Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Beautiful Sunday

Brett hands a fork to a customer.
Today was the church's annual meeting. It's mainly about finance, organizational, and personnel matters---much like a corporation's shareholder meeting.

Eight adults and five children decided to forego the excitement of listening to speeches and committee reports by serving lasagna and salad to all who were present at the Redwood City community center at Sunday noon. It was another Sandwiches on Sunday.

Drawing on years of practice, the teams all performed efficiently. One laid out the tablecloths, forks, and plates, while another mixed the drinks and yet another scooped out the food. Clara and I went to St. Pius Catholic Church to pick up 100 brown-bag lunches from the walk-in freezer. We returned in plenty of time to hand one or two to the patrons as they left. Sandwiches on Sunday was done in under an hour, our fastest time yet.

Back at the annual meeting none of us were appointed to committees that we don't know about in advance. 'Twas a beautiful day.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Pearl Harbor's Tree of Life

Architect Alfred Preis (1911-1993) designed the USS Arizona Memorial. The "tree of life" sculpture at the main Visitors' Center is repeated at the Memorial's wall of names.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Not a Conundrum to Everyone

Producers hire tankers for long-term storage (Arabnews)
The price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil has fallen from its 2011 peak of over $100 per barrel to about $34 today. While producers understandably have experienced financial pain, consumers far outnumber producers, hence the net effect of the price drop on the world economy should be positive, but so far it hasn't played out that way. 

The current oil conundrum has baffled economists [bold added]:
Cheaper fuel should stimulate global economic growth. Industries that use oil as an input are more profitable. The benefits to consuming nations typically outweigh the costs to producing ones. But so far in 2016 a 28% lurch downwards in oil prices has coincided with turmoil in global stockmarkets. It is as if the markets are challenging long-held assumptions about the economic benefits of low energy prices, or asserting that global economic growth is so anaemic that an oil glut will do little to help.
The low price of oil negatively affects far more than the petroleum sector. The burgeoning alternative energy industry (wind, hydro, and especially solar) depends on a moderate differential, not a chasm, between its cost and oil, and alt-energy capital projects and equity prices have been scaled back. Lower costs on cleaner forms of energy have accelerated the shift away from a battered coal industry. Loan defaults and bankruptcies from levered energy companies are like aftershocks to a financial sector still recovering from 2008.

The pain is immediate, while the widespread benefits are realized more slowly. If the world can avoid political instability from stressed producers, in a few years we'll wonder what the fuss was all about. Meanwhile, enjoy the $2 gas.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Diamond and Silk: the Party Isn't Thrilled

The "black preaching style" is mesmerizing. There's rhyming, there's rhythm, and there's call and response. Two sisters from North Carolina use preacherly cadences to voice their approval of Donald Trump.

Diamond and Silk have gone viral:

Unlike President Obama, who kept his preacher, Jeremiah Wright, at a distance, Donald Trump has embraced these Trump evangelists.

An under-publicized element of Donald Trump's support comes from the African-American community. The billionaire non-politician appears to be succeeding at something the Republican Party has tried and failed to do for decades, but Party leaders don't appear to be thrilled. Puzzling, isn't it?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

USS Missouri

24 years after it was decommissioned, the Missouri still inspires awe. The battleship is nearly three football-fields long (887.2 feet), and its height of 209'8" is the equivalent of a 20-story building.

The USS Missouri Memorial Association maintains the ship in excellent condition at Pearl Harbor and supports operations via donations, admission tickets, and concession sales.

Tableau mounted on the surrender deck:
MacArthur signing the Instruments of Surrender 
The guide spent nearly an hour with our group; we walked the main deck, the kamikaze deck where occurred a poignant event that could have easily been overlooked in the carnage of war, and the surrender deck, where World War II formally ended.

The Arizona Memorial and the Missouri bookend the history of World War II, when America roused itself to help save the world. Well worth the $27 entrance fee.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Every Couple of Years is Enough

I wasn't too proud to gawk at the guitars.
The Hard Rock Cafe menu is above average, but one doesn't come for the food. The walls are decorated with Sixties and Seventies memorabilia, and the live music is classic rock. The guitar collection is one-of-a-kind.

Prices were higher than comparable Honolulu bar-restaurants. Residents get a 15% discount as a compensatory inducement, but that night we spotted few locals.

