Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year Lesson

Haggard diarist is coming to resemble the Buddhas of Graton
A visiting relative eagerly acceded to a gambling outing at the Graton casino, a two-hour drive north. We hadn't gamed since last April, and our war-chest was restocked.

Your humble observer doesn't particularly enjoy playing at Graton; the casino takes advantage of its local gaming monopoly by nearly usurious odds---for example, a blackjack pays 6-5 rather than the standard 3-2.

But the food's good and the free WiFi allows me to sit for hours after I lose my stake. Keep your expectations low, and you'll be much happier, a lesson I intend to carry with me into the New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Clearing One's Debts....or Not

Like many others, I like to do a bit of tidying up before the New Year....no, not the major clutter-clearing project that I've been putting off, but the low-hanging fruit of year-end charitable contributions (both money and used articles), paying off medical bills that required extensive analysis, and dumping magazines that I never got around to reading.

Concerning the second item, paying off one's debts--even small ones--is liberating. They nag at your humble observer's conscience, and reminder notices are a cause of ongoing stress.

(Image from Fox News)
That's why I never understand rich people who don't pay debts that they can easily handle (unless they're questionable or there's some moral principle involved). Carly Fiorina, ex-HP CEO and failed California Republican candidate for the Senate, is gearing up for a Presidential run [bold added]:
In 2010, Fiorina and husband Frank claimed a combined net worth of $30 million to $120 million....her 2010 campaign still owes $486,418 to creditors. Who wants a deadbeat for president?

Like the evil George Wickham in “Pride and Prejudice,” Fiorina skipped California owing buckets of cash to her one-time pals. She owes $60,000 to former campaign manager Marty Wilson, who now works for the California Chamber of Commerce, and another $20,000 to his former communications firm. She shorted her lawyer Ben Ginsberg, formerly of Patton Boggs, to the tune of $44,000. She owes $3,750 to a former press secretary, $5,000 to another communications aide and $7,500 to her erstwhile political director. She stiffed political consultant Joe Shumate, who died in 2010, to the tune of $30,000. (Yes, she stiffed a stiff — even though she lauded Shumate as a “trusted adviser and friend” upon his death.)
Based on this track record, why would any political consultants or lawyers do any paid work for her?
it takes a certain kind of brass to not pay off your political operatives, and then set up shop to run for the highest office in the land. [Former campaign manager Marty] Wilson isn’t sure who will want to work for Fiorina, but he does offer a suggestion for Fiorina 2.0: Ask for the money up front.
"Neither a borrower, nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend." In Carly Fiorina's case she'll lose a lot of votes, too.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Beyond My Ken

The air purifier (bottom) helps keep
the furnace dust-free.
At the first anniversary of our new furnace I ordered filters for the air purifier but had difficulty opening the filter housing. That was a good excuse to spend $125 for a one-year checkup.

I like to watch the professionals do the initial maintenance to see how much of it I can do myself. In the case of furnace maintenance the answer was disappointing: not much. Filter and UV-light-bulb replacement was simple enough, but testing the gas pressure and the circuit boards required equipment and knowledge that was beyond my ken. Test results, BTW, were fine.

Jay cut a piece of wood that was blocking access to the filter. He was done in an hour. We'll call him again next year, money well spent for peace of mind.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Another Truth

(Snoopy image from joyintheaftermath.com)
The Economist asks seven writers, Does Life Have Meaning?, and their responses are disquisitions on the universe, consciousness, life, and death. While interesting, their pencil-chewing reveals another truth: the intellectual elite are very different from the rest of society.

Were one to ask the average American person a question about life's meaning, the words "God" or "Jesus" (or "Mohammed" or "Buddha") would appear at least once in his or her answer. But they're nowhere to be found in any of the writers' responses. (Mentioning any of those names in a non-mocking manner results in immediate expulsion from the club of cognoscenti; witness the sneering opprobrium heaped on the head of a politician who said that Jesus was his favorite philosopher.)

The Economist and its writers have evolved beyond the infantile superstitions of the hoi polloi.

