Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Springs Not Eternal

On Monday evening there was a loud metallic crash that came from somewhere in the house. We looked at every bookcase and closet shelf. I also walked the perimeter, checking storage containers and trash cans. The satellite dish was intact.

A couple of hours later the mystery was solved. A loud crunching sound came from the garage door as we tried to open it. Disengaging the door from the motor, we could close the door manually only with great effort from two people.

One of the springs had snapped (picture).

Brian, the man who installed the door 21 years ago, had retired, so on Tuesday morning I called Bill's Garage Door Service (Brian knew Bill and had recommended him). I described the type of door and the likely problem. The lady on the phone said that a "technician" would stop by shortly.

The GDI Garage Doors van pulled up and a young man stepped out. Yes, Bill had retired and sold his business. Keith said it would cost $500 to replace the springs. I should also "keep an eye on" one of the cables, which was slightly frayed.

How much to replace the cables? $95. OK, do it. No offense, but I don't want to see you again next year.

Keith went about his business with alacrity. He brought out special tools that enabled him to replace the springs and cables. I couldn't have done the job myself even if I had months to do it.

After the parts were installed, Keith repeatedly opened and closed the garage door, continually making adjustments. He apologized for his "OCD" and said he wanted to get it right. When he was done, two hours after he arrived, the door moved more quietly and smoothly than it had in years.

The final bill was $629, about 50% above what Brian or Bill would have charged in 2016. It was worth every penny.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The Unhelpful Answer: Take Care of Your Brain

Atria Park of San Mateo is a senior-living facility less than two miles from our house. Although a few residents do not require daily medical attention, the majority do, with many suffering from dementia. Alzheimer's patients whom we knew personally spent their final years at Atria Park.

Today's headline is a blow to its business:

Woman suffering from dementia dies at Bay Area nursing home after being served dishwashing liquid
San Mateo police said a 93-year-old woman residing at an assisted living facility in the city died, and two others were hospitalized, after “ingesting toxic chemicals.”

Employees at Atria Park of San Mateo mistakenly served the three residents dishwashing liquid on Saturday morning, facility officials said in a statement...

The woman who died was Gertrude Elizabeth Murison Maxwell, who had eight children and 20 grandchildren, KRON-TV reported. The woman’s daughter said Maxwell, who suffers from dementia and cannot feed herself, had “severe blistering of her mouth and throat and esophagus.”
I often walk by the facility.
I have learned not to form snap judgments, but in this case I don't see how dishwashing liquid could reasonably be mistaken for a juice beverage. If the aides were incredibly harried, I suppose it's possible--for example, in my mother's facility in Hawaii multiple patients must be given medication at 3 p.m. according to doctors' orders--but then the under-staffing had to be extreme.

As the Journal noted last month:
70% of people over 65 will need long-term services and support, but many won’t get it because there aren’t enough caregivers. This shortage, the AARP says, is going to get worse in the next decade. There will be a national shortage of 151,000 caregivers by 2030.
Atria Park won't be on my list of final destinations, but the real answer seems to be to take care of my brain. If poor Ms. Maxwell understood what was happening to her and could communicate her distress, this wouldn't have happened.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Retirement: How Much is Enough?

A $2 MM net worth is in the top 10% of
the 65-69 age cohort (myroadtofire)
Back in 2005 my friend Phil and I had a conversation about how much we would need to retire comfortably. The assumptions were:

1) we wouldn't have a defined-benefit pension plan;
2) we would be collecting Social Security and participating in Medicare.
3) our house mortgages would be paid off;
4) our assets would be the total of everything in our taxable savings, stock brokerage, 401(k) and IRA accounts;
5) the tax attributes of various assets would be ignored;

We agreed that we would need more than $1 million, but $2 million would be the goal if we still had a few years of mortgage payments.

Without doing actuarial analysis or investment projections, a nest egg of $2 million would allow us to withdraw $100,000 for 20 years, and that would be plenty enough to support a middle-to-upper-middle-class lifestyle.

17 years later, $2 million in investable assets may still be the right number.

The WSJ profiles four (4) retirees who have net worths (including their homes) of $2 million - $4 million. They all spend at least $93,000 per year, and none have cut back substantially because of economic conditions. Some, however, eye the volatile stock market with trepidation.

How much is enough? Some of the people in the article--and your humble blogger--don't know the exact number, but we know that $2 million doesn't get us there.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

They Weren't People Like Us

Nassim Taleb (NYU photo)
Mathematician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, best known for his bestseller, The Black Swan, reviews Tom Holland's Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World : [bold added]
Christianity did stand the entire ancient value system on its head.