The millennials whom I invited seemed to enjoy each others' company, their noses pried loose from their smartphones. Using my kama'aina discount, I picked up a couple of T-shirts inscribed with the Hard Rock logo. I did enjoy the evening, but in truth once every couple of years is enough.

Monday, January 25, 2016

One Plus One Equals Zero

I like Spam, and I like macadamia nuts, but not together. It's surprising that this combination made it from the tasting lab to the grocery store.

Spam-flavored mac nuts have been available for at least a year, so the product must have its fans.

Hormel is missing an opportunity: macadamia-nut-flavored Spam. The flavor has already been market-tested.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

USS Arizona Gun Turret #3


“Upon this sacred spot, we honor the specific heroes who surrendered their lives...while they were in full bloom, so that we could have our full share of tomorrows.”
            ----Olin F. Teague, Chairman, Veterans Affairs Committee, 1962.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Waimea Falls

I remember it being bigger.
Continuing the retracement of my childhood, we made the turn from Hwy 83 along the North Shore into the Waimea Valley. The destination was Waimea Falls and the lagoon into which my classmates used to cannonball-dive. What was once a muddy trail has been transformed into a tourist attraction, complete with a restaurant, visitors' center, guided tours, and botanical garden. I blanched at the $16 admission fee, but my kama'aina card allowed me to take $6 off.

Well, the paved pathway to the Falls kept our shoes clean.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Putting Back What We've Taken Out

Central Valley sinkhole (Ecowatch)
The problem: "voracious" groundwater pumping during the multiyear drought has caused the ground to sink alarmingly [bold added]:
Certain hotspots are shrinking at an astonishing rate — regions of the Tulare Basin, which includes Fresno, sank 13 inches (33 cm) in just eight months...The Sacramento Valley is sinking about 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) per month.

Subsidence isn't just an aesthetic problem; bridges and highways can sink and crack in dangerous ways, and flood-control structures can be compromised. In the San Joaquin Valley, the sinking Earth has destroyed the outer shell around thousands of privately drilled wells.
Recharge pond in Fresno County (Chron photo)
A possible solution: while the welcome El Niño storms are recharging the aquifers, water districts are trying to hurry along this natural process through geological engineering:
The Consolidated Irrigation District, which serves parts of Fresno, Tulare and Kings counties in the Central Valley....lets the precious liquid soak in at percolation sites so it stores in the ground. The agency introduced these “recharge ponds” to the region in the 1920s, and today is leading a popular charge.
According to the Chronicle four new dams and reservoirs will cost $10 billion and increase the State's water storage by 9%. By some estimates replenishing the aquifer would make available five times the water volume of the new-dam project for about the same cost (where recharge ponds are not feasible, expensive injection wells have to be built).

IMHO, California should do both---build new above-ground capacity while refilling below-ground storage---but while we're arguing about the former we can at least do the latter.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


The beach is a few feet from the cabins
I went (was actually dragged along by my parents) to the Episcopal Church's Camp Mokuleia throughout childhood. As an Island kid I got bored after 15 minutes (reading wasn't an option due to car sickness), so the one-hour trip to the North Shore was interminable. Also, I didn't see the purpose: the beaches were better at Waikiki and Ala Moana, the camp's cabins were what would later be termed "rustic", and the large lawn was nothing compared to Kapiolani Park.

Codger talk: these apartments weren't there before.
Today Camp Mokuleia has a pool, modern apartments, and a dining hall. I did recognize the old now-renovated cabins and the original office.

The Camp is advertised as "a secluded location [to] enjoy the rest, recreation and renewal we offer in the spirit of aloha."

Like a lesson that I did not comprehend as a child, Camp Mokuleia has been waiting for me to appreciate it, 40 years later.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

From Kamaaina to Malahini

View of Ala Wai Canal from our condo
Normally I stay with relatives but the January lodging-with-car deals were too good to pass up. Walking around Waikiki is not something most locals do---parking escalates to the $20/$30 cap after a few hours---but now I'm finding why the tourists like it. Restaurants and nightclubs, not to mention white sand beaches, are packed densely within 1.5 square miles. Just don't buy anything at the overpriced stores.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Measure and Counter-Measure

Excerpts from the Al Qaeda Training Manual show that they are well acquainted with Western culture:
Security Precautions Related to Apartments:
1. Choosing the apartment carefully as far as the location, the size for the work necessary (meetings,storage, arms, fugitives, work preparation).
2. It is preferable to rent apartments on the ground floor to facilitate escape and digging of trenches.
3. Preparing secret locations in the apartment for securing documents, records, arms, and other important items.
4. Preparing ways of vacating the apartment in case of a surprise attack (stands,wooden ladders). Under no circumstances should any one know about the apartment except those who use it.

