Sunday, May 31, 2015

Volunteering at the Festival

Big and little kids like fire trucks
The Foster City Arts and Wine Festival once consisted of a few booths, rides, and displays. Now in its 44th year, the late spring event has become a Bay Area-wide attraction. Attendance this weekend is expected to top 40,000. (Foster City's population is 32,000.)

The rides, food, and game booths are over-priced, but there's still lots of free stuff. Fire, police, government agencies, and community organizations set up informational kid-friendly exhibits.

Live music plays continually, and security and medical personnel are visible and friendly. Admission is free, but the city has had to institute a $10 parking charge due to congestion in surrounding businesses and neighborhoods.

I volunteered to staff the church's booth on Saturday afternoon. Answering questions about the pre-school and the church, I spoke only when spoken to, like a proper Episcopalian.

Most of the inquiries were about the school. How does one move up the waiting list? [whisper] Back in my day if you were a church member, your kids were given a preference. But you didn't hear it from me. What's that? My services are no longer required? Oh, no-o-o!

Strolling back from the Festival across the Shell Blvd. bridge

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Eric Wogsberg

The logo: still the same.
I was in my 20's, we hadn't yet started a family, and it was the right time to take a flyer. I joined Jupiter Systems, a computer graphics startup in Berkeley, and helped it raise $2 million in venture capital (hey, $2 million was real money in 1982). Like the 9 out of 10 startups you don't read about, we quickly burned through the cash, missed product-development deadlines, and laid off half the staff.

Keeping the company alive was a day-to-day proposition. As the finance person, I spent mornings collecting receivables and cut deals with vendors in the afternoon; we pleaded for suppliers to keep shipping in return for partial payments on the amount we owed. Two years of intense cost control and cutting back a product line to two items stabilized the finances. The company might survive, but it was never going to go anywhere.

I said goodbye to founders Jack, Pete, and Eric and wished them well. Eric offered to buy back my stock for the option price that I paid, but I declined. More labor had gone into that certificate than some other pieces of paper that hung on the wall. I wanted to use it as a prop to tell my kids and grandkids about how dreams don't always come true no matter how hard one works, how honestly one behaves, or how smart a person (thinks he) is.

I received Jupiter's annual reports--always showing a loss--for a few years, then they stopped coming. Over a decade went by, after which a thin envelope came in the mail. Finally, Eric and Jack were calling it quits, I thought, Pete having departed in 1988. Shockingly, the envelope contained a check, a "dividend"--a word as alien to Jupiter as its namesake is to Earth. It was Jack's tech wizardry that kept Jupiter in front of the pack, but it was Eric's vision and persistence that made sure Jupiter was going in the right direction.

Eric, 1945-2015
Eric Wogsberg was a typical workaholic nerd, but he was atypical in that he would always greet people with kindness and give them all the time they needed. Even in the most stressful situations I never witnessed him getting angry.

In the last decade of his life Eric found happiness. The lifelong bachelor married Pam and loved her ready-made family, who loved him back.

At his memorial service this Saturday, the chapel was overcrowded with people mourning the loss of a man taken much too soon by cancer a week shy of his 70th birthday. R.I.P.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Unhole-y Development

(Image from
The holes in Swiss cheese have been disappearing (wow, that's heavy, dude).

Scientists have discovered that Swiss cheese holes originate from specks of hay.
A Swiss agricultural institute discovered that tiny specks of hay are responsible for the famous holes in cheeses like Emmentaler or Appenzeller. As milk matures into cheese these “microscopically small hay particles” help create the holes in the traditional Swiss cheese varieties.
Modern production methods have removed the particles, hence there are fewer holes in Swiss cheese. Those of us who prefer sandwiches to have an even consistency welcome this development, while traditionalists may balk.

Let the market sort out the winners and losers; I suspect that eventually those who prefer the large hole-y cheese will stand alone.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

In Space No One Can Hear You Wrinkle

Space fantasy: the women of Star Trek ( image)
Engine whooshes in airless space, transporter beams, and faster-than-light speeds aren't the only scientifically questionable features of Star Trek episodes; a crew that is supermodel-beautiful is just as impossible.