Long after their words have been forgotten, though, I suspect people will still be reciting these:
Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Familiarity Breeds....Fame

Cornell Professor James Cutting wondered whether the prominence attributed to great works of art was attributable to their "intrinsic" qualities or whether there were other factors in play [bold added]:
Cutting designed an experiment to test his hunch. Over a lecture course he regularly showed undergraduates works of impressionism for two seconds at a time. Some of the paintings were canonical, included in art-history books. Others were lesser known but of comparable quality. These were exposed four times as often. Afterwards, the students preferred them to the canonical works, while a control group of students liked the canonical ones best. Cutting’s students had grown to like those paintings more simply because they had seen them more.
Lots of exposure and fame
Of course, rising to the top is more than merely gaining exposure: the work must meet a high standard of craftsmanship, and timing and good luck play important roles. In the case of the most famous painting in the world
for most of its life, the “Mona Lisa” languished in relative obscurity. In the 1850s, Leonardo da Vinci was considered no match for giants of Renaissance art like Titian and Raphael, whose works were worth almost ten times as much as the “Mona Lisa”.
But after its theft from the Louvre in 1911 and its recovery in 1913
The French public was electrified.....Newspapers around the world repro­duced it, making it the first work of art to achieve global fame. From then on, the “Mona Lisa” came to represent Western culture itself.
Build a better mousetrap---then run commercials about it 24/7---and the world will beat a path to your door.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Mourn

So-called pocket pets (rabbits, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs) are for the most part easy to maintain and inexpensive to acquire. Pocket pets have an abbreviated existence; one visit to the vet can easily exceed the cost of the animal, so many owners don't bother treating illnesses. If it dies, they'll just buy a new one. In our case sentimentality overwhelmed cold calculation.

After her second birthday Velvet began to experience painful urination. Unlike most other guinea pigs she had a genetic predisposition to form bladder and kidney stones. Over the next three years we visited the vet to treat her pain (Metacam), urinary-tract infections (Baytril), and lack of digestive motility (Metoclopramide). We put her on a low-calcium diet and even had surgery performed to remove bladder stones when her life was in jeopardy. We probably would not have gone through the trouble and expense if Velvet had not been so affectionate, stoic in taking her meds, and responded so well to treatment.

This month, however, she stopped eating and resisted attempts to force feed her a liquid diet of Critical Care®. We said our goodbyes to her on the morning of Christmas Eve. I like to think that was her Christmas gift---freeing us from our (willing) burden of tending to her. With so much human tragedy in the world, including the recent death of people in our own extended family, no one should mourn the passing of a little guinea pig. But we do.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

In the late 1990's my former employer could draw on a talent pool of more than 200 people to put together a decent holiday choir. The grainy video (VHS tape) and monaural audio won't attract any hits today, but Christmas is a time of nostalgic sentimentality, nicht wahr?



Note: here are parts Two, Three, and Four.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Receiving is Pretty Good, Too

We had been adhering to the tradition of deferring the opening of gifts to Christmas Day, but in recent years very generous gift-givers (some of whom read this journal) have been sending us perishable comestibles that require immediate unwrapping; so we open all the boxes. Fruits, cheese, chocolates, nuts---some of our favorite foods lie scattered about the house, suitable for grazing, in the days leading up to Christmas.

It's better to give than to receive, but receiving is pretty good, too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Worse Places to Live

No walk in the park: less than a mile from Honolulu's center
Being homeless anywhere makes for a future that's nasty, brutish, and perhaps short, but in Hawaii it has been more comfortable than most places to exist without a roof over one's head. The year-round warmth precludes the possibility of freezing to death, and welfare benefits are the most generous in the nation.

Per the Economist:
Hawaii has one of the worst rates of homelessness in the country. Though its jobless rate is below 5%, pricey housing keeps even many workers on the streets.
The seemingly inexorable rise in the homeless population has triggered a government response:
On December 2nd Honolulu’s mayor, Kirk Caldwell, signed a bill that bans people from sitting or lying on the busiest public pavements between 5am and 11pm. Those who do so can be fined up to $1,000 and jailed for up to 30 days.
Long-term solutions, such as building inexpensive housing and effecting behavioral change, will take years, so
In the meantime, there is talk of sending the homeless to an encampment on nearby Sand Island—far from the tourists of Waikiki.
Sand Island, which contains a mix of heavy industry and recreational space, isn't Waikiki, but there are worse places to live.

