Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sandwiches on Palm Sunday

The weather was much more pleasant than our last outing four months ago, but the turnout of 50 people was puzzlingly about the same. For over ten years our church has made a hot lunch for whoever shows up at the community center in Redwood City. (The lead sponsor, St. Pius Catholic Church, makes up bag lunches for diners to take home--hence the name Sandwiches on Sunday.)

Experienced observers, including some of the diners, said that the number of people who show up has been rising to 80, even as many as 100. Perhaps the start of Holy Week and events hosted by other churches had siphoned off some of the usual clientele.

Those who attended took home everything that we and St. Pius had prepared. We'll continue to prepare for larger numbers. Better too much than too little.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Not Needed That Badly

For over two decades I wore a tie to work every day. "Business casual" came to be the norm around the turn of the century, and most of the inventory has never again seen the light of day. I still have to wear them for special occasions and business meetings, but my old cravats' style and silk material are increasingly dated.

Knit ties seem to be in tune with the zeitgeist [bold added].
What’s partly responsible for nudging knit ties into vogue is that their looser, more casual look makes them ideal for a looser, more casual world. They’re polished but not overdone or ostentatious—a solid advantage when more and more ties are collecting dust in the back of men’s closets.

“We’re in the situation these days where wearing a tie is a pretty big statement,” said Patrick Johnson, founder of P. Johnson Tailors, a men’s haberdashery based in Sydney, Australia. “A knit tie is a good way to wear one without the pretense that sometimes can come from a silk tie. It’s a really nice way to add matte color.”
I would be interested for aesthetic purposes and if the quality (they don't fray after a week) holds up. Nevertheless, it's difficult for me to get used to paying silk prices for knit materials. Guess I'll wait for the Asian knockoffs....

Check out these silk-like prices. From left: Tie, $230, Brioni;
Cotton Knit Tie, $275, Brunello Cucinelli; Tie, $70, Tommy Hilfiger, (WSJ photo)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Velveeta-lly Smooth

Yes, your humble observer fancies himself to be a serious student of finance but is not above juvenile references to Heinz' impending acquisition of Kraft Foods:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Many Hands Make Light Work

I picked up three volunteers with their dishes and we headed up the hill to the Lutheran church, where four families were staying this week.

Everyone asked for second helpings of Diane's roast pork.
We recognized some of the children from January. I accompanied Edwin, 3, to the basketball hoop, where he enthusiastically heaved a ball at the regulation-height basket. Meanwhile his 4-year-old sister rode the tricycle up and down the parking lot. Their (working single) mom has her hands full.

Inside, the teenagers engaged in polite conversation, switching easily from Spanish to English as required. There were over 20 people dining together, and there wasn't a cellphone in sight. Although we were prepared to do so, the teens, unbidden, bused the plates and washed the dishes. By eight-thirty the leftovers were put away, the dishes were dried, the families had retired to their quarters, and we were headed home.

(Home and Hope is a group of 30 Peninsula synagogues and churches who provide emergency shelter to displaced families.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I want to say one word to you. Just one word. CRISPR

(Image from Naismith Group)
It may become one of the most significant acronyms of the 21st century--CRISPR, "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats."

Yet it's a safe bet that not 1 in a 100 people can even tell to which area of knowledge it belongs!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hurting Themselves More Than Others

(Image from the Guardian)
Confirming last century's news, angry people are at higher risk for health problems:
New evidence suggests people increase their risk for a heart attack more than eightfold shortly after an intensely angry episode. Anger can also help bring on strokes and irregular heartbeat, other research shows. And it may lead to sleep problems, excess eating and insulin resistance, which can help cause diabetes.
In the 1950's doctors noted that "Type A" personalities had more cardiac incidents. Characteristics of Type A are time urgency and impatience, and free-floating hostility or aggressiveness. Those of us who are on the receiving end of a Type A outburst can feel a flash of satisfaction at the problems Type A's cause themselves....until we realize that they're probably victims of their own biology.

Related--the ancients listed seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride. Known to be deleterious to physical health are gluttony and sloth, and now a third, anger, can be added to the list. Even if you don't believe in the importance of saving your soul, dear reader, overcome your sinful nature for your own health's sake.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Not the Time or Place

I've been to four different Starbucks in the past two weeks, and I've never had "Race Together" stamped on the cup.....thank goodness. (Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wanted customers and employees to "engage in a conversation" about race.)

