Thursday, April 30, 2015

Facing the Truth

Screenshot of
No, I could not resist clicking on the link.

Microsoft's guesses the subject's age and sex from a picture of one's face. The good news: photos taken at least three feet away guessed my age to be about ten years younger. The bad news: the up-close-and-personal, take-a-picture-now option guessed older.

That's why I keep my distance from people.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Lost Market

A working Apple Watch on an ink-free wrist (Getty Images)
The Apple Watch doesn't work on some people with wrist tattoos.
Apple uses various spectrums of light to track the blood flow through your skin. Anything that reduces that light's reflectiveness — ink pigmentation within your skin, for example — can interfere with that sensor.

For those wondering: natural skin pigmentation doesn't block light the same way artificial ink pigment or even scar tissue does, so you shouldn't run into a problem if your skin is naturally darker.
Inference: very few, if any, Apple testers have wrist tattoos.

Another explanation: Apple may have concluded that only a small proportion of 45 million tattooed Americans would have sensor-interfering ink in the watch-wearing area, not enough of a lost market to delay release.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Trust: the Medium Matters

(Daily Mail photo)
Despite popular conceptions of the elderly as being prone to unhappiness ("grumpy old men") and being victimized by fraud [bold added],
a growing body of research shows increases as people get older and, moreover, that people who trust more are also more likely to experience increases in happiness over time.
The aged are more likely to want to "give back," the researchers hypothesized, and their happier disposition makes them more willing to forgive offenses and resume a trusting outlook.

Your humble observer finds these explanations unsatisfying. Perhaps the elderly--generally speaking--are more experienced at social interactions, and trust simply means having faith in their ability to "read" other people face-to-face.

In contrast we are increasingly distrustful of electronic communications, the vast majority of which is initiated by strangers who want something from us.

The medium matters.

Monday, April 27, 2015

If You Have to Ask, You Can't Afford It

Like the incessant remodeler who is never satisfied with her kitchen (one of my neighbors is working on her third), I'm tempted to start all over on my 1967 Volkswagen when I read articles such as these.

Zelectric engine compartment
(WSJ photo)
Zelectric Motors of San Diego takes old VW Bugs and
and over the course of a few months converts their engines to run on zero-emission, 100 percent electric power.....the Bugs boast top speeds of over 100 mph—more than double the horsepower of the original stock and with a charge range of between 80 and 100 miles.
Asking how much it costs throws cold water on that fantasy:
The typical turnkey ZelectricBug sedan (1958-1966) starts at $64,000....We can also retrofit your currently owned rear-engined air-cooled classic with select components starting at $40,000.
If one has that kind of dough plus a desire for a technically advanced car, one may as well get a Tesla and have both an ultramodern interior and exterior.

As the Good Book says:
And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

One of Those Times

Resting after the excitement
Hoping to get an early start, I attended the eight o'clock service. There's less singing, no Sunday School, and a no-nonsense attitude to the liturgy. The service, including communion, is over in 50 minutes. The average attendee is over sixty,

However, today was an infant baptism. There were visitors to greet and plenty of food laid out in the Parish Hall. It was well over an hour before activities wound down. How often do you have a baptism, I asked an old-timer. "Never," she replied. Schedule delays don't normally result in people enjoying themselves, but this was one of those times.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Significant Step

(Graphic from
Republicans may finally help Barack Obama achieve passage of a major bill, one that is sure to have long-lasting effects [bold added]:
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would link 11 economies of the Pacific rim—including Japan and Singapore—with America. These 12 countries together account for 40% of world GDP and one-third of trade. As well as dismantling tariff barriers, the TPP is meant to tackle tough issues such as intellectual property, labour and environmental standards. American trade negotiators predict that by 2025 the TPP will make the world $220 billion a year richer.
While the TPP is supported by majorities in both parties, it has encountered opposition from both the left and the right. Some Democrats say that more American jobs will be lost to cheap-labor countries that have lax worker and environmental protections, while some Republicans worry that controls over immigration will be greatly loosened:
The TPP....allows for the free migration of labor among the signatory would override national immigration restrictions in the name of facilitating the free flow of labor.
More troublesome is the secrecy that has surrounded the negotiations ("secrecy may now be so strict that it ends up irritating everyone"). Republicans still rankle at the lack of transparency in the passage of Obamacare (Speaker Pelosi: "we have to pass the health care bill so that you can find out what is in it"), the IRS' selective scrutiny* of Obama opponents, and other matters foreign and domestic. Republicans will need to take a leap of faith to believe Administration assurances about the TPP's provisions.

