Tuesday, April 30, 2019

B-12: The Choice is Clear

(WSJ graphic--click to enlarge)
Three years ago I added Vitamin B-12 to my daily supplements:
B-12 deficiency is a relatively common disorder that affects millions of people in the U.S. and if left untreated could lead to permanent neurological damage and even death. The essential nutrient affects every system in our bodies. It’s necessary for the formation of healthy red blood cells and nerve tissues, and it helps produce our DNA.
B-12 deficiency can be the source of many medical conditions (see right graphic) but is often not diagnosed. Severe deficiencies are treated with injections.

Your humble blogger isn't sure whether his diet provides enough of the vitamin but is not worried about taking too much. There is no evidence overdosing on B-12 is harmful.

Few things in life are obvious. With B-12 the choice is clear.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Resist Being Curmudgeonly

High schoolers, and some younger students, too, "share[d] their ideas for making the world greener, safer and happier."
(Chronicle photo)
The ideas included flying cars, giant holes to turn rising sea water into attractive fish ponds, streets paved with mah-jongg tiles, time limits for showers, a system of Tokyo-style capsule hotels and special dormitories made out of compressed dirt. Teachers would be housed in those...

San Francisco Bay would be a lot cleaner, said Vanessa Chavez, 18, if the city would install giant nets on storm drain outfall pipes. The nets would catch junk the way that mesh nets on home dryers catch lint.

Vanessa, a student at Kennedy High School in Richmond, said all the city would need to do is hire about 100 people to go around town during a storm to clean out all the nets.
Too often young scolds propose drastic restrictions on behavior (don't fly, don't eat meat, confiscate guns, etc.) to achieve their visions. The kids at the Youth Policy Summit, for the most part, are trying to invent new ways and products to nudge society in the right direction.

It would be easy for adult curmudgeons to throw cold water on such ideas, but this kind of creativity should be praised, not buried.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Signaling Virtue from Nob Hill

This WSJ writer says what I've been thinking about the Episcopal Church: [bold]
Anglicans worship in Nigeria (nairaland photo)
the vast majority of Christians suffering today aren’t white wealthy Westerners. Most are from the relatively poor global South: Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America. To their already unsupportable lot of grinding poverty, they must add the risk of being assaulted by governments, religious vigilantes, gangs and others....

I would respectfully suggest to the bishops of the Anglican persuasion—and quite a few of their Catholic brethren too—that however serious and acute you might think the threat of climate change or workplace discrimination, the larger and more immediate threat to Christians in many parts of the world is that they might not get through their next church service without someone dispatching them to eternity to shouts of “Allahu akbar.”
Two years ago the Bishop of California took umbrage at the fact that the Anglican Communion sided with the 57 million African Anglicans who oppose same-sex marriage versus the 2-million-member Episcopal Church, which supports it.

The fact that association with the Episcopal Church might endanger our brothers and sisters in Africa, which has more than 400 million Muslims, is of little importance to those who would rather signal their virtue from Nob Hill.

Your humble blogger, who has long supported the legalization of gay marriage, wishes that his church leaders would stifle their self-righteous proclamations, go about their business and give thanks that we live in these blessed United States.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

More Important Than Ever

If one had to list the factor most important to a company's productivity, what would it be? Popular guesses might be technology, workforce education, and visionary leadership (e.g., Steve Jobs, Elon Musk). The answer is surprising: [bold added]
Graphic from projectmanager.com
The results confirmed something Gallup had seen before: a company’s productivity depends, to a high degree, on the quality of its managers.

What no one saw coming, however, was the sheer size of that correlation—something Gallup calls “the single most profound, distinct and clarifying finding” in its 80-year history. The study showed that managers didn’t just influence the results their teams achieved, they explained a full 70% of the variance. In other words, if it’s a superior team you’re after, hiring the right manager is nearly three-fourths of the battle.

No other single factor, from compensation levels to the perception of senior leadership, even came close. “That blew me out of my chair,” says Jim Clifton, Gallup’s chief executive.
Anyone who's had a job has had a boss and has thought or said out loud "if I was in charge I'd do things differently." Upon promotion, one finds that supervision of others is a lot harder than it looks. Above all, it requires sublimation of the self--doing what's best for the organization (which means sometimes being the bad guy to the workers) and doing what's best for the employees (training them and being willing to let the best ones move on).

Good management includes near-religious attention to communication upwards and downwards and reviewing others' work before doing what the manager may enjoy (research, writing computer programs, attending conventions (!))

After decades of eliminating organizational layers, the managers that remain are more important than ever.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Platypus of the Crab World

(Image credit: Elissa Martin, Yale Peabody Museum)
Latin: Callichimaera perplexa

English: "perplexing beautiful chimera"

Yale paleontologist Javier Luque:
Callichimaera perplexa is so unique and strange that it can be considered the platypus of the crab world.
Earlier this month Professor Luque and other paleontologists announced the discovery of crab species that lived in the mid-Cretaceous period of 90-95 million years ago.

We are happy to take off our political lenses and rejoice in the advancement of pure knowledge. I wish everyone would do that more often.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

One Hand Snacking

Another example of markets responding to a need---snacks that you can eat with one hand: [bold added]
Cleanliness-obsessed consumers are fed up with soiled fingers gumming up smartphones, computer mice and other electronica. “I used to eat with my hands and lick my fingers when I was small,“ said Tomoki Yoshino, 19 years old. “But one day, my game controller got all greasy, and it was really gross.” ...

