Monday, March 31, 2014

Improbable Renaissance

Growing up in Hawaii during the Sixties, I took to heart columnist Bob Krauss' warning to avoid falling coconuts, which sounds amusing at first---like slipping on a banana peel---but can actually cause injury or even death; palm trees were to be given a wide berth.

As for the fruit---while the meat and juice of fresh coconut were delicious, the hard shell made them much too difficult to access. Post-war industrialization had made coconut culture passé.

Image from Telegraph-UK
Now the lowly coconut is undergoing a renaissance in the organic aisles where the cognoscenti do their shopping. Coconut oil
has "medium-chain fatty acids," a designation referring to the number of carbon atoms in the fat. Most of the fats Americans eat have long-chain fatty acids.....The medium-chain fatty acids are easier to digest, particularly for people with gastrointestinal ailments, scientists say. And the body burns them quickly, which some researchers think may make them good energy for athletes. [snip]

Early research on coconut oil and Alzheimer's disease shows a possible protective effect on neurons. In a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, Canadian researchers found mouse brain cells treated with coconut oil were somewhat protected from the toxic effects of amyloid proteins, which build up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.
In the right climate coconut trees require zero maintenance. But if you decide to grow your own, just remember to wear a hard hat.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Better Than Too Little

Sixty-five (65) people were waiting at noon for the free hot lunch. We had made ten trays of lasagna in anticipation that there would be 100 diners, like last December. But we needn't have worried that there was too much food. Many returned to the table for second and even third helpings. 

Safeway donated 15 loaves.
What the guests lacked in numbers they made up in appetite, and only a few loaves were left to take to the Catholic Workers House, where all leftovers are welcome.

Perhaps the heavy rains over the weekend kept the crowd away (though the clouds parted on Sunday). We'll still plan on serving 100 next time, though. Better to prepare too much than too little.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dining with a Young Invincible

Animal-style french fries
When my ten-spot yielded only two dollars in change for a burger, fries, and drink, I did a double-take. French fries for $3.50?

Animal-style fries are an off-menu item at In-n-Out. When they were delivered, understanding dawned...the fries were covered with grilled onions, melted cheese, and thousand island dressing.

My lunch companion ate the whole tray while I watched with a mixture of horror and envy. Were I 40 years younger I might well have joined him. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Once-Favorite Pastime

An e-mail said that my share of an antitrust settlement was a mouseclick away. Eagerly, I typed in the code to claim the credit....a grand total of $3.17.

After I spent hundreds of dollars on e-books in Kindle and iBook formats, $3.17 supposedly is the amount lost to price-fixing. I say let the poor book publishers, Amazon, Apple, and anyone else involved in the book industry keep the money. It's a fiercely competitive business, it's in decline, and reading books used to be the favorite pastime for me and millions of other people. Leave 'em be.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sing on, Sloopy, Sing on

We've said how we admire musicians who "live loop" and thought that the equipment to do so had to be expensive. Jimmy Fallon and Billy Joel show how easily loop-singing can be done on an iPad.



Screenshot of Loopy on iTunes
For the price ($3.99) of a fancy coffee the Loopy app can be purchased from iTunes. To those who like the sound of their own voice, they can now double and triple their pleasure.

(BTW, if a self-portrait is called a "selfie", what's singing to yourself in multiple parts on Loopy, a "sloopy"?)

Since Jay Leno retired, I hadn't been watching the Tonight Show or any other late-night show. Jimmy Kimmel is a little too acerbic for my taste, and David Letterman has turned mean (and I don't like to view or listen to bile before retiring). Jimmy Fallon's got music talent that Jay never had, and his comedy has a lighter touch than the competition. Think I'll start tuning in.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Fall of Leland Yee

Our District 8 State Senator, Leland Yee (D), was arrested "on charges that he conspired to traffic in firearms and traded favors in Sacramento for bribes." A powerful senior politician, Leland Yee had a good shot at becoming California's next Secretary of State. His arrest "reverberated through circles of power in San Francisco and Sacramento, shaking up party politics and the secretary of state race."