Over the past 20 years some astronauts have reported "deleterious effects" (lesions, thinning, loss of elasticity) on their skin. An examination of six mice who spent 91 days on the International Space Station suggests that the cause may be more than space capsule air:
The astromice suffered profound changes to their skin during their sojourn. The team found that the skin of the astro-mice was 15% thinner than that of their grounded counterparts.....The more that researchers look for detrimental physiological changes in animals and humans that have been to space, the more they seem to find.
Too much sunlight on the earth's surface ages the skin. In space the sun's radiation is over a thousand times more powerful. As they say, do the math.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Business School (1970's) Didn't Teach Me About This

Success in the modern work environment is a constant battle between too-many procedures and too-little creativity. It's all too easy to get buried in the minutiae--one can get reprimanded or even fired if one doesn't follow rules and catastrophe ensues--yet organizations wither and die if everyone's top priority is crossing the T's.

(Image from
By-the-book types can point to unstructured environments that had a negative result:
Many rigid people grew up in turbulent homes that made them long for stability....Some people need reassurance because they’ve been burned in the past, when new projects or initiatives were managed poorly.
While patience is required when dealing with inflexible colleagues, your humble observer has been successful in getting what he wanted from them more often than not:

1) As a manager who has had to deal with thick rulebooks, I've also been "inflexible." Playing the misery-loves-company card during a discussion can be effective.

2) Most employees aren't blind to the necessity of keeping the company profitable--therefore, their jobs safer--and know that progress means sometimes changing or ignoring the rules. Pointing to the good of the organization, especially for a situation that the book-drafters hadn't thought of, often works.

3) If you're dealing in or with government, where people risk their jobs by bending procedures no matter how unreasonable, be prepared to forego talking. Go over their heads and/or enlist the aid of powerful outside person(s) to override objections. Even if you are successful, be prepared to wait a long time; taking up meditation frequently helps.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pentecost, 2015

"In Western Churches, Pentecost is usually represented with the color red, which symbolizes
the fire of the Holy Spirit." (From 10 Things You Should Know About Pentecost Sunday)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Fostering Trust in the Science

As we have noted before, believers in global warming climate change hold to all of the following propositions:
a) the earth is warming;
b) warming is harmful;
c) the principal cause of warming is humanity's production of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide;
d) Therefore, humanity must completely overhaul its activities to reduce the production of greenhouse gases.
To question any of the above is to be called a global warming climate change denier, similar to how insecure believers silence agnostics by calling them atheists. (And yes, nettlesome facts call into question each of propositions (a), (b), and (c), but that discussion is beyond the scope of this short post.)

The voyage of the research vessel Tara (Scientific American)
Refreshingly, there is a "massive" five-year ocean study whose authors refuse to be stampeded into making stronger conclusions than the data warrant:
Plankton diversity was higher than anticipated.....In the short term, oceans have yet to shown significant damage, but researchers fear that we may not know the true effects.
Conclusions are suspect when methods are shortcut and long-established scientific principles are evaded. Being careful to state what one doesn't know, on the other hand, fosters trust and may even persuade skeptics, that is, if persuasion and furthering knowledge are one's goals.

Friday, May 22, 2015

You've Got Inertia

Like millions of others, I signed up for an account with America Online in the 1990's. Unlike millions of others, I not only still have it but also use AOL as my primary personal email account.

AOL is low-status, to be sure; is distinctly déclassé compared to,, or even, but I like the fact that most marketing traffic is shunted to the AOL inbox. It's easier to delete them if they're in a specific place.

Apparently, I'm not alone:
People still use AOL’s mail today — tens of millions, a spokesperson said — likely out of habit and the convenience of not having to change addresses.
Besides, the sounds that once were irritating now trigger nostalgia:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

As Good as I Remembered

The Burghers of Calais is in Memorial Court, not the Rodin Sculpture Garden
When San Francisco and Napa Valley no longer produce the thrill down one's leg, a day trip to Stanford University may be just the ticket.

Both the Rodin Sculpture Garden and the Stanford Memorial Church are snapshot worthy, as is the 285-foot Hoover Tower, the shape of which has engendered countless Freudian references.

We took the elevator to the Hoover observation deck, from which the entire campus was visible. Many of the open areas that allowed me to get my bearings were gone. Thank goodness for smartphone compasses, downloadable maps, and even walking-tour apps.

The school I attended back in the days of the Ford Administration has moved to new, expensive digs. The building (left) is now a library.

