Friday, September 29, 2017

Along the Bay Trail

Despite 40+ years of living on the Peninsula, I had never been to this part of East Palo Alto.

Largely undeveloped, the area is pockmarked with small industry and public utilities connected by dirt roads.

Bay Area land is going for premium prices--and even with strict building restrictions--I would not be surprised to see dramatic changes in the next 20 years.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Harsh Marsh

It's all protected, now.
The junkyard, only a few feet from the Bay, pre-dates the EPA.
The history of land development in the Bay Area is one of contradiction. 100 to 150 years ago the best land for housing, town centers, and agriculture lay miles inland from San Francisco Bay. The marshland ringing the Bay was ugly, smelly, difficult to build on, and cheap; where it was feasible, light industry moved in.

Now environmental restrictions make it extremely costly and more difficult to build next to the Bay than on the inland areas. (Also, advances in earthquake science require that construction be able to withstand liquefaction.) Existing businesses, often polluting, are grandfathered. (They can't be seized without "just compensation"--This is America!)

The harsh marsh was, is, and ever shall be.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

But They Meant Well

(Image from
Staying in bed doesn't help recuperation; in fact, immobility harms: [bold added]
Numerous studies have shown that immobility increases the likelihood of muscle atrophy, blood clots, bed scores and delirium. For elderly or very sick patients, the danger is even greater: Being immobilized even for a few days can lead to a permanent functional decline, making it more difficult for patients to return home.
Why then, don't hospitals encourage mobility? Because hospitals are penalized for falls.
CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] may have inadvertently exacerbated the immobility problem in 2008 when it stopped reimbursing for fall-related injuries having decided that patients should “never” fall within a hospital. Two years later, the Affordable Care Act began financially penalizing hospitals with high fall rates. administrators, focusing on reducing the number of falls, put pressure on nursing staff. The units and nurses under the most pressure ended up confining patients to beds or chairs and sometimes even monitored patients while they were on the toilet, lest they or their unit be seen as negligent.
The people who administer Medicare, Medicaid, and ACA meant well by trying to reduce patients' falls and instituted penalties into the compensation system in 2010.

But if the system is found to hurt rather than help, why does it take so long to change?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Not for Everyone

The fact that the ad for a barn door showed up in my inbox indicates that Home Depot still needs to do some work on its targeted marketing effort (I'll wager that there's not one barn door in my entire zip code).

Nevertheless, thousands of customers are interested, else why would Home Depot feature this item?

Which makes me appreciate again what a great, big, diverse, wonderful country this is.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Irreversible Injury

I often wonder whether President Trump tweets and/or speaks impulsively or with a grand plan in mind. His latest tweetstorm concerns the well-publicized but ultimately insignificant issue of NFL players kneeling when the National Anthem is played at the beginning of the game. There are many aspects to the story---free speech, the politicization of sports, the meaning of the national anthem and the flag, and the reported disproportionate killing of unarmed black men by police--all against the backdrop of football CTE injuries, criminal behavior by NFL players, and multi-billions of dollars spent each year on America's most popular sport.

I've been a fan of the local teams, the 49ers and Raiders, for most of my adult life, but there's very little of that world (athletics, big money, fame) that I can identify with. To the extent that I can relate to anyone in this sorry mess, it would be President Trump.

When he said that players who kneel during the National Anthem should be "fired" and that owners should "get that son of a bitch off that field", I think he went way over the top; however he was right about a basic business principle that politics should have been kept off the field.

I have worked for large companies most of my life. Political speech is verboten for good reason: no matter how righteous I may think my cause, my espousal of those views would antagonize some customers and some co-workers. (The First Amendment applies to government control of speech; workplace speech is another matter entirely--if I dissed my employer out loud, he would be justified in getting rid of me.)

If I wore a "Black Lives Matter" shirt or a "Make America Great Again" hat, my employer would give me a warning, then fire me if I didn't remove the offending garment. And if the cameras had been rolling, I wouldn't even get a warning.

