Thursday, December 31, 2020

Made It To The End

Volumes will be written about this year of unprecedented events, but I won't be joining in: why waste time trying to compose a piece on a subject that thousands of others are writing about more skillfully and comprehensively?

Today being the last day of the year, all this talk about the "end", combined with Yale Professor Nicholas Christakis' tweet (below) reminded me about something that once mattered but hasn't for a long time: where my last name is placed on a list sorted in alphabetical order.

In kindergarten the inchoate brain sensed that there was an advantage to having a last name beginning with a "Y". I got to see how the other kids answered before I was called upon. Being first has its advantages in marketing (e.g., AAA Dry Cleaners), job interviews, and when good stuff is being handed out, but on the whole, as any poker player will tell you, it's better to have the last move.

Being at the end of the line has also instilled the value of patience. I really don't need to be the first to buy the latest iPhone or self-driving vehicle, nor am I disgruntled that I won't be offered the COVID-19 vaccine for months.

So be of good cheer. Things could have been a lot worse, and we made it to the end.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The High and the Low

Graph: LA Times
To stop the spread of the coronavirus California has been dictating lockdowns and business closures for the past nine months.

It all seems so futile, as the recent growth of infections has made the Golden State "the nation’s coronavirus epicenter":
With hospitals across California at capacity and COVID-19 cases skyrocketing, the state has become the epicenter of the nation’s latest coronavirus surge despite aggressive measures to restrict movement and save hospital space.

As of Wednesday, California reported 99.3 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days, far exceeding all other states, according to data compiled by the New York Times.
To make an increasingly restive population hunker down, California has resorted to fear, blaring that there is zero ICU capacity throughout the State. But a closer look tells a more nuanced story. [bold added]
The complicated answer is that the state uses a very complex algorithm to come up with that number. It’s based on a whole bunch of different factors that they put into an equation to come up with that percentage.

But in the most simple lay terms, every hospital has a certain number of intensive care beds that are licensed by the state. The state licenses your intensive care beds and you have to have the staff and the equipment for that bed to be deemed appropriate for intensive care.

But each of these hospitals also has systems in place, and they have these in place all the time, for a busy flu season, for a busy summer season if they get a lot of car accidents. So, it’s beds that can be used for so-called surge capacity, where they put patients if they do run out of room with these licensed ICU beds.

What this 0% means is they have essentially used up all of their licensed beds, and they are now into this surge capacity. It varies a lot from hospital to hospital. In Southern California, you have some hospitals that, I think, they are at 200%. So they are doubling up patients in rooms, they have patients in the emergency room that are getting intensive level of care. And we're seeing this across the region in Southern California and in the San Joaquin Valley.

But some of those hospitals may have a few beds. It’s not necessarily saying that every hospital is at 0%. It just means that, for the whole region, there are enough of those hospitals at overcapacity that it takes away from the total number for the region, and that’s the same for the state.

Right now, the California Department of Public Health keeps telling us that we are at 0% availability for ICU beds in the entire state. We know that’s not true because we know the Bay Area, for example, has a fair amount of ICU beds still available. We’re worried about it; we’re worried about the strain. But we still definitely have ICU beds available. What that means is just that so many hospitals in these hard-hit parts of the state are so far overcapacity that it’s eating into the statewide technical availability.
To sum up, "zero %" capacity means there are no more licensed ICU beds in the State overall. If an LA hospital converts one non-ICU bed to handle the surge, the State algorithm subtracts one available bed in San Francisco.

The headline is dishonest and meant to scare us into compliance. Unfortunately, this selective disclosure of information doesn't come as a shock, and it's no wonder trust in the government--no matter what one's political persuasion--is at an all-time low.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Wonder Woman 1984: Worth a Look

1984 or 2020? women do the warrior-ing while the men lie prostrate.
Wonder Woman 1984 has gotten mixed reviews, IMHO because it suffered in comparison to the 2017 original, Wonder Woman . The earlier film was fast-paced and character-driven; the excellent special effects didn't detract from the plot; and movie-goers were challenged to keep up with the titular character's origin story (it helps to know Greek mythology) and the Victorian / La Belle Époque ambience that terminated emphatically with the Great War.

Adding to the first movie's appeal was the chemistry between Gal Gadot's Diana Prince (Wonder Woman's alter ego) and Chris Pine's Captain Steve Trevor. Gal Gadot is perfectly cast as the principled superwoman whose only weakness is her empathy, and Chris Pine has been making a habit of playing the archetypical American with heartland values (Jack Ryan, James Kirk). Part of the fun of their interactions is the alien-ness of each of their worlds to the other's.

WW84, like most sequels, doesn't have the joy of discovery to fall back on. Its higher budget ($200 million vs. $150 million) is reflected in the CGI, and the stakes--preventing the destruction of the world from nuclear war--may be true to the 1984 setting but are hard to take seriously.

WW84 can best be understood as a very expensive special effects movie where they blow up everything without anyone getting killed onscreen. It's definitely targeted toward kids--the villain's affection for his young son near the beginning of the movie is a dead giveaway--and is safe to watch with all but the most sensitive children.

Considering the lack of competition, Wonder Woman 1984 is definitely worth a look, even at the cost of a subscription to HBO Max.

Reviewers' headlines say it all:

Time: Wonder Woman 1984 Arrives When We Need Some Fun—But It Could Have Been More Than That

SF Chronicle: Review: Gal Gadot can’t rescue ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ from pit of empty ideas

WSJ: ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Review: Wishfulness Run Riot

Monday, December 28, 2020

Time Spent

The 30-year-old magazine rack had fallen apart. Its plastic screws and inserts (bottom of first photo) had loosened and cracked, leaving the hardwood pieces in a disconnected jumble.

We looked online for a new one. New racks don't cost much--$20 to $50--and are made of steel wire or plastic. But there were no hardwood racks for $100 or less. (Why not spend more? Who reads magazines?)