After four hours of wandering around, everyone was hungry and thirsty. Just outside the campus was the "O", another Stanford institution.

The din of pinball machines has been silenced, replaced by flatscreen TVs showing the NBA playoffs. There were much fewer peanut shells thrown on the floor (an ancient O custom). Perhaps the diminution is due to consciousness being raised about peanut allergies, or, more likely, because peanuts are no longer free.

But the double cheeseburgers were as good as I remembered.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


CPA's are proposing that continuing professional education (CPE) requirements can be met via nano-learning:
Nano-learning refers to information delivered in “bite-sized” 10-minute increments, often covering task-specific topics.
Well, I've got nano-napping down pat, so nano-learning seems like a reasonable idea. In fact, why not combine the two?
New research by neuroscientists at Northwestern University in Chicago shows people can actually learn while they're asleep.
Professor, my eyes were shut because I was committing your lecture to memory. By the way, would you mind shortening it to ten minutes?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Night at the Museum

Rubens' Tribute Money (iPhone photo, LOH, 5/19/2015)
Stanford Art History professor Alexander Nemerov spoke to a rapt audience this evening about one of his favorite paintings, Rubens' Tribute Money. The lecture was held at San Francisco's Legion of Honor museum, where the work has resided since 1944.

After pointing out details in Tribute Money that our untrained eyes might miss, Prof. Nemerov then described how Rubens was inspired by Caravaggio, and how Rubens in turn influenced Rembrandt.

Caravaggio's Incredulity of St. Thomas, Berlin
He compared the work with Caravaggio's Incredulity of St. Thomas and Rembrandt's the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. Comments:

1) Prof. Nemerov spent some minutes explaining the Bible stories behind the Rubens and the Caravaggio. Only a few decades ago the lecturer would just have had to say "render unto Caesar" and "doubting Thomas," and every American listener would immediately get the reference.

Rembrandt's the Anatomy Lesson, the Hague
2) Rubens (1577-1640) is renowned for his lush, sensual style. Prof. Nemerov noted that the extravagant musculature lives on in today's superhero comic books.

3) Why does he love Rubens? Among other factors, the paintings exude a unique "wetness."

After the lecture we adjourned to the main gallery to admire Tribute Money, which was situated in a room with works by Monet, Renoir, and other Impressionist masters.

It was our first visit to the museum, a replica of Paris' Palais de la Légion d’Honneur, but it won't be our last.

Rodin's Thinker greets visitors at the entrance
El Greco: St. Francis Venerating the Crucifix

Monday, May 18, 2015

Future Dimly Perceived

Don't bring me flowers any more ( image)
Scientists have discovered a way to make morphine and heroin from glucose. While the steps are complicated---currently beyond the capabilities and equipment of non-chemists--the technology will undoubtedly develop to the point where it will be feasible to manufacture one's own.

The implications are profound for the War on Drugs, as users of home-made supply overwhelm law enforcement and already overcrowded prisons. After generations of "war" society will have to confront the fact that it won't be able to lock up everyone who abuses heroin, morphine, oxycodone, and other opiates.

The implications are equally profound for Third-World poppy growers and drug cartels whose economic models will be upended:
If strains of yeast that can turn out opiates are liberated from laboratories and pass into general circulation, brewing morphine-containing liquor for recreational use will be easy. It will be illegal, of course. And the authorities will, no doubt, try to crack down on it. But those who smuggle the stuff from places like Afghanistan may find themselves driven out of business by home-brew opium clubs based in garages.
Solar panels, 3D printing/manufacturing, home-brewed drugs, self-driving cars, and the World Wide Web are only a few examples of the individual empowerment that is disrupting giant institutions--and society--and leading toward a future dimly perceived.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Farther Away

Departing friends say goodbye through hugs, farewell lunches, and promises to write.

Christian communities add a laying on of hands to ask the Holy Spirit to protect and guide those who are leaving.

Our friend is getting married and will move to Daly City, only 20 miles to the north, where she will be attending her husband's (Catholic) church. Although we will keep in touch with her on Facebook and Skype, in our daily lives she will be much farther away.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Artfully Presented

Seared Ahi Salad ($17): snow peas, red onion, daikon
sprouts, red bell pepper, mint, sesame ginger dressing
Having been invited to lunch at Paul Martin's American Grill, I got the timing wrong.