(State of Hawaii photo)

Monday, December 22, 2014

iPad Insomnia

Health advice from Time, Why You Shouldn’t Read a Tablet Before Bed. In a Penn State study there was a marked difference between each participant’s sleep patterns and alertness depending on whether [bold added]
they read from a digital reader or from a book. When they read from an iPad, their evening levels of melatonin failed to drop as much as they should, while they remained at expected levels when they read from a book. That led to a delay in body’s biological signal to go so sleep of about an hour and a half, making the participants more alert and therefore not ready for bed.
In addition the participants who read from tablets had shorter REM sleep, though they may have slept the same number of hours that book-readers did.
What’s more, the effect of those differences in sleep patterns spilled over into the next morning. When they read from digital readers, the participants reported feeling sleepier and were less alert (as measured on standardized testing of alertness) than when they used books.
My problem is worse: I'll often press quit on the comparatively boring book I'm reading on iBooks or Kindle and stream a Netflix movie, or play one of the 20 games I've downloaded. That'll keep the Sandman away.

Thrilling, but not enervating

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Donning and Singing

Grace (far right) is looking good at 100+.
After lunch we donned our Santa hats and other gay apparel to visit elderly shut-ins in San Mateo County. Singing Christmas favorites to residents of four homes, most in the group had musical training, including the choir director wielding the pitch pipe.

The sound improved further when your humble observer left the carolers to snap photos for the church newsletter. Perhaps this variant of the Hawthorne [observer] Effect inspired the singers to concentrate?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Powerful Impetus

In the winter of 1914 nothing seemed more unlikely than soldiers venturing across no-man's land to lay aside their arms and mingle with the enemy. This was the famous Christmas truce of World War I.

Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky analyzes how such cease-fires can develop while war is raging.
Preadaptation: There tended to be a lull in the fighting during meals. Those pauses existed for the simple reason that no one, on either side, wanted to interrupt dinner to kill or be killed. But these lulls began to be used as ways to send signals to the other side....So the soldiers would make a point not just of shooting less frequently during dinner: They would let the guns thunder until the stroke of 6 p.m. and then go utterly silent until 7 p.m., every day. And if the other side started doing the same, they had essentially negotiated a narrow truce: no fighting during dinner.

Problems: cheating, when one side takes advantage of a truce to attack, and signal errors, mistakes made when, say, some clueless newbie lets loose with a shell. [snip]

the best way to police against cheating and signal errors is a variant of tit-for-tat—that is, retaliation that is not much more than the magnitude of the violation—and then a return to cooperation....the typical response to a violation of “live and let live” would be retaliation of roughly twice the magnitude.
In the early stages of the war, before the carnage rendered the enemy "sub-human",
Such truces emerged repeatedly during World War I, and just as often, the brass in the rear would intervene by rotating troops, threatening courts-martial and ordering savage raids requiring hand-to-hand combat—all to shatter any sense of shared interests between enemies. And still the truces would start up again.
The motivation not to be killed oneself is a powerful impetus to peace.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Maximizing Income, Happiness, Capabilities

The Economist ruminates on the primary goal of policy makers:
[Christmas] makes it a good time to ponder whether maximising income should really be the be-all and end-all of economic policy.
Higher income does correlate with longer life expectancy, better education, and other indicators of quality of life, but everyone---economics experts or not---is dissatisfied by the singular focus on this measure [bold added]:
If income is an imperfect proxy for quality of life, are there any plausible alternatives? In recent years many have instead focused on happiness....[but] happiness is harder to pin down.
Economic philosophers have lately become enamored with the idea of capabilities:
The capability approach purports that freedom to achieve well-being is a matter of what people are able to do and to be, and thus the kind of life they are effectively able to lead. The capability approach is generally conceived as a flexible and multi-purpose framework.
The good society is one in which a woman has the freedom and capability to become a successful CEO or a successful stay-at-home mother. The capability approach does not value one role over another; it does mean that society should value and support both choices. A Christmas-themed illustration:
(Victorian Web illustration)
Someone who chooses to forgo a Christmas dinner with family and friends (as Scrooge does) is better off than someone who does not have any invitations to turn down.
As common sense tells us, it's better to have a choice than none at all.

