Saturday, October 31, 2009

Governor Gavin, Gone

There’s less urgency to leave California. Gavin Newsom dropped out of the Governor’s race. None of the remaining candidates of either party bothered me as much as Newsom.

In 2004 he instructed San Francisco officials to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Gay marriage doesn’t concern me—if it’s enacted through the normal legislative channels I’d endorse the result. However, as I wrote then,
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom showed that he is unfit for higher office by issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in direct contravention of state law. The executive has a special responsibility to uphold the law, even those he disagrees with. Given the strong arguments on either side of issues such as abortion, capital punishment, recreational drug use, and immigration, to name but a few in addition to gay marriage, it is not only possible but likely that the chief executive of a city, state, or even the nation would not agree with some of the laws it is his duty to uphold. If he didn’t think that he could enforce these laws, then he shouldn’t have taken the oath of office.
Fatherhood and a few political setbacks could make Gavin Newsom a more mature human being and formidable politician in future campaigns, just not next year.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


The Bay Bridge closure enters its second day. Obviously, the main disruption occurred in the Oakland-San Francisco artery, but traffic throughout the Bay Area was affected. Many drivers chose the Hayward-San Mateo Bridge as their Bay crossing alternative, perhaps 40 miles and two hours out of their way with the heavier traffic. That meant extraordinary delays going north into San Francisco from the mid-Peninsula where I live.

I cancelled a couple of meetings in the City and promised to reschedule them until after the bridge re-opens. It helps that my work can be done on the computer and telephone and doesn’t often require my physical presence. I suspect that’s true for many jobs: workers can connect with computers, smartphones, and broadband connections from home. That’s not as true with the health profession and retailers; not surprisingly those industries are plagued with high fixed costs not easily reducible by technology. Meanwhile, the adaptation continues:
A trend apparent during the first day of the shutdown Wednesday - commuters leaving early to beat the rush - seemed to be taking hold today, said Officer John Short of the California Highway Patrol, who was monitoring traffic conditions from Caltrans' Traffic Management Center in Oakland.

Compared to Wednesday, "I would say it's probably a little light, less incidents - and that's a good thing," Short said. "I'm looking at (Highway) 92 and (Interstate) 880, and there's a lot of cars out there, but traffic is down, and also incidents are down."
Oh, well, that’s enough rumination, as I reach for another lemonade on the sunshiny patio of a lively Italian restaurant on the Peninsula. That’s how you deal with life’s lemons. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Deep Meaning

The governor’s veto letter to a Democratic assemblyman contains a hidden message. One doesn’t have to be a professor of symbology to untangle its meaning.

Scanned letter (without rectangle) from the Chronicle.

Politics in our formerly Golden State makes me laugh and cry.

Top Five Reasons BHO Avoids Women

The President is taking some grief from feminist supporters because he surrounds himself with men both in and out of the White House. To these eyes it’s perfectly understandable.

The top five reasons Barack Obama doesn’t like to associate with women:

5. Grilled by Michelle every time he works late with a Rhonda or a Tina. If it’s Rahm or Timmy—no problem.

4. Have to waste more time dressing up--guys don’t care if you wear the same tie.

3. Do you know what it’s like to live in a household full of women? Work is a sanctuary, and golf/basketball is “me time.”

2. When he plays basketball, they always look at his legs.
And the number one reason that Barack Obama doesn't like to associate with women:

1. Michelle's suspicions are right--they're always hitting on him.

Monday, October 26, 2009

No Joke

Ann Althouse, on the conservative resurgence in the polls now that liberals are in charge:
I guess the way to get people to become more conservative is to give power to liberals. Bring the conservatives back and not only will they start appalling us again, but we'll soon be dreaming dreamy dreams of liberal saviors.
Forget about this year's tea-party phenomenon. A paradox: what political movement commands the allegiance of the vast majority of Americans but will never achieve power? The GAG (grass-always-greener) party!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

'Annual Filing Division' Scam

More people are starting their own companies because of economic dislocation, and the number of potential fraud victims is rising accordingly. Limited Liability Companies that are operated by harried small-business folk provide especially fertile ground for the scam artists.

California LLC’s are required to file a number of documents regularly, and the scammers send official-looking notices that threaten severe penalties if “fees” are not remitted immediately.

We first wrote about the Annual Minutes Disclosure scam. It morphed into the Annual Review Board con. The last iteration was the Business Filing Division fraud that was covered in the local news media.

Yesterday I received an invoice from the Annual Filing Division. These schemes mutate faster than the flu virus.

No, I’m not going to shred the mailer, I’m going to send it to the State office responsible for shutting these guys down:

California Attorney General's Office
Attn: Public Inquiry Unit
P.O. Box 944255
Sacramento, CA 94244-2550

© 2009 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Loma Prieta Plus 20

Women's Marathon tents cover Union Square 20 years after the quake.