A trip to the Home Depot fastener section didn't turn up parts that fit, so I ordered inserts, washers, and bolts (second photo) that cost a total of $31 from Amazon.

My woodworking acquaintances will sneer at the trouble in putting the pieces together.

The metal inserts wouldn't stay in the holes where the old plastic inserts were seated.

First I tried merely pushing them, but they moved with the slightest turn of the screw. Next I set the inserts with Elmer's Glue, basically the same product we used in shop class nearly (cough) 60 years ago; no luck, they still wouldn't hold after two days of drying.

Finally, I drilled the holes a quarter-inch deeper, and after some hard pushing and turning achieved success (bottom photo).

Why am I recounting this tale of a trifling repair?

A rational person might argue that there is no justification for spending $31 in materials and laboring six hours over four days to produce a used item whose market value was, say, $25.

On the other hand, monetary cost-benefit analysis is the wrong perspective from which to view activities that give one pleasure. For example some people happily garden or look after their children while others are only too glad to pay someone else to assume these "burdens."

I am at an age where I should more carefully evaluate how I spend my time.

Fixing broken magazine racks wasn't on the list, yet the task did give me some pleasure after all, and I'm glad that I did it.

Do you ever wonder whether Warren Buffett does the dishes or whether Bill Gates changes a light bulb? It wouldn't surprise me if they did.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

In the Moment

Andrea Bocelli (WSJ)
Advent (Latin: "coming") ends with Christmas, which after reflection may be the season on the Christian calendar that best represents 2020.

A holiday normally associated with joyous revelry has become one of silence and solitude, and expectations have been turned upside-down.

2,000 years ago the Jewish people were anticipating a warrior Messiah who would conquer enemy armies. Instead they were given a person so contrary to their expectations that most did not recognize him.

If life does not deliver what we expect, we are sure to be disappointed. Andrea Bocelli:
“There is a sense of suspense when [audiences] are waiting to listen to my music. I remember having the same sensation listening to [Italian tenor] Franco Corelli. When you have a sense of urgency because you want to obtain what you so much desire, it can lead you to make a mistake, which is to do things hurriedly.

My life has been a lesson in trying to keep myself calmer. I’ve had to learn to manage my patience. Every time I’ve acted impatiently, every time I’ve wanted to be strong-willed, things have never turned out well. The person who expressed this in the best possible way was Oscar Wilde, who stated that there are two tragedies in the human condition: One is to wish for something that you do not have and the other is when you actually obtain what you want.”

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Not an Absolute

Consuming gifts the year we received them.
For those who have had a lifetime practicing deferred gratification, the habit is difficult to break. With money, it can be argued that saving is always worthwhile, no matter one's age.

But saving perishables is futile. Quality and taste degrade in the freezer, and we've had to dump more food from the refrigerator section than we care to remember.

The Christmas dinner--for the first time ever--was prepared from the gift of food that someone sent us. The steaks came out fresh and moist, unlike previous years' desiccated offerings that were consumed the following March.

Deferred gratification is a useful principle to live by, but it's not an absolute.

Friday, December 25, 2020

In the Bleak Midwinter

The altar was draped in white, the liturgical color of Christmas. (Could Irving Berlin, a Russian Jewish immigrant, have known "White Christmas's" many-textured meanings?} The creche was in its usual place below the altar, and the principal hymns (Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night, Angels We Have Heard on High, etc.) were on the program.

But there the similarity to recent Christmases ended. The pews were mostly empty, the worshippers wore masks, and the music, though tuneful and enhanced by skilled soloists, did not fill the church. As the priest said during the sermon, the truth of Christmas is that God incarnate lay in a trough where animals fed (manger).

Modern Christians have often decried the season's commercialisation and pomp. Well, in 2020 we got what we wished for.
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
----------Christina Rossetti

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Songs of the Season


In the late 1990's my former employer could draw on a talent pool of more than 200 financial professionals to put together a decent holiday choir. The grainy video (VHS tape) and monaural audio won't attract any hits today, but Christmas is a time of nostalgic sentimentality...

Note: here are parts Two, and Three.

Part Four is below:

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow...

But the fates do not allow. As this memorable, anxious, emotional, horrible year has shown, Our time together is fleeting, gone in the wink of an eye. Like the ghostly watchers in Grover's Corners, we have an eternity to mull the regrets of moments unappreciated until too late.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Refusing Delivery

The owners of Karaage Burger in
San Mateo are happy to see us.
With so many eateries struggling to survive, we began taking delivery at least four times a week from restaurants that were old favorites as well as a few we had never tried before. (To be sure, it wasn't much of a nudge.) We loaded the Doordash and Uber Eats apps on to our phones, and the rest--and our former waistline--was history.

However, it's become clear that the delivery apps, which reimburse the food providers 20-30% below their menu prices, are only a temporary lifeline for the restaurants. (For those familiar with cost accounting, it's like charging just above marginal cost to stay alive. The restaurant covers its material and labor but not the rent, maintenance, taxes, legal, accounting, loan interest, etc.)
The potential damage to restaurants by the food-delivery apps — three of the four largest are centered in the Bay Area — has been well-documented in The Chronicle and beyond.

Delivery apps have created shadow websites to compete with their own small-business partners, which were already being charged up to 30%. Bay Area restaurants that wanted nothing to do with delivery apps were being added against their will, in at least one case with fake menus.

Then COVID-19 hit, and the weaknesses of the system were blown wide open. San Francisco lawmakers capped the delivery fee at 15% in city limits, a rule that was quickly violated.

