Monday, July 31, 2017

Direct Flight

Marcel Siem makes a hole-in-one on the European Tour. What makes this one special is that it flew directly into the hole. The shot also won him a Porsche.

The commentary sounds better in German, though das verstehe ich nicht.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

In the Hinterlands

The national headquarters of the Episcopal Church sent each parish a survey, whose purpose was (italics mine):
to examine ways in which our congregations are involved in justice issues...The committee defines justice as: contesting against structures that produce structural inequities and barriers as we advocate for structures and systems that increase equity and access.

We hope to learn about local responses to resolutions that addressed such issues as economic justice, labor relations, fair wages, racism, poverty alleviation, food security, hunger, faith-based organizing, and asset-based community development....

although we recognize that food pantries and feeding programs constitute faithful and essential responses to the Gospel, they are not the transformational, justice-focused programs we are attempting to identify.
I tried running a Biblical word-search on "economic justice, labor relations, fair wages, racism, poverty alleviation, food security, hunger, faith-based organizing, and asset-based community development" but, except for poverty and hunger, came up empty. Poor Paul, Peter, John, and the rest of the New Testament authors---if they only had had their consciousness raised.

Anyway, the Episcopal leadership resides on 2nd Avenue, a couple of blocks from UN Headquarters, on some of the most expensive real estate in the world. If anyone knows structural inequities and barriers, it's them.

Meanwhile, it was our turn to feed the hungry for Sandwiches on Sunday at the Community Center. We greeted the veterans who had been coming for years. One regular said she had gotten in some trouble with the local sheriff and had to leave town. I said that I would miss her; she hoped to be back before the end of the year.

Enthusiastic new volunteers made 12 trays of lasagna, 50% above our normal production. Despite concerns, there were zero leftovers.

In the hinterlands we'll stick to what we know how to do---food pantries and feeding programs---and leave the transformation stuff to others. We'll be back on October 29th, when baked chicken and rice will be on the menu.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Banking Deserts

"In June the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis estimated that there are now more than 1,100 banking deserts—defined as census areas at least ten miles from a bank—in America."
Community organisations worry that if branches continue to close in poor areas, many neighbourhoods could become reliant on payday lenders and cheque-cashing stores.
(Money image)
Even with the exorbitant fees ($5 to $12 per month) charged to customers just for maintaining a checking account, branches are being shuttered across the country. By the way, stating that "only" 1.7% of the population resides in a banking desert understates the problem. A single bank may enable an area to escape the definition of a desert, but with no competition one bank can ratchet the fees much higher.

It helps to live in a prosperous zip code; within a mile from our house there are five major banks. Even so, we've winnowed the number of banks we use to two; in order to avoid the fees they all require a minimum balance of $2,000-$3,000, and spreading it around becomes costly very quickly.

Willie Sutton famously and apocryphally said he robbed banks "because that is where the money is." Banks follow that philosophy, too, when deciding where to open for business.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Still Remembered

Willie McCovey's statue greets fans on the way to AT&T.
He retired in 1980, but Giants icon Willie McCovey is still remembered in San Francisco. His WSJ interview harks back to a time when men endured without complaining and triumphed without thinking that they were special:
In early 1954, when I was a junior, I dropped out of high school to help support my family. In addition to my paper route, I tried working as a bus boy in a whites-only restaurant, but I quit after a week. All the things that make you cringe was normal talk then. You took it or you walked away.

I soon found work at a chicken place. I was responsible for washing the chicken parts before they were put out for people to buy.

With 12 y.o. actor Kurt Russell
in 1963 (WSJ photo)
That December, I took the train [from Mobile, AL] to Los Angeles to visit my older brother, Wyatt. It was the first time I was away from Mobile.

I started looking for a job. One day I went to an employment agency, but the line inside was long. It was so hot that I fainted. I was probably dehydrated.

Failing to find a job that day was a blessing. Back at my brother’s apartment, the phone rang. It was Jesse. He was a “bird-dog” who spotted baseball talent for a San Francisco Giants scout named Alex Pompez. He said he told Alex about me. Alex wanted me to report to Florida where the Giants were trying out players.
And the rest is history.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Making His Boss Look Good

"The Mooch" (Independent Journal Review photo)
No sooner was Anthony Scaramucci installed as White House Communications Director than did he give a profanity-laced interview to the New Yorker. The objects of his ire were not Democrats or the media but White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon:
“Reince is a f***ing paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” Scaramucci said. He channelled Priebus as he spoke: “ ‘Oh, [former Fox News executive] Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the f***ing thing and see if I can c***-block these people the way I c***-blocked Scaramucci for six months.’ ” (Priebus did not respond to a request for comment.)

