2018-01-13

Prediction for Hawaii in October 2018

Following the ballistic missile false alarm, a surge of babies will appear in Hawaii approximately 9 months from now as men and women clustered together under the bed decide to go out of this world in flagrante and without protection.

There may also be a bunch of unmarried teen pregnancies for those who didn't want to die as virgins...

Good news about Hawaii's ballistic missile warning service

It works!

Watching the 1pm (Hawaii) press conference, the Governor and the Administrator for Emergency Management are going through the expected self-flagellation. The Administrator commented "Our process is to have no more false alarms from now" and that now two people will be required to send out an alert.

The interesting questions, which the journalists don't seem to be asking:

  1. How many false alarms are acceptable - rather, what rate of false alarming is acceptable? Once in 30 years? Once in 10 years? Once a year?
  2. What are the benefits from a false alarm - e.g. testing the alert channel, prompting people to think about their emergency plans - and what are the costs - e.g. mental health events, car accidents, heart attacks, premature consumption of expensive whisky
  3. What actions taken to reduce the risk of false alarms increase the risk of a real alarm being delayed in sending?
Everything comes with a trade-off. The last question is probably the most important. If you only have 10 minutes from alert going out until missile impact (on the current plan), what happens if e.g. your requirement for two people to trigger the alert sending ends up causing a delay because one person isn't around? You just know it's going to happen:
"Hey Akamu, can you watch the console for the next few minutes, I just gotta go to ABC Stores to get some more chocolate macadamias?"
"Sure Alika, I don't want to call in Ula the backup guy if we don't really need to."

I'd like to see a public written postmortem about this incident. Redact names - replace them with roles e.g. "the coming-on-duty emergency alerts worker", "the going-off-duty emergency worker" - and explain:

  • what went wrong,
  • why it went wrong (following the 5 Whys technique),
  • what actions are being taken to remediate the risk, and
  • what do they aim to achieve in terms of the false alarm rate and the failure to alert probability?
Write it in a blameless fashion; assume good faith and basic competence by the people involved. If someone made a bad choice, or slipped and hit the wrong button, the problem isn't with the person - it's the process and technology that let them make that bad choice or press the button in a non-deliberate way.

One interesting question that was raised in the conference: why did some but not all of the sirens trigger? You'd want the process to be that both the sirens team and the alert message should monitor each others' output. If you're the siren operator and get the alert on your phone, the best strategy is to trigger the siren immediately to increase coverage of the alert. The impact of a false siren is much lower than impact of not playing the siren when a missile really is inbound because of the PACOM-to-sirens message channel failing. So maybe this was individual siren operator initiative - reward those folks, and make it standard procedure.

This is a great opportunity for the state government to demonstrate transparency and a commitment to making the systems objectively work better, rather than just playing to the press. Unfortunately, you just know that it's not going to happen like that.

2018-01-10

How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked by James Damore's lawyer

With apologies to Chris Rock

CEOs of major tech companies often worry that they might be the victims of political conservative persecution, so as a public service the Hemiposterical Blog proudly presents:

How not to get your ass kicked by James Damore's lawyer

Have your firm ever been face-to-face with a James Damore lawsuit and wondered, "Is his lawyer about to kick my ass?" Well, wonder no more. If you follow these easy tips, you'll be fine.

Communicate with care

You've heard people say, "Man, I wouldn't say that shit if I were you." Well, here’s some of that shit:

  • Calling people Nazis
  • Threatening to punch Nazis
  • Blocking contact with co-workers
  • Blacklisting co-workers
  • Denigrating men
  • Calling for people with non-liberal views to be fired

You know, you probably won't get your ass kicked in a lawsuit if you just use common sense.

If you make an intemperate comment about diversity then you might just get off with opprobrium from Breitbart; but if you allow a systematic campaign against white people in general and men in particular in your company then, maybe, you need your ass kicked.

Turn that shit off

Here's a no brainer: if your company's employees are spending half their time making SJW postings, then find the bulletin boards and mail lists generating those prejudicial posts and turn that shit off. Giving free rein to employees to make memes about punching Republican co-workers is just ignorant.

Filter your candidates

You want to hire a new employee? Not so fast, your candidate might be crazy! Before you let the candidate in the company, ask them these questions:

  • Do you tweet 20+ times a day on social justice issues?
  • Do you write ill-conceived rants on public blogs and forums?
  • Do you regard 60%+ of the country as basically Nazis?

