Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Returned in Force

Ryan Park, Foster City, 9:30 a.m.
The air was still as the morning warmed quickly .

Every few yards along the walkway a faint smell of decay drifted from the lagoon.

I had to step around the clumps of waterfowl scat (was that the inspiration for the name of my current search engine?)

A brood of ducks, evincing no fear, marched by. With summer approaching, the ducks have returned in force.

Decades ago we didn't have the money to purchase a house on the lagoon; instead we bought one a block inland. The burden of maintenance and repair on a waterfront house is high--a friend of ours said that he had to hose off his deck several times a week--so I'm happy that our finances were thin.

I like ducks, but preferably at a distance and not in large groups.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Memorial Day, 2022

This month marks the 107th anniversary of the widely known poem, In Flanders Fields. It was composed one year after World War I ("the Great War") began. I first heard it 58 years ago when an upperclassman quoted the opening stanza from memory.
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
By 1964 the 20th century was already the bloodiest in history; the Korean War stalemate, the American buildup in Vietnam, and the threat of mutually assured destruction promised a dystopian future--if we had one at all--of continuous war and police states. All Quiet on the Western Front portrayed the recent past, and 1984 and Brave New World the future.

It is with wonder and gratitude that we are still around to reflect on the sadness and beauty of Flanders Fields.

Flanders Fields (U of Texas NROTC photo)

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Sandwiches on Sunday

There were about a dozen people when I got to the community center at 11:30. It's Memorial Day weekend, I surmised, even the hungry have better places to be.

The assessment was premature; when the three volunteers arrived a few minutes later, the line had grown to 30. We gave two bags to each person and judged that there would be enough left over for stragglers.

Deborah Orler
At noon a van pulled up with four adults. Good, we had enough to feed them, too.

No thank you, said the leader of the group, we are here to help. Deborah said that she had started a non-profit group called Hearts for Humanity. Its purpose is to distribute food, clothing, and toiletries to veterans, seniors, and the homeless on the Peninsula. She brought out two boxes of pastries and more bag lunches from the van. They were gladly received by our "customers" at the community center.

I recounted a brief history of Sandwiches on Sunday to Deborah. She was interested in participating in some fashion. We promised we'd keep in touch.

Meanwhile, some of the meal recipients began feeding the pastries to birds. Within a minute about several dozen pigeons swooped down. After they were done, they perched on the roof, eyes raking the area for more.

Next time I'll bring a hat.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Not Gone Away

Valerie spreads the mustard.
Rob brought over all the ingredients on Friday. I checked the inventory against the bill of materials (manufacturing jargon!), picked up a couple of items, and went to the parish hall on Saturday morning to set up the assembly line.

COVID cases are spiking again. Because the church membership has a substantial number of people who are over 65 and have co-morbidities, e.g., diabetes, obesity, asthma, I opened the doors and set out gloves and spare masks.

Even if individuals are themselves low risk, they are very likely to have people in their own household who are in the vulnerable population.

Only three volunteers showed up because of the long Memorial Day weekend, but we still managed to put together 90 bag lunches in the scheduled two hours.

The extra supplies were put in the storage closet, and the lunches were squeezed overnight into two refrigerators.

Sandwiches on Sunday has returned to its roots; we're making sandwiches again. The coronavirus has forced the closure of the community garden and the cessation of hot cafeteria-style lunches.

But the need for a free meal has not gone away.

Friday, May 27, 2022

He Who Must Not Be Named

A title that many strive for (market business news)
In the latest example of progressive sensitivity, the San Francisco Unified School District has banned "chief" from job titles:
The word “chief” will no longer be used in reference to job titles in the San Francisco Unified School District in an effort, school officials said, to avoid the word’s connotation with Native Americans.
The leader of a tribe is referred to as "chief", but the term, IMHO, has long ago ceased to have its principal association with Native Americans.

"Chief" is employed in U.S. military ranks, from "Chief" Petty Officer to Joint Chiefs of Staff to Commander-in-Chief. Used colloquially, "chief" is a useful term that combines authority, informality, and affection. I have never heard it used pejoratively or mockingly.

And the word doesn't even come from the Native American language. It's Old French:
c. 1300, "head, leader, captain; the principal or most important part of anything;" from Old French chief "leader, ruler, head" of something, "capital city" (10c., Modern French chef), from Vulgar Latin *capum, from Latin caput "head," also "leader, chief person; summit; capital city" (from PIE root *kaput- "head"). Meaning "head of a clan" is from 1570s; later extended to headmen of Native American tribes (by 1713; William Penn, 1680s, called them kings). Commander-in-chief is attested from 1660s.
Normally I wouldn't care about words that organizations choose to use internally, but we have seen what happens when woke-ism declares itself to be the arbiter of acceptable ways to communicate in schools.

Indoctrinated intolerance leaches out from the schools to society, and pretty soon the products of the school system are cancelling people because of the way they speak.

