Saturday, February 28, 2015

Under Pressure

The master control valve was rusty but
gave way to determination + a pipe wrench
Displaying more than my usual initiative, I wielded the pickax on Friday afternoon to prepare the flower bed for spring planting. After fifteen minutes of chopping, the pickax struck something hard. Water began welling from beneath the surface. Oh #@!!% (look elsewhere, dear reader, for a blog on disciplined Lenten purification).

I turned off the valve to the house, but the water continued to flow. A fairly desperate call (it was Friday, remember) at 4:35 to the city water department, now closed, referred me to the Foster City Fire Department. And so it was that a fire truck with five firefighters pulled up, surely an inefficient use of public resources but I certainly wasn't complaining.

After 15 minutes of fiddling with various valves and connections, the firefighters unlocked the master control valve near the curb and shut off the water to the property. Apparently the developer in his haste had run a water line directly to the sprinklers without going through the house system.

On a serious note, the problem of undocumented underground utility lines is a nationwide problem:
Failure to locate underground utilities before you dig can result in disruption of services to individual homes or entire neighborhoods. Even worse, cutting into some buried cables or pipes can result in injury or death. But, underground pipes and cables can be hard to find. In some instances, they have been recorded on GIS [geographic information system] mapping. In many cases, however, there is no record of where this underground infrastructure has been buried.
Glue gets it done
Who knows what other surprises lurk beneath the surface? In these drought-ridden times perhaps it's finally time to pull out all the flora--without digging too deeply, of course--and put in a rock garden.

[Update - 3/1/15: fortunately the leak was from a PVC pipe and I was able to replace the section myself on Sunday morning.

(BTW, I found that so-called "glue-free" lockable couplings weren't leak-free under continuous water pressure)]

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Death of Spock

(Popular Mechanics photo)
Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Spock, died today at the age of 83.

I missed Star Trek when it first came out but became an avid viewer of the reruns during the 1970's. We joined the legions that yearned for more tales (there were only 79 episodes in the original series) of the Starship Enterprise. Yes, we confess to watching the cartoons--excuse me, the animated series--on Saturday mornings.

The spectacular success of 1977's Star Wars caused the studios to green-light numerous science-fiction projects, Star Trek among them. By 1982, when Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was released, Kirk, Spock, the Enterprise, and other members of the cast had become popular icons.

We saw the Wrath of Khan the first weekend (movie critics were diligent about not revealing spoilers), and watched in stunned silence as Spock died at the end to save the Enterprise. How dare they kill off a beloved character?

I confess to shedding a tear at the memorial service, in which William Shatner's short eulogy ranks with his best acting as Captain Kirk. The ceremony culminated with the release of Spock's casket into space, accompanied by the bagpipe strains of Amazing Grace, an instrument-music combination that has since become a cliché.

Spock's character was resurrected in Star Trek III two years later, an interval that we fans felt interminable, and Leonard Nimoy went on to more success not only playing Spock but directing, writing, hosting, producing, and acting. A life that brought many hours of enjoyment to millions of fans came to a close earlier today, but it was his character's movie death that I'll always remember. R.I.P.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Guinea Pigs in Dolores Park

(SF Gate photo)
Another example of the cruelty of man--a family of guinea pigs was abandoned in Dolores Park, San Francisco:
When the train rustled by, the furry rodents darted into bushes but as soon as quiet fell they came out from hiding to nibble on grass. The lead gardener at Dolores Park....says about six or seven guinea pigs were left in the park overnight.
Guinea pigs are domesticated animals and don't last long in the wild. Perhaps the former owner knew that they would be spotted quickly at Dolores Park and gave them a fighting chance. Maybe he or she is not 100% cruel.

Note: we are biased because guinea pigs have been members of our household for years.

{Update, 2/27 - guinea pig lovers are coming out of their hutches:
More than 50 concerned locals have called Animal Care & Control asking about the guinea pigs.