The vast majority of Americans have worked in such circumscribed environments where speech and behavior are limited while on the job.

Colin Kaepernick, whom I believe is sincere and do respect, should have been warned, then banned from the field if he continued to kneel for the Anthem. (At the same time the NFL could also have put money and time into addressing the issue that concerned Mr. Kaepernick.)

Now it's too late, and the injury to football is probably irreversible.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Reason We Keep Going

Clara and Leda prepared and served dinner on Tuesday.
This past week it was our turn to serve dinner to 11-15 people at Home and Hope, which provides temporary shelter to families on the Peninsula. Unlike last spring, demand for shelter services has come back to normal, that is, they are oversubscribed. The temporary drop-off probably was not due to stepped-up immigration enforcement, I suppose, but who knows?

This week's group consisted of three single-mother and one two-parent families. All were polite and hard-working, but I need to say a word about the family with both a mom and a dad.

Overnight duty--sleeping bag and toys, what more do I need?
Dad wakes at 2 a.m. to take a bus to San Francisco (their car is out of commission) for his job, which starts at 4.

The 16-year-old son rides the bus to school. A junior, he takes AP history and English lit and hits the books (sans computer, so it's not just an expression) each night in the dining hall while everyone else has gone to bed. He also looks after his baby sister when his mother needed a break.

Diane and Leda (again) served on Thursday.
Mom rides the van to the Home and Hope office, where she spends the day with her one-year-old daughter. They were the only family that was ready to leave with the van at the scheduled time, 7 a.m. each morning.

This family looks like they are going to make it, and they're one of the reasons we keep going.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Vast Yet Simple Ocean

The simple Google home page is the entryway
to the most complicated software on the planet.
As school children in the 60's we knew the most famous equation in history,
E = mc2
not that any of us had more than a superficial understanding of what it meant.

Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek marvels at the simplicity of E = mc2 and other fundamental concepts of physics:
“The Principle of Relativity” brings together 11 seminal physics papers—including Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity, Hermann Minkowski’s introduction of space-time and Hermann Weyl’s concept of “gauge invariance”—which set the course of 20th-century physics. Yet all this and more fits comfortably in a book of 217 small pages, despite generous font sizes and margins.
It took the best minds in human history over thousands of years to develop our current understanding of the universe; the fact that the fundaments of this knowledge could be condensed into a small volume gives hope.

(Professor Wilczek is amused by the weight of the "hefty" book Data Compression, as am I by my doorstopper-grade texts in accounting, finance, and income taxation. Answers that used to be deducible from basic principles now have many exceptions. Accounting needs an Einstein!)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Going with the Grain

We had been eating brown rice for over a decade because of its putative health benefits but switched back to white when Consumer Reports warned against the higher arsenic content of brown rice in 2012.

Our consumption has diminished because of heightened attention to carbohydrates, but each year we still buy 1-2 50-lb. bags of Calrose from Costco for $20 a bag. Rice goes well with hundreds of main dishes and is an ideal emergency provision because it can be stored for over a year in a dry container.

And it's always nice to have a quantity around to dry one's cellphone in a hurry...

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Expectations Upended

Not Mr. Ohara
A friend waxed enthusiastic about a landscaper by the name of O'Hara. An Irish gardener--why not?

After repeated calls I finally made contact with the man's wife, who had a Japanese accent. Oh, oh, Ohara.

In her email my friend used both the apostrophe and the capital H in the spelling of O'Hara. My expectations were easily set, and I did find their upending amusing.

Related: in modern English apostrophes inhabit a wacky world.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Different From Most People

Magic Island, Ala Moana Beach Park, in August
With apologies to Bishop Berkeley:

if Dad walks for 30 minutes, but the Apple Watch doesn't record it, does it count as exercise?

My father has been faithfully recording his daily walks using electronic tracking devices. He upgraded to--and was very pleased with--the Apple Watch when it was introduced in 2015. Last month it stopped recording his exercise minutes.

