Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It's Better to Cool Off

(Photo from I Hate Hot Humid Weather)
As if there aren't enough reasons to deplore it, global warming will make us grumpy: [bold added]
According to a new study in the European Journal of Social Psychology, uncomfortably hot environments make people less likely to help others in need....

The researchers were able to show that hot and muggy environments increased fatigue and reduced positive mood, which directly led to less helping behavior. Understanding this connection may help people better anticipate—and possibly prevent—these types of harmful or undesirable behaviors.
1) Despite the increased cost in electricity and carbon emissions, employers are likely better off running the A/C on a hot day. A happier workforce is a helpful workforce, which means a more profitable business.
2) "Uncomfortably hot" is a subjective measure. In Hawaii the friendly natives are used to an 80-degree, humid environment that is too sultry for the average Mainlander. After living in the much cooler Bay Area for 40 years, I am now decidedly irritable whenever I return home. It must be the weather; that's my story, and I'm sticky to it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Data Sneak

When I see a product or service that I'm interested in, I fill out a contact form on the Web. When the request gets too personal (date of birth, social security number, income), I usually stop and don't submit the information. In the case of Quicken Loans the entries are transmitted as soon as you type it on the form, whether or not you hit "enter."
You change your mind and close the page before clicking the Submit button and agreeing to Quicken’s privacy policy.

But it’s too late. Your email address and phone number have already been sent to a server at “,” which is owned by NaviStone, a company that advertises its ability to unmask anonymous website visitors and figure out their home addresses. NaviStone’s code on Quicken’s site invisibly grabbed each piece of your information as you filled it out, before you could hit the “Submit” button.
Yes, child, we used to get our apps on "CD's"
We've been actual customers of Intuit for nearly 20 years and use Quicken, Quickbooks, and Turbotax on both the Mac and PC platforms. All the products contain sensitive financial data, much more extensive than on a web inquiry or contact form.

We will be much more guarded in our future dealings with Intuit and will consider switching to their competition.
whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.
---Luke 16:10

Monday, June 26, 2017

Revolutionary Upheaval in an Old Industry

Who's driving? And I thought getting rid of a clutch
was a big deal (Mercedes concept)
For most of its 100+ years as a mass-market industry, the automobile business was evolutionary--a little higher mileage, more safety, and less pollution every year on average--but now it's entered a revolutionary phase.

Technology has disrupted traditional ownership, use, and financing patterns. We may well be witnessing the end of mass car ownership.
Drivers, for instance, may no longer be drivers, relying instead on hailing a driverless car on demand, and if they do decide to buy, they will likely share the vehicle—by renting it out to other people when it isn’t in use.

Auto makers, meanwhile, already are looking for ways to sustain their business as fewer people make a long-term commitment to a car.
Other predictions: [bold added]
One-quarter of miles driven in the U.S. may be through shared, self-driving vehicles by 2030, according to an estimate by Boston Consulting Group.

Chief Executive Elon Musk has hinted that he’s preparing to create a network of Tesla owners that could rent out their self-driving cars to make money.

Autonomous vehicles could ultimately free up more than 250 million hours of consumers’ commuting time a year, unlocking a new so-called passenger economy.

the alcohol industry might see a rise in drinks consumed weekly with customers not having to worry about driving home.

...a vision of a car that replaces a vehicle’s windows with video screens that create a wraparound movie theater inside the cabin.

...“pods”—seats that can be adjusted to block a passenger from the view of the others—and there are areas in the vehicle that allow them to lock items while other people use the car.
When a product is experiencing rapid change it doesn't pay to own it if the cost reflects a life longer than three years. (An analog is real estate: if you plan to stay in an area at most for three years, you probably won't go through the expense and risk of buying and selling a house.)

We've owned all our vehicles since the early 1970's. In 2015 we leased our first car, will return it to the dealer instead of paying 67% of cost to buy it in 2018, then probably lease another one.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dad at 92

January, 2017: walking around Magic Island
Dad faithfully goes on his daily walks--do the young 'uns know that constitutional is also a noun?

He takes Mom to doctors' appointments, which he schedules on Google Calendar and then are transferred to his iPhone. He likes to pick up lunch or dinner from a list of favorite restaurants less than a mile away. He drives to the 7:30 a.m. service on Sunday morning because traffic is light.

He's slowing down a little, but aren't we all?

