Thursday, June 30, 2011

Peninsula Jewel

The Food Court is close to the Lobby and sitting areas.
Over the years we have visited San Francisco and Peninsula hospitals, including Stanford, UCSF, Mills, and California-Pacific. Fortunately, the occasions rarely were for our personal health needs but mainly to call on patients whom we knew. We have no medical training and are ill qualified to pronounce judgment on the quality of health care. That important caveat aside, I have to say that the new Mills-Peninsula Medical Center is the finest-looking facility I have seen.

Open on May 15th on the site of the old Peninsula Hospital, the $618 million hospital boasts state-of-the-art technology throughout. The larger floorplan of the rooms, plus higher-than-average ceilings, imparts a feeling of spaciousness not found in other buildings. I particularly liked the lounge and waiting areas, some with kitchenettes, on each floor. The needs of family members, far from being an afterthought, were built into the design.

The appearance of a campus building may have little to do with the learning that goes on inside; similarly, the looks of this hospital don't necessarily mean that the physicians are sparkling, too. Nevertheless--for what it's worth--our visitors' experience was comfortable, and our patient, after a four-day stay, is well on her way to recovery.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Drought Forestalled

The rain and cool temperatures brought welcome relief from the summer heat wave. In San Francisco this is shaping up to be one of the wettest Junes ever. For the first year since scientists began keeping records in 1849 there will be more precipitation in June than there was in January. There won't be water rationing this year, so I won't have to make tough choices between lawn, laundry, and lavatory.

Things are looking up--or should I say down--in other areas as well. Slowly, ever slowly, the unemployment rate falls. In San Mateo County the percentage of people looking for work is a still-high 8.1%, but the trend is in the right direction. On Friday I paid $3.599 for a gallon of regular, the lowest it's been this year.

If stocks continue the rebound begun yesterday, that will be icing on the cake.

Better garbage service, too: Recology took the box. Allied Waste wouldn't have.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Flaky Name

The English language is replete with subtleties that trip up non-native speakers. "Flake" has long had a positive association with food, e.g., corn flakes and flaky crusts, so a Philippine company probably thought that naming its crackers "SkyFlakes" was a brilliant stroke; SkyFlakes have been popular in Asian markets since the 1960's.

Recent usage of "flake" has turned toward negative meanings, however. A flake is an unreliable person; someone who agrees to do something, but never follows through. And flakes, as dandruff commercials tell us, should never be seen on one's shoulder.

Sometimes what's in a name can overwhelm other attributes. That's why SkyFlakes won't be penetrating the American market, no matter how good they taste.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Crack for the Brain

I'm glad that smartphones weren't around till I turned 50, else I would never have had a life. Smartphone addiction is caused by what the psychologists call the variable ratio reinforcement schedule:
It's like a slot machine. You check the phone or the Internet, and, in an unpredictable fashion, you might see a new photo of a friend's baby or get a text message. Although it is unpredictable, when you do see something new, it stimulates pleasure centers in the brain.
When the most difficult decision in the morning is not whether to turn on the iPhone but whether to check the iPhone, iPad, or PC (forget the latter, actually, it takes too long to boot up), you know you should check in to rehab. Now if I can just find a facility that has WiFi.....

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Answering the Call

David Brooks says that following one's passion, at least for young graduates, is poor advice:
Very few people at age 22 or 24 can take an inward journey and come out having discovered a developed self.

Most successful young people don't look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer's and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss, and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn't in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution.

Most people don't form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.
College teaches us to be open to new experiences and new perspectives. But that kind of openness demands little courage compared to that which is required to answer a call.

If we're lucky, we get opportunities to learn, to make more money, and to increase responsibilities without having to give up the things and people whom we care about. But that happy circumstance is rare. Many hear the call--to teach, to fight, to minister, to lead, to give--but the price is often too steep. From Luke 18:
You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'

"All these I have kept since I was a boy," he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.
In 21st century Silicon Valley young entrepreneurs are treading the middle ground. They haven't (yet) given away their wealth--after all, who would have the nerve to do that before the age of 30--but they do shun its outward and visible signs:
"Things can't bring you happiness," [27-year-old Facebook billionaire Dustin] Moskovitz said. "I have pictured myself owning expensive things and easily came to the conclusion that I would not have a materially more meaningful life because of them."
Aaron Patzer, 30, who sold his company for $170 million, chimed: "Wealth needs a purpose greater than big houses and flashy cars."

It's easy to sound virtuous when one is a whippersnapper with a seven-figure bank account. But it wasn't that long ago that we believed that a $100,000 salary meant that we had made it to the top. $100K per year meant that we could quit striving and turn our attention to that which was really important. But we didn't step off the ladder. We grew accustomed to $100,000, then $200,000 or more.

