Friday, July 31, 2015

Withhold Judgment, Please

He's got game: Dan Price was recognized
before the 2015 firm-wide pay raise.
Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price attracted scads of favorable publicity when he raised his 120-employee firm's minimum wage to $70,000. To help fund the cost increase he cut his own $1 million salary. Now the company is facing difficulties, though it is not (yet) in extremis. The NY Times [bold added]:
a few customers, dismayed by what they viewed as a political statement, withdrew their business. Others, anticipating a fee increase — despite repeated assurances to the contrary — also left. While dozens of new clients, inspired by Mr. Price’s announcement, were signing up, those accounts will not start paying off for at least another year. To handle the flood, he has already had to hire a dozen additional employees — now at a significantly higher cost — and is struggling to figure out whether more are needed without knowing for certain how long the bonanza will last.

Two of Mr. Price’s most valued employees quit, spurred in part by their view that it was unfair to double the pay of some new hires while the longest-serving staff members got small or no raises. Some friends and associates in Seattle’s close-knit entrepreneurial network were also piqued that Mr. Price’s action made them look stingy in front of their own employees.

Then potentially the worst blow of all: Less than two weeks after the announcement, Mr. Price’s older brother and Gravity co-founder, Lucas Price, citing longstanding differences, filed a lawsuit that potentially threatened the company’s very existence. With legal bills quickly mounting and most of his own paycheck and last year’s $2.2 million in profits plowed into the salary increases, Dan Price said, “We don’t have a margin of error to pay those legal fees.”
Comments:
  • The high-performers, unappreciated in recognition and/or pay, depart for greener pastures, while the low-perfomers clock in for their $70,000 salary. Thus do most socialist dreams fail.
  • Mr. Price is an admirable person, clearly sacrificing personal gain for his beliefs.
  • He has the right to run the company the way he sees fit, and customers and employees have the right to do business with him based on their beliefs, as well as the price and quality of the services they receive. The trouble is that so many people became invested in his success or failure based upon ideology, not whether his company is delivering a quality product at a reasonable price.
  • Let's withhold judgment: we still don't know that failure will be the final outcome. The glory of capitalism is that millions of people are all trying to find a better way, and often success comes in unexpected ways that we can all learn from.
  • Thursday, July 30, 2015

    Plan B Becomes Plan A

    Replacing the battery didn't work, so the problem had to be a broken connection. I pried open the 2008 MacBook to see if there was a possibility for an amateur to perform a zero-cost fix; there wasn't.

    The ancient white MacBook, one of the first with an Intel processor, still had its uses. It runs ran equally ancient personal-finance software, and it was never connected to the Internet for security reasons.

    I pulled out the hard disk (bottom right in the illustration and, yes, we had it backed up) and put the screws and cover back. The MacBook will go to the recycling center, and we'll destroy the hard disk.

    As for our personal-finance software, it still operates on the 2004 pre-Intel iMac G5. Plan B, as often happens, becomes Plan A.

    Wednesday, July 29, 2015

    Taking on the Attributes of Their Owners

    (NY Daily News photo)
    Are we talking about the phones or their owners?

    Headline - New vulnerability can put Android phones into permanent vegetative state [bold added]:
    Researchers have developed an attack that puts more than 50 percent of Android phones into the digital equivalent of a persistent vegetative state in which they're almost completely unresponsive and are unable to perform most functions, including making or receiving calls.
    Snarky comments are too obvious and too easy.....but irresistible.

    Tuesday, July 28, 2015

    The Future is Golden

    Half of Kearny was blocked (B of A building in the distance.)
    Temperature highs were broken around the Bay today. Reflecting poor timing, I drove into the City for a lunchtime appointment in a car with a broken air conditioner. (Before you ask, dear reader, public transit would have added about 90 minutes to the round trip.)

    Construction was occurring throughout the City. It took 30 minutes to crawl four blocks. By the time I had parked and walked to the restaurant, my shirt was soaked.

    After lunch I stopped at the Wells Fargo Museum to cool off.
    Today the gold is no longer in the hills but in the Valley.
    My friend, whom I hadn't seen for over a year, talked about her new position at a major bank. She had been promoted already, and her section was hiring. Echoing the lament heard by Silicon Valley employers, she had difficulty finding candidates with the technical background to handle the job.