In February three members of the San Francisco Board of Education were recalled because they spent their time renaming schools, replacing merit-based admission with a lottery system at Lowell High, and dragging their feet on re-opening. It looks like not everyone got the message.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Present Tents

Now that I'm retired, I have (even more) difficulty keeping up.

Earlier today I had to go to McDonald's(!) to discover the term "table tent." In McDonald's case a table tent is the triangular plastic on which a customer's order number is inscribed.

Table tents are more commonly used as marketing tools.
These cardboard, self-standing mini billboards can help you display promotions, menu items, service list and more. They’re also a great way to greet and guide customers at tradeshows, reception areas, and lobbies.
"Table tent" has been in use for at least a decade,

Frankly, I don't like the coinage because the underlying noun, "tent," is a temporary shelter made of cloth, soft plastic, or cardboard. "Table tent" appears to originate from the triangular shape that used to be commonplace but is no longer a prerequisite for tentship.

There's no point in being distressed. If McDonald's is using language that I'm unfamiliar with, I should just accept that I have become permanently out of the loop.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Animal Tales

Catching up on local animal news:

Mother's burden: stuck and heavily lactating (Chron)
Mother Raccoon stuck in roof
A mother raccoon trying to reach her babies in an attic got stuck as she chewed through the roof of a home in the Santa Cruz Mountains on Monday morning, wildlife rescue officials said.

The raccoon may have been trying to get to her babies in the attic, following the homeowner’s repair of an attic vent...

Construction workers nearby then helped the homeowner, and the raccoon made its way back to her babies...It was unknown how many baby raccoons were in the attic.
The lesson is that we need to check for critters before undertaking home repairs. No love for animals is required, just self-interest--no one wants dead animals in their roof, basement, or walls,

(Intl Bird Rescue / Chronicle photo)
Pelican Crisis
California’s brown pelicans are suffering from a mysterious affliction that has landed more than 200 of them in wildlife rehabilitation centers in recent weeks, resulting in what wildlife officials are calling a major “pelican crisis.”...

Determining a cause for the pelicans’ conditions has been difficult because the issue appears to be affecting pelicans of all ages in different ways, and the injured and hungry birds are coming from all over..

The affliction, whose cause could take years of research and tracking to fully understand, could be the result of a combination of factors, [International Bird Rescue spokesperson Russ] Curtis said. Young fledglings are just now learning to feed on their own, and IBR officials believe there could be a lack of available fishing stocks, meaning pelicans are struggling to find enough fish to eat or taking unusual risks in search of food.

International Bird Rescue is spending about $2,000 on 1,000 pounds of fish every day....“They are voracious eaters,” Curtis said. “We got a lot of mouths to feed.”
The quail is both the State and City bird. (Chron photo)
Coyotes may help bring California quail back to San Francisco (?!?)
The last California quail known to live in the Presidio was a male...Scientists gently collected it in 2008 and brought him to the San Francisco Zoo. The hope was that at least the bird’s genetics would live on, even if its flock had not.

Coyotes reduce predators like rats, raccoon and feral cats that threaten quail and its eggs. The effect is significant.

The presence of coyotes in urban parks increased the odds quail would live there, too, by 73.3%, according to an analysis of data on quail sightings.
Today there are "5 to 10" coyote in the Presidio. They eat the rodents that dine on quail and quail eggs. Thanks to coyote, the park service is considering reintroducing quail to Golden Gate Park.

California newt (Chron photo)
Amphibians Need Road Crossings, Too
Every winter, a road in Tilden Regional Park closes to vehicular traffic so California newts can safely get to water during their breeding season. They’re lucky. Elsewhere in the Bay Area, thousands of newts get squashed every year by unaware drivers.

...Despite their size, newts share something with mountain lions: They’re top predators on the forest floor, with a steady diet that regulates the invertebrate population and may even help combat climate change.

...In Santa Clara County, over 7,000 newts have been killed on a stretch of Alma Bridge Road this breeding season. It’s the highest known roadkill rate of any other species in the world, according to the UC Davis Road Ecology Center.
Given the weightier issues of the day, these tales des animaux seem frivolous. I for one am glad that so many people know so much about and care for our fellow creatures.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

E-Mails: a Curse and a Blessing

(Universal scribbler)
I entered the work force in an era when it was considered mandatory to respond to every phone call and letter request. The reasons were intuitively obvious: a response could lead to a sale, you're representing your company which has the highest standard of etiquette, treat others how you wish to be treated, etc.

Then telemarketing and email happened.

Re phone calls, I initially spent too much time on the phone listening to sales pitches. Worse, I fell for a few of them and was usually disappointed by paying too much for products that fell shy of promises. Now every call from a number that I don't recognize goes to voicemail, and even within that group I ignore nine out of ten messages, which are, no surprise, from telemarketers.