Breakfast had been consumed only three hours earlier; the digestive system would have been unduly strained by a grilled specialty.

So I "settled" for a salad.

One of the gastronomic developments over the past 20 years: lighter, healthier fare that is more delicious, more artfully presented...and more expensive.

Judging from the menus at Paul Martin's and other restaurants, that's a trade-off that many diners in our area are willing to make.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Not Normal

The upward trajectory of Stephen Curry's career matches the slope of his shot. After being drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 2009, the point guard first attracted notice for his long-range shot-making ability. But it was his continued improvement in assists, rebounding, and defense, as well as that of the entire Warriors team, that resulted in Steph Curry being voted the 2014-2015 Most Valuable Player in the league.

However, it's still his shooting that brings fans to their feet. Earlier tonight Steph Curry led his team into the third round of the NBA playoffs (four rounds determine the champion), something that the Warriors hadn't accomplished for 39 years. The shot that broke the backs of the veteran Memphis Grizzlies was a 62-foot buzzer beater at the end of the 3rd quarter.

With fans in Burlingame in 2012
Steph Curry's feat is akin to sinking a hole-in-one near the end of a golf tournament.....after the golfer took but one second to line up his shot. Steph Curry is one of the league's most popular players, partly because his 6'3" 190-pound frame can pass for "normal."

Except that he's clearly not.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Trust, but Verify.....the Credit Card Statements

Not your granddad's gas pump.
I pulled up to the stall, swiped the Costco American Express card, and began filling the gas tank. The lady in the next car over said that she had left her Costco card in another purse. Could I swipe my card to activate her pump? She flashed the debit card that she would use to pay for her gas. No problem.

Back at my own car a few minutes later, I realized that, by pressing a button, the lady could charge her purchase to my AmEx account. But I was too chicken to go back and watch her and openly demonstrate a lack of trust.

So I surreptitiously photographed her license plate and typed in a reminder on the smartphone to check the April 21st gas purchases later. Today the AmEx statement arrived, and all was in order.

A rational person would have just ignored the whole thing---the maximum possible exposure from filling her sedan would have been about $40 and I wasn't going to chase her down for that amount---but curiosity kept the matter alive.

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me." [John 14] Obviously, Jesus never had any credit cards.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

One-Pot Lap Cheong

Sausages and other dried meats at the Mow Lee Shing Kee
Company, Commercial St., San Francisco (SF Gate photo)
Occasionally I hanker for lap cheong, aka Chinese sausage. Lap cheong is sweet and salty; when raw, its density and dryness are about the same as salami.

I prefer to plump the sausages via steaming in the rice cooker, an efficient one-pot method if one is preparing rice as well.

The best lap cheong is purchased fresh from SF Chinatown shops, but imported sausages from Seattle or LA can be purchased at supermarkets throughout the Bay Area.

I've found the packaged imports to be too oily for my taste, however, and so place a small dish in the cooker to catch the liquids. (Locally made, less greasy lap cheong can be laid directly on top of the rice.)

Today I sliced the sausages for inclusion in another dish, but sausage and rice by themselves make for a hearty meal. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Guru Greatness Gone

(Image from
Economist writer Schumpeter laments the lack of excitement in the business thought-leadership industry:
The main problem is that the guru business is reaching the end of a long cycle of creativity. For the past two decades or so it has been driven by two seismic economic changes—the rise of the emerging world and the digital revolution....

Ironically, the digital revolution is making it harder for new gurus to emerge. Many of today’s biggest business changes are being driven by “quants”, who excel at finding meaning in big data or at producing algorithms that can automate lots of work, but who are much less good at putting numbers into words or at thinking about what big data and automation mean for industries beyond their own.
Like any guru, Schumpeter may be over-analyzing the "problem." When your humble observer attended business school in the 1970's, consulting firms like McKinsey and the Boston Consulting Group competed with investment bankers for many of the top graduates.

Not only did consultants help to fix clients' systems, e.g., accounting, sales, computer, inventory, etc., they also helped to design broad strategies and vision statements.

Now the top students start their own firms and have no need of a vision developed by outside experts who are actually more "inside the box" than they are.

Creativity may have fled the gurus, but from the vantage point of one who lives near San Francisco and Silicon Valley there's more than enough to go around.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Boar in a Chinese Shop

When a boar invaded a Hong Kong mall, the incident was reported across the Internet. A large wild animal loose in a modern city is rare and clickworthy, especially when there's video.

