Friday, February 28, 2014

The Vast Garden

There's no better time to be a book-reader (if one isn't averse to reading on a screen). Thousands of free books can be downloaded to one's phone, tablet, or computer. Others, including many recent best-sellers, are available for $5 or less.

A small sampling of free iBooks
Apple's iBooks app, which can be downloaded free, is my favorite reading environment because of its indexing, highlighting, and bookmarking features, not to mention its look and feel.

Right now I'm catching up on Shakespeare; your humble observer was culturally deprived in his youth and never made the time to read beyond the Great Plays taught in high school and college.

Free Kindle Classics
Amazon's Kindle--the latest is the Kindle Fire--is the preferred e-reading device for millions of consumers. If one already has a tablet, however, it's unnecessary to lay out the shekels for a Kindle.

The Kindle App can easily be downloaded through iTunes for iPads and iPhones and through GooglePlay for Android devices.

Even if the reader hasn't joined the mobile revolution, it's possible to partake of the ever-expanding cornucopia of compendia. Project Gutenberg has "over 42,000 free ebooks" available for download to PC, Mac, or Kindle.

BTW, did the Bard himself foresee ebooks? "As soon go kindle fire with snow, as seek to quench the fire of love with words." [Two Gentlemen of Verona]

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Wait Till One Gets Home

Now that Apple phones, tablets, and computers have become widespread, Apple's security features have attracted greater scrutiny from experts and hackers alike. The company's reputation for superior security may have been over-hyped:
A major flaw in Apple Inc software for mobile devices could allow hackers to intercept email and other communications that are meant to be encrypted, the company said on Friday, and experts said Mac computers were even more exposed.

If attackers have access to a mobile user's network, such as by sharing the same unsecured wireless service offered by a restaurant, they could see or alter exchanges between the user and protected sites such as Gmail and Facebook. Governments with access to telecom carrier data could do the same.

"It's as bad as you could imagine, that's all I can say," said Johns Hopkins University cryptography professor Matthew Green.
I do not make purchases or conduct online banking when connected to a public network. It's more prudent to switch to the device's data plan (mine are AT&T and Verizon) or, better yet, wait till one gets home.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Old Money

(Chronicle photo)
A California couple has unearthed history's largest find of buried gold coins, approximately $10 million worth:
The bonanza emerged last year as the man and woman were walking their dog on their property in the Gold Country and noticed the top of a decaying canister poking out of the ground.

They dug it out with a stick, took it to their house and opened it up. Inside was what looked like a batch of discs covered in dirt from holes rotted through the can.

They weren't just discs.

A little brushing revealed nearly perfectly preserved $20 gold coins with liberty head designs on the front, dated from the 1890s. They ran back to the same spot, and when they were done digging, they'd found a total of eight cans containing 1,427 coins - with a face value of $27,980.

A total of 1,373 were $20 coins, 50 were $10 coins and four were $5 coins. They were dated from 1847 to 1894, and after sprucing up they shone like, well, gold - which fortunately never corrodes. About a third of the coins were in pristine condition, having never been circulated for spending. Most were minted in San Francisco.
Despite its name, the Gold Country in Central California has not shared in the tech boom of the coastal regions.
The couple, who are in their 40s and are self-employed, told [coin dealer Don] Kagin and [numismatist David] McCarthy they want to donate some of the proceeds to the homeless and hungry in their area. They also plan to keep a few coins as keepsakes.

"Like a lot of people lately, we've had some financial trials," the man told Kagin in the recorded interview. "I feel extreme gratitude that we can keep our beloved property."
Once our envy subsides, we always get a warm feeling when good fortune comes to good people who could really use it.

[Update - 3/4: Uh-oh, they may not get to keep their find. The coins may have been stolen from the San Francisco mint in 1900.]

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

His (In)actions Speak Loudly

The United States has overwhelming economic, military, cultural, and, yes, moral superiority over Russia. Yet Vladimir Putin is running rings around Barack Obama.