9. A single brother should not rent more than one apartment in the same area, from the same agent, or using the same rental office.

11. Avoiding police stations and government buildings. Apartments should not be rented near those places.

13. It is preferable to rent apartments in newly developed areas where people do not know one another. Usually, in older quarters people know one another and strangers are easily identified, especially since these quarters have many informers.

15. Agreement among those living in the apartment on special ways of knocking on the door and special signs prior to entry into the building’s main gate to indicate to those who wish to enter that the place is safe and not being monitored. Such signs include hanging out a towel, opening a curtain, placing a cushion in a special way, etc.

18. Apartments used for undercover work should not be visible from higher apartments in order not to expose the nature of the work.
19. In a newer apartment, avoid talking loud because prefabricated ceilings and walls [used in the apartments] do not have the same thickness as those in old ones.

22. The cover of those who frequent the location should match the cover of that location. For example, a common laborer should not enter a fancy hotel because that would be suspicious and draw attention.
Michael Lieberman presentation on Slideshare
Counter-intelligence agencies are using data analytics to fight back [bold added]:
Technologists are modifying existing mapping software to produce “geographic profiling” programs that show which areas should be searched or put under surveillance first in the hunt for hideouts, bomb workshops and weapons caches. [snip]

Data from years of home-made-bomb (IED, or “improvised explosive device”) attacks and discoveries in Iraq, analysed by Roy Lindelauf of the Dutch Defence Academy, suggest that those planting bombs in urban areas almost always carry the device at least a couple of hundred metres from where it was stored, though rarely much more than a kilometre. Also—suicide missions aside—few IEDs are built, stored or detonated in the territories of rival groups. Data from as few as five IED blasts can thus more or less pinpoint the location of a workshop or cache.
The terrorists have the numbers, motivation, and street smarts, while the West has superior technology, wealth, and book smarts. The West has the advantage, but victory is far from assured.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Growing in Greatness

At the 1963 March on Washington (ABC news)
The death of Martin Luther King, Jr., occurred when I was a teenager. I admired his speeches but knew little else about him. He was part of the societal eruptions occurring on the Mainland, and wasn’t the FBI investigating him, and weren’t there rumors that he was a communist?

Race riots, the civil rights movement, Vietnam war protests, drugs, the Russo-Chinese axis, and finally the granddaddy of worries—nuclear war—all made for an unsettled Sixties. The murder of Martin Luther King in 1968, one of the most eventful years of the 20th century, was another sign of a very unstable world.

The world, of course, did survive the tumult, and with distance comes reflection and perspective. For me Dr. King is one of those rare individuals whose greatness has increased with the passage of time. His “I Have a Dream” speech is as compelling—and relevant—as ever, and his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a soul-searching treatise on civil disobedience. Only recently have I begun to appreciate its wisdom.

Dr. King's words, like the Bible, have been used by people to support opposing sides of various issues. Usually at least one side engages in cherry-picking; an honest reading in context will likely make it clear where he would have stood.

For example, gay rights may be analogized to the battle against segregation.
An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.
Another example: the hypocrisy of climate change celebrities and billionaires who use private jets and own multiple estates.
An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: something to like---and not like---for everyone.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Ugly Episcopalian

The primates of the Anglican Communion.
This development affects less than 1% of the population of the United States, but if you're part of the dwindling group of Episcopalians it probably meant a lot: Anglican communion to restrict US Church over gay marriage.

The handwriting has been on the wall for over a decade.
Anglican leaders have barred a liberal US branch from decision-making for allowing same-sex marriage.

Anglicans have been divided on the issue since the US Episcopal Church ordained an openly gay bishop in 2003.

Leaders said the church's stance was a "fundamental departure" from the faith of the majority in what is the world's third largest Christian denomination.

But Episcopal leaders said the three-year bar, which aims to prevent a formal schism, "will bring real pain".

