Friday, May 31, 2013

Eye Contact

We should be expert at it because we do it every day---most of us, anyway---but there are many variables at play when we're making eye contact. Breaking the unwritten rules can hold back our careers. They are:
1) Don't text or glance at your cellphone when you're talking to someone.

2) It's wrong to look away too soon or stare at someone too long. "Holding eye contact works best for 7 to 10 seconds in a one-on-one conversation, and for 3 to 5 seconds in a group setting."

3) The rules should be adjusted for cultural differences. "In many Eastern and some Caribbean cultures, meeting another's eyes can be rude. Asians are more likely than Westerners to regard a person who makes eye contact as angry or unapproachable."
It's no wonder that many workers, especially those not experienced with face-to-face interaction, prefer to stay home and telecommute.

WSJ graphic.
And, even if we become fairly proficient at making eye contact, poor table manners can trip us up. At important business meals, one can play safe by hardly touching the food. One's job is much more important than an expensive restaurant meal, and there's usually a fast-food joint less than a block away to alleviate hunger pangs. Work would be so much easier if we didn't have to deal with other people :-)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's Different This Time

Peggy Noonan on why the IRS scandal is different this time, even if other Presidents used the agency for political purposes [bold added]:
The abuse was systemic—from the sheer number of targets and the extent of each targeting we know many workers had to be involved, many higher-ups, multiple offices. It was ideological and partisan—only those presumed to be of one political view were targeted. It has a single unifying pattern: The most vivid abuses took place in the years leading up to the president's 2012 re-election effort. And in the end several were trying to cover it all up, including the head of the IRS, who lied to Congress about it, and the head of the tax-exempt unit, Lois Lerner, who managed to lie even in her public acknowledgment of impropriety.
The Internal Revenue Service may not pack the most firepower (although some of its staff are armed), but it is one of the most powerful and feared government agencies. The IRS has information on nearly every American and has
extensive and unique powers to investigate and examine private records, powers that in many cases contravene the protections otherwise afforded individuals against illegal searches and seizures, self-incrimination, and the right to counsel provided by the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments.
Undoubtedly there will be calls for new restraints to be placed upon the IRS. However, the most effective controls will be more than legal; it took generations for venerable institutions like the U.S. Armed Forces, the FBI, and the Secret Service to develop cultures that enabled them to perform professionally (for the most part) no matter who was in charge, and to be circumspect about the use of force.

There is a growing realization that IRS agents, who assume everyone is guilty unless innocence is proved, do not have an institutional ethos to dial back the use of their full power. And when that power is brought to bear exclusively against Administration opponents while supporters are given a pass (though the tax attributes may be similar), then civic society is in danger of flying apart. Peggy Noonan is right: "That is the kind of thing that can kill a country, letting half its citizens believe that they no longer have full political rights." This has got to be redressed, with all deliberate speed. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cognac Taste on a Beer Budget

Most of its customers shop at Costco because of its low prices, but the local warehouse occasionally offers items out of the normal price range. I stopped for a moment to marvel at the $2,149.99 bottle of Remy Martin, lowered my sights to the $999.99 Chateau Margaux, then slunk away. Neither would be a suitable accompaniment to the $4.99 rotisserie chicken that I had thrown into the cart.

It's hard to stick to the savings plan if one possesses a credit card with a generous credit limit. Experts say that a $1 million nest egg is barely enough: retirement on that once-princely sum still is possible if one has a paid-up house, Social Security income, and sticks to a beer budget. Just remember to avoid the locked liquor display. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ingenious Solution

Walking in the City at night, I also have encountered this problem, to which the advice columnist has an ingenious solution:
Dear Dan,

I have sometimes found myself walking behind a woman at night in an unsafe place and going in the same direction. Even though there is some distance between us, I can feel the doubt and worry in her mind. How do I handle this situation? Should I stop or say something? I have places to be, too, but clearly I don't want the woman to feel unsafe.

Simply pick up your cellphone and call your mother. In the world of suspicion, nobody who calls his mother at night could be considered a negative individual.
Speak loudly, yet tenderly, into your phone, even if Mom isn't actually at the other end. All the world's a stage.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day, 2013

The colombarium at the National Cemetery of the Pacific, Punchbowl crater.

On this Memorial Day, 2013, two of the longest-running wars in U.S history are winding down. In our circle of acquaintances we know only a few who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq and "only" one who has been killed.

