Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Happy Birthday at Happy Day

The aptly named Happy Day seafood restaurant was the venue for Mom's 80th birthday party. My younger siblings voted unanimously that I, as the eldest son, should follow tradition and be the one to welcome the guests and say a few words. (Interesting how they don't believe in other traditions, such as primogeniture.)

Because there was no microphone in a noisy restaurant, I summarized Mom's 80 years in 80 seconds. Besides, it's now the fashion to get our point across in 140 characters or less. My brother blessed the food, and dinner commenced.

The cold appetizer plate was chock-filled with favorites: cold ginger chicken, pickled jellyfish, char siu (roast pork), and roast duck. The meats were just right, moist, yet fully cooked. Those who were unfamiliar with the necessity of pacing oneself at Chinese nine-course dinners took several helpings. Ah, to have the cholesterol count and stomach capacity of a 20-year-old.

The waiters quickly served the crisp-skinned Peking duck with hoisin sauce and sliced scallions in a warm bun, the stir-fried lobster, shrimp with walnuts, cake noodle (for a long life), kow yuk (belly pork) that was steamed until it was fork-tender, and more ginger chicken. But for my money the centerpiece was the deceptively simple melon soup, steamed for hours in a hollowed out melon. The liquid was clean, yet complex, redolent with the smell of the winter melon.

We sang "Happy Birthday" and conversed with relatives whom I had not seen for many years. Anticipating a mouth-watering lunch the next day, I turned to scoop up a few (of the many) boxes of leftovers that had been lying on the tables, but none were left. I guess they liked it.

Capitalism and Idealism Do Mix

An insightful statement that connects both market capitalism and charitable good works: neither is sufficient but they make up for each other's deficiencies.
There is a powerful role both for the market and for philanthropy...Philanthropy alone lacks the feedback mechanism of markets, which are the best listening devices we have; and yet markets alone too easily leave the most vulnerable behind.
Read the whole thing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

They Broke Created the Mold

Oceans of ink (a dated phrase -- how about googols of electrons?) have been spilled about last week's passing of three notable celebrities. As a baby boomer--and the world is all about us--I can't let this moment pass without adding my two cents.

Ed McMahon was the quintessential sidekick, the foil who accentuated Johnny Carson's comic genius over three decades. He was both set-up man and Greek chorus, framing Johnny's delicate barbs. Usually the fat man (Lou Costello, Curly Howard, Jackie Gleason) was the originator of the laughs. On the Tonight Show the skinny guy told the jokes. He mocked the portly sidekick, which was painful because we identified more with Ed than quick-witted Johnny. And even if he thought up a riposte, Ed couldn't really use it because Johnny was the boss. So he just stood there and took it, laughing, all the way to the bank.

Farrah Fawcett: Our dads had Betty Grable, the pinup girl with the gams that reminded millions of GI's what they were fighting for. We had Farrah Fawcett, whose blonde perfection was as impossible for us normal Joes to attain as the platinum triumvirate of Garbo, Harlow, or Monroe. Her tanned California cheeriness was just right for a nation recovering from the traumas of Vietnam and Watergate and preparing for its resurgence as the hyper-power of the '90's. Farrah should not be dismissed as just another swimsuit model. Her influence redounded beyond our shores.

Michael Jackson's ability took him to the top of multiple entertainment categories--as a singer, dancer, choreographer and composer. Combined in one individual the package was incandescent. The young Jackson's voice was so beautiful that only the most talented (or delusional) vocalists presume to sing his best-known hits. His life veered in disastrous directions, but those will be just afterthoughts to the music that will still be playing when we're all dead and gone. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

Saturday, June 27, 2009

At the Ward's Starbucks

The line at the Ward's Starbucks was nearly out the door this Saturday morning. College students hunched over their laptops, while seniors socialized over coffee. The barristas moved quickly and could barely keep up with demand. The indoor and outdoor tables were all occupied by 10 AM.

The warmth and humidity prompted many young women to wear just halter tops and shorts; it was a great place to girl-watch for those who have that inclination (not me, of course, I just like to make observations about the human condition). The Ala Moana Center Starbucks had a different, older demographic with its placement next to Macy's. I think I'll patronize the Ward's store in the future. With the greater customer traffic there's more of an opportunity to make observations.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lenovo IdeaPad S10 Netbook

The Lenovo startup program allows you to bypass Windows.

