Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Science is Rocky

The last time I gave a thought to geologic time measurements (eons, eras, epochs, etc.) was in college. It was my senior year, when I took a popular geology "gut" (easy) course whose only requirement was to pass a multiple-choice open book final. Unlike most of my classmates, I did attend the weekly lectures. After all, annual tuition at the East Coast private university was an astronomical $3,400, and I had to get my money's worth.

But back to geologic time. Starting from the largest unit, we are living in the Phanerozoic eon, Cenozoic era, Quaternary period, and Holocene epoch. An influential body of geologists has decided that [bold added]
Humanity’s influence on the Earth is so great, an entirely new geological epoch called the Anthropocene should be declared.
Geologic time periods are distinguished by strata, i.e., they have different chemical compositions, fossils, etc.
The Anthropocene epoch should begin in about 1950, as man-made developments ended the geological time defined by the current epoch, the Holocene, the scientists said. The Holocene encompasses the 12,000 years since the last ice age.

Mid-20th century phenomena, such as carbon dioxide emissions, rising sea levels, the global mass extinction of species and deforestation, have ended the Holocene epoch, the scientists said. The Anthropocene would be defined geologically by the effects of nuclear bomb tests, plastic pollution, concrete and more, according to scientists.
Two comments:

1) Again, humankind has lived through an important historical event (1950, the start of the Anthropocene epoch) without knowing it;

2) Plastic pollution, mass extinction, deforestation--any time scientists tell you that they keep their language value-neutral, tell them they're full of it, which is not a value-neutral statement. For example, they could have said that the Anthropocene stratum is distinguished by "a marked increase in polyethylene molecules" instead of describing the phenomenon as "plastic pollution" but hey, what do I know, I just took Rocks for Jocks 40 years ago.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

It Goes Quickly

(Image from Annamated Adventures)
The science of aging confirms what we all know: deterioration is inescapable.
Every function of the human body declines 5% every 10 years,” says Michael Roizen, chairman of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “That’s brain function, heart function, liver function."
The mind: "Speed of processing and working memory peak in the 20s and gradually start declining...Learning new information after 40 can be harder."

The eyes' afflictions: presbyopia, cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.

Hearing loss: "There’s no way to restore such hearing loss, since it’s caused by both genetics and environmental factors, such as exposure to loud noises and chemicals, as well as your diet and medications."

Muscle and bone loss: “When you lose core strength, you start having more and more trouble with balance...The combination of muscle and bone loss becomes a real problem when people reach their 60s and 70s."

We are fortunate to have more than a few friends and relatives who are in their 80's and 90's, but every one is a shadow of their mid-70's selves. It goes quickly, doesn't it?
Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you've got to start young - Theodore Roosevelt

We've been making regular visits to a relative at Brookdale in San Jose.
Very nice, but even the cheapest level of service is $5,000 per month.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Great Speeches, Colin, Now Let's See What You Can Do

Colin Kaepernick press conference (AP/Chronicle photo)
...but did he have to wear a Fidel Castro T-shirt?
Three and a half years ago, quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the toast of the Bay Area. Through spectacular performances he led the 49ers to the brink of a Super Bowl championship but couldn't close the deal when his team was less than 10 yards away with a minute to go. Despite the loss, a Super Bowl championship in the near future seemed assured.

However, injuries began to slow him down. Worse, opponents figured out his weaknesses. Defenses bunched up to stop his running and dared him to pass. He couldn't read defenses quickly enough, and the team foundered. The 49ers missed the playoffs for the last two years, and his starting position was in jeopardy. Colin Kaepernick was close to being washed up at the age of 28.

Last week he refused to stand for the National Anthem at a preseason game because of the highly publicized deaths of innocent black men at the hands of police. Already a contentious issue with many facets--"black lives matter," "blue lives matter," "all lives matter," racism, classism, colonialism, and other -isms being flung about for good measure--Colin Kaepernick's action triggered a firestorm (literally, as some burned his jersey). Also, his words didn't exactly have a calming effect:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."
The good sense of the American people and the entire NFL seems to be prevailing, however, with substantial majorities defending his right to speak his beliefs while disagreeing with the way he went about doing it. Count me in the majority in both cases.

