Saturday, June 30, 2012

Aloha, Waikiki

We walked along Waikiki, the beach I stopped going to when I was twelve. Even back in the Sixties I avoided it because it was too crowded and too touristy. But what did a kid really know about commercialism?

Just look at Waikiki now...highrise towers spreading inland for blocks, expensive shops that make Kalakaua Avenue look like Rodeo Drive, traffic jams at ten p.m...everything the kamaainas hate.

I'll miss it.

Friday, June 29, 2012

They Can't Take That Away From Me

I was sad to hear of Nora Ephron's death on Tuesday. I'm a guy with low-brow movie tastes, but I liked the "Nora Ephron film"--yes, her movies were as distinctive as Martin Scorsese's or John Ford's.

Her stories tapped into the universal quest for happiness but were never heavily philosophical. We laughed at the stumblings of her characters because of our rueful self identification with them.

Nora Ephron's feminism wasn't preachy, which greatly aided her popularity:
A rare author and screenwriter whose works appealed to highbrow readers and mainstream moviegoers, Ephron wrote fiction that was distinguished by characters who seemed simultaneously normal and extraordinary. Like many people, they wrestled with commitment, principles and fame, but often exhibited keen, comic insights about their predicaments.
Her protagonists, who included the chef Julia Child and the whistle-blower Karen Silkwood, were often women and typically were just as capable as the men around them, if not more so.
In one of Nora Ephron's most popular movies, Sleepless in Seattle, the soundtrack of Golden Oldies is integral to the atmosphere of romantic yearning. She used artistic tradition to evoke an audience response that  helped her make great art herself. R.I.P.

On my six-day Hawaiian vacation I found myself sitting in the pew of the church where we got married over 30 years ago, listening to amateur artists sing Gershwin. Nora Ephron would have approved.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Today one of my best friends from high school turned 60. I haven't spoken to him much over the years. There was no falling out---life happened, and we drifted apart.

I called to wish him well. We still have a lot in common--we both have a child who has graduated from college and another who's still going to school. We worry about our aging parents, all of whom, thank goodness, are still with us. We work part-time and are increasingly engaged in charitable pursuits.

Barely perceptibly we are going into that good night. Perhaps our paths will converge more often. Whether we drift away or toward each other is a choice, better made sooner than later.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Afternoon Tea

Sniffing was encouraged
Our first stay at the 111-year-old Moana Hotel would not be complete without afternoon tea. It's so very proper and civilized....and in keeping with the spirit of the Moana's first owner, Englishman Walter Chamberlain Peacock.

Afternoon tea isn't rushed. It should be savored with companions who are willing to silence their cellphones and who don't mind practicing the dying art of conversation.

Tea at the Moana is not conducive to haste. First the waiter served the soup of the day---it was pumpkin bisque---and asked us for our tea selection.

Pumpkin bisque
The tea was served loose in individual pots filled with boiling water; leaves were screened by strainers that are designed to fit over the cups. The waiter brought out plates of finger sandwiches, followed by a tower of desserts. Though we hadn't eaten lunch none of us could finish it all. Our guests were not too proud to ask for a take-out container. The leavings made an excellent snack the next day, they said.

Finger sandwiches
Afternoon tea at the Moana seems indulgent, but at $34 per person it's not outrageously so.

For a couple of hours, sitting in the shade of the veranda a few feet from the historic banyan, the white sands, and the breaking waves, one can imagine oneself to be a turn of the century gentleman, partaking of a little reminder of the England he left behind.

Leave low-carb diets at the door.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Moana Hotel

The back of the Moana Hotel, as seen from the veranda.
This week, after dozens of trips to the Islands when we have lived off the hospitality of relatives, we're finally footing the bill for lodging.

We're staying at the venerable Moana (now the Moana Surfrider), which along with the Royal Hawaiian, is one of Hawaii's oldest hotels.  The Moana opened for business in 1901 and has been renovated several times by different owners. It has a colorful history--the most (in)famous incident was the unsolved murder of Stanford University co-founder Jane Stanford by strychnine poisoning in 1905.

