Monday, November 30, 2015

Short Conversation Between a Married Couple

The old filter (bottom) still had life, but
one shouldn't be cheap if one has allergies.
The furnace manufacturer recommends that we change the filter every 12 months. The furnace is hidden behind an access door that is a magnet for boxes.

I changed the furnace filter this morning. I had to move some things around the garage.

"I noticed."

I threw out some stuff we don't use and cleaned up the area.

"That's so unlike you."

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sandwiches and Chicken on Sunday

Some of our kids have been helping since they were toddlers.
The sun shone, unlike last year. We served lunch in the garden.

The main dish was baked chicken and rice. My recipe is simple: 10 cups of rice, 10 cups of liquid---two cans of condensed cream of mushroom soup and the rest water, and about 30 drumsticks on top. Cover with foil, and bake for two hours at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

The flavor can be improved by marinating the chicken overnight in soy sauce and garlic, browning the chicken, and adding chopped onions to the rice before baking. Preparation would then take 45 minutes instead of 15, so I don't do this if I'm pressed for time---which often occurs on Sunday morning.

Volunteers baked seven trays of chicken and rice, and, though we had only 50 diners this Thanksgiving weekend, all of it was spoken for. About a third of it was taken home by the diners, along with the brown-bag meals prepared by St.Pius of Redwood City. Some of the clientele really don't know where their next meal is coming from.

We take turns serving Sunday lunches at the community center with four other churches. Our next date will be in January, which will arrive before we know it.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Why I Respectfully Decline

In 2009 the evening commute on the San Mateo Bridge was
congested because the Bay Bridge was closed. In 2015 it's
like this every day (cbs8 photo)
The booming Peninsula economy and limited housing supply have yielded predictable phenomena: skyrocketing home prices and an awful commute.
The five-year jump [in traffic between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.] is 81 percent on the San Mateo Bridge, 61 percent on the Dumbarton and 43 percent on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
Because Foster City sits on the nexus between major highways 101 and 92 (the San Mateo Bridge), it's nearly impossible for residents to get into or out of the City in under 30 minutes during rush hour. (Compounding the problem, East-Bay commuters often use our surface streets when the freeways are jammed.)

Last week I spent 30 minutes on the offramp to Foster City in the late afternoon. And so it is on weekdays that I avoid going home between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m., nor do I leave between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m.

When prospective employers talk to me about 9-5 jobs, I respectfully decline. Life is too short, and commutes are too, too long.

Friday, November 27, 2015

At the Apple Store

Black Friday at the Apple Store: the employees wear red.
Attracted by Black Friday specials, shoppers crowded the stores today.

Apple marched to its own beat.
Though Apple is not promoting Black Friday savings this year, other retailers are advertising their Apple products to lure in shoppers — and boosting Apple's brand in the process.
The main fears about Apple---whether its new iPhones would be well received and whether China's economic slowdown would dampen growth--have been allayed, at least for this year.
Booming iPhone sales have propelled the company to a string of strong results while withstanding a slowdown in the global smartphone market. Apple followed up its first large-screen iPhones with a pair of new releases in late September.

The iPhone continues to do well in China, where it has become a premium brand akin to Prada bags or Rolex watches. As more Chinese consumers enter the middle class with greater disposable income, they are embracing the iPhone.
The term "Black Friday" originated, according to one legend, when merchants reported that the first day of Christmas shopping turned the year profitable, i.e., from "in the red" to "in the black."

Apple, which reported $11.1 billion in net income from the September quarter, doesn't need more Black Friday business at the cost of lower margins. Managing the crowds, employees' overtime, and special pricing are significant expenses with uncertain benefits---perhaps the world's largest company is again starting a trend.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Food Isn't What Matters

Coated with salt, garlic and spices, it's hard to go wrong
There were no visitors this year; it was an opportune time to be non-traditional. When one contemplates the brining, basting, stuffing, roasting, turning and/or tenting, gravy-making, cutting, cleaning up, and storing---not to mention having to eat leftovers for the next week--a turkey for Thanksgiving seemed less appealing.

The rib roast demanded much less preparation and supervision, though the cooking method was nearly the same: low heat for 4-6 hours, followed by 15-30 minutes of browning at high temperature.

