Saturday, December 17, 2016

Working for the machine

My dad was just in the Denver airport and ordered a beer. They carded him but he didn't have his ID with him. The waitress refused to serve him a beer and said that was their policy.

I recently tried to fulfill a prescription for pain medication at Walgreens. The pharmacist said she couldn't fulfill it because the doctor put the wrong date (30 days in the future!) on it. She called the doctor who said she was tired and made a mistake, but the prescription was valid (and, BTW, had today's date printed on it). And because it was a narcotic, they could not accept the doctors verbal or a fax. I had to go back to Stanford and pick up a new prescription.

I received a ticket from a red-light camera. The system provided picture and video evidence which showed that I ran the red light.

All three of these are examples of blindly following rules. As I told the pharmacist - there are two types of people in this world - the ones that figure out the right thing to do, and ones that can't see outside the box they have been put in.

In the case of my dad, he didn't have much recourse so the establishment lost revenue because someone over 80 didn't have an ID. In the case of the prescription, I wasn't in a good enough condition to go back to Stanford so went home and borrowed some pain medication from another source.

In the case of the red light, I challenged the ticket in court. The law is that if any part of the vehicle is touching the limit line when the light turns red, you did not run the light. The picture above which shows the light already red and my car on the limit line actually helps make my case. I don't know what algorithm they use to generate this photo, presumably, it's designed to be taken at the time the light goes red, and as you can see, the front of the car is touching the limit line.

So does the robot ticketing system have a bug? Is it writing tickets to people who did not run the light? Actually, no. They also provide a video:

Does it look like I ran the red light? When you watch it the first time, can you say that beyond a reasonable doubt I ran the light? I think that would be very difficult to be sure about, and I don't think an honest police officer would write a ticket in that situation even if they had a vantage point as good as the camera does.

If you single step it frame by frame, it's clear I'm guilty. Or, if you pick the first frame that shows the red light, my car is clearly before the limit line.

Interestingly, that's not the frame the ticket showed. Probably because to generate the ticket frame, the light tells the ticket system when it went red and the clocks between the light, the ticket system, and the camera are not synchronized. Most likely it's done with a signal rather than an absolute time, so you have the latency from the light to the ticket system and the ticket system to the camera. I think the original was at 25 fps, so 40ms/frame. From the video, the frame it chose was the 3rd or 4th frame after the light went red, so there is something like a 120 to 160ms delay from the signal to the frame capture, and this is why the image they sent does not prove I'm guilty, and is actually a good reason to have never sent the ticket to begin with: it's much too close for a human to call.

So the video clearly showed I was guilty, but I fought the ticket with the explanation that a human seeing this in real life would not have written a ticket. Fortunately, I had a judge who did not live inside a box as the above waitress and pharmacist did, and dismissed the case.

As it turns out, there are two types of judges in this world, and lawyers know who is who! The one's who figure out the right thing to do and find a way to achieve that outcome and the one's who are focused on the law and enforce it regardless of the circumstances. Of course, "right thing" is in the eye of the beholder.

Many thanks to Michael Somera from Somera & Associates for helping me with this matter.

Monday, July 14, 2014

2TB Portable Drive Comparison

New 2TB portable drives formatted to Mac Journaled file system straight out of the box. Tested using Black Magic Design's Disk Speed Test with a Macbook Pro. Read and write speed was nearly identical for all drives except the internal drive.

The Seagate Backup Plus Slim drive is the winner on all dimensions: speed, price, size, weight though the Ultra is a little cheaper. The Silicon Power rugged armor disk is, well, pretty darn rugged!

The WD My Passport (old) line is a drive I have been using for about 9 months and is getting fairly full. I have not diagnosed whether the speed difference is because the file system/directory is getting full, or whether the new drives are about twice as fast.

I have the most experience with Western Digital Drives, and have never had one go bad over many years. I'm not sure how to assess longevity of these portable drives...I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Healthcare Emergency in Cabarete, Dominican Republic

Today is a historic day for sailboat racing with Team Oracle USA winning America's cup using a boat with a hydrofoil while the discussion in national news is all about Obama Care and the opening of the healthcare exchange and the American Healthcare system in general. Well, my story touches on both topics!

At a recent MaiTai event in Cabarete, Dominican Republic, I bought a super cool hydrofoil board from Nick at Riding a foil board with a kite is a little bit tricky to learn - basically you have to get used to a lot of power coming from the bottom of your board, about a meter below your feet! At sea level  water is about 750 times as dense as air. The "wing" on the bottom of the foil is about 1 square foot of total area. "Air adjusted", that's equivalent to about 750 square feet of kite. A 10m kite is about 100 square feet, so the power from the board is seven times as strong as that of the kite. In reality, the power doesn't feel that disparate, probably because either I have a math error, logic error, or because the way the foil rides is very different than the way the kite flies. But in any case, the power coming off the foil is strong.