I receive over a hundred emails a day. The majority go to the aol account that was originated in the days of floppy disks and dial-up modems. The yahoo and google mailboxes were created for specific purposes and capture the remaining traffic. The only vestige of traditional etiquette is that I always open and answer emails from individuals whom I know and apologize to if their message goes unanswered because it got buried or was sent to the junk folder.

The sea of communications from people trying to reach others to serve their own purposes has become a modern burden:
So many of us spend our days ruled by email: constantly refreshing, wading through detritus, paralyzed by the pressure of crafting a reply to the one note that actually matters. The moment we reach inbox zero, and few of us ever do, the ding sounds again.
Consultant Greg McKeown's suggestion:
Start your day by writing a list of priorities on a piece of paper. Block two half-hour slots on your calendar to really deal with your email—rather than scrolling through constantly—and ignore it the rest of the time, he says.
Regardless of the tech tools at one's disposal, one must spend 30-60 minutes a day on email in order not to lose control of the inboxes. E-mail supposedly has improved our lives immensely, but it sure has us stressing while sucking up our time.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Sudden Hankering

42 years ago my employer sent me to Maine. I don't remember much about the project, but one ancillary benefit sticks in memory.

I was served what seemed to be innumerable variations of lobster dishes, and the dining experience almost made me accept a transfer to the Waterville office. Friends still recount the time when I returned with a container of fifteen (15) live 1-lb. lobsters (at $2 apiece!) and invited them over for a feast the next night.

One Bay Area outlet that recreates the Maine ambience is New England Lobster Market. After a three-year hiatus, I had a sudden hankering for boiled hard-shelled crustacean, and the NELM had the ticket. The other members of the household agreed instantly to the suggestion.

The $29 daily special of a perfectly boiled 1-lb. lobster, cole slaw, and fries was simple and satisfying. (Take-out is better because one can tear into lobster, crab, and other shellfish unconstrained by public politesse.)

The dining-out budget limits us, but now that we've had a taste it won't be a three-year wait before the next visit.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

The Church Wrestles with Socialism

Christian socialists, such as those who dominate the leadership of my Episcopal church, often point to Acts 4:32-37 as biblical justification for socialism: [bold added]
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Your humble blogger believes that how a church, family, or any other group chooses to allocate resources internally is up to that organization. The early church indeed lived up to its principles, as the well-off voluntarily contributed to the neediest members. It may well have incorporated practices that we moderns identify with socialism.

However, to structure an entire society where a central authority controls all property has never worked for at least two reasons.

1) Information: a central authority cannot possibly know the wants and needs of all the individuals in society. And even if it did, producing all the goods and services that a modern society requires, in the proper quantity and the location, is difficult enough in capitalism and impossible in socialism. Just recall the debacle of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the government was responsible for the purchasing and distribution of medical supplies and vaccines. Perhaps it was justifiable for the government to take charge in this area, but just imagine if the government was responsible for supplying everything that we use in our daily life.

2) Human nature, specifically sloth. If "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" is the guiding principle, why should anyone work, since one will receive the same share of goods and services regardless of effort? In the early Christian church, as there may be in a monastery or large family or a small non-profit agency, there was a great deal of trust among the members, who may be willing to work for a common purpose regardless of a personal reward.

In a society of millions, where there is not one common purpose and where few are known to each other, a church that once believed in man's inherent sinfulness would have known instantly that the selflessness necessary for large-scale socialism to operate makes socialism destined to fail.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Sub-Zero Interest in a President Newsom

He does look the part (this nation)
Ever since he worked for Willie Brown in the 1990's, Gavin Newsom had the look of a politician who had his eye on bigger things. He has held in succession the offices of San Francisco supervisor, San Francisco mayor, California lieutenant governor, and California governor. There's now only one higher office to conquer, and he's denied that he's interested. [bold added]
Gov. Gavin Newsom has “sub-zero interest” in running for president in 2024, he told The San Francisco Chronicle editorial board on Thursday.

Newsom is running for re-election to a second term as California governor, which would last through 2026. Asked if he would promise to voters that he wouldn’t run for president before the end of that term, he said he believes Vice President Kamala Harris should be the next president after Joe Biden.

“Yeah, I mean, I have sub-zero interest,” he said. “It's not even on my radar.”

Newsom has made similar claims about having no interest in running for president before, but it hasn’t stopped speculation that he wants to be commander in chief someday. He’s stoked those rumors by positioning himself as a national political figure and publicly sparring with prominent Republicans, including former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
"Sub-zero" is an odd choice of words. It is the name of the highest-end refrigerators that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Governor Newsom is clearly familiar with the term, just as, unmasked and closely seated contrary to his own directives in 2021, he is used to dining at expensive restaurants like the French Laundry.

Governor Newsom could have said that he wasn't interested in the Presidency until after his presumed second term ended in 2026, but all he would say is that he supports Joe Biden, then Kamala Harris. His answer means that if the prospects are propitious, he would run in 2024 in the midst of his second term as Governor.