“It was impossible for restaurants before COVID to survive with all of these apps and their fees,” SF Chickenbox owner Christian Ciscle told The Chronicle’s Justin Phillips in July. “If you’re giving 25% to 30% to an app, there’s no way you’re going to survive, or even get ahead.”
Despite the slightly increased risk of catching the coronavirus, we now order take-out as much as we can. Frankly, we want the restaurants to get our dollars, not the delivery services that are worth $billions on the stock exchange.

Whenever we pick up an order, the owners smile and wave. And I always add a tip, which I didn't used to do on take-out orders. At the end of 2020
We are grateful our family survives
And savings have remained intact
We took this chance to look at our lives
And distinguish the muscle from fat.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Coming Together at Night

The Jupiter-Saturn conjunction that we noted earlier was visible last night with the naked eye.

The planets appeared in the west just above the roof of a house in our cul-de-sac. We spent 15 minutes in the cold night air, as did many of our neighbors, spaced appropriately of course.

Although it's possible that the "Great Conjunction" of the two largest planets in the solar system was the Star of Bethlehem mentioned in the New Testament, other heavenly phenomena that occurred near the time of Jesus' birth make it unlikely.

Nevertheless, as the ancients might have experienced two thousand years ago, we felt a feeling of hope for better times as we looked at the lights in the sky.

Note: the Chronicle captured the image near Coit Tower.

Monday, December 21, 2020

The iCar is Coming

(Macrumors image)
Reuters reports that Apple is moving ahead with its long-rumoured self-driving car:
Apple Inc is moving forward with self-driving car technology and is targeting 2024 to produce a passenger vehicle that could include its own breakthrough battery technology, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The iPhone maker’s automotive efforts, known as Project Titan, have proceeded unevenly since 2014 when it first started to design its own vehicle from scratch. At one point, Apple drew back the effort to focus on software and reassessed its goals. Doug Field, an Apple veteran who had worked at Tesla Inc, returned to oversee the project in 2018 and laid off 190 people from the team in 2019.

Since then, Apple has progressed enough that it now aims to build a vehicle for consumers, two people familiar with the effort said, asking not to be named because Apple’s plans are not public. Apple’s goal of building a personal vehicle for the mass market contrasts with rivals such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo, which has built robo-taxis to carry passengers for a driverless ride-hailing service.

Central to Apple’s strategy is a new battery design that could “radically” reduce the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle’s range, according to a third person who has seen Apple’s battery design.
Personally, I'm most excited about injecting a fresh list of car-naming possibiities, e.g., golden delicious, honeycrisp, etc.

Mary Kay could award its top performers Pink Ladies instead of Pink Cadillacs, the Fuji and Rome models are tailor-named for overseas markets, and the Granny Smith would be perfect for elderly conservative (not in a political sense) drivers.

From a practical standpoint what's been holding me and other buyers back from buying an electric vehicle has been the limited range and the possibility of being stuck in the middle of nowhere without being able to recharge. Apple is smart enough to know that it should not be entering the highly competitive automobile market unless it had a technological advantage, like something "that could 'radically' reduce the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle’s range." wouldn't want to see your Apple run out of juice.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

A Special Winter Solstice

(WSJ photo by Chris McGrath)
In this remarkable year Monday will not only be the winter solstice but also the day of a rare celestial event: [bold added]
Jupiter and Saturn will appear to nearly touch in the night sky on the winter solstice this Monday, in a rare alignment that has happened only twice since the Middle Ages...

The two worlds will appear so close on Dec. 21 that they will resemble a double planet, separated by a distance equal to only one-fifth the diameter of the full Moon—about a dime’s thickness—as seen from Earth, astronomers say. They will be visible just above the western horizon during the hour after sunset almost world-wide in the days before and after they make their closest approach on the solstice.
The science-minded may well dismiss the rare alignment as nothing more than a specific view of two planets from the perspective of Earth, signifying nothing.

Still, the perspective of this planet is the only one we have, and tomorrow the view happens to be special. We'll be gazing upward, just for a while.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Sam Wo Be Gone*

Sam Wo moved to 713 Clay (Chron)
*Possibly offensive, but I'm Asian American, so it's ok.

Over the years we've followed the up-and-down fortunes of Sam Wo. The hole-in-the-wall Chinatown restaurant had survived the 1906 earthquake and the Great Depression, but health-code and building-code violations forced its closure in 2012.

Sam Wo re-opened on Clay Street, a few blocks away from its old address, in 2015, and there was general celebration that a 20th-century San Francisco institution had been revived.

However, Sam Wo might soon join other victims of the pandemic.
At 112-year-old Chinatown legend Sam Wo Restaurant, longtime owner David Ho is doing everything these days.

2003: at 813 Washington (cars
going uphill are the giveaway)
He’s buying all the ingredients, lifting 50-pound bags of rice up the restaurant’s steep stairs. He’s cooking every item on Sam Wo’s menu, from the rice noodle rolls stuffed with pork to the jook studded with preserved egg. He’s washing dishes and scrubbing the floors.

But Ho, 62, is tired. His body is full of aches and pains. He’s scared of catching the coronavirus. Still, he doesn’t want to stop working, despite the pleas of his business partners. Even his daughter has expressed concerns he’s working too hard without a staff to back him up, according to co-owner Steven Lee, who helped resurrect Sam Wo, Chinatown’s oldest restaurant, after it temporarily closed in 2012...

During the pandemic, Sam Wo’s main income has been from feeding food-insecure individuals through HelpKitchen. The restaurant worked with two other nonprofits to feed people in need this summer, but those efforts have already run out of money. And now, HelpKitchen is slated to run out of funding at the end of the year, according to Lee. It’s possible more will come in January, but Lee said Sam Wo will be forced into hibernation if that program disappears, because its takeout business doesn’t add up to enough income.
David Ho sounds like an extraordinarily dedicated owner, the sort of person whom everyone would wish success upon. I've never had a chance to check out the "new" Sam Wo but plan to do so before year-end even though it is 25 miles away and will be take-out only.