“Our phones have been ringing off the hook with people asking if the guinea pigs are OK,” [Animal Control spokesperson Deb] Campbell shared. “Someone donated two cages so the guinea pigs have a good start in life. People are asking when they’ll be up for adoption.”}

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Don't Bother Honking

An SUV after it was struck by Caltrain in Menlo Park
(NBC Bay Area photo)
Caltrain express trains achieve a top speed of 70+ miles per hour, creating a long-running Peninsula traffic hazard that won't be completely solved for decades.
  • The tracks go through the heart of cities like San Mateo, Burlingame, and Palo Alto.
  • Surface roads intersect tracks at dozens of locations, where old-fashioned railway crossing gates supervise auto traffic.
  • Projects ("grade separation") to construct train overpasses have recently cost $126 million to $155 million.
  • It's a popular misconception that accidents occur because impatient drivers try to "beat the train." Some crossing roads are so congested that it's possible to be trapped on the tracks, between cars, when the crossing gates go down. Such a situation killed an Indiana visitor in 2011 and resulted in another fatality this week in Menlo Park.

    The grade separations won't be completed until the 2030's. Meanwhile, I plan to drive very conservatively at railroad crossings. Sorry about that if you're behind me, and don't bother honking.
  • Tuesday, February 24, 2015

    Disinvitation Pushback

    I can't go but will send in a small donation.
    Non-progressive viewpoints are unwelcome on many American campuses. Last year "women of color" Hirsi Ali and Condoleeza Rice found that political ideology trumped substantive achievements despite their membership in historically victimized groups.

    Invitations to speak were greeted with protest, and eventually Ms. Ali was "disinvited" and Dr. Rice voluntarily withdrew from Brandeis and Rutgers commencement ceremonies, respectively.

    Disinvitation season is now a regular rite of spring. (BTW, not all disinvitations are the result of left-wing complaints; sometimes the shoe is on the other foot, as this list shows.)

    The William Buckley Program at Yale has organized a little pushback with the First Annual Disinvitation Dinner. The speaker is conservative commentator George Will, who was disinvited from speaking at Scripps College over a column he wrote about how colleges are handling accusations of sexual assault.

    Note: Scripps, one of the Claremont Colleges, has resolutely been women-only. Perhaps if it had diversified the student population, like Claremont Men's College did in 1976 when it became the co-ed Claremont-McKenna, Scripps would be more receptive to other ideas.

    Monday, February 23, 2015

    Respect the Artist

    Bob Hope and Johnny Carson were
    so last century (NY Daily News photo)
    "Dignity, always dignity."
    - Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain
    Neil Patrick Harris had big shoes to fill as host of the 87th Academy Awards, and his performance garnered mixed reviews. The fault for the lame jokes, IMHO, should be laid at the feet of the writing staff and not NPH, who has demonstrated musical talent and charm in other settings.

    The risky bit that parodied Birdman's underwear scene has been roundly criticized, but the counter-argument is that NPH is an artist who is willing to die for his art in front of tens of millions of people. Please, Academy, give him another chance.

    Besides, Lady Gaga's Sound of Music medley alone was worth the price of admission.

    Sunday, February 22, 2015

    Sunday Loophole

    "Ultimate" skillet: sausage, spinach, bell peppers, onions,
    mushrooms, tomatoes, red-skinned potatoes, eggs.
    When circumstances make the rules difficult to follow, Christians want to know how far they can go without breaking them. (Such was the concern when people believed in eternal salvation or damnation.)

    During Lent Christians are supposed to give up earthly pleasures. Hence the all-important question: do the 40 days of Lent include Sundays?
    From the very earliest days, the Church has declared that Sunday, the day of Christ's Resurrection, is always a feast day, and therefore fasting is forbidden. Since there are six Sundays within Lent, we have to subtract them from the days of fasting. Forty-six minus six is forty.
    Seizing upon the Sunday loophole and after a four-year hiatus, we found ourselves at the local Denny's, which has freshened its menu and decor.

    We prefer Denny's to IHOP. Competition, don't you love it?

    Saturday, February 21, 2015

    “The odds are very good, but many of the goods are very odd”

    Facebook's lounge (CNBC photo)
    ----quote from a lady entrepreneur about dating in the tech world.

