Saturday, November 30, 2013

Too Much of a Good Thing

Time's recent cover story is about another example of how pendulums can swing too far [bold added]:
We have too many wild animals--from swine to swans. Thirty million strong and growing, the population of white-tailed deer in the U.S. is larger today than it was when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, according to National Wildlife Research Center scientist Kurt VerCauteren. They gobble up crops and vegetable gardens, dart into traffic and spread tick-borne diseases. Then there are the wild hogs. From a little herd imported to feed explorer Hernando de Soto's 16th century expedition, some 5 million feral pigs are rooting through city parks and private lawns in 48 of the 50 states...

And beavers. Nearly wiped out in the 19th century, they're back with a vengeance. In the Seattle suburb of Redmond, beavers are felling ornamental trees not far from Microsoft headquarters to build dams in the drainage culverts. Bald eagles are back too; one has been feasting on pet dogs near Saginaw, Mich. Raccoons bedevil the tony North Shore suburbs of Chicago. The world's largest Burmese pythons are no longer found in Burma; they are flourishing in South Florida. Wild turkeys swagger through Staten Island, N.Y. The yip of coyotes competes with the blare of taxi horns in New York City and Washington, while a fox has lately been in residence on the White House grounds. At least one mountain lion has had its photo snapped while hanging out in the Hollywood Hills.
It was easy to love the idea of wild animals....until the real animals foul gardens, damage property, or even endanger human lives. 40 years ago it was comparatively easy to ban certain activities in the name of animal protection; those bans have borne fruit, and not all are sweet.

Deer at the park last January.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Surprisingly Productive

On Black Friday family members wanted to join the mobs at the mall. The mall was the last place I wanted to be--we INTJs don't like shopping in crowds--but when one has a family one must sacrifice one's own preferences for the greater good. It took only 15 minutes of driving around to find a parking space.

I ordered a coffee at Barnes & Noble and planted myself at a table with the MacBook. (Free Wi-Fi is a blessing to INTJs.) During the next hour I cleared over a hundred shopping messages from various e-mail inboxes. Black Friday at the mall turned out to be surprisingly productive. Tip for the day: always keep your expectations low, then you'll feel better when things don't turn out as bad as you thought.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Turkey Day

The turkey entered the oven at nine. The back and front were seared for 20 minutes, then the heat was lowered and the automatic meat thermometer set to 160. The thigh temperature hit the mark six hours later, and the oven switched off.

We drove to Mimi's Cafe to pick up a couple of side dishes. (For $100 Mimi's will prepare a "holiday feast" that will feed 6 to 8 people, but never having outsourced Thanksgiving before, I didn't feel like entrusting the entire dinner to someone else.) Mimi's was strained to the breaking point; all tables were filled, plus the take-out line was ten deep. They had lost our order, which had been placed two weeks earlier. No problem, there were extra sides in the cooler, and they filled our order in 15 minutes. I was silently grateful (it is Thanksgiving) that I had not ordered the full holiday feast.

We returned home just in time to remove the turkey from the oven. Of course, today there are big things for which we are profoundly thankful, but a tender, juicy, flavorful bird certainly helped to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Easy Way

Thanksgiving, 2013: it's in the bag.
In previous years hours were spent preparing the turkey brine; we had to boil the vegetables and spices, cool and decant the liquid, ice the mixture, and dispose of the detritus in the compost bin. This time we did it the easy way by buying a brining kit (less than $10) from Urban Accents. True, the brine still had to be boiled, while the spice packet contained dried, not fresh ingredients, but the whole process was much faster, cheaper, and cleaner. [Update - 11/28: the proof of the turkey is in the eating, and diners pronounced the result excellent.]

Another plus: the brining kit came with a food-grade plastic bag. In past years we used large new bags of uncertain provenance. While the risk of chemicals leaching into the icy brine is minimal, it's best not to take chances.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pulling the Brake

Last year we, er, railed against the boondoggle known as the California high-speed rail (HSR) project, aka the train to nowhere. Yesterday Sacramento judge Michael Kenny halted the $10 billion expenditure of bond funds until a realistic plan for raising the remaining $15 billion is presented.
the state's current financing plan does not comply with the promises made to voters in 2008 when they approved selling $10 billion in bonds for the project. Beyond the $6 billion in state and federal funds for the first 130 miles, the judge said, revenue is theoretical rather than "reasonably expected actually to be available starting in 2015." The current cost estimate for building the first 300 miles, which the judge has indicated he believes is what the bond measure intended to finance, is $31 billion.
Supporters of HSR were undoubtedly counting on the project's momentum and arm-twisting by special-interest beneficiaries to force continuation of the project regardless of the wording in the 2008 initiative. HSR may still proceed if the legislature votes the funds, or if a realistic financing plan is devised.  Nevertheless, Judge Kenny's insistence that the Governor and other supporters live up to the promises they made to get the law passed is refreshing....and rare.

