Missing a lot of details

Time to dredge up a 4 year-old article on Ask the Manager that I only recently discovered (via one of those list articles). It’s called “Employee got her colleagues arrested for smoking pot at a conference and now wants a transfer“. And oh man is there a lot to say about this. First the letter:

Three of my reports (two staff and their team manager) were sent to a two-day conference on the other side of the state. According to one of the staff, Sally, when they were back at the hotel after the first day the team manager invited the two of them into his room and offered them a joint to smoke with him. Sally declined, her colleague did not. Sally told the front desk what her manager and colleague were doing, and the hotel called the police after confirming it. Sally checked out and took a Greyhound back to our city because she was so upset. She showed me and my boss a photo of the team manager smoking the joint and stated she was angry and upset at having an illegal drug pushed at her and pressured to use it.

Our state has not legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. Both Sally’s team manager and colleague were arrested for possession. They were also given a reprimand for behaving that way on a work trip. Sally stated her objections to the fact they were not fired and reiterated her dislike of marijuana. She has put in for a transfer and stated if she is not given one, she will quit.

I agree it was inappropriate, but I think Sally is overreacting. I disagree with the marijuana laws in this state and believe in legalization. I partake myself occasionally. I understand it was completely inappropriate on a work trip and she shouldn’t have been pressured, but I think Sally is going way overboard with her crusade and telling the hotel and everything. How do I talk to her and address this with her? I’m also upset that she left the conference and came home early. I would have told her to decline it but to stay for the second day and privately talk to me after the conference.

Standing out is the apparent lack of empathy for Sally. In the letter, Alison’s response, and especially in the comments. Did anyone talk to her to learn why she reacted how she did? Did anyone attempt to figure out a full chain of events? There are a lot of gaps in the narrative presented in this letter, and I feel it’s intentional.

Two details come to mind that absolutely are relevant here.

  1. What is Sally’s history with marijuana and other illegal substances? And has she had contacts with law enforcement over this, either because of her own personal involvement or the involvement of friends and/or family? This will inform how she responded.
  2. What is Sally’s race?

The first question will help determine why Sally’s unusual response occurred. As many in the comments section reflect, most wouldn’t have responded the way Sally did. Or at least most claim they would not do that. But the second question is also very relevant.

The war on drugs has been supremely racist in its prosecution, I think we can all agree. So if Sally is black or Latina, the risk to her is greater than it would be if she is white. And Sally would also likely be acutely aware of that, especially if she’s had any prior contacts with law enforcement. (Several in the comments did raise the point that Sally could be a minority or POC, but it was typically dismissed whenever it was raised. How ironic from a site that tends to give left-leaning vibes with a lot of other subjects.)

So let’s start with the obvious: the manager’s illegal conduct. Upon learning of this situation, the business they were representing should have gone into damage control. They should’ve immediately fired the manager and colleague for their illegal conduct and made it clear to everyone in the company that illegal conduct will NOT be tolerated.

But everyone, including Alison, was ignoring the fact the manager’s conduct is illegal. Disagreeing with a law is one thing. And I’ve made it no secret my disdain for the war on drugs. But the law is still the law. And breaking the law is still breaking the law, whether you disagree with the law or not. The realities of how drug charges are levied against people seemed completely lost on Alison and the commenters over their assessment that marijuana just isn’t a big deal. They ignore the reality of how drug laws are enforced simply because they don’t agree with those drug laws.

Sorry but the world doesn’t work like that.

Something thankfully pointed out by one commenter calling themselves “Blame the Manager“:

Whatever your personal feelinga (sic) about drugs and drugs laws are, they are irrelevant. You have to deal with the world as it is, where smoking weed risks arrest – and everyone who smokes weed in areas where it’s illegal knows that.

They go on to say that Sally’s reaction to her manager’s illegal activity isn’t as unreasonable as many want to make it out to be, speculating on Sally’s actual actions based on the little detail the LW gave.

One other very relevant question: how did the manager acquire the marijuana? Did he buy it in the conference city, or bring it with him? In either case, Sally likely did not want to be near them on the off chance they transported any surplus back home with them if they all carpooled.

Since the risk becomes all of them getting arrested if they get pulled over. Drug possession is typically a strict liability offense. Saying “it’s not mine” largely doesn’t matter unless you can prove it was planted. Unless the illicit substances are on the person of one of the occupants, the police and law may treat the situation as if all of them are in possession. Recall from the letter that both the manager and colleague were arrested for drug possession.

And if Sally is a minority but the manager and colleague are white, it could end up that Sally is the only one in trouble. Again, unless whatever surplus was on the person of one of the occupants.

Even if Sally did nothing but merely left the room when the pot was offered, that doesn’t put her entirely in the clear. Since if law enforcement had still gotten involved, the manager and colleague could’ve still found a way to pull Sally down with them. Even if she was never actually charged, if she’s arrested, that could still come back to bite her in the future. Yet everyone seemed to completely disregard Sally’s desire to cover her own ass.

Again the drug war has been very racist in its prosecution, so we can’t discount this possibility. And Sally’s history with marijuana laws likely explains why she “noped” out of there. Checking out of the hotel early and taking a bus home to get away from two people who could get her in a heap of trouble.

Again this reality was largely ignored. Instead it seemed many in the comments section were quick to defend the manager, focusing their attention on the repercussions a drug conviction could have for them. Empathy for Sally’s position in that mess was largely non-existent.

Why did Sally take a picture of the boss smoking pot? She needed some kind of evidence to back up her claims when putting in for a transfer (which likely would’ve accompanied a formal complaint). That also tells me she didn’t expect the manager and colleague to get arrested – again, the hotel called it in.

Alison’s response to this letter also leaves a LOT to be desired, unfortunately. One thing any manager must avoid is letting their own personal biases cloud their judgement. And on that, Alison failed miserably.

Oooof.

Yeah, I agree Sally is way overreacting, but I want to be transparent that I’m having trouble parsing out how much of that is colored by my opposition to arresting and jailing adults for marijuana use.