65-year-old Senator Yee was born in China and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He schooled at Berkeley, SF State, and the University of Hawaii, where he received a PhD in Child Psychology. After moving to San Francisco, he was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1996 and the State Assembly in 2002. He became the first Chinese-American elected to the State Senate, where he won by landslide margins in San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

Leland Yee's arrest on gun-trafficking charges is especially shocking because he has been a staunch proponent of firearm restrictions. Weary of scandals, fellow California Democrats "want Leland Yee gone":
Yee's arrest triggered condemnation from California's Democratic senators, who are already wary of their reputation due to recent scandals including the arrest of Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, on bribery charges.

"I want Leland Yee gone," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg during a news conference at his Sacramento office, while flanked by fellow senators including Loni Hancock of Berkeley and Mark Leno of San Francisco.

Leno said, "Every indictment, every arrest, every arraignment and even every suspicion or allegation reflects very poorly on each of us and all of us."
California is a one-party state, with Democrats holding all state-wide elective offices plus a filibuster-proof super-majority in the legislature. Despite Mark Leno's warning about the arrest of Democratic politicians reflecting poorly on their brand, Democrats are very likely to retain their dominance at least through the November elections and probably through 2016. Californians voted for, got, and, sadly, will continue to get the government that they deserve.

[Update - Fri, 3/28: The State Senate suspends three Democratic senators, including Leland Yee, after criminal indictments. "Friday’s suspension vote prevents the lawmakers from exercising any power of their office but allows them to keep receiving their paychecks."]

Monday, March 24, 2014

It Was Fun

My sorry bracket: if it's red, it's wrong.
Though the odds were infinitesimal (actually, 1 in 9 quintillion) against winning, the idea of receiving $1 billion for 15 minutes of "work" overwhelmed rational thinking. Last Wednesday I filled out the Quicken Loans $1 Billion bracket challenge.

The probabilities were about the same whether I devoted 15 minutes, 15 hours, or 15 days, so I expended the minimum effort by using a random-number generator and giving greater weight to the higher seeds.

I was quickly eliminated on the first day and ended up picking only 29 out of 48 games correctly (no one is still in contention--the top entry scored 44). With 4 million people doing better than I so far, there's no chance to win one of the twenty $100,000 consolation prizes.

Nevertheless, it was fun and I'd do it again next year. Maybe I just have to adjust the random numbers for strength of schedule.....

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Month for Corned Beef

Prolific Oven corned beef lunch - $7.95
March is the month for corned beef. Restaurants offer generous portions in celebration of St. Patrick's Day, and supermarkets display shelves upon shelves of packaged slabs. When I'm in a hurry I throw all the ingredients--corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots--in a pot to make a simple New England boiled dinner.

It's well worth taking the extra time, however, to roast the corned beef. Roasting seals in the juices, and the method yields not only a delicious dinner but also the main ingredient for tender sandwiches.

One third of the roasted brisket still remains from St. Patrick's Day. It will be gone by next week Monday, when the month for corned beef will come to a satisfying close.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Silicon Valley to the Rescue

Earlier this month Time featured a behind-the-scenes look at the hastily assembled team of engineers and programmers who rescued Healthcare.gov from total disaster. Silicon Valley work methodologies and work ethics, which are alien to the carry-out-orders-and-ask-permission ways of Washington, accomplished in a few months what the Federal Government's bureaucrats could not accomplish in three years.

The task force set forth rules which anyone who's been thrown into an IT crisis will find familiar [bold added]:
Rule 1: “The war room and the meetings are for solving problems. There are plenty of other venues where people devote their creative energies to shifting blame.”

Rule 2: “The ones who should be doing the talking are the people who know the most about an issue, not the ones with the highest rank. If anyone finds themselves sitting passively while managers and executives talk over them with less accurate information, we have gone off the rails, and I would like to know about it.” (Explained [Google exec Mikey] Dickerson later: “If you can get the managers out of the way, the engineers will want to solve things.”)

