Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Local Color V -- Party Time!

Case#: 0212000946/ Burglary, Larceny, Criminal Damage to Property

On 1/17/12 deputy responded to above location in reference to a burglary.  Victim stated that between 0720 and 1900 hours unknown persons gained forced entry by throwing a rock through a rear bedroom window.  Victim stated that suspects took 15 Victoria Secret Bras and 40 pairs of Victoria Secret underwear.  Estimated value of items taken is $1500.00.  Estimated damage amount is $500.00.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Social Not Working

Last night I dreamed that I found a way to reanimate dead people such that they could perform their normal functions as Zombies.  It became rather popular with (American) Football players -- high school and up -- because it allowed them to play-through all injuries. When they got too old to continue their sports careers they became (David Chalmers should be proud of this thought experiment) Life Insurance Salesmen.

Which introduces my real topic:

Social Networking

Because our recent rain, sleet, snow, and dark of night conditions did not interfere with the USPS's delivery of my latest New Yorker -- somewhere else -- I am reduced to catching up on the IEEE Spectrum magazines littered around the house. The one I read before my dream was devoted to Social Networking in many of it's myriad forms, mainly focused on the two powerhouses of Google and Facebook (but no mention of Wikipedia?). After reading from cover to cover I have to admit: I just don't get it...

From the 10K level the two companies have similar business plans:

  1. Provide ostensibly free information that people want;
  2. Collect data about those people;
  3. Sell advertising based upon that data;
  4. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I do understand Google's search service since I use it for all kinds of stuff every day. Funny(?) aside: I met Larry Page at SFI once and congratulated him for providing such a valuable service to everyone. He squinted at my name tag and asked, "What's a Reverse Engineer?"

But I don't understand social network services. I've used email for 30 years, run a website for 15 years, and have this very blog for my random thoughts. The number of responses I get is asymptotic to zero. Would doing all that on Facebook change my accessibility? At the price of having to sort through thousands of Farmville activity updates?

I can see the point of a social network when organizing, say, a Revolution. And I do somewhat understand that I could use it find new "friends" -- through I have some trouble even finding old friends -- if I wanted any. I'm not sure it would work any better than the old-fashioned newspaper personals (approximately zero responses) or online-dating (one response, who turned out to be someone I'd gone to college with). But why do I need to tell my "friends" what I ate this morning? (For the record: Envirokids Panda Puffs with added raisins and walnuts and a large Atomic latte.)

To hammer home the information leakage issue, one of the Spectrum articles was about a (very attractive, young, female) doctor who had to define various Trust levels for her "friends" to prevent her inner-circle personal information leaking into the political realm: Her Mother was kept strictly at Level 0... Do I even want to "share" stuff that is that sensitive? Or conversely, since my Mother is dead and the Department of Homeland Security is focused on cupcakes, maybe I don't even care who knows what?

I dunno....

Now, maybe, to the point: Advertising

This whole Internet thing is monetized -- what a lovely coinage, eh? -- by selling targeted advertising. Advertising which attempts to get us to buy things that are, mostly, made elsewhere, and to pay for them with credit that is, mostly, backed by the full faith of the US Government's printing presses. Faith that is being purchased by the same folks who are making the things in the first place. This process seems to be consuming the best and brightest 1% of our young engineers and scientists, who are rewarded with free gourmet food (sour-grapes-contrast with my waning experience at The Company).

Until recently I have been a Very Bad Interzen. I never bothered to look at all those Ads cluttering up my online content. But I read an article about the New Thing being targeted campaigns, rather than just targeted products. For example, they figure out that you respond to bargains and then they offer you coupons. So I started looking at the ads to see what they know about me.

Thank God they were not so sophisticated years ago when I spent a month trolling for ball screw nuts in order to rebuild my milling machine -- I can't even think about the advertising that would generate. But now, on every page, I have an ad for the Ryobi Lithium power tool batteries that I looked up a week ago -- and rejected because, at 4x the price of the old Nicads, I could find no explicit indication, anywhere, that they are compatible or last any longer.

Thus, so far, they have not discerned my preferred campaign style...


...I respond to ads that tell me:

  • What something is;
  • What it does;
  • How well it works;
  • How long it lasts.

And please stop sending email asking me to join the latest wunderkind networking site.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


I wrote this recently thinking I would enter an AARP volunteerism contest. It turned out they wanted a different kind of story (and the stupid entry website just ate my homework when I tried to apply) so I gave up. The actual event happened about a year ago, but we just had two more 3AM fire calls -- on which I demurred response -- so I think it describes the job reasonably well...

When my pager goes off at 3AM I am, uncharacteristically, sleeping rather soundly: "Vehicle fire, intersection of (two streets near my home)". I grumble and think, "Ah, the go-getter kids will go-get this one". But in fact the (two streets near my home) are between me and my Fire Station, so it really is My Neighborhood that needs help. I stumble on some clothes, retain my slippers because it's either a false alarm or I'll have to don my full bunkers -- fire gear and boots -- anyway, and get out the door in under five minutes. A couple minutes later I'm at the specified intersection and find nothing of interest.  I radio this information to the dispatch center who reply, "The caller said at the end of (one of the streets near my home)". So.  Hmm. Maybe it's the _other_ end?