The Greco-Romans despised the feeble, the poor, the sick, and the disabled; Christianity glorified the weak, the downtrodden, and the untouchable; and does that all the way to the top of the pecking order. While ancient gods could have their share of travails and difficulties, they remained in that special class of gods. But Jesus was the first ancient deity who suffered the punishment of the slave, the lowest ranking member of the human race. And the sect that succeeded him generalized such glorification of suffering: dying as an inferior is more magnificent than living as the mighty.
The modern world is guilty of "retrospective distortion". Because we have absorbed many of Christianity's principles (the value of an individual, the importance of character over money and power) we think, mistakenly, that the original Christians were a lot like us.

We see this lack of contextual understanding, for example, on a much lesser scale in our college children who can't imagine a world where they would have to write a physical letter home to ask for money then wait for a check to come back, or go to a library, refer to its card catalogue, then delve into the stacks in the hope of finding the right book on a subject.

If the world has changed so much in 30 years, how alien must it appear after 2,000 years have passed?

Today's lectionary reading, appropriately, was from Luke 14:
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. "When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Painful Revelation

Scottie Scheffler (Golf Digest)
Professional golfer Scottie Scheffler had to leave the Tour temporarily because of a "weird little injury":
“Probably TMI [too much information], but I had what’s called a pilonidal infection. It’s an infection at the top of your butt crack. You can look it up. It was really hard for me to bend down. It was really hard for me to make a swing on Sunday. Walking was actually extremely difficult.

“I don’t know if any of you have ever had something like that, but if you talk to someone that does, it is excruciatingly painful. It was brutal. It’s one of those things that just happens …”
OK, he made me click through:
A pilonidal (pie-low-NIE-dul) cyst is an abnormal pocket in the skin that usually contains hair and skin debris. A pilonidal cyst is almost always located near the tailbone at the top of the cleft of the buttocks.

Pilonidal cysts usually occur when hair punctures the skin and then becomes embedded. If a pilonidal cyst becomes infected, the resulting abscess is often extremely painful.
Scottie, we appreciate your candor, but you should have taken a page from the NBA and NFL obfuscation experts and gone with "lower body injury."

Friday, August 26, 2022

Usefulness Beats Beauty

The larger size is needed to read
the screen or touch the right icon.
Two decades ago I was gifted a nice European timepiece. It was expensive, an item that I would never buy for myself.

In 2016 it was put into storage in favor of the less costly Apple Watch. The Apple Watch had technological advantages: it had fitness apps; it could take phone calls and send text messages as long as the paired iPhone was nearby; and it kept time more precisely.

Over the years the Apple Watch Series 2 was swapped out for a Series 3 that a family member had retired, then a Series 7 with a plethora of health monitoring (e.g., blood oxygen content, sleep tracking, gait evenness) features.

Almost by necessity the Apple Watch has a large (45mm) diagonal size in order to read messages and to use the touchscreen. It's on the verge of being esthetically ugly by being too large, but since for me usefulness beats beauty, I'm not going back to the more elegant-looking wristwatch.

L to R: Tudor 31mm ($4,925); Bulova 32mm
($1,150); Timex 34mm ($199) - WSJ photo
Which is also why I won't be participating in the latest trend in men's fashion, tiny timepieces.
According to Nick Marino, senior vice president of content for watch site Hodinkee, plenty of other guys have lately been shrinking their wristwear. They’re often trading watches 41mm and above in diameter—long the norm—for versions under 39mm. Many are unisex or women’s models. Some are downright puny, like [Kareem] Rahma’s [15mm] Seiko or the 23mm Cartier Crash favored by stylish rapper Tyler, the Creator.

Since the early 2000s, “big, macho, attention-getting watches were the trend, but the pendulum is swinging back to [smaller] sizes,” said Mr. Marino. A small ticker, he said, is “a sign of confidence: You don’t need a giant billboard of wealth on your arm.”
I don't need a billboard of wealth on my arm, and I don't need to be driving one or living in one either. It makes for a happier life.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Hands-Free Was Impossible

Ron Nagasawa of Midweek writes about a driving incident ("Phone Spam") that could only happen in Hawaii.
Zippy's spam musubi
I am a huge proponent of no hands-on mobile phone use while driving. The first thing I told my daughter when she got her driver's license was there would be no texting or talking on her mobile phone while driving. Any instance, and I mean any, and she would lose her license, period.

These days that doesn't seem to be an issue, as many newer cars are equipped with hands-free everything for your mobile phone. Unfortunately, I still see people on the road talking on their hand-held phone or texting at stoplights.

We all know it only takes one unfortunate mishap to change your life. Same goes for drunk or "buzzed" driving. I have to say, I've really noticed a lot of people being mindful of that and engage the use of a designated driver or ride sharing services. And lately, I've been seeing commercials about distracted driving.

I have to confess that I do drink coffee while driving and have an occasional snack or sandwich, but never when I'm driving in a residential area or in a city block with traffic stops. I only partake in the practice if I'm moving on the freeway.