There was one tradition that we stuck with---going around the table and reciting what we were thankful for. The attitude of gratitude has a way of dispelling gloomy conversation.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What to Eat on Thanksgiving Eve

Pho and accompaniments from Little Saigon  (Yelp photo)
Despite going to the local pho restaurant twice a month, this article revealed that I don't know much about the savory Vietnamese noodle dish:

The North/South distinction:
Northern pho is delicate and elegant, the broth more savory than sweet. It is not eaten with basil or bean sprouts or other herbs. Plainness is a virtue. The broth is the thing.

The south evolved its own style, one rooted in its very different cooking traditions....Southerners love their accoutrements: basil, bean sprouts, sawtooth herb, a squeeze of lime, a shot of hoisin, a splash of Sriracha.
American broth is superior to the broth in Vietnam
because meat is more widely available, and that meat is also of a higher quality. More and better meat in the broth....means a more substantial, fuller-bodied soup.
Onion and ginger yes, star anise no:
what [some enthusiasts] love most in a broth are the hits of star anise and cinnamon. According to the experts, they most likely have been weaned on bad pho....charring the onion and grilling the ginger gives the broth both flavor and fragrance.
"Never add a handful of beansprouts before tasting, the experts say."
The sprouts are cold, and the temperature of the soup will drop precipitously.
Blithely ignoring the experts, I slurped up a bowl of beef pho, with bean sprouts, on Wednesday night.

Tomorrow's meal would be heavier, but I doubt it would be tastier.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Chill Tuesday

All the leaves are brown
And the sky is grey
I went for a walk
On a winter's day

I'd be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.
California dreamin'
On such a winter's day

Monday, November 23, 2015

Timetable Delayed

Two years ago we first heard about Palo Alto-based Theranos and its revolutionary blood testing technology. With only a few drops of blood Theranos claimed that its machines could run hundreds of blood tests.
Theranos tests at Walgreens: a fraction of competitors' prices.
Theranos's processes are faster, cheaper and more accurate than the conventional methods and require only microscopic blood volumes, not vial after vial of the stuff.
At the time we said that "It does seem too good to be true", yet why not? Multi-billion dollar businesses that didn't exist 15 years ago have arisen seemingly from nowhere, disrupting entire industries.

In October serious questioning of Theranos' technology began [bold added].
the Wall Street Journal ran a report that Theranos has overstated its technology’s reach and reliability. Theranos has attracted great acclaim because it claims to be able to perform a wide variety of tests by drawing a few drops of blood instead of using a full-sized needle to take larger samples; and because of its promises to make it cheaper and easier for consumers to get blood tests without having to go through a doctor. However, the Journal’s article argued that its tests are not reliable, and revealed that it does only a few tests with its own devices, using other firms’ technology for most of them.
In response to the WSJ article and questions from scientists and regulators founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes says
she would release data proving their machines work—the data academics, clinicians, and doctors have been asking to see for over a year, comparing Theranos’ tests to industry standards.
Your humble observer knows nothing about the science of blood analysis or microfluidics. As a student of human behavior, however, let me make a couple of obvious points about why we latched on to this story so willingly:

(SF Business Times photo)
1) 31-year-old Elizabeth Holmes came along at just the right time to be declared the next Steve Jobs. Her oft-worn black turtleneck cinches the comparison, and the dearth of young, female self-made billionaires made her a rockstar.

2) No patient enjoys the inconvenience and discomfort of drawing blood and the days waiting for results. When Theranos promised to be faster, cheaper, and better, everyone (except competitors) wanted it to be true.

We'll defer judgment until after Elizabeth Holmes releases the information and it has been reviewed by experts. One result is certain: unless she has complete vindication the timetable for the IPO will be delayed.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Best of Humanity

The Rev. Daniel Simmons, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Ethel Lance, The Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor,
Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, The Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Susie Jackson
and The Rev. Clementa Pinckney (Time photo)

When I feel like patting myself on the back for some modest charitable endeavors, the world reminds me that there is a great distance between ordinary practitioners of faith and those who live and breathe the Word.

On June 17th a declared white supremacist killed nine members of the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church at a Bible Study in Charleston, S.C. Nadine Collier, whose mother, Ethel Lance was one of the victims, said at the bond hearing:
“I couldn’t remember his name,” she recalls of her one-way encounter with the alleged killer. But she remembers that she was “angry, mad” because her mother had “more living to do.” And the killer “took something away from me that was so precious.”

At the same time, racing through her head were lessons she had learned long before: “You have to forgive people and move on,” she says. “When you keep that hatred, it hurts only you.”

