Sunday, August 24, 2014

Blissfully Unaware

At 3:20 a.m. the other three members of the household woke to the shaking. One began perusing information on the USGS website, another checked on the animals, and the third walked around the house, looking for items that had fallen. As for me, I slept the sleep of the blissfully unaware.

My lack of response to the Napa 6.0 earthquake perturbed the lady of the household: "Is this how you're going to react to a real emergency?" Her assessment of the quake is correct, by the way, the damage suffered by the wine industry is a real emergency.

I'm doing pretty well in abiding by one of my New Year's health resolutions to get enough sleep, but perhaps I'm overdoing it. It's not a real resolution if one enjoys it too much, n'est-ce pas?

The pct. of Jawbone UP wearers who woke up was proportional to distance from the epicenter. Like
others who live 70 miles from Napa, your humble observer is part of the majority who didn't wake up.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Science is Unsettled

Possible answer to "one of the biggest questions in climate science" [bold added]:
why, since the turn of the century, average surface-air temperatures on Earth have not risen, even though the concentration in the atmosphere of heat-trapping carbon dioxide has continued to go up.
Drs. Chen Xianyao of the Ocean University of China, Qingdao, and Ka-Kit Tung of the University of Washington, Seattle, have uncovered evidence that an immense amount of heat is being stored in the Atlantic and Southern (aka Antarctic) Oceans, dampening atmospheric temperature increases over the past decade.

Subsurface temperatures are increasing faster than the temperature on the surface or in the atmosphere. Their study raises some important questions, such as:

  • How does this mechanism work?
  • Why doesn't the differential manifest in the larger Pacific and Indian Oceans?
  • When will the process reverse (Economist: "when it does, global warming will resume.")?

    This amateur's opinion: the results from the global warming models aren't necessarily wrong, but they do not reliably incorporate important inputs that affect the Earth's temperatures, such as ocean-heat transfer mechanisms and sunspot activity.

    Waiting for more information is often a delaying tactic, but leaping to action before obtaining and evaluating important information can have hazardous consequences, too.

    Atlantic vs Pacific ocean surface/sub-surface temperature differentials. (Economist graphic)
    © 2014 Stephen Yuen
  • Friday, August 22, 2014

    Maru Ichi, Mountain View

    Kuro ramen broth is black from roasted garlic.
    Toppings: roast pork, egg, sprouts, stewed pork and cod roe
    When in Mountain View and craving a bowl of ramen, we head to Maru Ichi on Castro. The noodles are fresh and the broth, especially kuro (roasted garlic) style, is tasty without needing the enhancement of MSG. The varied toppings are also a treat---it would require hours to assemble them at home.

    The restaurant's policies of no reservations and cash-only do not deter the crowds; during peak periods the wait is at least 30 minutes. If the line gets too long, we sometimes abandon Maru Ichi for other excellent restaurants on Castro Street. But usually we wait it out; when you get a taste for something you just have to have it.

    Thursday, August 21, 2014

    Out with the Clutter, Out with the Stress

    Advice from professional "de-cluttering" consultant Barbara Reich [bold added]:
    "It takes 20 to 30 hours to organize a house. If you think you're going to spend five minutes here and there, it will be undone in a minute." Instead, put a few hours on your calendar, she says, and honor the commitment the way you would a doctor's appointment. Then, play some music, enlist a friend to help, pour some wine — whatever works so you get cracking. Sort things into three piles — keep, toss and donate — and tackle what makes you most bonkers first. "After that," Reich says, "your anxiety level will drop exponentially and it's amazing how motivated you are to keep going."

    She maintains that the things you own should be beautiful, useful or well loved. Reich has clients ask themselves these questions: Have I used or worn it in the past year? If the answer is no, out it goes. Is it justifying the space it's taking up in my house? No? Goodbye.

    Reich grabs a stack of files and scribbles categories on the labels: medical, insurance, tax receipts. People like to make a separate file for every single thing, she says, but documents are more likely to get filed if you're not hunting for micro-categories, so the "car" file can include insurance, maintenance and expense records.

