couple extra minutes was worth it to avoid whatever contaminants got into the bag and whatever amount of food fell out of the bag. Half an hour of driving? Not worth it for what’s probably some warehouse dirt and maybe a pound of missing food. Within a few hours, a customer service rep rang be to apologize for the mangled bag. He refunded the purchase price and issued a gift card for our inconvenience. That’s more than fair.

Home Depot Non-Delivery

We ordered a chest freezer from Home Depot a few weeks ago with delivery expected a few days ago. That date moved out to Friday — no big deal. Prior to placing the order, we chatted with their customer service to verify that home delivery actually meant delivery into the house because there are all sorts of places that are considered “delivered”. And it would suck to get a big chest freezer at the bottom of our driveway and have the company call it delivered. We confirmed, multiple times, that the home delivery service would be able to navigate our narrow driveway and that the item would be delivered into the room of our choosing.

And then the delivery company called today. They only have a 26-foot box truck, so they will deliver the freezer to the bottom of our driveway. Several frustrating calls to Home Depot later — we were hung up on by a very rude agent who just kept telling us that the delivery company is a third party so there’s nothing Home Depot can do about it. And that “delivery” is only to the doorstep. This agent hung up on us. We finally got someone slightly helpful — delivery still means doorstep, and if the third party delivery service only has a 26-foot truck that’s what they have … but this rep was at least pleasant and willing to finish the conversation.

What really bothers me, though, is no one at Home Depot’s customer service seemed interested in knowing that the online chat folks are absolutely telling customers that “home delivery” means into the room of your choosing. Depending on one’s home, this could be a very big difference — like our case where the delivery service wants to leave the box a couple hundred feet down at the bottom of the driveway. We offered to send them the names and chat sessions to ensure agents are getting appropriate training, but nothing. We have, on three separate occasions and speaking with three different agents, been informed that the “home delivery” service means the appliance will be delivered into the room of my choosing — and warned that multiple flights of stairs would be an extra charge.

On Race Norming

I get why race norming is objectionable — but why in the world are they norming at all?! I’d hate if I had some accident & the analysis of my decline was based off of some American norm or a global norm. It’s not like “getting a bunch of concussions” is a black swan event for footballers, either. So why wouldn’t they routinely administer these cognitive tests for each player? Someone puts in a claim? Their current cognitive functionality isn’t compared to some normalized baseline. It’s compared to their documented trajectory.