    I wished her well. Key executives are retiring over the next 10 years, and her advancement seems assured. Times are tough for 25-40 year-olds, but for a few the future is golden.

    Monday, July 27, 2015

    The Study Confirms Our Beliefs, But More Work is Needed

    Numerous studies have supported the widely shared belief that a youthful ability to control impulses usually leads to adult success. However, "developing self-control is not always an unalloyed good." [bold added]
    Work published two years ago by Gene Brody of the University of Georgia, who looked at a group of young black Americans, showed that those who exhibited self-control as teenagers did indeed get the expected benefits. But if such self-controllers came from deprived backgrounds, they developed higher blood pressure, were more likely to be obese and had higher levels of stress hormones than their less-self-controlled peers. That correlation did not apply to people who started farther up the social ladder.
    For certain populations stress and premature aging may be the price for reaching higher.
    for people born at the bottom of the social heap, self-control speeds up the process of ageing. This research, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at DNA methylation, a phenomenon which involves the addition of chemicals called methyl groups to genetic material in chromosomes.

    for people from high-status backgrounds, higher self-control meant lower cellular ages. For those whose background was low-status, the reverse was true. Their cells were ageing faster.
    (Economist graphic)
    A cautionary note: before we proclaim that success will shorten one's life, a look at the data is warranted (see graphic)

    The conclusions are based on a "best fit" of data that measures the relationship of cellular age to childhood self-control, further subdivided into "privileged" and "disadvantaged" backgrounds. The relationship is not very powerful, and there are individuals in each quadrant (for example, high self-control/disadvantaged/low aging and low self-control/privileged/high aging). There seem to be a significant number of datapoints that contradict the hypothesis.

    One is tempted to stop with the headline, because the study confirms our beliefs. In these cases especially, more work is needed.

    Sunday, July 26, 2015

    Save Us From the Time of Trial

    Iraq today (CNN)
    NY Times: Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?
    ISIS scanned the separate groups of men and women. ‘‘You’’ and ‘‘you,’’ they pointed. Some of the captives realized what ISIS was doing, survivors told me later, dividing the young and healthy from the older and weak....No one was sure where either bus was going.
    At the Nazi killing centers:
    After deportation trains arrived at the killing centers, guards ordered the deportees to get out and form a line. The victims then went through a selection process. Men were separated from women and children. A Nazi, usually an SS physician, looked quickly at each person to decide if he or she was healthy and strong enough for forced labor. This SS officer then pointed to the left or the right; victims did not know that individuals were being selected to live or die.
    For centuries the men with the guns, drunk with power and certitude, have decided who lives and who dies. On rare occasions victims are spared if they renounce their faith.

    May Christians in the very safe United States of America never be put to this test.

    Saturday, July 25, 2015

    Silicon Valley's Power: Right Question, Wrong Answer

    The Economist wrings its hands over the vast wealth and power being created in Silicon Valley [bold added]:
    The area’s tech companies are worth over $3 trillion. Last year one in five American business-school graduates piled into tech. [snip]

    The danger is insularity. The geeks live in a bubble that seals off their empire from the world they are doing so much to change...a charmed circle with great wealth becomes cut off from everyone else. For a group rewriting the rules for industry after industry, that is a special danger.
    The opinion writer says that critics (implying the Economist editorial staff) are concerned that Silicon Valley
    dominates markets, sucks out the value contained in personal data, and erects business models that make money partly by avoiding taxes.
    He warns darkly:
    They should remember that the law can change. If they want a seat at the table when it does, they need to be part of the markets they sell into, not isolated from them.
    In other words, if they know what's good for them, tech companies should work cooperatively with and pay tribute to government.

    In tech it was even more of a blowout (NY Times)
    Your humble observer is worried about just the opposite, that Silicon Valley will become too close to politics. A team of SV engineers and programmers volunteered to rescue the Obamacare website after its disastrous introduction in late 2013. They were happy to volunteer--and their companies gave them months off to work on it---because the political views of Silicon Valley lean heavily Democratic.