Tokyo snack-maker Koike-ya Inc.,... One Hand brand features a line of splintered potato chips and other snacks that can be consumed like a bottled drink. It’s marketed with a jumbo-size premise—“a new snack style humankind has been waiting for.”
But it's more than the packaging, it's the content, too.
Old-school grease avoider: chopsticks or "chip tongs" (WSJ)
The idea originated with the observation that customers like the mix of potato chip crumbs and flavored powder left at the bottom of the bag. Some eaters tip the chip bag into their mouths to dump the delectable detritus...

The research and development finally cooked up a hand-held package with an angled opening. The company doesn’t release sales figures, but the line has been successful enough to add a “super salt and nori seaweed” flavor. More may be in the works, the company said.
Of course, human ingenuity knows no bounds, and one can devise one's own method of greaseless snacking.

The gentleman pictured on the right can inhale his popcorn without soiling his hands.

The only drawback is that he'll have to wash his hoodie (right?).

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

We Don't Do That Any More

Sorry, dear, I have to see how the Umbrella Academy turns out.
A question we never thought to ask:

Is streaming video responsible for America’s falling fertility rate? Thus far the "evidence" is anecdotal and/or very limited, for example:
She had been trying to get pregnant again, and he was in a romantic mood.

She made a counterproposal. “Or we could watch ‘The Prophet,’ ” she said, referring to an animated movie based on a book by Lebanese-American author Kahlil Gibran.

“I’m a mom,” the 31-year-old digital-marketing strategist explains. “I literally just want to Netflix and chill. We stop there.”[snip]

Ashley Aranda, a 36-year-old who runs an online business making stationery and lives in Rockville Centre, N.Y., says that at least 25% of the time, she and her husband choose Netflix over sex—despite their wish to conceive a third child....

One in four people said they turned down intimacy in favor of binge watching in the prior six months, according to a March survey of more than 1,000 people conducted by SurveyMonkey for The Wall Street Journal. Among people 18 to 38, the rate is higher, with 36% of respondents saying they opted for streaming video.
The bomb was a dud (Catholic thing)
When your humble blogger was in high school, Paul Ehrlich's predictions of over-population were embraced by all the smartest people. We had to attend school-wide assemblies on the topic.

Paul Ehrlich shouldn't be blamed for not foreseeing the agricultural revolution, how higher living standards would lead to smaller families, or Netflix.

He should be castigated for taking some data points and creating an upward sloping line that continued indefinitely into the future. It's a good thing we don't do that any more.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Open Question

April 18: Current Mayor London Breed and former
Mayor Willie Brown at the ceremony remembering
the 1906 earthquake and fire. (MSN)
Democratic éminence grise Willie Brown: Impeachment would be suicide for Democrats.
Impeachment is a suicide mission that also puts the party on the defensive for supposedly doing an end run around the electoral process.
To be sure, ex-Assembly Speaker and former SF Mayor Brown, 85, is no fan of President Trump:
I say, plow on. Call for hearings. Go over every page, line by line, if for no other reason than to make everyone aware of every questionable act committed by President Trump and his entourage....

I’m betting Trump could still win re-election if the economy holds up, but I’m also betting Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats will hold the House and maybe, just maybe, the Democrats can flip the Senate.

Then, and only then, would Democrats be in position to take corrective action against Trump’s threat to our democracy.
Speaking of Nancy Pelosi, 79, she also urges House Democrats to go slow on impeachment:
Pelosi told Democrats on the conference call that it is important for the House to gather more facts before launching any impeachment effort. She also noted that at least a third of House Democrats are on committees that will be investigating the president.
Whether the young lions and lionesses of the Party will follow the advice of their elders is an open question.

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Profound Learning Experience

Science says: great white sharks retreat when killer whales approach.[bold added]
(NY Post image)
“What we saw was that when orcas came close to the island during shark season, all of the sharks would take off,” said Salvador Jorgensen, a Monterey Bay Aquarium researcher and lead author of the study. “As a predator that has been successful for millions of years, that may be the card white sharks know how to play that has kept them alive so long — knowing when to fold.”

The report, which used acoustic tracking data from 165 white sharks between 2006 and 2013 and observations on Southeast Farallon Island dating to 1987, found that the sharks would all vanish around the islands, even if the orcas were just passing through.
The sharks may have been conditioned to give the killer whales a wide berth from a 1997 attack, witnessed by whale watchers, in which "orcas ripped out and devoured the shark’s liver."

Great white sharks aren't mindless killing machines; they can have profound learning experiences, too.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter, 2019

Baptism for a 1 y.o.
The Easter Vigil begins the night before, at sunset. Churchgoers held candles lit by the Paschal Candle, but old eyes still had trouble making out the words in the hymnals and programs. After the baptism the minister proclaimed "Happy Easter!", the lights came on, and the ceremony concluded without mishap.

Ducks and other waterfowl have free rein over Foster City neighborhoods. On Easter morning this pair caused a delay in parishioners' arrival times. Our car inched forward until we were almost on top of them. They moved aside, quacking furiously.