We didn't answer the call in years past, but thankfully it's not too late. These young people, by their example, are showing us how.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

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, which explained why he was always tired, so that he could buy a house and send all his kids to private school.
  • 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.

    Happy Father's Day to all dads everywhere! © 2011 Stephen Yuen
  • Saturday, June 18, 2011

    Gloomy Over Google

    Stock prices are roughly at the same level they were at the start of the year....a result that Google shareholders would take in a heartbeat. It's more than a little puzzling why GOOG is down 18% in the absence of new information. We can tick off concerns that have been known for months, if not years: 1) Change at the top, i.e. Larry Page becoming CEO after years of steady guidance by Eric Schmidt; 2) A spotty record of monetizing popular products (gmail, YouTube, Android); 3) Allocating resources to fanciful projects (e.g., driverless cars, alternative energy) that are far removed from its core businesses.

    It's possible that investors are fearing a major impact from Oracle's lawsuit over its Java property, or that a weakening economy will produce a drastic decline in Google's ad revenues. Another factor is that Wall Street is down on the entire tech sector, which is being assigned lower growth expectations and multiples than venerable non-tech companies. Google, with its 19x price-earnings ratio, is particularly vulnerable to a correction: for example, if the street believed GOOG merited a 15 multiple, the price would drop about another $100 from Friday's close of $485.02.

    Graphic from the Mercury News

    I still think that Google's products have world-changing potential, but one sad lesson I've learned over the years is not to fight the tape. I dumped my holding when the price was above $500 and will wait for better times to get back in.

    [6/18 update on the Oracle lawsuit:
    Calling it "breathtaking" and "out of proportion to any meaningful measure," Google (GOOG) attorneys revealed late Friday that an expert working for Oracle (ORCL) has estimated Google may owe $1.4 billion to $6.1 billion in damages in a patent dispute over the popular Android mobile operating system.
    For perspective, Google's net income for the year ended 12/31/10 was $8.5 billion.]

    And I Was Just About to Buy One

    The Kindle's features (and price) had finally reached the point where I was about to buy a gift for someone who loves to read but is not computer savvy. I had planned to load the Kindle with some gift credits, then trust that the recipient could figure out the not-too-difficult process of browsing and buying from Amazon. Ideally, he would have to feel as comfortable on the Kindle as he would perusing the collections at the bookstore or library.

    However, this phenomenon reversed my decision:
    Spam has hit the Kindle, clogging the online bookstore of the top-selling eReader with material that is far from being book worthy and threatening to undermine Inc’s publishing foray.
    Spammers are churning out 99-cent ebooks by pasting together writings authored by others. No original work is provided and both the cost of production and the likelihood of getting caught are low. The Amazon catalog is becoming suffused with junk.

    I imagine that Amazon will solve this problem eventually, but until then I won't be buying a Kindle for others or for myself.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    Tide Going Down, Boats Sinking, Bottom Fishing

    After their Tuesday bounce stock prices are continuing their downward slide this morning, likely due to worries about Greek debt and signs that the recovery, if it ever existed, has stalled.

    However, the psychology isn't all bad. Gas was $3.72 per gallon at Costco yesterday; it hasn't been that low since early March.

    I can use a spare laptop, and the ads show every week that prices are dropping and/or the number of features is going up.

    After playing the serviceable 2008 Tiger Woods PGA Tour game on the Wii, I'm finally thinking of upgrading to the 2012 version. After a flurry of initial sales, Electronic Arts may have extra inventory because of Tiger's marital woes and lack of Tour success (his last Major win was in 2008).

    The 40% markdown at Amazon is awfully tempting.

    Sunday, June 12, 2011

    The Basis of Drama

    David Mamet:
    The basis of the struggle of the hero towards a specific goal at the end of which he realizes that what kept him from it was, in the lesser drama, civilization and, in the great drama, the discovery of something that he did not set out to discover but which can be seen retrospectively as inevitable. The example Aristotle uses, of course, is Oedipus.

    One Week Later

    Mountain View, June 3, 2011 - Posting about an event a week after it occurs is like writing about the Peloponnesian War---it's ancient history. Nevertheless...

    I've owned the stock for several years, but I had never attended a Google shareholders' meeting. Although I drive by the Mountain View Rengstorff exit on Hwy 101 several times a week, I had never even been to Google's offices (in the tech world they're now "campuses", which is appropriate given the age and attire of the employees).