My four-year-old laptop computer breathed its last, but with both Windows 7 and the new Mac OS (“Snow Leopard”) being released in the fall, I didn't want to make a long-term hardware or financial commitment. I’ve been poking away on a netbook, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10, for the past two months. The S10 is light (2.2 pounds) and cheap (about $350 all-in with my professional discount). Aging eyes haven’t deteriorated to the point where gazing at a 10-inch screen has been a problem—I can surf for hours on the smaller iPhone screen--and the 1 GB of RAM and 110 GB of hard drive space meets the needs of this non-gamer and non-power user. The keyboard size is adequate for all but the most ham-fisted.

1) As a touchtypist of many years, I like to type numbers on the second-from-top row rather than use the numeric keypad. The numbers are placed to the left of normal, so that I’m always hitting, for example, 5 or % when I mean to type 4 or $.
2) It’s difficult for me to maneuver the pointer on the tiny touchpad and buttons; none of the methods—two hands, thumb-and-forefinger, middle-and-forefinger—is a good substitute for a mouse. A wireless mouse is highly recommended.
3) The lack of a DVD/CD drive is a bother if you need to load essential software (e.g. Office, Quickbooks)from a disk or like to play movies.

Overall assessment – okay for the lengthier missives where an iPhone falls short, but I’m still buying a laptop before the end of the year to supplement my iMac and Dell desktops. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

Like most netbooks, Windows XP comes preloaded on the S10.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Below is my Father's Day post, first published in 2004, that I've augmented over the years:

I remember when my Dad
  • Drove me to Little League three times a week and helped me work on my pitching motion every day after school.
  • Worked three jobs so that we could buy a house, which explained why he was always tired.
  • Installed all the wiring when the church put in its pipe organ.
  • Bought me a violin for $350, which was a lot of money in 1965.
  • Let me visit him in his office, where he was the manager. The atmosphere was hushed, quieter than a classroom (this was a long time ago).
  • Taught me chess, which was not one of his favorite games.
  • Helped get me great summer jobs at Brewer Chemical and Dole Pineapple.
  • Quit smoking, for his sake and ours, when the Surgeon General issued the first warning on cigarettes.
  • Gave me the family car when I learned how to drive.
  • Gave me a lecture on how to treat women----politely, and always with a great deal of respect.

    Hope you had a great Father’s Day, Dad.
    ---Your grateful son © 2009 Stephen Yuen

  • Terribly Un-Christian Thoughts About Iran

    As the Iranian regime responds with ever increasing brutality against its own people, I think about the many U.S. and Iraqi casualties that have been caused by Improvised Explosive Devices that originated from Iran. I think about how Iran has done its best to destroy the nascent Iraqi democracy by arming death squads to kill innocents and foment sectarian strife.

    And then I think about how the regime holds on to its power because the Iranian people are outgunned (but not outmanned). Well, we got guns.

    Imagine: 1) a homegrown, not imposed, democratic government in Iran; 2) the postponement if not cancellation of Iran's nuclear weapons program; 3) how, with the removal of its biggest threat to survival, Israel would be more inclined to make concessions; 4) all this accomplished with no American casualties. To be sure, our hands would be wet with blood that is not our own, and that is why these are terribly un-Christian thoughts to hold on this Father's Day Sunday, full of portent and promise.

    Saturday, June 20, 2009

    Steve 3.0

    Steve Jobs’ co-founding of Apple Computer, unceremonious firing, and triumphant rescue of the company from the ash-heap of technological irrelevance, are the stuff of Silicon Valley legend. After assurances that he had successfully fought off pancreatic cancer, he took an extended leave of absence this year. It now turns out, according to the Wall Street Journal, that he had a liver transplant.
    the type of slow-growing pancreatic tumor Mr. Jobs had will commonly metastasize in another organ during a patient's lifetime, and that the organ is usually the liver. [snip]Getting a liver transplant to treat a metastasized neuroendocrine tumor is controversial because livers are scarce and the surgery's efficacy as a cure hasn't been proved.
    While I believe in the principle of corporate full disclosure (accompanied by fewer rules and regulations to limit freedom of action---but that discussion’s for another day), anyone with a modicum of intelligence could tell that something was going on with Steve Jobs’ health. Once he went on leave, investors became reconciled to the possibility that he would never return to Apple. More importantly, full disclosure could have jeopardized his health; the media feeding frenzy that would have surrounded his operation and recovery has no upside visible to this Apple stockholder.

    Now there’s a good chance that he will be involved with Apple for many more years. Live long and prosper, Steve.

