Thursday, May 26, 2016

One Form That I am Happy to Fill Out

As I've stated before, it's the complexity of the income tax system, not the income tax itself, that I find particularly vexing. And because the tax laws are so complex and confusing, and because the Internal Revenue Service has been known to exercise its powers in a draconian manner, many taxpayers are understandably terrified. This is the milieu in which tax scammers operate, and your humble blogger, who is not an angry person, absolutely despises them.

(Image from
At last some good news out of Florida, from where I've been getting recent calls:
Agents working with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration have arrested five individuals who impersonated Internal Revenue Service employees and demanded payment from taxpayers.

TIGTA agents arrested the five suspects in Miami without incident Monday for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Jennifer Valerino Nunez, Dennis Delgado Caballero, Arnoldo Perez Mirabal, Yaritza Espinosa Diaz, and Roberto Fontanella Caballero are allegedly responsible for nearly $2 million in schemes that defrauded more than 1,500 victims.
Another bit of good news: the Treasury Department has a scam reporting page. This is one form that I am happy to fill out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Off the Reservation

The Chronicle editorial board demands that Hillary Clinton honor her promise to debate Bernie Sanders before the California primary: [bold added]
Californians deserve more than a succession of rallies, photo opportunities and fundraisers from a major presidential candidate. They deserve a chance to fully compare and contrast the two remaining candidates on everything from the federal reach on state issues such as water and high-speed rail to their differing visions of the role of a global superpower.

Exit polls throughout the primary season have shown that questions about Clinton’s “honesty” and “trustworthiness” remain her biggest challenges as she prepares for a general election against a billionaire saddled with daunting negatives of his own. Her broken promise to debate in California is not going to assuage those concerns among skeptical voters who just might be tempted to send a message to Clinton on her final glide path to the nomination.
But the Chronicle doesn't stop there. With statements like the following, it might have its press credential revoked in Washington and Sacramento:
The Chronicle had been prepared to partner on the California debate with Fox News, which proved superior to other networks in instilling substance and control into primary debates.
Praise for Fox? Criticism of Hillary? Nice little paper we have in San Francisco. I'd hate to see anything happen to it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


PVRIS (scanned from tour program)
The youngster had signed up for "meet and greet" tickets for the PVRIS (pronounced "paris") concert at the Regency Ballroom. PVRIS' music is post-hardcore punk, an unfamiliar style to these wizened ears.

We stood in line two hours before the concert to pick up T-shirts and other tchotchkes. The band signed programs and took pictures with fans. I commented that I was old enough to be their dad. They smiled. Nice kids.

The line stretched down the block.
One girl with bright red-painted hair said that she couldn't miss the event despite staying up all night studying for a morning exam; she wished she were older so that she could marry Lyndsey, the lead singer. The fellow behind us said that he had been looking forward to this for months. He drove in from Sacramento this morning and will return late tonight. Youthful enthusiasm, I had it once.

PVRIS is listenable---yes, it's praise akin to judging a restaurant's food edible--and appears to be experimenting with different genres. Older generations always decry the music choices of the younger, but in PVRIS' case one could certainly do worse.

Beach Weather was the warm-up act.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Remember the Old Ways

The 1½-year-old iPhone 6 froze repeatedly, that is, the touchscreen was totally non-responsive. The sleep button did work, but the iPhone could not be shut down the normal way because the final step--swiping the power-off slide--was on the touchscreen.

Pressing the Sleep/Wake and Home buttons simultaneously forced the iPhone to restart, but having to perform this step four times an hour was quite inconvenient. Perhaps the cause was an iOS bug, but the problem persisted through two system updates.

It felt like a software issue, so before taking the phone to the local Genius bar I deleted all apps installed this year (none of them are indispensable) and even some older ones that were little used. Still no luck.

Finally I pulled out the big gun--Erase All Content and Settings---and it took a few hours to restore useful data and applications. The freezing stopped.

Wiping the hard disk and re-installing the operating system was a last resort that often worked with Windows machines without knowing exactly why.

Remember the old ways, grasshopper, they may serve you well.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

There is No Rake

Zen rock gardening:
The rocks resemble mountains, and the sand, water. As you rake the sand around the rocks, you can choose patters and designs reflecting swirling pools or swift streams.
Do not consider what you create or how you do it, what matters is the act of creation.

Silicon Valley is learning that the faster we go, the less we accomplish.
a growing number of tech executives who believe the answer is slowing down — and are leading the way with meditation, a 2,500-year-old practice that quiets the mind of its scattered thoughts and patterns of thinking. Medical proof of its benefits — studies show it literally changes the brain and body — is moving meditation from the margins into the mainstream.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google co-founder Sergey Brin meditate — and provide opportunities for employees to do the same.
Or, if you want to be old school, on Sundays you could go to church early and pray for a few minutes.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Battery Power is Power

Uber, which matches drivers with passengers using a mobile app, implements surge pricing during peak periods. Price changes are communicated to drivers and passengers in real-time, allowing both to make rapid decisions about providing or using the service.

