Friday, August 31, 2018

Update to That Cultural Manifestation

Email hierarchy from
For security reasons it's a good idea to change your e-mail address. Spammers and phishers will take months or longer to react, and your regular contacts should adapt in less than a minute. There's also another reason: both your old name ("PartyAnimal678") and your old provider (I'm looking at you, America Online) could be detrimental to your career:
Not everyone sheds their adolescent email addresses when they enter adulthood, instead maintaining allegiance to digital monikers based on the music, videogames and contraband they once held dear.
Five rules for setting up a new address:
Keep It Simple
Use a simple combination of your name—first and last, or initials if necessary.
Don’t Try to Be Funny

It’s Not a Numbers Game
add a few digits. But don’t go crazy... your email could look like a randomly generated spam account and be quickly dismissed.
Stay Off Drugs
the most common issue is inappropriate drug references—plenty of 420s [marijuana reference].
Move On From AOL
It might be ironic to send missives from, but it doesn’t suggest an exceedingly tech-savvy candidate. Actually, “It weirds me out,” said [recruiter Mackenzie] Moore. “Why are you still using AOL? Gmail is definitely the winner.”
Other sites besides Google, Yahoo, and AOL offer
email, but I don't use them
For the record your humble blogger has AOL, Yahoo, and Google (Gmail) accounts, as well as accounts on three business servers.

I still use my AOL account for personal correspondence. Just last week I received a legit message from a former colleague whom I had not heard from for 20 years; I was the only person in our old business circle who retained the email address from that period. (Yes, I have to tolerate nearly a hundred corporate marketing messages a day, but they're easy enough to delete.)

I use Yahoo for business-related personal matters (for example, corresponding with my stockbroker) and Gmail for when I want to appear respectable (for example, charitable activities). If I were applying for a job, I would use Gmail.

We all have different masks we wear for different occasions, and email is simply an update to that cultural manifestation.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Warning Sign

For years coyotes have been a real problem in the coastside city of Pacifica.

The warning sign (right) posted on Mori Point is fake, however.
Says the sign, some behaviors “are cause for alarm.”

The list includes behaviors of the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote, including such worrisome activities as “Coyote dropping an anvil from a hot air balloon” and “Coyote in possession of a catapult.”
Another warning sign: if you see a bird with a "long tail and expressive crest" running toward you at high speed, get out of the way.

A coyote is likely to be chasing him; worse, explosions could soon follow.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Amazon's Whole Foods App: Check Your Receipts

The app page on the WF site.
The member of our household who shops at Whole Foods eagerly downloaded the new Whole Foods app onto her iPhone. She would be eligible for special deals and 10% off yellow-tagged items.

Sure enough, the Whole Foods meat counter, whose prices are typically 20%-50% higher than Safeway, Lucky, or Costco, had a promotion on beef kabobs. The $10.99/pound would be reduced to $7.99/pound when she used the app at the register.

Below are the costs before the discount:

But here's what happened at the register:

The total cost of the two items ($17.47 and $18.13) was left the same, the price per pound was reduced to $7.99, and additional weight of about half a pound each was added to make the multiplication work out.

Fortunately, our household shopper checked the ticket and spoke to the manager (your humble blogger often does not audit because he trusts computers and is lazy). The manager apologized and reversed the erroneous charges completely; so we got the kabobs for free (aside--note the peculiarity of American English: "the kabobs for free" sounds a little better though "the kabobs free" means the same thing and is a more efficient wording). The corrected price would have been $25.89.

We were happy with the result, but think of all the (thousands?) of Whole Foods app users who don't catch these mistakes.

It pays to check your receipts.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The City Without Irony

Ziggy's Burgers has switched to washable plates and utensils,
which of course use hot water. I'm sure someone has done the
math: heating water vs recycling compostable plates. Hey, but
isn't there a water shortage? (SF Chronicle)
The one-Party City has lost its sense of irony:

S.F. invites world to join in zero-waste initiative
City officials want people to generate no garbage at all, or at least as little as physically possible, and they’re asking the rest of the world to join their cause. The ambitious zero-waste initiative, which would cut greenhouse gas emissions from landfills, will be promoted on the international stage next month when San Francisco hosts the Global Climate Action Summit.
Nearly 20 years after its introduction, the San Francisco recycling program still can't induce many of its own residents to sort trash into the blue, green, and black bins. Thankfully, despite increased calls from activists and government officials to impose fines, San Francisco hasn't yet taken that step.

On a related note, do a Google search on "sidewalk poop" and the first page is all about San Francisco (hey, we're number 1 in number 2!).

Before it preaches to the world about "zero waste", the progressive City by the Bay would do well to clean up its own house and streets.

