Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy New Year

Advice for the Year of the Wood Horse:
The industries that are predicted to do well this year are those associated with the wood element, including education, healthcare, and agriculture, as well as those that fall under fire, like marketing, entertainment, restaurants, and (of course), social media. Sectors that fall under metal and water, meanwhile, won't fare as well. Those include aviation, construction, and insurance.

Thinking of taking a class? Do it. Since education is a wood industry, which is associated with growth, 2014 will be a good time to learn something new. Taking up horseback riding seems fitting.

In order to stimulate the correct feng shui for the Year of the Wood Horse, consider rearranging the furniture in your home or office to face south, making sure your computer faces that direction too.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Needed More Than Ever

The enthusiasm for big data often results in overshoot [bold added]:
once the quants come into an industry and disrupt it, they often don’t know when to stop. They tend not to have decades of institutional knowledge about the field in which they have found themselves. And once they’re empowered, quants tend to create systems that favor something pretty close to cheating. As soon as managers pick a numerical metric as a way to measure whether they’re achieving their desired outcome, everybody starts maximizing that metric rather than doing the rest of their job.
Examples of overshoot, according to author Felix Salmon, can be found in police work (exclusive focus on number of arrests), education ("teaching to the test"), and finance (risk algorithms did not actually minimize risk). The amazing advances that have resulted from big data and quantitative analyses have made it tempting to focus on single measures, like net income or cholesterol count, as the measure of overall health. But widespread technology also amplifies the magnitude of potential disasters.

Judgment, experience, and human wisdom are harder to come by and appear to be needed more than ever.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Involuntary Shudder

The reptilian brain awoke for a split-second and triggered an involuntary shudder when the shadow of a "space alien" was projected on our neighbor's wall. Of course, it turned out to be just the satellite dish, and the heartbeat immediately returned to normal.

According to neuroscience the baser emotions like fear and anger are the product of the brain's oldest structures, aka the reptilian brain. Higher functions, such as language and consciousness, come from newer sections such as the hippocampus and the neocortex.

Fortunately, your observer is in total control of his animal instincts, which is why only sweet reason and enlightenment may be found on these humble pages.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


The President, following in the tradition of other Presidents, declared that the State of the Union is "strong".

He then proceeded to say how it could be made stronger, by "[laying] out a long list of proposals that would require congressional approval, including raising the minimum wage and changing the immigration system." Speaking as a former tax accountant, I found his MyRA proposal to be mildly interesting, but one doesn't summon Congress, the Supreme Court, the Cabinet, and a watching nation to spend any time talking about yet another tax-deferred retirement vehicle. (The IRS already lists more than a dozen.)

What happened to the guy who said this [bold added]?
I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.
At best we've made a little progress on some of the then-Senator's ambitions; at worst we've regressed (e.g., starting new wars, never getting unemployment below 6.7%). I wonder if the nation's exhaustion and his diminishment will continue until 2016, when like Alice's Cheshire Cat, all that will be left is his smile. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Monday, January 27, 2014

Apple Traders Were Disappointed

Apple traders were disappointed by today's earnings release for the quarter ended 12/31/13. The disappointment chiefly lay in quarterly iPhone sales figures---"only" 51 million when analysts had expected 55 million. While year-over-year quarterly revenue rose 5.7% from $54.5 billion to $57.6 billion, Apple's net profit remained the same at $13.1 billion. Note, however, that quarterly earnings per share rose 5% from $13.81 to $14.50 because of the share buyback program, which appears to have retired about 45 million shares using simple arithmetic.

Yes, of course, it would have been much better to have sold AAPL at today's close of $550.50, before the earnings announcement.

Update - 1/28: Apple fell 8%, or $44, on Tuesday to $506.50. Some perspective: when we looked at whether to remain an investor nine months ago the price was $406.13. The annualized rate of return for holding AAPL for the past nine months, assuming disposition at $506.50 per share on Tuesday, was 37%:

In addition to iPhone--with a rumored larger screen--and iPad refreshes in 2014, the company may have new products up its sleeve, such as an iWatch, an iTV, or electronic payments system.  It's not impossible for the price to get back to $600, roughly a 20% gain from today's levels. Meanwhile, investors will have the dividend of $3.05 per quarter (2.4% yield versus the price) to give them comfort.  The bottom line: AAPL is an excellent investment with more upside than downside, but the stock is problematic if one is a short-term trader.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Unexpected Revelation

Remnants of the Mormon Island winery, unseen for 59 years (WSJ photo)
Water is essential to life. It also covers...and preserves.