    Software developers and hardware engineers:
  • Are in high demand
  • Have trouble maintaining long-term relationships (work or personal)
  • Want to make a difference ("a dent in the universe”)
  • Require very special attention from management:
    staff at even the largest tech firms expect their bosses to appear frequently in person or by video link, to be grilled about everything from corporate strategy to the quality of the office coffee
    Normally it's better to be the boss. In tech, like in Hollywood and pro sports, the elite talent has the upper hand.
  • Friday, February 20, 2015

    From the File of Ironic Place Names
    A massive blaze has engulfed the ‘Marina Torch’ skyscraper in Dubai, forcing hundreds of people to flee the 336-meter-high tower – one of the tallest residential buildings in the world.
    USA Today:
    No one was reported killed and the fire burned for three hours before being brought under control, according to several reports. However, flames engulfed several floors of the iconic Torch skyscraper and debris tumbled to the ground before sunrise.

    Thursday, February 19, 2015

    Between Two Worlds

    Yesterday was the beginning of Lent--the Christian season of prayer, fasting, and abstemiousness--but today is also the Chinese New Year, a day of great feasting.

    Which tradition to follow? Such a difficult choice....

    Wednesday, February 18, 2015

    Whoever Heard of a Skinny Panda?

    Third baseman Pablo Sandoval helped the Giants win three World Series in the past five years, but his salary demands and concerns about his weight caused the club to part ways with him in November. The Boston Red Sox signed him to a five-year $95 million contract; the downside risk is less for the American League teams, for whom Pablo can be a designated hitter if he can no longer perform as a major league infielder.

    There was a lot of chortling by Giants supporters--and concern, even buyers remorse from some Red Sox fans--when Pablo Sandoval reported for spring training badly overweight, again (see tweet below).

    When we cut our losses on an investment--and that turns out to be the right decision because the asset deteriorates further--we feel some satisfaction but little joy. When we sever our ties with a person, even when we're right there's no joy or satisfaction, just sadness.

    Pablo never came across as a mean person, was key to many Giants triumphs, and, frankly, we hope the naysayers are wrong. We hope he does well in Boston.

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

    Same Time Every Year

    The waitress presented a new menu, but we had gone to the local IHOP for an ancient dish on Pancake Tuesday.

    (Wikipedia: "Archaeological evidence suggests that pancakes are probably the earliest and most widespread cereal food eaten in prehistoric societies.")

    My pancakes were accompanied by bacon, eggs, coffee, butter, and a selection of four syrups....we like tradition, but too much authenticity we're not crazy about.

    A Good Dog, However, Might Be Even Better

    Phyllis Tarrant died in 2011 at age 102. Husband
    Ralph passed in 2013 at 110 (Telegraph 2008 photo)
    Being married, rather than living alone, has generally been thought to be better for one's health because of studies documenting superior longevity, quality of life, etc. for marrieds. It turns out that scientists were not designing the research properly: [bold added]
    two new studies have found something that apparently is at least as good for people and sometimes even better: cohabitation [snip].

    researchers split up the population they were researching by age and gender, looking at men and women over and under the age of 45. They found that above age 45, people of both sexes who were living with someone but not married experienced a more positive effect on their health than those who were married.
    So, for health's sake don't get married, get a roommate. Comments:
    1) There are a lot of married people out there nodding their heads.
    2) SSM: yes, gays really should have the right to be as unhappy and unhealthy as everyone else.
    3) Single parents, don't be in such a hurry to kick your millennial out of the basement. You may be mistaken about his effect on your blood pressure.

    Monday, February 16, 2015

    Still Not So Smart

    (Image from
    The technoscenti are excited about Apple's "Smart Home".
    HomeKit is designed to streamline communications between Apple’s gear and accessories like web security cameras, smart plugs, thermostats, and more.
    Ho-hum, because one doesn't need Apple to hook up with baby monitors, refrigerators, or television sets.