During my trip to Hawaii we spent nearly every day working on the problem. I deleted various health apps, reset both the watch and iPhone to factory settings, and met with a Genius from the Ala Moana Center Apple Store. No luck. The watch works in every other respect--when I talked to him tonight it still gave him only a 3 minute "credit" for 30 minutes of exercise (yes, I turned off the pause feature so that exercise minutes accumulate even when he stops to rest).

Given the mixed reviews of the new Series 3 Watch (WSJ: "Untethered... and Unreliable") most people might choose to wait for the next model.

Dad, 92, has a different perspective on time from most people. Subjective idealist George Berkeley would understand.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

First World Problem

Expensive visits to the vet are part of the package.
Pets improve owners' physical and mental wellbeing by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, stress, and depression.

The corollary is that having a sick pet can negatively affect owners' health. [bold added]
New research suggests that when people care for ill pets, they have more depression, anxiety and caregiving distress: symptoms that are similar to how people report feeling when caring for sick relatives, the study authors say...

Depression was an especially pronounced problem for these pet owners. Depressive symptoms were even worse for people who belonged to pet disease social media groups, which the researchers say could indicate the members were seeking support for their distress.

The people in the study were mostly white, female, highly educated and in a relatively high socioeconomic class.
After having nursed several generations of guinea pigs through sickness and health, I can vouch for the happiness they bring to a household. However, the burden near the end of life can be heavy (unless one is an euthanthusiast). Just know what you're getting into.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Work Hard, Sleep Hard

A question that plagued me throughout my career: why did I always get tired in the afternoon? (One could have surmised that the excitement of accounting work would have kept me awake.)

(Image from healthylife)
According to current scientific thinking [bold added]
Humans are biologically programmed to sleep at night, and to take a nap in the midafternoon, though scientists aren’t sure why. “There is no melatonin triggering the sleep, it just seems to be this harmonic phenomenon,” [Univ. of Pennsylvania Dr. David] Dinges says. The consensus among his colleagues, he says, is that human civilization evolved mostly in equatorial climates, where it got very hot later in the day, and napping during the extreme heat optimized work performance.
Modern workers shouldn't fight to stay awake; they can say "I was optimizing my work performance" or "the harmonic phenomena were overwhelming."

I was born 40 years too soon.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Treatable at Low Expense

The biggest impediments to longevity are smoking and obesity. Data analysis has discovered a third factor: loneliness. [bold added]
Social isolation, loneliness and living alone all have a significant effect on risk of early death—and the risk is equal to or greater than major health problems such as obesity, according to one of two meta-analyses of data from multiple studies that Dr. Holt-Lunstad presented in August at an American Psychological Association convention. The second, which looked at data from 148 studies, found that having greater social connections is associated with a 50% reduced risk of premature death...

About 44 million adults age 45 and older experience chronic loneliness, according to a 2010 survey by AARP.
Most people I know are continually connected to multiple groups through multiple modes of communication. Most people, including myself, yearn for life uninterrupted. Be careful what you wish for; the quiet of social isolation may arrive quickly and is difficult to reverse.

The good news is that, unlike most health conditions, loneliness is treatable by charitable strangers at low expense. Just make time to visit an elderly shut-in--friend, relative, or stranger--for a few minutes and make her day.

We visited a nearby elder-care facility during Christmas.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

With Life There is Hope

We've been following developments in Alzheimer's Disease research and treatment not only because close friends and relatives have succumbed, but also because we ourselves may have a genetic susceptibility to the condition. From two years ago:
One leading theory postulates that Alzheimer's is caused by the buildup of "plaques" or "tangles" that block signals between brain cells. However, not everyone who displays symptoms has plaques, nor is the presence of plaques a surefire indicator of Alzheimer's. Like cancer, Alzheimer's appears to have multiple causes.
(WSJ image)
The improvement in imaging and chemical-analysis technologies has shifted Alzheimer's diagnosis toward objective "biomarkers" such as amyloid plaques and away from symptoms like memory loss and speech problems, which may have other causes. However, we're not there yet. A positive brain scan could needlessly alarm many people who won't get Alzheimer's. [bold added]
The likelihood that someone with a positive scan is going to progress to having clinical symptoms—called the positive predictive value—within the next few years is only about 40%, according to Duke’s Dr. Doraiswamy, who conducted one of the first studies on one of the brain-imaging tracers, florbetapir.
The advice from two years ago still holds: hang on for dear life. "The trick for us is to stay alive long enough to let the technology catch up."

