Rancho San Antonio

January 25th, 2014

This is probably the favorite hiking destination for those in Silicon Valley. It is also where Kid chooses to run up to the vista point on Saturdays, that weekend with her old Dad. Start at the trail at the lower parking lot, follow the Lower Meadow Trail to the Deer Hollow Farm (1.3 miles). From there, find the Upper Meadow Trail up to the vista point (0.8 miles), with way too many hope breaking switch-backs. I was breathless at the end and could hear my heart pounding above the safe range for my age.

The view was spectacular up there: the southern tip of San Francisco Bay, pretty much the whole of Silicon Valley, and all the way to the east bay. Experience expected the soreness to come and did not disappoint.

Near the upper parking lot is a small field for battery-powered model airplanes. Used to those gasoline-powered ones, I was surprised at their quietness and agility. Pilots, on the ground, demonstrated mesmerizing, stunning maneuvers. These Styrofoam planes can start flying minutes after opening the box — and crash to pieces in minutes at inexperienced hands.

Better get my Advil ready before I go to bed. Sigh, old age.

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David and Goliath

I think I have read every book Malcolm Gladwell has written, starting with Tipping Point. I remembered enjoying What the Dog Saw, but also thinking he was running out of good ideas. David and Goliath was probably 50% too long. I read through this book quickly and was not inspired or entertained.

How can the underdog win? They would need to try very hard to find an unconventional way in which they have an unusual advantage over the opponent, the favored. Why would the favored side lose? They underestimated the weaker opponent, was over-confident in their strength, or was unaware of one of their fatal weak points. Malcolm Gladwell found seven or eight historical examples to illustrate these points. The conclusion? Sometimes, the underdog wins and the favored loses. Really, Malcolm? You needed to write a book for this?

Everyone must still work hard to become the favored. A soldier should drill. A basketball team should practice. A student should study. A nation should try to build its armada up larger and bomb shelters stronger. A company should try to be more profitable, more competitive, and more prepared for environmental surprises. These are conventional wisdoms that are tried and true.

No one should strive to be the underdog with insurmountable odds. More importantly, no one should count on being the David to beat the Goliath. For 1000 of those Davids, 999 died quickly and one lived to tell the amazing story.

The true lesson of this book is for the Goliaths. Those who were over-confident and unaware of their weaknesses may face their demise. History really punished the arrogant big Goliaths. The well-prepared giants really never lost.

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Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park

Remember those fairy tale movies where nymphs and fairies fly around in the lush, watery, moss-covered enchanted forest? I think I spotted one of those in the trails of Cougar Mountain, on this Sunday and Seattle-foggy morning. The air was a bit chill and damp, the dirt trails were clean and well kept. I walked alone on the gentle trial. Joggers grunted “how are you doing this morning” as they passed, some accompanied by their dogs.

To get here, find the Red Town Trailhead Parking lot (47.534979,-122.128855, as Newcastle Golf Club Road turns into Lakkmont Blvd. SE). Go to the right end of the parking lot and get the trail map in the booth. Trails are well marked and generally wide enough for two people side by side. This park needs many days to explore. Capable hikers may spend a whole day. For light exercise, Red Town and Wildside trails form a circle of roughly an hour’s easy walk.

As I ducked under the canopy of green lattice of strangely formed branches, I realized that parks like this are the best of Seattle. It is clean, unspoiled, well marked, and full of natural serenity. Seattlites respect the land, enjoy nature, are friendly to each other, and pick up after their dogs. I felt the familiar warming up from the mild exertion, but the hint of euphoria is different from the normal gym work-out. I should get out more.

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$10.10 Minimum Wage

Thirty years ago, I earned minimum wage working for the school computer lab and took home about $600 a month. My newly wed wife did the same, but less hours, and earned about $300. We shared an apartment with another couple with similar situation. Between classes and jobs, we enjoyed simple parties and weekend activities common to young people. I was grateful to have a job and quickly moved on after graduation.

Obama wanted to raise federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, a nearly 40% increase. According to the computation, this is the wage that a family of 3 with one full-time worker will stay above the poverty line: an income for food, water, and shelter to survive. That family will be worse off if the full-time worker lost his or her job.

Economists do not agree if minimum wage affect unemployment or not. Paul Krugman, a prominent economist, thought not. Others cited studies elsewhere in contradiction. They also disagree whether raising minimum wage will trigger inflation.

Leave politicking alone, the real debate is who work for the minimum wage: teenagers who need supplemental pocket money, the second income of the family getting extra discretionary spend, or the sole providers without upward mobility. There is no one solution to these three problems.

Why not keep the minimum wage low to encourage full employment. For those stuck below the poverty line, we can provide them with social welfare. Note that government has been dispensing social welfare for a very long time and raising the minimum wage won’t stop it either.

