Saturday, August 31, 2019

In 100 Years Rising Seas Will Prove We Were Right

View from the Beach Park bridge
When we were shopping for new homes in Foster City, the same model that we were interested in, but adjacent to the water, was available for $25,000 more. Nope, $25,000 was a lot of money, and besides, we didn't enjoy rafting or canoeing that much. Over the years, watching our neighbors having to clean up after the ministrations of ducks, geese, and sea gulls, we never regretted our choice.

Today the premium for a waterfront home is $200,000-$300,000.

OK, we regret it just a little.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Stunt Foods, Stunted Values

At $100/cup, sip Elida Geisha slowly (Chron photo)
I've been cutting back on my Starbucks visits to 1-2 times per week because $5 for a coffee seems uncomfortably sybaritic.

By Bay Area standards, however, there's no reason to feel guilty; the definition of extravagance has long moved past your humble blogger's.

The latest trend is stunt foods:
In recent years, the Bay Area has had a $43 martini made with vodka that comes from San Francisco fog; multiple $50 burgers made with luxury ingredients like Wagyu beef and foie gras; a $100 pizza topped with white truffles; a $150 truffle-filled macaroni and cheese dish; and even $700 shots.
The late Herb Caen referred to his beloved City as Baghdad-by-the-Bay.

With legions of homeless barred from using the restrooms of establishments that serve $100 coffee, San Francisco seems more like Sodom, Gomorrah, or once-beautiful, decadent Rome before it fell to the barbarians.

Thursday, August 29, 2019


May, 2019: the Ride of Silence for traffic casualties (Chron)
Perhaps you haven't heard about Vision Zero, San Francisco's 2014 action plan to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024. It's not surprising that there's been little publicity: [bold added]
We’re five years into the 10-year goal. And yet just two-thirds into 2019, 22 people have lost their lives on the city’s streets. That’s one less than died in all of 2018 and two more than died in all of 2017. We’re on pace to surpass the 31 deaths in 2014, the year Vision Zero began....

One major factor is a dramatic drop in tickets issued to drivers by San Francisco police — a neglect that could be explained by too many unfilled vacancies in the department’s traffic division and ever-changing leadership of the crucial unit.

New figures obtained by The Chronicle show the San Francisco Police Department is ticketing far fewer drivers for illegal behavior behind the wheel than it did the year Vision Zero was adopted.
Ticket-writing for the most dangerous driving behaviors has fallen dramatically:
Vision Zero directs the Police Department to focus its enforcement on the five most dangerous driving behaviors: speeding, failing to stop at a red light, failing to stop at a stop sign, failing to give pedestrians the right of way, and failing to yield to pedestrians while turning.

The number of citations for those specific behaviors are also distressingly low. Of all the citations handed out in 2014, 30,613 were for those five violations. While that number climbed at first, it fell off dramatically in 2018. Last year, police officers handed out just 20,154 tickets for those five violations. In the first half of this year, they handed out just 10,267.
That's what one gets when politicians--in fact, any leaders--make big promises and don't put their time and more money behind them: zero.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Intestinal Fortitude

Like the home canners of a mostly bygone era, our kitchen is over-flowing with mason jars. They're not filled with fruit preserves but with kefir, a "cultured, fermented beverage...loaded with probiotic health benefits."

In August members of our household began cultivating yeast-like kefir grains, which are multiplying like tribbles. We now have gallons of kefir drinks in various flavors, and one has to be seriously dedicated to "good" bacteria and gut health to keep up.

Staying healthy requires intestinal fortitude.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Rationality Will Pass

Vice Mayor Sam Hindi and Councilmember Gary Pollard
install the first bike symbol in Foster City in 2017.
In California, where private citizens and businesses are subject to the latest whims of the one-party State--no plastic bags, no plastic straws, jail for using the wrong pronoun--the only effective pushback can come from another State government agency (as for the ineffectual Feds, two words: sanctuary city).

Scott Wiener, State Senator from San Francisco and incidentally the sponsor of the jailtime-for-wrong-pronouns law, wants to require crosswalks and bike lanes for new road projects. Though the proposal sounds innocuous, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) objects:
Caltrans estimated that SB127 would cost more than $1 billion a year, or $4.5 million for each mile of blacktop. Caltrans officials said the state may lose its federal highway funds if the bill passes.

What Wiener had pitched as easy-to-do striping and crosswalk geometry would actually require a significant investment, according to a memo from state transportation officials. Most state roads promote ease and convenience for motorists above other uses. It takes a lot of staff, equipment and money to redesign them. Caltrans estimated it would have to complete 105 pavement projects — or 599 miles — in the next two years to meet the bill’s requirements.
In a fit of rationality California, which spent billions on the high-speed train to nowhere, is applying cost-benefit analysis to a transportation proposal.

Not to worry, folks, this mood shall pass, Scott Wiener's bill will pass, taxes will go up, and California will have a shot at claiming the mantle of having the highest gas tax in the nation.