Rule 3: “We need to stay focused on the most urgent issues, like things that will hurt us in the next 24–48 hours.”
By Christmas Eve, the sign-up deadline, the site's response time was down to less than a second, and it could handle nearly 100,000 simultaneous users without crashing. As of this week Health and Human Services claims 5 million people have enrolled. Although the billing interface with the insurance companies is still months from completion, processing obstacles no longer appear insurmountable.

Comments:
1) President Obama has formidable technical resources at his disposal. Some of the most skilled tech wizards in the country were willing to drop what they were doing (and they had bosses who would let them) to work round-the-clock for three months on a project which could well have gone nowhere.

2) Obamacare may still fail because of program design (e.g., not enough subscribers, huge deficits, etc.) but the website won't be the reason.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Laughter: Pretty Good Medicine

It's been well established that laughter confers physiological benefits that can speed up healing. Researchers have also shown that laughter, and the humor that triggers it, provides significant mental benefits:
We benefit from taxing our brains with the mental exercise of humor, much as we benefit from the physical exercise of a long run or a tough tennis match. Comedy extends our mental stamina and improves our mental flexibility. A 1976 study by Avner Ziv of Tel Aviv University found that those who listened to a comedy album before taking a creativity test performed 20% better than those who weren't exposed to the routine beforehand. In 1987, researchers at the University of Maryland found that watching comedy more than doubles our ability to solve brain teasers,
So, teachers, rather than muzzle the wiseacre sitting in the back of the room, use his smart-alecky remarks to help liven up the lesson plan. You need to up your game to make the banter interesting and worthwhile, yet funny. Your students' brains will be exercised, and maybe yours will, too.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Waiting Doesn't Become The Habit

The Habit Restaurant bets that people are willing to trade a bit of time to get a fresh made-to-order burger. But how much time?

Today we waited 15 minutes---disappointing because there was no one in front of us when we placed our order. (One calibrates expectations by the length of the line.)

Habit does make a bigger, albeit more expensive burger than In-N-Out. The quality is comparable, and the menu selection is larger. They would become a clear favorite over the competition, IMHO, if Habit offered free wi-fi. Then when the "short" wait becomes long, few may notice.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Wisdom of the Old (Fish)

Monterey Bay Aquarium sardines (Stanford photo)
European researchers have discovered that older fish have knowledge that is essential to the survival of the entire school:
removal of the older fish tended to damage the collective memory of the group and prevented the school from migrating at all. In the real world, that would mean that if fishermen catch the older fish that hold the memories of where to go when it's time to migrate, the rest of the school won't know what to do, and likely as a result, will die without even trying.
The temptation to extrapolate this finding onto humanity is irresistible, because it implies that we older members of the tribe possess crucial wisdom.

Listen when I'm talking, whippersnappers!

(H/T Tyler Cowen)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Solution Within Reach

Silicon Valley may hog all the headlines, but a life-changing technology could be under development in California's depressed Central Valley. WaterFX has built a solar-powered desalination plant. Founder Aaron Mandell's
solar desalination plant produces water that costs about a quarter of what more conventionally desalinated water costs: $450 an acre-foot versus $2,000 an acre-foot.

That brings Mandell's water cost close to what farmers are paying, in wet years, for water from the Panoche and other valley districts - about $300 an acre-foot. And that makes it a more economically attractive option than any of the 17 conventional desalination plants planned throughout California.

If Mandell can pull it off, the tiny farming town where he is starting his enterprise could be known as ground zero for one of the most revolutionary water innovations in the state's history.
The WaterFX solar trough
Mr. Mandell has eschewed venture capital. Although he does want to turn a profit, he is more interested in the technology's widespread adoption. He has made the technology "open-source," i.e., freely available.
"What we are trying to do is to develop a model that can be replicated. The problems in California are identical to those in many parts of the world. China is depending on delicate river systems to provide water for all types of economic growth that will not be sustainable. We could also do this in Saudi Arabia – they use an enormous amount of oil for water consumption, to evaporate or move water around the country."
It's easy to let our imagination get ahead of ourselves; WaterFX hopes to produce 2,200 acre-feet of water next year, about one-third of the annual water requirement, for example, of Foster City's 31,000 people (which includes some industry).

