Friday, September 30, 2016

Feet on the Ground

(Image from Business Insider)
As his company moves into the cloud, billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison has accelerated his investments on the ground.

In 2012 he bought 98% of the island of Lanai. Not being content with owning the two Four Seasons hotels that came with the $300 million purchase, Mr. Ellison bought the 10-room Hotel Lanai in 2014 and now owns every hotel room on the island.

In 2015 he paid $71.6 million for Palo Alto's 86-room Epiphany Hotel.

Earlier this month "Oracle Corp. has purchased the 476-room Marriott Hotel in San Mateo for $132 million, in part to use for training its direct-sales staff."

These property purchases may seem staggeringly large, but they constitute only one percent (1%) of Larry Ellison's estimated $50 billion fortune.
Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.
                                                                               --F. Scott Fitzgerald

Thursday, September 29, 2016

It's Not Imperialism When We Do It

The tiny City of Brisbane (3 sq miles land, 4,282 pop.) is at the center of a land-use controversy. Per C.W. Nevius of the Chronicle [bold added]:
The Brisbane City Council is meeting Thursday night to vote on a proposal to develop the long-dormant 684-acre Baylands open space. That’s the simple part.

Conventional wisdom is that the council will approve the “community alternative” plan, which calls for over 8 million square feet of commercial-industrial construction and not a single unit of housing.

With the Bay Area in the midst of a housing crisis, the no-housing option has set off howls of protest. A caravan of San Francisco housing advocates will travel to the meeting to complain, and there are now threats of a lawsuit from the Bay Area Council. [snip]

San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim suggested annexing the property and making it part of San Francisco. That was not well received in San Mateo County, where Brisbane is located.
San Francisco: don't touch our green spaces, we want yours.
The sharks are circling. San Francisco and San Mateo officials each want to annex Brisbane and/or force it to build housing.
“Brisbane wants to take all the gravy and none of the responsibility,” [SM County supervisor Adrienne Tissler] said. “You’re depending on people taking public transit, which they won’t. You know what 101 is like any time of the day. You just create gridlock.”
Of course, if a proposed 4,434 homes are built, current Brisbane residents would lose voting control over their city.

Your humble blogger has had to listen to progressives natter on endlessly about American imperialism and the seizure of land for development.

But when a live example appears in their own back yard, they start talking about annexation for the "public good." If San Francisco is that concerned about housing shortages, let them build on their own open spaces.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Irritated, Then Sympathetic

A thief can remove the earbuds easily with a small scissors.
The Sony earbuds were on sale for $14.99 at Target, but the rack was locked. It took 15 minutes for a clerk to return, get the key, and process my purchase.

I said that it would take a thief less than a second to cut the top of the package; it did cross my mind to do the same and take the earbuds to a front register. "You shouldn't do that," the clerk said loyally.

By locking down even cheap items, it seemed to this observer that the store would lose more profits from lost sales (because of the wait and extra steps) than it would to shoplifting. Obviously, Target would not have inconvenienced its customers and staff unless theft was a big problem. They have my sympathy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Debate of the Century, Until October 9th

Like boxers, they shook hands and came out fighting (ABC image)
Everyone's weighed in on the debate of the century, so I suppose I should, too:

1) Sorry, Donald, but Hillary "won" the debate. She was cooler, more articulate, and better organized.

2) I don't like the finger-wagging and interrupting. I want to hear speakers finish their thoughts. Why can't opponents wait their turn? This goes for the moderator as well, especially the moderator.

3) Dealing with rudeness is a specialized skill that has nothing to do with being a good President. Otherwise stand-up comedians would be the best Presidents.

4) I also don't like addressing the candidates as "Donald" or "Hillary"---preferring Madame Senator, Madame Secretary, or even just plain Mister--but I suppose first-name familiarity is the modern way.

5) The debate didn't change my mind about who to vote for; I suspect not too many people "flipped" or many undecideds finally decided. Whether standard debate metrics apply to these slices of the electorate we won't know until November 8th.

6) Correction to (5) above: it's not who will you vote for, but who will you vote against.

