Friday, February 27, 2015

The Death of Spock

(Popular Mechanics photo)
Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Spock, died today at the age of 83.

I missed Star Trek when it first came out but became an avid viewer of the reruns during the 1970's. We joined the legions that yearned for more tales (there were only 79 episodes in the original series) of the Starship Enterprise. Yes, we confess to watching the cartoons--excuse me, the animated series--on Saturday mornings.

The spectacular success of 1977's Star Wars caused the studios to green-light numerous science-fiction projects, Star Trek among them. By 1982, when Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was released, Kirk, Spock, the Enterprise, and other members of the cast had become popular icons.

We saw the Wrath of Khan the first weekend (movie critics were diligent about not revealing spoilers), and watched in stunned silence as Spock died at the end to save the Enterprise. How dare they kill off a beloved character?

I confess to shedding a tear at the memorial service, in which William Shatner's short eulogy ranks with his best acting as Captain Kirk. The ceremony culminated with the release of Spock's casket into space, accompanied by the bagpipe strains of Amazing Grace, an instrument-music combination that has since become a cliché.

Spock's character was resurrected in Star Trek III two years later, an interval that we fans felt interminable, and Leonard Nimoy went on to more success not only playing Spock but directing, writing, hosting, producing, and acting. A life that brought many hours of enjoyment to millions of fans came to a close earlier today, but it was his character's movie death that I'll always remember. R.I.P.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Guinea Pigs in Dolores Park

(SF Gate photo)
Another example of the cruelty of man--a family of guinea pigs was abandoned in Dolores Park, San Francisco:
When the train rustled by, the furry rodents darted into bushes but as soon as quiet fell they came out from hiding to nibble on grass. The lead gardener at Dolores Park....says about six or seven guinea pigs were left in the park overnight.
Guinea pigs are domesticated animals and don't last long in the wild. Perhaps the former owner knew that they would be spotted quickly at Dolores Park and gave them a fighting chance. Maybe he or she is not 100% cruel.

Note: we are biased because guinea pigs have been members of our household for years.

{Update, 2/27 - guinea pig lovers are coming out of their hutches:
More than 50 concerned locals have called Animal Care & Control asking about the guinea pigs.

“Our phones have been ringing off the hook with people asking if the guinea pigs are OK,” [Animal Control spokesperson Deb] Campbell shared. “Someone donated two cages so the guinea pigs have a good start in life. People are asking when they’ll be up for adoption.”}

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Don't Bother Honking

An SUV after it was struck by Caltrain in Menlo Park
(NBC Bay Area photo)
Caltrain express trains achieve a top speed of 70+ miles per hour, creating a long-running Peninsula traffic hazard that won't be completely solved for decades.
  • The tracks go through the heart of cities like San Mateo, Burlingame, and Palo Alto.
  • Surface roads intersect tracks at dozens of locations, where old-fashioned railway crossing gates supervise auto traffic.
  • Projects ("grade separation") to construct train overpasses have recently cost $126 million to $155 million.
  • It's a popular misconception that accidents occur because impatient drivers try to "beat the train." Some crossing roads are so congested that it's possible to be trapped on the tracks, between cars, when the crossing gates go down. Such a situation killed an Indiana visitor in 2011 and resulted in another fatality this week in Menlo Park.

    The grade separations won't be completed until the 2030's. Meanwhile, I plan to drive very conservatively at railroad crossings. Sorry about that if you're behind me, and don't bother honking.
  • Tuesday, February 24, 2015

    Disinvitation Pushback

    I can't go but will send in a small donation.
    Non-progressive viewpoints are unwelcome on many American campuses. Last year "women of color" Hirsi Ali and Condoleeza Rice found that political ideology trumped substantive achievements despite their membership in historically victimized groups.

    Invitations to speak were greeted with protest, and eventually Ms. Ali was "disinvited" and Dr. Rice voluntarily withdrew from Brandeis and Rutgers commencement ceremonies, respectively.

    Disinvitation season is now a regular rite of spring. (BTW, not all disinvitations are the result of left-wing complaints; sometimes the shoe is on the other foot, as this list shows.)

    The William Buckley Program at Yale has organized a little pushback with the First Annual Disinvitation Dinner. The speaker is conservative commentator George Will, who was disinvited from speaking at Scripps College over a column he wrote about how colleges are handling accusations of sexual assault.