But it wasn't long ago that undomesticated pigs were a regular feature of the urban landscape:
pigs are just fundamentally different from other farm animals like sheep or cows. Those are herbivores, and must be put out to pasture. Pigs, on the other hand, lived right among Europeans—in the streets or beside their homes eating trash.
In order to survive pigs are willing to eat slop (and another "s" word), and these dietary habits perhaps led to ancient prohibitions against eating pig. However, under controlled conditions swine have demonstrated both cleanliness and intelligence.

Despite pork's tastiness, texture, and relatively low cost, Americans prefer beef and chicken, perhaps because subliminally we recognize an animal that's closer to us than we would like to think.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day, 2015

Flower leis flown in from Honolulu. on Twitpic
Flower leis flown in from Hawaii
Like every child who has moved away, I called Mom. We talked about her and Dad's health (they're good, but "great" would be exaggerating when one is 85+) and the latest goings-on from back home. We had both gone to church this morning---she in Hawaii and me in California---and the congregations had asked for blessings on moms everywhere.

My brothers were arriving with salmon and roast turkey, the noise was increasing, and dinner was about to start. Back in California I had also made dinner--grilled pork chops with mushroom gravy--because others had caught the flu and no one felt like going out. Gifts are appreciated, but gifts of time always seem to bring tears to mothers' eyes.

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Cortisone Era is Over

(Image from
Cortisone is an anti-inflammatory medication introduced over 60 years ago; when injected in joints it reduces pain, and in topical form relieves the itchiness of rashes. Like any "miracle" drug, cortisone's widespread usage has sparked concern [bold added]:
When tissues are overused, overstretched or torn, the cells of those tissues release factors that recruit blood vessels, stem cells and healing factors. With that rush of fluid, the tissue temporarily swells. Over time, with the laying down of new collagen, the protein that makes up most of our body, the injured tissue heals. Some tissues heal normally others with scar tissue that over time often can remodel into normal tissue.

Cortisone shuts down this cellular recruitment process, reducing swelling, but unfortunately inhibiting healing. The result is the weakened tissues stay in the weakened state for a longer period of time, sometimes exposing the athlete to repeat injury or permanent damage. This panacea drug has always had this hidden harmful risk. If used too often or in the wrong place such as the Achilles tendon, the tissues can completely rupture and never return to the full, uninjured state.
When I suffered a leg injury last November, I declined to take cortisone for the swelling but did subscribe to physical therapy and laser treatment for tissue repair. The pain is gone; the muscle is still a little weak but getting better with strengthening exercises.
The cortisone era is over. We have realized that the best response to tissue injury is to stimulate stronger healing, to feed the cells that are trying to repair the injury, and to recruit more progenitor or stem cells to guide the complex healing process. This tissue stimulation is done by a combination of careful early tissue mobilization, often performed by expert physical therapists, by early joint- and tissue-controlled exercises that stimulate repair rather than irritate the injury, and by direct application of growth factors and sometimes stem cells.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Opening Very, Very Wide

(Image from Univ. of British Columbia by way of Japan Times)
Blue and humpback whales open their mouths so wide that they can swallow "a volume of water larger than their own bodies."

Laypersons are naturally fascinated by the whales' gargantuan oral capacity, but scientists are more interested in their "stretchy nerves":
Normally, a firm collagen wall surrounds nerves and if stretched they become damaged. For example, humans can suffer from “nerve stretch injury.”

In rorqual whales, the nerves are packed into a centralized core surrounded by limber “elastin fibers.” When the whale opens its mouth the design enables the nerve fibers to unfold. The feeding whale will then gulp-up floating prey before the nerve snaps back.
1) How little do we know what goes on in the sea around us.
2) There doesn't seem to be an immediate practical application for this discovery, but we can still dream about treatments for various nervous-system injuries or diseases.
3) After looking at whales' lunge-feeding, we are more tolerant of the behavior of our fellow human beings in the buffet line.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Persistence of the Teenaged Mind

In the current month's print version of the AARP Bulletin I found this juxtaposition of ads to be amusing: She's right: I'll never grow up.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Eighth Deadly Sin, Continued

The siren song of the Wheel of Fortune (Flickr image)
Excerpts from the Engineers of Addiction [bold added]:
A modern slot machine, at its core, is nothing more than a [Random Number Generator] going through millions or billions of numbers at all times. When a player hits a spin button, they are simply stopping the RNG at a particular moment. Everything beyond that — the music, the mini-games, the actual appearance of spinning reels, Rachel, Monica, and the rest of the gang keeping you company — is window dressing to keep you hitting spin.

the company commissioned a study to find out why people love the Wheel of Fortune line so much. "People said it was as much about the brand as anything...People said, ‘That brand — I used to hear it in the living room at my grandma’s house.'"