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Overcoming Inertia

Xfinity's WiFi is 5-10x the speed of AT&T's U-verse.
Inertia is a fundament of physics. It's also a powerful behavioral phenomenon. Businesses rely on customers' inertia when prices are raised, and politicians impose tax surcharges and toll increases just below the threshold where the governed take action.

As I noted in April, over the past 15 years AT&T through acquisitions became the sole provider of all four of our communications systems (landline, cellphone, television, and WiFi). The total cost doubled to $500 per month without improvement in service. It was time to do something about inertia (the ancients called it sloth).

Earlier this week we replaced AT&T's television and broadband service with Xfinity's offering. The basic TV channels are about the same, while the WiFi is 5-10 times quicker; the speed improvement is especially noticeable when streaming movies or updating apps on iPhones and iPads. The monthly combined charge is $129, $47 less than AT&T.

The big savings will occur this fall when we move our cellphone account. I had thought that by switching carriers for four lines, we would save perhaps $60 per month. But the cost reduction could be much higher. [bold added]
telecommunications companies are losing their power to raise prices for using their networks, in part because the U.S. cellphone market is nearing saturation. That has kicked off a vicious price war among the four national wireless carriers.

Offers from wireless providers are becoming increasingly extreme. Sprint this month launched a short-term promotion to give away a free year of wireless service to new customers who supply their own mobile phones. The move comes months before Apple Inc. is expected to introduce its newest iPhone, which is when carriers typically roll out discounts.

The competition grew so intense during the first three months of this year that Verizon, the largest national carrier, suffered its first-ever quarterly subscriber loss. AT&T Inc. and Sprint also lost customers, and the industry’s total revenue growth slowed to 1% from a year ago, its lowest-ever rate.
I don't love any of these cellphone companies, especially AT&T; however, I do love capitalism.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Rich, Famous, Successful, and Unhappy

Nonverbal communications ("facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, posture, and tone of voice") reveal more about ourselves than the words that we speak.

Case 1: A CNN panel discusses last Tuesday's special election in Georgia. Just from looking at their expressions, can you tell whether the Democrat or the Republican won? It may be difficult, because CNN reporters are renowned for their objectivity.

This is CNN: Executive editor for Politics Mark Preston, chief political analyst Gloria Borger,
Political Director David Chalian, and Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash.

Case 2: CEO's of leading tech companies met with President Trump on a subject about which everyone agrees: overhauling outdated government computer systems and improving information technology.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, Donald Trump, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. (WSJ )
Per the WSJ:
CEO Tim Cook praised the White House for focusing on improving its technology, which he said would be an investment that would quickly pay off.
Try to look happier, Tim!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

If You Seed, You Won't Have to Cede

Newly elected Rep. Karen Handel and husband Steve (WSJ)
People who have a life may not know that there was a special election on Tuesday for a House district in Georgia. (President Trump named Representative Mick Mulvaney to be White House budget director, and the election determined who would serve out Mr. Mulvaney's term.)

Normally few outside the state would care about the race, but the Democrats nationalized the election by making it a referendum on Donald Trump. With party pride at stake, the total amount spent--$31 million for Democrat Jon Ossoff and $23 million for Republican Karen Handel--dwarfed that of any previous House race.

Ms. Handel won with 53% of the vote.

Continued losing--they are zero for five in special elections since November--has made some Democrats crazy. No, they are not blaming the Russians again. Instead, it's bad weather: [bold added]
At DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, which sits in the state’s 5th District but is close to a heavily Democratic part of the 6th District, 4.58 inches of rain fell between noon and 4 p.m. Eastern Time — almost as much as typically falls in the entire month of June. But in Cobb County, home to more Republican voters, far less rain has fallen. As of 4 p.m. at Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, just 0.86 inches of rain had fallen.
Democrats can even out any advantage Republicans have with the Meteorologist-in-the-sky because they are the party of science. They can use cloud seeding to cause the rain to fall on Republican neighborhoods and lower Republican turnout. If Democrats seed, they won't have to cede (elections).

Meanwhile, in the land of the non-scientists they believe that God "sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" alike. (Matt 5:45) Rubes!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

We Couldn't Escape the Heat

How to chase away mountain lions: [bold added]
10 of 12 mountain lions subjected to audio recordings of broadcasters like Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow abandoned kills and fled immediately, regardless of the political slant of the commentary.
(It's not your politics that are off-putting. It's "politics.")

I do listen to Rush and watch Rachel, but only once or twice a week. They're both smart--Rush is funnier--and good at riling their audiences. For my own emotional health I only take them in small doses.