Uber's analysis of passenger behavior has revealed [bold added]
when you are more likely to pay double or triple the cost of your ride: when your phone battery is low.

...people are willing to accept up to 9.9 times surge pricing (ouch) if their phones are about to go dead. Data about user batteries is collected because the app uses that information to know when to switch into low-power mode. The idea being: If you really need to get where you’re going, you’ll pay just about anything (or at least 9.9 times anything) to ensure you’re getting a ride home and won’t be stranded. A person with a more fully charged device has time to wait and see if the surge pricing goes down.
In the 21st century the smartphone has become many individuals' principal conduit to information. When buyers lack information, they may pay a lot more than they need to. Knowledge is power, or in this case battery power is power.

My iPhone won't run out of juice--and I can wait for the surge pricing to pass--
with backup power. (Disadvantage: this one weighs 10 oz. and lists for $69.99.)

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Wisdom of Byron

Barron's profiles Byron Wien, 83, master strategist of Blackstone Group ($340 billion under management). A sampling: [bold added]
Byron Wien (Barron's photo)
his approach to philanthropy is “to try to relieve pain rather than spread joy. Music, theater, and art museums have many affluent supporters, give the best parties, and can add to your social luster in the community. They don’t need you. Social service, hospital, and educational institutions can make the world a better place and help the disadvantaged make their way toward the American dream.”

On politics, his prediction of an election victory by Hillary Clinton and Democratic control of the Senate looks good now, but he forecast the wrong Republican insurgent to win the nomination: Ted Cruz. With the possibility now of a Trump presidency, he says, “I’m hopeful that the checks and balances in the American political system will restrain Trump from implementing some of his more extreme ideas.”

When speaking before audiences of wealthy individuals, he has fielded questions about how to avoid overindulging their children. He warns them about flying their kids in private jets: “It changes them, and not for the better.”
I like listening to the wisdom of elderly, successful people. They're usually past puffing themselves up, being defensive about past failures, or trying to enrich themselves by lying or leaving out crucial information. We may certainly disagree with their opinions, but they are very likely to be speaking the truth as they see it.

Some of Byron Wien's "life lessons":

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Without Swiping

Twitter-compliant summaries by John Atkinson
Before everything written before 1950 was declared irrelevant, we had to read the Great Books. My adolescent mind couldn't fathom why they were Great in the first place. Why, for example, did I have to plow through nearly a thousand pages to get to the climactic battle with the whale? Or to suffer through a like number of pages that chronicled the descent of an unlikeable loser in An American Tragedy?

I often snuck peeks at Cliff's Notes or even a Classics Illustrated comic, not to escape reading the masterworks, but just to find out what was going on in plain English, without all the fancy accoutrements, adornments, and allusions. These venerable study aids, which were once regarded as superficial, are now "in depth" because they are too lengthy for a blog post.

Cartoonist John Atkinson has the right idea with his two- or three-line summaries, all of which can be read on a smartphone without swiping. He still has too many complete sentences, though. Gotta fix that, John.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

plus ça change

20th Century Technology:
"rescue device" from Paris circa 1924; according to the Nationaal Archief in The Hague, the "kind of shovel on a car" was meant for "reducing the number of casualties among pedestrians."
21st Century Technology:
Google has patented a new “sticky” technology to protect pedestrians if – or when – they get struck by the company’s self-driving cars. The patent, which was granted on 17 May, is for a sticky adhesive layer on the front end of a vehicle, which would aim to reduce the damage caused when a pedestrian hit by a car is flung into other vehicles or scenery.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Life: No One Gets Out Alive

(Image from Daily Beast)
Game of Thrones author George R. Martin, on why he kills off so many main characters:
"the truth is, as we say in Game of Thrones, all men must die,” he said. “You can’t write about war and violence without having death. If you want to be honest it should affect your main characters.

We’ve all read this story a million times when a bunch of heroes set out on adventure and it’s the hero and his best friend and his girlfriend and they go through amazing hair-raising adventures and none of them die. The only ones who die are extras. That’s such a cheat. It doesn’t happen that way."