Historian Paul Johnson [bold added]:
Whatever one may think of Putin’s moral posture–which is deplorable–he is regarded as strong, decisive and vigorous, pushing Russia’s interests at all times, with considerable success. In contrast, Obama is written off as weak and irresolute, with no clear short-or long-term aims. He gets high marks for rhetoric but scores zero for action. In short, he’s a windbag. [snip]

President Obama is missing two crucial chances [Syria and the Ukraine] to take a stand for decency and humanity against the forces of evil and is handing Putin an easy victory. History has placed Obama in a position in which he can be held responsible for the freedom or servitude of two peoples. Putin has far fewer resources but has been using them with skill, consistency and determination. It’s terribly sad that at this juncture the U.S. is led by a man with so little regard for his nation’s role in upholding and extending freedom and that the forces of evil should be winning battles with so little effort.
Barack Obama's critics say that he is weak and vacillating, but IMHO, the election of 2012 showed otherwise: the President is capable of great ruthlessness in intimidating and silencing political opposition by means fair or foul (IRS audits and NSA surveillance).

Where is that man today? One hopes that plans are afoot to reverse what appear to be American setbacks in Afghanistan, Eastern Europe, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. If nothing happens, one is left to conclude, sadly, that what his opponents said is true: the assertion of American interests and the promulgation of American values in the world are not important to Barack Obama. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Monday, February 24, 2014

Waiting for the Big Dog

The problems with wearable computing:
Big and unresolved questions remain about pricing (too high), battery life (too short), utility (too limited), looks (too ugly) and privacy (too scary).
Best Buy fitness rack (
Fitness monitors comprise "nine out of ten" devices sold, and your humble correspondent is part of that crowd.

I went to Best Buy to shop for a replacement for the three-year-old Garmin exercise tracker but didn't see anything that was substantially better, at least for my moderate exercise routine. Like a lot of people I'm waiting for the big dog:
Few have focused on taste and the behavioral insights that are fundamental to the business of selling stuff you wear. That’s why all eyes are on Apple. While it wasn’t first to market with a smartphone or tablet, Apple’s design sense and ability to integrate gadgets, apps and online services set the standard others follow.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Full of Grace

At Grace Cathedral in 2011
the Rev. Whitney Roberson & friend
The last time I saw Whitney she greeted me with a smile and a hug. Though sick with the cancer that would eventually end her life, she asked about the health of each of us. That's one of the reasons she was beloved; she was always turning the subject away from herself.

At yesterday's memorial service, Whitney's daughter Sarah reflected upon the life of the single mother who raised three daughters, went through seminary, and became an ordained minister late in life. We met Whitney when she was in San Carlos. She had that light in her eyes that invited us to return every Sunday, and so we did. Rest in peace, dear friend.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

It's Just One Man's Opinion

From Quora, the question-and-answer website:
How can I have more energy in the mornings?
Most popular answer [bold added]:
Try a "Scottish shower."

Start with a regular hot shower to loosen up and get comfortable. After a couple minutes, turn the temperature to cold. You can do this gradually if you'd like, but I personally just smack the handle towards cold and go on with shower. You will freeze, you will find it difficult to stay in the water, your breathing will become short, but this only lasts about 30 seconds in my experience and is actually very invigorating and exciting.
Thanks, all the same, but I'll have a hot cuppa joe instead.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Remembered Fondly

New Year's 2008: the TV was still truckin'
30 years ago we spent $600 (when that was real money) on a 19-inch Toshiba television set. It had an excellent picture and could accept video and audio inputs from four different sources. Weighing a mere 40 pounds, the TV had convenient handles for portability. I hauled it around along with a VCR when I needed to run a tape for a presentation.

Though long in the tooth, the TV was perfect for our student when he was in San Diego. It wasn't worthwhile to transport it back, however, and was donated to charity.

Its technology is obsolete and the cost was very high by today's standards (see yesterday's post). If we judge the set by the standards of its time, it performed much better and longer than I had a right to expect. Like many other objects (and people!), I wouldn't want to interact with them now but I do remember them fondly. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Value Progression

Vizio M401I-A3: 40", LED, 120 Hz, Wi-Fi
The value progression in consumer electronics never ceases to amaze. Our various Costco rebate certificates totaled $500 and were more than enough to buy a 40-inch Vizio flatscreen for the bedroom.