Suffering from one of the worst droughts in California's recorded history, the Folsom Lake reservoir has receded to reveal the Gold Rush town of Mormon Island. The sightings are likely to be short-lived, and this month's projected rains will cover Mormon Island again, preserving it for future generations.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson and fan
The line circled around the second floor of the shopping center. 500 people were waiting to take a picture with Klay Thompson, Golden State Warrior shooting guard.

Klay Thompson and point guard Stephen Curry have been nicknamed the Splash Brothers. Their three-point shots have been lighting scoreboards around the NBA. Their coach has called them "the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the game".

23 years old, earning $2.3 million this year and $3.1 million next, Klay Thompson's future is brighter than most of us will experience or imagine. Greeting every fan with a hug or handshake, he seems to be a nice guy, too. The world is his oyster. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Friday, January 24, 2014

That Guy

We've been purchasing car batteries from Costco for over ten years. Kirkland batteries are reasonably priced and long-lasting; about 5 years has been the typical life span for us, though the spec is 8 years.

Costco won't install batteries but will dispose of the old ones. The doughty do-it-yourselfer only needs an adjustable wrench or set of wrenches and perhaps a screwdriver. The whole process used to take hours--buying the new battery, shuttling home for removal and installation, and returning to Costco with the old battery and receipt (to get a free disposal).

Lately I've been bringing the required tools to Costco and performing the installation in the parking lot. The whole swap has been cut to half an hour, and I've learned to ignore the quizzical looks from shoppers in their upscale vehicles. Yes, I used to look askance at people who worked on their cars in parking lots, but now I'm that guy. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, January 23, 2014

We All Have Attention Deficit Now

Time's Feb 3 cover story.
The 24/7 wireless world is a cornucopia of shiny distractions, which is why there's a growing mindfulness movement. Turn the gadgets off, if only for a little while, and concentrate on one thing at a time. Your brain will thank you.
Researchers have found that multitasking leads to lower overall productivity. Students and workers who constantly and rapidly switch between tasks have less ability to filter out irrelevant information, and they make more mistakes.
Placing our gadgets within easy reach on the nightstand is as tempting and potentially harmful as having a refrigerator next to the bed. Your humble observer is going back to reading dead-tree books at bedtime; it's important to preserve the (few) neurons he has left.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Joy Behar Barely Expurgated

Your humble observer has been watching Jay Leno's final weeks as host of the Tonight Show. His guests, whether A-list or lesser-known celebrities, are people Jay likes, not necessarily those with a high Q score. Some interviews have been unexpectedly interesting or amusing, like this evening's session with Joy Behar who was a comedienne before she hosted the View. Two observations: 1) Joy Behar is hilarious; 2) the networks still censor George Carlin's seven dirty words, but just about any other speech is allowed. Excerpts:
Joy Behar: I was on one of the last planes to get out [from NYC to LA]. I heard that they had 13 inches in Greenwich. Those WASPS haven't seen 13 inches in how long?

Jay Leno: You look good, you've lost some weight.

JB: I've been working out. I get on the it normal to trip on your tits on the treadmill?

JL: Not for either of us [referring to Jay Leno and Charlie Sheen]. No, it's not.

JB: I would not get plastic surgery. I don't believe in plastic surgery. A dermatologist said to me, Joy, don't get plastic surgery because a smile is a natural facelift. I said, I wish my ass had a sense of humor.
More Joy, on Chris Christie, retirement, elder sex, Viagra. "Like putting a flagpole on a condemned building"---an image that can't be unimagined.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Mice Get Crushed

Private-equity firms have recently been cashing out their investments, not through IPO's or sales to corporate giants, but by flipping acquired businesses to other private-equity firms. Per the Economist:
these “pass-the-parcel” deals have become common. In 2013 they represented nearly half the deals in Europe by value.
The Economist article lists reasons for the rapid growth of secondary market transactions: hundreds of billions of dollars are burning a hole in private-equity pockets, due-diligence documents are much cheaper to update than originate, and a multi-year stock market boom has led to a dearth of undervalued buyout candidates. Added to the soup are the eagerness of fee-hungry investment banks and the belief that rising interest rates means that there's only a short window to take on acquisition debt.