Monday, August 27, 2018


"Free" privacy & security comes at a price.
One technology contretemps largely escaped notice, but it's useful for highlighting the differing philosophies of two of the largest companies in the world.

The issue concerns Virtual Private Networks, which are a method of protecting internet privacy:
A virtual private network (VPN) is a technology that creates a safe and encrypted connection over a less secure network, such as the internet. VPN technology was developed as a way to allow remote users and branch offices to securely access corporate applications and other resources. To ensure safety, data travels through secure tunnels and VPN users must use authentication methods -- including passwords, tokens and other unique identification methods -- to gain access to the VPN.
Last year Facebook offered a free VPN app, Onavo Protect, to its users:
Onavo allows users to create a virtual private network that redirects internet traffic to a private server managed by Facebook. The app, which bills itself as a way to “keep you and your data safe,” also alerts users when they visit potentially malicious sites.
However, as with most "free" internet services there was a price: [bold added]
Facebook is able to collect and analyze Onavo users’ activity to get a picture of how people use their phones beyond Facebook’s apps.
Onavo Protect did not comply with Apple's new privacy guidelines, and Apple and Facebook mutually agreed to remove Onavo from the App Store. There has been some posturing back-and-forth but the bottom line is:
Apple’s decision widens the schism between the two tech giants over privacy and is a blow to Facebook, which has used data gathered through the app to track rivals and scope out new product categories.
Except for brief experimentation with Google's Android in 2010, I've always used Apple's iOS, iPhone, and iPad products, and I'm glad I did.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

This is the Day That the Lord Has Made

...Let us rejoice and catch Pokémon in it. [Psalm 118:24 updated]

At Dove Beeger Park, across the street from Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, a group of Pokémon Go aficionados gathered.

The prospect of trapping virtual creatures was the draw, but the benefit was getting some sunshine and meeting real people.

Some day the kids will put away their Poké Balls and kick around real balls in the park.

Baby steps, baby steps...

Saturday, August 25, 2018

What He Endured

1973: President Nixon greets a POW (WSJ)
As a politician his "maverick" positions could exasperate his allies. As a man there was none better.

Tributes from across the world poured in for John McCain, who died today.

Two comments:
1) Our household seldom agrees on politics, so we don't waste our money on offsetting political donations. We did agree, however, on John McCain, whose 2008 Presidential campaign received the only political contribution we have ever made.

2) I am rarely offended by anything the current President--or his opponents--say. However, when candidate Trump said that John McCain was a war hero because "he was captured," that crossed the line. People admired John McCain not for the fact of his imprisonment but for how he conducted himself in captivity.

David Foster Wallace followed John McCain for Rolling Stone during the 2000 Presidential campaign. It's a lengthy excerpt that reminds us of what he endured:

Friday, August 24, 2018

Superior Syrup Retention

Waffles at Awful Annie's.
Though my blood tests have cautioned that I was prediabetic, I generally ignore limitations on sugar intake when out of town. That's especially true for breakfast, when pancakes and French toast tempt this hungry traveler.

Lately, I've been ordering waffles, which I heretofore had not fully appreciated. Unlike with pancakes, maple syrup doesn't run off to the side because it's trapped in the little squares, which as an added benefit allow one to slather on more butter.

Food Network host Alton Brown on differences between pancakes and waffles:
— Pancakes may be brown on the outside, but they’re floppy, soft and spongy, with an interior that looks a lot like cake.

— Waffles, on the other hand, are crisp on the outside and light on the inside, like beignets, funnel cakes, hush puppies or doughnuts. In short, waffles are fried, only instead of being immersed in hot oil, they are encased in hot-oil-covered metal.

A few points about waffle batter:

— Waffle batter contains a higher percentage of sugar (for caramelization) than pancake.

— Waffle batter includes a bit more fat (for a crisp exterior) than pancake.
Waffles have more sugar and fat, but they had me with the superior syrup retention.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Plenty Luxurious

After eleven months (see yesterday's post) the experiment had run its course. The scheduling conflicts with only one car became too demanding, especially with more frequent solo overnight trips to the Central Valley and Southland.

We bought a compact SUV, a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. With 400,000 sold last year in the U.S. and with the base model priced under $25,000, the RAV4 isn't a luxury car. But it was plenty luxurious enough for me.

Most of these optional features didn't exist anywhere
when we bought our Toyota Camry wagon in 1990.
We selected most of the available options (we've reached an age where deferred gratification is not of paramount importance). Not knowing what most of the options actually were, we just didn't want to take the chance that we'd need them later.

Hybrid drivers I've spoken to like the lower carbon emissions and energy costs that accompany fuel efficiency. I like the increased range, i.e., not having to stop for gas on a trip to LA or a round trip to Sacramento.