Monday, November 25, 2013

We'll Be Back

Our table for two hours.
In Las Vegas it's easy for non-members to sport the appearance of being part of the one-percent club. (For example, as of this writing a Maserati may be rented for $675 per day.)

We were invited by friends to lunch at the Mansion, the MGM Grand Hotel's oasis for whales. We were the only patrons in the garden while we enjoyed a quiet leisurely lunch. There was no hint that the bustling Strip was only a block away. After lunch we strolled around the trees and admired the statuary.

Whales don't care that the duck breast entree
weighs less than a hamburger and costs $35.
On this trip we didn't set a foot in old Las Vegas. I missed having gaming palaces a short walk from each other, but I didn't miss the cigarette smoke or the grime. A vacation on the Strip is more expensive than downtown but costs less than Honolulu, New York, or LA....that is, if one is disciplined at the tables. This time I kept my head, or maybe just was lucky. We won't wait five years to return.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

How the Young'Uns Do

Grilled scallops at the Sage
The Sage served the best meal we had during our long weekend in Las Vegas. We ordered small plates, a forced choice after three days of ceaseless consumption. Every dish was made of fresh ingredients and offered flavors and textures in interesting combinations. The only drawback was the noise. The Aria Hotel is oriented toward the younger crowd, which seems to gravitate toward venues that play high-energy music. We had to shout to make ourselves heard and decided to communicate how the young'uns do by texting each other. When in Rome....

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Bargain Indeed

Travelers from Hawaii have been known to head straight from McCarran Airport to the craps and blackjack tables for an all-night session, but those days are long since past for your humble observer. First, the desire has diminished; second, I just can't do it any more (oh, were we talking about gambling?)

On this week's trip to Las Vegas, our first in five years, we passed up the excesses of the all-you-can eat buffets and opted for less stomach-stretching fare. Each of the Strip hotels has at least one celebrity chef. On Thursday night we dined at Julian Serrano's at the Aria, and Friday at 9:30 we got in to Shawn McClain's Sage, also at the Aria. The ticket for two (without wine) ranged from $100 to $150, not unreasonable when compared with prices at top restaurants in San Francisco.

When one takes into account the money saved by not spending time in the casino, fine dining in Las Vegas is a bargain indeed.

Julian Serrano's mixed paella

Friday, November 22, 2013

That Day: A Personal Remembrance

I wrote this personal remembrance, reproduced below, on the 40th anniversary.
Mrs. Matthews calmly told us the news, but her normally severe demeanor seemed strained. She took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. The class grew quiet. In the face of tragedy we tried to act like adults, who we thought would not cry or shout or otherwise carry on.

After an interminable wait, school finally let out, and kids got into their buses or waiting cars. My ride wouldn’t come for another hour so I wandered around the empty halls. I thought about going to the main office to call Mom, but the phone was only to be used in the direst emergency, like the time I got sick in Mrs. Millar’s fourth grade class and my father had to take off work to pick me up. I borrowed a book from the library and went across the street to wait for my uncle. I opened the book but didn’t see the pages.

These days we say we are “shocked” or “stunned” by an occurrence, when, in truth, our imagination, combined with knowledge of actual horrors experienced over the past 40 years, has inoculated us against surprise. But those reactions are appropriate to this seminal event, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, that signaled the end of our childhood.

The entire week was quiet. No one felt like playing football, so games were cancelled. The churches were filled, just as they were a year earlier when we prayed that God would spare the world. It was a week of blackness--black suits, dresses, and veils filling our black-and-white TV sets and newspapers.

