Saturday, September 27, 2014

More Work Than They Can Handle

The rust could have been worse.
After 50 years an elderly relative chose finally to replace the pipes by the water heater.

Having been burned by unscrupulous contractors, she asked her nephew, an architect, which plumber he would recommend. CN, but he's booked and may not want to take on a small project. It was difficult to get on CN's calendar, but after three months of scheduling changes, a half-day's work resulted in shiny new copper replacements for the corroded galvanized iron.

Copper pipes and a new ball valve.
We called CN to express how pleased we were with his work (we were also pleased with the cost, which was under $500). We offered to post a 4-5 star review on Yelp, but he "preferred to keep a low profile."

It's still a sputtering economy, but many of the talented and industrious have more work than they can handle.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Let's Hope They Put Something Away

Automation has eliminated many low-level jobs. Over the next 50 years it will be senior management positions that will become obsolete because of increasingly intelligent computers. However, smart machines have their limits.
[MIT Professor Andrew] McAfee says, “I’ve never seen a piece of technology that could negotiate effectively. Or motivate and lead a team.” Tom Peters, a veteran American management guru, reckons the best leaders of the future will spend half their time reading books.
If those books were as revelatory as Mr. Peters' own best-seller from 30 years ago, reading would be a fruitful, job-preserving activity. IMHO, unfortunately, such brilliant reading material is produced very rarely.

Let's hope for their sake that the senior managers have put something away for a rainy day.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Expect Little Sympathy

Reassurance from Barron's that the "crisis" of inadequate retirement savings is overblown, at least for the demographic who read Barron's [bold added]:
When researchers adjust for factors like income, children, homeownership, and savings and spending patterns, a different picture emerges -- one not nearly as dire as the prevailing narrative. "I've done thousands of simulations," says Jack VanDerhei, EBRI's research director, "and by and large [baby boomers and Gen Xers] who worked for an employer with a 401(k) or retirement plan are going to be OK." VanDerhei defines baby boomers as those born between 1948 and 1964, and Gen Xers from 1965 through 1974.

The financial industry, naturally, has largely focused on ringing the alarm bells for the mass affluent, defined as individuals with $100,000 to $1 million in investible assets. But most are not headed for disaster. About 86% of Americans in the top quartile of pre-retirement income will have enough money to cover average daily expenses in retirement, including housing, food and transportation, as well as long-term care, according to EBRI. (Census data put the top quartile at households with at least $92,500 in household income. EBRI averages income over a working life.)
If you're in the "top quartile," dear reader, personal spending will decline during your 70's and 80's. In the 90's it will pick up again due to medical and long-term care expenses (graph below). There is a possibility that you could run out of money after the century mark, but if that's your main financial worry expect little sympathy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lightning--the Good Kind--Strikes

Golden Wok (left) is only a few steps from the Key Market (right) -- Google Street View
One of our aunt's favorite eating places is the Golden Wok, which is tucked away in an aging shopping center four miles away. While celebrating many a birthday at this inexpensive restaurant, we've often picked up a few items at the nearby Key Market. The latter is one of the few surviving family-owned supermarkets on the Peninsula, and its location in a shopping center that will undoubtedly be sold, demolished, and redeveloped doesn't bode well for the future.

Lightning---the good kind---struck tonight when a $228.4 million Powerball ticket was sold by the Key Market. The owners, Jack and Nancy Dehoff, will collect approximately $1 million.

[Update - 9/26: nail salon worker Vinh Nguyen has chosen to collect his winnings over the next 30 years (why not be optimistic over his longevity, the creditworthiness of the lottery trustee, and future tax rates?)]

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Zippy's Breakfast Bento #2
Two weeks after returning to California, I'm beginning to hanker again for Hawaiian plate lunches and bento boxes (it's convenient having a dozen food outlets within walking distance).

