All models are bad but; some models are useful!

Thanks to Five Thirty Eight and NPR for the use of the figures illustrating this post. And also thanks to Nate Silver for his innovative work in political election modeling. This article explains how to interpret the Five Thirty Eight election products. Thinking about probabilistic and statistical models is tricky stuff. What Nate is doing is essentially political weather forecasting.

This post explains how to think about mathematical models of things. The models can be dynamical system models like those used in weather forecasting, statistical models also used in weather forecasting, or statistical models as used in political prediction. Models are useful for a particular range of subject matter and most models are carefully crafted to be useful in a particular region of a subject matter domain.

While working as a nuclear reactor plant designer, we used different models to predict accident response of the reactor than the ones we used to design its control laws and tune its control systems. We used radically different models to design the contents of the fuel pellets and the zoning of pellets along a pin and build up of pins into modules and modules into a reactor core.

What is a model

A model is an abstraction of some real world system that is useful in reasoning about and answering questions about the behavior of that real world system. This is true of all of the models described above and of the election model described after the break. When polling organizations sample the electorate, they collect information about respondents political opinions which are distilled into a statistical description of the electorate. Based on expressed preferences and responses to confirming questions, the pollster makes a model and reports preferences grouped by reported demographics. Remember, on the phone, no one knows you’re really a dog.

And remember that this post is about interpreting polls and poll based model results like those at

Home automation Personal Computing

Dismal Manor Dog Doorbell

At last, the dog doorbell I’ve been wanting. Apple HomeKit Secure Video with Eufy second generation wireless cameras makes a nice dog doorbell. This article tells how to set up HomeKit 4 for the dog doorbell application.

I primarily use HomeKit to alert me when the dogs want in. We have only a couple of months of door open weather where temperature and humidity allow the garden door to stay open. The rest of the year it is shut. The cameras are more reliable than an ear peeled for barking (greyhounds are notoriously non-vocal). It also collects video in case we have a break in while I’m away. Greyhounds are not territorial but Rocky is. He scares the bejesus out of anyone who comes to the door.


  1. HomeKit Secure Video setup.

Eufy Secure Video at Dismal Manor

Dismal Manor has two Eufy Camera 2 wireless battery powered cameras and a USB powered wireless camera. Since I purchased these for Dismal Manor, Eufy has retired the first generation products and now offers only the newer products compatible with the second generation bridge. Only the newer bridge runs the HomeKit gateway.

Eufy has extended the product line to include a complete set of home security door and window sensors, motion sensor, doorbell, etc. Although I’ve not tried it, I believe the perimeter sensors are also HomeKit compatible.

The featured image shows the view from our two back garden cameras. A Ubiquity UniFi Protect DVR and wired 3G cameras capture the front door approach and deep back garden. The Eufy cameras serve primarily as greyhound and fence line monitors. Note that they clearly show the gate and carport X-pen, fence line, and porch landing.

Eufy Battery Life and Motion Settings

Your mileage may vary. I find battery life is about 2 months here as there are many dog motion and dog coming and going events to be recorded. Battery life is easily checked in Home App camera settings.

Dismal Manor is set up to detect animals and people on the porch. HomeKit will spool video, send an alert, and save video when people or pooches are detected on the porch deck at the door. This is very useful as it lets me know that a dog wants in. Or is mounting Zombie Squad HQ patrol from the porch deck.

An Eve Home door sensor logs door openings and closings in HomeKit. These can be correlated with video clips to locate video of an unauthorized entry.

I have disabled vehicle detection and carefully panned the cameras to minimize the view of the street. Vehicle motion will significantly reduce battery life. Night time vehicle light motion will also eat into battery life.

Note that, depending on motion detection sophistication, the cameras may also report shadow movement and tree branch movement. Be careful to keep busy tree limbs pruned out of view.

Motion Detection

Each camera can be configured individually detect motion. There are three settings that may be enabled individually.

  • All motion
  • Vehicle motion
  • People motion
  • Animal motion

This is the key. I can suppress vehicle motion that I don’t care about. These cameras can see a bit of street and traffic is continuous so I don’t want to spend battery saving vehicle transit clips.

People motion can be disabled when the camera has a view of street or public sidewalks. No sense recording passers by. Local or state ordinances may restrict such recording. At a minimum, you must tell people they are on candid camera.

