Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ready for a Tumble?

The Dow Jones, NASDAQ (red), and S&P 500 (green) have moved in sync.

Half an hour after the opening bell, the markets are recovering slightly from yesterday's losses. Although a 416-point loss in the Dow at one time might have presaged the next Depression, it was "only" a 3.3% drop, a weatherable storm as long as we don't have a lot more days like this.

In other news, part of Telegraph Hill tumbled into buildings on Broadway and Montgomery, just a stone's throw (not funny!) from the Financial District. The saturated hillside broke off, jeopardizing not only the structures below but the condos perched precariously at the top.
I hoofed up the hill in the drizzle and saw reporters, police, and other city workers standing around.

You really couldn't see anything from the street. (Channel 5 has some good aerial shots, and the Chron has an excellent history of how the rockface got to its present condition--a greedy quarry company blasted and weakened the hillside in order to obtain construction materials.) I was thankful for the perspective--what happened to my portfolio was only an annoyance compared to the problems of these San Francisco denizens.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Mitt Romney's Distinguishing Characteristic

A quote from last year, but I still find it funny.
Should Mitt Romney join a 2008 race that included John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and George Allen, the only guy in the GOP field with only one wife would be the Mormon.
--Kate O'Beirne, August, 2006

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Westfield San Francisco Centre

San Francisco attracts merchants the way the airline business lures swashbuckling investors. Ignoring mountains of historical evidence, the ambitious entrepreneur tells himself that he will succeed where other multimillionaires or billion-dollar corporations have failed. He expends immense sums restoring faded facades and modernizing interiors. He patiently files the requisite permits and makes dozens of presentations and commitments to City Hall, unions, neighborhood residents and businesses, and the media.

The latest example--Westfield Centre on Market Street—opened last September. The spelling alone—the British / French “centre” —exudes snob appeal. But they will need a lot of purchases from snobs (and even the hoi polloi) to recover the $460 million of renovations they had made to the old Emporium site. San Francisco retail stores are heavily disadvantaged against their suburban counterparts. Labor, plant, and equipment cost much more, while congested downtown traffic and expensive parking hamstring demand. It’s a wonder that any of them break even. Even those with the deepest pockets, like Microsoft, throw in the towel.

This week I finally paid a visit, before the musky odor of elephant blanc became too pronounced. The new, well-lit interiors were indeed impressive. Foot traffic was light at lunchtime. It was Fat Tuesday and unlikely that business would pick up during Lent (not that many pay attention to the post-Christmas religious calendar any more).

A thriving retail sector is key to the revitalization of San Francisco’s downtown. But Union Square and the Westfield San Francisco Centre cater to well-heeled residents and foreign visitors, not the Costco/Target/Wal-mart crowd of which your humble servant is a member.

Maybe San Francisco could learn from Las Vegas, which appeals to every demographic and economic class. Through his issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, our mayor showed that the laws in the rest of the state and nation do not apply here.

So why not issue an executive order to allow gambling? (Pres. Bush could take a few lessons from SF's mayor about ignoring the prerogatives of the legislative and judicial branches.) That would increase foot traffic in a hurry. “Back to the Barbary”—a slogan for San Francisco in the 21st century! © 2007 Stephen Yuen

Slot machines under the dome would be HUGE.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"Copernicus' First Theory of Jiffy Pop Dissipation"

From the 2/13/07 Tonight Show, Dennis Miller on global warming:

Jay Leno: So what do you think of global warming? I probably know the answer, but go ahead…

Dennis Miller: Well, listen Jay, I, uh, you know, you hate to say this now because everybody gets P.O.’ed but it appears that the problem is over the last century the temperature of the planet has gone up 1.8 degrees. You know, maybe, maybe not. Excuse me for not trusting temperature figures from the year 1906. They’re still [beep]ing outside in the woods but I’m supposed to believe they had a stranglehold on the Fahrenheit at the Earth’s magma. I’m sure that was an accurate reading, huh? “Ezekiel! Put the candle wick down the possum hole! Let’s lay down a base line for future generations, then we’ll churn some butter and invent flight next year!”

I know it’s going up a little—the temperature—I’m just not sure humans are responsible. For God’s sake, we can’t thin traffic after Dodger games, and you know something, if it is going up a little, I don’t know, it’s cold back East now—anybody happy about that? A few weeks ago I’m looking at the news, guys golfing in Jersey, everybody looked happy, now it’s freezing again. Kind of glad it went up. I’m always a little chilly anyway. And you know something, the money I’m saving on sweaters I’m putting into a cookie jar to buy a thirty-ought-six so I can blow a caribou’s head off so we can drill in Alaska. [circular motion with arms] It’s the circle of life, Simba.

Jay: Certainly politically correct. There’s speculation that Gore is going to announce at the Academy Awards that he will run for President. What do you think?

Dennis: You know, I wish that global warming had a different front man, because the simple fact is over the years I find Al Gore inauthentic. I remember when he ran for President I’ve never seen a guy that uncomfortable in his own skin. There are amnesiacs with a better sense of self than Al Gore. If he wasn’t fronting the cause, I might believe in it more but the simple fact is I have trouble accepting escalating temperature figures from a guy I have already deemed to be a sweat act.