In our fathers' time, enlistment in the armed forces was ubiquitous and expected. For baby boomers, military service was less common and usually the luck of the draw. And, for the current generation, service is rarer still.

Regardless of the reason they donned the uniform, the men and women whom we recognize today are lauded for their sacrifice. We the living may disagree over policy, but there are no disagreements about honoring their memory. In that sense we've all grown up a little over the past 40 years. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trinity Sunday

Holy Trinity by Rublev (1425-1427):
angels who represent the three aspects of God
Trinity Sunday marks the beginning of the last, longest season on the Christian Calendar. Pentecost infused disciples with the Holy Spirit, and over the next 26 weeks Christians are to go out into the world, preaching, converting, and doing good works. (December 1, 2013 is Advent Sunday, when the Christian new year begins.)

"Trinity Sunday" is named after one of the most mysterious concepts in theology, the doctrine of the Trinity. God is three distinct persons in one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, equal and eternal. All aspects were present at the Beginning, and not one, such as the Son from the Father, was created from another.

Sunday School teachers stretch for three-in-one metaphors: water (steam, liquid, ice), a diamond with three facets, man (worker, husband, father). They are not entirely satisfactory, and they shouldn't be, because to believers God is more vast than finite minds can grasp.

Like other matters difficult to understand, we can sing about the Trinity through a hymn that is taught to children:
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
Religion may be simple, but theology is hard.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

In Praise of Divided Government

It's a cliché that the party who holds the White House deplores divided government, while the party out of power likes it very much. The principal objection to divided government is that quick, bold, necessary actions are stymied. To this humble observer that's a feature, not a bug.

When the Democrats had control of Congress and the White House from 2008 to 2010, they passed Obamacare without a single Republican vote. When the Republicans were similarly situated in 2003 to 2006 and part of 2001, they passed the so-called Bush tax cuts, arguably a major source of today's deficit problems. (It should be noted that Democrats were roughly split on the Patriot Act and Iraq War resolutions, so it's a reasonable supposition that even if congressional Democrats had slim control, George W. Bush would have gotten his legislation through, thanks to solid Republican support.)

Now we are seeing another advantage of divided government: congressional hearings on possible Administration malfeasance. Yes, investigations into the current raft of scandals are interfering with Executive Branch operations, and yes, there is grandstanding and partisan obstructionism going on, but there are also important issues at stake concerning the free flow of information prior to a Presidential election (the time when the people have the most say in their government) and the abuse of the enormous powers of the Internal Revenue Service, the agency that has information on everyone and where everyone is presumed guilty, not innocent.

I'd like to see something get done this year on immigration reform and tax simplification, but if inaction is the price we pay for divided government, so be it. © 2013 Stephen Yuen
[Update - 5/31: Ann Althouse on the 2014 elections: "Regardless of how directly Obama is implicated and how much any given voter wants to blame Obama, the scandals make a strong argument for opposite-party control of Congress."]

Friday, May 24, 2013

Disappointing Effort

86-year-old Tony Bennett was in the stands.
It was the perfect evening to take in a game at AT&T Park. Tonight fan favorite Tim Lincecum was on the mound. For the past two years he had been a shadow of his former Cy-Young-Award winning self. Would he continue the signs of improvement he had shown in his recent outings?

Lincecum gave up a couple of runs early, and tonight the Giants' bats were lifeless. The home team never got a runner past second base, and the Giants fell quietly to the Rockies, 5-0. We consoled ourselves by feasting on hot dogs (with all the fixings) and garlic fries. Most of the crowd stayed for the fireworks, but, after the Giants' disappointing effort we just wanted to go home.

[Update--5/25/12: we picked the wrong game to attend. In an exciting Saturday game marked by crucial blown calls, the Giants overcame a 4-0 Rockies lead and a 5-4 deficit in the 10th inning. The winning blow was a home run by Angel Pagan. It was the first walk-off inside-the-park home run in the major leagues since 2004, and the first ever by a San Francisco Giant; the New York Giants' Bill Terry hit one in 1931.]

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Glass is Good

2 minutes of shaking yielded a few drops
Today's buzz is about Google Glass. Yesterday's headline-grabber was oleophobic glass (it resists skin oils), and before that Corning's Gorilla Glass was all the rage. Glass is over-blown, but I'm with Steve Jobs on this one: the feel and look of glass is better than plastic.