The liturgical color of Easter is white. White is also the color used to represent death in Japanese culture. The rector, a San Francisco-born Japanese-American, must experience a little dissonance but never shows it."Alleluia, the Lord is risen." The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

After the adults and older youth spent hours hiding the Easter eggs--some with special prizes--the children line up for the hunt. The gate's been locked, and the grownups will try to see that the littlest kids get their share.

Regardless, it was all over in a few minutes.

"It Felt Like a Miracle"

Good Friday, 2019, in Paris (NBC photo)
Peggy Noonan asks why the burning of Notre-Dame Cathedral triggered an emotional reaction around the world:
the flames and smoke evoked similar [to 9/11] feelings of grief and loss, and a sense of portent, especially for Catholics, who saw in the destruction a metaphor for—or a judgment of—the state of their church...

Tuesday morning, the shocking good news: The fire was out, the structure still standing, the great things still there—the radiant cross, the altar, the Piet√†, the pews, the relics saved.

It felt like a miracle, didn’t it? I think it was.
From despair to hope....on Holy Week. Unbelievable.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Prepping for the Party

On Saturday morning the altar is bare and the cross is draped in black from yesterday's Good Friday services.

Out will come the white raiments and tablecloths, and the mournful black will be put away.

Tonight we will attend the Easter Vigil, a quiet meditative service.

Tomorrow is the party, when the sanctuary will be full of life and music.

Exercises for the Older Demographic

Side-lying windmill (WSJ gif)
The WSJ lists exercises for one of its key demographics: The Best Exercises for Your 50s, 60s, 70s—and Beyond:
aerobic capacity, muscle mass, bone density, flexibility and balance all decline over time—and each requires some attention
Thanks to the Apple Watch's reminders, I'm diligent about aerobics but have given scant attention to weight training and stretching.

The exercises "can be done with little to no equipment," thus requiring no commitment other than one's time.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Revolution Eats Itself

A phrase that's become popular in conservative circles is Annals of Leftist Autophagy, which began with the New Criterion in May, 2018:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that revolutionary sentiment is inherently expansionist and, if unimpeded, always winds up devouring its earlier partisans.

As we write, the social-justice chain Starbucks, famous for hectoring its customers about progressive politics and serving expensive burnt coffee, is being boycotted because a store manager in Philadelphia had two black loiterers arrested and removed by the police.
Once one notices the phenomenon, one sees it everywhere. Autophagy, i.e., when the body eats itself, occurs metaphorically when Ivy League colleges discriminate against Asian-American applicants, when anti-Semitic statements are justified if the right people speak them, and when white working-class union members are called "deplorables."

A current example is from California, where some leftist politicians are trying to alleviate the housing shortage by forcing communities to accept dense housing near train stations. They're getting push-back from other leftists.
Still waiting for Al Sharpton's outrage (Chron photo)
A provocative mailer by a deep-pocketed Los Angeles activist equates a state housing bill with “Negro removal,” a comparison that prompted state Sen. Scott Wiener and San Francisco Mayor London Breed to fire back Thursday.

The ad, paid for by Michael Weinstein, appeared on cable television, snowballed on social media and popped up in mailboxes throughout the city this week. It features a picture of famous black author James Baldwin with a quote about San Francisco’s urban renewal policies, which displaced thousands of African Americans from the Fillmore.

“San Francisco is engaging ... in something called urban renewal, which means moving the Negroes out. It means Negro removal,” says the quote, attributed to Baldwin in 1963.

It’s juxtaposed with a picture of Wiener, whose bill, SB50, seeks to put more housing near transit stations and job centers.
Frankly, I don't know who's going to win this argument. Just get the guillotines sharpened.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Four Magic Words

How to get through a conversational lull with a stranger: [bold added]
Paul Ford: self-described "rumpled
giant in an off-brand shirt"
Here’s a polite person’s trick, one that has never failed me. I will share it with you because I like and respect you, and it is clear to me that you’ll know how to apply it wisely: When you are at a party and are thrust into conversation with someone, see how long you can hold off before talking about what they do for a living. And when that painful lull arrives, be the master of it.

I have come to revel in that agonizing first pause, because I know that I can push a conversation through. Just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: “Wow. That sounds hard.”
The author, "writer, product strategist, educator, programmer, and software consultant" Paul Ford, wrote this somewhat tongue-in-cheek article in 2014. It's become unexpectedly relevant because of its section on Hair Touching:
WaPo: no-no to hair touching.
One way to be polite is by not touching people unless they specifically invite it. You’d be amazed at how often people screw this up; just search the Internet for “touch black woman hair” and marvel at the number of articles, posts, and guides...I’ve read many narratives about white people just touching black hair and I read them with my mouth open. Not because of the racism, even. Just because as a polite person the idea of just reaching out and touching anyone’s hair makes my eye twitch. When would it be appropriate? If there was a very large poisonous spider in their hair. If I was doing a magic trick. Or after six or more years of marriage.
Come to think of it, I can see why people prefer to stay home and chat with others remotely.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Not Gone

(WSJ/AFP/Getty images)
Like everyone* else, we reacted with horror at the sight of flames engulfing Notre-Dame Cathedral. When the spire toppled, its destruction seemed inevitable.
      *we'll ignore the tweets of a few crazies.

