Sunday, July 27, 2014

No More Capacity

Over the years we've lost two combination locks at the gym. But we're not alone in our carelessness. At the gym's lost-and-found there were eight (8) locks that matched the brand we lost; unfortunately, none of them opened to the combinations (1-18-6, 8-34-8).

We were irritated that no one bothered to turn in our locks, which are useless to the finder without the combination, but more irritated with ourselves. It's not the modest replacement cost but the fact that we'll have to memorize a new set of numbers. At our age there's no more capacity for new information.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Color Purple, At Best

In 2010 President Bush explained his often-mocked 2001 statement about looking into Vladimir Putin's soul:
“The reason why I said that is because I remembered him talking movingly about his mother and the cross that she gave him that she had blessed in Jerusalem,” Bush told [radio host Hugh] Hewitt. [snip]

Putin then told the story of recovering the cross from a house fire and said that when a worker found the piece of jewelry it was as if it was meant to be. Bush writes that he remarked, “Vladimir, that is the story of the cross. Things are meant to be.”
Whatever it was in 2001, it's clear what color Putin's soul is today:
The 21st century czar has mastered the dark art of stirring up problems that only he can solve, so that Western leaders find themselves scolding him one minute while pleading with him the next.
President Bush was guilty of wishful thinking. And the current President, who hopes that something or someone else will stop Vladimir Putin, seems to be as disconnected.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Chirp of Crickets

There's no advantage to being a "fly on the wall" unless the fly can hear. Researchers have mimicked the hearing mechanism of the Ormia ochracea, a fly that is able to isolate the chirp of its prey, male crickets, with remarkable accuracy:
A tiny structure similar to a playground see-saw connects the fly's two sound sensors, and vibration on one side drives the other in the opposite direction. The net motion of the see-saw permits the fly to determine what is known as the "phase" of the sound wave—in other words, the extent to which the peaks and troughs of the sound waves detected by its sound sensors line up with each other. This allows for fantastically precise determination of its direction of origin.
Sensitive hearing aids that are able to ignore unwanted sounds will be the result of studying Ormia. That will be a boon to us aging, hard-of-hearing snoops who not only want to listen to gossip but help originate it.

Photos and diagrams from Washington University in St. Louis

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Not Chamber Music

It's not on the bucket list, but last night I attended my first heavy metal concert, the Mötley Crüe "final tour" at the Shoreline Amphitheatre. (When some of them need cash, anticipate the we-mean-it-this-time Final Tour.)

Being unfamiliar with the genre, I watched both Alice Cooper (the opening act) and Mötley Crüe with bemusement: pounding rhythm, faux explosions, and lots of screaming into the mike (if one doesn't know the song, the words are unintelligible). Also, when the musicians "talk" to the audience, every other word is the F-word. This wasn't chamber music.

I enjoyed myself more than I had anticipated. The special effects were well-coordinated and spectacular. Age-related hearing loss, plus earplugs, made the decibel level tolerable. The crowd was well-behaved, despite its tattooed, pierced, and colorful appearance.

Mountain View noise curfew rules called a halt to proceedings at 11 p.m., which was all to the good. Time for aging rockers and their fans to go to bed.

Alice Cooper kicked off proceedings while it was daylight.

Mötley Crüe -- the pyrotechnics were brighter and louder than the 4th of July.

The musicians left the stage and performed the quiet encore on a raised platform.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Little People Wave

The President was purportedly inside this SUV
As everyone suspected on Monday, the President of the United States did come to Foothill College today. His purpose was not to tour the new science building--as some had hoped--but to land his helicopter on the way to a fund-raiser at a mega-millionaire land developer's home.
He then attended a Democratic fundraising luncheon at real estate developer George Marcus' Los Altos Hills home, where the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised money for campaigns across the country.

Tickets for the event started at $10,000, for a photo opportunity and lunch, and ran up to $32,400 for a VIP photo opportunity and lunch. In attendance were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; DCCC Chairman Rep. Steve Israel; and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Marcus over the years himself has contributed more than $1.5 million to various political causes, mostly Democratic.

Big crowds assembled on the Foothill College campus -- where Obama's helicopter landed -- to watch the motorcade take off for the Marcus home.
Republicans complain about the flood of immigrants on the Southern border, the Russian takeover of Ukraine and shooting down of passenger aircraft, and violence in Syria, Libya, Gaza, and Israel, but really, what's more important than a photo-op fundraiser in Los Altos Hills?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Reliable 17-Year-Old

When an automobile has passed its expiration date, an owner should expect breakdowns at the most inconvenient moments.