Now, can we just get back to football? In the NFL winning is everything, and it's an unfortunate reality that Colin Kaepernick will be listened to more attentively if he's a winner, not a whiner. As Chris Ault, his college coach in Nevada wrote:
“Guys like him can make a difference....but it’s just a lot easier to make that point when you’re excelling on the field. I’m hoping that the vicious competitor I know steps up and becomes a difference-maker for all his endeavors — on and off the field.”

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Spiraling toward Doom

W.B. Yeats (Daily Beast / Library of Congress)
W.B. Yeats' poem, The Second Coming, is experiencing a second life in these times of turmoil:
the Irish poet’s incantatory words and frightening symbolism are being deployed with unusual frequency by commentators, journalists and others seeking to add an apocalyptic tone to their work.
Confused and discouraged by events, we turn not to more words, but better ones. Phrases from the poem have entered the popular lexicon:
The widening gyre
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity
Slouches towards Bethlehem
We may think that the ground is crumbling beneath our feet, but that feeling is extraordinarily self-indulgent compared to the experiences of 100 years ago. The romantic ideals of European civilization crashed into the charnel house of the Great War, the effects of which still reverberate through arts and literature.
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The More We Find the Present Wanting

HSR car: $68 billion doesn't buy what it used to.
The California State Railroad Museum is mainly about the past, but during this week's trip we spent a few minutes on the glorious future, i.e., high-speed rail. Current estimates are that HSR will cost $68 billion when it's completed in 2029. Even that may be a stretch.

The seismic and tunneling issues in mountain ranges were known about when the project was approved, but the assumptions regarding solutions now seem highly optimistic.

Today's problems are trivial, however, compared to the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad:
the Chinese workers accomplished amazing and dangerous feats no other workers would or could do. They blasted tunnels through the solid granite -- sometimes progressing only a foot a day. They often lived in the tunnels as they worked their way through the solid granite, saving precious time and energy from entering and exiting the worksite each day. They were routinely lowered down sheer cliff faces in makeshift baskets on ropes where they drilled holes, filled them with explosives, lit the fuse and then were yanked up as fast as possible to avoid the blast.
The Chinese workers, who averaged 4'10" and 120 pounds, helped to complete the 1,907-mile project in six years. California high-speed rail will cover 800+ miles and will take 14 years to complete, if we're lucky.

The more we examine the past the more we find the present wanting.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Switch in Time

(Image of GT90 remote from Terapeak)
So I was talking to a couple of software engineers from a very large and well-known company (you probably access its site every day, dear reader), and I brought up the subject of my ancient Genie garage door opener. It's so old that the remote control uses a DIP switch; I tried replacing the beat-up remote, but newer DIP-switch-less ones can't communicate with the garage door opener.

To his credit, BTW, one engineer wasn't afraid to ask, "What's a DIP switch?" (DIP switches could be found in every PC or video game circuit board until the mid-1990's.) Such a basic part of electronics history was unknown to him, and he didn't need it at all to do his job well.

Fitzgerald's words popped into mind, though I know that was not the writer's intended meaning:
And then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Safe Spaces? How About Just Spaces

I can't stand show-offs. (interior design LV)
Sometimes you read something and you realize, "Hey! That's me."
“We’re starting to realize that our very expensive cars are sitting in the driveway while we’re housing our inexpensive stuff—and even junk—in the garage.”
But I'm not as bad as the bottom 25%:
One in four people said they can’t fit even one car into their garage.
Besides, my cars are not that expensive. They are machines that can be replaced, unlike those out-of-print magazines from 40 years ago...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Worship at this Inventor's Throne

There are too many possible comments to the following invention. None of them do it justice. (H/T Tyler Cowen)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Groundwork Laid

Surveyor's toolkit: how many of us can identify these
implements, let alone know how to use them?
One's first visit to the California State Railroad Museum is usually spent marveling at the beauty of the restored locomotives. The age of steam seems like the distant past, but it was less than 200 years ago that America was still an agrarian society.

A good part of the Museum is devoted to the history of the First Transcontinental Railroad, which transformed the national economy.

An exact duplicate of 
Stanford Univ's Gold
Spike is in the Museum
Before the final spike was driven in 1869, merchant ships took four to six months to make the trip to California via Cape Horn; a like amount of time was necessary to traverse the overland route by wagon train.