Some of the original panel walls, staircases, and columns remain, and guests are encouraged to explore the hotel and view its displays of historical artifacts.

The air of fin de siecle Hawaii vanished when we entered the air-conditioned room, complete with flatscreen TV and wi-fi. We may admire how Hawaii used to be, but let's not go crazy about it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lieu de Naissance

Lilikoi tart from JJ Bistro
This week our family celebrates three birthdays. Four decades ago the proximity of the dates seemed but a happy coincidence of the calendar. Now, through the lens of time we have become more appreciative of the presence of loved ones in our lives.

Besides, it's a good excuse to return to my (and their) place of birth to honor the moment. Let the parties begin!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Marukame Udon

Each tempura cost $1.50. The total bill was $25.
Waikiki was busy on Sunday night. Tourists crowded Kalakaua Avenue in their new aloha shirts, shorts, and slippers.  The exhortations to eat less and exercise more may finally be taking hold; the typical pedestrian seemed to be in better shape than, say, five years ago.

Having just arrived, we wanted dinner to be light, quick, cheap, and good (humor, for those familiar with the project triangle).

We walked through the International Market Place and joined the line to Marukame Udon, which has an average Yelp rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.  Though the line extended almost to the end of the block, we were inside placing our order within half an hour.

At Marukame Udon one takes a tray, cafeteria style, and points to one's noodle selection, which the server fills in less than a minute. The tempura section followed, and I gave in to the temptation to load up on the varied assortment--how could I not, when each piece was only $1.50? (It was okay that I over-ordered, because I had something to snack on at four in the morning---hey, that would be 7 a.m. in California.)

Pluses: very fresh noodles and other ingredients, fluffy non-greasy tempura, low prices, adequate seating to accommodate the crowd. Minuses: long lines, cash only, no restaurant parking. I can already tell--we'll hit this place again before the week is up.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

I Said I Wanted to Buy a Lanai For My House

Bloomberg photo via WSJ.
Maybe his lawyer didn't hear the end of the instruction.

This week it became public that Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison will buy 98% of the Island of Lanai from Castle & Cooke. (This is another example of life imitating art: one of the purported bidders for the 25,000 undeveloped acres on Kauai in The Descendants was a Silicon Valley billionaire.)

At this point no one is revealing what Mr. Ellison intends to do with his purchase. He has a history of buying and kickstarting underperforming companies (Peoplesoft, Sun, Siebel) into valuable assets of the Oracle group.

3,500 people on a sleepy island shouldn't provide an obstacle to Mr. Ellison's ambitions...whatever they are.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Descendants

In preparation for my first trip to Hawaii in nearly a year I popped a copy of The Descendants into the DVD player.

George Clooney plays Matt King, the descendant of missionaries and the executor of a trust that makes him and all his distant cousins very land- but not cash-rich. The events on Oahu and Kauai take place in the span of a few weeks, when multiple family and business crises beset the protagonist.

The Clooney character makes flawed but perfectly understandable decisions: we are often laughing with him, at him, and his dually comic and tragic circumstances. The other characters are richly drawn in a few strokes, but none of them are as bad, stupid, or selfish as they initially appear. I enjoyed the movie very much.

One quibble: panoramic sweeps of high-rise Honolulu notwithstanding, the slice of Hawaii depicted in 2011 looks like the Hawaii of 1951. By that I mean Matt King does business with and socializes only with Caucasians. True, he is a member of the haole upper crust, but the “Big Five” companies that were founded by missionary children no longer control the Islands. In the Hawaii of the 21st century Asians, Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders, as well as out-of-State investors, are also represented in the councils of power. The poshest country clubs are rainbow, not chalky white.

James Michener ended his 1956 epic, Hawaii, with the rise to prominence of the Golden Man. In the Descendants the Golden Man does not yet exist.