7) The next debate of the century is scheduled for October 9th. Given their ages when they would take office (HC-69, DT-70), we probably should pay attention to the Vice Presidential debate on October 4th (both VP candidates are under 60).

Monday, September 26, 2016

Another Legend Passes

The "big three" of golf: Gary Player, Arnold Palmer,
and Jack Nicklaus (doglegnews.com)
Having foregone television on school nights, I made up for it on weekends when I watched sports---no, not the big three of football, basketball, or baseball which we couldn't see well on our tiny black-and-white sets and which we only got on tape-delay in Hawaii anyway---but the obscure ones like roller derby and professional wrestling. These "sports" had good guys and bad guys, people who were courteous to their opponents and others who played dirty.

Golf didn't really have any bad guys (unless you count the intense burly kid from Columbus who later successfully tempered his image) but there was one good guy, Arnold Palmer, who attracted so many fans at tournaments that they were designated "Arnie's Army." Time:
Arnold Palmer, who died on Sunday at 87, won his first Masters in 1958, during America’s great postwar expansion. This ascendant era spawned the leisure class, which took to golf, Eisenhower’s favorite game, and to the couch, to watch new TV sets in their living rooms. Into this fold stepped Palmer, a champ so strapping that he didn’t just sell golf to the masses watching the final round on Sundays. He sold clothes, rental cars, the cigarettes he smoked on the tee. Jack Nicklaus may have won more major championships than Palmer: 18 to Arnie’s 7. Michael Jordan may have moved more product. But the growth of golf, the growth of all sports as a marketing force boosting the bottom line of multibillion-dollar corporations, owes a debt to “the King.”
Arnold Palmer had an easygoing persona that translated well into the cool medium of television. And he was a winner who, because this is America, caused even little kids watching thousands of miles away to root for him. R.I.P.

[Update - 9/28: Great cover on the King of golf from SI.
He created a vicarious thrill unlike any player before him and none since. When his skills faded and his hair turned silver and then white, he exuded grandfatherly warmth that was also unmatched. For these and other reasons, he was not only the most beloved figure ever to play golf but also the rare golfer who was able to transcend a niche sport and become an international figure.]

Sunday, September 25, 2016

How You Do It Makes a Difference

From today's lectionary:
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. (1 Timothy 6)
There is a world of difference in asking the rich to do good--and them choosing to do it--than in making them do good.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Relief All Around

The new (walls will be decorated)
The collections box that the church had set out at the beginning of summer had been filled with dry and canned foods, and it was time to deliver them to CALL Primrose.

The interior is undergoing an overdue renovation. The 1st-floor office space and 2nd-floor food storage are switching places; volunteers were always running up and down the stairs to fill the bags of food to be distributed to hungry Bay Area residents. Some leaders had talked about building a dumbwaiter, but practical heads prevailed.

Nov 2015: the old desks, now upstairs
In a couple of weeks Peninsula organizations will begin collecting food boxes for Thanksgiving, the busiest time of the year for CALL Primrose.

Yes, it's a bit puzzling how, in the midst of one of the wealthiest areas of the world--and with the prevalence of government and private food programs--that people are still going hungry. But the vast majority of clients are not pulling a fast one over the system, according to CALL Primrose and other charities that I trust.

So we don't waste time judging whether the supplicants are deserving or not and try to help everyone who asks. It's a relief all around.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Cheap Date

Diane's finishing touch: gravy for the pot roast.
After a five-month hiatus it was our week to make dinner for the families at Home and Hope. One of the four had two parents; the other three were headed by single mothers with one or two children.

On Tuesday I only had to play chauffeur. The dinner of pot roast, roasted vegetables, Chinese chicken salad, roast potatoes, and homemade blueberry torte was much better than my usual fare at home and, for that matter, many of the restaurants that I frequent.

I had overnight duty, too, and woke up the guests at 6 a.m.
Everyone had gone to work or school by 7:15.
Thursday it was my turn to make the entrée. I slow-cooked a crowd-sized beef finger-meat stew and a large pot of rice. (Finger meat produces a lot of fat, which needs to be skimmed before serving.) Irene chopped the ingredients for a green salad, Jody roasted potatoes, and Judy contributed chocolate chip cookies.