The other morning I decided to provide a local-style breakfast - a platter of Spam musubi from Zippy's - for my staff. I threw this breakfast of champions on the passenger seat next to me and as I entered the freeway to get to work, I started to sip my coffee. If you've ever had a Spam musubi from Zippy's, you know that the urge to eat one is strong. It almost flies into your hand like Thor's hammer. Well, the next thing I knew I was biting into one of these savory offerings. I alternated it with hits of hot coffee and my life was feeling pretty darn good. There weren't many cars on the road so I was cruising.

That's when in the distance I saw a motorcycle cop pointing a speed radar gun at me. I was not speeding, I never do. That's because I drive a German sports car, albeit 15 years old, but it's still a cop magnet.

I saw him wave at me to pull over. Great, just when I was having a nice peaceful morning with my coffee and Spam musubi. I rolled down my window as he walked up, confident that I couldn't possibly have been speeding.

He politely asked to see my driver's license and I asked what I did wrong. He said, "Were you talking on your cell phone while driving?" I wasn't, but then realized he must have mistaken the Spam musubi for a mobile phone!

I said no and he politely asked me to show him my call history on my phone. I was too embarrassed to say what I was actually doing, but he said OK and I could be on my way. I caught a lucky break.

Good thing because I had already eaten the evidence.
I do think that the writer embellished the tale to come up with a good finishing line -- "I had already eaten the evidence"-- when there was a platter of substitutes to show the police officer, but the story is otherwise plausible.

One can easily mistake the rectangular spam musubi for a cellphone held to one's lips in the speakerphone position.

Next time he should buy a box of malasadas.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Another Cellphone Convenience, But I'll Pass

(NYT photo)
Early adopters may no longer need physical wallets, but it will be a long time coming before I get rid of mine. Inside the billfold are a half-dozen cards--California Real ID, credit, ATM, car insurance, Medicare, other medical--and, of course, cash. It's much easier to pull out the physical item, and not all vendor personnel are familiar with handling transactions via cellphone.

Credit cards have been around since the 1950's, and everyone's gotten used to swiping or inserting them into a reader. It was therefore an easy transition for hotels to get their guests to use plastic key cards to enter their rooms instead of traditional keys that could be lost, stolen, or duplicated.

But hotels are encountering stiff resistance to the next phase of key technology: using one's cellphone. The advantages of phone over card are straightforward:
Doling out fewer keycards saves hotels money, cuts down on plastic use, helps with staffing shortages and, when used properly, saves travelers time [e.g., bypassing the front desk during check-in]..
In the real world customers have found that the technology is not so seamless:
[Frequent traveler Jennifer] Puzziferro lists the challenges she’s run into: troubles getting the hotel room door open if a phone case is too thick; being locked out of a room after too many tries with a digital key; problems accessing the elevator; and, in one recent case in Denver, getting double billed for a room after checking in on the mobile app and requesting a digital key followed by a regular key.
On some occasions we have 2-4 guests in one room or suite. It's much easier to hand out the cards than download passes onto each person's cellphone. Besides, a cellphone key may be inconvenient to carry vs. a card, such as when one wants to run down to the hotel gym.

Key cards are convenient enough for your humble blogger, so I'll continue to stick with those as long as hotels give me a choice.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Scam Texts

An unfamiliar number sent a text message yesterday (right). Was it just a wrong number, or was it something more sinister?

The FCC says the message is from a scammer: [bold added]
If you recently got an unexpected text about a gift, an account freeze or even just someone unknown saying “hi,” it’s probably from a fraudster. The Federal Communications Commission issued an advisory last month about an uptick in consumer complaints about suspicious texts...

If there is a link, file or phone number in the text, ignore it. Many scammers are trying to get you to share personal or financial information, or type login credentials into a faked website that looks legitimate. (This is known as phishing.) Some links or attachments can download malicious software to access information on your device...
I know enough not to click on a link and risk infecting the device with malware. But what's the harm in responding?
By replying, you could confirm that your number is active, subjecting you to even more spam.
The article recommends three further steps: 1) Forward the message to 7726, which is the suspicious-text reporting number for all phone carriers; 2) Block future texts from the same number (procedures differ for Apple and Android phones); 3) Modify iPhone settings to filter texts from senders who aren't recognized.

I doubt that any of these moves will reduce scam texts, much less catch the people behind them, but like driving an electric car or collecting tin foil during a war, I'll feel better about myself because I'm making a contribution to the fight against a vast evil. And feeling better about oneself, as opposed to actually doing something effective, seems to be what's important these days.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Now the Hard Part

The fun part
The Foster City Summer Days festival concluded last night. We spent a couple of hours taking down everything and hauling the materials back to the church. Now comes the hardest part of any project: the cleaning up.

