Month: March 2017

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.

Internet Privacy (Or Lack Thereof)

Well, the House passed Senate Joint Resolution 34 — which essentially tells the FCC that it cannot have the policy it enacted last year that prohibits ISPs from selling an account’s browsing history. What exactly does that mean? Well, they won’t literally sell your browsing history — anyone bored enough to peruse mine … I’d happily sell my browser history for the right price. But that’s not what is going to happen. For one thing, they’re asking for lawsuits — you visit a specific drug’s web site, or a few cancer treatment centres and your usage is indicative of specific medical conditions. An insurance company or employer buys your history and uses it to fire you or increase rates, and your ISP has created actual damages.

What will likely happen is the ISPs become more effective sellers of online advertising. They offer a slightly different service than current advertising brokers. The current brokers use cookies embedded on customer’s sites to track your browsing activity. If you clear your cookies, some of their tracking history is lost as well. If you use multiple computers (or even multiple browsers on one computer), they do not have a complete picture of your browsing because cookies are not shared between browsers or computers. If you browse in private mode (or block cookies, or use a third-party product to reduce personalized advertising), these advertisers may not be able to glean much about you at all. The ISP does not have any of these problems — no matter what computer or browser I use at home, the ISP will see the traffic. Since their traffic history is maintained on their side … nothing I can do to clear the history. Browse in private mode or block cookies and you’re still making a request that transits the ISP’s network.

The ISPs have disadvantages, though, as well. When you are using encrypted protocols (HTTPS, SSH, etc) … the ISP can see the destination IP and a bunch of encrypted gibberish. Now *something* about you can be determined by the destination IP (hit a lot and I know you read the NYTimes online). Analysis of the encrypted content can be used to guess the content — that’s a bit of research that I don’t believe is currently being used for advertising, but there are researchers who catalog patterns of bitrate negotiation on YouTube videos and use it as a fingerprint to guess what video is being watched using only the encrypted traffic. Apart from some guessing, though, the ISP does not know exactly what is being done over encrypted communication channels (even the URL being requested – so while they may know I read the NYTimes, they don’t know if I read the political headlines, recipes, or concert listings out on LI). Cookie-based advertisers can, however, track traffic to encrypted (HTTPS) web sites. This is because site operators embed the cookie in their site … so where an ISP cannot read the data you transmit with an HTTPS site, the server in question *can* (otherwise it wouldn’t know what site you requested).

So while an ISP won’t sell someone a database of the URLs you’ve accessed last week, they will use that information to form advertising buckets and sell a specific number of ads being served to “people who browse yarn stores” or “people who read Hollywood gossip” or “right-leaning political activists”. Because they have limitations as well, ISP ad brokerages are unlikely to replace the cookie based individualized advertising. I suspect current advertising customers will spread their advertising dollars out between the two — get someone who can target you based on browsing over HTTPS and someone who can target you even if you block cookies.

What about using VPN or TOR to anonymize your traffic? Well, that helps — in either case, your ISP no longer can determine the specific web sites you view. *But* they can still categorize you as a technically saavy and security conscious individual and throw you into the “tech stuff” and “computer security stuff” advertising buckets.

You can opt out of the cookie-based individualized advertising — Network Advertising Initiative or Digital Advertising Alliance — an industry move that I assume was meant to quell customer anger and avoid government regulations (i.e. enough people get angry enough and are not provided some type of redress, they’ll lobby their state/federal government to DO SOMETHING about it). The ISPs will likely create a similar set of policies and a process to opt-out. Which means the being passed to the president for signature essentially changed the ISP’s ability to use my individual browsing history from an opt-in (maybe as a condition of a lower price rate) to an opt-out (where I have to know to do it, go through the trouble of finding how to do it, and possibly even keep renewing my opt-out). Not as bad as a lot of reporting sounds, but also not a terribly constituant-friendly move.

A couple of links to the current targeted marketing opt-outs for companies which whom I do business so bothered to waste a few hours trying to determine how to opt-out:


Government as a Business

We’re getting another attempt to remodel the government as a business. If I had to run the federal government like a business, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to run it like one of Trump’s businesses! But lets ignore whose business.

