Wednesday, May 31, 2023

It Bothers Them a Lot, But Not Enough to Fix It

SF survey: 2019 vs 2023. Everything's getting worse (Chronicle chart).
An April survey showed that San Francisco residents believe that City services are at their worst point in 20 years: [bold added]
San Franciscans report feeling less safe and believe their local government is doing a worse job of providing services compared to any other point over more than two decades, according to a new survey conducted by the city. The survey was released Thursday by the Controller's Office.

In results collected last year, residents graded the city with the lowest safety rating since 1996 at 3.3 out of 5, which the city calls a C+. The data shows that just 36% of residents report feeling safe walking at night, a drop from 53% in 2019, the last time the city conducted the survey.

Residents also gave the government the lowest rating since 2002 at 3 out of 5, or a grade of C. The city’s public safety and government ratings saw the biggest drops from 2019 of 16 ratings collected.
In our younger days we considered forsaking our boring suburban existence and moving to the City, where the lights were bright, the food was good, and the energy was high.

Now San Francisco seems to have sunk into a slough of despond from which it can't seem to get out of. Worse, it was a predicament of residents' own making.
the San Francisco voters seem to approve these policies on homelessness and crime because they keep re-electing leaders who spend $billions and not only do not fix the problems but make things worse.
This pair returns every spring.
We're glad we stayed in our sleepy Peninsula town, where the biggest problem is removing duck poop from our walkway.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Climate Change: Prioritized Appropriately

(Image from Seeking Alpha)
A not-unexpected headline: AI Poses ‘Risk of Extinction’ on Par With Pandemics and Nuclear War, Tech Executives Warn
Tech executives and artificial-intelligence scientists are sounding the alarm about AI, saying in a joint statement Tuesday that the technology poses an extinction risk as great as pandemics and nuclear war.

More than 350 people signed a statement released by the Center for AI Safety, an organization that said it works to reduce AI risks.
Some of the smartest people on the planet signed the statement. Other tech luminaries like Elon Musk and Bill Gates have previously expressed concern about the potential dangers of artificial intelligence.

The AI discussion has been going on for a while and is above your humble blogger's pay-grade, but he did notice a significant omission: climate change isn't even listed as a top-three extinction risk.

Now that COVID-19 (pandemic), Russia-Ukraine (nuclear war), and ChatGPT (AI) have shown everyone what they should really be scared about, the nightmarish projections of teenagers are being prioritized appropriately.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Deep Sleep and Alzheimer's

The Apple Watch says I'm not getting enough
Deep Sleep. Alzheimer's could be in my future.
Sleep has long been correlated with brain health, and inadequate deep sleep in particular is connected with Alzheimer's disease.
During deep sleep, the brain produces slow electrical waves and flushes out neurotoxins including amyloid and tau, two hallmarks of the disease.

Studies have shown that even one night of lousy deep sleep can lead to an increase of amyloid. A week of disrupted sleep can raise the amount of tau, which is especially insidious because over time it can strangle neurons from the inside out...

In their study, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, examine how deep sleep affected memory in cognitively normal seniors. What they found is that more deep sleep significantly improved performance on memory tests in patients with higher levels of amyloid and who were therefore at higher risk for Alzheimer’s...

Tne implication is that improving deep sleep could help people at highest risk for Alzheimer’s retain their mental capacities. Sleeping aids might be one way to do it. Studies have also found that exposure to odors like lavender and auditory stimulation at night can improve deep sleep. Regular, moderate exercise does too.
Overnight observation at a sleep clinic is still the gold standard for diagnosis, and a doctor's order is necessary to obtain a CPAP machine and certain medications.

The Apple Watch did confirm the tiredness that I had been feeling, and if lifestyle changes don't do the trick I'm off to the local sleep center. Staving off Alzheimer's is a powerful motivator.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Pentecost 2023

Pentecost (“Whitsunday”) is the third great feast of Christianity after Christmas and Easter. It commemorates the Holy Spirit coming into the world on “tongues of fire.” From the second chapter of Acts:
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
The liturgical color is red, symbolic of the spiritual fire that swept through that long-ago assembly.

It was the new rector's first Pentecost, and the calendar wasn't helping. Pentecost Sunday 2023 fell in the middle of the Memorial Day weekend, and attendance was sparse.

The lack of numbers did not seem to dampen the enthusiasm of those who were present. Perhaps they took comfort from Matthew 18:
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Of Bullwhips and White Tails

B-School Professor Hau Lee with teaching aid
Stanford Business School Professor Hau Lee's paper on the bullwhip effect was "voted one of the 10 most influential papers in the history of Management Science":
When you are a cowboy and you crack the whip, you move the handle 60 degrees and the tip will move more than 360 degrees. Sometimes, a signal can move a little bit from consumer to retailer to distributor to wholesaler to manufacturer to supplier. Everyone adds something to the signal, and it results in a big surge, up and down.