If you want to hire a new employee, get a libertarian. They don't care what anyone else does as long as they're left alone.

If you get sued

And in case you do get sued, remind your employees to do this one thing:

Shut the fuck up!

If you follow these simple pointers, you probably won’t get your ass kicked by James Damore's lawyer.

2018-01-08

The best messaging advice I ever got...

...was that I should never write any email or document, internal or external to my company, that I would be unhappy seeing on the front page of the New York Times. Obviously this advice was from back in the days when a lot of people still read the NYT. Nowadays I guess the advice should be

"never write anything that you'd be unhappy to see 'trending' on Twitter or prominent on Reddit"

It seems that a bunch of people at Google, including many senior managers who should have known better, did not take that advice. Reading James Damore's lawsuit against Google (starting around the end of page 12, through page 44) he captured a bunch of invective-laden emails, forum posts and other internal content and his lawyer is using that as evidence that Google systematically discriminates against conservative viewpoints of its employees.

Now, I have no idea what the actual legal merits of the complaint are under California law - or any law system to be honest - but the individuals' emails and posts have handed Damore a giant stick with which to beat Google, and no doubt multiplied whatever amount that the lawsuit will eventually settle at. If they'd actually paused to think "how would it look if this email ever leaked?" then maybe this situation wouldn't be such a trash fire.

The alternative, mind you, is that the individuals did consider this risk, but thought "that's OK, all right-thinking people will agree with me when they read this." By their definition they may be correct, but I suspect that they will soon discover how much they are outnumbered by wrong-thinkers.

I'm going to be fascinated to see the reaction of the more conservative members of the press and blogosphere when they read through these posts.

Update: also look in the complaint at Exhibit B (page 74 onwards) with additional posts and memes. Holy crap.

2018-01-07

Solving the sub-letting problem

The mainstream media is curiously quiet about the practice of sub-letting: where tenant X rents a property at a substantially discounted rate - typically, from the local council - and then finds a sub-tenant Y who pays them less than the commercial rate but more than the discounted rate. X makes a profit of close to 100% of the differential. If the local rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Camden is £2400/month and tenant X gets a council rate of 30% of that value, tenant X is paying £720/month and could easily charge tenant Y £1560/month, for a monthly profit of £840. The council - or rather, its taxpayers - are spending £1680/month for zero social benefit. Meanwhile, tenant X and tenant Y are laughing at them.

The effect of this phenomenon obviously depends on its frequency. If 1 in 1000 council tenants sub-let, this is too small to worry about. If 1 in 10 tenants sub-let, this rises to a significant level of concern.

Google found a very interesting study from 2012:

In 2,120 cases, 8 per cent of the total, HJK found "red" indicators of fraud, where the registered tenant had a mortgage, bank account, active credit or utility bills at another residential address.
In 3,180 cases, 12 per cent of the total, they found "amber" indicators of fraud – active credit, bank accounts, Sky TV or utility bill records held by a person with a different surname at the tenancy address, but no such activity there by the registered tenant.
In the light of the Grenfell fire, where the "rumblings" were that a significant number of tenants were sub-letting and hence it was difficult to identify who was missing and who was not, you'd have thought that there would have been more interest from the London councils in identifying illegal sub-letting - apparently not, though...

How to fix this? The first step is to find people who are being sub-let to but are unaware of this fact (their landlord is tenant X). Every council knows which properties it is providing at sub-market rates. Have a major cross-London publicity campaign with letter mailshots to "Occupier, <ADDRESS>" at each subsidised house; each letter says

we believe that you are tenant X and are currently paying £YYY/month to the council. If tenant X is not living at this address, please provide evidence of your current rent payments to them and we will accept you as a social housing resident instead of them, at that payment level. If you do not do this, and we subsequently find you, you will be evicted with no notice and we will impose a fine of £ZZZ
Complying sub-letters get a year of their current rate, then council has discretion to ratchet up the rent significantly above rent inflation (say, 3x).

Second step: exclude most innocent council tenants. Each 6 months, random visit from a council member. They provide their ID and ask to speak to tenant X face-to-face. Crucially, they don't arrange follow-up appointments - if they can't speak to X on the day, they call back one day in each of the next 2 weeks - but they do follow suggestions about what time of day is good to catch X. If they don't speak to X within 2 weeks, X gets a black mark.