    Now just imagine if the projects to clean up the government's computer systems (which includes unifying the tax, healthcare, and other databases) are worked on by techies who have a strong preference for one political party. Will they have the ethical codes and moral fiber not to use the immense knowledge at their fingertips to influence the outcome of elections?

    To ask the question is to answer it.

    Friday, July 24, 2015

    Keeping an Eye on It

    The ophthalmologist compared the scans with those taken two years ago. The faint shadow had grown.

    "You don't need to do anything about it now, but you will need cataract surgery in 10, 15, or 20 years."

    The doc wasn't very encouraging about whether I could do anything to prevent the condition from worsening. Some evidence exists that diet and wearing sunglasses outdoors could arrest the development of cataracts, but currently there's little consensus. In the meantime there's no downside to trying those measures.

    On the whole the news was good: eye pressure was normal, and the nearsightedness hadn't worsened. I typed in a reminder on the iPhone to come back next year. In the 21st century eyesight is the sense that one can least afford to lose.

    Thursday, July 23, 2015

    Better Living Through Chemistry

    Deflection is good (SF Gate photo)
    Chemistry has solved another prickly problem. The solution: pee-repellent paint.
    [San Francisco] Public Works crews have finished painting nine city walls with pee-repellent paint and more are in the works. The painted surfaces make urine spray right back onto the shoes and pants of unsuspecting relief-seekers.

    The coating, Ultra-Ever Dry, comes from Ultra-tech, a Florida company in the chemical cleanup and waste management business that also provided the paint for Hamburg. The paint coats an object and creates a surface chemistry and texture with patterns of geometric shapes that have peaks, or high points, that repel most water-based and some oil-based liquids.
    Hey, p*ssers-by, you won't find relief here. And that's a relief for the rest of us.

    Wednesday, July 22, 2015

    Unexpected Finding

    Hot
    Not (ebay image)
    NASA's 9-year Pluto mission has produced an unexpected finding:
    Amazingly, there are no craters at all in this image. None. That means the surface must be young, having been resurfaced quite recently. The scientists on New Horizons figure the terrain must be less than 100 million years old, but that’s a guess.

    there is no tidal stress [from Pluto's moon Charon]. What could be heating Pluto so that its surface is young? Radioactivity from rocks beneath the surface? It’s hard to say just yet. We have a Plutonian mystery on our hands.

    Tuesday, July 21, 2015

    Science Classifies Another Activity

    (Hemingway images from postprohibition.com)
    Ernest Hemingway, Mary Poppins, the Nutty Professor and Mr. Hyde walk into a bar. No, that's not the set-up for a joke but a description of the four types of drunks, according to scientists [bold added]
    Hemingways do not exhibit any major changes in personality when they transition from sober to drunk.

    Mary Poppins drinkers....are already outgoing types who somehow get sweeter and happier with alcohol.

    Nutty Professors....are natural introverts who shed their inhibitions with special vigor when they drink, showing a flashier and more social side.

    Mr. Hydes...the evil-twin drinkers who are, according to the study, [are] “particularly less responsible, less intellectual, and more hostile when under the influence of alcohol.”
    Your humble observer is a fifth type that the scientists did not identify, a Rip Van Winkle. Alcohol demolishes the willpower needed to stay awake, and I never make it to the last call. Despite Morpheus' early visit I always pay the price the next day:
    (Photo from Dreamstime.com)
    Alcohol delays the onset of REM sleep, says Sonu Ahluwalia, M.D., Clinical Chief of Orthopedic Surgery at Cedars Sinai Medical Center....Not only does it come on later, but you get up to 9 percent less REM sleep during the first half of the night than you should be. The result: You’re left feeling groggy in the morning.

    Monday, July 20, 2015

    Spot the Duck

    I was picking up some lemons that had fallen from the tree when there was a rustling from the bushes. I didn't spot the duck initially.

    The day had been exceptionally hot and muggy, and the duck had found a cool spot. It watched me for about a minute, then voiced an irritated squawk and flapped away.

    Can you see it?

    Sunday, July 19, 2015

    Fade to Yellow

    Two other strategies: praying and spraying (paint)
    Neighborhood lawns are all transitioning from green to yellow as the summer heat intensifies and the two-day-a-week watering limit takes effect.

