Saturday, October 31, 2015

Google autocomplete: The power of an individual

From Pleated Jeans

Four years of "Free!" college

I am against it.

Even if four years of "Free!" college could be provided with no cost out-of-pocket to the tax payer it has huge costs that are not visible to its supporters.

Give him an "extra" year

Elementary school teachers will sometimes recommend that a struggling student be retained.  In my experience they frame the suggestion with "I think we should give him and extra year."

That usually makes everybody feel better about the whole exercise.  After all, they just increased his life expectancy by 365 days.  There are not many medicines that can do that.

In fact, they did not "give him an extra year".  They reduced the productive portion of his (and it is usually boys) life by one year.  But is even worse than it sounds. 

The time value of money

Consider the time value of money.  At a six percent discount rate, one dollar earned this year is worth a dollar earned in years 33-through-40 ($8) of a person's career.  That means that for a person with stagnant wages, a one year delay into the job market could equate to an eight year delay in retirement.

Four years of "Free!" college is four times worse than "giving Johnny an extra year" for 4/5ths of high school graduates.  That is the 4/5ths who will go into jobs that do not require college degrees.

The half life of knowledge

Estimates for the half life of knowledge range from five years to forty-five years.  The entire concept of "half life of knowledge" calls into question the entire concept of getting one big dose of "knowledge" that is supposed to last one's entire life.  Even if half of what you know is still true fifteen years after you graduate from college, half of what you know is "wrong" or "obsolete". 

In fields where the half life is shorter (psychology, for instance) the best case scenario is that a significant portion of what the student was taught is "wrong" the day they graduation.  The worst case scenario is that their professors did not keep up with the art and taught them wrong/obsolete information.

So it is not clear that four years of college, all in one shot at the beginning of their working career, is a good investment.

So why four "Free!" years of college?

From my vantage point it can only be a veiled attempt to buy votes.

They walk among us

Yesterday, I received a phone call from a friend who I had worked with twenty years ago.

Time and fate have not treated him well.  He and his wife were casualties of downsizing.  There is little demand for professions in their fifties.  It gets worse when you were cast overboard by your company.  It continues to degrade the longer you are unemployed.

He had one job as a process engineer with an outfit running on a shoe-string budget.  He quit due to inability to see eye-to-eye regarding proper safety-lockout systems.  He was not impressed with home baked, Rube Goldberg trip-wires yanking switches off.  (Note: Proper process guarding is defaut-off, like air brakes.  Air pressure lifts the shoes off the rotors so the wheels can turn.  Loss of air pressure throws the brakes on.)

Feel the Bern

Somewhere along the line they decided that Capitalism was not working for them.  They figured out that following all the rules simply made it easier for “The Big Guys” to strip mine their assets.

They are now Socialists.  They are proud of it.

My friend’s wife was a community activist “up North”.  She just got a job in Lansing.  Most of her work will be done via telecommuting but she needs to spend a couple of days a week in Lansing.

Her job does not pay much.  My friend asked if I had a spare bedroom that I would let his wife sleep in on a regular basis.  I had to tell him that I could not help him for a variety of reasons.  I then offered to check around for some low-rent housing.  He declined.  She needs no-rent housing to make this job work.

The challenge

The challenge for me is that I like to think I am pro-little guy.  But something just struck me funny about my friend’s request.  I had a hard time listening after he told me she did not want to pay anything.

His argument is that money is fiction.  The Fed can conjure up $700,000,000,000 (TARP) with the snap of their fingers.  He would have preferred that they just give every household $7,000 but they did not.  Since money is fictitious, it can be safely ignored.

Further, he sincerely believes that we should want inefficient government.  After all, they (and community activists) will be the only middle class left and we want a vibrant middle class, right?

I have been luckier than my friend.  I am no smarter than he is, just luckier. There but for the Grace of God walks Eaton Rapids Joe.

But I think he is just plain crazy.

Money does become a fiction under his scenario.  But so does the food on the grocery store shelves when the stocker on midnights gets a check regardless of whether he shows up to work or not.