    What sets HomeKit apart is security:
    Because Apple-compatible smart home accessories pack Apple-approved MFi chips, they’re able to provide end-to-end encryption. In other words, when you say “Unlock the door” to Siri, that command gets encrypted by your phone, it’s sent through the web, and finally lands at your lock, where it’s decrypted. The command can only be unscrambled at the hardware level, so it makes your smart home safer from hackers.
    I would be excited, too, but the most pressing problems concerning my home are:
  • The downstairs carpet is worn.
  • An increase in neighborhood noise makes window replacement very desirable.
  • A few bathroom tiles are cracked and I'm worried about water leakage.
  • Older homes in earthquake country require bolting to the foundation.

    I could have easily listed a dozen more problems, none of which would be solved by the Smart Home.

    On the other hand, if Apple is developing a smart robot that would handle them for me, I'm in.
  • Sunday, February 15, 2015

    An Early Mardi Gras

    Both king cakes were gone quickly.
    After the morning service we adjourned to the Parish Hall, where Jill had organized an early Mardi Gras feast. (For logistical convenience many churches celebrate Fat Tuesday when everyone is gathered on Sunday, though dimanche gras doesn't have the same ring, n'est-ce pas?)

    Liz, a Louisianan who recently moved to California by way of Texas, brought two king cakes. From the Christian Science Monitor:
    Although extremely popular during the season of Carnival/Mardis Gras, the King’s cake traditionally has its roots in Europe, from the Middle Ages. The cakes are eaten as part of the celebrations following Christmas on Epiphany (Twelfth Night) after the birth of Christ, and the gifts of the Magi – the three kings who offered gifts to the Messiah. Celebrations would continue from then all the way through Fat Tuesday/Mardis Gras, and the beginning of the Lenten season.

    Often, a token was hidden inside the cake – a coin or bean, which is said to give the person who finds it inside their bread good fortune throughout the year. This has come to include the insertion of a plastic baby after the cake is baked, usually by tucking it inside from the bottom, where no one can see.
    The plastic baby hidden in each cake represents the baby Jesus. No one confessed to finding either (one tradition holds that he or she must bring the king cake next year).

    There were enough sweets, jambalaya, red beans & rice, and salads to fill leftover containers. Lent, the Christian season of prayer, fasting, and the setting aside of worldly pleasures, begins Wednesday.

    Saturday, February 14, 2015

    Acquire and Hold

    (Image from
    Borrowing more than was prudent, I made the investment without knowing what I was getting into. Luckily, it began paying dividends almost immediately, and the investment more than covered incremental out-of-pocket costs.

    After a few years, however, there were inevitable dips, especially after a couple of major expansions caused finances to be over-extended. (After two decades, it's still uncertain whether the expansions will ever pay off.)

    The investment has become so long-term that the costs of exiting are prohibitively high. Besides, the dividends have gone up, too, and I will need them in retirement.

    Happy Valentine's Day!

    Friday, February 13, 2015

    Apple: Promising and Puzzling News

    I use Apple Pay all the time at
    Whole Foods and McDonald's
    The promising: Apple Pay has won the federal government's stamp of approval. [bold added]
    Analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights and Strategy predicted that the federal government's approval will redouble Apple's momentum in the mobile payments space.

    "This is really a big deal as it gives Apple access to the millions of federal employees but, more importantly, the billions [bloggers note: he meant "a lot more" but probably got carried away] of Americans who pay federal institutions," he wrote in an email.
    The puzzling: Apple car project is for real, and it's a minivan.
    Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been hiring auto engineers, including from Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA): The company has several hundred employees working on project "Titan," toward an Apple-brand electric car that one source says resembles a minivan, The Wall Street Journal reports.
    Apple Pay is gaining wide acceptance because of its security, privacy, and convenience. Importantly, it is layered on top of the existing payments system so that the banks and credit card companies view Apple as a helpmeet and not an existential threat.