The Vizio is far from the best or biggest TV on the market, but it's in a different solar system compared to the 10-year-old low-res, smaller, heavier tube that it replaced.

Food, energy, education, housing, transportation, and medical care are all squeezing the family pocketbook, but electronics is thankfully going in the other direction. Unfortunately, man cannot live off televised entertainment alone. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Format Clinger

Netflix: a cornucopia of streaming goodness
We originally subscribed to Netflix when Blockbuster was the dominant name in video rentals; two of the latter's outlets were within walking distance of our house. Blockbuster adapted to the format switch from VHS tapes to DVD's but could not survive the transition to video streaming. Now rental stores are no longer to be found.

Each member of our family regularly streams Netflix' video offerings to computers, tablets, and smartphones, but we still maintain the DVD-rental plan at an additional cost of $10 per month. (Most recent releases, such as Hope Springs, can only be viewed on DVD.) At most we watch one disk per week, however, and the cost of the subscription is increasingly hard to justify. I give it a year.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hope Springs: No Laff Riot

OK, one last post about love during the traditional month of romance:

Keeping a marriage together is a lot like losing weight---the solutions aren't rocket science but do involve self-discipline, leaving one's comfort zone, and daily prioritization of the objective.

In the 2012 film Hope Springs Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play a couple married for 31 years. The fire--not just sex, but communication--has long since gone out of the relationship. The children have left home, and Kay and Arnold Soames are little more than co-tenants (with outside jobs) in a capacious, neatly kept suburban house.

Kay cannot envision living out her life in such a sterile environment. She signs them up for an expensive, away-from-home week of marriage counseling, and Arnold gets on the plane very reluctantly.

The rest of the movie, especially with Steve Carell as the marriage therapist, seems ripe for laughs with its ready-made ingredients of aging, elder sex, and a gruff, silent husband being pushed to open up. While there are some comic moments, the movie largely plays it straight. Both Steve Carell and Tommy Lee Jones are revelations as they play against expectations; Carell refuses to mug for the audience, and Jones makes Arnold's transformation believable. Meryl Streep, as usual, immerses herself in her role as Kay so completely that we (almost) forget that she's Meryl Streep.

This movie is well worth the time of (ahem) older folks who want to see their demographic played realistically. But a laff riot, it's not.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sweetheart Splurge

"Sweetheart" rib-eye: I wonder how it got its name.
For the day after Valentine's Day I went to the local Whole Foods and splurged on the "sweetheart" steak at $13.99 per pound.

Actually, shopping at Whole Foods is always a splurge because I've never found it to be cheaper than Safeway, Lucky, or other markets on anything.

If you believe the hype about organic food, however, no price is too high when it comes to your or your sweetheart's health.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Either That, or Pray a Lot

Facebook Data Science reports that the overwhelming majority of Facebook members marry within their faith:
(Facebook diagram)
With so many potential sources of conflict, e.g., money, sex, children, and careers, most marrieds seem to display a practical streak by uniting with someone of the same religion, thus reducing, if not eliminating, it as a bone of contention. Divorce is significantly more likely if partners have different religious backgrounds.
According to calculations based on the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001, people who had been in mixed-religion marriages were three times more likely to be divorced or separated than those who were in same-religion marriages.
Living together before marriage is officially frowned upon by major religions, but a trial run is probably good advice to those marrying outside the faith.  Either that, or pray a lot. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014


