Friday, September 29, 2023

Mystery Ducks

In the fountain by the Apple Store a mother duck and nine ducklings splashed merrily.

I wonder where they came from. The nearest body of water is Laurel Creek, a quarter-mile away.

The ducks would have had to traverse parking lots, busy streets, and a major shopping center.

While the ducklings have feathers, flying here would be hazardous. And the chance that they would settle in a man-made fountain seems remote.

Frankly, I wonder if they were placed there. Ducklings mature in 2-3 months, at which point this family should join the ducks and geese in the Bay marshlands four miles east. Yet ducks seem to show up regularly, else why go through the trouble of making a sign?

Their presence is a mystery.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Happy Days of Yore

Alumni Ron Howard (Richie Cunningham) and
Henry Winkler (the Fonz) - WSJ photo
WSJ editorialist Matthew Hennessey has a problem with pre-teen TV: [bold added]
like most parents, my wife and I are always on the hunt for “safe” shows for our kids to watch. Tween programming is as vapid as ever, but these days it comes with a distinct woke overlay. Pronoun preaching and climate propaganda have replaced slapstick and potty humor. None of that works for us.
His solution? "Happy Days," currently found on Amazon Prime. Mr. Hennessey's son especially likes the Fonz.
“Happy Days” was a half-hour situation comedy on ABC from 1974-84. Created by Garry Marshall, the show was set in Milwaukee and revolved around the middle-class Cunningham family, Howard and Marion and their children Richie and Joanie. Minor characters, Potsie and Ralph Malph, palled around at Arnold’s Diner, but the star was the Fonz...

It’s impossible to overstate the cultural importance of the Fonz in his time. He was the biggest thing on TV, which was the biggest thing in leather jacket and tight jeans he was as cool as they come. The Fonz was a light caricature of the greaser archetype—slick, tough, a chick magnet. He rode a motorcycle and spoke in an incongruous Brooklynese (the mid-’70s were the height of the “Italian Stallion” phase of American masculinity). His cartoonish catchphrases—“Whoa!” “Sit on it!”—were ubiquitous.
"Happy Days" (1974-84) for me fell in that too-busy-to-watch-TV period after graduation but before kids. I did tune in occasionally to spinoffs Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy, notable for the off-script improvisation by Robin Williams, as well as the H-D mother ship, but none of it was must-see programming worthy of being recorded on the new VCR.

"Happy Days" appears to be enjoying a revival. It didn't jump the shark after all.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Target Throws in the Towel

Target announced the closure of three (3) Bay Area stores:
Target announced Tuesday that it planned to close three of its Bay Area stores next month, citing “theft and organized retail crime” that was “threatening the safety of our team and guests, and contributing to unsustainable business performance,” the company said in a statement.

On Oct. 21, the company said it would close its San Francisco store on Folsom and 13th streets. In Oakland, Target will close its store on Broadway and 27th Street, its only location in the city, according to its website. The Target in Pittsburg on Century Boulevard is also closing.

Thirty-two Target stores will remain open in the Bay Area, the company said.
Before Target conceded defeat, it "invested in various security measures, including hiring guards, locking up merchandise and training employees in self-protection and de-escalation." However, the frequency and severity of crime in San Francisco, Oakland, and Pittsburg (pop. 77,000) forced Target to throw in the towel.

Nothing is locked down in the San Mateo Target
We go to the Target Store in San Mateo 2-3 times a month. It's less than two miles from our house, and we are regular users of its pharmacy and optical department.

Nothing is locked down, not even the alcohol, and shopping is a pleasant, safe experience.

It's puzzling why anyone who can afford to move out of the city hasn't done so already.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Sam Wo Restaurant: It Lasted Longer Than Expected

At the new location on Clay (Chronicle photo)
We first posted about the Sam Wo Restaurant in 2003, lamented its closure for health and safety reasons in 2012, and lauded its re-opening in a new location in 2015.

However, the 117-year-old Chinatown institution may finally close for good due to reasons familiar to many small family-owned enterprises: the aging of its owners and their inability to find members of a younger generation to run the business.
[David] Ho has run the restaurant for more than 40 years, working long hours in the kitchen by himself during the throes of the pandemic. [Co-owner Steven] Lee said Ho has been talking about retiring for years, but recurring health issues and the impact of the coronavirus accelerated his decision. Ho will stay until the lease is up...

David Ho (with daughter
Julie) looks tired.
Malcolm Yeung, executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, said a closure would be a major historical loss for the neighborhood.