    But Californians should not concede defeat.
    The forecast, produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows “drought removal likely” in a small swath of the southeastern part of California by October 31. NOAA meteorologists said last week that there’s a 90% chance of El NiƱo continuing through winter and an 80% chance of it persisting through early spring. If it does, the drought-free area in California could expand along the coast and in the southern part of the state, according to NOAA climate prediction center meteorologist Matthew Rosencrantz.
    Careful watering will keep the grass alive until the winter rains come, say the gardeners.

    As with other endeavors, just staying alive may not sound like much of a strategy but it works better than just giving up.

    Saturday, July 18, 2015

    Cellulo-Magnetism

    The tree's magnetism attracts shopping cars.
    There's a puzzling scientific phenomenon that may be observed in the local Costco parking lot. Trees appear to exert a magnetic "pull" on shopping carts.

    We know that shoppers cannot possibly be so lazy that they wouldn't take an extra 30 seconds to walk the cart to the designated spot. Un-corralled carts can get loose and potentially cause damage to other cars or even wayward children.

    I like trees as much as the next hugger, but if they don't stop being an "attractive" nuisance they'll have to be removed.

    Friday, July 17, 2015

    Castle No More

    From 1965: the house of the future (The Guardian)
    Stanford experts forecast the features that our homes will have in 2050. Particularly amusing (or alarming) are predictions by the Design Institute's Banny Banerjee [bold added]:
    The house will have an identity, intelligence, memories, and perhaps even moods and opinions. The house will be meshed with a computing and systems infrastructure, with many sensors and feedback interfaces. There will be more localized storage of water and more renewable energy generated on-site.

    People will interact with their homes in different ways—for example, doors will let you in or not based on who you are, not on any physical key, and [the house] will tell you that you're forgetting your passport when you're off to the airport (if a passport is not an implant by then).

    Unless you force it into a dumb mode, your home will play a more active role in maintaining your health, social life and sleep. It will remind you of things you need to do, pay your bills, make sure you drink enough water, analyze your pee, align people's calendars and invite people on your behalf.
    Today we worry about protecting our privacy, even in our own homes. Tomorrow I and maybe you too, dear reader, will be trying to keep private information from our homes.

    Thursday, July 16, 2015

    That Can Won't Roll Very Far

    (From Vivify Change Catalyst)
    So Greece "won" by negotiating a third bailout of Greek banks:
    Eurozone finance ministers agreed “in principle” Thursday to grant Greece an expensive third bailout designed to keep it in the euro. But the likelihood that the prospective three-year deal will fail—possibly before it even starts, let alone is completed—is now estimated at higher than 50% by some senior officials in Europe.
    No politician on either side wants to be responsible for the write-offs, economic contraction, impoverishment, and even riots that will occur if Greece reneges on its Euro debts and departs the European Union. Better to lend a few more Euros and let the next man or woman deal with fixing a bigger problem.

    Yes, the Greeks "won," but in the end they got worse repayment terms:
    the radical-left party led by Alexis Tsipras played a reckless game of brinkmanship with the rest of the euro area, and in particular with Germany. Though the aim was to secure a better deal for Greece, the negotiations simply further injured the economy. The game of bluff culminated in a far worse deal on July 13th following bitter negotiations in Brussels last weekend between Mr Tsipras and other euro-zone leaders.
    That kicked can has so many dents that it hardly rolls very far.

    Wednesday, July 15, 2015

    Pleasant Surprise

    In California we are smarter than everyone in the rest of the country, at least when it pertains to the environment. That's why we have our own special gasoline formula:
    California uses a unique set of pollution-fighting gasoline blends more stringent than those found in other states. As a result, most of California’s gasoline is made by 14 refineries located within the state. No pipeline connects California to refineries in other states, so when extra gasoline is needed, it has to arrive by ship.
    Any disruption in supply, such as a refinery fire, results in a price spike. Just rumors of shortages trigger buying that the California-only suppliers cannot respond to immediately. Hence, this week's price action, apparently triggered by fuel traders [bold added]:
    In just four days, the average price for a gallon of regular gas jumped more than 50 cents in Los Angeles, reaching $4.08 Monday morning. Prices rose in the Bay Area, too, but not nearly as much, with San Francisco’s average climbing 9 cents to reach $3.61 on Monday....The jump comes as the rest of the country is enjoying the cheapest summer gasoline prices in five years. The nationwide average for regular stands at $2.78 and has changed little over the past month, according to GasBuddy.com.
    Fully prepared to pay $3.80 per gallon, I pulled into Costco Gas at South City. The price for regular was $3.249.