The decision - made at a four-day meeting of 39 Anglican primates in Canterbury - means the Church will be suspended from participating in the life and work of the Anglican communion, the BBC's religious correspondent Carol Wyatt said.
The Bishop of our Diocese likened the temporary suspension of the U.S. Episcopal Church to the Crucifixion [bold added]:
The primates made peace among themselves by scapegoating The Episcopal Church, and even more fundamentally by further marginalizing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. The political powers who plotted the betrayal and execution of Jesus believed that it was expedient to sacrifice one person for the good of order and “peace.”

Let's step back from our narrow Eurocentric perspective. The Episcopal Church comprises less than 3% of the Anglican communion. The continent where Anglicanism is growing the fastest---Africa---is home to substantial populations that regard homosexuality not only as evil but as a sin punishable by death.

What would their reaction be to an Anglican church that performed same-sex weddings as a sacrament, that is, the equal in importance to Baptism and Holy Communion, in their community?

To put other Anglicans’ lives at risk to proclaim a value that is recognized by a minority of the world’s population is the height of arrogance. (Interestingly, the Episcopal Church decries this “Imperialist” behavior when Western society promulgates capitalism or traditional Christianity or democracy in the Third World.)

The Episcopal Church could have avoided the sanctioning of the primates by not forcing the issue at its General Convention last year but by allowing each Diocese or even Parish to decide for itself whether to perform same-sex weddings. There’s no question that the rite would be performed in the overwhelming majority of churches across the United States. But cultural warriors insisted on making same-sex wedding an official policy of the entire Church, forcing other members of the Anglican Communion to take a position.

In previous disputes the Church was fond of telling critics that it was not governed “top-down” like the Catholics. It is organized as a confederation of equals who are free to make their own decisions. Hence the ordination of non-chaste gay priests and the blessing of same-sex unions occurred in some Dioceses but not others. This freedom to choose apparently expired when progressives took control of the governing councils.

The Ugly American was a 1950’s stereotype of the American who bestrode the world, his pockets full of the almighty dollar, wondering why the world wasn’t more like him. More than half a century later, the Ugly Episcopalian echoes the narcissistic certitude of those times.

Note: the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, strikes the right note of conciliation, regret, and hope.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Chuckled, but did not Guffaw

Actress Kate del Castillo helped arrange the meet
between El Chapo and Sean Penn. (Daily Mail)
Last night Jimmy Fallon channeled Henny Youngman with a series of rapid-fire jokes about El Chapo's medical problem. The whole bit took only a minute, including rim-shots, mugging for the audience, and laughter.
There are reports that while he was on the run El Chapo got surgery for erectile dysfunction.
Guess his chalupa had a little droopa.
Doctors tried to help him go from a soft shell to a hard shell.
He’s looking for a little cure-o for his churro.
Every time he took off his pants he said say hello to my really little friend.
Apparently he has a one “inch”-alada.
His amigo was taking a permanent siesta.
Told his doctor he had a floppy sombrero.
When his girlfriend saw it, she ran for the border.
Nothing will come out of his piñata no matter how much he beat it.
(Guardian photo)
It's hard to keep up with what the offense-police find objectionable. Racist humor apparently is okay if the person mocked is a) wealthy, b) male, and c) criminal. For the record, I chuckled but did not guffaw.

Note: being the subject of ridicule does not seem to have hurt "skyrocketing" demand for $128 El Chapo shirts.

Friday, January 15, 2016

One Voice Against Panic

Charles Schwab says we're not in a bear market, despite the 8-10% drop in market indices since the first of the year. Excerpts [bold added]:
While we are currently experiencing a 10% U.S. stock market correction for the second time in the past year, we do not expect the recent correction to turn into a bear market.

The bulk of these indicators do not currently indicate a greater-than-50% chance of a U.S. recession, although there are pockets of weakness. Globally, we see continued growth in Europe and only a modest deceleration in China, while other indicators are at levels associated with a low probability of global recession.

we expect the recent volatility will ultimately reflect a correction, not a longer-term bear market. Severe bear markets rarely happen without recessions. Also, stock prices typically exhibit rich valuations just before big price drops, but stock prices now are at average levels relative to a variety of valuation metrics. Finally, the U.S. market does not appear full of “hot money”.
Whew, and to think I was worried.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

All in the Family

(Photo from IBTimes / Reuters)
Democrats are distressed that Chelsea Clinton has shed "her first daughter persona for the role of attack dog" against Bernie Sanders [bold added]:
Chelsea Clinton late Tuesday ripped Sanders over his proposals on healthcare and college affordability, arguing the White House hopeful wants to “dismantle” ObamaCare and Medicare.