BTW, Sam Wo has a four-star rating on Yelp.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Dying is Easy, Keeping Track of Passwords is Hard

Facebook image: they can track you everywhere
Death is getting more complicated. Not only do we have to make arrangements for our physical and financial assets; now we have to worry about the remnants of our digital lives.

WSJ tech editor Joanna Stern takes us through the steps of organizing our electronic estate:
1. Take inventory of your digital assets
2. Add a digital executor to your will
3. Add digital heirs to your accounts
4. Plan to pass on your passwords
5. Record your stories
After step 2, adding a "digital executor" (can be the same as the regular executor), the will should contain instructions to the executor to distribute the accounts to the digital heirs.
Some of the big tech companies provide specific tools. On Facebook, assign and add a legacy contact. When you die, Facebook will allow this person to take some actions on your account, including downloading a copy of what you’ve shared on Facebook, memorializing your profile so others know you’ve passed or, if you prefer, removing your account. On Google, assign an Inactive Account Manager, who can similarly download the data, including any pictures you may have on Google Photos.

Unfortunately, other tech giants don’t offer such features. Make sure your digital executor will receive access to your passwords and also has a way to get to your phone to receive those number and letter codes that some companies send when you log in. Without that, a company could require the executor to gain a court order. Here are links to the specific policies for companies you might have digital accounts with:

•Amazon (U.K. customers; U.S. link not working)

What to Do Before You Die: A Tech Checklist is humbling because I've done nothing except print out a list of all my accounts and passwords. Meanwhile the hard-core are making sure that their avatars are not interred with their bones: [bold added]
James Vlahos, co-founder of HereAfter.AI.... creates voicebots so loved ones can, via an Amazon Echo or Alexa phone app, actually talk to friends or family members after they die.

The company records interviews with people, then turns the audio into an interactive experience. Loved ones can ask the bot questions about your childhood, and it will play relevant chapters of the recording.

To me, the best part of this service—which starts at $95 for an hour of interviews—is that customers get, in addition to the voicebot, the original high-quality audio files. Of course, you and your family can record some yourselves with a good microphone and computer. The key for any interview is asking the right questions to capture the best stories.

Use targeted questions that guide your loved ones to share the most specific, visceral and emotional things they can remember,” Mr. Vlahos said. “Don’t ask, ‘Tell me about your marriage.’ Ask, ‘Describe the very first time you saw the woman who would become your wife.’”
In the Superman movies Kal-el speaks to a ghostly image of his long-dead father Jor-el. The image responds intelligently to Kal'el's questions and often gives useful advice.

Here's a 21st century question: does anyone want to listen to posthumous advice from someone who presumed that his descendants wanted to take his advice seriously after he was gone?

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Larry Ellison: Aloha and Mahalo

Dr. David Argus, cancer specialist, discusses Lanai
health initiatives with Larry Ellison (Star Advertiser)
Go east, young man (or go west, old man); the destination doesn't seem to matter to skilled youngsters or wealthy oldsters as long as they're moving out from California.

Yesterday we noted how Oracle is moving its Redwood Shores headquarters--a two-mile walk from our house using the Bay Trail--to Texas. Meanwhile, its billionaire founder, Larry Ellison, has departed for Lanai, the island he bought eight years ago.
“Following Friday’s announcement ... I’ve received a number of inquiries about whether or not I will be moving to Texas,” Ellison wrote. “The answer is no. I’ve moved to the state of Hawaii and I’ll be using the power of Zoom to work from the island of Lanai,” he added, signing off the email with a “Mahalo.”
Hawaii also attracts Mainlanders who don't have the wherewithal to buy their own island. Bay Area residents who are able to work remotely are leaving for Hawaii: [bold added]
[35 y.o. founder of kWh Analytics Richard] Matsui is part of a wave of Bay Area residents landing on the Aloha State’s shores to take advantage of new pandemic-related remote work policies. While some are relocating permanently, others have made the trans-Pacific hop for three- to six-month sojourns where they rise before dawn, wrap up work by midafternoon and hit the beach or hiking trail by 4 p.m. Matsui is now participating in a collaborative effort among the state, nonprofit organizations and businesses that incentivizes remote workers to set up shop in the archipelago.

Hawaii’s appeal for Bay Area transplants with the financial means to move and jobs that allow it goes far beyond sun and surf. Of all 50 states, it has the lowest death rate due to the coronavirus and the third-lowest infection rate. While many popular international destinations are closed to U.S. travelers, Hawaii’s tropical climate and unique culture remains accessible. Additionally, the pandemic crippled Hawaii’s tourism industry, the state’s No. 1 private employer, leaving many accommodations typically booked out months in advance open for longer stays.

“We’ve noticed a significant increase in applicants for long-term rentals that are intending to work remotely,” said Andreea Grigore, senior vice president of property management at Elite Pacific and co-founder of the Hawaii Legal Short-Term Rental Alliance. “While a majority of our long-term rentals continue to support local Hawaii families, there is a growing percentage of our higher-end rentals that are being leased by families from the Bay Area.”
After watching Mainland transplants over a lifetime, my general observation is that they don't stick around unless they have family and friends already in Hawaii. If they arrive as a couple, one or both eventually get Island fever and leave.

It's also tough if they don't have a job lined up. The devastation wrought upon Hawaii's tourist industry has produced an unemployment rate of 15%, double that of California.

IMHO, the California-to-Hawaii migration isn't and won't be a widespread phenomenon.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Oracle: Not Going to Take it Any More

In the latest blow to the Bay Area economy, Oracle is moving its headquarters from Redwood Shores to Austin.
Oracle HQ at Redwood Shores, 2004
2017: Buildings added, plus marine craft.
Oracle joins numerous Bay Area companies that have moved their headquarters to Texas in recent years or months, including Charles Schwab, McKesson and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Other companies, including Apple and Dropbox, are keeping their Silicon Valley headquarters, but expanding their presence in Texas...