It may be a subconscious attempt to avoid post-purchase cognitive dissonance, but after only a few days I'm happy we got this car.

The old car's dashboard was lit up while driving--one reason to get rid of it.

The new car's dashboard is lit up on purpose

[Update - 8/25]: Farewell to the Family Sedan
Sedans, long a symbol of the American open road, are fading in the rearview mirror. In an industry-altering shift, millions of drivers have made what seems to be a complete embrace of sport-utility vehicles...

Owners are less concerned with the shape of the sheet metal or what’s under the hood than they are with how many people their vehicles can transport, or how much sports gear or home-remodeling supplies they can put into the rear hatch. “It’s all about activity today, rather than elegance or performance.”

...parents are putting new drivers in SUVs for safety reasons. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has said that “bigger, heavier vehicles are safer” because they “protect better in a crash.” In recent years, the nonprofit group has advised parents against putting their teens in small cars, long the predominant first set of wheels for young drivers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

All Systems Fail

Still looks OK, but appearances are deceiving.
Last September, like they do with people, multiple systems failed on the 1990 Toyota Camry Wagon. The rack-and-pinion steering made a clunking sound, the battery drained whether or not the car was running (I had to disconnect the battery every night and plug in the recharger), and horsepower was off noticeably.

The car's value was only a few hundred dollars, and it would cost $thousands to fix. It was time to take it to the scrapyard.

The Peninsula's buyback location.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has a Vehicle BuyBack Program to get polluting cars off the road. The requirements were that the car be operating, be at least 22 years old, and pass a visual inspection (for example, minimum of one headlight, one taillight and one brake light). Provided I could drive it to the Buyback scrapyard, the BAAQMD would pay me $1,000.

I did, and they did.

Now that I'm retired, this was a good time to find out whether and how long our two-car family can downsize to one vehicle. (We went nearly a year but finally had to obtain a second car this month.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Long May It Fry

My air fryer's top temperature is 400 F.
The air fryer is a cheap (less than $100) kitchen gadget that punches above its weight. Earlier this month we noted why we liked it:
Lately I've been using an inexpensive air fryer (really, it's a pot-shaped convection oven) for small roasts. It uses less energy than our large convection oven, and the grease is collected in a non-stick black pot.
Cookbook author Ben Mims agrees: [bold added]
I relished the thought of enjoying the functionality of a convection oven at a fraction of the size and price of a conventional oven. No more turning on my hellishly hot range in high summer or forming a queue of dishes waiting to cook at Thanksgiving.

...As I pushed the machine to its limits, I found it to be excellent at roasting meat. Cut down to the appropriate, air-fryer-friendly size, a beef top sirloin roast reached a perfect medium-rare doneness inside at the same time it was rendered brown on the outside. This was largely thanks to the precise temperature control of the smaller air fryer as compared with a conventional oven.

...The biggest surprise, however, was the discovery that an air fryer is the ideal machine for cooking vegetables. For those who like to pre-prep lunches and dinners for the week, this machine makes quick work of cooking virtually any vegetable cut into bite-size pieces and tossed with a couple teaspoons of oil and some salt and pepper.....A fryer in name only, the device can roast, toast, bake or braise.
The writer sounds like a late-night commercial (It tells time! You'll lose weight! In minutes you can prepare delicious, healthy food!)

Currently the air fryer occupies valuable space next to the cooktop. I do share some of Mr. Mims' enthusiasm: my guess is that it will have more staying power than the food processor, the bread maker, and the popcorn popper. Long may it "fry".

Monday, August 20, 2018

The New End of HIstory

Not what he meant though she
runs the world, too 
Venture capitalist Steven Cohen says Models Will Run the World.

(Digression: in the Instagram age you may be forgiven, dear reader, if you thought Mr. Cohen was referring to fashion models like Kylie Jenner, who at 21 years old is close to becoming a self-made billionaire.)

Mr. Cohen (net worth: $12 billion) is talking about self-teaching and self-improving computer models: [bold added]
There is no shortage of hype about artificial intelligence and big data, but models are the source of the real power behind these tools. A model is a decision framework in which the logic is derived by algorithm from data, rather than explicitly programmed by a developer or implicitly conveyed via a person’s intuition. The output is a prediction on which a decision can be made. Once created, a model can learn from its successes and failures with speed and sophistication that humans usually cannot match.