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Dog That Didn't Bark

Pay phones are still found in public places like airports, hospitals, and bus stations.

On this hospital's surgery floor access to the phones was partially blocked by tables.

If anyone cared, he or she would have complained, and the tables would have been moved.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

One Has to Keep Trying

More attractive volunteers could have increased traffic.
After the early service I headed to the Summer Days festival. Foster City gave the church and other local non-profits free space for a display. All we needed were volunteers to staff the booth.

Only a few people stopped to talk. One gentleman, an African-American, gazed at the photo of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry with a puzzled expression. Two words, "Meghan Markle", did the trick.

Climate-change information (click to enlarge)
Bishop Curry's rousing sermon at the royal wedding last year made an impression far beyond the Episcopal Church. With every month his election looks smarter.

Another passerby viewed the information on climate-change--one of the church's initiatives--and talked about the public transportation in her native Singapore (McKinsey ranks it one of the best in the world).

Our Bay Area systems are more extensive (on the Peninsula we can take Caltrain, express buses, or BART to San Francisco) than most cities, but there's no question that the automobile traffic is horrendous.

With rides, fun, and food only a few feet away, talking about religion, social justice, or climate change was unappealing to festival goers. But one has to keep trying.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Making It So Easy

Never much of a line at the Treasure Truck. I don't
see how it can be a money-maker for Amazon.
Three times a week around 10 a.m. Amazon texts me about an item on the Treasure Truck.

Though I've considered daily specials such as an Acer Chromebook ($199), Air Plant Terrarium Kit ($19.99), a Chemical Guys car wash kit ($26.99), a bidet sprayer ($19.99--ok, kidding about considering a purchase), diamond necklace ($849.99), or electric skateboard ($799), I've never pulled the trigger....until last week.

Amazingly compact!
The Klymit Static V Sleeping Pad, according to the ad, is lightweight, compact, durable, and easily inflatable. Today it was marked down from $49.99 to $29.99. At 40% off it was a deal that I couldn't pass up.

It was a simple matter to prepay the sleeping pad on my Amazon account and select one of the three options for the pickup, in this case the Stonestown Galleria between 3:30 and 5:30. Life has never been sweeter than in 2019---finding out about all the stuff you never thought you needed and making it so easy to buy them.

The sleeping pad rolls out to seven feet. Bonus: it's green, the color of the virtuous.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Bloom is Off the Real Estate

Buying a 1,144 square-foot condo in "the low $1 Millions" may not seem tempting, but it's a bargain relative to what we were seeing last year when the development's prices started at $1.5 million.

The ad depicting the finished building (right) doesn't show the half-completed structures behind, where construction has been halted for months.

As the Dutch found out 400 years ago, the bloom is off the tulips.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Frozen in Time, But Thawing

San Mateo Ave. in San Bruno
San Francisco bears the brunt of it, but cities up and down the Peninsula also have sizable homeless populations....not just the working poor but also those most difficult to help, i.e., substance abusers and the mentally ill. The strapped cities issue fines at the drop of the hat--quick-to-trigger red-light cameras, ticky-tacky tickets for tail lights, etc.--but that's a story for another day.

San Mateo Ave.: few chain stores present
After dropping off the car in San Bruno, I hoofed south along San Mateo Avenue, parallel to El Camino Real. San Mateo Avenue's anchors are the San Bruno Caltrain station, the beneficiary of a $155 million construction project, and Artichoke Joe's, whose brightly lit interior is a welcome contrast to other California casinos.

Enjoying the 1970's ambience of the street, I only stopped once--at the Starbucks, naturally--to pick up a coffee with an added shot of espresso. Starbucks had by far the most traffic of any of the store fronts, portending an area ripe for development.

Given the proximity to both Caltrain and BART stations, it's only a matter of time before the whole street is demolished in favor of high-density housing. Many of the businesses and the land under them are family-owned, so there's a good chance tradition and nostalgia will slow the wrecker's ball. But development won't be stopped, so a word of advice: experience old San Bruno while you can.

One venerable business is the popular Millbrae Pancake House, which employs third-generation family members and has staff which rarely turns over. The restaurant makes few concessions to modern cuisine (no explicit vegan, gluten-free offerings) and has multiple breakfast meats and styles of pancakes that are problematic for diners who worry about cholesterol. After a two-mile stroll in the heat and humidity, it was the perfect way to end the morning.

On my 5th visit I took a flier on the chicken and waffles. It was OK, but I'm going back to bacon and eggs.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

California Catatonia

Water bottles at SFO: get 'em now (WSJ photo)
California imposes rules on all sorts of formerly innocuous behaviors and products. On the other hand it now permits actions--smoking marijuana (while driving!), service animals in restaurants--that at one time were frowned upon by the patriarchy. Of course, the bureaucracy ignores rules, e.g., vagrancy laws, it finds inconvenient.