The waitresses won't serve food in restaurants.  The truckers won't bring gas to the stations.  The linemen will not brave the weather to repair the power lines.  Why should they?  Money is a fiction.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Suicide rates and gun ownership

Suicides account for a large percentage of deaths by firearms.  As somebody who values my Second Amendments rights, it behooves me to talk about the connection between firearms and suicides.

Correlation does not prove causality

This is one of the first rules in statistics.

A very simple word picture to prove the point:  We all know that a rising tide lifts all boats.  A naive statistician might look at the data and conclude that lifting one boat, perhaps with a crane, would result in all of the boats in the harbor also being lifted.

In the real world, most metrics are not as strongly correlated as the elevation of the boats in the harbor.  A problem solver might note correlation between many factors.  He/she will first look for causality relationships between those factors that have the strongest correlation.

Gun ownership rates and suicide rates

Anti Second Amendment "progressives" like to point to correlation between gun ownership rates and suicide rates.   It is very clear to them, reducing availability of the tool will reduce the likelihood of a successful suicide.

 In an attempt to minimize the "noise" in the data, I am showing the five states with the highest suicide rates and the five states with the lowest suicide rates.  This is called "Latin Squares" in Design-of-Experiment.  All rates are suicides per 100,000 residents.  Gun ownership is in percentage.

One of the issues that is problematic with the data is that there is not very much separation between Maryland, Massachusetts and Utah.  Perhaps within the margin of error of the gun ownership data.  Note that the forty states "in the middle" are not shown.

Mental Health Maintenance

People are social animals.  Perhaps suicide rate correlates more strongly with population density.  Lets compare.

There is so much separation that the chart is not readable.
Distributions like this suggest the need for a logrithmic scale

All I can say is "Wow!"
M. Scott Peck once characterized "counseling" as a stand-in for a good, deep friendship, the kind of friend that you feel safe in confiding your deepest shames, fears, failings and successes.

Low population density means that potential friends are farther away.

Low population density means that mental health professionals are more distant.  In some cases, mental health professionals have an active dislike of American West culture and refuse to provide services to the same. 

Psychology Professor at U-T refuses to teach classes if guns might be present.  In many other professions this would be considered dereliction of duty.

Low population density is often a disincentive for any health professionals to relocate to your area.  They have bills to pay and debt to work off.


Gun ownership rate and suicide rate are linked but it is not a pure "causal" link.  They are linked because they both share a relationship with low population density.

People who live in states with low population density tend to own guns because they have more opportunity to use them.  Thus, guns are an investment they can exercise.  People who live in densely populated states have fewer opportunities to shoot their guns.  Consequently, guns tend to be an investment that provides little return.

The data suggests that people in the states with the lowest population are more likely to seek suicide than states with higher population density.  One possible reason is due to the difficulty in talking face-to-face with friends and the difficulty in getting professional medical help.

In the interest of even-handedness, I will note that suicide attempts made with guns are more likely to be successful than attempts made with other methods.

I like to stay positive.  One thing we can do is to slow down and actively listen to one person today.  It is best to listen to the one person who seems to be hurting the most.  Regardless of who you choose, let them know that you think the world is a better place because they are here and let them know that we are pulling for them because we are all in this together

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Durable road surfaces

One of the advantages of living near the state capital is that I get to meet "experts" who can give me insights into perplexing problems.

One of those puzzles involves the downward spiral of concrete quality.  I lived on Lansing's near-East side in the late 1980s and we had a sidewalk block stamped "1923".  It was in great shape...far better than the blocks poured in the early 1970's.  The contractors who were replacing bad blocks must have noticed, too.  They jackhammered it out even though it was pristine, if slightly worn.  Now the block they replaced it with is crumbling.

My expert used to work for the Michigan Department of Transportation.  He told me that the problem was twofold.

The primary problem is that the contractors self-certify the quality of the pour.  In itself, self-certification is not a problem.  The quality of domestic automobiles has grown by leaps-and-bounds under supplier self-certification.  The problem is in the implementation.

The difference between the state contractors and the automotive suppliers is that the State yawns when the contractor falls out of compliance.  The automotive companies make the suppliers crawl across five miles of broken glass.