    Curiosity about the facility was one lure. Another was the free food, which despite recent cutbacks, was locally renowned for its quality and variety. And I did want to hear new CEO Larry Page handle questions from the floor. (See for yourself - he steps up to the stage 31 minutes into the meeting, speaks for 15 minutes, then fields questions.)

    Larry Page and the other executives on stage seemed sensitive to the widespread perception that Google spends a lot of resources on fanciful projects (e.g., driverless cars, alternative energy) that are far removed from its core businesses. Their response was: 1) only a few people work on these projects; 2) they apply a high "cost of capital" hurdle to such risky endeavors; and 3) the original proposals for Chrome and Android were viewed with much the same skepticism, and look how they turned out.

    When the meeting was over, I didn't have a different opinion about Google than when the meeting started: Google has some of the smartest people in the world working for it; they do have a track record of successfully monetizing some of their products but not others; I have a slight disquiet, only a feeling, really, that makes me hesitate in believing 100% that they know what they're doing. The fear is not that they'll make mistakes, it's that Google has created a high cost structure that will be damaging if revenue streams fail to materialize. Remember that Google went public in 2004, and most of its employees and managers haven't had the experience of operating during tough times.

    Well, I did enjoy the food. The salad and entrees were of a higher quality than any company cafeteria that I've been to. In looking after its shareholders'appetites, Google is eating Apple's lunch.

    In the demo area an "android" was controlled by an Android phone.

    Friday, June 03, 2011

    One Year Later

    Charlie and Lucy met in high school.
    Charlie Wedemeyer, the Los Gatos high school football coach whose 32-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (“Lou Gehrig’s disease”) ended one year ago today, inspired thousands of people with his optimism, generosity, and appreciation for life. His attitude was all the more remarkable since in his youth he was endowed with physical talent and grace afforded to few mortals. The disease that robbed him of his special talents, then his mobility, and finally his independence would have made lesser men reclusive and bitter. But not once did he show the anger that the rest of us would consider entirely justifiable. Many said “he's the most amazing guy you'll ever meet.”

    While Charlie Wedemeyer’s battle against debilitating disease is perhaps the main reason he will be remembered, let’s take a moment to pay tribute to Charlie Wedemeyer the football player, who dazzled high school football fans during the early Sixties.

    Before satellites beamed live professional sports to Hawaii, high school football was by far the most popular sport in the Islands. The old Honolulu Stadium (“termite palace”) was regularly filled to its 25,000-seat capacity for the big games. Passions over contests between St. Louis and McKinley or Punahou and Roosevelt easily matched the intensity of Stanford vs. Cal or Harvard vs. Yale.

    Punahou’s 1961 undefeated team is considered to be among the best in Hawaiian high school football history, but after nearly all its starters graduated, expectations were low for Punahou in the following season. Halfway through the 1962 schedule, the young sophomore- and junior-laden squad was expected to be blown out by bigger, faster Kamehameha.

    The first time Punahou went on offense the team shifted from a standard “T” to a single-wing formation. At all levels of football the single-wing had fallen out of favor after 1950 because it relied heavily on the rare back who can run, pass, read the defense, and even punt occasionally. Punahou found such a multi-skilled player in sophomore quarterback Charlie Wedemeyer. The undefeated Kam Warriors were physically superior, but Wedemeyer’s legs and arm kept them sufficiently off balance that the game ended in a 14-14 tie, the only blemish on Kam’s championship season.

    Charlie Wedemeyer led Punahou to two championships. He was named Hawaii’s best player of the 1960’s and went on to great accomplishments on and off the field. But my indelible memory is of the young 5’7’’ quarterback, running and passing rings around a much bigger Warrior team in the old termite palace. R.I.P.

    Note: the video below isn't exactly on topic because it's of the 1961 championship game between Punahou and Roosevelt. It has shots of Honolulu Stadium, the old scoreboard, and the baseball infield which had bare dirt even for a football game in November. From this geezer's perspective, the Punahou team looks pretty good even by today's standards.

    Thursday, June 02, 2011

    Plus ça change

    I desultorily scan the headlines and realize that they could have been lifted from any of the past four decades:

    Congressional sex scandal
    War and revolution in the Middle East
    Unsustainable deficits in Medicare and Social Security.
    Cheating in big-time sports
    Unexciting candidates to run against a sitting President
    Gas prices reach new highs-- we've got to reduce dependence on imported energy.
    Traditional solutions aren't working to improve the economy
    Big Hollywood star involved in sex, drugs, and outrageous behavior
    Younger generation too unserious and immature--the future is in grave doubt

    Despite these concerns I suspect that the world will keep spinning on its axis for the rest of my lifetime and that of my children's and grandchildren's. Tune it out and enjoy the summer!