"Infinity Machine" sounds like over-hype
...but what if it's not?
Time Magazine's cover story is about, potentially, one of the most important inventions of the 21st century. The quantum computer is
so radical and strange, people are still trying to figure out what it's for and how to use it. It could represent an enormous new source of computing power--it has the potential to solve problems that would take conventional computers centuries, with revolutionary consequences for fields ranging from cryptography to nanotechnology, pharmaceuticals to artificial intelligence.
The technology sounds like gibberish to the layperson, including your humble correspondent. If you, dear reader, are conversant with the italicized terms, you are a smarter person than I:
An adiabatic quantum computer works by means of a process called quantum annealing. Its heart is a network of qubits linked together by couplings. You "program" the couplings with an algorithm that specifies certain interactions between the qubits--if this one is a 1, then that one has to be a 0, and so on. You put the qubits into a state of quantum superposition, in which they're free to explore all those 2-to-the-whatever computational possibilities simultaneously, then you allow them to settle back into a classical state and become regular 1's and 0's again. The qubits naturally seek out the lowest possible energy state consistent with the requirements you specified in your algorithm back at the very beginning. If you set it up properly, you can read your answer in the qubits' final configuration.
Other physics concepts that would-be quan-trepreneurs need to be familiar with are quantum entanglement and quantum tunneling.

Not one in ten thousand people can explain any of them; nevertheless, somewhere in their back offices the wizards of Wall Street have already started drafting the IPO documents.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Kindly Explanation

On this Valentine's week, Facebook Data Science runs a series of blog posts about love. Behold the power of modern data-collection and analysis: listing the cities that have the "most single males to single females" (San Francisco is #1) is a trifle; Facebook can tabulate the actual rate of couple formation:
Facebook, with 201 million users in the U.S. and Canada, has something the Census Bureau doesn't: Real-time relationship statuses for about half of Americans. Over a one-month period, Facebook ranked major U.S. cities according to the percentage of singles that went from "Single" to "In a relationship."
Digging deeper, the Facebook data miners looked at the number of times each member of the couple posts on the other's timeline:

During the 100 days before the relationship starts, we observe a slow but steady increase in the number of timeline posts shared between the future couple. When the relationship starts ("day 0"), posts begin to decrease. We observe a peak of 1.67 posts per day 12 days before the relationship begins, and a lowest point of 1.53 posts per day 85 days into the relationship. Presumably, couples decide to spend more time together, courtship is off, and online interactions give way to more interactions in the physical world.
As many married people can attest, intra-relationship communication can go down over time. The FB data analysts are positing a kindly interpretation--more "interactions in the physical world".  Well, it's Valentine's Day, when all explanations should be kindly. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

No Fury

Michelangelo's Last Judgment (Wikipedia photo)
Better to be on the top than the bottom
Youngsters have their eyes on life's smorgasbord--the colleges they want to attend, jobs and careers, places to live, when to start a family, etc.--while over-50's gaze more at eternity (in addition to staving off decrepitude and checking off items on the bucket list).

Death may still have its sting, but Hell ("a medieval relic") doesn't preoccupy Westerners any more. Everlasting fire becomes less problematic when one no longer has corporeal form--"Descartes in the 17th century declared that the soul was immaterial, and thus beyond physical pain"--and separation from God is not so terrible if a lonely sinner has thousands of friends just a click away.

The theology of Hell also doesn't seem fair to modern eyes--"It could not be just and right, for example, that all the unbaptised were automatically sent there"--what about all the good people, including Old Testament heroes, in history who weren't even given the opportunity to be born again? If God reasons like Western man (or woman), then traditional Hell should not be a concern.

But if there's even the slightest chance that the medievalists were onto something, it may be prudent for those with a wrinkled mien to start going to church again. It's not religion, it's math.

Pascal's wager:
Given the possibility that God actually does exist and assuming the infinite gain or loss associated with belief in God or with unbelief, a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.).
Really, it's not that complicated.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Credible Explanation

Prolific business writer Megan McArdle believes that writers procrastinate because of perfectionism:
I’ve watched a surprising number of young journalists wreck, or nearly wreck, their careers by simply failing to hand in articles. These are all college graduates who can write in complete sentences, so it is not that they are lazy incompetents. Rather, they seem to be paralyzed by the prospect of writing something that isn’t very good.
Finally a credible explanation for your correspondent's compositional tardiness: lofty standards. One can't rush genius.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Shirley Temple (1928 - 2014)

In the Golden Age of Television the movies available on our black-and-white TV's three channels were Westerns or Shirley Temple films. Shirley Temple's popularity during the 1950's, however, was just an echo of her fame two decades earlier.