As we were putting the food away (late arrivals often pick up dinner on their own) the last family walked through the door at 9:20 because Robert, 13, plays baseball in the East Bay until 8:45. They finished the leftovers; Angelica said she appreciated everything that H&H does for them, and that she really appreciated home cooking.

Yes, I'm a cheap date. One compliment like that every year keeps me signing up for more.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

No Clip Job

Our guinea pigs had been losing weight over time; they each had dropped more than 100 grams over the past year and their weights ranged between 750g and 850g. They were overdue for a checkup at Adobe Animal Hospital anyway.

The veterinary assistants stuck the thermometer in their nether regions to obtain a stable reading. There was a lot of pitiful squealing, reminding me of my own doctor's visits. One guinea pig's temperature was 107 degrees F., which an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory treated after a couple of days.

The doctor suggested that we hand-feed both with a liquid formula for a week until they got their appetites back, which we did and they did. The assistants clipped their nails, again to more squealing.

The hospital charged us less than $100, including medications, for each guinea pig, a lot when the price of a new animal is about $20, but much less than the cost of a visit for a dog. (Every vet we've been to scales down their rates for these common small animals.)

Love may have a price, but we're not close to reaching that limit.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

An Old-Time Repair Guy

Both light bulbs in the garage door opener were out, and the online manuals said to try:
1) replacing the bulbs; 2) using a screwdriver to raise the metal tabs in the light sockets; 3) cutting the power and restarting the system. No luck.

I called Brian McBride and was happy to be informed that he had not retired. Brian had installed the garage door 15 years ago and had re-aligned the track 7 years later. Brian re-examined the light sockets (step 2 above) and attacked them with more vigor than I had. Voila! the lights worked.

The fix was so quick and easy that I could tell that Brian was thinking about not charging me. That's real old school; big-time service departments always have a minimum service charge.

Partly to justify his time, I asked him to perform a maintenance check ($50) on the system and bought an extra remote control ($42) that I didn't really need. We gossiped about the neighbors; over the years Brian worked at a number of their houses and even bought a TV from one who used to work at Best Buy.

As he drove away, I didn't know whether I would ever see him again. He'll probably sell his Millbrae house ("monetize a highly appreciated illiquid asset") like dozens of retirees I know and move away.

Appreciate the old ways and the old guys, little grasshopper, you'll miss them when they're gone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Better Value


Perhaps we were unfair in judging Popeye's jambalaya (left) to be overpriced at $6.99. Perhaps our memory of other restaurants' offerings had grown overly favorable with the passage of time.

Last week we had the jambalaya (right) at BJ's Brewhouse. It had much superior ingredients, taste, and texture.

At $18.25 it was 2½ times the cost of Popeye's dish, but it was the better value.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A New Speech Paradigm

Yale Law School Dean Robert Post says that the Supreme Court justices [bold added]
have lost their way on free speech. They’re caught between two conflicting visions. In one, the First Amendment applies in the same way, all the time, regardless of context: speech is speech, period. In the other, speech should be treated differently in different contexts. It’s not just a matter of politics, he says. “There’s a genuine uncertainty about how to think about the regulation of speech that afflicts both the right and the left,” Post told me recently. “It’s not a liberal or conservative mess. It’s a conceptual mess.” [snip]

The basic problem, he argues, is that the court sometimes acts as if the phrase “freedom of speech” applies every time someone uses words. It doesn’t. In many cases of communication, it would seem absurd to say the First Amendment is even relevant: a bomb threat, a consumer product manual, insider trading. The First Amendment only comes into play when certain values are at stake. Post’s work is an attempt to deduce those values from the pattern of Supreme Court decisions. Like a mathematician plotting a best-fit line over scattered data points, he is building a theory that explains the law better than the stated doctrine does.
Robert Post believes that free speech should be afforded the highest protection in the realm of public discourse; free speech is essential to the decision-making process in a democratic system. In other contexts (e.g., a trial judge forbidding certain questions, science teachers saying the earth is flat) where self-governance is not at stake, speech may be restricted. Most people are absolutists about speech in principle until they think about specific examples, like lying about a medicine's curative properties, a CEO talking about his company's prospects, or a military reporter revealing troop movements.

