Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Living The Golden Dream

The drought is so severe that "the prospect of sewer water being treated and redirected back into faucets is the future of California if the water crisis continues":
Toilet-to-tap technology is already here. Two water districts in the Bay Area — the Dublin San Ramon Services District and the Santa Clara Valley Water District — are testing systems that filter sewer water and purify it to the point that it can be consumed by the public. Orange County has a system in place that recycles 100 million gallons of wastewater a day — enough to quench the thirst of 850,000 people — by treating it and injecting it into aquifers.
(Image from

1) This winter's El Nino rains can't come soon enough.

2) "TTT", for toilet-to-tap, is an easy-to-remember acronym.

3) The Bay Area is the leader in trying out new technology, but I'm glad Orange County went first.

4) In California "living like a dog" is more than just a metaphor.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

None Were More Satisfying

After a day of business in the South Bay my colleague and I were ready for a relaxed meal. I suggested seafood, but he had a better idea: beer and a grilled entree at the Tied House in Mountain View.

With widescreen monitors and large bar, the cavernous tavern is popular during football season. On this Tuesday afternoon it was nearly empty.

He and I split a flight of five 6-oz. beers. I ordered a plate of wild-game sausages (boar and lamb), warm potato salad, and cole slaw. We talked about follow-up steps, debriefed the meetings, and toasted our hoped-for success.

In recent months I've had fancier and more expensive lunches, but none were more satisfying. © 2015 Stephen Yuen

Monday, September 28, 2015

Full Service Banking

Problem or solution? multigenerational homes
For the first time in history, two generations of retirees are coexisting within a single family, as baby boomers retire while their elderly parents are still alive. [bold added]
Who is helping the aged with their myriad health, financial, and life-planning problems when there's no family around? Why, bankers, of course.
Eldercare programs are now being offered by firms such as Bank of America’s U.S. Trust and Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo Private Bank, Morgan Stanley, and Northern Trust. Such programs build contingency plans that involve organizing all of an elderly client’s information in the event that he or she becomes incapacitated; overseeing and paying medical bills; navigating coverage issues associated with Medicare and the Affordable Healthcare Act, or Obamacare; vetting in-home care; evaluating long-term care facilities; and even managing the sale of a home.
Eldercare services are expensive for banks to provide, and wealthy clients (those with at least $2 million to $5 million under management, depending on the bank) often pay an extra fee. In some cases the benefits seem well worth the expense.
LITA ASKANAS, 78, was a Wells Fargo private-bank client when, three years ago, her husband, Charles, then 81, was told he had dementia....The couple’s Wells Fargo financial advisor suggested they meet with Mia Hernandez, one of the bank’s Life Management Services specialists, who came to their Saratoga, Calif., home to discuss how she might help.

Hernandez went to work on the Askanas’ medical bills, found a home health-care provider to help with Charles, and a tax preparer to handle the couple’s taxes. When Lita couldn’t find her Social Security documents, Hernandez came to their house, went through their computer to find the information, and reordered the necessary documents. When the couple decided to take a last cruise before Charles’ condition deteriorated, says Lita, “I called Mia and said, ‘I’m going on a trip but my passport has expired. What do I do?’ Mia came to the house, got my picture, and had my passport rushed.”

When Charles’ condition went beyond home- care capabilities, Hernandez accompanied Lita, helping her find a suitable facility for him. No small thing: Charles had a form of dementia that often results in aggressive and violent behavior, making placement in a home difficult. In February, Charles passed away.
Having a guide to navigate these confusing, important, emotional issues is currently out of the reach of the non-wealthy majority.

However, we are confident that the tech revolution will come to eldercare as it has to every other aspect of life, and that decision-making tools and knowledge of best eldercare practices will soon be available to everyone. (No more than ten years from now, please, when we will be needing them.)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

And the Nice Shall be First....Eventually

(Drawing from
"Nice guys finish last" is a saying attributed to baseball-is-war Dodgers manager Leo Durocher in the 1940's. The saying resonates with experience because everyone knows "winners" who use any means to reach the top. But is "nice guys finish last" mostly true?