Black-marked tenants then shift to being the subjects of active detection:

  • Inspect the mail going to that address: how much is addressed to X, how much to someone else? Check with utilities, specifically TV and mobile phone companies.
  • If there's significant evidence of sub-letting then bring in the police, enter and inspect the property, illegal sub-letters have their property seized.
  • Councils publish a bulletin every 6-12 months - sent to "Occupier, <ADDRESS>" at all subsidised housing - with statistics of sub-lets detected and seized, and the amount of money saved.
  • Active publicity to residents in the same building: "do you know of illegal sub-letting in your building? Provide evidence to us at <EMAIL> and be eligible for a reward up to £5000, no questions asked.

Coming back to the root cause, though - why aren't councils more interested in detecting illegal sub-letting? It's direct theft from them, and not small amounts either. If Geraldine in accounts snaffled £10K with invoice fraud over 12 months they'd happily throw her in jail and trumpet the detection. Why aren't they similarly vocal about the sublet fraud by Darren and Beyrooz which is ratcheting up a similar loss rate? Is it just too much hassle? Is this a classic example of P. J. O'Rourke's classification of "other people's money spent on other people" - you don't care how much is being spent, and you don't care whether the receivers are getting value for money, as long as you're getting your regular salary and don't have to work too hard?

2017-12-10

An observation on premature escalation

Right now, I'd imagine that the editors of the major Western news outlets - with the exception of Fox News - are bemoaning how they forgot a key part of their classical education, notably the Aesop fable of the boy who cried "Wolf!" and in particular the advice:

"Save your frightened song for when there is really something wrong!"

The first year of Donald Trump's tenure as President of the United States has been punctuated with the media throwing itself into fits of hysteria at any of Trump's actions which offended their sensibilities:

  • "he's blocking Muslims from entering the USA! RACIST!"
  • "his VP refuses to be alone with a woman who's not his wife. SEXIST!"[1]
  • "the Russians got him elected. TRAITOR!"
  • "he has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. ISLAMOPHOBE!"
And so on. This was the natural continuation of the 8 year campaign against the Republican opposition, which reached its zenith with the attacks on 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Anyone remember binders full of women? Declarations that Romney as president would be the end of the world? Bill Maher does.

I have to admit, I had (and still have) considerable reservations about Donald Trump as a person. I'd be the first to admit that Donald Trump's tweets have been far from edifying on many occasions. But then, I never particularly believed that Barack Obama was all sweetness and light either - you don't navigate from Chicago community organizer to President of the USA without being willing to do some pretty distasteful things, and ally yourself with some pretty dubious people, and has been notable in failing to observe the convention that ex-Presidents don't comment on the deeds of the current President. Bill Clinton has some hugely admirable personal characteristics - read the late Barbara Olson's Hell To Pay for details - but seems to be significantly challenged vis-a-vis keeping his wang in his pants. G. W. Bush has a far from perfect personal history, although seems to have had a genuine spiritual conversion before becoming President.

What redeems Donald Trump, in my view, is the way he has played the media like a fiddle in the past 12 months. They have been consistently so eager to believe their own narrative, they've failed to sanity-check themselves, and now they seem to be left with a Russia-collusion investigation that's going to fizzle to nothing, a raving Hillary Clinton who's alienating more and more of her party with her insistence that nothing was her fault, and today's Raftergate where a reporter was so keen to believe that Donald Trump's audience in Pensacola was tiny that they didn't do a basic check to confirm.

If Roy Moore gets elected in Alabama's Senatorial special election on Tuesday, it's mostly going to be down to the fact that the central-USA population has decided that they don't believe a word that the media says. Moore seems to be a fairly distasteful candidate, but if you were a voter of average information level in Alabama then a natural tendency would be to assume that all the anti-Moore broadcasts were blatant lies, and if the media really doesn't want him to be elected then he's clearly the right man for the job.

[1] Yeah, Pence is looking pretty smart right now I'd say...

