Sunday, December 31, 2023

Sandwiches on 123123

Today, New Year's Eve, 123123, is an "angel number":
If you take a closer look at the date, written as 12/31/23 or even 123123, you might see an angel number, which are repeating number sequences, often used as a guide for deeper spiritual exploration. The numerical sequences can range anywhere from 000 to 999, with each number having a distinct meaning and energy, USA Today previously reported.

The once-in-a-century date, which won’t be seen again on our calendars until Dec. 31, 2123, marks a new beginning. One, that asks us to “transform and evolve with the times and in the right place to embrace what is coming to us,” according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac website.
Daniel, Solita, Janis, Valerie, David
Your humble blogger doesn't believe in numerology (although he has been known to mark particular numbers on a Lotto card), but having read Billy Graham's book long ago, I am inclined to believe in angels.

New Year's weekend was a time to spend a few moments being less hedonistic and more angelic. Six of us met at the church Saturday to make 80 brown-bag lunches for whoever showed up at the Fair Oaks Community Center on Sunday. With six experienced assemblers the work was done in a little over an hour.

The activity leaves a mark on the next generation,
or so they tell me years later.
After storing the lunches in refrigerators overnight, we took them to the community center at noon. Although the "crowd" was about half its normal size, all the bags were quickly snapped up by the patrons, some getting as many as three.

Within 20 minutes all the work was done. We wished everyone Happy New Year (Feliz Año Nuevo) and waltzed away on 1-2-3-1-2-3.

Speaking of waltzing...

Feliz Año Nuevo!

Saturday, December 30, 2023

A Dog's Life

Demand for a $500 "dog bed for humans" has exploded:
a huge padded oval that looks like a plush life raft. It sits on the floor and is big enough for people to lie in for naps or reading, nearly 6 feet long...

Interest in the cozy beds jumped 1,650% in 2023, Google said—not entirely a coincidence since they made their debut in the last month of 2022...

Plufl is quickly taking on a Snuggie-like cult stature. It comes in multiple colors, weighs 25 pounds, is machine washable and includes straps for easy transport. It’s often on sale.
Lying in a dog bed looks very, very comfortable.

Of course, a dog bed is nothing compared to Snoopy's doghouse.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Sliver of Good News

My cart was filled like every other one.
On Friday the Costco parking lot was jammed with cars looking for a parking space. Usually I leave immediately and wait for a more opportune time, like one hour before closing. However these purchases had to be made today, as we were making brown-bag lunches on Saturday for Sunday's distribution in Redwood City.

It took 15 minutes to get a distant parking space, then another hour to buy all the ingredients on the list. It didn't help that there were shopping carts going in all directions, carts stopping at the sampler tables, and little kids running with abandon. It's a wonder that I've never seen someone hurt.

Hoping to impress the cashier, I estimated the total out loud would be $325. It turned out to be $308.

That's one sliver of good news, i.e., food prices have abated slightly. Happy New Year (almost)!

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Chino and the Man

San Francisco restauranteur Chino Yang made a rap video decrying rampant burglaries, violence against Asians, and the failure of City leadership. (His Kung Food restaurant has been broken into multiple times.) It would probably only have reached a limited audience until the Chronicle reported that an "extremely powerful" person threatened him. [bold added]
Chino Yang, the rapper and restaurateur whose business was repeatedly burglarized, also stressed in a social media post on Tuesday that he was apologizing to [Mayor London] Breed only after he received threats from an unnamed “extremely powerful” person who he said “has the connection to presidents, senators, all the top elites.”

The Chronicle was unable to reach Yang for comment on Wednesday, but former Mayor Willie Brown and the Rev. Amos Brown, two close allies of Breed, were expected to hold a news conference with other community leaders Thursday touting Yang’s apology and urging him to remove his video.
I can see why the video could damage the Mayor's re-election campaign. Not only does Chino Yang blame London Breed for the City's problems he points out the apparent double-standard between the way blacks and Asians are treated:
You know I'm 100% down with the Black Lives Matter
But what about our grandmother and what about our grandfather
They're getting attacked, they're getting robbed
They're getting killed,
And the DA just drop another murder charge
I'm sick and tired of dealing with the phonyass liberals
They acted like they care but never treated us as their equal
My people have been here for over 200 years
So save your fake sympathy and your crocodile tears
In the video there are images of black-on-Asian violence and blacks committing property crimes, and it's implied (but not stated explicitly) that the criminals are getting off because of their race. Note: the mayor, the district attorney, and the police chief are black.

Asians comprise a third of the City's population, and the video could well peel of some of their support from the leadership. Yes, I can see why a powerful friend of the Mayor would want to censor it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Keeping Hydrated

Lately I've been getting Christmas presents that are more along the lines of what's good for me--e.g., books on preventing dementia and diabetes--as opposed to stuff that I might enjoy.

