Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Pancake Pleasures

Martha Stewart likes them thick, too.
On Pancake Tuesday Time describes The Science Behind Making a Perfect Pancake: [bold added]
a “standing” period of between one and three hours before cooking is vital.,,,It is important to beat the mixture hard, so that gluten forms, for the mixture to then stand to allow the starch to swell and any air bubbles to pop. Unless you do this, the structure of the pancake will be weak and it will be full of holes.
This "curing" tip pertains to the thick pancakes served in America, not to the thinner crepes preferred by Europeans.

Thick, fluffy, light pancakes for breakfast, accompanied by hot coffee, are one of life's pleasures.

Wailana's pancake breakfast--unlimited pancakes including
bacon and eggs--is a good deal at under $9.

Monday, February 08, 2016

The Advantage of Cosmopolitanism

Like last year, 2016's Chinese New Year is very close to Lent. As noted yesterday a quirk of the calendar has given us the excuse to indulge in three days of continuous gluttony. Happy New Year!

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Fat Super Sunday

The Tuesday before Lent once commanded a decent turnout for the traditional pancake supper, but attendance has been dwindling for some time.

And so it is that many churches now celebrate mardi gras after the Sunday service. Liz and Brian, our recent arrivals from Louisiana by way of Texas, showed that pancakes were a poor substitute for the real thing. Homemade shrimp etouffée, chicken gumbo, and king's cake made it difficult to pace oneself in anticipation of the furious gluttony that would occur later that afternoon.

At 5:30 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday
I had the weight room to myself.
We have an extra day in 2016, but the calendar seems compressed with the Super Bowl and "dimanche gras" occurring today and the Lunar New Year tomorrow.

Easter will come early this year--March 27th--as will Lent, six weeks of fasting and prayer that in my case are sorely needed.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Not Buying It

Over 5 years AMZN's price appreciation is more than 3X any of the indices.
I love shopping at Amazon, but its three-digit PE multiple (the current price of $502.13 is 402x earnings) has always prevented me from buying the stock. AMZN's priciness has persisted during bull and bear markets for the nearly two decades that it has been a public company, so something's going on here that some shrewd analysts (and the not-so-shrewd like your humble observer) don't understand.

Even an august financial publication like Barron's, which balked at recommending the stock at $319 in 2013, now refuses to make a call in either direction:
don’t expect us to double down on the skeptical view on Amazon.com we took a little over two years ago (“Amazon.com: Dangerous for Competitors—and for Shareholders,” Oct. 5, 2013). Shares, then $319, have made a punishing climb to a recent $502, and we’re trying to think of our safety word. Oh, right: valuation!
The Shepard Booster has flown and landed safely (Blue Origin photo)
My own take on last year's price run-up was that founder Jeff Bezos got tired of shareholder and analyst complaints about the lack of profitability. Amazon turned down the investment and R&D spigot in 2015, and the stock was off to the races when Amazon's profits took Wall Street by surprise. In 2016 Amazon will resume its old ways of going after "moonshots" (in Jeff Bezos' case the term is literally accurate; his company, Blue Origin, is working on and has successfully launched space rockets). We can only watch bemusedly.

One final word of advice to the Barron's writer, however. Don't use sarcasm unless 100% of your readership will get it---don't let your last sentence be
We predict Amazon stock will triple by Wednesday and double again on Thursday, on news that all those new stores will sell organic burritos, too.

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Gentleman Can Start His Chomping

New software allows the patient to view the status of each
tooth. The latest X-rays are in the bottom left corner.
It's been a year since my last visit to Stan the Dentist. I was due for a cleaning, which went quickly because I've been flossing regularly and using an electric toothbrush.

I also needed him to re-glue one of my gold crowns. Since late December I had been chewing very carefully; biting on a loose crown could distort its shape, perhaps ruining the fit. But what I most feared was swallowing the bit (!) of precious metal and having to retrieve it, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

I told Stan that the subject crown was the left bottom molar, the furthest one back. Oh, you mean number 18. He "sandblasted" (his words) the tooth and crown and applied cement. The crown had been installed in 1987, so by applying simple linear extrapolation we'll have to do this again in 2045. Rampant chomping has resumed.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Cheap by Waterfront Standards

Infrared image of a subject sitting on a bench.
While yesterday's visit to Super Bowl City didn't live up to expectations, I was glad that we went. The content was mediocre, but San Francisco impressed with its organization, security, and minimal (tolerable?) disruption to city life. Super Bowl 50 demonstrates to the Olympic Committee that the SF Bay Area could be a viable host.

The day wasn't lost; we spent a couple of interesting hours at the Exploratorium science museum. Though we're members, we've delved deeply into only 20% of the exhibits.