Democrats have almost universally panned the attack, believing it to be ineffective and a misuse of her talents.

They note that Chelsea Clinton has mostly been used to highlight Hillary Clinton’s softer side as a mother and grandmother and say she seemed uncomfortable shedding her first daughter persona for the role of attack dog.
Hey, it's obvious:
1) Coming-out: VP candidates are traditionally the aggressive voice of Presidential campaigns. Did you know that Chelsea turned 35 last year? Just saying...
2) Diversion: anything that shifts the conversation away from Dad's behavior is helpful to Mom's campaign.
3) Revival: Bill and Hillary's two-for-one meme worked in the 1990's. Why not Hillary and Chelsea (you go, girls!) in the Teens? Just give it time to settle in.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Longest War

From President Obama's State of the Union address, an uncontroversial goal:
For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.
In its 45th year, the War on Cancer is the longest "war" America has ever fought, and victory may seem to be as elusive as when it started. It is difficult, however, for us non-scientists to appreciate fully the significant advances that have been made across multiple disciplines to combat this fearsome enemy.

A cancer diagnosis was a nearly automatic death sentence a few years ago. Today improved drugs and radiation treatments, early detection, and lifestyle changes have all factored into longer survival rates and a decline in cancer deaths. Still, about 600,000 Americans die each year from the dread disease.

Tumours inhibit the maturation of dendritic cells that activate
the immune system (Center for Colorectal Disease image)
One example of the creative thinking in a war that's being waged on many fronts: Stanford researcher Edgar Engleman wondered why the dendritic cells that are part of the body's immune system don't react to cancer. [bold added]
when cancer is present, the dendritic cells act as if they were asleep at the wheel, he says: They don’t respond to the antibody signal to engulf and metabolize the tumor, they don’t present the tumor antigens to the T-cells, and so the T-cells don’t mobilize.

So to counter the soporific effect of the cancer, Engleman gave the dendritic cells a “wake-up” jolt, in the form of substances known to stimulate them, as an adjunct to the antibodies. The result was astounding. “When we gave the two things at the same time, BOOM, then we got an explosive antitumor immune response that cured the tumors in the mice. Reproducibly, over and over again.

Not only did the combination injection kill the primary tumor, but it wiped out distant metastases as well. That’s huge because, as any oncologist will tell you, in most cancers it’s the metastases that are deadly. Moreover, there was no autoimmune reaction, no toxicity, no collateral damage whatsoever. The results were published last spring in the prestigious journal Nature.

Because the antibodies are present in all healthy individuals (albeit in varying concentrations) and the stimulant substances are commercially available, in theory the approach should be eminently scalable.
The process of shepherding Dr. Engleman's idea through clinical studies and the FDA will take years and millions of dollars, not to mention locating a drug company that will view his approach as a worthy investment versus others in the pipeline.

Declaring war is easy. Actually winning it is very, very hard.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Sign of the Times

The averages are down 5.2-6.4%. It's not time to panic....yet.
The stock market is off to its "worst start to [a] year ever":
The massive selloff [last] week adds up to paper losses of roughly $1.5 trillion for the Wilshire 5000 Total Stock Market Index, according to Wilshire.
One doesn't need a finance or economics degree to figure out why: the Fed raised interest rates--and implied that it will continue to do so in 2016--and the Chinese stock market is crashing.

One month ago the Economist, among others, said that a rate hike would be unwarranted based on signals from the global economy.

Overriding these concerns, the Fed chose to tighten because of fears of runaway inflation, which many current policy-makers experienced during the 1970's: [bold added]
But today's economy looks nothing like the economy of the 1970s. Then, labour markets were far more organised; private-sector union density, which peaked at 36% in 1945 and remained above 20% until the mid-1980s, now stands at just 7%. Then, many more workers laboured within large corporations, on contracts with built-in cost-of-living increases tied to the rate of inflation. Then, the world was far less globalised and the automation of the digital age was only beginning to ramp up, leaving employers with many fewer options to adjust the structure of production to accommodate higher wages.
One of the factors that influenced the rate increase was a strong jobs report, which now some have questioned.