The pandemic is a great illustration of this. Even the media used the term “bullwhip”: bullwhip of toilet paper, bullwhip of hand sanitizers, bullwhip of everything. We were relying on short-term data and then we produced a whole lot more. Consumers panicked, too. They didn’t realize there was ample supply coming in. Some students told me they’re still using the toilet paper that they bought in 2020.
Small imbalances in supply and demand can manifest in upstream surges and shortages. Every link in the supply chain "adds something."

Your humble blogger saw this boom-bust phenomenon when he worked in commercial aviation, when an uptick in summer travel, reinforced by low interest rates and an economy coming out of a recession, resulted in a surge of aircraft orders.

Aircraft require at least two years between order and delivery, and later new airplanes came off the line when the economy was softening. If the glut was bad, buyers even preferred to lose their deposits by canceling orders, and new airplanes were "white-tailed" (painted without an airline's logo).

Boom and bust cycles have been studied for over a hundred years, and Prof. Lee's vivid metaphor helps to bring the concept home.

Friday, May 26, 2023

The Zen of Gray Concrete Blocks

Brutalist example: the FBI building
We've commented on the brutalist style in architecture before. (As with many cultural topics, it became politicized when President Trump disliked brutalism to the extent that he issued an executive order banning the style from future Federal projects. President Biden revoked the order.)

In general our tastes don't run in the direction of gray concrete blocks, but we do find some of the structures, such as UCSD's Geisel Library, esthetically pleasing.

Kanye's $57MM Malibu home (WSJ)
The latest trend by ultra-wealthy home buyers is to have their home designed by 81-year-old Tadao Ando, whose technique some have likened to Brutalism:
Celebrities like Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are flocking to homes designed by Tadao Ando, a self-taught, Osaka-based architect. Ando’s homes aren’t just rare, but also affordable only for the very rich: Numbering fewer than 20 in the U.S., they are generally defined by their use of reinforced architectural concrete, which makes construction far more expensive than in typical homes...

Tadao Ando (WSJ)
Born in Osaka in 1941, Ando had a brief stint as a boxer before turning to architecture. Largely self-taught, he opened his eponymous firm in 1969, according to the firm’s website. While early works included tiny homes in Japan, Ando became famous for cultural institutions like the Church of the Light in Osaka, which opened in 1989, and the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, which opened in 2001. He won the Pritzker Prize in 1995...

Sometimes described as Brutalist, Ando’s homes are typically hulking, sparse structures with smooth edges, water features and windows that frame the views. Admirers say they evoke an almost spiritual, Zen-like experience in their simplicity, while others say the concrete is too hard and cold to be livable.
This Ando Santa Fe home sold for $40MM (WSJ)
Tadao Ando's method isn't for everyone, but those who like it really, really love it. Concrete is difficult and expensive to work with, but billionaires and centi-millionaires don't care that his works cost "two to three times more than traditional high-end home construction."

And at his stage in life the architect doesn't seem to care about money either.
“a billionaire could come in the door tomorrow and offer him a billion dollars to design his house, and that wouldn’t motivate him,” said L.A. real-estate agent and developer Tyrone McKillen, who has worked with Ando. “It has to be close to his heart for him to work with you.”

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Nvidia: at the Center of A.I.'s iPhone Moment

Two-year price chart of NVDA
Over ten years ago an engineering friend recommended Nvidia stock (he wasn't an insider, just a contract programmer who was impressed by the company when he worked for them between jobs). I passed.

At the time NVDA seemed to be over-priced; it made the fastest gaming boards, but it had a very high price-earnings ratio. It dominated the gaming market, but it was a niche business. Its upside was capped.

In 2011 Bitcoin began to seep into the public consciousness. Over the next decade Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies went through boom-and-bust cycles, but always with higher highs. Crypto-currency coins could be created through an increasingly costly process called "mining", and the race went to those who used fast Nvidia cards. The price of Nvidia stock reached an all-time high in November, 2021, the same month that Bitcoin reached its high of $67,567 (chart above).

In 2022 crypto prices crashed for a variety of reasons, which included a trading ban in China, the bankruptcy of crypto funds and exchanges, and U.S. interest rate hikes that had a highly negative effect on speculative assets. From peak to trough in the ensuing twelve months Nvidia stock lost more than half its value.

Ignoring the Wall Street adage, "never try to catch a falling knife," your humble blogger-speculator was driven by the fear of missing out and made a small investment in NVDA at $211 and later at $142. Then the artificial intelligence "chatbot" known as ChatGPT was released to the general public on November 30, 2022, and the stocks of companies that had been involved in artificial intelligence took off. Nvidia makes the chips that everyone in A.I. must use, and its stock rocketed past its previous all-time high today. A year ago I had been regretting my purchase. Now I wish I had bought more.

Jensen Huang, the CEO of Nvidia, said "This is the iPhone moment of artificial intelligence." Millions of consumers, investors, and producers agree with him.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Astride Two Worlds

(Chronicle photo)
In the Chronicle's words California wineries are "obsessed" with 32-year-old geologist Brenna Quigley:
Over the last few years, her reputation has soared within the wine industry, to the point where it’s a point of pride — and a marketing boon — to be able to say that Brenna Quigley did your vineyard’s geologic analysis. The 32-year-old is inarguably the state’s premiere wine geologist.

