Monday, August 22, 2016

uDISCO-Tech

uDISCO mouse image from Business Insider
New laboratory methods shrink dead tissues and make them transparent. It may not be clear to laypeople, but this technique can be very revealing:
To turn dead mice and rats into smaller, clear versions of their former selves, the team used special solutions that strip tissues of fats that typically make them opaque. They also pull out water, miniaturizing tissues.

The new technique—dubbed uDISCO (short for ultimate 3-D imaging of solvent-cleared organs)—takes about four days to shrink and make a whole animal, including its bones, transparent....

Shrinkage gives scientists the ability to study intact organs and organisms in one go, the researchers said, upping their chances of understanding how they work and what goes wrong during disease.
When the time comes, I can be buried in the jeans I used to wear in high school.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Tradition That Continues

Ben and his Boy Scout troop from Fremont, 25 miles away, spent Saturday painting a world map on the church and pre-school's concrete. The acrylic is resistant to bad weather.

The Scouts of my youth all have become estimable adults, and this generation seems to be following in that tradition. Scouts don't expect anything in return, so our gratitude will have to suffice.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Willie Brown: No Fat Lady Yet

(Image from SFGate)
Veteran politician and observer Willie Brown says not to count Donald Trump out of the Presidential race:
What we’ve seen up until now, including the Donald’s missteps, misspeaks and mistakes, is the political equivalent of spring training.

Within the next two weeks, you are going to see a wholly different campaign. Former Fox News chief Roger Ailes will handle Trump in the same fashion he made a conservative TV network the force it is today....

Trump will spend the fourth quarter hammering away on those two issues: change and trust. The uglier he can make the campaign, the more undecided voters voters will be inclined to cast protest votes with third-party candidates.

In a strong one-on-one race, protest votes are meaningless. But if the public isn’t strong on either candidate, those protest votes could lead to a plurality in key states and allow Trump to win them with his 40 percent.
Hillary's the favorite, but the Donald still has a path to victory. We don't know who's going to win, but it's a safe bet that it's going to be interesting....and ugly.

Friday, August 19, 2016

One Group That Doesn't Fear Change

The City that knows how....to spend (sf.budgetchallenge.org)
Both on an absolute and per-capita basis San Francisco has one of the largest budgets in the nation: [bold added]
In 2010, the budget totaled $6.4 billion in a city with 805,000 people, meaning the city spent nearly $8,000 per capita. Six years later, the $9.6 billion budget is paying for services for 865,000 residents, or $11,100 per capita. Inflation explains a little of that increase, but certainly not all of it...

Philadelphia’s budget this year totals $4.2 billion for a population nearly twice the size of San Francisco’s. Denver will spend about $3 billion for a population approaching 700,000 people. The city and county of Honolulu, which pays for services for everybody on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, has a budget of $2.33 billion for a population close to 1 million people.
With that level of expenditure San Francisco should be paradise, but....
we spend more than $250 million a year on homeless services and supportive housing and still have some sidewalks that look like Calcutta.
With a homeless population of 7,000 to 10,000 the $250 million budget means that San Francisco annually spends $25,000 to $36,000 per homeless person without making a permanent dent in the problem. And homelessness is just one example of the City's inefficiency:
Joe Maly, a Cow Hollow resident, said he wonders where all the money goes, considering public schoolteachers are underpaid, the roads are in poor condition and the city doesn’t pay for street tree maintenance. In fact, there are only enough arborists on the city payroll to service each of the city’s 177,000 trees once every 105 years. A large tree branch fell on a woman in Washington Square Park just last weekend, critically injuring her.
High expenditures, problems not solved, high taxes----the insatiable City wants still more:
San Francisco, which already collects more transfer tax revenue than any city in California, will ask voters in November to raise this tax on properties that sell for more than $5 million.

San Francisco voters previously approved transfer tax increases in 2008 and 2010. The tax rate starts at the equivalent of 0.5 percent of value on properties worth up to $250,000 and goes up in steps. It tops out at the equivalent of 2.5 percent on properties worth $10 million or more.

On a $1 million property, the tax is 0.75 percent, or $7,500.
The rulers keep getting re-elected, so why should they change?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

For Their Benefit, Not Yours

(St. Louis Post-Dispatch image)
WSJ tech writer Joanna Stern confirms what we've observed: [bold added]
After pulling out the stopwatch for over 50 transactions at various retailers in recent days, I can confirm that it takes twice as long to pay with a chip card than with a card swipe or mobile payment—on average, 13 seconds versus 6 seconds.
Chip cards encrypt transactions and therefore have vastly superior security vs. swipe cards. The doubling in processing time, however, burdens both consumers and merchants, while the benefit of lower fraud losses goes to the credit card company. (The last time I had my credit card number stolen was five years ago, the cc company absorbed the loss, and I'm absolutely fine with the old system.)

If the existing way of doing things (credit cards, health care) is working well for the large majority, and large institutions make sweeping changes for the "consumer's benefit", be sure it's for their benefit, not yours.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Disneyland: Glad I Went

Slinky Dog from Toy Story
I expected Disneyland to be hot, crowded, and expensive, and indeed, the experience was worse in all those respects from my last trip 15 years ago. Going in with low expectations makes pleasant surprises more likely, however.