The governor is evasive, ambitious, and will sacrifice principles and friendships to get elected. Although I do agree with some of his positions, as I wrote in 2017, I would never vote for him.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Another Wise Move by Elon Musk

Spending other people's money makes him happy
I'm old enough to remember that a universal norm among State governments was to cut taxes whenever budget surpluses got too large. Spend what is necessary, went the thinking, then return the excess to the people who earned the money in the first place. There were eleven (11) states which recently enacted income tax reductions, by the way.

In the progressive state of California, that philosophy has been out of fashion for decades. California raises taxes "temporarily" to fund shortfalls, then thinks about ways to waste spend surpluses during flush times. [bold added]
The continued prosperity of California’s richest taxpayers is filling state coffers with a $97.5 billion surplus, bringing the state’s next budget to a record $300 billion, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday.

It’s California’s largest budget and biggest surplus ever.

“No other state in American history has ever experienced a surplus as large as this,” Newsom said at a press conference in downtown Sacramento.

The surplus highlights the chasm between the rich and poor in California, which is both the nation’s wealthiest state and home to the highest share of residents living in poverty. The state taxes its richest residents and businesses heavily, meaning their prosperity through the pandemic has filled state coffers to the brim, even as millions of Californians struggle to afford groceries and gas as inflation drives prices up.

Newsom said he sees the high revenue not as a sign taxes should be lowered, but as evidence of that divide.
What the governor doesn't say is that the surplus is mostly due to the tremendous rise in the stock market and real estate sales through 2021. Capital gains tax receipts are volatile and cannot be relied upon as a steady source of funds. As of this writing the major stock market indices are down more than 20% for 2022, and real estate sales have slowed.

A secondary effect is that many of the wealthy taxpayers who do pay taxes are moving or have moved out of California. For example, Elon Musk alone is responsible for $billions of California taxes; he declared himself to be a Texas resident at the end of 2020 (residency rules are complicated, and it's likely that the Tesla billionaire will be taxed in California on most of his 2021 income, which exceeded $20 billion.)

What will happen next year when there's no surplus and California politicians don't want to cut the gargantuan $300 billion budget? We know the answer to that, so hold on to your wallets. Elon Musk was wise to get out.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

F.O.M.C. (Fear of Missing Carrots)

(WSJ illustration)
Rewarding children for eating healthy foods rarely results in long-lasting changes to behavior. Try reframing the subject.
Many parents use rewards to get children to do things they would otherwise resist, such as eating healthy foods. This approach might work in the short term, but over time it may cause children to resist fruits and vegetables even more, because they will view eating those foods only as means to a reward.

...A series of studies found that when children were told that they could have only a limited amount of a certain food, such as carrots, the kids not only preferred carrots to a more bountiful snack option but ate more carrots and enjoyed them more than kids who chose carrots over a snack in equal supply.

Studies with young children are tricky, so there could be many reasons behind these behaviors, but it seems that the fear of missing out is one important driver that gets us all to partake of items that are in short supply.
The fear of scarcity and its cousin, the fear of missing out, are primal impulses. They cause us to hoard, buy tickets to farewell concerts, and travel great distances to see solar eclipses.

When used creatively, they can instill healthy habits in children. Science proves what smart grandmothers have always known.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Centuries Old and Busily Adapting

Peripheral (left) and axial (right) leaves - Chron photo
Redwood trees have been studied for over a century by scientists, lumber companies, and environmentalists. The groups have different agendas, of course, but no one was expecting surprising new knowledge to arise, such as the functioning of their leaves.
The trees’ peripheral leaves, like those on most trees, are food producers that convert sunlight into sugar through photosynthesis. But the axial leaves serve an entirely different role, researchers found — absorbing water...

According to the [UC Davus] study, published in the American Journal of Botany, a large redwood can absorb 14 gallons of water in just the first hour after its leaves become wet...

In some trees, when leaves get wet, they inhibit the photosynthesis process, the study found, But in redwoods, the different leaf types allow photosynthesis to continue — even in the rain and fog.

“Having leaves that aren’t for photosynthesis is in itself surprising,” said Alana Chin, a doctoral student in ecology at UC Davis and lead author of the study. “If you’re a tree, you don’t want to have a leaf that’s not photosynthesizing unless there’s a very good reason for it.”

The study also found that redwoods can change the location of their leaves depending on the climate. Along the west North Coast, water-absorbing leaves are found on the lower branches, leaving the upper branches for the sun-collecting and photosynthesizing leaves. In drier southern areas, the opposite is true with the water-gathering leaves near the tops of the trees where they can catch more rain and fog.
Muir Woods redwoods, 2007
Redwoods have not only developed specialized axial leaves to absorb water, but they move them higher or lower depending on climate conditions.

Walking through a redwood forest is a near-mystical experience. The coolness, the quiet, the towering trees, and even the forest smells are far removed from the urban and suburban worlds where most park-goers dwell.