As someone who's lost track of these developments, I found Andy Kessler's summary to be useful and amusing, in a I'm-laughing-or-I'd-be-crying sort of way: [Bold added]
First they came for our plastic grocery bags. Then they came for our plastic straws. Now they’ve come for our plastic water bottles at SFO. Yes, you read that right. Starting Tuesday, the sale of plastic water bottles will be banned at San Francisco International Airport, one of the few places they actually make sense. California has many dumb laws and statutes and bans, but this one is especially brainless—spurred by futile self-righteousness.

After running late for your flight after a 30-minute security line only to have TSA confiscate your Fiji water bottle, you’ll now have to stop at a crowded water fountain to fill your own metal flask. Or buy an overpriced glass or aluminum bottle at the concession stand, paying another 10 cents for a bag. And your teeth will chatter if you drink through a paper straw. Of course you could risk dehydration instead: Men lose up to a half-gallon of water during a 10-hour flight. Oddly, you can still buy sugary drinks in plastic bottles at SFO; only healthy, calorie-free water is banned in plastic. You can’t make this stuff up.

Other fields are even worse. Starting next year, the California Building Standards Commission will require every new home to have solar panels. This will add $8,400 to the average cost of the state’s already expensive homes. With a shortage of about 1.4 million housing units, according to the California Housing Partnership, that’s a $12 billion unfunded mandate.

But maybe the housing shortage can be solved with yet another legislative “fix.” Last December state Sen. Scott Wiener introduced Senate Bill 50, which would allow developers to ignore certain local zoning laws within half a mile of train or subway stations and some bus stops. The bill would allow five-story buildings, high density and massive parking structures. Although the bill was tabled in May, many of its growing group of supporters argued it didn’t do enough to create incentives for affordable housing. That tells me another version of this bill will pass eventually. So here’s what may happen: Many towns will preserve local zoning pre-emptively by closing their train stations. Lose-lose situation.

So what? you might ask: Just take an Uber or Lyft. Not so fast. Also winding its way through Sacramento is Assembly Bill 5, which would reclassify “gig economy” workers as employees, entitled to full benefits and a $12 minimum wage. This means the cost of rides, deliveries and even manicures would go up, up, up. The bill is an overreach because most drivers truly are temporary workers. According to the delivery company Postmates, half of delivery workers quit after 80 days and about 45% work less than nine hours a week. Once again California legislators are trying for a trifecta: Fix a problem that may not exist, kill a very Californian innovation, and damage the employment prospects of the same workers they are trying to protect.

There’s more. Proposition 64, passed in 2016, allows Californians to grow six pot plants at home. Why not seven? And there is still no measurable legal limit for driving while stoned. When hungry, you can bring your dog to restaurants. Since 2015 no one can stop you. My son worked at a nice restaurant and was told that the only thing he was allowed to ask was “Can I do anything for your service dog?” Keep your poodles away from my noodles. Meanwhile, Starbucks is rolling out sippy lids, like toddlers’ sippy cups, to replace plastic straws. Iced coffee dribbled down your shirt can certainly be humiliating.

Progressive taxes with top marginal rates of more than 50%, plus San Francisco’s proposed tax on initial public offerings, will keep housing prices high—in Incline Village, Nev. California’s electricity prices are also progressive, increasing to more than 50 cents a kilowatt-hour after users exceed a meager baseline. Of course residents can offset this by picking up an electric car, which the state deems worth an almost 30% discount.

But don’t expect auto manufacturers to make out well. The California Air Resources Board didn’t like the Trump administration’s freeze on emissions standards at 2020 levels, so it waived the waiver, requiring the tougher rules and 54 miles per gallon. Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW have already cut a deal with California to meet the higher standards, but with many loopholes. Auto makers like to manufacture one car for all states, so they comply with California laws, dumb or not.

In some places, the right laws are in place but no one cares. San Francisco, like Los Angeles, has a nasty homeless problem. Fed up, voters in 2010 passed a “sit-lie” ordinance that outlaws loitering between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. “Outlaws” in this case mean perpetrators are supposed to get a ticket. But the police don’t bother with that anymore, so Karl Malden’s famed Streets of San Francisco are filled with needles and human feces, which the city spends $30 million a year to clean up—ineffectively. But heaven forbid you want to buy cold water in a disposable bottle at the airport.
Thanks to passing laws against things they don't like, Californians don't have guns being acquired by felons or the mentally ill, don't have human trafficking, and don't have people addicted to illegal painkillers. Despite its success, it's puzzling why the rest of the country doesn't want to be more like California.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Smart Government Spending

Old # 26: next door to a neighborhood shopping center
The high cost of housing has caused some Peninsula job holders, even a few who make over $100,000 per year, to live out of their cars.

Related: some who live more than an hour away also sleep overnight in their vehicles on working days; they choose to sacrifice personal hygiene and comfort in favor of more productivity and more sleep. (Gym memberships and/or showers at their workplaces make it a little easier.)