In 1960 my parents supported Richard Nixon, and, being an imitative child, so did I. But once JFK was elected, he became the President and had our unswerving allegiance. The world was extremely dangerous. As we learned in geography, Russia had the most land, China had the most people, and these colossi were united against us. And more and more were joining their fold: people in Africa, in South America, even in neighboring Mexico, were burning the flag (I remember when some burned the old flag with 48 stars: didn’t they know that Hawaii and Alaska had become States?). The map of the world that hung on the bedroom wall was bathed in red, the color of communism, while the blue part--the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and Japan—seemed puny in comparison.

At school we would practice ducking under our desks in case the bombs started falling. People say now that these instructions were a big joke, but I didn’t know anyone who laughed. Life and Look magazines ran page after page on the devastation wrought by atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I studied the huge mushroom cloud produced by the thousand-times more powerful hydrogen bomb over Bikini Atoll. Today children have nightmares about the Twin Towers falling; we worried about towers vaporizing…..everywhere.

President Kennedy also contended with many problems on the Mainland, as we called the contiguous 48 states. (I don’t want to give the impression that in my tender years I was a news junkie: it was primarily to advance my vocabulary that I read the grown-ups’ newspapers, the morning Advertiser and evening Star-Bulletin.) Good news was rare. Powerful labor unions, such as the Teamsters and steelworkers, went on strike and shut down much of the country. Troops had to be sent to Alabama because Governor Wallace wouldn’t let black kids go to school. The powerful Mafia was a big problem on the East Coast, and Robert Kennedy, the callow Attorney General, seemed inadequate to the task. As the Untouchables TV series vividly showed, you needed men with machine guns to take them on, and the President’s younger brother did not have the authoritative air of Elliott Ness.

The troubles came to a head in October, 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis. The fear in adults was palpable, and I became convinced, after a few days of excruciating tension, that the world was going to be destroyed. Every night I concentrated with special fervor on the final line of the children’s prayer, “if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take”. When the Russian ships turned around, and Mr. Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba, I felt the exultation of the patient who is given a second chance, and President Kennedy was my doctor.

He is remembered for his grace, his wit, and his handsome family. But I remember most of all the contrast between the joyful heights of Thanksgiving, 1962 and the somber depths of Thanksgiving, 1963. He saved us all, and then he was gone.
© 2003 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"The Greatest LIve Show They Have Ever Seen"

After yesterday's rain, "water" has become the theme for the week.

Tonight I saw my first Cirque du Soleil show, "O", at the Bellagio. Yes, the tickets were pricey at $181 apiece including the Ticketmaster surcharge, but there's nothing like it in the world. The mix of acrobatics, dancing, synchronized swimming, heart-stopping dives, live original music, and costumes all choreographed for a non-stop two hours, is, to use an over-used adjective, unique. Many people are willing to pay the price to see it: "As of early 2011, O has grossed over a billion dollars since the show opening in 1998."

Equally amazing was the wizardry behind the set, a vast pool that transforms into a wooden stage and back again (performers high-dive into the pool, so the machinery better be working). Physical and technical legerdemain aside, the two-hour production is beautiful. Chicago Tribune: "Many people consider it the greatest live show they have ever seen."

The set's elaborate machinery means that this show won't be going on the road. One must come to Las Vegas to see it. "O", the sacrifices we have to make....

Posing for this set piece is one of the few occasions the performers aren't whirling like dervishes.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Suddenly, A Storm

Rain-slick streets are an unusual sight this year
2013 is shaping up to be the driest year since 1850, so rain was a welcome sight this morning. The reservoirs and snow pack are still in reasonable shape though, and with above-average winter rainfall the Bay Area will avoid water rationing next summer.

I was happy just to turn off the sprinklers for a few days. The combined water-and-sewer bill is running about $120 per month, and one never likes to see money going down the drain. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

It's Time

Director Mary Watt (left) oversees
organized chaos during Thanksgiving
Food Stamp allotments have been cut this month (the conservative justification is that spending had more than doubled in the past five years) and many Americans are facing hardship.

Let the people in Washington re-hash old arguments. It's time for liberals who say they want to help the hungry to step up. It's time for conservatives who decry government inefficiency to step up.

One Bay Area organization that gives direct aid to the poor and operates on a shoestring is CALL Primrose. This week our church doubled its contribution of Thanksgiving food boxes and will double its commitment for Christmas.

It's time for deeds, not words. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Monday, November 18, 2013

Courtesy at Costco

One of the benefits of shopping at Costco is the abundance of free food samples. One of the disadvantages is that the tables seem always to be placed at the mouth of crowded aisles. Eaters plant their carts where no one can get past; stares and other nonverbal signals don't move them, so I must usually circle around.