Filtering or reporting animal motion is useful depending on use case. Here at the manor, I have enabled animal motion detection. This ability makes the dog doorbell possible. When a dog comes up on the landing, it is detected and reported.

I have my cameras configured as shown above. Detect people (usually me), detect animals (usually Rocky) and record them. The bridge reflects these settings properly on the Eufy side of things.

Recording happens in an AppleTV or HomePod in the Manor. I’m not sure which takes lead. The Eufy Base Station also has 16 GB of video storage to cache clips locally. Clips pushed off site are encrypted and can only be recovered via the Home App on a Mac or iThing. And all devices must be logged in to a common Apple ID. Access by other Apple IDs may be configured by adding the Apple ID to the HomeKit home.

Off Site Video

I can look in on the dogs while away from home. A third Eufy wired camera is our “RockyCam” that is active when I’m away from home. I can check it over LTE to see how badly Rocky is pacing in my absence. He’s convinced there are Zombies under the bed. This camera is positioned primarily to show door reactions and pacing between the lounge and bedrooms. It is set up for away recording.


I have the MacOS notifications set up as shown below. The iPhone is set up to report when any motion is detected.

Notifications Management

To participate in HomeKit secure video, an iThing must have a Home App installed. Each iThing individually controls notification delivery. I have my iPhone set to always deliver motion detection notifications. It is also set to pass these on to Apple Watch. This combination lets Apple Watch tap me on the wrist when a dog wants in.

You can gate notifications using your WHISKEY (location, not single malt preference). When home or when not home. I leave this setting off which is treated as always. This works nicely as I get a tap on the wrist when Rocky or Missy wants in.

Home automation Personal Computing

HomePodOS 14.1

On Thursday, Siri and I had a shouting match ending in a hard reset and reconfiguring of HomePod. Fortunately, Apple Support procedures included a reset procedure that put HomePod back into factory fresh condition, updated the firmware to HomePodOS 14.1, and allowed me to reconfigure HomePod for use here in the study.

The 14.1 release adds support for HomePod Mini, configuration transfer, the Intercom feature Uncle Tim demonstrated, and more.


Save yourself a lot of trouble and use Genuine Apple Support Procedures rather that magazine articles or how-to click bait.

  1. Resetting HomePod
  2. HomePod Software Release Notes, like forever.

AirPlay Accepts Roon Connections

Apple appears to have resolved the AirPlay connection difficulties in HomePodOS 14.1 release. Before 14.1, HomePod AirPlay server would get horribly tangled and would refuse non-Apple connection requests, specifically from Roon Core. After much fowl language and a reset, HomePod appears to be sorted and is accepting Roon connections.

Siri still plays unwanted Apple Music

Siri still has the problem of playing unwanted music in an attempt to ingratiate herself with the user. Since I haven’t used Apple Music in 3 years, she’s at a bit of a loss as to what should be played. There is still no way to turn off Apple Music in HomePod OS or in MacOS. If you remove Apple Music, audio codec libraries are removed.

Checking HomePodOS Version

MacOS Home App lets you check the HomePodOS version fairly easily. Double click on the tile representing the offensive HomePod. It will open to show the device’s preferences pane. Scroll to the bottom where the device ID and software version information appears.

Single clicks will reward you with unwanted music chosen by Siri for your annoyance.

You can also reset or remove your HomePod here.

Personal Computing

I thought Apple left Infinite Loop?

Apple’s first HQ was at 1 Infinite Loop in Mountain View. Steve Jobs and I apparently share a self-deprecating sense of humor. With the new HQ, Apple now has a much less memorable address. So why write about infinite loops? There appears to be one in the process of changing an Apple ID’s password. Apple ID is the key to using Apple iCloud services and enabling iThings to collaborate in a user environment.

Would the change Apple ID password pass the Tim Cook test? I suspect not. Tim’s an old duffer like me. Or maybe Tim likes infinite loops. Somehow, I suspect not.


Hope for Home Pod?

Featured image courtesy of Apple.