Jay: So you are not concerned about global warming?

Dennis: Yeah, a little bit, Jay, I’m hedging my bets for my next generation. My son wants a hybrid. I’m going to buy one. You’re the car guy. Are hybrids safe? I would like to know that.

Jay: Sure, sure.

Dennis: They have air bags and the whole deal?

Jay: They’re fine.

Dennis: When the air bags go off, doesn’t that cause global warming? I just want to make sure it’s safe for my own flesh and blood. You know I’m playing way down the road for the year 2286 when my great-great-great-great-to-the-10th-power grandson, Calypso 7, doesn’t have sweat on his upper lip while my own kid is driving around a Fisher Price toy. I just want to be sure that they’re sound, that I can buy one.

I just think that global warming, I’ll be honest with you, I think this stuff’s been around for a long time. You know, when I was a kid—I’m 53 now—when I was a kid, it was hot. I remember. Anybody remember heat? That sun was bright, too. And I was even a little further away from it then. I got vicious sunburns. If I had to look at the sun, I began to melt like a Nazi staring at the Ark of the Covenant. I remember when I went to my first summer camp, Camp Deeply-Embedded Tick, and it was brutal out there.

Listen, I just think that we sometimes over-think the environment. Now we supposedly have a hole in the ozone, for God’s sake. Now which is it, you can’t have global warming and a hole in the ozone, because heated air will rise. If there is a hole there, it will go out. I think that’s, isn’t that Copernicus’ First Theory of Jiffy Pop Dissipation, or am I mistaken Jay?

Jay: I’m not familiar with the Jiffy Pop….[looks at audience] how many remember Jiffy Pop? [audience cheers]

Dennis: As much fun as it is to make as it is to take a commercial break.

Jay: We’ll take a break.

Monday, February 19, 2007

No Matter How Hard I Try

….I leave a carbon footprint.

If I eat vegetables, I remove a carbon-scrubbing organism from the ecosystem.

If I eat meat, I encourage the production of livestock, which not only consume plants but also produce methane, a “more potent” greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Livestock contribute more to global warming than all the cars in the world.

My breathing adds 1 ton of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year. [Here’s the calculation (please make allowances, dear reader, for my rusty high school chemistry). Assume that an average human being produces CO2 at the rate of 1 liter per minute (weight and physical activity can cause the estimate to vary widely.) CO2 weighs about 2 grams per liter (weight of 44 grams per mole divided by 22 gas liters per mole).

2 g / min x 525,600 min/yr = 1,032,429 g / yr = 2,271 pounds /yr.]

To get a more complete picture, I decided to fill out one of the web’s carbon calculators. First I had to enter estimates of our annual driving and air travel miles, as well as the miles per gallon that we get on our cars.

Next I had to compile our family’s usage of natural gas and electricity. Below is a graph of our consumption for the twelve months ending last November.

Our final score showed that we’re leaving a smaller carbon footprint than the average American family. That’s a relief; I wouldn’t want guilt to push us toward the premature purchase of $30,000+ solar energy panels. Besides, I'm saving for a widescreen HDTV and a 5-speaker surround sound system. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

The little halo shows that we're better than average. Mom would be proud.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Warming Trend

A year ago I snapped this photo. The view was the same this weekend.

Yesterday the temperatures skied to the mid-70’s, capping the warming trend that started the week. It has cooled to sweater-weather today and the clouds augur rain for tomorrow. Nevertheless, we’ll head out and about. The City beckons.

The water pumps were switched on at Vaillancourt Fountain this week.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

Take a moment from your websurfin' and give a non-avatar someone a hug--and if you're lucky, a kiss. Contact is what makes us human, Mr. Spock.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Rockin' Austin

After the conference’s closing banquet we wandered down to Cedar Street. The outdoor stage was jammed with a younger crowd, undeterred by the $5 cover charge or the lateness of the hour--- it was past ten on a weeknight. Could it be that there were hundreds of Austiners who didn’t care about showing up half asleep at their class or job?

The Spazmatics had started their act. The skill of their singing and dexterity of their drumming, guitar-whaling, and dancing belied the geekiness of their thick eyeglasses, sweater vests, pocket protectors, and superficially awkward, spasmodic movements.

The music was loud but not ear-splittingly painful, high-octane rock with a strong rhythm. Of course, the observer’s perceptions could have been dulled by the onset of age and the quantity of alcohol coursing through his veins. Does music have objective standards or is it the audience reaction that determines the music’s quality? Wow, heavy thoughts, dude.

Atrophied muscles involuntarily twitched as semi-arthritic hips responded to the beat. Arms waved, holding half-filled glasses of chardonnay. The barkeep didn’t frown; spillage boosted sales. Midnight arrived quickly, and sad experience advised that I should get back. I still had to pack for a 6 a.m. bus to the airport.