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Earphones, Saga Continues

Loyal readers knew my obsession with earphones. In addition to delivering good sound. I learned that I have two requirements that are hard to meet with the same product. I need a pair for running, on treadmill or on the road. The key requirements are sweat proof, comfort, and fit. The earphones must not fall off during the exercise, no matter how sweaty I become.

The second need is for long distance flights. I need a pair that are comfortable and reasonably noise insulating. I have long chosen those ear-buds, instead of the fancy noise cancellation but over-the-ear bulky kind. This means the earphones must work similarly to the ear plugs and not just loosely hanging.

For years, I use the Phillips ear-hook kind. They were inexpensive and work reasonably well for both purposes. I tried the Jaybird wireless earphones. They were better fit, but the wireless connection was not reliable, at least not with my iPod Touch. Then my Phillips died.

I went back to Target to get a new pair, only to learn that Target dropped Phillips and went for Sony. I considered going Internet when I spotted the Adidas Sennheiser sports earphones. The fitting style was similar to Jaybird, which I liked. The price was OK. So I went for it. (Kid also helped me to make Target price-matched the Internet. Very sweet.)

Three things I like:

  • They stay in the ears. Running and sweating do not affect the fit.
  • The plug has a 90° angle, instead of going straight out. This suits me better since I tend to bend the cable.
  • Good sound.

In the mean time, I also acquired a pair of simple Beats. I felt the bass is strong but treble somewhat weak. But they are very comfortable and provided very good sound insulation on the air planes. In an interesting way, I now have dedicated pairs of earphones for two activities.

I have a feeling that this won’t be the last blog I write about earphones. Stay tuned.

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Seattle Seahawks is having a great season. Riding on last year’s moment, they finished the season winning 13 games out of 16 and clinched the conference champion. They won the first game of the play-off and will face the long-time rival, San Francisco 49ers, this Sunday, January 19th, for the conference championship game.
Photo: Elaine Thompson, Associated Press

I have seen my share of sport fans. Seattle breeds the most energetic bunch. For this city, they have 5 professional sport teams: Seahawks (American Football), Sounders (Soccer), Mariners (Baseball), Thunderbirds (Hockey), and Storm (Woman Basketball). The brilliancy of Seahawks is to give their fans a jersey number. This number, 12, strengthens the solidarity. The “12th man” flags are at every street corner, on people’s face, and even shown on the side of a tall building at night.

On Friday, Starbucks gives away coffee for 12 cents each, as long as the patron wear a Seahawk gear.

The Century Link Stadium, the home field, was designed to amplify sound. The fans made into the Guinness world record as the loudest one in the world. When Seahawks scored a touchdown on January 8th, the seismic sensor in USGS registered an earthquake. And that was not the first time.

Unlike 49ers that brought back the trophy 5 times before, Seahawks never won the Superbowl. The anticipation is palpable all around the city. Comes Sunday game, these fans will give everything they got. Monday will see many hoarse throats and absentees from the workplace. They will be recuperating from the night before.

I might become one of them.

Sunday’s game was a super-charged nail biter. 49ers led by 7 points at the half time. Seahawks came back. At 2-minute warning, Seattle won by 6 points. And 49ers has possession. With 22 seconds left, 49ers threw into the end-zone, but was intercepted by Seahawks.

Seahawks goes to Superbowl, second in team history. This town is going to be crazy!

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Books of Mortals

In the year 2065, or so, the first world Sovereign unleashed a retrovirus, called the Legion, that would remove all primary emotions, except for fear, for those infected. Since retrovirus changes the genes of the host, generations that were born after would know no emotions at all. In a couple of generation, the Era of Chaos ended, the timid populated the entire world, and began the Era of Order.

But the lone genecist, who created the Legion, did not agree. He formed a a secret sect, the Keepers, to guard a secret and wait for a prophecy, that in about 500 years, someone will be born with a natural immunity to the Legion. This boy, technically a mutation, would restore human emotions and bring back Life, implying those live without emotions were as good as dead. The secret was a vial of antidote to revive the emotions for those who took it. There were only 5 doses. Therefore, 5 people will be fated to find the boy and save the world.

This was the stage of an epic struggle. Five to reshape humanity.

Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee wrote a SciFi without much science or technology, but a really a social fantasy.

These Books of Mortal, a three volume series, were enjoyable yet too long. The first book, Forbidden, is excellent and stands on its own. The 2nd, Mortal, and the 3rd, Sovereign, are really just one long book. The plot turned religious, as many good SciFi, but I felt it deviated too much from the SciFi genre rules: that things must be plausibly scientific. Otherwise, it became fantasy.

They are still very enjoyable stories and memorable characters.