I’m curious to know more about what she means when she says that she was pressured to use marijuana. Does she mean it was simply offered to her? That’s not really pressure, not any more than offering someone a glass of wine when other people are partaking is pressure to drink. But if her boss and/or the coworker were seriously pressuring her (dismissing her no, trying to cajole her into it, or giving her a hard time when she wanted to leave), then yes, that’s messed up.

Either way, though, taking a photo, alerting the hotel, and cutting the trip short and taking a bus back to your city is a pretty extreme reaction, unless there’s more to the story that we don’t know.

But the manager really screwed up here and I’d be having a serious talk with him, because he showed terrible judgment in offering Sally a joint. Given that he didn’t see her reaction coming, he clearly didn’t know her well enough to have been smoking pot around her in the first place (even if there was no pressure whatsoever). You should be upset with him for his lack of judgment.

As for what to do now … well, does it make business sense to transfer Sally? Is the job she wants to be transferred to one that’s open and one that she’d be good at? Do you typically transfer people pretty easily? How’s her performance generally? Is she someone you want to retain? Has she shown good judgment in tricky situations in the past? What are her working relationships going to be like with these colleagues going forward, if she stays where she is and if she moves? In particular, is it realistic for her to keep working for someone who she got arrested? I’d consider all of those factors in deciding whether or not to transfer her.

But if those factors don’t add up to a transfer making sense, I think it’s fine to tell her that you’re not able to give her the transfer and that you understand if that means that she choses not to stay in her job.

As for talking to her about leaving the conference and coming home early and about going overboard in general … I suppose you could frame it as something like, “Let’s talk about how to handle it in the future if you’re uncomfortable with a colleague’s behavior.” But I think you’re better off letting it go. It really doesn’t sound like you’re going to convince her that she was wrong to do those things — and unfortunately the law is on her side on the reporting — so I’d just focus on moving forward from here.

On the question of whether Sally was “pressured”, the manager/subordinate power dynamic means that the manager offered the joint to her is all that matters. How he offered it is immaterial. That power dynamic is so important to the discussion, but, again, Alison completely dropped the ball here.

“Blame the Manager” pointed out that Sally is the one being punished by the company for the manager’s illegal activity. Many feel that marijuana is “not a big deal”, but that doesn’t change the fact it is still illegal under the laws of many States and the Federal jurisdiction. And how those laws could be enforced against them is also very important to the discussion, especially if Sally is a minority.

Again, the company should’ve gone into immediate damage control and made it clear that illegal conduct will not be tolerated. Sally should never have needed to discuss a transfer because the manager and colleague should never have been retained.

And the update the LW gave was all the more gut-wrenching with this:

Thank you for answering my question Alison. As always your advice is spot on. I appreciate all the comments as well.

Since I sent in my letter some things have happened. Sally was not given a transfer and she was given a reprimand and sent home for a half day to make up for the unused costs of the hotel and conference. This was not my decision.

Sally ended up seeking legal advice and the company had to do damage control because she framed it as her male boss telling her to come into his room at night and pressuring her to take a drug that is illegal and mood-altering, and was penalized for reporting it to the hotel while trying to protect the company and their decision to phone the police, and given a harsher penalty than the people who did the illegal thing and not allowed a transfer and forced to work for the boss she reported and told not to be insubordinate again. Again I was not involved in the decision to reprimand her.

When Sally quit two people also left in protest and several others threatened to based on her treatment. The company decided to try to settle with her because a lawyer told us we really dropped the ball. I agree. I think Sally overreacted but I was upset that she received a worst penalty than her boss and colleague.

Thanks again everyone and sorry I don’t have time to reply to everyone individually.

There’s no indication the manager and colleague were fired for their – say it with me – ILLEGAL ACTIVITY! And, worse, Sally was reprimanded along with having her transfer denied and told to not be insubordinate. Talk about inadvertently establishing a culture where those who report illegal activity (though it was, again, the hotel that called the police) will be reprimanded while the lawbreakers will not.

Unsurprisingly, Sally ultimately resigned. Several others left with her, and several others threatened to do so, citing how the company treated Sally. Which that unto itself is noteworthy.

And after having the situation explained to them by an attorney, the company settled with Sally to avoid a potential lawsuit where… even if they won, the company definitely would not have looked good in the process. Reprimanding an employee who was offered pot (which is, again, illegal in the State in question) by their manager in a hotel while out of town during a conference, while retaining the manager without reprimand. There’s no way to frame that in a way that looks good for the company.

Now should Sally have left the conference early? I don’t see any reason to say “No”. Even if Sally isn’t a minority or POC or has never had any contact with law enforcement regarding illicit substances, she may be well versed in how drug laws are enforced and wanted to distance herself from a very apparent risk. The only way to know that would’ve been to discuss how she responded to get details.

If I was in Sally’s situation, I likely would’ve done much the same. I would’ve gone into some kind of personal damage control mode to ensure there was no way my manager and colleague’s illegal conduct came back on me. Since, as I pointed out above, even if Sally merely left the room when the pot was offered and didn’t inform the hotel, the chance of law enforcement still getting involved was not zero. And if they still got arrested, they still could’ve thought of a way to pull Sally down with them.

Leaving entirely was the only way to get that chance as low as possible. She could’ve gone to another hotel, yes, but the fouled manager/subordinate dynamic still meant Sally would’ve wanted to transfer out from under her manager. And any disquiet she has with marijuana would’ve made her uncomfortable being around them for the remainder of that conference as well.

So, again, I see no reason to believe Sally’s early and sudden departure from the conference venue was inappropriate.

How she was ultimately treated by her employer, though, absolutely was.

Moving Nasira to a different chassis

Build Log:

This is a long-overdue update. But before getting into the discussion, here’s the current configuration of the NAS:

  • Chassis: Rosewill RSV-L4500 with three 4-HDD hot-swap bays
  • Power: Corsair CX750M
  • CPU: AMD FX-8350 with Noctua NH-D9L
  • Mainboard: ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0
  • RAM: 32GB ECC DDR3-1866

Storage is 12 HDDs divided into 6 pairs with an effective total of 42TB: 2 pairs of 4TB, 2 pairs of 6TB, 1 pair of 10TB, and 1 pair of 12TB HDDs. The last pair was the most recent addition after I found Toshiba N300 12TB HDDs on sale on Amazon for a little north of 300 USD (plus my county’s wonderful sales tax).