“I kept thinking he’s a young man, he’s never going to experience college, be a husband, be a daddy. You have ruined your life,” she recalls thinking.

What she said at the podium, while choking back sobs, came out like this: “I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again—but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”
Forgiveness is more than just saying the words. True forgiveness can be a long and painful process.
Anthony Thompson essentially agreed with Collier’s statement, as far as it went. It was important for him to forgive as quickly as possible so that he could continue to live as God intended. Forgiveness, as he later explains, is like a Band-Aid that holds the edges of an open wound together long enough for the wound to heal. Though he cannot heal what happened to his wife [Myra], nor whatever is wrong with the man who killed her, he must attend to the wound inside himself. “I don’t know what happened in his life, and frankly I don’t want to know,” he says.

Thompson did not want to leave the impression that forgiveness is as simple as speaking three words. For Roof to be forgiven by God, the young man had an awful lot of work to do.

Thompson put it this way, speaking quietly: “I would just like him to know that—to say the same thing that was just said—I forgive him, and my family forgives him. But we would like him to take this opportunity to repent. Repent,” he repeated. “Confess. Give your life to the one who matters most, Christ, so that he can change him. And change your ways, so no matter what happens to you, you’ll be O.K.”
How easy it is for us to advise other people to forgive wrongs, yet how fiercely we hold on to our own memories--and anger--over slights that are but pinpricks in the great scheme.

On this Thanksgiving week I am grateful to the members of the Mother Emanuel AME Church for showing us how to walk a very narrow and difficult path. In their response to the tragedy they have shown the best of humanity.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Reversals of Fortune

From the penthouse to the outhouse:

  • Friday was the almost-certain end of Colin Kaepernick’s career as a 49er.
    On Saturday, the 49ers placed Kaepernick on injured reserve. He reportedly has a torn labrum on his non-throwing shoulder, suffered in Week 4 against Green Bay.

    His season is over.

    His 49ers career is likely over.

    It’s shocking because just three years ago, Kaepernick was considered the prototype for the quarterback of the future. The 49ers locked him up in what appeared to be a long-term deal to give the team stability at the game’s most important position.
  • Chipotle: the Centers for Disease Control named the restaurant chain as the probable source for a spate of E.coli.

    Chipotle's reputation for clean food is in tatters. Restaurant owners, you never want to see your name and E.coli in the same sentence.

  • From worst to first:

  • Microsoft and security:
    Microsoft was once the epitome of everything wrong with security in technology...“They’ve changed themselves from worst in class to the best in class,” [Finnish researcher Mikko] Hypponen said. “The change is complete. They started taking security very seriously.”
    Clich├ęs that may apply to these reversals of fortune:
    What have you done for us lately?

    Anything's possible.

    People have short memories.

    History is bunk.
  • Friday, November 20, 2015

    Dropping Off the Supplies on a Friday Morning

    We brought the gift cards and food boxes to CALL Primrose when it opened at 9 a.m.

    Activity was already starting to pick up; three people were waiting in line for groceries. One of the volunteers helped us unload the car. The office appeared better organized than on previous drop-offs. Bill showed me the upstairs storage room, which was stacked to the ceiling with donated food.

    Never again will I lament my own difficulties with inventory.

    Thursday, November 19, 2015

    Counting the Cans

    Imbalance: 2 muffin mixes needed, while we had excess
    pasta, cans of tomatoes, and stuffing
    Thanksgiving is next week, which meant it was time to drop off food at CALL Primrose. Our church had signed up for four boxes, each containing sixteen (16) specified items. I took inventory; we were short a couple of packages of corn-muffin mix, which were purchased with five $20 gift cards on a trip to Safeway.

    Shopping is easy. Inventory is hard.

    Inventory for your humble accountant always has been one of the most challenging, if mundane areas of accounting. Whether there's a computerized or handwritten list, it always has to be checked against the physical inventory.

    Shortfalls occur because of mistakes, defalcation, or shrinkage. (Too bad shrinkage in other areas can't be remedied by a trip to Safeway.)

    Wednesday, November 18, 2015

    In the Nick of Time

    An app whose time has come: StoryCorps.
    StoryCorps is working with high school teachers across the country to ask students to interview a grandparent or elder over the 2015 Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

    Using the new free StoryCorps mobile app, participants will be able to upload their recordings to the StoryCorps archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. In one holiday weekend we will capture an entire generation of American lives and experiences.
    It's not a requirement that the maximum-40-minute conversation be uploaded to the Library of Congress. The interviewer can keep it for herself and/or edit it before uploading.