The railroad shortened the journey to five days, unifying the country geographically and sparking an explosion in the movement of people and goods in both directions.

Industry and agriculture were not the only beneficiaries, it was now possible to build fortifications against military threats originating from both the Atlantic and the Pacific.

The 20th century became the American century, in large part due to the groundwork that was laid in the 19th.

Monday, August 22, 2016


uDISCO mouse image from Business Insider
New laboratory methods shrink dead tissues and make them transparent. It may not be clear to laypeople, but this technique can be very revealing:
To turn dead mice and rats into smaller, clear versions of their former selves, the team used special solutions that strip tissues of fats that typically make them opaque. They also pull out water, miniaturizing tissues.

The new technique—dubbed uDISCO (short for ultimate 3-D imaging of solvent-cleared organs)—takes about four days to shrink and make a whole animal, including its bones, transparent....

Shrinkage gives scientists the ability to study intact organs and organisms in one go, the researchers said, upping their chances of understanding how they work and what goes wrong during disease.
When the time comes, I can be buried in the jeans I used to wear in high school.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Tradition That Continues

Ben and his Boy Scout troop from Fremont, 25 miles away, spent Saturday painting a world map on the church and pre-school's concrete. The acrylic is resistant to bad weather.

The Scouts of my youth all have become estimable adults, and this generation seems to be following in that tradition. Scouts don't expect anything in return, so our gratitude will have to suffice.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Willie Brown: No Fat Lady Yet

(Image from SFGate)
Veteran politician and observer Willie Brown says not to count Donald Trump out of the Presidential race:
What we’ve seen up until now, including the Donald’s missteps, misspeaks and mistakes, is the political equivalent of spring training.

Within the next two weeks, you are going to see a wholly different campaign. Former Fox News chief Roger Ailes will handle Trump in the same fashion he made a conservative TV network the force it is today....

Trump will spend the fourth quarter hammering away on those two issues: change and trust. The uglier he can make the campaign, the more undecided voters voters will be inclined to cast protest votes with third-party candidates.

In a strong one-on-one race, protest votes are meaningless. But if the public isn’t strong on either candidate, those protest votes could lead to a plurality in key states and allow Trump to win them with his 40 percent.
Hillary's the favorite, but the Donald still has a path to victory. We don't know who's going to win, but it's a safe bet that it's going to be interesting....and ugly.

Friday, August 19, 2016

One Group That Doesn't Fear Change

The City that knows spend (
Both on an absolute and per-capita basis San Francisco has one of the largest budgets in the nation: [bold added]
In 2010, the budget totaled $6.4 billion in a city with 805,000 people, meaning the city spent nearly $8,000 per capita. Six years later, the $9.6 billion budget is paying for services for 865,000 residents, or $11,100 per capita. Inflation explains a little of that increase, but certainly not all of it...

Philadelphia’s budget this year totals $4.2 billion for a population nearly twice the size of San Francisco’s. Denver will spend about $3 billion for a population approaching 700,000 people. The city and county of Honolulu, which pays for services for everybody on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, has a budget of $2.33 billion for a population close to 1 million people.
With that level of expenditure San Francisco should be paradise, but....
we spend more than $250 million a year on homeless services and supportive housing and still have some sidewalks that look like Calcutta.
With a homeless population of 7,000 to 10,000 the $250 million budget means that San Francisco annually spends $25,000 to $36,000 per homeless person without making a permanent dent in the problem. And homelessness is just one example of the City's inefficiency:
Joe Maly, a Cow Hollow resident, said he wonders where all the money goes, considering public schoolteachers are underpaid, the roads are in poor condition and the city doesn’t pay for street tree maintenance. In fact, there are only enough arborists on the city payroll to service each of the city’s 177,000 trees once every 105 years. A large tree branch fell on a woman in Washington Square Park just last weekend, critically injuring her.
High expenditures, problems not solved, high taxes----the insatiable City wants still more:
San Francisco, which already collects more transfer tax revenue than any city in California, will ask voters in November to raise this tax on properties that sell for more than $5 million.

San Francisco voters previously approved transfer tax increases in 2008 and 2010. The tax rate starts at the equivalent of 0.5 percent of value on properties worth up to $250,000 and goes up in steps. It tops out at the equivalent of 2.5 percent on properties worth $10 million or more.

