Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Audio Doesn't Equal the Video.

The hearing aids that I got in 2018 have been very helpful.

Every day speech with real people is comfortably decipherable--by the way, have you noticed that old people frequently mumble? that's a subject for another day--but for television I often still must turn on closed captioning. More people with normal hearing are also using the feature.
“If you have people talking or shouting during the adventure scenes, the explode-y sounds are way higher than the dialogue,” said Melanie Brooks, a 43-year-old professional musician in Boston. Catching some of the lines in her favorite fantasy and adventure TV series is hard without captions, she added.

People tend to blame their flat-screen TVs for bad sound. The tube TVs of decades past had front-facing speakers that sent audio toward you, while new, super-thin models have speakers that are behind the screen or point downward, bouncing sound away from you. But your TV is just one of the culprits.

The rest of the problem lies within virtually every other step of the audio process, from a studio’s production choices to the device used to watch the content, said Richard Nevens, senior director of audio-hardware product management at Avid Technology, which specializes in audio- and video-editing tools.
Movie sound technology has outstripped the capabilities of the speakers on home devices, including TV's.

It's a relief that I don't have to upgrade my hearing equipment.

Meanwhile, I'll be setting closed captioning to "on."

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Day of Departure

The cup leaked badly
On the day before my return to San Francisco I cleaned out the fridge, reviewed Mom's tax records, and filled up the gas tank. The next morning was scheduled for laundry, packing the suitcase, and visiting Mom.

But the first thing on the agenda was to walk to the Waikiki Starbucks, which had become part of the daily routine.

That part didn't go well. After a few minutes coffee dripped down my hands and onto my shoes. I checked the lid several times, but it turns out that there was a pinhole leak on the bottom. Auwe!

From the McCully 7-Eleven
After dumping the rest of the cup I stopped by a 7-Eleven to buy an Azuki Bean scone, regretting briefly the enthusiasm for disposing of some tasty leftovers the night before.

Departure day had a few more hiccups: Mom was fast asleep when I stopped at the assisted living facility (we talked on FaceTime the next day, but it wasn't the same), the airport Agricultural-Inspection conveyor belt was broken, causing thousands of pieces of luggage to back up, and not coincidentally my flight was delayed an hour.

It was 45 °F when I arrived at SFO, and out came the jacket that had last been worn when I left San Francisco. I was home.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Thankful for the Memories

Today we are thankful for our memories of those who have walked the way with us.

We are thankful that we have become better at distinguishing the important from the unimportant.

And we are thankful that we have learned not to let the unimportant stuff bother us as much.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

A Happier Trip

MacBook Air battery had to be done immediately
I have always brought work on vacation.

The habit started in college during my freshman year, when I flew home for the first winter break with the suitcase half-filled with books. My school was on the semester system, which pushed final exams to January.

High-school friends whose colleges were on the quarter system had already completed their finals and had a more fun-filled vacation than I did.

Having cracked open the books on only a couple of occasions that first Christmas, I learned something useful: only bring work that I was absolutely sure I would spend time on. Leave behind anything that could possibly wait.

Speaking of things that couldn't wait, the replacement laptop battery failed disappointingly after one year (the expectation was three). I gave a moment's thought about trying to wangle a free or discounted replacement from the manufacturer, then opted for the speed and simplicity of ordering another one for $45. It arrived the day before departure, when there were a dozen more important things left to do.

And so it was that I spent my first night in Hawaii taking apart the 2014 MacBook Air, putting in the new battery, and screwing it back to together. The battery could run the computer for four hours, and we're good for another year.

Another lesson: getting it done sooner makes for a happier trip

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

A Few Comestibles

You can't find octopus jerky (right) in California
One of the first shopping expeditions on this Hawaiian trip was to Costco. 90% of the items in Honolulu consisted of goods that were available in California, but I was interested in food, clothing, and gifts that you couldn't get back in my adopted home.

The refrigerated section had lau-lau, poi, kalua pig, Portuguese sausages, and lomi salmon. I picked up a few comestibles to be consumed later on the vacation.

The Hawaii Costco also has seafood jerky that Mainland warehouses don't carry. Fish jerky isn't cheap--between $15 to $20--but I enjoy these much more than beef and pork products that are too heavy and oily for my taste. I threw a couple of packages in the suitcase to bring back.

BTW, I've been shopping at the warehouse stores to buy local products since 2006.

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Rut That I Fall Into

Waikiki's Kalakaua Avenue, like the Las Vegas Strip, is quiet in the early morning. Most of the tourists are still in bed; a few athletic souls under the age of 40 are running along the sidewalks that were packed just ten hours ago.

The Starbucks on Kuhio Avenue opens at 4:30 a.m. It has a steady stream of customers--hotel workers, tourists, and policemen.

One of my favorite pastimes is to stroll the mile from my parents' home to the Starbucks, pick up a coffee, then take a different, longer return route. I'm back by eight, and the whole day is in front of me.