At the last update, the system was at 8 HDDs – 2 pairs of 4TB and 2 pairs of 6TB or 20TB effective – connected through an M1015 card flashed to IT (HBA) mode. And I knew I’d eventually start running thin on that as our movie collection continued to expand, along with storage needs for my photography. Later I upgraded to 4K TVs for my desktop (and we plan to buy a 4K television for our living room) and started collecting 4K Blu-Rays to replace the 1080p movies, which eats up storage even faster. (As an example, the entire Lord of the Rings 4K Extended movie collection is nearly a half-terabyte on its own!)

So to have room to expand, I decided to move it to a chassis that could allow for 12 HDDs.

Which that really seems to be the furthest I need to go on this, I feel. I need to cull out files anyway, likely starting with the day-of backups of the RAW files from my cameras, something I need to do anyway to help curtail the cost of my offsite backup. And if that wasn’t enough, I’d start replacing the smaller drives rather than figure out how to connect still more drives to this.

Replacing the drives is easy with everything set up in pairs, as I discussed in the seminal article on this project.

Nearly 5 years on, I’m glad I chose mirrored pairs from the outset. Sure I’m sacrificing storage capacity by doing this compared to RAID-Z1 or Z2. But it allowed me to expand storage gradually as needed. This gradual expansion also allowed me to take advantage of ever-improving pricing on storage, giving me a greater average GB/dollar overall without the significant up-front cost of buying a lot of drives at once. (I paid the same for just one 12TB drive as I did for two 4TB drives 5 years ago.)

Adding more drive bays meant going bigger on the chassis. So it was a matter of finding a 4U chassis with the requisite drive support. And on that, there really was just one option.

Rosewill Server Chassis

Rosewill has several options available. All of them 25″, longer than the 3U chassis at 22″. One of their options is the RSV-L4412 (Amazon, eBay). 4U with 12 hot-swap bays using three of the hot swap units I already have. Well that’s where the RSV-L4500 (Amazon, eBay) comes in.

The L4412 and L4500 are more or less the same chassis. In the front are nine (9) 5¼” drive bays arranged vertically. The L4412 has three Rosewill RSV-SATA-Cage-34 (Amazon, eBay) hot-swap bays in those drive bays while the L4500 has three RSV-Cage drive cages, which hold four HDDs horizontally and are not hot-swap.

Since I already had two RSV-SATA-Cage-34 hot swap units, the L4500 was the better choice. If you want to fit more HDDs into the front of this, some options can fit 5 HDDs to 3 drive bays, allowing for 15 HDDs total, which is a potential upgrade path for Nasira in the future.

On a side note, 45drives really should start selling their chassis – e.g. the AV15 15-drive chassis – without the need to buy a complete system. I probably would’ve just bought that at the outset and been done with it had that been an option.

But I didn’t want to just swap everything directly into the new chassis. There was a bit of a cable management issue in the 3U chassis. The more egregious aspect being the two hot swap bays. Which have two LP4 (“4-pin Molex”) plugs each to power the four HDDs per bay.

A nice little nest of cables in the middle. Swapping to using a SAS card and SFF-8087 to 4xSATA cables helped, but only so much. The power delivery was still the central problem. Especially since all of the internal accessories and HDDs were powered off one (1) – yes, just ONE – LP4 power harness from the power supply.

So what’s the solution? Clean wiring often requires custom wiring. That is the way of it.

Cleaner power delivery

6-pin PCI-E power pigtails are one of the better items to come out of cryptocurrency mining. The Corsair CX750M uses the 6-pin PCI-E plug for the SATA and LP4 harnesses, while using the 8-pin PCI-E plug for CPU (if you need more than one) and GPU power. They also tend to be 16ga, though 14ga options do exist.

But since they are made for powering graphics cards, they will have only two wire colors: yellow and black. And they will be wired for a GPU as well. But this is almost perfect for Corsair power supplies with the Type3 connectors. Remove the top-middle ground and the pin corresponding to the 3.3V line. The 5V line will be the middle yellow, and the 12V line will be the corner yellow.

I employed three of these for the HDD power delivery, one to each HDD bay. 20″ was long enough to reach even the furthest drive bay and still have some slack. I sacrificed spare extension cables and adapters I had laying around to make these into LP4 Y-splitters, with butt connectors to make the final power connections.

The harness with the white connector is being used to power chassis fans off one of the CPU/PCI-E connectors.
Not the greatest custom wiring job, but I wasn’t hugely concerned with perfection. I may redo it later.

Custom wiring is the only clean way to get power to this. PCI-E extension cables are an alternative, extending the stock harnesses out to the HDD bays. But the harnesses creates more cable bulk, which can be an issue with the Rosewill chassis as the power connectors are at the top of the chassis. And they’re only 18ga.

New SAS card. Kind of.

Since the chassis can fit three of the quad-HDD units, 12HDDs total, I need to connect that to something. But Nasira’s SAS card has only two SFF-8087 plugs, enough for 8 HDDs. So should I add a second SAS card, or upgrade to a SAS card with four plugs to it? How about option 3: a SAS expander.

That is the Intel RES2SV240. Think of it like a SAS switch. Using an SFF-8087 to SFF-8087 cable, you can use this to connect up to 20 HDDs, or even additional expanders, to one SAS connection on a card. And that card is initially what I used. Merely because I didn’t want two SAS cards, nor did I want to buy a 4-port SAS card.

While it is a PCI-E x4 card, it uses the slot only to draw power. It has an LP4 connector which can also be used to draw power instead of the PCI-Express slot. This could allow you to build an external enclosure, if you wished, using a pair of SFF-8087 to SFF-8088 converter boards with an SFF-8088 cable between them.