On a $1 million property, the tax is 0.75 percent, or $7,500.
The rulers keep getting re-elected, so why should they change?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

For Their Benefit, Not Yours

(St. Louis Post-Dispatch image)
WSJ tech writer Joanna Stern confirms what we've observed: [bold added]
After pulling out the stopwatch for over 50 transactions at various retailers in recent days, I can confirm that it takes twice as long to pay with a chip card than with a card swipe or mobile payment—on average, 13 seconds versus 6 seconds.
Chip cards encrypt transactions and therefore have vastly superior security vs. swipe cards. The doubling in processing time, however, burdens both consumers and merchants, while the benefit of lower fraud losses goes to the credit card company. (The last time I had my credit card number stolen was five years ago, the cc company absorbed the loss, and I'm absolutely fine with the old system.)

If the existing way of doing things (credit cards, health care) is working well for the large majority, and large institutions make sweeping changes for the "consumer's benefit", be sure it's for their benefit, not yours.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Disneyland: Glad I Went

Slinky Dog from Toy Story
I expected Disneyland to be hot, crowded, and expensive, and indeed, the experience was worse in all those respects from my last trip 15 years ago. Going in with low expectations makes pleasant surprises more likely, however.

What I did enjoy: the cleanliness of the parks, the quality of the food, the civility of the staff and vast majority of visitors, the beauty of the parades, the use of technology when appropriate, and the meticulous attention to detail throughout.

The late Steve Jobs "even cared about the look of the parts you couldn’t see" and that ethic seems to be alive and well at Disneyland.

Hot, crowded, and expensive---and I was glad I went.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Life Extension: A Blessing, Probably

Google's working on life extension, too. I just hope
they plan to increase free storage on gmail.
The science of aging--more accurately, the science of arresting or even reversing the effects of aging--is progressing so rapidly that someone has coined the term
“longevity escape velocity”, the point where life expectancy increases by more than a year every year.
Researchers are pursuing multiple avenues--genome analysis, drugs, microbiology, diet, exercise, environment--that lead to life extension. When the maximum age, perhaps 120 years, of the human body is reached, then regenerative therapies such as stem-cell implantation or organ replacement by cloning may allow some to surpass this natural limit.

It's also both fun and alarming to speculate about the impact on society if large numbers of adults can live healthily past 100: [bold added]
People might go back to school in their 50s to learn how to do something completely different....The accountant might become a doctor. The lawyer, a charity worker. Perhaps some will take long breaks between careers and party wildly, in the knowledge that medicine can offer them running repairs.

How many will tie the knot in their 20s in the expectation of being with the same person 80 years later? The one-partner life, already on the decline, could become rare, replaced by a series of relationships, each as long as what many today would consider a decent marital stretch. As for reproduction, men’s testes would presumably work indefinitely and, though women’s ovaries are believed to be loaded with a finite number of eggs, technology would surely be able to create new ones. Those who wished to could thus continue to procreate for decades. That, and serial marriage, will make it difficult to keep track of who is related to whom. Families will start to look more like labyrinthine networks.
Perhaps we oldsters will still want to die "when it's our time," and I can't imagine myself living to 100. Nevertheless, I'm paying more attention to diet and exercise and seeing the doctor regularly. Admiring the Apollo astronauts as a kid, I dreamt of attaining escape velocity....

Monday, August 15, 2016

Look Before You Leap, But Leap

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood (Frost/
Economist Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics, has some evidence that the riskier life decision, i.e., making a change, results in greater happiness.

Individuals who were in a quandary over whether to get married (or divorced), quit their jobs, adopt a child, etc., volunteered to be part of Professor Levitt's study. They flipped a coin and agreed to follow the coin's "orders" (whether they did so or not was up to them).

The findings, excerpted from the working paper: [bold added]
First, two months into the study participants show a bias towards the status quo.

Second, those who report making a change in follow-up surveys are substantially happier than those who do not make a change.

Third, the outcome of the coin toss appears to influence the actions taken. Those who flipped heads were approximately 25 percent more likely to report making a change than those who got tails.