Such is the rut that I fall into when I'm in the Islands, and I've lost the urge to be busier. Don't criticize, dear reader, if you haven't tried it.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Cohabiting in Philadelphia

When our suburban parish created a pre-school in the early 1980's, it was viewed as fulfilling the church's mission "to proclaim the good news" and "care for..our larger community." The financial projections were iffy: no one was certain that operations would break even, much less produce a return on the capital investment in classroom construction.

Over the years enrollment rode the wave of the Bay Area's economic prosperity, the formation of two-income families, and the prioritizing of pre-school education. Today the school has a waiting list and provides crucial financial support to the church.

As mainline Protestant and Catholic congregations shrink, the schools and colleges that they founded have become their financial lifeblood. In return the withering away of the church "parent" often helps the school defray the cost of expansion by offering the use of under-utilized buildings.

One such case is Neumann University outside Philadelphia:
Call it a match made in heaven: Neumann wanted to increase campus housing for students. The Catholic Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia had extra space in their convent.

In August, 40 undergraduate men and women moved into the Our Lady of Angels Motherhouse Convent, at the edge of this small campus just outside the city. Forty sisters also reside in the building...

Campuses around the country have struggled to find enough, and affordable, housing for students. At Neumann, the two groups use different entrances to get to their quarters, so the sisters aren’t in danger of stumbling upon a young man in a towel outside the shower. They don’t share a dining hall for everyday meals, either.
While the main driver is financial, the church and school relationship provides one of the few venues where groups of unrelated people of widely different ages and "lived experiences" can interact regularly:
But sisters and students are now getting in the habit of meeting up for nature walks, trading travel tips, planning knitting lessons, extending occasional dinner invitations and marveling at the lives one another leads.
Financial necessity often brings together strangers who find to their surprise that they have a lot to teach each other.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

I’d Rather Have My Problems Than Theirs

2021: tents along Kapiolani Boulevard, a block from my parents' home
The homeless tents have moved from across the street to our side, albeit two blocks Ewa (that's west, for you malihinis). Overall homelessness is reported to be improving slightly, but statistics don't matter much to individual neighborhoods.

Second cousin's iron bars are to the right of the wall
My second cousin, who owns the building next door, says trespassing is getting worse. She's installing iron gates that, like ours, will be closed at night.

The strip of grass next to the sidewalk (pictured right) is overgrown. A younger relative is supposed to tend to it, but he works two jobs and deserves a break. My brother lent me a trimmer, and I took care of the grass, although not very neatly.

My brothers have done a good job handling day to day operations, but I needed to get a sense of where Mom's finances stood. Besides, it's almost the end of the year when we must prepare her tax returns. The eight-day vacation has sped by quickly, and it's time to plan for the next one.

Friday, November 18, 2022

After the Trimming

The monkey pod tree has undergone more trimming during the summer. The neighborhood coconut wireless says the job cost "in the thousands."

The view is more balanced between the houses and trees. It reminds me of 2015.

2014- Covering the House
2015- After Trimming

2017- Coming Back
2022: Watch out for the "little" bush

The bush that blocked our view of the white house last February has also been removed.

Enjoy the sights after the multiple prunings. Due to Hawaii's tropical weather everything will grow back quickly.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Shaved Ice Goes Upscale

The line stretched half a block to the shaved ice stand, but it wasn't a hot mid-summer day at the beach.

Island Vintage Shave Ice sits next to the posh Royal Hawaiian Center on Kalakaua Avenue in the heart of Waikiki, the evening was cool, and prices were high (more than $10) for what is basically frozen sugar water with maybe some fruit on top.

Back in my day shaved ice came in one flavor and color, strawberry red, cost ten cents, and was served in a cone-shaped paper cup with a paper straw and flat wooden "spoon" (the kind that used to come with a cup of ice cream).

Now shaved ice has gone upscale, and people drive miles to the North Shore or crowded Waikiki because of a four star review from a Mainlander who's had fewer than a dozen servings in her lifetime.

Nevertheless, one has to applaud any homegrown product that will add tourist dollars to the Island economy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Universal Approbation

14 populations of humpback whales: 9 (blue) not at risk
4 (pink) endangered, 1 (yellow) threatened.
The worldwide humpback whale population has recovered almost completely. However, four of the fourteen populations are still classified as "endangered."

Meanwhile, scientists at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary continue to perform basic research into the species.

Among their findings: [bold added]
Humpback whales, the winter stars of Hawaii’s marine environment, have been arriving and leaving island waters earlier than normal in recent years, according to a trend documented by scientists.

Other recent research suggests there actually may be two subpopulations of humpbacks coming to the island chain, and it appears that the marine mammals take what some might described as an afternoon siesta each day.
Mother and calf at the sanctuary.
Drone and acoustic devices have tracked the whales' movements:
Surprising was strong chorusing in the northern part of the chain, with a region of relatively little whale sound wedged between the area of strong chorusing in the southern part of the chain, including the main islands.