“Sam Wo is a legacy business,” he said. “So Sam Wo closing means that Chinatown will lose a little piece of what makes Chinatown ‘Chinatown.’ ”

To Yeung, the news is not necessarily a reflection of a struggling Chinatown, but rather a “bigger existential crisis for our community” — the lack of a next generation willing and able to continue longtime restaurants. (Neither of Ho’s children, despite working at the restaurant, will take over the business.)
Sam Wo meant more to my father, who passed through San Francisco during the War, but I'll be sad to see it go, too.

Monday, September 25, 2023

"What can your manager improve on?"

(grosum image)
About 30 years ago the Human Resources (formerly Personnel) function steeply ascended in importance. For the first time workers had to fill out forms evaluating their bosses.

The change was spurred by the publication of books about how excellent companies "treat[ed] rank and file employees as a source of quality," or a new appreciation of the costs of employee turnover.

Sexual harassment, typically of female workers by male bosses, was raised in the public consciousness by the 1991 Clarence Thomas Senate hearings. Bad publicity and legal liability were the consequences if organizations did not police their managers.

Those who were halfway up the pyramid, like your humble blogger, found the process to be exasperating. Not only did I have to compose upward feedback very carefully as a matter of self-preservation, I had to respond to workers' criticisms--thankfully there weren't many--with an action plan. (All this was on top of the annual evaluations--written and in-person--that were crucial to determining raises, bonuses, and promotions.)

It appears that employees are still agonizing over giving feedback on their bosses. [bold added]
Everyone seems to want our take these days. We’re subjected to quarterly 360 reviews, weekly pulse surveys and drive-by requests for input by the coffee machine. It’s part of a longstanding shift from command-and-control leadership styles to more collaborative ways of running companies, says Doug Stone, who teaches conflict management at Harvard Law School and co-wrote the book, “Thanks for the Feedback.” A lot of it stems from employees who have demanded more of a voice…even if another app wasn’t what they had in mind.
It's a wonder that companies get any real work done.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Something for Everyone

Millet's Man with a Hoe, circa 1862
The Gospel lesson from Matthew, Chapter 20, was the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the one that ends with the oft-quoted "the last will be first, and the first will be last."

It's about how the landowner pays workers the same amount at the end of the day, regardless of the time they started.

Preachers love this one, because it tells newcomers that they will be rewarded even if they come to church late in life. Our priest said that he interpreted the passage to be about God's generosity with His love.

My wandering mind, of course, turned to political philosophy.

Could God be a socialist? Each laborer received one denarius though some worked one hour and others the entire day. This is an example of the equality of result beloved by socialists.

Could God be a capitalist? Those who worked the whole day grumbled that they should have gotten more. The landowner replied, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?" In other words they were happy with the pay in the morning, and a deal is a deal. Capitalism is underpinned by mutual, voluntary arrangements that, once they are agreed to, are enforceable by the law of contracts.

Also, the landowner continued, "Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?" That's capitalism at its core.

As often happens, Jesus had something for everyone.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

For the Rest of our Lives

Our Peninsula neighborhood three years ago
One summer in Los Angeles was enough. The cleaner air indicated that the SF Bay Area was a more hospitable place to live.

I've never regretted that decision, made over 40 years ago ("when you come to a fork in the road, take it"-Yogi Berra)

The recent spate of hazy days is reminiscent of that LA smog. Air quality has flattened, or even gotten worse, all over the country:
increasing pollution from wildfire smoke has reversed or stalled air-quality improvements in 41 of 48 states, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Health professionals have improved their understanding of the dangers of wildfire smoke.[bold added]
Particles from these emissions pass through the body’s defenses and bury themselves deep in the lungs, where they can cause a variety of acute and chronic health problems, especially for vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.

To separate wildfires from other sources of particulate pollution, the researchers from Stanford and Harvard universities devised a method of identifying wildfire particles using satellite imagery to trace the path of the smoke. They combined this information with data from nearly 2,500 ground-based air-pollution sensors collected by the EPA from 2000 to 2022...

Smoke from California wildfires coincided with an 18% to 22% spike in cases of invasive fungal infections in 22 hospitals across the state, according to a May study published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health. Researchers found that fungal spores in the soils of California are lofted into the air by wildfires. When inhaled, the spores can lead to Valley fever, an infection that can cause respiratory symptoms including cough, fever, chest pain and tiredness.
On smoky days we wear masks outdoors, not because of the coronavirus but to protect lungs. Tests at the allergist have revealed that our respiration has weakened considerably over the past 20 years.

Both wildfires and protective masking, sadly, will be with us for the rest of our lives.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Accountants Go Where It's Greener

(Rasmussen image)
Last year the WSJ noted that accountants were finally getting their due: [bold added]
A deepening shortage of accountants is driving a growing number of companies to raise salaries or seek temporary help to strengthen their finance teams amid a slowing economy
But companies aren't moving fast enough to reverse the exodus.
More than 300,000 U.S. accountants and auditors have left their jobs in the past two years, a 17% decline, and the dwindling number of college students coming into the field can’t fill the gap...

