Saturday, July 31, 2010

Even the Jokes are Testing the Lows

Finding nothing in the economic and stock market outlook to be cheery about, Barron's lead writer Alan Abelson decides to end this week's column (behind the pay wall) with a list of puns. Caution: these are suitable only for groan men and women.
Those who jump off a bridge in Paris are in Seine.
A man's home is his castle, in a manor of speaking.
Practice safe eating--always use condiments.
Shotgun wedding--a case of wife or death.
A man needs a mistress just to break the monogamy.
A hangover is the wrath of grapes.
Reading while sunbathing makes you well red.
When two egotists meet, it's an I for an I.
A bicycle can't stand on its own because it's two tired.
What's the definition of a will? (It's a dead give away).
She was engaged to a boyfriend with a wooden leg but broke it off.
If you don't pay your exorcist, you get repossessed.
The man who fell into an upholstery machine is fully recovered.
A lot of money is tainted--taint yours and taint mine.
He had a photographic memory that was never developed.
Once you've seen one shopping center, you've seen a mall.
Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead-to-know basis.
Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.
Acupuncture is a jab well done.

Boardwalk Taste on a Baltic Ave. Budget

While the Bay Area’s attention was focused on the Gilroy Garlic Festival last weekend, we decided to go to the beach.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a great place to people-watch, enjoy the weather, and entertain oneself without too much damage to the wallet. Its rides, games, and carnival fare hark back to a less electronic era when recreational pursuits engaged all of one's senses.

We arrived during the early afternoon when it was cool and overcast. I found a parking place by the Boardwalk and dropped $4.50 into the meter. Your humble (and cheap) correspondent refuses to pay $11 to the all-day lot when his visit will only last three hours.

We strolled down the Boardwalk to the old casino. Originally built in the decade before the Roaring 20's, its target customers were the young, well-heeled, and fashionable who wanted to carouse all night. A century later the complex has been renovated to appeal more to toddlers than flappers.

We couldn't resist trying the Pirate-themed indoor miniature golf course that had audio-animatronic special effects, fluorescently lit "night" holes, and, best of all, undamaged putting surfaces.

The sun had burnt away the fog after we had finished the 18th hole, and the beach began filling up with sunbathers, swimmers, and surfers. During my salad days I would have eagerly hopped onto the Giant Dipper roller coaster, but on this day the sedate Sky Glider provided more than enough thrills as it ski-lifted us above the Boardwalk. We got back to the car just before the meter expired.

Herewith the final cost of our day trip:

Parking         $4.50
Mini-golf       10.00
Sky glider       6.00
Train ride        8.00
Gas (6 gals)  18.00
Food              15.60

Total           $62.10

Thursday, July 29, 2010


The WSJ’s influential tech columnist, Walt Mossberg, gives a qualified endorsement to the iPhone 4 after a six-week personal testing period. Excerpts:
After my six weeks of constant use of two iPhone 4s, I still believe it is, overall, the best device in its class, for reasons including its ultra high-resolution screen; easy, integrated video calling; slick software; strong battery life; a remarkably thin body; and a world-beating selection of 225,000 third-party apps.

…touching the hot spot doesn't always ruin the call, even if it lowers the number of bars. In several cases, when I was already on a call with three or four bars showing, I deliberately covered the hot spot with my hand, and the call continued normally, strong and clear, even though the bars dropped to one or two.

I also spent a few days testing the "bumper" case Apple is now giving away to every iPhone 4 user. It greatly reduced what call problems I experienced, even in weak areas, though it didn't entirely eliminate dropped calls, which occur even in good coverage.

A key reason Apple moved most of the antenna to the outside of the phone was to free up room inside for a larger battery, while keeping the phone thin. In my six weeks of experience, the battery life has been outstanding. I have never run out of battery in a day's use, despite constant, heavy email traffic, lots of Web surfing and app usage, and frequent checking of social networks.

So that's my six-week, real-world report. Despite the hot-spot issue and the exposed antenna, the iPhone 4 does better than the 3GS for me in decent coverage. But I still wouldn't advise adopting it as your primary phone if you live, work or travel in areas with poor AT&T reception, or if you prefer a network under less stress.
Walt Mossberg’s assessment seems consistent with that of four other iPhone 4 users whom I’ve spoken to. The whole antenna-attenuation controversy now appears grossly overblown, as was the unintended acceleration of Toyotas and even (can it really be true?) the damage from the BP oil spill.