She wasn't just a child actress, she was the biggest star of all:
From 1935 to 1939 she was the most popular movie star in America, with Clark Gable a distant second. She received more mail than Greta Garbo and was photographed more often than President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Shirley Temple Black was also a diplomat: U.S. representative to the United Nations, ambassador to Ghana, and ambassador to Czechoslovakia. Unlike other celebrities and donors who are rewarded with cushy appointments, she was more than a figurehead:
She could have been a haughty movie star and political figure, but she majored in being down to earth.

She also talked knowledgeably about the economic conditions of [Czechoslovakia], getting down into the weeds about likely private joint ventures that would work. She also described the environmental degradation she had seen in Czechoslovakia from years of Soviet rule, calling the situation the “Pollution Curtain.”

It was clear that she had a passion for human freedom — this was not a newfound conviction. Before serving in this post, she had served as ambassador to Ghana under President Gerald Ford. Hardly a cushy assignment; she went there to work on the challenges of a developing nation. Before that role, she had served as a delegate to the United Nations under Richard Nixon. [snip]

Shirley Temple Black, who died Monday night, could have traded on being Shirley Temple for all her life, I assume. But she didn’t. She served her country, she stood for important values, and she did all that without pretense.
She could have rested on her laurels and childhood earnings, but she kept serving throughout her life. R.I.P.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Domestic Foul

Chicken coop on sale at Costco, Redwood City
Costco displays are a window to consumer trends, but the warehouse giant may be a little ahead of the curve in the case of chicken coops.

Hard-core locavores are raising their own produce, but chicken- (or just egg-) farming is unlikely to become popular in our haughty suburban town. Not only are those activities messy and time-consuming, they're also currently illegal.

From the Foster City Municipal Code:
6.04.320 Keeping of other animals prohibited.

It is unlawful to keep any of the following:

A. Any fowl, reptile or animal which normally lives in a wild habitat and is a curiosity to the local community, whether wild or domesticated at the time of its keeping;

B. Domestic fowl; or

C. Bees.

(Ord. 521 § 1 (part), 2005)
Once again, San Francisco leads the way in urban tolerance ("Hosting four or fewer chickens (or combination of small animals) in residential districts does not require any special permits per the San Francisco’s Department of Public Health.")

Sunday, February 09, 2014

"Ladies and Gentlemen.....the Beatles!"

On February 9, 1964, while sitting cross-legged on the floor at my grandparents' house, I watched the Beatles' American debut on the Ed Sullivan show. To my uncomprehending relatives the four young men from Liverpool, with their moptop hair and British accents, could have been from another planet.

Those early tunes were popular, simple, and catchy. Anger, complexity, and other musical influences would come later along with civil rights, war protests, free love, and LSD.

At the time Ed Sullivan probably didn't realize that he was introducing what would become the greatest rock band of all time. Some events, like the invention of the transistor and the publication of Silent Spring, have acquired significance because of what followed. It's now called "the night that changed America," but of course, no one knew it at the time.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Texting Discipline

(From the Huffington Post)
My personal rules for texting-while-driving:
  • Never respond to text messages.
  • Wait to glance at texts (or maps) until stopped at a red light.
  • Limit downward gaze to two seconds at most.

    Your humble observer is not without sin in this area, obviously, so he's tolerant of the increasing number of drivers who are a little slow to move when the light turns green.

    Yesterday, however, traffic in the adjacent lanes began whizzing by while the car in front didn't budge. I leaned on the horn and immediately regretted giving in to an angry impulse.

    Your observer had been having a bad day, but that's no excuse. He needs more discipline, and, frankly, a lot of other drivers need it, too. © 2014 Stephen Yuen
  • Friday, February 07, 2014

    Phillip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)

    (EW photo)
    Not handsome and rarely playing a good guy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman was not the classic Hollywood leading man. His characters were complex, often haunted, and never boring.