...the goal is a flywheel, or virtuous circle. Tencent, Amazon and Netflix all demonstrate this characteristic: Models improve products, products get used more, this new data improves the product even more. This creates a near-frictionless process of continuous improvement, fueling itself, rather than being driven by human judgments and advancements.
In the Age of Ultron (2015) this
AI being nearly destroyed the world
His prediction:
Software continues to eat the world, but yesterday’s advantage is today’s table stakes. In the hunt for competitive advantage, model-driven companies will accelerate away from the pack now that software has become ubiquitous.
Self-driving cars, space-exploring machines, $trillions of trades under no human control, sex robots, and instantaneous identification of criminals represent a mere fraction of the self-learning algorithms that will transform society in ways we can't imagine.

Will the all-powerful models be philosopher-kings or something much worse? Mr. Cohen does not say; we hope for the former but fear the latter is far more likely.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sins of the Fathers

These events all happened 15 to 70 years ago, but time's distancing lessens the horror only slightly.
Top Roman Catholic leaders in Pennsylvania covered up decades of child sex abuse involving more than 1,000 victims and hundreds of priests, according to a long-awaited grand jury report released Tuesday....

The allegations stretch back to the 1940s, detailing child rapes and groping that mirrored the reports that have roiled the church worldwide. But the document includes several uniquely disturbing accounts of its own — including one of a 1970s pedophile and child pornography ring in Pittsburgh among priests who whipped their victims and took photos of one boy as he posed naked as if on the cross.
The evil acts weren't perpetrated by just one or two outlier priests; they were a gang protected by the Church. According to the Grand Jury report: [bold added]
But the biggest crime of all is this: it worked. The abuser priests, by choosing children as targets and trafficking on their trust, were able to prevent or delay reports of their sexual assaults, to the point where applicable statutes of limitations expired. And Archdiocese officials, by burying those reports they did receive and covering up the conduct, similarly managed to outlast any statutes of limitation. As a result, these priest and officials will necessarily escape criminal prosecution. We surely would have charged them if we could have done so.

But the consequences are even worse than the avoidance of criminal penalties. Sexually abusive priests were either left quietly in place or “recycled” to unsuspecting new parishes – vastly expanding the number of children who were abused. It didn’t have to be this way. Prompt action and a climate of compassion for the child victims could have significantly limited the damage done.
In the Age of Twitter, when speech offenses evoke comparisons to the slaughterers of millions, we have lost the ability to make distinctions. Dante, in his description of Hell, assigned the treacherous---those who betrayed the trust given to them---to the worst (Ninth) circle of hell. Sounds good to me.

Additional comments:
1) Atheists who don't believe in Final Judgment can rationalize committing evil, but what about these priests? I suspect that after the first act they thought they were going to Hell anyway. In for a penny, in for a pound.

2) I am hopeful that this won't happen again, at least on such a scale. The optimism is less due to Church reform than to the inability to keep information, especially shameful information, secret for long.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Now He's Just Making Up (Stuff)

Nathan Robinson of The Guardian has determined why there are human feces all over San Francisco sidewalks: [bold added]
People aren’t pooping on the streets because they have suddenly forgotten what a bathroom is, or unlearned basic hygiene. The incidents are part of a broader failure of the city to provide for the basic needs of its citizens, and show the catastrophic, socially destructive effects of unchecked inequality.
Inequality, that must be it. That's why there's poop wherever there's "unchecked inequality"---areas like Manhattan, Martha's Vineyard, the Hamptons, and Beverly Hills. (Dear reader, if you didn't recognize it, the previous sentence was an example of sarcasm.)

George Christopher, the last Republican Mayor of San Francisco, served from 1956 to 1964. Think about how much worse inequality would be if the Democrats were not in charge for half a century.

Below is a Chicago tourist's home movie of San Francisco in 1958.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Où allez-vous?

Two French tourists look over a map of San Francisco while
at the San Francisco Visitor Information Center near
Union Square (Chronicle photo)
Our glove compartment used to be stuffed with maps. Part of travel planning was deciding which additional maps to take and whether we had to run to the Auto Association to pick up one that was not in our library. On solo journeys I pulled over when lost, because wrestling with a large sheet of paper while driving was even more hazardous than peering at a 6-inch screen.

The joy of maps, like newspapers, is inexplicable to the young. Clumsy to handle and non-interactive (you had to look for Broadway, not enter it in your search bar and have Broadway come to you), maps aren't around much anymore. They still can be found at visitor centers, but it's only a matter of time...

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Unique Talent

One advantage of being oblivious to pop culture in one's youth is the joy of discovery later in life. During the 1970's I only knew about Aretha Franklin through the radio.

The Blues Brothers (1980) movie was a revelation; it showcased the artistry of Aretha, James Brown, Cab Calloway, and Ray Charles at the top of their game. The Blues Brothers had action, comedy, romance, great music, and choreography. I saw it again and again during that decade and could recite every line. Aretha Franklin's "Think" was one of the highlights of the movie.