Rule #1 of courteous Costco shopping: park the cart in a low-traffic area and come back for the sample. Added benefit: without the cart you'll be less inclined to buy food that you probably don't need. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Life Lessons

Two diagrammatic answers to the question, "What has life taught you?", from Quora.

The Venn diagram displays how difficult it is to hit the sweet spot of careers. Very few individuals are able to make a lot of money while both doing what they love and what they're good at. Top-tier athletes and entertainers are on the list, as well as billionaire entrepreneurs. Most of us, if we're lucky, become good at something that pays well. Love? that's for retirement and/or second careers.
The Project Triangle is a favorite way of picturing the difficulty of achieving three conflicting goals. Achieving two is difficult, and accomplishing all three is nearly impossible. Students usually strive for good grades and social life, with sleep coming in last. However, that would be a mistake, as sleep is more important to performance than most people think. Well, maybe in our lifetime, science will come up with a pill, not to help insomniacs sleep but to safely get by without it. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Saturday, November 16, 2013

More Skype, Less Frustration

Earlier this week I was traveling east on the Hayward-San Mateo bridge (the road is usually uncrowded against the westbound morning commute) when traffic came to a dead stop. There was a three-car accident on the bridge, and all lanes were blocked.

After texting everyone that I was going to be late indefinitely--yes, I know that texting while driving is illegal but does the rule still apply to texting while stopped?--and second-guessing whether I should have taken the Dumbarton Bridge, I "third"-guessed that I should have teleconferenced and/or worked from home.

Eventually arriving at the office, I had some worthwhile face-to-face meetings, informative interactions with a few people that I had not planned to see, and a tasty lunch to boot. Nevertheless, the benefits were not quite equal to the cost of the day's commute. Next time: more Skype, less frustration. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Friday, November 15, 2013

Medical Bypass

A family member was referred to a San Mateo ear-nose-throat doctor and was treated promptly and effectively. What was unusual about this story is that the doctor didn't accept insurance or even credit cards. Payment is via cash or check only.

By avoiding the elaborate medical payments bureaucracy Dr. Kelly charges a fraction of what other doctors bill (a good portion of which the insurance companies disallow anyway). He's literally old school, that is, he's eligible for full retirement under Social Security and his nurse-administrator uses a typewriter.

Opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act should not fall into the trap of defending the pre-2009 system that has multiple middlemen coming between the doctor and patient. Obamacare may or may not be repealed, but we will not go back to the old system either.

Dr. Kelly's clean, simple, and very old-fashioned method of handling payments won't work in most cases today, but what about tomorrow? Changes in everything, not just health care, are happening more often and more quickly. The one surprise is that people are still surprised when the unexpected happens.

BTW, Dr. Kelly's Yelp rating is five stars. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Undone and Done

Undone: left; Done: right
The ballast project (see previous post) has been fraught with mistakes, but at least, after more hours than I care to disclose, there's the satisfaction of turning on the switch and seeing results.

With many things in life immediate feedback is just not possible--heck, just talk to any parent or college freshman.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Ballasts are Bad

Old ballasts (top) are 5 pounds,
the new ones about 1.5.
We have overhead fluorescent tubes in the kitchen, bathrooms, family room and garage. Not only has disposing of them been a hassle because of the mercury, but now many of the ballasts in our 30-year-old house are going bad.

Replacing a ballast involves
  • turning off the power
  • removing the fluorescent tubes
  • removing the fixture cover (carefully!)
  • clipping the seven wires to the old ballast
  • Fixture with ballasts removed
  • removing the screws attaching the old ballast (again carefully!)
  • attaching the new ballast to the fixture
  • stripping the seven wires on the fixture and connecting them to the new ballast
  • replacing the fixture cover
  • replacing the fluorescent tubes

    The new electronic ballasts cost $17 to $19 and are much lighter and thinner than the old magnetic ballasts. Fortunately, standard lengths haven't changed, so the old screws are in the correct location for attaching the new ballasts.

  • I'm not the handiest of men, so it takes me about two hours to replace each ballast. Four down, six to go, and let's hope that the other 12 keep working for a while.

    By the way, the amateur handyman is cautioned to be careful lest too much force cause the fixture to tumble from the ceiling plaster (right).