Apple dropped Home Pod squarely atop the steaming mess that is Apple Music. Which is sad because Home Pod is a decent little portable speaker with HiFi ambition in the mid range. Home Pod has a sweet voice, that is to say a flattering way with human vocals. Bass is bloated and limp in the C-3 region where most bassists play and highs don’t go all the way to the top of the cymbal region but in between, the sound is marvelous. Just the thing for casual listening.

Apple’s audio engineers did a wonderful job. So what’s the issue? Apple’s Apple Music ambitions and new gadgets get squarely in the way of the user experience offered by this wonderful product.

HomePod Survey followed critical feedback

A couple of days ago, I filed a thoughtful but critical feedback regarding Apple HomePod issues with the UI and connections. On Tuesday, a lengthy survey showed up in my Email. I responded in detail. HomePod is more than a music playback device. It provides user interfaces for home entertainment, home control, speaker phone and calls, and handles Apple Secure Video, a well conceived and trouble free product.

I hope this response indicates that Apple is serious about getting HomePod’s music playback right. The sound is great, the user experience is horrid. I’ll explain…


iPhone Envy Got Ya?

It’s October and as sure as frost, Apple has announced new iPhones that start selling in a week or two. Dismal Wizard gives his thoughts on iPhone 12 and 5G. But more important to DW, Tucows sold his Mobile Virtual Network Operator, Ting, to Dish Network. Change is coming whether DW wants it or not.

Personal Computing

Introducing Fantastical Calendar

In his search for a better calendaring app, the Dismal Wizard remembered that he had been using CardHop for some time to wrangle contacts quickly. So he poked around some at the App Store to discover that the Card Hop people are also the Fantastical Calendar people. So he bravely plunked down $5 colonial dollars for a one month trial of Premium Fantastical Calendar. It is what the Wizard had been seeking for 18 years. He’ll explain after the break


LRS Comes for Good

Dismal Wizard used Aunt Nancy Pelosi’s CARES Act stimulus payment to purchase the Magnepan Magneplanar Little Ribbon Speakers shown flanking Rocky and Missy (in red). The Maggies (audiophile speak for any Magneplanar speaker) are merciless. Things that sound ordinary on box speakers sound gorgeous and things that sound impressive on box speakers can fall flat on the Maggies. It’s all about the coherency and dipole radiation pattern of Maggies. They respond differently to finished records that do box speakers.

In short, the Maggies seem not to like records that are heavily processed in production. Compression and reverb are evil. The end result is a flat, lifeless mess. More simply mixed records like singer songwriter fare and jazz present well, sometimes brilliantly.

Personal Computing

New Apple Calendar?

Do you like the 2020 iOS 14 Unified Apple Calendar? Dismal Wizard does not. He decided to do something about it and found One Calendar by a couple of intrepid young Netherlands programmers. Read about DW’s gripes and OneCalendar after the break.


Norfolk Elections Office Keeps on Keeping’ On

Dismal Wizard is a bit concerned because Norfolk has not logged in his returned mail ballot. The carrier picked it up on 22 September and local delivery is 2nd day or better. It only takes a minute to run the lot through the OCR to scan the outer smart mail code that ties the ballot to a poll book entry.

The wheels of government turn slow but they do turn, Norfolk, Virginia Elections Office assures me. The Registrar (head honcho) has not revealed to staff the office’s internal timeline for doing the work it needs to do. Speaking with a staffer, they are still responding to absentee ballot requests and have been holding returned ballots for envelope scanning until they are caught up with the requests. They expect they should be caught up in early October. They are deliberately holding the mail ballots until they have time to properly perform the quality processes that assure that they are all recorded. Everything happens under two person control using reader-worker procedures like those used in nuclear power.



And in Virginia

Virginia law sets the following constraints for county elections offices

  • Hand counting of absentee ballots may begin at 3 PM on election day.
  • Machine counting of absentee ballots may begin as they are received but the tally must remain in the machine until the machines are canvased at the close of polls.

Norfolk machine counts everything using mail sorters and optical scanners. In practice, Norfolk must scan the envelopes before election day. This will happen before in person voting begins. This scanning process updates the poll book to record participation in the election. Later, the signature is verified against the application and the signature on file (usually your drivers license signature). Missing and poor quality signatures are reported to the voters at this point so they can correct the issue before early voting and absentee requests close.