“The structure of the whale population is more complex than previously thought,” Lammers said, adding that it might point to two subpopulations, one tied to the southeastern part of the archipelago and main Hawaiian Islands and one clustering toward the northwestern end.

But to really confirm that, he said, scientists will have to go up there and investigate.

“These data are certainly interesting and motivating us to go out and try to get more data from that area,” he said.

In another area of research, scientists have been studying behavior using suction cup tag monitors that they attach to individual whales. The tags record sound, video, depth levels and movements.

A recent study examined 86 hours of video from 25 different tagged whales and scored activity levels during different times of the day. A distinctive pattern emerged in the afternoon: decreases in activity and surfacing, and more resting.

“It looks like whales have a real tendency to rest between 1 and 4 p.m. This is something that anecdotally people have noticed, but there’s never been any quantitative evidence,” Lammers said.

“This is really new and exciting stuff for us — that we’re able to show these pretty clear patterns of resting behavior in the afternoon hours,” he said. “It’s kind of reminiscent of another species that we have here, the spinner dolphin, which is very active during nighttime hours but then spends its daytime hours more in a resting state.”
Surveillance technologies are controversial when applied to humans, but in animal studies, especially with species that are endangered, they are regarded with universal approbation.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Duke's Statue

Duke Kahanamoku was famous during the first half of the 20th century. Starting in 1912, he won gold and silver medals for the U.S. Olympic swimming team.

In his travels the "father of modern surfing" popularized the sport around the world, especially in Australia and Southern California. As its unofficial ambassador Duke gave credibility to Hawaii as a tourist destination.

In the late Fifties and early Sixties my father was a part-time waiter at the Waikiki night club, Duke Kahanamoku's, when my parents were saving for a down payment and putting their kids through private schools.

Dad liked the pay and the atmosphere; Duke would drop by to say hello to the staff and didn't let celebrity go to his head.

Duke Kahanamoku was born in 1890 in the Kingdom of Hawaii, lived most of his life while it was a Territory, and saw it become a State in 1959. He died in 1968 and, though he's remembered by a dwindling number of residents, had an incalculable effect on the history of modern Hawaii.

He deserves his statue.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Blandishments of the Bear

The four most valuable companies on the U.S. exchanges--Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), and Amazon--all enjoyed at least a 6% bump in price last Thursday, when a 7.7% increase in the Consumer Price Index showed that inflation was abating, perhaps moderating future Federal Reserve rate increases.

What gave investors hope was that stock prices continued their rise on Friday, a sign that the bounce may have legs. But your humble blogger has seen--and fallen victim to--"bear traps" before.
A number of investors say they question how long the comeback can last. In previous years, like after the dot-com bubble burst in March 2000, selloffs took many painful months to play out, and the downturn was marked by big swings up and down. That is a cautionary tale for investors hoping that the worst has passed after last week’s stock rally.

“This is typical of a big bear market rally,” said Julien Stouff, founder of hedge-fund firm Stouff Capital. “It is not over.”
My stock portfolio is looking better after one week, but it's still down for the year. I'm not selling, but I'm going to resist the blandishments of the bear by not buying either.

Well, it could have been worse. In my younger, risk-taking days I would have put a sizeable chunk into cryptocurrency. Last week's bankruptcy and hack of a crypto exchange cast such a pall over the industry that it will take a long time to recover, if at all. Over the long haul one can become a successful investor just by preventing disastrous mistakes (mistakes are a given).

Added: The Crypto-Ignorant Person’s Guide To What’s Going On With FTX And Founder Sam Bankman-Fried

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Morning at the Ala Wai

You can see Diamond Head from the McCully bridge
The Ala Wai Canal looks inviting this morning--no, not for swimming--but over the years this frequent visitor to Honolulu has noticed that it is not as odoriferous as it was 20 years ago.

Perhaps it's a seasonal phenomenon. Recent rains have improved the drainage canal's water flow, and the cooler November temperatures are not as conducive to algae growth as summer weather. (Please leave me to my illusions, dear reader.)

Building on Kalakaua & Kalaimoku
Condos are still going up, but there are fewer construction cranes than last year. High interest rates and the not-quite-pre-COVID level of tourism point to a slow economy.

I picked up a blackeye (coffee plus 2 shots of espresso) at the Starbucks on Kuhio & Seaside, one block from the International Market Place. The Starbucks was busy with tourists and hotel workers.

Fortified with caffeine, I was ready for an errand-filled day. Afternoon naps can resume in California.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Back in Rhythm

Marugame Udon, first visited in 2012
The eye test told me that Waikiki tourism is almost back to normal. It's early November, when there aren't a lot of families with children; yet at 8 p.m. there were lines outside popular stores and restaurants.

The ramen and udon restaurants were especially popular. They're not as pricey as the steak and seafood places, and many are rated four or five stars on Yelp.

Cheesecake Factory
The Waikiki Cheesecake Factory is a hit with local patrons.

There is free 2-hour validated parking at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center.