Nevertheless, it's just possible that a tiny company west of Fresno has made the solution to one of mankind's thorniest problems----access to plentiful, clean water at a reasonable cost--within reach. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Monday, March 17, 2014

Newest Prospect

Coach Jim Harbaugh tries out the 49ers' newest O-line prospect:



Comments:
1) One can see the appeal---even Seahawk defenders would have trouble pushing past this one-ton gal. [Bonus: "incidents of walruses preying on seabirds...have been documented"]
2) Jim, there's a rumor that you think you can do General Manager Trent Baalke's job. No, you can't.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Poor, Deluded Moi

I'm going to fill out the entry for Warren Buffett and Quicken Loans' $1 Billion NCAA bracket challenge. Yes, the odds are 1 in 9 quintillion against anyone winning, that is,
If all 317 million people in the U.S. filled out a bracket at random, you could run the contest for 290 million years, and there’d still be a 99 percent chance that no one had ever won.
I'll get some enjoyment out of playing---and fantasizing--just as I will for spending $5 on a Mega Millions lottery ticket now that the jackpot is $400 million.

If someone does win the Bracket Challenge, I'll take it as proof that all is not randomness and that God does exist. Not logical, I know, but allow me to have my delusions.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Our Cyborg Future

Cyborg: a person whose body contains mechanical or electrical devices and whose abilities are greater than the abilities of normal humans.
Drawing by vladgrin
Psychology professor Gary Marcus and brain scientist Christof Koch foresee an imminent future of brain implants not only to restore neural function but to improve it.
Eventually neural implants will make the transition from being used exclusively for severe problems such as paralysis, blindness or amnesia. They will be adopted by people with less traumatic disabilities. When the technology has advanced enough, implants will graduate from being strictly repair-oriented to enhancing the performance of healthy or "normal" people. They will be used to improve memory, mental focus (Ritalin without the side effects), perception and mood (bye, bye Prozac). [snip]

By the end of this century, and quite possibly much sooner, every input device that has ever been sold will be obsolete. Forget the "heads-up" displays that the high-end car manufactures are about to roll out, allowing drivers to see data without looking away from the road. By the end of the century, many of us will be wired directly into the cloud, from brain to toe.
Many who don't want their brains directly connected to computers or even other brains will feel forced into acceptance:
The augmented among us—those who are willing to avail themselves of the benefits of brain prosthetics and to live with the attendant risks—will outperform others in the everyday contest for jobs and mates, in science, on the athletic field and in armed conflict.
Speaking as one who declines even to undergo laser-eye surgery despite its latter-day efficacy and safety, I am likely to be left behind. The, er, silver lining: my age dictates that I probably won't be around to see our cyborg future.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Top Three Motivations

Add caption
Residents of California pay the highest tax rate on dividend income, according to taxfoundation.org. The calculation-by-state takes into account Federal and State rates, the 3.8% tax on investment income to fund Obamacare, plus
the deductibility of your state taxes against your federal taxes, local income taxes, the phase-out of itemized deductions, and any special treatment of personal dividend income.
Like millions of other Californians, we've thought of moving out of state when we fully retire. Our likely destination would be Hawaii, the second-highest-taxed State, so lower taxes won't be what induces us to move. Warm weather, family, and (getting away from) the San Andreas Fault remain the top three motivations.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Oversold