Scaramucci was particularly incensed by a Politico report about his financial-disclosure form, which he viewed as an illegal act of retaliation by Priebus. The reporter said Thursday morning that the document was publicly available and she had obtained it from the Export-Import Bank. Scaramucci didn’t know this at the time, and he insisted to me that Priebus had leaked the document, and that the act was “a felony.”

“I’ve called the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice,” he told me.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“The swamp will not defeat him,” he said, breaking into the third person. “They’re trying to resist me, but it’s not going to work. I’ve done nothing wrong on my financial disclosures, so they’re going to have to go f*** themselves.” Scaramucci also told me that, unlike other senior officials, he had no interest in media attention. “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own c***,” he said, speaking of Trump’s chief strategist. “I’m not trying to build my own brand off the f***ing strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.”
It does appear that Mr. Trump has made another hasty hiring, but look at it this way: the President seems positively Presidential when compared to his enthusiastic new lieutenant.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Lucky Break

iPhone 6: takes a licking and keeps on
ticking, with a little help from AppleCare.
All members of our household have iPhone 6's and 6S's (yes, awkward plural), which means that our phone contracts with AT&T have expired. We have battery and speed problems with the phones, but none of us are upgrading to the iPhone 7. WSJ tech writer Joanna Stern: [bold added]
My answer requires no filling in the blanks. Do NOT buy an iPhone right now. It’s my annual iPhone No-Buy Rule™: Once summer rolls around wait for the new one, typically announced in early September.

This year, there’s more reason than ever to wait. According to my WSJ colleagues, in addition to an updated iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, there will be a special model that’s expected to have an OLED screen, wireless charging and facial-recognition technology. Apple declined to comment on the reports.

Even if you couldn’t care less about fancy-schmancy new tech, there are other reasons to hold out. If iPhone-istory repeats itself, Apple will drop the price on the current iPhone 7 models by $100 or more. And now that carrier contracts are all but dead, you may have your phone for two to three years—or at least until something goes wrong with it.

Which brings us to our haggard iPhone 6 and 6s. It turns out most of their common problems can be fixed—with money and/or time. Why sink any cash into a phone you’re going to replace? Because it could up your resale value, and it will definitely empower you to buy your next phone only when the time is right.
Three phones on the account will limp along until the new iPhone [Eight] is available. As for me, my iPhone 6 had a touchscreen problem that merited a full replacement under AppleCare this May. In other words, I have an "old" phone with new hardware that should last well into 2018. So I won't be upgrading to the [Eight], even if Apple launches it on time. Once in a while you get a lucky break, but it's only lucky if you recognize and act upon it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Much Narrower Than It Used to Be

If you want energy independence, buy two.
On the way to the Stanford Apple Store we stopped by the Tesla showroom, which had a steady stream of curious passersby. Everyone else looked at the cars, but I was interested in the Powerwall. Had consumer-level battery storage progressed to the point where solar-energy owners could be off the grid? (Normally excess electricity is "sold" to the utility during the day and is "bought back" at night. Capacious batteries would greatly reduce or even eliminate this relationship with the utility.)

I had phrased my question poorly. Tom, the Tesla salesperson, explained that while every home is legally required to maintain a connection with PG&E, two battery banks are sufficient not to have to draw electricity at night. Two Powerwalls installed would cost about $15,000, and a solar-panel system, as quoted by Tesla's competitors will run $20,000. Spending $35,000 when our electricity bill is about $2,000 per year doesn't make much sense, but the decision is much narrower than it used to be. Besides, showing off signaling virtue to neighbors doesn't come cheap.

Monday, July 24, 2017


At the Olomana Golf Course, I piddled before I pitched
(both from the bushes). A $2,000 penalty would have
hushed my buzz.
In a story from Honolulu that I missed last February,
A State Representative wants to impose fines for people who relieve themselves in public. Representative Gene Ward will introduce a measure this month to fine repeat offenders up to $2,000 who relieve themselves in certain spots. Ward issued a news release Friday calling for "urine-free zones."
How will one know that an area is a urine-free zone? Is it marked(!)?

In the absence of a sign may one infer that urination is permitted, i.e., OK2P?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Good Enough

Usually the congregation sits for Bible readings, but for the Gospel everyone stands and faces the reader:
Other Scriptures may be meditated on and thought about, but the Gospel demands that we act, and standing up and facing the reader attentively is a way to indicate that we realize that.
Your humble blogger absorbs information visually throughout the week but for one or two hours on Sunday consciously puts down the program (unlike everyone in the picture) and listens. Hearing exercises a different part of the brain and is how most Christians received the Word for over a millennium. If it was good enough for them, it's good enough for me.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Always a Borrower Be

Our books have been on the shelves for years but were
newer and in better shape than others that were donated.
Only a small sliver of the population engages in extreme hoarding, but there's a much larger group who are hoarders of a category---for example, clothes or computer equipment---that alone can clutter the living space.