This was more expensive than buying a second 2-port SAS card, but less so than swapping out the existing one. It also added to the cable bulk in the chassis, but I chose to… just live with it. Until recently. With the last set of HDDs going into the drive bays, I decided to swap out the 2-port card and expander for a single 4-port card: LSI 9201-16i.

More room…

In the picture above you can see three expansion cards: 4-port SAS card, dual-port 10GbE card, and a graphics card occupying the lone PCI slot on the board. That PCI slot was hidden under the power supply in the 3U chassis.

So going with the 4U chassis, exposing the PCI slot, allowed me to replace the x1 graphics card with a GeForce2 MX400 PCI card I had lying around. Every card is passively cooled, and each card also has plenty of clearance for airflow from the 120mm fan panel. Not that the graphics card really needs all that much in the way of cooling.

…to expand?

It’s safe to say there won’t be any future expansion beyond this.

If I need more storage, I’ll just replace the smaller HDDs. Sure that isn’t nearly as cost-effective as just adding more drives (replacing the 4TB drives with 14TB adds 10TB at the cost of 14TB), but it avoids the complication of trying to figure out how to connect an external enclosure to this.

If anything happens to this system over the next couple years, it’ll likely be to replace the motherboard and processor with something more recent. But that’ll only happen if I absolutely need it. Since this is a light duty NAS, there likely won’t be much need to do that.

About voter ID laws

Here’s a thought: rather than calling voter ID laws “voter suppression” and wasting money on a lawsuit against Georgia in the false hope the new law will be struck, the charities who are going around trying to get more people registered to vote should also be asking if they have a valid government-issued ID. And if not, busing them to the nearest government office to get one and absorbing the cost of that. Since the argument is that some people are too poor to get one.

And if that’s the case, if someone is literally too poor they cannot afford $15 for a government-issued ID every several years, why not lobby for a government program to offset that cost instead, paid with a penny sales tax or something like that? Or establish a charity that partners with the local government offices to pay those costs for those who cannot afford them.

I’m seriously baffled at the idea that people don’t have a valid government-issued ID but are registered to vote. You have to have a valid form of identification on you in order to accomplish… most anything. Including! buying. a. firearm. (And in some States, ammunition.) You need a government-issued ID to get a job. And so many other things in life require a valid ID.

The government has an obligation to protect the integrity of the election process. Requiring an ID is part of that. Doesn’t matter how widespread voter fraud allegedly is or is not. If people could buy a firearm without showing an ID – an exercise of our basic 2nd Amendment RIGHT, by the way – the left would be up in arms (pun unintended) over it, screaming about how kids are going to die left and right because of it. (The same argument thrown at people who argue against universal gun registration, as well.)

So rather than spending time and money on a lawsuit (including the inevitable appeals), the organizations doing that should pool the money that would otherwise be going to the lawyers and Courts and use it to pay the fees so people who don’t have one can get a valid government-issued ID.

But then, if they did that, I guess that’d be one less thing they can call “racist”.

Presume Andrew Cuomo is innocent

Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York has a bit of a problem on his hands. Multiple “credible” allegations of sexual harassment or assault have been lobbed his direction. And numerous Democrats have called for his resignation.

Now I’m no friend to the Democrats. Being a libertarian, there are numerous policy ideas on which I have a lot of agreement with Democrats, but, again, I’m no friend to them. (Plenty would likely label me “far right” without missing a beat.) So with that out of the way, where do I stand on this?

The same place I stood with Brett Kavanaugh and Michael Avenatti. On the side of due process.

Like with Kavanaugh and Avenatti, one question must prevail above all others: are the allegations provable? If not, then we must give the Governor the benefit of doubt. If the allegations are provable but not proven, we must, again, give the Governor the benefit of doubt.

Only if the allegations can be shown by clear and convincing evidence to be true should we then act on them or demand the Governor’s resignation. Not before. Allegations are not evidence, and it’s far past time we stopped acting like they are.

About that videographer and nonrefundable deposits

Article: Wedding videographer refuses refund after bride’s death, harasses her family

I’m sure by now a lot of people have heard of this story. (Yeah I’m a bit late to this party.) But let’s set the scene.

Couple are getting married, and they hire a videographer, sign a contract, and pay the required up-front deposit to secure the date. Along the way, the bride-to-be tragically dies. Seeking to undo as much as possible and get as much money back as possible, the groom approaches the videographer to seek a refund of the deposit. Videographer refuses, stating it’s nonrefundable per the contract.

Not liking the outcome, the groom takes to the Internet. Brigading ensues, and the videographer starts taunting the groom.

So who’s in the wrong here? Well in the parlance of r/AITA, everything sucks here (ESH). But everywhere I’ve seen this story discussed, I also see the profound ignorance of contracts and the law on display. A lot of people stating things about contracts or the law that just is not true.

So let’s see if I can inject some reality back into this.

Contracts

In general contracts tend to specify that one party agrees to do something (or not do something) in exchange for some kind of consideration from a second party. I currently have several open contracts that give me access to people (as availability allows) for photography practice. The persons with whom I’m contracting agree to be a photo model in exchange for a pay rate. (There’s more in the contract than just that, such as copyrights and liability waivers, but let’s keep things simple.)

And you can agree to most anything in a contract. The only limitation is someone cannot agree in a contract to do something that violates the law – e.g. murder for hire, prostitution (in most States), slavery. Nor can they agree to refrain from violating the law in exchange for any kind of consideration. The terms must not contradict the law, either. For example, if liability waivers are not allowed or not allowed in some circumstances (e.g. actual malice), then that nullifies or limits the effect of a liability waiver in the contract.

Most everything else goes, so long as the contract isn’t unconscionable.

I’ve seen numerous people try to say that contracts aren’t “bulletproof”. Saying such generally implies that a contract is easy to nullify. Umm… no. They’re damned hard to get nullified by a Court unless you can show there is a genuine legal issue with the contract, an actual conflict of law. And even then, the Court will likely only limit or nullify just the parts that are problematic over nullifying the entire contract, even if the contract does not have a severability clause.

Canceling a contract

Generally there are not a lot ways you can rescind an agreement after it’s been signed. And the contract itself may specifically nullify your ability to rescind after it’s been signed, meaning the only way you can escape such agreements is if there is a legal problem with the contract, the other party is in breach, or it becomes impossible for one party to the contract to fulfill their end of the bargain.