Dolphins last year: the bully (Richie Incognito) and
the bullied (Jonathan Martin) - Chron file photo
Three recent Stanford grads (and among the most publicized names in professional football), together again:
Jonathan Martin is back on the Stanford campus hanging out and working out with old college pals turned successful pros, Andrew Luck and Richard Sherman.
The difference is that Andrew Luck and Richard Sherman are among the best at their position, while Jonathan Martin, who left the Miami Dolphins in the midst of a bullying scandal last year, is just trying to make the 49ers roster. He passed his physical, and the signs are promising:
[49er coach Jim] Harbaugh has said he's not concerned because it should be a smooth transition. Martin already knows many of the coaches who came from Stanford when Harbaugh was hired in January 2011. Harbaugh has credited Martin for being a "very intelligent football player" who has familiarity with the Niners' system.
The 49ers will have to give the Dolphins a seventh-round draft pick in 2015 if Martin makes the team. If he were a stock, Jonathan Martin would be considered oversold on last year's bad news, and the Niners have excellent prospects for a high return on investment.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Air Travel Tips

Dave Barry dispenses advice to "generation text." Here are his comments on air travel:
So you're planning to take an airplane trip. Good for you! Every year, millions of people "take to the skies" for business or pleasure, and statistically only a small percentage of them are killed.

Nevertheless, if this is your first flight, or you haven't flown in a while, or you're simply one of the many stupid people found in airports, you're probably unsure about what to expect. So let's review the basics:

Q. I have an infant or small child. Are there any special preparations I should make for flying?

A. Definitely. Before you leave home, gather together whatever toys, books or games you will need to keep your child occupied. Then remain home, occupying your child, until he or she is a minimum of sixteen years old.

Q. When should I leave for the airport?
A. You should already be at the airport.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

It Could Have Been Worse

(Photo from CBS)
It's much easier to destroy than create, and we saw that principle in operation today in the China Basin section of San Francisco. A $227-million apartment-construction project a few blocks from AT&T Park became a total loss in San Francisco's worst fire in years. Through skill and the good fortune of favorable weather conditions firefighters were able to stop the fire from spreading to other structures.

Despite the spectacular visuals the City was lucky: no lives were lost, and insurance will cover the damages. Downsides: "millions and millions of gallons of water" were used, and 172 apartments that would have relieved the pressure on San Francisco's tight housing supply won't come on stream for another two years.

It could have been worse. A pause. The boom continues. [Update - 3/14: Is San Francisco Overtaking NYC?]

Monday, March 10, 2014

1 World Trade Center: A Modern Miracle

Architect Magazine rendering
Admirers of the "can-do" generations of yester-year lament how difficult it is to construct large projects today, if they are undertaken at all. The new 1 World Trade Center, then, is a modern miracle of smarts, technology, material science, design, architecture, and human determination. It will be completed 13 years after the twin towers were destroyed. The reason it took so long was because of its "nearly impossible mandate":
One World Trade Center needed to be a public response to 9/11 while providing valuable commercial real estate for its private owners, to be open to its neighbors yet safe for its occupants. It needed to acknowledge the tragedy from which it was born while serving as a triumphant affirmation of the nation’s resilience in the face of it.

“It was meant to be all things to all people,” says Christopher Ward, who helped manage the rebuilding as executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “It was going to answer every question that it raised. Was it an answer to the terrorists? Was the market back? Was New York going to be strong? That’s what was really holding up progress.”
1 World Trade Center is also a miracle of project management.
10,000 workers attempting one of the most complicated construction projects ever in one of the most densely populated places on the planet. The design, almost entirely [architect David] Childs’, called for a 104-story tower that includes a bomb-resistant 20-story base set on 70-ton shafts of steel and pilings sunk some 200 ft. into the earth. This unseen subterranean structure would support 48,000 tons of steel — the equivalent of 22,500 full-size cars — and almost 13,000 exterior glass panels sheathing a concrete core crowned by a 408-ft. spire whose beacon would glow at the symbolic height of 1,776 ft. (eclipsing Chicago’s Willis Tower as the tallest building in the western hemisphere). The structure includes enough concrete to lay a sidewalk from Manhattan to Chicago. And that was just one part of a 16-acre project that was the equivalent of building five Empire State Buildings on a plot of land the size of a suburban shopping mall — while tens of thousands of commuters traveled under the work zone each day.
The plans for the original twin towers were disclosed in 1961, and the towers were open for business in 1973. Even our "can-do" forebears might be impressed by what has arisen in their place.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

No Quick Fix

During Lent the rector has been leading discussions on Edwin H. Friedman's A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix after morning services.

