Wednesday, May 20, 2015


CPA's are proposing that continuing professional education (CPE) requirements can be met via nano-learning:
Nano-learning refers to information delivered in “bite-sized” 10-minute increments, often covering task-specific topics.
Well, I've got nano-napping down pat, so nano-learning seems like a reasonable idea. In fact, why not combine the two?
New research by neuroscientists at Northwestern University in Chicago shows people can actually learn while they're asleep.
Professor, my eyes were shut because I was committing your lecture to memory. By the way, would you mind shortening it to ten minutes?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Night at the Museum

Rubens' Tribute Money (iPhone photo, LOH, 5/19/2015)
Stanford Art History professor Alexander Nemerov spoke to a rapt audience this evening about one of his favorite paintings, Rubens' Tribute Money. The lecture was held at San Francisco's Legion of Honor museum, where the work has resided since 1944.

After pointing out details in Tribute Money that our untrained eyes might miss, Prof. Nemerov then described how Rubens was inspired by Caravaggio, and how Rubens in turn influenced Rembrandt.

Caravaggio's Incredulity of St. Thomas, Berlin
He compared the work with Caravaggio's Incredulity of St. Thomas and Rembrandt's the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. Comments:

1) Prof. Nemerov spent some minutes explaining the Bible stories behind the Rubens and the Caravaggio. Only a few decades ago the lecturer would just have had to say "render unto Caesar" and "doubting Thomas," and every American listener would immediately get the reference.

Rembrandt's the Anatomy Lesson, the Hague
2) Rubens (1577-1640) is renowned for his lush, sensual style. Prof. Nemerov noted that the extravagant musculature lives on in today's superhero comic books.

3) Why does he love Rubens? Among other factors, the paintings exude a unique "wetness."

After the lecture we adjourned to the main gallery to admire Tribute Money, which was situated in a room with works by Monet, Renoir, and other Impressionist masters.

It was our first visit to the museum, a replica of Paris' Palais de la Légion d’Honneur, but it won't be our last.

Rodin's Thinker greets visitors at the entrance
El Greco: St. Francis Venerating the Crucifix

Monday, May 18, 2015

Future Dimly Perceived

Don't bring me flowers any more ( image)
Scientists have discovered a way to make morphine and heroin from glucose. While the steps are complicated---currently beyond the capabilities and equipment of non-chemists--the technology will undoubtedly develop to the point where it will be feasible to manufacture one's own.

The implications are profound for the War on Drugs, as users of home-made supply overwhelm law enforcement and already overcrowded prisons. After generations of "war" society will have to confront the fact that it won't be able to lock up everyone who abuses heroin, morphine, oxycodone, and other opiates.

The implications are equally profound for Third-World poppy growers and drug cartels whose economic models will be upended:
If strains of yeast that can turn out opiates are liberated from laboratories and pass into general circulation, brewing morphine-containing liquor for recreational use will be easy. It will be illegal, of course. And the authorities will, no doubt, try to crack down on it. But those who smuggle the stuff from places like Afghanistan may find themselves driven out of business by home-brew opium clubs based in garages.
Solar panels, 3D printing/manufacturing, home-brewed drugs, self-driving cars, and the World Wide Web are only a few examples of the individual empowerment that is disrupting giant institutions--and society--and leading toward a future dimly perceived.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Farther Away

Departing friends say goodbye through hugs, farewell lunches, and promises to write.

Christian communities add a laying on of hands to ask the Holy Spirit to protect and guide those who are leaving.

Our friend is getting married and will move to Daly City, only 20 miles to the north, where she will be attending her husband's (Catholic) church. Although we will keep in touch with her on Facebook and Skype, in our daily lives she will be much farther away.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Artfully Presented

Seared Ahi Salad ($17): snow peas, red onion, daikon
sprouts, red bell pepper, mint, sesame ginger dressing
Having been invited to lunch at Paul Martin's American Grill, I got the timing wrong.

Breakfast had been consumed only three hours earlier; the digestive system would have been unduly strained by a grilled specialty.

So I "settled" for a salad.

One of the gastronomic developments over the past 20 years: lighter, healthier fare that is more delicious, more artfully presented...and more expensive.

Judging from the menus at Paul Martin's and other restaurants, that's a trade-off that many diners in our area are willing to make.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Not Normal

The upward trajectory of Stephen Curry's career matches the slope of his shot. After being drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 2009, the point guard first attracted notice for his long-range shot-making ability. But it was his continued improvement in assists, rebounding, and defense, as well as that of the entire Warriors team, that resulted in Steph Curry being voted the 2014-2015 Most Valuable Player in the league.