Unless the contract has a termination clause, the only way to cancel a contract is if both parties agree to back out of the agreement. Termination clauses are commonplace in contracts. It’s safe to say that most won’t sign contracts that don’t have one.

I’ll use one of my contracts as an example. I signed a contract with a couple for family photographs. Due to weather-related health issues with the children, we had difficulty actually pinning down a date, time, and location that would work. The contract allowed rescheduling so long as the photo shoot occurred within 45 days of the contract going into effect (i.e. all parties signed it) or the contract would die automatically. It also allowed either me or the family to back out of the contract at any time so long as the shoot never occurred.

If the family decided after the shoot to cancel, they wouldn’t have been able to, as the contract didn’t allow for that and I absolutely would not have agreed to such.

Ultimately the contract expired as I made a couple suggestions for location and never heard back from the couple. And I never demanded an up-front deposit, so the contract expiring was as if it never existed to begin with.

Non-refundable deposits

If you’ve bought a house, you should be familiar with “earnest money”. For those not in the know, it’s a cash deposit (mine was $500) that shows that you are serious about buying the house. It is credited toward your closing costs, but is non-refundable if you back out of the purchase with some exceptions (e.g. you discover something substantial about the home not on the seller’s disclosure form).

So for services booked months or longer in advance, the non-refundable deposit is similar to “earnest money”. It shows you’re serious about their services, secures them for the date in question, and is non-refundable should you back out.

Making anything similar to this idea incorrect: “Services were never rendered, so the videographer has no right to keep the money.”

And the contract will stipulate the deposit is not refundable under any circumstances (except where law requires), or will give only some circumstances in which the deposit may be refundable in whole or part. This doesn’t mean the money is absolutely gone. But getting it back requires getting the contract nullified in Court (good luck there!) or the other party (photographer, etc.) must have backed out for some reason or failed to show.

That doesn’t mean the service provider cannot refund the deposit under any circumstances. Only that they won’t be obligated to do so under the contract for circumstances not expressed in the contract. The refund will, instead, be entirely at their pleasure.

You’re free to request it, but they won’t be under any obligation to give it.

“But the bride was killed!”

If one party to the contract is an individual, and that individual dies, the contract may be voidable. And whether it is voidable is determined by the nature of the agreement itself and whether there has already been any substantial performance.

As a simple example where this plausibly could happen, let’s say a homeowner contracted to have his/her house repainted. And just to really extend out time, we’ll say they’re doing the entirety of the inside and outside. And not all at once.

But the homeowner suffers a heart attack and dies before all the rooms could be repainted, and the outside hasn’t been touched yet. Likely the homeowner has already paid a significant portion of an estimate (likely half) up front as a deposit. The big question here is whether the homeowner’s death prevents the painters from finishing the job.

Probably the only circumstance in which that would be the case is if the homeowner had not yet picked out colors for the remaining rooms. But where colors had been picked out, work could still continue. And if the estate executor tried to claim the contract was void, the painting company could push back and seek an injunction to enforce as much of the agreement as was still possible, citing any prior performance under the agreement.

With the scenario discussed herein, one party to the contract isn’t an individual, but a couple. The couple is a joint party to the contract (unless the contract states otherwise, which is unusual).

In the above scenario, if the homeowner was married, both would likely be signing the contract for painting the house, which I’d expect so both can have a say in the selected colors. This would make them a joint party to the contract. So if one of the couple dies, the contract continues as if that death had not occurred.

The death of one does not void the contract. Absent a clause to the contrary, it’ll continue in full force and effect unless continued execution becomes impossible. I don’t even think the house burning to the ground would kill that contract since the painters could still paint the rooms as part of rebuilding the house. (And getting reimbursement from the homeowner’s insurance for any repainting.)

So in reference to the couple and videographer, the death of the bride and groom is the only way the videographer may have had any legal obligation to refund the deposit. Unless the contract says otherwise, the death of one does not void the contract. Instead the groom became the sole party to the contract.

And since the wedding obviously cannot happen due to the death of the bride, the groom opted to cancel the contract. Under the law, that is treated as if both decided to back out jointly, meaning the cancellation terms still apply as written. And any deposit stipulated by the contract is not refundable, meaning the videographer was not under any obligation to refund it.

Responding to a virus

The surviving groom left a review on TheKnot.com about the videographer refusing to refund the deposit. Apparently some things were said that prompted the videographer to threaten a lawsuit, and the groom reached out to his local television media for assistance. (Not the first time a company threatens to sue over negative reviews.)

And, surprise surprise, the story went viral.

And the typical response anymore when a story about a company goes viral is brigading. Basically a ton of keyboard warriors who’ve never even previously heard of the company, let alone done business with them, decide to flood review sites with negative reviews. One ready example I give on this is an antique seller in Florida who made the news for having a KKK statuette on display for sale. Keyboard warriors flooded various review sites and the company’s Facebook page calling the owners racist and white supremacist for… reasons.

And in this instance, the company also saw a flood of negative reviews.

Now I absolutely do not condone how the videographer responded to the brigading. It was absolutely contemptible conduct, to say the least. But that’s overall and otherwise immaterial to whether the videographer had any obligation to refund the deposit.

Under the terms of the contract as discussed herein, they did not.

This one’s new

This may sound like an advertisement for my previous article on hosting a mail server on your home network, since doing so for the last several years has allowed me to easily know this is a scam, but… it’s an email I actually received.

Greetings!

I have to share bad news with you.
Approximately few months ago I have gained access to your devices, which you use for internet browsing.
After that, I have started tracking your internet activities.

Here is the sequence of events:
Some time ago I have purchased access to email accounts from hackers (nowadays, it is quite simple to purchase such thing online).
Obviously, I have easily managed to log in to your email account ([REDACTED]).