    Next, Reich zeroes in on a horror she finds in almost every home: a plastic bin crammed with wires. No one ever knows what the electric cords and chargers in this box are for, she says, "but everybody is very afraid to throw it away." Get over that fear, Reich advises: "If you really need to buy another cord, you can go to Radio Shack. Cords are replaceable, but not your grandmother's vintage beaded purse.
    The August/September 2014 issue of AARP, the Magazine, has other useful tips and tricks.

    You'd better hold on to that box of electrical parts and wires, though; Radio Shack may not be around when you need it.

    Wednesday, August 20, 2014

    Network Analysis: Trade Alliances are More Stable

    Network analysis supports what many political scientists have long suspected: international trade alliances are more effective than military ones at keeping the peace. Per Stanford economist Matthew O. Jackson:
    "Once you bring in trade, you see network structures densify," he says. Nations form a web of trading alliances, which creates financial incentive not only to keep peace with trading partners but also to protect them from being attacked so as not to disrupt trade. "In the context of the alliances we have analyzed, trade motives are essential to avoiding wars and sustaining stable networks."
    Protectionism has its appeal (save domestic jobs, keep substandard products off the market, reduce dependence on foreign suppliers, etc.), but not only does free trade produce economic benefits that outweigh the putative costs, it also is a strong preventative to war.

    Tuesday, August 19, 2014

    Disaster Preparedness

    Firefighters demonstrate the danger of fallen power lines. 
    We spent a couple of hours at the park on Sunday to attend the disaster preparedness fair. Checklists can be found on the City website, but there's no substitute for actually meeting the emergency personnel and getting a sense of their competence.

    We talked to the geologist about earthquake science, were reminded to stock supplies for our pets, and got a coupon from Orchard Supply for the latest equipment (TV velcro straps, hand-cranked radios, water purifiers) to survive an earthquake and its aftermath.

    The bad news: we were informed that the days were numbered for our landline and pulse-dial telephone ("it's our one phone that can operate if the power goes off say, during an earthquake"). Even if it were possible, I would never turn back the clock, but oftentimes progress makes us more vulnerable. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Monday, August 18, 2014

    Further Down the Line

    A vehicle you don't want to see at your house
    Early Sunday morning the kitchen sink was stuck. I ran the garbage disposal to no avail, then disassembled the U-trap and other pipes underneath. After scrubbing away 11 years of gunk---the sink was installed in 2003---I replaced the pipes and ran the water again.

    Alas, the blockage persisted. The problem lay further down the line.

    OK to try this at home....with a professional.
    The Roto-rooter technician, Arnulfo, arrived in the early afternoon. He carefully laid out a rubber mat to minimize damage to the floor, then unreeled a mechanical drain cleaner that had a 90-foot cable; it also emitted a continuous stream of water to push the detritus into the sewer, which was an estimated 60 feet away.

    I try to watch contractors not only to motivate them (that strategy seems to work, in addition to tipping, offering drinks, and buying lunch) but also to assess whether I would be able to handle the problem myself next time. It quickly became obvious: no, I can't. The $329 cost (no extra charge for nights or weekends) was higher than I expected; it was a bargain nonetheless.

    Sunday, August 17, 2014

    Robin Williams, Episcopalian (!)

    Robin Williams self-identified as one. Herewith his top 10 reasons to be an Episcopalian.
    10.No snake handling.
    9. You can believe in dinosaurs.
    8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.
    7. You don't have to check your brains at the door.
    6. Pew aerobics.
    5. Church year is color-coded.
    4. Free wine on Sunday.
    3. All of the pageantry - none of the guilt.
    2. You don't have to know how to swim to get baptized.
    And the Number One reason to be an Episcopalian:
    1. No matter what you believe, there's bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.
    Proving again that if it's funny it springs from truth.

