Saturday, August 31, 2013

Great Moments in Food Science

While you and I may consider a coffee splurge to be a $3 latte at Starbucks, the upper 1% are paying eighty simoleons for coffee brewed from civet droppings.

At those heady prices Kopi Luwak is ripe for counterfeiting and adulterating (though for yours truly watering down would be a feature, not a bug).  But now a Japanese scientist may have come up with a way of detecting whether the dark brown juice in the cup is the genuine article.
Dr. Fukusaki’s quest began with many piles of civet faeces [blogger's note: British spelling makes it sound classier] , as well as undigested coffee beans from plantations in Bali, Java and Sumatra, all of which he treated by roasting them at 205°C and then grinding them up. Instead of popping them into a percolator at this point, though, he mixed them with distilled water, methanol and chloroform to extract the sorts of chemicals that give coffee its flavour. He then ran the extracts through a gas chromatograph and a mass spectrometer, to see what was in them.

The crucial giveaways of Kopi Luwak turned out to be four substances: citric acid, malic acid, pyroglutamic acid and inositol.
As the article points out, coffee drinkers can just add the chemicals themselves and get a much cheaper drink similar to Kopi Luwak. We'll wait and see; for us it will also need to pass the smell test. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Friday, August 30, 2013

Old Friends

My Agatha Christie
phase lasted 20 years
Parting with books that we own is somewhat like parting with old friends. They were once important, and giving them up acknowledges that they won't be as important in the future. Our mortality concentrates the mind.

We took six boxes of mystery and sci-fi novels and college humanities texts to the library used book store. Most social and natural science books were obsolete and put in the paper recycling unless they were historically significant, e.g., the Origin of Species or the Wealth of Nations. As with old friends, we hope that some will find a new life bringing enjoyment (and edification) to others. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Greatest American Speech

It has been called the greatest American speech of the 20th century. Yesterday marked its 50th anniversary.

I first saw the newsfilm of "I Have a Dream" in its entirety in 1969, the year after Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. In truth I wasn't ready to appreciate it in 1963 when I was a pre-teen.

Growing up in Hawaii my friends and I were all far removed from the civil rights movement, Mississippi and Alabama. Our class had one African-American student, a friendly guy and a terrific athlete (!). It didn't seem comprehensible that some people could hate our classmate because of the color of his skin. In retrospect, although he seemed to fit in with the multiracial student body, I have absolutely no idea what he really thought or felt. (It turned out that another black kid in our elementary school at that time did feel out of place.)

The greatest American speech surprised me with its power and, yes, beauty. Sure, I had read its text, but watching Dr. King and hearing his preacherly cadences calling forth the best in each listener filled this then-teenager with emotion. He and John F. Kennedy two years earlier had asked us to look to the mountaintop. Their dreams seemed impossible, but with these men leading us perhaps we had a chance to get there. In the wink of an eye they were both gone.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

They Just Won't Do

A college-admissions consultant advises authenticity:
In my years handling applications to elite schools, from Harvard to Haverford, Davidson to Dickinson and everything in between, I was often surprised by where students did gain acceptance. But in every case it was a student who wrote a fabulously independent essay. Not necessarily hyper-sophisticated. But true. [snip]

I have had successful students write about the virtues of napping (Middlebury), failing a course (Harvard), and having to shoot a farm dog because it couldn't work stock (Princeton). Once a student came out to me in his fifth (and best) draft. His parents probably still don't know; but they got the Ivy Leaguer they wanted (Penn).
College applicants, write about what moves you, not about what you think they want to hear (admissions officers must be sick of reading about climate change, cultural diversity, and economic inequality, especially from students who have very little first-hand experience about these matters).

In addition to passion--which is probably not conveyed via ALL CAPS with !!!!!--one's thoughts still have to be organized, facts should be marshaled in support of the main argument, and the basic rules of grammar need to be followed. Sorry, a collection of your best text messages just won't do. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Perchance We'll Dream

Where the monitoring occurs
At 8:30 we showed up at the sleep center. Over a dozen electrodes were taped to the head and chest. The technician explained that there were three primary causes of sleep apnea. Aging, weight, and genetics all could restrict breathing during the night, and with the patient at least two factors are in play. Getting enough oxygen to the brain during sleep is vital for physical wellbeing, mental alertness, longevity, job performance, and a host of other reasons.

