Saturday, December 31, 2016

To Go with the Coffee

The roads have been uncrowded all week, except near the local mall. While family members went about their shopping and returns, I waited for the line at Starbucks to shorten before placing an order. No luck, the line stretched out the door for the entire 2½ hours that I was there.

For the first time I broke the rule against freeloading an establishment's WiFi. Well, next time I'll get a breakfast sandwich to go with the coffee.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Such A Blessing

Social media has enabled us to reconnect with people whom we haven't seen for many years, but it's a special pleasure when the reconnection happens the old-fashioned way---out of the blue and in person.

This week we stopped at a recreation center outside Sacramento to ask a few questions about the local community. The woman who greeted us looked familiar. "Marie? I'm Steve, we used to work together at Jupiter."

We quickly caught up, summarizing 30+ years in 30 seconds as people have learned to do in the age of Twitter [digression: I bought a few shares of TWTR last year thinking that it couldn't go lower (it did) and that someone would buy it (no one did)].

Marie reminded me that I had recommended that she look for another job---always awkward advice when coming from one's boss---but we both knew what I meant. She was an excellent worker, but the company at the time wasn't going anywhere. She could have her job as long as she wanted; for her own personal growth she should move on. When she left, I had to replace her with two people.

She said that she had always remembered that advice, and the funny thing is that I had completely forgotten that conversation.

It wasn't a bad way to end the year, to discover that I helped someone a long time ago in a way that turned out to be important. May the New Year bring such a blessing to you, too.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Less is More

(Image from 
Science shows that pregnancy shrinks women's brains permanently (pause for joke insertion....ok, resume):
Comparing the scans showed significant reductions in the volume of grey matter in the brains of the new mothers....And it was persistent, too. When the researchers retested the mothers two years later, most of the alterations were still present.
However, it's possible that the loss of brain cells not only didn't cause harm ("administering a few simple cognitive tests to the new mothers—including tests of memory—revealed no obvious changes in performance") but could be beneficial [bold added]
The ones with the greatest reductions in grey-matter volume were, on the whole, the most strongly is probably evidence of a process called synaptic pruning, in which little-used connections between neurons are allowed to wither away, while the most-used become stronger. That is thought to make neural circuitry more efficient, not less so.
Anecdotal evidence, to be sure, but most mothers we've encountered are better at multitasking and organization than their male partners.

The scientists may attribute it to synaptic pruning, but your humble blogger calls it determination and focus borne out of necessity. The former is science, the latter is character, which will never be measured in a lab.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

глазные яблоки *

Google tracks who's reading.
The good news: this modest journal experienced an uptick in traffic during the month of December.

The bad: the increase in hits came from Russia.

What in the world can they be looking for? Well, they'll be disappointed....


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Second Law Musings, Perhaps Taken Too Far

We have referred before, briefly, to the limitations that the Second Law of Thermodynamics imposes on alternative energy.

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker reflects on the implications of its more broadly stated principle, entropy increases over time [bold added]:
The Second Law is acknowledged in everyday life in sayings such as “Things fall apart,” “You can’t unscramble an egg,” and “What can go wrong will go wrong.”....I believe that it defines the ultimate purpose of life, mind and striving: to deploy energy and information to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order.
Professor Pinker's short essay is worth reading because of its perspective toward life's vicissitudes. He ends as follows:
An underappreciation of the Second Law lures people into seeing every unsolved social problem as a sign that the world is being driven off a cliff. But it is in the very nature of the universe that life has problems. It’s better to figure out how to solve them, by applying information and energy to expand our niche of life-enhancing order, than to start a conflagration and hope for the best.
What started as a nice thought piece on the Second Law and bringing order to a chaotic universe veers off into the nature of drastic change, even anarchist politics. Why introduce the notion of a volitional, not an accidental universe-caused conflagration at the end?

Sometimes organized systems can be so flawed that it would be better to start over rather than try to fix them, whether one's talking about legacy accounting software, termite-ridden homes, or the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge. Certainly one should not "hope for the best" when undertaking the task of occupying a foreign country or replacing a national health system.