The Federal Reserve has access to vastly more data and computer models than outsiders. Fed analysts and directors have PhDs in Economics, Mathematics, and Finance, and lifetime(s) of experience. However, it's a sign of the times that many do not have a great deal of confidence in their judgment.

Monday, January 11, 2016

To Go Global, Cook Local

Jollibee in mid-afternoon had more traffic than others.
Jollibee, the Philippine fast-food chain, has had a spotty reception in the U.S. It closed its outlet in downtown San Francisco but thrives wherever there are concentrations of Filipino-Americans or Philippine expats hankering for a taste of home.

I found the Jollibee at the Tanforan Food Court to have a menu (spaghetti, fried chicken, and hamburgers) that's okay but a bit heavy for my taste. Apparently, I'm not alone.

In order to expand internationally
the company has gradually come round to the view that to reach its goal, it needs to buy foreign restaurant chains with menus better suited to the tastes of non-Filipinos.
Jollibee has bought a minority interest in Smashburger, the privately held U.S. chain that, IMHO, makes a flavorful seared burger that's better (and twice as expensive) as In-n-Out.

I can't see an integration of the menus: Jollibee's fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy would not seem to appeal to the same clientele as Smashburger's truffle mushroom burger. Let's hope that this union doesn't result in the ruination of either or both.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Merilyn Vosburg

Merilyn Vosburg (1924-2015) was one of the founding members of our 41-year-old Episcopal parish. A “cradle” Episcopalian from the Midwest and New York, Merilyn was an active participant in every aspect of the church's life, from Vestry to coffee hour, from acolyte training to community service. Her first love was the Altar Guild,
whose ministry is to care for the altar, vestments, vessels, and altar linens of the parish...prepare the sanctuary for services, and decorat[e]..the sanctuary of the parish with flowers.
Episcopal liturgy is at times grand and other times modest, and Merilyn ran the Altar Guild with exacting precision appropriate to the occasion. Every Sunday, kneeling and standing with perfect posture, she could be found near the front pew on the left. She accepted the many changes that she saw in the Church during her lifetime but loved the traditional liturgy.

The congregation read aloud the 23rd Psalm, King James Version, at her memorial service this week. Sometimes you can't improve on the old ways.

Psalm 23: KJVPsalm 23: NIV
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leadeth me beside the still waters.He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restoreth my soul;He refreshes my soul.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his Name's sake.He guides me along the right paths
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of deathEven though I walk through the darkest valley
I will fear no evil;I will fear no evil,
For thou art with me;For you are with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
Thou anointest my head with oilYou anoint my head with oil;
My cup runneth over.My cup overflows
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the House of the Lord for ever.And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Finance Like We've Never Seen Before

Quantitative finance: a grind to mostly
everyone, a dance for Peter Muller
(Forbes photo)
Finance like we've never seen before - Peter Muller's PDT Partners hedge fund: [bold added]
During 2015, when many hedge fund managers–from mighty activists like Bill Ackman to noted short-sellers like David Einhorn–lost money, Muller spun the market’s volatility into gold. The largest fund of his three-year-old PDT Partners firm, which oversees $4.5 billion, was up 21.5% net of fees in the first 11 months of 2015.
Peter Muller, polymath:
At Princeton he studied math and played in a jazz band...In 1992 he joined Morgan Stanley in New York as a proprietary trader to see if he could use math and computers to trade himself....Nobody outside the bank knew it, but for a long time Muller was Morgan Stanley’s supersecret weapon, making big contributions to its earnings each year, hidden in the firm’s income statement under “principal transactions.”...Crossword puzzles became an escapist obsession; he even created them for the New York Times....He went on sabbatical, rediscovering his love of music partly by busking in New York subway stations and sojourning in far-off places like Bhutan.
Peter Muller's ceiling won't be set by Wall Street competition, but by the limit of his own desire.

Friday, January 08, 2016


He looks like how I feel
Home and Hope could be renamed chasing-down-toddlers-by-tired-adults, but that elongated monicker would not look good on a fundraising brochure.

Ramone looked angelic as he slept peacefully in his stroller at 7 in the morning. Was this the same kid who fought noisily over a blue locomotive (a red one just wouldn't do) on Tuesday night?

He and older brother Raymond will witness wonders that I can only dream of.

Sleep well, little one.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

In From the Cold

Origami and salad by June
November and December flew by quickly (why does time move so slowly for youngsters, who have the most time left?), and it was again our turn to make dinner for the families at Home and Hope.