Looking at the context, of course, raises other questions like "How, for instance, are judges supposed to decide what counts as public discourse?", but it's a way of thinking about the issue that, for now, seems to be independent of a political point of view.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Children of the Great Commission


There's a bit less fervor--and certitude--on the faces of these teachers than were on the disciples' in the first Great Commission, but hey, just showing up on Sunday mornings is, these days, an above-average display of motivation. During the commissioning ceremony there were prayers and promises made to set a good example for the children.

Few of the teachers will see the ultimate results of their work, as these fruits can take decades to ripen.

As for me, in the mind's eye I see Warren, Dougie, Gerard, Velma, Alan, and Milton coloring Bible stories in Sunday School. A few years later we all would dress up for Confirmation and become full-fledged members of the church at the grand age of 12.

I haven't seen some of my classmates for over 40 years, yet I remember them more clearly than business colleagues who I spent every day with.
“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.” ― Stephen King

Saturday, September 17, 2016

When Public Servants Do Product Management

No surcharge: he's not enrolled either (collegecandy.com)
Another brilliant idea by the designers of Obamacare: impose higher premiums on smokers, especially older ones ("age-dependent tobacco surcharges"); the surcharges would incentivize older smokers to quit.

Instead, smokers simply didn't enroll in Obamacare.
[Yale researchers] found a lower likelihood of enrollment—as much as 11.6 percent—for smokers who faced surcharges versus smokers who didn’t. The higher the surcharge, the bigger the dampening effect. And smokers under 40 were nearly 20 percent less likely to be insured.
Those people--smokers young and old--refused to behave as the central planners wanted them to.

How deplorable!

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Good Night

Despite the runner, the first baseman is well off the bag.
In football, basketball, or ice hockey the players move in a dervish of activity. The average fan can follow the main action around the ball or puck but little else.

In baseball there is time to observe and even think about the strategy. The pauses between pitches, and the fact that for the majority of the time the pitcher, catcher, and batter are the only ones whose actions count, allow even casual fans to appreciate the game's nuances.

Normally the first baseman stays on the bag to prevent the runner from stealing second. In the fourth inning, because there was a teammate on second base, the first base runner could not advance.

The Giants opted to allow the Cardinal runner a big lead in return for placing their first baseman in a better defensive position. The speed of the runner, the potency of the batter, and whether there were one, two, or no outs also entered into the decision. The inning did end with no runs allowed, and the Giants won 8-2. Thinking, eating, and winning are three of my favorite pastimes, and tonight I got to do all three.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Answer: Probably Not Enough for a Skyscraper

Bloomberg: "An architectural rendering of a 1,000-foot-tall wood skyscraper proposed for London."
Question: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

The titular answer to the playful question is not so silly as it used to be.

The Economist: The case for wooden skyscrapers is not barking. Wood is lightweight:
There would also be less construction traffic. [Cambridge professor Martin] Ramage calculates that for every lorry delivering timber for a wooden building, five lorries would be needed to deliver concrete and steel.
Objection #1: Is wood strong enough?
there have been big advances in “engineered” wood, such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) made from layers of timber sections glued together with their grains at right angles to one another.
Objection #2: what about fire?
The concrete covering the floor was mainly for sound insulation, but it helps to deal with the second worry: fire. The concrete adds a layer of fire protection between floors....But with other fire-resistant layers and modern sprinkler systems, tall wooden buildings can exceed existing fire standards, reckons Benton Johnson, a project leader with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
Wood, with a little help from concrete, is strong, light, and fire-resistant.

It all looks good on paper, but the big bad wolf has yet to be heard from.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sleep: Is There Anything It Can't Do?