    The app is easy to use, and barriers come down quickly because a camera isn't stuck in the subject's face.
    There’s something about the presence of a microphone in a StoryCorps session that changes the dynamic between two people. It’s a license to say things that wouldn’t normally come up, and ask questions you don’t usually get to ask.....The generation that might not want to broadcast every whim on Facebook doesn’t necessarily have a problem sharing deeper knowledge. “We all want to know we are not going to be forgotten and that our lives matter.”
    Most of us regret not being able to hear again the voices of those who were precious to us.

    This Thanksgiving we have an opportunity not to add to those regrets.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2015

    Village Hummus, San Mateo

    Hummus & pita (Yelp photo)
    We have become regular patrons of Village Hummus in San Mateo, across the street from Whole Foods Market.

    Sure, one can buy hummus and falafel at every grocery store, including the aforementioned Whole Foods, but the Village Hummus offerings are superior: complex, flavorful, and fresh. And don't forget the pita, which is as far removed from the store-bought version as a fresh-baked loaf of bread.

    Its chicken and beef dishes are quite tasty, but if I ever decided to go vegetarian Village Hummus would make the transition quite easy.

    Monday, November 16, 2015

    The Journey Home

    Leading theories about how pets find their way home: magnetic fields (cats), scent (dogs), and the stars (birds) .
    Dogs extend their scent range by moving among overlapping circles of familiar scents—much the way cell phone coverage relies on interconnected footprints from different cell towers. A dog that wanders out of its own immediate range might pick up the scent of, say, a familiar dog in the next circle. That might point it to a circle that contains a familiar person or tree or restaurant trash can, and so on.

    Cats, like other animals, might rely more on magnetic fields—a faculty that could turn out to be quite common in mammals. “There are some studies that show that the ears of most mammals contain iron.”
    One of my favorite childhood books was The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. Three household pets, a Labrador, a bull terrier, and a Siamese cat (!), traverse 300 miles across the Canadian wilderness to make their way home.

    Having lived my entire young life on a 44-mile-long island, I had to use almost as much imagination for Journey as I did for Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, but the effort was worth it.

    Such is the power of a good Odyssey story, a story, it turns out, that had a factual basis.

    Sunday, November 15, 2015

    The Best Number

    Six writers of varied backgrounds opine on "What’s the best number?"

    Their answers--13, 17, 42, 747, 200 billion, and infinity (∞)--are by turns whimsical and thoughtful.

    On Sunday, the first day of the week, it may seem fitting to celebrate ONE, the beginning of the natural numbers, and the rank that everyone is striving to be in the good old U.S. of A.

    I'm partial to THREE, however. It's the day of the month when I was born and connotes stability (a three-legged stool, a tricycle versus a bicycle). Besides, three is the limit of the number of things I can retain in memory.

    As we visit our place of worship today, three is also a reminder that the world and beyond are more complicated than the monotheistic one.
    O blessed glorious Trinity,
    Bones to philosophy, but milk to faith,
    Which, as wise serpents, diversely
    Most slipperiness, yet most entanglings hath,
    As you distinguish'd, undistinct,
    By power, love, knowledge be,
    Give me a such self different instinct,
    Of these let all me elemented be,
    Of power, to love, to know you unnumbered three.
                        ---John Donne

    Saturday, November 14, 2015

    It Almost Makes Me Want to Vote for Him

    Barron's runs a second splenetic cover story about Donald Trump.

    The first was about a 25-year-old securities-analysis dispute in which Mr. Trump comes off like a blustering bully, and this week's is about how he's going to start a trade war with China that could start another Great Depression. (Just in case the reader needs to be bludgeoned into understanding, Barron's invokes Herbert Hoover and Smoot-Hawley in the second paragraph.)

    From the cover [bold added]:
    Trump's proposed tariffs could lead to a trade war with China--and possibly a real war. This guy is either ignorant about global economics or he wants to replay the Great Depression. When will Republicans tire of amateur hour?
    Barron's risks losing its hard-won reputation for reporting and analysis by going after Donald Trump in such a vituperative fashion.

    Barron's pet issues are not important to most voters. On top of everyone's minds are illegal immigration, national security, and terrorism, and to a lesser degree jobs, taxes, spending, and medical care, so his views on those topics are fair game. But a "real war" with China? Barron's should be printed on yellow paper.