Nevertheless, the fact that kama'aina's are willing to put up with the hassle of Waikiki traffic attests to the restaurant's popularity. (I do like the Northern California version of CF, but I don't love it that much.)

Though it was only eight p.m. on Thursday, it was past my bedtime in California. I'll walk back in the morning for a shot of espresso at one of the Starbucks so I can get back in rhythm.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Working on the Drawbacks

Helicobacter pylori, not to scale (Yale illustration)
In our household we are partial to buying foodstuffs with antioxidants. (Antioxidants prevent cell damage that can lead to cancer, heart disease, and a host of other ailments.)

However, antioxidants also protect some bacteria that are harmful to human health.
A nutrient that is common in the human diet has been found to aid the survival of a cancer-causing bacterium, a new Yale study finds...

The nutrient, called ergothioneine, or EGT, a known antioxidant, was found to protect bacteria from oxidative stress — an imbalance in the body between reactive oxygen species, known as free radicals, and antioxidants — which is a hallmark of many disease-causing infections.

bacteria ingest the EGT nutrient — which is abundant in foods like mushrooms, beans, and grains — to aid their survival. In the case of the gastric cancer-causing pathogen Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium used the nutrient to compete successfully for survival in host tissues.
Because antioxidants provide so many health benefits the answer is not to reduce their consumption but to inhibit their absorption by the bacteria. [bold added]
“We were excited to discover an unconventional mechanism that enables bacteria to withstand oxidative stress during infection,” said Stavroula Hatzios, an assistant professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology and of chemistry in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and senior author of the study.

“Because the protein that bacteria use to take up EGT operates in a manner distinct from that of its counterpart in human cells, we are optimistic that a specific drug could be developed to inhibit microbial uptake of this nutrient,” she added.
Very few scientific breakthroughs are an unalloyed good. The solution is not to go back to the way things were but to keep working on the negative effects.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

No Wondering What's Behind That Door

The flight to Honolulu was full.

I headed to the restroom halfway through the 5½ hour flight. It's best to go before one absolutely has to.

Planning paid off, as an abundance of blue tape signalled that one of the two restrooms in the main cabin was out of order.

I let a couple of people in obvious distress cut in front of me. Standing is better than sitting on a long airplane ride, so it was a win-win.

The rest of the flight went by uneventfully. After my brother picked me up we had lunch at the usual place, then went to see Mom at her assisted living residence.

In the evening the temperature was a cool-for-Hawaii 75 °F. However, to us snowbirds it's positively toasty.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Storm Coming

On Tuesday morning we awoke to an unusual sound, the steady patter of rain on the roof. Water poured from the downspout onto the yard, collecting in spots where the ground had hardened.

The wet weather should continue:
Low-lying parts of Bay Area — including Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose — could receive 1 to 1.5 inches of rain from late Sunday night through Wednesday, while the coastal ranges could get up to 3 inches of fresh precipitation, according to the National Weather Service. To the east, areas of the Sierra above 4,000 feet can expect one to four feet of snow...
I will perform my civic duty later today by voting in person at the recreation center. Does the inclement weather make me regret not mailing in the ballot? No, in fact, the (slightly) increased difficulty raises its esteem, IMHO.

Meanwhile, there's a storm coming.

Monday, November 07, 2022

A Change in Climate

Cold vs heat deaths
Global warming is such a multi-faceted topic and apparently will require such vast societal changes to mitigate its effects that to bring everyone along it requires trust, that is, trust that experts are rigorously adhering to scientific methods of data gathering and analysis.

Climate science has been plagued by alarmism; for decades warmists have been making predictions that don't pan out--for example, 2000's “snowfalls are just a thing of the past" and hockey-stick graphs that purport to show that temperature is rising at an accelerating rate.

Very few of us are climate scientists, but nearly all of us know something about human behavior. If a salesman is caught in a lie or a gross exaggeration, it causes us to distrust what is being sold though it may be a perfectly fine product. Trust won't be the result if climate change activists try to silence dissenters, or don't have better answers than "90% of climate experts believe what I believe."

Bjorn Lomborg ("Climate change is real, but it’s not the apocalyptic threat that we’ve been told it is") is worth listening to because he refuses to accept climate-change declarations that are unexamined. Most recently he took issue with the assertion that human activity is the main factor in the rise in heat deaths: [bold added]
The [Lancet] study offers a frightening statistic: Rapidly rising temperatures have increased annual global heat deaths among older people by 68% in less than two decades...

But while their model for heat deaths is based on solid academic research, the report commits an amateur statistical fallacy by blaming the increase in heat deaths on “rapidly increasing temperatures.”