No, it's not the degree of difficulty; building the project probably involved more hours, required creativity, working with others happily (sometimes), and maybe included some fun.

After the main event is over, reports have to be written, procedures documented, expenses tabulated, and items returned to storage or their rightful owners.

The aftermath is hard because it means detail, duty, and drudgery, coupled with the (lack of) motivation to see it through.

Casualty of fun: paint spilled
on the sign overnight
And when it's all over, when everything is put away, the bosses give you your just reward:

"You did such a great job. Let's do it again next year!"

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Not Your Dad's Episcopal Church

There are a lot of reasons why this is not your father's Episcopal church, but here's one that should not spark controversy: the new rector in Foster City snapped a selfie (right) and posted it on his Facebook page.

In his first sermon the rector promised to welcome, listen, try to understand, and visit with everyone. That's a huge commitment. (Your humble blogger has trouble putting a Zoom call on the calendar.)

I'm cautiously hopeful.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Summer Days

Police and fire depts. are located behind the library (pictured).
It's not as lively as the summer days and summer nights of our youth, but the Foster City Summer Days festival had plenty of energy. The crowds were reminiscent of pre-COVID days.

After a two-year hiatus, suburban families were ready to mingle outdoors on a sunny afternoon.

(Foster City provides reassurance by patrolling the parking lots, rides, exhibits, food and drink areas.)

The new priest seemed popular with kids.
We signed up the local Episcopal church for one of the "community booths" reserved for non-profits and local government agencies. Staffing the church booth is light duty. Normally one has to field a question every 15 minutes or so from curious passers-by.

The lady in charge of Sunday school had an idea: let's invite kids to spin a wheel and win a cookie, toy, potato chips, or some other prize. Spins were free; the smiles from that revelation alone warmed jaded hearts. We also attracted a lot more traffic.

The new priest showed up to introduce himself. The parents and children who stopped by seemed to like him. Whether starting anew or starting over, hope was in the air.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Benefits and Costs

A traditional life has benefits:

Inflation Widens Married Couples’ Money Lead Over Their Single Friends
[bold added]
The median net worth of married couples 25 to 34 years old was nearly nine times as much as the median net worth of single households in 2019, according to the most recent data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

In 2010, married households’ median net worth was four times as much
. And now, after a spell of rapid inflation and more than two years of pandemic living, single people are getting left further behind, say economists at the Fed and elsewhere.
A traditional life has costs:

It Now Costs $300,000 to Raise a Child
The cost of raising a child through high school has risen to more than $300,000 because of inflation that is running close to a four-decade high, according to a Brookings Institution estimate.

It determined that a married, middle-income couple with two children would spend $310,605—or an average of $18,271 a year—to raise their younger child born in 2015 through age 17. The calculation uses an earlier government estimate as a baseline, with adjustments for inflation trends.

The multiyear total is up $26,011, or more than 9%, from a calculation based on the inflation rate two years ago, before rapid price increases hit the economy, the Brookings Institution said.
Note that the cost does not include college tuition and expenses, which currently total $142,000 for an average four-year degree. A private college diploma costs over $200,000.

The benefits are in doubt while the costs are certain. Married-with-children may be tradition, but it is likely to be the life led by fewer Americans.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

“Menswear is getting bigger, bolder and brighter”

"Ken" actor Ryan Gosling (WSJ photo)
The Barbie movie is coming out in 2023, and SoCal sensibility--for better or worse--threatens to become the next fashion thing:
Such vibrancy aligns with the current menswear mood, said Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman. “There’s real contemporary relevance to how they’re costuming the ‘Barbie’ film,” he said. “Menswear is getting bigger, bolder and brighter.” Just look at recent fluoro-flecked collections from Giorgio Armani and Louis Vuitton. Arguably the last time we saw such carefree, SoCal-inflected menswear was the ’90s, when overalls were worn with the straps down, tips were frosted and Marky Mark exposed his Calvins.
Bold pastel, sometimes-fluorescent clothes went out in the 20th century with disco. You can still find them on kids whose parents want them to stand out, more for safety than fashion, especially at night time.

If the style is coming back, and we're going to have to pay 3-4x what we are used to paying, it should be comfortable, right? Au contraire, mon ami.
When trying outré colors, heed attention to fit, said Los Angeles stylist Brand Williams. Keep tailoring close to the body rather than going oversize, he said. The bolder the shade, “the more conservative the fit has to be.”
By the way, if you're going to commit to the look, you've got to do one more thing.

Bleach your hair.


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Après CO2, le déluge

Downtown Sacramento, 1862 (Chron photo)
Five years ago we wrote about how a wet winter (yes, they do exist) gave rise to fears of disastrous floods in Northern California.