Most in our group didn’t return till 3, after late-night noshing on pizza and beer. I heard later that they had trouble staying awake the following day, and a few even cut their meetings altogether. When in Austin, do as Austiners do. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Sap is Rising

On Tuesday we took a break from our meetings to play golf at the Wolfdancer Golf Club on the grounds of the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines resort outside Austin. I hadn't played since last August but needn't have worried about embarrassing myself. We were all about the same, i.e., pretty bad.

Our "forecaddy", Shad, chased down errant balls, cleaned our clubs, and told us where we should place our shots. He was able to make suggestions such as "try to land it about 30 feet to the left of the pin" without a trace of irony. Everyone in our party knew that if even one of us made the green in regulation that that would be a minor miracle.

We played a version of Scramble, where we took the best of the four shots to set up the next one. We finished four over par (the winning team was 5 under). With Shad obviating the need to find balls in the rough, the beer flowing freely, and T-shirt weather in early February, it doesn't get much better than this. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Barack Obama has been accused of not being “black” enough. Because the senator is the son of immigrants and not a descendant of slaves, the argument goes, he lacks the perspective of most African-Americans. His experience is not “authentic”. (If whites followed this thinking, they would have to trace their lineage to the Mayflower in order to be President.) From Time:
"Obama's mother is of white U.S. stock. His father is a black Kenyan," Stanley Crouch recently sniffed in a New York Daily News column entitled "What Obama Isn't: Black Like Me." "Black, in our political and social vocabulary, means those descended from West African slaves," wrote Debra Dickerson on the liberal website Salon.
Barack Obama’s parents wanted to be here. What people want, they treasure, and what they treasure, they’ll look after. If his parents had any influence over his attitudes, that’s a plus in my book.

The weather in Austin has been clear, slightly cooler and drier than in the Bay Area. The first day of the company conference has been devoted to planning meetings, so there hasn’t been much time to enjoy the sun. Last night I over-indulged at the barbecue. Gotta learn to pace myself. I’m not 40 any more. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

Not in California Part II: we raced armadillos at the barbecue.

Monday, February 05, 2007

What Football Game?

3:00 PM, Pacific
Most everyone in the country is preparing to watch a certain football game that will kick off in half an hour. I’m at San Francisco airport waiting for a flight to Austin (by way of Denver). On this national semi-holiday the United terminal is empty, and the flight is wide open. The gate agent has distributed boarding passes to all stand-bys, even the non-revenue passengers; the 757 is less than half full.

Although I don’t have a strong rooting interest in the game, it would be nice to see Colts quarterback Peyton Manning win a championship. In the number-one country in the world your life isn’t complete unless you’re number one on whichever pyramid you’re climbing. Peyton Manning’s father, Archie, was a great quarterback for the Saints. But the Saints had the misfortune of playing in the NFC West during the 49ers’ heyday, and Archie wasn’t surrounded with a strong supporting cast. Perhaps the son can succeed where the father did not.

7:00 PM, Mountain
There’s only a half-hour window to transfer planes in Denver, but weather is not a problem, as it was recently when the airport had to be closed due to a blizzard. I wonder if my luggage will make it. It’s a good ten-minute walk to the A319. All the natives are wearing heavy coats, and all I have on is a light sweater. Luckily I don’t have to go outside. The airplane is about two-thirds full and takes off on time. The Colts have come back from a 14-6 deficit and lead 16-14 at halftime.

10:00 PM, Central
We land in Austin twenty minutes early. The captain announces that the Colts have won, 29-17. Peyton Manning is validated. My bag comes off the carousel in ten minutes. The driver is waiting to take me to the hotel. Travel, the way it was meant to be. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

The Hyatt lobby: I'm not in California any more.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Thursday Throwaways

Bottoming Out
Stock market bottoms are reached when years of decline, interrupted by dead-cat bounces that raise false hopes, cause even the most optimistic bulls finally to throw in the towel. When everyone wants out, that’s the time to get in. If it were a stock, it would be time to buy Iraq.

Quick Chicken Soup
It took 20 minutes to wash the chicken pieces and chop the onions, leeks, celery, and carrots. If I had used the Cuisinart, the slicing and dicing would have been faster but then I’d have to clean, wipe, and put the equipment away. It’s more fulfilling to prepare food by hand; there’s something primal about phalangeal proximity to the produce.

The pressure cooker did the trick in half an hour. Et voila, dinner for three nights, perfect for cold winter evenings.

Small Comfort
San Francisco’s star has long been surpassed by the Los Angeles-San Diego megalopolis to the south, so it’s a small comfort that we’re less likely to be the target of terrorism. In his State of the Union speech, President Bush said that Al Qaeda was seeking to destroy the “tallest building on the West Coast.” The candidate was likely the U.S. Bank Building (1,018 ft.) in Los Angeles, 25th on the list of the world’s tallest buildings. San Francisco barely cracks the top 100; the Transamerica Pyramid (853 ft.) comes in at number 83. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

The Bank of America Building (779 ft.) was our tallest before the Pyramid.