Wharton psychologist Adam Grant found that in a study of engineers, salespeople and medical school students
the most generous people were overrepresented in both the bottom 25% of their field and the top 25%. As Grant put it, “Good guys and gals have a better chance of finishing last than the rest of us, but also better odds of finishing first. [bold added]”
Professor Grant divides people into three categories: Takers, Givers, and Matchers. The first two are self-explanatory, while Matchers transact interpersonally on a quid pro quo basis. (In real life there's probably no one who behaves all the time as a Taker, Giver, or Matcher.) Though very few Givers behave that way out of cold calculation, generosity can inure to one's benefit in the long run:
being overly generous towards other people can be harmful in the short run, if it outweighs personal goals and needs. But it will pay dividends later with the skills the Givers acquire along the way and the goodwill they engender.

“You actually learn things through helping other people solve their problems,” Grant said. “And there’s a social capital upside… but they don’t happen right away.”
And what about the jerks who finish first? "Takers, on the other hand, tend to rise fast and fall just as quickly."

In related news, Donald Trump, whose most famous catchphrase is "You're fired", saw that his lead has softened significantly over other Republican candidates for President.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Just Watch Out for Rolling Mail Carts

Not much privacy--for trustworthy office environments only
For office workers who don't have a separate nap room comes the workstation bed.

It's not difficult to think outside of this box. The workstation bed can be used at night for those (programmers, lawyers, investment bankers) who would otherwise stay late and arrive early. It can apply to the space constrained, such as those who live in tiny houses or cramped dorms. And if you're worried about your junior sleepers rolling off the bed, they won't have far to fall.

Hey, I could have used one of these last night...

Friday, September 25, 2015

Lesson Learned

It helps not to have an active imagination.
It all came together on Tuesday and Thursday night, as five different cooks prepared dishes for the five client families of Home and Hope.

It may not sound like a difficult management task, but between communicating with and cajoling volunteers, and fighting through the traffic (thousands of Peninsula workers live across the Bay) resulting from a booming local economy, there were some anxious moments.

It was my first time to be one of the overnight hall monitors. Veronica took the room downstairs, while I rolled out the sleeping bag in the church. Making a feeble joke about how I was glad that the Lutherans don't build the altars on the bones of the saints, I texted the family good night and promptly dozed off.

The response woke me at 1 a.m., but it was the content, "So, no ghost?" that made for a restless night. Lesson learned: no jokes, especially about religion, when one is in a dark chapel all by one's lonesome.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Where is He Now?

Three years after "Linsanity" Jeremy Lin has settled into the role of backup point guard with the Charlotte Hornets. As the experts constantly reminded us in 2012, Jeremy Lin's middle-of-the-road NBA talent caught lightning when injuries gave Jeremy a chance to show off his passing skills in New York, the center of the media universe.

Jeremy Lin's success made a few players resentful, but he showed humor and spiritual gracefulness as he descended from heights impossible to sustain.

He maintains a good relationship with many in the NBA; witness current and former teammates who appeared in his recent video.

As we said three years ago, "this young man has exhibited such a high degree of media savvy that we expect to see him around long after his playing days are over."

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

An Auspicious Beginning to the Season

Meanwhile, don't forget to replace your lug nuts.
Today is the first day of fall, a good time to get one's battery recharged. Speaking of which, the van's battery failed twice in the past three weeks. Luckily, friendly car-owners took pity on us and allowed us to use our jumper cables.

