ITHCWY Newsletter for February 2021

Thingiverse render of 72-58mm adapter

It's been a while since I put out a newsletter after a fairly quiet end to last year. Here are some recent highlights.

How to Save a Planet (with an Infiniti QX55)

Lock up the Flexible Spending Account Administrators

Software: Catfood Earth 4.10 updates to the latest National Weather Service "API" and also 2021a timezones. Photo Sorter 1.10 helps control the scourge of duplicate JPEGs.

Timelapse: Sunset #6, what would happen if you used a style transfer neural network on every frame of a timelapse? This (instructions).

Hikes: Abrigo ValleyGrabtown Gulch and Mariposa Loop.

I'm not sure why during the pandemic I've used way more electricity but the same amount of gas.

Some thoughts on the results of the election, written before the Capitol riot.

Previously:

Book reviews for February 2021

The Expert System’s Champion (Expert System, #2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Expert System’s Champion (Expert System, #2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

4/5

 

Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos by Darrell Rigby

Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos by Darrell Rigby

3/5

 

Raised in Captivity: Fictional Nonfiction by Chuck Klosterman

Raised in Captivity: Fictional Nonfiction by Chuck Klosterman

4/5

 

The World According to Physics by Jim Al-Khalili

The World According to Physics by Jim Al-Khalili

3/5

 

Winterkill (Dark Iceland #6) by Ragnar Jónasson

Winterkill (Dark Iceland #6) by Ragnar Jónasson

3/5

 

The Choice Factory: 25 behavioural biases that influence what we buy by Richard Shotton

The Choice Factory: 25 behavioural biases that influence what we buy by Richard Shotton

4/5

 

Whiteout (Dark Iceland) by Ragnar Jónasson

Whiteout (Dark Iceland) by Ragnar Jónasson

3/5

 

There Is No Antimemetics Division by qntm

There Is No Antimemetics Division by qntm

5/5

 

Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind by Peter Godfrey-Smith

Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind by Peter Godfrey-Smith

4/5

 

How to Save a Planet (with an Infiniti QX55)

QX55

I've been meaning to check out the new Gimlet/Spotify podcast, How to Save a Planet, and finally listened to the first episode about wind power last week.

It was sponsored by the Infiniti QX55.

This is not even a hybrid. It's a 268 horsepower SUV. Consumer Reports says:

"The company cited 26 mpg combined (city and highway) when the QX50 was introduced for 2019. We measured just 22 mpg overall in our tests, putting it on par with larger, more powerful SUVs. And it required premium fuel. Subsequently, the official EPA estimate was downgraded to 25 mpg."

It's not even a particularly efficient SUV. You are really unlikely to be saving a planet this way. I'm not sure I can bear to find out who sponsors the second episode. I'm imagining a subscription panda steak service or bitcoin.

I shouldn't throw stones. I bought into a Volkswagen clean diesel (which came with a green tax credit before they got busted). I currently drive a Land Rover that can only hit it's claimed mpg if the engine stop technology is working. That only happens for about twelve miles after it has been serviced, which feels like the same sort of scam as the Volkswagen frankly.

Or maybe the clue is in the indefinite article and they read my post about extreme environmentalism.

Lock up the Flexible Spending Account Administrators

Law and Order: FSA

I have just spent hours unfucking my FSA.

My dentist overcharged the FSA debit card by $2.10 due to some mix up between expected and actual insurance payment. Which would have sorted itself out on the next visit, but apparently it's an FSA emergency which needs paperwork now!

There are at least 28 million of these types of FSA/HSA accounts in the US.

Life expectancy at birth has fallen to 681,995 hours. So assuming that on average each account generates two hours of needless admin per year this is the equivalent of killing 68 people.

FSA administrators who won't chill and let the $2.10 go are killing us at a comparable rate to serial killers.

Serial killers are pretty terrifying and justifiably get a lot of TV shows and FBI task forces aimed at them. But we'd save as many lives by giving FSA administrators 25 years to life every time they decide to reconcile to the last cent. And we should be watching Law & Order: FSA where the detectives drink to conceal the pain of uploading a PDF and explaining your situation in 500 characters or less.

Or we could save the time and money and lives and implement single payer healthcare.

etc, hsa, fsa

Open Democracy

Open Democracy

I just listened to Ezra Klien interview Hélène Landemore on her idea for political reform: open democracy:

"One in which we let groups of randomly selected citizens actually deliberate and govern. One in which we trust deliberation and diversity, not elections and political parties, to shape our ideas and to restrain our worst impulses."

This is very similar to what I've called legislative service, where a random jury of citizens would replace the Senate. In my vision you still have elected representatives who propose legislation and the panel of citizens acts to approve or deny. In open democracy you retain the benefit of a random selection of citizens presumably immune to corruption but they are debating and proposing laws as well. That's the gist I got from the interview, there is a book as well which I will read at some point.

