Sunday, June 27, 2010

Going Home Again

The Ko'olau mountains
It's been nearly four decades since I moved away. Although I've been back many times for short visits, this was the first occasion in which I reconnected with many of those with whom I had spent my youth.

We had our reunion dinner at the Mid-Pacific Country Club in Lanikai, where a well-known alumnus likes to hang out when he returns to Oahu. The Ko'olau mountains, jagged in their youth and now softer and rounder in their middle age, provided a fitting backdrop for a class picture.

Professional photographer Eric Y. snapped away, adding to his 40-year collection of class negatives. When he ran his slide show of senior-year memories, I had three thoughts:
1) I'm glad he took those pictures;
2) I regret my youthful irritation at Eric's ubiquitous camera;
3) We had some very attractive young ladies in our class--if only I had taken the time to notice!

We honored those whom we will never see again. Each of us was alone with our thoughts as pictures and memories played across the screen. Lisa K. reprised the A.A. Milne passage that she read at our graduation; I flashed back to that moment in Mr. Lichthardt's eighth-grade English class when she spoke about Christopher Robin and his beloved bear. I'm sorry to admit that as a wiseacre young teen I stifled a snicker. How unaware was I about the little cruelties that I inflicted on others.

We formed a circle, held hands just as we used to in elementary school and as teen-agers in the Sixties, albeit for different reasons, and sang the mournful prayer of Queen Liliuokalani. In the original Hawaiian the prayer is especially beautiful, and remarkably even the Mainlanders remembered the words that we learned as children.

The evening flew quickly as we shouted the Cliff's Notes version of our lives to each other. I tried to make the rounds but only talked to a fraction of my classmates. The rest will have to wait until next time.

Jimmy, whose presidency of our class from sixth to twelfth grade foreshadowed his life's path, said that he hoped to be in office when the school hosted our 50th reunion. Amen, brother, and aloha (till we meet again). © 2010 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Condiment Crime

A Boise woman has been arrested for dumping mayonnaise, ketchup, and corn syrup down a library book chute. I'm shocked and horrified at her choice of condiments. Doesn't she know that vegetable salsa, balsamic vinegar, and Tabasco are healthier alternatives?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Not Always The Best

Hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio wants brutal honesty from everyone who works for him:
Mr. Dalio's basic philosophy is what he calls "hyper-realism," a notion that brutal honesty, no matter how uncomfortable, yields the best results. Principle No. 8: "There is nothing to fear from truth....Being truthful is essential to being an independent thinker and obtaining greater understanding of what is right."
You may speak your mind, but you can’t hide in the shadows.
At Bridgewater [Associates], being truthful also requires being a bit ruthless. Employees aren't allowed to talk critically about someone unless the person is present. Principal No. 11: "Never say anything about a person you wouldn't say to him directly. If you do, you are a slimy weasel." If an employee breaks the rule three times, they can be fired.
Living by this philosophy sounds liberating. Our politically correct way of speaking can confuse others; masking what we really think leads to misunderstandings and delayed, if not wrong, group decisions. 

It's one thing to apply them to the workplace, but I know that I can’t live by Mr. Dalio’s rules in my personal life. I regularly deal with mentally challenged (see, there I go with euphemisms) people, and only very rarely would I say to them that they are unlikely to live a normal life or that some things they deeply desire they can never have. Speaking with brutal honesty to the clinically depressed can have dire consequences.

Ray Dalio's billions permit him to have luxuries afforded to few mortals.  One such is the privilege of speaking his mind without consequence or of having to associate with those for whom brutal honesty is not the best policy. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thanks to My Family and "My....

psychiatrist!"  Ron Artest credits those who helped him win the NBA championship, as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics, 83-79, in Game 7.

It wasn't a particularly well-played final. There was lots of pushing and shoving, as the referees were judicious about blowing the whistle. Both teams blew chances to put the game away at the foul line; free-throw shooting was poor. Nevertheless, the closeness of the score kept me hooked to the end.

With big guns Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol returning and with Phil Jackson as coach, there's no reason that the Lakers can't be back to the Big Show a year from now. It will be a long wait until they depart the scene and the Warriors, the forlorn franchise in Northern California, can be a serious contender.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Life Happened

Billy greeted us at the entrance and gave me a hug that I reciprocated. That’s what decades of separation will do to people who had only a passing acquaintance. By the grace of God we had made it to our 40th reunion, unlike 31 of our less-lucky classmates.

I looked past the lawyers, doctors, landscapers, musicians, homebuilders and priests and saw instead the kids who I played tetherball, diagrammed sentences, and dissected frogs with. Through the gray hair, the wrinkles, and the extra pounds shone the essence of their characters. I missed them more than I knew.

We had parted in haste, eyes focused on the worlds we were about to conquer. Life happened in the meantime, our faces lined by joy, sadness, amusement, and regrets. Now we looked at each other, some for the first time, and smiled.