Yes, there are win-win rationalizations for secondary market transactions, such as differing tax attributes of buyer and seller and diversification into or away from certain countries or sectors. Nevertheless, the signs of froth are there, just as there were in real estate and tech bubbles past. The small investor would be wise to stay away from private-equity funds; when the elephants are stressed, the mice get crushed. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Crowded Attic

Science explains that problem I've been having:

Brains of elderly slow because they know so much.

The Great Detective was over 100 years ahead of his time [bold added]:
I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Silver Linings in the 49ers Loss

Richard Sherman enjoys his win
Today's NFC Championship was an exciting contest between two evenly matched teams. The outcome was in doubt until the final minute, when Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman tipped a potentially winning 49er touchdown pass away from Michael Crabtree into the hands of Seahawk linebacker Malcolm Smith, effectively ending the game.

Pundits will attribute the 49ers' 23-17 loss to all of the following: poor play-calling, three turnovers in the fourth quarter, failure to tackle Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, Colin Kaepernick's inability to spot the open receiver, and blown calls by the refs. Despite all those problems the Niners still had a chance to win the game in the final minute; a few inches higher on the throw and Seattle would be the team poring over its mistakes.

IMHO, the most-often mentioned factor before the game, the deafening Seattle crowd noise when the opponent's offense is on the field, was still the decider. If the Niners' final drive had occurred at Candlestick Park, the offense would have been able to communicate more effectively and would probably have scored. But we'll never know, of course, and anyway, the Niners have only themselves to blame for not securing home-field advantage during the regular season.

Jim Harbaugh: not so bad a guy
What solace may the 49ers take in this defeat?

  • Another Super Bowl loss would have been far more galling than the Conference Championship loss to the Seahawks. The 49ers' prospects for beating Denver were poor; two of their star players, guard Mike Iupati and linebacker NaVorro Bowman, suffered season-ending injuries in the bruising loss to the Seahawks.
  • The 49ers now wear the white hat in the burgeoning Seattle-San Francisco rivalry. Last year some observers had declared the 49ers, with their mercurial coach and tattooed quarterback, hard to like. But they're easier to warm up to than Richard Sherman, whose postgame rant dissed Michael Crabtree and proclaimed himself to be the best cornerback in football. When endorsement deals come their way, 49er players and coaches may have the Seahawks and their voluble cornerback to thank.
  • © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Saturday, January 18, 2014

    Second Life

    (Guardian photo)
    Bill and Melinda Gates predict that by 2035 "there will be almost no poor countries left in the world." [bold added]
    a few unhappy countries will be held back by war, political realities (such as North Korea) or geography (such as landlocked states in central Africa). But every country in South America, Asia and Central America (except perhaps Haiti) and most in coastal Africa will have become middle-income nations. More than 70% of countries will have a higher per-person income than China does today.
    If prosperity does become universal within a couple of decades, the 21st century will mark perhaps the greatest turning point in human history. And if his charitable works in no small part help to bring about that result, Bill Gates may well be known to future historians as a philanthropist who used to run a computer business. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Friday, January 17, 2014

    Fresh Thinking

    Chicago economist John Cochrane criticizes recent solutions to financial crises. Excerpts from an interview:
    Dodd-Frank: a long and vague law that spawns a mountain of vague rules, which give regulators huge discretion to tell banks what to do. It’s a recipe for cronyism and for banks to game the system to limit competition.

    Ending "too-big-to-fail" bailouts: the only way to precommit to not conducting bailouts is to remove the legal authority to bail out. Ex post, policymakers will always want to clean up the damage from crises and worry about moral hazard another day. Ulysses understood he had to be tied to the mast if he was going to ignore the sirens. You also have to let people know, loudly. The worst possible system is one in which everyone thinks bailouts are coming, but the government in fact does not have the legal authority to bail out.

    Inflation: We no longer have to hold an inventory of some special asset — money — to make transactions. I use credit cards. We pretty much live in an electronic barter economy, exchanging interest-paying book entries, held in quantities that are trillions of dollars greater than needed to make transactions....I've been looking for a new theory: What is the basic theory of inflation? Where do we start before we add frictions and complications?