Rabbi Friedman (1932-1996) was an expert on family systems theory, which analyzes dysfunctions from the point of view of relationships among members of the family system, not just the individual who is viewed as the "problem." Friedman's book, Generation to Generation, was well-received in 1985, and we're beginning with concepts from that book before tackling Failure of Nerve, which was completed by scholars after Friedman's death.

OK, that's enough heaviness for a short blog post. Quick comments:

1) Family systems theory is a new term to your humble observer but appears to be a branch of general systems theory, with which I am a little familiar.

2) Systems theory and analysis, with its terminology and concepts, provides useful insights to many fields of endeavor.

3) One must be wary, however, about the over-reliance on any single perspective. For example, disciples of such varied topics as original sin, Hegelian dialectic, evolution, efficient capital markets, or global warming often cannot see the world except through their respective lenses.

4) Because of the complexity of analyzing multiple actors and their relationships, a systems approach won't usually produce a "quick fix." When I was younger, I would have resisted the notion that the answers were complicated. Now, I accept it.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

A Nettlesome Problem

For male prisoners with a history of violent behavior the catalyst frequently is perceived disrespect, which leads to shame, which in turn triggers violence. Writer Jonathan Asser "used to struggle with his extreme rage until he learned to master it – and discovered a skill for calming violent prisoners." [bold added]
With the exception of psychotic prisoners being treated through the healthcare department, every violent incident I have ever come across in prison could be traced back to shame and the feeling of being disrespected. Conventional programmes working outside the heat of the moment studiously avoid the crucial shame trigger. I worked with it every day. I came up with the name Shame/Violence Intervention (SVI) to describe my approach.
Many prisoners are able to give the "correct" answer when a staff psychologist poses a hypothetical question, such as "what if you see a man talking to your girlfriend?" In SVI therapy Jonathan Asser publicly embarrasses the prisoners and trains them how to recognize and control their responses.

His approach is difficult, slow, expensive (in terms of trained therapists' time) and successful. Unfortunately, it's not easily scalable and demonstrates why breaking the cycle of violence is such a nettlesome problem.

[Update - 3/9/14: Jonathan Asser's screenplay, Starred Up, was nominated for eight British Independent Film awards.]

Friday, March 07, 2014

Not High on the List

The U.S. military has identified a new adversary -- sugary drinks:
three quarters of all young Americans are ineligible for military service because they’re overweight or obese, and consumption of sugary drinks is a leading cause of obesity among children and adults
Unfortunately, California public schools are not helping [bold added]:
despite state and federal regulations requiring schools to provide free, clean drinking water to students during school mealtimes, one study found that one out of every four California schools does not provide water to students where food is served.
Even when water was available, a survey revealed that many students did not partake. The top three reasons:
  • The water in the fountains or dispensers is not cold.
  • Schools do not have enough water fountains for the number of students.
  • Water fountains or dispensers are poorly maintained.
  • The law was enacted in September, 2010 with an effective date of July 1, 2011. Unlike private entities who would be subject to fines, many public schools are in no hurry to comply. Inculcating long-term health habits is apparently not high on the list of priorities.

    Thursday, March 06, 2014

    In Earnest

    50 years ago today Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali. In 1964 the world heavyweight boxing champion was the most celebrated athlete on the planet, more famous than any quarterback, home-run hitter, or 7-foot center. Ali's conversion to the Nation of Islam was unsettling to Americans and even to blacks, who were mostly Christian.

    John F. Kennedy had been assassinated four months earlier, the Beatles with their moptops had invaded America in February, and a young lady named Kitty Genovese would be stabbed to death in New York on March 13th near dozens of witnesses, none of whom lifted a finger or called for help. 

    The Sixties had begun in earnest.