Billy introduced a commemorative video and made a remark that hinted that his politics had changed 180 degrees since high school. I laughed politely. Who knows what wonders are in store for our 50th reunion?
© 2010 Stephen Yuen

Friday, June 11, 2010

Getting My Vitamin D

I've been in Hawaii this past week to reunite with high school classmates and to visit relatives.

A few days ago we drove around Oahu and marveled at all the changes. I got lost frequently. iPhone GPS and Google Maps were not wholly reliable, or maybe I just don't know how to use them properly. One area that hasn't changed much is the beach along the far North Shore where the road ends, away from crowded Haleiwa. White sand, fierce sun, and lapping waves. Maui's over-rated. Oahu no ka oi!

Gotta get me one of those new iPhones. 2MP resolution doesn't cut it.

In Over His Head

We are close to a tipping point. Contrasting memes about the President are jockeying for the lead—the cool customer, the elitist professor, the young internationalist, the talkative lawyer, the too-nice guy, the “Chicago way” bully. The oil leak in the Gulf threatens to swing all the needles to negative and freeze them there.

To be sure, there are lots of negatives already: persistently high unemployment, Afghanistan, Iran, debt-and-deficit worries, a looming hot war in Korea, worsening illegal immigration, and a dozen other problems that scream for attention.

The main problem and my biggest fear about this President is that he is incompetent. Many may disagree with his policies, but nearly everyone wants to see the government running smoothly. Existing laws should be enforced effectively and efficiently, whether the subject is immigration, environmental protection, homeland security, or tax collection. President Obama may not know how to plug the leak, but the Chief Executive should have done what it was in his power to do, namely, to protect the coast line and have the Coast Guard and Navy help break up the slick.

(Like any neophyte manager who's taken aback by bureaucracy, the President in his early months tried to cut through red tape by appointing dozens of "czars." At least he's abandoned that approach with the Gulf.)

The rumblings are not yet a roar. Diehard progressives still blame the previous Administration, but it’s been 17 months and to a majority of the country things seem to be getting worse. As I wrote well before Mr. Obama was nominated,
The four L's on how to get to the top of the heap in the Democratic party: liberal, loquacity, looks, lawyer. No experience necessary.
The chickens are coming home to roost.

By Ramirez from Investor's Business Daily.

Monday, June 07, 2010


Highlights from the Wall Street Journal's liveblog on the iPhone 4 announcement.
Only at a geek-fest like this would you encounter a men's-room line out the door next to an apparently deserted women's restroom. What, Jobs didn't import a bank of iUrinals?

The crowd is going nuts as Steve Jobs takes the stage. The cell phone truly is today's cigarette lighter in concert halls.

Mr. Jobs declares: "We're going to take the biggest leap since the original iPhone ... this is really hot ... well over 100 features."

There's a camera and LED flash. There's a microphone, headset and a sleep-wake button.

The "retina display" has 326 pixels per inch. (There's clapping at this.) Mr. Jobs says it turns out that 300 is the limit of the human retina to differentiate the pixels. They're so close together at 326 that all of a sudden it looks like continuous curves, he says.

The biggest single component in the phone is the battery, and because the A4 chip is so good with power management, users will get up to 40% more talk time (5 hours to 7 hours), 10 hours of Wi-Fi browsing, 10 hours of video, 40 hours of music and 300 hours of standby.

The company is adding a gyroscope, which will make the phone even more motion-sensitive….which allows for much finer motion and position sensing than previous phones, which used just an accelerometer.

The camera system. There's a three-megapixel to a five-megapixel sensor, and a backside-illuminated sensor (which involves capturing more photons). There's a 5-X digital zoom, tap-to-focus capability and an LED flash. It also records HD video.

We can now search from Google, Yahoo or Bing.

iBooks is coming to the iPhone.

Steve Jobs just used his iPhone 4 to enter a contest to win an all-electric Nissan Leaf. Good luck, buddy! I hope the universe finally starts smiling on you ...

“One more thing”: Video calling is called FaceTime. You can use the front and rear camera, portrait or landscape. It's available Wi-Fi only in 2010.
Apple could have omitted half the features, and I would still upgrade. The cost is $199 for a 16GB model and $299 for a 32GB, plus a two-year AT&T contract. My old 3G is getting a bit creaky.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Wealthier Than Most

I don't care what this guy's politics are --this one thing is enough to make me like him.
Uruguay's new president may be one of the world's poorest sitting leaders: Jose Mujica formally declared that his entire wealth amounts to a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle. [bold added]

The 23-year-old car is valued at about $1,900. Since the former leftist guerrilla leader has no bank accounts or other assets and put his small flower farm in his wife's name, the car is all he owns.
When I finished school, my 1967 Beetle was the only asset on my balance sheet. The difference between Mr. Mujica and the younger me is that he is satisfied with what he has. Today I have amassed stuff to fill dozens of Beetles but am no happier. He is the better man.

