Thursday, July 31, 2014

Long and Chewy

I dipped the appetizer into the aioli. Tasty. The calamari strips were somewhat long and chewy.

That's not calamari, said my dinner companion, those are pig ears (there was no calamari on the menu).

31st Union is a two-year-old restaurant located in an old building in downtown San Mateo. Its owners subscribe to the locavore philosophy.

The California-themed restaurant (the name originates from California being the 31st state) seems popular with the young professional crowd, who tend to avoid the fast-food and casual dining establishments that I frequent.

Dishes were freshly prepared in interesting combinations, and overall it was an enjoyable, albeit slightly pricey experience.

I'll probably return when we host out-of-town visitors---I'm looking forward to watching their expression as they bite into the "calamari."

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Solutions Are Inevitable

Nearly every family we know has encountered these daunting numbers [bold added]:
Although current LTC [long-term care] delivery options like retirement homes and assisted living communities offer around-the-clock care, their high cost can bankrupt seniors and cause serious financial hardship for loved ones. According to a 2012 survey by MetLife, a private room in a nursing home costs an average of $248 daily, or more than $90,500 annually; a semiprivate room costs $222 daily, or more than $81,000 per year.
The vast majority of the elderly want to remain in their homes as long as they can. Concerned family members, of course, monitor their aging loved one's condition with visits, phone calls, professional home-health care, and technology. Regarding technology, we agree from sad experience with the observation about the current generation of medical alert devices: "while these devices can be helpful in the event of a fall or a home emergency like a fire, their capabilities are limited."

But there is a great deal of hope; part of the revolution known as the Internet of Things includes smart sensor networks for the home.
These sensor-enabled homes use machine learning to recognize behavior patterns such as eating, sleeping, and movement, and then identify and report any signs of illness or cognitive degeneration to caretakers and physicians via the Web or mobile networks. The monitoring capabilities also alert physicians to changes in the physical and mental health of their senior patients, and allow them to intervene before adverse events occur. [snip]

Compared to the high cost of traditional assisted-living facilities and nursing homes, sensor-enabled smart homes are relatively inexpensive. Retrofitting a home with sensor technologies costs $2,500, on average, for hardware and installation fees, plus a modest monthly fee for monitoring and analyzing the data.
There are obstacles, such as privacy and security, to be worked out, but the growing LTC problem makes technological progress toward solutions inevitable.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Good News from an Impressive Work

The good news [bold added]:
Medicare will be able to continue paying full hospital benefits for its elderly or disabled clients without any changes in the law through 2030.
The not-so-good news for those who collect disability payments:
the Social Security disability-insurance program....will be able to pay only 81% of benefits starting in late 2016 unless Congress intervenes. Roughly 11 million Americans collected a total of $140 billion in Social Security disability benefits last year.
The first selfish question that arises in the mind of every reader, including your humble observer, is: how old will I be when the money runs out for the programs that affect me? The reaction may be relief or despair, but either way, through the mechanism of government or the ties of family, our children will be taking care of us.

By the way, the 2014 Social Security trustees' report is an impressive work. One can quarrel with its assumptions and calculations, but the report incorporates all the factors (mortality rate, immigration, economic growth, fertility rate, etc.) that should be considered in this complex analysis.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Who Needs eBay?

The 1967 VW now gets about one unsolicited offer per month, usually from an aging boomer who remembers the good parts of the Sixties.

Investing lesson: if you can hold on long enough, an asset can eventually recover and may even turn a profit. In this case it took 40 years.... © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Sunday, July 27, 2014

No More Capacity

Over the years we've lost two combination locks at the gym. But we're not alone in our carelessness. At the gym's lost-and-found there were eight (8) locks that matched the brand we lost; unfortunately, none of them opened to the combinations (1-18-6, 8-34-8).

