Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Replacing the Pump on a Whirlpool Duet GHW9200LW

The pump is easy to access.
Over the weekend our ten-year-old washing machine stopped working. (Of course, the extended warranty had expired without a renewal offer two years ago.) Error message F02 flashed on the control panel, and various websites advised that the problem was either a clogged drain or the pump. It was a simple matter to open the drain---although I didn't appreciate how many quarts of water would spill on the floor--and take out the hair, paper clips, and pennies that had accumulated over the years.

Green plastic must have been on sale that day.
This solution only lasted a couple of wash cycles, after which the pump emitted a loud rattle and gave up the ghost.

Having bought "replacement" parts in error before, your humble amateur handyman looked up the exact part number for the pump and ordered it through Amazon for about $100, including tax and shipping. It arrived four days later.

Whirlpool didn't make it easy for the home handyman by using common Phillips or slot screws, but, fortunately, I had bought a Torq screwdriver for a computer project. The old pump took only a few seconds to remove.

The new pump was colored a light green; well, with the metal toe panel on no one has to look at it. The most time-consuming part of the task was ensuring that the hose clamps were secure. A couple of light test loads didn't reveal any drips. The cover will be left off for a few days to watch for leaks. [Update - August 3rd: no water appearing, the panel was put back on.]


1) There was little risk that failure of this do-it-yourself repair would make the situation worse (unlike other projects). A professional could still be called and likely wouldn't have to spend any more time because of my failed attempt.

2) No special equipment or knowledge was required, which for example, would have been the case with the control panel or the motor.

3) The parts investment of $100 was modest; if it were $300 I would have called someone in.

4) The investment of personal time--2-3 hours over several days--was also modest, little more than the time required to supervise a professional repair. Also, no one had to be home for an appointment.

5) It took about as along to fix the pump as to write about it. Frankly, fixing it was more enjoyable.

© 2013 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Optometry Visit

Modern optometry equipment
My night vision seemed to be less acute, so after nearly a decade it was time to visit the optometrist. The doctor's assistant asked whether I'd like to forego eye dilation.

Using a new LED camera system a high-resolution picture would be recorded in less than a second. There would be no eye drops, no shining of a bright tungsten light into the widened pupils, and no optometrist breath a few millimeters away from my eyeball. I immediately agreed to the $30 additional expense.

After a few minutes of staring at letters and answering a series of Which is better? One or two? questions, he determined that the myopia and astigmatism had not gotten worse. However---and then a close-up of an eye filled the four monitors---there was a faint shadow developing on the left lens.

Someday the cataract may need to be treated, but for now we'll just keep an eye on it. The sunlight didn't cause me to squint as I went back to the car. It was an enlightening visit. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Monday, July 29, 2013

Welcome Change

I've been able to go to the mountains only a few times this year. No longer a neophyte hiker, I still find the experience to be invigorating. Coming across shady glens, deer, and waterfalls can be delightful, and the sunshine, country air, and stillness are a welcome change from the office.

There are unpleasant surprises--for example, rattlesnakes, wasps, falls, and heat exhaustion--that can be avoided with preparation and watchfulness. (Confession: not always has your humble correspondent been prepared and watchful.)

A good pair of shoes, mosquito repellent, sunglasses, a hat, and a water bottle are all one needs to get started. All those, of course, and time. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Temptation of Power

Thought for this Sunday, by sci-fi writer David Brin:
It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.
Although your humble observer agrees with Mr. Brin's sentiment--that many people seek power or want to be close to the powerful because of base motives--he resists the conclusion that they're "insane." They may be unwise, but they're not crazy.

Millions of good people throughout history have prayed lead us not into temptation. The darkness lies in others, to be sure, but it also resides in us.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Pake Mentality

These and other pics from
Earlier this month we posted about the pake (pah-kay) mentality. Yes, pake means cheap, but it also means having a singular focus on extracting value from every last penny in one's pocket, at the expense of one's time and social relationships.

