Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Equivalent Caution

Contents of old hard drives were copied to the current
computer using a Sabrent docking station.
On Saturday we took three boxes of electronics equipment to the local YMCA for its e-waste fundraiser.

The most time-consuming part was separating the wheat from the chaff. We spent several hours going through boxes of retired/broken computers, disk drives, printers, keyboards, and cables. A few still-useful items were rescued.

Also, we finally downloaded and wiped data from a couple of hard disks that were to go to the recycler.

"Let the buyer beware" is a hoary principle of commerce. In contemporary America disposing of the stuff so carefully acquired requires an equivalent caution.

Monday, August 31, 2015


Business consultant Rob Sher said this about business planning, but it applies to life planning as well:
Business planning is about knowing where you want to get to, figuring out how you’re going to get there, and then self-correcting along the way.
Why must planning include self-correction? Life.

"Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans." -- John Lennon

Below is Rob Sher's 9½-minute YouTube video on constructing a one-page business plan. (Disclosure: Rob has consulted with one of my clients.)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sandwiches on Sunday

Three months after our previous Sandwiches on Sunday (SOS) it was our turn to serve lunch to whomever showed up at the Redwood City community center.

We brought eight trays of lasagna--some enterprising cooks made the dishes from scratch (your humble observer always buys the $13 pre-made frozen version from Costco). Well, I'm sure they'll be given credits in the Great Database, which we old-timers used to call the Permanent Record.

Today we had ten teenagers who served the lasagna, salad, and drinks and who distributed the brown-bag lunches for the guests to take home. In response to a question from one of the teens, I said that a group from St. Pius Parish, which organizes SOS, meets each Saturday morning to assemble the lunches. He seemed genuinely taken aback. They have to get up every Saturday morning? Yes, they're very dedicated.

The young man I was speaking to attends every SOS, unless his baseball team is playing. The charitable spirit builds slowly. Before long, others will marvel at his dedication.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Orange is the New Black (Coffee)

Last week we admitted to being perplexed about the hoopla surrounding pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks and Panera Bread. Time explains why it's a "big deal":
Customers who purchased a pumpkin spice latte spent an average of $7.81, compared with an average check of $6.67 for party poopers who ordered non-pumpkin items.
But wait, there's more [bold added]:
[Marketing researchers] conducted research correlating an increase in the frequency of visits....no wonder coffee chains and fast food franchises are constantly rolling out new limited-time offers and seasonal specialties. These items build excitement and draw in customers—who tend to spend more on each visit.
Increasing both the number of sales and the average sales ticket is that rare marketing sweet spot.

Orange is the new black indeed.

Those who can't wait for Starbucks' fall introduction can buy the ingredients and make it at home.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Sticky Principles

The shield-shaped metal button (top left) should be glued to
the glass and cured for 12-24 hours before affixing the mirror.
The 18-year-old van had gone nine months without problems. Trouble was overdue. Fortunately, this time the issue was minor. The glue holding the rear view mirror to the windshield gave way.

Your humble handyman made several false starts with various adhesives, which entailed cleaning the surfaces with acetone and starting over. I should have started with epoxy. (Some mid-20th century products like epoxy glue and WD40 cannot be improved upon.)

The trick is not to rush. Detach the mirror from the metal "button". Clean all surfaces thoroughly. Allow the epoxy to set; the instructions say 12 hours, but take 24 to make sure. Finally, screw the mirror back on.

I just hope I remember all these instructions in 2033 when I have to do this again.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Grab and Hold, But Not Too Long

Twitter's effect on writing has often been deplored because of its 140-character upper limit on "tweets", but this bug could well be a feature.
Getting things into 140 characters might be teaching young writers one of the most cherished virtues among those who deal professionally with writing: brevity.
Excessive wordiness is learned [italics added]:
Why do people write more than they should, when most people find writing difficult? This may be because during their education, young writers are...told to write papers to minimum lengths.
Say your piece. Use no more words than are necessary. Then get off the stage.