Saturday was the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. To those who were killed and injured it was a tragedy, but the total loss could have been a lot worse. 63 people died, and more calamitous natural- and man-made disasters since that fateful day have put Loma Prieta in perspective. There were pockets of heavy damage, but most of the Bay Area quickly recovered. The quake of '89 was a valuable wake-up call; it motivated residents to make preparations for the big quake that scientists say is inevitable.

As one Chronicle writer opined:
Loma Prieta was one of those watershed events; in some ways, the disaster was a blessing in disguise. Out of it came a brand new San Francisco waterfront, the revival of a rundown neighborhood in Hayes Valley, major upgrades of classic buildings in downtown Oakland, and new laws on unreinforced old buildings. One of these years, a new eastern half of the Bay Bridge will open.
Herewith my personal recollection of that day:

It was an early evening in October, and our department was assembling next year’s business plan. Most employees had left the office to watch the third game of the World Series. The building jolted, but nothing fell over, and the rumbling ceased after a few seconds.

I asked the staff to keep working. We had loaded half the data onto the HP minicomputer and didn’t want to stop until a first draft was run. The new analyst from Southern California stared at me with wide eyes. You should call home, she said. On speaker phone my wife's voice was frantic—pictures had fallen, broken china littered the kitchen, and she was leaving the house. Then the main power went out and the line went dead. I guess we should go home, I said.

A dozen of us gathered in the lobby. We were 20 floors up, the elevators were deactivated, and building security announced over the PA system that we should not exit until they checked the stairs. We didn’t have cell-phones, laptop computers, the Internet, or disaster training. Nobody knew what to do or how to communicate.

I grabbed the portable TV that I had brought to watch the Series. The Sony Watchman, about twice as thick as an iPhone, ran on 4 AA batteries. The concrete-and-glass walls in the highrise degraded the signal; the black-and-white picture was grainy, but the audio was decent. The reporters read the news in unemotional tones; journalists felt no need to hype developments with breathless excitement and excessive adjectives. This was one evening when no descriptors were needed. The Marina was burning, freeways had collapsed, the Bay Bridge was closed, and BART was shut down. The power was off throughout the City as darkness descended.

We got the all-clear and walked down the central metal staircase. Bay Bridge commuters couldn’t use any of the bridges to return home; getting to the East Bay via San Jose over uncertain roads portended a long night. Marin County drivers had no option but the Golden Gate Bridge. They were lucky; San Francisco’s landmark had held. We hugged before we parted.

Pedestrians and cars milled about the City streets. Buses crept at walking speed, letting passengers on and off at each corner. That night public transit was free. The street lights were off, not even blinking. Despite the paralyzed traffic no one honked his horn. The quiet was punctuated by the sound of the occasional siren. In the fading light we could see smoke to the east and the north.

The sun had set when I arrived at 4th & Townsend. There had been no need to rush to the Caltrain station. All trains had halted at 5:04. They wouldn't leave until engineers had inspected every mile of track and tunnels.

Caltrain turned on the running lights in the idle cars, as passengers played cards, listened to the radio, and engaged in conversation. Periodically they would try to reach their loved ones with only spotty success using the bank of Pacific Bell pay phones. It was pitch dark. One passenger shone his flashlight on the phones until the batteries ran out. Others used matches and cigarette lighters to see the numbers.

A little after 10 p.m. the trains began running at half speed. Spaced five minutes apart, they stopped at every station on the line. [From my holiday letter of 1989]:
We, as did most of our acquaintances, made it through the October 17th earthquake largely unscathed. Broken crockery and a few cracks in the plaster comprised the extent of the damage to our house. But I'll never forget the hours of anxious separation as we struggled to make it home across a darkened Bay Area, unable to call our loved ones. When I walked through the front door at 11:30, over six hours after the quake, my beloved poured out her frustrations and fears. But I was only listening with half an ear, so wonderful was the feeling of relief that everyone and everything were going to be all right.
© 2009 Stephen Yuen

Friday, October 16, 2009

Maybe Not Phenomenal, But At Least It's Pretty Good

Silicon Valley’s unemployment rate is still double digits, but at least one company is coming out of the recession in stellar fashion. Google’s revenue and net income for the last quarter were $6 billion and $1.6 billion, respectively, both all-time highs for the Mountain View company.
Google is gearing up for even better days, a shift that will involve hiring a couple thousand new employees after paring its payroll in each of the past two quarters. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company also intends to increase spending on computers and acquisitions of mostly small technology startups. Money won't be a problem, given that Google ended September with $22 billion in cash.
"There is a real wind of optimism and a real wind of confidence around here right now," Patrick Pichette, Google's chief financial officer, said in a Thursday interview.
I was one of the many skeptics who had no clue as to what Google was up to. I never click on pop-up ads and had no appreciation of the value of Internet search.

