Thursday, December 18, 2014


A set of new batteries costs $7 at Radio Shack.
The HP-12C calculator was part of the employee welcoming package when I was hired in 1988. A marvel of design, compactness, and functionality for its time, the HP-12C became the "de facto standard among financial professionals."

Even today many seasoned finance executives prefer estimating the economics of a deal using the HP-12C over using computers thousands of times more precise and speedy.

HP sells a smartphone app that mimics the 12C.
Some of us need the dimensions and buttons of the real thing.
(In business negotiations where opening a laptop signals non-executive status, it's acceptable to pull out the 12C from one's coat pocket and punch in a few numbers.)

When the 12C batteries wore out after 15 years, there was no question that I would buy new ones. The calculator will still be in use over the next decade, long after today's computers have been scrapped.

“I would rather be vaguely right than precisely wrong.”---Keynes

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

More Bearable

At Costco regular gas was $2.399 per gallon. We had not seen a price this low since April, 2009.

Thank goodness we hadn't paid premium prices for a high-mileage hybrid; the cost of keeping our old 18-22 MPG gas guzzlers just became more bearable.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

They'll Thank You Later

"Tiger Mother" Amy Chua and daughters Louisa and Sophia.
Parents, make your kids stick with their music lessons:
research, published in September in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed direct evidence that music training has a biological effect on children’s developing nervous systems.

As a follow up, the team decided to test whether the level of engagement in that music training actually matters. Turns out, it really does. Researchers found that after two years, children who not only regularly attended music classes, but also actively participated in the class, showed larger improvements in how the brain processes speech and reading scores than their less-involved peers.

“It turns out that playing a musical instrument is important....We don’t see these kinds of biological changes in people who are just listening to music, who are not playing an instrument”

Monday, December 15, 2014

Feeling Good About Ourselves

A few days ago we made an offhand remark about the absurdity of the ban on plastic grocery bags when such bags are permitted in many other circumstances. OK, but seriously:

1) How harmful are environmental plastics to human and animal health?
2) What is the extent of the problem?
3) What is the cost of remedy?

Photo of an Indian beach (
A BBC reporter interviewed Dr Simon Boxall of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton in 2012 [bold added]:
"These plastic particles are like sponges, they're a bit like magnets for other contaminants, things like Tributyltin, the anti-fouling material....We don't know yet whether that then has an impact on the human food chain. It's still very early days to find out how far up the food chains these plastic particles go."
Professor Richard Thompson, Plymouth University:
"There are two concerns from a toxicological point of view. There's the issue that plastics are known to sorb and concentrate chemicals from sea water....And the secondary question is about chemicals that have been introduced into plastics from the time of manufacture, in order to achieve specific qualities of the plastic, its flexibility, or flame retardants or anti-microbials."
Oceanographers have recently estimated the amount of plastic in the oceans to be [an astonishingly specific] 268,940 tons.
just over 75% of the 268,940 tonnes of plastic is accounted for by items measuring more than 200mm [just under 8 inches]. Chunks of polystyrene were the most commonly observed large items, but by weight lost fishing gear, such as floats, lines and nets, accounted for most. As for the number of items in the sea, the researchers calculated this to be 5.25 trillion bits of plastic of all sizes. The vast majority, some 4.8 trillion, are microplastics [under 4.75 mm] and these were spread across the world.
Are these tiny bits dangerous? From the study by Professor Thompson:
the plastics had been found "in relatively low quantities - one or two pieces per fish - so this is certainly not a risk from the point of view of the human population, people eating those fish, because of course we don't eat the guts normally".
But isn't the sheer quantity of microplastics alarming?
Although the number of microplastics appears huge, it was much lower than the researchers expected....The researchers surmise that those [sunlight and weathering] processes include faster-than-expected shredding of already brittle microplastics into particles that are too tiny for their nets to catch, along with particles being washed onto beaches and material finding its way into the stomachs of marine life and thence their predators. There is also growing evidence that some microbes can biodegrade tiny pieces of plastic.
The fact that the main problem--if there is one--concerns brittle microplastics shouldn't stop us Californians from banning soft grocery bags. We can't wait for the science to verify what progressive minds already know to be true: plastic is bad.