Annual heat deaths have increased significantly among people 65 and older world-wide. The average deaths per year increased 68% from the early 2000s to the late 2010s. But that is almost entirely because there are so many more older people today than there were 20 years ago, in no small part thanks to medical innovations that keep us alive longer. Measured across the same time span the Lancet maps heat deaths, the number of people 65 and older has risen by 60%, or almost as much as heat deaths. When the increase in heat mortality is adjusted for this population growth, the actual rise that can be attributed to rising temperatures is only 5%.
Asserting that elderly heat deaths have risen by 68% without noting that the elderly population has increased by 60% is a serious omission. And we haven't even considered how warmer temperatures have reduced deaths in seniors:
In the U.S. and Canada between 2000 and 2019, an average of 20,000 people died from heat annually and more than 170,000 from cold. This omission matters even more because cold deaths are decreasing with rising temperatures. Modeling from the Global Burden of Disease replicates the relatively small increase in heat deaths shown by the Lancet, but shows a much larger decline in cold deaths from rising temperatures. Based on today’s population size, the current temperatures cause about 17,000 more heat deaths in older people, but also result in more than half a million fewer cold deaths. Reporting one finding without the other is misleading about the true effect of climate change.
Meanwhile global-warming experts and activists from all over the world are flying to Egypt to attend the United Nations climate change conference, COP27, which starts this week.

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Losing My Sole at Church

The uppers still looked ok
When men's wear in the San Francisco Financial District transitioned toward business casual, I bought a pair of Ecco's, the first and most durable rubber-soled dress shoes that I ever owned.

At last night's church dinner that culminated the 2023 pledge campaign, half the right sole cracked off in four different pieces.

The shoes were unsalvageable, and off to the bin they went.

After 25 years of service a broken sole led to an ignominious end.

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Off the Tendon Train

2021: beef tendon was $6.99 / pound at 99 Ranch
Economists say that changes in the Consumer Price Index overstate inflation:
[the CPI] omitted consumer substitution [bold added], did not fully account for quality change, and failed to properly reflect the addition of new goods.
Last year the skyrocketing price of steak prompted me to experiment with cheaper cuts, such as brisket, and even specialty cuts like tendon and tripe.

Tendon itself had increased from $5 a pound to $6.99 (pictured), but on a relative cost basis it compared very favorably to $12 steak. Buying tendon instead of rib eye is a textbook example of consumer substitution.

I went to the store last month intending to cook and freeze another batch of tendon, which can not only be delicious when prepared properly but is also a source of collagen that strengthens aging joints.

The $10.99 price, 57% higher than last year, stopped that plan in its tracks.

And so it was that I got off the tendon train and switched to steak. Substitution circled round; I wonder if economists have a name for that.

Friday, November 04, 2022

70 is Just a Number

I vaguely remember my grandfather's big blowout of a 70th birthday party, but it made a big impression on my father.

When he approached his milestone year, the hints became more frequent. And so it was that we reserved a large room at a Waikiki hotel. His party had plenty of food and drink for over a hundred guests. There were speeches extolling his life--as the eldest son I gave the lengthiest one--and entertainment that ended with a ceremonial lion dance.

To give Dad his due, living to 70 was a milestone in the last century. (For the record he lived to 94, and his 90th birthday celebration was indeed a happy affair.)

As for me, a quiet evening at home was all I wanted. A simple dinner of boiled lobster, opening a few presents, and engaging in FaceTime calls with the family were just the ticket.

It's been a busy October, completing the 2021 tax return and organizing two major Outreach events. And I'll have to get ready for next week's trip to Hawaii.

70 is just a number.

To be clear, if I do make it to a hundred, I'll be wanting a lion dance.

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Reducing the Risk

Chipping away at the doctor's seven-point to-do list, I took care of #6, flu vaccine, on Tuesday.

It was at the same location, the Sutter San Carlos Health Center, as the COVID booster. The adjacent line for the COVID immunization was ten-deep, but there was no waiting for the flu shot, before or after.

There are no guarantees, but it pays to reduce the risk of incurring or carrying an infectious disease on the trip to the Islands next week.

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

The Terminator is Coming

(WSJ graphic)
Seven years ago I laughed at those first videos of "walking" robots falling down. Now there are robots that can run, then transform their legs into flippers and swim.

As minimum wages are forced higher not by the market but by government fiat to "protect" workers, companies are installing robots at a record pace.

The next step is easily foreseeable. Robots, not humans, will be the bosses and even fire people.
In November, International Data Corp. predicted that by 2024, 80% of the G2000—the 2,000 biggest companies in the world, according to Forbes—will be using “‘digital managers’ to hire, fire, and train workers in jobs measured by continuous improvement.”
Scientists have found that human workers [we would never have needed that qualifying adjective in my day] prefer to be criticized or even fired by robots with little or no human characteristics.
When a robot gives employees feedback, [Singapore professor Kai Chi Yam] says, they don’t typically see any bad intent, because they don’t believe the robot has any agency—the ability or the will to exert power over them or harm them. The robot, the employees say to themselves, is just doing its job, Dr. Yam says.

However, when the robot has been given human characteristics, employees don’t respond as well, because they are more likely to think that the robot is out to get them, he says.
Companies obviously have to think through the ramifications. If employees are managed by human-like robots, they'll hide when the regular manager is switched for a machine marching down the hall.