We were irritated that no one bothered to turn in our locks, which are useless to the finder without the combination, but more irritated with ourselves. It's not the modest replacement cost but the fact that we'll have to memorize a new set of numbers. At our age there's no more capacity for new information.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Color Purple, At Best

In 2010 President Bush explained his often-mocked 2001 statement about looking into Vladimir Putin's soul:
“The reason why I said that is because I remembered him talking movingly about his mother and the cross that she gave him that she had blessed in Jerusalem,” Bush told [radio host Hugh] Hewitt. [snip]

Putin then told the story of recovering the cross from a house fire and said that when a worker found the piece of jewelry it was as if it was meant to be. Bush writes that he remarked, “Vladimir, that is the story of the cross. Things are meant to be.”
Whatever it was in 2001, it's clear what color Putin's soul is today:
The 21st century czar has mastered the dark art of stirring up problems that only he can solve, so that Western leaders find themselves scolding him one minute while pleading with him the next.
President Bush was guilty of wishful thinking. And the current President, who hopes that something or someone else will stop Vladimir Putin, seems to be as disconnected.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Chirp of Crickets

There's no advantage to being a "fly on the wall" unless the fly can hear. Researchers have mimicked the hearing mechanism of the Ormia ochracea, a fly that is able to isolate the chirp of its prey, male crickets, with remarkable accuracy:
A tiny structure similar to a playground see-saw connects the fly's two sound sensors, and vibration on one side drives the other in the opposite direction. The net motion of the see-saw permits the fly to determine what is known as the "phase" of the sound wave—in other words, the extent to which the peaks and troughs of the sound waves detected by its sound sensors line up with each other. This allows for fantastically precise determination of its direction of origin.
Sensitive hearing aids that are able to ignore unwanted sounds will be the result of studying Ormia. That will be a boon to us aging, hard-of-hearing snoops who not only want to listen to gossip but help originate it.

Photos and diagrams from Washington University in St. Louis

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Not Chamber Music

It's not on the bucket list, but last night I attended my first heavy metal concert, the Mötley Crüe "final tour" at the Shoreline Amphitheatre. (When some of them need cash, anticipate the we-mean-it-this-time Final Tour.)

Being unfamiliar with the genre, I watched both Alice Cooper (the opening act) and Mötley Crüe with bemusement: pounding rhythm, faux explosions, and lots of screaming into the mike (if one doesn't know the song, the words are unintelligible). Also, when the musicians "talk" to the audience, every other word is the F-word. This wasn't chamber music.

I enjoyed myself more than I had anticipated. The special effects were well-coordinated and spectacular. Age-related hearing loss, plus earplugs, made the decibel level tolerable. The crowd was well-behaved, despite its tattooed, pierced, and colorful appearance.

Mountain View noise curfew rules called a halt to proceedings at 11 p.m., which was all to the good. Time for aging rockers and their fans to go to bed.

Alice Cooper kicked off proceedings while it was daylight.

Mötley Crüe -- the pyrotechnics were brighter and louder than the 4th of July.

The musicians left the stage and performed the quiet encore on a raised platform.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Little People Wave

The President was purportedly inside this SUV
As everyone suspected on Monday, the President of the United States did come to Foothill College today. His purpose was not to tour the new science building--as some had hoped--but to land his helicopter on the way to a fund-raiser at a mega-millionaire land developer's home.
He then attended a Democratic fundraising luncheon at real estate developer George Marcus' Los Altos Hills home, where the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised money for campaigns across the country.

Tickets for the event started at $10,000, for a photo opportunity and lunch, and ran up to $32,400 for a VIP photo opportunity and lunch. In attendance were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; DCCC Chairman Rep. Steve Israel; and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Marcus over the years himself has contributed more than $1.5 million to various political causes, mostly Democratic.

Big crowds assembled on the Foothill College campus -- where Obama's helicopter landed -- to watch the motorcade take off for the Marcus home.
Republicans complain about the flood of immigrants on the Southern border, the Russian takeover of Ukraine and shooting down of passenger aircraft, and violence in Syria, Libya, Gaza, and Israel, but really, what's more important than a photo-op fundraiser in Los Altos Hills?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Reliable 17-Year-Old

When an automobile has passed its expiration date, an owner should expect breakdowns at the most inconvenient moments.

Yesterday the right rear tire went flat from a nail puncture, and the shop declared the nine-year-old tire too old to repair. Three hours and $300 later, the 1997 van had two new rear Michelins that will outlive their host.