And so I shall.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Original

The mind's eye switches between the columns and the shadowy figures.
Contained within the vision and hearing section of the Exploratorium is the original "angel column" optical illusion.

In 1989 David Barker designed, lathed and painted the columns, an achievement perhaps unappreciated in an age of high-speed computers, rendering software, and 3D printing technology.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Wild Ride

Apple (AAPL) is down "only" 6% for the year, better than the Dow (-12%) and worse than the NASDAQ (-4.8%). However, the January 1st-to-August 25th percentage change doesn't capture what a wild ride it's been. From the intraday high of $134.54 on April 28th Apple's price has fallen nearly 23%. Will the downward trend continue or reverse?

Most stock analysts view Apple's current price point as a buying opportunity [bold added].
The market’s recent moves have made Apple even more attractive on a valuation basis, even with today’s recovery. At 11 times forward earnings [blogger's note: price divided by next year's estimated earnings], Apple is well below both its 12.6 times historical average and the Standard & Poor’s 500, at 14.7 times. Moreover, as [Wells Fargo analyst Maynard] Um notes, the shares change hands at 7.9 times his 2016 free cash flow estimate, while Apple has historically bottomed between eight and nine times free cash flow.

This comes as the shares’ yield is approaching 2%, and the company’s projected long-term earnings growth is 16.5%. [Blogger's note: Apple's "PEG" ratio--in this case 12 divided by 16.5--is less than 1.0, which is normally considered a strong buy signal.]

Investors are right to be concerned about China’s impact on Apple, as the nation accounted for more than a quarter of the company’s fiscal third-quarter sales. However, investors likely took the connection between Apple and China too far in recent days.
The principle of diversification prevents us from acquiring more AAPL, but we would be a buyer if it did not already comprise a significant part of our portfolio.

The Truth Hurts

Advice from Beth Feldman, blogging expert:
Update your blog at least once a week. If you do it every day and you really don't have anything to share it becomes like spam and may turn off readers.
I resemble that remark!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Practical Lens

Exploratorium exhibit
The abortion debate has reared its head again, this time over undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials making controversial statements. While partisans on both sides argue largely from principle, I daresay that the majority of the American public view the subject through a practical lens: if what is being killed is recognizably human, then the procedure should be restricted, if not banned.

Along the lines of the looks-like-a-baby measure, can you distinguish the human embryo? If it will help, the other four embryos are dog, chicken, skink, and zebrafish.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

21st Century Begats

What was once a trickle of media mentions has become a cascade. The Economist devotes this week's cover to CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats). The Economist even uses the "G" word.
There are those who will oppose CRISPR because it lets humans play God.
The gene-editing technology is remarkably easy to use, "like the find-and-replace function on a word processor."

CRISPR has one additional feature not present in old-fashioned gene-splicing: it can change not only the organism but also all of its descendants. [bold and italics added]
By changing a gene in an early-stage embryo, or in the cell that makes an egg, you could ensure that the change is found in every cell in the adult body—including its own eggs or sperm, which would pass it to the next generation and thus on down through the ages. No one is pursuing such avenues in the clinic as yet.
We can do more than Victor Frankenstein ever imagined: we can create the monster, who will beget another monster, who will beget...

Model of fruit fly DNA at San Francisco's Exploratorium: "Changing even one chemical 'letter' in an animal's
DNA can sometimes cause major changes to its body."

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Poor Dears

"Organic" eggs normally have been 50% to 100% more expensive than non-organic eggs. (Language observation: science bifurcates matter into organic and in-organic substances. With food the opposite of organic is non-organic.)

Recent regulatory changes have caused a temporary upending of the pricing relationship. With the bold COMPARE above the egg cartons, Costco is steering its customers to the cheaper and supposedly better organic product.