Lack of sleep has a deleterious effect on performance and reaction times, and it also "can upset our emotional equilibrium." [bold added]
Researchers have found that people who are sleep-deprived have difficulty reading the facial expressions of other people, particularly when the expressions are more subtle. [snip]

In neuroimaging studies, scientists have discovered that sleep deprivation can amplify activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that plays a key role in processing emotions, and weaken activity of the prefrontal cortex, which is critical for regulating emotions.
Comments:

1) the more research that is done on sleep, the more important we're finding sleep to be;

2) don't play poker when you're tired.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Low Energy Investments

Solar-energy-company Solyndra's (2011 photo) bankruptcy
cost VCs and taxpayers over $500 million. The facility
is now occupied by Seagate, the data storage company.
Clean-energy investments have been a disaster for venture capitalists:
Venture-capital investors lost more than half of the $25 billion they pumped into clean-energy technology startups from 2006 to 2011.
The reasons: [bold added]
These investments were illiquid. They would tie up capital for much longer than the three- to five-year time horizon that VCs preferred.

It also takes a lot of money to get fundamental science right and to scale it up. Building extensive factories and building demonstration projects to scale, those were not activities that VCs ended up being willing to fund at the hundreds of millions of dollars level.

Third, energy companies or clean-tech companies were going into markets that are legacy industries, for which a product already exists that does a pretty good job. So when you’re a solar-panel company competing with cheap electricity from natural gas, you don’t have the benefits of high margins. You instead have to compete at the razor-thin margins of the commodity markets.

And finally, the fourth reason we found was that the valuation premium that companies might receive upon exit, even if they were successful, simply was not high enough to justify the investment put into them. [blogger's note: IPO's and/or selling to Big Energy wouldn't have been at ridiculous earnings multiples.]
Other reasons, IMHO, are: the lack of dependable regulatory support (alternative energy subsidies and taxes on carbon) and the fracking revolution that blew a hole in OPEC's oil price umbrella. Some day a technology like hydrogen fusion will be perfected, and the world's capital (and concomitant returns) will beat a path to its door. But that day is not today.

Monday, September 12, 2016

CSF: Too Much Can Kill You, But You Need it to Stay Alive

Those of us who are afflicted with--or have family members who are afflicted with---hydrocephalus may wonder why the brain produces so much cerebrospinal fluid (as much as three cups per day) when the body's capacity to store CSF is at most half that amount. If something goes wrong with the CSF drainage system, swelling, brain damage, and death can occur within hours. (The usual treatment is the installation of a plastic shunt that diverts the CSF to the abdomen where it can be absorbed easily; however, shunts must be monitored continually for blockages.)

But back to the original question: why manufacture so much CSF? The answer may be that chemical changes in the cerebrospinal fluid cause us both to fall asleep and to awaken. CSF's chemical composition varies throughout the 24-hour cycle; also, the volume must be sufficient to flush away the brain's waste products [bold added]
by altering the concentrations of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and proton ions found in the fluid, the researchers observed that they could manipulate the sleep-wake state of mice in the absence of neurotransmitters. Potassium in particular appears to play a key role as the levels of the ion fluctuate rapidly during sleep-wake transitions.

because the ions are positively charged, as they move back and forth between CSF and brain cells, they can change the electrical activity of cells, causing them to either polarize or depolarize. When depolarization occurs in neurons, the cells become excitable, alert, and awake.

The findings may reveal how the brain is able to accomplish the task of activating billions of nerve cells quickly, simultaneously, and on a global scale when we transition from sleep to awake. It may also show how the brain is able to maintain a state of sleep or wakefulness over an extended period of time by altering the electrical potential of nerve cells.

The researchers also observed that the chemical changes impacted the volume of brain cells. Specifically, they found that nerve and support cells in the brain shrink while we sleep, creating more space for cerebral spinal fluid to flush away waste.
CSF: too much can kill you, but you need it for sleep...and life itself.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Not in the Mood

An overlooked aspect of Christianity in the English-speaking world: churches are one of the few places where the subjunctive mood can be heard regularly.

Few are conversant with the grammatical definition, but the subjunctive mood is easily recognizable when it is used.

SubjunctiveIndicative
The Lord be with you.The Lord is with you.
God bless America.God blesses America.
Heaven forbid.Heaven forbids.
God shed his grace on thee.God sheds his grace on thee..