As a small step in alleviating the conditions of police officers who are forced to make this choice, the City of San Mateo is converting a closed fire station into a sleeping barracks. [bold added]
The $520,000 project will provide bunks and showers for up to 12 officers at a time at Fire Station 26 at 1812 S. Norfolk St. In addition to the barracks, the building will be a police substation and vehicle storage site....Of San Mateo’s 125 officers, 68% live outside of San Mateo County, many as far as Tracy or Mountain House in San Joaquin County or Gilroy in south Santa Clara County

Of the officers commuting from other counties, the average distance is 50 miles each way, according to a staff report on the barracks proposal. A San Mateo Police Officers’ Association survey found the average round-trip commute of those traveling from outside the county is two hours and 17 minutes.
The project is relatively cheap at $43,000 per bed because land, the scarce resource, is being provided "free" by San Mateo.

It's easy to deplore the current situation as being caused by government no-development policies and poor planning ("San Mateo County has a population of roughly 750,000, but has about 12 jobs for every one housing unit") but at least the current City leadership is trying to do something positive. And they're doing it at a fraction of the cost of the average middle-class home in San Mateo.

Monday, August 19, 2019

A Good Movie Despite the Math

The camera sends a message. (Image from Medium)
One of my favorite movies of recent years is The Martian, the story of an astronaut who must survive on Mars for a year and a half with only a fraction of the food needed for survival.

A key plot point is how he and NASA can communicate armed only with a still camera that can rotate 360 degrees.

The astronaut can write brief messages to Earth on poster board, but how can Earth send messages to him? The answer: a circle with 16 positions corresponding to hexadecimals:
This is where hexadecimal or base 16 comes in. If we allow ourselves 16 number symbols, then our place values can multiply by 16 at each step. For example, the number 321 represents one unit, two 16s and three 256s, so it is the same as the decimal number 801.

The trouble is that hexadecimal requires 16 symbols, and our usual numerals only go from 0 to 9. The solution is usually to use the letters A, B, C, D, E and F for the extra symbols representing the decimal numbers 10 to 15.

This means that hexadecimal numbers can look like C9F, which represents F (i.e., 15) units, nine 16s and C (i.e., 12) 256s—that is, 3,231. In coding, for instance, colors can be represented as six-character strings in hexadecimal, which yields a total of more than 16 million possible colors, starting at 000000 for pure black and running through FFFFFF for pure white.
In hexadecimals, i.e., base-16, only two characters, FF, are necessary to count up to 255 (in our decimal system). 255 places are more than we need to translate hexadecimals into the standard letters, numbers, symbols, and control characters of the ASCII table.

More than 50 years after converting base-10 numbers into base-2, base-8, and base-12 (by hand, without calculator or computer, kids), I finally see why the teachers made us do it.


Sunday, August 18, 2019

Blake's Time

"Albion Rose", 1793: a modern sensibility
WSJ on the William Blake exhibition at London's Tate Britain museum:
William Blake (1757-1827)....elaborated a complex mythology about a world full of angels and demons who battled for control of the human soul.
In my undergraduate years I often visited the university art museum, which had a renowned British collection. I did like Blake, but for the most part British art never evoked much of a response.

As with British food, William Blake's time may be now.
[His] muscle-bound, mutable heroes, such as Urizen and Orc, are shown undergoing mythological adventures of intricate complexity, which baffled readers at the end of the 18th century.

But they seem fit to be rediscovered now. “You think of how Blake’s imagery and universe anticipates graphic novels and superhero comics perhaps more directly than fine art practice,” [Curator Martin] Myrone said. “That, you might say, is one of the places where Blake’s legacy has ended up.”

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Blessed Relief

Without the haze you can see the East Bay hills.

I've walked, biked, and jogged along the Belmont Slough since the 1980's.

Although much of the original 1960 Foster City Master Plan has not been realized (where's the high school? where's the heliport?), the city has largely adhered to the principle of preserving open space.
The provision of open space is intended to offer residents and visitors opportunities for quiet introspection in a location that provides visual relief from buildings, concrete and noise associated with urban life.
The quaint language of nearly 60 years ago also provides blessed relief from the noisy puffery associated with nearly every green program today.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Killer Box Office Killer

Mulan Rouge (Disney publicity photo)
Movie companies (those who want their pictures to be profitable--a necessary qualifier when producers knowingly make money-losing "message" movies) aren't pleased when stars take a position on a controversial issue. It doesn't matter which side the actors take, there will be potential viewers who find the politics so repugnant that they will stay away from the film.

The phenomenon isn't confined to Americans. Liu Yifei, star of Disney's 2020 live-action remake of Mulan, has taken the side of the police (that is, mainland China) in the Hong Kong protests.
Liu unadorned; not unadored...yet
Liu, in her own post, added in Chinese, “I also support the Hong Kong police,” and included heart and strong-arm emojis. Liu has 65 million followers on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform. The original post received over 2 million likes and an outpouring of support, and Liu’s post was liked 81,000 times.