A second, minor quibble: Matt King and his wife are having marital problems, and early in the movie we discover that his wife is the one who has been having an affair. An amicable land baron with movie-star good looks is the wronged spouse? Get real.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Not Much to Talk About

Since the 2011 shareholder meeting GOOG is up about 10%, better than NASDAQ but a far cry from AAPL
Google CEO Larry Page has lost his voice:
Page, who is already well known for his reluctance to speak publicly, skipped today’s annual stockholder meeting. [Chairman Eric] Schmidt was left to explain his absence.

Schmidt said Page would likely miss his next two expected engagements while he is resting his voice: Google I/O — the company’s big three-day developer conference in San Francisco next week — and the company’s quarterly earnings call next month.
It's a tough job managing any company, but keeping the pedal to the metal on several rapidly growing businesses like Google does requires very special leadership. It wouldn't be surprising if the stress and required people-interactions are proving too much for even an introverted genius.

It's already been determined that Larry Page will be incommunicado for another month. With memories of Steve Jobs' health problems---and Apple's silence surrounding them--still fresh, let's hope that the problem is really just his voice.

A look back: I didn't attend this year, but last year's Google shareholder's meeting was tasty and filling.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pier 29 Fire

The smoke from Pier 29 blew east over the Bay. Traffic backed up for miles on the Embarcadero. Over 100 firefighters finally put out the blaze.

I got up from the speaker phone to gaze at the action. (The call was about prepping for another call tomorrow. Meetings about it goes in the corporate world.)

The fire appeared formidable with the flames clearly visible, but by 5 o'clock it was over.  By the time I left the office at 6:30 traffic was back to normal.

[Update - 6/21: "The four-alarm blaze that tore through a warehouse on San Francisco's Pier 29 caused more than $2 million in damage, but the underlying pier survived the blaze unharmed, fire officials said Thursday."]

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Looking Over the Dover

The quacking gets my attention in the morning. The dover eye me warily.

I, er, duck behind the car so as not to scare them off.  I wish the iPhone 4 had higher resolution for this snapshot.  The two-year contract has already expired; hurry up with the iPhone 5, Tim, lest you lose a customer to Android (yeah, right).

The ducks don't care about pixels. They're waiting for me to toss them a piece of my breakfast muffin, but the City says not to feed them.

The ducks lose interest. They turn their tails, quack, then waddle away. Yes, go to the neighbors and be-fowl their yard.  Wildlife is beautiful, but only at a distance.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Manly Weekend

In honor of Father's Day I tackled a few items in the overflowing job jar. They're not necessarily manly tasks but not exactly girly ones either.

Flushing the tankless heater.
The first order of business was to flush the tankless water heater. The installer said that it should be regularly cleaned, and the last "free" service call under the extended warranty occurred in spring of 2011.

I ordered a $60 pump from Amazon and picked up a pair of washing machine hoses from Home Depot for $14.50. I filled a bucket with a solution of vinegar and water, turned off the intake cold water and outgoing hot water valves to the heater, hooked up the hoses, put the pump in the bucket, and let the pump run for half an hour. After rinsing out the strainer and recirculating the vinegar for half an hour, the hot water pressure throughout the house is noticeably stronger.

Next I made a dent in the clutter by taking an old coffee table and office chair to St. Vincent de Paul. The items were in good condition, and the donations desk was happy to accept the furniture along with boxes of books, clothes, and toys.

After 15 years the sprinkler timer had gone kaput---the yellowing grass was the clue. After two weeks of hand-watering the lawn back to respectability, I tired of communing with nature and bought a $30 Orbit timer from Home Depot.  Despite its low price, the new unit was a dramatic improvement over the old: electronic instead of mechanical controls, an LCD screen, easy push-in wire receptacles (instead of having to crimp connectors, then screw them to the timer), and standard AC power (instead of a bulky transformer). Yes, I should have replaced the old timer long ago, but this way I really came to appreciate the technological advancement in garden sprinkling.