On this Holy Week we are grateful that it has been spared.

The discussion has already started about the cause of the fire, the restoration and its cost. For the nonce, let's reflect on the significance of Notre Dame, and why its loss would have meant so much to so many.
As word of the fire spread, emails and calls began zipping across continents as art historians sought to glean details about the fate of the treasures within. [Met curator Barbara] Boehm said she was worried about everything from the 14th-century sculptures that line the belt of chapels to the vast organ that is encased in elaborately carved wood.

Among the holy relics preserved there are a crown of thorns said to have been worn by Jesus during his crucifixion and a piece of the cross on which he was crucified.

“It’s such an emblem of Paris, of civilization, that everything inside it—from the candlesticks to the chalices—contains centuries of history and preciousness,” Ms. Boehm said...

Among many historic events that have taken place at the cathedral, Henry VI of England was crowned king there in 1431 and Napoleon was made emperor in 1804 after taking the crown from the hands of Pope Pius VII and placing it on his own head. In 1909, Joan of Arc was beatified by Pope Pius X there...

Today, the cathedral is a major pilgrimage site for Catholics from France and around the world. It draws around 13 million visitors a year—or around 30,000 people a day, more than the Eiffel Tower.

Jerrilynn Dodds, professor of medieval art and architecture at Sarah Lawrence College, said Notre Dame is one of the few monuments to faith that enjoys universal appeal. “Our love for Notre Dame goes beyond religion, beyond politics,” she said. “It’s part of our collective identity, and now we’re suffering a common grief.”
It was there centuries before we were born, and now there is comfort that it will be there after we are gone.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Tax Day, 2019: One's Own Experience

H&R Block:  overall tax liability is down 24.9%.
Just goes to show that one shouldn't generalize
from one's own experience.
After three consecutive years of simplifying our financial life--and being able to file our tax returns by April 15th--we had to go on extension last year because we received a late Form K-1 from a pass-through entity. This year we received the K-1 in March and didn't have an excuse for tardiness.

However, the changes from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act affected us more than we originally estimated; the State and Local Tax limitation (SALT) hurt, while the Qualified Business Income (QBI) deduction helped. What also "hurt" was a large capital gain from a long-time mutual fund investment; sure it's nice that the gain was there in the first place, but the funds have always been reinvested automatically and the increased basis will benefit us only when the fund is sold. Thus occurred one of the banes of the tax world: a transaction that produces taxable income but not the cash to pay the taxes.

Deciding to take a couple of extra months to pore over the records, we completed the extension forms (Federal 4868 and California 3519), wrote two checks that left a mark, and dropped the envelopes in the mail. We'll mail the final returns in June.

I would fire my accountant, but when I gaze in the mirror he looks so pitiful that I can't bring myself to do it.

Monday, April 15, 2019

And I Don't Even Know What's SUP

I haven't even tried Standup Paddle boarding (SUP)--the placid Foster City lagoon is perfect for beginners--and the next thing, electrically assisted water bikes, is already here.
(Chronicle photo)
The bikes, which [Jessica] Schiller invented in 2013, resemble mini-catamarans: a standard bicycle frame suspended over two inflatable pontoons, with a drop-down propeller powered by pedals and a 750-watt motor. The pontoon design provides stability so users can ride the bikes without having to worry about tipping or getting wet.
There's a practical application for this invention. Residents of Alameda Island typically drive across bridges or through the Webster and Posey underwater tubes to get to jobs in Oakland and the rest of the Bay Area. The bikes are a way for solo commuters to traverse the Oakland-Alameda estuary.
Oakland (top) and Alameda (bottom)
are 200 yards apart (Google Maps)
Oakland and Alameda officials have given the Mill Valley entrepreneur the go-ahead to install a fleet of 25 electrically assisted water bikes that will allow commuters to ride between the Jack London Square area in Oakland and either Mariner Square or the Grand Street dock in Alameda.

As with the land-based scooters and e-bikes that fill the roads, commuters will use a mobile app to claim a bike on either side of the estuary, ride across the 200-yard expanse of water and surrender it on the opposite side, paying by the minute.
There's no practical commuting application here in Foster City, but I can see my neighbors getting these for their backyard docks, and yes, for some of them money is not a problem.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Palm Sunday, 2019

From 2013:
On Palm Sunday the liturgical color is red, which represents the imminent shedding of Christ's blood on Good Friday. Despite the somber symbolism, the red of the vestments and the green of the altar palms were a welcome uplift from Lent's grim purposefulness and purpleness.
(Golf Digest image)
Tiger Woods wore red today as he won the Masters, which was his first major-tournament victory after 11 years. We won't hype the occasion with overblown Easter references (his career was resurrected...).

He did seem lost in the wilderness since 2008. Numerous surgeries and comeback attempts failed. Nearly everyone had lost hope that he'd be in the winner's circle again. But the prodigal returned, chastened by his experience.
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ---Luke 15:21-24
Okay, just a little bit of hype.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

There's Gold in Them Thar (San Francisco) Hills

(WSJ image)
Brokers, sellers, lenders, and others in the real estate industry are anticipating a wave of newly minted buyers resulting from Bay Area 2019 initial public offerings, e.g., Uber, Lyft, Pinterest, Slack, Postmates and Peloton.