    Note: Scripps, one of the Claremont Colleges, has resolutely been women-only. Perhaps if it had diversified the student population, like Claremont Men's College did in 1976 when it became the co-ed Claremont-McKenna, Scripps would be more receptive to other ideas.

    Monday, February 23, 2015

    Respect the Artist

    Bob Hope and Johnny Carson were
    so last century (NY Daily News photo)
    "Dignity, always dignity."
    - Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain
    Neil Patrick Harris had big shoes to fill as host of the 87th Academy Awards, and his performance garnered mixed reviews. The fault for the lame jokes, IMHO, should be laid at the feet of the writing staff and not NPH, who has demonstrated musical talent and charm in other settings.

    The risky bit that parodied Birdman's underwear scene has been roundly criticized, but the counter-argument is that NPH is an artist who is willing to die for his art in front of tens of millions of people. Please, Academy, give him another chance.

    Besides, Lady Gaga's Sound of Music medley alone was worth the price of admission.

    Sunday, February 22, 2015

    Sunday Loophole

    "Ultimate" skillet: sausage, spinach, bell peppers, onions,
    mushrooms, tomatoes, red-skinned potatoes, eggs.
    When circumstances make the rules difficult to follow, Christians want to know how far they can go without breaking them. (Such was the concern when people believed in eternal salvation or damnation.)

    During Lent Christians are supposed to give up earthly pleasures. Hence the all-important question: do the 40 days of Lent include Sundays?
    From the very earliest days, the Church has declared that Sunday, the day of Christ's Resurrection, is always a feast day, and therefore fasting is forbidden. Since there are six Sundays within Lent, we have to subtract them from the days of fasting. Forty-six minus six is forty.
    Seizing upon the Sunday loophole and after a four-year hiatus, we found ourselves at the local Denny's, which has freshened its menu and decor.

    We prefer Denny's to IHOP. Competition, don't you love it?

    Saturday, February 21, 2015

    “The odds are very good, but many of the goods are very odd”

    Facebook's lounge (CNBC photo)
    ----quote from a lady entrepreneur about dating in the tech world.

    Software developers and hardware engineers:
  • Are in high demand
  • Have trouble maintaining long-term relationships (work or personal)
  • Want to make a difference ("a dent in the universe”)
  • Require very special attention from management:
    staff at even the largest tech firms expect their bosses to appear frequently in person or by video link, to be grilled about everything from corporate strategy to the quality of the office coffee
    Normally it's better to be the boss. In tech, like in Hollywood and pro sports, the elite talent has the upper hand.
  • Friday, February 20, 2015

    From the File of Ironic Place Names
    A massive blaze has engulfed the ‘Marina Torch’ skyscraper in Dubai, forcing hundreds of people to flee the 336-meter-high tower – one of the tallest residential buildings in the world.
    USA Today:
    No one was reported killed and the fire burned for three hours before being brought under control, according to several reports. However, flames engulfed several floors of the iconic Torch skyscraper and debris tumbled to the ground before sunrise.

    Thursday, February 19, 2015

    Between Two Worlds

    Yesterday was the beginning of Lent--the Christian season of prayer, fasting, and abstemiousness--but today is also the Chinese New Year, a day of great feasting.

    Which tradition to follow? Such a difficult choice....

    Wednesday, February 18, 2015

    Whoever Heard of a Skinny Panda?

    Third baseman Pablo Sandoval helped the Giants win three World Series in the past five years, but his salary demands and concerns about his weight caused the club to part ways with him in November. The Boston Red Sox signed him to a five-year $95 million contract; the downside risk is less for the American League teams, for whom Pablo can be a designated hitter if he can no longer perform as a major league infielder.

    There was a lot of chortling by Giants supporters--and concern, even buyers remorse from some Red Sox fans--when Pablo Sandoval reported for spring training badly overweight, again (see tweet below).

    When we cut our losses on an investment--and that turns out to be the right decision because the asset deteriorates further--we feel some satisfaction but little joy. When we sever our ties with a person, even when we're right there's no joy or satisfaction, just sadness.

    Pablo never came across as a mean person, was key to many Giants triumphs, and, frankly, we hope the naysayers are wrong. We hope he does well in Boston.

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

    Same Time Every Year

    The waitress presented a new menu, but we had gone to the local IHOP for an ancient dish on Pancake Tuesday.

    (Wikipedia: "Archaeological evidence suggests that pancakes are probably the earliest and most widespread cereal food eaten in prehistoric societies.")