We'll meet with the doctor in a few weeks to discuss the findings. She'll likely prescribe a CPAP machine. It will take some getting used to, but putting the mask on every night is preferable to mouth or throat surgery. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Straight Poop

Writer Kate Kershner begins to answer the question on everyone's mind: Are courtesy flushes useful -- or healthy?

What is a courtesy flush? Per Yahoo! Answers: "more people need to learn this.... after you drop a #2 you flush the toilet as to not stink up the restroom, as a courtesy to the next person, then proceed to wipe and flush again."

Kate Kershner's conclusion: it might achieve the objective of reducing odor at the cost of using more water and, perhaps of greater concern, "you might be coating your hindquarters with a fine mist of bacteria."

You won't find such useful information in Emily Post.

From September, 2011: #1 has its own forms of etiquette.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

21st Century Marketing

How to update an old product through the use of marketing wordsmithing: use antigravity to imply that cutting-edge science is at work.

Also, add braid, which had been primarily used in traditional "women's topics," because braid has secondary meanings in math and space science when accompanied by a noun or adjective.

"Antigravity".....when wicking won't do. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Saturday, August 24, 2013

iTunes Sale on eBay

With only a moment's hesitation I clicked on an order for some $50 iTunes gift cards that are on sale for $35 each (4 maximum) on eBay. The gift cards can be used not only for music but also for videos, books, and apps. Your humble observer spends much more on apps and iBooks--more than half of the amount for business--than he does on music and videos and will easily consume the gift card purchase in the coming year. Even if he doesn't, they make welcome presents for anyone under 30, and even a few over-30's, too.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Tomales Bay

The Hog Island picnic area.
Inspired by our visit to the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, we took a day trip to Tomales Bay, only a few miles from Drakes. We sampled oysters from the Hog Island Oyster Farm and the Tomales Bay Oyster Company. Being city folk, we preferred the former because one can buy the oysters already shucked for no-muss no-fuss picnicking by the bay. Though the two Tomales Bay ranches are technically competitors of their Drakes Bay counterpart, we saw many signs protesting its impending closing.

Everyone suspects that the near-religious fervor to return the Bay and much of California to a state of nature will not be slaked by the closure of one operation, so the oyster farms are hanging together lest they hang separately.

Here's hoping that we can accomplish both: let's keep the farms running, and let's keep the bay(s) beautiful.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Doing Less Doesn't Mean Doing Nothing

August 20
"Goldman Sachs experienced a trading glitch Tuesday that resulted in a large number of erroneous single stock and ETF options trades. Many of the trades may wind up being erased but the error could still cost the firm upwards of $100 million..."

August 22
"Trading in thousands of U.S. stocks ground to a halt for much of Thursday after an unexplained technological problem shut down trading in Nasdaq securities, the latest prominent disruption to the operations of U.S. markets."

Flatline? no just the NASDAQ freeze (WSJ Graphic)
Tech advances have made capital markets more accessible to the public than ever before, but so-called "glitches" keep happening.  The "Flash Crash" of 2010, when the Dow Jones Industrial average plummeted almost 1,000 points in a few minutes then quickly recovered, was and is alarming because there hasn't been a definitive explanation as to the cause, much less assurance that it won't happen again.

Small investors in the stock market should never place market orders because prices can change too suddenly. In other words, whether buying or selling, always place limit orders (where the price is specified). And if one no longer receives paper reports, one should make it a habit to download and store statements, instructions, and other correspondence on a hard disk or memory stick. One never knows when one may need to back up a transaction.

We live in the quick and convenient electronic age, but just because we do less doesn't mean that we do nothing. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

An American Success Story

Charlene Chu (Bloomberg photo)
Denver-born Charlene Chu, 42, is the "rock star" of Chinese debt analysis:
When top officials at the U.S. Federal Reserve want to understand the Chinese financial system, they meet Charlene Chu. Goldman Sachs, which isn't short of China experts, interviewed her and sent the transcript to its clients. And one of the world's most influential investment firms calls her a rock star
Ms. Chu's ascent to the top of the Chinese--therefore, the global--bond world is what used to be called an American success story.  After working at the New York Fed and studying at Yale, she moved to China without a job in 2005 "to dig deeper into China's banks and to learn more about her father's family." (Her late father was a general in the army of Chiang Kai-shek and worked as a dishwasher during his life in America.)

After the Fitch credit rating agency hired her, she unearthed hundreds of billions of dollars of previously unaccounted-for Chinese bank obligations, and the rest is history.