    Friday, November 13, 2015

    Maybe We Won't Always Have Paris

    Like millions of others, we've visited the Great Cities of Europe---London, Madrid, Venice, Florence, Rome, Amsterdam---and also, like millions of others, Paris is #1 or #2 on the list.

    It's difficult for our minds to grasp the evil of what happened tonight.

    It wasn't a natural disaster like an earthquake or a man-made disaster like a pipeline explosion or a hybrid disaster like a heat wave.

    It wasn't a vengeful person fueled by hate, rage and alcohol or an unnoticed individual seeking to become famous through a horrific act.

    It was a coordinated attack by dozens of heavily armed men who killed as many people as possible. The killers are not appeased by sweet words or money. Widespread death was the goal.

    After 9/11 we said that the world was changed forever. After years of unresolved conflict, wishful thinking, and willful blindness we thought terrorism "contained" and resumed our normal lives.

    The problems were growing beneath the surface and now threaten to overwhelm Western Europe. Hundreds of thousands of unassimilated Muslims live in the outskirts of Paris.  Rick said, "We'll always have Paris," but maybe we won't.

    Thursday, November 12, 2015

    Listening and Talking Over a Meal

    Executive Director Meg and new staffer Abby.
    Despite scheduling conflicts our four cooks came through with a tasty and balanced meal for the overnight guests of Home and Hope.

    I was the sole volunteer present, but setting up the tables and laying out the food took only a few minutes, as was clean-up, which is easy now that someone donated a dishwasher.

    One of the teenagers left quickly after dinner. After her mother departed, she returned to the kitchen as I was wiping the counters. Would you like something more to eat? "I can't stand her." Oh, she just wanted to be in a different room from her mother. I can't help you with that, but a lot of teenagers feel that way. She gave a wan smile and helped herself to some ice cream. Home and Hope is more than about dropping off food; it's also about listening and talking.

    Our next date at the Lutheran church is in January, which will come all too quickly.

    Wednesday, November 11, 2015

    Controlling One of the Deadly Sins

    (Image from Medical Daily)
    One basic marker of growing up is learning how to control one's anger at other people. However, suppression isn't the answer.
    What happens in the brain when you try to clamp down on that rage? A whole mess of bad stuff.

    Your ability to experience positive feelings goes down — but not negative feelings. Stress soars. And your amygdala (a part of the brain closely associated with emotions) starts working overtime.
    The opposite of suppression, venting, isn't the solution either.
    Venting intensifies emotion....“getting it out” tends to snowball your anger.
    Psychologists and neuroscientists recommend reappraisal, that is, telling yourself another story about the person who triggered your anger.
    You want to scream back. Or even hit them.

    But what if I told you their mother passed away yesterday? Or that they were going through a tough divorce and just lost custody of their kids?

    You’d let it go. You’d probably even respond to their anger with compassion.
    A reappraisal story is likely fictional--your conscious mind even knows this--but it's enough to get past your initial flash of anger and prevent your own angry response.

    I now realize that I have long used a (more immature) form of reappraisal to get through the day. Whenever an aggressive driver pushes into my lane then slams on his brakes, I think about all the accidents he must have and how high his insurance rates must be. I've had my share of bad bosses who scream at their staff, and I imagine how that Type A behavior will land them in an early grave.

    It's hard to be angry against someone whom you're pitying (of course, don't tell them that because that could make them angrier).

    Tuesday, November 10, 2015

    Recipe for Hope

    The temperature dipped into the 30's and 40's. At the Home and Hope shelter we closed the dining room door quickly to keep out the cold.

    Volunteers range in age from
    one to sixty-ish.
    I said a silent prayer of thanks for the fossil-fuel companies that provide the natural gas, nighttime electricity, and complex distribution systems that keep the furnaces going. My church favors alternative energy produced by solar panels and windmills; unfortunately, these energy sources are currently too expensive and too underpowered when it's freezing outside.

    Tonight was perfect for comfort food. We brought spaghetti and meatballs, a creamy kale and spinach casserole, and broiled potatoes. Bread, salad, and pumpkin pie comprised the rest of the dinner. We packed the leftovers for Wednesday's lunches and said goodnight at 8:30. We'll be back with more on Thursday.