Today on a sweltering afternoon the engine temperature gauge rose to the red line. The dashboard emitted loud repeating beeps, and steam began to rise from the hood. I was able to park the car on a side road and call for a ride home. Coolant spilled into the gutter. Could this be the old car's last gasp?

[Update - 7/24: the local mechanic said that a hole in the radiator prevented him from testing other parts of the cooling system. I okayed a $500 replacement radiator knowing that the car might have to be scrapped anyway. Like the new tires, it could all be money down the drain.

The hole (center of the photo) was caused by pressure
build-up from fan failure.
Overheating was triggered by a bad relay switch ($200 fix) that caused the fan to stop working. The vehicle has been now been restored to its normal self and is as reliable as any other 17-year-old car. Ultimately the results weren't bad, but I won't put away the new-car brochures just the same.]

Monday, July 21, 2014

Not the Usual Fire Drill

Foothill College emails warnings of traffic problem on Monday and Wednesday due to "Emergency Preparedness Exercise(s)."
Campus Participating in Emergency Preparedness Exercise
The Foothill-De Anza Community College District will participate in emergency preparedness exercises with local, state and federal agencies Monday, July 21, and Wednesday, July 23. The exercises will be held on the Foothill College campus from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. both days. To facilitate the safety of students, faculty and staff. Parking Lot 4 will be closed Monday and Wednesday.

Traffic on the Campus Loop Road may be impacted for short times by the exercise from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
On Monday it's obvious that this is not the usual fire drill. There are helicopters! There are men in dark suits!

They leave, and traffic resumes.

Guess this was just a rehearsal for An Important Visit on Wednesday.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Offering of Letters, 2014

Letter-writing in 2009.
We are pragmatists, not ideologues. Though we have deep misgivings about using governmental coercion to "do good", principle takes a back seat when people are dying of starvation.

Under the auspices of Bread for the World we have joined Christians across the United States in writing to Congressional representatives in support of food aid to foreign countries, where a life may be saved for pennies a day.

Unlike in previous years, 2014's Offering of Letters doesn't ask for increases to the $2 billion aid budget but wants to make spending more efficient. For example, supplies must be purchased from U.S. companies and transported on American ships; in far-away emergencies it would be far more expeditious to purchase food closer to the need and shipped on available vessels nearby. Faster (and fresher) for the same amount of money? Nearly everyone can support that. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Different Goals, Different Styles

The old explanation: men interrupt women because men are sexist.

The new: generally speaking (as it were), men are trying to establish dominance while the goal of women is to make a connection. Men are not necessarily "sexist"-----they speak that way to other men.

Amherst researcher Elizabeth Aries
analysed 45 hours of conversation and [discovered] that men dominated mixed groups—but she also found competition and dominance in male-only groups. Men begin discussing fact-based topics, sizing each other up. Before long, a hierarchy is established: either those who have the most to contribute, or those who are simply better at dominating the conversation, are taking most of the turns. The men who dominate one group go on to dominate others, while women show more flexibility in their dominance patterns. The upshot is that a shy, retiring man can find himself endlessly on the receiving end of the same kinds of lectures.
In conversation your humble observer's main goal is not to dominate or connect with others but to learn something new about a subject (and if ignorance is on display, at least he'll have learned something about the speakers). A justification for introversion? Perhaps, but as a wise person once said, one learns by listening, not by talking.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Weird Reaction

Yale Alumni Magazine graphic
It's understandable why people hide negative episodes in their history, but concealment is often the case for praiseworthy aspects as well. It's more than just humility (genuine or false).

With the passage of time an individual builds a web of relationships with people who don't know the individual's history. If they discover, for example, that the humble individual whom they have known for years is very wealthy, some would begin keeping their distance, perhaps caused by embarrassment over their own circumstances.

A similar dynamic appears to be at work with Yale alumni who say, vaguely, that they "went to school in Connecticut" when asked about their degree. (It's socially acceptable to brandish an Ivy credential when trying to get a job, get into graduate school, or raise money, but rarely otherwise.)
Stephanie Elizabeth Small ’99 spoke for many when she said she opts for a vague answer “because 90 percent of the time when I say ‘Yale,’ people have a really weird reaction.