I went to Costco Auto. We were in month 35 of a 36-month full refund guarantee. The net cost of the new battery was $6. The unexpected victory over the warranty gods was an auspicious beginning to the season. May our triumphs continue.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Not Your Average Bear

Yogi Berra, who was one of the greatest catchers in history, died today at the age of 90. Some of his records may never be broken:
All told, his Yankees teams won the American League pennant 14 out of 17 years. He still holds Series records for games played, plate appearances, hits and doubles. No other player has been a champion so often.
Today the baseball accomplishments have faded in memory but not his famous "Yogi"-isms, which have stood the test of time as "somehow both nonsensical and sagacious." Some of the most widely quoted are:
"The game's isn't over until it's over."

"You can observe a lot just by watching."

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

"I never said most of the things I said."

"It gets late early out there."

"It's like déjà vu all over again."
R.I.P., Yogi, you were unique. On top of that, you were one of a kind.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Civilizational Breakdown

We stopped at Taco Bell to pick up dinner. Tonight's greeting was different:

Welcome to Taco Bell. Our computers aren't working. Can you pay cash?

There was some confusion in the drive-through, as some customers who intended to pay with credit or debit cards couldn't exit the line.

All orders were hand-written on scraps of paper, then added up manually with taxes applied at a partially working register. Young man, that's how we did it back in the day. Our order was ready in five minutes. The kitchen had minimal computerization, thank goodness.

On the way home I noticed that the city's electronic billboard (the Foster City Marquee) had been taken down. It will be replaced in 2016. City residents will have to post notices old school: putting up flyers in the supermarkets and running ads in the local newspapers.

It will be difficult to cope, but people are resilient.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Too Much

Changing tastes are reflected quickly on the Sunset District's Irving Street, where shops and restaurants spring up and disappear like flowers after a rain. The bubble tea stores appear to have staying power as a hangout for Asian kids. It helps that the shops have free WiFi, in other words a Starbucks for teens.

The local clientele's sweet tooth having been confirmed, there's room for another confection. The moffle, a Japanese mochi waffle ice cream sandwich, made an appearance. In my younger days I would have tried one without a second thought. Today, well, that's too much of a mouthful.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The One to Watch

If you, dear reader, were taken aback by Tesla's model P85D being named not only 2015's best car by Consumer Reports but the best car in history, join the crowd. Last month Forbes named Tesla the most innovative company in the world.

High praise indeed for a twelve-year-old auto maker in a 120-year-old industry.

It doesn't require an imaginative leap for Tesla to have developed the best battery technology or the best electric drive train, but how can the windows, paint, safety features, brakes, "fit and finish", comfort, handling, and the myriad other items that go into an automobile also be better than cars from much larger, more experienced manufacturers?

The answer lies with the people that Tesla hires and how work is organized. [bold added]
[Founder Elon] Musk has engineered a team and process that look different....Musk is known for selecting people based upon their ability to solve complex problems–not based upon experience. Says Tesla Chief Information Officer Jay Vijayan, “Elon doesn’t settle for good or very good. He wants the best. So he asks job candidates what kinds of complex problems they’ve solved before and he wants details.”

Elon Musk: "I don’t care if they graduated from university or even high school.”

After hiring folks with a demonstrated ability to solve complex problems, Tesla deploys them in small teams that sit cheek-by-jowl to hasten the solutions. “Our communication allows us to move incredibly fast,” says chief designer Franz von Holzhausen. “That is an element that isn’t happening in the rest of the automotive world. They are siloed organizations that take a long time to communicate.” Von Holzhausen was able to design the award-winning Tesla S with a team of just three designers sitting next to their engineering counterparts. Bigger automakers typically have 10 to 12 designers working on each new model.
The Bay Area is home to leading businesses and celebrity CEO's (e.g.,Mark Zuckerberg--Facebook, Sergey Brin & Larry Page--Google, Reid Hastings--Netflix, Larry Ellison--Oracle, Tim Cook--Apple, Marc, but if I had to choose one to watch, it would be Elon Musk.