The families are finding it very difficult to be placed in affordable housing; one father is exhausted from working two jobs (he sleeps from 2:30 to 6 a.m.), but two-bedroom spartan Peninsula apartments start at $2,500.

Generation-skipping volunteers
I listened but didn't say much: our role is not to offer advice, personal help, and especially opinions but a sympathetic ear and, of course, food.

One encouraging sign is that new people are signing up to replace the elder generation of volunteers who can no longer drive, or even cook. In addition to a huge salad, June folded origami birds to add a touch of class to the table settings. Rob brought his teen daughters and a friend; it took them 15 minutes to cut up a small chicken, but we all have to learn sometime, right?

Having overnight duty, I rolled out the sleeping bag. It was in the 40's--cold by California standards--but there were plenty of warm feelings to go around.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Good Fire, Bad Fire

Controlled burn in Florida (
The science is nuanced.

Fighting fire with fire benefits forests, watersheds. [bold added]
Scott Stephens, a fire scientist from UC Berkeley, and fellow researchers have studied what happens when fires are allowed to burn, rather than repeatedly being put out....Stephens learned that allowing fires to burn tends to lead to more resilient forests, with smaller future fires and lessened impacts on the environment.
Wildfires are likely to become more destructive.
About 58 million trees suffered water losses greater than 30 percent, or about 7 to 10 percent of trees in most places, the research indicates. In an average non-drought year, only about 1 percent of California’s trees typically die.

While an El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific is expected to provide drought relief to California’s wildlands this winter, the researchers suggest that much of the state’s forests will remain in a weakened state indefinitely.
Letting fires burn has scientific support; however, that strategy depends on mistake-free controlled burns.

Also, "environmental laws can actually impede prescribed burning."

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

I Can't Wait to Be Transported by My Robot Masters

Mercedes self-driving car at the 2015 CES (Fortune)
The two-cars-in-every-garage template that shaped American life for over half a century will not be around much longer [bold added]:
Today, cars are people’s second-largest household expenditure, and they sit unused 23 hours a day. When they’re on the road, some vast proportion of them are looking for parking

An average of 30 percent of all cars in any urban downtown are cruising for a space—wasting time, worsening congestion, and adding to vehicle-miles traveled. “If someone described that model to you and didn’t tell you it was cars, you’d say it was ripe for disruption,” GM’s Ammann says. A 2015 study of Lisbon, Portugal, by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that a fleet of just 26,000 TaxiBots—hypothetical on-demand, autonomous carpool vehicles—could replace every one of the city’s 203,000 cars. Think about that: the same population, 565,000 people, served by a tenth the number of cars.
This is not a brief for mass transit. The 21st-century transportation network is far removed from the top-down design beloved by central planners. It combines needs, resources, and pathways--what's different now is the degree of information, computational power, and speed of communication--to get people and goods from Point A to Point B at the maximum speed at the lowest cost. Trains, taxis, Uber, or RobotCo will all be available for selection by a mobile phone app, just as Amazon displays pages of choices for anything one wants to buy.
This decentralized approach to remapping our physical roads is fundamentally (and finally) changing everything about how we get around. Bus, train, ferry, Lyft, self-­driving car, hyperloop, or a combination of all of these things—it doesn’t matter. Think of it this way: To the new transportation supernetwork, you and I are just data. It doesn’t matter where we want to go; it just knows how to get us there—faster, cheaper, and utterly in control.
The VW I'll keep, the Toyota behind it probably not.
I drove cars with manual transmissions-only for the first fifteen (15) years after I got my driver's license. Automatic transmissions meant some loss of control, which I found difficult to accept. Today, only a seldom-driven Volkswagen bug remains from those clutch-happy days. (Control is an illusion, little grasshopper.)

I, for one, can't wait to be transported in a self-driving car which I probably won't own. Getting rid of the tons of metal taking up space in the garage and driveway will be liberating.

But I'll probably still keep the VW.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Restaurants and Good Intentions Meet the Tax System

(Image from
Eliminating tips--and raising menu prices and wages to compensate---seems like a good idea. By embedding the tip into the wage the restaurant gets to say that it has "raised" the pay rate from, say, $12.50 to $15, thereby complying with higher minimum wage mandates. The restaurant also can distribute the tips more evenly among the waiters, the cooks, and the staff. And customers shouldn't mind because their outlay stays about the same.