My own weakness is books; parting with one is psychologically like forever closing the door to the book's discoveries. I began sorting through a tall bookcase last week and found that there were many books that I didn't care about, i.e., old non-fiction texts, children's stories, and suspense novels that no longer had mystery. We boxed them and took them to the San Mateo Public Library, which is having a book sale in September.

I renewed my library card and borrowed On the Road, which I had always meant to read. I now intend to borrow most books instead of buying them: 1) The groaning bookshelves can barely handle more weight; 2) The existence of a due-date forces me to buckle down and read books that enter the home. We'll see.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Good News, So Not About Russia

WSJ: Low-Income Earners See Weekly Pay Gain Faster Than Other Groups:[bold added]
Weekly pay for earners at the lowest 10th percentile of the wage scale rose at a faster rate last quarter, from a year earlier, than any other group measured by the Labor Department—including those at the top of the income scales who earn five times as much.

The shift for low-income workers—including restaurant workers and retail cashiers—who make about $10.75 an hour, is a sign that a tightening labor market is delivering better pay to workers who largely haven’t shared in gains since the recession ended eight years ago, according to economists and government data. Last quarter marked the first time since late 2010 that this earning group’s gains outpaced all others.....

The recent improvement for low earners coincides with a downward trend in the unemployment rate, which stood at 4.4% last month, versus 4.9% a year earlier. The unemployment rate for those with less than a high-school education—who make up much of the low-wage workforce—fell even more sharply, to 6.4% last month from 7.5% a year earlier. Tighter labor supply in theory should push up wages.
Rising pay for the lowest-paid without a government mandate on the minimum wage---how is that possible?

We'll wait for the analytics. The factors behind higher pay packets could be business growth from reduced regulation, fewer immigrants in the labor pool, less "unfair" trade competition against domestic employers, the wealth effect from a booming stock market, higher consumer confidence, or any combination of the above.

Rasmussen: Americans Are Happier Than They Have Been In Years
Americans are feeling better about their own lives than they have in over a decade.
People are happier now than any time during President Obama's two terms....That's hard to believe with Russian collusion happening and Republicans trying to kill 40,000 people a year under their health care bill. And we're not even talking about the millions (billions?) of people who will perish because President Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accords.

The people are happy in their ignorance, and the media needs to try harder to set them straight.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Baby, Light My Fire" --- Not to be Taken Literally

(Telegraph graphic)
Another sign that Chinese innovation is overtaking America's: 'Anti-pervert' flame-throwers for sale in China.[bold added]
A flame-thrower that can hurl a stream of fire half a metre long is being marketed in China to help women fend off unwanted advances...

Some are shaped like a cigarette lighter and emit small flames, while others hurl fire for 50cm with temperatures of up to 1,800 degrees Celsius (3,300 Fahrenheit).
Yes, Lotharios, at 3,300 degrees F. it will leave a mark.

This device would also be a good conversation- and fire-starter when lighting candles on a birthday cake. I checked, but it's not available on Amazon. Sad!

Hat tip: Tyler Cowen

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Obamacare: Let the Situation Ripen

Yesterday I made the following statement about Obamacare: "government spending is rising much faster than originally projected while revenues are falling short."

These days one should not just throw out a statement like that without a link or two. Here is Investor's Business Daily, on the signs of collapse:
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports that the number of insurers applying to participate in ObamaCare exchanges next year plunged by 38% compared with last year, and is half what it was in 2016.
  • CMS also reported that 40 counties in Indiana, Ohio and Nevada are at risk of having zero insurance companies in their ObamaCare exchanges next year. The Kaiser Family Foundation put the number of at-risk counties at 38.
  • In addition, CMS reported that 2.4 million enrollees in 40% of the nation's counties will have just one insurance company in their area.
  • The average increase in premiums next year for a Silver plan in eight states will be 18%, according to Avalere. One of the last ObamaCare insurers in Iowa has put in for a 43.5% hike. In Washington state, the average boost is 22%. In Tennessee, the proposed rate hikes range from 21% to 42%. And so on.
  • As we noted before in this space, these insurance defections and gargantuan rate hikes have nothing to do with the Republican's repeal effort, but with the continued deterioration of the ObamaCare markets.
  • States are also starting to struggle with the costs of ObamaCare's "free" Medicaid expansion. A report from the National Association of State Budget Offices said that the expansion will cost states nearly $9 billion next year, more than twice what it cost in 2016.
  • CMS reports that the per capita costs of the Medicaid expansion are 50% higher than expected.
  • Arkansas scaled back its Medicaid expansion in May, and Ohio lawmakers voted in June to freeze the expansion in that state. Oregon's Medicaid expansion contributed a $1.6 billion gap in the state's budget. In California, the Medicaid expansion will cost the state $1.3 billion this year, putting additional strain on the state's budget.
  • Today President Trump repeated his call to the Senate to continue working on a health care bill. It's my belief---hold on to your hats---that he thinks it's the right thing to do despite the fact (not a probability) that he and the Republicans will be vilified no matter what they come up with. As a person with life experience, he knows that trying to help people who don't wish to be helped not only is unappreciated but resented.