I also thought that its leadership position in Internet search was a one-trick pony that couldn't be leveraged into other areas. Google's forays into video, operating systems, browsers, and cell-phones have met with favorable critical reception. Even now it's difficult to discern the path to riches in these areas, but the Google guys, like Steve Jobs, seem to see trends and connections that no one else does. Although future profitability in non-search businesses isn't assured, I wouldn't bet against them.
[Disclosure: I bought Google over a year ago in the high-$400's, rode the stock down below $300, and am now enjoying a modest profit. I'm content to hold, but I'm not buying more.]

Community Center 2.0

Photo from the SJ Mercury News.

To these eyes the more interesting story in this morning's Merc was right below the banner head re Google's earnings. In August the Hacker Dojo was created in an old building formerly tenanted by a glass company.  The gathering place is
a "community center" for code monkeys, startup dreamers and anybody else with an unquenchable thirst to take technology in new directions.

A typical evening at the Dojo in Mountain View sometimes looks like chaos — two friends cobbling together a robot out of chips, circuit boards and servo motors; a clump of technical writers packed like sweaty sardines into a meeting; people squinting silently into their laptops, oblivious to the coming night.
With our virtual networks growing exponentially faster than the real, a place where we can make a physical connection becomes paradoxically more important. Online dating only takes us so far. We need to meet, work with, and/or make love to the live person to seal the deal. 

The founders and sponsors of the Hacker Dojo are showing that the spirit of the Valley is stronger than ever. They subscribe to the the belief that if you build it people will come....and create. 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Joe Says No

President Obama gave the impression during the campaign that he was a more attractive, charismatic version of Joe Lieberman, that is, a liberal in domestic policy but someone who would be aggressive in advocating America’s interests abroad. The President’s recent waffling on his campaign pledge to pursue the “necessary” war in Afghanistan seems to confirm moderate and conservative suspicions that the Obama foreign-affairs toughness was just a campaign mask to be thrown under the bus on Inauguration Day.

And now Joe Lieberman doesn’t like what he sees in the Baucus health care bill:
Mr. Lieberman criticizes the bill's overall size and scope, saying Democrats are trying to do "too much" in a recession. He also complains that it would "raise the price of insurance for most of the people in the country."
Under President Obama the government is taking on vastly more domestic obligations and is retreating from its foreign commitments. Yes, he is certainly no Joe Lieberman. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Another Man's Clutter

An impulse purchase from Costco, the unassembled kitchen cart had been gathering dust in the garage. If I were to make any progress toward my resolution to clear the clutter, I would have to unpack the box.

Soon more than a hundred parts were strewn across the garage floor. Bye, bye Saturday.

Years of struggling with Ikea furniture have taught that it does pay to scan the entire instruction booklet before starting. Getting a feel for the proper sequence saves time in the long run. First attach A to B, else C will not fit into D. Observe carefully which way the arrows point and which side the holes are on.

(If you’ve never put something together backwards during a project, dear reader, you’re a better person than I.) A power screwdriver prevented the sore wrist that the inexperienced me used to get, and this time I spent only 20 minutes reversing a couple of mistakes.

Half a day later, which is the normal completion time for do-it-yourself furniture, the cart was done. At 47” wide x 24” deep x 39”high it’s somewhat large for the kitchen, but I’m not going to give it away after so much effort. I’m sure it will be put to good use. One man's cart is another man's clutter. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

Friday, October 09, 2009

Just Not Yet

OK, my immediate reaction was rather snarky. His critics ought to congratulate him, or at least be silent. It’s not as if President Obama sent in an application for the Nobel Peace Prize. His statement this morning struck the right note:
I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee. Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize -- men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.
The Nobel Committee was quite candid that this year’s prize was awarded to influence President Obama’s future actions and not to acknowledge his past achievements, which even his supporters admit are minimal.
The award is also an example of what Nobel scholars call the growing aspirational trend of Nobel committees over the past three decades, by which awards are given not for what has been achieved but in support of the cause being fought for.

Thorbjørn Jagland, the committee chairman, made clear that this year’s prize fell in that category. “If you look at the history of the Peace Prize, we have on many occasions given it to try to enhance what many personalities were trying to do,” he said. “It could be too late to respond three years from now.”
In my humble opinion President Obama should turn down the Peace Prize, not because he may or may not be deserving, but out of respect for the both the Prize and the office he currently holds. As Commander in Chief of the armed forces of the United States, he may be called upon to make decisions that will result in the death of many people. Such decisions will not be made lightly, of course, but he may judge them to be necessary for the greater good (for example, defending the existence of an ally such as Taiwan or Israel).