Fourth, when it comes to “important” decisions (e.g. job quitting, separating from your husband or wife), making a change appears to be not only correlated with increased self-reported happiness, but also causally related, especially six months after the coin toss.
There are numerous methodological criticisms---for example, the voluntary participation of the subjects---of the study that prevent it from being "scientific." However, it confirms our bias, so we are allowed to seize upon it!

If you had stayed put, and your life, though okay, didn't change much, you may always wonder....

Sunday, August 14, 2016

At Least I Gave

The piles of bottles and cans gave us pause. No problem, said the man at the recycling center, the machine is fixed and I'm going to crush them later.

An all-time record for me,
and yes, I showed ID
The wizened Asian man pushed in front of us. He had two baskets of cans. The recycling man weighed, bagged, and moved the cans to the back. The payment was $35, which under new procedures required the WAM to show an ID (to deter recyclables thieves who make repeat visits). The WAM acted like he didn't understand English, much less the request, so I showed him my driver's license, helpfully. Big mistake.

The recycling man returned the bags to the WAM, who increased his pleas both to him and to me. The WAM didn't have a car and would have to take the cans back on his bicycle.

Meanwhile, a line had gathered, and bystanders were shouting "He needs your ID!" as if decibel level raises understanding. The WAM refused to move or take back the cans. We were 40 minutes into what should have been a 10-minute process.

I had seen the wizened Asian man before in downtown San Mateo, 5 miles away. From the volume of cans, I knew he had stolen them from recycling bins in Foster City. It was impossible that he understood no English or that he didn't have some form of ID on him to receive social services.

I knew we were all being played. We were at a crossroads. In a few minutes the police would be called, or....

Signs of a hard life were rife, from the clothes he wore to his leathered face (he was probably younger than I) to his beat-up bicycle. I opened my wallet and bought his cans for $40. Xiè xie nǐ, he repeated over and over, bowing and scraping. Please, stop doing that, your gratitude is mostly phony.

Adding his cans to my meager recyclables yielded a personal record payment of $52.71.

Well, I didn't do as St. Paul advised,
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver,
but at least I gave.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Don't Ask, Don't Hire

An idea becomes a rule, then encounters reality [bold added]:
Forcing job applicants to declare they have a criminal record.....allows employers to filter out ex-convicts...So activists across the world have called for “ban-the-box” laws, which prohibit employers from inquiring about criminal histories prior to job interviews or offers.
What happens when information is withheld? Decision-makers are forced to use blunter instruments.
[Researchers] found that withholding criminal-record data from employers encouraged them to treat certain minority groups as if they were more likely to have criminal pasts. [They] sent 15,000 fictitious job applications to employers in New York and New Jersey. Before ban-the-box was introduced in these states, white applicants received around 7% more callbacks than similar black applicants. But when the policy took effect the gap increased to 45%.
The full cost of hiring a criminal or a drug user can be much higher than just the loss of his salary. Employers, if they can't screen for this information, will disregard entire racial groups to avoid the possible damage of a mis-hire.

The social engineers set out to "help" certain groups and ended up making things worse for the innocent majority. Keeping people in the dark is rarely a good idea.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Take Care of Your Heart, Take Care of Your Brain

Taking care of your heart significantly improves the odds against contracting Alzheimer's disease [bold added]:
In a 2014 article published in The Lancet Neurology, researchers projected that almost a third of the cases of Alzheimer’s disease worldwide–9.6 million of them–could be prevented by things that are within most people’s power to change: hypertension in middle age, diabetes, obesity, physical activity, depression, smoking and low education were all found to play a role.

Of these factors, heart health seems to be the most important.
This is just the latest in a string of tentative findings about Alzheimer's. Here are a few others:

Nerve-growth drugs can restore some brain functioning.

An optimistic outlook helps.

Suffering from gout, exercising one's fingers, and having elder sex all are correlated with a lower incidence of Alzheimer's.

Eating coconut products may protect brain cells.

So have more sex, and use your fingers while doing it; you'll become optimistic anyway. After you're done, put a lime in the coconut and drink it all up....

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Where Ties are Not Required or Even Recommended

Using Yelp to find a good seafood place near Anaheim, we settled on the Boiling Crab (TBC), a favorite of over 2,000(!) reviewers.

