Tuesday, April 15, 2014

You Can't Do Both

99% of the information had come in, and the maximum error for being wrong would have been plus or minus $100, but the green-eyeshade section of my brain would not let me file our tax return on April 15th.

The missing 1% was a partnership form (1065 K-1), so, after a quick calculation showed that we were paid in for both Federal and State, extension Form 4868 was mailed to Fresno.

The partnership has much upside, but its complexity has its cost on this April 15th. The old saw comes to mind: you can sleep well or you can eat well, but you can't do both.

Monday, April 14, 2014

If Something Changes, Be Very Careful.

Technology has given us amazing tools to manage the complexity of modern life. I am speaking, of course, of automatic bill-pay---no more stamps, envelopes, and cramping of a right hand that's no longer accustomed to writing checks, or handwriting anything, for that matter. The downside of technology is that there are new screw-ups to watch for.

I have a simple business which has its own bank account. The business has five automatic transactions per month--one cash receipt and four cash disbursements, all fixed amounts--that produce a surplus of $200. After the surplus is transferred out, the bank account keeps a few hundred dollars. The business was on auto-pilot.

One of the regular payments was for a loan. When Bank of America sold the loan to Nationstar, I changed the information on the bill-pay system. Unfortunately, the Nationstar payment was, I suppose, entered under both "recurring" and "one-time," so a double payment was made, resulting in an overdraft. (I am happy to say that this error never occurred when a payment could only be made by check.)

I voiced a minor complaint to Bank of America, which never responded. Yes, I probably bear some responsibility for not filling out the bill-pay instructions correctly. But it was the sale of their loan that did trigger the error, after all, and they made a tidy sum while inconveniencing me. Oh, well, I'll just keep this incident in mind when I'm looking for a bank to handle my next business opportunity.

But the important lesson is that auto-pilots are great when everything's normal. If something changes, be very careful.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday, 2014

As in Palm Sundays past, the congregation marched around the block in remembrance of Jesus' palm-lined march into Jerusalem two thousand years ago. Holy Week begins in sunshine, then descends into a darkness that will be dispelled two days later by transcendent Light.
During Holy Week Christians remember the fleeting exultation of Palm Sunday, Jesus' betrayal by Judas, His abandonment, rigged execution, and astonishing triumph over death itself. From the highs to the lows to the ultimate high, it's a story that's hard to believe in an age where science rules more strongly than ever.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Humble Egg: Great and Powerful

(WSJ photo)
As dieters have come to realize that sugar, not dietary cholesterol, is the enemy (in fact, consumption of sugar can cause high blood cholesterol) the lowly egg is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Prolific cookbook writer Michael Ruhlman calls the egg "the greatest of all our foods."
The egg combines beauty, elegance and simplicity, a miracle of natural design and bounty. Containing all of the nutrients required to create life, eggs give our bodies a powerful combination of proteins, amino acids, fatty acids, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, a package unmatched by any other single food.
Your humble observer has found that fried or scrambled eggs come out just right sautéed in butter on medium-low heat (if the eggs brown the burner is too high), a simple, filling, delicious, inexpensive, and sugar-less dish that most doctors will approve. I don't yet have Mr. Ruhlman's enthusiasm, but he does know much more about the subject than I.
An egg is an end in itself; it's a multipurpose ingredient; it's an all-purpose garnish; it's an invaluable tool. The egg teaches your hands finesse and delicacy. It helps your arms develop strength and stamina. It instructs in the way proteins behave in heat and in the powerful ways we can change food mechanically. It's a lever for getting food to behave in great ways. Learn to take the egg to its many differing ends, and you've enlarged your culinary repertoire by a factor of 10.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Rare Batting Feat

Petaluma students perform the National Anthem
The fans filed in to AT&T Ballpark on a cool Friday night, hopeful of a victory with ace Madison Bumgarner on the mound. Little did they suspect that he would win the game by performing a feat by a pitcher that is rarer than a no-hitter.

In the fourth inning "Mad Bum" came to the plate with the bases loaded and the Giants trailing the Rockies, 3-2. On the first pitch he slammed a towering drive into the left-field bleachers. (When the ball left the bat, the crowd, including your humble observer, rose to its feet and didn't stop yelling for a good five minutes.) It was only the second grand slam by a Giants pitcher (the first was Shawn Estes in 2000) since the team moved from New York 57 years ago. During that same period, Giants hurlers have notched seven (7) no-hitters.