Oracle occupies 3.5 million square feet of Silicon Valley office space, concentrated in its Redwood Shores complex, Santa Clara and San Jose. The company has listed 263,000 square feet for lease at Redwood Shores and 449,810 square feet for lease in Santa Clara, according to marketing materials.

Its name is on the Giants’ ballpark in San Francisco, a deal that runs through 2039.

The company opened its Austin campus in 2018 and said it would eventually house 10,000 employees there. It leases 1.3 million square feet in the Texas city, according to real estate data firm CoStar. Oracle has 135,000 total employees and a market capitalization of $182.5 billion...

[Chris Thornberg of Beacon Economics] said the “preposterous degrees of regulation and controls,” coupled with the lack of affordable housing could be reasons. And the pandemic has only worsened the economic outlook, with state-level regulations constantly moving goalposts.
Oracle founder Larry Ellison is one of those colorful billionaires who likes to make waves, figuratively and literally, by competing in the America's Cup, building a distinctive glass corporate headquarters, and buying the island of Lanai. Now he's moving his company headquarters, which is not a decision to be made lightly given all the personnel, financial, and legal agreements that have to be broken, initiated, and renegotiated.

Oracle is the largest company yet to move out of California. Its market capitalization of $182 billion makes it the 13th most valuable company in the Bay Area and the 34th most valuable in the country (see table below).

With the tax base eroding and environmentalists and socialists tightening their grip, look for California's taxes and "preposterous" regulations only to increase. There's an excellent chance that Oracle will not be the last of the top-15 Bay Area companies to leave, and I hope I'm wrong.

Monday, December 14, 2020

The "Doctor" is In

Joseph Epstein ( David Kanigan)
Mr. Joseph Epstein, with only a B.A. from Chicago to his name, stirred a hornets' nest by advising Jill Biden to drop the "PhD" and "Doctor" honorifics while she's First Lady. The blowback was instantaneous---worse than any tweetstorm from the current President when anyone insulted or even mildly criticized him.

Of course, that prompted your humble blogger to read Mr. Epstein's short essay. The first paragraph alone likely was sufficient to prompt an avalanche of negative letters:
Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the “Dr.” before your name? “Dr. Jill Biden ” sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic. Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title “Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs.” A wise man once said that no one should call himself “Dr.” unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.
Mr. Epstein's offense was compounded when he dissed the education and social science establishments' credentialism:
In contemporary universities, in the social sciences and humanities, calling oneself Dr. is thought bush league.
I've always been impressed by Jill Biden, not only because of her talents but also her character and strength. IMHO, she doesn't need to put the letters in front or at the end of her name, but has the right to do so, and Joseph Epstein has the right to voice his opinion as well. Putting the future First Lady aside, what about his other points?

To me the piece is written in a light hearted tone. The general theme is that the proliferation of educational credentials and the appending of them to one’s name is off putting to a lot of people. I agree.

If one is well-known because of something that’s got nothing to do with one's degree, the credentials are displayed only on rare occasions. Both Shaquille O’Neal and Bill Cosby have earned PhDs in education but don’t insist on being called “doctor.”

There’s a guy at my church whom I like a lot but for years signed all his emails with “PhD”. The degree was in hard science and he needed it to establish credibility in the engineering community, but for church? C’mon, man!

It’s one's right to put the letters after one's name, especially to get a job or establish credibility when giving a speech, and Mr. Epstein seems only to be suggesting, not demanding, that one use judgment about when to do so.

Paul Gigot, the WSJ editorial page editor writes:
By the way, the Journal editorial page’s longtime style is to use “Dr.” only when referring to medical doctors. Henry Kissinger gets a “Mr.” Lynne Cheney, wife of Dick Cheney, is Mrs. Cheney despite her Ph.D.
For the record I don't think that Joseph Epstein wrote a strong essay. It was unnecessary for him to spend as much time on his personal success at Northwestern; it's more effective to mention his own story in a throwaway line then talk about other successful people who didn't go on to graduate school. He made a mistake by using "kiddo", because many people did not know the diminutive is a favorite of Joe Biden's and took it as an offense to Jill. Finally, inveighing against the spread of honorary degrees has nothing to do with Mrs. Biden, who earned her degree.

Display your educational achievements if it helps you accomplish your goals; in general, it's better to omit them because in America no one likes an elitist (though many of us are, in our heart of hearts).

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Unconditional Love

"Love is patient, love is kind," says the Good Book. Patient love is easy to print on a coffee mug but difficult to achieve.

The love that First Corinthians is referring to is unconditional. How many of us can truly say "no matter what you do I will always love you"? Unconditional love is so exceedingly rare that it's considered an aspect of the Divine.

Conditional love is common. We see it behind family estrangements and, of course, in couples splitting up. One also sees conditional love at the beginning of people coming together. It's the stuff of romantic drama, as lovers take tentative steps toward each other, wondering if they can trust.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical, Carousel, celebrated its 75th anniversary this year. A huge hit in its day, Carousel is largely unfamiliar to younger audiences, though You'll Never Walk Alone and If I Loved You are still popular.

Which brings this post back to the original topic. If one Googles "conditional love music", at the top of the search is If I Loved You, which, if one is only familiar with the song, is a revelation when one listens to the entire 11-minute set-piece ("the bench scene") of dialogue and music. Below is a YouTube clip of Broadway stars performing it in studio and street clothes with just a piano accompaniment.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Effective As But Safer Than Bleach

(WSJ gif)
Until the vaccine arrives [momentary flash on Didi and Gogo] we've been abiding by the recommendations of the health professionals, i.e., wearing masks, frequent hand washing, and social distancing. Yes,there's some dispute about the effectiveness of masks, but for us the discomfort and inconvenience are a small price to pay when measured against the potential benefit.