Even if the subject is mundane as ketchup. Most restaurants now dispense ketchup from plastic bottles, where a slight squeeze dispenses the thick red paste quickly with little fuss. Not so with glass, which has caused your humble observer to stain more than a few shirts and ties after a bout of vigorous shaking and pounding. (And I hope, dear reader, that your mother taught you never to insert your knife or other utensil into the condiment container.)

This is the 21st century, and any number of wondrous nano-substances are emanating from research labs. I want my ketchup to be housed in glass, and I want it to be thick not watery, and I want it to pour easily. Is that too much to ask? © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Not Easily Replicable

The 49ers' Stadium will open in 2014
When people think of sports towns, the San Francisco Bay Area is not the first metropolis that comes to mind. However, the simultaneous success of its franchises in the four major professional sports is a rare occurrence that may change that impression. The Warriors and Sharks have rightly captured all the recent headlines because of their basketball and hockey playoff runs, and the Giants and Athletics are fielding competitive teams in a still-young baseball season.

Sketch of the Warriors' new arena
Earlier today the 49ers briefly knocked the other teams off the local front page when the Bay Area was awarded Super Bowl L (that's number 50 for the Roman innumerate), which will kick off in February, 2016. The bid would not have been successful if the new Santa Clara Stadium had not been on track for completion in 2014. And the $1.2 billion project would probably not have even started without the 49ers' seemingly miraculous turnaround in 2011 and 2012.

AT&T Park is comparatively austere
Not to be left out of the party, the Warriors announced last year that they will be moving back to San Francisco and constructing a waterfront arena that will cost $875 to $975 million. While such an expense at one time seemed mind-bogglingly risky, investors were comforted by the decade-long success of the $358 million Giants' AT&T Park and the successful trajectory of the Santa Clara 49ers stadium construction.

It was a moribund sports backwater a few years ago, but the Bay Area will shortly be home to one of the top two or three stadia in each of the professional sports. Like Silicon Valley, the reasons are explainable---a virtuous circle of wealth, entrepreneurial risk-taking, technology, talent, and, of course, capable organizations---but they are not easily replicable. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Worry About Tomorrow Tomorrow

Due to the requirements imposed on small businesses, Obamacare has been criticized as an impediment to job creation [update: large employers may be able to comply with Obamacare rules by using "bare bones" health plans that cover little hospitalization, if any.] However, the measure's job effects aren't totally negative [bold added]:
To implement President Obama's Affordable Care Act, San Mateo County will hire 25 people to help process the expected flood of new applications for new benefits....San Mateo County's Health Services Agency has been advised to brace for about 894 new applications per month above the 2,276 it currently receives for health benefits.
Further good news: half the annual labor cost of $3.6 million (that's an average of $144,000 per employee!) will be paid for by the Federal Government. The uncertain news: the jobs aren't expected to be permanent.

However, such an objection is unlikely to dissuade County managers from hiring. For decades California governments have believed in spending and hiring and worrying about tomorrow when tomorrow comes, and their recent actions (e.g., installing high-speed rail where most of the people don't live) show that little has changed.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Breaking the Fast

On Mother's Day the eleven-day fast came to an end at our church. News cameras rolled as a group of demonstrators spoke out for immigration reform, led by Marie Marroquin (pictured) of Mountain View's Day Worker Center.

The problem of illegal immigration resists solution because fundamental American values---family, the American dream, and the rule of law--are at war with each other. Wholesale deportation is impossible because of the sheer numbers involved and the plight of children who know no other home but America. And yet, any effort to fast-track the path to citizenship or even guest-worker status will mean that we have rewarded those who knowingly broke the rules and who refuse to accept the consequences of their actions.

Given the recent scandals that have distracted government leaders, immigration reform this year is looking even more remote. When faced with seemingly insoluble dilemmas an ancient means of coping was fasting and prayer. It looks like Ms. Marroquin has the right idea. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Draped in Red

On the day of Pentecost the altar is draped in red, symbolic of the tongues of flame that visited the disciples ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven. Unlike Christmas and Easter, Christianity's third great feast is little known outside the church; Pentecost has no symbols like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny that have captured the secular imagination. While important activities are not necessarily popular or fun, we did have the church picnic today, and the hamburgers were tasty.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Will the Alchemy Work?