    Saturday, August 16, 2014

    A Gift to the World

    Robin Williams, 1951-2014 (Time photo)
    We started watching Mork & Mindy in the late 1970's and became instant fans of Robin Williams. We had seen improvisational comedy on Saturday Night Live and the Carol Burnett Show, but those TV classics could not consistently sustain their performances. Robin Williams was always funny. (Wikipedia: "Williams would make up so many jokes during filming, eventually scripts had specific gaps where Williams was allowed to freely perform.")

    In his subsequent HBO specials, audiences marveled as he flitted from subject to subject in different voices and characters, comedy on a high-wire sans net. When he appeared on Carson, Letterman, or Leno, we always tuned in. Viewers did not know what to expect, and neither did the hosts.

    Robin Williams was that rarest of performers. He couldn't be imitated: [bold added]
    Most comics, then and now, honed their routines to letter-perfection. A few courted inspiration, and risked failure, with solo improv comedy. Mad-professor types like Brother Theodore and Irwin Corey turned their performances into rant-lectures that disdained punch lines and spiraled into twisted logic. Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor were hipster social critics following their own elevated radar. Jonathan Winters, a Carson favorite (as dear Maude Frickert), was closest to Williams: he pirouetted from character to character, emitting more weird noises than a Warner Bros. cartoon soundtrack. The true brethren of these brilliant misfits were not stand-up comics but the most adventurous jazzmen. And if Bruce was the Louis Armstrong of solo improv comedy, and Winters the Charlie Parker, then Williams was Sun Ra, the farther-than-far-out composer who claimed he came from Saturn.

    Of course Williams had a notion of what he would say onstage and often played unannounced gigs at comedy clubs to hone his material. But the safety net of even a discursive narrative was too confining for all the voices waiting inside to burst out, like Linda Blair’s devils in The Exorcist, but hilarious. Williams took the anarcho-improv impulse and flew with it–a Robin reaching the surreal stratosphere. When everyone else was analog, he was digital. That’s why his comedy had many admirers but virtually no imitators. Who else could even think of doing that?
    Robin Williams pushed both his body and mind to its limits. He leapt, twirled, and gesticulated during a rat-tat-tat performance. Sweating profusely and guzzling water (?), he kept it up for 90 minutes. It would not have been surprising if he had died young from substance abuse, as did his friend John Belushi. But he survived the early attacks of his demons; from that perspective the past 40 years was a gift to the world. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Friday, August 15, 2014

    Only the Gullible

    Yesterday I received one of the variants of the AOL phishing scam. The message said that my AOL mailbox had exceeded "it [sic] storage limit" (BTW, at least half the time scam messages have spelling and/or grammatical mistakes, which a real business would never tolerate in its official e-mails) and that I should "click here" to fix the problem.

    What distinguishes this hoax is that it was supposedly signed by "AOL! CEO Marissa Mayer", who, of course, is actually the current Yahoo! CEO hired from Google two years ago. The message did garner a chuckle from yours truly before it was sent to the junk folder.

    Why don't scammers, who have at least a modicum of skill and intelligence, proofread their appeals? Possible answer: their errors are a feature, not a bug. It's time-consuming for them to reel in a sucker "phish", so scammers don't want to waste time on intelligent skeptics who won't bite. Responders to the crudely prepared invitations are only the gullible, the theory goes. One counter-measure:
    for as many people as possible to pretend, at least for a short while, to fall for the scam but not send money, thus increasing the number of expensive false positives the scammers have to deal with.
    I'll add "stringing along the scammers" to the burgeoning list of things to do when I have more time.

    Thursday, August 14, 2014

    Not a Breeze

    Deer watch the passing parade.
    After work I went to the park and walked five miles. The hilly terrain's highest elevation was 1,000 feet above sea level, according to the Garmin tracker.

    While I puffed and sweated, high school cross-country teams breezed by. I didn't envy them their health or conditioning, just their very bright futures. Here's hoping that they make the most of them.