When Aretha Franklin died of pancreatic cancer today at the age of 76, the greatest names in music gave tribute. Hers was a life of triumph and tragedy, but above all unique talent. Thanks to the internet it's preserved for posterity. R.I.P.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Your Piece of the Rock is Not What it is Cracked Up to Be

Full reconveyance of title from the bank in 2017
Though my ancestors have never been wealthy, every generation has had its home paid off by the age of 65. We happily had our own mortgage-burning party in 2016.

While there is a great deal of psychic satisfaction from doing so, prepaying one's mortgage--assuming one has the funds, of course--is often not the best financial move.

Reasons for paying off your mortgage:
[it] can bring peace of mind.

if you’re...earning an interest rate of 2%, it makes more sense to use that money to pay off your mortgage if the interest rate is higher.
Reasons against:
"Most Americans generate their income in retirement from social security, a 401(k) or IRA.... “Should we be taking large withdrawals from them to pay down a mortgage? The answer is no.”
Explanation: because withdrawals from a 401(k) or IRA are taxable (unless they're from "Roth" plans), the tax cost swings the decision towards not prepaying.

Your humble blogger's former mortgage carried an interest rate of 5.25%, high enough to pay off according to the agreed schedule but still below a normal rate of return on equities--in other words, I preferred (slightly) to invest the money in the stock market rather than prepay the mortgage.

A mortgage can be thought of as a regular payment that one is obliged to make, else the home could be lost (to the lender in this case). That is why mortgage-burning parties are not as joyful as they once were--there are still substantial payments one must make to other parties, like the county tax collector and the homeowners' association, who also have the right to seize the home for non-payment.

We are personally aware of California homes that cost $300,000 and have annual property taxes of $7,000 due to development bonds, coupled with annual homeowners' association fees of $3,000. $10,000 seems to us to be an onerous burden on a $300,000 paid-up home, but such is life in the Golden State.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

In the Progressive Paradise: Poop Patrol

On general principles I'm against expanding government, but this is one function I can get behind:

It’s no laughing matter — SF forming Poop Patrol to keep sidewalks clean
Don't "go" on the road or sidewalk
in Jack Kerouac alley (Chron photo)
In about a month, a team of five Public Works staffers will begin patrolling the alleys around Polk Street and other hot spots in a vehicle equipped with a steam cleaner. They’ll begin their shifts in the afternoon, as the city starts losing its sheen from overnight cleaning. The Poop Patrol’s mission? To spot and clean piles of feces before anybody complains about them.
San Francisco's new mayor, London Breed, has prioritized poop policing. I like her already; wizardly inventors can't gaze at the stars if they have to keep looking down.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Don't Be Typecast

Michal Kosinski
Stanford Business School professor Michal Kosinski demonstrates how it was possible that the techniques used by Cambridge Analytica influenced Facebook users in the 2016 election.

In an older study the researchers figured out a user's personality traits (for example, introversion or extroversion) based on his Facebook likes:
Kosinski and his Cambridge colleague, David Stillwell, were able to correlate “likes” with other basic personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Armed with only 10 “likes,” they could evaluate a person’s traits more accurately than that person’s coworkers. With 70 “likes,” they could do better than a person’s close friends.
Armed with personality information, [bold added]
Kosinski and his colleagues — including Stillwell, Sandra Matz of Columbia Business School, and Gideon Nave of Wharton School of Business — confirm[ed]the next logical step: Ads are indeed more persuasive when they are tailored to those psychological traits....

In promoting a line of cosmetics, for example, they ran dueling ads aimed at introverts and extroverts. All told, the ads reached 3 million people.

The ad for extroverts featured a woman dancing and the slogan “Dance like no one’s watching (but they totally are).” By contrast, the ad for introverts featured a woman contemplating herself in a mirror and a quiet slogan: “Beauty doesn’t have to shout.”

Sure enough, people were 50% more likely to buy the cosmetics if they saw the ad aimed at their particular type.
While these studies show how the melding of big data, artificial intelligence, and social networking can influence mass behavior, now that the public has become aware of it, IMHO, they'll be less susceptible to manipulation.

For example, when I watch the Hallmark Channel the ads for Medicare supplemental insurance and long-term care insurance come as no surprise because Hallmark and its viewers know the demographic of its audience. When it comes to Facebook and other sites, we did not know the extent to which they were targeting messages to us based upon our web behavior.

This is all the more reason to get out of our silos and look at news and opinions that we don't agree with.