It means taking a (free) bus cross-town to save one dollar on canned vegetables, it means asking a relative to fix an eight-year-old laptop worth at most $50 (perhaps this is a Machiavellian method of getting the relative to spring for a new computer, which has happened by the way), it means endless negotiation with a hapless clerk over which features are included with a mundane appliance.

For an outstanding example of what being pake means we must turn to China, of course, where Pizza Hut imposed a rule of one trip to the salad bar (hat tip: Tyler Cowen). Customers responded by salad stacking, and it's been reported that Pizza Hut is removing salad bars entirely. The pake mentality may win in the short run, but ultimately everyone loses. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Friday, July 26, 2013

Can't Live Without Them

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown lost $2 million because he didn't know that his contract required him to work out in Santa Clara during the offseason.
Brown, 28, who wasn’t aware of the escalator clause in his contract, fired his agent, Brian Overstreet, today shortly after he learned that his base salary had dipped from $2.925 million to $925,000 in 2013. [snip]

“That’s what agents get paid to do – to orchestrate the contract and let you know what you can and can’t do as far as workouts, OTAs, things of that sort,” Brown said. “That’s what he got paid to do. He didn’t do that. So, in my opinion, you have to be let go. We all are held accountable for our actions and it’s just part of the business.”
Although a few sports pundits argued that Tarell Brown should have understood the details of his contract, most sided with his decision to fire the agent. Sports contracts, like other legal documents, are often so long and complicated that professional specialists are required to prepare, negotiate,and explain them to the affected parties. Good agents make sure to understand the documents completely and to communicate the salient points to their athlete clients.

While it does appear in this case that the agent was remiss, we are not absolutely certain because outsiders are not privy to the exact contract language, which is often ambiguous.
[49er coach Jim] Harbaugh explained that Brown and his erstwhile agent, Brian Overstreet, weren't the only people unaware of the contract language. According to Harbaugh, the 49ers didn't realize it either. Harbaugh said the team would have alerted Brown had it known.
[Note: the article indicates that the 49ers and Brown will probably come up with a mechanism to get him his money.] Neither the 49ers nor Tarell Brown knew about an important provision of the contract. The lawyers and agents may have been aware, but they did not communicate that knowledge. Tarell Brown's unfortunate incident shows that being able to identify trustworthy experts (lawyers, accountants, teachers, mechanics, computer technicians, therapists, etc. etc.) is one of life's most important skills.

Would you rather be lucky or smart? A false choice: I'd rather know the right people. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mood Swings

AAPL is down 17% YTD, in sharp contrast to its large tech rivals and the NASDAQ, up over 20%.
Expectations for Apple had fallen so low that Tuesday's announcement of a drop in quarterly income that was smaller than expected was widely regarded as positive. Every day there are numerous articles from every conceivable viewpoint--from Apple stock is dead money to buy now because the stock has bottomed.

Like most chastened bulls, your humble Apple shareholder now thinks that last September's all-time high of $705 won't be attained any time soon, if ever. The dividend of $12.20, however, represents a yield of 2.7%--better than a bank account--at the current share price, and the $60 billion share buyback program provides an underpinning for future earnings per share, as at least 100 million shares out of nearly 1 billion will be retired. In other words the downside is low, and the 38% drop from the all-time high seems to have chased out the hot-money speculators.

As for potential upside, new products have been disappointing since Steve Jobs left the scene. But it's not likely that the entire $3 billion in annual R&D expense has been wasted; Apple's pipeline is bound to produce some products that will excite some people.

One thing is certain: investors in Apple must be able to handle mood swings. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

$5 Million is the New $1 Million

"A recent survey of affluent investors by UBS Wealth Management Americas found that only 28% of them with investable assets of between $1 million and $5 million actually considered themselves wealthy."

The short video hints that survey respondents are not so superficial that they think that wealth can be defined by a single number. The most restrictive definition is "no financial constraints on activities," and very few people attain that station in life.