    He should just call off his effort, declare Obamacare to be the law of the land until the people overwhelmingly want something different, agree to provide funding according to the 2009 CBO projections, and let the Obamacare advocates tell us how to fix it as long as they stay within the budgetary guidelines (plus 10% because he's a reasonable guy). Let the situation ripen, as the saying goes.

    Tuesday, July 18, 2017

    Let's See Who Was Right

    What I wrote in March about the House's original failure to repeal Obamacare ("It Would Have Been a Catastrophic Victory") applies to yesterday's Senate "failure" as well.

    The Republican Senators couldn't overturn Obamacare because it was a great system (it's not--government spending is rising much faster than originally projected while revenues are falling short); the Senators didn't want to be blamed at the ballot box for the pain of the transition---just as the Democrats were blamed from 2010 to 2016.
    One doesn't go changing a system where hundreds of billions of dollars are spent without some good, innocent people being harmed. In 2017 we would have been treated to stories about people who lost due to Obamacare's repeal. The difference was that in 2013 we didn't hear about people who lost their doctor and/or their insurance plan because of Obamacare. Unfair, but that's the media landscape.
    The next order of business is to decide how much to fund the health care system that so many Republicans disagree with. Frankly, I'd start with the 2009 CBO projections that were used to pass the bill, perhaps adding 5-10% for overages.

    Opponents at the time said that Obamacare advocates were lowballing the costs in a classic get-it-passed-so-we're-stuck-with-it move. Let's see who was right.

    Monday, July 17, 2017

    Evelyn Waugh Was Born 100 Years Too Soon

    Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) (
    I long thought "he" was a woman because
    dust jackets never had photos.
    The majority of book-readers are women, and they want to read woman writers:
    A 2014 Goodreads survey of 20,000 male and 20,000 female participants on the site found that of the 50 books published that year that were most read by women, 46 were written by women.
    One growing genre is the psychological suspense novel with a female protagonist. Because of a common belief that only a woman can truly get into such a character's mind, female readers favor woman authors.

    Male writers are adapting ambiguous pseudonyms (e.g., Jordan, Stacy) or just abbreviations (e.g., J.K. Rowling, who is, of course, a real woman) so as not to be rejected out of hand.

    These days men aren't reading a lot of books, especially fiction. It's a woman-readers' world, and male suspense writers must adapt accordingly.

    Sunday, July 16, 2017

    Little Lost Church

    Unlike outsiders who believe that the Episcopal Church is near collapse--partly in my view due to wish fulfillment--I don't think its condition is that dire, but there's no doubt that the Church has severe problems.

    The drop in attendance is unquestioned, but the decline appears to have leveled off:
    Among the old mainstream denominations reporting to the National Council of Churches, the Episcopal Church suffered the worst loss of membership from 1992-2002 — plunging from 3.4 million members to 2.3 million for a 32 percent loss. In the NCC’s 2012 yearbook, the Episcopal Church admitted another 2.71 percent annual membership loss.
    For the past quarter-century, the Church's leaders have embraced coastal values (same-sex marriage, gender fluidity, climate-change environmentalism, social-justice redistributionism) without doing much outreach to the more conservative lay population and a few clergy dissenters.

    Recalcitrant Dioceses have tried to break away while retaining their Anglicanism, but the Episcopal Church has responded with lawsuits that assert its legal claim to the properties (generally the Church has won in court). However, suing fellow Anglicans who have paid for the maintenance and usually the purchase of the properties that they have worshipped in for generations is not a good look.

    As for the coastal Dioceses themselves, high property values raise the temptation to sell off real estate in order to cope with cash shortages. But that course of action meets with resistance from parishes (financially independent churches, unlike missions) that thought they owned the property because they paid for it. Generally title does not reside at the local level.

     St. James, Newport Beach (OC Register)
    Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles tried to sell a Newport Beach property to a developer, but was stopped by the National Church. Bishop Bruno has been threatened with removal of his collar:
    an attorney for the national Church has recommended he be defrocked.