    Friday, June 19, 2009

    Reaping the Benefits

    Andrew Sullivan, a supporter turned fierce critic of the Iraq War (primarily condemning the means rather than the end), assesses the turmoil in Iran as partial vindication of neoconservatism.
    The core hope that democracy could spread in the Middle East - and that this alone would ultimately destroy Jihadism - is in some ways vindicated by this year in Iran. It remains, of course, a fantastic irony that they chose Iraq to impose this result, rather than waiting for Iran to demonstrate it. And a further irony that their opponent Barack Obama helped inspire the hopes to vindicate neoconservative dreams.
    The mistakes that the Bush Administration made in Iraq were nearly fatal to the whole enterprise, but surely Mr. Sullivan could not be asserting that we should have “done Iran first”. Much as Iran’s interference caused immense mischief in the Iraqi reconstruction, an undethroned Saddam would have capitalized on Iranian turmoil to augment his power. In fact there is a strong argument that fear of Saddam, who killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians during the eighties, would have prevented Iranians from rebelling against their regime. With the Wolf at their door, Iranians would have kept quiet.

    There were tremendous costs incurred by America in the Iraq War, but now that investment is producing a tremendous opportunity. Let’s hope that our leaders are wise and bold enough to figure out how to seize it. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    iPhone 3G S

    Like thousands of existing iPhone users I downloaded software version 3.0 to my iPhone 3G last night. (I won’t bother to repeat all the software additions and mods that have been reviewed in other publications. Engadget has a comprehensive review of v3.0, as well as the new iPhone 3GS handset to be released tomorrow.)

    I’m a non-power user who uses his iPhone for basic phoning, texting, web-surfing, and address-finding. I only have two purchased application programs (“apps”) and am barely into my second page. Some users I know have hit the nine-page ceiling, which has been raised to eleven pages (180 apps) in the update. Frankly, I think those guys ought to get a life, but if I were their age I’d probably be as obsessed as they are.

    My first impression is that Apple has added enough nice touches that everyone should find something to be pleased about. For example, the included “Stocks” app formerly provided only the daily price change in dollars or percentages; now it includes the market capitalization of the equities on the user’s list. We also can access information on individual stocks through this app instead of switching over to the Safari browser to pull up Yahoo Finance, Google Finance, or other financial sites.

    The cut- or copy-and-paste function makes the iPhone a better blogging tool---although still not the equal of a laptop or a netbook because of the lack of a physical keyboard---now that we can link to other URLs much more easily and can quote extended passages.

    One drawback I’ve noticed---and it may be due to a reason other than the upgrade---is that the Safari browser has been freezing throughout the morning. Perhaps my one-year-old 3G’s limited memory (vs. the 3GS) is the cause, but we’ll see how often this problem recurs over the coming weeks.

    I agree with Walt Mossberg that there aren’t compelling reasons for non-fanboys to upgrade from the iPhone 3G to the 3GS. It will take me at least a year to figure out the features in the new software. When the new model 4G comes out next year my current contract will be expiring and the timing will be right for a new phone. That’s the plan, anyway. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

    You can now leave voice memos (app on bottom right)

    Monday, June 15, 2009

    The Street Where I Lived

    By 7:30 a.m. many drivers have already left for work.

    On the street where I used to live some things have changed. A developer bought out some homeowners and got his condo towers approved; they now obscure the view of Mount Tantalus. The higher neighborhood density makes it impossible to find street parking after 5 p.m.

    What hasn’t changed are the electrical wires and telephone landlines strung overhead. The old telephone poles are unsightly, laden with termites, and prone to toppling during the occasional hurricane. But the biggest irritants are the mynah birds that perch on the wires, raining their effluvia on cars and passersby. Perhaps living on the Mainland has made me less forgiving about these matters.

    The house in the corner is well tended. The “crazy lady” who lived there used to scream at everyone who walked by. She’s gone, but the background noise of the city traffic has ramped up to compensate. If it weren’t for my age-related loss of hearing I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

    Some homeless men have encamped in Ala Wai Park across the street. The police push them along, but where can they go? At least they’re not spoiling tourists’ views of pristine Waikiki and Ala Moana, which are only half a mile makai (toward the ocean).

    Ala Wai Canal is polluted, but not so badly that one can’t bear to walk or jog next to it. Fishing and swimming are out of the question; gone forever are the days when boys could freestyle across, as my dad and uncles did before the war.

    Bicyclists speed by on the narrow sidewalks, ignoring my dirty looks. I step out of their way easily enough, but what about the elderly pedestrians who aren’t as agile and able to recover from injury? These bikers weren’t born and raised in Hawaii….yes, I can tell.