Friday, September 15, 2017

Happy Trade-Off

It was a mild 72 degrees at Ryan Park this morning

WalletHub ranks Foster City as the sixth-best California city (out of 252) in which to retire.

Though we're in the bottom 10% for "activities" (museums, art galleries), Foster City has the third lowest property crime rate, a component of "quality of life".

That's a trade-off I'm happy to make.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

More Than Ironic

Some artificial sweeteners(CBS Pittsburgh photo)
For about 20 years I swilled diet instead of regular soda. Diet drinks always tasted slightly chemical-ly and/or metallic, but lousy taste was the sacrifice one made to avoid putting on pounds.

A few years ago popular health literature began warning that artificial sweeteners are not only ineffective but can also be deleterious to health. I switched to sparkling water, which I should have done before anyway, and when I absolutely had to have soda partook of the sugared version.

Yale cardiologist Harlan Krumholz looks at the current literature, which confirms that artificial sweeteners "do not seem to help people keep weight off." Worse, researchers [bold added]
found that people who consumed these sweeteners were more likely to have increases in weight and waistline, and a higher incidence of obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular events.
One theory is that chemical sweeteners "showed an impact on hormone secretion, cognitive processes and gut microbiota".

We thought that we were sacrificing taste for health but wound up with neither.

Again Dr. Krumholz: "it would be more than ironic. It would be tragic."

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Sound That Didn't Last

Ampex sign, next to  Stanford's new Outpatient Center.
As a teen visiting the Bay Area circa 1970, I recognized only a few company names on the signs dotting Highway 101. One of them was Ampex, which built the best reel-to-reel tape machines. My high school had a generous audio-visual budget, and as a member of the A-V club (nerd alert!) I got to play with equipment that I could never personally afford.

Ampex continued to be a leader in high-end audio equipment until the advent of the digital era, about 20 years later. Today the company is all but forgotten, its once-gleaming sign a weather-beaten curiosity.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Easy to Overlook

Two years ago we paid $10 each to credit agencies Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion to "freeze" information about our data, which will make it more difficult for identity thieves to take out credit in our names. Last week's heavily publicized data breach at Equifax has made us glad we took that precaution.

Everyone's hypersensitivity to Internet security is being exploited by other crooks. On Sunday we received an email purportedly from the "Apple Store" (right). Of course, it wasn't from Apple; there are dead giveaways in the content of the email, the to and from addresses, and the grammar--foreign scammers have difficulty with the proper usage of articles "the", "a", and "an".

One has to be vigilant about passwords for not only one's bank and loan accounts but also other websites, like Apple's iTunes and Amazon, that are linked to credit cards. The Internet has made our lives much easier, but the costs are easy to overlook.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Non-Power of Words

(Jeff Koterba)
Has it really been 16 years after the worst terrorist attack in American history?

A few months after 9/11 President Bush introduced the Axis of Evil formulation in his 2002 State of the Union address:
"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.”
By 2006 the nation had already become weary of the lack of progress. WaPo:
“Nearly five years after President Bush introduced the concept of an ‘axis of evil’ comprising Iraq, Iran and North Korea, the administration has reached a crisis point with each nation: North Korea has claimed it conducted its first nuclear test, Iran refuses to halt its uranium-enrichment program, and Iraq appears to be tipping into a civil war 3 1/2 years after the U.S.-led invasion.”
Today prospects for peace are in a worse position than ever vis-à-vis Iran and North Korea, and moderately better in war-torn Iraq.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Ear of the Listener

Sacrifice of Isaac, 1527 (Cleveland Museum)
Eid al-Adha (9/1/2017) is one of Islam's great religious festivals.
Eid al-Adha commemorates the Koranic tale of the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God. Before he could carry out the sacrifice, God provided a ram as an offering.