Yesterday the right rear tire went flat from a nail puncture, and the shop declared the nine-year-old tire too old to repair. Three hours and $300 later, the 1997 van had two new rear Michelins that will outlive their host.

Today on a sweltering afternoon the engine temperature gauge rose to the red line. The dashboard emitted loud repeating beeps, and steam began to rise from the hood. I was able to park the car on a side road and call for a ride home. Coolant spilled into the gutter. Could this be the old car's last gasp?

[Update - 7/24: the local mechanic said that a hole in the radiator prevented him from testing other parts of the cooling system. I okayed a $500 replacement radiator knowing that the car might have to be scrapped anyway. Like the new tires, it could all be money down the drain.

The hole (center of the photo) was caused by pressure
build-up from fan failure.
Overheating was triggered by a bad relay switch ($200 fix) that caused the fan to stop working. The vehicle has been now been restored to its normal self and is as reliable as any other 17-year-old car. Ultimately the results weren't bad, but I won't put away the new-car brochures just the same.]

Monday, July 21, 2014

Not the Usual Fire Drill

Foothill College emails warnings of traffic problem on Monday and Wednesday due to "Emergency Preparedness Exercise(s)."
Campus Participating in Emergency Preparedness Exercise
The Foothill-De Anza Community College District will participate in emergency preparedness exercises with local, state and federal agencies Monday, July 21, and Wednesday, July 23. The exercises will be held on the Foothill College campus from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. both days. To facilitate the safety of students, faculty and staff. Parking Lot 4 will be closed Monday and Wednesday.

Traffic on the Campus Loop Road may be impacted for short times by the exercise from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
On Monday it's obvious that this is not the usual fire drill. There are helicopters! There are men in dark suits!

They leave, and traffic resumes.

Guess this was just a rehearsal for An Important Visit on Wednesday.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Offering of Letters, 2014

Letter-writing in 2009.
We are pragmatists, not ideologues. Though we have deep misgivings about using governmental coercion to "do good", principle takes a back seat when people are dying of starvation.

Under the auspices of Bread for the World we have joined Christians across the United States in writing to Congressional representatives in support of food aid to foreign countries, where a life may be saved for pennies a day.

Unlike in previous years, 2014's Offering of Letters doesn't ask for increases to the $2 billion aid budget but wants to make spending more efficient. For example, supplies must be purchased from U.S. companies and transported on American ships; in far-away emergencies it would be far more expeditious to purchase food closer to the need and shipped on available vessels nearby. Faster (and fresher) for the same amount of money? Nearly everyone can support that. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Different Goals, Different Styles

The old explanation: men interrupt women because men are sexist.

The new: generally speaking (as it were), men are trying to establish dominance while the goal of women is to make a connection. Men are not necessarily "sexist"-----they speak that way to other men.

Amherst researcher Elizabeth Aries
analysed 45 hours of conversation and [discovered] that men dominated mixed groups—but she also found competition and dominance in male-only groups. Men begin discussing fact-based topics, sizing each other up. Before long, a hierarchy is established: either those who have the most to contribute, or those who are simply better at dominating the conversation, are taking most of the turns. The men who dominate one group go on to dominate others, while women show more flexibility in their dominance patterns. The upshot is that a shy, retiring man can find himself endlessly on the receiving end of the same kinds of lectures.
In conversation your humble observer's main goal is not to dominate or connect with others but to learn something new about a subject (and if ignorance is on display, at least he'll have learned something about the speakers). A justification for introversion? Perhaps, but as a wise person once said, one learns by listening, not by talking.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Weird Reaction

Yale Alumni Magazine graphic
It's understandable why people hide negative episodes in their history, but concealment is often the case for praiseworthy aspects as well. It's more than just humility (genuine or false).

With the passage of time an individual builds a web of relationships with people who don't know the individual's history. If they discover, for example, that the humble individual whom they have known for years is very wealthy, some would begin keeping their distance, perhaps caused by embarrassment over their own circumstances.

A similar dynamic appears to be at work with Yale alumni who say, vaguely, that they "went to school in Connecticut" when asked about their degree. (It's socially acceptable to brandish an Ivy credential when trying to get a job, get into graduate school, or raise money, but rarely otherwise.)
Stephanie Elizabeth Small ’99 spoke for many when she said she opts for a vague answer “because 90 percent of the time when I say ‘Yale,’ people have a really weird reaction.