That's how manly men roll.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Every Dad Has His Day

Dad first started using a computer about 15 years ago.  He found it much easier to keep track of his small business with Quicken; the gathering of year-end information for the tax accountant became a snap.  Over the years he graduated to checking stock prices, buying airplane tickets, listening to music, and keeping a record of his daily walks.

Last year marked the beginning of his productivity cascade. He bought an iPhone and, like most people, initially used it for basic phone calling and web surfing. Six months later he got an iPad. He learned how to use the gmail calendar on his laptop and sync his appointments with the iPad and iPhone. His contact list shows up on all his devices, and he no longer has to thumb through index cards or pull out a map.

At the end of last year he installed a security system and is able to access multiple cameras on his iPad or laptop. He can even play back each camera's near-term history, a capability which proved useful on one or two occasions.

I'm very proud of how he continues to learn and grow. At the age of 86, he can still teach me a few things.  Happy Father's Day, Dad, we'll see you soon.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Realizing the Republican DREAM

Some Republicans are up in arms over President Obama's executive order on immigration:
Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children will be allowed to remain in the country without fear of deportation and able to work, under an executive action the Obama administration announced on Friday.
There are policy differences even within the Republican Party about illegal immigration, and the President's move is seen as a brilliant stroke both to divide the opposition and capture the allegiance of the fastest growing segment of the American population.

If Republicans can take a deep breath, they will see that President Obama has given a potential Republican President the greatest of gifts. The President has chosen unilaterally not to enforce certain laws that he disagrees with, and Democrats are enthusiastically in support of this approach.

Following President Obama's precedent, a Republican President may choose:

1) Not to require environmental impact statements or enforce the Endangered Species Act;

2) To waive numerous reporting requirements that burden businesses;

3) To stop measuring various organizations' progress toward diversity goals;

4) Not to collect the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Frankly, the possibilities are endless, and President Romney will have President Obama to thank.

[Update - 6/17: Another commentator has the same idea.
If President Obama’s frustration over a “do nothing” Congress prompts him to respond with a “do nothing” government, then I’m all for it.  Imagine the good that could be done if a Republican president used Obama’s precedent:   By not filling tens of thousands of authorized positions, he could shrink the size of government.  By refusing to enforce some environmental regulations, he could remove barriers to economic growth and greater employment.  By canceling unnecessary weapon systems, he could remove the influence of earmarks from the defense budget. 
Instead of complaining about Obama’s decision, conservatives should applaud anything which increases government inaction.  Meanwhile Democrats who applaud the President’s decision for the short-term advantage it might give them, should be very wary of handing a precedential hammer to a future Republican president who could use it to smash big government.]

Friday, June 15, 2012

Carnival of Misfortune

Most attendees had a pleasant experience at the Foster City Arts and Wine Festival two weeks ago. However, misfortune awaited an unlucky few. From the Foster City police blotter:

Friday, June 1, 2012
5:51 p.m. - Civil Dispute - Occurred at Recreation Center on Shell Blvd. Juvenile RP requests assistance due to being swindled by "rigged" carnival games. Advice was rendered and parent declined any further Police assistance. 
8:08 p.m. - Lost Property - Occurred at Recreation Center on Shell Blvd. RP lost an iPod Touch at the fairground within the last 30 minutes.
Sunday, June 3, 2012  
1 p.m. - Lost Property - Occurred at Foster City Police Dept on Shell Blvd. RP at the front counter reports his daughter lost her black iTouch 4 last night at the Art and Wine Carnival. iTouch had a clear jewel case; entered APS.
Carnival games that are difficult to win, iPods that are lost and perhaps stolen....after decades of pax suburbica, could Foster City be entering a period of disquiet?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Caltrain: More Expensive Than I Remembered

BART service between San Francisco and Oakland has been shut down all day and won't resume until late afternoon. Although BART still ran cars from Peninsula locations to San Francisco throughout the day, I switched to Caltrain as a precaution.