For the rest of us who can't buy yachts or airplanes, the trick is to keep wants and obligations under control. Having "champagne taste on a beer budget" sinks many into financial trouble. For the financially secure but not ultra wealthy, by the time they can afford champagne their frugal habits are often so ingrained that they still choose beer.

For these people the outward and visible sign of wealth is not clothes, cars, or the price of the wine ordered at restaurants but the serenity with which they carry themselves throughout the day. And they probably sleep pretty well, too. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

La Mar Cebicheria

Cebiche and causa
We hadn't seen our East Bay friend and his wife for years, and we were pleased at an unexpected invitation to have dinner in the City. We were especially pleased that we were to meet at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, where he had been working since 2007.

To jaded critics the five-year old San Francisco restaurant was just another example of traditional ethnic--in this case Peruvian--cooking that had been married with the techniques of California cuisine (fresh ingredients, everything prepared on-site, complex flavors, light on the dairy, etc.)

Shellfish on squid-ink pasta
Our friend explained that, until La Mar came along, Peruvian restaurants in the U.S. had been mom-and-pop operations who served dishes normally found in the home.

Business was a little iffy when the restaurant opened, but a company dinner party, the busy tables, and crowded bar on this Tuesday night showed that higher-end South American fare was catching on. We weren't the only ones impressed; Mayor Ed Lee, a man known to enjoy a good meal, was having dinner a few tables away. Our host arranged to have a few complimentary dishes sent over. Well, why not, it comes in handy to have a friend at City Hall, just as it is to have a friend who helps to run a restaurant. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Monday, July 22, 2013

Take Math

Like many people, even very smart ones, Chief Financial Officers have difficulty seeing the value of new technologies; the costs are high and the benefits often unclear. That's one reason organizations have been slow to adopt big data.
Many chief financial officers say big-data technologies—which use high-performance computing to organize and analyze impossibly large volumes of information—would make their jobs more complicated and might not be worth the extra cost. They say their existing tools, mainly sophisticated financial dashboards that can crunch an organization's numbers in real time, are adequate for their financial-planning needs.
The WSJ article goes on to cite a couple of examples of big-data implementation, Chevron's accounts payable audits and IBM's risk scorecard for international expansion. But CFO's will need more than those to justify the out-of-pocket costs, not to mention the disruption, of installing new data collection and analytic systems.

However quickly the technology is adopted, companies of medium size or larger will need to have at least a few "quants" on their staff to keep up with developments, if only for defensive reasons. When deciding how to make your expensive college degree pay off, kids, do the math and take math.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Migratory Nuisances

The gulls swoop in as the crowds leave.
We have previously commented about the sea gulls scavenging for leftovers at the end of Giants games. The birds are increasing in number and are arriving earlier in the evening [bold added]:
A national television audience witnessed a massive swarm in March during the World Baseball Classic semifinal between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic, and similar invasions have occurred throughout the year. Hundreds of gulls sometimes land on the field during play. They also defecate on fans and create cleanup headaches for staff.
The Giants are at a loss for effective, reasonably priced solutions:
Federal law prohibits shooting the birds, and hiring a falconer to scare them away would cost $8,000 a game, said Jorge Costa, the Giants' manager of operations. The Giants are also concerned a falcon could gruesomely kill a sea gull in front of families and a television audience, Costa said.
Well, why not? The kiddies should learn that the circle of life isn't like a petting zoo. TV ratings might even go up if a hawk or falcon gives an un-cute seagull its comeuppance; after all, crowds gathered at ancient stadia to witness a little blood and guts.

Need more justification for aggressive action against sea gulls?
In an alarming trend that has scientists scrambling for answers, the bay's population of California Gulls -- squawking, flapping white-and-gray birds that most people associate with the beach -- has exploded from 24 birds in 1980 to more than 53,000 today. In the last two years alone, their numbers soared 41 percent, making the Bay Area home to the second-largest population of California Gulls in the world, behind only Utah's Great Salt Lake.