Forcing shoppers to spend 10 cents a paper bag, or $1 for a reusable one (teeming with harmful bacteria), is a small price to pay for feeling good about ourselves.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

'Tis the Season

(Image from
Cards, shopping, gifts, travel, fund-raising, decorating.....whatever this is, it's probably not how the ancients spent their time in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

I, and perhaps you, too, are open to "a new way to experience Advent: desire and focus":
Desire: The key to a grace-filled Advent is to begin by identifying where I am experiencing darkness, despair, captivity and war.....We can’t say “Come, Lord Jesus” with any real meaning unless we have a felt experience of what it is we need. Once we experience our need, then the desire can formulate in our heart to ask for what we need.

Focus our attention whenever we can, especially during the “background” times of our day. These are the in between times – in the shower, getting dressed, walking down stairs, getting coffee, driving to work, walking down the hall, doing laundry....Whatever is going on in our minds and hearts during those “background” times can easily be refocused. It takes a little practice and some discipline, but it works.
In other words, a spiritual version of mindfulness.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Value in Question

My tattered wallet is bursting with cards: credit, ATM, insurance, and business cards, including my own. Then there are receipts, the driver's license, and, of course, cash, the billfold's original raison d'ĂȘtre. There are now a "vast" number of options to enclose these essential materials of daily life:

(WSJ graphic)
Bright colors and unexpected materials abound. “We’re seeing textured grains, exotic skins and even a great needlepoint collection,” said Glen Hoff, director of men’s design at Brooks Brothers.

The trick is staying true to personal taste and lifestyle demands. Risk-takers might embrace patterned leather, while guys who play it safer might see a forest green billfold as enough of a digression from basic brown. A man who works in a so-called creative field can flash a flashier wallet without raising eyebrows than one who toils on Wall Street. (Unless that Wall Streeter is comfortably defiant.)
Like pocket watches and fountain pens, this explosion in billfold design could be signaling the last hurrah of a consumer good, as it transitions from the mass market to a high-end niche. Technology is miniaturizing or eliminating everything carried in the wallet.

Unless one is a collector or is trying to impress someone (a motivation not to be discounted), there are better places to put one's money. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Quiet Surprise

We've been fans of a cappella music ever since we attended a concert by a talented college group. Top-40 a cappella songs have been few and far between, however. Simpler, quieter forms of music--not only a cappella but also string quartets and acoustic guitar--have a hard time competing with latter-day pyrotechnics. That's why it's so unexpected and gratifying that Pentatonix has become popular:
no big record label wanted anything to do with them. Even after sweeping NBC’s “The Sing-Off” in 2011, the group was dropped by Sony’s Epic Records—which had an option to sign winners. So they started making their own records and simple YouTube videos, putting together quirky a cappella arrangements of popular hits without executives weighing in or pushing them toward a commercial sound.
Despite enormous pressure to become more conventional, the five singers stuck to their vision of unadorned music. Through hard work and great talent, they "may be one of the few acts to sell a million copies of a 2014 album this year." Once you sample the product, however, it's no surprise that Pentatonix has caught fire. Talent cannot be ignored.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Out to Sea

The Chronicle is enclosed in a plastic that our
Whole Foods groceries are forbidden to wear.
The rain was heavy and the winds were fierce for a while, but we have certainly experienced worse weather in NoCal over the past 30 years. The "drought emergency" makes us hope for more such storms.

Newspaper deliveries--we get two dailies and one weekly--are wrapped in plastic when there's rain. Some of our neighbors aren't diligent at picking up, and a few papers get washed down the gutter. If plastic bags are such a danger to wildlife that they have to be banned from California grocery stores, why are newspaper plastic bags--which are more likely to go out to sea--exempted? Just asking.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Laying Down a Bead

In preparation for the imminent storm I did something that I hadn't done for ten years. I bought outdoor silicone caulk and clambered up the ladder to lay down a bead.