None of these concerns appear to be insurmountable, however, and it's likely that free trade will take a significant step forward this year.

[*Update - 4/26, Glenn Reynolds: "With so Many Red Flags, Why Isn’t the IRS Auditing the Clinton Foundation? Probably the same reason they’re giving Al Sharpton — and, apparently, the entire on-air staff of MSNBC — a pass."]

Friday, April 24, 2015

Representation and Reality

Left - Front St. sculpture of the Transamerica Pyramid and other San Francisco towers feeling the vibe.

Right - the real Pyramid, which made it through the 1989 earthquake just fine.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Walk in the Woods

Five months later, the injured leg is not quite 100%. Hiking now requires a walking staff.

Walking staffs are used mostly by the old and infirm, and vanity had to take a back seat to the risk of slippage ("Pride goeth...")

After three and a half miles I had made it to the top of one hill (right) but knew that hiking the two miles to the other side (in the distance) would be unwise.

I began the slow descent through shaded canopies and along nearly-dry streams. One benefit of the drought is that there were very few mosquitoes, which usually descend in swarms on the unsprayed.

After mile six, I reached the car without mishap. Maybe next week I will attempt to climb the distant hill.

Turkeys 'midst the poppies.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cloud of Confusion

(Image from CPA Practice Advisor)
Staff at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, along with the accountancy boards of Colorado and Washington, have published an issues brief for CPA's who are thinking about taking on clients in the marijuana industry.

The issues are many, but they boil down to two: whether to service a business that is "state-legal/federally-illegal" and whether such clients violate the "good moral character" requirement for being a CPA.

The recreational use of marijuana is legal in certain states, but a CPA cannot knowingly provide services to organizations that are violating Federal law.

Furthermore, he or she can forget about trying to get a reciprocal license in a jurisdiction where marijuana use is illegal. Having such a client would be prima facie evidence of poor moral character.

Despite such obstacles it's very clear that this highly scrutinized, regulated and growing industry is in great need of the accounting, tax, IT, and other financial services that CPA's can provide. However, having a client in the marijuana industry risks losing one's license and worse, one's reputation for probity.

I know what you're thinking, dear reader, concern about "good moral character" and "probity"---how quaint!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hope vs. Reality

Wishful thinking doesn't go away with age [bold added]:
67% of workers say they plan to work for pay in retirement. But here’s why that may not be such a realistic plan: Among those who are already retired, only 23% actually work for pay.
The explanations aren't surprising:
Among the things that can cause people to leave the workforce earlier than they expect are health crises, layoffs and ageism on the part of prospective employers.
(Image from
Deferred gratification, aka "saving", was a key element of the Protestant ethic that attached little value to wishful thinking. The Protestant ethic has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

We reap what we have sown.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Studying the Obvious

Breakthrough in philanthropic science - Men Give More Generously to Attractive Fundraisers, Study Finds:
Men give more generously to fundraising campaigns if they see that other men have donated large amounts and if the fundraiser is an attractive woman, a new study published in Current Biology has found.
(Image from
In related news Taylor Swift was named the top celebrity for supporting charitable causes ("Celebs Gone Good"). Other contenders were Beyoncé and Emma Watson.

Beauty is as beauty does.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

In Similar Straits

Two scholars at Oxford University present sobering evidence that evil deeds and natural calamities cast a long shadow that spans generations.

(Graphic from
Regarding the violent act known as lynching, Cornelius Christian [bold added]
found that the higher an area’s lynching rate before 1930, the wider the income gap between blacks and whites remained in 2008-12, even when adjusted for factors such as the education and employment levels of a local area. A high rate of lynching widens this gap by as much as 15% in some cases.
(Graphic from
Analyzing the effects of the 1930's Dust Bowl, Vellore Arthi :
found that those who were born or were children during the disaster had a lower fertility rate than their peers from elsewhere in the country, were less likely to attend college and were more likely to suffer disability and poverty when they became older....some of these disadvantages, in turn, are likely to have affected the life chances of their children.
One wishes that these reports looked beyond the gloomy averages to show how some black- and Dust-Bowl descendants successfully overcame the injuries that they and their families suffered.