    On February 2nd his body was found with a needle stuck in its arm, apparently just another sad ending to a celebrity life. The circumstances of his death and a resumé lacking in heroic roles did not earn Phillip Seymour Hoffman the usual outpouring of mourning that the public reserves for other celebrities. His fellow entertainers, however, recognized his greatness:
    Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Ethan Hawke, Amy Adams, and Ellen Burstyn have paid their respects to Philip Seymour Hoffman, an actor widely considered among the best of his generation. Hoffman’s private funeral was held Friday in Manhattan. It ended with pallbearers bringing the coffin out of the church and putting it back in the hearse.

    The list of mourners also included Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Joaquin Phoenix, Louis C.K., Mary Louise Parker, John Slattery, Jerry Stiller, Marisa Tomei, Spike Lee, and Diane Sawyer and her director husband, Mike Nichols.
    EW critic Owen Gleiberman:
    The catharsis of Hoffman’s performance is that he held up the mirror to something that actors, even great ones, almost never have the daring to reveal: the scrappy, private pain of a completely ordinary person. And that was the beauty of it, the way that Hoffman exposed that pain. [snip]

    It may seem obvious to say that his crowning achievement was Capote (2005), for which he won a richly deserved Academy Award, but to me it truly was.....Hoffman was playing an immensely powerful man in dweeb’s clothing, and so he was able to assemble the twin dynamics of his acting — the impulse to hide, and the impulse to reveal — into a single extraordinary portrait of the artist as master manipulator.
    Phillip Seymour Hoffman---at 46 he wasn't young, but we still wonder about what might have been. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Thursday, February 06, 2014

    Think Before You Tweet

    For decades the Internet has been recognized as the Great Equalizer. The rich and powerful still have advantages--especially if they are wired legally or not into the government and big-tech data-gathering apparatuses--but their cruel behavior, impertinent remarks, and personal indiscretions are often publicized far and wide. Instant and far-ranging negative publicity causes real damage to mighty reputations, which are costly to restore. (Google "ruined reputations" for thousands of postings on this subject.)

    Taking potshots at the powerful is not without cost. Misstatements of fact are subject to laws concerning libel and defamation, and social norms about when and how much to be indignant can boomerang upon the critic.

    Last year's Donglegate incident was the perfect storm of controversial topics (sexism in tech, feminism), the Internet, and social media:
    at a tech conference called PyCon, the consultant Adria Richards overheard some indelicate puns — involving the terms “dongles” and “forking” — from a couple of male attendees sitting behind her. The jokes made Richards uncomfortable, so in the heat of the moment she decided to register her displeasure by tweeting a picture of the two guys, calling their behavior “not cool.” [snip]

    One of the men was recognized by his employer and lost his job. The backlash against his firing then triggered a massive onslaught of online abuse against Richards, who also got fired.
    If you're going to cast stones through the Internet,

  • Make sure you can back up your position;
  • Assume that you won't remain anonymous;
  • Weigh whether the principle is worth the possible cost to your own reputation (remember the Biblical admonition to be without sin yourself).

    A more courteous age told us that if you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything at all. If you're not going to follow that advice, at least think before you tweet. © 2014 Stephen Yuen
  • Wednesday, February 05, 2014

    "Satellite Valley"

    Beaton Park, Perth (Skybox image)
    Another new industry competes for talent and venture capital, not to mention headlines, in the local business scene:
    a slew of Bay Area startups have begun launching small, relatively inexpensive satellites into space. They lug powerful cameras that send back pictures and video, and those images soon could dramatically change the way we perceive our orbital home.

    A satellite that once cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and launch is now doable for a tiny fraction of that amount. And there's plenty of money to be made selling satellite photos, as well as the data they impart, to governments, analytical firms -- and even huge retailers such as Wal-Mart, who could see things like traffic flow in its parking lots every day of the year.
    The Bay Area is home to leading companies in video streaming, cloud computing, and social networking. The commercialization of outer space is where those businesses were ten years ago, that is, unknown to the general public.