    Growth and economic recovery: Long-term growth is like a garden. You have to weed a garden; you don't just pile on fertilizer — stimulus — when it's full of weeds. So let's count up the weeds. A vast federal bureaucracy is going to be running health care and has cartelized the market. Dodd-Frank is another vast federal bureaucracy, directing the financial brains in the country to compliance or lobbying. The alphabet soup of regulatory agencies is out there gumming up the works. Then there are social programs. The marginal tax rates that low-income people face, along with other disincentives to move or work, mean that many of them are never going to work again.

    When the economy was steaming ahead, this didn’t really cause much trouble, but now many recovery mechanisms have been turned off. If a Martian economist parachuted down, would he not be struck by the vast number of disincentives and wedges the government places between willing employer and employee? Would he or she really say "the one big wedge between you hiring someone to make something and sell it is the zero bound on nominal Treasury rates"? Finally, uncertainty is surely a part of it. Investing and hiring has some fixed, irreversible costs, and the chance that policy could be even worse gives people an incentive to delay.

    Health insurance: Health insurance should be there to protect your wealth against large, unanticipated shocks. There is no more reason it should pay for routine expenses than your car insurance should pay for oil changes. Insurance should be individual, not tied to your job, guaranteed-renewable (meaning, once you buy it, you keep it, without premium increases, when you get sick), portable across jobs, marriages, and states, transferable to other insurance companies, and accompanied with large deductibles.

    Inequality: I do not see evidence that societies whose inequality comes, like ours, primarily from the economic returns to skill, can add high taxes and large transfers mediated by central government, and the result will be for them to grow faster, become more homogenous and peaceful, or provide better long-run outcomes for the people whom advocates of such schemes say they wish to help.
    Interesting throughout.

    Thursday, January 16, 2014

    Freudian Construction

    Everyone needs a stud sensor.
    While shopping at Lowe's for a male piece that would thread properly into a female fitting, your humble observer's mind wandered from his plumbing project to "construction terms that sound dirty," a search phrase that Google says has been used before. (Websites have devoted sections to this very topic.)

    I bought several pipes of varying lengths; it was best to be over-prepared. The part could not be too long or too short. One piece fit nicely; too much torque would cause cracking so I screwed it in using both hands, then applied the caulk. I ran my finger along the surface. There was no moisture, but I told everyone to allow it time to harden. In a few hours we were good to go. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Wednesday, January 15, 2014

    I'd Make Lemonade if There Was Enough Water

    A cool walk in the woods
    California is facing the worst drought in 20 years. A typically cold and wet January precludes hikes in the mountains, but such is not the case this year. Record high temperatures prompted me to strap on the boots and spend half a day on the dry trails. It was a pleasant outing, but let's hope the weather turns.

    [Update - 1/17: California Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday declared a drought emergency for the state, saying it is facing perhaps "the worst drought that California has ever seen since records (began) about 100 years ago."] © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Tuesday, January 14, 2014

    Maybe This Year

    Doctor's visits require advance planning, more than many business meetings that I've attended.

    For today's physical I made sure that the results of last month's colonoscopy were sent to him. I had blood drawn for the lab twelve days ago. I brought this year's insurance and pharmacy cards, as well as a list of medicines prescribed by different specialists.

    The doctor is old school, that is, he spent 90% of our session talking to and examining me and only 10% of the time looking at computer records (I've encountered other doctors who do the reverse.) He went over the recommended inoculations and gave me flu and pneumonia shots. I'll return for the TDAP (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) in March.

    He wrote new prescriptions and repeated his admonition to lose ten pounds with a little more urgency than he did a year ago. Hopefully, this year I'll follow his advice.

    Monday, January 13, 2014

    Enriching the Mind

    If one wants to feed the mind and is unconcerned about receiving a credential as validation for one's effort, there is no better time than today. World-class scholars are teaching on-line courses whose content once upon a time could only have been obtained at selective universities. Assuming that the student has a computer with a wi-fi connection, the cost is free. The price of participation is limited to books and supplies.

    Today's example:
    Yale University is launching its next generation of free online courses this month, with four new courses debuting in the next six weeks. Registration is open now for all courses at

    Four of Yale’s most distinguished scholars are inaugurating the program. The course titles, faculty members, and dates of the first online classes are:

    January 16 – “Roman Architecture,” with Diana E. E. Kleiner, Dunham Professor of History of Art and Classics

    January 20 - "Moralities of Everyday Life," with Paul Bloom, Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology & Cognitive Science

    January 27 - “Constitutional Law,” with Akil Amar ’80, ’84 JD, Sterling Professor of Law & Political Science

    February 17 - “Financial Markets,” with Robert Shiller, Sterling Professor of Economics
    In keeping with my New Year's resolutions, I will sign up for one course. No more than one, though. In keeping with another resolution, I will finish what I start.