    Wednesday, March 05, 2014

    Ash Wednesday

    A walk in the woods.

    No cell reception.

    Ash Wednesday.

    Thoughts of mortality.

    Valley. Hills. Trees. Deer.

    Rest.

    Tuesday, March 04, 2014

    Triglyceride Tuesday

    At least my salad and veggies were healthy
    One of the reasons I need to take statins for cholesterol is that I can't resist deals like IHOP's free pancakes on Fat Tuesday. As I wrote last year,

    Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, during which we are to abstain from the foods that give us pleasure. The pancake supper reminds us of the centuries-old tradition of emptying the larder of perishable items that will spoil during Lent's 40 days.

    Freezing and refrigeration have eliminated the need to empty the larder. Nevertheless, we must honor tradition...

    Monday, March 03, 2014

    Superior Quality Presumed

    Impact upon Pfizer of Lipitor patent expiration in 2011
    Two years after the patent expired, Pfizer wants to make Lipitor an over-the-counter medication, i.e., available without a prescription. [bold added]
    Over-the-counter Lipitor could be a boon to Pfizer by helping recapture a portion of the market it has lost since low-cost generic versions hit the market beginning in late 2011. Pfizer's Lipitor sales tumbled to $2.3 billion last year from a peak of nearly $13 billion in 2006. Goldman Sachs estimates that over-the-counter Lipitor could generate more than $1 billion in annual sales.
    Generic from CVS
    Ten years ago I began taking a daily dose of 10 mg of Lipitor, which reduced total cholesterol below the recommended target of 200 mg/dL. In 2011 the insurance company required a switch to the generic Atorvastatin which occurred, thankfully, with no ill effect.

    The generic tablets cost, out-of-pocket after insurance, about 40 cents each or $146 annually. I'd be willing to go back to Lipitor and pay for the name (and presumed superior quality) up to $200 per year. If Pfizer prices it higher, well, the Atorvastatin has been doing just fine. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Sunday, March 02, 2014

    It's Time

    There is much to like about Tim Cook. As the WSJ essay points out, he has admirable personal characteristics. He's frugal, hard-working, smart, an excellent manager, and doesn't hesitate to dig deep:
    Apple under Jobs was a roller coaster, but Cook's operations fief was orderly and disciplined. Cook knew every detail in every step of the operations processes. Weekly operations meetings could last five to six hours as he ground through every single item. [snip]

    Cook's quarterly reviews were especially torturous because Cook would grind through the minutiae as he categorized what worked and what didn't, using yellow Post-its. His managers crossed their fingers in the hopes of emerging unscathed.
    Though Apple is still the most valuable company in the world, it's no longer considered to be among the top innovators like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Tesla, Netflix, and Yelp (and those are just the Bay Area companies on the list). Since Steve Job's death on October 5, 2011, Apple's stock has underperformed the NASDAQ and been soundly outpaced by Google, Apple's largest rival.

    After Steve Jobs:  Apple +39%, NASDAQ +75%, Google +141%
    Apple has remained a leader in its markets, and today's Macs, iPads, and iPhones are thinner, lighter, and faster than they were in Steve's time, but incremental improvements to existing products are not enough to keep Apple on top.

    Tim Cook keeps promising that Apple is working on "amazing" and "incredible" products. After nearly three years, it's time to show his cards. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Saturday, March 01, 2014

    In Like a Lion and Let's Hope it Stays That Way

    The storm that greeted the month of March has raised (a little) hope that there won't be a drought emergency this year. But the outlook is still bleak.
    Mercury News graphic
    Even after a reasonably wet February, the Bay Area would need to see five to 10 more significant storms by the end of April for regional rain totals to hit their historic seasonal averages.
    Residents of California since the 1970's are afflicted with déjà vu. The Governor's name is Jerry Brown, and he has declared a drought emergency.

    Here's hoping (praying) for rain. I'm not looking forward to putting a brick in the toilet tank, and showering with a friend in my demographic is not as much fun as when I was in my 20's. © 2014 Stephen Yuen