What I did enjoy: the cleanliness of the parks, the quality of the food, the civility of the staff and vast majority of visitors, the beauty of the parades, the use of technology when appropriate, and the meticulous attention to detail throughout.

The late Steve Jobs "even cared about the look of the parts you couldn’t see" and that ethic seems to be alive and well at Disneyland.

Hot, crowded, and expensive---and I was glad I went.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Life Extension: A Blessing, Probably

Google's working on life extension, too. I just hope
they plan to increase free storage on gmail.
The science of aging--more accurately, the science of arresting or even reversing the effects of aging--is progressing so rapidly that someone has coined the term
“longevity escape velocity”, the point where life expectancy increases by more than a year every year.
Researchers are pursuing multiple avenues--genome analysis, drugs, microbiology, diet, exercise, environment--that lead to life extension. When the maximum age, perhaps 120 years, of the human body is reached, then regenerative therapies such as stem-cell implantation or organ replacement by cloning may allow some to surpass this natural limit.

It's also both fun and alarming to speculate about the impact on society if large numbers of adults can live healthily past 100: [bold added]
People might go back to school in their 50s to learn how to do something completely different....The accountant might become a doctor. The lawyer, a charity worker. Perhaps some will take long breaks between careers and party wildly, in the knowledge that medicine can offer them running repairs.

How many will tie the knot in their 20s in the expectation of being with the same person 80 years later? The one-partner life, already on the decline, could become rare, replaced by a series of relationships, each as long as what many today would consider a decent marital stretch. As for reproduction, men’s testes would presumably work indefinitely and, though women’s ovaries are believed to be loaded with a finite number of eggs, technology would surely be able to create new ones. Those who wished to could thus continue to procreate for decades. That, and serial marriage, will make it difficult to keep track of who is related to whom. Families will start to look more like labyrinthine networks.
Perhaps we oldsters will still want to die "when it's our time," and I can't imagine myself living to 100. Nevertheless, I'm paying more attention to diet and exercise and seeing the doctor regularly. Admiring the Apollo astronauts as a kid, I dreamt of attaining escape velocity....

Monday, August 15, 2016

Look Before You Leap, But Leap

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood (Frost/pintattos.com)
Economist Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics, has some evidence that the riskier life decision, i.e., making a change, results in greater happiness.

Individuals who were in a quandary over whether to get married (or divorced), quit their jobs, adopt a child, etc., volunteered to be part of Professor Levitt's study. They flipped a coin and agreed to follow the coin's "orders" (whether they did so or not was up to them).

The findings, excerpted from the working paper: [bold added]
First, two months into the study participants show a bias towards the status quo.

Second, those who report making a change in follow-up surveys are substantially happier than those who do not make a change.

Third, the outcome of the coin toss appears to influence the actions taken. Those who flipped heads were approximately 25 percent more likely to report making a change than those who got tails.

Fourth, when it comes to “important” decisions (e.g. job quitting, separating from your husband or wife), making a change appears to be not only correlated with increased self-reported happiness, but also causally related, especially six months after the coin toss.
There are numerous methodological criticisms---for example, the voluntary participation of the subjects---of the study that prevent it from being "scientific." However, it confirms our bias, so we are allowed to seize upon it!

If you had stayed put, and your life, though okay, didn't change much, you may always wonder....

Sunday, August 14, 2016

At Least I Gave


The piles of bottles and cans gave us pause. No problem, said the man at the recycling center, the machine is fixed and I'm going to crush them later.

An all-time record for me,
and yes, I showed ID
The wizened Asian man pushed in front of us. He had two baskets of cans. The recycling man weighed, bagged, and moved the cans to the back. The payment was $35, which under new procedures required the WAM to show an ID (to deter recyclables thieves who make repeat visits). The WAM acted like he didn't understand English, much less the request, so I showed him my driver's license, helpfully. Big mistake.

The recycling man returned the bags to the WAM, who increased his pleas both to him and to me. The WAM didn't have a car and would have to take the cans back on his bicycle.

Meanwhile, a line had gathered, and bystanders were shouting "He needs your ID!" as if decibel level raises understanding. The WAM refused to move or take back the cans. We were 40 minutes into what should have been a 10-minute process.

I had seen the wizened Asian man before in downtown San Mateo, 5 miles away. From the volume of cans, I knew he had stolen them from recycling bins in Foster City. It was impossible that he understood no English or that he didn't have some form of ID on him to receive social services.

I knew we were all being played. We were at a crossroads. In a few minutes the police would be called, or....

Signs of a hard life were rife, from the clothes he wore to his leathered face (he was probably younger than I) to his beat-up bicycle. I opened my wallet and bought his cans for $40. Xiè xie nǐ, he repeated over and over, bowing and scraping. Please, stop doing that, your gratitude is mostly phony.

Adding his cans to my meager recyclables yielded a personal record payment of $52.71.