However, it's still his shooting that brings fans to their feet. Earlier tonight Steph Curry led his team into the third round of the NBA playoffs (four rounds determine the champion), something that the Warriors hadn't accomplished for 39 years. The shot that broke the backs of the veteran Memphis Grizzlies was a 62-foot buzzer beater at the end of the 3rd quarter.

With fans in Burlingame in 2012
Steph Curry's feat is akin to sinking a hole-in-one near the end of a golf tournament.....after the golfer took but one second to line up his shot. Steph Curry is one of the league's most popular players, partly because his 6'3" 190-pound frame can pass for "normal."

Except that he's clearly not.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Trust, but Verify.....the Credit Card Statements

Not your granddad's gas pump.
I pulled up to the stall, swiped the Costco American Express card, and began filling the gas tank. The lady in the next car over said that she had left her Costco card in another purse. Could I swipe my card to activate her pump? She flashed the debit card that she would use to pay for her gas. No problem.

Back at my own car a few minutes later, I realized that, by pressing a button, the lady could charge her purchase to my AmEx account. But I was too chicken to go back and watch her and openly demonstrate a lack of trust.

So I surreptitiously photographed her license plate and typed in a reminder on the smartphone to check the April 21st gas purchases later. Today the AmEx statement arrived, and all was in order.

A rational person would have just ignored the whole thing---the maximum possible exposure from filling her sedan would have been about $40 and I wasn't going to chase her down for that amount---but curiosity kept the matter alive.

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me." [John 14] Obviously, Jesus never had any credit cards.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

One-Pot Lap Cheong

Sausages and other dried meats at the Mow Lee Shing Kee
Company, Commercial St., San Francisco (SF Gate photo)
Occasionally I hanker for lap cheong, aka Chinese sausage. Lap cheong is sweet and salty; when raw, its density and dryness are about the same as salami.

I prefer to plump the sausages via steaming in the rice cooker, an efficient one-pot method if one is preparing rice as well.

The best lap cheong is purchased fresh from SF Chinatown shops, but imported sausages from Seattle or LA can be purchased at supermarkets throughout the Bay Area.

I've found the packaged imports to be too oily for my taste, however, and so place a small dish in the cooker to catch the liquids. (Locally made, less greasy lap cheong can be laid directly on top of the rice.)

Today I sliced the sausages for inclusion in another dish, but sausage and rice by themselves make for a hearty meal. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Guru Greatness Gone

(Image from
Economist writer Schumpeter laments the lack of excitement in the business thought-leadership industry:
The main problem is that the guru business is reaching the end of a long cycle of creativity. For the past two decades or so it has been driven by two seismic economic changes—the rise of the emerging world and the digital revolution....

Ironically, the digital revolution is making it harder for new gurus to emerge. Many of today’s biggest business changes are being driven by “quants”, who excel at finding meaning in big data or at producing algorithms that can automate lots of work, but who are much less good at putting numbers into words or at thinking about what big data and automation mean for industries beyond their own.
Like any guru, Schumpeter may be over-analyzing the "problem." When your humble observer attended business school in the 1970's, consulting firms like McKinsey and the Boston Consulting Group competed with investment bankers for many of the top graduates.

Not only did consultants help to fix clients' systems, e.g., accounting, sales, computer, inventory, etc., they also helped to design broad strategies and vision statements.

Now the top students start their own firms and have no need of a vision developed by outside experts who are actually more "inside the box" than they are.

Creativity may have fled the gurus, but from the vantage point of one who lives near San Francisco and Silicon Valley there's more than enough to go around.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Boar in a Chinese Shop

When a boar invaded a Hong Kong mall, the incident was reported across the Internet. A large wild animal loose in a modern city is rare and clickworthy, especially when there's video.

But it wasn't long ago that undomesticated pigs were a regular feature of the urban landscape:
pigs are just fundamentally different from other farm animals like sheep or cows. Those are herbivores, and must be put out to pasture. Pigs, on the other hand, lived right among Europeans—in the streets or beside their homes eating trash.
In order to survive pigs are willing to eat slop (and another "s" word), and these dietary habits perhaps led to ancient prohibitions against eating pig. However, under controlled conditions swine have demonstrated both cleanliness and intelligence.

Despite pork's tastiness, texture, and relatively low cost, Americans prefer beef and chicken, perhaps because subliminally we recognize an animal that's closer to us than we would like to think.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day, 2015

Flower leis flown in from Honolulu. on Twitpic
Flower leis flown in from Hawaii
Like every child who has moved away, I called Mom. We talked about her and Dad's health (they're good, but "great" would be exaggerating when one is 85+) and the latest goings-on from back home. We had both gone to church this morning---she in Hawaii and me in California---and the congregations had asked for blessings on moms everywhere.