But back to the Second Law.
Matter doesn’t spontaneously arrange itself into shelter or clothing, and living things don’t jump onto our plates to become our food. What needs to be explained is not poverty but wealth.
I like to think about creating wealth---most of the time my own---rather than redistributing others' to help the poor. On that I heartily agree.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Unpublicized Connection

CNN: "New Delhi is the most polluted city on Earth right now"
New Delhi has air pollution that rivals China's. According to Time [bold added]
Here the problem centers on the switch to diesel vehicles. Those cars–which drive along increasingly crowded streets–are actually better for the climate than gasoline-powered cars, but they emit more of the pollutants that directly harm human health.
Fighting climate change can harm human health. One wonders why this connection has not been publicized.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Stress That We're Glad to Assume

The cards are ready early--for once
Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year for your humble blogger . There's writing the annual Christmas letter--usually sent late--and shopping for gifts. Sometimes there's travel, often there are dinner parties to attend and host, and always some year-end financial planning for ourselves and clients.

We also work on charities that deliver Christmas presents to local children. We call the parents beforehand to get a general idea of what the children like, doing our best to fulfill their wishes while abiding budget constraints. Lately we've been spending more on these kids than we do on our own loved ones, but that's because ours have everything they need. Though these tasks add to the busy-ness of the season, it's stress that we're glad to assume.

You haven't experienced stress until you scour the malls for a Five Nights At Freddy's Foxy Plush doll (if you know what this is, dear reader, you're much more in tune with the culture than I) and finally order one from Amazon with a delivery date that could slip until after Christmas (it came on December 22nd).

Friday, December 23, 2016

Songs of the Season - Part 1

(Reprised from a 2009 post - the way we were in 1999):

In the late 1990's my employer had enough of a talent pool to put together a decent holiday choir (videos uploaded from VHS tape).

The San Francisco office once numbered over 200 strong. After retirements, layoffs, and transfers, it numbered fewer than 20 this year, when it finally closed.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Songs of the Season - Part 2

(Reprised from a 2009 post - the way we were in 1999):

An old chestnut, plus Santa cracks up under the pressure.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Songs of the Season - Part 3

(Reprised from a 2009 post - the way we were in 1999):

An unserious musical history of the Twelve Days of Christmas. I like the Hawaiian lyrics myself ("a mynah bird in one papaya tree").

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Songs of the Season - Part 4

(Reprised from a 2009 post - the way we were in 1999):

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now.

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow...

But the fates do not allow. Our time together is too fleeting, gone in the wink of an eye. Like the ghostly watchers in Grover's Corners, we have an eternity to mull the regrets of moments unappreciated until too late.

On this Christmas and in the New Year, resolve not to let that happen.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Cold Enough

Extreme cold weather has beset much of the continental United States:
Dozens of record lows have been set in the Midwest and Plains since this weekend as the second of two arctic blasts in the past week invaded those regions.

Actual air temperatures fell into the 20s and 30s below zero, while wind chills plunged into the minus 30s, 40s and even a few 50s at times during the weekend.
In Northern California the temperature dipped into the 40's overnight. That's shirtsleeve weather back East, but cold enough to chill the house to 57 degrees F. this morning.

I turned up the natural-gas furnace, as, I suspect, did many Sierra Club members. Solar panels just don't produce enough BTU's for comfort.

Sunday, December 18, 2016


"WSJ: The 1938 A. Conger Goodyear House, in Old Westbury,
Long Island, was brought back to life by Aby Rosen and
Samantha Boardman. Damien Hirst’s sculpture The Virgin
stands on the front lawn. PHOTO: ADRIAN GAUT"
I like to ogle the mansions of the rich and famous as much as the next guy or gal, but I confess to being a little taken aback by the sculpture in front of a restored Long Island estate.