    Wednesday, August 13, 2014

    Maybe the Name Will Stick

    Changing values often require a change in product name (e.g., Kellogg's Sugar Pops became Corn Pops or, in a more contemporary case, the Washington Redskins will change their name to something...anything...else).

    Simply Lemonade® is a name that has appeal and perfectly describes the product.

    However, Simply Lemonade® with Raspberry, or for that matter SLW Blueberry or SLW Mango, sounds awkward if one thinks about the meaning. Don't think, just drink, the manufacturer hopes, and maybe the name will stick. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Tuesday, August 12, 2014

    The End of the Beginning

    My doctor orders the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test as part of the blood work during the annual physical. PSA-screening isn't foolproof, though, and he couples it with the digital-rectal exam (advice: don't banter with the doctor while he's performing the DRE), to determine whether further tests are needed. Why do men go through this unpleasantness? "Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind only lung cancer."

    Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins wondered why there wasn't a blood test to screen for all cancer, not just that of the prostate. Such a test might have detected skin cancer early enough to save his brother. Tumor DNA leaves distinguishing markers, and Dr. Vogelstein researched how to sift for those markers, even in the extremely minute quantities of early-stage cancer.
    For the first time, Hopkins researchers say, they are within reach of a general screening tool that could be used to scan broadly—perhaps at an annual physical—for molecular traces of cancer in people with no symptoms.
    To be sure, significant problems need to be solved:
    While the test may detect the presence of cancer DNA in the body, physicians might not know where the tumor is, how dangerous it is, or even whether it is worth treating.
    The War on Cancer has lasted 43 years so far, and finally it's realistic to believe that it can be won during our children's lifetime, if not our own.

    Monday, August 11, 2014

    Gaia is Grateful, Too

    When Microsoft ended its support for Windows XP earlier this year, I mothballed the 7-year-old Dell desktop, except for a few simple word-processing and spreadsheet applications that don't require an Internet connection.

    Yes, I should probably scrap the Dell and its even older Okidata C6100 laserjet, both of which emit alarming noises at times---especially since a new, much faster system can be purchased for about $1,000.

    But the fix-don't-replace mentality is deep-rooted. Uncertain about the result, I spent the weekend installing Windows 7 (disk cost, $100) on the old computer. The printer driver, Office 2007, and Quicken 2008 were reinstalled, and the data files were backed up and restored. Et voila! The set-up should be good for another two years at least.

    And mother Gaia will be grateful, too, that her landfill was spared. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Sunday, August 10, 2014

    Paul Martin's American Grill

    Green salad
    We were hesitant to go to Paul Martin's American Grill because of negative comments about the service and reported wait-times for a table even with a reservation (per Yelp and Open Table reviews). We are happy to report that you can't believe everything posted in social media---perhaps this restaurant reads and responds very quickly to negative feedback or maybe the problems go away when it's not too crowded.

    When we arrived at 5:20 p.m. for our 5:30 reservation, we were seated immediately.


    Prime rib with mashed potatoes
    The only drink we ordered was Pellegrino sparkling water; when our waitress Maria asked if we wanted lemons or limes as an accompaniment and saw that we were uncertain, she brought both. That was just an example of her thoughtful service---it's a delicate balance between obtrusiveness and inattention, and she navigated it well without interrupting our conversations.

    We both ordered the 3-course Sunday Prime Rib prix fixe special ($25), an excellent value. The green salad (arugula, spinach, lettuce, beet leaves) was very fresh. The 12-oz prime rib was tender and medium-rare (it wasn't aged--c'mon, whaddaya expect for $25 bucks?), accompanied by a generous scoop of mashed potatoes. Dessert consisted of three scoops of ice cream.

    The decor in the bar and dining sections is fancy enough for business clientele. However, because the restaurant is located in a corner of Hillsdale Shopping Center, very casual dress (jeans, t-shirts, slippers, etc.) would not be out of place.

    For our first and only experience at this 1½-year-old restaurant, service and food were great, and prices were reasonable. We'll be back. © 2014 Stephen Yuen