For the last five years I've been a volunteer firefighter in an area of Urban-Wildland Interface bisected by about 20 miles of Interstate Highway.  Our district covers 120 square miles and has a population of 6000 people.  The week after I signed on there was a multiple casualty highway accident involving a family of five. During the -- very detailed -- post incident review I thought, "You know, this might not be for me...". But through a series of fortuitous coincidences I persevered and now have Hazmat, Structural and Wildland Fire, and Medical First Responder certificates. I can also dismantle your car in about ten minutes if you are trapped inside.  And I can drive with Lights'n'Sirens. In my own Personally Operated Vehicle even.

This being Urban-Wildland Interface territory the other end of my street is a mile and a half away around two hills. I U-turn and head back whence I came. Other folks responding are reporting that they see flames somewhere near my hill. So this is a real fire. Someplace nearby.

About 50% of our calls are medical and 20% are fires that don't exist.  Two of the 300 fire alarm checks we've had in the last five years were actual fires. One was because the flue in the fireplace had fallen closed and the other was a pot of forgotten eggs boiling on the stove.  There have also been a few well-done Thanksgiving turkeys to deal with.  In those years we've lost two structures. One due to a wildland fire that took most of the County to control. Overall we've been very lucky.  Really.

Fire trucks are spreading out in a somewhat directed search pattern as I make my way through the hills to the other-end-of-the-street. At the end I find a pickup truck in flames, "Fully Involved". Coming closer I see a body face down on ground near the driver's side, twitching as if it were attached to an electric line. I think, "WTF? Gangs? Up Here?" But I have the presence of mind to get on the radio and report what I see, and more importantly: Where I am. Now at least everyone else can find us.

I join forces with another of our guys who followed me up the hill and drag the "patient" away from the burning vehicle. The fire is spreading to the surrounding brush so I return to my truck to direct the rest of the cavalry to the scene and get suited-up for battle.

Then I stand there for what seems like an hour wondering, "Where the 'heck' is everyone?"

Finally our fire engine arrives. I pull a hose line and extinguish the brush fire while others get geared up and deal with the vehicle. It's all over in a few moments. Discounting the panic.

The patient turned out to be one of our own guys who had, shall we say, over-extended himself and decided that his exit strategy should be immediate. In a moment of clarity he radioed-in the location of his fire, which our dispatchers then slightly misinterpreted. Our department's participation in his initial group therapy sessions kind of overwhelmed the counseling facility. But he's doing fine now.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Some additional addenda

In thinking about my recent (12/30/11, below) modest proposal -- yes, I know, I'm not supposed to be thinking about it -- a few additional points came to mind:

  • The Job Multiplier -- Every pointless regulatory job created at the federal level would create at least 10 more jobs at the state and local levels, not to mention the affected industries scrambling to hire folks to comply/scam the new regulation. Money well spent in lubricating the economy.
  • Funding -- "Just who's going to pay?" comes to mind. It's all Pay as You Go via application and use fees. Let's say I want to kill my neighbor. There's an initial application, environmental impact documents, various agency approvals, announcements, and god-knows-what-else-a-motivated-legislator can come up with. Each step has a nominal fee to cover costs. Plus I'll probably have to hire someone to guide me through the maze -- there's another private sector job right there! Once it's all signed and sealed my neighbor may not show up at the appointed time and place, so there needs to be a compliance officer to insure that I don't take matters into my own hands by going out of bounds -- this is probably a public sector job. On the other hand I may have annoyed the neighbor so much that he DOES show up armed with the necessary permits. Then we have a good old fashioned duel on our hands, and may need a second compliance officer to enforce whatever rules the-motivated-legislator has determined to be necessary. But I should be able to retain any funds which exceed the license fees, so there is profit to be made at each turn. If one applies this system to something like Credit Default Swaps I think you can imagine just how much potential profit, even subtracting fees, is available for exploitation.
  • Some Things Are Too Important to Be Obfuscated -- For instance I would say this includes Emergency Services -- the Fire and EMS which are close to my own heart and some subsets of Law Enforcement (there are whack jobs out there {I leave the precise definition to the reader} and it would be counter-productive to require private citizens to go through the whole permit process in order to get them under control). This stuff falls under what I would call the Sturgeon's Revelation clause: 90% of everything is crud. Where the remaining 10% (maybe downgraded to 5% these days) is this Too Important to Fail stuff. So I would lighten up a bit on the regulations here and actually make a concerted effort to provide these services efficiently. I haven't seen any of the limited government folks address this. Do we really eliminate all services dedicated to the public good? How about Stop signs at busy intersections? Or even roads themselves? Obviously there are opportunities for constructive argument here.
Interestingly enough Sturgeon stumbled on a classification system similar to the 80-20 Pareto Principle (that Pareto guy really got around didn't he?) which shows some empirical evidence that 80% of everything takes 20% of the resources and vice-versa. While working in the tech industry I independently developed my own 80/15/5 rule of thumb: 80%-Crap/15%-Gray-area/5%-Non-crap, which proved to be fairly useful. This could be applied to the task of determining exactly how to classify all the various public services.