Ezra raises some good objections, like voters feeling alienated from the decision of a panel that they didn't elect (less of an issue for legislative service than open democracy I think) and also the role of experts in the system (lobbyists as a positive force). I think he gets it wrong on California though:

"We have a pretty robust proposition process here. And I think the broad view is that it has been captured. Special interests get whatever they want on it whenever they want."

The problem is that Uber (or whoever) can pour money into marketing their proposition to the point where you feel you'd be letting down the puppy-saving firefighters if you vote against it (I'm possibly mixing up my ads here). With an adversarial jury style system you'd at least have a group of citizens looking at the actual pros and cons.

The interview is worth a listen, and I'll report back on the book when I read it.

Catfood Earth 4.10

Catfood Earth 4.10

Catfood Earth 4.10 is available for download.

The National Weather Service updated their weather radar API. The weather radar layer has changed a bit, you can enter one or more (comma separated) weather station IDs and Earth will show one hour precipitation for all of them. You used to be limited to a single station but with more options for the rader layer to display. Let me know if you love or hate the new version.

4.10 also includes the latest 2021a time zone database.

(I'm sure there are great reasons for it, but the 'new' NWS API is an XML document per station that links to a HTML folder listing of images where you can enjoy parsing out the latest only to download a TINY GZIPPED TIFF file FFS).

Pandemic Gas Mystery

Updated on Saturday, February 20, 2021

For no good reason I downloaded my gas and electricity consumption data by day for the last couple of years.

Electricity usage in kWh 2020 vs 2019 7 day moving average

The electricity trend is unsurprising. At the start of the pandemic it jumps up and stays up. With work and school from home we're running four computers non-stop, burning lights and (the horror) printing things. Overall we used 24% more electricity in 2020.

Gas usuage in therms 2020 vs 2019 7 day moving average

Gas on the other hand is pretty flat. There are some different peaks at the start and end of the year, but our total gas consumption increased by 0.08%. This doesn't make any sense to me. Being at home doesn't make much of a difference to laundry but it should have had a big impact on everything else. The heating has been on way more, we're cooking breakfasts and lunches that would have occurred out of the house in 2019 and we must be using more hot water as well.

There is one strange difference between how electricity and gas are metered. Fractional kWh are distributed randomly between .00 and .99 as you'd expect. Fractional therms are totally different - we're apparently likely to use 1.02 or 2.03 therms but never 1.50. This feels like it must be some sort of rounding or other billing oddness but I can't find any reasonable explanation despite asking Google three different ways.

Fractional therms billed distribution for PG&E billing days in 2019 and 2020

In a move that I might come to bitterly regret I have emailed PG&E to see if they can explain it. I'll update this post if I hear back. Or if you're a therm metering expert please leave a comment!

Updated 2021-02-20 13:51:

PG&E say:

"Thank you for contacting our Customer Service Center. Gas usage is registered by recording therms usage.  If you view your daily usage online, you will see that therms are only registered in whole units.  The only pace that you will see therms not as whole units is when you review the average daily usage.  The pandemic started in March 2020 and since then your gas usage is up slightly versus previous years. Most customers will see a larger increase in electric usage versus gas usage when staying home more than normal.  The majority of customers set the tempatures of the their heaters to very similar temperatures year over year and your heater will work to keep your house at the temperature whether you are home or not at home."

So the fractional therms are some sort of odd rounding on the downloaded data. Fair enough.

The majority of customers use the same temperature setting? Really? So that might be a good explanation if you constantly heat your house to the same temperature, but I know for sure that isn't us. We have a Nest Learning Thermostat and as I've previously reported this doesn't so much learn as just constantly turn the heating off. So staying warm is a constant battle with the thing.

Maybe the difference is that the pandemic started around Spring when San Francisco is warm enough to not need much heating. I'll look again when I can just compare winter vs winter in a couple of months.

Sunset #6

Sunset #6

Sunset looking west over the Pacific from San Francisco, California. Nice day to night transition with some stars as it gets dark.

(Previously: West Portal Sunset)

Post Storm Sunset

Post Storm Sunset

Photo Sorter 1.10

Photo Sorter 1.10

Photo sorter has been updated to skip metadata when comparing JPEG files.

I've been picking up some duplicates when I have both a local copy and a version downloaded from Google Photos. Google Photos knocks out some metadata and so the files look different even though the photo is the same. If you've used Photo Sorter before you'll need to run it over everything again to knock out any copies.

For full details and instructions see the Photo Sorter 1.00 post. You can grab the source or a binary from photo-sorter on github.