For example:  It is mandatory that the automotive supplier
  • Perform root cause analysis
  • Implement a short term fix
  • Identify and quarantine all discrepant material
  • Identify and initiate a long term fix
  • Certify that all reworked discrepant material exceeds as-new requirements before releasing quarantine
  • Pay damages that are determined by a formula:  $500/minute to stop the main assembly line, $100/minute to stop a feeder line, $60/hour for every internal person involved in finding and fixing the mess.  Plus, the supplier must bear all incidental costs associated with the corrective action.
The contractors emergency response plan is to keep pouring samples until one of them passes.

The automotive system may seem harsh, but it is all about protecting the customer.  Further, that pain can lead to some creative solutions.

One example involves interior trim panels.  These panels were upholstered in a soft vinyl-like material that was vulnerable to snagging.  The other side of the panel has sharp clips that snap into the car body.  You guessed it, the sharp clips consistently scarred the upholstery.

The fix that the supplier came up with was to ship the panels in two-by-two (front and rear, actually) with the sharp, pointy sides facing each other.  So rather than ship them >>|>>|>>|>>  They started shipping them ><|><|><  That solution cost NOTHING but it never would have been found and implemented if the supplier had not been losing hundreds of thousands of dollars to quality issues.

The other problem identified by my expert is the lack of attention paid to the aggregate used in the concrete.  Crushed limestone or dolomite is best.  Fly ash and crushed concrete is good.  Round aggregate is fair.  Some aggregate is contaminated with clay clods and organic waste it is is very poor.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Training "special" students. Shooting advice requested.

I invited one of my nephews to go shooting.

He does not come from a "shooting" family.  He is a senior at Michigan State University and he is studying to be in "media".  I told him that I owed him a quick education in firearms because he might report on them someday.  I also extended the invitation to anybody he thought might have a similar need to know.

He accepted instantly and already knows who he is going to bring.

Now what?

If you had the ability to go back in time and give the typical media "talking head" two or three hours of firearm training, what would you teach them?

Here is my first draft.  All comments will be appreciated.
  • Cooper's four rules of gun safety (Goal: Safety)
  • Shooting reactive targets (charcoal briquettes) with a .22 semi-auto at a distance where they have a +50% chance of hitting. (Goal: Fun, muscle memory, provide frame-of-reference)
  • Shoot 9mm semi-auto handgun at gallon milk jugs at same distance they were hitting charcoal briquettes (Goal: Introduce handguns, demonstrate inherent accuracy difference between handguns and long guns)
  • ---Edited to add--- Walk through copy of 4473 Form.  (Goal: Acquaint them with question 11, conditions that preclude legal gun ownership)---
  • Demonstrate relative difference in power by shooting gallon milk jugs filled with water:  .22LR, 9mm FMJ and 9mm hollowpoint, 12 gauge buckshot, 30-06 "high power rifle" (Goal: provide clear differentiation of different types of firearms so terms are not used indiscriminately when reporting.  Demonstrate why is might be necessary to shoot assailant multiple times with a handgun).
  • Back to shooting reactive targets.  "Sniper"  shooting little plastic figures.  (Goal: provide insight into snipers)
  • Shotgun drill, five jugs suspended at chest height from a clothes line at 5, 8 and 11 yards.  Light target loads. (Goal: Fun.  Increase "discrimination")
  • ---Break---    ---Break---   ---Break---
  • Pattern shotgun.  Buckshot loads (Goal: Debunk myth that buckshot does not require aiming, that it is a death ray)  Deleted in the interest of time
  • Demonstrate "trajectory" if range is long enough. Deleted in the interest of time.
  • Stationary Mackey Sagebrush drill (described below) (Goal: Demonstrate reasons for standard capacity magazines, demonstrate sensory occlusion, introduction to IDPA type shooting sports.)
  • ---Edited to add--- Stationary Mackey Sagebrush drill with other firearms, including AR if available.
  • Fire for familiarization, bolt action, pump, semi-auto, revolver.  Deleted in the interest of time.
  • Q/A and shoot up rest of ammo.
  • ---Edited to add--- Send students home with  "bullet boards" with mounted Handgun: .22LR, 380ACP, 38 Sp, 9mm, .357 Mag, 40 S&W, 45ACP....Long gun 22LR, .223 Rem, 7.62X39mm, 30-30 Win, .308 Win


Mackey Sagebrush drill

Mackey Sagebrush is the screen name of a law enforcement officer in Idaho.  This drill  attempts to demonstrate the advantages of semi-auto handguns with standard capacity magazines over reduced capacity magazines or revolvers.  Mackey's argument is that bad guys select encumbered victims.  It is easier to attack a man who is focusing on his family than it is to pick on a man who has undivided situational awareness.  A standard capacity magazine allows the defender to focus more on the targets than the mechanics of his firearm.