The CEO of Tesla Motors is also the CEO of SpaceX and the Chairman of Solar City.
He works on the hyperloop in his spare time.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Attention Grabber

Normally I glance over e-mails from my former graduate school, but the current dean's unexpected letter of resignation was an attention-grabber. The relevant paragraph [bold added]:
As many of you know, the university and I have been vigorously defending a baseless and protracted lawsuit related to a contentious divorce between a current and former member of our faculty. I have become increasingly concerned that the ongoing litigation and growing media interest will distract all of you from the important work that you are doing and unfairly impact this stellar school’s deserved reputation.
A lawsuit and a faculty marriage breaking up---these are unfortunate problems but surely not the dean's responsibility, unless.....

Yep, Dean Garth Saloner was involved.
Garth and Deborah (photo
The professor with whom Saloner embarked on an affair, Deborah Gruenfeld, is a board member of, the group started by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to offer women “inspiration and support.” In an email exchange revealed in the lawsuit, Saloner advises the professor not to approach her divorce “too much” as a woman.

The professor’s husband, also a professor at the B-school when the affair began, has been fired and now teaches full-time at Apple University, the tech giant’s internal training facility.

Details of the court dispute could be especially damaging to Stanford’s business school since they include allegations of professional and financial retribution against Gruenfeld’s husband, Jim Phills, contempt for school rules and policies, and claims that the Graduate School of Business (GSB) is a hostile workplace riven by “personal agendas, favoritism, and fear.”
I first heard Garth Saloner speak at an alumni event, where he employed the new-to-me business jargon "deep dive"(an intensive exploration of detail) over and over. That alliterative pairing just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Another (Eventually) Satisfied Customer

The Stanford Apple Store has two great rooms, one for
customer service and one for sales. Its 12,000+ square
feet is larger than the San Francisco flagship store.
The iPad refused to boot up. After charging it over night, the screen stayed black. I made an appointment at the Stanford Apple Store, which could see me in three days. Plugged in until then, the iPad was able to start up on the morning of the appointment. The battery registered 30%. One final Time Machine backup, then on to Apple.

The Genius was courteous and technically knowledgable. He ran diagnostics that indicated the iPad was marginally okay. He was going to send me home with the iPad as is, but when I pointed out that a similar problem occurred in May (confirmed in the database) he replaced the iPad without hesitation.

That's why I always buy Apple's extended warranty, aka AppleCare, for every piece of Apple equipment we own. How come we're so loyal if the equipment is so cra--unreliable? Well, we don't mind the expense too much because as Apple investors we've been more than adequately compensated.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wilma, We're Home

(Chronicle photos)
For nearly 40 years Peninsula motorists have been driving by a white, mushroom-shaped structure off Highway 280. When it was re-painted in 2007, the 2,730-square-foot orange-and-purple home was nicknamed the Flintstone House.

The unique Hillsborough property is listed at $4.2 million. If you can afford to cut a check for such a whimsical purchase, you're entitled to shout Yabba-Dabba-Doo.

The interior's special, too.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Real Alibaba

Alibaba has dropped 46% from its high of $120 on Nov. 13th.
This month marks the one-year anniversary of the IPO for Alibaba (BABA). It's been "a wild ride" (a term used when a stock's had at least one bust after a boom). [bold added]
After the largest-ever initial public offering of stock, a year ago this week, shares of the Chinese Internet giant surged 75% in their first two months—only to begin a long spiral downward. They fell all the way to the initial price of $68 and then some, recently trading at about $64. The descent probably isn’t over. Alibaba’s shares could fall much further as China’s economy struggles, competition in e-commerce increases, and the company’s culture and governance draw scrutiny.
Barron's colorfully calls Alibaba another "widely hyped" Chinese IPO that "flame out like supernovas as growth rates and profit margins suddenly decline."