From personal observation about half of Starbucks customers go to a coffee house to talk, and those that do never discuss race, environment, religion, and other heavy topics, at least in a serious way. Another group is focused on their laptops, and another just wants to get their coffee and go.

Although most Starbucks customers, at least in this area, are likely sympathetic to Howard Schultz's political leanings, he overstepped. Starbucks is a sanctuary, not a debating circle. I'm glad he killed the intrusive campaign over the weekend. If it got too noisily noisome, I'd have switched to Peet's.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

But for the Grace of God

Every spring we drop off boxes of food at CALL Primrose.

On Friday the office was noisy; volunteers, recipients, and supplies crowded against each other in the small Burlingame office.

One lady waited patiently for a 10-pound bag of rice. At another desk I saw a family submit an application for services.

Having had a tough week, I left the offices with the usual feeling: my life ain't so bad.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Conglomerations of Grossness

Left: not okay to flush. Right: maybe not okay either.
As public-spirited citizens we have been careful to put cleaning wipes in the garbage and have been disposing of moistened "flushable" wipes as indicated in the name.

It turns out that flushable wipes are a product whose kinks haven't been smoothed out:
Indestructible wipes are coalescing into conglomerations of grossness that are clogging the sewers, The New York Times reports.

Often, the wipes combine with other materials, like congealed grease, to create a sort of superknot. "They're really indestructible," said Vincent Sapienza, a deputy commissioner for the city's Department of Environmental Protection. "I guess that's the purpose."
If you must have a wet tissue, carry a cup of water into the stall to moisten (biodegradable) toilet paper.

Being environmentally conscious means setting aside one's squeamishness about biological functions, touching the garbage, and range anxiety. And getting used to the smells.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"The Way Life Works"

University of North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll, on what he told his players during halftime in an NCAA tournament game against Robert Morris University [bold added]:
Between the black lines it’s about players being players.

Ballers make plays, dudes are dudes. I mean, that’s the way life works.

And I just told them, they just want it more than we do right now. There’s nothing I can change, there’s no schematic I can draw up or no special dust I can [throwing gesture].

I mean just play and be a baller.
(Final score: Robert Morris 81, UNF 77)

It's only March, but it's unlikely that you, dear reader, will either read or hear anything more profound this year.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Of Course, Water is Best

In our younger days we used to drink a lot of soda. Noticing the effect on our waistlines, we switched to sugarless brands though we did not enjoy the taste. In recent years, however, evidence has been mounting that diet sodas are harmful, often in ways that sugared sodas are not.

(Image from
A study was conducted on people over 65, and the effects were pronounced [bold added]:
People who reported not drinking diet soda gained an average of 0.8 inches in waist circumference over the nine-year period compared to 1.83 inches for occasional diet soda drinkers and more than three inches for people who drank diet soda every day, according to the results online March 17 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The authors had taken other factors like physical activity, diabetes and smoking into account.

"It cannot be explained by the calories," said Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who was not involved in the study.

Another possibility is that there is a real causal relationship at the molecular level....Diet sodas are very acidic, moreso even than acid rain, and the acidity or the artificial sweeteners may have a direct impact on things like gut microbes, which influence how we absorb nutrients.
Conclusion: science is confirming what our gut is saying---if you must drink soda, drink the sugared, better-tasting versions. You'll enjoy it more and cause less harm to your health.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Not a Huge Fan

A(nother) home-repair saga that took six months to complete but finally only a few hours to resolve. A 35-year-old bathroom fan began to rattle last year, and your hubris-infused handyman hied himself to Home Depot to pick up a replacement. All of the new fans were too big; cutting of ceilings and ducting, all beyond my skillset, would be required. I dampened the sound as best as I could and hoped for the best.

Last week the decibels rose until the fan sounded like an unmuffled car engine. I went back to HD as a last hope before calling a contractor. No luck, the fan selections all were the same, until....I spoke to an older worker.

The new motor is quiet, more powerful, and only $15.
John said he was sure that HD had replacement motors, though neither of us could see one. He went back to the warehouse and returned empty-handed. Finally, he got on his knees and rummaged around the bottom shelf (HD's shelves go back several feet) and voila(!) found a boxed motor. We opened the box and compared it to the old rattler. All the screwholes and wires looked to be in the same places, a perfect fit! And so it was.