    Do as I say, dear reader, not as I do. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Tuesday, November 12, 2013

    Losing the Narrative

    Over the last half century the non-STEM academy has embraced postmodernism, which has as one of its premises the lack of an objective "truth", that is, everyone has his or her own equally valid experiences, truths, and stories to tell. This philosophy, plus our embedded preference to listen to stories over other styles of communicating, is one reason why we are inundated with people telling their tales throughout the day. Narratives are fine for entertainment, but they're often a lousy way to set public policy. Nevertheless, that's the world we live in and the way decisions get made.

    Over the past 20 years the debate over health care has raged, primarily driven by (true) stories about the rapacious behavior of insurance companies, and to a lesser extent drug companies and heartless hospitals. In 2009 the Democratic Party, which controlled the legislative and executive branches of government, birthed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka "Obamacare," under which the Federal Government took control of the health care sector of the economy. No, the government does not technically "own" the health care sector, but through a combination of massive regulation, spending, and taxation the government controls it.

    Now the horror stories are going the other way. They are so compelling that the Administration and its Obamacare supporters are finding it impossible to control the narrative. One example: stage-4 cancer patient Edie Sundby's story of insurance cancellation because of Obamacare regulations:
    Since March 2007 United Healthcare has paid $1.2 million to help keep me alive, and it has never once questioned any treatment or procedure recommended by my medical team. The company pays a fair price to the doctors and hospitals, on time, and is responsive to the emergency treatment requirements of late-stage cancer. Its caring people in the claims office have been readily available to talk to me and my providers.

    But in January, United Healthcare sent me a letter announcing that they were pulling out of the individual California market.
    The narrative is lost, and in the postmodern world probably the battle is, too. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Monday, November 11, 2013

    The Month of Remembrance

    November begins on a personal note with my birthday. In recent years the celebration has been muted. (I'm at the age when I look back more than I look ahead.)

    Uncle Robert
    Today, Veteran's Day, we remember those who fought for freedom. In our family this year it's a somber holiday. Another of my father's six brothers, World War II veterans all, died suddenly less than two months ago. His ashes will be interred at Punchbowl.

    On November 19th the nation will honor the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln's great speech in the aftermath of an horrific battle. And on November 22nd the nation will remember the life and death of John F. Kennedy 50 years after his assassination.

    In a strange way revisiting traumatic events such as WW II, the Civil War, and the JFK assassination gives rise to hope. The obstacles that the nation overcame 50, 70, and 150 years ago dwarf those that it faces today, and there is no good reason why we shouldn't be equally--and ultimately--successful in solving our problems as well. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Sunday, November 10, 2013

    The Culture of Apology

    The Doctrine of Discovery is how Europeans, and then the United States, justified the conquest of indigenous peoples in the 16th through 19th centuries.
    title to lands lay with the government whose subjects explored and occupied a territory whose inhabitants were not subjects of a European Christian monarch. The doctrine has been primarily used to support decisions invalidating or ignoring aboriginal possession of land in favor of colonial or post-colonial governments.
    Last year the World Council of Churches repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:
    The nations from which the settlers came, and the new nations which resulted in the Americas, sought to impose another culture and way of life on the peoples they encountered. Attempting to remake the land and peoples they found “in their own image” was a profound act of idolatry.
    The age of Western expansion was marked by brutality, subjugation, and exploitation, and it is consistent with their faith for Christians to repent and make amends, even if the sins were committed by one's ancestors.

    History teaches, of course, that imperialism was not confined to the West; the Russian, Ottoman, Mongolian, and Mayan empires slaughtered millions more than the West ever did, but no apologies ever came from those quarters. Another example of Western exceptionalism--not the imperialism, but the culture of apology. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Saturday, November 09, 2013

    Crosscurrents of the Pacific

    Hawaii's four electoral votes are reliably Democratic; the last Republican to have won the Presidential vote was Ronald Reagan in 1984. Neil Abercrombie, the current governor, was a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Given Hawaii's liberal bona fides, one would expect that Governor Abercrombie's bill to legalize same-sex marriage would sail through without much opposition. One would be wrong.