Nobody knows how to stop the population boom. And the problems are mounting: The gulls are increasingly colliding with airplanes, even causing several aborted takeoffs and landings at Bay Area airports. They're swarming landfills, divebombing schools and neighborhoods and gobbling up shorebirds that public agencies have worked for years to bring back from near extinction.
Current government policy promotes gull population expansion, not contraction:
Some people might think of gulls as flying rats. But along with condors, trumpeter swans and other beloved birds, they are protected under one of America's oldest environmental laws: the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. That's because gulls live in the winter on the Pacific Coast and migrate inland every spring to lay eggs. The law makes it illegal to kill any California Gull or destroy its eggs without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
I know what you're thinking, dear reader, but it's too bad that sea gulls don't taste good. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Lon at 90

When the Giants clinched the World Series in 2010:
From the days I first heard gravelly-voiced Lon Simmons broadcast Giants (and 49ers) games thousands of miles away to my little Sony transistor radio in Honolulu, I’ve waited, then stopped waiting, for this moment. With little warning it’s here, followed by the shouts and tears.
Last night Lon Simmons celebrated his 90th birthday by throwing out the first pitch at AT&T Park. The ball had good initial velocity but fell a bit short, a phenomenon we aging males are familiar with.

Congratulations to Lon Simmons, and thanks for many happy summer afternoons of listening about Willie, Willie, Juan, Orlando, Felipe, Matty, Jesus, and the rest of the gang.

Friday, July 19, 2013

More Than Numbers

The shift is on.
With the home team hanging on to a 2-0 lead, Giants closer Sergio Romo took the mound in the top of the ninth. Diamondbacks left fielder Jason Kubel was the first batter up, and the shift was on.

The Giants moved shortstop Brandon Crawford to the right of second base, and third baseman Pablo Sandoval was all by his lonesome on the left side of the infield.

Kubel's spray chart
Jason Kubel is a left-handed "pull" hitter who is almost incapable of hitting the ball left when he faces right-handed pitching. True to form, he flew out to right field.

Before Sabermetrics became widely employed, managers made decisions based on personal experience, gut feel, and scouting reports. Now no one makes a move without extensive data collection and number crunching. Though rooting for the Giants, I was secretly hoping to see Jason Kubel hit the ball to left field to show that man is more than numbers.

By the way, the Giants did win, 2-0. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, July 18, 2013

No Bombshell

Bombshell: An overwhelming surprise or disappointment: "the news came as a bombshell".
WSJ columnist Peggy Noonan calls the linking of the Tea-Party-targeting scandal to the IRS chief counsel a "bombshell" revelation. That's a misuse of the term, because it's not a surprise at all: how could these actions not have been directed from Washington?

IRS agents, if they want to keep their well-paid jobs with good health and retirement benefits, must follow rules that have been laid out for just about every situation. Delaying applications and singling out a class of taxpayers for extra scrutiny without a tax-related reason are counter to their ethics and procedures; such actions could well result in suspension, termination, and even criminal prosecution.

However, like other members of a bureaucracy, public or private, they'll do what bosses want as long as it's not obviously illegal. If the actions are outside the rule book, they need to get written authorization or may even "kick [cases] upstairs" for the higher-ups to handle. Ms. Noonan is correct in her conclusion, though: "Republicans need to find out how high the scandal went and why, exactly, it went there." © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Who Are You Afraid of the Most?

Brand consultant Jonathan Baskin says that data gathering by private companies "puts the National Security Agency to shame."
From the level of the internet service provider, through to social-media platforms and websites, and including apps, ads and clickable content (like videos), we collect a vast amount of information on consumers' online behavior (and their geophysical location), then use it to tee-up search results, info and ads to millions of people millions of times every day … ideally to each one of them uniquely so. We don't do it to keep anybody safe, however. We do it to sell stuff.
We are long past the point where even the virtuous who think they "have nothing to hide" can ignore the incessant snooping from all quarters. Fearing identity theft, no one freely gives out her social security number or date of birth any more. For various un-nefarious reasons people guard information about their income from co-workers; they are circumspect when talking about their assets with family and friends. But privacy does seem to be a losing battle in the expanding surveillance corporate state.