"Run! the Terminator is coming," won't be said only in the movies.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

A Trickle, Then a Stream

(WSJ graphic)
In 2018 we noted the litany of problems afflicting San Francisco--crime, homelessness, drug use, filth, high taxes and regulations--and predicted:
The warning signs are widespread. I don't know what may trigger the fall; perhaps it will be rising interest rates, dropping tech stock prices, or fed-up tourists, but it would not be surprising to see a collapse, and an exodus of individual and business taxpayers, in San Francisco's near future.
San Francisco's maladies have spread throughout California, and the future exodus is now: Business exodus from California is accelerating quickly, according to report [bold added]
Businesses headquartered in the Golden State fled at twice the rate last year than they did in 2020 and 2019, and at three times the rate of 2018, according to a new report from Stanford University ’s Hoover Institution.

While moves by marquee companies such as Tesla, Oracle and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which have relocated their headquarters (if not their entire operations) grab headlines, the report found smaller companies are increasingly looking for the exit as well.

“California... is risking its economic future as much smaller but rapidly growing unique businesses are leaving, taking their innovative ideas with them,” researchers Lee Ohanian and Joseph Vranich said in the report.

“Why are companies leaving? Economics, plain and simple,” Ohanian and Vranich wrote.

“California state and local economic policies have raised business costs to levels that are so high businesses are choosing to leave behind the many economic benefits of being in California and move to states with better business climates featuring much less regulation, much lower taxes, and lower living costs.”
The COVID lockdowns were a precipitating factor in the hollowing out of San Francisco. Many middle- and upper-income workers discovered that a fulfilling life could be theirs away from the coastal cities.

Whatever the reasons, the golden geese are leaving and they're not coming back.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Waiting for My Money

My investment in May.
For a company that ranks between #160 and #165 in market capitalization Twitter punches far above its weight. (How many investors are familiar with all of the following: American Electric Power, Amphenol, KLA, Synopsis, Edwards Life Sciences, and Sysco?)

Elon Musk completed his purchase of Twitter on Friday. His plans for the media platform are a mystery, and even his plans to make a plan (Elon Musk Is Forming Circle of Advisers as He Reimagines Twitter) capture headlines.

Today's value: better than most investments
that I've made this year.
Having last composed a tweet in 2021 and checking others' tweets once a week, I wouldn't shed a tear if Twitter disappeared. Nevertheless, I am interested to see if Elon Musk comes up with a new angle.

Meanwhile, I'm waiting for my money for the takeover and promise not to spend it all in one place.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Copacetic Sandwiches on Sunday

The final Sandwiches on Sunday for this year--other churches will handle November and December--was copacetic.

Costco had every item on the checklist, and the shopping cart was filled in one trip.

On Saturday five volunteers showed up early, and we were able to assemble 80 bag lunches, each containing two sandwiches, one apple, trailmix, and candy (it's Halloween tomorrow), in an hour.

Two refrigerators were able to store everything overnight.

Only one volunteer was needed to deliver the food and water to the community center in Redwood City.

It took half an hour to distribute all of it, allowing plenty of time to get home to watch the 49ers thump the Rams, 31-14. It was a beautiful day.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

This October Surprise Wasn't Planned But It Is Extremely Revealing

The Pelosis in 2019 (Chron photo)
When Nancy Pelosi's husband, Paul, was seriously injured by an assailant in their Pacific Heights home on Friday morning, the local news was all over the story. Nancy Pelosi's Democratic colleagues said unequivocally that the attack was politically motivated, brought on by the climate of violence fostered by Republicans.

According to the initial reports the attacker, David DePape, repeatedly shouted "Where's Nancy?" (she was in DC) and had posted QAnon conspiracy theories on a website. David DePape was arrested, and the news stories tried to make him fit the template of the Trumpist true believer who was triggered by hateful rhetoric. In case the viewers didn't make the connection the TV news ran footage of the January 6 riots.

Even then your humble blogger noticed that the facts didn't fit the usual narrative. A conservative extremist would likely have carried a gun (isn't that what MAGA Republicans do?) if he intended to harm Speaker Pelosi; instead he fractured Paul Pelosi's skull with a hammer? (Did DePape bring it with him or was it a weapon of opportunity?) And how could a guy like that get through security, which the extremely wealthy Pelosis must have had?

No, the wisest course was not to prejudge the actions of all the parties but to wait for more facts to come out. However, in the hothouse political and media atmosphere the weekend [correction: week] before Election Day there's a lot of prejudging going on, and not a lot of investigative work.

Cracks are already appearing in the dominant narrative.

Michael Shellenberger:
DePape lived with a notorious local nudist in a Berkeley home, complete with a Black Lives Matter sign in the window and an LGBT rainbow flag, emblazoned with a marijuana symbol, hanging from a tree. A closer look reveals the characteristics of a homeless encampment, or what Europeans call “an open drug scene.” In the driveway, there is a broken-down camper van. On the street is a yellow school bus, which neighbors said DePape occasionally stayed in. Both are filled with garbage typical of such structures in homeless encampments. People come and go from the house and the vehicles, neighbors say, in part to partake in the use of a potent psychedelic drug, ibogaine.

