Personal


Demi-denims

Demi-denims, an acceptable form of pants for women. Image from Wikimedia

by George Taniwaki

For no particular reason, today I will demonstrate my lack of fashion sense, narrow-mindedness with regard to gender roles, and general lack of imagination. It’s time to play, what (not) to wear, summer edition. My six rules to be a dedicated follower of fashion are defined below.

  1. Women may wear pants of any length and style. They may be made of any material and worn plain or with a skirt or even another pair of pants.
  2. Men may wear full-length pants that cover their ankles.
  3. Men may not wear short pants that are longer than their knees. The exception is that world famous male explorers may wear short cargo pants that end below the knees on the condition that they also have a machete hanging from their belt and they know how to use it.
  4. Men may wear short pants that end above their knees, but in no case shall their pants be shorter than their boxers. This is especially true if the boxers have leg openings with a diameter larger than their pants and cause them to expose themselves every time they sit.
  5. Men may not wear Speedo briefs. The exception is men with body hair the same color as their swimwear and you cannot tell where the shorts end and their bare legs and chest begin.
  6. Men may not wear culottes unless they are descendants of samurai and are wearing hakama. Such men must also know how to use a machete.

PlaidPants TacticalShortsMachete

LongBoxerShorts HairyBody

Hakama

Acceptable forms of pants for men (from top to bottom), Living proof that dead men don’t wear plaid; Actor Danny Trejo is allowed to wear cargo shorts; Just say “no” to boxer shorts longer than outer pants; Trunks with matching body hair go swimmingly well together; A man who won’t put up with your bushido

apocalypse now

This is the end… Image from MGM United Artists

by George Taniwaki

On June 1, 2020, President Donald Trump led a group of White House cabinet members and advisors across the street to St. John’s Episcopal Church. Once there he staged a photo op of him holding a bible. He took a few questions but did not have any prepared statements. Then everyone walked back to the White House.

Prior to the walk, National Park Service police cleared out mostly peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square through use of rubber bullets and pepper munitions. Once they “captured” the square, they formed a cordon around the path for the president and his entourage.

I was rather startled by this event and immediately thought of the parallels to a scene in the movie Apocalypse Now. This classic Vietnam War movie, released in 1979, was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. In the scene I am thinking of, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, is the leader of a helicopter cavalry unit. He decides he wants to go surf with his men, so he calls in a napalm strike against a fishing village sympathetic to the Viet Cong. Once the beach is “neutralized” he ends up unhappy because the napalm and helicopters are causing the wind to blow the wrong way, ruining the waves.

One of the most famous quotes from the movie are spoken by Duvall’s character during the scene. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning… It smells like victory.” I can almost imagine Trump saying it.

CharlesDuvallApocalypseNow CharlesDuvallApocalypseNow2CharlesDuvallApocalypseNow3 CharlesDuvallApocalypseNow4

More scenes from Apocalypse Now. Images from MGM United Artists

Check out the images below from news sites and compare them to the images at top and above taken from the movie.

TrumpBible TrumpBible2

TrumpBible3 TrumpBible4

TrumpBible5 TrumpBible6

Images from President Trump’s photo op (from top to bottom): Park Service Police clearing Lafayette Square (AP Photo Alex Brandon); Trump and his entourage crossing the Square, Trump giving a fist bump to police; Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in fatigues on the right (AP Photo Patrick Semansky); Trump ignoring the graffiti of FTP (AP Photo Patrick Semansky); Trump holding the bible while pointing at reporter

Update: Corrected first paragraph. President Trump did take questions. But he did not have a prepared statement.

TSA Pre✓Renewal

A simple questionnaire with a big flaw. Image from TSA Pre✓

by George Taniwaki

I recently received a voice mail message from the Transportation Security Administration. A woman’s voice told me that my Known Traveler Number (KTN) would be expiring soon and that I would need to renew it if I wanted to remain in the the TSA Pre✓ program. That’s the short line through security at the airport.