You are with your family enjoying a quiet meal at a restaurant near a shopping mall.  You see a disturbance in the parking lot. (Show footage of Reginald Denny beating.)  Loud music will be playing on the radio to add ambiance.

Your job is to walk away from the disturbance to your vehicle.  You will start at the top of the course.  You will walk backwards so you can keep an eye on the disturbance and stay between it and your family.  You will shoot anybody who threatens your family.

Five pop-up targets will have a "gun" stenciled on them.  Two will have a baby stenciled on them.

The course will be run first with a revolver.  Only hits count.  You die if you run out of bullets before you get to "safe".

Then the course will be run with the 9mm with the standard capacity magazines.

I really want to run this with "Dad" pushing a beach ball backwards with his feet to simulate a clingy/curious three year old child.

At end of drill I will ask participant what detailed questions about the "shooters" and what music was playing on the radio.  This is to demonstrate sensory occlusion caused by massive adrenaline dumps.


Lots of situational demonstrations.  Relatively little talk-at-them.  It will be a success if they learn firearm safety and have a little bit of fun.  Everything else is a bonus.

Do I have too much? Is it too complicated?

Your advice will be much appreciated.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Nothing unites like a common foe

Belladonna has been keeping me posted with updates about her apartment mates.  They bonded in the face of a common foe.

The next apartment to the south is filled with young women from The Big City.

It is comical that Belladonna's apartment is 50% African-American* and none of them  have ANYTHING good to say about the women in the next apartment.  They are offended that such overtly gauche (aka, trashy) people are allowed to have pigmented skin.  People will judge all by the actions of the few.

In fact, I think the women in the next apartment have been dubbed "The Butt Sisters".

I told Belladonna she should not be wasting her energy on the loud, rude, abrasive "Butt Sisters".  She should be baking brownies and cookies for Sheldon and Leonard in the apartment north to the north.  Who knows, one of them might be the next Bill Gates.

*The dad of the other African-American in Belladonna's apartment is a Quality Engineer in the Nuclear Power industry.  I met him.  He is a sharp, if low key, guy.

The price of housing

One of the young folks my kids went to high school with is looking for an inexpensive house.  He is living in an apartment in Lansing and paying about $900/month.

That fact popped into my head as I had a conversation with an older gentleman who was walking his Beagle.

I like Beagles.  I stopped and chatted with him.  He let me pet the pooch.  I got his story for free.  He had recently moved into the apartments near where I drink coffee.  His house had gotten to be too much for him to maintain.  He was letting it lapse for back taxes.   It was "sort of" for sale but it had many years of deferred maintenance that needed to be addressed before it was in tip-top shape.

I asked him how much he had to have for it.

Preparing for sticker shock

It always help to look at prices at other places in the country to get a frame-of-reference.

There are two houses in this photo.  The one on the right has an asking price of $2,200,000   Venice, California
The structure is 108 years old.  Selling price was $1,200,000. San Fransisco, California
And here is a lot with a 25% grade listed at $1,000,000.  Yup, that's right.  No house.  Just an eroding hill side.
Prices are much more reasonable on the East Coast.  Here is a 740 square foot lot for a mere $99,000 in Washington D.C.

The property in Eaton Rapids, Michigan:

The bottom floor is 40 feet by 22 feet.  Roof is in great shape.

It has natural gas and municipal utilities.

The back yard has a storage building.

Full garage and that looks like the stack for a wood stove sticking out of the back.
This house is on a quiet residential street and is half a block away from a convenience store.

$8,500 and it can be yours.

Bachelorhood Day Four, trip to the shooting range

Yesterday was a perfect day to go shooting.  It was cool and very calm.

Kubota, Wild Willy and I piled into the Malibu and drove to Family Shooter Corral.