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$15 Minimum Wage

If we give everyone more money, what happens? Since the total amount of goods and services stay the same, by the general laws of supply and demand, everything will become more expensive and everyone ends up the same as before. This is the basic theory behind inflation. The effect is almost immediate, since the extra money must come from somewhere: new taxes, fees, or any other form of price increase.

Minimum wage has a rippling effect. When it gets higher, the pay grades above it must also go up. If the businesses cannot raise prices then they must absorb the increased costs. They will make less profit or shift the costs elsewhere: hiring less workers for example. Raising minimum wage therefore either causes inflation or worsens unemployment.

The city of SeaTac passed the measure to increase minimum wage to $15. This is a small city about 10 sq mi (about 4 are the airport). It houses 27,000 residents and 900 businesses, including Alaska and Horizon Airlines. The current federal level is $7.25, and the state $9.19 (highest of the nation). With their minimum wage 63% higher than the rest of the state, businesses face difficult choices: raise prices, absorb the costs, move out, or find some loophole.

Loophole it is! The new laws subject only hotels with 100 or more rooms and 30 or more employees. There are similar ones for other industries, like transportation. It turned out that airport workers are also excluded. Simply, few people really benefited, except for the politicians behind the measure.

The newly elected mayor of Seattle, Ed Murray, said he is also thinking of the same idea. There is only a simple problem: he does not know how to pay for the increase. Let’s see his options: new taxes, new fees, raise prices of city services, or reduce city workers. Anything else? Oh, yes, create loopholes so that no one actually gets paid more.

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Jobs v. Union

The Machinist Union Members narrowly approved Boeing’s proposed contract and sealed the deal that future 777x will be manufactured in the Puget Sound area. Boeing guaranteed that the composite wing, the most advanced part of the airplane, stays here.

The focus of the disagreement is retirement. Boeing proposed to switch to 401k, only for new members, and away from pension programs. Pension programs brought down GM, city of Detroit, and many mighty institutes. For the past 30 years, fewer and fewer workers in the US have that. Everyone, it seems, has moved to 401k.

Economically, they are exchangeable. One can compute the net worth of their pension program into a single “present day value.” Then the same person can formulate a new wage so that he/she will receive the same benefits during the retirement years. This calculation is complicated but very doable. The key issue is the risk.

The pension program is guaranteed and 401k depends on the performance of the investment. Maybe those Machinists are not savvy enough investors to stomach the risks. It is therefore not about economy, it is about emotions.

The fact is unions have weakened in the US for decades. Many states have legislated “Right to Work” laws that gave people the option not to join the union. When Kid was working at her university, she was not happy that an union fee was deducted from her paychecks without her consent. Union fees was the same as taxes for her. Had she worked for a “Right to Work” state, she would opt out and keep the union fees to herself. This means fewer and fewer members.

Boeing’s union leadership knew about their weakening and chose to fight for the union’s survival, even against the interest of the union members. There is no conceivable logic against the contract. It affects only new members, guarantees the jobs for decades to come, and stabilizes the regional economy. No one’s pension need to be saved, since none were endangered.

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Appreciating Geography

In few days, I traversed across north America and really experienced the extremity of weather. Starting at Seattle,I first went to Toronto, via Chicago, then Ottawa, and Charlotte. On my way back, I stopped at Detroit. Several days later, I drove all the way down to San Jose, then LA.

Toronto was similar to Seattle then, about 45°F. Chicago was covered in snow, so was Ottawa. The temperature hovered around 25°F. Freezing temperature, 32°F, was something to celebrate. Charlotte, NC, was sunny and crisp. A simple long-sleeved shirt was all I needed for around 50°F. Detroit was punishing cold like 15°F. When I got back home, Seattle was covered with a light powder of white, one or two inches, but people was “stuck in the traffic” and must take a “work-from-home” day. Yeah right. That was the Friday before Christmas week.

I had a bit trepidation driving to San Jose. A friend advised me to get a set of chains, even that I have a 4×4. I did not take her advise and braved the road. There was no sweat what-so-ever, although southern Oregon saw ice on the road side. Temperature was about 45 to 50°F through-out. But San Jose greeted me with balmy 70s and bright sun.

A couple of days later, I was sweating under LA’s 82°F blazing sun. The mall witnessed healthy California girls in shorts and tank-tops. I was in simple t-shirts. What’s going on here? I turned on the TV and saw record snow-storms howling at most of the country.

At a social gathering, a woman commenting on her husband’s sensitivity to coldness. “Even in this warm weather, he needs a sweater.” It turned out that they have been living in sub-tropical of south-eastern Asia for the past 15 years. “What would he wear in Minneapolis, where Kid lives?” I wondered.

Weather affects people greatly, yet people live in all climates. They all complain, they all appreciate, and they all live with it.

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