In the 1980's quiet, self-effacing Henry Kaufman moved world bond markets when he made his interest-rate forecasts for Salomon Brothers. Charlene Chu may not be the "mega-" bond rock star that Henry Kaufman was, but just give her time.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Putting Our Stuff to Good Use

SVDP items to be sorted later
The neighborhood must be getting more upscale--we used to have only one Peninsula charity that sent a truck to pick up donations such as clothes, furniture, and electronics. Now two others from the East Bay visit once a month (frankly, I'm not sure they're real charities).

We decided to donate our stuff the old-fashioned way by taking it to the receiving location for St. Vincent de Paul.

A bedroom at Catherine Center
SVDP received only three stars (the best get four) from Charity Navigator, but I've seen the good work that the SVDP Catherine Center in Daly City does to help women prisoners transition back to society. Per a NY Times article on the California prison system:
Inmates are often released with no warning to friends or family, with no money, no means of transportation and no clothes other than the jumpsuits on their backs.
A donation of cash or goods to SVDP is not only charity, it's insurance. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Monday, August 19, 2013

Not Only Tech Companies

Normally we donate our used furniture, but our worn leather sofa recliner had too many holes and broken frame sections to be usable. Our waste disposal company allows two bulky-item disposals each year at no extra charge.

I was surprised when they scheduled the pick-up within five days of my phone call. Having planned to go through the house and put out more trash, I only had time to amass three bags--the previous garbage company required at least two weeks lead time; it's not only tech companies that are getting faster and better.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

All in Good Time

Our young acolyte is
off to Cambridge, MA
The small Foster City Episcopal church has a cohort of Sunday School kids who grew up together. The last group will soon depart for college, and, if they follow the familiar path, will explore other faiths and spiritual methods, or perhaps none at all.

We'll see some of them at Christmas or Easter, but very few return permanently to Foster City, much less become adult members of the congregation. They'll probably hear the call to join a worship community somewhere, though, when they start families of their own.

Many, perhaps most parents, wish to introduce traditional values and modes of thinking to their own children, and the church for all its modernism is a good place to start. The shades of gray, the different world views, and the uncertainties will come all in good time.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ivory Towered Bovine Emissions

An academic disparages the prevalence of "bull----" jobs [bold added]:
rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the “service” sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations.
I do agree with the professor's observation that there are not enough people "making, moving, fixing and maintaining things," but I disagree with his explanation that the reasons are the "ruling class" trying to keep the masses placated or "right-wing populism" and "Republicans" "mobilizing resentment."

As an accountant I have spent much of my career filling out (or directing a staff to fill out) a plethora of forms that have nothing to do with helping our business but everything to do with giving government bureaucracies their raison d'ĂȘtre.

For example, companies with a national scope not only have to fill out income tax forms by state but also sales and use tax returns by county (there are over 3,000 counties in the U.S.). There are the voluminous rules of Sarbanes-Oxley that require public companies to map out the work flow and responsibilities of every employee, a "bulls***" task because the charts are obsolete the day they are completed in the era of hope and change. Each agency of the government--e.g.,Environmental Protection, Department of Labor, Internal Revenue, Health and Human Services--has its own inviolable requirements and arcane language.

Every competent accountant I know would rather spend her time measuring product profitability or performing capital budget analysis or running scenarios for the strategic plan. Put the blame where it lies, sir, or better yet, and you do seem like a smart guy, work in a business and see for yourself. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Friday, August 16, 2013

Tape for Repairing Ducts

The air conditioner exhaust hose had a large tear. An Internet search revealed a number of replacement possibilities, but the model numbers didn't match exactly. It promised to be another trial-and-error project filled with frustration.

The thought then occurred: why not use duct tape to repair, you know, a duct? It wasn't pretty, but duct tape is not beautiful. It just gets the job done. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Hearing Test

First the eyes, then the teeth, and now the ears. This summer I'm having my head examined.

Not so pristine: above the 20db line
is good, below it is bad.
The otolaryngologist (now there's a mouthful) inspected the ear canals and pronounced them "pristine," a word never before associated with my physical self. I was ready for the hearing test.

The audiologist shouted, "Hello! How are you! I'm Dr. Morgan!" Unlike other people, audiologists show politeness by yelling. As he saw that I understood, he lowered the volume.