    5,100 people registered to testify at the House hearings on the issue, and over 1,000 did speak, most of them against the bill, over five days.
    Gay marriage has proved a contentious issue in the solidly blue state of Hawaii, which has large Christian and Mormon congregations.
    The people of Hawaii are strongly pro-labor, but they're also strongly religious. Asians and Pacific Islanders, groups that are temperamentally (but not necessarily politically) conservative, comprise the majority. Given their culture's traditional deference to leaders, it's still likely that same-sex marriage will be approved, but it's no slam dunk at the Crossroads of the Pacific. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    [Update, Headline on 11/13: "Abercrombie Signs Same-sex Marriage Bill Into Law":
    Gay couples can get married in Hawaii as soon as Dec. 2. Clergy can refuse to perform gay weddings. Churches and other religious organizations can deny goods, services and facilities for gay weddings and receptions if it violates religious beliefs.

    Abercrombie said the bill may not be a "perfect vehicle" but it was the product of the deliberative process. He said the debate recognized both equality and religious freedom.]

    Friday, November 08, 2013

    The Lonely Guy

    Vanity Fair writer Todd Purdum on Barack Obama:
    He may be the biggest presidential paradox since Thomas Jefferson, the slaveholder who wrote the Declaration of Independence: a community organizer who works alone.
    The biggest Presidential failure in our lifetime was Richard Nixon, another lonely guy. According to political reporter Richard Reeves, Nixon wrote memos to himself throughout his Presidency:
    Nixon waited until late at night to pen these memos to himself. He did so when he was alone in his office, alone in the Lincoln bedroom, alone at Camp David, or alone across the street in his monastic hideaway in the Old Executive Office building--always alone, almost always in the dark, and sometimes, even in August, with a fire blazing.
    Like Richard Nixon, Barack Obama seems to prefer his own counsel. They are the rarest of political animals--two individuals who rose to the highest office without liking to be with other people. A penchant for solitude may not only cause failure but prevent solutions, especially if they involve compromise, from being devised.

    We'll see. It's going to be a long three years. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Thursday, November 07, 2013

    Pride Goeth

    A significant part of our portfolio is invested in Silicon Valley growth companies, but techies' attitudes may signify that another bubble is forming:
    Silicon Valley's superiority an ugly thing to behold. As the tech industry has shaken off the memories of the last dot-com bust, its luminaries have become increasingly confident about their capacity to shape the future. And now they seem to have lost all humility about their place in the world.

    Sure, they're correct that whether you measure success financially or culturally, Silicon Valley now seems to be doing better than just about anywhere else. But there is a suggestion bubbling beneath the surface of every San Francisco networking salon that the industry is unstoppable, and that its very success renders it immune to legitimate criticism.
    We're not advocating more government oversight or control of the tech industry, which would make things worse. It would be nice, though, to see a little humility, some self-reflection, and yes, a little maturity. When the next bust happens, Silicon Valley will sneeze, but we'll catch cold. 

    As the saying goes, only trees grow to the sky.

    Barge under construction: a sign of arrogance, playfulness, vision, or just maybe
    Google has too much money than it knows what to do with. (Examiner photo)

    Wednesday, November 06, 2013

    Room-sized Time Capsule

    Survival crackers: canned before the food pyramid.
    44-year-old Texas home purchaser Craig Denham restores a fallout shelter that had been sealed before he was born:
    Among the vintage gear neatly laid out in the shelter: A Geiger counter to test ambient radiation levels, a short-wave radio to monitor war news and a pen-like dosimeter to test radiation on one's person. Stacked nearby are crisp civil defense manuals, gas masks, heavy tools and first aid supplies.

    The air crank next to the cots comes with an automatic alarm so shelterers didn't sleep through the periodic oxygen refreshment process.

    Whimsical products — such as paper plates decorated with images of the cartoon character Dennis the Menace and a can of Florient Spice Hair Deodorant — contrast with the pitiless cans of MPF Multi-Purpose Food and a tin of 434 Survival Crackers.

    Decaffinated Sanka, Coffeemate, Lipton Instant Tea and Instant Maxwell House Coffee sit side by side with Sterno, matches, candles and batteries.

    Some of the products, such as Metrecal diet food, Bondware wax paper dishes and Lifebuoy Coral bar soap, are blasts from the retail past for anyone over a certain age.
    The creator of the fallout shelter probably lost his taste for it in WWII, but Spam would have been a good and tasty choice to have stocked his larder. We know from first-hand experience that it lasts a lifetime.

    Tuesday, November 05, 2013

    "Politically where are we right now, at this moment?"