Electorate behavior

Experience in the vote by mail states indicates that 1/3 of ballots are returned in the first week, 1/3 are returned on election day, and 1/3 come in between the two milestones. Norfolk staff are currently full time on responding to ballot requests with 2000 0r so in hand on 28 September. Once these are sent out, they expect to scan the returns that they have in hand. Later, they will open the envelopes (2 man control) and scan the ballots. They know better than to wait until 3 PM on election day. October 31 is the close of early voting so they’ll probably record the inventory ballot votes on that day. Totals remain in the machines until the polls close. Machines used for early in person voting and mail voting are set aside under seal and not used on election day.

Virginia 2020 Election Schedule

Virginia election statutes specify election milestones in detail. The 2020 election table appears in [2]. It is a multi-page spreadsheet having 253 entries (why the Elections Office staffer wouldn’t answer). Some of the milestones of interest to voters are below.

  • Last day to register to vote is 10/13
  • Last day to request absentee ballot by mail is 10/23
  • Last day to request absentee ballot in person is 10/31
  • Last day of early voting absentee ballots is 10/31
  • Last day to request a Mulligan absentee ballot is 10/31
  • Absentee ballots polls close on 11/06. Absentee ballots received after the election day poll close are counted on 11/07.
  • Election counting processes complete on 11/10
  • Election certificates sent to elected candidates on 11/11

City officials have 4 days in which to count absentee ballots and seven days in which to check, total, and certify the official results. The statutes don’t specify how the jurisdiction must schedule its internal work flow, just how local mechanics must match up to larger election mechanics. Other statutes establish verification and validation procedures. Part of these is the testing of machines with standard ballots prior to their use in an election.

Note that many expatriates, military personnel, and diplomatic personnel vote by mail from overseas. Mail ballots must be postmarked election day or before. The mail ballot close is set to allow these important groups to vote. National elections have about one million OCONUS participants.

Election Night Results

The election night results are unofficial and incomplete because they don’t include the mail ballots requested late in the election process. The city also has to verify the results to ensure that all machines have been read out and included in the total. The totals themselves have to be checked. Some elections are close and may swing back and forth as the last results are located and reported. In one case, the election was an actual tie broken by game of chance.

Election night results usually tell the tale because most elections are not so close that the outstanding mail ballots will change the result. It is reasonable to expect last minute mail ballots to have a vote distribution similar to the vote already cast as these last minute requests are driven by last minute schedule changes. This is not true with the early ballots which have historically had a Republican Party bias in many states.

Virginia Absentee Voting Law Changes

With the liberalization of Virginia election law, it is likely that those who have to work on election day will dominate the absentee and early voting. Lower wage occupations and child care logistics will drive this change. Many lower income voters were staying on the sidelines because they could not afford to give up a half-day of wages to vote. Similarly, many lower wage households had multiple jobs constraining the day job worker to take evening childcare while parter worked. The new Virginia mail and early voting changes will change Virginia election demographics. These new voters may well skew Democratic.

Our Beloved President

Don’t Vote By Mail

Our beloved President has been disparaging use of the absentee ballot process thinking that Democratic Party voters used it more heavily than Republican Party voters. In prior years, it was the other way around. Republican voters have been more likely to vote using absentee procedures. This is typically because older mobility limited voters were voting absentee and this demographic skewed Republican. This will be the case in Florida. Is he suppressing his own vote in a key small margin state?

Vote early and again on election day

At one time, our beloved President was advising Republicans to vote absentee and attempt to vote again on election day. This can be interpreted as a felonious act in several ways. In many jurisdictions soliciting multiple votes from an individual is a felony. In many jurisdictions, queuing of absentee voters in the election day queue can be taken as a voter suppression tactic because each person has to be looked up in the poll book and told to vote or leave. In many states (yes, you, Georgia), districts that are majority party out of power are deliberately under provisioned with election equipment and poll workers. This is a voter suppression tactic. The President’s double voting scheme would aggravate the problem. Simply make less voting resources available to those people.

Voter suppression schemes are illegal

The various schemes to challenge absentee balloting can also be taken as voter suppression schemes. The Republicans are doing this in plain sight. Let’s gum up the works by challenging all of the signatures! Clever. But we’ll only do it in minority Republican districts. Same thing with challenging all of the machine rejects were boxes were not completely filled.