Liu Yifei, also known as Crystal Liu, was cast as Mulan in 2017 after Disney saw nearly 1,000 candidates for the role, according to the Hollywood Reporter...

Although her sentiment received an outpouring of support, Liu also quickly faced backlash from many across the world who support the protests, with the hashtag #BoycottMulan emerging on Twitter. “She could be a powerful voice for justice but instead, she supports this brutality,” one Tweet said of Liu.
If Liu Yifei's political stance gets no more publicity, there's a good chance it will be forgotten when the film is released. So Disney, stay on the good size of Donald Trump; the last thing you want is for him to tweet about Mulan, reviving the controversy and potentially killing the American audience.

Despite the cliché, not all publicity is good publicity.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Too Much Information, Too Often

Alerts since May are fast and furious
One indicator of a person's financial health is the FICO score ("the credit scores created by Fair Isaac Corporation").

As with other perceived meaningful measurements (IQ, BMI) the FICO rating is being used in areas removed from its original function as a loan-payment predictor; FICO is now a factor in employment decisions and matters of the heart. It's become important!

So it was that your humble blogger began subscribing to Experian reports about my FICO score. The problem is that Experian sends alerts about changes that are only a few points up or down, though the credit strata are about 50 points wide.

Though I pay off all the credit cards on time each month, if the balances are a thousand dollars higher that will lower the FICO slightly, and vice versa.

Having learned to have perspective on the day-to-day changes in the investment portfolio, I'll now do so with the FICO score.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Meandering Muse

Publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst died on this date in 1951. His poem, Song of the River, written in 1941 when he was 78, begins:
Inspiration: the McCloud River
The snow melts on the mountain
And the water runs down to the spring,
And the spring in a turbulent fountain,
With a song of youth to sing,
Runs down to the riotous river,
And the river flows to the sea,
And the water again
Goes back in rain
To the hills where it used to be.
And I wonder if life’s deep mystery
Isn’t much like the rain and the snow
Returning through all eternity
To the places it used to know.
I first came upon this reflective poem a few years after college. At the time the life-as-a-river imagery resonated with your humble blogger, whose arc of life no longer rose steeply.

Reading it again, I still respond positively, but less so. The verses go on and on, with too much explaining of the river metaphor. I like poems ("the best words in the best order", as my 5th grade teacher said) to be rich with multiple meanings...and shorter.

W.R. Hearst, whose life inspired Citizen Kane, had spectacular success in his youth followed by self-inflicted misfortunes. We read Song of the River today because of the importance of the poet---the Hearst newspapers reprint it annually on this date---and not so much the poem (reprinted in entirety after the break).

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Roundup: Common Sense Has Left the Building

$39.95 at the Iwilei Home Depot
Hawaii's fecundity is integral to its appeal but is an extra burden to property owners.

The weeds had found the cracks in the asphalt around my parents' home and had grown noticeably. Because family volunteers perform maintenance irregularly, I went to Home Depot for Roundup, which kills weeds to the root. It took about 30 minutes to spray the front half of the home.

Roundup is effective in killing plants where they don't belong. Lately it has been in the news because of jury awards to users who have contracted non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

California wants to regulate Roundup, but the Trump Administration has "ordered companies to ignore state requirements that businesses warn customers". Of course the discussion has turned political, exacerbated by the billions of dollars at stake (google non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and at the top of the list is an ad for potential Roundup plaintiffs).

Below is a representative quote from an environmental advocate (bold added):
“The Trump EPA’s disgusting campaign to hide glyphosate’s well-documented links to cancer from American consumers is hideous,” said Brett Hartl, the director of government affairs for the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is just the latest example of the Trump administration’s disturbing push to ignore peer-reviewed independent research by leading scientists in favor of whatever pesticide companies claim their own confidential research reveals.”
Whether or not there is a warning label, users of Roundup--or any other powerful substance--would have to be naive not to take precautions such as wearing protective clothing, eyewear, or gloves. On the other hand the vast majority of home gardeners can take comfort because people who work with the chemical in agriculture or professional gardening seem to be the only ones at risk.

Common sense tells you that one cigarette a week won't kill you but two packs a day might. The same is true for Roundup; if you use it once every two months or so you'll be fine. It's neither 100% safe or 100% dangerous, but common sense has left the building.

Monday, August 12, 2019

In a Rut, with Gratitude

For our anniversary I bought candy and flowers and reserved dinner at a nice restaurant. It sounds boring, but other gifts and experiences had been attempted with a marked lack of success. She seemed happy with the evening.

In fact I've come to appreciate boring. There are enough changes that arrive unbidden. It's nice to be in a rut, to have some aspects of life that are routine and reliable and for which the actions taken produce the same result (see, I'm not insane).