    Sunday, January 12, 2014

    Not Well or Wisely

    WSJ tech columnist Farhad Manjoo predicts that jobs will be transformed into games where winning "players" are promoted or at least get to keep their jobs.
    "Gamification"...refers to transferring the features that motivate players in videogames—achievement levels, say, or a constantly running score—into nongame settings. Gamification systems are possible because much of what we do in the workplace is conducted through software that can track our productivity, constantly measure our value and apply incentives that prod us to do better.
    Games have long been a metaphor for work, or even life, but Mr. Manjoo seems to believe that the term will soon be applied literally. However, it strikes this observer that adoption will proceed at about the same pace as artificial intelligence and robotification, that is, more slowly than enthusiasts think.

    There's no question that hardware speeds and data storage have improved at exponential rates. The limitation is in the software. Traditional management tasks of defining and measuring job success and then constructing incentives to reward positive behaviors are hard enough. Designing a game that incorporates those elements and is fun to boot will probably work in simpler jobs that don't change much, but will be very difficult in complex jobs such as teaching, law, medicine, and computer programming, all of whose rote tasks have already been made easier by technology.

    Gamification may be inevitable, but I have my doubts whether it will be done well or wisely.

    Saturday, January 11, 2014

    The Dripping Has Stopped

    The parts cost $72, less than a remodel.
    The drip had begun several months ago. Confronting the likelihood that the bathroom remodel---and new faucets--won't happen for over a year, I replaced the valve stems. I shut off the water, fixed the faucets, and replaced the 30-year-old handles, too.

    In our house "short-term" items often become long-term because of inertia or inattention (those are kinder-sounding terms than laziness). We will probably live with our old tub and shower longer than we had hoped, but at least we'll have new handles for the faucet. And the dripping has stopped.

    Friday, January 10, 2014

    Hau'oli La Hanau

    My kid brother is a man of accomplishment---lawyer, cook, musician, linguist, teacher, traveler, husband, and father. He is loved and admired, not only for what he does but for who he is.

    (I wonder how successful he might have been had he been better looking, but Mom and Dad kept saving the "handsome" genes for the daughter that never came and eventually bestowed them on the youngest of the brood.)

    Happy birthday, brother, and many more!

    Thursday, January 09, 2014

    "They didn’t ask the customer[s]" what they wanted"

    Ezra Klein interviews health care expert Robert Laszewski about Obamacare. Excerpts:
    I think we’re going to ultimately need about 20 million people for a sustainable pool. It doesn’t need to be this year. That’s what the transitional risk corridors are all about. But it needs to happen in the first few years. So when I hear people talk about the goal being seven million, I think, “time out.” This needs to be 20 million people within three years.

    I think the [individual] mandate is almost worthless because the word is getting around that they can’t really collect it. And by year three, it’s really a lot of money. I think there’ll be real pressure to just get rid of it. I don’t think you can force people to buy this insurance. If they don’t want it there’ll be a political groundswell to get rid of it. So in my mind the individual mandate is kind of irrelevant to this.

    I think the 2015 rates will be the rates you’re looking at today, more or less..... Having said that I do have a concern that people are looking at these plans and not finding value. Some people are looking at paying 10 percent of their income for plans with huge deductibles, and then you have politics of Obamacare and the bad press of the launch and if you put all those things in a bag and mix them up, I am really concerned that the uninsured who are healthy are not finding Obamacare the value they hoped it will be. That’s the real risk for Obamacare.

    The problem with Obamacare is it’s product driven and not market driven. They didn’t ask the customer what they wanted. And I think that’s the fundamental problem with Obamacare. It meets the needs of very poor people because you’re giving them health insurance for free. But it doesn’t really meet the needs of healthy people and middle-class people.
    4½ years ago we looked at the health care debate through the prism of the good-fast-cheap project triangle. What has resulted for many (not all) Americans is an objectively worse product that is not as good (narrower networks), slower (e.g., signing up takes hours, hospitals can't determine whether a patient is covered), and more expensive (see Robert Laszewski interview above).