The huge gap between companies that need accountants and trained professionals has led to salary bumps and more temporary workers joining the sector. Still, neither development will fix the fundamental talent pipeline problem: Many college students don’t want to work in accounting. Even those who majored in it.
Accountancy requires hard work, long hours, attention to detail, and skill with numbers. People who have the ability and motivation to succeed in the field can earn more in other professions while working normal hours. (Son, let me tell you about the New Year's Eve I had to take inventory in a warehouse in the middle of nowhere...)

Conditions have improved since I was a junior auditor back in the 1970's, but apparently not that much.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Sleeping is not an Old Person's Game

(Pokémon Sleep images)
The growing research on the importance of sleep to health has resulted in a plethora of advice on how to fall and stay asleep for the recommended 7-9 hours.

The doctor said that there are medications available, but I'm foregoing that solution unless the problem becomes more acute, say, if I can't sleep for more than five hours a night.

As in all matters of health, like diet and exercise, there are now people who are obsessed with sleeping well. [bold added]
for millions, chasing winks with the latest sleep-measuring technology has become a nighttime sport, complete with sleep scores and strategies on how to best sack the competition. Some people are even, well, losing sleep about whether they are sleeping up to their full potential...

[Mike Skerett] has deployed tactics including blackout curtains and taping his mouth shut to max out his sleep score on Whoop’s app.

“I can see that on days when I tape my mouth during sleep, I have a 7% higher recovery score in the morning than on days when I don’t,” he says...

“I am disciplined and competing my ass off to get somewhere between eight and seven hours every night,” Michael Gervais, a performance psychologist who advises chief executives and Olympic athletes, said on his podcast recently.
The Apple Watch, which records the duration of each stage of sleep (REM, core, and deep) provides all the monitoring I require.

"Competitive sleeping," two words that I had never seen paired until this moment, sounds counter-productive because of the heightened effect that competition has on heart and brain activity.

A related point: if we're advised to turn off all our devices before going to bed, how is Pokémon Sleep going to help?

Wednesday, September 20, 2023


(Image from weworkremotely)
Back in my day (OK boomer) we compartmentalized, that is, we didn't bring our personal problems to work. Compartmentalization was a societal value: employees wanted privacy, and employers were happy to comply. Managers were taught to evaluate workers on their performance only and ignore the personal stuff.

Then we de-compartmentalized. Over time it became acceptable to discuss family, health, financial, and even political issues, and the red lines between work and personal life were all but obliterated during COVID.

We are now seeing the beginnings of a pushback. Boundaries are re-appearing in worker-to-worker relationships.

Headline: Nobody at Work Wants to Hear About Your Student-Loan Payments
College debt is a new third rail in the workplace. The payment restart [after the COVID payment holiday] is proving more contentious than the halt at the onset of the pandemic...

Though some debt-free colleagues feel pity—and think student-loan forgiveness would be good for the economy—others can’t stand to hear griping. They tell me they know there are borrowers who didn’t understand what they were getting into and that student loans can be most cumbersome for people who didn’t finish their degrees. Yes, they’re aware that debt, or the absence of it, is often a function of privilege.

Mostly they view the college-debt crisis as a morality play. They did the right thing, paying back what they owe or making good decisions to avoid debt. Others should do the same or face consequences.

Better think twice before lamenting your loans in office chitchat.
For the record I had student loans from both college and graduate school. $10,000 seems like a pittance today, but that amount was over half of my annual first-year salary. I feel empathy but not sympathy for those who are saddled with student loan debt and poor job prospects.

If I were working today, I'd like more compartmentalization, please.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Cruel Donuts

A couple of Sunday afternoons ago we had a hankering for doughnuts. Yelp disclosed that the only doughnut shop within a five-mile radius was Cruel Donuts in a shopping center off Old County Road. It's next to the Caltrain tracks, complete with a laundromat and gas station. I had never stopped there in the 50 years I've lived in the Bay Area.

The young Asian lady was closing the shop and had run out of doughnuts, so I bought a couple of glazed twists. She threw in an extra one because I didn't get what I wanted and/or she was going to get rid of it anyway. No matter, I always appreciate a kind gesture.

The twists were light and not too sweet, greatly exceeding expectations for pastry sold in the afternoon.

The shop was empty when I returned at 11 this morning. I ordered a mix of regular and chocolate glazed doughnuts, a dozen for $20, which were placed in an expensive (for doughnuts) pink box with the bakery's name written in a distinctive flourish.