The goal of life just may be--not to complete a to-do list of successes or even to find happiness--but to accept how it all turned out.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

From Both Sides

In another dark week of mass shootings and political nastiness, the priest looked for a sign of hope. He mentioned the seesaws at the border:
These custom-built seesaws have been placed on both sides of a slatted steel border fence that separates the United States and Mexico. The idea for a "Teeter-Totter Wall" came from Ronald Rael, an architecture professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Virginia San Fratello, an associate professor of design at San Jose State University
This project is self-described as an "act of activism" and is undoubtedly political.

Although your humble blogger doesn't share many of his views, I find Professor Rael's pink seesaws refreshing: they're inventive, he's creating and not speechifying, and no one is being vilified. Let's hope we see more of this kind of politics from both sides.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Pretty But Dangerous

A possible Yellowstone supervolcano eruption gets all the apocalyptic speculation, but for West Coast residents the more likely dangers lie closer to home. [bold added]
(Photo from AGT, a Mt. Shasta CPA firm)
There is a serious volcanic threat in the contiguous U.S., but it isn’t in Wyoming. It lurks hundreds of miles to the west, inside the snow-capped, picture-postcard peaks of Mount Rainier, Mount Shasta, Mount Hood and others. They might look like ordinary mountains, but in fact they are volcanoes—and potentially dangerous ones....

Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, which erupted last year, ranked as the [USGS'] No. 1 “very high threat.” Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano and five Alaskan volcanoes were also in that category. Of the 18 U.S. volcanoes designated as “very high threat,” the other 11 are situated in California, Oregon and Washington. Washington’s Mount Rainier, near Seattle, which has erupted dozens of times in the past 10,000 years, ranked No. 3; California’s Mount Shasta, which last erupted about two centuries ago, ranked No. 5; Oregon’s Mount Hood ranked No. 6. Yellowstone, by contrast, was ranked No. 21, and didn’t make it into the “very high threat” category.
A Tufts paper states that models based on the Mount St. Helens (1980) and Mt. Pinatubo (1991) volcanic events predict that a Mt. Shasta eruption would "destroy" the nearby towns of Dunsmuir, Weed, Mt. Shasta, and McCloud, which have a combined population of under 10,000 people. The nearest city, Redding, has a population of 92,000 and is likely to be placed on high alert.

Mt. Shasta is 300 miles from the SF Peninsula, so Foster City residents don't have to fear the direct effects of an eruption. Now I can go back to the usual worrying about earthquakes and flooding.....say, did you hear that the Yellowstone super-volcano would bury the country in ash?

Friday, August 09, 2019

Shopping Till I'm Dropping

Costco: temptation averted
Buying in bulk to get the lowest price--like finishing everything on the plate--is a compulsive behavior that I'm trying to control.

Needing only six AA batteries, I nevertheless was tempted by the Costco display in Hawaii Kai; the pack of 40 Duracell AA's was on sale for $13.99, 35 cents per unit.

There was no foreseeable requirement for buying extra for my own use in Hawaii; my local relatives are also hoarders prudent shoppers and had plenty of their own, and I wasn't going to carry nearly three dozen batteries onto the plane, possibly slowing the TSA process.

Safeway: nope.
Safeway was selling them at 4 for $7.49, or $1.88 per. I would have to buy eight for $14.98, just to get six. Nope, I would rather buy the Costco 40-pack and leave 34 on the sidewalk for someone else to use.

CVS' promotion had the Duracell AA's on "sale" at 8 for $7.99. $1 per battery was much improved but still wasteful since I'd have two extraneous units.

I finally settled on the CVS store-branded six-pack for $5.49.

Paying 92 cents each was 2.6x the Costco price but was the optimal decision.

After all this running around, there's a philosophical point that I've been pondering for quite a while.

My investment portfolio has reached the point where I can gain or lose thousands of dollars each day.

Is it worth spending an hour agonizing over $14 vs $8 vs $6, especially since the sands of time are running low? We know that we should change our behavior to adapt to changing circumstances, but it's much easier said than done.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

McCully Shopping Center

Before 10 a.m. parking is easy.
Fook Yuen midnight take-out
The McCully Shopping Center has grown from a nondescript retail and office building into a popular nightspot. Its restaurants are crowded with young locals, and every night parking is difficult.

Less than a mile from the Royal Hawaiian, the McCully Shopping Center doesn't feel fancy or touristy. The Ala Wai Canal is more than a physical boundary separating Waikiki from the residential sections of old Honolulu, it's a cultural barrier to the bright lights.

Not seen often: open till 2 a.m.
At MSC one is allowed to enter without nice shoes and a collared shirt.

The restaurant traffic doesn't go by my parents' home. On many an evening I've walked over for a late-night meal.

Hooray for development and progress!...this time.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

A Local Connection

Hawaii Kai workouts: appealing scenery
Because Hawaii Kai was planned a little over a half-century ago, its design is much more appealing than the ramshackle layout of older sections of Honolulu. The roads, shopping, and recreational areas, interspersed with lagoons and canals, make it an attractive place to live.