This year's take-better-care-of-yourself gift was a one-gallon water bottle. The doctor has cautioned that, given a family history of kidney disease, I should drink more water, which I have been doing.

But one gallon? That's a lot of guzzling, not to mention the burdens of lugging around a 8.34-lb. water bottle and making sure I'm not far from a restroom.

On day one I consumed half a gallon plus one cup of coffee. Baby steps, or in this case baby sips.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Another Piece of Disappearing Americana

Rare upgrade: the San Francisco Greyhound bus depot is on the
3rd floor of the new $2.3 billion transit center.
In the early '70's I frequently rode the inter-city buses. I'd spend hours waiting to transfer at the bus terminals in New York, Boston, Chicago. Detroit, and small towns in between.

Taking the bus was part of the culture, like joining the military, that is experienced by fewer people nowadays and by hardly anyone in the middle class. It's not a surprise that Bus Stations Across America Are Closing:
The potential closure highlights a plight confronting millions of travelers, many on lower incomes, that attracts far less attention than passenger rail or aviation.

Intercity bus stations are closing throughout the country. At least eight cities have lost their stations so far, including Philadelphia, Ohio’s Columbus and Tampa, Fla. Passengers have had to wait on street corners and parking lots, causing tensions with local officials...Chicago would be the largest city to lose its terminal. It isn’t clear where passengers would wait.
With bus terminals situated in inner-city property, the real estate is worth more to a developer than it is to a bus company, even if the surrounding area is run down.

Regulators cannot reverse the closure of bus terminals, they can only delay it. There will continue to be demand for low cost, if very slow, ground transportation to smaller communities across America, but at this point it's unclear how that demand will be met.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Merry Christmas!

Joseph Stella, Newark Museum of Art
A reading from the Gospel of Luke:
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Songs of the Season


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

Note: here are parts Two, and Three.

Part Four is below:

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

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

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Finding Tradition on Their Own

It's a tale as old as time. These relationships still exist, and now some women are bragging about it.

Stay-at-Home Girlfriends Are Having a Moment [bold added]
The typical stay-at-home girlfriend video opens on a young woman in a pristine apartment. At 8 a.m., she makes the bed and cooks pancakes for her boyfriend before he goes to work. After a green juice, it’s time for self care: a private Pilates reformer session and a microcurrent facial. Then, she has lunch with a girlfriend at a local hot spot, goes for a long walk and listens to a podcast before it’s time to get ready for date night.

Clips like this abound on TikTok—smooth, hypnotic videos presenting an idealized vision of a traditional marriage, minus the wedding ring, plus a dose of the current wellness boom. Being a stay-at-home girlfriend (or SAHG for short) is all about supporting your boyfriend with tasks like cooking and housework, plus a rigorous self-care regimen to keep up appearances. The phenomenon reflects a Gen Z move away from mid-2000s “girlboss” hustle culture, and toward aspirations of a softer life.
As to what the men get out of these relationships, it may seem obvious from the photos of three SAHG's above, but the writer feigns ignorance.
Often, the boyfriends themselves are the ones to propose these arrangements. They’re working a lot, or traveling a lot, and want extra support at home. Or they just enjoy paying for everything.
This lifestyle choice is antithetical to woman-needs-a-man-like-a-fish-needs-a-bicycle feminism, but true liberation is the freedom to live the life you want, not the life that people say you should want.

Friday, December 22, 2023

California: The Dysfunction All Around

(Image from Facebook)
California's dysfunctions--homelessness, crime, taxes, regulatory red-tape, schools that don't educate, housing costs, etc.--have been written about endlessly, and not just by opponents of Progressive ideology.

One aspect of that ideology is intense criticism, even vilification, of other power centers (religion, private enterprise, Republicans, etc.) that won't toe the line. The irony is that California's government can't even meet the minimum performance standards that other institutions are held to. [bold added]
for five consecutive years, California has failed to produce audited financial statements on a timely basis. In fiscal 2021, California took 642 days to issue its Annual Comprehensive Financial Report, more than twice the nine months the federal government allows for such reports. New York took only 120 days to issue its 2021 financial report.

One reason for California’s tardiness is the incomplete rollout of the state’s new accounting system. Launched in 2005, the Financial Information System for California, or FI$Cal, was intended to streamline the state’s financial processes. But 18 years and $1 billion later, FI$Cal has yet to be fully implemented, forcing accounting staff to consolidate data across multiple systems.

Also complicating recent attempts to produce a state audit was the pandemic-era meltdown of California’s unemployment system. Although many states had problems keeping up with the rush of unemployment claims in Spring 2020, California’s crisis was far worse, combining long delays for legitimate claimants with tens of billions in benefits collected by scammers. Unlike most other states, California had no procedure for matching claimants against a list of prison inmates...