    It was a pleasant surprise. The cost of environmental virtue was only 50 cents per gallon more, not a dollar.

    Besides, California's high prices have another benefit--we get to pay the highest state gas taxes in the nation (2014 data), ensuring that our transportation infrastructure is top notch:
    California is in 1st place with the highest rate of 52.89 cents per gallon, and is followed closely by New York (49.86 cents/gallon), Connecticut (49.3 cents/gallon), and Hawaii (48.05 cents/gallon).

    Tuesday, July 14, 2015

    Pigeonholed

    Facebook, with its powerful computers tracking what I read and post, and with its sea of data about users like me, has figured out what TV shows I might like:





    Hey, Facebook, though I do watch the oldies once or twice a month, I much prefer to tune in to shows where the actors are mostly, you know, still alive.

    Monday, July 13, 2015

    Hang On for Dear Life

    Nearly everyone knows an elder person who displays the symptoms of dementia:
  • Memory loss.
  • Trouble finding the right words.
  • Problems planning and carrying out tasks, such as balancing a checkbook, following a recipe, or writing a letter.
  • Trouble exercising judgment, such as knowing what to do in an emergency.
  • Trouble controlling moods or behaviors. Depression is common, and agitation or aggression may occur.
  • Not keeping up personal care such as grooming or bathing.
  • (Graphic from California Alzheimer's Disease Centers)
    Alzheimer's Disease is the primary cause of 60%-70% of dementia cases. The cost is very high, not only to the patients themselves, but also to the loved ones who look after them:
    America...spent $109 billion on dementia care in 2010. The burden imposed on family and friends adds about half as much again, and the figures are set to soar over the next 25 years.
    One leading theory postulates that Alzheimer's is caused by the buildup of "plaques" or "tangles" that block signals between brain cells. However, not everyone who displays symptoms has plaques, nor is the presence of plaques a surefire indicator of Alzheimer's. Like cancer, Alzheimer's appears to have multiple causes:
    The only thing that can definitely be said to cause Alzheimer’s is the presence of a clutch of rare genes, but this applies to under 5% of known cases. All the rest are a result of some combination of genes, poor diet, lack of exercise, hypertension and probably a number of other things yet to be discovered.
    The physical declines that come with age are inevitable, but what many of us--including your humble observer--fear the most is the loss of mental function.

    But there is hope: given the progress that medicine has made in other areas, the question is not if Alzheimer's and other causes of dementia will be cured, but when. The trick for us is to stay alive long enough to let the technology catch up.

    Sunday, July 12, 2015

    Borrowing Is Easy, Repayment Is Hard

    Anglican priest and Guardian columnist Giles Fraser says the current Greek-German-euro crisis harks back to different perspectives on the Crucifixion(!) [bold added].
    As Mr Fraser recalled, traditional Protestant and Catholic teaching has presented the self-sacrifice of Christ as the payment of a debt to God the Father. In this view, human sinfulness created a debt which simply had to be settled, but could not be repaid by humanity because of its fallen state; so the Son of God stepped in and took care of that vast obligation. For Orthodox theologians, this wrongly portrays God the Father as a sort of heavenly debt-collector who is himself constrained by some iron necessity; they prefer to see the passion story as an act of mercy by a God who is free.
    The Greeks, obviously steeped in the Orthodox notion of a merciful God, had over 15 years of fun in the Mediterranean sun at the expense of those dyspeptic German bankers. C'mon, Angela, forgive us our debts and we'll try real hard to pay you back next time.