Whatever your opinions or tribe, don't be typecast, and don't be manipulated.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Of Specks and Logs

Part of the lesson I read aloud today:
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. --- Ephesians 4.
In these politicized times, we like to point out how angry and maniacal the other guy is. But Paul's words are meant as a reminder to ourselves, not as a scold for others.

(Related - Rule 6 of Jordan Peterson's Rules for Life: Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world.)

Organizer Shelley with some of the backpacks blessed today.
On a happier note, this was the first year our church participated in a backpack drive for foster kids at the beginning of the school year.

The goal was to collect 25, but we actually received 40 backpacks, plus supplies and cash donations, not bad for a congregation with 70-80 attendees every Sunday.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Fat That You Don't Eat Can Be Harmful, Too

Air-frying pork belly produces a half-cup of fat.
Lately I've been using an inexpensive air fryer (really, it's a pot-shaped convection oven) for small roasts. It uses less energy than our large convection oven, and the grease is collected in a non-stick black pot. I no longer pour the grease down the drain.

The grease goes into a pyrex dish, hardens in the refrigerator, and the solids are dumped into the green compost bin. Having to call the plumber three times to clear the kitchen line at over $300 a pop (2014, 2016, and 2018) forces one to change.

If you won't stop pouring grease down the drain for yourself or your landlord, dear reader, stop doing it for the community. [bold added]
Part of the "fatberg" from the London sewer. (WSJ photo)
cities haven’t been able to stop people from pouring grease down the drain, resulting in catastrophic buildups of sludge in sewer systems.

When poured down the drain, the fat coats the sides of the water line, gradually building up and narrowing pipes. Grease that doesn’t stick to residential pipes eventually makes its way to the city sewer system, where it can accumulate to form massive blockages. Clogs have gotten so big that workers have to use shovels to get the fat out.

London officials had to excavate a 130-ton “fatberg” from the Whitechapel sewer last year. The monstrous glob was the size of 11 double-decker buses and consisted mostly of grease runoff and trash.

In Baltimore, officials last year had to scrape out a 24-inch pipe in midtown where grease had congealed, clogging 85% of the pipe. After noticing that there had been some overflows around the city center, the public-works department sent a camera down and discovered a 20-foot long buildup of fat, according to Jeffrey Raymond, chief of communications at the Baltimore Department of Public Works. “It was really pretty shocking,” he said.
After reading this article, I poured an extra-large dose of enzyme cleaner down the kitchen drain and let it sit overnight. Despite the resolve to change, however, the plumbers are still on speed-dial.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Hungarian Mish-Mash

Vladimir and Viktor, 2015 (WSJ photo)
Donald Trump's foreign policy--whether it be tariffs, North Korea, Iran, climate change, you name it---comes under daily criticism from the media, the foreign policy establishment, academics, and Democrats. Meanwhile, not a peep about the performance of Nobel Prize winner Barack Obama.

Case in point: Hungary. [bold added]
When Russian troops poured into Georgia in 2008, [Hungarian now-Prime Minister Viktor Orban] denounced “the raw imperial power politics” of Mr. Putin, expecting a hard line from the incoming U.S. president. Instead, Barack Obama attempted a reset to mend relations with Russia. Meanwhile, the global financial crisis and Europe’s dithering response to it left Mr. Orban skeptical about the West’s attachment to political pluralism and globalization, say former officials.
Kind of reminds me of Chamberlain's "reset" with Hitler in Munich.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Before You Run, You Gotta Crawl

(Sequel to Tuesday's post)

Socialism, according to Webster's: [bold added]
1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
2 b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
OK, I get it, young Socialists, you want a world with no profit, because profit makes it possible to have obscenely rich billionaires and stark inequality.

Last November I experienced the joys of the DMV.
So let's get rid of profit by having government own the means of production for all goods and services. But before we put the government in charge of the millions of products in our consumer society, why don't we take a close look at how well the government runs just one function? Let's look at the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

SF Chronicle, August 7:
Their constituents have bombarded them with stories of daylong waits to renew driver’s licenses or obtain new Real ID licenses, which will be needed to board domestic airline flights starting in 2020 unless people show a passport. Even people who have made appointments have reported waiting for hours, and the appointments themselves are booked up to three months out
San Diego Channel 10 News:
In July, lawmakers added an extra $16 million to the DMV budget. The extra funding would allow them to hire 500 more employees, offer Saturday services and upgrades to some self-service kiosks....

DMV officials say you can expect to see reduced wait times by the middle of September, but they don't expect what they call "reasonable" wait times until December. They said that means 15 minutes for an appointment and 45 minutes for walk-ins.
SF Chronicle, August 8:
A Republican-backed proposal to audit the state Department of Motor Vehicles to investigate the reasons for its customer-service meltdown died Wednesday when three Democratic senators did not vote.
The DMV service is abominable, it asks for $millions more to solve the wait problem, and pleas for a DMV audit get killed in committee. Under socialism there's no Amazon DMV or Nordstrom DMV to switch to. You can file a complaint, but we've noticed that you've been complaining a lot lately....