Don Gooding ’80 agreed with Small. “I do this less now than when I was younger, but I’m still contextual about it,” he wrote. “There are times when it can be a conversation killer, and why do that?”
Of course, having six-figure student loans that you can't pay off is another reason to keep quiet.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

It's How You Say It

Researchers have discovered that "the human voice, particularly changes to pitch and modulation, can betray the speaker’s hidden sexual attraction to his or her listener".
not only do men’s voices get deeper when they’re chatting up some lovely woman, but they also get higher compared to when their speech is directed at another male or to an unattractive female listener.
A low-pitched voice signals masculinity, while a sing-song modulation lessens the fear that the speaker is overly aggressive.
In other words, “Hey, sexy lady, hear this? Hear how I’m sounding right now? That’s right: I’m a virile, testosterone-fuelled male specimen of our species but, cross my heart, I’ll be sweet to you… and our future offspring.”
The math: Deep voice + modulation = Masculine + non-threatening = Sexy

If guys say it right, it doesn't matter what they say or even how they look. Below is an example from one of the all-time greatest practitioners of vocal seduction.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Café Bakery

Today's special: roast pork w/ spaghetti
Three or four times a year, when errands take us to the western parts of San Francisco, we stop at the Café Bakery and Restaurant on Noriega.

Café Bakery is popular with the locals because of its value pricing: all meals include soup, bread, entrée, coffee or tea, and jello(!). Reflecting both its ownership and clientele, Café Bakery does offer some Asian selections such as noodles and fried rice, but its sensibility is much more American diner than Chinese restaurant.

Seafood meals can cost nearly $20, but the daily specials are under $10. Your cheap frugal correspondent always gets the special.

The kitchen prepares dishes that are more comfort than gourmet, and quantities are generous. Café Bakery doesn't take credit cards, so bring cash along with your appetite.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cooking Time: 5 Days

Gomphothere drawing by
North Americans ("Clovis") of 13,000 years ago hunted gomphotheres, now-extinct elephant-like creatures. Scientists originally thought that gomphotheres pre-dated the Clovis, but a recent find in Mexico showed that man and beast co-existed.
Further digging revealed the complete remains of two gomphotheres—one 13 to 24 years old and the other a comparative juvenile at 10-12 years old. Mingled in with the bones were more spear points and though weathering on the bones made it hard to look for the cut marks and gouges that usually indicate butchering, the signs of a hunt were unmistakable. For one thing, animals that die natural deaths leave bones arranged in more or less the proper skeletal configuration. In this case, however, the remains were stacked in two distinct, non-anatomical piles.
Conclusion: the paleo diet may be attracting much enthusiasm, but unless it includes a side of gomphothere it ain't the genuine article.

(Photo by

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Fantasy Lives

Not only is the house from a different time, so is the price ($535,000). To California house-hunters buffeted by seven-figure asking prices, the description seems unreal.
  • 1,600 square feet
  • 1 bedroom
  • 2 bathrooms
  • 2.79 acres

    Walt Disney's Palm Desert, California, party house is for sale.

    The home, owned by the Disney family in the 1950s and '60s, is where Disney hosted A-list stars including Humphrey Bogart, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, offering trips on the zip line Disney had installed on the property. The home also still features the ceiling fan system in the main living area that was seen in the movie "Casablanca."
  • An historical celebrity home in a popular retirement spot for "only" $535,000.....either something about it is very wrong, or it's fantasy.

    Sunday, July 13, 2014

    Aloha and Mahalo, John

    I first met John Keast in the 1980's, when he joined the local Episcopal church. He participated in the choir and various ministries, becoming an integral part of church life.

    15 years ago John felt called to address the problems faced by released prisoners trying to make their way back into society. According to a 2011 report by the California Department of Corrections
    The total three-year recidivism rate (return to prison) for all felons released during FY 2006-07 is 65.1 percent.
    John's foundation, with its cadre of professional volunteers, educated and trained groups of prisoners before release, helping hundreds of the formerly incarcerated. Local law enforcement has praised John and his organization for helping to reduce the crime rate.

    At 93, he no longer can move around as well as he used to and is moving to Santa Cruz to live with his daughter. His work at the Inmate Correctional Education Project is an inspiration to everyone, not only for its devotion to one of society's most powerless populations but also for showing that it is possible to embark on meaningful new initiatives at the age of seventy-eight (78). Godspeed.