Were I suspicious and not the trusting soul that I am, I might attribute the media piling-on to: 1) lawyers in search of big payoffs from class-action lawsuits; 2) those who want more government control or oversight (which term one uses betrays one’s philosophical leanings) of the economy; 3) reporters in search of the next bleeding lede. Because I know from TV crime shows that businessmen are the bad guys (but not public-interest lawyers, regulators, and newspeople) there must be another explanation for all this emotion-stirring. Not to worry, I am sure reporters will ferret out the truth. © 2010 Stephen Yuen

[Afterthought: if the oil-spill turns out to be not so bad, that might help President Obama, who had been severely criticized for his inaction. He's a deliberator, not a ditherer! On the other hand, why continue the moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf? It's a puzzlement.]

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pleasant Surprise

I’ve had bad luck (of the self-inflicted variety) with my Bluetooth earpieces. I bought my first one a few months before the hands-free cellphone law went into effect in 2008. A few months later it went through the wash cycle and came out dismembered and totally non-functional. My second earpiece avoided laundry malfunctions because it resided in my briefcase when not in use. After years of jostling and pounding it too passed from this mortal coil.

Despite a resolve to keep a close eye on the third Bluetooth, I forgot that the tiny device was buried deep in the pocket of my workout sweater. It went through the washing machine yesterday. I felt a sharp pang of chagrin as I saw the red LED flash from the bottom of the drum. The good news, of course, was that the LED was flashing at all.
"Takes a washing and keeps on flashing"--not the same ring
Modern electronics equipment is both complex and fragile. Even brief exposure to water can ruin a cellphone or camera. Timex’ ad slogan from the ‘60’s, “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking” seems such a quaint anachronism that even Timex has abandoned it.

I dried the earpiece, recharged the battery, and tested both transmission and reception. Unlike its 2008 ancestor, this Jawbone 2 worked like a champ. Pleasant surprises, though they be trivial, brighten my day. © 2010 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Far From Dead

I am not as maniacal as others in my generation, but I have enough of their LPs and CDs to hold my own when discussing the oeuvre. What's astonishing is how many of our children and grandchildren have succumbed to Beatlemania. Maybe not so astonishing, on second thought. The ear, like the heart, wants what it wants.

Two weekends ago on a cool and breezy Saturday night Sir Paul McCartney returned to San Francisco, nearly 44 years after the Beatles' last concert at Candlestick Park. Paul is a marvel. Looking like a man half his age (“an absolute whirlwind”), he skipped and hopped across the stage, donning and doffing various instruments like comfortable slippers. He segued from hard rock to ballads and belted out top-100 standards, all the while joshing with the crowd in his inimitable understated manner.

There were 21st-century pyrotechnics and formidable technical skill displayed by his youthful band, who had perhaps even more technical proficiency than the original Fab Four. But for my money ($150 a pop) the most magical moments consisted of just the man and his guitar or piano, unaccompanied, crooning to a rapt, intimate audience of 40,000 people in the voice that we’ve heard thousands of times before.

Beatles tunes alternated with post-1960’s compositions through the program. With nary a pause the band accelerated into the final hour with hit after hit; being a mega-rockstar appears to be the key to eternal energy, if not eternal life. When the second and final encore rung down (“The End” track from Sgt. Pepper), a happy and mostly sated crowd filed out of the ballpark.

It was standing room only on the late train down the Peninsula, but no one minded. Melodies from our youth played back in our heads, and we were young again. © 2010 Stephen Yuen

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cottoning To Change

When I started working in San Francisco the standard office uniform was suit and tie for the men, and subdued skirts or pantsuits, which had recently become acceptable, for the ladies. Wool, not cotton or polyester, was the norm.

Silicon Valley had a completely different sartorial ethic. Its workforce consisted of blue-collar laborers, convention-flouters from Sixties cultural battles, and fresh-faced kids who had never grown accustomed to wearing a suit. They didn’t see the necessity of dressing up. It also didn’t hurt that company founders who showed up every day in jeans, tee-shirts, and running shoes became well-publicized successes.

It took a generation, but Silicon Valley won. Business casual has become the norm in West Coast office towers. Many companies still draw the line at denim, but short-sleeve shirts on hot summer days are now permissible.