There is historical precedent: in the Great Flood of 1862 Sacramento and much of the Central Valley was submerged. No one's predicted when such a flood will recur but we remarked half jokingly,

"One Thing is Certain: Climate Change Will Take the Blame"

It's no longer a joke. Scientists are warning that climate change will make Great Floods more likely and more severe. [bold added]
Storms seem hard to fathom now, with California in its third year of drought. But climate change is making both drought and rainstorms more prolonged and intense, climatologists believe.

The dense 13-page treatise [“Climate change is increasing the risk of a California megaflood”] uses the Great Flood of 1862 as its model. An overwhelming series of storms turned the entire Central Valley into an inland sea and washed out what is now Los Angeles and the cities of Orange County. That flood caused an estimated 4,000 deaths as the equivalent of 10 feet of rain fell over a span of 43 days, according to references.

The study says that climate change is dramatically increasing the risk of megastorms like the one that spawned the 1862 flood, so that an event that would have occurred only once every two centuries is becoming one that might occur around three times each century. Just as worrisome, the consequences could be worse now due to the combined conditions of human-induced global warming, sprawling development and wildfires.

Recent analysis has suggested that “such an event would likely produce widespread, catastrophic flooding and subsequently lead to the displacement of millions of people, the long-term closure of critical transportation corridors and ultimately to nearly $1 trillion in overall economic losses,” the study states.
Global warming, aka "climate change," is responsible for mega-droughts and mega-floods.

It causes ocean warming and ocean cooling.

There's nothing it can't do.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Persuasion by Netflix

Not your grandmother's Jane Austen: Dakota Johnson's
Anne Elliot breaks the fourth wall and holds a rabbit
throughout the film.
Still a Jane Austen neophyte, I watched Netflix' Persuasion this month. Like the screen versions of Pride and Prejudice, the movie necessarily dispenses with the nuances of the novel in order to tell the story in under two hours. If inspired to move on to the book, the viewer can then savor the subtleties of the characters as they navigate the rules of Regency society.

To get right to the point, I liked the film. It had outrageously self-absorbed characters that provided the grist for protagonist Anne Elliot's ironic observations, and the requisite Austen plot twists that provided a happy ending for most of the players.

But it's a good thing that I didn't read the reviews first. They slammed the movie because of the modern dialogue ("He's a 10" "Now we're strangers, worse than strangers, we're exes") and the 21st-century sensibility of Anne Elliot.

Here's an example of movie dialogue that would never come from the pen of Jane Austen.
[Male character]: He [Wentworth] could be an admiral some day, great service to the Crown and all that it holds dear, but instead he'd rather fart around inland for the rest of his life.

[Woman character] Oh, let the man fart where he likes.
It's obvious why diehard Austen fans ("Janeites") are outraged, but I'm not so wedded to historical authenticity. It's fiction.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Walking the Walk, Slowly

Mailed June 29th. Acknowledged Aug. 12th.
As I noted earlier, I sent Forbes $10 cash on June 29th. A cash payment tests the employees' honesty and the company's internal controls.

I was going to chide them in this humble journal after they sent a second request at the end of July, the discounted subscription not having started.

It's a good thing I held off on the negativity. On Friday (August 12th) the cheerleader for capitalism notified us that the subscription will start in August.

It also said that for an additional $10 Forbes would extend the subscription for another year.

I'll pass. Let's see how the first one works out.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Gifts from Above

It's a far cry from the chambers beneath St. Peter's basilica, but the attic above the 40-year-old Parish Hall is the closest thing we've got.

It was the first time I'd been up there. We were looking for posters, signage, and other materials that could be used in our booth at next weekend's Summer Days, formerly known as the Foster City Arts and Wine Festival.

Among the 20-year-old financial reports and Sunday School coloring books was an old rolodex containing the names and addresses of congregants remembered by very few in this peripatetic community.

She looked disappointed.
The Senior Warden read off a few of the names. "Charles was the organist," I said, "Harriett was his wife." "Peg ran the altar guild." He wasn't impressed. (We were members of the church from 1979 to 1985, went elsewhere, then returned in 2003.)

We found a few items, including some custom banners that cost hundreds of dollars. Now comes the hard part--putting everything together appealingly so that passersby will be intrigued.

The church knew enough not to put me in charge of that.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Every Day is a Choice

(WSJ image)
Quiet quitting is the buzzword for doing just enough to keep your job.
Jim Harter, chief scientist for Gallup’s workplace and well-being research, said workers’ descriptions of “quiet quitting” align with a large group of survey respondents that he classifies as “not engaged”—those who will show up to work and do the minimum required but not much else. More than half of workers surveyed by Gallup who were born after 1989—54%—fall into this category.