Vista point, with a view of the East Bay, has an 800-ft.
elevation and is about two miles in from the parking lot.
Mountain lion signs were posted along the trail, but we were reassured by the presence of deer and squirrels (or maybe they were reassured by us, who are much slower prey).

It had been two years since we had hiked in the foothills; our poor conditioning and the 100-degree heat made the going slow. After 2½ hours we had had enough.

Using a radio app, I was prepared to blast Rush Limbaugh at an attacking mountain lion. Thank goodness it wasn't necessary.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pressure Play

(Napa Valley Register photo)
Sometimes a small news item catches my attention because it seems like there's more to the story. Napa Judge Michael Williams attended a March, 2016 dinner and lifted two (2) fancy business-card holders worth $50 each. "Several weeks later, a lawyer told Williams he had been seen on video taking the holders and suggested that he return them", which the judge did the next day accompanied by a letter of apology.

Now the Commission on Judicial Performance is looking into the matter: [bold added]
Williams has been charged with willful misconduct, prejudicial conduct that brings disrepute to the judicial office, and improper action. He could be admonished, censured, or even dismissed from the bench for his conduct.
Possibly ending a person's career for what is surely a very minor lapse, since rectified, is extreme overkill.

Michael Williams became a judge in 2012 at the age of 66(!) when he was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to serve out the term of another judge who resigned for health reasons. Judge Williams was unopposed for re-election in 2014 and his current term expires in 2021, when he will be 74.

There are a multitude of reasons--ranging from the professionally valid to the nefarious---why someone could be lowering the boom on Judge Williams. It won't be surprising at all if he resigns, the charges are dropped, and the public never learns what's truly going on. I hope he enjoys his retirement.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Politics Ruins

The first title for Zaza Pachulia and Kevin Durant (slam photo)
I try to avoid political discussions. They ruin many a happy occasion. Bystanders are pushed into a corner and forced to take a position about matters that they may not have thought much about. Or maybe they only have a modest preference for one side and feel it's not worth the energy to argue, or even run the risk of sacrificing personal relationships. So they keep quiet and retreat if they can.

When you are a big-time celebrity it's almost impossible to be noncommittal. Inquisitors harangue you for an answer. And if you don't give them one, they say that you did, steering you to confirm or deny the assertion. Only a few hours after the Golden State Warriors had won the NBA championship they were forced to take a position on Donald Trump: [bold added]
Two reporters published unsubstantiated tweets after Golden State’s Game 5 defeat of the Cavaliers, that said the team “unanimously” had decided to boycott a visit to the White House.

The team released a statement Tuesday morning saying that no such decision had been made.
The Warriors may find this situation more difficult than any that they face on the basketball court. They have become a national team with fans across the political spectrum. While it's true that some of the team's leaders (e.g., Stephen Curry and coach Steve Kerr) are outspoken against Donald Trump, there's a difference between an individual protest and the entire organization doing so.

It won't help their "brand" to alienate half the country. And it well may be more than half who would disapprove of a White House boycott, since there are still many Americans who can disagree with the man and his policies, yet honor the Presidency.

Another thought: there are nine players new to the roster who did not go to the White House in 2015. To Messrs. Curry and Kerr, who have been there many times, not going won't be a sacrifice, but it may be the one chance for some players, coaches, support staff, and their families to go. Of course, all will accede to the Warriors leaders' decision due to social pressure, but I doubt 100% of their hearts will be in it, no matter what they say.

As I was saying, politics ruins many a happy occasion.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Glimmer of Hope

Nancy Pelosi June 14th floor speech (abc news)
To some Republicans the hatred and vindictiveness from Democrats, the press, and Executive Branch insiders are unremitting. That's why the remarks from former Speaker Nancy Pelosi following the shootings last Wednesday are a welcome relief. More importantly, they give everyone a glimmer of hope for our nation. [bold added]
You may not know this, my colleagues, but every time I pray, which is very frequently, and certainly every Sunday, I pray for all of you. All of you, together.

In the earlier years I used to pray for your happiness, for the fact that we would work together, heed the words of President Kennedy in the closing of his inaugural address, when he said, may God's work – ‘God's work must truly be our own.’ How do we view what god's will is for us? How do we come together to give confidence to the American people that, as our Founders intended, we would have our disagreements and we would debate them and we would have confidence in our beliefs and humility to listen to others?