For all its problems corporate snooping, IMHO, is less bad than that done by the government. If data is lost or misused, private actors are subject to civil and criminal penalties. And for the most part one can still opt out of allowing a bank or social networking site to have access to one's information.

Not so with the government, which, despite the Fifth Amendment, can compel the submission of the most sensitive information and which has prosecutorial power to boot. Who are you afraid of the most? © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Side Street Inn, Kapahulu

Chinese chicken salad, ahi belly, pork chops, fried rice
For the past five years a co-worker had been urging us to dine at the Side Street Inn in Honolulu. When a relative extended an invitation, we jumped at the chance.

We went to the newer--and fancier--location on Kapahulu Avenue. There were a smattering of business diners and one company birthday party, but most customers were families. We sat down at 5:30, before the weekday crowds arrived.

The menu did not disappoint. Portions were generous, and the food was fresh. Two of the deep-fried offerings--the ahi belly and the pork chops--were a little bland for my taste but were easily spiced up with sauces and dips. Side Street Inn didn't ladle on the gravy like some other local establishments, and that was fine to those who are avoiding empty calories. However, don't be misled; Side Street Inn isn't for dieters. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Affluent Society

The replacement remote control for the digital videorecorder came with a set of labels.

The economy can't be that bad if:

1) satellite subscribers have so many DVR remotes that they need to label them;

2) DVRs and accompanying flatscreen TVs are in bathrooms, garages, "theatres", fifth bedrooms, and play rooms.

For the time being we'll just have to remember which remote goes in the servants' quarters.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

One in the Spirit

Baptism from February (sorry, no good pics from today)
The baptismal parties of the two candidates were a cross-section of the local community: Filipino, Caucasian, Indian and Hispanic. The congregation that gathered to witness the sacrament comprised a half-dozen additional groups that the classifiers and categorizers painstakingly enumerate to track societal health. Such distinctions fell away before the baptismal font.

During the sermon the priest spoke about the trial of George Zimmerman and the death of Trayvon Martin. Both men acted out of fear, he said, and saw what the other represented, not who they were in their entirety. Perfect love casteth out fear, say the Scriptures (1 John 4:18). Easy to say, but very, very difficult to put into practice.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Three Rules of Exceptional Companies

Exceptional companies "think different" from others. According to Deloitte researchers, they follow three rules:
1. Better before cheaper: Compete on differentiators other than price.
2. Revenue before cost: Drive superior profitability with higher prices or higher volumes, not lower cost.
3. There are no other rules: Change anything/everything in order to abide by the first two rules.
A modern spin on Emerson's aphorism:
Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.
Keep making the mousetrap better, and don't raise prices too much while you're doing it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Neither Man Could be "Guilty"

Univ. of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse:
All the uproar about race is overwhelmed by the more mundane criminal process matter of burden of proof. I hope the general public understands that to acquit Zimmerman is not to say that Trayvon Martin is guilty — or even that he did anything wrong. It could be that each man misperceived the other and felt that his life was threatened. I understand the feeling that since Martin paid with his life for that mistake that Zimmerman should also pay, just to square it up. But that feeling can't rule the criminal process.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

To Greater Heights

Technology turns mediocre and non-talents into decent performers across a broad range of human activities (athletics, music, architecture, medicine, and analytics, to name but a few examples). But what about those at the top? If they fail to adapt, like some silent movie stars when talkies were introduced, they'll be left behind.

The top talents who do embrace the new technologies raise their chosen profession to greater heights. We are now used to listening to singers who record both melody and harmony in one song by using basic audio technology; and we have seen musicians show off their versatility by playing several instruments in a band and mashing the sound together in the studio.

We must confess that we are in awe of the "live loopers"---those who merge various sound tracks in real time. Below is a quiet, but brilliant example performed by Hilo-born ukulele artist Brittni Paiva.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pake Is as Pake Does

Pake: pronounced "pah-kay".
1. This word is only commonly known in Hawaii. Person who is frugal. Someone who will not make a purchase at an excessive price. A person reluctant to spend money.