    "Satellite Valley"---few people have any idea what it's going to look like, but it's going to be big, and it's going to be important.

    Tuesday, February 04, 2014

    Vitamin E

    (Photo from NPR)
    Your humble correspondent began taking Vitamin E supplements 20 years ago. The cost of the antioxidant tabs was modest--10-15 cents per day--while benefits were potentially great: possible prevention of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and macular degeneration.

    Recently, however, there have been a few concerns raised:
  • One study showed that Vitamin C and E supplements hindered athletes' ability to build up muscle endurance.
  • More worrisome is another study that indicated that Vitamin E can fuel the growth of lung cancer in mice rather than curb it.

    While it's still probable that the supplement is safe, the cost-benefit comparison has shifted enough to change my behavior. I've stopped taking Vitamin E tablets as of last summer. © 2014 Stephen Yuen
  • Monday, February 03, 2014

    There's A Pony in Here

    The digital age has triggered an explosion of expression [bold added]:
    Every day, we collectively produce millions of books’ worth of writing. Globally we send 154.6 billion emails, more than 400 million tweets, and over 1 million blog posts and around 2 million blog comments on WordPress. On Facebook, we post about 16 billion words. Altogether, we compose some 3.6 trillion words every day on email and social media — the equivalent of 36 million books. (The entire US Library of Congress, by comparison, holds around 23 million books.)
    The digital age has confirmed Sturgeon's Law: "Ninety percent of everything is crud" or "Ninety percent of everything is crap."
    a global eruption of unedited, everyday self-expression is even more likely to produce this 90-10 split — an ocean of dreck, dotted sporadically by islands of genius.
    But there's hope. The digital age has exposed millions of writers to public view, thereby elevating the quality of their product:
    When students were asked to write for a real audience in another country, their essays had better organization and content than when they were writing for their teacher. When asked to contribute to a wiki—a space that’s highly public and where the audience can respond by deleting or changing your words—college students snapped to attention, carefully checking sources and including more of them to back up their work.
    Readers, take heart. Despite all that you must wade through---yes, that statement applies to this humble journal, too---there's a pony in here somewhere. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Sunday, February 02, 2014

    Why I Have TiVo

    The TiVo DVR began recording before the kickoff. Leaving the house to run errands, I planned to return for what everyone said was going to be an exciting second half.

    At halftime the score was Seattle 22, Denver 0. Early in the 3rd quarter Seattle's lead rose to 29-0. There was no point in rushing home. The final score of 43-8 was the third largest margin of victory in Super Bowl history.

    It became a pleasant, productive Sunday afternoon, as the stores, restaurants, and roads were uncrowded. Despite its one-sidedness, over 100 million Americans watched the contest. (Hey, the Roman Colosseum had good turnouts, too, though the Lions were pretty unbeatable.)

    Well, this is why I got TiVo: to fast-forward through the program to watch the commercials.

    Saturday, February 01, 2014

    A Mite Less Animus

    (National Geographic photo)
    My dislike of mosquitoes originated from childhood...the itchy welts that wouldn't go away, the incessant buzzing and sleepless nights, and the hungry swarms that would attack in the aftermath of a tropical rain.

    In junior high we all read Microbe Hunters, Paul de Kruif's 1926 history of the battle against disease in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Carrier of yellow fever and malaria, the mosquito was responsible for the death of millions of people. It's doubtful that there is a more feared and despised insect on the face of the planet.

    In an unexpected twist scientists now hope to combat malaria by strengthening the health of mosquitoes. Malaria is actually transmitted via the Plasmodium parasite, and the Wolbachia bacterium enables mosquitoes' immune systems to fight off the parasite.
    When they injected [Wolbachia] into embryos, the resulting mosquito moms passed the bacteria to their spawn, infecting and thus protecting an entire population.
    It seems nigh incredible that the solution may be to help mankind's ancient enemy, not kill it. Even if mosquitoes are parasite- and disease-free I'll still swat them, though perhaps with a mite less animus. © 2014 Stephen Yuen