BABA's own performance numbers are questionable:
Alibaba claims to have 367 million users—about the same as one government agency’s estimate of China’s entire online-shopping population. Or this: Alibaba claims its average shopper spends 26% more on its sites each year than the average U.S. online shopper spends on all sites. Does that make any sense, given American consumers’ far greater affluence and ability to avail themselves of a vastly more developed e-commerce ecosystem?
The founder's motives are also suspect:
Just consider how the company is structured. Shareholders of Alibaba Group don’t actually own the businesses that make up the company; [Jack] Ma and his close associate Simon Xie do. Under a legal agreement with Ma and Xie, the fruits of the businesses, including cash flow and profits, are transferred to the holding company. But the Ma team gets to select a majority of the holding company’s board of directors.
When asked why he named the company after the fictional character, Jack Ma said,
"Alibaba is a kind, smart business person, and he helped the village," he said. "Alibaba opens sesame for small- to medium-sized companies."
The fairy-tale Ali Baba wasn't exactly the wholly virtuous protagonist that Jack Ma made him out to be. In A Thousand and One Arabian Nights Ali Baba stole the treasure (by saying the magic words open sesame) from 40 thieves who hid their ill-gotten gains in a secret cavern. The thieves sought revenge against Ali Baba but were slaughtered by a maidservant who poured boiling oil into the jars where they hid.

At the end of the story Ali Baba becomes incredibly wealthy, but he did have to leave a lot of bodies behind.

(Disclosure: your humble observer has a small investment in Yahoo, which owns 384 million BABA shares, currently worth about $25 billion.)

Monday, September 14, 2015

He Couldn't Hide The Moonbeam Forever

Retired California House Speaker Willie Brown has advice for a fellow Democrat: [bold added]
Gov. Jerry Brown’s big push to cut gas usage in California in half in the next 15 years was the wrong move aimed at the wrong targets: you and me.

It’s one thing to go after big businesses and utilities. It’s another to tell the state’s drivers that they’re going cut their gas consumption in half, without saying how you plan to do it.

The oil companies used the shortage of details in the big gas-cut legislation, SB350, to kick the life out of the bill, saying it would lead to rationing. No matter how hard the governor tried, he couldn’t counter the argument.

He gave them the club and they used it.

Climate change is important if you’re running for president. Transportation is the important thing for state voters. If you want to be an effective governor, you can’t just be out to save the world — you’ve got to fix the potholes as well.

On both counts, Brown hit the skids this time out.
As the old nursery rhyme goes, If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Offspring of the Great Commission

The commissioning of teachers, September 13, 2015.
Today the church commissioned the pre-school and Sunday School teachers. During the brief ceremony the congregation was reminded of its shared responsibility to educate the young.
All of you are also called to nurture our children in the Christian faith and life. Will you now commit yourselves to care for our children, and to uphold the Sunday School teachers and parents, the pre-school teachers, staff and parents in their ministries?

We will. [btw, no other answers are acceptable]
All church commissions are offspring of the Great Commission of two thousand years ago:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
                                                                          --Matthew 28:19-20

Ancient Insight

The premise: consciousness is a characteristic unique to human beings, distinguishing us from animals and machines.

The problem:
  • Prominent thinkers like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk warn about the rising danger of an artificial intelligence that can "out-think" humans;
  • dementia and Alzheimer's Disease rob millions of their identity;
  • experiments reveal that animals exhibit traits that were once thought to be unique to human beings.
  • The claustrum (Daily Mail graphic)
    The Economist science writer says that the answer to consciousness may lie in certain structures of the brain: the claustrum and the temporoparietal junction.

    Here's another take: "Our identity comes more from our moral character than from our memory or intellect.".

    Yale psychologist Nina Strohminger and University of Arizona philosopher Shaun Nichols surveyed spouses and children of patients with brain conditions affecting memory, cognition, or moral behavior whether their loved one was "still the same person underneath." Their conclusion:
    Across all three groups, changes in moral behavior predicted changes in perceived identity, while changes in memory or intellect did not.
    Heraclitus said that character is destiny. 25 centuries later we have little to add to that insight.