Then again, she might be the only person in California who identifies as a wine geologist. Her success is a testament to the fact that she has single-handedly established a demand for a service that five years ago many wineries likely never considered...

That ability to bridge geology and wine is what distinguishes Quigley from other vineyard consultants. “I saw that people were speaking two different languages,” Quigley says.

Wine people had one lexicon, while geologists had another. And among her fellow geologists, she perceived “a slight disrespect for the wine tasting aspect of it,” Quigley says. Concepts held sacrosanct by winemakers, like terroir — the idea that wines are capable of expressing a sense of place — were dismissed by scientists as woo-woo.

Quigley grew up in the Midwest in a family of geologists: Her father and brothers run a business that explores sites for heavy-metal mining. Quigley left for UC Santa Barbara, initially intending to become a marine biologist. Eventually she relented and switched to the family trade.

After getting her master’s, Quigley abandoned plans to pursue a PhD. Instead, she worked at wine shops and bartended. She got a job at the Kunin Wines tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara and began to befriend local winemakers. “I called my parents and said, ‘You’re not going to believe it, but these wine people also decorate their houses with rocks,’” she says.

She soon discovered that many winemakers were eager for basic geology lessons, so that they could communicate about their own vineyards more effectively. “There was this thing people wanted to talk about so badly, but they didn’t have the words to do it,” she says. Wineries started hiring her to help them write blurbs on their websites...

Quigley elucidated details that even longtime vineyard owners hadn’t been aware of, and she produced the first-ever detailed geologic maps of the county’s wine regions.
Brenna Quigley bestrides the worlds of geology and oenology, and her time is now.

Unlike the thousands of young adults who will do almost anything to garner attention on social media, the attention came to her because of her unique talent stack.

In this build-her-up-and-tear-her-down age, I hope the following doesn't happen:

1) politically-oriented groups will hold her up as a shining example of a successful STEM woman and ask her to speak out on any number of topics that she has not thought deeply about, thereby provoking a reaction from other politicized groups;

2) geologists with PhDs, jealous of her popularity, will sniff at the depth of her knowledge ("among her fellow geologists, she perceived 'a slight disrespect for the wine tasting aspect of it.'"). If they're so smart, why aren't they doing it?

Her Midwest and family roots should see her through. I hope Brenna Quigley continues her success.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Lab-Grown Meat: Its Time Will Come

Cultured chicken from Good Meat in Alameda (Chron)
Plant-based "meat" has been acknowledged, even by people who won't touch it, to produce substantial environmental benefits in the form of much less greenhouse-gas emissions and water and land use.

Lab-grown meat, on the other hand, currently has little environmental advantage over animal meat. [bold added]
The cultured meat probably 25 times more energy intensive than traditional beef in its current form, a new UC Davis study has found. And even when production becomes more widespread, the authors have doubts about its potential climate benefits...

Cultured meat, also called cultivated or lab-grown meat, is produced in bioreactors with real animal cells but does not require animal slaughter. The main reason it’s energy intensive is that the nutrients and other ingredients required to feed the cells need to be highly purified, a process that is closer to pharmaceutical-grade rather than food-grade production, though companies are working on changing that, said [UC-Davis Professor Edward] Spang.
Lowering the quality from pharmaceutical- to food-grade will lessen the energy cost, but to be perfectly frank, your humble blogger expects the lab-grown product to be safer than real meat if he's going to go through the trouble of eating it.

This research may have stymied lab-grown meat for now.

But the technology will likely have second life as humans live off-Earth and crave something closer to meat than plant product soaked in meat-simulating chemicals. Fission, or even fusion, energy should be plentiful, and it will be prohibitively expensive to transport and breed animals off world for consumption.

They're having a sale at Spaceway. Let's hop over and pick up a half-dozen tubes of chicken.

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Autocrat's Fatal Flaw

Xi Jinping in March, 2023 when he was elected
President for his third term (NPR)
Xi Jinping's "successor's dilemma": [bold added]
Autocrats tend to prefer installing successors whom they trust to uphold their legacy and protect their interests in retirement. But leaders-in-waiting must start building their own power base ahead of time, if they are to avoid being deposed or rendered ineffectual after taking office. Once a clear successor emerges, the political elite will naturally start realigning their loyalties—a process that can undermine the incumbent leader, who may come to fear that the heir apparent is plotting to usurp power.

Authoritarian leaders also have to expect grave consequences should they lose power involuntarily. Even autocrats who retire on their own terms have few guarantees for their safety, other than their ability to maintain leverage over their successors. In a 2010 study, political scientists Alexandre Debs and H.E. Goemans reviewed the fate of more than 1,800 political leaders worldwide, categorized by regime type, from the late 1910s to the early 2000s. Some 41% of the 1,059 autocrats suffered exile, imprisonment or death within a year of leaving office, compared with just 7% of 763 democratic leaders.
Not since Mao has power been so consolidated in one man. Xi Jinping, who will turn 70 next month, has avoided naming a successor and possible rival.