"you should be honest about death and indicate it can strike down anybody at any time,” Martin said. “You don’t get to live forever just because you are a cute kid or the hero’s best friend or the hero. Sometimes the hero dies, at least in my books."
It's okay for a fictional world to be utterly fantastical, yet it must be "realistic" in that it remain true to its own rules. If this dichotomy were easy to navigate, there would be many more bestselling authors.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Not So Fast

(Image from
When we're introduced to the Internet of Things ("the network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data"), it's hard to restrain our imagination: [bold added]
Let’s look at one example. In 2007, a bridge collapsed in Minnesota, killing many people, because of steel plates that were inadequate to handle the bridge’s load. When we rebuild bridges, we can use smart cement: cement equipped with sensors to monitor stresses, cracks, and warpages. This is cement that alerts us to fix problems before they cause a catastrophe. And these technologies aren’t limited to the bridge’s structure.

If there’s ice on the bridge, the same sensors in the concrete will detect it and communicate the information via the wireless internet to your car. Once your car knows there’s a hazard ahead, it will instruct the driver to slow down, and if the driver doesn’t, then the car will slow down for him.
Formerly-inanimate objects communicating and acting independently will likely lead to great benefits--and risks--but something more mundane than the loss of human control is impeding the march of progress: tech companies' desire to keep their technologies and customers to themselves.
The IoT, as it’s called—made up of a gaggle of gadgets such as the Nest home thermostat from Alphabet, Apple ’s Apple Watch, and the humble Fitbit step trackers—doesn’t really constitute an Internet, not in the sense any dictionary would frame the term.

The Internet is a means to connect lots of disparate computer networks so that they can communicate. It brings things together, which is its great power. The IoT, in its present form, is a jumble of electronic devices that don’t really connect anything. They’re just dead ends.
Someday the tenders of separate gardens will break down their walls, but that time isn't now. (Hooray?)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Whit Red Sunday

On Pentecost Sunday most people remembered to wear red, which symbolizes the fire of the Holy Spirit.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. [Acts 2]
"Violent wind", "tongues of fire", and the Crucifixion itself are just a few examples of the savage images that permeate the New Testament. Jesus' message is one of Peace, but both the world in which we live and the inner world of our mind are anything but peaceful.

Image from today's Rangers-Blue Jays game (Guardian photo)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Virtue Signaling

A smattering of Bernie signs have begun to appear on the Peninsula. After the Democratic convention in late July, we'll see a lot of Hillary + [running mate] bumper stickers.

This is a phenomenon known as virtue signalling ("the expression or promotion of viewpoints that are especially valued within a social group").

When one signals agreement with the dominant ideology, e.g.,Hillary or Bernie in the SF Bay Area or a fish symbol or NRA sticker in the Bible belt, it's really a sign of weakness. Without the need to persuade even more people to the majority viewpoint, the motive stands revealed: look at how virtuous I am.

Your humble blogger usually supports candidates who do not subscribe to the local dominant ideology but freely admits he is too chicken to announce it. I don't want to have my car keyed.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Good for a Chuckle

It's time for my monthly phone call from tax scammers in Florida. The April 15th call was from (305) 587-2971. Today's was by "Steve Martin"(!) at (754) 999-3188.
Hi, this message is intended to contact you. My name is Steve Martin, and I’m calling regarding an enforcement action instituted by U.S. Treasury intending your urgent attention. Ignoring this message will be an intentional second attempt to avoid initial appearance before a magistrate judge or a grand jury for a Federal criminal offense. My number is (754) 999-3188. I repeat, (754) 999-3188. I advise you to cooperate with us and help us to help you. Thank you."
Like the earlier call, the voice is male with a slight accent (this one sounds Indian).

Also, the syntax has errors that would never be made by a college-educated person whose first language was English. For example, "instituted by U.S. Treasury" would normally be read in an official notice as "instituted by the United States Treasury Department," and "to avoid initial appearance" should have the article an before initial.

The famous Steve Martin is a lot funnier.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A New Form of Language

The first set of emoji---there are hundreds to choose from---on the iPhone keyboard

Sure, emoji 😀 are cute when used sparingly, but when I see them all the time in a correspondent's text messages, I begin to wonder about her writing skills. ("Use your words," we remind children whose emotions leave them tongue-tied).

But not so fast, old guy. You may be too quick to dismiss a birth of a new form of language, suited to online communicating:
Emoji assist in a peculiarly modern task: conveying emotional nuance in short, online utterances. “They’re trying to solve one of the big problems of writing online, which is that you have the words but you don’t have the tone of voice,”....Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and author, says....In an age of rapid chatter, emoji prevent miscommunication by adding an emotional tenor to cold copy.
As with any language, there are rules:
when we use face emoji, we tend to put them before other objects. If you text about a late flight, you’ll put an unhappy face followed by a plane, not the reverse. In linguistic terms, this is called conveying “stance.” Just as with in-person talk, the expression illustrates our stance before we’ve spoken a word.
People of a certain age are finding it difficult to keep up with these changes in language and communication, and we feel so, so....😢.