Well, I didn't do as St. Paul advised,
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver,
but at least I gave.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Don't Ask, Don't Hire

An idea becomes a rule, then encounters reality [bold added]:
Forcing job applicants to declare they have a criminal record.....allows employers to filter out ex-convicts...So activists across the world have called for “ban-the-box” laws, which prohibit employers from inquiring about criminal histories prior to job interviews or offers.
What happens when information is withheld? Decision-makers are forced to use blunter instruments.
[Researchers] found that withholding criminal-record data from employers encouraged them to treat certain minority groups as if they were more likely to have criminal pasts. [They] sent 15,000 fictitious job applications to employers in New York and New Jersey. Before ban-the-box was introduced in these states, white applicants received around 7% more callbacks than similar black applicants. But when the policy took effect the gap increased to 45%.
The full cost of hiring a criminal or a drug user can be much higher than just the loss of his salary. Employers, if they can't screen for this information, will disregard entire racial groups to avoid the possible damage of a mis-hire.

The social engineers set out to "help" certain groups and ended up making things worse for the innocent majority. Keeping people in the dark is rarely a good idea.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Take Care of Your Heart, Take Care of Your Brain

Taking care of your heart significantly improves the odds against contracting Alzheimer's disease [bold added]:
In a 2014 article published in The Lancet Neurology, researchers projected that almost a third of the cases of Alzheimer’s disease worldwide–9.6 million of them–could be prevented by things that are within most people’s power to change: hypertension in middle age, diabetes, obesity, physical activity, depression, smoking and low education were all found to play a role.

Of these factors, heart health seems to be the most important.
This is just the latest in a string of tentative findings about Alzheimer's. Here are a few others:

Nerve-growth drugs can restore some brain functioning.

An optimistic outlook helps.

Suffering from gout, exercising one's fingers, and having elder sex all are correlated with a lower incidence of Alzheimer's.

Eating coconut products may protect brain cells.

So have more sex, and use your fingers while doing it; you'll become optimistic anyway. After you're done, put a lime in the coconut and drink it all up....

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Where Ties are Not Required or Even Recommended

Using Yelp to find a good seafood place near Anaheim, we settled on the Boiling Crab (TBC), a favorite of over 2,000(!) reviewers.

The restaurant was in a slightly run-down suburban shopping center in Garden Grove, but the location didn't keep the weeknight crowd away. There were at least 20 people in line outside.

Let your fingers do the shelling
Seated in half an hour, we ordered quickly. My associate went right for the crab--boiled of course--while I, wanting to preserve my collared shirt, ordered shrimp that could be eaten diffidently with a fork and knife.

The server plopped down a bag of shrimp that was boiled in red spices. Where was the plate? Where were the utensils?

That's when I looked around at fellow diners who were attacking their shellfish with fingers and teeth. Now I understood why the waitresses set out a plastic table cover and gave all customers a bib when they sat down.

I stripped down to a T-shirt and tore at the shrimp with gusto. The crustacea were fresh and delicious and mildly spiced, as I had ordered.

The Boiling Crab experience is unique: diners are compelled to focus on the food and talk to their companions---who wants to get crab juice all over their smartphone?

In select parts of the country there is a renaissance in fine dining, and people are again dressing up when they go out to eat. A word to the wise: TBC does not cater to that demographic, so guys, you don't have to wear a tie.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Soufflés May Never Come

Carré d'agneau 
As we did a year ago, we had a quiet dinner to celebrate our anniversary. This year's venue was the Iron Gate in Belmont, which serves traditional haute cuisine and has prices to match.

The rack of lamb was $45, normally the entire ticket for four at my usual haunts, but I'm loosening the pursestrings a bit as my expiration date approaches. And why not---I've lost a number of classmates---and none of us has begun to collect Social Security.

Has it really been 11 years since the last soufflé?

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Build on It

As part of a standard credit-check, I tried to contact the person's human resources department to verify employment. The tech company is well-known locally, its market cap between $10 and $15 billion.

Drilling down through three menus to find the phone number on the company's website, I dialed the main switchboard. It rang for half a minute then dropped the call. I tried again and got the familiar message "if you know your party's extension, dial it at any time." When a voice-recognition routine started, I asked for "human resources," which the disembodied voice didn't recognize. No human operator came on to help.

Using other sources, I was able to get enough information to satisfy the credit-check. However, it was disappointing that I had to forego one of the standard, easy means of foiling fake references, that is, calling the employer directly and not using the numbers given by the person being checked out.

The irony is that one of the company's best-selling services is internet security. In the old-school world security relied on practicality, common sense, and talking with, or better yet, meeting people. In the new world security is provided by companies whose technology is understood by few. A word of advice to the kids running these companies: don't throw out the old, build on it.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Happy Birthday to a Lucky Guy

During our trip to Southern California we managed to catch up with my kid brother.

He takes care of his health and has a long-time government job, which everyone knows is low-stress with a guaranteed retirement and good medical. 😛

As we've mentioned before, he was born on this luckiest of dates 56 years ago.

Happy Birthday, Rich, and many more...