California’s local governments are taking on their own big, hairy, audacious goals and not attending to core services. San Francisco is studying reparations for slavery and implementing public banking, while failing to provide public safety and clean streets. Cities around the state are adding sustainability managers to reduce municipal carbon footprints, even though any individual city in California contributes a small fraction of 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Why don't California residents, the majority of whom can see the dysfunction all around them, try to change things? It's a puzzlement that's worthy of serious study.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

An Easy Fix

from Instagram
Two months ago we noted how San Francisco parking officers routinely issued tickets to stolen vehicles that have been abandoned. Mayor Breed ordered the practice stopped. [bold added]
Breed ordered the MTA to stop ticketing stolen cars hours after an Oct. 11 Chronicle investigation exposed the practice. The report showed that from May 1 to Sept. 17, SFMTA parking control officers ticketed 411 vehicles that had been reported stolen, issuing fines totaling nearly $70,000. Some were written up multiple times; one received eight citations.
The fix was simple.
The MTA and SFPD said in their letter to Breed that they coordinated with the state’s Department of Justice to obtain California’s stolen vehicle plate file. Then, according to MTA spokesperson Erica Kato, they loaded the file onto ticket writers’ devices. Now, whenever a ticket writer enters a stolen plate number into their device, they receive a message the car was stolen.
By not correcting the problem San Francisco increased its ticketing revenue. When it got caught, no one tried to defend the strategy. It's a small sign of encouragement that City officials had enough of a conscience to feel shame.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Environmental Lawsuits: Sure as Night Follows Day

Location of the Sites Reservoir, proposed in the 1980's
Earlier this year we repeated our lament that, despite the voters having approved $7.5 billion for new water storage in 2014, no reservoirs have been built.

The delays haven't all been due to government incompetence, however. Sure as night follows day environmental groups are suing to halt construction of the Sites Reservoir.
The $4.5 billion project, which seeks to boost water supplies for drought-plagued cities and farms, was recently put on the fast track by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The suit, though, alleges the reservoir’s environmental impact report was insufficient, failing to address harm to fish and greenhouse gas emissions — problems opponents say make the additional water hard to justify...

Sites Reservoir, planned in rural Colusa and Glenn counties, would be the state’s eighth biggest reservoir. Its water would be piped across the state, including to the Bay Area.

The facility is designed to capture water from the Sacramento River during wet years and store up to 1.5 million acre-feet for dry years, enough to meet the annual needs of more than 3 million households.
One of the lawyers for the environmental groups declared,“There are other alternatives that were really not considered that might achieve some of the same benefits.”

Since "other alternatives" included converting sewage into drinking water, he was wise not to elaborate.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw

A coyote approaches seals at Point Reyes (Mercury photo)
A marine scientist has found what's causing the decapitation of seals on the California coast:
So when his camouflaged cameras captured coyotes attacking harbor seal pups, [Frankie] Gerraty wasn’t shocked. “Coyotes are underappreciated predators in shoreline ecosystems, and marine mammals are the largest and most calorically rich nutrient parcels in the ocean, and really anywhere in the world,” Gerraty said.

Why they only eat the pups’ heads, however, is still unclear.

The coyotes’ taste for marine mammals could be genuinely new, or it could be that researchers are just beginning to notice it. It might also be the resurrection of a habit that existed when large predators from coyotes to Grizzly bears freely roamed the California coast before they were hunted down by ranchers determined to protect their livestock.
Through the first half of the 20th century both seals and coyotes were killed and/or driven off by California hunters and ranchers. Now that both populations are coming back because of legal protections, we may be witnessing the rebirth of ancient interactions:
Whether the coyotes’ behavior is new, a resurrection of old relationships, or something scientists have simply just noticed, it is providing researchers with a unique opportunity to study the interaction between two native species. “
The natural world isn't a petting zoo.

Monday, December 18, 2023

'Tis the Season of Sharing and Scamming

We will be making a donation to Al-Ahli hospital, which was
heavily damaged by explosions in Gaza (Guardian photo)
Boston University professor of humanities Joshua Pederson advises us not to contribute to organizations claiming to help victims of natural or human-caused disasters: [bold added]
I’ve become convinced that donations to disaster aid — whether in the immediate aftermath or as part of a nonprofit’s annual holiday drive — often provide only limited relief and sometimes none at all. There are a few main reasons why.

First, the field of pop-up disaster relief is rife with fraud as bad actors prey on the desire of well-intentioned people and bilk donors in the process. As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, many such scammers pose convincingly as employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency or well-known charities, tricking even savvy givers. Donations to crowdfunding calls can be an even riskier venture. Notre Dame law professor Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer suggests that they are “particularly vulnerable to fraud” and urges caution when supporting them. One of the most egregious examples was Katelyn McClure, a New Jersey woman who used GoFundMe in 2017 to wheedle over $400,000 out of givers with a fake story of a homeless man who needed help.