As we've noted before, China faces a demographic time bomb. Many of its youth are disaffected, and China's neighbors, fearful of its imperial ambitions, are arming themselves. By not naming his successor, or by not formulating a reliable method for choosing one, Xi Jinping ironically has fostered the very instability that may endanger his goal of a China that is first among nations.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

The Golden Spoon

The new king's official title is:

Charles III, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

The last phrase, Defender of the Faith, sounds quaint, but it is steeped in history.
Though the English dispensed with the divine right of kings when they deposed Charles I in 1649, they haven’t done away with the ideas of divinity, right and kingship. Consecrated, this mild-mannered constitutional monarch emerged from the abbey as one of the world’s few priest-kings. Charles is the head of the state and its church. He symbolically fuses the secular and spiritual, like the pharaohs of Egypt, the despots of Assyria and his late mother.

...Though Charles swore to serve his people, an anointed monarch’s first duty is to God. Charles is the fidei defensor—defender of the faith—in this case the Anglican confession.
The golden coronation spoon is 800-1000 years old
A world-wide audience viewed the coronation, but Charles' anointment as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England was hidden from the cameras:
Behind a hand-woven screen in Westminster Abbey, Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, took up the oldest item in the coronation regalia—a golden spoon—and anointed the king’s hands, chest and head with holy oil...

The crowning was the style, but the Christian rite was the symbolic content. Anointing with chrism reaches back to the prophet Samuel’s anointing of Saul as the first king of ancient Israel, and further back, to the origins of political and religious authority in the kingdoms of the early Bronze Age.
The American founders gave great consideration to how the government they were creating would differ from England's. One obvious change is the omission of the monarchy. The second difference is the prohibition of an "establishment of religion," aka a "wall of separation" between "church and state." The union of the two most powerful institutions in Great Britain, according to American observers at the time, made errors impossible to rectify.

Over two centuries later the passions have subsided. The British monarchy is now largely ceremonial, and the Anglican church is but a shadow of its former self ("UK Church membership has declined from 10.6 million in 1930 to 5.5 Million in 2010, or as a percentage of the population; from about 30% to 11.2%.")

We can admire without reservation the relics of power, like the golden spoon, knowing that their power has dissipated.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Pictures on the Wall

A family member had an appointment with an opthalmologist, and so it was that we were at the Stanford eye clinic, three miles east of the university's main campus.

Rather than look at my phone I prowled the halls and gazed at the collection of '60's pop art. There were Andy Warhols and Roy Lichtensteins (pictured above) on both floors, along with less well-known artists like Allen Jones, Mel Ramos, and Guy Dill.

The screens will always be there, and when you're in a new place, even as nondescript as a doctor's office, you can be pleasantly surprised by getting up and looking around.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Chinese Young Adults: the World is not Their Oyster

Beijing job fair last August (WSJ photo)
We've noted before how China's one-child policy may have triggered a population bust that will affect geopolitics for the rest of the century. The policy was officially rescinded in 2015, but by then it was too late; births are below replacement level, and the population shrank in 2022.

With jobs going wanting young Chinese adults should expect the world to be their oyster, but they would be mistaken. [bold added]
Last year, Chinese unemployment for those between the ages of 16 and 24 reached 20%—a record high and more than double what it was in 2018. The job shortage is particularly acute for graduates with advanced degrees, people who had expected the most from the job market because their families had sunk up to a third of their income into their education. During last autumn’s hiring season, around 45% of recent college graduates in China received no job offers, according to one published survey.

The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough jobs in China. Rather, it is the acute mismatch between the education and skills of those entering the job market and the jobs that need to be filled.

The manufacturing sector in China is experiencing a severe labor shortage: Four out of five Chinese manufacturers report that their workforces are falling 10% to 30% short of their needs, and the education ministry forecasts a shortage of 30 million manufacturing workers by 2025.
The following description of Chinese young adults is familiar to observers of their counterparts in the U.S.:
A great chasm has emerged between expectations and reality. The glut of diplomas has caused the average starting salary of college graduates to fall below that of workers in the gig economy, such as delivery people. Real estate, finance and IT receive more job applications than they can begin to absorb, and the major online recruiting site reports that 90% of applications go to sectors that provide less than 50% of the jobs. Young job seekers face disappointment after disappointment.

The consequences of reduced expectations among unemployed youth are profound. Members of the young generation increasingly are putting off getting married and starting a family, breaking the traditions of a Confucian society. In 2021, there were only 7.6 million new marriages registered, a 38% drop from 2015. Meanwhile the birthrate has fallen to the lowest the country has ever seen.

Discontent among the new generation also represents a threat to the nation’s social stability. In the past, Chinese families, even in the bottom rung, felt content even as income disparities grew, because people believed that their children would have a better life. The erosion of such beliefs poses the risk of unrest.
China has ambitious goals and immense resources, but its visible and growing weaknesses may well make it, as Mao said of the United States, a paper tiger.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Healthy Slough

The winter rains have revived the Belmont Slough, which marks the border between Foster City and Redwood Shores. We've had clear weather since May 1st (left).