2. Word used as a sort of ethnic slur in Hawaii to describe a Chinese person.
Local beer that ended up costing $15.
The driver thought that it would be a good idea to cruise down Kalakaua Avenue at night to check out Waikiki. When they approached a famous hotel, one of the passengers said that she wanted to go into the gift shop to use a hotel gift card that she had been carrying around for months.

The driver offered to drop off the passengers and return in an hour.

Just leave the car with the valet; we'll be done in a few minutes.

After they disembarked, the driver gawked at the fee schedule (excluding tips) on the valet claim check:
With restaurant validation $6
Hotel Guests w/ no validation $15
Non-guests w/ no validation $50
The whole exercise appeared especially useless when it was discovered that the gift card ($42 remaining balance) could only be used at the restaurant or bar. And so it was that, in true pake fashion, the tired passengers and driver sat down to have a drink that they didn't really want or need in order to get the claim check validated.

The tab, including parking and tips, was $30.

The evening wasn't a total loss, however, because they did get to use the gift card. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

A Rising Tide in San Mateo County

Residents in our home County of San Mateo had the highest average salary in the nation during the fourth quarter of 2012. [bold added]
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics last week reported that the average weekly wage in San Mateo County, California in the fourth quarter of 2012 rose an astounding 107% from a year earlier, to $3,240. That’s the equivalent of $168,000 a year, and more than more than [sic] 50% higher than the next highest county, New York County (better known as Manhattan), which came in at $2,107 a week, or roughly $110,000 a year.
According to the WSJ the county's stellar performance was driven by an average $1.1 million paid to 6,200 "computer systems design services" workers. The $1.1 million average in turn was skewed by Facebook employees recognizing stock-option income.

San Mateo County's top rank is temporary. In 2013, absent IPO income, our wage levels will settle down to normal; nevertheless they may crack the top-ten list. That's still impressive, considering that there are 3,140 counties in the United States.

Bay Area counties San Mateo, Santa Clara, and San Francisco are all in the top ten (source: BLS)

Monday, July 08, 2013

Free Apps

Ten free apps at iTunes
On most birthdays the honorees receive gifts, but on the App Store's fifth anniversary (has it been only five years?) Apple is giving away ten of its most popular paid Apps. Your humble observer couldn't resist downloading two games, Badland and Infinity Blade 2, plus Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Unlike supposedly "free" games that force the player to buy upgrades, weapons, chips, etc. with real money in order to advance ("in-app purchases"), these games don't have that feature.

I was going to hit the ground running at the beginning of 2013's second half, but I guess I'll have to put that off for another week....

Sunday, July 07, 2013

And They Say American Football is Violent?

From Brazil: [bold added]
SAO PAULO (AP) — Police say enraged spectators invaded a football field, stoned the referee to death and quartered his body after he stabbed a player to death.....Local news media say the spectators also decapitated Silva and stuck his head on a stake in the middle of the field.
They probably don't have rules against "hitting above the shoulders" like they do here in the States.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

It Could Have Been Much Worse

All passengers were evacuated (Mercury News photo)
Little solace to the families of the two dead and the dozens critically injured, but the crash of an Asiana 777 at SFO could have been much, much worse.

Two grim firsts:
  • It was the first fatality involving a passenger aircraft at SFO since 1953 (1964 if one counts cargo airplanes).
  • It was the first passenger fatality recorded for the Boeing 777, which was introduced in 1995.

    The triple-7 was regarded as a huge risk for Boeing because cutting-edge technology was used in its design, manufacture, and operations: the revolutionary giant twin engines (not a "derivative" of previous models), the exclusive reliance on computer-aided design, the fly-by-wire instead of mechanical controls, and the use of composite materials in its construction. The airplane has proved to be a spectacular commercial success and had a stellar safety record...until today. Here's hoping that the NTSB investigation does not reveal serious problems with the aircraft. © 2013 Stephen Yuen
  • Friday, July 05, 2013

    Wisdom from Warren

    Warren Buffett in 1999:
    It's a huge structural advantage not to have a lot of money. I think I could make you 50% a year on $1 million. No, I know I could. I guarantee that.