    Hang on to your seatbelts. We'll see more of
    these concept drawings in the weeks to come.
    An Apple Car, on the other hand, would have to succeed against very powerful American, Japanese, and German competitors, some with many decades of experience. It doesn't make sense that Apple would enter an established market which contains some of the world's best companies; take the understandable concerns about offering an Apple television set and multiply those objections ten-fold.

    More likely Apple is working on a demonstration minivan(?!?) outfitted with its software and products. The Apple module would be offered as an optional add-on to car companies and their customers.

    We're holding our breath on this one; whatever Apple's doing with cars can't be as troubling as it first sounded, and its long record of success has earned the company the benefit of the doubt.

    [Update - 2/21/15: the Economist is skeptical about an Apple car:
    it will be tough to overturn the incumbents in a business where clever technology is only part of the equation.....the tech firms may be better off working with carmakers, to develop the software that will provide the brains of the self-driving car, and to improve the range and battery costs of the electric car.]

    Thursday, February 12, 2015

    Mathematically Optimal

    ESPN: "Stephen Curry is reinventing shooting"
    At 6'3", Warriors All-Star guard Stephen Curry had to learn how to shoot with a high arc to prevent his shots from being blocked (the NBA average height is 6'7"). It turns out that Steph Curry's necessary adaptation produced a better way to shoot:
    The average three-pointer this season reaches a maximum height of 15.77 feet, according to Stats LLC, which tracks such geospatial coordinates with high-resolution cameras in every NBA arena. Curry threes average 16.23 feet.

    This is the science to Curry’s art: The steeper a shot, the wider the opening into the rim. Dallas Mavericks free-throw coach Gary Boren has a peculiar way of illustrating this fact. He lowers a hoop to the floor and has players climb a ladder. “You can’t change the size of the ball,” he said, “but you can change the size of the target.”

    Curry’s shot is mathematically optimal, said John Carter of Noah Basketball, whose technology has determined that the ideal entry angle for a three-point shot is about 45 degrees. Carter says the most skilled shooters he has studied use even higher trajectories. At the request of The Wall Street Journal, Lynchburg College physicist Eric Goff analyzed Curry’s in-game threes and found that they entered the rim around 46 degrees.
    Stephen Curry is even more popular because his slight physique is closer to that of the average Joe yet has not been an impediment to success. He unselfishly dishes out the ball (#5 in the league in assists) and patiently signs autographs after games. If we're lucky, the 27-year-old star will be "reinventing shooting" in front of Bay Area fans for years to come.

    Wednesday, February 11, 2015

    The Fourth Reason

    As taxpayers begin putting together the information for their 2014 returns, Time helpfully lists the "three things our experts say can make your tax return catch the IRS’ attention."
  • Claiming unusual deductions.
  • Contradicting your ex-spouse. [alimony paid by one must equal alimony received by the other)
  • Abusing business deductions.
  • Hey, Time, how could you forget the fourth reason your return was flagged? It's been all over the news.
  • Joining the Tea Party.

    The tax agency audited 10 percent of donors, much higher than the audit rate [less than one percent] for average Americans.
  • Tuesday, February 10, 2015

    Discuss and Measure Twice, Then Cut Once

    The growth that prompted the letter
    A senior citizen received a written warning from the homeowners' association:
    On a recent site walk thru [sic] we noticed that your patio plants have grown excessively and have not been properly maintained, which is a violation of the site Rules & Regulations....

    We are, therefore, asking you to please have these plants trimmed back, and, going forward please make sure that they are regularly maintained. We ask that you have these items addressed within (30) days of the date of this letter.
    After the trimming
    There was an obvious threat implied in the letter; if he didn't trim the plants in 30 days, the association would impose a fine and/or perform the work, then bill him for the trouble.

    Offering to help, I considered calling a gardening service but then saw the overgrowth wasn't extensive. It took less than an hour for me to cut back the tree.

    Condominium and townhouse associations often are criticized for infringements of privacy and overly restrictive rules. However, that wasn't the case here. The guidelines are reasonable, and I do appreciate that someone is keeping an eye on the condo....and my old acquaintance.