Yes, I still have it.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Waterfront Restaurant

After spending the day at the ballpark or Union Square, some may not feel up to hoofing another couple of miles to Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner. The historic trolleys can get you there in style, but there are lines of tourists and the $2 fare seems excessive for such a short distance.

One alternative is the Waterfront Restaurant, a short six-minute walk from the Ferry Building. Since 1970 the Waterfront has not generally been noted for the food but has attracted business due to its location and bay view. It was on the favored list of financial district employers seeking to impress interviewees with San Francisco ambience without breaking the bank on a four-star meal. I’ve had lunches and dinners there, although not recently, as both candidate and hiring manager.

We walked through the doors at 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday and were promptly seated. The waiter took our order and set down warm sourdough, which we scarfed hungrily. When he returned with the drinks five minutes later, we asked for another slice. The entrées were priced in the $20 - $30 range, normal for a San Francisco seafood restaurant. Value diners all, we opted for the fixed-price 40th anniversary $40 menu. It turned out to be a bargain.

The cream in the lobster bisque added just enough richness without overwhelming the flavor of the spices and the seafood. The one-pound lobster was boiled just right, thoroughly cooked but not overdone to dryness. My resolution to take it home wavered after one bite of the chocolate fondant, laden with sugar and cream. It offset the calories burned during two workouts but was worth it.

As we exited to the cool San Francisco evening, I put the Waterfront on my favorites list, and not just for interviews.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Nuclear Option

The uncontrolled gusher from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig has prompted one editorialist to call for the nuclear option, literally:
Obama should be discussing the possibility of using an atomic weapon to seal the leak [bold added]. Before the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963, the United States successfully detonated nuclear devices both on land and under water, and two potential delivery paths for a nuke are already in place in the form of the partially completed relief wells. Assuming the bomb could be delivered close enough to the drill channel, the yield required would be relatively small. Moreover, well-established formulae establish the burial-depth-to-yield ratios that make it possible to trap virtually all of the radioactive fallout within the sub-oceanic bedrock. [snip]

It seems a reasonable conjecture that the dissipation of a limited amount of radioactive material across the vast Gulf is preferable to the blanketing of thousands of miles of American coastline in ribbons of tar.
It sounds so crazy that it just might work.

But be very careful. As this experience has taught us, the ocean deep unleashes forces that man cannot control.

Steve Unplugged

The highlight of last night's All Things Digital conference was an interview and Q & A session with Steve Jobs. Shown below is the Wall Street Journal's enraptured ("90 minutes of Steve Jobs unplugged, a really bravura performance") Alan Murray. One irony is that the online WSJ uses Flash, which won't play on the iPod, iPhone, or iPad.

Steve Jobs is the champion surfer who first identifies which wave to catch, then rides it higher and faster than anyone else. What amazes is that Apple repeats its success over and over in different industries with different products. iPad sales are already phenomenal with two million sold thus far and could well reach 5.5 million by year-end. iPad shipments are likely to outstrip sales of the Macintosh in 2010.

To me the most fascinating segment was Steve Jobs' discussion about television, an industry in which many companies and technologies are jockeying for position. Steve's protestations that Apple TV is simply a "hobby" seems a little strained. Apple's rockstar CEO can't be putting this much thought into television without having something up his sleeve.

Steve Jobs was cheered when he said that he hoped that news organizations would stay in business because of the iPad. He said, "I don't want to see us descend into a nation of bloggers." Ouch.

Hey, Steve, the professional newsgathering organization USA Today called you a "foot."

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Two General Rules for Voting

I mailed my absentee ballot today. Aside from the headline races for Governor and Senator, I was astonishingly ignorant (maybe not so astonishing to you, dear reader) about the down-ballot races and the propositions. I cast my vote for secretary of state, county superintendents and supervisors, insurance commissioner, controller, treasurer, and state assembly based on a single-line description of candidates’ occupations. Mine wasn’t an uplifting example of enlightened citizenship.

I follow two general rules when voting for—it would be more accurate to say against--candidates and propositions about which I know little or nothing:

1) I don’t vote for lawyers. Some of my best friends are lawyers, and they’re some of the smartest and most honest (really!) people I know, but lawyers are vastly over-represented in government. The legal mentality---I know I’m exaggerating—believes that a desirable outcome can be obtained by passing the right law or by crafting a regulation with just the right words. That’s not how the world works; the right words don’t clean up oil spills or dissuade people from crossing the border illegally or produce quality cars and emergency rooms.

2) I don’t vote for propositions. Somehow I’ve managed to live over half a century without the five state ballot initiatives that have been proposed this year. New laws usually add to the burden, not the joy, of living. Unless there is a severe problem that our elected representatives have decided not to address--such as the State’s overflowing treasury from a 1970’s real-estate boom that produced the property-tax limits of Proposition 13—I automatically vote against propositions. (One cheerful exception would be a law that retires or replaces two or more others; wake me when that happens.) © 2010 Stephen Yuen