The doctor ran a series of tests, including press-the-button-when-you-hear-the-tone and repeat-the-word-that-I'm-whispering (audiologists use more scientific-sounding terms). The findings: I have mild-to-moderate hearing loss, worse at the higher frequencies. The advice: hearing aids should be considered if my hearing worsens. The prognosis: further deterioration is a possibility, but a trend can't be drawn from a single measurement. Come back in a year and do it again.

One more thought: using context and experience the brain is always racing to fill in the video and audio blank spots in the sensory world. These blank spots crop up more frequently as we age, and we are often unaware that we are compensating. I'm not going to take action now because everything seems to be okay......what could go wrong? © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Through the glass silently.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Apple: Reversing the Negativity

Google, Amazon, and most NASDAQ stocks have risen
over the past 12 months while AAPL has sunk.
Over the past year long-term Apple investors have had to endure a sinking feeling while the rest of the stock market has been partying on. Oceans of pixels have been devoted to explaining Apple's decline: innovation is a shadow of its former self, Samsung and Google are seizing the market for smartphones and tablets, margins are declining, and, of course, the visionary founder is gone. Those who aren't following the stock closely, however, may have missed the bottom.

Apple shares dipped below $400 in April and June but rose in July when earnings fell less than expected. On Tuesday, when legendary billionaire investor Carl Icahn tweeted that he had bought Apple, others piled in. [update - 8/16: Apple rose this week while the market declined--see graph below]

We still think that re-attaining the all-time high of $705 won't happen any time soon, but the entry of Carl Icahn has reversed the atmosphere of negativity. Mr. Icahn, besides being smart, has a reputation for being ruthless and greedy. His evaluation is devoid of sentiment, and, at the age of 77 his investment horizon isn't overly long-term. Right now his presence is good for the stock, but when he tweets that he's gotten out, look out below. (I'm now a subscriber to his Twitter feed.)

Apple popped this week while the market dropped.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Cuspidor Bites the Dust

The spit bowl, aka dental cuspidor
When I sat down in the dentist's chair, the spit bowl was gone. The technician explained that a heavy patient had broken it when he used it as support rising from the chair.

I expectorated into the proferred suction hose while Stan explained that the $4,000(!) replacement cost of the spit bowl would be better allocated to newer technology.

Of course, I I always do with the man who held a sharp instrument in my mouth.

Too much information? the full panel
He took a full panel of X-rays. With the money saved from not replacing the cuspidor Stan was able to buy a late-model X-ray system, which emits much less radiation than machines of yore. Okay, despite fond childhood memories of the water going round and round, I don't miss the spit bowl that much.

The technician said that I had good bones and gums. Not the highest compliment I've ever received, but these days you take them whenever you can get them. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Monday, August 12, 2013

Will Medical Insurance Pay for my Cellphone?

That's not such a far-fetched question, given the increased use of cellphone cameras and apps by patients.
The simple camera phone is epochal in that it puts the power—literally—into the hands of patients. The photographic possibilities extend far beyond the skin. In the pediatric gastroenterology clinic, many concerned parents bring in photos of their kids' dirty diapers, which all parties agree is vastly preferable to bringing in the real thing. Some neurologists recommend that parents make videos of children who have a known history of seizures to help the team fine-tune medication doses. In developmental and behavioral clinics, parents can show videos of their children at home demonstrating milestones like a mature pincer grasp or pulling to stand.
If the insurance company won't pay, perhaps one can still claim an itemized deduction for "medical equipment." The expense shouldn't be hard to corroborate, since the IRS will have copies of all your medical records and photos.... © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Sunday, August 11, 2013

At the Apple Store

Apple's Hillsdale Store: the busiest store at the mall.
We own several Apple products, but they do fail from time to time. We always buy the extended warranty (AppleCare) on the more expensive items, i.e., Macintoshes and iPhones, and on several occasions we were very glad that we had.

Last week the fan on a 2012 MacBook Pro started to make a clicking sound. We made an appointment and took it in two days later. After examining the computer in the back room, the technician ordered a new fan and said that Apple would call us when the part came in. [Update: we will drop off the Mac on Wednesday, August 14th.]

No deliberations about the cost (zero) of a fix, no uncertainty about the capability of the technician, and seven-day-a-week convenience. Until its competitors come up with similar support, we won't be straying from the orchard that Steve built. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Saturday, August 10, 2013

IKEA Weekend

30310 Whipple Road, Union City
I went to the IKEA warehouse in Union City to pick up a dresser, thereby avoiding the $60 delivery charge. (I happened to be in the area on another errand, and, by the way, I hope that I never reach the point where I'm totally indifferent to saving sixty bucks.)