However, capabilities, much like happiness, may prove to be too complicated to implement as a policy goal. Coming full circle
the capability approach has spawned so many measures, each more complicated than the last, that GDP starts to look appealing again.
Maybe that's all we can reasonably wish for: give us a choice and a chance, and let us figure it out. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

HP-12C

A set of new batteries costs $7 at Radio Shack.
The HP-12C calculator was part of the employee welcoming package when I was hired in 1988. A marvel of design, compactness, and functionality for its time, the HP-12C became the "de facto standard among financial professionals."

Even today many seasoned finance executives prefer estimating the economics of a deal using the HP-12C over using computers thousands of times more precise and speedy.

HP sells a smartphone app that mimics the 12C.
Some of us need the dimensions and buttons of the real thing.
(In business negotiations where opening a laptop signals non-executive status, it's acceptable to pull out the 12C from one's coat pocket and punch in a few numbers.)

When the 12C batteries wore out after 15 years, there was no question that I would buy new ones. The calculator will still be in use over the next decade, long after today's computers have been scrapped.

“I would rather be vaguely right than precisely wrong.”---Keynes

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

More Bearable

At Costco regular gas was $2.399 per gallon. We had not seen a price this low since April, 2009.

Thank goodness we hadn't paid premium prices for a high-mileage hybrid; the cost of keeping our old 18-22 MPG gas guzzlers just became more bearable.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

They'll Thank You Later

"Tiger Mother" Amy Chua and daughters Louisa and Sophia.
Parents, make your kids stick with their music lessons:
research, published in September in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed direct evidence that music training has a biological effect on children’s developing nervous systems.

As a follow up, the team decided to test whether the level of engagement in that music training actually matters. Turns out, it really does. Researchers found that after two years, children who not only regularly attended music classes, but also actively participated in the class, showed larger improvements in how the brain processes speech and reading scores than their less-involved peers.

“It turns out that playing a musical instrument is important....We don’t see these kinds of biological changes in people who are just listening to music, who are not playing an instrument”

Monday, December 15, 2014

Feeling Good About Ourselves

A few days ago we made an offhand remark about the absurdity of the ban on plastic grocery bags when such bags are permitted in many other circumstances. OK, but seriously:

1) How harmful are environmental plastics to human and animal health?
2) What is the extent of the problem?
3) What is the cost of remedy?

Photo of an Indian beach (coastalcare.org)
A BBC reporter interviewed Dr Simon Boxall of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton in 2012 [bold added]:
"These plastic particles are like sponges, they're a bit like magnets for other contaminants, things like Tributyltin, the anti-fouling material....We don't know yet whether that then has an impact on the human food chain. It's still very early days to find out how far up the food chains these plastic particles go."
Professor Richard Thompson, Plymouth University:
"There are two concerns from a toxicological point of view. There's the issue that plastics are known to sorb and concentrate chemicals from sea water....And the secondary question is about chemicals that have been introduced into plastics from the time of manufacture, in order to achieve specific qualities of the plastic, its flexibility, or flame retardants or anti-microbials."
Oceanographers have recently estimated the amount of plastic in the oceans to be [an astonishingly specific] 268,940 tons.
just over 75% of the 268,940 tonnes of plastic is accounted for by items measuring more than 200mm [just under 8 inches]. Chunks of polystyrene were the most commonly observed large items, but by weight lost fishing gear, such as floats, lines and nets, accounted for most. As for the number of items in the sea, the researchers calculated this to be 5.25 trillion bits of plastic of all sizes. The vast majority, some 4.8 trillion, are microplastics [under 4.75 mm] and these were spread across the world.
Are these tiny bits dangerous? From the study by Professor Thompson:
the plastics had been found "in relatively low quantities - one or two pieces per fish - so this is certainly not a risk from the point of view of the human population, people eating those fish, because of course we don't eat the guts normally".
But isn't the sheer quantity of microplastics alarming?
Although the number of microplastics appears huge, it was much lower than the researchers expected....The researchers surmise that those [sunlight and weathering] processes include faster-than-expected shredding of already brittle microplastics into particles that are too tiny for their nets to catch, along with particles being washed onto beaches and material finding its way into the stomachs of marine life and thence their predators. There is also growing evidence that some microbes can biodegrade tiny pieces of plastic.
The fact that the main problem--if there is one--concerns brittle microplastics shouldn't stop us Californians from banning soft grocery bags. We can't wait for the science to verify what progressive minds already know to be true: plastic is bad.