...many would advise us to turn to locals. But even such on-the-ground efforts sometimes come up short. Take for example the Maui Community Power Recovery Fund, one of whose founders is former Hawaii House Rep. Kaniela Ing. It turns out that the fund is actually a political action committee, and while its website indicates that gifts will support “relief, recovery and rebuilding,” donors likely don’t know that donations could be used to fund political candidates.

...the American Red Cross. Its pleas for donations after major disasters are nearly ubiquitous. But as ProPublica revealed in a series of headline-grabbing investigations a few years back, the organization has significant problems with transparency, oversight and follow-through. And there are legitimate concerns about the way it tracks and spends the money it collects.
Immediately after a disaster, when the emotion to do something is at its highest, is the time to be especially cautious. I have made it a personal policy, as well as for charitable organizations over which I may have some infuence, not to rush to help. As you would with any major purchase or investment, do your research first.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Christmas Shopping: A Benign Perspective

Gift-giving may be good, but I don't miss being
"Secret Santa" at the office Christmas party.
Economics can explain much of human behavior, but UC-Berkeley psychology professor Alison Gopnik says it doesn't explain altruism. (There's a school of thought that posits altruistic behavior is built into our genes; in my view that "science" isn't useful because it's not predictive, but that's another discussion.) [bold added]
the foundational idea behind economic and political theory, and much moral psychology and philosophy too, is the social contract. On this view, I am an individual agent with goals I want to achieve and resources I can use to achieve them. So are you. By agreeing to swap some of our resources we can both do better than we would on our own. Markets and democracies, the great inventions of the Enlightenment, help to scale up those social contracts to include millions of people at once.

Caregiving, on the other hand, is at the heart of many different religious traditions. Agape and caritas, the Greek and Latin terms for unconditional love, are central to the Christian tradition, as chesed or loving-kindness is in Judaism...

Understanding caregiving better might help us to explain gift-giving; Christmas shopping might be a spiritual practice as much as an economic transaction. Caregiving doesn’t fit the social-contract picture. It’s profoundly and intrinsically altruistic. When I take care of my children or my aging parents I don’t expect anything in return. Even professional caregivers like child-care workers and home-health aides will tell you that they do the work despite being underpaid because it’s so satisfying to take care of people who need you.
I'm feeling less grinchy about gift-shopping and gift-giving now that Prof. Gopnik says that those activities spring from unconditional love(!). Just remember that the shopping mall still isn't a substitute for a temple of worship.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Breaching Levees: It Depends on the Context

Opening the salt pond to the Bay (SJ Mercury)
We're used to hearing about heavy rain, flooding, levee breaches, then more flooding. However, not all levee breaches are bad.
To the cheers of distant onlookers, a yellow excavator sliced through a dirt levee to open a long-captive 19th century industrial salt pond to the wild San Francisco Bay on Wednesday morning, allowing tidal waters to surge into a 300-acre future marsh in Menlo Park...

Flanking the northwest side of the Dumbarton Bridge, the now-barren pond will gain a more natural and lovely palette. Once filled with water and fresh sediments, it will support seeds that float in from adjacent marshes, then plants will germinate. This will welcome the arrival of little crustaceans, like crabs, as well as invertebrates, birds and fish...

Several major projects had to be completed before the Menlo Park pond could be safely opened.

Project managers first had to create several interior berms and levees so the pond wouldn’t increase the flood risk to nearby neighbhorhoods. That meant finding several hundred thousand yards of clean and uncontaminated dirt...

Gazing through binoculars, Wednesday’s crowd thrilled to the sight of the water’s steady flow.
Foster City has built a $90 million levee to keep Bay waters out.

Menlo Park is tearing down levees to let the water in.

Breaching levees: it depends on the context.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Hopeful and Disappointing at the Same Time

We first observed the "tiny home" phenomenon eight years ago. Although the original rationale was to live more simply while helping the environment, tiny homes were quickly seen as one of the solutions to homelessness.

Dignity Moves' 70 tiny homes on Gough St. (Chron)
The San Francisco non-profit Dignity Moves successfully completed 70 tiny homes last year at an out-of-pocket cost of $34,000 each, which doesn't include donated labor and materials. Hoping to replicate Dignity Moves' example, the City of San Francisco has been trying to get a similarly sized project started at a cost of $113,000 per home.
It’s been a year since 33 Gough St. opened, and San Francisco has still not been able to replicate its success.