Rules about the subjunctive can be quite involved, and one is likely to be called a fuddy-duddy if one insists on following them. Furthermore, over-use risks losing the younger audience:
Should churches regularly update their translations, keeping the religion fresh and relevant, or preserve tradition and authenticity? The debate is as old as the faiths themselves....The practical answer is that young people and new converts should study in their own vernaculars. As they progress in the faith they can get closer to the original through study.
Personally, I like the formal--some say musty--sentence construction because it reminds me of my youth. It's inevitable, however, that as we fade away so will our language.

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Memories of the Five-Year Mission

(Photo from startrek.com)
Though we didn't have a strict rule against watching on school nights, I missed most of 1960's television. In those days, kids, there were after-school activities, homework frequently required researching "books" in "libraries," and free time was much better spent with friends than looking at grainy black-and-white images displayed on a tiny box in the living room.

I missed Star Trek's debut on KHON in Hawaii on September 15, 1966--there was a one-week lag from the Mainland debut as programs had to be flown in on "tape-delay"--and only managed to catch a few episodes during its three-year run on the NBC affiliate. (I distinctly remember the Devil in the Dark, which had the monster that turned out to be a mother protecting her young; William Shatner called it his favorite episode.)

After we got jobs and bought a television, we would relax every night by watching Star Trek reruns.

Volumes have been written about Star Trek's impact on the culture---the crew's diversity, the first inter-racial kiss on network television, the coverage of controversial themes in an outer-space setting---but for your humble blogger, who had the rules of proper English drummed into him throughout elementary school, the most jarring aspect of Star Trek occurred at the beginning of each episode when William Shatner intoned "to boldly go where no man has gone before."

Breaking the Prime Directive is bad enough, but splitting an infinitive? In space no one can hear English teachers scream.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Popeye's Jambalaya Fail

A few bits of chicken and sausage in rice do not a
jambalaya make-----especially at $6.99
I had my first taste of jambalaya when celebrity New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme came to San Francisco in 1983. I order it a couple of times a year when dining at local restaurants, but all are pale imitations of K-Paul's.

Which brings me to the new menu item, jambalaya, served at Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen in Redwood City. What a disappointment!

Originally just a fried-chicken competitor to KFC, Popeye's has been trying to upgrade its image and fare. Liking Popeye's other Cajun-themed dishes, I wasn't expecting K-Paul-like jambalaya by any stretch, but did hope for something much better than I was served. The overall portion-size was small, and one had to hunt for the bits of chicken and sausage in the bland tomato-flavored rice.

Certainly your humble restaurant critic has had much more expensive dining disappointments. However, when one is judging fast food, the cost, quality, and quantity tradeoffs are much more finely tuned. For $5-$6 one can get a decent meal, including a drink, at most places; by that standard the right price for Popeye's $6.99 jambalaya was about $2.99.

There's no escaping it, I'll just have to save for a trip to New Orleans.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Happy 65th, Mom and Dad

Facebook photo by brother Paul
Three days after my parents' 50th anniversary there occurred the worst terrorist act in American history; the celebration in 2001 was understandably short-lived.

Each year after that has been a priceless gift, not only to them but to their loved ones. So happy 65th, Mom and Dad, hope to see you soon.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

A Failure to Communicate....Tell Me Something New

(Image from topnetseo.com)
Like some latter-day Jane Goodall, Wired columnist Mary Choi, who is in her mid-thirties, examines the social-media life of teens, "with its own arcane rules and etiquette."

The platforms of choice are Instagram, basically Facebook limited to photos, videos, and comments, and Snapchat, which is Instagram with a self-destruct timer. [bold added]
[Atherton twins Lara and Sofia] know the rules. They’re bright. They get excellent grades and are wary—extremely dialed in. And while they’d never outright call them rules, they recognize guidelines that govern their social habits. For starters, as mentioned, both girls’ Instagram accounts are set to private. [snip]

Then there is the rule about likes and comments. According to Lara and Sofia, when your friend posts a selfie on Instagram, there’s a tacit social obligation to like it, and depending on how close you are, you may need to comment. The safest option, especially on a friend’s selfie, is the emoji with the heart eyes. Or a simple “so cute” or “so pretty.”

On any platform, however, oversharing is considered taboo. Or else “awkward.” Awkward is a ubiquitous teen word to denote socially unsanctioned behavior.