    The poor economy and increasing crowds and traffic have taken their toll on the sunniest dispositions. The greatest change is the least visible to long-time residents, the slow diminution of the aloha spirit. The spirit hasn’t vanished; I’ve been greeted by too many friendly faces to make such an overwrought claim. But like other fragile Island flora, it must be tended carefully. It's later than we think. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

    Saturday, June 13, 2009

    The Unbearable Being of Lightness

    Both the Bush and Clinton Administrations allowed scientists access to military satellite data in order to track meteoroids crashing into the atmosphere. But now, without explanation, the “most transparent Administration in history” has called a halt to the information sharing.

    A recent U.S. military policy decision now explicitly states that observations by hush-hush government spacecraft of incoming bolides and fireballs are classified secret and are not to be released, SPACE.com has learned.

    The satellites' main objectives include detecting nuclear bomb tests, and their characterizations of asteroids and lesser meteoroids as they crash through the atmosphere has been a byproduct data bonanza for scientists.

    The upshot: Space rocks that explode in the atmosphere are now classified.

    "The fireball data from military or surveillance assets have been of critical importance for assessing the impact hazard [of asteroids crashing into the Earth]," said David Morrison, a Near Earth Object (NEO) scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center. He noted that his views are his own, not as a NASA spokesperson.
    Your humble observer cannot envision a scenario where this change in policy was due to a Machiavellian malevolence on the part of the Administration. More likely, it is merely displaying its true tendency to be opaque rather than transparent.

    No Administration can possibly have devised policy positions on every detail after five months in office, so it must operate under general rules. Here are two possible guidelines that are mutually exclusive:

    1) Disclose everything, unless told not to in specific cases;
    2) Reveal nothing, except information which is specifically allowed.

    Based on its behavior so far—remember the revelation of enhanced interrogation techniques without disclosing the intelligence obtained by said methods?—the Administration is plumping for #2--opacity, secretiveness, and information control. I don’t particularly fault them for that, I just wish they would quit saying that they’re different and better than their predecessors.

    (Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds for the pointer.)

    Friday, June 12, 2009

    Old School

    On the third day of my Hawaii trip and with commencement exercises pau (complete), it was time to visit with family. But it wasn't time to cook, so we brought in Chinese food--just the meat and vegetables--from Duk Kee Restaurant on Waialae Ave.

    Obeying my genetic predispositions, I refuse to pay for white rice when it takes only a couple of minutes to wash the raw grains and turn on the rice cooker. Volunteering for the task, I inquired, "How many cups?"

    "I measure by sight," Dad replied, handing me a regular stovepot.

    It had been years, no, decades since I had made rice the old school way on the stove. Helpfully, Dad reminded me that I should place my forefinger perpendicular to the top of the rice and cover it with just enough water to reach the first joint. Then turn the stove to high, let the water boil down a little, then reduce the heat to medium. When the water disappears below the top layer, cover and lower the heat to warm. The rice should then steam at least for half an hour.

    Long-forgotten childhood visions of rice pots boiling over and/or burning came flooding back. Don't these people know that the automatic rice cooker was one of the great inventions of the 20th century? Press the button and forget it.

    Well, I suppose my kids don't understand why I like to write and get back cancelled checks, drive with a clutch, wear shirts that you have to iron, boil vegetables instead of microwave them, or file paper tax returns. By doing some things the way they've always been done, my life has the illusion of control.

    By the way, the rice turned out fine. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

    Tuesday, June 09, 2009

    Punahou Graduation, 2009

    The main floor view wasn't as good as from the upper level.

    My nephew (who is also my godson) was graduating from Punahou School, my own alma mater. We arrived 90 minutes early so we could get seats together on the main floor. Blaisdell Arena was half filled with other early attendees, many of whom looked bored after a few minutes. But not me. It was the first Punahou graduation ceremony I had attended since my own. I reveled in reverie, and time quickly passed.

    Spotting a pair of classmates a few rows in front, I had to look twice. We've all changed a bit over the decades, but in their case there wasn't much doubt who they were. They had been married for many years, and it's easier to identify a couple than an individual. They asked when and if I was returning permanently to the Islands. I said that we're certainly thinking about it since in a few years we'll turn 60 and only have the energy for one more move. (You don't have to be reticent about revealing your age to your high school chums.)

    The ceremony began promptly at 8 PM with Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance. At most high school graduations only the familiar stately march is played, but the orchestra was up to the task of playing the first allegro section. Our orchestra, led by Peter Mesrobian, was pretty good, but these young musicians were better.