The inside of the box was not plain cardboard but colorfully printed with the message "Be Kind." The marketing for this doughnut shop deserved a closer look.
Cruel Donuts needed to stand out from the noisy crowd and not just be another California donut shop. Inspired by the French Cruller and 80s hit “Cruel Summer,” the woman-owned shop owner wanted to become an Instagram-worthy destination spot for San Francisco foodies...

The millennial pink and “signature” sweetness brand vibe carries through the bright and clean aesthetic of the shop interior concepts, to help encourage foodies to share on social.
The doughnuts were delicious, by the way, and the main reason I'll be coming back.

Note: the "Cruel Summer" that inspired the shop's name is the Bananarama 1983 song, not the Taylor Swift hit which has the same name.

Monday, September 18, 2023

No Good Deed

First Church of Christ Scientist in June (Merc photo)
No longer used as a house of worship in San Jose, the 1905 Christian Science church was sold to China-based developer Z&L Properties in 2014. Z&L proposed to restore the structure and build adjacent high-rise housing. The project stalled, and the landmark was covered with tarpaulin.

Nine years later, the tarp was in tatters, and exposure was ruining the building, which has been called "the worst blight in the city."

Attempts to force a sale or even to have San Jose seize the property will take many months, if not years; Zhang Li, the head of Z&L, is under house arrest in London and has been accused of bribery and fraud on another project in San Francisco.

Patching the church after the tarp was removed
Jim Salata, whose construction company had worked on the property years earlier, had seen enough. He had his company remove the tarp, repair the roof, and board up the windows.
So Salata, who had done some work with Z&L inside the church and knew the combination for the gate lock, orchestrated the removal in late August of the tarp, scaffolding, debris, plastic contamination, cooking equipment and a generator. He and his crews cleared away fire hazards such as dry vegetation, made repairs to the roof and boarded up broken windows.

“Somebody had to do something about this,” Salata said. “The city of San Jose has allowed Z&L to let this property become blighted for years. Nobody from the city has called. Nobody from code enforcement has called. Nobody from the city is asking for advice about the next steps.”
Jim Salata and his company likely won't receive a nickel for their work. However, city officials are thinking about compensation. [bold added]
Officials may impose a fine on a construction executive whose crews removed an unsightly, tattered tarp that had covered a historic downtown San Jose church that’s fallen into disrepair...

“I know Jim Salata means well, but a crime is a crime,” said San Jose City Councilmember Omar Torres, whose district covers most of downtown San Jose. “We were told by city staff that Salata trespassed.”
Thus it was and ever shall be: no good deed goes unpunished.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Parking Lot Sale

The left-overs 
At the church parking lot sale the good stuff, like never-used appliances, went quickly. 30 years ago I would have pulled out my wallet, but getting rid of material things is now priority #2, just behind health

Half the items eventually sold, and the rest were put in a corner of the parking lot to be given away by mid-week. Fortunately, rain is not in the forecast.

Proceeds of approximately $1,600 will be split between the church and Episcopal Relief. From a pure dollars and cents standpoint the reward may not have justified the labor input from a dozen volunteers, but as churchgoers know, money is not the measure of all things

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Better Than a Policy of Neglect

SF Civic Center was once a nice area, too (2022 Chron)
When San Francisco cleaned up the area surrounding the Dreamforce conference Marc Benioff asked, "Why can’t they do it every day?" He was correct: the fix was only temporary.
[The homeless] did seem to get the message from the endless streams of police, smiling city street ambassadors and security forces that they should steer clear for now.
Said 66-year-old Jan Weith, who moved a quarter-mile away to Powell St.,
“Can’t wait ’til this thing is over and we can get back to normal.”
Sweeping a problem under the rug doesn't cure the problem, but it does make highly trafficked areas look nicer.

There's a parallel in my hometown, where the homeless have been cleared out from expensive Waikiki. Within a few blocks from my parents' middle-class neighborhood, a half-mile from Waikiki, is always a cluster of tents. They move every few months, which is an indication that the police do monitor the situation.

Monitoring encampments and sprucing up an area for a week aren't solutions, but they're an improvement over the policy of neglect that has ruined sections of once-beautiful cities.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Musings at the Dog Park

At the Foster City Dog Park dogs who are 25½ pounds are out of luck. They are neither "small" (25 pounds or less) nor "large" (26 pounds and over), so they have nowhere to go.

I blame the signmaker, who may have thought that weight was only measured in whole numbers. He probably has never been on a diet.

On the other hand, there were no visible weight-patrol officers in the Dog Park, or even a scale to verify entrance requirements.

Measurements like weight are not objective but a man-made construct. If a small dog identifies as large, he's entitled to his truth.

Don't be species-ist.