Stir together a vast fortune, "big data" technology, the luxury of time, philanthropy, and intelligence higher than everyone else in the room, and one gets John and Laura Arnold [bold added]:
[John} Arnold, it turns out, had accumulated a fortune estimated at $4 billion in the past decade—only a handful of people on Wall Street made more during that time. Although he had not yet announced it, Arnold had decided to give almost all of it away. In October 2012, he closed his hedge fund, Centaurus Energy, and retired. In U.S. history, there may have never been a self-made individual with so much money who devoted himself to philanthropy at such a young age. [snip]

But at a time when charitable giving in the U.S. is still down from its peak in 2007, the Arnolds want to try something new and somewhat grander. John says the goal is to make "transformational" changes to society.[snip]

"We started with the broad mission of, 'How can we produce the most good?'" he says. His background as a trader, he says, is fundamental to the foundation's approach. He wants to spend a lot of time doing research and evaluating data, and then make a handful of big bets, even if they involve considerable risk.
Is it possible to do good by defining the means (data analysis, money, long-range planning horizon) but leaving the ends somewhat vague? Given the Arnolds' track record, I wouldn't bet against them.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Sensibility of House Republicans

No, really, House Republicans may be acting sensibly:
House Republicans say they will not overreach on probing the Obama administration, having learned lessons from investigating the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the Clinton administration. [snip]

Impeachment is not something that has been bandied about around the House GOP leadership table, according to GOP leadership aides and a House Republican member who spoke on background.
Unless there is solid proof of high crimes and misdemeanors (using the people's definition, not lawyers' understanding) by the President, House Republicans should quash all mention of the I-word. Mr. Obama is still popular and could become an object of sympathy if there were a rush to start impeachment proceedings.

It's difficult to imagine that he would ever be as unpopular as his predecessor, but Mr. Obama may well descend to that level after three and a half more years of scandal and ineffectiveness, not to mention being the butt of late-night humor.

Thursday's Jay Leno:
This week will mark the 37th time House Republicans have tried to repeal Obamacare. If Republicans really want to do away with Obamacare they should endorse it as a "conservative non-profit" and let the IRS take it down!

A lot of critics are now comparing President Obama to President Nixon. The good news for Obama: at least he's no longer being compared to President Carter!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

If I Weren't Laughing I'd Be Crying Dept.

The IRS' softball team is named the "Cheetahs." James Taranto:
We have to admit, "Cheetahs" is almost as funny a name as Ted Kennedy's dog "Splash."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

There Will Be Cramming

At the Auto Body School the students are wrapping up this year's projects. The school is part of San Mateo County's Regional Occupational Program (ROP), which teaches skills that local employers seem to want.

Students bring in their own cars to work on. They also sand and repaint cars that other owners have left as training vehicles (finally I get to use that term literally).

The cost is reasonable--less than $1,000, basically for materials but not labor. Periodically one has to check in with the school to pay for miscellaneous parts that are too rusted or damaged to be put back.

VW rear carpet
Owners must be patient, because the project spans one (sometimes two) school years. The exterior of my beetle was more or less finished in March, and an upholsterer has been contracted to do the interior work. It will be a close call whether he can finish the work this week, when the facility will be closing for the summer. (Due to funding cutbacks the Auto Body School may be closing for good; ABS programs are no longer showing for the ROP fall semester.)

It's an educational axiom that, no matter the level or type of school, there will be cramming. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Six Months Later

A few days after President Obama's re-election your humble observer opined:
Now that the election's over we are likely, finally, to learn the truth about:
  • Benghazi
  • Obamacare's costs
  • End-of-year defense layoffs
  • FEMA's before-and-after performance on Hurricane Sandy
  • Unemployment statistics
  • Whether General Motors is really healthy
  • What the President meant when he said he would be "flexible" on missile defense
  • Six months later only Benghazi and Obamacare are still deemed to be important topics, but two are enough to serve the President's opponents; prolonged national conversations on either are unlikely to be helpful to the Administration's goals. A scandal that has seemingly come out of nowhere--also unhelpful, to say the least--is the IRS' targeting of "Tea Party" and "patriot" groups (actions suspected by conservatives over a year ago but ignored by the mainstream media).

    Unfortunately for the President, none of the current set of problems can credibly be laid at the feet of obstinate Republicans or the Bush Administration. Welcome to your second term, Mr. President.