But the interior life of the redwoods is not so quiet. They're observing and adapting to the changing weather in order to survive. To the science-minded, like your humble blogger fancies himself to be, that makes us appreciate them even more.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Not Getting the Picture

In the mind's eye: not for everyone (WSJ image)
Visualization is a principal tool for self-improvement. From sinking a putt to sitting in the C suite, from playing in Carnegie Hall to walking down the aisle, from looking good in a swim suit to hoisting a trophy, visualization has helped many people achieve their goals.

But not those who have aphantasia.
About 3% said they had little or no mental imagery, while a similar percentage were “hyperphantasic” with imagery that was almost painfully vivid, and there was a wide range in between.

There was no correlation between seeing mental images and creating them...

[New South Wales researchers] studied 48 random undergraduates and 18 people who were aphantasic. They showed the participants bright and dark triangles and measured how much their pupils involuntarily contracted when looking at the bright shape or expanded when the shape was dimmed.

Then they asked the participants to imagine the same sequence of triangles. The undergraduates’ pupils contracted or expanded just as if they were looking at the actual shapes; but aphantasics’ pupils didn’t change at all.
Aphantasia does seem less important than other problems. Nevertheless, does the inability to form mental images disadvantage individuals? And if so, are there remedies?

The "Century of the Brain" has wrinkles that no one anticipated.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Unconstitutional and Unnecessary

Related: NASDAQ's annual board diversity matrix.
A judge has ruled that a California law that required boards of directors to set aside seats for women is unconstitutional. [bold added]
California’s first-in-the-nation law requiring corporations to include women on their boards of directors, enacted at a time when women made up fewer than one-sixth of corporate board members in the state, violates the constitutional rights of men, a judge in Los Angeles has ruled.

The law, passed in 2018, required publicly traded corporations based in California with five members on their boards to have at least one female member by the end of 2019. By the end of 2021, at least two women were required on five-member boards, and three women on six-member boards...

“The Legislature’s actual purpose was gender-balancing, not remedying discrimination,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis said Friday. She said the state, in defending the law, had failed to offer evidence that corporations had discriminated against women in selecting board members. Instead, she said, the usual causes were a lack of open board seats and the inclination of boards to choose someone they already knew, such as a corporation’s chief executive.

In any event, Duffy-Lewis said, “there is no compelling governmental interest in remedying discrimination in the board-selection process.” A “compelling interest” was needed, she said, to justify sex discrimination — against either sex — in the California Constitution.
The judge could have added that the law was unnecessary. Smart and competent women have been my bosses, professors, doctors, lawyers, and professional colleagues. They all achieved their station in life without quotas.

It's indeed tough to get past the "old boys' network," and there's no doubt that some men do have sexist beliefs that women can't do the job (I've heard some of them say so). Fortunately, such people are fading into the sunset, and if there are still corporations whose leaders share those beliefs, they'll fade away, too.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Grace of God

(LA Times photo)
The Coastal fire in Laguna Niguel is nearly contained, and no more houses have been destroyed since Thursday.

My brother, his family and home are safe; they're lucky to have been spared despite living close enough to the flames that a change in the wind would have put them in danger.

Every year wildfires have destroyed hundreds of California homes.

Whether the structures are big or small, on the top of the hill or on the flatlands, very expensive or less expensive (none are cheap), the faces of the displaced are the same.

(LA Times photo)
Years of scrimping and saving, getting a place just the way they wanted it, and building memories with people they'll never see again, are gone in the billowing smoke.

The circumstances aren't that different that I can't imagine their misfortune happening to me.

I think, there but for the grace of God go I.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Cutting Back

Other tech stocks show how far TWTR
could fall without a deal. (WSJ)
I rationalized last week's purchase of Twitter shares as entertainment, which has to be the consolation since it's already turned out to be a bad investment.

Early Friday morning Elon Musk tweeted that the $44 billion acquisition was "on hold": [bold added]
Elon Musk said his planned acquisition of Twitter Inc. was “temporarily on hold” because of concerns about fake accounts, a surprise twist that jolted investors and raised questions about his willingness to go through with the $44 billion transaction...

The initial announcement was unorthodox not just in its timing and format, but because Mr. Musk referenced a recent Twitter disclosure about fake and spam accounts that it has made consistently for years—and because Mr. Musk has already signed an agreement for the purchase and waived detailed due diligence on the deal.

The sudden shake-up fueled questions about whether Mr. Musk is committed to a deal that was struck amid a sharp decline in technology stocks that has made Twitter less valuable on paper than it was a month ago when he made his offer of $54.20 a share. Twitter shares, which were already trading well below that level, closed down 9.7% in afternoon trading at $40.70...

It couldn’t be determined if the latest tweets were a negotiating tactic to abandon the transaction or reprice the deal.
Elon Musk reportedly must pay a penalty of $1 billion if he cancels the Twitter deal. A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that a final price under $53 per share will more than cover that expense.