It's common for old-timers to blanch at the escalating price of items, but I still was flabbergasted by the cost of Caltrain. A scant four years ago I paid less than $10 a day, all-in. Today it was $17.50 [$9.50 Caltrain round trip + $4 parking + $4 San Francisco light rail].  Including gasoline, it would have cost about the same to drive the 20 miles north to San Francisco and park at one of the discount lots a few blocks from the office. (By comparison BART from Millbrae to San Francisco is $10.50, including parking of $2.)

Caltrain's recent fare hikes and higher ridership have greatly strengthened its financial position. From this infrequent commuter's point of view, however, Caltrain needs to take a breather on price increases lest its hard-won gains vanish overnight.

Homes under construction at the old Bay Meadows site should add hundreds of Caltrain customers.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Infection - Inflammation - Cancer Connection

Per a study from MIT:
When the body's immune system detects pathogens or cell damage, it activates an influx of cells called macrophages and neutrophils. These cells' job is to engulf bacteria, dead cells and debris: proteins, nucleic acids and other molecules released by dead or damaged cells. As part of this process, the cells produce highly reactive chemicals that help degrade the bacteria.

"In doing this, in engulfing the bacteria and dumping these reactive chemicals on them, the chemicals also diffuse out into the tissue, and that's where the problem comes in," Dedon says.

If sustained over a long period, that inflammation can eventually lead to cancer. A recent study published in the journal The Lancet found that infections account for about 16 percent of new cancer cases worldwide [bold added].

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Not Just a Pitcher

Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner appeared friendly and relaxed when he greeted hundreds of admirers in Burlingame on Sunday. The tall lefthander has endeared himself to the fans with his laid-back persona and tales of his farming roots. (He gave his wife a cow for her birthday.)

Update: Madison Bumgartner did it all on Tuesday night when he struck out 12 Astros and hit his first major-league home run in a 6-3 Giants victory.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Not Enough Bright and Shiny

AAPL fell when Tim Cook began speaking at 1 p.m. Eastern
Amid much fanfare and high expectations Apple's World Wide Developer's Conference started today in San Francisco. By day's end the techies' buzz was generally positive, the opposite of downbeat Apple stock traders. The latter seemed disappointed that there was no news concerning the most anticipated bright and shiny objects, namely, iPhone 5 and the Apple TV.

Apple makes announcements when the product is ready to ship. If one just has to have new hardware, the retina-display MacBook Pro and a faster MacBook Air are available this week, if not immediately. Frankly, I want both but can only afford one, especially since I have to save up for the iPhone 5 and TV.

Meanwhile, Apple is switching from Google Maps to its own maps program, improving Siri (but not as much as some people would like), and performing improvements and upgrades to other software, like Facebook integration, IOS6 and Mountain Lion. As a long-time Apple shareholder, I'm not disappointed by the WWDC at all. The bright and shiny will be here soon enough.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Planting Flowers

Sunny weather and an unbooked weekend calendar finally coincided: it was time to do something about a patch of earth that had been empty since April.

The plant display at Costco was offering six Calla lilies for $30. I threw them in the cart, next to the pomegranate juice, asparagus, and hamburger.

By afternoon, after a few hours of clearing, digging, fertilizing, and watering, the patch was looking much better.

Sometimes one just has to stop and plant the flowers.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Changing of the Guard

In sporting events when the local teams aren't playing, I usually root for the team with the older players. The reasons aren't hard to fathom:
1) Being closer to their age, I identify with the geezers;
2) I like to think that guile and experience can sometimes overcome youth's superior physical attributes;
3) For younger players, there's always next year. For older players, current playoff rounds could be their last shot at a championship.
The past three days have not been kind to the fans of the fossilized. The favored San Antonio Spurs lost to the younger, quicker Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Western Conference Finals. A similar story played out in the East, where LeBron James' Miami Heat ran rings around a tired Celtics team in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Both the Spurs and the Celtics had led in their respective series, and both had won multiple NBA championships with their current roster. But neither could close the deal in 2012 against younger, quicker teams.