The conditions in Cabarete bay are nearly perfect for learning to foil board - small waves on the inside, sandy beaches, and in the mornings, light wind. On this particular morning, I was the only kiter on the water as a foil lets you ride in extremely light wind. I was somewhere between my first and second hour using the foil, and was just getting the hang of it. Just enough to get that initial "cocky confidence" that frequently results in trouble. I starting riding a bit faster than normal, and then fell downwind of the board. I thought I was clear of it, but about a second later, something hit my head.

I put my hand on my head and it was quickly covered with blood. The white pad on my foil started turning red as did my vision. Not really that big a deal: heads bleed a lot, way out of proportion to the pain or the severity of the injury. I was a few hundred meters out and started to body drag back to shore - foil under one arm, flying the kite with the other hand. 

I went to to Laural's kite school / shop and one of the instructors there said I should go to the hospital as I'll need stitches. Here I was in 3rd World country (at least according to this mapneeding healthcare. I was a bit worried! Laural showed up and took me to the local clinic - a small place right in downtown Cabarete called Playa Dorada Medical Center. 

I've had a number of cuts and other injuries - 6 stitches in Breckenridge, Colorado a couple of years ago, a rib dislocation issue in San Mateo, and a while back, tore an ACL playing soccer. In each of those cases, I sat in a waiting room at least an hour and the bill was over $2K. In the case of the ACL, I visited four emergency rooms and finally ended up at Stanford. After sitting around for over an hour, I walked - limped, actually - out after I called a doctor friend who said he would see me in the morning and there was probably nothing they could do anyway, other than give me pain killers.

My worries about healthcare in the DR were unfounded. The doctor showed up almost immediately and put a few stitches in my head. He cleaned up some coral I had in my foot and advised me on an asthma issue. He prescribed some antibiotics which they gave me on the spot - I didn't have to go to a pharmacy and wait in another line as you do in the US.  

The doctor asked if I had health insurance. I said I did, and he said I am better off not using it! I didn't fully understand his explanation, but he said something about the hassle and cost of dealing with the insurers in the US, and in the end, my out of pocket would be MORE if I used my insurance than if I just paid the bill. I was a bit skeptical, until I saw the bill: $100 for the doctors time, the hospital time, the stitches, and whatever else. $91 for the medicine.

Total time spent: about 1 hour. 

I was back on the water by 2.

Without a doubt, this was the best healthcare "emergency" experience I have ever had. And it's not even close: the service was excellent, there was no wait, the price was incredible, and there were far fewer hassles and forms to fill out. I was pretty concerned when I was initially hurt - seeing red trying to get to shore - but in the end, the whole thing was a great experience given the situation.

In trying to find a link to the clinic I went to, I found another post with a similar story: That story talks about a different hospital - I was an a small medical clinic, but the overall experience and conclusion are similar.

In the end, it's not that the healthcare in the DR is particularly good. It's that ours is particularly bad. I know we can do better - I hope we figure this one out before I'm too old and need some serious care!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

What is more expensive – the gas to drive a mile in a Hummer or the wear and tear on a Tesla Roadster battery?

When I bought my Roadster, reports said that driving a roadster costs just a few cents for the electricity. What about the rest of the costs? If you look at just the battery, the current price of a new Roadster battery is $40,000 plus installation costs! The estimated battery life is about 100,000 miles (less if you drive less than about 12k miles per year since the battery degrades without driving). That’s 40 cents PER MILE in the BEST CASE, or, for $4.00 gas, the equivalent of 10 miles per gallon! And that’s just for the battery wear-and-tear.

To be clear, this is the equivalent of the gas tank, NOT the gas. For an electric car, the actual fuel is both the electricity and the battery wear and tear, and just the battery part costs 40 cents per mile. A Hummer gets about 12 mpg highway and 10 mpg city, so at $4.00 gas, costs a bit under 34 cents per gallon highway and 40 cents per mile city.

I love my Roadster as it occupies a unique point in the price/performance/reliability envelope for a sports car. That said, unless the battery aspects of electric vehicles undergo a major overhaul, the economics of the battery alone will make the technology impractical, particularly for more mass market cars such as the Model S or X. 

Perhaps the EPA will start measuring “MPG” on electric cars to include the wear and tear on the battery so it's easier to see what is going on.

As it turns out, the Hummer is nearly 20% cheaper to drive on the highway than the Roadster for just the gas when compared to the wear and tear on the Roadster battery.