Kubota was shooting the Savage Mark II with the Accu-trigger.  Wild Willy was shooting Mrs ERJ's gun, a Marlin 795.

The bottle is filled with .22LR ammo.  Plastic vitamin bottles are tough and portable.

Target in foreground is at 20 yards.  Targets in the background are at 50 yards.  Shooters were to my left.

Whaddya think?  Too strong of a primer strike? The kids were setting up shotgun shells on the 20 yard stand as reactive targets.
I was proud of the guys.  Sometimes kids get into a race to see who can burn up the most ammo, the quickest.  Mostly, the boys tried to learn something each time they sent a bullet downrange.  We went through about 300 rounds which I consider a pretty light toll for two boys shooting for two hours.

I cannot remember two hours I enjoyed more.

Dog training

Kubota is training Herc, Belladonna's dog, while Bella is off at school.

So far, Kubota has trained Herc that "Stay!" means he must lift up his toenails when he walks across the hardwood floor so they don't click.  Herc cannot figure out why this is important to Kubota but then most things "human" are inscrutable to dogs.

Words cannot do justice to the sight of a German Shepherd slinking down the hallway walking on the heels of his feet.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Passive security measures for small businesses

People who rob convenience stores have much in common with coyotes.  They are both opportunistic predators.  Both are wary as opposed to intelligent.  Both are creatures of habit.

It should be possible to harden a business against robbers by studying successful coyote hunters and doing everything they don't do.

Coyotes are wary of traps

The shelving units on the left and bottom extend all the way to the walls.  The only way in-and-out of the electronics area is to go by the cash register island.  The only portions of this area that are not visible to the clerk are the small end-caps on the far ends of the shelves.
This floor plan is similar to the "Electronics" section of a local retailer.  It is in the back of the store.  Somebody boosting goodies has to get by the cash register island, across the store and out the door.  Security has many chances to either apprehend a shop-lifter or to get a "looks" at their faces.

Note:  I was unable to receive permission to take photos so you are stuck with drawings.

The fear of entrapment can be exploited by many, baffling patterns of islands in parking lots.  Robbers want a quick, uncomplicated escape plan.

Coyotes crave concealment

This is easy.  No shelving (plus item height)) over five feet of height.  Nothing hanging down from the ceiling any lower than 8 feet in height.
You are doing it wrong if you need a step stool to restock.
Besides, what kind of bone-head puts the Bran Flakes on the top shelf?
Get the signs out of the windows!  Robbers get nervous when any passerby (or cop) can look in and see shenanigans.
A corollary to getting the signs out of the window is to move the cash register island so it is extremely visible through those windows/entrance doors.  That also fits will with "trapping".

Coyotes like a big score

Coyotes generally eat mice.  They have to work hard for each bite.  They are irresistibly drawn to The Big Payoff.  Coyote hunters will collect roadkill and make a pile. Coyotes cannot leave it alone.

If possible, make it attractive to pay with by installment, with credit cards or by check.  Nobody robs insurance agents because they have no cash on hand.

Drop-box safes are a great idea.  Put up signs so folks know.  Make sure you use it.

Coyotes prefer defenseless victims

Personally, I like the strips that alternate light-and-dark in six inch increments.  I think it is easier for the employees to reconstruct the bad guy's height from memory.  This works especially well when you have a security camera looking at the door, getting faces as people walk in and heights as they walk out.
Four fake security cameras cost about $25.  They are a great compliment to having a few real ones.  Consider putting a security camera on the parking lot.  The person running the cash register rarely sees the vehicles that customers drive.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Some fall color

On Monday, most of you working stiffs will have to go to work.  Here are a few pictures.  You can look at them during lunch instead of at the slob in the next cubical.

I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed taking them.

A red maple next to the dog kennel.