[Related: International superstar welterweight Manny Pacquaio, 33, lost a controversial split decision to 28-year-old Timothy Bradley on Saturday night.]

Friday, June 08, 2012

Correlation, Causation, or Coincidence

The high unemployment rate among new college graduates has been all over the news. If I were in that demographic, I would consider a move to the Bay Area, and not only because of assortative mating.

Item: South Bay Leads U.S. in Job Growth.
The South Bay has the fastest job growth of any of the nation's large urban centers, according to a survey by federal labor officials. Santa Clara County posted a 3.3 percent increase [bold added] in job growth over the one-year period that ended in April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. The Houston region of Texas was in second place nationwide with a 3.1 percent increase in payroll jobs over the same 12-month period.
Item: San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area second in nation in college-educated adults.
The South Bay metropolitan area has the nation's second-highest proportion of college-educated residents -- 45.3 percent of adults 25 and older. The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area ranks second in the nation only to the Washington, D.C., metro area, which has 46.8 percent of its population college educated. The San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont area ranked fourth, with 43.4 percent.
To be sure, the Silicon Valley unemployment rate of 8.4% is about the same as the national average and is nothing to get excited about. But it's significantly better than the California unemployment rate of 10.9%, and the trend is going in the right direction.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Assortative Living

Let's say that you are a college graduate who has moderate or even conservative politics. Why would you choose to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most left-wing regions of the country? The obvious factors--the weather, the scenery, the wealth, the economic opportunity (much better than the rest of California), and the diverse culture--come to mind.

But another reason is that the San Francisco Bay Area is where you can find other educated people. Last month the NY Times discussed
a growing divide among American cities, in which a small number of metro areas vacuum up a large number of college graduates, and the rest struggle to keep those they have. 
The winners are metro areas like Raleigh, N.C., San Francisco and Stamford, Conn., where more than 40 percent of the adult residents have college degrees. The Raleigh area has a booming technology sector and several major research universities; San Francisco has been a magnet for college graduates for decades; and metropolitan Stamford draws highly educated workers from white-collar professions in New York like finance.
College-educated Bay Area conservatives wearily put up with the excesses of left-wing religion--paper, not plastic, shopping bags that are always tearing open, pale-white indoor flourescent lighting instead of more pleasing but less efficient incandescents, ripe compost bins, ever-increasing sales taxes, income taxes, bridge tolls, and license fees--in order to partake of the area's advantages, which include living amongst a highly educated and heavily liberal population.

Living where other college-educated folk gather increases the probability of finding a high-income spouse.  This correlates with one economist's theory that the value of college lies in assortative mating, which
explains why education is highly correlated with income, even though the skill-value-added of college education appears to be low. Going to college increases your chances of landing a high-income spouse. That raises your income, even if your skills do not go up. Moreover, going to college is highly correlated with having affluent and intelligent parents, which in turn means that young people who go to college will themselves tend to be intelligent and start out with some financial flexibility to invest in their human capital in other ways (by traveling abroad, for example). So there will be a correlation between college and income, even if there is not much causation.
Even if one already has a life partner, one may choose to live in the Bay Area to help the children find a high-status, high-income mate.

O, the sacrifices that we make for the kids.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Beautiful And Painful

The late spring rain lasted one day. Ponds came to life on the valley floor.

Remembering last weekend's insect exhibit, I idly wondered whether mosquito and other insect larvae were thriving in the heat and wetness.

Two miles later I head a loud buzzing behind me. Something brushed my hair. I swatted it instinctively and felt a sharp stab in the back of my head.

It took 90 minutes to walk back to the car and 10 hours for the pain to subside.  But I was lucky: last week a hiker told me to watch out for rattlesnakes on this trail.  Nature is beautiful, but it can be painful.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

A Most Excellent Wash Station

Hand wash stations are required for all food vendors.

Last month I wrote a slightly snarky post about overly complicated and unnecessary food-safety regulations.  One well-known example of overzealous bureaucracy was the shutting down of kids' lemonade stands in various cities across the country.