Player tracking systems revealed more than a pit boss ever could: over time, Harrah’s can create a portrait of the person’s risk profile, including how much money a player typically loses before they stop playing and what kinds of gifts to give them to keep them on the gaming floor.

The small slots customer, over a lifetime of spending, is just as valuable as the high roller.

In 11 years of legalized gaming, the state [of Pennsylvania] has earned $3 billion from table games and $17 billion from slots.

The "zone" is flow through a lens darkly: hyperfocused, neurotransmitters abuzz, but directed toward a numbness with no goal in particular.

capitalism can harness the human play drive for better or worse — and that increasingly, games aren’t allegories that say something about our lives; they are our lives. As people move toward more data-driven existences where points are accumulated from health apps (the subject of Schüll’s latest research) and status is accumulated in identifiable quantities on social media, gamification becomes so total that it can sometimes mask whether what we’re doing has any inherent utility outside the game that surrounds it.

[The Hook model of tech product addiction]: a trigger turns into an action turns into a variable reward turns into a further personal investment back into the product.
This article was so interesting that your humble observer put down his iPad slot-machine game for 15 minutes in order to read it.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

$6.5 Billion Doesn't Buy What it Used To

From the initial 1997 $1 billion estimate to its "final" $6.5 billion cost when it opened in 2013, the new Eastern span of the Bay Bridge was a typical government construction project that experienced drastic modifications, multi-year delays, and gigantic cost overruns. But at least it finally got done.....Or did it?

The eastern tower (SFGate photo)
From today's Chronicle:
Caltrans tests indicate that salt water from the bay may be seeping into the foundation of the new Bay Bridge eastern span’s tower, an ominous prospect that raises questions about the long-term viability of hundreds of massive steel rods that anchor the landmark structure.
Where will the State get the billions of dollars to fix a problem that could cost lives? Well, down south there's an expensive transportation project of dubious benefit that has absolutely nothing to do with public safety.....

[Update - 5/7: Bay Bridge news gets worse: "One of the steel rods anchoring the tower of the new Bay Bridge eastern span has failed a key integrity test, suggesting it became corroded and broke during years when it was soaking in water."]

Monday, May 04, 2015

That's All I've Got

Chancellor Angela Merkel (image from
The 2007-2009 Global Financial Crisis has been one of the most analyzed events in recent history.(For different perspectives see here, here, and here). There are numerous, similar lists of causes---for example, risky loans, complex financial instruments, government guarantees, inter-relationships of too-big-to-fail financial institutions---but the financial crisis at its heart, IMHO, demonstrated that fear and greed overwhelm safety mechanisms based on the assumption that human beings behave rationally in a crisis.

Per David Viniar, CFO of Goldman Sachs, August 2007 [bold added]:
“We were seeing things that were 25-standard deviation moves, several days in a row.” To put this in perspective, even an eight-standard deviation event should not have occurred in the entire history of the universe. Any model that produces such a result must be wrong.

Mr Viniar was relying on “value at risk” models which supposedly allowed investment banks to predict the maximum loss they might suffer on any given day. But these models assumed that markets would behave in reasonably predictable ways....
The new fields of behavioral economics and behavioral finance may eventually help to design better controls, but first economists, central bankers, and financiers have to acknowledge uncomfortable truths:
Neuroscientists have shown that monetary gain stimulates the same reward circuitry as cocaine – in both cases, dopamine is released into the nucleus accumbens....

Similarly the threat of financial loss apparently activates the same fight-or-flight response as a physical attack, releasing adrenalin and cortisol into the bloodstream. Risk-averse decisions are associated with the anterior insula, the part of the brain associated with disgust. In other words, we react to investment losses rather as we react to a bad smell.
Until a 21st century Keynes designs a 21st-century financial system, we protect ourselves the old-fashioned way: by keeping at least six months income in an insured bank account and not putting all our eggs in one basket (Is that all you've got? Yes).