    Monday, February 09, 2015

    Tax and Spend

    Federal taxes and receipts have grown ten-fold since the
    mid-1970's per the Office of Management and Budget
    In last month's State of the Union address the President called for the taxing of educational savings accounts (529 plans) (withdrawals exceeding invested amounts would be taxed as ordinary income). The resulting protests from many quarters, including his own party, forced him to back off.

    Now the President is calling for the current U.S. taxation of foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies. These subsidiaries generally do not pay U.S. taxes until the profits are sent back to the U.S. parent.

    There are policy arguments for and against the President's position, but the larger picture is:

    a) For the past 40 years Federal spending has ratcheted up inexorably, regardless of which party controls the White House;

    b) Under President Obama estimated 2015 Federal tax receipts of $3.1 trillion will be 50% higher than 2009 (give him credit for an improving economy).

    c) These historically high receipts still are not enough to fund the President's vision of government.

    d) If this corporate-tax increase fails (or even if it's partially enacted), look for the President to submit other revenue proposals. Whatever tax increase Congress agrees to, it won't be enough.

    [Update - 2/13/2015: First Time Ever: Federal Tax Revenues Top $1 Trillion Thru January; Gov't Still Runs $194B Deficit.]

    Sunday, February 08, 2015

    Quiet Time: Not Just for Five-Year Olds

    Visitacion Valley School, SF (NBC News photo)
    Over much skepticism meditation programs were introduced to some San Francisco schools. The result:
    suspensions decreased by 79 percent and attendance and academic performance noticeably increased.
    Meditation techniques are not just a San Francisco teaching method. A quick Google search shows that they're being implemented in at least 13 states, as well as parts of Asia and Europe. According to Time
    Mindfulness and meditation programs are emerging as powerful ways to calm kids down, sharpen their brains and make them kinder to their classmates.
    The benefits are powerful: more kindness, better math scores, fewer ADHD symptoms, more self-control, less depression, and improved focus. And one doesn't even need a prescription.

    Saturday, February 07, 2015

    Radio Shack

    This Radio Shack is slated for closure. It was here
     when we moved to Foster City in 1980.
    Radio Shack's bankruptcy on Thursday captured more mentions than a company its size ($1.2 billion assets, $1.4 billion liabilities) would normally merit.

    The reason perhaps was nostalgia; Radio Shack was formed in 1921 when consumers began their long-running affair with electronic gadgets like telephones, phonographs, and, of course, radios. It has been part of the retail landscape for nearly everyone alive today.

    The shelves are more than empty, they're gone.
    Many under 30 regard the death of the old Radio Shack with amusement:
    In all fairness, there is no way that a store with a name like Radio Shack was long for this world. It combined Radios and Shacks, two old-fangled technologies that our ancestors used to have. This is like naming a store Telegram Hut or Smoke Signal Yurt. It’s like naming a search engine ‘Bing’.
    For older folks, who remember when no one had a computer at home, the memories are not to be laughed at:
    "In high school I remember buying my first splitter at RadioShack—and marveling at the fact that I could now listen to my Walkman with my boyfriend."

    "RadioShack gave us the cables and scanners and phone lines (ahhh, dial-up!) we needed to access the universe beyond our shrinking rural town."

    "Dad was something of a HeathKit addict. Nobody remembers HeathKit now, maybe, but it was a company that would send you all the parts for various electronic components and you’d solder them up yourself. I made a digital clock; Dad built an equalizer, amplifier, and a pre-amp."
    It appears that Radio Shack will be reorganized into much fewer stores and be affiliated with Sprint. As one who still shops there occasionally, I hope it makes it.

    This Radio Shack soldering station was very useful three months ago.

    Friday, February 06, 2015

    Far From A Doozy

    Choppy Foster City lagoon.
    As storms go, this one has been far from a doozy (40 mph winds, 2-7 inches of rain, mostly the former). The Bay Area has been so parched, however, that the weather has made the headlines. (And there will be storm hype, i.e., pictures of fallen trees and flooded areas, but really, we've seen a lot worse.)