Forcing shoppers to spend 10 cents a paper bag, or $1 for a reusable one (teeming with harmful bacteria), is a small price to pay for feeling good about ourselves.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

'Tis the Season

(Image from yourpowercentre.com.au)
Cards, shopping, gifts, travel, fund-raising, decorating.....whatever this is, it's probably not how the ancients spent their time in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

I, and perhaps you, too, are open to "a new way to experience Advent: desire and focus":
Desire: The key to a grace-filled Advent is to begin by identifying where I am experiencing darkness, despair, captivity and war.....We can’t say “Come, Lord Jesus” with any real meaning unless we have a felt experience of what it is we need. Once we experience our need, then the desire can formulate in our heart to ask for what we need.

Focus our attention whenever we can, especially during the “background” times of our day. These are the in between times – in the shower, getting dressed, walking down stairs, getting coffee, driving to work, walking down the hall, doing laundry....Whatever is going on in our minds and hearts during those “background” times can easily be refocused. It takes a little practice and some discipline, but it works.
In other words, a spiritual version of mindfulness.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Value in Question

My tattered wallet is bursting with cards: credit, ATM, insurance, and business cards, including my own. Then there are receipts, the driver's license, and, of course, cash, the billfold's original raison d'ĂȘtre. There are now a "vast" number of options to enclose these essential materials of daily life:

(WSJ graphic)
Bright colors and unexpected materials abound. “We’re seeing textured grains, exotic skins and even a great needlepoint collection,” said Glen Hoff, director of men’s design at Brooks Brothers.

The trick is staying true to personal taste and lifestyle demands. Risk-takers might embrace patterned leather, while guys who play it safer might see a forest green billfold as enough of a digression from basic brown. A man who works in a so-called creative field can flash a flashier wallet without raising eyebrows than one who toils on Wall Street. (Unless that Wall Streeter is comfortably defiant.)
Like pocket watches and fountain pens, this explosion in billfold design could be signaling the last hurrah of a consumer good, as it transitions from the mass market to a high-end niche. Technology is miniaturizing or eliminating everything carried in the wallet.

Unless one is a collector or is trying to impress someone (a motivation not to be discounted), there are better places to put one's money. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Quiet Surprise

We've been fans of a cappella music ever since we attended a concert by a talented college group. Top-40 a cappella songs have been few and far between, however. Simpler, quieter forms of music--not only a cappella but also string quartets and acoustic guitar--have a hard time competing with latter-day pyrotechnics. That's why it's so unexpected and gratifying that Pentatonix has become popular:
no big record label wanted anything to do with them. Even after sweeping NBC’s “The Sing-Off” in 2011, the group was dropped by Sony’s Epic Records—which had an option to sign winners. So they started making their own records and simple YouTube videos, putting together quirky a cappella arrangements of popular hits without executives weighing in or pushing them toward a commercial sound.
Despite enormous pressure to become more conventional, the five singers stuck to their vision of unadorned music. Through hard work and great talent, they "may be one of the few acts to sell a million copies of a 2014 album this year." Once you sample the product, however, it's no surprise that Pentatonix has caught fire. Talent cannot be ignored.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Out to Sea



The Chronicle is enclosed in a plastic that our
Whole Foods groceries are forbidden to wear.
The rain was heavy and the winds were fierce for a while, but we have certainly experienced worse weather in NoCal over the past 30 years. The "drought emergency" makes us hope for more such storms.