    Monday, May 13, 2013

    Another Favorite Leaves the Scene

    One of the chief reasons I subscribed (note the past tense) to Barron's was to read Alan Abelson. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who missed his penetrating observations:
    Alan Abelson passed away last week at the age of 87, and his absence from this column over the past few months has been noticed by its legions of loyal readers. We fielded scores of inquiries from folks whose weekends invariably started by turning to Alan's column. They clearly missed the enlightenment and sheer enjoyment he provided.
    Over the 46 years that he had been writing for Barron's he had accumulated a vast array of sources that furnished insights on finance, the economy, and markets that were not available elsewhere. But what made his column a must-read was its dry humor. Here is Alan Abelson on the fiscal cliff negotiations:
    While the world waited with bated breath for resolution of the bitter battle of the fiscal cliff, the telling moment of that monumental clash between the warring parties was an exchange a few steps removed from the Oval Office between the speaker of the House, John Boehner, and his counterpart in the Senate, Harry Reid. It was a chance encounter. Reid, a few hours earlier, had delivered a speech on the Senate floor excoriating Boehner for refusing to bring measures for a vote in the chamber he has putative control over, measures that would have averted a potentially disastrous plunge by the economy into the abyss. Still boiling with indignation, Boehner jabbed a finger at Reid and snarled "Go f--- yourself." (We can't repeat verbatim what he suggested Reid do; we are, after all, a family magazine. Suffice it to say it's an act that requires a degree of athleticism beyond that possessed by most mortals.)
    We can't imagine another business publication daring to present the same content so amusingly without, er, going over the cliff. Another unique voice has left the scene. R.I.P. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Sunday, May 12, 2013

    Happy Mother's Day (Reprise)

    Thank you for drying our tears when we got hurt.

    Thank you for leaving work to take care of us when we got sick.

    Thank you for cooking our favorite dinners when we were feeling empty inside.

    Thank you for cleaning our room, feeding the pets, and doing other stuff that we promised we would do but somehow forgot about.

    Thank you for giving us a warm safe place to come to when the world seemed cold.

    Thank you for loving us no matter what.

    Happy Mother's Day to Mom and to mothers everywhere.

    Saturday, May 11, 2013

    Not the Target Demographic

    The colombarium at St. Paul's
    On a peaceful Saturday seventy mostly gray-haired students gathered at St. Paul's in Burlingame to acquire the tools and knowledge, not to mention courage, to help them accomplish their spiritual goals.

    Why "courage"? Episcopalians are notoriously reluctant to discuss their faith, much less try to convert others. Yet, there's no alternative to evangelism if the Episcopal Church is to survive the century. Current membership of two million is roughly half the size of the church in its heyday.

    There were short courses on prayer, lectoring, and evaluating grant requests. We could learn how to improve stewardship campaigns and how to be a better witness. For the more esthetically oriented, there were sessions on music, art projects, and theology in film. All very interesting, and I intend to sign up again next year. But there were only a handful of attendees under 30, and unfortunately I'm not the target demographic. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Friday, May 10, 2013

    The Excitement is Justified

    The never-ceasing din of 24/7 sports has led some to plea for an off-season for fans. The worst transgressor is football, formerly a September-December activity (or November---in postwar Hawaii the king of sports was high school football, which ended the day after Thanksgiving). Now NFL fans can get their fix throughout the year, from the draft to minicamp to pre-season to the regular season, playoffs, and Super Bowl, after which the cycle starts all over. The cacophony never ceases as basketball, baseball, hockey, racing, golf, and tennis, as well as biennial to quadrennial events such as the America's Cup and the Olympics blare for attention.

    In the San Francisco Bay Area, however, the current year-round excitement is justified. Both the hockey (San Jose Sharks) and the basketball (Golden State Warriors) teams have overachieved by making the playoffs and defeated favored opponents in the first round. The San Francisco Giants have won two of the last three World Series, while the Oakland Athletics surprised everyone by winning the American League West Division in 2012. The San Francisco 49ers lost to the Ravens in the Super Bowl and are one of the early favorites to win it next year. Only the long-suffering fans of the Oakland Raiders have nothing to look forward to.

    FYI, per Wikipedia's entry on Multiple Major Sports Championship Seasons the most recent metropolitan areas to be home to two champions were Boston in 2004 (Red Sox and Patriots) and Los Angeles in 2002 (Angels and Lakers). Only once--Detroit in 1935--did three champions (Tigers, Lions, Red Wings) hail from the same city.