2017-11-12

Ceredigion the lynx murderers

Hat tip to the inimitable JuliaM on Twitter for highlighting the case of the escaped Eurasian lynx, which Ceredigion County Council decided to have whacked without any kind of due process:

Heaven forfend that we have a wild lynx marauding around Ceredigion, won't someone please think of the children? Ceredigion certainly did:

Despite exhaustive multi agency efforts to recapture the class A animal, the multi-agency group responding to the incident received additional advice late on Friday afternoon, 10 November, from a specialist veterinary surgeon that the risk to public well-being had increased from moderate to severe due to the continued failure of the Wild Animal Kingdom to recapture the lynx.
Severe? Severe?

Look, the Eurasian lynx isn't a small creature - fully grown males weigh up to 30kg - but that's still only the median weight for a 9 year old girl. There have been no recorded fatal attacks on humans by lynxes since records began. In the Bay Area we have bobcats which grow to about half the size of a lynx, and they wander through gardens all the time without anyone batting an eye.

We even have 37kg mountain lions wandering the streets of San Francisco which just get tranquilized and returned to the wild. One imagines that the greatest danger in such a mountain lion attacking a San Francisco resident would be to the mountain lion. Even when a child is actually attacked by a lion, the authorities will tranq lions before checking to see if they were the actual attacker, and any innocent lion is let go.

Ceredigion County Council are a bunch of cat-murdering weasels who are more concerned about PR than about the welfare of a beautiful animal.

2017-10-29

Motivations behind the California gas tax increase

This weekend, a 66% increase went into effect for the state gasoline (petrol) tax in California. The stated intention is to raise money for transportation projects:

Under Senate Bill No. 1, the gasoline tax will increase by 12 cents, from 18 cents to 30 cents per gallon, the Los Angeles Times reported after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation in April.
[...]
As part of the legislation, motorists will also have to pay an annual vehicle fee, though that doesn't take effect until Jan. 1, 2018. The fees range from $25 for cars worth less than $5,000 to $175 for those valued at more than $60,000. Additionally, a $100 annual fee on electric vehicles will be imposed on owners in lieu of gas taxes beginning on July 1, 2020.
Most California drivers can expect the taxes and fees to cost them less than $10 each month, according to Brown.

The revenue increase

Well Jerry, let's look at the math. I'm ignoring the costs on diesel users here, just focusing on regular gasoline, so this will be an underestimate of revenue raised.

California population is approximately 39M. There are approximately as many registered vehicles as people. So the stated overall income delta to the state of California for the imminent change is $120/year x 39M vehicles, or $4.6 billion per year, based on Jerry's numbers.

How much gasoline did Californians buy in the past year? About 14.57 billion gallons. Add $0.12/gallon and that's $1.8 billion; the bulk of the increase will come from the per-vehicle fee. Looking at the scales, let's say $80 is average; that yields $3.12 billion.

Interestingly, electric vehicle users really get screwed by this. If I've read the spec correctly, they pay $100/year plus the value-of-the car tax. $100 looks to be at least 2x the average gas tax impact based on mileage.

So California shouldn't be exercised about the gas tax per se, they should be much more indignant about the per-vehicle charge. And electric vehicle owners should be marching on Sacramento to burn Jerry in effigy, if their vehicles can get them that far.

What gas costs, and why

The California tax situation is worse than it appears. In San Jose currently you'll expect to pay about $2.70/gallon; you'll pay $0.18/gallon federal gas tax, $0.12/gallon state gas tax, plus $0.06/gallon state sales tax. But there's also a secondary excise tax and an underground storage fee - yes, California taxes the right to store gasoline underground - which bumps the total California per-gallon tax to about $0.58; over 21% of your gas cost goes to the state of California.

Also note for completeness: in summer gas costs much more because California requires a special anti-pollution blend. This isn't crazy, especially if you live in a major conurbation like LA or the Bay, but you can easily find gas prices over $4/gallon. The extra $1/gallon or so yields another $0.02/gallon in sales tax for about half of the year.

Where it goes

Why is the California state government doing this? Well, because politicians will tax anything they can get away with. California already has more than enough money from gas taxes to address the issue of highway repair. Don't believe me? Check the math.