The stylized cross-section of a pregnant woman arouses emotions--probably not disgust, given modern exposure to horrors--but to entitle the piece Virgin Mother (there was only one in history) is deliberately provocative.

But it's OK to tweak Catholic or Christian sensibilities because those people will just complain, if even that. Now, if the artist had shown the Prophet gestating inside his mother's womb, that would have been courageous.

(BTW, the sculpture did remind me of the Body Worlds exhibit we saw nine years ago.)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Talking Their Way In

2015: 2701 Broadway (7 BR,16,000 sq. ft) sold for $31 million.
The needle on my moral compass becomes bent when I talk to real estate people. For example, when we checked out new Foster City apartments earlier this year, we told the nice saleslady that we were looking for a place for my mother-in-law.

We weren't lying; it's just that there was no way 1) she would move from Hawaii, and 2) she would pay for an apartment costing more than a thousand dollars per month ($4,600 was a little out of her--and our--price range).

As spinners of tales, though, we are pikers compared to the people who pretend to be buyers of luxury homes. San Francisco real estate broker Nina Hatvany tells the Wall Street Journal:
Another buyer—who was later convicted of fraud on unrelated charges—said he was interested in a $5 million listing.....He gets there and says, “I want to check the acoustics of the piano…it’s very important—I won’t buy a house without the right acoustics.” He spent two hours playing the piano and ruined my plans.

The worst case, about 10 years ago, was a woman who spent just 20 minutes in a 5,400-square-foot, $7.2 million property with water views. She said she loved it but needed to make an offer to the seller directly...the seller was just blown away—a full-price offer in the first week of listing....But then days went on and the funds never came through. She said her money was overseas and it was tied up getting it back to the U.S. Every week it was supposed to come from a different bank. This went on for about 10 weeks....Ultimately, [the seller] put the home back on the market and it finally sold for $6.4 million a few months later.
These are entertaining stories, but high-end real estate brokers like Ms. Hatvany know enough to qualify buyers by getting evidence of financial resources. Once that it is in hand, the prospective buyer can tour away, interested or not, eccentric or not.

Thus it was and ever shall be....proof of money opens doors.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mitsuwa Meandering

In the age of Amazon one way for retailers to survive is to specialize.

Mitsuwa Marketplace, a Japanese chain with outlets in California, Illinois, and New Jersey, is one such enterprise. Its prices on familiar brands are higher than other markets', but that fact is irrelevant; one goes there for the hard-to-find Japanese imports.

I like to wander the aisles looking at the signs written in Japlish. Yes, they're amusing but not in a ripe-for-mockery sense (after all, their English is miles better than my Japanese). Just try writing genuine Japlish, dear monolingual reader, you can't do it, much like good singers have a difficult time singing off-key.

Meanwhile....hope Christmas filling holidays merry cheer!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Wear It Proudly

At Mitsuwa Marketplace your humble blogger came across a display for GOO.N Diapers. Before you ask,
The name GOO.N comes from ぐんぐん (gun-gun). This Japanese phrase refers to a baby’s steady growth. The GOO.N brand name reflects our desire for all babies to keep growing.
One reviewer enthused:
The Silky Soft Touch Sheet....undergoes a treatment specially designed to ensure smoothness, reduce bulkiness and eliminate the fibers that could possibly irritate your baby’s sensitive skin and result in diaper rash.
The most interesting feature, IMHO, is "the Wetness Indicator located on the front of the diaper that helps parents to know when to change their baby’s diaper."

No longer must parents employ their senses of touch or smell, all they need are their eyes.

Obviously a high-end product. Now if GOO.N can just do something about its name....

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I'm Just a Pass-Through Entity

One company that has adjusted successfully to the American marketplace is Calpico, about which we have written before.

The sweet, milky drink Calpis® was invented in Japan nearly 100 years ago. The unpalatable-in-English name was changed to Calpico for U.S. consumption in 1991.

Calpico is now available in a variety of flavors and can be found in Asian specialty stores like Mitsuwa Marketplace.