    Peggy Noonan, WSJ editorial page:
    It’s as if it’s 1964 and the administration has just passed landmark civil rights legislation and the bill goes into effect, and....It doesn’t help minority groups – it makes their lives harder and less free! And it does real, present and intimate damage to the majority.

    It’s as if it’s 1937 and they launched Social Security, only rich coupon-clippers on Park Avenue immediately started getting small monthly checks, and 67-year-old dust bowlers in tarpaper shacks started getting monthly bills.
    In other words, "ObamaCare is a practical, policy and political disaster, a parlay of poisonous P’s."

    We can also play the "P" game. Critics of ObamaCare opposed it on the grounds of
  • principle: government takeover of a major sector of the economy,
  • privacy: as in loss of, especially since the IRS would administer it,
  • practicality: the government is not able to run something this big without turning it into the post office or DMV,
  • price: cost estimates were low-balled by hundreds of $billions.

    All the criticisms made sense, but the one that resonated the strongest was the practical: I just didn't see how they were going to make it work. From July, 2009:
    the current [healthcare] system is deeply flawed, yet, based on the government's recent performance in the comparatively simpler task of reviving the economy, have no confidence that the cure will be better than the disease.
    © 2013 Stephen Yuen
  • Monday, November 04, 2013

    They Know Too Much

    I never told eBay my age nor have I, to the best of my recollection, done a search for hair restoration products or services.

    That said, I am in the correct demographic to receive a Minoxidil promotion.

    Well, it could have been less flattering: my inbox is blessedly free of ads for little blue pills, senility remedies, and long-term care insurance.

    It's probably just a matter of time, though, because they know too much.

    Sunday, November 03, 2013

    21st Century Dispute

    Harper Lee then (
    At one time everyone read the book, and many saw the movie with Gregory Peck, but now To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), which is about a trial of a black man in the pre-Civil Rights south, seems like ancient history. Its celebrated author, Harper Lee, has remained out of the limelight for over 40 years.

    In a very 21st-century dispute Harper Lee is now suing the Monroeville Courthouse Museum for trademark infringement:
    Ms. Lee claims the museum pulled in $500,000 in 2011, partly by selling unlicensed "Mockingbird"-related merchandise, ranging from T-shirts to tote bags to packages of "Mockingbird Lemonade Mix." The suit asks for unspecified damages and for all of the allegedly infringing merchandise to be destroyed.
    and now (ABC news)
    Harper Lee's main motivation doesn't seem to be money:
    According to court papers filed earlier this year in an unrelated suit, she has made millions of dollars from sales of her only book, which continues to be read by legions of middle and high schoolers across the country.
    Let's hope that the lawsuit is resolved amicably, and Harper Lee gets rid of whatever is really troubling her. At 87, anger should not be one's companion.

    Saturday, November 02, 2013

    Food Multiplier

    Mango tuna salad - $10.95 at Prolific Oven
    The startups that I work on don't pay a lot. Compensation consists of hope, dreams, and pieces of paper that may mean capital gains in the future.

    The entrepreneurs I encounter today are different in one respect from those of yesteryear, however; their predecessors subsisted on Top Ramen. Latter-day Sergeys, Larrys, Steves, and Bills don't stint on the food budget.

    A better diet improves morale and adds productive hours to the workday. And even if no pot of gold awaits at the end of the journey, everyone will have had a better time getting there. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Friday, November 01, 2013

    It's Free at Last

    Four years after the last one (the gastroenterologist recommended a three-year interval),  I scheduled a colonoscopy for December. Since we're staying with our current insurance carrier, there's little point in waiting until next year in the hopes of getting a better deal.

    Obamacare does promise to save some money on colonoscopies, versus private plans:
    In 2014, insurance providers will be forced to (1) cover a screening colonoscopy at 100% and (2) classify the colonoscopy as screening even if polyps are found.
    As the article points out, however, many aspects of colonoscopy reimbursements are unclear, like the liquids I'm not supposed to drink 24 hours before. This year I know what I'll be paying, and I know what services I'm getting, so I may as well get it over with.

    Preparation for the procedure involves drinking a prescription medicine that "cleans your colon by causing you to have diarrhea" (the drug company didn't run the instructions past marketing, obviously). Hey, another untouted benefit of Obamacare: the diarrhea is free. © 2013 Stephen Yuen