Don Gooding ’80 agreed with Small. “I do this less now than when I was younger, but I’m still contextual about it,” he wrote. “There are times when it can be a conversation killer, and why do that?”
Of course, having six-figure student loans that you can't pay off is another reason to keep quiet.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

It's How You Say It

Researchers have discovered that "the human voice, particularly changes to pitch and modulation, can betray the speaker’s hidden sexual attraction to his or her listener".
not only do men’s voices get deeper when they’re chatting up some lovely woman, but they also get higher compared to when their speech is directed at another male or to an unattractive female listener.
A low-pitched voice signals masculinity, while a sing-song modulation lessens the fear that the speaker is overly aggressive.
In other words, “Hey, sexy lady, hear this? Hear how I’m sounding right now? That’s right: I’m a virile, testosterone-fuelled male specimen of our species but, cross my heart, I’ll be sweet to you… and our future offspring.”
The math: Deep voice + modulation = Masculine + non-threatening = Sexy

If guys say it right, it doesn't matter what they say or even how they look. Below is an example from one of the all-time greatest practitioners of vocal seduction.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Café Bakery

Today's special: roast pork w/ spaghetti
Three or four times a year, when errands take us to the western parts of San Francisco, we stop at the Café Bakery and Restaurant on Noriega.

Café Bakery is popular with the locals because of its value pricing: all meals include soup, bread, entrée, coffee or tea, and jello(!). Reflecting both its ownership and clientele, Café Bakery does offer some Asian selections such as noodles and fried rice, but its sensibility is much more American diner than Chinese restaurant.

Seafood meals can cost nearly $20, but the daily specials are under $10. Your cheap frugal correspondent always gets the special.

The kitchen prepares dishes that are more comfort than gourmet, and quantities are generous. Café Bakery doesn't take credit cards, so bring cash along with your appetite.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cooking Time: 5 Days

Gomphothere drawing by
North Americans ("Clovis") of 13,000 years ago hunted gomphotheres, now-extinct elephant-like creatures. Scientists originally thought that gomphotheres pre-dated the Clovis, but a recent find in Mexico showed that man and beast co-existed.
Further digging revealed the complete remains of two gomphotheres—one 13 to 24 years old and the other a comparative juvenile at 10-12 years old. Mingled in with the bones were more spear points and though weathering on the bones made it hard to look for the cut marks and gouges that usually indicate butchering, the signs of a hunt were unmistakable. For one thing, animals that die natural deaths leave bones arranged in more or less the proper skeletal configuration. In this case, however, the remains were stacked in two distinct, non-anatomical piles.
Conclusion: the paleo diet may be attracting much enthusiasm, but unless it includes a side of gomphothere it ain't the genuine article.

(Photo by

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Fantasy Lives

Not only is the house from a different time, so is the price ($535,000). To California house-hunters buffeted by seven-figure asking prices, the description seems unreal.
  • 1,600 square feet
  • 1 bedroom
  • 2 bathrooms
  • 2.79 acres

    Walt Disney's Palm Desert, California, party house is for sale.

    The home, owned by the Disney family in the 1950s and '60s, is where Disney hosted A-list stars including Humphrey Bogart, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, offering trips on the zip line Disney had installed on the property. The home also still features the ceiling fan system in the main living area that was seen in the movie "Casablanca."
  • An historical celebrity home in a popular retirement spot for "only" $535,000.....either something about it is very wrong, or it's fantasy.

    Sunday, July 13, 2014

    Aloha and Mahalo, John

    I first met John Keast in the 1980's, when he joined the local Episcopal church. He participated in the choir and various ministries, becoming an integral part of church life.

    15 years ago John felt called to address the problems faced by released prisoners trying to make their way back into society. According to a 2011 report by the California Department of Corrections
    The total three-year recidivism rate (return to prison) for all felons released during FY 2006-07 is 65.1 percent.
    John's foundation, with its cadre of professional volunteers, educated and trained groups of prisoners before release, helping hundreds of the formerly incarcerated. Local law enforcement has praised John and his organization for helping to reduce the crime rate.

    At 93, he no longer can move around as well as he used to and is moving to Santa Cruz to live with his daughter. His work at the Inmate Correctional Education Project is an inspiration to everyone, not only for its devotion to one of society's most powerless populations but also for showing that it is possible to embark on meaningful new initiatives at the age of seventy-eight (78). Godspeed.