Lately I’ve been breaking out the aloha (Hawaiian) shirts, and I’ve noticed that more Californians are joining in wearing colorful tropical garb. Whether it’s due to the rising popularity of Latin, South Asian, or Hawaiian influences, that’s change I can believe in.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Holding my Breath, or Hoping I Don't Gag on GOOG

When people ask me what stocks to put their money in, I shake my head and keep silent, my own investing mistakes fresh in memory. (I have enough problems with my own portfolio, don’t make me feel responsible for yours.)

I bought some Google several years ago and have watched it bounce around between $400 and $600. On Thursday GOOG’s earnings disappointed investors who had been expecting more than 23% in EPS growth. The stock fell 7% the next day, and now it’s below my entry point.

But I don’t expect Google to end up on my investment wall of shame. Barron’s says that this is merely a pause (the article is behind the pay wall). A few snippets:
Despite new rivals, it’s a dynamic online-search business that will thrive as more advertising dollars bolt traditional media for the Internet. [It] has shrewdly positioned itself for the future by placing bets on small but faster-growing segments ranging from mobile displays to video ads. Google could easily extend its stranglehold from conventional search to mobile search.

Today its enterprise value is just 10 times the company’s formidable cash flow, a record low and a far cry from 45 in 2005. At these levels, investors are essentially paying for Google’s search engine and getting everything else free.

The downside risk of owning Google shares is 10%, while the upside potential is 50%, says Harry Rady of Rady Asset Management.

Online advertising is still in its infancy with huge potential for more growth as the world’s burgeoning middle class surfs, shops, shoots videos and shares its pictures on the Web.
For what it’s worth I think Google’s strategic position is superior to Apple, which the stock market says is 50% more valuable than Google. Apple is dependent upon creative brilliance—much of it residing on the shoulders and health of one man—to keep on winning. Google’s growth is not foreordained, but if it does not make egregiously stupid moves with its base business it should have a very long run à la Microsoft’s riding of the desktop wave. So I’m holding my breath and holding on.

[Disclosure: I own both GOOG and AAPL.] © 2010 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Not Dark or Stormy

What do Charles Dickens and Stephenie Meyer (authoress of teen vampire best-sellers) have in common?

Statistical analysis says that I write like them. I pasted three paragraphs of two recent blog posts into I Write Like and that’s what the computer said (so it must be right, right?).

Well, it could have been worse. At least the site didn’t spit out Edward Bulwer-Lytton .

Monday, July 12, 2010

Something Else is Different

I've been attending Episcopal services for over half a century, and a few things have changed. We no longer say "thee" and "thou" when praying, the congregation greets each other when passing the peace, and there's something else.... Here's what I saw looking up at the altar yesterday from the back of the church (sorry about the poor resolution of my 2MP iPhone).

L to R: Rebecca, Bobbi, Penelope, Shelley, and Charlotte

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Admirable Aspiration

I've had bad luck with digital cameras, losing them, dropping them in water, jamming the aperture, etc. Four years ago I bought an inexpensive but reliable--top-rated according to Consumer Reports--Canon A620.  I liked that it had an optical viewfinder, used (four) AA batteries, and withstood being tossed around.  And if misfortune befell it, the financial wound would not have been deep. But unlike its predecessors it continues to plod on. 

The A620 was fine for taking snapshots, but its lack of low-light capability has become a nuisance.  Witness the photo taken from the Beach Park bridge in Foster City. 

I'm now shopping for a camera loaded with features, including light sensitivity. (I will likely upgrade my creaky iPhone 3G to the iPhone 4 this year; the i4 will become my point-and-shoot vehicle for most day-to-day uses.)

The purpose of this post, however, is not to bury the old Canon but to praise it.  Too many products in our house, garden, and garage have broken down prematurely.  The Canon was perfect within the bounds of its limitations, which is an admirable aspiration for animate and inanimate objects alike. 

Friday, July 09, 2010

It's Not All Business

The high cost of real estate, the hassles of the commute, and onerous business taxes and regulations are the principal reasons that businesses are fleeing San Francisco. However, let us not forget the benefits---mild to cool temperatures year-round, a vast array of dining choices, and for many of us office workers the views of the bay.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


The narrow road winds through an old residential neighborhood, and it’s easy to miss the sign. A short, steep climb later and the panorama opens up, or used to until the high-rise apartments obscured the view of downtown Honolulu. At the entrance one notices the colors---the green of the freshly mown grass, the white of the pillars and steps, the gray of the granite, and the red, white, and blue waving overhead.