While we're on the subject of watching one's pennies, a family member thought the dresser was a good value at $299, but that's only if you don't consider the four hours assembling the thing on Saturday and the three additional hours on Sunday tweaking it so that the drawers slid in and out just like they did in the showroom.

Next time, however, I'll probably pay for delivery and assembly. I may be cheap but I'm not crazy. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Friday, August 09, 2013

Whose Books Does Bill Gates Read?

Vaclav Smil has unconventional observations [bold added]:
If you ask “what has been the most important invention of the past 100, 150 years?” it’s been the synthesis of ammonia. If we could not synthesize ammonia by taking nitrogen from the air, hydrogen from natural gas and pressing them together in the Haber-Bosch cycle… if we could not do this to make nitrogen fertilizers, we could not grow enough food for about 40% of people. So you are talking about something like three billion people. In existential terms, that is the most important invention. [snip]

People think that we are getting better because we are dematerializing. Look at your iPhone. A perfect example of dematerialization. Before that you would need, what? An alarm clock. A telephone. A camera. A compass and a map. Now you don’t need any of these things — you just need one cellphone. So instead of having the mass of all these things like before, you dematerialize....

Many things are dematerializing, but they are dematerializing per unit. Yet we are selling many more units, so in total terms, global consumption is vastly increasing. This is like efficient energy consumption. We increase the efficiency of energy consumption, but have three televisions instead of one. Per refrigerator, per television, per car, the consumption is down. But overall, the consumption is up. [snip]

What would be the reason to rush into renewables? Global warming. But, China will burn every bit of coal it can lay its hands on. So whatever you do in the US or Germany, it’s irrelevant because China will wipe it out in a matter of weeks or months.
The example of Vaclav Smil shows that Bill Gates doesn't restrict his reading only to books that confirm his biases and predilections. That's why he's Bill Gates, and we aren't. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, August 08, 2013

A Lucky Guy

Updated from five years ago: Happy birthday to my youngest brother, who dated the prettiest girls and had more friends (and fun) growing up than any of us.

Two years ago he got married to a beautiful lady lawyer and settled in Orange County. He watches his diet, exercises regularly, and is the model for all his older brothers.

His good fortune has been mis-attributed to his double-lucky birthdate. The reasons are decidedly less mystical: character, hard work, and smarts that were well-concealed during the first half of his life.

Congratulations, brah, hope to see you soon. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Self Restraint

Some scientists studying social media are confused because human beings display both an instinct for privacy and an instinct for publicity.

Frankly, it's not that difficult. For the vast majority of us concerning information about ourselves:
  • If it's obviously positive, it's okay to publicize it (by the way, get a friend to do so to avoid the appearance of bragging).
  • If it's negative, don't tell anyone.
  • If it's a two-edged sword (e.g., what may be "cool" with the young crowd would be frowned on by an employer), again, don't post it.
  • OutrĂ© behavior may seem to get all the pageviews, but such publicity works out successfully for very few people. Those prospecting for employees, spouses, and service providers look for self-restraint, not a desire for the spotlight. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Tuesday, August 06, 2013


    Late last night an emergency-alert siren could be heard throughout the house. It took a few seconds to realize that it wasn't coming from the TV or radio, and then a longer interval for us to determine that the sound was being emitted by our three smartphones. A state-wide amber alert had been issued for a murder and kidnapping that occurred earlier that day in San Diego.

    iPhone alerts are in Settings > Notifications
    The event introduced us and many other Californians to the newly instituted Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) program. There are three categories of "government alerts" fed to smartphones. Amber alerts and emergency alerts, which concern child abductions and natural disasters, respectively, can be turned off, while the channel for "presidential alerts" is always open.

    While we do understand that lives are at stake and sympathize with victims' families, the odds of us being able to help are very remote. (And is sending a blast of sound to millions of Californians at 11 p.m. so superior to the old method in getting results?) We'll fulfill our civic obligations the traditional way, by listening to the news and paying attention when we're out and about.

    We're open to arguments, but for now we're switching the alerts to off.

    [Update - 8/8: neither the suspect nor the kidnap victim have yet been found.]

    Monday, August 05, 2013

    Twin of Doom

    Separated by decades: the Fantastic Four villain
    Doctor Doom (left) and the Worker of Secrets (above)

    When I need a diversion, I've been punching up one of the free games that I downloaded a month ago from Apple. One favorite way of letting off steam is Infinity Blade 2, a sword-fighting game with gorgeous graphics, wondrous weaponry, and fearsome foes. If frantic forefinger- or thumb-swiping helps to ward off senescence, then I'm decades away from having to be put in a home.