In fact, Hawaii Kai resembles my new home town, Foster City, which was planned in the mid-20th century, created from landfill, and has increased in desirability over time. (The populations of about 30,000 are also similar.)

Foster City: view from the bridge on July 4th
Hawaii Kai: Hanauma crater in back
We're old enough to remember the area before it was developed. From 2004:
Hawaii Kai is now a prosperous community of million-dollar homes, but I remember when it was a dry, hot expanse of dirt roads, bushes, and tangled foliage, home to pigs and chickens.

The “pig man” would come to our home in central Honolulu and pick up a week’s supply of our table scraps, which had been ripening in a three-foot steel can, and take it to his hogs. He would show his gratitude by inviting us to an annual luau at his farm. The food was plentiful and tasty, but the powerful stench emanating from the pens and the large horseflies buzzing about the dishes weren’t esthetically pleasing. Then again an eight-year-old didn’t know what "esthetics" meant or that they were supposed to matter.

For hours I would watch the hogs, who rolled around in a nameless mixture of mud, slop, and waste material. The new residents of Hawaii Kai roll around in BMW and Lexus SUVs and would be horrified to have the pig man as their neighbor. I hope he sold his land at a good price to Henry J. Kaiser, the visionary industrialist who developed the area.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

O, the Fecundity

This Kalakaua Avenue banyan isn't particularly large or famous, and it's easy to pass it by with all the distractions of Waikiki.

The lushness and rapidity of plant growth is remarkable, even on built-over Kalakaua Avenue. The largest banyan tree in Hawaii covers two-thirds of an acre and is less than 150 years old. The Kalakaua banyan could grow to be such a monster if it were not constrained, but it is, so it won't.


(Graphic from searcyfinancial)
After yesterday's 2.9%-3.5% (depends on which index you look at) sell-off, I dipped in my toe and shifted 1% of my portfolio from cash into equities and equity derivatives. The volatility from the tariff battles is not even close to being resolved, but at these price levels I couldn't bear if I missed another buying opportunity. In other words I am driven by the Fear of Missing Out.

Irrationality loves company. Your humble blogger takes comfort that professional money managers are also subject to emotional investing. [bold added]
Several new studies show that the so-called smart money is prone to many of the same errors as amateurs...Professional investors hold stocks too long. They react erratically to stock splits. They may even buy one stock when they intended to purchase a different one—almost as often as supposedly clueless individual investors make the same kind of blunder.
Sometimes a sector is so hot that just by including a keyword in its name a company's stock could take off--witness the near-panic buying that greeted "cloud" and "blockchain" offerings. In the near future one can expect space mining, life extension, and artificial intelligence businesses to experience similar booms and eventual busts.

Look at it this way, if your life span will indeed be extended past 100 years, you can afford to be patient. But that would be rational, and frankly, not as much fun.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Princess Kaiulani: Ahead of Her Time

At Kuhio Avenue and Kanekapolei Street in Waikiki
Hawaiian history was mandatory in fourth and fifth grade, and to this day the timeline of the Hawaiian monarchs is more familiar to your humble blogger than the jumble of names and numbers that is the history of English royalty.

However, we didn't learn much about Kaiulani, the Crown Princess when the monarchy was overthrown. Because she died of illness in 1899 at the age of 23--Hawaii was annexed by the United States in 1898--she was considered to be a footnote in history. No longer, however.

Interest in Princess Kaiulani has revived because she was the perfect rejoinder to pro-annexation propaganda that smeared Hawaiians in terms that seem scarcely believable today. Various accounts accused Hawaiians as being
  • Savage, dark-skinned brutes. Kaiulani was tall, graceful, and beautiful.
  • Heathens who were strangers to the Word of God. Missionaries had been present in the Islands for a half-century and had converted Hawaiian royalty, including Kaiulani.
  • Uneducated and illiterate. Kaiulani was schooled in England and spoke four languages.

    At the age of 17 she issued a statement to the American people protesting the loss of Liliuokalani's throne:
    Unbidden, stand upon your shores today where I thought so soon to receive a royal welcome on my way to my own kingdom. I come unattended, except by the loving hearts that have come with me over the wintry seas. I hear that commissioners from my land have been for many days asking this great nation to take away my little vineyard. They speak no word to me, and leave me to find out as I can from the rumors of the air that they would leave me without a home, or a name, or a nation.

    Seventy years ago Christian America sent over Christian men and women to give religion and civilization to Hawaii. They gave us the gospel, they made us a nation and we learned to love and trust America. Today three of the sons of those missionaries are at your capital asking you to undo their fathers' work. Who sent them? Who gave them authority to break the constitution, which they swore they would uphold.