    On Monday the news anchors will breathlessly report how many inches have been added to the snowpack, and hydrologists will tell us that seven or eight more storms will be needed to end the drought.

    A sunnier view from 2008
    Of course, it won't be news until we get quotes from politicians, who will say that the emergency is still on and that we urgently need to conserve water.

    On the bright side I won't have to bother watching the local news over the weekend.

    Thursday, February 05, 2015

    Sensitive Demolition

    Bye-bye to freezing in the grandstands (SF Gate photo)
    Thousands of farewells have been written, including our own.

    Sir Paul returned after 48 years to say goodbye last August.

    The demolition of Candlestick Park has finally begun. Wrecking balls are "imprecise," and dynamite raises too much dust, so dinosaur-like wrecking machines are performing the task slowly over many weeks to minimize environmental damage.

    In the San Francisco Bay Area even the demolitions are sensitive.

    Wednesday, February 04, 2015

    Their Presence Isn't Welcome

    Google commuter bus in San Francisco (TechCrunch photo)
    In the latest instance of blue-on-blue disputes, founder David Talbot says the influx of Silicon Valley tech workers into San Francisco is ruining the City. This time evil Republicans aren't to blame but Stanford University and Silicon Valley, both of which have overwhelmingly supported the liberal agenda:
    Not long ago, Bernal Heights was a funky mix of blue-collar workers, lesbian starter-families, counterculture artists, community organizers and Latina grandmothers. But Bernal Heights had the misfortune of being blessed with affordable housing, verdant backyards and parks – and being conveniently located next to the hipster-infused Mission, and even worse, to Highway 101 – the Google bus route to Silicon Valley.

    Suddenly, this unusually mixed San Francisco neighborhood was transformed into what one real estate web site recently crowned the hottest zip code in the country. Now, if you stand at the corner of Precita and Alabama – the main checkpoint for the neighborhood — instead of seeing battered Subaru Outbacks and Hondas, you see a steady stream of new-model Teslas, BMWs and Uber limousines. A rapid, seamless flow of gleaming, luxurious metal that never slows down – not even for the children and dogs who come spilling into the street from the nearby park. These Silicon Valley movers and shakers can’t afford to slow down – time is money.
    Stanford is the target of his anger because it is the birthplace of Silicon Valley [bold added]:
    For many years, Stanford was the country-club university where millionaires of the West sent their children – the bright and the not-so-bright offspring of privilege. But in the 1930s and ‘40s. things began to change around here. Stanford grads William Hewlett and David Packard began tinkering in their legendary garage. And, after World War II, William Shockley moved west to work on his transistors. Pumped full of Pentagon money, this sun-dappled campus and the green fields and orchards surrounding it suddenly blossomed into Silicon Valley. Engineers and entrepreneurs were the new gods – not farm owners and railroad barons.

    Much of the wealth in this new boom was blood money. The shiny new instruments of technology that bloomed here sprang from the Defense Department’s need to identify the enemy, track the enemy and destroy as many of them as possible. Even vaporize entire civilian populations if necessary.
    I've never heard "Stanford" spoken of so pejoratively, not even by Cal loyalists (Mr. Talbot went to UC-Santa Cruz):
    The ones who proudly wear their Ivy League hoodies as they jog and hydrate around Precita Park or line up for artisanal chocolate tastings on Valencia Street, forking over enough cash to feed an entire family in the Mission for two or three days. “Stanford dicks.” That’s what my sons call them. Or Stanford douchebags, or Stanford tools. The term “Stanford assholes” has even made it into “Looking,” the HBO show set in gay San Francisco – and it’s not meant to be flattering.
    It's easy to make fun of David Talbot's rant--he tries hard to inflame the reader by using terms of military violence and listing the frivolous indulgences of the nouveau riche--but his anger stems from a common phenomenon, the transformation of the places we once loved into something cold and unfamiliar.

    I once knew every street in Honolulu, but now I get lost in, and don't care for, many parts of new Oahu. During the 1980's many Americans resented the Japanese development of U.S. real estate, including the purchase of trophy properties like Rockefeller Center and Pebble Beach. And for half a century people in the other Western states have deplored how the out-migration of Los Angelenos was "Californicating" their bucolic communities.