Neighbors described DePape as a homeless addict with politics that was, until recently, left-wing, but of secondary importance to his psychotic and paranoid behavior.

“What I know about the family is that they’re very radical activists,” said one of DePape’s neighbors, a woman who only gave her first name, Trish. “They seem very left. They are all about the Black Lives Matter movement. Gay pride. But they’re very detached from reality. They have called the cops on several of the neighbors, including us, claiming that we are plotting against them. It’s really weird to see that they are willing to be so aggressive toward somebody else who is also a lefty.”
The Santa Monica Observer (to be fair, the Chronicle says it's a rag that promulgates anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theory):
It's been a rumor for years in SF that Paul Pelosi is gay. David Depape is said to be a Castro Nudist. "The lunatic who allegedly assaulted Paul Pelosi is a Berkeley resident and a 'Former Castro Nudist Protester' and hemp 'jewelry maker' ...sounds totally MAGA Republican to me. 🤣🤣" this from Twitter.

Ok, so here's the theory, as related to me by a source: "Castro Nudists are a group of really radical gay male prostitutes that parade around naked with c--k rings. First of all, the Police did not come in response to an alarm. They come in response to a "wellness check". So someone called them to check on Pelosi."

"When he didn't answer the phone, the cops broke the sliding glass door to get in. Pelosi was struggling with the suspect, who was in his underwear.

Pelosi owned the hammer. Not Depape. Or, the male prostitute was doing something Pelosi didn't like."
I don't know what to believe, but this I can state with certainty: the relevant facts won't be revealed in the Chronicle or other mainstream media until after Election Day.

Meanwhile, lest we lose sight of what's important, let's pray for the health and well-being of Paul Pelosi and his family.

Friday, October 28, 2022

I-Bond Deadline

(Forbes image)
Not knowing whether I was going to invest in I-bonds, I nevertheless opened up a Treasury Direct account at the beginning of October. There were more steps to go through than when opening a normal bank account--for example, each user computer must be individually authorized--but otherwise there were no insuperable difficulties. Opening an account did not require an investment.

Last week I quit hesitating and ordered a $10,000 I-bond purchase. The Treasury debited the bank account on the next business day.

Many people are worse ditherers than I and tried to open Treasury Direct accounts and make the investment this week to beat the deadline, today, to capture the 9.62% rate.
a surge in demand for the inflation-adjusted bonds has overwhelmed the TreasuryDirect site and the Treasury Department said it cannot guarantee orders will be completed in time.

Many investors managed to beat the clock and the tech issues. As of 4 p.m. ET, nearly 69,000 accounts had been created and more than $710 million in I Bonds purchased on Friday alone, Treasury said. That brings this week’s I Bond sales to about $3.4 billion so far, Treasury said. Five thousand new accounts were created per hour Friday, Treasury said.
Procrastination is one of my life-long vices, but from sad experience I know better than to count on government systems to function under pressure. You must submit papers or electronic applications a few days before the deadline; you are asking for hours, if not days, of trouble if you don't.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Bay Area Employment: the Gathering Gloom

This guy lost billions but is happy today.
The national labor statistics are strong--the unemployment rate "fell to 3.5% in September" and initial jobless claims are a low 217,000--but in the Bay Area we're unsettled, and not just because of Tuesday's 5.1 earthquake in San Jose.

Two years ago the "real" economy--manufacturing, retail, energy--shrunk due to the pandemic. Now the dominant Silicon Valley tech sector, which prospered during work-from-home, has shown signs of weakness. Once-plentiful job postings are being pulled back, and the market for high-flying stocks that provide the Bay Area with much of its juice has cratered.

Recent news reports display the change in mood.

200 Oracle layoffs add to Bay Area’s job cuts

Biotech and tech job cuts widen in Bay Area as companies chop workers

Seagate to cut 3,000 jobs in restructuring as demand slows

There are 2.5 million jobs in the Bay Area, and the announcement of a few thousand layoffs is just anecdotal. Nevertheless, they add to the gloom.

I also look at the efforts to have companies focus on goals other than profits, market share, growth, and shareholder returns.

The explosion of companies adopting Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) goals is a 21st century phenomenon. If they help get companies back on their feet, then they have merit. If ESG and DEI are distractions, they will find out to their detriment soon enough.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Makes Sense, Within Limits

In Foster City this intersection next to an
elementary school forbids right on red
at a specific time on weekdays.
At crowded intersections making a right turn on a red light is sometimes prohibited, but at least 50 cities have banned all right-turns-on-red within city limits. From the San Jose Mercury News:
Washington, D.C. just passed its Safer Streets Amendment Act, which will ban all right-hand turns on red by 2025. Part of the Vision Zero initiative, it was adopted by 50 other cities, including Austin, Texas, Lansing, Michigan, Philadelphia, Portland, Oregon, and Savannah, Georgia.