A couple of hybrid aspen, P. grandidentata X P. alba

Korean Giant pear (aka, Olimpic).  It is half Pyrus ussuriensis which gives it fall color.
Typical southern Michigan landscape.  Box Elder on the extreme left.  Sugar Maple center.  Blue Spruce right.  Power wires foreground.
Firewood in its natural habitat.
Burr Oak

Northern Red Oak

Mystery oak.  Nominally English Oak (Q. robar) but leaf size (large) and fall color suggest it is a hybrid.
This is a Q. robar with typical fall color.  Yes, green is a color.
This is a Q. lyrata by Q. macrocarpa hybrid that shows potential for really hot fall color.  This is one of the few oak I have been successful grafting.
Persimmons.  Prettier than any Christmas ornament.
More persimmons.  This is J-59 which has been very tasty this year.
There are still a few Liberty hanging onto the trees.

Once again GoldRush is bearing very heavily.
Chinese Chestnut in center.  Surrounded by Black Walnuts (background).  Chinese Chestnut retains it leaves all winter.  That makes it susceptible to ice damage but also makes it a dandy wind break species.  It can be a very heavy producer of pollen, so don't plant it upwind of the house if you have allergies to tree pollens.
Poison Ivy.  Give the girl her due, she is pretty in scarlet.

A butterfly sunning itself.  Insects and reptiles regulate their temperature by sunning, finding shade or puddling.

Staghorn sumac framed by White Spruce.
This is a picture of the west side of one of my paddocks.  Norway spruce on the left.  Sawtooth Oak on the right.  Nuttall oak is being planted in the gap between the two.  That gap was in spruce and that is where the poles for the deer stand came from.
Chinquapin Oak.  Notable for being tolerant of high pH soils.
This is a failed grape breeding project I have not had the heart to terminate.  It is Vitis aestivalis-bicolor X cv. Cayuga White.  It is way too late for my climate.
These critters are the Bos!

Nothing can kill you faster than "stupid"

Eaton County, Michigan experienced two citizens killed by the county police in the last year.  This is a high rate of death-by-cop considering our modest population.

The first death involved a young man "with a record" violating parole.  The vehicle he was driving left the road.  He greeted the police who arrived to render assistance with gunfire.  Nobody's knickers are in a knot over this death.

The second death involved a high school student returning home from his girlfriend's house.  The policeman's testimony, substantiated by the dash cam, is that the student initiated physical conflict.  The policeman first attempted to subdue the student with his taser with no significant effect.  The student continued assaulting the policeman.  The policeman escalated to lethal force.
Pictures of Officer Frost after the altercation.  Oddly, none of the protesters carried signs with this image on it.
The policeman was exonerated in the investigations that followed.

The parents of the student filed a wrongful death suit in federal court against the policeman (who is just a working stiff), and presumably, against the county (which has insurance).

The money-grubbing attorneys are attempting to first try the case in the court of public opinion, and presumably pressure the county (and insurance company) into an out-of-court settlement.  It is necessary to have media coverage to make this strategy work.
Do most of those signs look almost identical?  I bet the same person cranked most of them out.  Hundreds, do you see hundreds?
The obligatory crowd shot.  This looks like 75 protesters, some kids who got dragged along and the balance being curious pedestrians and media types trying to get a story.  Images from HERE

Consequently, we have the classic "Hundreds protest on the Capital grounds" with the crowd estimate supplied by the attorneys but few pictures of the crowds.

Several of the quotes land with a thud.
  • "He needs justice."  He is dead.  He is beyond earthly justice.
  • "More people are....voicing their opinion."  Justice is not like voting for the Homecoming Court.  It is about facts.
  • "I hadn't seen him in 16 years, it broke my heart (to see him in a casket)"  His grandmother doing the victim-swoon.  If he meant so much to her, where was she the other 5840 days he was alive?
I get impatient with this kind of theater.

I have a sixteen year old boy.  There are moments when he is as impulsive and as blinded by tunnel-vision as anybody on this planet.  We drill him on how to interact with people in authority, especially people who carry firearms.

In spite of our best effort, there will be times when our kids do stupid things.  ERJ's Law of Threes
  • Three seconds of stupid can kill you.
  • Three minutes without oxygen can kill you.
  • Three hours of exposure can kill you.
  • Three days without water can kill you.
  • Three weeks without food can kill you.
Nothing can kill you faster than "Stupid".   It pisses me off when shysters try to turn "stupid" into a revenue stream.  I hope the suit gets tossed out of court or the plaintiffs have to stand the cost of the other side's defense.

---End of rant---