Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Taking on the Attributes of Their Owners

(NY Daily News photo)
Are we talking about the phones or their owners?

Headline - New vulnerability can put Android phones into permanent vegetative state [bold added]:
Researchers have developed an attack that puts more than 50 percent of Android phones into the digital equivalent of a persistent vegetative state in which they're almost completely unresponsive and are unable to perform most functions, including making or receiving calls.
Snarky comments are too obvious and too easy.....but irresistible.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Future is Golden

Half of Kearny was blocked (B of A building in the distance.)
Temperature highs were broken around the Bay today. Reflecting poor timing, I drove into the City for a lunchtime appointment in a car with a broken air conditioner. (Before you ask, dear reader, public transit would have added about 90 minutes to the round trip.)

Construction was occurring throughout the City. It took 30 minutes to crawl four blocks. By the time I had parked and walked to the restaurant, my shirt was soaked.

After lunch I stopped at the Wells Fargo Museum to cool off.
Today the gold is no longer in the hills but in the Valley.
My friend, whom I hadn't seen for over a year, talked about her new position at a major bank. She had been promoted already, and her section was hiring. Echoing the lament heard by Silicon Valley employers, she had difficulty finding candidates with the technical background to handle the job.

I wished her well. Key executives are retiring over the next 10 years, and her advancement seems assured. Times are tough for 25-40 year-olds, but for a few the future is golden.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Study Confirms Our Beliefs, But More Work is Needed

Numerous studies have supported the widely shared belief that a youthful ability to control impulses usually leads to adult success. However, "developing self-control is not always an unalloyed good." [bold added]
Work published two years ago by Gene Brody of the University of Georgia, who looked at a group of young black Americans, showed that those who exhibited self-control as teenagers did indeed get the expected benefits. But if such self-controllers came from deprived backgrounds, they developed higher blood pressure, were more likely to be obese and had higher levels of stress hormones than their less-self-controlled peers. That correlation did not apply to people who started farther up the social ladder.
For certain populations stress and premature aging may be the price for reaching higher.
for people born at the bottom of the social heap, self-control speeds up the process of ageing. This research, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at DNA methylation, a phenomenon which involves the addition of chemicals called methyl groups to genetic material in chromosomes.

for people from high-status backgrounds, higher self-control meant lower cellular ages. For those whose background was low-status, the reverse was true. Their cells were ageing faster.
(Economist graphic)
A cautionary note: before we proclaim that success will shorten one's life, a look at the data is warranted (see graphic)

The conclusions are based on a "best fit" of data that measures the relationship of cellular age to childhood self-control, further subdivided into "privileged" and "disadvantaged" backgrounds. The relationship is not very powerful, and there are individuals in each quadrant (for example, high self-control/disadvantaged/low aging and low self-control/privileged/high aging). There seem to be a significant number of datapoints that contradict the hypothesis.

One is tempted to stop with the headline, because the study confirms our beliefs. In these cases especially, more work is needed.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Save Us From the Time of Trial

Iraq today (CNN)
NY Times: Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?
ISIS scanned the separate groups of men and women. ‘‘You’’ and ‘‘you,’’ they pointed. Some of the captives realized what ISIS was doing, survivors told me later, dividing the young and healthy from the older and weak....No one was sure where either bus was going.
At the Nazi killing centers:
After deportation trains arrived at the killing centers, guards ordered the deportees to get out and form a line. The victims then went through a selection process. Men were separated from women and children. A Nazi, usually an SS physician, looked quickly at each person to decide if he or she was healthy and strong enough for forced labor. This SS officer then pointed to the left or the right; victims did not know that individuals were being selected to live or die.
For centuries the men with the guns, drunk with power and certitude, have decided who lives and who dies. On rare occasions victims are spared if they renounce their faith.

May Christians in the very safe United States of America never be put to this test.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Silicon Valley's Power: Right Question, Wrong Answer

The Economist wrings its hands over the vast wealth and power being created in Silicon Valley [bold added]:
The area’s tech companies are worth over $3 trillion. Last year one in five American business-school graduates piled into tech. [snip]

The danger is insularity. The geeks live in a bubble that seals off their empire from the world they are doing so much to change...a charmed circle with great wealth becomes cut off from everyone else. For a group rewriting the rules for industry after industry, that is a special danger.
The opinion writer says that critics (implying the Economist editorial staff) are concerned that Silicon Valley
dominates markets, sucks out the value contained in personal data, and erects business models that make money partly by avoiding taxes.
He warns darkly:
They should remember that the law can change. If they want a seat at the table when it does, they need to be part of the markets they sell into, not isolated from them.
In other words, if they know what's good for them, tech companies should work cooperatively with and pay tribute to government.