    Bruno’s misconduct allegations were over his move to sell the prime piece of real estate on Via Lido back in June 2015 for $15 million to a developer who wanted to build luxury condominiums there. Though that sale fell through, the congregation was evicted and remains locked out, forced to hold services in a community room at the Newport Beach Civic Center.
    The church's dwindling resources are increasingly tied up in the courts and politics that are only tangentially related to the Christian mission. The Episcopal Church is not collapsing, but it has definitely lost its way.

    Saturday, July 15, 2017

    Seams Puzzling

    (WSJ photo)
    I will never understand how values are assigned to art or wine or fashion. An example of the latter is the new Raf Simons sweater (pictured) that retails for $487.
    The drop-shouldered knits, made in partnership with Woolmark, the Australian company that promotes merino wool, are drapier and softer than Mr. Simons’s previous slightly itchy, stiffer shetland designs.

    Drapy and soft, not itchy or stiff---that must explain the price.

    The description made me look up what "drop shoulder" (seam is on the upper arm, not the shoulder) means, so there's that.

    It sure looks like the sweater doesn't go all the way down to the waist. Is this now a thing?

    "I ❤️ NY" is available on $5 T-shirts. If we are to appreciate the expensive merino-wool medium, we should lose the cheap message, IMHO. But that's why I'll never understand fashion.

    Friday, July 14, 2017

    This Conspiracy Makes Sense.

    Nearly everyone knows the adjective, how about the noun form?

    Donald J. Trump, Jr., naïf:
    Donald Jr and Fredo (John Cazale) (Vox juxtaposition)
    when the Obama administration couldn’t get permission from the FISA court to surveil Trump, they allowed Veselnitskaya back into the country to take part in those Washington activities aside from whatever legal work she supposedly would be doing, and in the meantime the administration’s pals at Fusion tasked Goldstone with attempting to hook Trump Junior, whose performance makes him not a terrible analog for Fredo Corleone, into a meeting at Trump Tower to pass along “opposition research.”

    And once that meeting — which on its surface was a waste of everyone’s time — was had, the Obama administration now had something to sell to the FISA court to get that warrant — from which they snagged Mike Flynn and gave the Democrat party and the media a mechanism to shroud the Trump administration in what can best be described as a rather dubious scandal. Remember how Hillary Clinton was accusing Trump of being a Putin’s puppet at the October 19 debate?
    The hypothesis, at its essence: The Obama Administration ensnared the Trump campaign by allowing visa-already-denied Natalia into the U.S. just in time for a meeting with Donald Junior. Aha! Junior is meeting with Russians! FISA warrant approved.

    Even liberals will admit that this "conspiracy" makes more sense. The much smarter Democratic operatives played chess while the Trump rubes thought the game was checkers. Yet, somehow, the naïfs won when it counted.

    Not Miracle Whip, Just a Miracle

    Homeroom's mac-and-cheese waffles (SF Gate)
    Skipping National Mac and Cheese Day is the price one pays for middle-onset lactose intolerance.

    I will never darken the doors of Oakland's Homeroom Restaurant, whose entire entrée menu consists of variations on the popular comfort food.

    I will never again dine on the sliced hot dogs and Kraft mac-and-cheese that I loved as a child. Perhaps it's just as well, because boxed M&C contains "phthalates — which have been linked to genital birth defects in baby boys and behavior problems in older kids."

    I played baseball in the streets with the neighborhood kids and climbed six-foot-high jungle gyms, falling once onto a hard asphalt surface and never making that mistake again. I walked a mile to and from school with busy urban traffic whizzing by. And now it turns out that phthalates were in the mac and cheese.

    It's a miracle I'm still alive.

    Thursday, July 13, 2017

    Diversity in Pedagogy

    (Photo from
    Mills College of Oakland has fired five tenured professors in a cost-cutting move [bold added].
    Mills, one of only 36 women’s colleges remaining in the United States, is again deep in the hole. But unlike dozens of other women’s schools that have voted in recent decades to admit men to solve financial woes, Mills trustees made a controversial decision of a different kind this summer: They fired tenured professors, a move rare in academia and unprecedented at Mills.
    With 1,400 students--about two-thirds undergraduates--Mills has long been known as an excellent private college. Wikipedia: [bold added]
    In 2015, U.S. News & World Report ranked Mills sixth overall among colleges and universities in the Western U.S. (regional universities) and one of the top colleges and universities in the Western U.S. in "Great Schools, Great Prices," which evaluated the quality of institutions' academics against the cost of attendance. The Princeton Review ranks Mills as one of the Best 380 Colleges and one of the top "green" colleges in the U.S. Washington Monthly ranks Mills as one of the top 10 master's universities in the U.S.
    I attended college in the 1970's, after men's universities, including mine, had gone co-ed. I wondered why the arguments that applied to admitting women to men's schools (enriched educational experience, diversity of opinion, enhanced preparation for "real life," social benefits, etc.) weren't relevant to men attending women's schools. The double standard was one of the reasons that I became disenchanted with the progressive agenda.