One factor Gallup uses to measure engagement is whether people feel their work has purpose. Younger employees report that they don’t feel that way, the data show. These are the people who are more likely to work passively and look out for themselves over their employers, Dr. Harter said.
Your humble blogger was not aware that there was a quantitative measurement, a Gallup survey on employee engagement, to gauge the venerable phenomenon of workers who are just putting in the time.

Poor economic conditions often force engagement, that is, the fear of losing one's salary and benefits can be sometimes be a sufficient spur to productivity.

However, in the Bay Area over the last 30 years for the most part the market has favored those who are selling their services. And if an employer creates a healthy working environment, that may allow the employer to retain some sought-after workers who have good opportunities elsewhere. The "quiet quitters" believe that there's more to life than the job, and so may the above-and-beyond workers, too.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Inconvenient Encounter

She said that all her damage was new. I was
skeptical, but it was irrelevant to our case.
Yesterday I got into a very minor fender bender. A 72-year-old lady backed into my car as I was driving by her Toyota sedan in a parking lot. No one was hurt.

She seemed more rattled than I, so I hid my disgust (not at her, but at the situation), and described what we should do. We took pictures of each other’s driver’s licenses, insurance cards, and damage and exchanged phone numbers. Her car (top) fared worse than mine (bottom).

Two hours later she texted me that her insurance company judged that she was 100% at fault and that she would pay for everything. I reported the accident to my own company, which agreed with the assessment.

My car: paint came off.
Not long ago the two parties would have looked at the damage and likely settled off the books. She would have claimed responsibility, and if she gave me $200 cash that would have been the end of it. Neither of us would tell our insurance companies. I probably wouldn't even have bothered to take the car in, just buy some paint and touch up the black spots to prevent rust down the line. It would be up to her to take care of her own car.

In our hyper legalistic society we have a fear of deviating from procedures, and we were both stuck doing it the long way. It will be a hassle to take the car to a body shop, get an estimate, report back to her insurance company, then get the scratches repaired.

This is precisely the sort of incident that will upset my lizard brain for weeks. Rationally, this is just an inconvenience that should be dismissed as immaterial. Let's hope rationality wins.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Tanforan Shopping Mall - Last Gasp

No spacing problem here.
In 2018 the decline of retail and the growing homelessness in San Bruno were warning signs for the Tanforan Mall.

The coronavirus lockdown was the death blow, and in November, 2020 the property was acquired by Alexandria Real Estate Equities for an eventual tear-down and conversion to a biotech campus / housing development.

But it would be a slow death, with designs and permits requiring years to process. Alexandria Real Estate Equities was in no hurry to buy out the leases, so tenants were running out their contracts.

In 2012 the Food Court bustled.
It was my first visit to the shopping center in four years. It was nearly empty. The once-bustling Food Court had a few diners, quietly picking at their food. Starbucks, Jollibee, and Burger King were already gone, while Chipotle, the movie theater, and Target were hanging on.

I ordered a teriyaki chicken lunch from Sarku, Japan, for old times sake. It was as good as I remembered but cost $3 more. Well, they have to make ends meet during the next year or two until construction begins.

The Tanforan Mall has been the site of a Peninsula race track, an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II, and a shopping center. The recent 200-bp spike in interest rates and migration of people and business out of the Bay Area makes the biotech campus / residential housing plan by Alexandria Real Estate anything but a sure-fire moneymaker.

I wish them well.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

It's Very Clear

Consumer sentiment, which tracks inflation, and consumer
confidence, a jobs-based indicator, both fell in 2022 (WSJ)
Following up on yesterday's post on the prices I've been seeing at the store and at the pump, this morning's inflation report confirms that inflation is "easing":

U.S. Inflation Eased Slightly to 8.5% in July
U.S. inflation eased slightly but remained close to a four-decade high in July despite cooling energy prices.

The Labor Department on Wednesday reported that the consumer-price index rose 8.5% in July from the same month a year ago, down from 9.1% in June. June marked the fastest pace of inflation since November 1981. The CPI measures what consumers pay for goods and services.

Core CPI, which excludes often volatile energy and food prices, held steady in July, increasing 5.9% from the same month a year ago, a sign that broad price pressures remain in the economy.
Because these reports are based on recent historical data, they don't necessarily capture what is going to happen.

There are moderating trends in real estate. In June we pointed out the dramatic negative effect that interest rate hikes can have on housing prices. In the Bay Area we have seen seller markdowns, fewer bids on listings, and houses being pulled from the market.

We're hopeful, but don't break out the bubbly. Barring a severe recession, the overall price level will not be dropping. In fact, Fed Chairman Powell's goal is to get inflation down to "the Fed’s 2% target within a couple of years." With apologies to the Gershwins, it's very clear high prices are here to stay.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Prices Dropping to a Higher Plateau

A regular shopper at Costco, I was taken aback by the sight of Charmin toilet paper on sale.