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Wave-ry Waves

(Image from
After Tuesday's election the political landscape that has defied analysis since 2016 has affected the sober solons of the Wall Street Journal. The editorial writers can't decide if there's a blue or red or no wave coming in November. [bold added]

The Blue Wave May be Receding
The bottom line: While Republicans will certainly lose House seats in November, they have a fighting chance to keep their majority...Elsewhere in the Midwest there also was some good news for Republicans. In five of the six competitive districts in Michigan and Kansas, GOP primary turnout was larger than the Democratic total.
The ‘Red Wave’ Illusion
Republicans on present trend are poised in November to lose their majority in the House of Representatives and a slew of governorships. That’s the clear message from Tuesday’s election contests and a growing body of evidence.
Three things are certain:
1) bloviating and pontificating will reach their zenith in early November--if you have a hearing aid, turn it off;
2) whatever happens in the latest most important election ever will have little impact on our daily lives;
3) no one knows anything.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Stop Blathering and Build

2009 cover (from
After the Berlin Wall fell in 1992, socialism was relegated to the ash heap of history. Capitalism and liberal democracy's superiority seemed so marked that Francis Fukuyama declared that political science had reached the End of History.

Yet, less than two decades later, Newsweek's cover heralded the re-ascendance of socialism. In 2018 socialism has become more popular than ever. Its attractiveness to the young and educated seems inexplicable, since socialism is not only an abject failure as an economic system (see Venezuela today) but socialist societies have killed tens of millions of their own people.

One Newsweek anti(!)-socialist opinion writer is frustrated by the faith of today's socialists that the next time will be different:
as much as the authors insist that previous examples of socialism were not “really” socialist, none of them can tell us what exactly they would do differently. Rather than providing at least a rough outline of how “their” version of socialism would work in practice, the authors escape into abstraction, and talk about lofty aspirations rather than tangible institutional characteristics.

“Charting new destinations for humanity” and “democratizing the economy” are nice buzzphrases, but what does this mean, in practice? How would “the people” manage “their” economy jointly? Would we all gather in Hyde Park, and debate how many toothbrushes and how many screwdrivers we should produce? How would we decide who gets what? How would we decide who does what? What if it turns out that we don’t actually agree on very much?

These are not some trivial technical details that we can just leave until after the revolution. These are the most basic, fundamental questions that a proponent of any economic system has to be able to answer. Almost three decades have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall—enough time, one should think, for “modern” socialists to come up with some ideas for a different kind of socialism. Yet here we are. After all those years, they have still not moved beyond the buzzword stage.
Your humble blogger is not so doctrinaire that he believes socialism will always be doomed to failure. So convince us, young socialists, without betting the farm. Prove that it works on a small scale. Show that "Medicare for all" and "free college education" works in a municipality before you go state-wide or even national.

Stop blathering and build. (Note: in the 1960's and 1970's sincere believers that capitalism wasn't the answer joined communes to put their principles into practice. All failed, maybe because they didn't have the right tech tools. Maybe you can do better.)

Monday, August 06, 2018

The Science is Settled: Settle In

(Image from Slideshare)
Sleep is important to health, job performance, brain function, and social relationships.

Lack of sleep can hurt relationships in three ways: [bold added]
Your emotions are thrown out of whack...When we’re deprived of sleep, we’re more likely to overreact to situations that normally wouldn’t rattle us...."Small problems seem bigger. Our reactions are amplified. Some studies show that people are more likely to feel sad, depressed, or anxious if they don’t sleep well or if they are sleep-deprived.”

A lack of sleep can make you sick and tired...After all, if you’re home sick, your interest in spending time with anyone or anything besides your bed can plummet.

Different sleep schedules can cause relationship problems. If you’re in a relationship and work odd-hour shifts, making plans to see the people who matter to you can be a challenge.
So guys, the next time your significant other chastises you for snoozing on the couch, tell her you're doing it for the sake of improving your relationship. You can't argue with science.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

An Effective, Trustworthy Conduit

The summer, 2018 Cal Fire map is redder than it's ever been (click on individual fires for current status) :

The worst out-of-control fires are in the territory covered by the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California (map of its churches below).

Why are we mentioning the EDNC? Because it's an effective, trustworthy conduit for fire-relief donations.
Through the generous donations to our Disaster Relief fund, $5,000 in gift cards for gas and groceries have been purchased and are on their way to Lake County to those in need.