It's somewhat of a paradox that Calpis originated in Asia, where the majority of the population is lactose intolerant like your humble blogger. Because of its high price, sugar content, and the havoc it wreaks on my digestive system, I'll pass.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sprucing Up the Clocktower

The crane had been parked at the shopping center all weekend. A couple of miles away tall buildings are being constructed. Had it lost its way?

The answer came early this morning. The clocktower, the only structure that was higher than one story, was being repainted.

The owner took a couple of years to lick his wounds from being turned down by the City Council. The addition of new tenants indicates that he's reconciled that the property will remain a shopping center, so it may as well be a good one.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Still Mysterious After All These Years

During his Surrealist period Pablo Picasso painted Crucifixion, 1930. (from
Surrealism style uses visual imagery from the subconscious mind to create art without the intention of logical comprehensibility. ---- (
Having been born in Spain and baptized in the Catholic Church, Pablo Picasso was steeped in Christian theology and culture. Though he became an avowed communist and atheist, religious themes permeate his work. Crucifixion crams many of the figures from one of Christianity's most important days into one 20"x 26" oil-on-wood.

Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Jesus' mother Mary, the Roman soldiers who played dice for His robe, the two thieves, and Joseph of Arimathea are all present in a jumble of positions and emotions.

Christians are taught that they are in the world but not of it. He refused to renounce communism even after the Soviets' persecution of artists became known, but it speaks volumes that throughout his 91 years Pablo Picasso chose to live in the Christian world.
Picasso had declared himself an atheist, but his widow, Jacqueline, once said Picasso “was more Catholic than the Pope.” This argues that, far from being eccentric or anomalous, Picasso’s “Crucifixion” belongs within the Christian tradition.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Apple Pay Can Make You Fat

(Money image)
Economist writer Tom Standage says cashless payments are causing him to put on weight (no, it's not from not having to pull out cash from his wallet). The logic is simple:
  • People spend more when they use credit cards and other non-cash forms of payment:
    the most widely cited fact, from a study conducted by Dun & Bradstreet, is that credit cards make people spend 12-18% more, on average, than they would using cash.
  • Mr. Standage says that it's too easy to wave his smartphone in front of the Starbucks scanner: "I now buy a coffee every day, rather than once or twice a week."
  • More lattes = more pounds.
  • When the "pain" of paying with paper money is removed, spending goes up. But that's not a new revelation. Gambling houses knew this decades (centuries?) ago when they extend credit---just initial a marker (IOU) and $500 in chips appear in about 30 seconds (your humble blogger speaks from personal experience).

    I'm so old that I used to do payroll by hand (Intuit image).
    Perhaps the most significant example of weight-gain by not paying cash is the government itself. During World War II a young economist named Milton Friedman was on the Treasury team that devised payroll withholding to help pay for the war.

    Milton Friedman reflected in 1995:
    I played a significant role, no question about it, in introducing withholding. I think it's a great mistake for peacetime, but in 1941–43, all of us were concentrating on the war.

    I have no apologies for it, but I really wish we hadn't found it necessary and I wish there were some way of abolishing withholding now.
    Every self-employed individual and/or those with significant investment income already feel the pain of paying quarterly estimated taxes. Eliminating payroll withholding would sensitize a much larger population to the size of government without changing tax rates or tax brackets. Already a few voices have called for such elimination:
    To build the necessary political support for otherwise unpopular spending cuts, [Speaker Paul] Ryan should quickly move to end federal income tax withholding. If American households would stop viewing their tax refund checks as happy windfalls from politicians and instead better understood how much big government is costing them every year, one would expect to see louder demands to bring runaway spending under control and to downsize the scope of federal programs and operations. The GOP honeymoon will be over in a few months. Ending federal withholding will help build support for spending cuts over the next few years and perhaps beyond.
    Paying cash will cut the fat, but some ideas are too big and too bold.