That said, I love my Roadster and I'm a huge fan of Tesla, but worried about the economics required for even a moderate main-stream success.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Learning from the Chinese government

I was recently in China - when going through immigration you get to rate the immigration officer. There are four buttons ranging from smiley face to sad face where you can provide feedback as to the level of service you received. I don't know what they do with the data, but I clearly the immigration officer is aware of the feedback mechanism and probably does a better / nicer job as a result.

After we sold Core Mobility, I forgot to update the DMV of my address and the registration on my Tesla expired last December. A nice officer in Palo Alto reminded me of that with a ticket, and then two days later, I'm pulled over in Los Gatos for the same thing! Nuts! Four months of daily driving with no issue, and then two tickets in a week! Sure would have been nice to get those tickets a few months ago since the late fees alone on the registration renewal were over $500!

I told the second officer that I already had a ticket, but he said he is unable to verify that. Strike one! Let's see, in today's connected world they can't look up whether I received a ticket? I sure hope the systems for finding real criminals are better than that!

Anyway, I pay the $1500 for the registration and send all the info to the traffic court hoping it ends the matter. Unfortunately, they don't get an automatic notification after the registration is up to date, even though I have to both pay for the registration and have another officer sign off on the ticket.

The ticket was issued April 2nd and I mailed the proof of registration to the traffic court on April 7th, just before leaving for China.

When I got back, I found the following in my snail mail (address redacted to protect the guilty!):

More than a few things wrong with this picture!
1) The date on the letter is February 1, 2011. That's off by over 2 months!
2) The letter refers to a citation from April 12, 2011. From the point of view of when they got this, that's in the future! The date on the citation is April 2, 2011.
3) The letter head is a template that is not filled out. For example, Branch Name shows as FACILTY_NAME
4) The letter says that I may inquire about the status 45 days after the date on the letter. The date on the letter is incorrect, and 45 days after the time I received this back is after I am supposed to appear in court!

Our tax dollars at work. As Bill Gates said in his TED talk: State Budgets are huge expenditures that undergo very little scrutiny. Unfortunately, the same is true for other areas of state operations.

I'd really like to have a feedback mechanism like the Chinese immigration department has!

And, of course, don't forget to use speech to text transcription services from Speechpad!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The New Office

My new company, Speechpad, just moved into a cool new office. We have a security guard (pictured) straight from Thailand who keeps us safe 24x7. Mike Scanlin, CEO of Born To Sell, is right down the hall and has been advising us on SEO techniques to help drive organic traffic to our site via search engine results. Born To Sell focuses on strategies for selling covered calls - it's a super cool site if you are interested in selling covered calls.

If you haven't seen Speechpad, please check it out. We use crowd-sourced techniques to deliver high-quality, low-cost transcriptions quickly. We've been working on the company for just over two years and have been successfully transcribing financial calls and recorded statements for insurance for most of that time.

Our current focus is on meeting transcriptions, a new market enabled by easy audio acquisition through phones. Please check us out - if you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Your help needed: who is this?

How much information is in a picture? What if you had 1000 people interpret the picture, creating that information? How about just finding out a few key pieces of information?

I once posted a "how-to" kiting video shot in Maui with an unknown rider, and heard back from the rider within a few days! That was an easy one, though - there just aren't that many kiters on Maui, and the community is closely linked. 

While on a boat in the Maldives, were were discussing how quickly we could track down someone in a picture that has a much broader search domain, and a bet evolved.

Setup: The pictures in this post were in the background of another picture (that included a kiter, of course!). They have been blown up and enhanced to better make out the relevant details. They were shot with a high resolution camera that included GPS tagging, so we know the time the picture was taken (5:07:05 PM local time - shortly before sunset), the location where it was taken (3 52.8661'0"N, 73 27.3889'0"E at sea level) and, of course, that they were taken in high resolution (4256 x 2832) so we could pull out the background.

We were discussing the power of crowd sourcing and the power and diversity of the crowd. Eventually a bet evolved: how long will it take to identify a dive shop given only some pictures? This boat is literally on the other side of the world from the US, in the South Male Atoll in the Maldives.

Here's what we know:
The pictures show the boat registration number and we have a blown up picture of presumably the dive master.

The satellite map is tagged with where the boat was seen in the South Male Atoll based on the GPS coordinates in the picture. The boat was heading north at the time and it looks like it's returning from a dive trip.

There is an MTurk job that points to this post and the associated geo-stamped pictures - assuming that information was kept in the upload - (we'll know soon enough - but the satellite picture and the coordinates in this post provide everything we need).