The regulation that aggravated your humble observer required us to set up a hand-wash station at last weekend's Foster City Arts & Wine Festival.  One can see the justification for pristine phalanges in the case of food preparers, but we were selling prepackaged ice cream that would be untouched by our hand.

Obeying Caesar --although not with a willing and contrite spirit--we assembled a wash station and rotated it to face the public.  It turned out to be more popular than our ice cream. By Sunday night six rolls of paper towels and two bottles of soap and sanitizer had been consumed. Without intending to do so, both we and the County Health inspectors had rendered a service to our fellow human beings.

The Health Inspector gave us an excellent rating.  It's probably not worth Yelping about.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Vector Control

San Mateo County has far fewer insects than my home state, but the insects that we do have can cause great mischief. Mosquitoes are the primary pest and the raison d'ĂȘtre of the San Mateo County Mosquito and Vector Control District.

The SMCMAVCD (now that's a mouthful, even for a government agency) traces its origins to 1904, shortly after mosquitoes were proved to be a carrier ("vector") of deadly disease. Per the website:
During the 1970’s and 80’s new materials became available for biological control of mosquito larvae in the United States. These include the bacteria and growth control hormones that are the primary materials used to control mosquitoes in the District today. These are highly specific to mosquitoes and have minimal impact on other organisms.
I can attest to the District's effectiveness. Swarms of mosquitoes used to chase us indoors after the spring rains. We still get bitten by a few, but the problem can usually be traced to standing water  around our house. Here's one government service that I'm happy to pay for.

Display at the Foster City Arts & Wine Festival: insects of San Mateo County
Not from these parts: immigration that everyone wants to prevent.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Signal Strength

I made a mistake common to all inexperienced entrepreneurs: I ordered too much of certain items and too little of the ones that customers wanted.

I thought that carnival-goers in our middle-class 'burb would not pay $3 for premium ice cream, so I only bought a few cases of Magnum bars, which sold out quickly. I thought that the $2 It's-It sandwiches and bars from Fremont's Wonder Ice Cream would move because they were a better value; alas, the customers didn't react as I thought they would.

Two actions allowed us to end up with a small profit, even after paying for the booth fee and equipment rental: 1) we bought boxes of additional Magnums from local merchants to replenish the high-end inventory; 2) we immediately marked down some of the $2 items to $1.  Unit sales picked up. Still, at the end of the weekend we were stuck with 10% of the original order; it's now sitting in the pre-school freezer.

Our experience was a microcosm of how the free market works: first, producers guess what the market wants; second, customers react to the offering; third, business people read the customer signals and change prices, quantities, and product mix.  The motive for producers and consumers is un-virtuous profit,  but the cycle seems to work a lot more quickly than in a planned system that changes every two years (at best) on election day.

But enough heaviness: today was perfect for sitting on the grass (with an ice cream bar) and enjoying the music....

Saturday, June 02, 2012

At the Foster City Arts and Wine Festival

It was a warm day on the Peninsula, ideal for ice cream.

The crowds were sparse in the morning, but it heated up in the afternoon.

Friday, June 01, 2012

It'll Feel Better When I Stop Beating My Head

For the first time in four years the church will be selling ice cream at the Foster City Arts and Wine Festival.  Proceeds will go toward the Heifer Project, the Cambodia Academy, and the youth group's summer service project (in past summers our high schoolers rebuilt homes in South Central LA and on tribal lands near the Oregon border).

The economics of running a festival booth are not encouraging: in previous years--and this is the reason we stopped participating---is that profits were only a few hundred dollars. It was far easier and more rational to make a donation than to spend dozens of man-hours performing tasks that none of us were particularly good at. On the other hand, it's not rocket science either.

So with the naivete of the uninformed, and with the entreaties of the youth group ringing in my ears, I volunteered to organize the activity. I've put in 40 hours so far. The good news is: it'll be over by Monday.