Costco---good products, good prices, and it even does the thinking for its customers, the poor dears.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Surprising Award

At 26th & Valencia (SF Gate photo)
The best new restaurant in the entire country? Bon Appetit says it's Al's Place in San Francisco.
Though he is careful to praise Al's Place,  the local Chronicle restaurant reporter seems to think that the Bon Appetit award is an overachievement, using phrases such as "cramped kitchen", "quirky restaurant" and "overlooked corner."
Al’s Place is just one of many great new restaurants in the city this year.....Amid a surge of new restaurants in San Francisco — many of them higher-profile and better-funded — Al’s Place has occasionally been lost in the mix.
Aaron London (A.L.) plating stone fruit curry
and black lime cod (SF Gate)
Bon Appetit does give its reasons [bold added]:
By the time I’d finished those pickled french fries—plus dishes of lightly cured trout with crispy potatoes in a strawberry gazpacho, asparagus in a currant soffritto, and pork belly with a galangal reduction—it was obvious that [owner Aaron] London had a knack for showcasing the flavors and textures of vegetables in very nonobvious ways. There was tons more going on in each dish than I got from reading the menu. The intensity of flavors was revelatory. It was almost as though I’d been eating vegetables in black and white my whole life, and then suddenly everything was in Technicolor.
The foodie crowds will take a couple of years to dissipate to the point where the wait for normal diners might be tolerable. I just hope that Aaron London will still have his passion when we're seated in 2018.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Lucky Seven

Yes, she was up to something.
Last month we espied a duck in the back yard. Although we guessed what she was up to, there were no other tell-tail tale signs until Saturday, when she hopped onto the six-foot fence and called to her brood.

Unable to follow their mother (ducks can't fly until they're about two months old), the hatchlings left their hiding places and chirped plaintively. The lady of our house spent hours gathering nine of them in a box and carrying them outside to their mother.

Seven ducks in a box.
Hours later, TLOOH heard chirping coming from a storm drain a hundred feet away. Calls to the police and fire departments brought out hard-working public servants who tried with difficulty to mask their lack of enthusiasm. Upon prying open the cover, the firefighters found six ducklings--more than was expected from the faint noises--and agreed that the effort may have been worthwhile after all. Maybe the mother will come back, they counseled, otherwise you should take them to the SPCA.

Meanwhile, the sound of its six rescued siblings lured a tenth duckling from our backyard shrubbery. We now were responsible for seven (7). Hypoglycemia was a danger, so we administered sugar water via syringe. Energized, they pecked at lettuce and raspberries and splashed merrily in a water-filled plastic tray.

It was 9 p.m. on Saturday night. The SPCA and other animal-rescue organizations had stopped taking calls. We set up an incandescent lamp above one corner of the box to keep them warm overnight.

What happened to the mother? What happened to the three siblings? Should we take the "lucky" seven to the SPCA? Answers would have to wait at least another day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Breathless Anticipation

The matchup of the year...

In one corner we have Starbucks [bold added]:
We have been trying to keep a lid on some big news [ed: gotta sit down for this!] for the beloved Pumpkin Spice Latte, but with recipes and ingredients starting to ship to our stores, the buzz is building.

...espresso, perfectly steamed milk, warm fall spices with delicious flavor of pumpkin pie that reminds you of the cool, crisp days of autumn. So, with that great taste you know and love, the PSL returns this fall, and this time it will be made with real pumpkin and without caramel coloring .
In the other corner we have Panera Bread:
Panera’s newly ‘clean’ pumpkin spice latte is made with select ingredients including milk, real pumpkin, whipped cream, spices and salted caramel sauce....“We’re offering a ‘Real Pumpkin Latte,’ made entirely without artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners or preservatives, and letting the goodness of real pumpkin, milk and spices do all the work.”
Panera's release date is September 9th, while a Starbucks spokeswoman said, "it is coming soon." As one who didn't care or even know that this drink existed, I just have one reaction: isn't capitalism wonderful?