The tall, lanky 24-year-old is already one of the top pitchers in baseball. Although no one expects his batting to be as consistent as that of an everyday player, his raw power will have to be respected. The Giants have made some poor personnel decisions recently, but with Madison Bumgarner they've struck gold.

By the way, the Giants held on to win, 6-5.

Photo from Bay Area Sports Guy.com

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Easter Drop-Off

No room on the floor: we stacked the boxes on chairs.
Today we made our annual drop-off of Easter food boxes at CALL Primrose. (CALL Primrose, a partnership between the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, renders aid to less fortunate families on the Peninsula and has been in operation for over 30 years.)

Each box contained:
1 package pasta
1 box instant mashed potatoes
1 box muffin or bread mix
1 box flavored rice, e.g., Rice-a-Roni.
1 box macaroni & cheese
1 can tomatoes
1 can soup
2 canned vegetables (one green, one not)
2 cans fruit
1 small bottle cooking oil
2 cans beans (refried, kidney, black, etc.)
1 $20 Safeway gift card
It may seem that a modest container of food would have a small impact, but CALL Primrose says that the boxes make a big difference to each family that receives one. It's trite but bears repeating: we can't save the world, but we can feed a family for a day.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Another Example of Religion vs. Science

+1°C over 130 years doesn't seem so bad (Stanford graph)
The "global warming" alarmists began changing their object of disaffection to "climate change" when recent measurements (as well as record cold winters) did not support the thesis that higher CO2 levels caused rising temperatures, at least high enough to make the world's population take meaningful action.

"Climate change" is a synonym for extreme weather, a hard-to-pin-down concept which has the virtue of being an enemy impossible to defeat.

But here's a development that could make the alarmists' heads explode: could it be that global warming dampens extreme weather phenomena?

Bloomberg news: [bold added]
Rising heat in the equatorial Pacific Ocean portends the quietest Atlantic hurricane season in five years, Colorado State University researchers said.
Give credit to the researchers for putting science above a religion that ignores and/or suppresses results that don't fit the narrative.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Just Like the Old Days

This copy of Windows XP was purchased in 2009.
Today Microsoft ceased support of Windows XP, the only operating system that our seven-year old Dell Vostro has ever known. The computer still works, but it will become even more open to computer viruses and other Internet dangers. Windows 7 or Windows 8 (maybe) could be installed on the creaky old Dell, but all the files would still have to be off-loaded then recopied back because the upgrade would wipe the hard disk.

We'll get a new Windows desktop but won't be rushed into making a decision. Luckily there are other desktops, laptops, and mobile devices on which to do work. Meanwhile, the plug has been pulled on the wireless adapter, and the Internet-less Dell is still being used for writing letters and memos and designing spreadsheets.

Just like the old days.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Taste of Hawaii

Poke display at Costco, Redwood City
Hawaiian culture is enjoying one of its cyclical resurgences. Hawaiian food, clothes, and music are served, worn, and heard throughout the Bay Area. Of course, there's nothing like experiencing the real thing, but I haven't been able to get away this year.

Costco is dishing up poke in April, and though it was a tad expensive ($15.99-$17.99 per pound), I splurged. The ahi and limu (sea algae) were very fresh, and though the taste wasn't an exact match it certainly wasn't a disappointment. That reminder of Hawaii will have to tide me over until summer.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Double Bellows

30 years of progress:
unibody construction
The old toilet-bowl plunger--a rubber suction cup affixed to a wooden stick--finally crapped out, the cup snapping in half due to age and overuse.

At Home Depot there were four different replacement alternatives, each sturdier than the broken one I had, plus machines that could probably unplug all the toilets in the house at the same time.

I settled on a cheap but durable polyethylene model, which had double bellows for "extra force." (We'll probably all be on waterless waste systems--ugh--in 15 years, so one shouldn't make a huge investment in today's toilet technology.)