Their stories, perhaps, can show us how best to help children in similar straits today.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Woodside Road, Redwood City
After last night's woeful exhibition, I wasn't going to post about the Giants for a while, but the cement mixer painted with the San Francisco logo evinced a fan's loyalty that will surely outlast a bad April.

The Giants, one of the teams with the most losses (9) in the major leagues, got their 2014 World Series rings today. Then they won, 4-1, snapping an 8-game losing streak.

Hope springs eternal.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Wait 'Til Next Year

Giants have never had a dominating record, but this year's
3 and 8 is breathtakingly awful.
It's not only that they're 3 and 8 and that they're in the throes of a seven-game losing streak; when the Giants fall behind, their hitting has been so pitiful the fans give up hope and start leaving. We're at the ballpark tonight to see for ourselves how bad things are.

After four innings the Diamondbacks are ahead 4-0, and Giants starter Jake Peavy has been chased to the showers. It looks like 2005-2008, the post-Bonds, pre-Posey years.

8th inning: most "faithful" were gone
Update: the D'backs have made it 5-0 in the fifth. At least the kielbasa was pretty tasty.

Update 2: Final score Arizona 9, San Francisco 0.

Let the Games Begin Already

(Photo from
Heading into the NBA playoffs, the Golden State Warriors aren't getting the respect that their 67-15 record seems to deserve [bold added]:
Golden State is one of only 10 teams in the nearly 70-year history of the league to win 67 games. But even though their statistical achievements suggest they are one of the great teams of all time, the Warriors have remained underrated by the basketball public. TNT commentators Shaquille O'Neal and Tracy McGrady recently predicted the defending champion San Antonio Spurs would beat them in the playoffs.....Meanwhile, just last month, oddsmakers had LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers as the favorites to win the title.
Bay Area fans' hearts have long been with the team, and this year so have their heads (analytics):
The Warriors beat opponents by 10.1 points per game this season, which ranks them among the best teams of all time. This statistic has historically proved to be a surefire indicator of postseason success.
Nevertheless....winning the NBA championship means winning four consecutive playoff series. In the past 38 years the Warriors have never gotten past the second round. Doubts linger because of this lack of playoff success, plus the widespread perception that the Warriors consist of "finesse" jump-shooters who can't outmuscle teams that play the inside game. Charles Barkley:
“They’ve had a terrific season,” the Hall of Famer-turned-analyst said. “But I don’t like jump-shooting teams. I don’t think you can make enough jumpers to win four series in a row. I’ve said that for 25 years, not just now. I think you physically manhandle them inside. ..."
Enough talking....let the games begin.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Not Much We Can Do Except Fantasize

2½ years ago our PC was invaded by pop-up boxes that would not stop popping. The cyber-culprits demanded payment to fix the problem, but there was no assurance that they would do so, plus I didn't want to give the bad guys one cent for tribute.

I eradicated the pop-ups the hard way by erasing the internal drive, installing a clean copy of Windows XP, and restoring the backup files. Problem solved.

Ransomware screen (PC World)
However, the damage from my lost time was minuscule compared to those faced by businesses.
More small businesses are falling victim to “ransomware,” in which malicious code locks up computer files and cybercriminals demand a ransom to free them.
Crime pays:
About 30% of ransomware victims pay to regain their data, estimates Tom Kellermann, chief cybersecurity officer for Trend Micro Inc., an Irving, Texas, cybersecurity firm.
Preventive measures against ransomware are familiar: don't open e-mail attachments from unfamiliar sources, and back up the systems regularly.

It would be nice if Silicon Valley tech giants, the NSA, police, and military(!) would use all their advanced equipment and knowhow to strike back at these criminals. Zapping their equipment and emptying their bank accounts would be a good first step, and I wouldn't draw the line at using SEAL and SWAT teams to make the arrest. Well, I can fantasize...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tax Day, 2015

Reflective of our efforts to de-clutter our financial affairs, we completed our tax returns on Monday. Form 1040 is only 37 pages, and California Form 540, which includes a copy of the 1040, was 44 pages.

We were aided by the fact that all K-1's (information from pass-through entities) came in by the first of April. When the K-1's arrive dictates whether we need to file an extension request (2013 yes, 2012 no).

We are also in the fortunate majority that had health insurance through our employer. For those who had no coverage or who had received tax-credit subsidies to purchase insurance through the exchanges, the calculations may be very complex. It's too late to simplify the program retroactively for 2014, and unlikely anything will be done for 2015. We'll probably have to live with the system until the elections of 2016 point us in the direction that the American people wish to go.