    Saturday, July 12, 2014

    Paying for the Label

    Whole Foods organic display
    (Greensboro Daily photo)
    We regularly purchase (and pay a premium for) "organic" food without fully understanding the term. Below is a summarized version of the USDA definition:
    To be labelled organic, a producer must abide by a stringent set of government standards. The USDA qualifies produce as organic if no synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers or genetically modified organisms (GMO) are used. Pest control and crop nutrients must be managed through natural physical, mechanical and biological controls. And when producing organic meat, eggs and dairy, for instance, farmers must provide non-GMO livestock with year-round outdoor access. They are also prohibited from using growth hormones or antibiotics.
    We won't know for a long time if going organic will make any difference to our longevity and quality of life, but the price difference is manageable and there appear to be no other downsides. Yes, we may be suckers, but at least we are pesticide-, antibiotic-, and GMO-free.

    Friday, July 11, 2014

    "There are Too Many Novels, and Too Many People Writing Them"

    Writer Javier Marías lists seven good reasons not to write novels:
  • There are too many novels and too many people writing them.
  • Because anyone...can write a novel, it is an activity that lacks merit and mystery.
  • Writing a novel certainly won’t make you rich.
  • The novel is no guarantee of fame.
  • The novel does not bring immortality.
  • Writing novels does not flatter the ego, even momentarily.
  • Other: suffering, isolation, sacrifice of a normal life, etc.
  • In other words, writing a novel is a highly inefficient means of achieving worldly ends such as riches and fame.

    Even those who scribble occasionally (cough)---though much, much less than professional writers and novelists---soon come to the realization that their limited talents make writing, like playing music or sports, an activity to be enjoyed for its own sake. For true writers, however, an audience of one is all they need.

    Thursday, July 10, 2014

    Ubiquitous Presence

    Spotted near SFO today on Hwy 101
    A familiar sight on Bay Area roads--and in many towns across the country--is Google's Street View Car. Street View has been criticized for showing what the front of everyone's house looks like, but that's the point, isn't it? Google also has not been forgiven by vehement critics for scooping data from unprotected wi-fi networks 4-9 years ago but seems to have weathered the public relations storm.

    Because the benefits of Google Maps and Street View far exceed the costs (zero out-of-pocket for most people, who aren't very concerned about privacy because "they have nothing to hide"), those applications have expanded rapidly in popularity. Someday, acceptance could even grow into universal love.
    O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Google. -- With apologies to George Orwell
    © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Wednesday, July 09, 2014

    Part of the Educational Experience

    Everyone has experienced traffic congestion at old roads that cannot accommodate an increased number of cars. But there shouldn't be an excuse for stoppages after a new building has been constructed and its road and parking lot have been completed.

    After classes at the new Science Center students rush across the street at the same time dozens of cars--sometimes over a hundred--leave the parking lot. Of course, the crosswalk is situated where the cars must turn right. The light is green only for a few seconds, and it can take 10-15 minutes to exit the Science Center. This may not seem to be an inordinate delay, but for the many commuter students who are rushing to get to work the daily stop-and-go can be grinding. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Tuesday, July 08, 2014

    The "Lifegiver" Scorpion

    Deathstalker scorpion (Image from
    Pediatric oncologist Jim Olson may have a solution to "one of the most vexing problems in oncology: the fact that a tumor’s precise boundaries are nearly impossible to define during surgery."

    His answer is chlorotoxin, a molecule that is found in the deathstalker scorpion and binds only to cancer cells, not healthy ones. Attaching a special dye to the chlorotoxin causes tumors to glow under infrared light; "Tumor Paint" greatly increases the probability that surgeons can detect and remove the entire cancer during surgery.
    You know, a tumor doesn’t have a big sign that says ‘Here I Am,’” says Steven Rosenfeld, director of the Brain Tumor Research Center of Excellence at the Cleveland Clinic. “An MRI can be helpful, but it doesn’t identify all of the microscopic deposits and nests where the tumor occurs.” Neurosurgeries are particularly tricky because the brain has a gelatinous consistency—surgeons compare it to a wobbly slab of Jell-O. Poking and prodding an exposed brain with sharp instruments alters its shape, thereby rendering MRI images useless as guides.
    Dr. Olson's idea was rejected by large funding organizations, but he was able to pursue his research ($100,000 buys less than a gram of chlorotoxin) through donations from grateful families. He raised $5 million for the initial phase, then $20 million after experiments showed success. Human clinical trials began last December.