My brothers were arriving with salmon and roast turkey, the noise was increasing, and dinner was about to start. Back in California I had also made dinner--grilled pork chops with mushroom gravy--because others had caught the flu and no one felt like going out. Gifts are appreciated, but gifts of time always seem to bring tears to mothers' eyes.

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Cortisone Era is Over

(Image from
Cortisone is an anti-inflammatory medication introduced over 60 years ago; when injected in joints it reduces pain, and in topical form relieves the itchiness of rashes. Like any "miracle" drug, cortisone's widespread usage has sparked concern [bold added]:
When tissues are overused, overstretched or torn, the cells of those tissues release factors that recruit blood vessels, stem cells and healing factors. With that rush of fluid, the tissue temporarily swells. Over time, with the laying down of new collagen, the protein that makes up most of our body, the injured tissue heals. Some tissues heal normally others with scar tissue that over time often can remodel into normal tissue.

Cortisone shuts down this cellular recruitment process, reducing swelling, but unfortunately inhibiting healing. The result is the weakened tissues stay in the weakened state for a longer period of time, sometimes exposing the athlete to repeat injury or permanent damage. This panacea drug has always had this hidden harmful risk. If used too often or in the wrong place such as the Achilles tendon, the tissues can completely rupture and never return to the full, uninjured state.
When I suffered a leg injury last November, I declined to take cortisone for the swelling but did subscribe to physical therapy and laser treatment for tissue repair. The pain is gone; the muscle is still a little weak but getting better with strengthening exercises.
The cortisone era is over. We have realized that the best response to tissue injury is to stimulate stronger healing, to feed the cells that are trying to repair the injury, and to recruit more progenitor or stem cells to guide the complex healing process. This tissue stimulation is done by a combination of careful early tissue mobilization, often performed by expert physical therapists, by early joint- and tissue-controlled exercises that stimulate repair rather than irritate the injury, and by direct application of growth factors and sometimes stem cells.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Opening Very, Very Wide

(Image from Univ. of British Columbia by way of Japan Times)
Blue and humpback whales open their mouths so wide that they can swallow "a volume of water larger than their own bodies."

Laypersons are naturally fascinated by the whales' gargantuan oral capacity, but scientists are more interested in their "stretchy nerves":
Normally, a firm collagen wall surrounds nerves and if stretched they become damaged. For example, humans can suffer from “nerve stretch injury.”

In rorqual whales, the nerves are packed into a centralized core surrounded by limber “elastin fibers.” When the whale opens its mouth the design enables the nerve fibers to unfold. The feeding whale will then gulp-up floating prey before the nerve snaps back.
1) How little do we know what goes on in the sea around us.
2) There doesn't seem to be an immediate practical application for this discovery, but we can still dream about treatments for various nervous-system injuries or diseases.
3) After looking at whales' lunge-feeding, we are more tolerant of the behavior of our fellow human beings in the buffet line.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Persistence of the Teenaged Mind

In the current month's print version of the AARP Bulletin I found this juxtaposition of ads to be amusing: She's right: I'll never grow up.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Eighth Deadly Sin, Continued

The siren song of the Wheel of Fortune (Flickr image)
Excerpts from the Engineers of Addiction [bold added]:
A modern slot machine, at its core, is nothing more than a [Random Number Generator] going through millions or billions of numbers at all times. When a player hits a spin button, they are simply stopping the RNG at a particular moment. Everything beyond that — the music, the mini-games, the actual appearance of spinning reels, Rachel, Monica, and the rest of the gang keeping you company — is window dressing to keep you hitting spin.

the company commissioned a study to find out why people love the Wheel of Fortune line so much. "People said it was as much about the brand as anything...People said, ‘That brand — I used to hear it in the living room at my grandma’s house.'"

Player tracking systems revealed more than a pit boss ever could: over time, Harrah’s can create a portrait of the person’s risk profile, including how much money a player typically loses before they stop playing and what kinds of gifts to give them to keep them on the gaming floor.

The small slots customer, over a lifetime of spending, is just as valuable as the high roller.

In 11 years of legalized gaming, the state [of Pennsylvania] has earned $3 billion from table games and $17 billion from slots.

The "zone" is flow through a lens darkly: hyperfocused, neurotransmitters abuzz, but directed toward a numbness with no goal in particular.

capitalism can harness the human play drive for better or worse — and that increasingly, games aren’t allegories that say something about our lives; they are our lives. As people move toward more data-driven existences where points are accumulated from health apps (the subject of Schüll’s latest research) and status is accumulated in identifiable quantities on social media, gamification becomes so total that it can sometimes mask whether what we’re doing has any inherent utility outside the game that surrounds it.

[The Hook model of tech product addiction]: a trigger turns into an action turns into a variable reward turns into a further personal investment back into the product.
This article was so interesting that your humble observer put down his iPad slot-machine game for 15 minutes in order to read it.