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Three Little Words

(Image from
A family raised in the Eastern Orthodox tradition has recently joined the local Episcopal church. At today's early service, out of courtesy to the new members, the priest asked the assembly not to say three little words from the second half of the Nicene Creed:
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and Son he is worshipped and glorified.
The omission of "and the Son" may seem trivial, but those three little words go to the heart of one of the theological controversies that split the ancient church.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only, while Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and other Western Christians add "and the Son," words that were inserted centuries after the Council of Nicaea. The Filioque controversy is over the essence of the Holy Trinity and is one of the obstacles to reunification of Eastern and Western Christianity.

Three little words have divided millions of believers for a thousand years. And we wonder why the Israelis and Palestinians can't just get along.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Looking Good Against the Competition

OK, I have watched contractors install toilets, and the wax ring on the flange is an off-putting shade of yellow-brown, but this marketing campaign pushes the limit.

The "Perfect Seal" display makes the wax ring look pretty gross by darkening the color and roughening up the wax (click to enlarge).

They had me without the picture, but now it doesn't smell right.

Two Miles Away

At the very top of the 2015 Barron's 500 is Foster City's Gilead Sciences.
Already a leader in HIV drugs, the company launched Sovaldi, a lifesaving treatment for hepatitis C, in late 2013. It quickly became one of the best-selling drugs in the world, producing $10.3 billion in 2014 revenue. Harvoni, a successor treatment approved in October, contributed another $2 billion in just a few months, helping to cement Gilead’s reputation for birthing biotech blockbusters.
$1,000 invested in Gilead in its 1992 IPO would have grown to over $600,000 today.

Your humble observer, unfortunately, was so enamored with the growth stories occurring elsewhere that he was blind to one that was occurring two miles away.

Before we can seize the opportunity we must first recognize it.

(The Barron's 500 is
is an exclusive ranking of the 500 largest [U.S. and Canada] public companies, measured by sales in the latest fiscal compares companies on the basis of three equally weighted measures:

  • median three-year cash-flow-based return on investment;
  • the one-year change in that measure, relative to the three-year median;
  • and sales growth in the latest fiscal year.)
  • Gilead's sprawling campus has much larger buildings than its legal address,  333 Lakeside Drive.
    On Saturday morning the HQ parking lot is empty while construction crews work nearby.

    Friday, May 01, 2015

    Lei Day, 2015

    (This is a partial reprise of a post about one of my favorite days.)

    Today is International Workers' Day, when marchers champion workers everywhere. But that's not all.
    in recent years, immigration issues have been added. This year, marches in support of "Black Lives Matter," a growing movement in reaction to the high-profile deaths of black men at the hands of police.
    In other words, burning, looting, rioting, and lots and lots of anger.

    In contrast here's how May Day is honored in my home state.
    Flower leis flown in from Honolulu. on Twitpic
    Flower leis flown in from Hawaii
    May Day is lei day in Hawaii
    Flowers and garlands everywhere…
    Leis can be simple or elaborate, multi- or mono-colored, expensive or free as the flowers from one’s own back yard. They are given at birthdays, airports, weddings, graduations, banquets, holidays, or sometimes just because. They are given freely without expectation of reciprocation, often to people that one has never met before. There’s supposed to be no lasting commitment—the flowers fade quickly even in a fridge; the receipt of a lei therefore usually “means” little. But sometimes we remember the occasions forever.

    A lei is granted with a kiss. Many young boys, grimacing, receive their first kiss from a non-family member when receiving a lei. Later, for the cost of a few flowers it’s a good pretext for a young adolescent male to peck the cheek of a girl he’s long admired (if your mother made the lei, don’t tell the girls, they feel funny when you say that).

    When I was growing up, every woman in Hawaii knew how to string a lei. It’s far from a lost art, but fewer people take the trouble now, much like baking bread or writing a letter by hand. But I’m not lamenting days that are gone, rather I’m happy that the tradition of Lei Day is continuing and appears to be getting stronger. Frankly, if I may say so, I prefer Hawaii’s version of May Day to the other ones. © 2014 Stephen Yuen