One example of awkward plays on Instagram: the “deep like.” This is where you lurk on someone’s account, going way back into the archives, and accidentally double-tap on an old picture...

ask any teen how to use social media—what those rules are—and they won’t be able to tell you a thing. But ask them targeted questions and they’ll break down a palimpsest of etiquette in rote, exhaustive detail: the moon emoji (indicates awkwardness), screengrabbing Snapchat messages (don’t do it), and Instagram selfie saturation points (no back-to-backs).
It appears to be impossible for someone 30 or older to be fluent in Snapchat-ese. Gen-X'ers, Millennials, and certainly Boomers shouldn't make fools of themselves by trying to speak the language.

Besides, teens have always spoken in code to shield their conversations from grownups (just as immigrants switch to their native tongues in front of non-speaking Americans). It may be slightly rude, but look at this way, eventually they are likely to come to you, so you don't have to go to them.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

You Did Start It

(Slide from Benjamin Brown)
Time columnist Joel Stein writes that Trolls are Ruining the Internet:
Internet trolls have a manifesto of sorts, which states they are doing it for the “lulz,” or laughs [blogger's note: at another's expense]....There’s also doxxing–publishing personal data, such as Social Security numbers and bank accounts–and swatting, calling in an emergency to a victim’s house so the SWAT team busts in.
I first became aware of dangerous "pranks" like SWAT-ting when it was being done to conservatives in 2011:
Conservative bloggers say they are being terrorized by a potentially deadly prank in which phony 911 calls bring armed cops to their doors in search of criminals, all in retaliation for their blog posts.

At least two conservative Internet pundits have reported being victims of “SWAT-ing.” In at least one incident, the caller claimed to be the resident of the home and confessed to shooting his wife, according to a recording of the call posted online.

“It’s a phone call that could have gotten me killed,” Patrick Frey, a deputy district attorney at Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, wrote of the July, 2011 incident on his blog, Patterico’s Pontifications.
Now that trolling tactics are being employed against leftist politicians, journalists, and celebrities, the problem has become worthy of a Time cover.

For the record your humble blogger views these tactics as despicable, regardless of the target or the perpetrator.
They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Labor Day, 2016

Work---fewer can get it, more say they want it, and those who have it dream of leaving it. In the midst of those contradictions, we just may be in one of those historical inflection points where automation, robots, and artificial intelligence finally destroy more jobs than they create [bold added]:
We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. No office job is safe,” says Sebastian Thrun, an AI professor at Stanford known for his work on self-driving cars. Automation is now “blind to the colour of your collar”, declares Jerry Kaplan, another Stanford academic and author of “Humans Need Not Apply”, a book that predicts upheaval in the labour market. Gloomiest of all is Martin Ford, a software entrepreneur and the bestselling author of “Rise of the Robots”. He warns of the threat of a “jobless future”, pointing out that most jobs can be broken down into a series of routine tasks, more and more of which can be done by machines.
The good news---and I speak from personal experience---is that it's easy to subsist on $1,000 per month, excluding housing and medical care. Of course, the latter are big exclusions ("other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?"), but if, say, one can live with relatives and get on the Medicaid or Medicare rolls, housing and medical care are more or less taken care of.

The trade-offs if one can't or doesn't work are: one must give up aspirations for social status (country clubs, fancy clothes, cars and vacations) and one must try to avoid a major medical event through lifestyle changes.

There has never been a better time to cultivate the life of the mind or a better time to be entertained, with the world's expertise and free or low-cost entertainment at one's fingertips. I'd rather live today with no work and no money than be the richest man in the world 100 years ago.

Happy Labor Day!

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Timeless Lesson

The next generation: the influx of Indian families is changing
the demographics of Episcopal churches on the Peninsula.
Having lunch with an India-born executive whom I have known for 18 years, I mentioned how the wave of tech workers into the Bay Area has resulted in a half-dozen Indian families joining our local Episcopal church. I hadn't realized that Christianity was so prevalent back home. Yes, he said, the lower castes found hope in both the message and the welcoming actions of the Christian churches.
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (Psalm 118)

Saturday, September 03, 2016

No, It Doesn't Make You Look Fat

Of course, if you had to pick truth vs lies, we know
which one is better (National Autism Resources)
People with autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) [bold added]
indeed have a hard time being untruthful.