The problem with the swat team Trump’s announced is that it seems to presuppose that the problem with government is a top-level management issue that could be sorted by sound business practices. What corporation has their top level leadership appointed by its customers? Or even its owners – sure, corporate boards are voted by shareholders … but not the C-level positions. Additionally, what business would almost guarantee multi-year positions to their high level leadership team? Regardless of performance?!

There is something to be said for bringing private sector innovation into government operations — especially at a lower level. Match up individual functions of government agencies with private sector businesses or even non-profits that have similar functionalities. Several government agencies have large logistical operations (FEMA, military) that a logistics company could help. Maybe Habitat for Humanity has ideas that would farther HUD’s goals. University teams may have interesting input too. And marketing — corporate experience would certainly be beneficial in selling legislation and initiatives.

But the fundamental problem I have with the principal that government should run like a business is that few businesses are monopolies. If you don’t like how a business operates, what values they support, the product they create … you shop around and select another one.

There was a whole thing a year or two ago with a baker who didn’t want to make a cake for a homosexual couple’s wedding. But as a customer, I can chose not to contract with a bigoted pastry chef for my events either. It is possible enough people don’t care and she remains in business. Or her choices mean her business goes under. Either way, you are not forced to support her beliefs because there are other bakeries.

Government provides services that cannot be privatized – for reasons of efficiency, non-profitability, or sensibility (privatizing the military security and prisons are a good counter-example of why government should provide these services). As such, I cannot just pick another military if I think the federal one is engaged in too many offensive operations. I cannot select a new environmental protection agency if I think the federal one fails to actually protect the environment.

If we’re going to operate the government like a monopoly (see: industries generally subject to a LOT of regulation), we are not just the customers! The government is a customer owned co-op. One that operates in hundreds of different verticals.



Learning the Hard Way (Or Not Learning at All)

Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly called out the Obama administration and US military for announcing their plans to target an area. Tipping off the enemy, he said. No reason for it, he said. All manner of politicians, military strategists, and people who bothered to think about it for a few minutes explained the rational — there are a LOT of civilians in the area we will be targeting. We would rather not incur civilian casualties as part of our military campaigns — if for no other reason, it’s bad PR. Either the advanced warning drives them out of the area or they are still there to be hit. Driving them out of the area still disrupts their operations.

So now Trump is in charge – I am sure we’ve stopped advertising where military strikes will occur. And non-combatant civilian deaths have skyrocketed. Something like 1,000 reported in March — I’m sure there’s inflation involved in this reporting. The old Soviet instantaneous statistic modification was half anything good, double anything bad, which would still be 500 civilians killed in a month that is not yet over. Gee, if only there was some way we could let these civilians know ahead of time.

Maple Sap Season Coming To A Close

We’re getting to the end of maple sap season – collecting a last batch of sap and boiling this week. We should get another gallon or so of syrup, but the red maples are well into leafing out. I’ve heard a lot of descriptions of the sap flavour after bud-break … to me, it is tannin heavy. That would put us around four gallons of syrup for the year — and re-enforce my belief that the algorithm determined tapping date is when we should tap – even if that’s the second week of January!

Selling Internet Usage

Thanks, Senate Republicans, for eliminating the regulation prohibiting ISPs from commoditizing individual’s internet usage. The headlines I’ve seen for the past day (“your internet browsing history can now be sold”) fail to take into account how well targeted advertising works … and the real world answer seems to be ‘it depends on how targeted’. Target, many years ago, ran some experimental ad campaigns based on data mining predictions. A combination of purchases indicate that a woman is pregnant — and reality about dealing with a baby mean that whatever you start doing is apt to be the thing you do for a few years. Buy diapers at Target pre-birth, and Target has your diaper business for a few years. So identifying pregnant individuals and getting their initial business is a huge boon.

Except people don’t like when you know something deeply personal about them — especially something they have not yet told their friends. Or found out about their kids — a man became quite irate when a “congrats, here are a bunch of coupons for baby things for you” flyer arrived for his daughter. His underage and certainly not pregnant daughter. The man expressed his anger to a manager at the local Target store. And had to ring the manager back later, after his daughter broke the news to her family. A company knew his daughter was pregnant before she braved telling her parents. I’m sure some adults found the flyers equally upsetting – how do they know?? I only told my husband and our parents … are they bugging our phones!?! Target ended up creating customized general flyers that happened to include a few coupons for baby stuff … along side chain saws, motor oil, and grills. Effective, but didn’t freak out potential customers.