Airfares have come down now that the kids have returned to college and the tourist high season is pau. Let's run the numbers for an October holiday: free bed, almost-free and plentiful food, and a loaner car. Even if one includes the cost of flying, the price for a week in Honolulu is about the same as a weekend in San Francisco.

Dad bought a new Nissan over the weekend. He'll need someone to break it in....

Monday, September 22, 2014

Without Fear or Favor

The conventional wisdom on the benefits of planting trees [bold added]:
Deforestation accounts for about 20 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide. The assumption is that planting trees and avoiding further deforestation provides a convenient carbon capture and storage facility on the land.....But the conventional wisdom is wrong.
The reason?
The dark color of trees means that they absorb more of the sun’s energy and raise the planet’s surface temperature....planting trees in the tropics would lead to cooling, but in colder regions, it would cause warming.
In the complex carbon-trading schema that are being devised there have been calls to include reforestation as a method by which carbon credits can be earned. Now movement toward that proposal should slow, if not stop. 

The science was not settled after all, and kudos to climate and other researchers who pursue the truth without fear or favor. (Hat tip: Dinocrat)

In this Honolulu neighborhood the giant monkey pod tree
cools both house and planet.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Until It's Gone

Dr. Charles White, age 102, in 2008
(Time photo)
Time writer David von Drehle remembers Charlie White, who died last month at age 109. Excerpts:
The first doctor in Kansas City to specialize in anesthesiology, Charlie could discourse at length on the invention of modern medicine. He could tell you what it was like to be a general practitioner making house calls in the Depression, removing tonsils with picture wire. It was a hard life, making ends meet on late payments and barter—no health insurance back then. When science advanced beyond ether and brandy for surgery patients, he leapt at the chance to learn anesthesia at the Mayo Clinic.
During his life Charlie White encountered journalist Edgar Snow, jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, and President Harry Truman. What's remarkable, though, is not the famous people Charlie White knew or the significant historical events that he witnessed, but how commonplace this eulogy sounds.

Over the past decade I have attended (too many) memorial services for people who came of age during the Great Depression or World War II. They all contended with hardships barely imaginable to 21st century Americans, met their share of famous people or even acquired a bit of fame themselves, contended with wrenching change without benefit of counselors or consultants, and built a society that became the envy of the world.

We would do well to take a few moments from our always-connected lives to listen to these voices before they are stilled forever. We don't know what we will lose until it's gone.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

No Takers

Matthew's child was the only attendee under 30.
In preparation for next month's 165th Diocesan Convention, representatives of 17 Episcopal churches (aka the Peninsula Deanery) met to review resolutions and meet candidates for various offices. If you want to click away, I wouldn't blame you at all, dear reader, because I agree: it was a lousy way to spend a beautiful Saturday morning.

The proposed resolutions were the usual blah blah blah: climate change, same-sex marriage, anti-Israel, and divestment of companies that run afoul of policies indistinguishable from the far left-wing of the Democratic Party. There was not one mention of saving souls or helping fellow human beings with basic needs, but hey, Christ would have wanted us to oppose West Bank settlements and minimize our carbon footprints.

Why do I continue to volunteer for these meetings? 1) to relieve my fellow parishioners of this burden---wouldn't want to give more people reason to leave the church; 2) I actually like the aging clergy and lay leaders, most of whom have a good heart; 3) the food is pretty good.

If anyone else wanted to be a delegate, I would happily relinquish the privilege; unfortunately, there never are any takers.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Useful Application

Another useful application of data analytics: Time, via IdealSeat, shows the ballpark sections that have the highest probability of receiving a foul ball.