It did the trick in less than a minute. If more of life's emergencies could be solved for the six dollars spent on this one, the world would be a much happier place.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Not a Financial Calculation

Through difficult times spouses give each other support---one of the benefits of marriage---but what strengthens marriage are celebrations of each other's success:
Studies show that demonstrating appreciation for your partner not only makes the other person feel better, it makes you feel better, too.

One of the best ways to show your spouse you really care is to go out of your way to celebrate good things that happen to him or her. Think of it as leveraging the positive. Researchers call it "capitalization" and say it is just as important—and maybe more so—than being supportive in tough times.
It's no surprise that an article about "capitalization" appears in the Wall Street Journal, but it's not the usual kind that business people are used to working with. If done right though, this form of capitalization could be more important to one's happiness than any financial calculation.

Friday, April 04, 2014

That's Progress

Statuettes at M.Y. China
The previous days' rains had scrubbed the landscape, and it was a perfect morning for a drive. A family member wanted to revisit the Graton casino in Sonoma County, less than a two-hour drive from the Peninsula. Traffic was heavy through the City, but once past the Golden Gate Bridge it was smooth sailing to Rohnert Park.

At the casino we sat down to lunch at M.Y. China ("M.Y." stands for Martin Yan, the celebrity Chinese chef.) M.Y. China's decor and menu offerings are a cut above the average Chinese restaurant, as are the prices.

I lingered on the M.Y. dim sum collection ($19). The quantities were not extravagant, but the seasonings and freshness of the ingredients were excellent. The dim sum collection was the perfect lunch to nibble on while companions tried their luck at slots and blackjack.(Graton's free Wi-Fi makes it easy for casual or non-gamblers to pass the time.)

30 years ago I would have spent every available second at the tables. Now a couple of hours was more than enough, and I left Graton that evening with the same amount that I started with. That would have been a better-than-average result 30 years ago, so I suppose that's progress.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Rain Was Not Enough

Deceptive appearance:
overflowing gutters.
Tuesday night's rainstorm helped the water levels in South Bay reservoirs rise to 44% of capacity as of this writing. More significantly, the Sierra snowpack--from which our city of 30,000 strong gets most of its water--is only at 32% of normal.

It's going to take a miracle to prevent rationing (e.g., no lawn watering) from taking effect later this year.

As life teaches, you can't dig yourself out of a hole, dry or otherwise, overnight.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Silver Linings

Veronica runs the office, drives the van, and organizes
volunteers from 30 churches and synagogues.
It was a pouring rain the likes of which we hadn't seen this winter. Though welcome, the storm had to occur, of course, during the evening when I had to go to various houses and pick up the prepared meals. The Home and Hope dinner was for the families who had temporary shelter at the Lutheran church.

Note to self: umbrellas are useless when a) it's windy, and b) one is using both hands to carry trays of food.

Diane baked four briskets of corned beef, Irene made a salad, and I contributed ice cream, cookies, and a broccoli kugel, all from Costco. A loaf of rye from Sunday went well with the corned beef. The kids asked for seconds, which normally doesn't happen unless dinner is pizza or macaroni and cheese. WTG, Diane.

One of our volunteers brought a chocolate cake and cherry pie. His daughters talked to the other children over dinner, then helped with the dishes. WTG, Rob and Anita.

By 8 o'clock the dishes were put away, and the families had retired to their rooms. We started planning for next month, when we'll do this again, and packed up our containers. The rain had stopped.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

April Fool

Satire is very difficult to pull off. First, the audience has to be familiar enough with the subject to know that the satirist is exaggerating to cultivate ridicule and not praise for a particular point of view. Second, it helps if the audience already knows the satirist's own POV well, so that there is no mistaking his message. Third, the piece can't be too vicious or obscure, else anger and other emotions overwhelm the laughter that the writer intended.

When comedian Stephen Colbert performed a crude "Ching Chong Ding Dong" skit to get the audience to analogize Asian racial stereotyping to the use of "Redskins" for the Washington football team, he came under fire not only from his usual enemies on the right but from some of the anti-racist Progressive left.

Though his real politics are the opposite of mine, there's a part of me that empathizes. I once wrote an article for the high-school newspaper that was an obvious satire to me but not to many of the readers. (It didn't help that I was the editor and the first line of defense.) As a consequence there were meetings, controls put in place, and the usual barn-door closings.

Dying is easy, comedy is hard.