    The War on Cancer began 42 years ago. Jim Olson's campaign is one of many battles that still have to be won but is another sign that ultimate victory may be achievable during our lifetime.

    Monday, July 07, 2014

    Psychology of Clutter

    (WSJ Graphic)
    Clearing the clutter is like losing weight: periodic spurts of motivated progress punctuated by long periods of backsliding. Why is attacking clutter so difficult? It could be due to "psychological demons":
    Difficulty letting go of your stuff can also go hand in hand with separation anxiety, compulsive shopping, perfectionism, procrastination and body-image issues. And the reluctance to cope can create a vicious cycle of avoidance, anxiety and guilt.

    In most cases, however, psychologists say that clutter can be traced to what they call cognitive errors—flawed thinking that drives dysfunctional behaviors that can get out of hand. Among the most common clutter-generating bits of logic: "I might need these someday." "These might be valuable." "These might fit again if I lose (or gain) weight."
    If I won't do it for myself, perhaps I can be motivated to do it for loved ones. As part of the final, great gift, I should not only get rid of as much stuff as possible, but also organize and label the items that I do keep. (For example, the old cup on the mantel was from my maternal grandmother, and the jade floral sculpture was a gift from a now-departed good friend.)
    The biggest sources of clutter and the hardest to discard are things that hold sentimental meaning. Dr. Rego says it's natural to want to hang onto objects that trigger memories, but some people confuse letting go of the object with letting go of the person.
    Final thought about cleaning up: if you won't make the decision, then someone else will, someone without your knowledge and perspective.

    Sunday, July 06, 2014

    It Still Matters....A Lot

    Historian David Armitage reflects on the two "elements that sometimes get conflated" in the Declaration of Independence [bold added]:
    The first of these is the assertion of popular sovereignty to create a new state: in the Declaration's words, the right of "one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them."

    The second and more famous element of the Declaration is its ringing endorsement of the sanctity of the individual: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."
    (Using the pedestrian terminology of organizations, the Declaration was the mission statement while the Constitution was the first attempt at the policies and procedures manual.)

    Throughout history to the present day, the most heated debates concerned the meaning of the words in the founding documents. One development has been clear: the two "conflated" elements of the Declaration are often in conflict with State power that has grown all over the world:
    In the Declaration of Independence, the same principles that empowered one people to separate from the British Empire also gave them, as individuals, certain expectations about how they would be treated by their own governments in the future.

    Today's authoritarians are eager to flex their sovereign muscles, especially in suppressing dissent at home and criticism from abroad, but they don't like the second half of the equation—the notion that their authority derives, ultimately, from the "unalienable rights" of their citizens.

    Saturday, July 05, 2014


    We hang on their words because they're (very) rich and famous, but most of them got that way because they are in the top 0.0001% of talent and/or intelligence. That's why a conversation between billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page is worth a few minutes of our time. Excerpts:
    LP on why big companies can't solve big problems: What are you doing in the next four years, which I think is about the average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO. So if you're being measured quarterly-- obviously, it's good to have some pressure so you actually do things, make money and improve things. But I think the four-year horizon for leaders is pretty difficult. It's pretty difficult to solve big problems in four years. I think it's probably pretty easy to do it in 20 years.
    VK on automation:There are people replacing farm workers, so you can weed plants and provide plant-by-plant care. People who are doing machines to make hamburgers automatically, all the way up the chain to people who are replacing law clerks or even doctors, psychiatrists, ENT specialists, you name it. So the whole span, from very simple work to very large work, is being replaced in a way that is a little bit scary....But I do wonder if the vast majority of jobs that we know today, more than 50-percent might be replaced by machines that can do that human judgment piece better.
    SB on possible changes from self-driving cars: I think the bigger changes can come to the community, the lifestyle, the land use. So much of our land in most cities, about 30 to 50-percent is parking, which is a tremendous waste. Also, the roads themselves, which are both congested and take a lot of space are just unpleasant. So with self-driving cars, you don't really need much in the way of parking, because you don't need one car per person. They just come and get you when you need them.
    SB on why Google doesn't become "a health company": Generally, health is just so heavily regulated. It's just a painful business to be in. It's just not necessarily how I want to spend my time. Even though we do have some health projects, and we'll be doing that to a certain extent. But I think the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.