    Thursday, May 09, 2013

    Misinterpreted Headline

    There are "teaser" headlines that draw in readers, who often find that the content was overhyped. Then there is the misinterpreted headline, like the above.

    I was hoping to read about the businesses that were being started to help medical providers and the public deal with Obamacare's complexity. The WSJ headline piqued my interest as a healthcare consumer, potential investor, or perhaps even as a potential consultant.

    Instead, it was a rather pedestrian piece about how people hang on to their jobs because of healthcare benefits---which is old news---but now may venture out because Obamacare promises coverage at a reasonable price.
    The pressure some Americans feel to cling to a corporate job chiefly for the health insurance could, conceivably, ease in coming years. Under provisions of the health-care law, new-business owners will be able to get coverage through public marketplaces, or "exchanges," beginning in October, for policies that will take effect starting in January.
    Given that even Obamacare's authors have declared a train wreck coming, prudent employees and would-be entrepreneurs will adopt a wait-and-see attitude until implementation gets off the ground. Any startup explosion from workers chained to employer-provided health care will have to wait until 2014. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Wednesday, May 08, 2013

    All You Need is Space

    L to R: Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows XP

    WSJ tech columnist Walt Mossberg reviews two products that allow Windows 8 users to use the old Start screen. To this longtime Windows user it is like installing a new engine in an old car: go old or go new, but in-between is esthetically jarring.

    As for me, very few applications need the latest equipment, so I keep a bunch of old machines running. All you need is space....and a tolerant roommate. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Tuesday, May 07, 2013

    The Question at the Center of Everything

    Nearly 50 people showed up for the PARCA session on independent housing. (The Parents' Association for Retarded Children and Adults was formed 62 years ago and is now known by the acronym rather than its original name. The session was entitled "Transition toward Independence: Independent Housing for People with Developmental Disabilities.") They heard speakers from the Golden Gate Regional Center, the San Mateo Department of Housing, HIP Housing, West Bay Housing, and PARCA.

    Many of the faces in the audience have become familiar over the years. The welfare of loved ones who will never truly be "independent" is a lifelong task. There rarely are solutions given in these sessions; but maybe they'll learn of organizations, laws, and people who can help solve some of the problems.

    Their charges have differing medical conditions, the government classifications are different (e.g., Social Security Disability, GGRC client), and the caregivers have differing degrees of financial resources and expertise. But even those who can bequeath a house and other assets to their loved one know that someone will need to make sure that the bills are paid, the faucets are fixed, and the prescriptions are filled.

    Everyone is tormented by the question at the center of everything: who will look after our loved one after we're gone? For most of the people there are years, even decades, to answer the question, but answer it everyone must. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Monday, May 06, 2013

    Tragedy on the San Mateo Bridge

    Burnt limo (Mercury News photo)
    On the drive back from the Santa Barbara wedding we received a text "WARNING: there's a major fire outbreak on the San Mateo Bridge---do not use." A Northern California wedding party had suffered an "unimaginable" tragedy
    : [bold added]
    FOSTER CITY -- It was to be one of life's signature moments of happiness, something that always would be remembered, as a stylish evening meant to be richly shared with good friends. Nine women had happily tumbled into a stretch limousine for a girl's night out to celebrate the recent wedding of one.

    They were heading for a bridal shower in Foster City Saturday night when, over the span of the San Mateo Bridge just after 10 p.m., sheer joy turned into unimaginable horror.

    For reasons that are still unexplained, the interior of the white 1999 Lincoln Town Car suddenly became engulfed in flames, killing five of the women -- including the bride -- who were unable to escape the raging inferno. A veteran coroner was quoted as saying the incident was one of the worst he had ever witnessed. The deceased were so badly burned that positive identifications will require dental records. And grieving friends and family are trying to make sense of the tragedy.
    [Update - 5/6: The limo was licensed to carry eight passengers, but there were nine in the party.]

    [Update - 5/7: the driver's story. The names of the victims. So far, no word as to the cause.]

    [Update - 5/8: "The limousine that burst into flames on the San Mateo Bridge, killing five women, wasn't required to undergo a state safety inspection -- or even carry a fire-extinguisher -- under the regulations that are supposed to ensure the thousands of limos on California's roads are safe."]