The restaurant was in a slightly run-down suburban shopping center in Garden Grove, but the location didn't keep the weeknight crowd away. There were at least 20 people in line outside.

Let your fingers do the shelling
Seated in half an hour, we ordered quickly. My associate went right for the crab--boiled of course--while I, wanting to preserve my collared shirt, ordered shrimp that could be eaten diffidently with a fork and knife.

The server plopped down a bag of shrimp that was boiled in red spices. Where was the plate? Where were the utensils?

That's when I looked around at fellow diners who were attacking their shellfish with fingers and teeth. Now I understood why the waitresses set out a plastic table cover and gave all customers a bib when they sat down.

I stripped down to a T-shirt and tore at the shrimp with gusto. The crustacea were fresh and delicious and mildly spiced, as I had ordered.

The Boiling Crab experience is unique: diners are compelled to focus on the food and talk to their companions---who wants to get crab juice all over their smartphone?

In select parts of the country there is a renaissance in fine dining, and people are again dressing up when they go out to eat. A word to the wise: TBC does not cater to that demographic, so guys, you don't have to wear a tie.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Soufflés May Never Come

Carré d'agneau 
As we did a year ago, we had a quiet dinner to celebrate our anniversary. This year's venue was the Iron Gate in Belmont, which serves traditional haute cuisine and has prices to match.

The rack of lamb was $45, normally the entire ticket for four at my usual haunts, but I'm loosening the pursestrings a bit as my expiration date approaches. And why not---I've lost a number of classmates---and none of us has begun to collect Social Security.

Has it really been 11 years since the last soufflé?

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Build on It

As part of a standard credit-check, I tried to contact the person's human resources department to verify employment. The tech company is well-known locally, its market cap between $10 and $15 billion.

Drilling down through three menus to find the phone number on the company's website, I dialed the main switchboard. It rang for half a minute then dropped the call. I tried again and got the familiar message "if you know your party's extension, dial it at any time." When a voice-recognition routine started, I asked for "human resources," which the disembodied voice didn't recognize. No human operator came on to help.

Using other sources, I was able to get enough information to satisfy the credit-check. However, it was disappointing that I had to forego one of the standard, easy means of foiling fake references, that is, calling the employer directly and not using the numbers given by the person being checked out.

The irony is that one of the company's best-selling services is internet security. In the old-school world security relied on practicality, common sense, and talking with, or better yet, meeting people. In the new world security is provided by companies whose technology is understood by few. A word of advice to the kids running these companies: don't throw out the old, build on it.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Happy Birthday to a Lucky Guy

During our trip to Southern California we managed to catch up with my kid brother.

He takes care of his health and has a long-time government job, which everyone knows is low-stress with a guaranteed retirement and good medical. 😛

As we've mentioned before, he was born on this luckiest of dates 56 years ago.

Happy Birthday, Rich, and many more...

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Future Accountants

One of our church's traditions is for the children to collect the offering under the watchful eye of the ushers. Many of the kids are shy and often have to be guided, but two of them attack the task with enthusiasm.

They also have taken it upon themselves to straighten out the offering into a neat stack before taking the plates to the altar. They are the only ones that do this: carefully, almost lovingly, sorting the envelopes and cash (and yes, I supervise them closely).

Can one's career destiny be predicted at the age of seven?

For their sakes I hope bank tellers and accountants are still viable jobs in 15-20 years.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Tower of Terror

Your humble blogger avoids drop tower rides at amusement parks. The wait times often exceed an hour, and the ride is over in a couple of seconds. Also, there's a problem that has increased with age: my digestive system has become more sensitive to rapid descents.

However, I did make an exception to stand in line for the Hollywood Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which is quite a mouthful figuratively and not, it was hoped, literally.

The 199-foot "Hollywood Hotel" edifice is impressive. I did have to stand in line for an hour on Wednesday afternoon outside the structure, but the wait is tolerable if one has a smartphone with all its distractions.

Once inside the lobby, it was clear that the Disney imagineers had labored meticulously over the look of a stylish art deco structure that has gone to seed.

A black-and-white video with a Rod Serling look- and sound-alike explained that guests had been mysteriously disappearing when they stepped in the elevators.

Anticipation raised from the backstory, I found that the walk to the "elevators", and the ride itself, were anticlimactic. Twenty of us were strapped into chairs in an auditorium arrangement and shot to the top, where the wall opened to a view of Disneyland and Anaheim.