Although the water level had fallen slightly when I took the picture (right) earlier today, the supply of brackish water will be ample this summer, the Slough will be healthy, and we'll likely get even more waterfowl.

Wikipedia: "In the early 1900s the slough was considered the best place to hunt ducks in San Mateo County, with the birds so plentiful, hunters could sneak up on them." Duck-hunting won't return any time soon, but sentiments can change.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

An Iron-clad Rule

(WSJ illustration)
For decades we had been using non-stick cookware. When the first group of pans lost their non-stickiness, we blamed ourselves: we had been scrubbing too hard, we were using abrasive cleaners, we had turned the burner on too high, etc. Softening our techniques didn't work; the cookware surfaces still wore out.

We finally converted over to steel and ceramic pots and pans because of practicality but more importantly for health reasons: [bold added]
When the first Teflon pans—then called the “Happy Pan”—were marketed in the U.S. in 1961, they were advertised as “an amazing new concept in cooking” and packaged with a free spatula. The Happy Pan’s nonstick surface was made from a substance called PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). The compound was discovered in 1938 by an American chemist, Roy Plunkett, who would later be awarded the John Scott medal by the city of Philadelphia for an invention promoting the “comfort, welfare and happiness of humankind.”

Whether Plunkett’s invention was really such a boon for humanity is now in question. PTFE is part of a huge family of chemicals known as PFAS, called “forever chemicals” because, once released into the environment, they last almost indefinitely; they have ended up in drinking water and in people’s bloodstreams. Early versions of Teflon and other nonstick pans were manufactured with PFOA added to the PTFE. That additive has been linked to a range of health conditions, including some cancers. PFOA was phased out of nonstick pans in the U.S. by 2015 and has been banned in the EU since 2020, but it can undoubtedly still be found in some older nonstick pans lurking in people’s kitchens.
The egg fries at the lowest setting.
More recently we've (re)discovered the joys of cooking with cast iron. An induction cooktop heats up the iron quickly and efficiently. Also, if the pan was seasoned properly, there's very little scrubbing; in fact some cooks recommend wiping, not washing, the surface in order not to remove the oil.

Much of life's journey has turned out to be an odyssey, where we find out that our parents and grandparents knew the best way to do things.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Diversity in Appearance But Not in Thought

Tabia Lee (Chron photo)
The director of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at De Anza College in Cupertino has been fired. Tabia Lee, a Black woman, had served less than two years on the job. [bold added]
Tabia Lee received a letter in March saying her contract would not be renewed in June because she was uncooperative with colleagues, unwilling to accept constructive criticism and unlikely to change. Lee is a vocal critic of many of today’s diversity and inclusion practices, and many colleagues at the school said she belittled their racial justice initiatives...

Lee said she will fight to keep her job as faculty director of De Anza’s Office of Equity, Social Justice and Multicultural Education, which she has carried out remotely since the fall of 2021. Her job description at the public community college of 16,000 students is to promote a “commitment to equity, social justice and multicultural education” and create an “inclusive campus environment” within an “institution-wide transformation.”

Critics said Lee sought to transform the college in the wrong direction. Groups representing Latino and Asian Pacific American employees urged the district’s Board of Trustees to remove her, contending that she subverted anti-racism initiatives by opposing everything from their efforts to gain more say in campus governance to their use of the gender-neutral term “Latinx.” In a letter to the college, Lee cited research suggesting the word has little support among Latinos themselves.
Debates on its merits can fill volumes, but my own take is that the vast majority of community college students have little use for DEI. They come to De Anza, Foothill, and the College of San Mateo to learn practical skills that they can use on the job today.

Racism and social justice may be important to some people, but those are distractions for students who are trying to learn computer programming or accounting or chemistry. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, both of whom went to De Anza College, seem to have done just fine without DEI.

Monday, May 15, 2023

New Whey of Thinking

Room temperature evangelist Joelle Mertzel (WSJ)
Growing up in Hawaii, I always put perishables in the refrigerator. Food spoils rapidly in tropical weather, and dairies especially turn rancid. It was maybe 20 years after moving to the Mainland that I took the chance of leaving food out overnight. Soups and rice would keep 1-2 days, and butter could last a week during the winter.

Butter lover Joelle Mertzel is petitioning the government to declare that it is safe to store butter at room temperature for up to three weeks.
Ms. Mertzel said she came to her epiphany one morning about 14 years ago. She had forgotten to put away the butter the night before and at breakfast discovered how easy it was to spread. “My life changed in so many ways at that moment,” she said.

She has since written a children’s book, “Change Your Life for the Butter,” and developed a line of countertop holders with flip-top lids that keep clear of the softened butter inside. Traditional butter dishes, she said, “are a train wreck. The lid gets all gross.”

Food-safety scientists say butter usually doesn’t require constant cold. Butter made from pasteurized cream is safe to store at room temperature for a stretch because of its high fat content and low moisture, among other reasons. Salted butter tends to stay fresh longer.