It would be entirely rational for Elon Musk to renegotiate, especially since Twitter's valuation without the acquisition in today's falling market could well be around $25. Assuming that the final price will be $35, I will take a beating on my purchase at $51. (The reassessed expected value is $32.46, above right.)

I'll be cutting back on double-shot lattes to make up the difference.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Just Desserts

The line is onto the sidewalk at Schlok's on
Fell St. in San Francisco (Chron photo)
A lifetime of poor eating habits caught up with me last August when I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. That means I'm going to have to engage very sparingly in a high-carb trend in Bay Area restaurants.

Overwhelming demand for Bay Area bagels is driving a new wave of expansion
The bagel demand is unceasing — and not just at this particular shop [Schlok's] but all over the Bay Area.

All of the hype is fueling serious growth: Nearly all of the Bay Area’s bagel pop-ups, many born during the pandemic, have opened or announced plans for their first permanent shops, including Schlok’s, Poppy Bagels in Oakland, Paulie’s Bagels in Napa and Ethel’s Bagels in Petaluma. Berkeley’s nationally renowned Boichik Bagels, meanwhile, is building a massive bagel factory and adding a second location on the Peninsula. Even Michelin-starred chefs are getting in on the bagel game.
I had my first toasted bagel after the first legal beer (the drinking age was then 18). A Jewish roommate introduced me to the wondrous toppings of lox, capers, and cream cheese, and that became the personal template for bagel bliss.

Today the growth in demand and the competition among suppliers have resulted in a burst of bagel innovation. I'll only be able to sample a small part of that revolution and have only myself to blame.

(Image from Schlok's website)

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Coastal Fire

(Image from Orange County Register)
The fire season has started in Orange County.
The Coastal fire has burned at least 20 homes since it swept across Aliso Woods Canyon into Laguna Niguel on Wednesday, fire officials said.

The fast-moving brush fire prompted the evacuation of area homes and a luxury resort and golf course.

As of 9 p.m., the fire had grown to 200 acres in windy and dry conditions. Another 100 homes were potentially in the fire’s path, according to authorities.
After visiting our mom in Honolulu on Mother's Day, my younger brother came home to the Coastal fire.

He sent this photo from his home, a mile northeast and downhill from the burn area.

Thank goodness he and his wife have relatives in the area, but not too close by.

Stay safe, bro.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Hump Day is Humming

(Image from Reader's Digest)
The explosion in working from home during part of the week, aka "hybrid work", has resulted in Wednesday being cities' busiest day.
Commuter rail lines in cities like Boston and San Francisco found Wednesday typically the busiest weekday in April. The same is true of hotel occupancy in many big cities, a sign salespeople know that is the day they’re likeliest to find contacts in the office, said Jan Freitag, director of hospitality analytics at CoStar Group Inc.

An average of 46% of U.S. office workers went to work on Wednesdays in March, said Kastle Systems, a security firm that monitors access-card swipes. That trounced Monday’s meager 35%...

The critical mass of workers on Wednesday can be self-reinforcing, some managers suggest. Employees say they like office socialization, so it makes sense to go in on the day you think the most other people will.
As a retired boomer, I've generally refrained from telling the young 'uns how tough I had it commuting for two hours, wearing a coat and tie every day, and counting myself lucky if I didn't have to go in on Saturday.

But c'mon man, Wednesday's are tough because you can't get a lunch reservation? I wasn't concerned about climate change or the national debt, but now I'm worried about America's future.

Now That's Being Truly Rich

Twitter HQ is on Market Street but may not
be for long, hints Elon Musk (Chron photo)
A Federal district judge refused to solve Donald Trump's problem.

May 6, 2022: Trump’s lawsuit against Twitter over account suspension gets rejected by S.F. federal judge [bold added]
Trump provided no evidence that the social media platform had colluded with congressional Democrats to violate his constitutional rights.

Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account two days after the Jan. 6 mob attack, citing posts to his 88.7 million followers that the company said posed a risk of further violence. Joined by five supporters whose accounts were also revoked, Trump argued that the action interfered with his freedom of speech and sought restoration of his account and damages.

But U.S. District Judge James Donato noted that the First Amendment applies only to the government, not private parties like Twitter, and said Trump and his fellow plaintiffs had failed to plausibly allege any government involvement in their suspensions.
But Donald Trump has the richest man in the world as a supporter, at least on this matter, who will buy Twitter and give Mr. Trump what he wants.

May 10, 2022: Elon Musk Says He Would Reverse Donald Trump’s Twitter Ban
Elon Musk said he would reverse Twitter Inc.’s ban on former President Donald Trump...Mr. Musk also said that Twitter suffers from a politically left-leaning bias and that the social-media company “needs to be much more evenhanded.” He partly linked those political leanings to Twitter being based in San Francisco.