The elevator descended rapidly enough to impart the sensation of free-falling, and the process was repeated. Importantly, my gastrointestinal system experienced no ill effects.

Was the wait worthwhile? As with Radiator Springs Racers,
I was glad to have experienced it, but once is enough.
[Update: Disney will close the Tower of Terror in January and replace it with a ride related to one of its Marvel Comics properties.]

Friday, August 05, 2016

Corn Dog at the Little Red Wagon

We've always breezed by the drink and fast-food kiosks at Disneyland, but on this trip we made one of them our destination.

The Little Red Wagon, near the entrance to Tomorrowland, is rated 4½ stars on the Yelp 5-star scale. The "best corn dogs," the reviews claimed, so we sampled one à la carte for $6.50 (the meal was a couple of bucks more).

The normal-size hot dog was encased in a huge cornbread almost-loaf and deep-fried. The crust was excellent, but the cornbread was just a tad too dry and salty for my taste. Also, I prefer corn dogs to be more about the hot dog, but this one was dwarfed by the bread.

Having no need for food, I skipped lunch and had a light beer instead. Gotta watch the calories.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Radiator Springs Racers

California Adventure Magic Morning: Hurry in and wait.
My last trip to Disneyland having occurred over ten years ago, I was bound and determined to experience Radiator Springs Racers, the California Adventure ride that reportedly cost $200 million to build and opened in 2012.

[The wandering mind digresses: "bound and determined" may be too wordy in a 140-character reality, but who knows, in a 50 Shades world the expression may acquire a second life.]

Our three-day ticket allowed us to enter California Adventure an hour early ("Magic Morning"), but Radiator Springs Racers and the rest of Cars Land remained closed until the normal opening time of 8 a.m. "Magic Morning" didn't mean that the desirable rides started at 7 a.m., just that we had a 200-foot head start in the race to the Racers.

We speed-walked our way to the ride and were in our car by 8:10. Radiator Springs Racers was a unique combination of holography and audio-animatronics at the beginning, dioramas of circa-50's and 60's Southern California car culture in the middle, and a brief high-speed race through dry Southwestern hills at the end. I was glad to have experienced it, but once is enough.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Elegant Alternative

Nearly a hundred years ago the Anaheim citrus packing house hummed with the activity that gave Orange County its name.
Local farmers arrived to unload trucks of freshly picked citrus to begin the process of washing, grading and eventual packing into wooden crates. Once completed, the crated and labeled citrus would be loaded onto rail cars parked on the side of the building to be shipped nationwide.
When Walt Disney opened his theme park in 1955 on what had been a 160-acre orange grove, it marked the beginning of the end of agriculture in the county.

The packing house had been abandoned for decades until entrepreneur Shaheen Sadeghi restored it as an elegant dining hall with over 20 vendors, none of them chain outlets.

Short ribs, fried chicken, and seafood.
On our first trip it was tough making a decision. We settled on comfort food from the Kroft and fish from the Chippy. We were not disappointed.

Less than three miles from Disneyland, the packing house is a nearby alternative to fast food and pricey sit-down restaurants. We'll be back on our next trip.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016


The first time I drove a car at Disneyland was in the 1960's, long before I was eligible for a driver's license. The Autopia vehicles straddled a central rail so they couldn't veer off course, and the brake automatically activated when the foot came off the gas pedal; it was easy, safe, and to young eyes and ears quite realistic. Also, there were few rules: you couldn't overtly bash the car in front, but there was a lot of tapping going on.

50+ years later the cars are fancier, though the fundamental design and technology are the same. However, there are more rules (no hitting the car in front, keep one car length minimum distance), stricter enforcement, and ubiquitous monitoring of behavior. There are more cars, frequent stops, and lots of engines idling. Welcome to the 21st century, kids!

Monday, August 01, 2016

Cheerfully and Thankfully

Cruisin' down the I-5 in California's Central Valley, the outside temperature was an oven-y 108 degrees F (confirmed when I stopped for gas and was hit by a thermal blast).

Despite what John Kerry said about air-conditioning, I ran the AC cheerfully and gave thanks to Willis Carrier, its inventor.