    Today I'm glad that Mills has chosen to remain the way it is. Women's colleges are disappearing, now that the main reason for their existence has vanished:
  • The earliest women’s colleges were founded in the mid-19th century to give women access to higher education. This was a time when many people believed that it was unnecessary to educate women whose place was in the home, and that rigorous study could be unhealthy for women.
  • In 1960 there were about 230 women’s colleges.
  • In 2014, there were 47 women’s colleges in the U.S. and Canada.
  • There's a sameness to university education across the country: high costs, racially diverse student populations, women in the majority, leftist politics, and poor job prospects for non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) majors.

    Schools that once catered to specific groups--blacks, women, military, Christian--have become rare. It's important to preserve them, not just for students who wish to learn in a different environment but also because innovation springs from a diversity in pedagogy. Two cheers for Mills.

    Wednesday, July 12, 2017

    Prime Day Savings

    I didn't know I needed a combined corkscrew and bottle opener until I saw it on Amazon's website during Prime Day. The same can be said of a stainless steel chips-and-dip bowl, a pet-hair cordless vacuum, and three--count 'em, three, no less--accordion files to file all the papers that I've been meaning to scan electronically.
    Add caption
    My bicycle cover has some holes in it, so I'll take one of those. Of course, one can use another pair of inexpensive earbuds.
    They're always getting lost or broken. Sure, I don't "need" any of this stuff, but look at all the money I've saved.

    Tuesday, July 11, 2017

    Because They Can

    When a business struggles, it has to find a way to keep up with the competition--for example, retail stores vs. Amazon---else it fails. When a monopolist struggles--for example, electric utilities vs. homeowners' solar panels--it makes some effort to change, then petitions for rate increases that are usually granted. When a government monopolist struggles, it always raises rates.

    Four years ago the Golden Gate Bridge District, which at $6 charged the highest toll in the Bay Area, eliminated human toll takers under the guise of cost reduction. We griped:
    I'm all for government operating more efficiently, even if that means some jobs will be lost. In this case, however, efficiency means a significantly degraded service, a service which everyone must use because there are no feasible alternatives. Drivers who don't wish to open an account, prepay a toll, or mail in a check have no choice. It's the bureaucrats' bridge, not ours.
    We threw in the towel and obtained a FasTrak reader though we cross a toll bridge about once a month. (There's a surcharge if the District takes a picture of your license plate and bills you; there's also a chance you could be caught in red-tape hell.) We keep a $25-$50 credit on FasTrak, which means the authorities have a permanent, interest-free loan from us and hundreds of thousands of drivers.

    Of course, none of these actions stopped toll increases: [bold added]
    Starting Monday [July 3, 2017], the majority of bridge traffic — two-axle cars — will be charged the increased rate to cross one of the world’s most famous bridges, according to the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District.

    A discount will remain on FasTrak electronic passes as an incentive for Bay Area motorists to use them. Under the new rates, FasTrak users will pay $6.75 per crossing.

    For those without FasTrak, the bridge’s automatic license plate scanner — which snaps a photo of license plates and mails an invoice, even to out-of-state motorists — will go from $7.50 to $7.75. The toll gates are cashless. The toll hikes were initially approved in February 2014 by the bridge agency’s directors, who said they needed the additional funding to recover from a budget deficit.

    Bridge overseers have enacted regular, similarly sized toll increases since then, with annual rate rises scheduled through 2018.
    They do it because they can.

    Monday, July 10, 2017

    Mastering a Subject in the Age of Twitter

    At the Barnes and Noble entrance.
    Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000-hour rule ("you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.")

    I am not so naive as to believe that I can master a subject in 30 seconds. I am just trying to know enough to bluff my way through cocktail party conversations.

    Sunday, July 09, 2017

    Money Isn't Everything

    The WSJ columnist cites a seven-year-old study that merits revisiting. The question: Can Money Buy Happiness? [bold added]
    In 2010 Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton analyzed data from over 450,000 responses to a daily survey of 1,000 U.S. residents by the Gallup Organization. They found that money does influence happiness at low to moderate levels of income. Real lack of money leads to more worry and sadness, higher levels of stress, less positive affect (happiness, enjoyment, and reports of smiling and laughter) and less favorable evaluations of one’s own life. Yet most of these effects only hold for people who earn $75,000 a year or less. Above about $75,000, higher income is not the simple ticket to happiness that we think it is.
    This study is another confirmation of the hierarchy of needs that Abraham Maslow postulated over 60 years ago. A certain threshold of income---on average $75,000 p.a. in 2010---is necessary to provide for physiological and safety needs. Higher-order, "softer" goals (love, belonging, social- and self-esteem) are harder to achieve and often impossible to "buy".