The stated need for highway repair in the California 2016-2017 budget was $3.6 billion annually, plus a $12 billion backlog:

Highway and Road Maintenance and Repair Needs. In order to assist the Legislature in its deliberations regarding increased funding for state highway and road repairs, we assess the costs to maintain and rehabilitate core aspects of the state highway system—pavement, bridges, and culverts—as well as local roads. We find that the state has ongoing highway repair needs of about $3.6 billion annually as well as an existing backlog of needed repairs totaling roughly $12 billion. This need is significantly higher than can be addressed through the existing funding of about $1.6 billion for these purposes.
Interesting. California is currently extracting $0.583 in tax per gallon of gasoline on 14.57 billion gallons of gas per year - $8.5 billion - and yet it's spending only 20% of that money on highway repair. What is it spending the rest on? You can bet that the excess is finding its way in disguise to be able to fund the usual payoffs: pensions and pet projects like the brain-meltingly dumb high speed SFO-LA rail.

We should ask: where does Governor Brown think this money will be spent?

“Safe and smooth roads make California a better place to live and strengthen our economy,” Brown said. “This legislation will put thousands of people to work.”
Oh, Jezza. Jobs are a cost, not a benefit. The minimum-wage Bay Area or LA commuter spending literally thousands of dollars per year on gas is not going to thank you for taxing him about $150/year extra to fund union workers doing fuck-all to fix potholes. (Believe me, I've had ample opportunity to watch them work while sitting in traffic jams. They could not move slower if they were quadriplegic.)

"But California is so big! It has the most roads!"
Nope. Texas has nearly 2x the road mileage of California. I've driven quite a lot in Texas, and their pothole situation feels better than California. Heck, you occasionally get actual freezes in Texas, which are practically unknown in California, and a classic source of potholes. The top 4 worst pothole cities are Californian. What the hell?

"California has other transport costs! Like congestion reduction!"
California does f-all congestion reduction, believe me. The only congestion reduction it likes which works is higher gas taxes. Building additional roads is waaaaayy down their priorities list, only just above "donate to Donald Trump's reelection campaign".
There are also additional separate revenue streams from vehicles in California. Existing annual vehicle registration is proportionate to the vehicle's current estimated value, and for a $30K car will set you back $100-$200/year. "Use tax" applies to all vehicle purchases - even second hand! - and the state gets 7.5% of the purchase. So for a $30K car you'd pay $2250; assuming you keep the car for 6 years, that's $375/year income for the state.

California doesn't have an income problem for its transport costs. It has a "not spending that money on transport costs" problem.

Measuring success

Where I work, if I were to propose recurrent spending of a significant chunk of my company's annual income on a project, I'd rightly be asked to define a measurement of its impact, and "success" criteria by which we could judge if the spending had an acceptably high impact, or if it should be stopped and I should be fired.

Jerry Brown: what will be your measure of success in spending the $5 billion+/year raised from the additional gas tax and vehicle fee? Is it just in "sustained union support of Edmund Gerald Brown, Jr"? You mendacious over-taxing git.

2017-10-28

Ellipses

Binge watching the 2008 "classic" 'Lost in Austen', I find myself drawn to Mr. "Hugh Bonneville" Bennett's observation, addressing the linguistic and cultural shift between the early 1800's and early 2000's:

You do make the most refreshingly elliptic conversation, Miss Price.
Henceforth I resolve to use this idiom whenever I have no idea what my interlocutor is talking about. Unless they're addressing the topic of ECDH when the conversation would be elliptic, refreshing, yet still prone to make one's eyes cross.

I also appreciated the reference to the "otter-strewn thoroughfares of Hammersmith"; if ever I discovered an otter in Hammersmith, I'd expect it to be draped around the neck of a Russian lady resident of the area.

2017-10-07

Hillary Clinton

Alleged comedian Jimmy Kimmel arranged for his staff writers to pen thank-you notes to Hillary Clinton, and - for a programme which people paid money to watch - had Miley Cyrus read them out live to Hillary.

At this stage you are down on your knees praying that this is a fake news post, but unfortunately I have to tell you that it is painfully real.

One note which particularly stuck with me - like a bad case of toenail fungus - was:

Thank you, Hillary, for always sticking to the issues even as people criticize you for superficial things like your hair, your wardrobe, and your appearance. You show girls everywhere that politics isn't a popularity contest — because if it were, you would have won by about 3 million votes.

Tell it sister! Politics is not a popularity contest.
Politics is a beauty contest[1]. Hair, height, clothes are all relentlessly honed for appeal.
And Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump.

[1] Not to mention that beauty contests are extremely political.