Palettes and shelves of toilet paper had fluctuated between empty and threadbare since the beginning of the pandemic, and the markdown gave hope that the balance between production, inventory, and demand had somewhat normalized.

However, the sale price of $19.49 was about 10% higher than the comparable sale price at the end of 2019.

The price level of toilet paper, in fact everything, appears to have reached a higher, permanent plateau.

We were pleased to see that gas had dipped below $6 a gallon at the end of June. During our round trip to Seattle at the end of July the cost in California was $5.20, while in Washington it ranged between $4.50 and $4.80. In the Bay Area this week we paid $4.95 (picture).

I like the downward trend, but I doubt we'll ever see the $3.20/gallon we paid at the end of 2019 in a "normal" economy or the $2.80 at the end of 2020 when activity had slowed to a crawl. Like I said, a higher, permanent plateau.

Monday, August 08, 2022

Olivia Newton-John

If you were a young man in the '70's...if you remember that album cover of Olivia with that blue shirt on with those big blue eyes staring right at you, every boy's, every man's dream, was that I would love for that girl to be my girlfriend.---John Travolta

Olivia Newton-John, 73, died earlier today at her Southern California ranch.

Her public singing career spanned over 50 years, but during the 10-year period 1971 ("If Not for You") to 1981 ("Physical") there was no greater star in music. Her voice was strong and ranged over two octaves and, of course, her looks helped. She had the whole package.

At the age of 28, she was cast as the high-schooler Sandy in the musical Grease, which was the most popular film of 1978 and had one of the best-selling movie soundtracks of all time. During the pandemic I re-watched a lot of musicals, including Grease. My estimation of Olivia Newton-John grew from that of a fine singer who churned out a lot of hits back in the day to that of a truly great entertainer. R.I.P.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Making Fond Memories

The Senior Warden thanks the departing priest
In his farewell sermon the interim priest thanked us for "saving" him. When he got the assignment two years ago, he was at a low point, both professionally and personally. Guiding the church along the sometimes-rocky path to finding a new rector--who starts tomorrow--was just the tonic he needed.

From the perspective of the congregation we were the ones who needed saving. Under normal circumstances finding a minister would have been job one, but keeping the church alive during the pandemic quickly became the paramount objective, as it was for nearly all religious organizations.

Some of the laity were forced to become streaming experts on the fly, and after purchasing the equipment, installing software, and setting up a control center, on-line services began during the summer of 2020.

The church re-opened in May, 2021, on Pentecost Sunday. In-person attendance was about 30% of the pre-COVID number and has still not recovered. We have also suffered disproportionate losses in the most active over-60 group because of death, infirmity, and/or moving away from the Bay Area.

But we have a lot to be thankful for. The new rector is much younger than the average member--he will actually know the people he will be honoring at their memorial services!--and the church finances are in decent shape.

As for our departing interim, his successful term in Foster City may have contributed to his next assignment at one of the toniest towns in the Bay Area. He leaves as our mutual fortunes are on the upswing, a circumstance which makes for fond memories.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

The Trip Home

Unlike Sunday, Yreka's skies are now clear.
After sipping coffee and nibbling on pastries, we reluctantly rose from the patio chairs and began the 840-mile journey home. The drive from Seattle to the Peninsula would take 13½ hours without any stops, according to Google Maps.

There was the added complication of the McKinney Fire near the Oregon-California border. It was perilously close to Yreka (pop. 7,500) along Interstate 5. 

300 miles and 5½ hours later we pulled into Eugene, refilled the tank, and checked the Yreka I-5 traffic cam, 200 miles further south. The nightime haze was heavy, but cars were still proceeding at the limit.

Someone at the wedding
tested positive so we checked
again yesterday. Negative.
Not wishing to spend another night away, we agreed that we should go for it.

After refueling in Red Bluff, nothing would dissuade us from powering through. We guzzled Coca Cola and cookies over the final three hours. We arrived home at 2:30 a.m. Cleaning up the car (and ourselves) could wait.

I was asleep when my head hit the pillow.

Friday, August 05, 2022

California: More Lenient Laws For Government Than Everyone Else

Small businesses are plagued by lawsuits filed
under the American with Disabilities Act.
The law that penalizes businesses for violating the rights of the disabled does not apply to public schools.
California businesses that discriminate against a customer can be sued for penalties of at least $4,000 and damages of as much as three times the harm they inflicted. But the same penalties do not apply to public schools that violate their students’ rights, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday in the case of a disabled student from Contra Costa County.

The 1959 California law, the Unruh Act, applies to civil rights violations by “business establishments.” And “public schools, as governmental entities engaged in the provision of a free and public education, are not ‘business establishments’ within the meaning of the act,” Justice Joshua Groban wrote in the 7-0 decision.
In this case the double standard doesn't lie with the state Supreme Court which is just interpreting the laws as written, but with the legislature. This is yet another example of the government applying more lenient rules to itself than it does to everyone else.