    It sounds corny, but these higher-order objectives usually cannot be attained by explicitly seeking them. For example, a man may try to impress a woman, the woman sees through him and may go along in the short term, but a bond that results in lasting happiness depends upon factors other than money. In other arenas, if making partner or earning tenure is openly transparent, the candidate, regardless of merit, often fails because of his visible ambition.
    For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.--Matthew 16:25

    Saturday, July 08, 2017

    The New Company Town

    The American company town reached its heyday between Reconstruction and the 1920's. The lack of basic services across the nation's empty expanses necessitated that businesses create schools, stores, and churches for their workers; the number of company towns reached an estimated peak of 2,500 about a century ago, after which the automobile and rising affluence reduced the importance of living close to one's employer.

    Here in the Bay Area the original raison d'être---providing basic services---for company towns had vanished long ago; nevertheless, company towns are being carved out in existing, highly developed cities.

    Google's planned 1.2 million sq. ft. campus (Verge)
    Google dominates Mountain View (pop. 80,000):
    At a January 22nd, 2013 meeting, Google's VP of real estate David Radcliffe gave the city council something of an ultimatum. "We can either grow up, taking the buildings we have now and making them bigger and denser, or we can sprawl out in a continued march through neighboring business parks and communities."

    The company has bought or leased a total of nearly 2 million square feet since that meeting, including giant parcels west, south, and east of the company's traditional North Bayshore haunts.
    Facebook's Anton Menlo apartments
    Facebook is building a $120 million complex in Menlo Park (pop. 33,000):
    The social network said this week it is working with a local developer to build a $120 million, 394-unit housing community within walking distance of its offices. Called Anton Menlo, the 630,000 square-foot rental property will include everything from a sports bar to a doggy day care.

    One of Facebook's corporate goals is to take care of as many aspects of its employees lives as possible. They don't have to worry about transportation—there's a bus for that. Laundry and dry cleaning? Check. Hairstylists, woodworking classes, bike maintenance. Check.
    And then there's Apple's "spaceship" headquarters in Cupertino (pop. 61,000):
    Steve Jobs' vision (Wired photo)
    Everything in this building is the best. The toroid glass of the roof curves scientifically to shed rainwater....Of course, it only has 9,000 parking spaces, but that’s supposed to encourage people to take an Apple shuttle to work. And once they arrive, they’re not going to want to leave. The fitness center has a climbing wall with pre-distressed stone. The concrete edges of the parking lot walls are rounded. The fire suppression systems come from yachts. Craftspeople harvested the wood paneling at the exact time of year the late Steve Jobs demanded—mid-winter—so the sap content wouldn’t be ruinously high.
    Apple and Google (Alphabet) are the two most valuable companies in the world; Facebook is #7 and rising. For the sake of the 21st-century company towns that they are building, here's hoping that these companies stay valuable for a long, long time. (Term for the kiddies to look up: white elephant).

    Friday, July 07, 2017

    Exercise Can Make You Sick

    Norway has two million(!) sheep.
    News item: Sheep poo makes Norwegian cyclists sick.
    Of the 300 cyclists who took part in the TransØsterdalen race at the end of June in southeastern Norway, at least 50 were struck with fever, stomach pain and diarrhoea in the days following the competition, according to public broadcaster NRK.

    "This is most likely a Campylobacter infection," race doctor Tor Halvor Bjørnstad-Tuveng told NRK, referring to a bacteria which is present in the intestines of many animals.

    He said material from the sheep droppings, which have decomposed during heavy rain and projected on the bikers' route, must have sprayed onto their bottles, faces and hands as they rode by.
    Ah, the great outdoors, just smell that....fresh air.

    Your humble blogger's monkey mind hopped to this great moment in television from the 1960's:

    Thursday, July 06, 2017

    My Furniture Has a Mind of Its Own

    There's undoubtedly a manual release if the bed retracts while you're still sleeping (right?). (Ori photo)
    If you have nightmares about your bed swallowing you at night, then this furniture is not for you. [bold added]
    With the push of a button—or, with future versions of the software, at the sound of a voice or wave of a hand—pieces of Ori furniture will slide up, down, or over, reconfiguring spaces in mere moments. The harder you press the arrow button on the interface, the faster the wall will move—an interaction Larrea says is like moving a heavy wall with one finger. A bed can disappear, to make room for a work desk. A wall can come down, to create private spaces in an otherwise open studio apartment. A 350-square-foot apartment will, ideally, function more like a 600-square-foot one.
    In a market where a one-bedroom apartment can be $1,000 more than a studio, a $10,000 investment in the Ori system will be paid back in a year. It's much cheaper to have a living room change into a bedroom than to have the "luxury" of moving from one room to the other. How many rooms can one physically occupy at a time?