    Saturday, September 12, 2015

    The Wording is Tongue-in-Cheek

    The story [bold added]:
    [DJ David] Mueller and his girlfriend and co-worker, Shannon Melcher, attended a meet-and-greet with [Taylor] Swift for work. Mueller and Melcher joined Swift for a photo, after which Swift allegedly complained to her security team that Mueller had lifted her “skirt with his hands and grabbed her bottom.” Mueller and Melcher were immediately removed by Swift’s security personnel; afterwards, Mueller was fired.
    David Mueller has sued Taylor Swift for making a false accusation that cost him his job. Supposedly, there's evidence.
    The photograph was unavailable, but both sides contend it backs their side.

    Friday, September 11, 2015

    Randomness and Meaning

    (Daily Mail photo)
    Apophenia: "the human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns within random data."

    On the 14th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in American history, we are apt to ascribe meaning to this random event.
    A powerful storm toppled a construction crane Friday afternoon at the Masjid al-Haram, or Grand Mosque, in Mecca -- killing at least 107 people and injuring 238 others.
    Why don't we think the mosque tragedy was divine retribution (besides the fact that our theology doesn't subscribe to this concept of the deity)? [bold added]
    Khaled Al-Maeena, editor at large at the Saudi Gazette in Jeddah: "Had it happened an hour later it would have been much worse," he said. "Had it happened five hours earlier or four hours earlier, I think the death toll would have been more than a thousand....."The irony is that all this expansion was being done to see to the welfare of the pilgrims," he said.
    On the other hand, while the presence of these men on the train may have been random, their actions were not.
    Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler,
    and Spencer Stone (ABC News)
    Sacramento honored the heroes of the 9/11 attacks as well as the local men who stopped a terror attack on a train in Europe.

    Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone and Alex Skarlatos all sprang into action aboard an Amsterdam to Paris train last month.

    Friday's parade began at noon and ended with a rally outside the state capitol.

    Thursday, September 10, 2015

    The Language of Thumbs

    (Yahoo image)
    3D Touch: one feature of the new iPhones that got lesser notice yesterday. Accustomed to pressing on smartphones, trackpads, and mice, customers may not appreciate the technology that distinguishes a tap from a hard press.

    Apple says it's different. [bold added]
    You’re trying to read minds. And yet you have a user who might be using his thumb, his finger, might be emotional at the moment, might be walking, might be laying on the couch. These things don’t affect intent, but they do affect what a sensor [inside the phone] sees. So there are a huge number of technical hurdles. We have to do sensor fusion with accelerometers to cancel out gravity—but when you turn [the device] a different way, we have to subtract out gravity. … Your thumb can read differently to the touch sensor than your finger would. That difference is important to understanding how to interpret the force. And so we’re fusing both what the force sensor is giving us with what the touch sensor is giving us about the nature of your interaction.

    the company has spent “multi, multi, multi years” working on 3D Touch.
    Some tech writers predict that 3D Touch will become a mainstream feature. Unconvinced, skeptics have been heaping scorn on the message boards regarding Apple's hyping of the technology.

    History says that they should give it time to play out; many of Apple's nice-to-have inventions (I'm looking at you, Apple Watch) turned out to be must-have (iPad).

    Wednesday, September 09, 2015

    Say It Ain't So, Tim

    AAPL: a spike at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern, then excitement lapsed.
    Next month will mark the 4th anniversary of Steve Jobs' death. A sign that he's missed: Apple continues to dominate its markets, but the buzz at the product announcement show has faded.

    (2014's Apple Watch was the first new hardware since Steve's death, and sales failed to catch fire.)

    In fact expectations had been ratcheted so low that many tech journalists fell over themselves praising this year's announcements. Example - the Mercury News (bold added):
    In a two-hour extravaganza, Apple on Wednesday unveiled a veritable bounty of new and at times mind-boggling products, including two new iPhones and a new larger iPad Pro, that should keep every fanboy busy for months.
    As a long-time Apple shareholder, I do think that the changes to the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV will deliver solid profits, but there's no shiny new bauble to excite the casual Apple fan.