Happy Tax Day!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Good of the Many Versus the One

(Image from the Oxford Dictionaries blog)
Readers of this modest journal may have noted the inconsistent treatment of the third-person singular pronoun. When the antecedent is unknown, your humble chronicler most often uses the traditional he and occasionally he or she [but never the abominable (s)he--I can see Mrs. Matthews, my sixth-grade English teacher, frowning in disapproval].

After two generations of wrestling with awkward-sounding alternatives, consensus may be coalescing around they, which, though plural, has the virtue of being gender-neutral.
there is no question that “they” is more idiomatic than clunky alternatives that include both genders, as in “he or she,” “he/she” or “(s)he.”

When pressed on whether “they” could serve as a singular pronoun, [lexicographers] pointed out that it already has done so for about seven centuries, appearing in the work of writers from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Jane Austen.
Thank goodness I'm not sitting for the SAT's.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Miracle Food

We still have a dozen cans in inventory from our purchase last year, but the $5-off sale proved irresistible. Other reasons to throw a six-pack of Spam into the cart:

1) The "best by" date is three years hence, lengthier than any other canned or packaged food.

2) No can opener is necessary, ideal for emergency situations.

3) Spam now has less sodium....which means that one can consume two-thirds of a 12-oz. can without exceeding the recommended daily allowance. Yum.

4) Spam stays plump, moist, and doesn't spoil for many years. Who's to say that daily ingestion of its preservatives won't keep the wrinkles away?

5) Hawaii is the state with the highest Spam consumption (6 cans per person per year) and the highest longevity. Coincidence? I think not!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

From Prince to Pariah

Back to basics (image from

In the late 1990's GE Capital was "the largest single contributor to General Electric's earnings."

GE Capital was a colossus. Everyone in banking and financial services ran into them, as a competitor, lender, customer, investor, and sometimes all of the above. In aircraft leasing, where my division competed with it, GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) enjoyed the lowest borrowing costs as well as the lowest airplane prices from Airbus and Boeing. It owned more airplanes than the largest airline.

We and other lessors could not offer lower lease rates than GECAS and had to come up with creative ways to compete (betting that the models we ordered would be in greater demand than GE projected, flexible lease-extension options, absorbing interest-rate and/or credit risk, favorable return conditions, etc.)

After the financial crisis of 2008 GE Capital lost its AAA credit rating. The subsidiary had become a drag on the parent, instead of an earnings contributor.

Last Friday General Electric announced that, after selling off pieces over the past 11 years, it will rid itself of GE Capital almost completely by 2018. The final straw was likely GE Capital's upcoming regulation by the Federal Reserve as "a large nonbank financial company" that produced systemic risk.

Investors reacted positively to the news:
News of the dramatic shift sent shares up 10.8%, to $28.51, after a 3% rise on speculative buzz Thursday. The gain is well-deserved: GE is choosing a good time to sell, because the market for financial and real estate assets has rebounded sharply since the 2008-09 financial crisis.
Today's prince, tomorrow's pariah.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Novato Errand

The big-rig crash in the North Bay disrupted our plans somewhat, but we did manage to be on time for the appointment. The Novato veterinarian examined our adopted guinea pig, who turned out to be problem-free.

The guinea-pig rescue lady was relieved to hear the report. She reconnected with her former charge by trimming her hair. The animal lovers in the group chatted amiably about all matters cavy for about an hour.

Meanwhile, I silently gave thanks to Steve Jobs for inventing the iPhone.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Corpulence is Settled

(Image from
The old science----fat is bad for the mind as well as the body:
A 2008 study of 6,000 people published in the Neurology journal found that people who have big bellies in their ’40s were much more likely to get Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in their ’70s.
The new science, based on a study of two million(!) people [bold added]:
being fat in middle age appears to cut the risk of developing dementia rather than increase it.
Clearly, more study is needed about the causes of dementia and fat's supposedly protective effect.

Meanwhile....I will have that second helping of pie.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Environmentalists' Solution

Lake Oroville resembles a puddle (NBC news)
All that needs to be said about California's drought problem (or for that matter its cost of living, unemployment, and poverty problems) [bold added]:
Israel, for example, has built large desalination plants that helped the country, which is 60% desert, cope with a seven-year drought between 2004 and 2010 and the driest winter on record in 2013-14. In California, desalination is harder because electricity is costly, thanks to a renewable-energy programme. And green rules make building anything slow.
If the drought were truly a life-or-death crisis, desalination and nuclear energy plants to power them would be under construction today, as well as reservoirs and pipelines to water-rich states. Instead, state and local governments are imposing cutbacks, fines, and other penalties.