    Friday, December 09, 2016

    The Stewpot Will Be Ready

    By Friday the fridge often overflows with leftovers.
    Yesterday was our last evening of service in 2016 to Home and Hope, the interfaith local network that provides temporary housing, meals, and other services to four families at a time. Because most of the families arrived after 9 o'clock and had already eaten, we had plenty of leftover food (pictured). It wasn't necessary to cook dinner.

    Hank and I stayed till 7:30 a.m.--each of us taking an air mattress--as the two overnight monitors. He is a member of the host church and has thrown himself into the fray enthusiastically. He was up before 6 a.m. and started the coffee, for which I was grateful.

    In the morning I chatted with Angelica. She's still in the program and spoke fondly of the stew that I made the last time. Flattery will get her everywhere.

    I'm hoping that she will have found housing by the next time we're on duty in March, but if not my stewpot will be ready.

    Thursday, December 08, 2016

    Stocking Stuffers, 2016

    In December of each year we have been posting regularly about Jill and the Stocking Stuffers program that she founded. Once again she and her merry band of volunteers from the Santa Clara Thunderbird Club, the local Episcopal church, the Boy Scouts and police and fire departments assembled over a thousand gift bags for elderly shut-ins and those who reside in assisted-living facilities.

    Jill (right) and friends.
    Her efforts were especially notable in 2016 because she and Jerry had moved to Central California, over two hours away. Jill had to reserve a room at a Foster City community center and manage the materials logistics; she didn't ask anyone for the extra help.

    I don't know how long she can continue doing this, but everyone who is there is grateful to be a part of Stocking Stuffers and witness her leadership. Thanks, Jill.

    Wednesday, December 07, 2016

    75 Years Later

    North Shore airfield for small aircraft and chutists (1/2016)
    In January we went looking for the remains of the Haleiwa landing strip that played a key role in Oahu's defense on Pearl Harbor Day. We couldn't get through the gate, so we spent a pleasant hour at a nearby airfield watching the parachutists.

    On the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we remember the seven pilots who changed Yamamoto's mind, as well as the thousands who died on the Arizona, Oklahoma, and 16 other ships.

    It's not an overstatement to say that much of subsequent history was shaped by the events of that day.

    The Wall of Names at the Arizona Memorial.

    Tuesday, December 06, 2016

    The Girl in the Green Tent

    She seemed nice, but I wasn't handing
    her a check worth $thousands.
    Normally we just mail in the property tax check--in California the first installment becomes delinquent after December 10th and the second after April 10th--but because we were nearby the County Government Center we decided to pay the taxes in person.

    Parking was sparse, but I wasn't tempted to hand the payment to the girl in the green tent by the curb.

    Too many things could go wrong. We walked into the building and found the Treasurer's office.

    Where we pay for civilization.
    There were two cashiers open, and the line moved quickly. The average age of these San Mateo County "customers" was well over 60.

    The oldsters had their tax vouchers and checks made out before hand. Everyone asked for a receipt. Yes, these precautions were probably unnecessary, but over the years everyone has had a bad experience with the bureaucracy. Everyone knows from the news that having the right documents is better than not.

    Heading toward the car, I waved at the girl in the green tent. She'll be real busy at the end of the week.

    Monday, December 05, 2016

    The Glow Has Yet to Grow

    The technologist in our household affixed a motion-sensor to each water closet. As one approaches in the dark, a blue light switches on and guides one's aim. The risk of various bathroom accidents has been reduced, but I have to admit that the glow has yet to grow on me.

    The coolness of the blue light suits night time, but during the Christmas season it would have been fun to do one's business in red or green. Oh, wait, one can.

    Sunday, December 04, 2016

    Lector, Lector, Percolator

    Don't tell my barista
    Attendance at the 8 a.m. service has held steady, but the number of volunteers is down; the stalwarts are enfeebled, have died, or have moved away. And so it was that this Sunday I switched from the late-morning service to become the early-morning lector and intercessor.

    At our church the early reader has to do more than just read the lessons and the Prayers of the People; he or she is also in charge of coffee hour. I was at the Safeway bakery buying pastries at 7 a.m. and was in the church kitchen at 7:30, peering at the instructions for the percolator.