    My pancakes were accompanied by bacon, eggs, coffee, butter, and a selection of four syrups....we like tradition, but too much authenticity we're not crazy about.

    A Good Dog, However, Might Be Even Better

    Phyllis Tarrant died in 2011 at age 102. Husband
    Ralph passed in 2013 at 110 (Telegraph 2008 photo)
    Being married, rather than living alone, has generally been thought to be better for one's health because of studies documenting superior longevity, quality of life, etc. for marrieds. It turns out that scientists were not designing the research properly: [bold added]
    two new studies have found something that apparently is at least as good for people and sometimes even better: cohabitation [snip].

    researchers split up the population they were researching by age and gender, looking at men and women over and under the age of 45. They found that above age 45, people of both sexes who were living with someone but not married experienced a more positive effect on their health than those who were married.
    So, for health's sake don't get married, get a roommate. Comments:
    1) There are a lot of married people out there nodding their heads.
    2) SSM: yes, gays really should have the right to be as unhappy and unhealthy as everyone else.
    3) Single parents, don't be in such a hurry to kick your millennial out of the basement. You may be mistaken about his effect on your blood pressure.

    Monday, February 16, 2015

    Still Not So Smart

    (Image from
    The technoscenti are excited about Apple's "Smart Home".
    HomeKit is designed to streamline communications between Apple’s gear and accessories like web security cameras, smart plugs, thermostats, and more.
    Ho-hum, because one doesn't need Apple to hook up with baby monitors, refrigerators, or television sets.

    What sets HomeKit apart is security:
    Because Apple-compatible smart home accessories pack Apple-approved MFi chips, they’re able to provide end-to-end encryption. In other words, when you say “Unlock the door” to Siri, that command gets encrypted by your phone, it’s sent through the web, and finally lands at your lock, where it’s decrypted. The command can only be unscrambled at the hardware level, so it makes your smart home safer from hackers.
    I would be excited, too, but the most pressing problems concerning my home are:
  • The downstairs carpet is worn.
  • An increase in neighborhood noise makes window replacement very desirable.
  • A few bathroom tiles are cracked and I'm worried about water leakage.
  • Older homes in earthquake country require bolting to the foundation.

    I could have easily listed a dozen more problems, none of which would be solved by the Smart Home.

    On the other hand, if Apple is developing a smart robot that would handle them for me, I'm in.
  • Sunday, February 15, 2015

    An Early Mardi Gras

    Both king cakes were gone quickly.
    After the morning service we adjourned to the Parish Hall, where Jill had organized an early Mardi Gras feast. (For logistical convenience many churches celebrate Fat Tuesday when everyone is gathered on Sunday, though dimanche gras doesn't have the same ring, n'est-ce pas?)

    Liz, a Louisianan who recently moved to California by way of Texas, brought two king cakes. From the Christian Science Monitor:
    Although extremely popular during the season of Carnival/Mardis Gras, the King’s cake traditionally has its roots in Europe, from the Middle Ages. The cakes are eaten as part of the celebrations following Christmas on Epiphany (Twelfth Night) after the birth of Christ, and the gifts of the Magi – the three kings who offered gifts to the Messiah. Celebrations would continue from then all the way through Fat Tuesday/Mardis Gras, and the beginning of the Lenten season.

    Often, a token was hidden inside the cake – a coin or bean, which is said to give the person who finds it inside their bread good fortune throughout the year. This has come to include the insertion of a plastic baby after the cake is baked, usually by tucking it inside from the bottom, where no one can see.
    The plastic baby hidden in each cake represents the baby Jesus. No one confessed to finding either (one tradition holds that he or she must bring the king cake next year).

    There were enough sweets, jambalaya, red beans & rice, and salads to fill leftover containers. Lent, the Christian season of prayer, fasting, and the setting aside of worldly pleasures, begins Wednesday.

    Saturday, February 14, 2015

    Acquire and Hold

    (Image from
    Borrowing more than was prudent, I made the investment without knowing what I was getting into. Luckily, it began paying dividends almost immediately, and the investment more than covered incremental out-of-pocket costs.

    After a few years, however, there were inevitable dips, especially after a couple of major expansions caused finances to be over-extended. (After two decades, it's still uncertain whether the expansions will ever pay off.)

    The investment has become so long-term that the costs of exiting are prohibitively high. Besides, the dividends have gone up, too, and I will need them in retirement.

    Happy Valentine's Day!