    Saturday, July 11, 2015

    Moat-opoly Profits

    Lecturing at Google
    Pat Dorsey, 43, spent years researching equities for Morningstar and writing books about finding companies with "economic moats." Two years ago he founded Dorsey Asset Management to put his ideas into action. From today's Barron's interview [bold added]:
    We’re never going to launch a bond fund. People should fire me if I do. We make long-only investments in stocks. We mainly run separate accounts, and we charge a flat fee. I like separate accounts because they give investors transparency about what they own, and they prevent the investment vehicle from becoming a black box. Also, we have no locks, no gates, none of this crap.
    I like his operational philosophy: no going outside of his area of expertise (stocks), a fee structure that's not heads-the-manager-wins and tails-the-investor-loses, and separate investor accounts so that the investor can see the holding in each stock, not combined in a Dorsey "fund".

    More gems:
    Investing is one of the few fields in which you actually don’t get what you pay for. If you blindly spend $50,000 on a car, it will probably be better than a $5,000 car. But can you say categorically that a fund charging 150 basis points is better than one charging 75? Absolutely not. They can just get away with it.

    not every manager needs to be insanely brilliant....you just find a great business run by a smart manager who has the ability to reinvest excess free cash flow at a high incremental rate of return.

    The single best thing any investor can do is to not have a TV and a Bloomberg terminal in their office. I have to walk 50 feet down the hall to look at stock prices or check the news on our portfolio. It’s like checking e-mail obsessively: You get a little dopamine rush. But as we all know logically and rationally, it’s utterly nonproductive.
    Pat Dorsey invests in companies with pricing power sustainable over the long haul because of economic moats. In the old days this attribute was called "barriers to entry", but that term sounds so 20th century.

    So far he's invested in only 13 companies (PD: "I’m not sure why anyone would want to expend mental effort on their 32nd best idea.") Your humble observer would endeavor to be a customer, but Pat Dorsey's company has built its own moat: a $5 million minimum entry price.

    Pat Dorsey's Google lecture was 70 minutes long, but I found it interesting throughout.

    Friday, July 10, 2015

    Marketing Malfunction

    Tacky
    The Baltimore Orioles are giving away Hawaiian shirts this Sunday. (First of all, Baltimore, real Hawaiians call them aloha shirts.)

    Only the first 20,000 fans who are 15 or older can get the shirt; the age restriction is necessary to prevent permanent damage to children's developing esthetic judgment.

    Better get in line early. Save money on your Halloween costume!

    Classy
    Now this is an impressive shirt. The style, not to mention subject matter, will make the wearer welcome in the classiest venues.

    True, the shirt does cost $69, but looking good comes at a price.

    Thursday, July 09, 2015

    That's the Way the Fortune Crumbles

    The U.S. mainstream media is only now waking up to potentially the biggest economic story of the year. It's not Greece leaving the euro, the costs of Obamacare, the unemployment rate, or the price of oil. The Chinese stock market has lost $3 trillion since 2012, perhaps a third of that amount in the past month. The Chinese government seems powerless to stop the fall:
    The authorities have cut interest rates and transaction fees. They have directed mutual funds and state pension funds to buy stocks. Over the weekend they panicked and reversed course by suspending new initial public offerings, suddenly choking off a source of the new corporate funding they had been trying to create....

    The continuing crisis is viewed, locally and globally, as a test of China’s control over the economy. The “Beijing put”—a perception that Chinese economy and markets are backstopped by the government—is under threat....

    But if Beijing can’t stop the market’s tumble, there could be a sudden shift in the perception of exactly how far economic growth might fall under the weight of too much debt. If that floor crumbles and the Chinese economy spirals downward, it will make the drama surrounding Greece feel like a sideshow. China has been the largest contributor to global growth this decade; Greece’s economy is about the size as that of Bangladesh or Vietnam.
    Millions of neophyte Chinese individual investors have entered the market, often buying on margin (borrowed money). When stocks fall, the loans are called, triggering more selling in a "death spiral" familiar to market observers.

    U.S. investors should not feel sanguine about the limited China exposure in their portfolio. The Chinese government and wealthy individuals hold real estate, stocks, and other assets outside of China. If they are forced to sell such assets quickly to repay loans, the repercussions will be felt all around the world.

    Wednesday, July 08, 2015

    Don't Worry Your Pretty Empty Little Heads

    Barron's, on United Airlines [bold added]:
    This morning, all flights by United Airlines flights were grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration, initially according to a computer “glitch,” according to wire services. United is a division of United Continental (UAL).