The billionaire entrepreneur, who has likened Twitter to the public square and a forum for the exchange of ideas, reiterated his desire for several changes at the platform, including eliminating bots and scams. He also doubled down on plans for Twitter’s software code to be made open source so it can be widely viewed and people can recommend changes. “You really want transparency to build trust,” he said.
If something that he doesn't own is annoying him, Elon Musk just buys it. Then he can fix or bury it so that it stops being annoying.

Elon Musk shows us what it means to be truly rich.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Business Etiquette: Some of it Sounds Familiar

(Image from franchetti)
The job market has been heating up for new graduates, which means that there's a new generation that needs to learn the norms of workplace behavior.

These norms, or rules, are a bit different--and some subjects didn't even exist--when your humble blogger entered the work force back in the (cough) '70's. For example:
Note preferred modes of communication. On the first day, ask: What’s the best way to get in touch? Email? Call? Slack? (Don’t text your bosses unless they text you first.) “Every manager is going to have a different preference, and simply asking signals that you are eager to contribute,” [Harvard career adviser Gorick] Ng said.

There does seem to be one common predilection among managers, which Mr. Ng calls “bundle and escalate.” Don’t ask 10 questions in 10 separate communiqués—batch them together before approaching your manager...

Virtual-Meeting Virtuoso
Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Webex and Bluejeans are some of the more widely used videoconferencing platforms. Find out which is deployed by your company and download the apps for your desktop and mobile device in advance, then try a test meeting, before you have to join a real one...

You’ll want to make sure you look and sound great. A little height for your webcam and light on your face goes a long way. Logitech’s $60 Litra Glow clip-on light produces soft, flattering illumination, but any lamp or nearby window helps...

Email Like a Pro
Overly long emails are a common new-grad pitfall, according to Renate Norman, general manager of global university recruiting at Microsoft. “Get to the point quickly,” she said. She recommends starting with a summary and your main point or request up top. You can add more detail later, but if it’s getting too messy, pick up the phone.
Many of these recommendations are simply updates to old standards. For example, managers have always preferred that subordinates "get to the point quickly" in meetings or memos; now we're applying that rule to other modes of communications, i.e. e-mails and videos. Another: personal phone calls were frowned upon during working hours; now we're expanding that rule to include text messages and e-mails.

In my humble opinion the new rules can be figured out from general principles: keep your personal and business lives separate; respect the privacy of others; look presentable; waste as little of other's time as possible; be prepared on the topic and technology before the meeting; and be polite even if you have negative emotions toward another person.

Monday, May 09, 2022

Guess Where They Ended Up

(WSJ illustration)
It's a common belief that letting children work out their differences teaches them how to get along as adults; they'll learn that conflict doesn't get them anywhere and that cooperation and compromise move them forward to their goals, whatever they may be.

But what if a goal is to rise in the hierarchy ? To such kids conflict can be help, not hindrance. [bold added]
Stirring up conflict is how some young children manage to achieve top-dog status, according to a study recently published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences...the study showed a pattern among schoolchildren that stemmed from aggressors creating repeated conflicts; classmates would often submit rather than engage.
Researchers asked 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to fill out detailed questionnaires at the beginning and end of the school year.
The results showed that children who maintained a frequent pattern of aggression had raised their status at the end of the term, while those who didn’t continue their confrontational behavior failed to get the popularity boost. In short, a small number of students in each grade kept initiating disagreement, presumably with the intention to command respect.

(above the law graphic)
...“For people who care about their status, a disagreement is never just a disagreement. Whether you’re 15 or 50, everything is an exercise in maintaining and improving popularity.”

Other research has shown that such belligerent behavior, rather than being penalized, is rewarded even more at older ages.
Playground troublemakers achieve power by fomenting discord. It's clear that many of them went on to careers in news media, where inflaming differences gets rewarded by clicks and ratings,

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Mother's Day, 2022

We called a Honolulu florist to deliver identical arrangements to our mothers on Mother's Day.

The local blooms are especially colorful. During the formative years I didn't think much of them--birds of paradise, protea, ginger, anthuriums--but their scarcity on the Mainland, the passage of time, and personal regrets at--dare one say it?--not stopping to smell the flowers, has caused my appreciation to grow.

Later we called the moms, and unlike previous years, had no difficulty getting through. COVID-19 has abbreviated all in-person visits, and the extreme elderly hardly ever go to restaurants. Having already entertained visitors, the moms were rested and ready to socialize again.

Hi, Mom. Happy Mother's Day! Love you....

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Twitter: It's the Entertainment

So much for investing discipline.

After averring that I would stay away from trading stocks in general because of market volatility, or that buying Twitter specifically was too risky, I bought some TWTR on Thursday at $51. (It closed at $49.80 on Friday.)

In my defense, Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter looks very likely now that he's secured $7 billion from other equity investors. In fact $51 (actually $51.28) seems like a "fair" valuation based on a $54.50 acquisition price and a 90% probability of execution. The risk of loss is much lower than it was a month ago.