I haven’t been to the airport recently (and I hope you haven’t either) so I don’t know how long the lines are right now. But joining the TSA Pre✓ program is not expensive ($85 for 5 years) and has been worth it for me. So I pointed my browser to https://universalenroll.dhs.gov/ and started the renewal process.

Near the end of the process, I landed on a very unexpected page. It was a survey form asking questions about my flying habits (see screenshot at top of post). There are many problems with this survey that market research experts will immediately catch. But check out the fourth question. “How satisfied are you with your overall airport security experience?”

Geez, I hate airport security. It is intrusive, arbitrary, and time consuming. It also subjects you to radiation and chemicals of unknown safety. I guess it would be worthwhile if it effectively stopped violence and terrorism at a reasonable cost. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of efficacy and lots of evidence that it is really expensive.

Now, how should I answer this question? There is no explanation on the page about how your response data will be used. Specifically, there is no assurance that the responses will not be associated with your personally identifiable information (PII) and only aggregated data will be provided to the TSA.

Since TSA can make your life miserable, including revoking your KTN, the safest thing to do is to tell them you love your experience with airport security. Question 4 has 10 unlabeled radio buttons with the phrases “Extremely Poor” and “Extremely Satisfied” at the ends. I decide to pick the 9th button. High but not perfect. I figured anyone picking the 10th button will also be flagged for attention as either a liar or an obsequious bootlicker.

Anyway, as a marketer you may be tempted to increase response rate to your market research survey by integrating it into a customer transaction flow. Don’t do this. Your responses will be biased.

* * * *

Update1: Revised the third paragraph to clarify that there are many other problems with this survey. Thanks to my friend and colleague Carol Borthwick for reminding me that not all readers of my blog are survey experts. Below is a list of some of the obvious errors in this survey.

  1. In the first question, how should one respond if you fly for both business and pleasure? And really, you fly to a destination for pleasure, you don’t fly because the experience itself is pleasurable. Almost nobody flies for pleasure, unless they are a pilot.
  2. In the second question, what is the TSA trying to measure? My guess is the number of times respondents are screened by TSA in a year. A round trip usually involves two waits through the TSA line. However, one should not count trips on private aircraft where you don’t go through TSA lines or flights that originate outside the U.S., even if you go through U.S. immigration at the foreign airport.
    Further, if you have a connecting flight on a US domestic flight, you usually do not go through a TSA line again. If you arrive from an international flight and pass through immigration after the flight, you usually do go through TSA before boarding the next flight.
  3. In any event, this survey was probably designed before the collapse in travel due to Covid-19. Does the TSA want to know the number of trips respondents took last year, this year (zero for me so far), or how many they would have taken if there was no pandemic. It doesn’t say.
  4. What’s up with those weird ranges in question 2? And which radio button should respondents select if they fly exactly 31 times a year?
  5. In the fourth question, notice that the wording of the two end point labels for the scale are not parallel. The low end should read “Extremely unsatisfied”. Also there are no labels for any of the intermediate points, leaving the distance between points up to the respondent’s imagination.

* * * *

Update2: Getting back to question 2, if you have a KTN, the TSA records each time you pass through security. So it should already know the actual distribution of how many times a year KTN holders pass through security. So what will it do with the survey data? Compare the response data to the actual data for accuracy? Check for lying and throw out outliers? Who knows.

AdvocacyInAction

Five steps for advocacy. From WebJunction.org

by George Taniwaki

Sue and I attended a class on advocacy. It was an eye opening experience. If you want to get involved in your community and improve governance, you should attend an advocacy class and get going. The class we attended was sponsored by the Seattle/King Country Coalition on Homelessness. If you live in the Seattle area, other organizations that hold advocacy classes include Northwest Harvest and Arc of King County.

We learned a lot. Below are some details .

Understanding advocacy

One of the first lessons is that advocacy is not lobbying. This is important since lobbying a government official can cause the nonprofit you are supporting to lose its tax-exempt status. Lobbying is approaching a politician or regulator and asking them to adopt a position that will directly or indirectly benefit you or the non-profit you represent, usually monetarily. Advocacy is asking a politician to do something that you think will address a social issue. It may benefit you or your organization, but only because it fills the unmet community need. Thus, all lobbying is advocacy, but not all advocacy is lobbying.