Newspaper deliveries--we get two dailies and one weekly--are wrapped in plastic when there's rain. Some of our neighbors aren't diligent at picking up, and a few papers get washed down the gutter. If plastic bags are such a danger to wildlife that they have to be banned from California grocery stores, why are newspaper plastic bags--which are more likely to go out to sea--exempted? Just asking.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Laying Down a Bead

In preparation for the imminent storm I did something that I hadn't done for ten years. I bought outdoor silicone caulk and clambered up the ladder to lay down a bead.

Three of the downstairs windows had a shown a propensity to leak (we haven't had heavy, windy rains for a decade) during a bad storm. I was glad that I took the trouble, because there were visible gaps that needed to be plugged.

[Update - 12/13: so far the caulking has held up. SF Gate: "Thursday’s storm alone brought 3.4 inches to the city, ranking it as San Francisco’s 11th-wettest day since record-keeping began in 1849. The coastal hills bore the brunt of the storm, with the Sonoma County community of Venado recording the region’s most rain Thursday: 9.44 inches in 24 hours."]

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Dream Teammate

(Business Week photo)
Retired NBA superstar Yao Ming names one active player that he wishes he could have been teammates with:
I like Stephen Curry. Small, you know, quick, shoots the ball very well. Looks not very strong, but has a strong heart.
[Update -12/13: the Warriors won their franchise-record 15th in row Saturday as Curry scored 29 points in a 105-98 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.]

Steph Curry with fans in Burlingame in 2012

Monday, December 08, 2014

Pay It Forward

Screenshot: Apple Pay was
also a snap at Whole Foods
Unlike its counterparts in other locales, McDonald's in Redwood City has trained its employees in the use of Apple Pay. The cashier instructed me to wave the iPhone 6 over the near field communication device, then confirm the credit card charge with a thumbprint on the iPhone home button. It worked like a charm.

After lunch we noticed the cashier standing in the middle of the parking lot. She had a McDonald's lunch bag and was walking back to the restaurant at a very slow pace, much slower than barely-mobile relatives who must use walkers. (Her earlier hand tremors now had an explanation.)

When we approached, she asked me to move her car to a more accessible disabled-parking stall. I was happy to spend a minute to save her 15.

Good for her for being productive in the face of hardship, and good for McDonald's for employing her when she cannot perform every task that other employees must.

We will be stopping at the Redwood City Mickey D's more often.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Tree of Hope

On a Sunday morning 73 years ago the world changed forever. (Note: last month an historian told us about one of the less well-known chapters of that fateful day.)

But let's not dwell on a past which fewer and fewer people remember.....

Displayed at Grace Cathedral, the Rainbow World Fund Tree of Hope
has over 12,000 origami decorations.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The End of the Beginning

Six months after they entered the diaconate, three ordinands were welcomed into the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Marc Andrus, fellow Episcopal clergy, laity, friends and family gathered at Grace Cathedral to celebrate the end of a journey and the beginning of a longer one that will take the rest of their lives.

From the Ordination of a Deacon and (Three) Priests:
"As a priest, it will be your task to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion your life in accordance with its precepts. You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.
The Revs. Claire Dietrich Ranna, Rebecca Lee Goldberg,
and Annie Pierpoint Mertz
You are to preach, to declare God's forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God's blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood, and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to you.

In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ's people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen to glorify God in this life and in the life to come."

Friday, December 05, 2014

A Practical Choice

Next year's color (examples by Pantone)
Time:
A marsala shade of red will be the in color next year across fashion, makeup and interior design. So says the design consultancy firm Pantone, which picked Marsala as the Color of the Year.