Yet getting a definitive answer from the government’s butter bureaucracy has been a slippery endeavor. Ms. Mertzel this year petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to issue official guidance that butter could be safely kept out of the refrigerator at room temperature for three weeks.
Chefs and connoisseurs come down on both sides of the issue; some prefer the taste of cold, hard butter, while others like the easy spreadability over toast and pancakes.

I wish Ms. Mertzel well on her quixotic quest to convert the FDA. In the meantime I'll continue to adapt my behavior to the environment, i.e., leaving butter out in Northern California and putting it away in Hawaii.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

They'd Rather Curse the Darkness

Church-state frictions manifest across many cultural touchpoints, but this is a new one:

The sanctuary candle: dangerous to the hospital (CNA)
Feds tell Catholic hospital to blow out sanctuary candle or face penalties
The federal government recently told a Catholic hospital in Oklahoma to either blow out a small candle or stop serving elderly, disabled, and low-income patients...

Saint Francis Health System is a premiere health system with five hospitals in Eastern Oklahoma. The health system cares for nearly 400,000 patients each year, has given away more than $650 million dollars in free medical care in the past five years, and employs more than 11,000 Oklahomans...

Since Saint Francis opened its doors in 1960, the health system has had a sanctuary candle with a living flame as an act of worship. The flame, far removed from medical equipment and patients, is shielded by two glass holders, sits on a brass basin, is affixed to a wall and has a brass top covering it, with many sprinkler heads above it...The federal government now threatens to tell all patients who rely on Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP that they can no longer receive care at Saint Francis—all over a candle.
After the hospital's lawyer responded, the government retreated:
The hospital was informed that it will receive a waiver, provided it posts signs warning about keeping oxygen equipment away from the tabernacle candle, which is already enclosed and on a wall six feet off the ground.
IMHO, government employees could not possibly have believed that a single candle posed a danger to thousands of Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program) patients. This was a demonstration of power that showed that even minor disputes with the government can be costly. And no, Catholics, you're just imagining that this is retribution for your stances on abortion and same-sex marriage.

One thing is certain: Florence Nightingale, aka "the Lady with the Lamp" and founder of modern nursing, would have been persona non grata on battlefield hospitals if these bureaucrats had been around in 1854.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Whatever Happened To.....

Foster City's wild turkey?

After an initial flurry of sightings, the mentions on NextDoor stopped on April 6th.

Posts from residents on the other side of Highway 101 indicated that wild turkeys were common in their towns, and it was likely that "Tom" (the beard is a giveaway that it's a male, and I'll use the male singular pronoun until he tells me different) had wandered from his flock.

By the way, NextDoor posters who did call him "Tom" were scolded for nicknaming a wild animal, which just goes to show in the Internet age that everything that people do or say is fodder for criticism.

We'll probably never know what happened to Tom, but I hope he's okay.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Two Floods Coming

We've been given ample time to prepare for two floods, but readiness is questionable.

El Niño is coming
The chances of any El Niño forming are now 82% by July and 94% by November, according to the NOAA report.

More significant for California, there’s a 46% chance of a strong El Niño by November, increasing to 54% by January, NOAA researchers concluded Thursday...

Since 1951, there have been 26 El Niño events. Of those, 11 have been weak, 7 moderate, 5 strong and 3 very strong. Overall, rainfall in Southern California averaged 126% of normal. In the Bay Area it was 109% of normal.

But two of the three very strong El Niños, during the winters of 1982-83 and 1997-98, were associated with seasons that were among the wettest in recorded California history, with massive Sierra Nevada snow packs and major flooding.
More Migrants are Coming
A pandemic-era public health policy known as Title 42, used to turn away asylum seekers at the U.S. southern border, is coming to an end just before 9 p.m. tonight, prompting concerns about unprecedented migration flows.

Meanwhile, hundreds of migrants have been waiting outside between border walls in San Ysidro for days, sometimes with nothing more to eat all day than a single granola bar handed out by Border Patrol officers.

Federal, state and local officials have had more than two years to prepare for this moment. But officials running migrant shelters on both sides of the border say they have very little information about how to handle the anticipated increase in asylum seekers trying to cross from Mexico into California and other states.
Update: Border appears calm after lifting of pandemic restrictions
The border between the U.S. and Mexico was relatively calm Friday, offering few signs of the chaos that had been feared following a rush by worried migrants to enter the U.S. before the end of pandemic-related immigration restrictions...

“We did not see any substantial increase in immigration this morning,” said Blas Nunez-Neto of the Department of Homeland Security. He said the agency did not have specific numbers because it was early in the day.
By the way, I hope this guy makes it:
“I hope it’s a little better and that the appointments are streamlined a little more,” said Yeremy Depablos, 21, a Venezuelan traveling with seven cousins who has been waiting in the city for a month.

Fearing deportation, Depablos did not want to cross illegally. “We have to do it the legal way.”

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Reduce Inequality by Making Everyone Poor

(Image from Algebra I Review)
Back in the 1960's my school had two Algebra classes for 7th-grade kids who showed some aptitude in math, and the rest of our age group took Algebra in 8th grade.