City officials have spent years talking about opening a similar tiny home village in the Mission on a vacant lot near 16th and Mission streets. But that project is not expected to open until 2024. The per-cabin cost is about $104,000, but when you factor in amenities such as offices and a community room at the project, it rises to a whopping $113,000 per cabin.
The City's reasons for the cost differential are that the rules must be followed: [bold added]
Supervisor Hillary Ronen told the Chronicle that while costs are high, city rules ensure that workers are paid a fair wage and that the work is done according to its regulations. She also criticized Dignity Moves for its framing of the situation.

“I’m frustrated with their position because here you’ve got a losing bidder who did not come with the best bid now complaining about it and criticizing the rules we have in place to protect workers as the reason for that,” Ronen said. “It doesn’t give them much credibility.”

Ronen added that these rules “are in place for a reason,” and that making exceptions during a crisis — such as during the pandemic — is worthwhile, but “when we have the time to follow all of the rules, I think that we should.”

Ronen also said Dignity Moves is using “union-busting rhetoric” by suggesting the city use union labor along with volunteer labor.
The 33 Gough Street project gives hope because it shows what can be possible, but the Mission-Street project throws cold water on those hopes as the City bureaucracy reasserts its power.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Nature, not Nurture

(Illustration from TS2)
I've been a "morning person" since the Eighties and have long believed that that characteristic was instilled by having to be out the door on weekdays by 6:30 a.m. Having been retired for over ten years has not broken me of the early-rising habit, which raises the possibility of a genetic explanation: [bold added]
new research suggests DNA inherited from our extinct Neanderthal cousins ups the chance we’re early risers.

Our circadian rhythms—the biological clocks inside our cells that time when we sleep and wake—are linked to countless genes. Now researchers say they have found that bits of genetic code passed down to some of us from Neanderthals relate to our sleeping habits in the present day. The study was published Thursday in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution.

“We’ve found many Neanderthal variants that consistently associate with a propensity for being a morning person,” said Tony Capra, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of California, San Francisco and co-author of the new work. “Their effects are in the context of hundreds of other genes, but it is suggestive there is something meaningful about this.”
Being a carrier of Neanderthal genes explains a lot of things to partners (incuding mine) of early risers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Walnut Creek: Perception is Reality

June, 2022: smash-and-grab at Macy's, WC
Your humble blogger sometimes visits Walnut Creek and has found it to be a pleasant suburban community with both middle-class and upscale stores and restaurants. Its median household income of $130,000 is on par with the rest of the Bay Area and is well above the national average of $75,000.

Crime has recently made "sleepy" Walnut Creek's residents unsettled.
In recent months, Walnut Creek has witnessed flash mob commercial burglaries, likely perpetrated by crews that rove the Bay Area, according to law enforcement. In October, a group of would-be burglars smashed a stolen Land Rover into the Louis Vuitton store at Broadway Plaza, fleeing down Highway 24 when officers arrived. Weeks later, police arrested members of an alleged theft ring at a Lululemon boutique.

Fears intensified on Dec. 5, when three masked perpetrators confronted two victims — one of them an off-duty police officer — in the 1500 block of Bonanza Street. Brandishing a handgun, the assailants stole a wallet from one victim, then pistol-whipped and snatched a bag from the other victim before speeding off in a white Lexus.
Walnut Creek officials say that statistically crime has gone down:
Records from the Walnut Creek Police Department corroborate the downward trend. This year, the city had logged 39 robberies as of Dec. 11, compared with 47 for the whole year in 2022. Burglaries also appear to be declining: In 2022, police documented 304 reports. This year, residents and businesses suffered 206 burglaries through the end of October.

“It seems worse than it is,” [Mayor Loella] Haskew continued, suggesting that the “big exciting robberies” this fall drew undue attention, because they contrasted with Walnut Creek’s reputation as a sleepy, upscale bedroom community.
As we've found with school shootings, one or two well-publicized incidents overwhelm statistical analysis that argues conditions are improving. Perception is reality.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Competitive Excel

The competitors take the stage in Las Vegas (WSJ)
Back in my day I was pretty good at building Excel spreadsheets. But I would never have come close to qualifying for the World Excel Championships, held December 7-9 in Las Vegas:
the omnipresent office spreadsheet software has spawned ranks of data geeks who see Excel as a sport. And here they were at the biggest table of them all: the Microsoft Excel World Championship, held at the HyperX Arena Las Vegas in the Luxor Hotel & Casino. (One floor down from a show by the comedian Carrot Top.)

...the thrills were off the charts at the main tournament, where rivals battled for the Excel championship over three 30-minute sessions that included both high drama and hexadecimals. Watching the action unfold on a giant screen, the live audience screamed cheers of encouragement and surprise and marveled at the rich data types, tables, monster functions, and the dreaded #ref error flashing before them.
Those who, er, excel at competitive Excel are able to identify classes of problems quickly (financial, statistical, dataset searching, etc.), select the functions (built-in algorithms like IRR and COVAR) that might be useful, and put together lines of calculation that produce the answers.