Has there been talk of this in the Bay Area?

A: Right turns are prohibited on red lights at several intersections in San Jose, usually to improve safety for bicyclists in locations where protected bike lanes lead to an intersection, or when poor visibility makes right turns unsafe.

San Jose data do not suggest right turns are a frequent cause of fatal or severe crashes. The top known cause of such tragedies is speeding, which caused 21% of severe crashes between 2017 and 2021. The next most frequent causes of severe injury crashes during this period were red-light running and unsafe turning movements, at 7% each.

...the city is also tightening right turns at many locations by using temporary or permanent “bulb outs” at corners. Bulb outs make drivers slow down when turning and give pedestrians increased visibility and shortened crossing distances.
I've seen drivers turn aggressively on red into oncoming traffic and even when there are pedestrians in the crosswalk, and these drivers should have the book thrown at them.

But even a well-intentioned driver must now deal with bicycles and scooters who come up behind them in the bike lane, then switch to the crosswalk to take advantage of the "walk" sign. The multiplicity of parties who can enter the interesection under different rules makes for confusion. Changing the law at specific locations is reasonable, but marking the whole city as no-right-on-red strikes me as more a product of anti-car ideology than common sense.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

On the Edge

The 3.1 aftershock was reported 5 minutes later.
The preoccupations of the day were set aside on 11:42 a.m. when the house rocked briefly but noticeably. Nothing fell, and the TV stayed on.

The initial jolt is usually the worst, followed by one or two aftershocks, but occasionally the first quake is a precursor to a bigger one. Nerves were calmed when a smaller 3.1 aftershock followed the 5.1 quake five minutes later, and all was quiet thereafter.

The San Jose earthquake (by the way, the Earthquakes are San Jose's soccer team) was produced by the Calaveras fault in the East Bay. Scientists tell us that there's less than a 1% probability of a bigger quake in the coming week.

For about 15 minutes just before noon there was a chance that our lives would be completely upended. The odds were high that the worst wouldn't happen, but the possibility existed.

Over the past several years I have had friends and relatives whose priorities changed instantaneously for health reasons. They were unprepared for such disruption, and today's earthquake reminded us that disruption can come from a direction that's not foremost in our mind.

Monday, October 24, 2022

A Dog Knows

(Image from pet poo skiddoo)
Acting calm before a threatening dog won't fool it if you're fearful inside. A dog knows: [bold added]
Dogs are champion sniffers, equipped with 100 to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses—compared with a mere 6 million in our own—and an olfactory cortex 40 times as large as ours. They can be trained to detect disease in human beings, including cancer cells, a latent epileptic seizure, or a Covid infection, just by sniffing—no blood samples, biopsies, MRIs, antigen or PCR tests required.

In a study published in September in the journal PLoS One, Ms. [Clara] Wilson and colleagues tested whether dogs can read and respond to our emotional states, without the benefit of facial expression, tone of voice, or social context...The results offered overwhelming confirmation that dogs can smell psychological states as well as physical ones. On average, the four dogs picked out the stress sample 94% of the time, with individual dogs ranging between 90% and 97% accuracy.
A barking dog can smell your fear. Acting lessons won't help you, and neither, probably, will psychological self-trickery (e.g., meditation).

As for me, I plan to have liquid courage close at hand.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Saturday Celebration

The wardens affirm to the Bishop that the new minister is "well qualified."
The rite had not been conducted for 25 years in the local Episcopal church. Yesterday the new minister was formally installed in the Celebration of a New Ministry. The Bishop was there, of course, as well as a dozen clergy.

With 70 people present, the service hit a post-pandemic attendance record, and on a Saturday no less.

After the service, there was a reception marked by some poignancy because the Bishop will retire next year, and this was likely his last official visit to our parish.

{Prior to the service, it had been arranged that the plate offering would go to the Bishop's Discretionary Fund, but he announced that it would be re-directed to our new Rector's Discretionary Fund. If he had announced that earlier, maybe "you would have given more," he joked.) A small act of grace that should not go unnoticed.

I thanked Bishop Marc and Sheila for their service. The 16 years had passed in the wink of an eye, like an evening gone.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Simplification Will Have to Wait

$10,000 will earn $481 interest in 6 months. Then $10,481
will be re-invested at a projected 6.47% p.a. for the next six.
Now that we're scratching for yield on our savings accounts, I took another look at I-bonds. The 9.62% rate on a "risk-free" investment outweighed the drawbacks: a $10,000 per year limit on new investment and an interest penalty if the funds are withdrawn before five years.

The excess return over our bank savings and money market accounts was there for the taking. Though limited to several hundred dollars per year, your humble blogger couldn't pass it up. The long-term project to consolidate and simplify our financial picture would have to be delayed yet again.

Note: after the break, WSJ experts explain I-bonds.