One week later, I have already installed Trojan virus to Operating Systems of all the devices that you use to access your email.
In fact, it was not really hard at all (since you were following the links from your inbox emails).
All ingenious is simple. =)

This software provides me with access to all the controllers of your devices (e.g., your microphone, video camera and keyboard).
I have downloaded all your information, data, photos, web browsing history to my servers.
I have access to all your messengers, social networks, emails, chat history and contacts list.
My virus continuously refreshes the signatures (it is driver-based), and hence remains invisible for antivirus software.

Likewise, I guess by now you understand why I have stayed undetected until this letter…

While gathering information about you, I have discovered that you are a big fan of adult websites.
You really love visiting porn websites and watching exciting videos, while enduring an enormous amount of pleasure.
Well, I have managed to record a number of your dirty scenes and montaged a few videos, which show the way you masturbate and reach orgasms.

If you have doubts, I can make a few clicks of my mouse and all your videos will be shared to your friends, colleagues and relatives.
I have also no issue at all to make them available for public access.
I guess, you really don’t want that to happen, considering the specificity of the videos you like to watch, (you perfectly know what I mean) it will cause a true catastrophe for you.

Let’s settle it this way:
You transfer $950 USD to me (in bitcoin equivalent according to the exchange rate at the moment of funds transfer), and once the transfer is received, I will delete all this dirty stuff right away.
After that we will forget about each other. I also promise to deactivate and delete all the harmful software from your devices. Trust me, I keep my word.

This is a fair deal and the price is quite low, considering that I have been checking out your profile and traffic for some time by now.
In case, if you don’t know how to purchase and transfer the bitcoins – you can use any modern search engine.

Here is my bitcoin wallet: 16aqr3rXxCtxa8AK3ErftnBQLfzyyhjpXJ

You have less than 48 hours from the moment you opened this email (precisely 2 days).

Things you need to avoid from doing:
*Do not reply me (I have created this email inside your inbox and generated the return address).
*Do not try to contact police and other security services. In addition, forget about telling this to you friends. If I discover that (as you can see, it is really not so hard, considering that I control all your systems) – your video will be shared to public right away.
*Don’t try to find me – it is absolutely pointless. All the cryptocurrency transactions are anonymous.
*Don’t try to reinstall the OS on your devices or throw them away. It is pointless as well, since all the videos have already been saved at remote servers.

Things you don’t need to worry about:
*That I won’t be able to receive your funds transfer.
– Don’t worry, I will see it right away, once you complete the transfer, since I continuously track all your activities (my trojan virus has got a remote-control feature, something like TeamViewer).
*That I will share your videos anyway after you complete the funds transfer.
– Trust me, I have no point to continue creating troubles in your life. If I really wanted that, I would do it long time ago!

Everything will be done in a fair manner!

One more thing… Don’t get caught in similar kind of situations anymore in future!
My advice – keep changing all your passwords on a frequent basis

So yeah…

There is no way they could’ve “purchased” access to my email account, since it isn’t accessible outside my home network, which is protected via a firewall. Again this is one of the main reasons I set up a mail server on my home network.

Plus I also don’t have a webcam, so there’s nothing for them to record.

So yeah, scam all the way. And it has all the hallmarks of all the previous scam blackmail emails as well. Though this is a bit of a new angle for them to take. Haven’t seen this one before. But I’m sure I’ll probably be seeing a lot more of it in the future.

Other BTC wallets associated with this scam:

Infinity Consumer Services

In a previous article I wrote about American Debt Enders and their “Debt Dispute Program”. It seems since that article went live, the company has done a bit of a rebrand. Now instead of calling it “Debt Dispute”, they call it “Credit Restoration“. And they’ve removed some of the more problematic claims from the initial page, and removed access to the several blog posts about their program – though the links on my initial article do still work.

In looking back through those original articles, there was a small detail I overlooked:

Note:(this article is based on researching the debt dispute program as laid out by Infinity Consumer Services, which contains some unique elements.)

And when I looked at the website for Infinity Consumer Services (ICS), I found that American Debt Enders had basically copy/pasted from ICS’s “Debt Dispute” program. So at least I know one of the sources of the fanciful claims I responded to in my original article.

But ICS makes their own fanciful claims about their program.

The right to dispute the accuracy of an account is indispensable to ensure fair business practices. Infinity Consumer Services uses a private third-party fiduciary to dispute the accuracy of accounting on our customer’s behalf. A third-party is used to maintain a level of privacy that corporate entities, such as Infinity Consumer Services, may not be able to provide as a registered business.

This third-party is called an authorized representative. The authorized representative acts on our customer’s behalf to dispute the validity of accounting as well as request other disclosures the debt collector must verify through the lender.

Do you really need an “authorized representative” to help you dispute your debts? Not really. As I stated in my original article, it just takes understanding your rights, a little initiative, and keeping your expectations in check. Depending on the type of person you are, it may be helpful to have someone on your side, but it isn’t necessary. Especially since the first leg of debt validation is handled entirely by mail.

But let’s tackle the second part of that second paragraph: “dispute the validity of accounting as well as request other disclosures the debt collector must verify through the lender.” As I’ve pointed out on this blog several times, what a debt collector must provide to satisfy validation under the law is actually quite minimal:

No provision of the FDCPA has been found which would require a debt collector independently to investigate the merit of the debt, except to obtain verification, or to investigate the accounting principles of the creditor, or to keep detailed files.

Azar v. Hayter, 874 F.Supp. 1314 at 1317 (N.D. Florida, 1995)

[V]erification of a debt involves nothing more than the debt collector confirming in writing that the amount being demanded is what the creditor is claiming is owed; the debt collector is not required to keep detailed files of the alleged debt. Consistent with the legislative history, verification is only intended to “eliminate the … problem of debt collectors dunning the wrong person or attempting to collect debts which the consumer has already paid.” There is no concomitant obligation to forward copies of bills or other detailed evidence of the debt.

Chaudhry v. Gallerizzo, 174 F. 3d 394 at 406 (4th Cir., 1999) (internal citations removed)

So the Federal Courts have already said that what ICS would be attempting to get from the debt collector is not information the debt collector would be required to turn over. Instead they’re required to provide evidence that

  • the debt is valid
  • the amount claimed is accurate (itemized details are not required to fulfill this)
  • they have the authority to collect it, and
  • the name and address of the originating creditor if you request it

That’s it!