    Hours later, flight operations were resumed, and United issued a statement saying it was a problem with a router.
    Sure, I can relate. Sometimes my home router freezes up, too, then I pull its plug, reboot, and I'm back in business in five minutes. Hey, United, did you try doing that?

    (Examiner image)
    Shortly after the air travel news, it was the NYSE's turn to experience a "glitch":
    The New York Stock Exchange abruptly halted trading in all issues, stating “We are currently experiencing a technical issue we are trying to resolve. We are doing our utmost to produce a swift resolution…”
    After more than three hours, trading resumed at 3:10 p.m. Eastern.

    Authorities say that the outages have nothing to do with the Chinese stock market crash, Greece's possible exit from the euro, or the computer hackers that have invaded major U.S. corporations and the Federal Government in the past year.

    Whew, that's a relief. Now let's talk about important stuff: didja hear about Ariana Grande licking a tray of doughnuts?

    A Story of Two Victims

    (AP photo via NY Daily News)
    USA Today headline: A man named Bear killed an alligator to avenge the death of his friend.

    First take: how could the vengeful friend be sure?
    A man who identified himself to the Houston Chronicle as Bear shot and killed an 11-foot alligator he believed had killed his friend on Friday. “He had to go,” Bear said. “That’s what happens when you kill someone.”
    Second take: maybe it was justifiable gator-cide.
    game wardens cut open the alligator Monday night – after Bear killed it – and found remains of [Tommie] Woodward inside.
    Third take: the alligator was just being an alligator and the 28-year-old Woodward's death, while undeserved and sad, may be a candidate for a Darwin Award.
    Woodward went to the marina on Thursday, and despite pleas from the staff and a posted warning sign reading, “No Swimming. Alligators”, jumped in and was “almost immediately attacked.”
    From an earlier report:
    "The female that was with him saw the alligator come from underneath the dock here in the marina and said 'hey, there's an alligator," said Orange police Capt. Robert Enmon. "And, he acknowledged it and jumped in anyway." [snip]

    Woodward was drinking before the attack, but police said they can't confirm alcohol was a factor until they receive autopsy results, which are pending.

    Tuesday, July 07, 2015

    Animal Spirits Needed

    During the 1980's Japanese companies dominated their respective markets. Since then the Japanese economy has fallen into a multi-decade funk.
    Japan’s post-war economic miracle produced firms such as Sony and Sharp that dazzled the world, yet today many of them have lost direction. In consumer electronics and appliances they have been left behind by the likes of Apple of the United States, Samsung of South Korea and Haier of China.[snip]

    there are few signs of entrepreneurship in the world’s third-largest economy. Only 4% of the working population was engaged in starting a business last year, compared with 14% in America.
    But the biggest obstacle to jumpstarting the economy is the Japanese method, once highly lauded, of managing people [bold added].
    Japanese firms have clung to their traditions of lifetime employment in a single workplace, and of paying and promoting people according to seniority, because they believe those traditions have merits. Indeed, they foster loyalty, and thereby encourage firms to invest in training graduates without fear of them being poached by rivals, argues Yoshito Hori, the founder of GLOBIS, a business school. However, it is no way to produce the sort of managers needed to lead modern, knowledge-based industries. “Imagine if you took managers at Apple, Google and Amazon and replaced them with people promoted on the basis of length of service rather than merit,” says Atul Goyal, an analyst at Jefferies, a stockbroker. “How long do you think those companies would last?”
    Japan's moribund spirits aren't limited to business:
    The Japanese press has taken to calling it sekkusu shinai shokogun: celibacy syndrome. Basically, the country just isn't that interested in sex...A full 49.3% of respondents between the ages of 16 and 49 in the [Japan Family Planning Association] 1,134-person survey said they hadn't had sex in the past month.

    Japan's birth rate hit a record low in 2014 at just over 1 million infants. When combined with 1.3 million deaths in the same year, that's a deepening population crisis. According to Japan's population institute, the overall population could dip to 107 million by 2040 — or 20 million lower than today.