I often wish that the Progressives who want the government to run everything would look at the consequence of them getting their wish. Government exempts itself from penalties or remedies or shortages, there is no appeal, and we are all immiserated.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Kansas Surprises

State Capitol - Topeka, Kansas
On Tuesday Kansas voters refused to overturn a state court ruling that found a right to abortion in the Kansas constitution:
One message is that voters are wary of extremes on either side of the abortion issue. A majority of the public supports a right to abortion at least up to several weeks of pregnancy. This is disappointing to those who believe life begins at conception, but it means the pro-life side has persuading to do if it wants to win the abortion debate.

That’s the burden of democracy, which is what the Supreme Court allowed to return on abortion in overturning Roe. Urging Congress to pass a national abortion ban, as some on the right want, looks like a certain loser—in addition to likely being unconstitutional. Abortion is an issue for the states to decide.
The reason that the outcome was surprising to most is that Kansas is "a culturally conservative state with 350,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats." The pro-abortion results were not surprising to this humble observer, however.

As I wrote in May:
State and local governance, aka federalism, is indeed messy and inefficient. Abortion-rights supporters seem to dread having to argue a case, in 34 jurisdictions no less, that they thought they had already won, but I suspect they'll find it easier than feared.

Everyone has had to wrestle with the meaning of fetal life for 49 years, and IMHO the majority across the United States has decided that it is less important than the health of a mother.
Perhaps it will dawn on both sides that the overturning of Roe was not an unmitigated defeat for abortion rights or a clearcut victory for the anti-abortion side. Where one Party rules, like in California, one side doesn't have to listen to the other, but in most States they will have to. Compromises will be reached, and, finally, maybe, after half a century temperatures will cool:
abortion never really went away after Roe; we won't like the heat for the next 3-5 years, but maybe things will cool off after legislators pass or reaffirm laws post-Dobbs, the people react, and the laws are adjusted again.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Beautiful in Bellevue

In addition to the anything-but-meat-and-potatoes lunch places, Bellevue downtown real estate is allocated to other aspects of feeling and looking good.

This cosmetic-surgery office proclaims its specialties: Brazilian Butt Lift, Neck Lift, and Eyelid Surgery. (Other services the doctor offers are augmentation and contouring of various parts of the body.)

Bellevue is a good place to showcase one's talents, and sometimes one needs a little help.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Passing a Test

The prize is under one object.
Your humble blogger used to enjoy solving puzzles. That pastime ended when marriage, full-time employment, and later, the Internet, provided more important and/or pleasurable diversions.

Concerned about my absent-mindedness as a precursor to something worse, an adult son played a YouTube clip of a puzzle similar to one used on the Oxford admission test.

The problem is straightforward.

Shilpa is told the shape of the object under which the prize is located, while Colin is told its color. Both participants know that fact about each other. Then the following dialogue ensues:

Host: Do either of you know where the prize is?
Host: Do you know now?
Host: Do you know now?
Shilpa and Colin: Yes!

Where is the prize?

The solution starts at 1:30 in the 5:28 video linked above.

After chuckling at the seeming absurdity of the set up, we froze the video, as the narrator suggested, and I talked through the problem, alighting on the solution in a few minutes. The adult son seemed satisfied that I still had my wits about me.

However, I am always still looking for my eyeglasses.

Note: Wikipedia summarizes variations of these induction puzzles.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Bellevue, Washington

Bellevue: construction was everywhere.
Bellevue is not a tourist destination. None of its attractions would crack the top ten in Seattle, which is eleven (11) miles to the west across Lake Washington.

That said, Bellevue didn't seem to have visible signs of inner-city problems like homelessness, crime, graffiti, and decay.

Construction was everywhere, and we had difficulty driving the blocked-off streets. Navigational problems were exacerbated by Maps apps misdirecting us on several occasions.

For example, the hotel was on 106th Pl NE, and we kept ending on 106th Ave NE, only a block away to be sure, but aggravating to get back on track with stop-and-go traffic, one-way streets and pedestrians whose heads were buried in cellphones.

Next to the hotel was a French-style bakery where we spent each morning. At 8 AM half the tables were occupied by groups of two or three talking shop.

The temperature was in the 90's and humid; the women wore summer attire, while men were in business shorts.

The pastries were flaky and airy; we brought a box to the post-wedding decompression lunch at the bride's parents the next day.

Within a one-box radius there were four lunch places serving poke. Chinese dumplings, tacos , Korean lunch boxes, and salads were also close by. If you hankered for a hamburger and fries, you were out of luck.

Bellevue has little to offer for a memorable visit, but it looked like a nice place to live and work.