The second reason is that this was hardly an "investment." TWTR is less than 0.1% of the portfolio and the purchase was more to be kept apprised of shareholder communiqués than to make a killing. It's very rare that a small fry can be an arbitrageur.

Besides, I spend more on entertainment, and frankly after more than 40 years of being in the stock market I've never seen any story that's been more entertaining.

Friday, May 06, 2022

A Real Burrito

The number of people behind the counter has
doubled but they kept bumping into each other.
It was the culturally appropriate* thing to do; Pancho Villa Taqueria was the destination of choice for us and hundreds of others on Cinco de Mayo.

We waited in line for 30 minutes, ordered one regular and two "especials" (includes guacamole) burritos, and waited another 30 minutes for the order.

Pancho Villa is not as enticing as it was ten years ago: prices have gone up 60%, the open salsa bar is gone, and online and delivery services have extended the wait times.

When we got home, all the negatives were forgotten. The burritos were nicely wrapped, generously sized, and chock-full of meat. We normally patronize the "healthy" Mexican-themed chains that promote plant-based substitutes, offer brown rice, and advertise non-GMO ingredients, but we will have to reconsider.

On Cinco de Mayo we were reminded of the real thing and why we were so fond of it.

*"culturally appropriate"==>good, "cultural appropriation"==>bad.

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Sinking on Cinco de Mayo

WSJ graphic: the peak was yesterday's close
As of 10 a.m. PDT the stock market has given back all yesterday's gains (which were posted about below):
“The market yesterday was a relief rally,” said Seema Shah, chief strategist at Principal Global Investors. By Thursday, she said, the realities of a more challenging environment for stocks were starting to settle in.
Using a cliché--with expletives if you desire--is warranted: what goes up must come down, the market giveth and the market taketh away, etc.

Before Chairman Powell spoke yesterday, the outlook was gloomy but IMHO not apocalyptic. We're just back to where it was.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Stock Market: Hold, but Buy Antacids

Gloom on 4/29, more declines on 5/2, cautious rise on 5/3, snapback on 5/4.
Gloom on Friday
The NASDAQ index closed last Friday, April 29th, with the worst showing of any month since the financial crisis year of 2008:
The broad selloff has erased trillions of dollars in market value from the tech-heavy gauge, with investors souring on shares of everything from software and semiconductor companies to social-media giants.

The Nasdaq dropped 4.2% Friday, bringing its losses for the month to more than 13%, its worst showing since October 2008. The index is down 21% in 2022, its worst start to a year on record.
The explanations were high inflation, the raising of interest rates by the Federal Reserve to cool off the economy, the COVID-19 lockdown in China, a possible expansion of the war in Ukraine, and lowered corporate outlooks.

Warren Buffett prepared to speak to Berkshire
shareholders this Saturday. (WSJ photo)
Buffett: Buying Opportunities
Though the gloom was palpable over the weekend, experienced hands began to see buying opportunities. Of course, none are more experienced and successful as Warren Buffett:
As recently as February, Warren Buffett lamented he wasn’t finding much out there that was worth buying.

That is no longer the case.

After a yearslong deal drought, Mr. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. BRK.B 2.45% is opening up the spending spigot again. It forged an $11.6 billion deal to buy insurer Alleghany Corp. Y -0.26% , poised to be Berkshire’s biggest acquisition in six years. It bought millions of shares of HP Inc. HPQ 3.88% and Occidental Petroleum Corp. OXY 3.93% And it dramatically ramped up its stake in Chevron Corp. CVX 3.14% , making the energy company one of Berkshire’s top four stock investments.

...While he finds speculative bets “obscene,” the pickup in volatility across the markets has had one good effect, he said: It has allowed Berkshire to find undervalued businesses to invest in again following a period of relative quiet.
Wednesday Snapback
Though the Federal Reserve raised the Federal Funds rate by 50 basis points, the market had been expecting worse. As soon as Chairman Jay Powell said that a 75-bp increase was off the table, the stock market took off:
Major indexes were at first little changed Wednesday after the Fed announced it would raise interest rates by half a percentage point and begin to shrink its $9 trillion asset portfolio next month. Investors had widely expected both decisions heading into the conclusion of the central bank’s policy meeting.

What caught some by surprise was Mr. Powell saying the Fed wasn’t “actively considering” raising interest rates by 0.75 percentage point at a future meeting. Federal-funds futures, which traders use to track interest-rate expectations, had previously shown the market pricing in a 95% chance of the Fed making such a move in June.

Stocks soared after Mr. Powell’s remarks, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average finishing up 932.27 points, or 2.8%, to 34061.06, marking its biggest one-day gain since November 2020. The S&P 500 jumped 124.69 points, or 3%, to 4300.17 for its best day since May 2020, while the Nasdaq Composite added 401.10 points, or 3.2%, to 12964.86.
There's always a possibility of negative surprises, but on balance I don't think apocalyptic scenarios are likely. I am holding on to my portfolio and am neither a buyer or a seller.