If a lender and/or debt collector cannot verify pertinent information regarding an account, they may be in violation of consumer protection laws. During and after a dispute, collection efforts by debt collectors sometimes cease until they can provide such disclosures.

Given how little a debt collector must provide during validation, it’s easy for them to provide this information in most circumstances. Yes collection efforts must cease until they do, but expect them to actually do it.

Often, we see collection efforts come to a standstill until the statute of limitations for debt collection runs out.

I highly doubt it is “often” that ICS sees “collection efforts come to a standstill” long enough for the statute of limitations to run out. I’d be surprised if that has actually happened, to be honest. I’ve been through debt collections. Almost every time I sent a §1692g validation request to a debt collector, they’ve typically responded within 45 days of me posting the dispute letter.

Do not lead your readers and prospects into thinking that sending a dispute letter under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act will result in never hearing from the debt collector again. It never happens on debts that are newly fallen into collections.

For debts that have been sold off to other debt buyers, that’s a possibility. And it has happened to me. But that was also for an account with a balance of only a few hundred dollars. All the other accounts I had that fell into collections? Each collector returned validation.

The statute of limitations for collection on unsecured credit accounts varies from state to state. After the statute of limitations runs out in say 5 years for example, a consumer may have a right to challenge any collection efforts as outside the statute of limitations. In short, a creditor/debt collector may have missed their window of opportunity to collect on the account.

The statute of limitations does not, itself, stop a debt collector from attempting to collect a debt. It only stops them from going through the Court to enforce the debt.

After the statute of limitations runs out, you can tell a debt collector to stop contacting you. Only if they sue can you then assert the statute of limitations since it’s an affirmative defense to a lawsuit. And if you fail to raise it to squash the lawsuit, you can’t raise it on appeal.

Calibrating an LED driver board

I’ve recently been getting into projects using LEDs. And one project is building a light using the YujiLED 100W COB. (Only available in pairs, it seems.)

100W LED COB

And while you could just wire this up into a voltage step-up converter – which is a good way to at least make sure it isn’t DOA – that isn’t a good idea for long-term use. For that, you need to use a voltage regulator board that also has current limiting to prevent the LED from drawing too much current. Which could happen as the LED gets warmer.

But the instructions for calibrating these boards tend to be… lackluster at best. So here’s the steps to actually do this right.

Warning: Before you begin this, mount the board to some kind of heatsink and fan. It will get very hot otherwise. Same with your LED.

  1. Turn the voltage trimmer pot all the way clockwise. You’ll hear a “click” with each full turn when you get to that point. This sets the lower limit on voltage.
  2. Turn the current trimmer pot all the way counter-clockwise. The “click” is a little less pronounced on this trimmer compared to the voltage trimmer pot. This sets the current limit well above what you’ll need for the LED.
  1. Connect the board to the power source. Make sure to use a power source with an output voltage lower than the LED’s voltage range.
  2. Connect the board’s output to your LED through your multimeter with it set up to monitor current, or use an ammeter that can measure DC current (such as this one from Home Depot, which also has temperature probes, useful for measuring the temperatures to ensure you have adequate cooling).
  3. Turn on the power source. Depending on your power source, the LED should either be dimly lit or not lit at all.
  4. Turn the knob on the voltage trimmer pot counter-clockwise. This will bring the voltage up. If the light was off previously, it’ll eventually come on and start drawing current. But once the light starts drawing current, the current will start moving up fast, so take it slow at that point. Keep turning until the maximum rated current for the LED is reached – e.g. 3A in my instance.
  5. Turn the knob on the current trimmer pot clockwise until the current starts going down and the LED begins to dim. Then back off until you’re just a little under the rated current. I went to about 2.90A, which provides a little wiggle room for any fluctuations.

Using another multimeter or some other kind of voltage display (that supports the given range), check the voltage at the output of the LED driver board. It should be just inside the upper voltage limit for the LED according to its data sheet. In my instance, it settled at about 30.5V (31V is the upper limit), so pulling about 90W.

Now your voltage step-up board should be properly calibrated to your LED. With the upper current limit set, it should never draw more than a few milliamps above where it’s set. And attempting to turn the voltage trimmer pot higher will have no effect. Turning the voltage down, however, will dim the LED.

If you intend to have any kind of dimming, it’s best to use a PWM dimmer. Find one with a pulse rate of at least 10KHz to avoid interference with photography and videography. And make sure it’s rated for a high enough current and power for your LED and the requisite voltage.

And as noted above, in whatever final build you do with the LED and converter board, make sure you are adequately cooling the converter board along with the LED.

Beyond Bright’s rather significant flaw

In a bid to cut our energy consumption, I looked at all the various lighting around my house. Most of the bulbs were already CFLs or LEDs, so there wasn’t much in gains to be made there. But then I looked at my garage.

Fluorescent tubes. 32W each. 16 of them for about 650 sq.ft. Which does a good job at lighting the garage, but drawing over 500W of power when they’re on. Yikes! Something that really stood out on my last power bill, as I’d been out in the garage more than typical recently.

So I decided to replace the fluorescent fixtures with standard light sockets and LED bulbs. The Beyond Bright caught my attention, since I could find it readily at my local Home Depot. And then bought two of the Beyond Bright Ultras. 6000 lumen each, according to the maker, while drawing only 60W.

And while I think the lumen rating by the manufacturer is vastly overstated, they do put out a lot of light. Enough that two replace most of the fluorescent lights in my garage. I do have a workbench over which I’ll eventually install LED light bars. So these won’t replace all of the lighting. Once all of them are replaced, though, it should go from over 500W to around 150W to 200W at most. Less once I redo how they’re connected into the wall switches so I’m not turning all of them on at once.

I’ve been making other lighting projects recently. (Article coming on one of them: a portable LED tube light I built for night photography.) So being curious, I wanted to find a part number on the three LED panels to look up details. Or at least get measurements on the individual emitters and guesstimate. And it was in getting one of the panels out that I discovered a significant issue.