Advocate for bills not positions

You vote for legislators based on their positions. But there often isn’t a clear path to convert positions into actual legislation, especially related to budget bills. Your legislators are busy and subject to competing demands. They will not have time to read each bill in detail. They rely on community feedback on individual bills to gauge what is important to pass or defeat.

Thus, if you want to have impact, you have to determine which bills you want your legislator to vote for and against. (I’m assuming you are a layperson and not influential enough to actually write the bills you want to pass.) However, you also do not have time to read each bill in detail either. Thus, you will need to rely on a nonprofit organization to read them for you and pick out the talking points to make when you contact your legislators.

How to find your legislators

Every state has different number of legislators and districts. In Washington State, the there is a senate and a house with identical districts. Senators serve 4 year terms and representatives serve 2-year terms. There are 49 districts and each district has one senator and two house representatives, so a total of 49 senators and 98 representative.

To find your district and the names of your legislators, go to the district finder.

When to contact your legislators

Every state has a different legislative calendar. In Washington, in even years (like 2020), there is a short session lasting 60 days. In odd years, when the two-year budget is debated, there is a long session lasting 105 days, or sometimes longer if the budget is not approved in time. So in short session years, it is critical that you contact your legislators in January and February on the dates when the bills you are concerned about are “read” on the floor.

You may want to contact your legislators multiple times during the session. First is when the bill is in committee. If your legislator is on the committee that is debating the bill, you want to give a detailed comment. If they are not, you want to register your approval or disapproval of the bill so that they can include your tally and forward it to the committee. Once the bill is out of committee, you will want to contact your legislators again to indicate how you want them to vote. Finally, at the end of the session, thank the legislators for their vote. If they did not vote in the way you wanted, express your disappointment but say you hope they are still open to your future advocacy.

To find the status of the bills you are interested in, go to the bill report.

How to contact your legislators

There are many ways to contact your legislators and register comments. You can write an email, call by phone, send a fax, letter, or postcard, fill out a web form, or post comments on their social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

The legislators may not read your comment personally, they may have an aide summarize them. Thus, it is important that you know which comments get summarized. Many legislators still do not get summaries of social media comments. So if you post something on their Facebook page, it may not get seen.

To comment by phone, call 1.800.562.6000

To send a comment by mail or email, go to the district finder.

To submit a comment on the web, go to Comment help.

Submitting a comment is fast and easy. If you want to get involved in advocacy, find a non-profit you want to support and get started now.

* * * *

Advocacy is cheap and easy and everyone can get involved. Lobbying is expensive and requires specialized skills as the story below shows.

“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” So wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. I realize this to a greater degree after taking the advocacy class. While moderately rich people like me often have the time and inclination to ask our representatives to vote for what we want at the local level, the very rich advocate at the national level.

I knew that many U.S. senate races involve out-of-state money. But I hadn’t realized why. A story by David Frum in the Atlantic (Apr 2020) gives a good explanation. Most very rich people live in big cities, located in coastal states, which tend to vote for leftish politicians. The rich tend to be more conservative and often find it difficult to sway their own senator’s vote. But every senator gets one vote. For the sake of efficiency, it makes more sense for them to contribute money to the campaign committees of conservative senators in small red states and then advocate or lobby for what they want by approaching those senators.

Says Frum, “United States senators from smaller, poorer red states… do not… primarily represent their states. They represent, more often, the richest people in bigger, richer blue States who find it more economical to invest in less expensive small-state races. The biggest contributor to Mitch McConnell’s 2020 campaign and leadership committee is a PAC headquartered in Englewood, New Jersey…”

open-live-writer-1

Keeping my blog alive

by George Taniwaki

I’ve been writing this blog since 2007. For most of that time I’ve been using a text editor called Windows Live Writer. It was part of a bundle of free apps called Windows Live Essentials that Microsoft distributed to enhance the value of Windows and the .NET Framework. The last upgrade was released in 2012 and the product was discontinued a few years later.