The environmentalists' solution: always reduce demand and never increase supply.

[Update - 4/11/15: "A $1 billion desalination plant to supply booming San Diego County is under construction here and due to open as early as November." OK, perhaps there are islands of sanity in our fair state.]

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Drones Don't Dog It

Sheepdogs will be a vanishing breed [bold added]:
Tech-savvy livestock farmers from the Australian Outback to the Irish countryside are starting to use drones as a relatively cheap alternative to the cowboy and the sheepdog. Camera-wielding copters that can be bought off-the-shelf for as little as $500 can cover hilly terrain quickly, finding and guiding sheep and cattle while the rancher operates remotely—sometimes wearing goggles that show the drone’s perspective.
Shep 1.0 has disadvantages versus an experienced sheepdog. Battery life and the inability to chase off predators are limitations, but they're not insuperable obstacles. It seems inevitable that man--and man's best friend--will soon be replaced by robots.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

A Small Price to Pay

Five years ago there was a data breach at the very large financial institution that managed my employer's retirement plans. I signed up for the three-year free credit monitoring service, and every monthly report was clean.

Since then there have been data breaches galore at credit-card, insurance, health, and retail companies, some of whom we regularly deal with. Offers of free credit-monitoring provide scant comfort, since it is very likely that our social security numbers, dates of birth, and other personal information are known to the bad guys.

This week we paid $10 each for a credit freeze at the three major credit-reporting companies:
A credit freeze
lets you restrict access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.
A credit freeze does not address the problem of stolen credit cards, but cc theft is less of a concern because losses are capped at $50 per card. A credit freeze may be a nuisance if one is in the market for new financing (home mortgage, credit cards, auto leases, etc.), since delays may occur in lifting the freeze, and each lift costs $10. However, we're not expecting to add credit in the next couple of years.

An identity thief could open new accounts and steal many thousands of dollars. It can take years to sort everything out and clear our names. Paranoid? Perhaps, but $30 is a small price to pay to sleep a little easier. © 2015 Stephen Yuen

Monday, April 06, 2015

The Integrity of Those Times

Two giants of San Francisco history:
Lon Simmons and Herb Caen (SF Chronicle 1962 photo)
In the front of his house, before his parents tore it down to construct a small apartment building, I played basketball with cousin Leonard. We turned the "transistor" radio to its maximum volume so that we could hear Lon Simmons do the play-by-play for San Francisco Giants games while we practiced.

In early '60's Hawaii all network television was tape-delayed one week, but we could get Giants games live on the radio. (Transmitting sound to and from the Mainland was made possible by undersea cables. Long-distance telephone calls were very expensive; one could only imagine how much it cost to do a three-hour broadcast.)

Lon Simmons had a deep, even baritone. Unlike the announcers of today, he didn't talk quickly or loudly. While he did probably root for the Giants and 49ers, one could not be absolutely sure. Like the news anchors and broadcasters of the black-and-white era, he kept overt bias out of his voice.

Lon Simmons, 91, died on Easter Sunday in Daly City. I miss him, and the integrity of those times.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Easter Morning, 2015

The altar is draped in white, the color of Easter
1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salo'me, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.
2 And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen.
3 And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?"
4 And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; -- it was very large.
5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed.
6 And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him.
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you."
8 And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8)
The priest reflected on the women's sad duty on that first Easter morning ("bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him"), the obstacle ("Who will roll away the stone"), and their fear upon finding the body gone. The women didn't know how the story would turn out and fled with "trembling and astonishment." Despite decades of inculcation, we also are not absolutely certain about what is on the other side of the stone.

A few children were present at the 8 a.m. Easter service. One 3-year-old girl wouldn't stop talking, and her flustered parents were repeatedly ushering her from the room. The priest paused, "God loves the sound of children---and our own 'little' voices raised in thanks and praise." The little girl's mother smiled in appreciation.