If in-person meetings are unavoidable, we hold them outdoors. We also take Vitamin D and zinc supplements.

Now arises some evidence that using mouthwash should be added to the list of preventive measures:
Reducing virus particles in the mouth could help fight against the pandemic, the companies said, because Covid-19 can be spread through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. Both companies [Unilever and Colgate] said the mouthwashes dissolve the outer protective layer of virus particles, preventing them from attaching to cells and infecting them.

But based on tests so far they can’t definitively say how long the benefit would last or what impact coughing would have.
The article is something of a let-down to those focused on coronavirus avoidance for themselves; the benefit of using mouthwash, even if it works, is to protect the people with whom the garglers interact, not themselves.

Your humble blogger gargles daily anyway to prevent infection from using a steroid inhaler.

Now I can say that I'm doing it out of care and concern for the health of others; in this Peninsula community of staunch recyclers and electric cars, I need all the virtue points I can get.

Friday, December 11, 2020

‘Best day ever at Mavericks’

25 miles south of San Francisco, Mavericks, the mecca for big-wave surfers since 1992, had its "best day ever" on Tuesday.
Word spread quickly in the big-wave surfing community when it was learned that Kai Lenny was coming to Mavericks. He’s the best in the world, deeply respected and admired by all, and the 28-year-old Hawaiian savored the notion of surfing Tuesday’s big swell.

Lenny’s appearance was brilliant, but by day’s end, there was much more to the story. “All things considered,” said San Francisco’s Grant Washburn, “I think this was the best day we’ve ever had at Mavericks.”

That’s a voice of authority. Washburn has surfed and documented every significant Mavericks swell since January 1992, when the surfing world became aware of the once-secret spot off the coast of Half Moon Bay. His claim is certainly debatable in the wake of so much history, but this was a day when all of the crucial elements reached optimum level. “Definitely all-time top three, for sure,” said longtime photographer and water safety expert Frank Quirarte.
The best surfers in the world fly to Mavericks during the winter to take advantage of
the combination of ideal weather, favorable wind, swell direction, [and] wave faces of 50-plus feet.
After a year of COVID-19, contentious politics, and economic hardship it's nice to talk about something that's beautiful, inspiring, and dangerous (where no one got hurt).

Thursday, December 10, 2020

San Francisco Getting What They Wanted: One Year Later

Chesa Boudin (KQED photo)
It's been a year since public defender Chesa Boudin was elected to the position of San Francisco District Attorney. In keeping with Mr. Boudin's progressive philosophy (after his parents were jailed he was raised by Weather Underground icons Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, and he worked for Venezuela's Hugo Chavez) crimes against property are accorded a low priority, and "minor" crimes such as car break-ins are not prosecuted at all. The results were easily foreseen by anyone with any life experience.
Smashed car windows have become so common in San Francisco that many people don’t even blink as they step over the crushed glass. And those victimized by break-ins frequently lament a lack of response from police and prosecutors.
San Francisco resident Jesse Hunt posted a video of twelve cars parked on his block, all with smashed windows.
After viewing the video, San Francisco Police Department spokesman, Officer Adam Lobsinger, said it appeared to show the 1700 block of Green Street and that the department had not yet received any reports by late morning.
IMHO, the car owners are behaving rationally. Why bother filing a report when the police aren't going to do anything about it?

As we've commented before, San Francisco residents keep electing guys like Chesa Boudin to public office. The ones who don't like the current state of affairs are leaving, so expect more of the same indefinitely.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Gawking Harder

190 Sea Cliff sold for $24 million (Chron)
When taking visitors along San Francisco's 49-mile drive, I liked to peer at the houses on Sea Cliff Avenue. These mansions were well out of the reach of this poor salaryman.

With the advent of the coronavirus and the well-publicized exit of middle- and upper-class families from the Bay Area, one might have expected the prices of such high-end houses to come down, but one would be wrong. [bold added]
sales of luxury and ultra-luxury homes in particular have jumped to historic highs in almost every part of the region, according to new data from the brokerage firm Compass Real Estate and the California Association of Realtors.

In the Bay Area, real estate agents define luxury homes as those valued above $3 million and ultra-luxury homes as those valued above $5 million. According to Compass’ report, luxury home sales in the Bay Area jumped 46% this year. Affluent and ultra-affluent buyers have substantially increased as a percentage of sales since the pandemic began, helping pull up the median prices to record highs for the region as well. That data closely aligns with numbers from the California Association of Realtors, which reports that sales in the luxury home sector this year have increased by 41.4%.
Breathing a sigh of relief are county governments, whose coffers will be boosted. For example, the 190 Sea Cliff Ave. house that sold for $24 million had, before the sale, an assessed value of $8.7 million and annual property taxes of $104,720 according to Zillow.

The annual property taxes payable to San Francisco will nearly triple because of the transaction. And don't forget the real estate transfer taxes of $464,000 and $26,400, payable to San Francisco and the State, respectively.

When I'm up in the area again, I'll gawk even harder.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

300 Million Dollar Bash

(WSJ photo)
Bob Dylan has sold his entire music catalog to Universal for more than $300 million. He's the rarest of celebrities who have been in the public eye during the lifespan of the baby boom generation. Growing up in then-remote Hawaii, even we grade-schoolers knew the words to 1962's Blowin' in the Wind.

Given its enormous impact and the prices paid for other cultural influences, the Dylan songbook seems underpriced. Perhaps there was some financial structuring involved. ("Name the price, and I'll set the terms.")