The above approach to spreadsheet building is frankly, anathema to accountants and many financial analysts. In real-world finance we have to build auditable spreadsheets that are reviewable by others. This means organizing linked spreadsheets so that one has the data inputs, others the calculations, and still others the reports. It also helps to write "notes" about what is going on in particular cells.

In Excel tournaments, where the object is to solve the problem in 30 minutes and there is no need, say, to have a work colleague run the calculations in the modeler's absence, many of these design techniques can be ignored.

That said, there is always a need for genius programmers that can get Excel to solve problems that seemed beyond the software's capabiities. At these tournaments it's nice they're finally getting some recognition.

Monday, December 11, 2023

You Can Lead Californians to Wastewater, But You Can't Make Them Drink

(Image from San Diego Pollution Trackers)
Headline: California poised to allow ‘toilet to tap’ projects, in landmark water rule [bold added]
California water regulators are poised to approve long-awaited rules that will allow local water agencies to convert sewage — such as what drains from toilets and showers — directly into drinking water.
In what is probably an understatement
Acceptance among ordinary people who would drink the water remains a concern; [Kirsten] Struve estimates that one-third of the public is not keen on the concept. However, water experts believe that Californians are increasingly open to the concept — in part due to water scarcity struggles statewide.
Your humble blogger thinks that water "experts" are too optimistic that the public will drink treated wastewater. Many Californians don't even drink tap water now. According to a UC-Berkeley paper
The majority of Californians have access to safe surface water. Yet, 70% of Californians drink bottled water at least monthly (Lucas 2003). Over 35% of the bottled water sold in the U.S. is consumed in California and one third of Californians use such water as a primary source of drinking water (Allen 1994).
If this were a plot by the bottled water companies to increase their sales, it's genius.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Just Desserts

(Note: since this blog serves to instruct, it should be noted that the correct English phrase is just deserts.)

Today was the annual bake sale at the church. In recent years, with an eye toward elevated blood sugar readings, I had simply given a ten-spot to the ladies (no, the men never brought anything) and went home empty handed. Today I gave in to temptation and filled a small brown bag with sweetmeats.

I also had a piece of pie and coffee and sat down with the aforementioned ladies to discuss the goings-on at the parish. Decades ago I disdained people who went to church for the gossip and food during coffee hour. Lo and behold, I have become them.

This time I paid twenty bucks. It was worth every penny.

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Don't Get Stuck in the Money Room

Juan Amaya and Prop Movie Money product (WSJ)
There's nothing like the sense of excitement at the sight and feel of paper money, especially when one had so little of it in childhood. But enough about me.

One way to de-sensitize the emotional reaction to cash is to immerse oneself in it. It's unnecessary to have access to the real thing for the "treatment" to work, because fake money will do.
There is a space in the Atlanta office of RJR Props that workers call the money room.

Along one wall, about 20 feet of shelves hold a buffet of prop money, in stacks, bundles, cubes, rolls and other arrangements.

When outsiders enter the money room, they usually burst out laughing, said Rich “RJ” Rappaport, the company’s president. “It creates a very deep emotional reaction from everyone,” he said. “Well, except me. I’m ruined.”

“You’ve been around hundreds of millions of dollars in fake money,” he explained, “so it just completely loses its sense of wonder.”

Rappaport says that being more aware of money’s effect could put you in a better mindset for thinking about its place in your life.

He feels rich because he has a spouse, children, a house, a car and food. “To me, that’s everything,” he said. Meanwhile, it seems to him like many other people are, in a sense, stuck in the money room, marveling at the stacks.
It's easy for oldsters who are done with the making-it phase of their lives to advise younger, struggling folks that money isn't that important. To be perfectly honest, my younger self would have listened with half an ear. Just don't think it's all important. Don't get stuck in the money room.

Friday, December 08, 2023

No, Thank You (Notes)

Christmas is the season of shopping, gift-wrapping, mailing, and spending, not to mention traditional activities like church-going, caroling, tree-trimming, and card-writing. The "chore" that is among the last on the list is composing thank-you notes, which are going "the way of the horse and buggy":
Writing a thank-you note requires keeping track of who needs thanking, crafting a message that strikes the right tone, thoughtful but succinct, neither florid nor terse. To say nothing of hunting down a mailing address, buying the cards and getting the stamps.

The obligations stack up particularly high at certain life stages: 20 notes to all the kiddies who attended Ethan’s fourth birthday, holiday gifts, newborn presents.

Even Lizzie Post, etiquette maven and great-great-granddaughter of manners arbiter Emily Post, thinks that while a handwritten note can convey special effort, a texted thank you is OK in most situations. Especially within groups of friends or peers, the thank-you text has become standard and accepted, she says.
A texted thank-you? Say it ain't so, Lizzie Post. What would your great-great-grandmother say?