    Monday, November 09, 2015

    Efficient Markets in Transportation

    The efficient market hypothesis (EMH) has been around for about half a century. Its tenets are still in dispute, but there's no question that the EMH has had a profound influence on the behavior of capital markets, if for no other reason that powerful participants believe it to be true in at least the weak and semi-strong forms [bold added]:
    The weak form of EMH assumes that current stock prices fully reflect all currently available security market information....

    The semi-strong form of EMH assumes that current stock prices adjust rapidly to the release of all new public information....

    The strong form of EMH assumes that current stock prices fully reflect all public and private information.
    Your humble observer and stock punter has found the semi-strong form to be operative; whenever a particular stock is touted in a business publication, the price rises before I could buy it at a price that would produce an extra-normal return. By the time he reads the article it's too late for the average investor to join the party.

    Not all drivers are personable young ladies. (Atlantic image)
    Now that the Internet and mobile communications have spawned businesses that were unimaginable a few years ago, these pricing principles have also been found to apply in other marketplaces. Take the case of Uber, which matches riders to drivers as demand and traffic conditions change. One of Uber's innovations is surge pricing:
    which refers to the practice of charging customers higher prices at peak times. It got a lot of attention during a snowstorm in New York in December of 2013, when rates were massively increased, up to eight times, attracting a flood of negative press and customer feedback.
    In Uber supply responds to higher prices quickly, so many experienced drivers don't waste their time chasing them.
    "The seasoned drivers don’t pay any attention to surge,” [driver John Sollars] said. “By the time you get to that part of the city, the surge is over. Often, even when I’m sitting dead center in the middle of a surge area, I don’t get a ride request. Then, as soon as the surge is off — bam! — here comes a ride.”

    newer and part-time drivers — who account for the vast majority of Uber vehicles — do chase surges. “The online message boards are full of questions about how to get surge pricing,” he said. But Ryder Pearce, co-founder of SherpaShare, which helps drivers analyze earnings, said that many new drivers become disillusioned after chasing surges that end or getting stuck in traffic jams en route.
    In the brave new mobile Internet world prices change quickly in response to new information, and achieving above-average returns is difficult. Eugene Fama is smiling.

    Sunday, November 08, 2015

    Remembering Sarah

    Prayer chapel: St. Ambrose, prie dieu, votive candles.
    I lit a candle this morning for my grandmother, who was born 111 years ago.

    When she was 16, kidney disease made her severely ill. She was miserable during her two months in the hospital and wrote that she "wanted to die." Her kindly doctor, one Grover Batten, continually encouraged her, saying that she had much to live for.

    After she recovered, Sarah lived the rest of her life with serenity and gratitude, the outlook of many who have been given a second chance. That is how I remember her, and I still miss her.

    Saturday, November 07, 2015

    We'll Probably Put it Off Until It's Too Late

    Barron's graphic.
    During the golden years you need a lot of gold [bold added]:
    the reality is that about 70% of people over the age of 65 will need some sort of long-term care, ranging from assistance with dressing and bathing to medication management and skilled medical help....the median annual cost of a private room in a nursing home is $91,250. The median cost of a one-bedroom in an assisted-living facility is $43,200 for a year.
    Every senior I know wants to stay in his or her house, with home-health care, as long as possible ("aging in place").

    The rule of thumb for moving: “Once you go beyond needing six hours of care, you are getting to the point that assisted living may be less expensive."

    There's much more information in Barron's about the costs and benefits of various long-term care alternatives. The important take-away is this: seniors and their families should have the conversation now rather than make hasty decisions in the midst of a crisis.

    Friday, November 06, 2015

    Good Market for Shacks

    Last week we commented on the "dilapidated" San Francisco 765-sq-ft shack that sold for $408,000.

    There's now a 180-sq-ft shack in Palo Alto that's listed for $1,998,000. Without a sewer hookup the structure was probably a toolshed on an estate that has since been subdivided. The property is 1½ miles from Gunn High School, frequently rated as one of the top 100 high schools in the nation.

    The 6,886-sq-ft property can accommodate a two-story home of at least 2,500 square feet, so the value lies obviously in the land. A buyer's total cost would be at least $3 million, $2 million for the land plus $1 million ($400 x 2,500) for reconstruction. It's actually a better value than the San Francisco shack, which is an "historical property" that can't be torn down. Crazy times.

    Thursday, November 05, 2015

    The Best Medicine

    Having celebrated another birthday this week, I've been told that I should embark on a completely different second career that's both fulfilling and enjoyable (naturally, it doesn't pay much).