    Only the message needs sharpening
    Unless you count the Apple Pencil.
    It’s a $99 stylus for the tablet that allows users to draw pictures and interact with apps. When it was announced on stage the audience, who had applauded everything up to that point, laughed.

    Tuesday, September 08, 2015

    Racism's Last Redoubt

    For over ten years Stanford psychology professor Jennifer Eberhardt has researched subconscious racial bias, with particular emphasis on how it influences law enforcement outcomes [bold added].
    (LA Times photo)
    She described an experiment that showed how quickly people link black faces with crime or danger at a subconscious level. In the experiment, students looking at a screen were exposed to a subliminal flurry of black or white faces. The subjects were then asked to identify blurry images.....But with images of weapons, the difference was stark—subjects who had unknowingly seen black faces needed far fewer frames to identify a gun or a knife than those who had been shown white faces.

    Her research has shown that police—--black and white officers alike--—are more likely to mistakenly identify black faces as criminal than white faces; that people show greater support for life sentences for juveniles when they read about a case involving a black defendant than when the case involves a white defendant; and that words associated with crime can cause people to instinctively focus on black faces.
    Professor Eberhardt's work supports the notion that making racial distinctions is hard-wired into the human brain and that black features evoke a negative response in people of all races.

    Because of racism's moral component, training based on racism-as-terrible-sin is accusatory and often heavy-handed. Training based on racism's scientific (thereby, less morally judgmental) element has found audiences to be more receptive.
    Key to the training's that it treats bias as a common human condition to be recognized and managed, rather than as a deeply offensive personal sin, an approach that makes cops less defensive.
    Many former sins (drug addiction, homosexuality, alcoholism, obesity, etc.) are now treated--at least partially--as the result of genetic predispositions that are beyond an individual's control. Perhaps racism will eventually be viewed in the same way, and, thanks to Jennifer Eberhardt, humankind will conquer racism's last redoubt.

    Monday, September 07, 2015

    Labor Day, 2015

    Barron's joins the chorus of worry about
    a future of robot-made abundance and of human misery, or at minimum, human uselessness. [italics added]
    Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution the world economy has dramatically increased the quantity and quality of goods and services produced. Technology, process improvements, and capitalist competition have driven the automation of repetitive tasks. Lower-skilled jobs--and crafts related to declining industries, e.g., buggy whips--have been replaced by higher-skilled occupations. It hasn't been smooth, but thus far jobs created have equalled or exceeded the jobs destroyed.

    Until now, perhaps.

    The employed-to-total population has stayed below 60% for over six years; it hasn't been this low since the sharp recession during Ronald Reagan's first term.

    Bureau of Labor Statistics data
    Henrik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of MIT
    believe that rapid technological change has been destroying jobs faster than it is creating them, contributing to the stagnation of median income and the growth of inequality in the United States. And, they suspect, something similar is happening in other technologically advanced countries.
    Happy Labor Day!

    Sunday, September 06, 2015

    Stopping by the Church on a Saturday Evening

    Expecting no one to be there, we stopped by the church to run an errand. There were a dozen cars in the parking lot. We had forgotten that Saturday evening services had started.

    We could hear the priest saying, "The Gifts of God for the people of God." The ministration of the bread and wine was about to begin. The youngster asked if he could take Communion "so he didn't have to go on Sunday."

    I shook my head. In order to take Communion one had to be there for the confession [approximately halfway through the service], at least that's what my Sunday School teacher said. Was she correct?

    Catholic theologians "shy away from such exactitude."
    To say that there is a particular moment before or after which we are either "out" or "safe," so to speak, is to give the wrong message and hint that, in the long run, some parts of the Mass are really not all that important.
    I should have expected that---in Christianity there are no loopholes, except a few big ones like all our sins being forgiven---but I like my Sunday School teacher's answer better.