I just bought a new PC and could not install Windows Live Writer on it. I was somewhat concerned how to continue editing this blog. I suppose I could learn how to use the new online WordPress editor that uses a format and editing technique called blocks.

However, I’m old and set in my ways. Learning to use yet another text editor seems like a lot of work. Plus, there doesn’t seem a way to convert my existing .wpost files to the new WordPress format. And I prefer using a dedicated client app to an online browser app, even if it is performant.

Luckily, there are lot of people like me. I found Open Live Writer. As stated in Wikipedia, Open Live Writer is a free and open-source version of Windows Live Writer. It is supported by the .NET Foundation. And the installer works on my new PC. Yay.

DreamboatAnnie Boston

Two albums not on the list, but close

by George Taniwaki

My friend Carol tagged me on Facebook asking me to post 10 albums that influenced my musical taste and upbringing. One per day over the next 10 days, no explanation, and to tag one of my friends each day. Being a curmudgeon, I refuse to do it her way. But what are those 10 albums? Let me recall them.

Them Changes, Buddy Miles, 1970

It’s the first album I ever bought with my own money. I got it because my best friend in middle school suggested it. His middle name is Miles and he played the drums. Well, it’s a reason. And I still have the album.

ThemChanges

There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Sly & the Family Stone, 1971

I never owned this album and until today had never listened to it all the way through. (Aren’t streaming music services great?) It makes the list because the first concert I ever went to was Family Stone in 1972. I went with my best friend, the drummer mentioned above. The concert started two hours late. I later learned this was a common occurrence because Sylvester Stuart was in a constant drug induced haze.

TheresARiotGoinOn_

Paranoid, Black Sabbath, 1971

Politically incorrect lyrics from a band who’s lead singer is now more famous for being the doddering patriarch of a reality TV clan. Another album suggested by my best friend.

We saw Black Sabbath in concert on Halloween 1976. Prior to the start of the concert there was a costume contest. One of the judges was Pat Schroeder, who had recently been elected as the House representative for the 1st District. One of the contestants was dressed as a giant dildo and hopped around the stage. I’m sure Ms Schroeder regretted participating. There were two opening acts; newly popular bands from the east and west coasts, Boston and Heart (see covers at top of post). Great concert.

Paranoid

The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get, Joe Walsh, 1973

As a child, I joined the Columbia Record Club. You got 10 albums for a dollar, then promised to buy 4 more at an inflated price. Still cheaper than buying at a store as long as you remembered to cancel your membership immediately after fulfilling your agreement. One of my dollar albums is this gem.

Before he was a guitarist for the Eagles, Joe Walsh had a solo career. Of course, growing up in Denver, our favorite song on the album was Rocky Mountain Way.

TheSmokerYouDrink

Quadrophenia, The Who, 1973

One of the best albums of all time, by one of the greatest bands of all time. Enough said.

Quadrophenia

Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin, 1975

I was introduced to math, physics, Led Zeppelin, and mass consumption of drugs (not in that order) by my classmates at Caltech.

Nearly 20 years later, before I knew what it was about, I immediately knew I would like Richard Linklater’s nostalgic movie, Dazed and Confused, just from its title.

PhysicalGraffiti

Van Halen, Van Halen, 1978

Another band popular while I was at Caltech. Van Halen was a local band from Pasadena but I never had a chance to see them.

VanHalen

The Wall, Pink Floyd, 1979

If Quadrophenia was great, The Wall was even greater. Apparently, I have an affinity for double albums.

TheWall

Boy, U2, 1980

A band from Dublin that I call the anti-Beatles. The Beatles started out playing pop music and became more experimental as their success grew. U2’s album Boy is very experimental. But the band’s music became more conventional as they became more popular.

I saw U2 perform songs from this album at the Rainbow Music Hall in Denver.