    LP: It's a difficult area. I can give you an example. Imagine you had the ability to search people's medical records in the U.S.. Any medical researcher can do it. Maybe they have the names removed. Maybe when the medical researcher searches your data, you get to see which researcher searched it and why. I imagine that would save 10,000 lives in the first year. Just that. That's almost impossible to do because of HIPPA. I do worry that we regulate ourselves out of some really great possibilities that are certainly on the data-mining end.
    LP on the difficulties of improving government: the complexity of government increases over time. So, just looking at all our democracies around the world, in modern regulation and in law, we have increases without bounds. I was trying to reduce the complexity in Google. I was thinking, "We're getting to be a bigger company. Let's take our rules and regulations. Let's make sure they stay at 50 pages, so people can actually read it." But the problem that I discovered about that was that by reference, we include the entire law and regulation of the entire world, because we're a multinational company. We operate everywhere. Our employees, what they do affects everything. In some sense, we'd have to read the hundred million pages of law and regulation that are out there.
    As they approach middle age, even billionaire once-wunderkind appreciate the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer:
    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    The courage to change the things I can,
    And wisdom to know the difference.

    Friday, July 04, 2014

    Fireworks 2014

    The Beach Park bridge is our normal vantage point for watching the Foster City fireworks, but this year it became too crowded for our liking. Out-of-town newbies did not observe the unwritten rule that they should always leave a path for pedestrians. They planted themselves in the center of the walkway, and traffic came to a dead stop. We squeezed past them and exited the bridge.

    Joining groups standing on the grass, we had an unobstructed line of sight. Flash! One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three---the boom reached our ears; the explosions were half a mile away.

    15 minutes later the Independence Day celebration ended in a final paroxysm of light and sound.

    Realization dawned: our new viewing position allowed us to return without crossing any streets. Next year we'll watch from the same place and get home more quickly. To the rude newbies who unintentionally made us leave the bridge, thank you.

    Thursday, July 03, 2014

    He'll Be Fine, Probably

    If he read all this stuff, he wouldn't have any sales
    My friend is the sales rep for a foreign company which does business in Silicon Valley. He has one employee. The Fremont sales office is a simple, two-person operation, and my friend dutifully complies with government rules as best he can.

    I look at the government paperwork---paperwork (labor, environment, taxes, licensing, etc.) which has nothing to do with making sales or keeping his customers satisfied---and marvel that he's able to meet his quotas.

    My friend talks about retiring in California. Like many others, he loves living here, but running a business gives him headaches. Well, if he gets a good medical plan, he'll be fine.

    Wednesday, July 02, 2014

    The Hills Are Greener Over There

    It's common knowledge that U.S. companies either move their headquarters or set up significant operations in Ireland to cut their U.S. taxes.

    Dublin's infrastructure has now developed to the point that startups, most of which don't have a tax bill, are setting up shop for non-tax reasons.
    Dublin looks a lot like home: a young and educated workforce, global business culture, population thirsting for new technology and Twitter and Facebook signs dotting the horizon. Labor and real estate are cheaper than in other European destination cities and, more than the familiar language or palatable food, the city's tech tenant roster makes Dublin feel comfortable to Silicon Valley transplants.
    Like in any relationship, if one party keeps raising its demands and takes the other for granted, the other will first distance itself, then leave, and may never return. The founders of future Facebooks and Apples are watching how these enormously successful companies are treated in their home state and are arranging their affairs accordingly.

    As places like Dublin roll out the welcome mat to startups, the ambitious entrepreneur is lured by a future in which she won't have to worry about high taxes, regulatory complexity, or moving her company. Erin Go Bragh!

    Tuesday, July 01, 2014

    That Special Month

    Three of the five people whom I am closest to had their birthdays in the last week of June. The question is: what makes October so special?