Comments on hardware stores:
1) Always bring the old parts for comparison. It saves a lot of running back and forth.
2) Always seek out the older guys for advice. Some of them, like John, have even worked the same problem that you have.
3) The cost of contractors is so high that it's usually worth it to invest a few bucks (even up to $100) on parts and attempt the fix yourself. There's a good chance of failing, but the risk-reward ratio is huge. Just don't make the problem worse.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Courage of His Convictions

Chris Borland ( photo)
24-year-old 49er linebacker Chris Borland made the national news when he retired from professional football yesterday. His worries about the long-range effects of repetitive head trauma overrode the benefits of a contract that would have paid him $2.32 million over the next three years, not to mention the fame of being the starting linebacker following Patrick Willis' retirement last week.

Chris Borland has generally received praise for assessing imperfect data in light of his priorities, then making a rational cost-benefit choice. Undoubtedly the fact that he came from a well-off family and has the smarts and finances to pursue a masters degree played a part in his decision.

Neurologists monitor Stanford
football players with high-tech
mouth guards ( photo)
Research by Stanford University, though in its early stages, buttresses Chris Borland's analysis.
What happens when you shake the brain like a snow globe? Though no one knows for sure, a prevailing theory is that the brain's connective cables, or axons, get stretched to the point where they may fray or break. If enough of these wires are damaged, the resulting loss of connectivity may cause the symptoms of concussion, explains Michael Zeineh, assistant professor of radiology. Sub-concussive events may not injure enough axons at the same time to cause overt symptoms, but with hundreds or thousands of repeated blows to the head, the cumulative damage may prove to be significant.

Gerald Grant, associate professor of neurosurgery and chief of pediatric neurosurgery, treats concussed patients at Stanford and works with [bioengineering Professor David] Camarillo, providing neurocognitive testing of athletes. He can confirm that some patients never fully recover from one or more concussions: "They're never the same. Their personality is different. Their lives are totally changed."
We are disappointed that Chris Borland won't be seen in a 49er uniform, but we have to admire him for the courage of his convictions.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Agendas Barely Hidden

One of the Internet's beneficial developments is the review of products and services by users. Many people, including your humble observer, always try to check out what people are saying about a restaurant, contractor, appliance, etc. before making a purchase.

(Image from
Of course, if there are only a few ratings--and they are extremely positive or negative--we become suspicious about whether it originated from a friend, relative, owner, or rival.

Yale professor Judith Chevalier looked at hotel ratings [bold added]:
The researchers hypothesized that people who work in owner-operated hotels are more likely to write fake reviews than people who work in big hotel companies....fake reviews are easier to post on TripAdvisor (which lets anyone post) than on Expedia (which only allows reviews from people who’ve booked a room through the site).

They found that owner-operated hotels have more positive reviews on TripAdvisor, relative to Expedia, than company-owned hotels—and the competitors of owner-operated hotels have more negative reviews.
1) Trust Expedia reviews more than TripAdvisor's.
2) Don't automatically switch your reservation from the Big Chain to the small bed-and-breakfast because of a cursory glance at the ratings. Dig deeper.
3) Revelation: you can't always trust what you read on the Internet.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

1 + 1 ≠ 3, or 2 Even

An Indian bride walked out of the wedding when her husband-to-be couldn't perform a simple addition.
the bride posed the following math problem to the man she was due to wed: 15 + 6 = ?

The groom answered 17, and the bride fled. The groom’s family tried to get her back, but she refused to marry someone who couldn’t add.
A cascade of calumnies has rained upon the ditched groom by a lazy media that accepts this story at face value. There are alternative explanations:
  • "I use a computer for all calculations, that is, unless you want me to do the taxes by hand."
  • "In my family questions are given in base 10 and answers are given in base 14."
  • "How do I get out of marrying someone who gives a math test before her wedding?"
  • "You're bringing 15 people to live with the 6 of us?"
  • In the United States half the math PhD's are Indian and the other half are Chinese. An Indian guy who can't do arithmetic? C'mon!!
  • But seriously, math provides a reason for the recent pickiness exhibited by Indian brides:
    India has 37 million more men than women....As of 2011, there were 940 Indian women for every 1,000 men.