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in the Punchbowl crater is just four miles from the bustle of the city center but seems a world away. We stopped at the visitors' center and typed in the names of those to whom we had come to pay our respects. The first was interred in a site not far from the road, and the ashes of the other two, along with their wives, were in the colombarium.

These men had grown up during the Great Depression and served during the war. Like other members of the greatest generation they didn't talk much about their experiences. What would they have thought of the modern propensity to tweet about every inconvenience?

At the top of the memorial steps the major battles of the Pacific war are displayed in large maps [photo at right of the Okinawa campaign from].

At Gaudalcanal and Iwo Jima American forces suffered more deaths in a few months than they have in the entire nine-year Afghan war. And those numbers were dwarfed by the losses that Japan experienced at the red dawn of the atomic age.

But one can't dwell on these sobering ruminations for long in this peaceful setting. We returned to the car and took one last look at Lady Columbia. By the way, do you recognize her? Her image used to be beamed into American households every week.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Nothing to Fear

The UK's Committee on Climate Change….believes that the government should step in to keep fuel prices permanently high [bold added], a move that should force drivers to buy something more efficient. (H/T Instapundit)
But why stop with energy?

We know that our number-one health problem is obesity, so let’s “step in to keep [food] prices permanently high” and force fat Americans to consume less for their own good.

Our system of medical insurance conceals the cost to consumers. If we made them pay their own way and/or continue to let the cost of hospitals and prescriptions escalate, that would frighten them into taking better care of themselves.

The rising cost of a college education is a good thing because it makes slackers take their studies more seriously or drop out, freeing classrooms for those who really want to go to school.

Expensive real estate induces the young, the old, and the unemployed to move in with their relatives and rediscover the virtue of large families.

We shouldn’t fear another Great Depression, we should aspire to it.

[Note: the above is an attempt at sarcasm, which I don't do well.]

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Uncle Allan

Allan L.C. Yuen, 81, of Honolulu, a retired Guam Community College administrator, died in Honolulu. He was born in Hawaii. He is survived by sons Christen and Shelten; brothers Alfren and Robert; sisters Bow Yin Ching and Eva Mokiao; and two grandchildren. Mass: 9:30 a.m. Thursday at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church. Call after 8:30 a.m. Committal services: 2 p.m. at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Punchbowl. Aloha attire. No flowers. –From the Star Advertiser
I rarely saw Uncle Allan during my childhood. He lived in Los Angeles during the 1950’s and returned with stories of six-lane freeways where monster trucks would tailgate you at 70 miles per hour. To a credulous kid who had never gone faster than 50 it sounded both horrifying and exciting.

Uncle Allan was the clan’s educated man. He had a Master's degree when most in the family didn't even go to college. He was not philosophical like my Uncle Jack, the engineer and professor, but worldly-wise. He chain-smoked. He was left-handed. My grandmother despaired of him ever getting married. Despite his irreverent mien he regularly attended Catholic services. He had a Mainlander’s ‘tude. I admired him but never told him because it wouldn’t have been cool.

He returned to the Islands and taught at Maryknoll, the Catholic school across the street from Punahou. During my middle school years I would wait on the chapel steps for him to give me a ride home. One of the high points of my day was to get in his Ford Mustang, the driver dangling the cigarette from the window.

After I left for college, I was surprised to hear that he got married to a lady who didn’t speak much English. The union didn’t last, but not before it had produced two sons. I now had two new cousins who were younger than other cousins’ kids.

His restless spirit didn’t permit him to be confined to our island for long, and his travels took him to Guam and Chico in central California. As age’s infirmities began to nag, he returned to Hawaii to be close to his brothers and sisters. He quit smoking and went for daily walks. He learned to love e-mail, especially because he could communicate instantaneously with his sons who were thousands of miles away. He proudly showed me pictures of his grandchildren.

Last April Uncle Allan was admitted to Queen’s Hospital for abdominal bleeding that the doctors couldn’t stop. When I saw him in June he was hooked up to an array of devices, the once voluble man rendered silent by the tubes down his throat. His eyes and his hands, gripping mine, showed that he was listening. As I reminisced, I didn’t see the frail white-haired figure on the hospital bed but the jaunty bachelor grinning and waving goodbye as his Mustang roared away. His ashes are now in Punchbowl, joining three of his brothers. Rest in peace, Uncle. Thank you for our journey together.