In tech it was even more of a blowout (NY Times)
Your humble observer is worried about just the opposite, that Silicon Valley will become too close to politics. A team of SV engineers and programmers volunteered to rescue the Obamacare website after its disastrous introduction in late 2013. They were happy to volunteer--and their companies gave them months off to work on it---because the political views of Silicon Valley lean heavily Democratic.

Now just imagine if the projects to clean up the government's computer systems (which includes unifying the tax, healthcare, and other databases) are worked on by techies who have a strong preference for one political party. Will they have the ethical codes and moral fiber not to use the immense knowledge at their fingertips to influence the outcome of elections?

To ask the question is to answer it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Keeping an Eye on It

The ophthalmologist compared the scans with those taken two years ago. The faint shadow had grown.

"You don't need to do anything about it now, but you will need cataract surgery in 10, 15, or 20 years."

The doc wasn't very encouraging about whether I could do anything to prevent the condition from worsening. Some evidence exists that diet and wearing sunglasses outdoors could arrest the development of cataracts, but currently there's little consensus. In the meantime there's no downside to trying those measures.

On the whole the news was good: eye pressure was normal, and the nearsightedness hadn't worsened. I typed in a reminder on the iPhone to come back next year. In the 21st century eyesight is the sense that one can least afford to lose.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Better Living Through Chemistry

Deflection is good (SF Gate photo)
Chemistry has solved another prickly problem. The solution: pee-repellent paint.
[San Francisco] Public Works crews have finished painting nine city walls with pee-repellent paint and more are in the works. The painted surfaces make urine spray right back onto the shoes and pants of unsuspecting relief-seekers.

The coating, Ultra-Ever Dry, comes from Ultra-tech, a Florida company in the chemical cleanup and waste management business that also provided the paint for Hamburg. The paint coats an object and creates a surface chemistry and texture with patterns of geometric shapes that have peaks, or high points, that repel most water-based and some oil-based liquids.
Hey, p*ssers-by, you won't find relief here. And that's a relief for the rest of us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Unexpected Finding

Not (ebay image)
NASA's 9-year Pluto mission has produced an unexpected finding:
Amazingly, there are no craters at all in this image. None. That means the surface must be young, having been resurfaced quite recently. The scientists on New Horizons figure the terrain must be less than 100 million years old, but that’s a guess.

there is no tidal stress [from Pluto's moon Charon]. What could be heating Pluto so that its surface is young? Radioactivity from rocks beneath the surface? It’s hard to say just yet. We have a Plutonian mystery on our hands.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Science Classifies Another Activity

(Hemingway images from
Ernest Hemingway, Mary Poppins, the Nutty Professor and Mr. Hyde walk into a bar. No, that's not the set-up for a joke but a description of the four types of drunks, according to scientists [bold added]
Hemingways do not exhibit any major changes in personality when they transition from sober to drunk.

Mary Poppins drinkers....are already outgoing types who somehow get sweeter and happier with alcohol.

Nutty Professors....are natural introverts who shed their inhibitions with special vigor when they drink, showing a flashier and more social side.

Mr. Hydes...the evil-twin drinkers who are, according to the study, [are] “particularly less responsible, less intellectual, and more hostile when under the influence of alcohol.”
Your humble observer is a fifth type that the scientists did not identify, a Rip Van Winkle. Alcohol demolishes the willpower needed to stay awake, and I never make it to the last call. Despite Morpheus' early visit I always pay the price the next day:
(Photo from
Alcohol delays the onset of REM sleep, says Sonu Ahluwalia, M.D., Clinical Chief of Orthopedic Surgery at Cedars Sinai Medical Center....Not only does it come on later, but you get up to 9 percent less REM sleep during the first half of the night than you should be. The result: You’re left feeling groggy in the morning.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Spot the Duck

I was picking up some lemons that had fallen from the tree when there was a rustling from the bushes. I didn't spot the duck initially.

The day had been exceptionally hot and muggy, and the duck had found a cool spot. It watched me for about a minute, then voiced an irritated squawk and flapped away.

Can you see it?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Fade to Yellow

Two other strategies: praying and spraying (paint)
Neighborhood lawns are all transitioning from green to yellow as the summer heat intensifies and the two-day-a-week watering limit takes effect.