    Sunday, May 05, 2013

    Technology Not Settled

    Devices that I use now:
  • iPhone 5 (2012)
  • iPad 2 (2011)
  • MacBook Pro (2009)
  • Gateway SX - Windows 7 (2008)
  • Dell Vostro - Windows XP (2007)

    My mobile devices are fairly up to date, but the desktop and laptop machines are getting long in the tooth. WSJ tech reviewer Walt Mossberg surveyed the computer landscape and advises:
    Alas, I'm sorry to report, it's still pretty confusing and frustrating to buy a new laptop....

    For a high-quality, traditional laptop without a touch screen, you can't do much better than a MacBook Air, if you have at least $999 to spend. On the Windows side, stick with touch screens and be prepared to spend nearly as much, or even a bit more. But if you can wait, come back in the fall.
    Good advice. I've found that with computer purchases it's always better to wait as long as one can before upgrading. Also, the technology should be well enough settled so that the purchase will not be regretted two years later. I'll hold off opening my wallet. © 2013 Stephen Yuen
  • Saturday, May 04, 2013

    A Rollicking Good Time

    On a sunny afternoon in Santa Barbara Mary and Joe (yes, really) pledged their troth before 100 guests. The mariachi band played for two hours as the partiers ate, drank, danced, and sung.

    We spoke with people whom we hadn't seen for over 20 years. Perhaps we stretched the truth a bit when we complimented them on their appearance, but they did the same about us. It was a rollicking good time. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Friday, May 03, 2013

    A Crowded, Exciting Weekend

    LA Times fire map updated on Saturday.
    We departed at noon for the 300-mile drive south to Santa Barbara. We barely arrived on time for the pre-nuptial get-together with the families of our niece and her fiancé. Not to worry, we were one of the first out-of-towners to arrive.

    The contingent coming from LA was delayed by the wildfires that closed the Pacific Coast Highway until 5 p.m.  Fortunately, there were no fires to greet us on the trip south, though the grass was often tall and dry and the winds strong.

    Another group will be coming up on Saturday, May 4th, the day of the wedding, and Cinco de Mayo festivities have already started. It promises to be a crowded, exciting weekend; let's hope it will be memorable for only good reasons. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Thursday, May 02, 2013

    I Did Know Jack

    Jack Burleson (1922-2013)
    The last time I saw Jack he asked about the Cambodian school that the church had been supporting. He knew of the perfect candidate--a relative then living in Thailand--to teach the kids English. Although nothing came of his effort--the young lady is now teaching in the Philippines--this was a perfect example of my encounters with Jack over the years. He was always asking how to help, he was always full of ideas, and he was always trying to make connections between people.

    Jack's short obituary is typical of other members of the greatest generation: World War II vet, family man, joiner of community organizations. What it doesn't capture is his perseverance in solving problems, making decisions, and not looking back. He could no longer manage his business, so he sold it. He could no longer live alone without help, so he sold his house and moved to an assisted-care facility a few months ago. His friends say that the move inspired him to start another business.

    The last time I saw Jack he said that I should visit him in Redwood City. It's a great place, he said, with lots of things to do. But I didn't go to see him, now I never will, and it's my loss. R.I.P.

    Wednesday, May 01, 2013

    Half-guilty As Charged

    Yesterday's post used "disruptive" and "disruption" to describe the impact of 3D printing, and I apologize for using a term that is now an overused cliché:
    [Disruption has] become an all-purpose technology industry buzzword, drained of meaning. A “synergy” for our time.
    The complaining writer defines the proper use of the term, at least from his point of view [bold added]:
    What makes disruptive innovations so deadly is they’re not better than your product. They’re worse. Anyone who needed a mainframe at the dawn of the personal computer era would find a PC to be an incredibly lame and underpowered alternative. So you ignore the alternative in favor of meeting the needs of your customers and perfecting your product. But the disruptive product keeps iterating and improving and selling to people who didn’t need mainframe computers but who do have use for a cheap, flexible PC. Soon enough, the PC market has swamped the mainframe market and your firm is on its last legs. You’ve fallen victim to the innovator’s dilemma: Your own success in the mainframe market blinded you to the real trajectory in the industry.
    Well, at least I used the term properly. The output of 3D printing is far below the detail and quality of a machine shop, but the speed and low cost make the tradeoff compelling to many would-be Edisons. In fields as diverse as photography, music, fashion, and education traditional methods may still be best at the very top, but for the vast majority of uses digitization indeed proved to be disruptive.

    Speaking of disruption and the old ways, Happy May Day, everyone. © 2013 Stephen Yuen