The WSJ briefly discusses some of the financial considerations: [bold added]
In selling his copyrights, Mr. Dylan creates more tax certainty and potential benefits for himself and his heirs. He likely will pay a one-time capital-gains tax of 23.8% in addition to state taxes, as opposed to paying 37% plus state tax on the annual income his catalog generates. Doing the sale now means he pays the capital-gains tax in accordance with today’s rates and rules rather than facing the potential higher rates and tighter restrictions that Democrats have proposed on both capital gains and ordinary income. For his estate, he can plan tax strategies on his remaining assets without his heirs and the government engaging in a lengthy fight over the value of the copyrighted assets after his death.
Frankly, it would be surprising to your humble blogger if this were an all-cash deal. Bob Dylan's financial representatives would not be doing their job if they didn't capture for their client some of tomorrow's upside from streaming and other technologies barely imagined. Tomorrow is a long time.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Comforted by Limitation

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek reflects upon the "deeply strange" nature of carbon- or radioactive-dating. [bold added]
What makes radioactive nuclei such ideal clocks is that they are reliably unreliable. An isotope’s half-life can be determined accurately by observing lots of decays. For instance, radioactive carbon, which is used to date organic material, has a half-life of about 5,700 years. But it’s impossible to predict when any individual nucleus will decay. In fact, an individual nucleus is a kind of anti-clock: It does not register the passage of time at all. There is no observable difference between old and young nuclei.They remain ideally young, we might say, until they suddenly and explosively die. By monitoring decays within this homogeneous population we measure time statistically, with confidence.
(Graphic from toppr)
In other words scientists can very accurately predict the behavior of a large group of atoms but cannot tell how a single atom will behave.

Of course, it's very easy to analogize this principle of quantum physics to the science of human behavior.

The study of the behavior of groups and whole societies has made significant advancements, but the Holy Grail seems to be predicting how an individual will behave; an immense amount of data has already been stored about each human being who owns a cellphone.

From his eye movements, demographic characteristics, and social networks it would be logical that an algorithm could predict what a person was going to buy, who he would vote for, and whom he will marry.

But hooray for free will, which the ancients said limits the omniscience of a Deity or which moderns might say will constrain the emerging singularity.

If scientists are having difficulty predicting the decay of a single carbon atom, then they are sure to have trouble with a human being. Despite my admiration for science and progress, I am comforted by that idea.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Sandwiches Last Sunday

After 15 minutes, that's all that was left.
Following up on last week's post, there were 55 people at Sandwiches on Sunday at the Fair Oaks Community Center on Middlefield Road in Redwood City.

The number of attendees was about average. They didn't have to be asked twice to take the remainder of the 80 bag lunches and 80 bottles of water.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions we could not serve a hot lunch of lasagna or baked chicken, so the cold lunches were all we had.

This was the first time we were responsible for the sandwiches. Next time we'll make more.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Dog Bites Man

A Moraga man was bitten by a coyote: [bold added]
Kenji Sytz (LinkedIn)
That was until the end of their workout, when [Kenji] Sytz felt a sudden, sharp pain in his left leg. From a push-up position, he quickly rolled over to find a coyote clamped down, hard, on his shin and calf.

In a matter of seconds, Sytz jerked up his knee, wound up and slapped the coyote in the face to convince the animal to release him.

At first, it didn’t budge. It took nearly a minute for Sytz and his two workout partners to shoo the animal back into the Friday morning darkness.

Jack Wakileh, one of Sytz’ friends, said all of his years watching animal documentaries on the Discovery Channel prepared him for that moment. He chased the coyote from the football field’s 20-yard-line to an open gate on the other side. It would run 10 yards, pause, then stare back at Wakileh, he said.

It wasn’t until Sytz rolled up his jogger pants that he saw the deep puncture wounds, and dangling fatty tissue. Wakileh said Sytz tried to play it off as a minor flesh wound.

“I’m like ... ‘you need to go to the hospital,’” Wakileh said. “That’s not broken skin — I see your muscle.”

But Sytz said he was in good condition Friday after getting treatment at a hospital for the puncture wounds left by the coyote’s fangs in his leg — including rabies shots. Sytz said the shots were more scary than the bite. He said he’ll limp for some time, and lamented having to miss a planned 10-mile run this weekend.

“I’m an avid outdoorsman. I was more afraid of the needles,” he said.
1) The coyote didn't attack an isolated target but a member of a three-man running group. Both mountain lions and coyotes are becoming more brazen and/or hungrier.

2) Kenji Sytz is an Engineer, Berkeley grad, and family man per his social media profiles. He showed grace under pressure; it's nice to know that macho-ness--not the blustering and boastful kind---is still alive in a few young men.

Friday, December 04, 2020

"NASDAQ is Nuts"

You would comply if your Zoom board meetings looked like the above  (alderkoten image)
NASDAQ has proposed a diversity rule for corporate boards of directors: [bold added]
the rules would require most Nasdaq-listed companies to have, or explain why they do not have, at least two diverse directors, including one who self-identifies as female and one who self-identifies as either an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ+. Foreign companies and smaller reporting companies would have additional flexibility in satisfying this requirement with two female directors.
An "underrepresented minority" is defined as "Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, Asian, Native American or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, [or] two or more races or ethnicities."

Companies may be excused from compliance by "explaining their rationale for not meeting that objective", but it's probably easier not to get on the wrong side of the woke crowd. Just add a board seat or two and fill it with someone who checks the appropriate boxes. Your humble blogger qualifies to be in this group and respectfully raises his hand to be included in this gravy train necessary correction to the long-standing biases of corporate America.

The WSJ editorial board lets Warren Buffett, the greatest investor in American history, do the talking: [bold added]
The more we think about the new racial, gender and LGBTQ mandates for corporate directors that Nasdaq announced on Tuesday, the more absurd they seem.

How is a company supposed to find out if a board candidate is gay if that isn’t already known? Is it supposed to hire private detectives to look into it? Once that person joins the board, does the company then have to broadcast his or her sexual orientation in the annual report so progressives can be satisfied that the quota is met? We could go on.