It's a sign of how education has regressed that no one is offered Algebra I in San Francisco in middle school, even if a student is capable. Worse, the deliberate holding back is being done in the name of equity. [bold added]
For years, San Francisco public schools have been caught up in a bitter debate over the district’s math curriculum. A vocal group of parents has argued that the district’s decision to delay teaching Algebra I until high school hobbles children who are ready to take the math course in middle school. But some experts and district leaders have argued that pushing back algebra can level the playing field for kids who are struggling in math.
This is what happens when you put Progressive ideologues in charge of education. They reduce inequality (how that ever become the objective instead of encouraging children to develop their individual gifts is baffling) by hamstringing the top performers, as opposed to lifting up those on the bottom.

This ideology would have a talented musician play basic chords until the tone-deaf can catch up, or have track athletes wear ankle weights so the slower kids can keep pace.

Give the advanced kids as much as they can handle, and offer extra help to those who are struggling--and here's an idea--try to make it fun.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023


(Image from mobile app daily)
Facebook's rapid growth 10-15 years ago coincided with a rise in teen mental health issues. Young people were bombarded with images about the happy, fulfilling, exciting experiences of their peers; they were reminded how their own lives supposedly paled in comparison.

Depression, anxiety, and the fear of missing out afflicted millions (2019: "there were almost 42 million adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 in the United States.")

A more recent (but not new) tech tool, location-sharing, has aggravated emotional problems: [bold added]
Location sharing has become such a fixture that many teens say they’d be overlooked socially if they didn’t use it...

Many teens say location sharing can make them self-conscious about where they live and where they go. Some fear being stalked. Yet, by far the biggest cause of anxiety, they say, is knowing when they’re missing out.

The already-acute youth mental-health crisis has worsened since the pandemic.
Teens feel worse knowing immediately that their friends are having fun without them.
Addison [Figel, 16] and other teens say they can shrug it off when they see a photo or video of friends gathered without them, posted after the fact. Witnessing exclusion in real time hits differently.
Your humble blogger has always believed that more information--even information that is fragmented and incomplete--is better than not having it.

But it does require both good judgment--to view the information in context and question what is being left out--and strength of character to withstand actual or perceived slights. Wisdom and character are attributes that take time to develop.

Adolescents' inexperience and powerful emotions make them particularly vulnerable. Perhaps tech can develop solutions--for example, requiring non-family users to opt-in to location sharing upon powering up--to lessen the dark side of social media.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

AI: Where Export Sanctions Are Working

NVIDIA's H100 chip is 814 sq mm (CNET)
Chinese developers of artificial intelligence have been hampered by U.S. export sanctions: [bold added]
Chinese companies are cut off from Nvidia’s A100 chips, the most popular within the industry for AI development, and the next generation version, the H100 released in March, which offers more computational power.

Nvidia created downgraded versions of its chips for the Chinese market, called the A800 and H800, respectively, to meet sanction requirements. Both modified chips reduce the capacity of a chip to communicate with others.

The products provide an effective alternative for developing small-scale AI models, such as those used in the recommendation algorithm driving ByteDance’s short-video app TikTok. But the handicap throttles the development of larger AI models, which require the coordination of hundreds or thousands of chips.
Through software workarounds, clustering of NVIDIA's less powerful H800's, and designing their own chips, the Chinese hope to keep pace with AI development elsewhere.

Given the speed of technological advancement, small leads become larger over time if one side lacks the tools. The sanctions are not completely leakproof, but they appear to be having their intended effect.

Monday, May 08, 2023

Water Under the Bridge

Friends live in one of the townhouses on the left
Leaving church yesterday I went for a walk. Traffic was very light, so I jogged across the street while the light was red. Activating the "walk" signal irritates drivers because they have to wait at least 20 seconds for the light to change, though there are no approaching cars and fast-moving pedestrians have already crossed.

Walking over the Beach Park bridge, I looked back at the townhouses where friends of ours live. They have a lagoon view, and I regretted for a moment not paying the $50,000 premium to get it in our development. Living next to the lagoon is a tradeoff, because the waterfowl scat can be pretty pungent on breezeless summer days.

On this cool Sunday morning that's all water under the bridge.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Gather Ye Wool, Buds, But Not in May

At the early morning service there were two worshippers present, including myself. Counting the priest and the eucharistic minister (both pictured) and the organist the total assembled was five.

When the pews are mostly empty, everyone has to participate. Congregational responses are sprinkled throughout the liturgy, while the Psalm, the Lord's Prayer, and the Creed are read in unison. When someone stops speaking, it's noticeable, like when a talking head turns into an empty chair during a Zoom call.

So I had to pay attention instead of daydreaming like I usually do. Christians are asked to be both shepherds and sheep, but gathering wool was not an option this Sunday.

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Sure, Warren, Easy for You to Say

Hats and no cattle? Hats for distribution at
Berkshire Hathaway's annual meeting.
"There's a sucker born every minute." --attributed to P.T. Barnum, circa 1860.