    Obamacare advocates had years to design, implement, and test the system. It will be surprising if the voters do not to exact a penalty at the ballot box this November. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Wednesday, January 08, 2014

    Taking A Break From Chicken

    Many of us consume too many processed foods and red meat, but eating healthy foods carries its own risks.
    Fruits and vegetables: Every year, nearly 48 million people fall ill from food contamination, including sickness caused by fruits and avoid this, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends washing produce thoroughly.

    Brown rice: a single serving of some rices could give an average adult almost one and a half times the inorganic arsenic he or she would get from a whole day’s consumption of water, about 1 liter.

    Fish: 84 percent of fish have unsafe levels of mercury....Eating fish is the principal way people get mercury poisoning. Tuna and swordfish contain the most mercury, which can permanently damage the brain and kidneys. Because mercury pollution is global, no country alone can rid its food supply of contamination.

    Chicken: the [Foster Farms] plant in Livingston, CA, poses a public health threat because it was infested with live cockroaches...Roaches were seen near the processing line at the plant while “exposed product” was on the slaughterhouse floor...the live insects were also observed on other occasions during production.
    Chicken is our favorite source of lean protein, and Foster Farms is the brand of choice because of low price and attractive packaging. We always cook it thoroughly because of the risk of salmonella contamination, but this latest incident with the roaches will cause us to take a break from chicken.

    Eating anything carries risks. Maybe we should concede the obvious and just eat less. Time to dust off the book from last year...

    © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Tuesday, January 07, 2014


    Diane has been serving dinners
    at Home and Hope for 11 years
    The past two months have flown quickly, and it was our turn again to prepare the evening meal.

    Most of the dishes required some preparation, especially Liva's squash au gratin, but the most popular was the cheapest and quickest to prepare. The nice lady at Safeway had donated a frozen cheese pizza, which turned a golden brown after 15 minutes in a 400-degree oven. The children skipped past the vegetables and headed for the pizza; the eight slices were scarfed up within minutes. The adults were content with the healthier salads, sauteed vegetables, and Liva's casserole, a win-win for everyone.

    At Home and Hope there's a shortage of volunteers who are willing and able to stay overnight at the churches where the families are temporarily housed. The older folks have the requisite flexibility in their schedules but not in their bodies. Spending the night on air mattresses or sleeping bags can be tough on pre-arthritic joints.

    Kris gave me a tour of the sleeping rooms. Emergencies happen rarely, she said; most mornings you wake the families at 6:15 and the van picks them up at 7:00 sharp, at which point you can go home to your warm, familiar bed. She's older than I and does overnight duty in four-day stretches. Shame is not the ideal motivator, but it works with me. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Monday, January 06, 2014

    The Meaning of Epiphany

    (Updated from two years ago)

    Today, January 6th, Epiphany, marks the official end of the Christmas season. Not too long ago Catholics, Episcopalians, and other Christians observed not only the twelve days of Christmas but also the eight days of Epiphany. ("The Octave of Epiphany" sounds like the title of Dan Brown's next book.) In the Internet age we can barely concentrate twelve minutes, much less eight or twelve days, on any endeavor.

    Epiphany is not one of the three major feasts (Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost) of Christianity, but it is sufficiently important that some churches are named after it. Nearly 40 years ago we were married at one Church of the Epiphany. We attended another for 15 years. [Here's a positive review from a non-member.]

    The original meaning of "Epiphany" was religious--the manifestation of the Divine (Jesus) to the Gentiles (Magi)--but it has come to mean the revelation of an essential, not necessarily religious, truth. Like other words where the meaning is subtle and the use is infrequent, it is apt to be cheapened through over-application, as in, "when I heard the politician's speech/saw the movie/heard the song, I had an epiphany." Let's hope that, like a well-crafted tool, "epiphany" is used when the circumstances are appropriate. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Sunday, January 05, 2014

    The Last Hurrah

    The last time I visited Candlestick
    (2006) it was called Monster Park
    Some of the most significant Bay Area events in the last half-century--two World Series, including the 1989 "earthquake" series between the Giants and A's, five (5) 49ers Super Bowl runs, the Beatles' last concert--occurred at Candlestick Park, which will soon be visited by the wrecker's ball.

    I have my share of physically uncomfortable recollections: freezing and windy night baseball games, the 49ers playing to an empty stadium in the pre-Montana 1970's, bathroom facilities that would normally cause a private business to be shut down.

