Monthly Update

June 2021 Update

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I botched the release of my June 4th post. I accidentally post-dated it to early May when scheduling it, likely causing it to fall under the radar. 

To compound my mistake, I was pretty excited about one particular idea in the post, but I unintentionally buried it. The idea is that even if a student doesn’t need to take out any loans, they might want to do it anyway. Why? By shuffling the money through a 529 account and claiming a state tax deduction, they could come out ahead, even after loan fees. In my case, using a Virginia 529 could net $469. 

I’m kicking myself for botching the release of the post and burying the lede.

If you want a second chance, here’s the post.

Trademark Infringement

Early this month, I got an email from Apple with the surprising claim that I was infringing someone’s trademark, “construe”. In 2010, amid some app-writing enthusiasm, I coded a simple ROT13 enciphering app and released it with the name “Construe”. I initially charged $.99 for the app, but then switched it to free when I realized even I wouldn’t pay $.99 for such a simple app. I then lost my enthusiasm for app building and let my developer account expire.

Last July, while helping my daughter setup LoopKit for her insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM), I accidentally got back into the app-building business. Back in the developer program, I pushed the publish button on the Construe app. Why not?

A month after being in the store, Apple took it down because it hadn’t been updated recently. Being lazy, I let it stay rejected until May when I was informed that someone else wanted to use the name and that I was sitting on their trademark. A quick search of the United States Patent and Trademark Office showed that someone had registered the trademark last September, and now wanted me to release the name Construe so they could deliver construction management apps under the name.

My first response was “I was here first, back off”. I responded to the claim that my use didn’t conflict with their use and that I had been using it since 2010. The trademark holder replied that he had the Android name of “Construe” and was hoping to release an iOS version with the same name. Realizing that I’d probably never release a new version of Construe, and given that I’m not super attached to the name, I decided to release the name and help them out. I wish them well with their app.

Attic Lizard Trap

A couple years ago, I built some simple attic cameras to keep an eye on some mouse traps in our attic. I was tired of periodically checking the traps, preferring instead to see when there was action.

I built a DIY camera setup. The core of the camera is the Raspberry Pi Zero W, a miniature version of the Raspberry Pi that has Wifi and Bluetooth. I then added a Raspberry Pi camera without an IR filter so it could see in the dark. Besides an SD card, I also purchased an infrared illuminator and a 9v adapter to power it. After setting up the Raspberry PI operating system and connecting it to my network, I then installed motion to start video capture whenever the camera detected motion. I set it up so it would email me a small video of the action.

I’ve built four of these cameras and have three that are currently active. Over the past three years, I’ve caught chipmunks, rat snakes, cicadas, moths, mice and lizards on camera. I’ve also had lots of false positives where passing clouds trigger the motion software. Just this week, a lizard got trapped in a mouse trap, and then two minutes later, wriggled free and walked away.

I have yet to find out how these critters are getting into my attic. I’ll keep hunting for their access point, but in a house that’s over 50 years old, there’s probably multiple points. At least I haven’t seen a raccoon or owl.

Here’s two recent video of the lizard getting caught, then escaping:

Other Odds and Ends

  • We’re starting to look at our next overseas trip. As we prep for it, we opened a Chase Sapphire card to get the 100k signup bonus. Chase no longer waives the annual fee for the first year, which is unfortunate but also not a deal breaker.

From the Bookshelf

I usually have four books going at a time. This month I finished the following:

  • The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations out of Poverty by Clayton M. Christensen, Efosa Ojomo, and Karen Dillon. Can we build prosperity in poorer nations by “pushing” good intentioned projects like wells, farm animals and laws? Or is it better if innovation is used to “pull” in what they need to build prosperity? I really enjoyed the new perspective this book provided.
  • Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells. I love Murderbot and this sixth installment in the series is delightful. Imagine a sardonic robot that has a love/hate relationship with its own humanity.
  • The Mom Test: How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you by Rob Fitzpatrick. If you’re thinking of building a product or service, the ideas in this book can help you avoid a face-plant. Instead of fishing for compliments and pitching, find out how to discover what your customer really care about.
  • [Didn’t finish] Unscaled: How AI and a New Generation of Upstarts Are Creating the Economy of the Future by Hemant Taneja. I think I learned about Hemant through an interview on The Prof G Show in February. I enjoyed his interview, but hated the book. Why? Too many buzzwords without substance. Lots of name dropping and “I funded this” bragging. All of which you’d expect from a VC, I guess. After getting through 20%, I decided I had better things to do with my time.
  • Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by L. David Marquet. This book on leadership has lots of thought provoking content and questions to ask yourself, embedded in an interesting account of applying the ideas aboard a US Navy submarine. Not all ideas are gold (e.g. cascading goals down the hierarchy) but a lot of them are.
  • Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom. I actually started this tome a few months ago with the intent of getting my kids to read it. They made it a few chapters before throwing in the towel. However, I stuck with it and enjoyed seeing myriad ways that things can go wrong in getting to strong artificial intelligence. Bad things like the consumption of the known universe by a “misguided” AI. Not a light read, however.


How was your June? Read anything interesting this month? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Hasta luego!

8 thoughts on “June 2021 Update

  1. These days you can buy a wifi connected indoor surveillence camera with motion sensors and sound detection for $25. It’s so much easier to set up a rodent trap video detection system today.

  2. We also did the 100k CSP bonus this month, but with the fee waived and $50 grocery credit if you sign up in branch. Not as easy as signing up online, though.

    Sorry about the critters. Homeownership is overrated.

    1. Thanks for the tip. The nearest branch to me is a little bit of an inconvenient hike. I figure the fee just reduces the sweetness of the deal.

  3. I miss the lizards down in North Carolina! Our cat used to catch them, now they catch chipmunks!

    Hope you are having a nice summer.

    Nice job taking the high road on the trademark issue. I have been using the high road strategy a lot of work on small things lately, and the strategy seems so be working nicely.


    1. Thanks for stopping by. This lizard really seems to be enjoying our attic, triggering the motion software frequently.

      The summer is going great. How is the newest member of the Out-of-Pocket household?

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