    I've also been told that I can be hilarious. 89-year-old Chuck Esterly shows that it's never too late to start a standup career.

    (What's that? They're laughing at me, not with me? Oh.)

    Wednesday, November 04, 2015

    I Wish I Were Older Just This Once

    Optimizing Social Security benefits for a married couple can be a complex analysis. Factors to be considered are the couple's ages, historical earnings, future earnings (if applicable), and life expectancies. A bit of research and number-crunching revealed that our own best strategy would be to file-and-suspend. The Chronicle explains [bold added]:
    It lets a spouse, say a husband, who reaches full retirement age (around 66) file for his own retirement benefit and immediately suspend it so that it can continue to grow [blogger's note: about 8% per year] until he reaches age 70. His filing lets his wife immediately begin collecting a spousal benefit, as long as she is at least 62. Then, at age 70, he begins collecting his own, higher benefit.
    The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 eliminated this strategy for everyone who is not yet 66 years or older as of May 1, 2016. Neither of us will turn 66 by then.


    1) File-and-suspend is a strategy generally employed by seniors with above-average incomes.

    2) The Republican Congress passed a bill that "hurt" one of their constituencies.

    3) The media didn't publicize how the Republicans compromised. Puzzling, isn't it?

    4) While some planning is essential, this is an example of why it doesn't pay to invest too much time or money (unless one's net worth or income puts one in the top 1%) into building a complex financial model based on rules that can be changed with a stroke of the pen.

    5) I wish I were older just this once.

    Tuesday, November 03, 2015

    I Didn't Just Mail It In

    For once I did a little prep work for the off-year election and selected my candidates for the school board and city council. However, I didn't look at the materials until yesterday, too late to mail in the ballot for San Mateo County's first "all-mail" election.

    No problem--on Election Day I headed over to the Recreation Center, where one could still vote via old-fashioned voting machine or old-old-fashioned paper ballot. I didn't have to show an ID, but one doesn't need to do so for mailing in a ballot either.

    The kid at the computer verified my precinct in order to give me a four-digit passcode to operate the voting machine.

    This was the only live polling place in the entire City. I asked him what would happen if his computer malfunctioned. No problem, he had a backup machine in the case. Very good, someone had thought this through.

    2,133 of the 71,131 votes in the County were cast at the polling places. Perhaps some who voted in person were late like me, but I'd like to think that there were some in the three percent (3%) who enjoy the physical act of voting.

    One doesn't fully appreciate the sacrifices made for democracy by just mailing it in.

    Monday, November 02, 2015

    Necessity is the Mother of Species

    Coywolf (
    The destruction of their respective habitats has brought about the marriage of wolves and coyotes. Add a smidgeon of dog DNA, and voila! the coywolf, a new species that is not only surviving but thriving. [bold added]
    The DNA from both wolves and dogs (the latter mostly large breeds, like Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherds), brings big advantages...With larger jaws, more muscle and faster legs, individual coywolves can take down small deer. A pack of them can even kill a moose.

    Coyotes dislike hunting in forests. Wolves prefer it. Interbreeding has produced an animal skilled at catching prey in both open terrain and densely wooded areas [snip]

    coywolves are now living even in large cities, like Boston, Washington and New York...Coywolves eat pumpkins, watermelons and other garden produce, as well as discarded food. They also eat rodents and other smallish mammals...As well as having small territories, coywolves have adjusted to city life by becoming nocturnal. They have also learned the Highway Code, looking both ways before they cross a road.
    Like the cockroach and the rat, wolves and coyotes through the incarnation of the coywolf have adapted to the reality of homo sapiens' planetary dominance. Necessity is the mother of invention...of species.

    Sunday, November 01, 2015

    All Saints Day 2015

    The priest read off the names of the faithful departed.

    Technically, today was the day for honoring saints and tomorrow, All Souls' Day, was supposed to be the day to remember the much larger number who aren't canonized, but no one was a stickler for protocol.

    Some names were known to many in the congregation, others were known to only one or two, but all were equal in the sight of God.

    From last year:
    In the quiet of church on Sunday morning (cellphones are off or silent) we resurrected happy memories, contemplated our time together, and tried to divine the meaning of brief lives in the context of eternity.

    Some day all of our names will be on that list, and eventually they will drop off as fewer and fewer of the living remember us.

    So make it count.