    1) Let's feel sorry for Warren Buffett for having so much money that he can't make the returns that he made when younger.

    2) Never having achieved 50% returns, we are interested in buying Warren Buffett's advice. Unfortunately, the price tag depletes/obliterates our nest egg.

    3) Come to think of it, maybe we should pay him: if having only $1 million is a "huge structural advantage", a stake of only $500,000 or $100,000 should enable us to wipe the floor with Mr. Market.

    Thursday, July 04, 2013

    Wednesday, July 03, 2013

    Party On

    Fireworks for sale at Don Quijote market.
    In Hawaii New Year's Eve has always been the principal fireworks holiday.

    Everyone participated. As a 4-year old I waved my first sparklers, creating a figure-8 with the blue trail. The older boys threw cracker balls, trying to make each other jump. The men and women lit a few cherry packs ritualistically, then went back inside to enjoy food, drink, and conversation.

    At midnight the patriarch of the family, then my grandfather and now my father, lit a string of 10,000 firecrackers hoisted on a ladder. Many of the other families in the neighborhood were doing the same, and the din was earsplitting. After watching for a few minutes, I would go inside to get away the noise and smoke.

    July 4th in Hawaii has become a second fireworks holiday, mainly due to commercialization. Although the meaning of Independence Day is quite different in the Islands (where some believe that "independence" was forcibly taken away by the United States at the end of the 19th century), for most people the desire to have a good time overwhelms historical misgivings.

    Party on. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Tuesday, July 02, 2013

    Too Much Power

    San Bruno station is shuttered during the strike
    Diversification isn't just a desirable attribute of investment portfolios, it's a fundament of capitalism. If purchasers of goods or services are too reliant on one supplier, purchasers are vulnerable to supply disruptions, price hikes, unfavorable contract renegotiations, and other characteristics of monopolies.

    "Natural" monopolies, such as public utilities that have no competition because of their economies of scale, are regulated by the government. When the government operates the monopoly, consumers are for the most part helpless.

    For thousands of commuters Bay Area Rapid Transportation (BART) trains are the only transit method. Alternative transportation--including driving--from the East Bay to San Francisco is costly and can be much slower. That is why the BART strike, which began Monday, is so devastating. It's also dysfunctional (bold added):
    BART's labor stoppage is polluting the air, wasting commuters' time and, at least by one estimate, costing the overall Bay Area economy $73 million per day.

    The most public sticking points that led to the strike have been raises and pension contributions, a dispute that is separated by $17.53 million a year.
    When the monopolist sneezes, everyone catches cold---a cautionary tale about granting any entity, public or private, too much power over everyone's lives.
    © 2013 Stephen Yuen
    [Update - 7/5/13: trains will resume service for 30 days as management and unions attempt to reach a deal.]

    Monday, July 01, 2013

    JJ Bistro and French Pastry

    Lobster pasta---one of the entrées on
     that day's $29 prix fixe menu
    After a steady diet of sushi, plate lunches, Korean, and Chinese food, a little Continental cuisine is just what the gourmand palate (most certainly not what the doctor) ordered.

    JJ Bistro and French Pastry is a reasonably priced French restaurant in Kaimuki. The evening coincided with the expiration of a Groupon promotion; the restaurant was packed, and I had to park across the street. Nevertheless, we were seated within 15 minutes.

    Three-appetizer plate


    We had to wait for the waitress to take our order, but after she did so the dishes arrived promptly. The salad greens were very fresh, and none of the appetizers or entrées--even those with cream--had a heavy touch.

    Desserts are selected from the counter near the entrance (JJ has a thriving take-out business). We made our selection, which was taken home to be enjoyed the next day.

    JJ Bistro has become one of our essential stops due to a family member's fondness for their pastry. O, the sacrifices we make for love. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    © 2013 Stephen Yuen