The Exploratorium is normally very crowded on weekends. This Wednesday afternoon it was empty. The $29 adult admission may seem high, but it's cheap by San Francisco waterfront standards.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Super Bowl City

We hied over to San Francisco to see what all the fuss was about. Apparently a tent city had sprung up in Justin Herman Plaza, overflowing onto Market Street and the Embarcadero.

It was in the same place held by Occupy SF four years ago, but these "occupiers" came from different circumstances.

Super Bowl City was built to celebrate Super Bowl 50, which is going to be held this Sunday, 45 miles south in Santa Clara.

Parking lots along the Embarcadero had doubled their all-day parking fees to $40 (we found a $20 garage a block inland). We passed through security and strolled by large corporate booths (Verizon, Chevron, Levi's) and many smaller ones serving food and drink.

There were also sizable media tents (CBS and ESPN). We had poor views, and loudspeakers piped out what was going on inside. One had to wait for night time to catch a glimpse of celebrity athletes and media personalities, not to mention hear the live music.

After a couple of hours of wandering around, we treated ourselves to dinner at a restaurant along the Embarcadero. Nothing like seafood and sourdough to dispel the disappointments of the day.

[Update - 2/5: The Streets of San Francisco: Super Bowl City Meets Tent City]

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

A Stunning Allegory of Moral, Intellectual, and Even Religious Excellence About a Big Rat

Like 2013's Groundhog Day Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, thereby auguring an early spring. Groundhog Day was a quirky custom in an out-of-the-way town--it didn't rise in the popular consciousness until the 1993 film.

I came across the movie 20 years ago on HBO. At first glance it was a cleverly written comedy about a jaded, world-weary weatherman who mysteriously must re-live Groundhog Day over and over again.

Bill Murray's character, Phil Connors, is trapped. Even when he despairingly "kills" himself he wakes up the next morning in the same hotel bed to the strains of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" on the clock-radio.

Phil-the-human cannot escape, yet in a sense he is totally free. He can commit any number of sins without consequence because he will have a fresh start tomorrow. No one but he remembers what he did.

Repeated viewings struck a chord. The movie plumbed deep waters. And I'm not alone in that realization.
In the years since its release the film has been taken up by Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, and followers of the oppressed Chinese Falun Gong movement. Meanwhile, the Internet brims with weighty philosophical treatises on the deep Platonist, Aristotelian, and existentialist themes providing the skin and bones beneath the film’s clown makeup.

theology professor Michael P. Foley wrote that Groundhog Day is “a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim’s Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos.”
The movie ends on a hopeful note. Phil makes positive changes of his own free will, without expectations of a reward. Only then is he released from the prison of endless repetition.

Part of the genius of Groundhog Day, the movie, is that it doesn't pummel you with philosophy. It invites you to think, but if you just want to laugh, that's ok, too. As Jonah Goldberg observes,
We’re talking about the movie in which Bill Murray tells a big rat sitting on his lap, “Don’t drive angry,”

Monday, February 01, 2016

Designing is Better Than Destroying

We first came across the acronym, CRISPR, almost one year ago. The technology is too powerful and too easy to use that it couldn't stay bottled up, despite the ethical implications.

U.K. Approves First Studies of New Gene Editing Technique CRISPR on Human Embryos: [bold added]
It’s the first time the technology, which has taken the medical world by storm, has been sanctioned for use on human embryos. The team of scientists led by Kathy Niakan, a biologist at Francis Crick Institute, will attempt to edit out bits of DNA that prevent an embryo from developing properly—which may answer important questions about infertility. The embryo would not be allowed to survive beyond 14 days—meaning they wouldn’t be implanted into a woman’s womb and grown into live babies.

“I promise you she has no intention of the embryos ever being put back into a woman for development.”
It's highly unlikely that all scientists--or parents willing to pay big bucks--will be so scrupulous. The ethical issues have been known for some time.
CRISPR raises the notion of designer babies, made-to-order genetic traits and so forth. If CRISPR can successfully change the genome of an embryo, it could forever alter the human gene pool. [snip]

Niakan is using CRISPR to study genes responsible for infertility, but the technology could just as easily be used to dictate which genes an embryo should, or shouldn’t have. It’s relatively straightforward to decide that the gene that causes sickle cell anemia, for example, a devastating blood disorder that requires people to get regular transfusions of healthy blood cells, should be snipped out. But what about a gene involved in short stature? Or grey hair?
Millions of people use online dating sites to select prospects according to physical qualities (e.g., blonde, dancer, pianist), so such screening techniques are familiar. One can break up with a dating partner, however, but not a child.