To be perfectly honest, there are members of our extended family that don't bother with any kind of acknowledgment--text message, phone call, voicemail, email, or otherwise.

After a couple of years of no response, we have stopped sending gifts to them. It may be a win-win: less holiday shopping for us and not receiving a present that is desired by them.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to write thank-you notes for people that send me stuff because I wouldn't feel right if I didn't do it. Yes, I'm a prisoner of my upbringing.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

82 Years Later

Last May the WSJ featured Lou Conter, 102, the last survivor of the USS Arizona, which was sunk on December 7, 1941:
The USS Arizona’s bombing was the deadliest of the attacks that day, killing 1,117 people. It accounted for nearly half of the 2,403 who died during Pearl Harbor. Conter was one of the 334 people assigned to the USS Arizona who survived.

He became the last known survivor in April, after his former crewmate Ken Potts died at 102 years old.

The warship’s ammunition storage exploded during the bombings. The USS Arizona was so badly damaged that it was left to sink instead of being repaired. Its ruins are still underwater and viewable from the USS Arizona Memorial, which was built to hover over the warship.

Conter helped pull crewmates out of the burning ship.

“As we guided these men to safety, more often than not, their burned skin would come off on our hands,” Conter wrote in his 2021 book, “The Lou Conter Story.”

Gun turret: the rest of the Arizona lies beneath
He often wondered why he made it out of the USS Arizona alive.

“God didn’t want you to go that time,” he said he told himself. “There’s a lot more for you to do for the country.”

..He got his pilot wings in November 1942, he said, and was part of a team that flew Black Cat aircraft overnight doing bomb runs in the South Pacific. He said he was shot down twice, once in September 1943 and a second time three months later. Both times, he used a lifeboat to get to shore.

After World War II ended, he said he returned to California and signed up for the reserves. In the early 1950s, he served again in the Korean War...

He is now on a new mission: Go back to Pearl Harbor this December.

It has been about four years since Conter has been to the annual remembrance. His doctor had forbidden him from taking the nine hours of flights from his home in Grass Valley, Calif., to Hawaii.

“I’d like to go once more,” Conter said.
According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, Lou Conter was one of five Pearl Harbor survivors who showed up at today's ceremony. Thank you for your service, Mr. Conter, and safe travels.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Radio Shack: the "Unsung Hero" of the Personal Computing Revolution

A $4.01 Apple Computer check written by Steve Jobs to Radio Shack in 1976 is being auctioned for at least $30,000.
The check is made out on an Apple Computer Company account opened at a Wells Fargo branch in Los Altos.

Listed is Apple’s first official address at 770 Welch Rd., Ste. 154, Palo Alto — “the location of an answering service and mail drop that they used while still operating out of the famous Jobs family garage,” the webpage says.

RR Auction, a Boston-based specialist in Jobs and Apple memorabilia, calls Radio Shack an “unsung hero” of the personal computing revolution and notes that co-founder Steve Wozniak would spend hours roaming the aisles of the store.
1) Steve Jobs must have been a careful business manager to write a check, thereby documenting a $4.01 expense.
2) Palo Alto, in fact the entire Peninsula, used to have area code 415, the same as San Francisco and Marin County. It was reassigned to 650 in 1997.
3) Can you tell from his writing that Steve Jobs is left-handed?
4) Radio Shack, which employed several of my relatives in Hawaii and California, was indeed historically important to the history of Silicon Valley, as hardware geeks like Steve Wozniak prowled its aisles for parts hoping to build the next big thing.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

EDD: The Gift (to Fraudsters) That Keeps on Giving

EDD offices have been closed to the public
since the Oxnard shootings in 1993.
Since COVID payments began, losses from Employment Development Department (EDD) fraud range between $20 billion (EDD) to $32.6 billion (analyst estimate). This Chronicle headline seems to name the culprit:

California EDD lets go of Bank of America for unemployment payments, will soon start direct deposits

I am a customer of Bank of America and have no love for it. In fact, I'm seriously considering moving three accounts because of the bank's high fee schedule and minimum-balance requirements.

In this case, however, Bank of America is getting the short end of the public-relations stick. It was caught between the rock of getting payments out quickly and the hard place of screening for fraud. [bold added]
California’s Employment Development Department has selected a new contractor to pay unemployment and other benefits starting Feb. 15. The new vendor, Money Network, replaces Bank of America, which drew criticism during the pandemic for sometimes blocking payments to legitimate recipients...