“Much like the fortified wine that gives Marsala its name, this tasteful hue embodies the satisfying richness of a fulfilling meal, while its grounding red-brown roots emanate a sophisticated, natural earthiness”
Comments: 1) the florid language fits right in with the over-wrought descriptions found in any oenologist's column. 2) a marsala silk tie would be a very practical addition to the wardrobe---no more panicking over spilt red wine.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

One Person Who Makes a Difference

Since 2006 I've been stopping by Jill's house to be a part of the "stocking stuffers" production for senior citizens and shut-ins. Her modest effort that began 13 years ago with 32 bags has expanded to a count of 1,380, each filled with personal-care items, sweets, and paperback books.

The bags are destined for clients of Catholic Charities, Meals on Wheels, and the Veterans hospitals. Her volunteers are recruited from the church, the Foster City Police and Fire Departments, the Boy Scouts, and especially the Santa Clara Thunderbird Club. Last year her efforts were recognized by NBC11 Bay Area news, WTG, Jill.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Enormous Discipline Needed

The communications revolution has yielded enormous efficiencies. Yet, like any tool, e-mail and calendar-appointment software can be overused:
“A small handful of people are really off the charts,” says Chantrelle Nielsen, head of customer solutions at VoloMetrix. In studying more than 25 companies, ["people analytics" company] VoloMetrix has found executives who consume more than 400 hours a week of colleagues’ time, “the equivalent of 10 people working full-time every week just to read one manager’s email and attend his or her meetings,” she says.
Time drainers:
Common time-wasting habits include copying too many people into emails and overuse of “reply all.” Inviting too many people to meetings is another common mistake, says Michael Mankins, lead author of the study and a Bain partner based in San Francisco. He suggests following the “rule of seven” people at a meeting: Every attendee added to that number reduces the likelihood of making sound decisions by 10%.
I laugh at colleagues who "reply all" when they decline meetings and disclose too much personal information about their reasons (a sorry, can't make it is sufficient). But the joke's really on me when I sometimes join a new humorous thread based on those responses.

Throughout most of human history food, information, and entertainment were in short supply. Now that all three are plentiful for the middle class, it requires enormous discipline to keep one's bearings throughout the day.

[Related note - Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams on the same disciplinary theme: Can Your Phone Make You Fat?
I don't know about you, but my biggest drain on willpower during any given day is my iPhone 6. It calls to me continuously during the day. Often I need to be focusing on something more important, or it would be socially impolite to check my text messages, or I am driving and it would be dangerous. These situations come up all day long. It's mentally exhausting. The conversation in my head goes like this: "Look at phone. DON'T LOOK AT PHONE! Look at phone. DON'T LOOK AT PHONE!" And so on to infinity.]

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

My New Chiropractor

At the chiropractor's office:
self-administered laser treatment
I first heard about chiropractors in college, where my pre-med roommate would talk about the profession of chiropractic with a great deal of scorn (BTW, he went on to become a well-respected physician). Indeed, back in the 1970's chiropractic did seem like quackery with its focus on spinal adjustments and manipulations, but since then its prestige has risen along with the acceptance of acupuncture, holistic medicine, and other alternatives to conventional Western medicine.

It wasn't on the bucket list, but today I went to the chiropractor for the first time. He confirmed the diagnosis on the injured leg--nothing fractured, no injury to the hip, knee, or ankle--but said that there was probably a muscle tear in the quadriceps. For the next three weeks, I should not exert it very much, massage frequently to break up scar tissue, and regularly apply a low-level laser to speed healing. I could drop in the office and use the machine myself without charge.

I thanked him and said that I felt better already. He responded to my unspoken thought: yes, the placebo effect can be powerful--and there's nothing wrong with that---but you probably are on the mend.

Chiropractors study psychology, too.

Monday, December 01, 2014

A Jolly, Holly Christmas

(Brittanica photo)
Now I know why nutmeg is added to the egg nog. It's not just the flavor:
The main chemical culprit in nutmeg is called myristicin which forms naturally in the seeds (and in other plants, occurring in trace amounts in carrots). Myristicin belongs to a family of compounds with psychoactive potential that occasionally are used to make much stronger psychotropic drugs.

It has been included in recipes for MMDA. And it is chemically related to another compound, safrole, also found in nutmeg, which is sometimes used in the synthesis of the street drug Ecstasy.