"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people."--H.L. Mencken, 1926.

“What gives you opportunities is other people doing dumb things...In the 58 years we’ve been running Berkshire, I’d say there has been a great increase in the number of people doing dumb things.”---Warren Buffett, May 6, 2023.

With all due respect to Warren Buffett and the managers at Berkshire Hathaway, the vast majority of people, including your humble blogger, 1) don't believe we're dumb like other investors; 2) don't recognize that our moves are dumb as we're doing them.

That's why most of us can't get Warren Buffett's results and should just buy index funds.

Friday, May 05, 2023

Really Feeling It

(WSJ illustration)
At what age do people stop feeling young? One survey says it's 43.
The first members of the millennial generation, often classified as those born between about 1980 and 1996, begin to turn 43 this year. It’s the average age when Americans stop feeling young, according to a study by Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research.

The early 40s—specifically 42—is when the average American starts noticing physical signs of aging, including achy joints and gray hair, according to a September poll conducted on behalf of Found, a weight-management company.
"Not feeling young" is not the same as "feeling old." True enough, there is a gap.
While Americans stop feeling young in their early 40s, they start feeling old at 52, on average, according to a survey by the Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research.
I can point to the precise incident that made me realize I was old. I was riding a SF Muni bus when a pregnant woman came on board. I rose to offer her my seat when two teenaged girls leapt up, insisted that I sit down, and gave the lady their seats. At 52, I didn't think of myself as old, but in their eyes I was.

I rarely see these life lessons coming.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Snowpack Feast or Famine

The satellite images show what a difference a year makes. In 2022 (left) the snowpack was under 60% of average for the third straight winter. On May 1, 2023 (right) it was 254% of average.
Twelve months ago, California was entering year three of an extended drought. On the heels of the driest January-April period in 128 years, the state’s two largest reservoirs were down to critically low levels, and a skimpy snowpack meant little additional water was on the way...

This year has been a complete turnaround.

Storms drenched California for months and piled on epic amounts of snow in the Sierra Nevada. The state’s May 1 snowpack clocked in at 254% of average for the date.

California regularly sees variability in Sierra snow from season to season, or a “snowpack whiplash.”
Dry winters have been the norm over the last two decades, but snowpacks above 150% have appeared four times, including this year (graph).

There appears to be little that California can do to reduce the variability of winter storms, but it's obvious that investing in water storage, including underground aquifers, can mitigate the worst effects of drought years. $7.5 billion was approved by the voters in 2014, but nothing has been built, truly an outstanding example of incompetence and unseriousness.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Slow to Build, Quick to Destroy

2003: Nordstrom's levels during the holiday season
20 years ago another building boom, fueled by tech, was about to start in San Francisco. (For historical perspective Google, 40 miles to the south, would have its IPO the following year and Apple's first iPhone would be released four years later.)

The San Francisco Centre, founded in 1988, reached its apex of development with the opening of high-end restaurants and stores, including Bloomingdale's. It looked like Market Street was on the verge of a long-awaited turnaround.

But the rot started later that decade with the refusal of the City to seriously address homelessness, drug use, and property crime. (Your humble blogger doesn't consider spending many millions of dollars while making no headway as being serious.)

This week Nordstrom's threw in the towel and is closing its flagship San Francisco store:
Nordstrom said downtown “changed dramatically over the past several years, impacting customer foot traffic to our stores and our ability to operate successfully,” without specifically citing public safety concerns in a staff memo.

Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, which owns the Westfield mall where Nordstrom is closing, was more blunt, with a spokesperson blaming the city for “unsafe conditions” and a “lack of enforcement against rampant criminal activity.”
I had been a cockeyed optimist but am coming to believe San Francisco's doom loop is irreversible.

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Smell Test

Olfactory bulb (Yale School of Medicine image)
One symptom of Parkinson's Disease is the loss of the sense of smell, and Yale researchers may have discovered the connection.
Using buried food tests, the researchers found that the mice with later stage symptoms of Parkinson’s disease exhibited olfactory impairment. They found that those mice with olfactory deficits exhibited severe pathology in projection neurons of the olfactory pathway.

They also found these mice showed reduced neurogenesis in the olfactory bulb. In contrast, studies have shown that healthy aging brains continue to form new neurons in the olfactory bulb throughout life.
The Parkinson's finding on the degradation of olfactory cells may also provide a clue about why some COVID patients experience "brain fog" and the loss of their sense of smell.

Monday, May 01, 2023

Some People

How many different emotions can one detect in the faces above? One sees sadness, anger, disgust, futility, shock, and denial. Entirely absent are joy or happiness. Note also the slumped shoulders, the hands covering the faces, the crossed arms, and the clenched jaws.

It's the moment in the third quarter when Sacramento Kings fans realized that the game and the season were over. Last night the Golden State Warriors defeated the Kings, 120-100, and moved on to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the next round of the playoffs.

I wonder if artificial intelligence is advanced enough to recognize what these facial expressions mean? One thing is certain: it wouldn't chuckle at them, as some people 90 miles to the south have done.