It is possible that circumstance will cause history to view Mr. Obama as anything but a peacemaker, as events have done to his predecessor, and tarnish the moral stature of the Peace Prize. As he said in his speech:
I am the Commander-in-Chief of a country that's responsible for ending a war and working in another theater to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies.
President Obama may well be deemed to be a worthy recipient of the Nobel Prize after he leaves office. Just not yet. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

The question about whether we've got a Clinton or a Carter has been definitively answered.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

College Board Question of the Day

My inbox has the College Board’s SAT question of the day. It’s a good way to calibrate whether, at least along this dimension, I’m as smart as I was when I was a teen. I’m not.

From last week: I knew the answer to the following question but got it wrong (the answer and a short rumination is contained in the post right below this one). Pick A, B, C, D, or E.
The following sentence contains either a single error or no error at all. If the sentence contains an error, select the one underlined part that must be changed to make the sentence correct. If the sentence contains no error, select choice E.

Salt is valued (A) not only because of its properties as a condiment (B) and preservative, but (C) it is essential to (D) the health of humans and animals.

No error (E)

And the Answer Is......

My answer to the College Board’s question (see above post) was (E) – no error. However,
Correct Answer: C

Here's Why:

The error in this sentence occurs at (C), where there is an improper idiom. In order to complete the “not only...but also” construction so that what follows “not only” is grammatically parallel to what follows “but also,” the word “but” should be changed to “but also because.”
I got it wrong because I had absorbed from the zeitgeist that insistence on strict constructions like “not only…but also” is passé. These days the ear controls: if it sounds right, then it is right.

It seems so Fifties to abide by language rules: now it’s okay to split infinitives, to have pronouns disagree with their antecedent nouns (use “they”, “he or she”, “she”, “s/he”, but not “he”), throw out parallel construction, use contractions and sentence fragments. What about conventions like writing out an acronym [e.g., Scholastic Aptitude Test (“SAT”)] when they’re introduced in a piece? Ha! LOL. And don’t get me started on what txtg has done to splg.

If the Educational Testing Service wants to enforce the old dicta, great, I can understand that moral universe. But, if language rules are enforced selectively according to principles that aren’t written down anywhere, the validity of the verbal, writing and English achievement tests will be called into further question.

Various elites in America used to set the rules in international finance and the Internet but have lost, or are about to lose, control. Next no one will be the final authority over the English language. Then (E)—no error will be the correct answer. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Blessing the Beasts, 2009

Today, October 4th, churches throughout the world celebrated the Feast of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and the environment. As in years past, it was the day to spread the Blessing of the Animals to other members of the community.

Temperatures were mild, and the sun shone brightly on the small group of priests and laity who headed over to the Foster City Dog Park. Passersby, both two- and four-legged, stopped to chat, bark, meow, or squeal and have a prayer bestowed on their household.

The lady from the Homeless Cat Network again joined us. She said that the population of stray cats in the mid-Peninsula wetlands had been reduced to below one hundred. Feral felines are a menace to birds and other wildlife, and cat- and bird-lovers are united in the desire to reduce the number of strays. An aggressive program of spaying and neutering, monitoring through microchip implantation, and establishing cat feeding stations away from where the birds like to congregate has been successful. Fowl fanciers have grudgingly conceded that more drastic measures to control the cat population are unnecessary.

I lamented to a companion how few kids we saw in the park. With their over-scheduled and over-electronicized lives, children don’t experience the pleasure of languishing on a Sunday afternoon amidst the grass and trees.

We can’t tear them away from their cellphones and computers, I opined, as I clicked my iPhone camera and emailed a commemorative photo to a happy dog-owner. Two other ladies said that they showed up because of our posting on Craigslist. OK, so, we can’t turn back the clock (digital clocks only move forward anyway).

Just remember that we get our allotment of Vitamin D from real sunlight, not the glow from a computer screen. Going for a walk is beneficial to both dogs and their owners. Saint Francis, I suspect, would applaud. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

Saturday, October 03, 2009

No Impediment

Republicans have taken umbrage at this statement by Florida Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson(note: boldface added):
"If you get sick in America, this is what the Republicans want you to do: If you get sick America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly," he said. "That's right, the Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick."
Republicans are right to be outraged, because the statement is so obviously false--being dead is no impediment to receiving health care benefits!
An audit of the government program in five large states found about 65,000 instances of beneficiaries improperly obtaining potentially addictive drugs at a cost of about $65 million during 2006 and 2007 — including thousands of prescriptions written for dead patients or by people posing as doctors.