    I can't say much, though, for the plot of Infinity Blade 2. The game's objective is to free the "Worker of Secrets" from a magical prison. When we see the Worker at the beginning of the game, his appearance should set off alarm bells. He looks like the twin of Doctor Doom, the comic-book villain created 51 years ago by Stan Lee. (Doctor Doom was one of the inspirations for Darth Vader, by the way.) And if his appearance weren't confirmation enough, when the hero-protagonist meets him near the end of the game the Worker speaks with excellent diction in an English accent, the true signs of evil in our age.

    Realization comes at the end
    Oh, well, no one plays this game because it's a brain-teaser. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Sunday, August 04, 2013

    Colon Examined

    Lost in the furor over Alex Rodriquez, the Oakland Athletics received good news about Bartolo Colon. Colon (accent on the second syllable) had been suspended last year over performance-enhancing drugs but was not on this week's list of players targeted for suspension.

    Bartolo Colon is one of the top pitchers in the American League and sports a 14-3 record and a 2.50 Earned Run Average. At the advanced age of 40, he is having one of his best seasons ever and understandably was suspected of using PED's. Now that he's good to go, the A's, who are leading their division, have an excellent chance of making the playoffs. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Saturday, August 03, 2013

    The Cost of Marriage Equality

    Now that same-sex marriage will become legal in Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic is requiring that Minnesota employees who receive benefits in same-sex partnerships get married. This is the same rule that the Mayo Clinic and other employers apply to opposite-sex pairings [bold added]:
    "Mayo has long had a policy providing same-sex domestic partner benefits because those affected were not allowed to be married. That policy notes that marriage would be required if same-sex marriage became legal in the state where the couple lives," [spokesman Bryan] Anderson said in a statement.
    There are a few voices in favor of retaining special treatment. Paul Guequierre of the Human Rights campaign:
    "We have heard companies consider doing this. We have not heard of any companies that have actually done this and from our perspective it is a bad idea to require them to marry," he said.

    Friday, August 02, 2013

    Cool Enough

    We do have home air conditioning (see related post below), but in our city next to the Bay we only need to turn it on a few days each year. Most summer days are like this one, where we can take our bikes along the levee without breaking a sweat.

    There is a lot of sound and motion at the eastern edge of Foster City--ducks, waves, airplanes heading north to SFO, roller skaters, and dog walkers--yet today it feels quiet. Traffic along Beach Park Boulevard is light, and the few small businesses (music studios, family restaurants, specialty shops) along this stretch aren't busy.

    My friend sold his Foster City townhouse last year and retired to putter around in the Southern California desert. Even if I played golf as much as he does, I wouldn't move down there. Palm Springs ain't cool like here, man. © 2013 Stephen Yuen

    Thursday, August 01, 2013

    The Apparatus for Treating Air

    In the middle of the dog days William Falk, editor of The Week, sings the praises of a marvelous invention [bold added]:
    The greatest invention in human history is not the wheel, and it's certainly not sliced bread. As much of the nation broiled this week in temperatures in the high 90s and beyond, can there be any doubt that our most wondrous piece of technology is the air conditioner? It was way back in 1902 that Willis Carrier created the Apparatus for Treating Air for a Brooklyn printing company---a breakthrough that, as it developed and spread over decades, changed the human condition. [snip]

    Air conditioning is not merely a matter of comfort; it has given us modern life. It keeps people--and computers--working when the mercury climbs past 90, thus boosting the economy. It's enabled a great migration of tens of millions of people to Sun Belt states that nature intended for lizards, not warm-blooded mammals. And as the world warms, the demand for AC grows ever greater, consuming 20 percent of all U.S. electricity--and a rapidly growing share in India and China.
    People travel toward sunny climes, yet those who live there often can't wait to head indoors.

    In mid-20th century Hawaii one distinction between the haves and have-nots--guess which group I belonged to--was ownership of an air-conditioned car (air conditioning was nearly non-existent in homes because of the open Island architecture). The $600 price tag for being cool for 30 minutes a day in one's car was a luxury few could afford or justify.

    Today the status-conscious in our neighborhood like to show that they're successful by driving expensive German cars. As for me, a working air conditioner in our clunker is status enough. © 2013 Stephen Yuen