Moving compensation from one category to another, however, proves to be no free lunch [bold added]:
when Sous Beurre Kitchen opened in the Mission in February, [owner Michael] Mauschbaugh followed the example of five Bay Area restaurants that abandoned tipping in late 2014. He printed all-inclusive prices on his menu, which allowed him to pay his kitchen staff well above minimum wage and offer health insurance.

This October, though, Mauschbaugh abandoned the tipless model and issued pay cuts. “We got overrun with taxes, and it became unsustainable,” he said.
Sales taxes (8.75% in San Francisco) are imposed on the higher tip-included bill; the customer pays the additional tax, but neither the restaurant nor its employees see the benefit. There are also numerous costs that are tied to base wages, e.g., unemployment insurance, workers compensation insurance, Social Security taxes, and State Disability insurance. (Some costs also are higher because total compensation is accurately reported, while tip income had been under-reported by waitstaff .)

Restaurants with well-intentioned ideas meet the tax system, discover that these ideas increase costs significantly, and eventually the changes are abandoned. Unfortunately, their experience is not a rare phenomenon.

Related: Restaurants are eliminating auto gratuities (typical example: 18% service charge automatically imposed on parties of eight or more).
TGI Fridays — and most other large restaurant chains — got rid of auto-gratuities entirely. The reason: A new rule from the Internal Revenue Service that counted those mandatory charges as wages, making them subject to payroll taxes and a factor in overtime calculations.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

An Experiment Intelligently Designed

(Cartoon from
To ruin a dinner party one just needs to ask whether religion has been more helpful or harmful in the history of mankind. There are many examples on both sides of the argument, but "trading anecdotes, though, is unlikely to convince anyone."

A recent social-science experiment produced a result that favors the pro-religion argument. Based on the runaway trolley car problem (do you sacrifice one person to stop a runaway trolley that will definitely kill five other people?) [bold added]
[New York psychologist Jeremy] Ginges gave the question—to push or not to push—a religious twist. His participants were Muslim, and most were personally religious (more than 80% reported praying regularly). He presented them with two versions of the thought experiment. In one, the endangered children were fellow Muslims. In the other, they were Jews. In both, the sacrificial victim was a Palestinian of unspecified religion. He then asked his young volunteers to consider, in each case, how one ought to act—and then how they thought God would want people to act.
Despite decades of conflict, of the 555 Palestinian teenagers
55% of respondents indicated that the religion of the threatened children would make no difference to their behaviour; 42% said they would be more likely to act to save their co-religionists than to save the Jewish children; and 3% swung the other way, saying they were more willing to save Jewish children than Muslim ones. When asked to consider how their God would prefer them to act, this pattern became even more pronounced. Then, 66% said religious affiliation would have no impact on their actions. Only 30% of respondents favoured the Muslim children.
One cannot conclude a great deal, based on familiar weaknesses in these studies. For example, what the subjects say about their future behavior often differs from how they actually behave, and in the real world the choices are multiple, not binary (how do they evaluate a teenager choosing to sacrifice himself? It does happen.)

Nevertheless, as we enter the New Year, there's a smidgeon of hope for the future.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

On, Then Off the List

Two years ago I thought that the demise of Windows XP would necessitate the retirement of my then-7-year-old Dell PC. The installation of Windows 7 kept the Dell running, albeit creakily, and postponed its defenestration.

For the past five years new iMacs and MacBooks have met all our equipment needs; the era of cloud and mobile devices has loosened Microsoft's stranglehold on computing. Google and Apple are both more valuable companies than once-dominant Microsoft, which now seems to behave more transparently under new management in a competitive environment.

(ZDNet image)
There are still a few applications that work better in Windows, and a recent pick-up in my consulting business put a Windows 10 computer on the shopping list. But just as we thought it was safe to go back into the PC world...

Windows 10 is spying on almost everything you do – here’s how to opt out.

Windows 10 covertly sends your disk-encryption keys to Microsoft

Like some individuals, certain corporations never change their character.

Friday, January 01, 2016

2016 More and Less

Reading booksWeb-surfing
Getting rid of stuffBuying stuff
Taking coursesElectronic games
Writing lettersTexting, esp. thank-you's
Fruits and vegetablesFried foods