Most of the companies are headquartered in San Francisco, and when demand from cash-rich option holders meets the City's limited supply of homes, prices are almost sure to rise. [bold added]
It seems like the makings of a perfect storm for the already pricey Bay Area housing market. Some of the tech world’s best-known companies are going public around the same time, conceivably unleashing billions on the San Francisco-area market.

While prior waves of IPO money have been dispensed mostly to companies based in Silicon Valley, a sprawling peninsula encompassing several cities and counties, these tech companies are largely based in San Francisco, a physically tiny city encompassing just 47 square miles. San Francisco County clocked just 6,420 home sales in the 12 months ending Nov. 15, 2018, according to data from real estate agency Compass, compared with 20,786 in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties combined.

Last month, real estate agency Redfin posted an analysis on the impact that the public offering of ride-sharing company Lyft could have on the market. Based on an IPO price of $72 a share, Redfin estimated that Lyft’s current and former employees would hold about $1.458 billion worth of stock. With that kind of money, they could hypothetically buy all 623 homes listed for sale in San Francisco at that time—and still have $12 million left over.
To be sure, some analysts say that the IPO's effect on real estate has been greatly over-hyped:
(Graph from financialsamurai.com)
there’s a good chance the tech IPO hoopla will awaken a slumbering bear of 760,000 – 1,520,000 homeowners in the SF Bay Area who flood the market with new supply. In such a scenario, the supply curve shifts from S1 to S3. Time frame: in 12 – 30 months. When D2 intersects S3, real estate prices end up lower than during the initial D1 and S1 intersection equilibrium.
IMHO, the skeptics are more likely to be correct. We've already mentioned how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has a far greater negative impact on pricey real estate than analysts initially predicted. Any IPO-related housing price increases will eventually be seen as a bounce in a bear market.

Longer term, we believe that declining prices and the favorable tax treatment of rental real estate (full deductibility of property taxes and mortgage interest, plus the QBI deduction) will finally make rental real estate a viable proposition for investors who will not have to rely on big price increases to earn a reasonable return.

Real estate investors, wait for the market to come in, and keep your powder dry.

Friday, April 12, 2019

To-Do List for Your Worst Day

It's income tax season, but we're at an age where estate taxes, wills, and legacies are weighing on our minds. (Maybe these topics don't apply to you, dear reader, but perhaps they preoccupy older generations in your family.)

The WSJ published a to-do list for surviving spouses, and we've found through recent experience that much of it applies to surviving children as well.

A SURVIVING SPOUSE SHOULD...

Take key steps

☑️ Order at least 15 copies of the death certificate to use to retitle financial accounts and settle the estate.

☑️ Contact the estate attorney, accountant and financial adviser.

☑️ Gather household bills and bank, brokerage, insurance, and credit-card statements.

☑️ Retrieve electronic statements from the deceased spouse’s email account or petition the email provider for access.

☑️ Start the probate process by having the executor submit the death certificate and any will that exists to the court.

☑️ File with Social Security for a $255 death benefit.

☑️ Consult someone who knows the rules for claiming monthly Social Security survivor benefits, based on the amount your spouse would have received. A survivor can claim as early as age 60 (or 50 if disabled).

☑️ Retitle household bills in your name.

☑️ Change the beneficiaries on your retirement or other accounts or insurance policies if necessary.

☑️ Update your will.

☑️ Create a new financial plan once you understand what you own and owe and are able to make long-term decisions.

Locate accounts and assets

☑️ Call the deceased spouse’s employer, if he or she was working, to ask about a 401(k), traditional pension, stock options, and life insurance and the cost to continue health coverage under the company plan.

☑️ Check the most recently filed tax return for the names of the financial firms that house the household’s accounts. Financial firms provide 1099s when bank, retirement and taxable accounts generate income, capital gains, dividends or interest.

☑️ Present the death certificate and proof of identity to get their share of a spouse’s IRAs, 401(k)s, and life insurance. (Be aware of the rules surrounding penalties before transferring money from a spouse’s 401(k) or IRA to your own.)

☑️ Look for statements in the mail for accounts that don’t show up on the tax returns, including pensions, IRAs, annuities, and 401(k)s no one is contributing to or taking withdrawals from. Because companies can lose track of former employees, call your spouse’s previous employers, too.

☑️ Ask for free help if you believe your spouse was entitled to a pension from a company you cannot locate. Sources include the Labor Department and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

☑️ Search for missing life insurance and annuity contracts in the “Life Insurance Policy Locator Service” sponsored by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners or in your state’s unclaimed property fund.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Give Me the Power, Lord

Seven years ago I blew the kitchen circuit in the 1950's-era building at the Lutheran church. I called Jerry at home--it was his parish--and he rushed over and showed me the control panel in one of the downstairs classrooms. Never operate two appliances at the same time, he said.

Lessons don't last, and one of the reasons is that memories fail. After activating the dishwasher tonight, I turned on the microwave to reheat a cup of coffee.

Oops. Everything in the kitchen shut down. The families at Home and Hope needed clean dishes, not to mention a working microwave in the morning.

I grabbed the only set of keys they left me. Would they work on the classrooms downstairs? Could I find the control panel, which I dimly remembered was in a back closet? Would I be able to find the switch and reset it? Yes, yes, and yes.