Boy

She’s So Unusual, Cyndi Lauper, 1983

There weren’t very many female composers that I considered favorites in my formative years. Hard rock and alternative are sexist. As an adult, my musical tastes became more balanced.

She'sSoUnusual

* * * *

Final thoughts

The popularity of albums is an odd thing. A collection of 8 to 10 songs produced as a unit of recording didn’t exist until the invention of the 33-1/3 rpm vinyl record in 1948. Prior to that, records could only hold a few minutes of music on each side and so people listened to live music as a set but recorded music a single song at a time. Eventually cassette tapes and then CDs replaced vinyl albums and could hold more music, though they usually did not. With the advent of downloadable music and streaming services most people no longer buy and listen to albums. We are back to listening to songs as singles again.

While I was growing up, I listened to my albums over and over. As I listened to an album, as one song was ending, I knew exactly which song was next. Yet I didn’t know the order of the songs on an album. I could only recall them as I was hearing them.

When my wife Sue and I got married, we each had record collections with over 100 albums. We combined our collections and gave away our duplicates. Our taste in music were so different that we only gave away 7 records total, that included the Beatles’ Let it Be and Led Zeppelin III, a time that marks the end of her collection and the beginning of mine.

* * * *

[Update: Edited the post to make it clear my best friend was not a drummer of any of the bands mentioned.]

LongCommute

Not how the crow flies to get to work each day

by George Taniwaki

I really don’t like to drive to work. I’ll do almost anything to avoid a long commute. For most of my adult life I have either walked or ridden a bus to get to work. Yes, it’s possible. I always chose an apartment to rent or house to buy based on how close it is to my job. And once I’ve found a place to live, I usually reject a new job unless it’s within walking or riding distance. It helps that I like living in big cities.

But I just started a contract assignment in Mountlake Terrace, a suburb of Seattle about 20 miles from where I live as the crow flies (see image above, or not). This isn’t the longest commute in my life, but the first long one in a few decades. And it’s the first long commute where I’m driving alone rather than in a carpool.

Google Maps, initial attempt

The traffic in Seattle is awful. To reduce my commute time, I’ve decided that starting my drive at 6:30 and working from 7:30 to 4:00 will help. Before my first day to the job site, I pull out Google Maps and plot my route (see Fig 1).

CommuteToWorkI405Label

Figure 1. My first route to the office, average 42 minutes every morning

For the analysis in this blog post, I split my drive into segments based on type of driving. Segment A consists of surface streets from my house to the highway. B is 17 miles at highway speed driving north, away from the city, C is a slow slog where I double-back and join the commuters coming into town, and D is the final, short segment of surface streets to the office.

The table below shows details of my commute. Most of it is tolerable. But notice that segment C (the red zone) constitute less than one-sixth of my commute distance but over one-third of my commute time.

Map Description

Dist.

Speed

Elapsed Time

A Surface streets from home to SR520

3

30

6

B SR520 to I-405 to I-5

17

60

17

C I-5 to Mountlake Terrace

4

15

16

D Surface streets from I-5 to office

1

20

3

TOTAL

26

37

42

Google Maps, redux

After a couple weeks of following this route, I’ve learned which lanes to use on which segments to slice a few minutes off my commute. But I think I can still do better. I check Google Maps for some alternatives. This time it gives me a completely different, and unexpected, route. It tells me to go a few miles out of my way south to I-90 and drive north through the city on I-5 (see Fig 2).

I-5 in downtown Seattle is one of the most congested highways in the U.S. I get queasy every time I drive it worrying about getting stuck. But maybe it’s not so bad at 6:45 AM, which is about what time I will get there. So I trust Google Maps and try it.

CommuteToWorkI5Label

Figure 2. Google Maps’ new suggestion, average time 44 minutes

It works. I try the route on two consecutive days. The table below shows the average results. There is congestion on I-5 between I-90 to Olive Way (Segment C red zone) but it is a shorter segment than my previous commute. However, the route is longer, so it doesn’t save much time. Further, I don’t like this route because it limits my options. If there is an accident or other delay, I will be stuck in traffic with no easy way to avoid it.