    Saturday, September 05, 2015

    Our Favorite Pastime

    The South Bay from 900 feet
    By late afternoon on Wednesday the temperature had dropped to the 70's. It was an opportune time to test leg strength. As I plodded along at 3-4 mph, high-school cross country runners flew past. They think they're going to live forever, and, given how rapidly medical technology is advancing, they probably will.

    After a couple of miles the terrain got steeper, and I had to use the walking stick. The chiropractor had been correct: it would take many months for the leg to get back to 100%.

    3.5 miles in, I had reached the top of the trail. Descending was psychologically treacherous: the hard part was done (it's all downhill from here), and muscles are tired and prone to giving way if concentration flags.

    With a mile to go I stopped at the farm. The cows and I looked at each other and ruminated, our favorite pastime.

    Friday, September 04, 2015

    It's Always the Same Solution

    Californians pay the highest gas taxes in the nation. Because these taxes are not enough--they're never enough--to fix our roads and bridges, Governor Brown has proposed new taxes and a new per-car fee [bold added]:
    The administration’s plan would create a highway user fee of $65 per vehicle, which would generate $2 billion and could be assessed during vehicle registration. Another $1 billion would be generated by raising the gas tax by 6 cents per gallon and the diesel tax by 11 cents per gallon. Those taxes would continue to rise based on the Consumer Price Index*.
    *Because having to go back and ask permission all the time is so tiresome.

    Governor Brown will have to twist some arms to get the $3 billion proposal passed.

    Meanwhile, the $68 billion high-speed rail project is well on its way to connecting San Francisco and LA by 2029.

    Thursday, September 03, 2015

    True Progressivism

    A rational activity
    We entered the diner after the lunch crowd left. One waitress was restocking condiments. She carefully wiped the outside of each bottle of Tabasco and refilled them from a plastic squeeze container.

    Curious about why a rational restaurant owner would view this activity as profitable, I looked up Tabasco's costs:

    A 5-oz bottle of Tabasco retails for $3.99. The gallon-size (128-oz) container sells for $55.74, including shipping.

    Too much for most individuals, but not a business.
    Let's say the waitress makes the California minimum wage of $9 per hour and round that up to $13 for taxes, insurance, and benefits (the $4 difference is the tax wedge).

    The restaurant owner could buy 25 5-oz bottles @ $3.99, for a total of $99.75, or she could pay the waitress for one hour's work refilling bottles at $13 + $55.74 = $68.74. The $31.01 difference is the restauranteur's profit. (Yes, sales taxes and wholesale prices have been ignored, but fine-tuning the costs won't change the result in any significant way.)

    In a capitalist economy millions of such decisions are made every day by people looking out for their own interests. Not all the decisions are good ones, but progress for society as a whole is ineluctable.

    Wednesday, September 02, 2015

    More Convenient for Our Robot Masters

    More info on Google's driverless cars:
    Google’s self-driving car is designed to work without a gas pedal or steering wheel. Now, the company’s confirmed that its pod-like two-seater doesn’t have any windscreen wipers either, because there's no need for passengers to see where they are being driven.
    Any wipers whatsoever?
    ‘Yes, but not on the windshield. They’re on our sensors - our car’s “eyes”.’
    Just in case you thought the car would be built for you.

    Tuesday, September 01, 2015

    Equivalent Caution

    Contents of old hard drives were copied to the current
    computer using a Sabrent docking station.
    On Saturday we took three boxes of electronics equipment to the local YMCA for its e-waste fundraiser.

    The most time-consuming part was separating the wheat from the chaff. We spent several hours going through boxes of retired/broken computers, disk drives, printers, keyboards, and cables. A few still-useful items were rescued.

    Also, we finally downloaded and wiped data from a couple of hard disks that were to go to the recycler.

    "Let the buyer beware" is a hoary principle of commerce. In contemporary America disposing of the stuff so carefully acquired requires an equivalent caution.