    At the same time, Japan's population is shrinking and graying, setting up a "demographic time bomb" that could radiate out globally through the country's Greece-level national debt and deep economic ties with China and the US.
    It's easy to tell someone that he's got to work harder, get a wife, and raise a family. But actually making wholesale changes to one's life is usually a daunting multi-year task. When the number of people who must do so number in the millions, the difficulties facing Japan are enormous.

    Let's hope for Japan's sake that demography is not economic destiny (zerohedge.com graph)

    Monday, July 06, 2015

    Stinkier, But Healthier

    (Art by Imagekind)
    The California drought of the 1970's originated the (tongue-in) cheeky advice to shower with a friend. Now that we're in our own drought emergency 40 years later, I'm following that advice---showering with multiple "friends" at the gym.

    I used to exercise 2-3 times a week; to reduce our household consumption of water I've taken to going to the gym twice as often. The drought has generally been a disaster, but there are a few positive aspects, such as working out more often. I'm stinkier, but healthier. 

    Sunday, July 05, 2015

    Ducks at the Church (Parking Lot)

    After the July 4th fireworks last night lagoon ducks understandably sought quiet elsewhere. This morning three were found resting quietly in the church parking lot. Ducks know that cars will give them a wide berth; they're getting awfully comfortable around humans, n'est–ce pas?

    In observance of Independence Day weekend the congregation belted out national songs and the quintessential American hymn Amazing Grace. Below is a recent rendition of Amazing Grace by Jenny Oaks Baker, violin, and Condoleeza Rice, piano.

    Yes, that Condoleeza Rice: Stanford University Professor, Stanford Provost, the first female African-American Secretary of State and National Security Advisor. She's an outstanding amateur pianist, an expert on Eastern Europe and--politically incorrect observation--physically attractive. It's a sign of our political dysfunction that no one thinks of her as, nor does she want to be, a candidate for the Presidency.

    Saturday, July 04, 2015

    Independence Day, 2015

    The view from Beach Park Bridge: boats, canoes, and paddleboards head to the fireworks

    Residents chattered away in multiple languages as they awaited the fireworks. Beach Park Bridge is less than a mile away from from Ryan Park, and the view is perfectly adequate for those who wish to avoid the crowds and minimize damage to their eardrums. After dusk's last light the fireworks began at 9:30 p.m. and culminated 20 minutes later in a pyrotechnic paroxysm that had the crowd oohing and aahing.

    Another reason to like the view from the bridge: it's only a 10-minute walk home.

    Friday, July 03, 2015

    Concentrate on Your Driving

    Independence Day / privacy advice: DON'T pair your smartphone via Bluetooth with rental cars.
    When you connect your gadget to a car with Bluetooth, the car stores your phone number to make it easier to connect later. It also stores your call logs, including any contacts you dialed. Just one problem: All that information is saved inside the system and just sitting around for the next renter to find.
    If you absolutely must make hands-free phone calls, the columnist advises to clear the smartphone data from the rental car before returning it or bring your own Bluetooth audio kit (example).

    Of course, the best advice is not to pair your phone at all and concentrate on your driving.

    Thursday, July 02, 2015

    We'll Be Back

    Magic Island, Ala Moana Beach Park
    Another great trip---just enough, but not too much family, food, and fun.

    Dad's birthday party came together with everybody stepping up to fill needs when they arose. The burden fell unequally among those who lived on Oahu and those who flew in from the Mainland (ahem).

    There were some surprises, such as how well (most of) my relatives have aged and the bibulous capacity of the younger generation.

    We'll be back in the fall, if not sooner.

    Wednesday, July 01, 2015

    She Should Have Counted Her Chickens

    An acquaintance is breeding egg-laying chickens at her Honolulu home.

    Living off the land indeed has a primal appeal. However, we don't live in the Fifties any more, when locals could fish in Hanauma Bay or cut the throats of livestock out where the neighbors can see and hear. The sons and daughters of kamaainas became civilized, went off to law school, and put in place lots of laws, regulations, and ordinances.

    From the Revised Ordinances of Honolulu (ROH), Chapter 7:
    "Chickens and peafowl. The number of chickens or peafowl shall not exceed two per household."
    I'm hoping our acquaintance doesn't run afoul of the regulations.

    [Update - 7/16/2015: And don't cuddle your chickens either because of salmonella.]