My point being – companies don’t want to alienate potential customers. I search for a particular yarn online, and a few days later a flyer shows up for that yarn … I now have creepy negative feelings about the company sending the flyer.

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.

Coverage does not equal access

Coverage does not equal access — this political quip used to argue against the ACA is indeed true. Not sure why the answer is not that *no* coverage pretty well ensures no access.

It was a little silly to say that no one would need to change plans or doctors with the new law. Each new annual enrollment period at work, we have different plans and, yeah, I have to change plans even though I liked the one five years ago that had WAY lower deductables, lower out of pocket expenses, and lower cost to purchase. It isn’t available. I remember my mom changing doctors a number of times in the 80’s because her doctor no longer accepted whatever insurance she had at the time. Why one would claim the ACA would change facts that have been true as long as insurance has been about is beyond me. But the claim was made, so it’s a point of criticism for the law.

I guess the implication is that the AHCA will provide both coverage and access. I’ve read the bill … and not heard anyone explain how the changes even provide coverage let alone access. I guess if fewer people can afford coverage, the lucky ones who can don’t compete for appointments anymore. But that’s hardly a selling point for a bill — a bit like saying we’ve increased selection at the grocery store by making sure 18% of your neighbors can no longer afford food.

There’s a balance in the ACA that I don’t really like. But I *understand* that if we are going with the insurance model of health care and don’t want insurance companies to refuse to cover pre-existing conditions, we’ve got to ensure they’ve got customers who aren’t sick. In this light, the proposed changes to the AHCA allowing states make up their own list of essential services makes a bad bill even worse. I’d be able to have “continuing” coverage (and thus not be someone who could be charged a surcharge from an insurance company) by buying the cheapest policy available that covers only sprained left wrists. Then when I *actually* get sick, buy a good insurance policy that covers actual medical care.

Read Your Constitution

I hear a few people hopefully speaking of impeachment as the FBI investigates Trump and his campaign for possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 election. Does anyone seriously think impeachment would nullify the election?! So Trump gets impeached. Now we have Pence. Trump minus the populist bits (infrastructure funding, trade protectionism) but with a heaping side of religious zealotry. I don’t care if the dude would personally never be alone in the same room with a woman other than his wife. People have all sorts of out-there principals that they uphold; so long as they don’t expect *me* to follow their dictate … who cares. But legislation banning sex ed, restricting access to birth control, bring back the sodomy laws – homosexual marriage isn’t illegal (so saith the Supreme Court) but so doing will meet the evidentiary requirements for a surveillance warrant at your local PD. Hell, even if you lived in a local and state jurisdiction where they just fail to investigate (and, don’t worry, the feds will threaten to withhold money from these ‘sanctuary cities’ too) … watch out where you vacation. Scrutinize your connecting flights. Hope there isn’t an emergency landing. Point being, Pence isn’t actually better. He has discipline and knowledge of government. He has a shot of getting pet legislation through Congress.

Maybe they’re hoping that Pence goes down with the ship too – great, now we’ve got Ryan. May be a win on the legislating fundamentalist Christian morality front, but we’ve seen his health care plan seven years in the making. Anyone seriously think his tax plan, regulatory plan … are going to be any better.

Then we’ve got Hatch – might be an improvement. Tillerson: government run by what’s best for oil companies! Of course next in line is Mnuchin: government run by what is best for mega-banks. Eventually one of these people will stick around – several were not involved in Trump’s campaign.

Windows 10 Tablet Mode

Now I know the *right* answer is “don’t let your four year old randomly click stuff on your computer” … which is an extension of “don’t let your cat walk/sleep on your keyboard” (a maxim I could never convince my mom was a good rule for computer usage). But I booted my Windows 10 computer to find I no longer had a desktop. I’ve got some theme-colored background with a couple of icons. I can go to all apps. I can get into settings and all sorts of things.

Not a Windows desktop:

And I didn’t even know what this thing was called to Google how to get rid of it. A bunch of random clicking later, and I’ve discovered Windows 10 has a “tablet mode”. Which was turned on – and just like I could never figure out how a sleeping cat managed to hit the three-key command required to rotate an Intel graphics card display by 90º, I have no clue how Anya’s gotten into this particular mode. Luckily it’s easy to undo (click it to turn it off); voila, I’ve got a desktop again.