Each panel is made up of 48 LEDs in an 8×6 grid. Likely SMD 2835s, meaning they’re surface mount and 2.8×3.5mm with a square emitter. The exact specs would depend on who made them.

Along with putting out a lot of light for their size, SMD and chip-on-board (COB) LEDs generate a lot of heat. And that heat needs to be dissipated. Heat kills LEDs. They will dim over time from age, but inadequate heat dissipation will kill them faster.

The LED panels are set into aluminum flaps. And they’re designed so convection dissipates the heat. But without an adequate amount of thermal compound, i.e. a lot more than just a small drop, the LEDs cannot adequately dump their heat into the aluminum to reach anywhere near its advertised 30yr lifespan.

Especially since most thermal compounds don’t last that long. I don’t know of one that does.

Given that some reviews of the Beyond Bright (not the Ultra) say the lights died after only a few months, this is a likely culprit.

So before putting these lights into service, I decided to rectify this. By going all-out and using Arctic MX-4. It’s what I had as I was working with high-power (e.g. 100W) LEDs recently, plus I use it on any computer builds. It’s also advertised as having an 8-year lifespan in service.

Any decent-quality thermal compound will work because you’re dissipating only 20W of heat at most per panel – going off the advertised 60W power draw. Better compound will last longer – again, Arctic MX-4 is rated for 8 years – and perform better but, again, we’re talking only about 20W of heat into a decently-sized piece of aluminum.

The amount of thermal compound is more important. It needs to cover the entire underside of the LEDs with a thin layer.

Ideally these panels would’ve been glued in with a decent thermal epoxy, a thin layer under the entirety of the LED panel. That would all-but guarantee the 30 year advertised lifespan. But replacing the thermal compound should at least allow me to get decent life out of these lights.

It’s about the adapters

Last year, I felt it was time to join the 4K bandwagon. Not for 4K gaming. But photo editing. And the desktop real estate.

Why photo editing? Two reasons: 4K (3840×2160) is much closer to the original resolution of my digital camera (6000×4000) than 1080p (1920×1080). 8K is larger than my camera’s resolution.

4x the resolution also means twice the pixel density at similar screen sizes. The pixel density of the 32″ 1080p is shy of 69ppi, giving a deceiving lack of sharpness when trying to edit photos. The 4K televisions are 43″ diagonal, so larger, but the 4x resolution means a still much larger pixel density at over 102ppi, which is slightly higher than what’s typically considered the minimum pixel density for printing a photo.

Plus the 4K panels I chose, the Samsung RU7100, have much better sRGB coverage (about 97%) when calibrated compared to the 1080p televisions (about 83%) I used previously.

And I didn’t buy just one monitor. But two. This led me to discover an interesting caveat I didn’t fully realize until, unfortunately, rather recently.

4K television and DisplayPort

When trying to use a 4K television on a PC, you need to pay attention to your connections. It’s easy to make a lot of assumptions.

For example if you bought an HDMI 2.1 compliant television, but you don’t have an HDMI 2.1 compliant graphics card, you’re holding your TV back from its full potential. Provided your graphics card is powerful enough to take advantage of its full potential. If your graphics card has DisplayPort 1.4, though, you have options. More on that later.

In my instance, I bought two HDMI 2.0b televisions. But my graphics card, like every other graphics card out there, has only one HDMI port. (It is HDMI 2.0b compliant.) So to get the second television working at 4K, I needed a DisplayPort to HDMI adapter.

This is where things can get tricky and you can end up buying the wrong adapter. First, you need an active DP->HDMI adapter. Passive adapters and adapter cables won’t work here. But it isn’t enough for the adapter to say “supports 4K” or “supports 4K@60Hz”. Passive adapters and adapter cables will work fine for 1080p, maybe even for 1440p at 60Hz, but definitely will not work for any 4K resolution.

The adapter must say two things:

  • HDMI 2.0 (can be 2.0a or 2.0b as well), and
  • DisplayPort HBR2 – alternatively, “5.4Gbps per lane” if it doesn’t call out HBR2 specifically

Why is this important? Bandwidth.

RGB Full, 4K at 60Hz requires almost 12Gbps just for the video data. DisplayPort HBR is limited to 8.6Gbps for video data, which can give you 1440p at 60Hz if the TV supports it. HBR2 has twice the throughput of HBR for video data: a little north of 17Gbps. If it doesn’t say anything indicating it supports HBR2, it’s likely limited to HBR. Adapters that say they are fully compliant with DisplayPort 1.2 may work.

Club3D CAC-1080

Once I had the right type of adapter, I was able to set RGB Full as the output color format in the NVIDIA Control Panel, though with only 8bpc. If I wanted more bits per channel (my camera can record photos in 14bpc RAW), I’d have to drop the refresh rate to 30Hz or reduce the resolution. (1440p at 60Hz 12bpc = 8Gbps) Perhaps I’ll try that later.

If you have an HDMI 2.1 compliant TV, you will need an adapter that supports at least HBR3 (shy of 26Gbps for video data) and HDMI 2.1 (48Gbps). So far the Club3D CAC-1085 is the only one I’m aware of. That’s more than enough bandwidth to allow for 4K at 60Hz, RGB Full at 16bpc (shy of 24Gbps, twice the data of 8bpc). So perhaps I need to look at a 4K display that can actually do that as my next upgrade.

Settings

Both TVs have the source set to PC. Here are the rest of the settings:

General->External Device Manager:

  • Input Signal Plus: On (Required for 60Hz)
  • Game Mode: On
  • HDMI Black Level: Normal

General->Eco Solution:

  • Ambient Light Detection: Off (You can turn this on if you want, but leave it OFF when you’re calibrating your display using something like an i1Display Pro.)

Picture->Expert Settings:

  • Backlight: 30
  • Brightness: 0
  • Contrast: 50
  • Sharpness: 10
  • Color Tone: Warm 2
  • Gamma: 2.2

All other settings except White Balance are disabled. And White Balance should be adjusted only as part of color calibration. Leave it at default if you won’t be calibrating the displays.