    Sorry, David, you sound like a grumpy conservative who is standing athwart history yelling 'Stop! Just make sure you get out of the way of those driverless cars.

    (NY Times graphic)

    Tuesday, February 03, 2015

    A Recipe with Minimal Investment

    Fried chicken has always been one of my favorite dishes, but I've never found an easy recipe (a blessing in disguise, perhaps, given the calories from fat). An example of typical instructions [bold added]:
    Twentieth-century doyenne of Southern cooking Edna Lewis fried her chicken in a pound of lard and a stick of butter after two overnight soaks—first in brine, then in buttermilk—and a flour-cornstarch-salt-and-pepper dredging. Some cooks add mustard, cayenne, smoked paprika, celery seeds or onion powder to the dredge. Dunking the chicken in beaten egg before dredging will help to form a thicker crust upon frying. Replacing the flour with bread crumbs, corn meal or even crushed Rice Krispies or Corn Flakes cranks up the crunch.
    Who's got the time?

    WSJ Illustration by Libby Vanderploeg
    WSJ food writer Gail Monaghan comes to the rescue with a tested formula from her friend Marge:
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 (3½-pound) chicken, cut into 8 or 10 pieces
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1-2 cups vegetable oil, lard or shortening
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (optional)

    1. Pour milk into a bowl large enough to hold chicken as well. Add cayenne or Tabasco, if using. Add chicken and turn to coat. Remove chicken pieces and set on a wire rack to allow excess milk to drain off, 5 minutes.

    2. In a large Ziploc bag, combine flour, cornstarch, 1½ teaspoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Add chicken, a few pieces at a time, to flour mixture in bag, seal and shake to coat. Shake off any excess and set on wire rack.

    3. Set a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add ¾ inch oil. (Oil should come no more than halfway up sides of chicken pieces.) Heat to 375 degrees, using a hot-oil thermometer to monitor temperature. Slip a few chicken pieces, skin-side down, into hot oil. (Do not crowd pan.) Cook, turning frequently, until chicken is golden all over, about 20 minutes. Lower heat to medium and continue to cook until meat is cooked through, 5-15 minutes more. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining chicken.
  • I already have all the ingredients and just need to buy the chicken. Like other subjects covered by the Wall Street Journal, the investment is minimal and the potential payoff is enormous.

    Monday, February 02, 2015

    Stan the Dentist

    Minor miracle: no cavities, and 
    I still have all my teeth.
    I dropped by Stan's office this morning for my annual check-up and cleaning. (I first posted about him ten years ago.)

    At the age of eight Stan knew that he wanted to be a dentist. Despite being in the business for over three decades, Stan doesn't show signs of slowing down.

    He's constantly refreshing the office technology; after he went over my X-rays (instantly flashed to the monitor---yes, kiddies, we used to have to wait half an hour for the "film" to be "developed") he pulled out a laser cavity detector and scanned each tooth for trouble spots invisible to the naked eye. He pronounced the good news: keep an eye on worn fillings, but there are no immediate problems.

    Me: "Does that device work on my head? I'm becoming forgetful."

    Stan: "Well, it does pick up voids." Bazinga!

    Sunday, February 01, 2015

    1 Th 5:18

    Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is well known for his Christian faith and regularly gives thanks to God after every game. Because the Seahawks are among the elite football teams, he has been mocked for having a fair-weather theology. Even people of the cloth, who should know better, have joined in the criticism.

    I spoke with a Seahawks-hater who reveled in their last-minute loss to the Patriots in an exciting 28-24 Super Bowl. "Let's see Russell Wilson give thanks now."

    Okay, here---from Russell Wilson's Twitter page:

    What's sad about this exchange is how little non- or casual Christians understand about the faith of serious believers, who have long wrestled with why Bad Things Happen to Good People, things much worse than losing a Super Bowl.

    I will always root for the 49ers when they play the Seahawks, but I won't root against Russell Wilson.