Expect these designer-baby qualms to be dispensed with quickly; the wealthy and connected will do what they want and easily find justifications for their actions (an embryo is just a bunch of cells that's the woman's property, and besides, designing is better than destroying, right?).

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Beautiful Sunday

Brett hands a fork to a customer.
Today was the church's annual meeting. It's mainly about finance, organizational, and personnel matters---much like a corporation's shareholder meeting.

Eight adults and five children decided to forego the excitement of listening to speeches and committee reports by serving lasagna and salad to all who were present at the Redwood City community center at Sunday noon. It was another Sandwiches on Sunday.

Drawing on years of practice, the teams all performed efficiently. One laid out the tablecloths, forks, and plates, while another mixed the drinks and yet another scooped out the food. Clara and I went to St. Pius Catholic Church to pick up 100 brown-bag lunches from the walk-in freezer. We returned in plenty of time to hand one or two to the patrons as they left. Sandwiches on Sunday was done in under an hour, our fastest time yet.

Back at the annual meeting none of us were appointed to committees that we don't know about in advance. 'Twas a beautiful day.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Pearl Harbor's Tree of Life

Architect Alfred Preis (1911-1993) designed the USS Arizona Memorial. The "tree of life" sculpture at the main Visitors' Center is repeated at the Memorial's wall of names.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Not a Conundrum to Everyone

Producers hire tankers for long-term storage (Arabnews)
The price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil has fallen from its 2011 peak of over $100 per barrel to about $34 today. While producers understandably have experienced financial pain, consumers far outnumber producers, hence the net effect of the price drop on the world economy should be positive, but so far it hasn't played out that way. 

The current oil conundrum has baffled economists [bold added]:
Cheaper fuel should stimulate global economic growth. Industries that use oil as an input are more profitable. The benefits to consuming nations typically outweigh the costs to producing ones. But so far in 2016 a 28% lurch downwards in oil prices has coincided with turmoil in global stockmarkets. It is as if the markets are challenging long-held assumptions about the economic benefits of low energy prices, or asserting that global economic growth is so anaemic that an oil glut will do little to help.
The low price of oil negatively affects far more than the petroleum sector. The burgeoning alternative energy industry (wind, hydro, and especially solar) depends on a moderate differential, not a chasm, between its cost and oil, and alt-energy capital projects and equity prices have been scaled back. Lower costs on cleaner forms of energy have accelerated the shift away from a battered coal industry. Loan defaults and bankruptcies from levered energy companies are like aftershocks to a financial sector still recovering from 2008.

The pain is immediate, while the widespread benefits are realized more slowly. If the world can avoid political instability from stressed producers, in a few years we'll wonder what the fuss was all about. Meanwhile, enjoy the $2 gas.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Diamond and Silk: the Party Isn't Thrilled

The "black preaching style" is mesmerizing. There's rhyming, there's rhythm, and there's call and response. Two sisters from North Carolina use preacherly cadences to voice their approval of Donald Trump.

Diamond and Silk have gone viral:



Unlike President Obama, who kept his preacher, Jeremiah Wright, at a distance, Donald Trump has embraced these Trump evangelists.

An under-publicized element of Donald Trump's support comes from the African-American community. The billionaire non-politician appears to be succeeding at something the Republican Party has tried and failed to do for decades, but Party leaders don't appear to be thrilled. Puzzling, isn't it?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

USS Missouri

24 years after it was decommissioned, the Missouri still inspires awe. The battleship is nearly three football-fields long (887.2 feet), and its height of 209'8" is the equivalent of a 20-story building.

The USS Missouri Memorial Association maintains the ship in excellent condition at Pearl Harbor and supports operations via donations, admission tickets, and concession sales.

Tableau mounted on the surrender deck:
MacArthur signing the Instruments of Surrender 
The guide spent nearly an hour with our group; we walked the main deck, the kamikaze deck where occurred a poignant event that could have easily been overlooked in the carnage of war, and the surrender deck, where World War II formally ended.

The Arizona Memorial and the Missouri bookend the history of World War II, when America roused itself to help save the world. Well worth the $27 entrance fee.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Every Couple of Years is Enough

I wasn't too proud to gawk at the guitars.
The Hard Rock Cafe menu is above average, but one doesn't come for the food. The walls are decorated with Sixties and Seventies memorabilia, and the live music is classic rock. The guitar collection is one-of-a-kind.

Prices were higher than comparable Honolulu bar-restaurants. Residents get a 15% discount as a compensatory inducement, but that night we spotted few locals.

The millennials whom I invited seemed to enjoy each others' company, their noses pried loose from their smartphones. Using my kama'aina discount, I picked up a couple of T-shirts inscribed with the Hard Rock logo. I did enjoy the evening, but in truth once every couple of years is enough.