But Californians should not concede defeat.
The forecast, produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows “drought removal likely” in a small swath of the southeastern part of California by October 31. NOAA meteorologists said last week that there’s a 90% chance of El NiƱo continuing through winter and an 80% chance of it persisting through early spring. If it does, the drought-free area in California could expand along the coast and in the southern part of the state, according to NOAA climate prediction center meteorologist Matthew Rosencrantz.
Careful watering will keep the grass alive until the winter rains come, say the gardeners.

As with other endeavors, just staying alive may not sound like much of a strategy but it works better than just giving up.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


The tree's magnetism attracts shopping cars.
There's a puzzling scientific phenomenon that may be observed in the local Costco parking lot. Trees appear to exert a magnetic "pull" on shopping carts.

We know that shoppers cannot possibly be so lazy that they wouldn't take an extra 30 seconds to walk the cart to the designated spot. Un-corralled carts can get loose and potentially cause damage to other cars or even wayward children.

I like trees as much as the next hugger, but if they don't stop being an "attractive" nuisance they'll have to be removed.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Castle No More

From 1965: the house of the future (The Guardian)
Stanford experts forecast the features that our homes will have in 2050. Particularly amusing (or alarming) are predictions by the Design Institute's Banny Banerjee [bold added]:
The house will have an identity, intelligence, memories, and perhaps even moods and opinions. The house will be meshed with a computing and systems infrastructure, with many sensors and feedback interfaces. There will be more localized storage of water and more renewable energy generated on-site.

People will interact with their homes in different ways—for example, doors will let you in or not based on who you are, not on any physical key, and [the house] will tell you that you're forgetting your passport when you're off to the airport (if a passport is not an implant by then).

Unless you force it into a dumb mode, your home will play a more active role in maintaining your health, social life and sleep. It will remind you of things you need to do, pay your bills, make sure you drink enough water, analyze your pee, align people's calendars and invite people on your behalf.
Today we worry about protecting our privacy, even in our own homes. Tomorrow I and maybe you too, dear reader, will be trying to keep private information from our homes.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

That Can Won't Roll Very Far

(From Vivify Change Catalyst)
So Greece "won" by negotiating a third bailout of Greek banks:
Eurozone finance ministers agreed “in principle” Thursday to grant Greece an expensive third bailout designed to keep it in the euro. But the likelihood that the prospective three-year deal will fail—possibly before it even starts, let alone is completed—is now estimated at higher than 50% by some senior officials in Europe.
No politician on either side wants to be responsible for the write-offs, economic contraction, impoverishment, and even riots that will occur if Greece reneges on its Euro debts and departs the European Union. Better to lend a few more Euros and let the next man or woman deal with fixing a bigger problem.

Yes, the Greeks "won," but in the end they got worse repayment terms:
the radical-left party led by Alexis Tsipras played a reckless game of brinkmanship with the rest of the euro area, and in particular with Germany. Though the aim was to secure a better deal for Greece, the negotiations simply further injured the economy. The game of bluff culminated in a far worse deal on July 13th following bitter negotiations in Brussels last weekend between Mr Tsipras and other euro-zone leaders.
That kicked can has so many dents that it hardly rolls very far.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pleasant Surprise

In California we are smarter than everyone in the rest of the country, at least when it pertains to the environment. That's why we have our own special gasoline formula:
California uses a unique set of pollution-fighting gasoline blends more stringent than those found in other states. As a result, most of California’s gasoline is made by 14 refineries located within the state. No pipeline connects California to refineries in other states, so when extra gasoline is needed, it has to arrive by ship.
Any disruption in supply, such as a refinery fire, results in a price spike. Just rumors of shortages trigger buying that the California-only suppliers cannot respond to immediately. Hence, this week's price action, apparently triggered by fuel traders [bold added]:
In just four days, the average price for a gallon of regular gas jumped more than 50 cents in Los Angeles, reaching $4.08 Monday morning. Prices rose in the Bay Area, too, but not nearly as much, with San Francisco’s average climbing 9 cents to reach $3.61 on Monday....The jump comes as the rest of the country is enjoying the cheapest summer gasoline prices in five years. The nationwide average for regular stands at $2.78 and has changed little over the past month, according to
Fully prepared to pay $3.80 per gallon, I pulled into Costco Gas at South City. The price for regular was $3.249.

It was a pleasant surprise. The cost of environmental virtue was only 50 cents per gallon more, not a dollar.

Besides, California's high prices have another benefit--we get to pay the highest state gas taxes in the nation (2014 data), ensuring that our transportation infrastructure is top notch:
California is in 1st place with the highest rate of 52.89 cents per gallon, and is followed closely by New York (49.86 cents/gallon), Connecticut (49.3 cents/gallon), and Hawaii (48.05 cents/gallon).