This is caused, [Duke professor Murali Doraiswamy) added, by the trouble they have with what specialists in the field call “theory of mind”—that is, the basic ability to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes and empathize with their perspective. Most of us are able to ask ourselves, “How would that person feel if I told them that their haircut is unflattering or that they smell?” Many young people with Asperger’s don’t tend to think this way, so they often don’t develop the habit of telling white lies for reasons of politeness. They don’t learn to dial down unnecessarily hurtful truths to spare another person’s feelings.
We know a number of ASD children and adults, and they do find it difficult to lie. (The more socially adept change the subject or keep silent.) However, it's been our experience that it's not their excessive truthfulness that gets them into trouble but their physical reactions---not necessarily violent---in social situations.

It's no wonder that ASD kids 1) Like computers, video games, and other screen-based media, yet 2) Stay away from social forms of the technology.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Blowback

Margrethe Vestager, EU Competition Commissioner 
The field of international tax planning was specialized, complex, cloistered, and quiet---until the European Commission ruled on Tuesday that Apple has to pay €13 billion ($14.5 billion) in back taxes to Ireland. Tax-the-corporations crusaders "hooted with delight" and seemingly didn't care about the methods used to arrive at the result. The overwhelming majority who adhere to the rule of law--whether the law cuts for or against their preferences--saw the danger.

The Economist [bold added]:
"The commission concluded that Irish rulings in 1991 and 2007 artificially lowered the tax Apple was due to pay, and that although the firm did not break any law, this arrangement was in breach of EU state-aid rules preventing member states from offering preferential treatment to particular firms."
Normally laws trump "rules" in the hierarchy of legal authority, but not, apparently, when the laws of the sovereign state of Ireland are measured against the rules of the European Commission.

The Wall Street Journal:
For a quarter-century, Apple relied on agreements from Irish authorities that all of a sudden are adjudged to have provided it with billions of dollars in what the EU has now ruled to be illegal state aid.
There's no question that Apple and other multinational corporations take advantage of inconsistencies between tax jurisdictions ("tax arbitrage"). To achieve significant tax reduction under the law, however, multinationals must have employees and other attributes of a "real business" in low-tax countries, hence explaining why Dublin is a boomtown.

Apple CEO Tim Cook: "Total political crap"

Quite apart from the merits of its case, the European Commission ruling can be viewed as an attempt to reassert its authority (and finances) after Brexit. However, the blowback may have been stronger than they had anticipated.

Apple's EU tax ruling has sparked talk of an 'Ir-exit'. Other European countries are watching and weighing the benefits of staying in the union.

Apple, as well as other multinationals like McDonald's and Amazon, will contest the judgment for years. Meanwhile, they have also begun moving some operations out of the Eurozone to reduce exposure to EC rulings. We are seeing either the resuscitation of the European experiment or the beginning of its end. If I had to bet, it would be on the latter.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Rhetorical Question

Gone are the days when you could just pay cash for a nurse to take care of old Uncle Bob or Aunt Susie.

Now there's a welter of tax, labor, and immigration regulations that families have to contend with. Multiple agencies want reports--and applicable taxes---on everything that goes on between two private parties---and that's just if the buyers want to pay with their own money. Medicare and Social Security rules may also apply, as well as those of long-term care and medical insurance.

Though tempting, don't ignore the complicated
tax and reporting obligations. When these oversights are discovered, the consequences can tarnish the reputations and diminish the finances of otherwise honest people.
Questions that have to be answered before the caregiver starts work:
Is the caregiver an employee?
Is the caregiver eligible to work in the U.S.?
What taxes (withholding, Social Security, Medicare, unemployment) do families have to pay?
What labor laws apply to caregiver employees?
Is written documentation required? "A final contract should be reviewed by legal counsel, not the family's CPA."
It's all being done for our own protection, but why does protection have to be so (increasingly) expensive, confusing, and time-consuming?