As the Baptists say, PTL (praise the Lord).

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Reasons to Come Back

Waikiki last July: we skipped it because of the line.
We discovered Waikiki's Marukame Udon in 2012, and the combination of freshness, cafeteria-style (select the udon, tempura, and spiciness that you want), price, and location made it a favorite stop on every trip back to the Islands. Apparently it's become a popular destination for other tourists, as well as locals, and recently we've had to forego visits.

Our lunch at Marugame Udon
No worries. We discovered a Marugame Udon while checking out the remodeled Stonestown Galleria in San Francisco. It's nearly identical to the Honolulu branch, whose ambience we prefer slightly, but the lines are much shorter here. Advantage: San Francisco.

(Why the Honolulu outlet is spelled with a "k" instead of a "g" is a slight puzzle.)

Perhaps competition is the reason the lines are shorter at Stonestown: it has become a culinary destination.
In recent years, the 66-year-old mall in the Outer Avenues has quickly and quietly become a top culinary destination in San Francisco, thanks to a flood of new restaurants that have brought crowds ready to line up for freshly made noodles, fruity boba tea and, most recently, Japanese souffle pancakes.
There are plenty of reasons to stay away from San Francisco, but places like Gram Cafe & Pancakes and Shihlin Taiwan Street Snacks are reasons to come back.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

For the Families' Sake

Volunteers Clara, Diane, and Anoush dig in.
Less than two months after making dinner for Home and Hope, it was time to cook again.

Two of the February families had not yet found living quarters. The mothers do have jobs, but finding affordable housing is a problem for them, as well as nearly every young Peninsula family.

One of the children, a four-year-old, put away everything in the play area without being asked. That may not seem like much, but your humble blogger usually spends 15 minutes picking up books, toys, crayons, and Play-Doh after the kids go to bed.

Our next date is in November. I hope for their sake that they'll be out of the program by then.

Monday, April 08, 2019

No More Mr. Nice Guy

One week ago a man was arrested for slashing his tormentor with a sword: [bold added]
Leor Bergland (Chron photo)
a 27-year-old Berkeley man was standing near the intersection of Fillmore and Oak streets by the Church of 8 Wheels roller skating rink when he saw [Leor] Bergland wearing the red MAGA hat, which is popular among President Trump supporters. The man swatted the hat off Bergland’s head, police said — and in return, Bergland whipped out a sword and badly slashed the victim’s left hand.
Mr. Bergland clearly over-reacted, most would agree, and was rightly arrested. Comments:

1) Trump supporters feel defensive because of physical attacks on people who wear MAGA hats and the lack of media sympathy. Worse, the media are quick to pile on MAGA-hat wearers at the first hint of the latter's wrongdoing (e.g., Covington boys' "sneering", fake assault on Jussie Smollett). As of March 10th:
Over the past few weeks, we have seen several assaults against people wearing MAGA hats. Late last month, an 81-year-old New Jersey man was attacked after being confronted because he was wearing the red cap. In Massachusetts, a woman assaulted a patron in a Mexican restaurant because she was offended by his MAGA hat. She is now facing deportation. Lastly, A man was arrested in Kentucky after pulling a gun on a man who was sporting the supposedly offensive headgear.
Crime scene (Chron photo)
Now that we have an incident where a MAGA person indeed has done wrong, the national media have not publicized this story. Why not? (Kind answer: to dampen the anger on both sides. Unkind answer: people who attack Trump supporters may now be more hesitant to do so, and the media want them to keep at it.)

2) Hollywood makes heroes out of loners, who, when pushed around, respond with over-the-top violence. In this real-life incident, the slasher wasn't looking for trouble:
Back in San Francisco, Bergland apparently didn’t make many ripples at his home in the Elk Hotel, an 88-unit supportive housing complex for formerly homeless people.

Some at the hotel on Thursday recognized him as a resident, but none said he stood out in any particular way.

Alex Mohamed, manager of the next-door Gladstone Market Deli & Liquor, told The Chronicle that Bergland sometimes would pop in twice a day at his store.

“He’s quiet,” Mohamed said. “If I say ‘hi’ to him, he barely says ‘hi’ back.”
Appeals to reason and civility haven't worked, but maybe fear of physical harm will result in more politeness all around.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

The Modern Conceit

George Mason Law Professor Ilya Somin questions the inevitability of moral progress: [bold added]
all of the experts assumed that the tide of history will move in favor of the views they themselves advocate. They all seem to expect moral progress, and do not consider the possibility of retrogression. The idea that history inevitably moves towards moral progress - or at least is highly likely to do so - is a highly influential one. Many like to cite Martin Luther King's famous statement that "[t]he arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Sadly, however, moral progress is far from inevitable. Retrogression has happened before, and could easily do so again. [snip]

It isn't hard to find examples of horrific moral retrogression in history....the 19th century abolition of slavery and serfdom throughout most of the world - one of the greatest examples of moral progress in human history - was followed in the 20th century by communist and fascist regimes' massive use of slave labor on a hitherto unimaginable scale. Communists and Nazis developed new ideological justifications for an old evil, and technological advances enabled them to implement their horrific visions far more extensively than was possible in previous eras. During the same time period, even comparatively enlightened liberal democratic states also resorted to forced labor on a larger scale than before, through extensive use of mass conscription for both civilian and military "national service," an idea that has most of the same moral flaws as old-style slavery and serfdom.
Professor Somin is cautioning that mankind's imperfections increase the harm that can result from new technology. He is stating, essentially, the Christian position--that the sins of greed, lust, sloth, pride, envy, anger, and gluttony have not been banished by scientific advancement. Those who subscribe to the Hegelian dialectic, Marxists especially, believe that over the long term the march of morality is positive. There are enough examples from history to support either side of the argument.