But in more recent years, I have been praying not only for that, but for our safety. As I above anyone in here, and I can say that quite clearly, have been probably the target of more – I’m a political target and therefore the target of more threats than anyone, other than the President of the United States, Barack Obama. And so I prayed for Barack Obama. Now I continue to pray for him. And pray for Donald Trump. That his presidency will be successful and that his family will be safe. Because it is about family.
When conservatives think of San Francisco liberals, Nancy Pelosi, a Roman Catholic, is the first person who comes to mind. However, at heart she just may be a "Christian liberal," many of whom I encounter on a regular basis in the Episcopal Church.

Christian liberals are just as outspoken about issues as their secular siblings, but they know when to set aside politics. As Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise lies in critical condition from gunshot wounds, Nancy Pelosi and other political leaders are praying for his recovery.
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. --2 Cor 4:18

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Green Power

With great change comes great tweets
Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods is just the latest chapter in goliath tech taking over the world:
This trajectory wasn’t obvious 15 years ago. You couldn’t guess that a handful of companies would leverage their expertise, talent pools and capital to eat industries outside their own, or that they would become planet-spanning conglomerates that are as likely to spin up their own Fortune 500 companies as buy them.

What does a company like Apple, which has a quarter of a trillion dollars in cash, do with all that money? Anything it wants. The same is true for Amazon, Facebook, Google and “Elon Musk Inc.,” an entity with so much marketing savvy and personal charisma that he is able to call upon the financial markets for fresh infusions of cash whenever he needs them, no matter the financials of his ventures.

Here are some thought experiments: Will Amazon eventually sell you personal transportation? Will Apple start a bank? Will Facebook buy a cable network? Is Elon Musk going to build a standing army?
Your humble blogger does not fear Amazon (though Alexa will never darken his door) and eagerly looks forward to Whole Foods stores where
1) Shopping carts will be bigger than shopping baskets;
2) Twinkies are stocked on the shelves;
3) No one will be shamed because they didn't donate;
4) One doesn't have to dress up to enter.

Friday, June 16, 2017

AppleCare for Watches, not People

Apple Store, Hillsdale Mall, on a Friday afternoon.
While at the gym I knocked the Apple Watch off a shelf onto a tiled floor. The crystal cracked, and the watch wouldn't turn on at all. I made a Genius Bar appointment for today.

Eric, the Genius assigned to my case, said that the repair would cost a $69 "deductible" under my AppleCare plan. I cheerfully proffered a credit card (Apple wouldn't take ApplePay, ironically).

The repaired watch will be shipped home in a week. The transaction took 15 minutes. Easy-peasy.

Note: a young college acquaintance recently likened Obamacare to "AppleCare for people". Sure, except for rising annual premiums and deductibles, disqualification from buying the policy if you either make too much or too little money (copy of your tax return, please), and not being able to go to the doctor/Apple Store of your choice, Obamacare and AppleCare are exactly the same.

My friend is a nice person, and her observation didn't deserve an argument from your humble crank. If only Obamacare were like AppleCare, we would have a lot fewer problems...

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Not Just in Silicon Valley

Pork Chop Napolitano: Pork chop stuffed
with mozzarella cheese and prosciutto.
The needle had zoomed past 90 degrees F during our day trip to the Central Valley. Stopping for an early dinner, our specifications were simple: air-conditioned dining room, fancier than fast-food, and a non-chain restaurant. Buonarroti Ristorante in Lincoln, about 30 miles northeast of Sacramento, filled the bill.

In addition to the Continental-style main dishes (veal marsala, grilled salmon, pork chop "napolitano") we ordered appetizers (ravioli, calamari) and dessert (cannoli, crème brûlée). Our expansive mood will soon translate to expanded waistlines, but when we are out of town discipline goes out the window.

With entrees ranging from $19 to $34, the price-to-value ratio was just okay, but this is not a criticism.

The remarkable thing is that these days there's nothing remarkable about finding a decent restaurant in what used to be an old mining town. As the Valley shifts from agriculture and industry to services and recreation, change is occurring all around, not just in Silicon Valley.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Too Much Dedication?

Draymond Green is known for his basketball acumen, fiery emotions (sometimes helpful, sometimes damaging to his team), defensive skills, sheer physical talent, and extreme dedication.

He worked out at the gym Tuesday, the day after celebrating his second NBA Championship (he brought the Larry O'Brien trophy to the gym).

Draymond, maybe you should have given yourself the day off. The workout doesn't look like it was one of your more effective ones...