For a dose of sanity, we thought readers might enjoy Warren Buffett’s views on what he looks for in a director. The following is from the legendary investor’s 2006 letter to shareholders in Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report:

“In selecting a new director, we were guided by our long-standing criteria, which are that board members be owner-oriented, business-savvy, interested and truly independent. . . .

Can't we all just get along?
“Charlie [ Munger, Berkshire vice chairman] and I believe our four criteria are essential if directors are to do their job—which, by law, is to faithfully represent owners. Yet these criteria are usually ignored. Instead, consultants and CEOs seeking board candidates will often say, ‘We’re looking for a woman,’ or ‘a Hispanic,’ or ‘someone from abroad,’ or what have you. It sometimes sounds as if the mission is to stock Noah’s ark. Over the years I’ve been queried many times about potential directors and have yet to hear anyone ask, ‘Does he think like an intelligent owner?’

“The questions I instead get would sound ridiculous to someone seeking candidates for, say, a football team, or an arbitration panel or a military command. In those cases, the selectors would look for people who had the specific talents and attitudes that were required for a specialized job. At Berkshire, we are in the specialized activity of running a business well, and therefore we seek business judgment.”

Nasdaq is nuts.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Tastes Like...

(Chronicle photo)
San Francisco privately owned Eat Just has developed laboratory-grown chicken meat that has been approved in Singapore. [bold added]
The futuristic notion of grocery store butcher cases lined with meat grown in a lab is becoming a reality...

That makes the chicken — created from animal cells instead of a slaughtered bird — from San Francisco’s Eat Just the first of its kind in the world to be approved for sale.

Singapore is the first country to regulate this groundbreaking industry — often referred to as cultured, cell-based or cultivated meat production — and Eat Just’s chicken will debut at a yet-to-be-named restaurant there soon, though the exact timing is unclear. The product cannot yet be sold in the United States.
(WSJ photo)
We are familiar with Eat Just's predecessor company, Hampton Creek, whose plant-based mayonnaise tasted like the real thing. However, Hampton Creek was beset by lawsuits insisting that the product was not "mayonnaise" because, according to Federal regulations, it did not contain egg yolks.

Cultivated meat is yet another origination category that consumers will have to become familiar with, in addition to organic, non-GMO, and plant-based protein.

It's neither fish nor fowl. (Hey, write your own blog.)

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

To SF Politicians: Save Your Breath

San Francisco can forbid and allow whatever activities it wants just because it can: [bold added]

S.F. bans tobacco smoking inside apartment buildings, allows cannabis smoking
A perfectly fine principle
San Francisco residents who live in apartment buildings with three or more units will no longer be allowed to smoke tobacco inside their homes — but they can still smoke cannabis, under a new ordinance the Board of Supervisors passed on Tuesday.

The board voted 10-1, with Supervisor Dean Preston dissenting. San Francisco is now the largest city in the country to ban tobacco smoking in apartment buildings.

“One should not have to live in a single family home to be able to breathe clean air,” said outgoing President Norman Yee, who wrote the ordinance. “That right should exist for every single person and family, regardless of where they live or what their income is.”

The ordinance is intended to protect residents from secondhand smoke. The original proposal sought to ban residents from smoking cannabis in their apartments, but supervisors voted 8-3 — with Yee, Gordon Mar and Ahsha Safaí opposed — to exclude cannabis from the ordinance.
The fine speech about the right to breathe clean air means that cannabis smoke is harmless, right? According to the American Lung Association
But don't pretend that principle matters
Smoke from marijuana combustion has been shown to contain many of the same toxins, irritants and carcinogens as tobacco smoke...Secondhand marijuana smoke contains many of the same toxins and carcinogens found in directly-inhaled marijuana smoke, in similar amounts if not more...

Smoking marijuana clearly damages the human lung. Research shows that smoking marijuana causes chronic bronchitis and marijuana smoke has been shown to injure the cell linings of the large airways, which could explain why smoking marijuana leads to symptoms such as chronic cough, phlegm production, wheeze and acute bronchitis.
The cannabis exclusion was justified, according to advocates, because marijuana smokers have no choice but to smoke indoors because the activity is not permitted in public spaces.

San Francisco supervisors caved when one of their favored interest groups requested an exemption. OK, that's politics, but please spare us the noble language when you forbid tobacco with one breath and allow marijuana with the next.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Beware the (Home) Office Turtle

Office turtle with ironing board (WSJ image)
Working from home didn't require special accommodations initially, but we're entering month 10 of shelter-in-place. If this is indeed the new normal, employees and employers are trying to figure out how to adapt to WFH for the long haul.
Those at home are often plunking down in broken chairs, using desks that are too shallow or even experiencing foot pain from walking around barefoot. Or worse, they’re just not getting up at all.

“We need to get people moving,” says Brian McEnaney, an ergonomist at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based NetApp, whose 10,000 employees are set to work remotely until at least July. Before the pandemic, Mr. McEnaney’s team received requests for help from about 10 workers a week. That’s ballooned to more than 100. The technology company has rolled out online classes on recovery breaks—short midwork stretching sessions that focus on gentle motions and deep breathing—as well as “ergonomic open office hours,” where employees can drop in with questions and concerns.

Mr. McEnaney says you don’t need to get fancy to correct many problems. Simple hacks, like sitting on a pillow to raise your body, can help. He also implores workers to avoid rounding their spines and pushing their necks out, an injury-prone position he calls the Office Turtle. Back at the actual office, he used to employ a 6-foot cutout of a turtle to get his message across.
Your humble semi-retired blogger spends an average of four hours a day on the laptop: personal finance, charity work, writing, continuing professional education, and purposeless web-surfing--not necessarily in that order--comprise the vast bulk of the activity.

I do have desks and tables, but moving from the couch would be an admission that life has turned serious again. And it's really not that serious, not until the orthopedist tells me that I look like a turtle.