What is clear is that, without constant vigilance and a significant number of people who are willing to sublimate their selfish desires, "retrogression" can occur, probably faster and farther than any of us foresee.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Reaction Reconsidered

Trashed too soon?
In recent years I've been ignoring pleas for donations to colleges. The ones that contact me
a) have multibillion-dollar endowments and don't need my help; and
b) have allowed the silencing of points of view that differ from the dominant orthodoxy on college campuses. Without a moment's thought I threw the message from Marvin Chun into the trash folder.

Who is Marvin Chun?
Chun, dean of Yale College, the Richard M. Colgate Professor of Psychology, and professor of neuroscience, was born and raised in California by his immigrant parents. When he was 12, his family moved back to Korea where he attended junior high, high school, and college.

Chun was recognized by the foundation for his work in cognitive neuroscience. From images of brain activity alone, his lab has recreated faces viewed by subjects. In a separate line of work, they can read out an individual’s attention levels, intelligence, and personality.
Marvin Chun, who has MIT, Harvard, Vanderbilt, and Yale on his c.v., is studying "mind-reading." From a 2014 article: [bold added]
Pretty good, and that was in 2014.
“It is a form of mind reading,” said Marvin Chun, professor of psychology, cognitive science and neurobiology and an author of the paper in the journal Neuroimage. [snip]

One of Chun’s students, Alan S. Cowen, then a Yale junior now pursuing an advanced degree at the University of California at Berkeley, wanted to know whether it would be possible to reconstruct a human face from patterns of brain activity. The task was daunting, because faces are more similar to each other than buildings. Also large areas of the brain are recruited in the processing of human faces, a testament to its importance in survival.

“We perceive faces in a much greater level of detail than we perceive other things,” Cowen said.

Working with funding from the Yale Provost’s office, Cowen and post doctoral researcher Brice Kuhl, now an assistant professor at New York University, showed six subjects 300 different “training” faces while undergoing fMRI scans. They used the data to create a sort of statistical library of how those brains responded to individual faces. They then showed the six subjects new sets of faces while they were undergoing scans. Taking that fMRI data alone, researchers used their statistical library to reconstruct the faces their subjects were viewing.
By strapping some electrodes to your head the scientists could approximate the faces you were seeing, and that was in 2014. One can only wonder the state of the science today ("an individual’s attention levels, intelligence, and personality") and how much--not whether--the government is involved.

I'm sorry, Dr. Chun, for my overly quick reaction to your e-mail. Yale is extremely important to me and my family, whose continued health is also extremely important. Where do I send the check?

Friday, April 05, 2019

Giving Peace a Chance vs. Saving the Planet

1967 poster
An iconic poster from the days of Woodstock, flowers, and the Summer of Love reads:
War is not healthy for children and other living things.
The danger of full-scale war has receded, but another fear has arisen, that of anthropogenic global warming.

Like the 1960's the goal of the revolution is simply stated. Back then it was to stop war. Today it is to lower the carbon content of the atmosphere.

It is with some bemusement, then, that we are discovering that the past and present revolutions are in conflict. Peace destroys the rainforest. [bold added]
(Image from uww.edu)
The return of normalcy [in Columbia] led to a spike in rainforest-clearing, as landowners mowed down former guerrilla hide-outs to establish cattle ranches and plantations. Colombian researchers say that much of the country’s portion of the Amazon jungle is now in danger.

...When conflicts end, developers rush in to take advantage, and rates of deforestation accelerate. Governments tend to be unprepared to enforce preservation of the sensitive, newly accessible territory...

In a paper published last month in the journal Land Use Policy, researchers at the University of Vermont and the University of Waterloo showed how dramatically rainforest destruction sped up after peace arrived in Peru, Sri Lanka, Ivory Coast and Nepal in the past dozen years. In those four case studies, the average annual forest loss was 68% greater in the five years after conflicts ended than in the five years before. Forest loss also has increased globally but more slowly, at an average annual rise of 7% since 2001.

Peru and Ivory Coast suffered the biggest absolute rainforest losses. Peru lost almost 840 square miles annually—an area roughly the size of Jacksonville, Fla.—in the five years after the Shining Path rebel group effectively acknowledged defeat in 2011. That was 58% more than the average during the prior five years.
Whether it's by clearing trees or crossing borders, people will do whatever it takes to improve their lives and could not care less about First-World values and laws.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Got the Pods But Waiting for the Card

I went to the nearby Apple Store to buy a set of AirPods, Apple's wireless earbuds. At $159--the wireless-charger version is $199--they're an indulgence, especially since the new hearing aids perform a similar function.

I mentioned to the Apple salesperson that I was keenly interested in using the Apple Card, the new credit card that Tim Cook announced 11 days ago, to buy Apple products.