    Fans aren't really mourning Candlestick--they are clinging to the memories of great performances that they will never see again. All-time greats Willie Mays, Jerry Rice, and Steve Young, among others, were on hand to celebrate those moments during the final home game at the 'Stick on December 23rd. The 49ers beat the Falcons, 34-24, the last chapter of Candlestick's storied history.

    [Update: there's a (slim) chance that the 'Stick will take a curtain call:
    If the No. 6 Saints beat the No. 1 Seattle Seahawks on Saturday and the No. 5 49ers beat the No. 2 Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Candlestick Park would host its ninth conference championship game.]

    Saturday, January 04, 2014

    Recommended Inoculations

    On a visit to the allergist last month she asked whether I had a flu shot yet.
    No, I'm having a physical in January and I'll get one then.
    That's great, she said. Meanwhile, you might want to ask him about these others. She brandished a report by the CDC:
    Vaccines Recommended for Older Adults
  • Influenza vaccine, which protects against seasonal flu (for all adults every year)
  • Td vaccine, which protects against tetanus (for all adults every 10 years)
  • Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (also known as whooping cough) (for all adults once instead of Td vaccine)
  • Pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against pneumococcal diseases that cause infections in the lungs, blood, brain and ear (for all adults over 65 years old, and for adults younger than 65 years who have certain chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, or who smoke)
  • Zoster vaccine, which protects against shingles (for adults 60 years or older)
  • There may be other vaccines to consider because your health, job, or lifestyle may put you at higher risk for certain diseases. For example, people with diabetes are recommended to also get the Hepatitis B vaccine.
    I wish that I had been made aware of these recommendations in 2012, before I came down with the shingles that put me out of commission for over a month.

    Any one of the other maladies will put a crimp in achieving ambitions for 2014. Recommended inoculations: another item on the to-do list for January. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Friday, January 03, 2014

    Merely a Gesture

    A lot of sticky messiness for $9.73.
    The holiday festivities were pau (some Hawaiian words just stick with you throughout your life). I took the plastic bottles to the recycling center. For a couple of hours' worth of sorting, transporting, waiting, and dealing with sticky messiness the compensation was $9.73. I probably won't bother next time and just put the bottles in the blue container that Recology picks up every week.

    I felt sorry for the sole worker at the site. He had to deal with long post-New Year lines and overflowing bins; he told me that the truck was very late. I gave him $2. No, the amount made no difference to him or to me. Amidst the vermin-attracting grime it was merely a gesture toward civic society. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Thursday, January 02, 2014

    Not Going With the Flow

    The technician tapped my left arm, searching for a vein. She inserted the needle. It was a dry hole. Her second attempt on the right wrist was successful, and the sample vials were filled in short order. The visit was more pleasant than average, however, with three or four tries being the norm.

    Lab technicians have explained the multiple pricks and prods (and bandages) as being due to my veins being narrow and difficult to locate. I'm a wuss for admitting it, but the unpleasantness of the experience has caused me recently to forego donating blood (5-10 years ago the technicians seemed more skilled).

    It's unfortunate that the blood banks aren't integrated with the labs, because I'd be perfectly willing to donate a pint once they take the relatively small amount needed for testing. After I've made the trip to the laboratory, filled out the paperwork, and incurred the discomfort of getting the flow going, the marginal cost of extracting a pint is minimal. There's probably a bureaucratic reason why blood donation and testing can't be done at the same time, but it escapes me.

    Wednesday, January 01, 2014

    New Year's "W"-esolutions

    Every year we try and only partially succeed, if not fail. This time we really mean it! (right?)

    This 17-year-old didn't need
    to lose any weight.
    Weight loss: This is the number one New Year's resolution for Americans. I resolve to lose 1½ pounds per month---an 18-pound weight loss should get the doc off my back. Exercise and diet will be the means of achieving this goal.

    Wealth: I resolve to pay more attention to investments. Buy-it-and-forget-it is not an option, and neither is too much concentration in one stock or one sector.

    Work: This one seems to be related to wealth, but it's really not. Whether doing something for pay or for love, I resolve to accept tasks sparingly and finish the ones that I do undertake.

    Wisdom: I resolve to take 80 hours of continuing education and restore my CPA license to active status. Also, I will read at least one non-business book each month. Excluding work and education, I will limit online time to two hours daily.

    The above may not seem overly ambitious, dear reader, but rest assured, they are. © 2014 Stephen Yuen