At AT&T Park the section is not behind home plate but near the right field foul pole. (When we sat near the visitor's dugout in August it seemed like the sections behind us got at least one ball per inning, but that observation is, of course, only anecdotal.)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Gary Taubes: More A Scientist Than An Advocate

Gary Taubes (sfgate)
Science journalist Gary Taubes, author of Why We Get Fat and Good Calories, Bad Calories, founded the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI) to sort through the deluge of often-conflicting information about diet and obesity.
or all the thousands of studies and billions of dollars we've spent on research, there is no agreement among the experts on why we've grown so much more fat and sick over the past several decades or what we should do about it.
For a subject so important to many millions of Americans, it's a wonder that disciplined diet and obesity research--beyond self-reporting and observational studies that confuse correlation with causation--has not been performed before. When he was beginning to write in 1984
Taubes was struck that science could be so subjective at the highest levels—that it's not just the big mistakes that scientists have to worry about but the numerous small ones that accumulate to support their misconceptions. “You can be fooled in a thousand subtle ways,” he says.
It makes this observer---and perhaps, you too, dear reader---skeptical about "the science is settled" declarations, especially from researchers who have an economic stake in the outcome. To Gary Taubes' credit, the results of NuSI's studies may well refute the sugar-is-poison thesis around which he has achieved his recent fame:
in the entryway of his home, just off the main foyer, there's a frame with two photos in it. In one, taken just before the start of an amateur boxing match, a young Taubes is standing, gloves at his side. In his tank top and boxing shorts, the muscular young man looks powerful enough to punch his way through anything. In the other photo, taken about two minutes later, Taubes is lying on his back unconscious. “It's my hubris protection,” Taubes says. “Whenever I think I'm so cool I can do anything, it reminds me that I am not and that this is real life.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Third "N"

Node C: better to be at the center to pick up gossip.
Node D: better to be at the periphery if
there's a virus going around (YAM photo)
Yale professor Nicholas Christakis believes that social networks are a very old phenomenon:
the basic structure of social networks has been with us as long as we have been human. Moreover, it hasn’t changed much despite the invention of agriculture, cities, and telecommunications. “If you talked with your great-grandmother” who had no phone or “my teenage daughter who has a phone in her pocket,” he says, they’d both have the same small circle averaging 4.5 close friends.
According to Professor Christakis the difference is that now we have the technology to analyze networks [bold added]:
first, cell phones, Twitter feeds, medical administrative records, and countless other sources now make possible “massive, passive” gathering of data about social networks. New computational methods also allow researchers to identify social patterns in this sea of data and begin to make sense of them. And finally, inexpensive and widely available DNA sequencing technologies provide a window into the genetic character of these networks.
To be sure, some of this science just gives a name to what people already know ("homophily - the same inclination of similar people to form ties together"; "degree assortativity - the knack of popular people for befriending other popular people"). The work has produced enough results, however, that it's a safe bet a third "n", networks, will soon be given equal weight as nurture and nature in determining how an individual's life turns out.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Popular Family Outing

AT&T Park, across from McCovey Cove
Last Friday we took our nephew's family, which included our one and only grandniece, to their first Giants baseball game. The home team led the Dodgers, 4-0, after the first inning and won going away, 9-0. The lack of suspense gave the new fans an opportunity to explore AT&T Park, eat the tasty, overpriced food, and acquire a glimmer of understanding why a Giants baseball game is a popular family outing.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Premature Declarations

Now (actually, 2012):

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Kamana Wanna Manapua

The flight attendant placed the dish on the seatback tray. I pointed to the large bun in the center.

Ma'am, what is this?

"It's got chicken inside. It's like a manapua."

I was pleased that she had assumed that I knew the word. Over 40 years of living on the Mainland haven't completely excised the kanaka aura.

Manapua are the Island version of Chinese pork buns (char siu bow); they are much larger than bow and one can be a meal unto itself.

The airline bun would be the third manapua I had this week. When you're on vacation it doesn't count.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Price Too High

Last Tuesday curiosity won.

I strolled past the house that had been enveloped by the monkey pod tree. Hidden from sight, dozens of birds chirped away, their song enlivening the quiet afternoon. The sylvan setting was indeed uplifting, but for me the price (roof maintenance, fire hazard) of beauty was too high.