In the Christian and Jewish version of the story, Abraham is ordered to kill another son, Isaac.
The Economist ruminates on the differences of each faith's interpretation of the story: [bold added]
the Islamic tradition generally holds that it was not Isaac but Ismail, Ibrahim’s son by the maidservant Hagar. Muslim commentaries on the story often stress that Ismail as well as his father clearly consented to the act of sacrifice; it was not an unpleasant surprise for anybody. These interpreters also emphasise that it was never conceivable that God would want Ibrahim’s son to be killed. Indeed part of the story’s point is to denounce the whole idea of (involuntary) human sacrifice....

Early Christian commentators invariably see the story as a foreshadowing of the death and self-sacrifice of Jesus. This is seen as an act of disinterested service to humanity by both God the Father (who offered up his offspring) and God the Son (who offered his own life). Abraham’s kindling wood is seen as hinting at the wooden cross on which Jesus would die. It is an important aspect of the Christian story that Jesus could have avoided being crucified, but nonetheless freely chose to undergo death so as to break death’s power. In the Genesis narrative, Isaac does not seem to have had much say in his fate....

Many Jewish commentators, like Muslim ones, have seen the story as a tirade against human sacrifice, which had been a feature of many pre-Abrahamic religions. Some Jewish interpreters see the most important words in the story as Abraham’s response to God—“here I am” or in Hebrew “hineni”—an expression which is held up as a model of obedient and attentive listening.
If one's goal is to grasp a 30-second version of the story, the three interpretations are distinctions without a difference. But if one is at all interested in the notions of free will, obedience to the divine, and the meaning of sacrifice, then there is something to learn from each faith's perspective.

(The Genesis passage is below the fold.)

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Bourgeois, C'est Moi

I chewed very slowly
A few specifics on that overpriced dinner last Saturday: your humble blogger ordered a 100-day Dry-Aged Burger for $28(!) because at that price it had to be pretty special, right?

While both the texture and the flavor were excellent, I've tasted similar excellence in burgers a third that price. Well, the problem could be me---I'm also unable to tell the difference between $15 and $50 cabernets.

There's a certain je ne sais quoi about not only affording to live in Marin County but also genuinely preferring what Marinites consume (eco-friendly, sustainable, exclusive, expensive). I cannot escape the truth: bourgeois, c'est moi.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Problem Over-hyped

(janibryson photo)
The violence in Charlottesville last month does not show that America is becoming more racist under Donald Trump, according to The Economist. Racist behaviour is declining in America: [bold added]
Donald Trump’s election victory did not make participants more xenophobic—but it did make those who were already xenophobic more comfortable about expressing their views without the shield of anonymity. The Charlottesville protest matches that result: racists were willing to march in public, but there weren’t very many racists.
Whether or not you believe in unrestricted free speech, dear reader, it is better that you know the racists whom you are dealing with, n'est–ce pas?

More of them are speaking, but there are not more of them.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

The Same Vocabulary

The Kenmore disposal was 30 years old.
I accompanied a landlord friend to his rental unit. A plumber had been called to install a new faucet and garbage disposal. The plumber had a hard time removing the rusted old equipment and even greater difficulty connecting them to the old trap and waste arm. My friend and I watched in silent amusement as a string of expletives (there were no children around) was emitted over an extended period.

It was strangely comforting to know that professionals and home repairmen share the same vocabulary.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Spam: Easy to Rationalize

With 15 cans in the pantry it's unlikely that we will run out of Spam before the next sale (spaced 5-6 months apart at Costco; the last one was in March).

Then I watched how people had to fend for themselves after hurricane(s). Then I thought how the North Koreans could launch an EMP missile that will disable the West Coast power grid. Refrigerators could be out for weeks. I would regret not picking up another six-pack.