    My parents had a percolator, but by the time I had become a coffee drinker percolators had been supplanted by drip makers. I had never owned a percolator, let alone knew how to use one. Somewhat apprehensively, I poured 25 cups of water into the pot and 1½ cups of grounds into the filter. I plugged it in, and the percolator began pulsing merrily.

    The result was a brew that was rich and smooth, certainly passable for the coffee hour. Maybe I'll pick up a percolator--one that doesn't need a paper filter---and a can of Yuban or Maxwell House. Think of all the money I'll save...

    Saturday, December 03, 2016

    The Elites are Out of Touch: Another Example

    The Economist publishes a "right track/wrong track" graph by country:
    Western democratic and international institutions look increasingly fragile. A recent survey of 25 countries by Ipsos MORI, a pollster, reveals the widespread discontent on which populists have preyed. In Britain and America 60% and 63% of respondents said their country was on the wrong track. In perpetually disgruntled France, that figure is a whopping 89%.
    Note the wording: "populists have preyed." Populism, according to the Economist, is surging because the hoi polloi don't realize that they have it pretty good:
    In France, the proportion of people who worry about unemployment is five times the actual rate of the unemployed. In Britain, anxiety over immigration is more than three times higher than the percentage of the population who are immigrants. Telling voters that things they worry about are bad, but not as bad as they think, is unlikely to win over a sceptical public.

    1) Maybe the huddled masses did buy in to the talk of unprecedented, extreme inequality. Populism takes from the rich and gives to the poor, so it's puzzling why progressives wouldn't approve of populist trends.

    2) Not one country has climate change (formerly known as global warming) as its biggest concern, and this despite nearly two decades of sermonizing by academic experts, Hollywood celebrities, leading scientists, and globalist politicians that the end of the world is nigh. What will it take for the great unwashed to learn from their betters what is good for them?

    3) Another interpretation: institutions are fragile, but democracy is strong.

    (BTW, I did not vote for Donald Trump.)

    Friday, December 02, 2016

    Not Enough There

    Homeowners' Association disputes are usually over parking, roof repairs, landscaping and, of course, fee increases, but a friend of mine brought to my attention a first for him: the removal of a director by Secret Ballot under California Civil Code Section 5100.

    Below are excerpts from the letter issued by the Association's law firm [bold added]:
    M. began serving on the Board of Directors in 2015 and has, on two occasions been formally censured for inappropriate actions taken by her during her tenure as director.

    The Board is informed that M. presented a fake letter to the Board, claiming it was written by a tenant asserting a monetary claim against the Association....The tenant subsequently confirmed she had not written or otherwise authorized the letter M. presented.

    The Board is informed that M. created a fake email, claiming it was from one of the directors, and sent the fake email to other directors causing distrust and interference with the efficient operation of the Board and Association....

    The Board is informed M. entered erroneous email addresses to make it appear communications were sent to all directors, when in fact directors were being excluded, causing distrust and interference with the efficient operation of the Board and the Association.
    There were several other charges related to misrepresentations to and interference with vendors.

    M.'s behavior sounds outrageous, but my friend voted "no" to the removal of M. from the Board: 1) The only information he has is a letter from a law firm; M. should have an opportunity to give her side of the story. 2) What's her motivation---is it pecuniary somehow, does she need "help", etc.? 3) Why can't we just let her serve out her term, at most another year?

    He was prepared to approve, but there just wasn't enough there.

    Thursday, December 01, 2016

    Grape Expectations

    Growing grapes in Somerset (SW England)
    Climate change will not be bad for everyone. One winner could be the British wine industry.
    Warmer temperatures in the U.K. due to man-made climate change could make the country a leading wine producer by the end of the century, according to new research.
    In 80 years Britons won't be traveling to Provence for sunshine and chardonnay but somewhere closer to home. Maybe the French will be summering in Britain!(?)

    Sacre bleu!