Unfortunately--and I hope this isn't a trend---we'll have to wait at least 3 months to get it. (We're used to the new stuff being available within a month after an Apple announcement.)
While the Apple Card will allow users to make purchases anywhere MasterCard is accepted, it’s also quite unlike many other cards available today.

Apple Card doesn’t have late fees, annual fees, international fees, or over-limit fees. And although users will be encouraged to pay their monthly statements, technically, if you want to skip a month, you can. Just be ready to pay extra interest.
I like the price--no annual fees--and better security--no credit card number or CVV imprinted on the surface.

I also like it as an Apple shareholder. [bold added]
[Wedbush analyst Dan] Ives went on to say that Apple’s clear opportunity is “tapping into its 1.4 billion active iOS devices and monetizing the financial vertical.”
BTW, I miss working full-time in the financial world; impressing people with phrases like "monetizing the financial vertical" is what made my day.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

A Lot of Dog Wash

Why is San Francisco "suffering from a glut of empty storefronts"? The answer: City Government [bold added]
Oct, 2018: Market St. storefront (Chronicle photo)
building permit applications for commercial property alterations, additions and repairs submitted in 2017 to the Department of Building Inspection took an average of 172 days — that’s nearly six months — to be approved.

It took another 88 days, on average, for the permitted construction and renovation work to be completed and get a final sign-off, for a total of 260 days or more than 8½ months.
If the Planning Department gets involved, the delays could easily double:
If the new business needed a conditional use authorization change from the Planning Department — they’re required for more businesses in the Upper Market-Castro than in some other neighborhoods — it took an average of 332 days, or nearly one year, to be approved.

When combined with the time it takes to get a building permit and the final approval, the entire process can take a year and a half for projects requiring both Planning and Department of Building Inspection approvals, the report said.

Meanwhile, the storefronts remain vacant and the businesses are stuck paying rent.
Since the government is the chokepoint, some businesses are turning to that time-honored solution, i.e. graft:
Bergerac* said store owners are joining the ranks of people who hire professional “expediters” to get their permits approved faster — it’s a longtime, winked-at practice.
*Daniel Bergerac, Castro Merchants president and co-owner of Mudpuppy’s Tub & Scrub dog wash(!)

Some in the City's leadership blame the empty storefronts on greedy landlords. They propose that empty units be penalized (taxed) $250 per day.

Aside to the younger generation: this is a small example of why many people are opposed to socialism. Problems (empty storefronts, power blackouts, high medical costs, crumbling infrastructure) occur in all societies, but socialist governments, which are in charge of everything, don't blame themselves but "profiteers". Taxes and penalties are the answer, and greedy behavior the problem. The wealth-producers stop working and flee. To the ideologues' confusion, the problems get worse.

In one respect your humble blogger agrees. Property owners, don't be greedy; take your profits or cut your losses. Save yourselves. Get out of San Francisco. If you can, get out of California.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

No Excuses

My last colonoscopy was in 2013, and the recommended five-year interval had passed. I'd run out of excuses.

Last night wasn't pleasant. The gastro-cleansing drink tasted like the worst diet soda ever. It did its job, however, and the last 12 sleep-deprived hours were filled with continual pilgrimages to the porcelain throne.

Compared to the preparation, the actual procedure went quickly and far more pleasantly. I was wheeled into the room at 8:30 and awoke at 9:20. Dr. Lee had removed six small polyps (there were none in 2013) and said that I should return in three years.

In April, 2022, I'll be in the throes of tax season, then there's spring planting, and summer travel, I'm sure 3½ years will still be okay....

Monday, April 01, 2019

Generation Wealth

"Generation Wealth" image via documentary.org.
One might expect Lauren Greenfield's 2017 documentary, Generation Wealth, to be a polemic against capitalism, wealth excesses, and inequality, but one would be wrong. (In the current environment of politics-is-everything progressive critics have criticized the film for not being a bash-fest of Trump's America.)

If there's any one over-riding theme, it's the quest for status. The interviewees believe that personal worth is synonymous with social recognition, itself obtained by money but also by personal attractiveness. Status-seeking is more than an American phenomenon; vignettes of Chinese billionaires and Russian oligarchs show that the quest is common to human beings everywhere.

The audience is tempted to sneer at parents who enter their children in beauty contests, the plastic-surgery addicts, the hedge-fund mansion-builders, and the privileged scions of L.A. celebrities. (Lauren Greenfield has been chronicling the latter since she went to high school with them in the early 1990's; her father recounts how she was embarrassed to have her classmates over to her house.) She re-interviews them years later, and most of the subjects now realize that they have grossly misplaced their priorities.

The filmmaker is honest enough to turn the camera on herself. She accepts assignments thousands of miles away for weeks, even months. She knows that she should spend more time at home, but her husband willingly looks after their pre-teen children, so she averts the hard choices.

Though the subject is ostentatious wealth, I suspect that the film is really about the obsessive pursuit of money, status, beauty, and workplace validation. Relationships with children, or even having children in the first place, are neglected. By the end of the movie the film-maker and the audience relate to these people, who seemed at first glance to live in a different universe of values and lifestyles.

Generation Wealth is not light entertainment, but it's interesting and not a heavy slog. It's available as a Netflix DVD rental and is streaming free to Amazon Prime Video customers. Recommended.