    Today, I, a poor, weak girl, with not one of my people near me, and all these Hawaiian statesmen against me, have strength to stand up for the rights of my people. Even now I can hear their wail in my heart and it gives me strength and courage and I am strong, strong in the faith of God, strong in the knowledge that I am right, strong in the strength of 70,000,000 people who in this free land will hear my cry and will refuse to let their flag cover dishonor to mine.
    Nearly 80 years before Saul Alinsky issued the Rules for Radicals, Princess Kaiulani understood that as "a poor, weak girl" her best chance lay with what would become RFR#4: Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.

    The force of her personality, character, and wisdom captivated the American press and won her an audience with President Cleveland. Annexation, initially proposed in 1893, was put on hold. Though she ultimately lost, Kaiulani likely would have succeeded in the world of today, where the levers of power are different. She was a woman a century ahead of her time.
  • Sunday, August 04, 2019

    Repudiating History's Teaching

    Peggy Noonan: [bold added]
    (Babylon Bee satire)
    In the past, whether you were racist could be judged by your actions. You held ugly biases, you said or did things that were definitionally discriminatory. The bad news is that you were this way, but the good news is that you could change. You could widen your lens, let some love in, say, think or do better things. You could improve....

    Now the idea has taken hold that the charge of racism doesn’t derive from thoughts and actions, from what people say and do, but from who they are. If you are white that accident of birth left you racist, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve got white privilege. You are unconsciously favored, and unconsciously assign disfavor. Either way you’re guilty. No action or word can turn this around.
    As American society retreats from Judeo-Christianity due to its failings and supposed irrelevance, religion's precepts are disowned as well, precepts such as:

    1) Sons should not be punished for the sins of their fathers; under the new rules the great-great-great grandchildren should be excoriated for the sins of their slaveowner ancestors;

    2) Everyone is a sinner, and may God who sits in Judgment have mercy on us all; under the new rules whites are the only ones guilty of America's Original Sin, and good luck trying to obtain mercy from the latter-day Puritans who sit in judgment.

    Unlike their science and technology counterparts, the culture vanguards don't seem to be intent on building upon history's teaching but repudiating it.

    Saturday, August 03, 2019

    The Science is Not Settled

    From April, 2013
    We first tried the fasting diet six years ago and dropped 10 pounds in a little over a month. The program recommends two fasting days per week, but frankly we don't have the willpower. We fast one day a week, and the weight has stabilized.

    One focus of research has been "mini"-fasting, that is, limiting one's eating during an 8-9 hour stretch each day:
    [Biologist Satchidananda Panda at California’s Salk Institute] fed a group of mice a high-fat diet around the clock for 18 weeks; they developed fatty livers, pancreatic disease and diabetes. Another group was fed the exact same number of calories a day, but all during an eight-hour span. Surprisingly, the second group stayed slimmer and healthier for much longer.

    There is a logic to it. When we eat, our body releases insulin. That disrupts the process of autophagy (from the Greek, meaning “self-devouring”), by which cells deconstruct old, damaged components in order to release energy and build new molecules. Autophagy helps to counteract the aging of cells and builds immunity. Fasts stimulate autophagy and allow the full molecular process to take place, as a team led by Frank Madeo at the University of Graz in Austria found in 2017.
    Eat during a fraction of the day (WSJ)
    If fasting enthusiasts are correct, the food science we learned a few years ago was wrong:

    1) "Break-fast" is not the most important meal of the day; skipping it entirely may be beneficial.

    2) Autophagy (devouring one's own cells) can sometimes be a good thing. Cutting out late-night snacks has long been recommended, but now it is more than about not taking in calories. The autophagy should not be interrupted.

    3) A heavy lunch is the way to go ("we should eat lunch like kings. A rich lunch beats a robust dinner.") We had thought that a work-out--even just going walking--was preferable not only for the exercise and the food eschewing, but also for forestalling the afternoon sleepiness at the office.

    The science of the stomach is still churning.

    Friday, August 02, 2019

    Flood Zone

    The water in the Ala Wai Canal was three feet from the top of the bank, but there's not a lot of safety margin with the storms bearing down on us.
    Although [Tropical Storm] Flossie is forecasted to lose strength as it approaches Hawaii, it is expected to generate dangerous high-surf conditions mostly along the east and southeast shores of Hawaii over the next couple of days.
    My parents' home is a quarter-mile away and is part of the Ala Wai Canal flood zone. Well, we've escaped flooding from hurricanes before; here's hoping our luck will continue to hold.

    Thursday, August 01, 2019

    Bring Out the Heavy Machinery

    Tree removal is occurring in the old neighborhood. When I was growing up, pruning and chopping were pretty much done manually; for tough jobs one used powered hand equipment.

    Now wood chippers seem to be commonplace in suburban areas.

    Less than a block away, outside the Ala Wai Rec Center at McCully and Kapiolani, another crew was running a chipper.

    Perhaps the City is clearing away potential hazards in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Erick and Tropical Storm Flossie.

    On the other hand any excuse to bring out the heavy machinery is ok in my book.