Three of the downstairs windows had a shown a propensity to leak (we haven't had heavy, windy rains for a decade) during a bad storm. I was glad that I took the trouble, because there were visible gaps that needed to be plugged.

[Update - 12/13: so far the caulking has held up. SF Gate: "Thursday’s storm alone brought 3.4 inches to the city, ranking it as San Francisco’s 11th-wettest day since record-keeping began in 1849. The coastal hills bore the brunt of the storm, with the Sonoma County community of Venado recording the region’s most rain Thursday: 9.44 inches in 24 hours."]

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Dream Teammate

(Business Week photo)
Retired NBA superstar Yao Ming names one active player that he wishes he could have been teammates with:
I like Stephen Curry. Small, you know, quick, shoots the ball very well. Looks not very strong, but has a strong heart.
[Update -12/13: the Warriors won their franchise-record 15th in row Saturday as Curry scored 29 points in a 105-98 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.]

Steph Curry with fans in Burlingame in 2012

Monday, December 08, 2014

Pay It Forward

Screenshot: Apple Pay was
also a snap at Whole Foods
Unlike its counterparts in other locales, McDonald's in Redwood City has trained its employees in the use of Apple Pay. The cashier instructed me to wave the iPhone 6 over the near field communication device, then confirm the credit card charge with a thumbprint on the iPhone home button. It worked like a charm.

After lunch we noticed the cashier standing in the middle of the parking lot. She had a McDonald's lunch bag and was walking back to the restaurant at a very slow pace, much slower than barely-mobile relatives who must use walkers. (Her earlier hand tremors now had an explanation.)

When we approached, she asked me to move her car to a more accessible disabled-parking stall. I was happy to spend a minute to save her 15.

Good for her for being productive in the face of hardship, and good for McDonald's for employing her when she cannot perform every task that other employees must.

We will be stopping at the Redwood City Mickey D's more often.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Tree of Hope

On a Sunday morning 73 years ago the world changed forever. (Note: last month an historian told us about one of the less well-known chapters of that fateful day.)

But let's not dwell on a past which fewer and fewer people remember.....

Displayed at Grace Cathedral, the Rainbow World Fund Tree of Hope
has over 12,000 origami decorations.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The End of the Beginning

Six months after they entered the diaconate, three ordinands were welcomed into the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Marc Andrus, fellow Episcopal clergy, laity, friends and family gathered at Grace Cathedral to celebrate the end of a journey and the beginning of a longer one that will take the rest of their lives.

From the Ordination of a Deacon and (Three) Priests:
"As a priest, it will be your task to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion your life in accordance with its precepts. You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.
The Revs. Claire Dietrich Ranna, Rebecca Lee Goldberg,
and Annie Pierpoint Mertz
You are to preach, to declare God's forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God's blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood, and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to you.

In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ's people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen to glorify God in this life and in the life to come."

Friday, December 05, 2014

A Practical Choice

Next year's color (examples by Pantone)
A marsala shade of red will be the in color next year across fashion, makeup and interior design. So says the design consultancy firm Pantone, which picked Marsala as the Color of the Year.

“Much like the fortified wine that gives Marsala its name, this tasteful hue embodies the satisfying richness of a fulfilling meal, while its grounding red-brown roots emanate a sophisticated, natural earthiness”
Comments: 1) the florid language fits right in with the over-wrought descriptions found in any oenologist's column. 2) a marsala silk tie would be a very practical addition to the wardrobe---no more panicking over spilt red wine.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

One Person Who Makes a Difference

Since 2006 I've been stopping by Jill's house to be a part of the "stocking stuffers" production for senior citizens and shut-ins. Her modest effort that began 13 years ago with 32 bags has expanded to a count of 1,380, each filled with personal-care items, sweets, and paperback books.

The bags are destined for clients of Catholic Charities, Meals on Wheels, and the Veterans hospitals. Her volunteers are recruited from the church, the Foster City Police and Fire Departments, the Boy Scouts, and especially the Santa Clara Thunderbird Club. Last year her efforts were recognized by NBC11 Bay Area news, WTG, Jill.