    Wednesday, July 05, 2017

    Nearly Every Day

    From 13 years ago:
    The Millbrae BART/Caltrain connection is a maze of concrete, escalators, ducts, stairs, turnstiles, and ticket machines. The designers did their best with the translucent roofing, but there are too many dark, cold areas. Yes, the station is functional, but the parking lots are mostly empty and traffic is far below expectations.
    The booming Bay Area economy and the addition of a BART line to San Francisco Airport should have improved Millbrae Station's utilization. However, [bold added]
    By now, BART’s Millbrae Station — with its connections to Caltrain, buses and shuttles — was supposed to see 16,500 passengers pass through its fare gates every weekday, making it the fifth-busiest station in the system.

    But 13 years after it opened, it’s pretty much just another BART station, nowhere near the bustling Peninsula transit hub that planners envisioned. With just under 7,000 riders entering and exiting daily, the station ranks 27th in activity among the transit system’s 46 stations.
    One of the problems is that there's little coordination between BART and Caltrain. A passenger trying to get from Oakland to Mountain View would take BART to Millbrae, then often wait more than 30 minutes for the next southbound Caltrain---and that's when both BART and Caltrain are running on time.
    BART riders coming from the north and bound for Caltrain arrive on the east side of the station. To catch Caltrain, they have to ascend escalators or stairs, exit through the BART fare gates and walk a few yards across the concourse before descending to the Caltrain station’s west side.
    When it's not rush hour, the drive would take one hour, and mass transit two. When Millbrae Station opened, a round-trip BART fare from Millbrae to San Francisco was less than $5. Parking was free, an obvious inducement to try the new station.

    Now the round trip costs $9.30, and parking is $3. It's no wonder that BART doesn't attract more commuters; it's too expensive for low-wage earners (even if the minimum wage rises to $15 an hour), and it's too inconvenient for those with high incomes, who choose to park in downtown buildings at $25 per day ($5,000 per year).

    Don't get me wrong--I'm glad the station was built. It's very useful to have an alternate means into the City since the highways are backed up nearly every day.

    Monday, July 03, 2017

    Cross-Cultural Marketing

    We've previously noted how one of Japan's popular soft drinks, Calpis, had to change its name to the non-cringeworthy Calpico when it was introduced to the American market.

    The Daio Paper Company should likewise consider a name change for its GOO.N diapers. Goon has several meanings in the English language, none of which are positive.

    The diapers appear to be an excellent product whose high price won't deter parents in this market. Perhaps "Glow" or "Good'n Dry"?

    Sunday, July 02, 2017

    Love Isn't Logical

    Our household has been home to guinea pigs for over ten years. Affectionate, quiet animals, guinea pigs demand little attention (unless they're sick).

    Through the local Episcopal Church we have been long-time contributors to the Heifer Project, which donates farm animals to Third-World villages and instructs recipients on how to care for, use, and breed the animals under the "teach a man to fish" principle. We've taken field trips to the Heifer Project's demonstration farm, now closed.

    "Cuy" = guinea pig; a cuyeria serves...(World Ark)
    These two of our interests converge in South America, where guinea pigs are a source of protein in the village diet. The Heifer Project has an active guinea-pig program in Peru.
    In 2013, Heifer Peru started working in Ccorca to help families raise and sell guinea pigs. The animals, which are indigenous to the Andes, have been a food staple in the region for thousands of years, and are an important part of local culture.
    Unlike large animals, guinea pigs are eaten in one sitting and do not require refrigeration. Yes, that's a very practical point of view, unlike incurring pocket-pet medical expenses that vastly exceed the cost of the pet herself. But love isn't logical.

    Saturday, July 01, 2017

    Appreciated by the AARP Crowd

    In the great Costco vs. Amazon debate (we regularly buy from both) Costco gets more of our shopping dollar, even combining our Whole Foods spending with Amazon. One of Costco's advantages is the value proposition of its private Kirkland label.

    Kirkland jeans are under $15 and reasonably durable, but lately my two pair have been getting a little snug--from repeated dryings, of course. "New relaxed waist" is a timely innovation that might turn off the skinny teens and 20-somethings that shop at Costco but will be appreciated by the AARP crowd.

    Lots of marketing data went into this one.