While we are wrestling with profound ideas we must not forget to be kind.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Monkey Mind

(Graphic from
Your humble observer once wrote that the modern era has revealed an eighth deadly sin:
21st century man craves even more. Our minds need to be perpetually entertained, an eighth sin that the ancients would have listed if they had round-the-clock cable with 500 channels. Universal wi-fi, blackberries and cell-phones, and portable audio, video, and game players have banished boredom forever. Stimulation is available 24/7; life has become Las Vegas.
Scientific studies show that human beings will go to extremes to avoid being bored:
In a recent study, participants chose to administer electric shocks to themselves rather than sit in a room with nothing to do for up to 15 minutes. In another experiment, participants voluntarily shocked themselves while watching a boring film clip rather than watching passively.
Humankind's greatest accomplishments--artistic, scientific, physical, philosophical--have occurred when individuals have single-mindedly pursued a goal. They did not permit themselves to be distracted by the sins of the flesh (gluttony, sloth, greed, etc.) or of the mind.

Today we have amazing tools both to accomplish great things and to satisfy base desires. Too often---and yes, your humble observer is not exempt---we do not choose wisely.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Not the Final Straw, But Close

Obamacare Form 8962: big step backwards from the
goal of tax simplification for middle-income taxpayers
Normally unflappable CPA's are particularly "vexed" this year by the complexity of new tax rules, particularly the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and the repair regulations (over 200 pages) that govern whether business equipment should be capitalized or expensed. [Update-4/7/15: see overview of tangible property regs here] Per Cecilia Kuhn, CPA, from Alexandria:
The tangible property regs is a prime example, but there are numerous others. We failed to push back on the complexity of these regulations. There should be a very simplified version for small businesses and rental properties....

We also need to get our clients to make sure they include all of their tax documents before it comes to us. It’s obvious that the system is starting to break down. Older clients are overwhelmed by all the paperwork; younger clients don’t do paperwork; yet tax filing requirements continue to become ever more complicated.
Sure, tax preparation software is used nowadays by almost all professional preparers, but the changes are so numerous and complicated that programmers who aren't usually accountants often don't get the software to perform the calculations correctly. To say that accountants can just bill for the additional work is too cavalier. Many feel sympathy for clients and "eat the time". Even if accountants can charge for it, the work is mind-numbing.

Older CPA's if they can afford to are quitting, and the jobs are being assumed by less experienced professionals who often don't even know that there are problems much less how to solve them. The good news is that the IRS staff is so overworked (and inexperienced---IRS staff suffers from the same burnout phenomenon that the private sector does) that the odds of being audited have declined well below 1%.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

A Cheesy View of History

Lactose intolerance percentage (
UC-Merced professor Justin Cook theorizes that economic development occurred earlier in the West because of Europeans' ability to digest milk [bold added].
A one-standard-deviation increase in the incidence of lactase persistence, in turn, was associated with a 40% rise in population density. People who could digest milk, the theory goes, used resources more efficiently than those who couldn’t. They could extract liquid energy from livestock, in addition to the wool, fertiliser, ploughing power and meat for which others raised them. The white stuff may have helped in other ways too: its fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals added balance to the pre-colonial diet, reducing the incidence of disease. If used as a substitute for breast-feeding, animal milk could have reduced weaning time and, thus, the time between mothers’ pregnancies. All this suggests that milk-guzzling societies could support higher population densities...

When people are tightly bunched together, the theory goes, growth takes off. Rulers find it easier to build infrastructure and administer the law, including property rights. Cities can develop, which allows workers to specialise. Technological innovation explodes; bigger armies can defend what is produced. Small wonder, then, that places with high population density in pre-colonial times tend to be relatively rich today.
Whether or not "lactase persistence" led to population density which led to industrialization has little current relevance, since regions of very high lactose intolerance have today's most populous cities (Shanghai, Karachi, Delhi, Beijing, etc.) and are struggling to catch up with First-World living standards.

Nevertheless, it is interesting that energy efficiency, whether biological or mechanical, has been a measure of societal advancement throughout history.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Ready to be Fooled Again

(Graphic from
Having the world's knowledge at our fingertips has deluded us into thinking that we are smarter than we really are.
Browsing the internet for information gives people a ‘widely inaccurate’ view of their own intelligence and could lead to over-confidence when making decisions, experts warn.
Over-confidence makes people less inclined to dig deeper once they find a plausible answer to a question. If one knows how to play the Google ranking game, it's much easier to manipulate opinion. Of course, it's even better to be in control of the game.

Google is working on a new "algorithm [that] could assign each page a truth score. Pages with a high proportion of false claims would be bumped down in the search results."

I have complete faith in Google to determine that the pages at the top of my searches are more truthful than pages further down.

April Fool!