Map Description

Dist.

Speed

Elapsed Time

A Surface streets from home to I-90

4

30

8

B I-90 to downtown

8

60

8

C I-5 to Olive Way

2

20

6

D I-5 to Mountlake Terrace

14

60

14

E Surface streets from I-5 to office

1

20

3

TOTAL

29

42

39

Waze to the rescue

Waze is a GPS navigation app originally developed in Israel but quickly went global. It uses traditional digital map data and combines it with real-time location data from users including speed, route, reports of traffic jams, accidents, police speed traps, and gasoline prices at nearby stations. Thus, the more people who use it, the more accurate it becomes.

Waze also shows you the current toll price (Seattle uses variable toll pricing) and lets you avoid tolls, ferries, or highways, if desired, when choosing a route.

Google (now Alphabet) acquired Waze in 2013 but it remains a separate entity from Google Maps. Because Waze collects potentially personally identifiable information (PII), it has a less restrictive user agreement than Google Maps and warns users of that fact. (Though most people never read the agreement and just click “I accept”.)

Generating a route is a highly resource intensive calculation that often involves machine learning. To simplify the work, Google Maps generally limits routes to major arterial streets. Waze combines those calculations with the actual routes users are taking to find the minimum travel time. Thus, Waze often creates routes that run through residential neighborhoods. Of course, the neighbors sometimes complain or even fight back by generating fake route data (Wash Post, Jun 2016).

Figure 3 below shows the route Waze recommends for my commute. It looks just like the original route that Google Maps suggested, except for the last segment. I still take the I-5 cloverleaf, but instead of continuing onto I-5, it has me veer right and use side streets to get to the office.

CommuteToWorkI405LocalLabel

Figure 3. My new favorite route to work

Map Description

Dist.

Speed

Elapsed Time

A Surface streets from home to SR520

3

30

6

B SR520 to I-405

17

60

17

C Surface streets from I-405 to office

6

30

12

TOTAL

26

44

35

The best part is that I can see I-5 from the I-405 off-ramp. When traffic is light (speed is 30 mph or more), I can veer to the left and take I-5 to the office. When I-5 is congested, I can veer to the right and take surface streets. While on the surface streets, I can continue to see I-5 and confirm whether I made the right decision and improve my choice for future days.

Waze leads me astraze

With my success with Waze in the morning, I decide to use it for my evening commute home as well. As I turn onto I-5, Waze tells me there is road kill ahead. I wonder where. Then suddenly I see a raccoon and am jolted by the thump. It saddens me to know that I’ve squashed an innocent animal under my tires, even if it is already dead.

The rest of the commute home is uneventful until Waze tells me to exit I-405 at NE 85th St in Kirkland (Fig 4b), 4 miles before my usual exit at SR520 (Fig 4a). Gee, that seems like a bad idea. Should I ignore Waze and keep going straight? Or should I take the exit? Maybe there is an accident on my regular route. Or maybe the crowd of Waze users knows a sneak route. Well, Waze has been pretty accurate so far, so I take the exit.

Ugh, what a mistake. Driving east on NE 85th St takes me straight into a huge traffic jam on Redmond Way. Also, there is a giant construction project on the Microsoft campus, so West Lake Sammamish Pkwy is overflowing with drivers avoiding lane closures on 156th Av NE. My commute today is more than 35 minutes longer than usual. I won’t do that again.

CommuteToHomeI405Label CommuteToHomeI405LocalLabel

Figures 4a, b. My normal commute home, Waze suggestion for 11/21/2019

Conclusion

Both Waze and Google Maps show you unexpected options and are likely to give better routes than you could find on your own. Overall, my experience with Waze was better than Google Maps, but both could use improvements.

* * * *

All this talk about commute time has me remembering a brain teaser from my childhood. Let’s say I want my average commute speed to be 40 mph. One day, I get stuck in traffic and cover the first half of the distance to work at an average speed of 20 mph. How fast do I have to drive on the second half to meet my goal? Hint: The answer is not 60 mph or even 80 mph.

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