A class-action lawsuit says BofA left the door open for unemployment benefit accounts to be hijacked by criminals. Then, the lawsuit said, BofA would freeze accounts, leaving victims unable to access past or future benefits, even with a replacement card.
The upshot is that B of A has been trying to get of this contract for years, not that EDD is "letting go" of the bank.
BoA had made it crystal clear that it no longer wished to administer California benefits, but under the terms of its contract with EDD, the state had the “sole option” to renew its contract with EDD for two-year periods, which it chose to do, both in June 2021 and June 2023. “We have advised the state that we would like to exit this business as soon as possible,” BoA said in summer 2021.
The new service provider, Money Network, will, like B of A, put "recipients’ benefits on prepaid debit cards" and "offer direct deposits to laid-off workers’ bank accounts." There's no mention about improved audit controls.

$40 billion in cumulative fraud is within reach, if we haven't gotten there already.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Peering Through the Fog

Different priorities now: a banker, lawyer, CPA, and financier
walked into a bar and compared notes on health, not money.
Lately I've been accepting more invitations to go to reunions, whether they're related to family, work, school, or eleemosynary institutions.

Although lethargy is growing with age, a stronger counterweight is the desire to avoid regret. Seize the opportunity to meet up with old friends because one never knows when it will be the last time.

And so it was that I fought the rush-hour traffic through San Francisco and peered through the fog on the Golden Gate Bridge for a dinner with former work colleagues in Sausalito.

The four of us quickly caught up, then turned our attention to gossiping about former acquaintances, which is another reason to attend these gatherings. Generally it's better to talk about others than to be talked about.

After two hours--three hours after sunset--our energy flagged (two bottles of chardonnay also helped). We resolved to meet up again after the New Year. I wasn't 100% sure it will happen, but it's nice to look forward to.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Hopeful Beginning

Today was the first Sunday of Advent, which is the beginning of the Liturgical Year. It was also a beginning for the Episcopal Diocese of California, which elected a new bishop yesterday.
Born in Texas, Bishop-elect [Austin K.] Rios calls Rome, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas, and Louisiana home. He is of Mexican-American heritage on his father’s side and of Scotch and English descent on his mother’s side. Bishop-elect Rios is the first Latino elected bishop in the Diocese of California. He learned to speak Spanish and Italian as an adult and is fluent in both languages.

Rios currently lives in Rome, Italy, where he serves as rector of St Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church, a multilingual and multicultural community that hosts an outreach center for refugees. Pending the required consent from the wider Episcopal Church, the bishop-elect will be ordained and consecrated on Saturday, May 4, 2024, and will serve as bishop coadjutor with Bishop Marc Handley Andrus until July 2024, when Bishop Andrus will retire. At that time, Rios will succeed Andrus as bishop diocesan.
We have stated our dissatisfaction with retiring Bishop Andrus' leadership of the Diocese. Here's hoping that Bishop-elect Rios will focus on the needs of his flock rather than the platform of the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Talking about Elon's Talking, Again

On Wednesday afternoon I flipped to CNBC to watch Fast Money and Mad Money, the shows that recap the stock market activity for the day. Instead of the expected fare there was Elon Musk being interviewed by Andrew Sorkin, a reporter for NBC/CNBC/MSNBC. I could not look away.

The most widely remarked-upon section of the 93-minute interview occurred when Elon Musk told advertisers who pulled their ads from X (formerly Twitter) to "go f--- yourself," uncensored on live TV.

The expletive was Elon's reaction to alleged anti-Semitism on a Musk tweet and the alleged placement of corporate advertisements next to pro-Nazi statements on X. He is suing those who made those (fraudulent, he says) accusations and heaping opprobrium on advertisers who believe them. I don't want to get into the merits of the claims themselves except to say that, for the moment, I give Elon Musk the benefit of the doubt that neither he nor X are anti-Semitic.

Speaking of the F-word, some of my former business associates said to me decades ago that their goal in life was to amass "F-you" money, that is, a nest egg sufficient enough not to fear telling off an employer before walking out the door. As we noted four months ago, Elon Musk's total investment in X represents 10-15% of his net worth. Losing that amount will hurt him, but not enough to silence him. When we're talking about F-you money, that's what we're talking about.

Friday, December 01, 2023

For the Young but not the Old

Coca-Cola got the top overall score (WSJ)
The WSJ ranks the best companies "to get promoted quickly or avoid being underpaid." One of the criteria is the willingness of employers to hire and promote workers who don't have a college degree.
To focus on workers who benefit most from upward mobility, the analysis only included data for occupations in which at least 30% of workers nationally lack a college degree, based on Labor Department data. That allowed the analysis of career trajectories of, for example, retail store managers, customer-service representatives and web developers, but not lawyers or software engineers.
In my humble opinion there has never been a better time to be a hard-working young person who doesn't have the education credentials that used to be so admired when I entered the work force.

As for me, a retired oldster who is not interested in long-term career advancement, I am looking for companies who will overpay me and are expanding too fast. They'll probably lay me off in a year or two and give me a severance package.

Hopefully the WSJ is researching that.