If you would like to donate to our Disaster Relief fund, please make checks out to "The Episcopal Diocese of Northern California" and write "Disaster Relief" in the memo. 100% of these funds go directly to disaster relief.

Checks can be mailed directly to the Office of the Bishop at: The Episcopal Diocese of Northern California 350 University Avenue, Suite 280 Sacramento, CA 95825

Saturday, August 04, 2018

You Have to Keep Paying Attention

Money market funds could have earned us
000's more in interest this year.
At one time stockbrokers competed hard for our business by sweeping idle cash balances into a money-market fund, thereby allowing us to earn a competitive rate on short-term monies. The extreme low-rate environment (less than 0.5%) during the past ten years, however, has caused us to be inattentive to brokers' machinations.

One of our own brokers, Charles Schwab, and now Morgan Stanley, have shifted the cash sweep to much lower-yielding bank funds, some of which are affiliated with the brokers themselves: [bold added]
At Morgan Stanley, $6.3 billion of that cash is in a money-market mutual fund yielding 1.8%. On Aug. 13, the firm will shut that fund and sweep its clients’ idle cash into bank accounts that, after a transition period, could yield much less.

As Charles Schwab also did earlier this year, most major brokerages have shoved clients out of money-market funds and into lower yielding bank sweeps, thereby capturing much of the return on customers’ cash for themselves.

In a bank sweep, your brokerage automatically rakes together and deposits your spare cash in one or more banks. Banks hand the brokerage a hefty fee, and the brokerage hands you some crumbs. For any given investor, a few dollars from dividends or interest income don’t amount to much. Rolled together with idle cash from thousands of other investors, they can add up to millions.
Our current financial institutions provide us decent service for other products, so we won't switch. However, I'll have to resume doing something that I thought I wouldn't have to do any more--actively manage our cash balances.

Friday, August 03, 2018

When Not to Keep Score

Splitting the check (Hypepotemus image)
Time cites a study that shows that pettiness--"being intentionally attentive to trivial details"--makes a person less likable. (You don't need a study to tell you that!)

The useful finding is that if petty behavior objectively benefits another person, that person doesn't appreciate the benefit.
In one [experiment] a person paid back acquaintances in round amounts ($10, $35 and $20), while another person paid $9.99, $34.95 and $20.06. When asked which person they’d rather be friends with, the vast majority of study participants picked the person who paid round amounts. This suggests that being petty — in this case, by accounting for every last cent — is considered a negative quality, the authors say.
I don't think pettiness is the right word for the behavior that people find objectionable. Obsessive exactitude is a positive attribute if one is a brain surgeon, auditor, construction engineer, or rocket scientist.

But in the realm of friendship we don't like people who keep score; what is the precise repayment for someone helping you move, watching your dog, visiting you in the hospital, or throwing you a birthday party? There's an old joke--and truth--about an accountant being someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. However, if that accountant can turn off his calculator and close his ledger after hours, he can be a good friend, too.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

The First Trillion

(WSJ graphic)
When Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011, the sense of loss was coupled with foreboding about Apple's long-term future. Without Steve, Apple's world-changing days appeared to be over.

The pessimists were proven right in the short-run; it turned out there was no Apple TV or other disruptive product in the pipeline. The Apple Watch, introduced in 2014, was indeed a new and different product, but even today is a trivial item--not even worthy of separate mention like the iPad, iPhone, Mac, or iTunes---in the income statement.

And yet, despite the lack of excitement, Apple's market capitalization has nearly tripled since Steve Jobs' death to the once-unimaginable value of $1 Trillion.

Apple has achieved this milestone by sticking to its knitting, i.e., being the quality leader in its markets. Adhering to this principle means that Apple won't add product lines--where's the TV that's been hinted at since 2011?--just to avoid being typecast as an iPhone company. Finally, in 2018, with its services (iTunes, iCloud) having ramped to $40 billion per year in revenue, the slow transition away from the iPhone is being recognized by the stock market through a gradually rising price-earnings ratio.

Meanwhile, because of the company's demonstrated un-willingness to place profit over principle, Apple's customers are staunchly loyal. The first trillion is always the hardest.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Red Dirt

Haleiwa church next to empty field with patches of red dirt
In Hawaii most residents have adopted the Asian custom of taking off one's footwear when entering homes. However, back in the day, that custom didn't help much with keeping out the red dirt, especially if one had kids who played outside for hours.

Red dirt--iron oxide from eroded lava rock--is found all over Oahu. Dry, it gets in the pores. Damp, it cakes between the toes. Either way, it requires lots of scrubbing to remove from feet, furniture, and floors.
"...and the Red Dirt held illimitable dominion over all" (with apologies to Edgar Allan Poe)