Spam tastes good and resonates emotionally to those born in Hawaii. It also lasts forever.

Today's purchase was easy to rationalize.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Moral Hazard

News item: Hawaii is considering
a universal basic income, the notion that everyone should be able to receive a stream of income to live on, regardless of their employment or economic status.
It's a good thing I renewed my State ID....

You can reach me here.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Cooler Brows, Lighter Wallets

The home AC is on the blink, and we were desperate to escape the 100-degree temperatures. On Saturday we rode in our comparatively efficient air-conditioned car to the Graton Casino in Rohnert Park, 50 miles north of San Francisco.The drive took two hours due to the holiday traffic, but no matter, we were comfortable.

Stepping out of the car, we were hit with a blast of heat and hurried into the casino.

Pushing on the pleasure machines
Five hours later, I was down $100, not a bad result when a casino with a regional monopoly pays off blackjacks at 6-5 instead of the standard 3-2.

One overpriced dinner in Larkspur, a much less congested trip south over the Golden Gate, and we were home by 9 p.m.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Free Will

One tenet of Christianity is that sin ("original sin") is intrinsic to the human condition; another is that Jesus sacrificed himself to save mankind from sin and death. An essential requirement of this theology is that human beings have free will. Adam and Eve chose to disobey God--an animal eating the forbidden fruit is not making a moral choice---and Christians must choose to follow Christ.

Western culture no longer much believes in the notion of free will. Life outcomes are predetermined by genes that make us smarter, prettier, and taller; we fail because of genetic predispositions toward impulsiveness, substance abuse, and obesity, to name a few.

The environment in which we are raised fills in the rest of the story. If we are born into a rich white family success, the thinking goes, is preordained. Our life choices range from pretty good to spectacular; we are the beneficiaries of "white privilege".

If we come from a single-parent black family in Chicago, it would be an accomplishment just to live to adulthood, and a magnificent achievement to do so without an arrest record.

A survey from 10 years ago showed that societies, including the United States, that believed in free will held people to be morally responsible for their actions.
How much we believe in free will also influences our judgments about how others behave: The more that people believe humans can choose what they do, the more they advocate harsh punishment for criminals...For countries with high degrees of governmental transparency and minimal corruption, such as Japan, Scandinavia, and the U.S., a greater belief in free will predicted harsher condemnation of milder unethical behaviors.
Such a survey, if held today, would likely yield a different result.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Well, It Oughtta Be True

During a natural disaster it's not just Donald Trump that the media tries to make look bad, it's Republican presidents in general. The Washington Post, on disaster reporting standards during the Bush years:
New Orleans Mayor Nagin and Police Superintendent
Compass after Hurricane Katrina (CBS photo)
One of the great media-fed myths of Katrina was that criminality, violence and looting swept New Orleans after the breach of the city’s levees. There were apocalyptic stories about snipers shooting at rescue helicopters, roving gangs indiscriminately killing and raping throughout the flooded city, and the Superdome overflowing with dead bodies.

Almost none of it was true.

Much of the defective reporting stemmed from exaggerated or wholly inaccurate comments from official sources, including the mayor and police chief, said W. Joseph Campbell, the author of “Getting It Wrong: Debunking the Greatest Myths in American Journalism.”
Sensationalist reporting boosts sales and generates clicks. As a bonus, if it hurts politicians that the media detests, why should facts and journalistic standards get in the way of the story?

Friday, September 01, 2017

The Rioter's Veto

Mayor Arreguin (SFGate)
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin believes in free speech, except for right-wingers:
“I’m very concerned about Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter and some of these other right-wing speakers coming to the Berkeley campus, because it’s just a target for black bloc to come out and commit mayhem on the Berkeley campus and have that potentially spill out on the street,” Arreguin said, referring to militants who have also been called anti-fascists or antifa.
Mayor Arreguin is saying that the "rioter's veto" is a legitimate reason to forbid speech.

Opponents of Black Lives Matter, I'm sure, are paying attention.