    The program lasted two hours, with half the time being spent on the awarding of the diplomas. Speeches alternated with songs, and this year's seniors were musically talented, as indeed all classes are. There was a lot of chest-thumping about how the Class of 2009 would forever be linked with the historic Inauguration of a Buffanblu alumnus, but since such an occurrence is unlikely to happen ever again, they were entitled.

    A bit strange was an extended future history by the principal and two teachers on eight (? - I lost count) hypothetical members of the graduating class. They forecasted great charitable works, entertainment awards, technological breakthroughs, and any number of great accomplishments. Far more riveting--and delicate, to be sure--would have been the life stories of real alumni and alumnae.

    After the ceremony the crowd left the arena to congratulate the graduates. Amidst the joyful cacophony and camera flashes there were tears as well.

    Rewarding Violence

    I'm with the great muddled middle of Americans who won't go to either extreme of the abortion debate, that is, the best of a bad menu of choices is that abortion should be permitted with restrictions. If anything, I tilt toward the pro-life rather than the pro-choice side. However, I hated to see this headline:
    Slain Kansas abortion provider's clinic to close
    By murdering George Tiller an anti-abortion extremist not only eliminated a despised symbol but stopped future abortions from being performed. The killer got his way through violence and not by lawful means. I fear that like-minded individuals are absorbing the lessons of this event. Law enforcement should use deadly force, if necessary, to stop this terrorism from spreading.

    And to those who nod in agreement but believe that, in the international arena, words without bullets can dissuade terrorists who have already succeeded through violent acts, I might ask, what makes their fanatics more reasonable than ours? It's a puzzlement.

    Saturday, June 06, 2009

    Hard to Go Home Again

    This weekend's excursion to my hometown didn't start smoothly. United's flight was delayed by two hours (I found out after getting to the airport, naturally), I couldn't find my old but reliable Canon A620, and I lost my wireless mouse somewhere between security and the gate. The flight was uneventful, and my brother picked me up at midnight. He handed over a large Hawaiian slush , and the clouds lifted.

    All stills for this trip were taken on my iPhone.

    None of these buildings (except for the green Ilikai hotel, deceptively small on the right) had been constructed when I moved to the Mainland.

    Liberty House, now Macy's, used to tower over a few small stores on the roof at Ala Moana Center.

    The American Legion clubhouse was destroyed in a fire. The mini-park that replaced it became a hangout for drug deals and drug users and has to be closed at night.

    Friday, June 05, 2009

    Foster City Arts and Wine Festival, 2009

    The weather cooperated last weekend as Foster City held its 38th Annual Arts and Wine Festival. With no admission fee the price was right, especially during these budget-conscious times.

    Families roamed Foster City’s central park and civic center. Shell Boulevard, which bisects the heart of the city, was closed to cars. Toddlers grinned as their parents bribed them with cotton candy and ice cream to encourage acquiescent behavior.

    The knick-knacks, food, and rides were overpriced, but since many of the booths represented worthy causes I didn’t mind throwing a few shekels their way. Newspapers such as the NY Times and San Mateo County Times were hawking heavily discounted subscriptions. Are they now charity cases too?

    We arrived early and parked across the street at Wells Fargo before the guards closed the parking lot. We’re entitled. We’re customers as well as shareholders. Easy rationalization and justification, thy name is man.

    I retreated to Starbucks and web-surfed while the youngster continued to hang out at the fair. It was a win-win for each of us; I had had enough sun while his coolness standing with his peers went up with a parent no longer in tow.

    When we arrived at home, he logged in to Facebook and Twitter to see what everyone else thought of the Festival. Newspapers may be dying, but reporting is growing by leaps and bounds. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

    Thursday, June 04, 2009

    Top Ten Similarities Between Flying and Elective Surgery

    Sitting at SFO with a flight delay of 2 hours--yes, that's hardly unusual--the monkey mind idles. Herewith another list--the top ten similarities between flying and elective surgery:

    10. Have to book an appointment 3 months in advance.
    9. Can't get past the front door without the proper papers.
    8. Those papers are requested by different people again and again and again.
    7. Prices change by the minute and bills are confusing, if not indecipherable.
    6. Speaking of confusion, you should see the faces of the customers.
    5. Must disrobe in front of large numbers of strangers.
    4. If you’re late or must cancel, you have to pay stiff penalties.
    3. If they’re late or must cancel, tough!
    2. Nervousness before, nausea during, and dizziness after.

    And the number one similarity between flying and elective surgery:

    1. “Bend over and pay” is more than a figure of speech.

    © 2009 Stephen Yuen