June 29, 2019

“Engineering Started Becoming a Commodity."

“Engineering started becoming a commodity."  Is there a formal term for the classic Boeing clusterfuck?

All I know is what I read in the papers, but it's remarkable how many Boeing snafus are due to this exact type of problem: driving down labor costs so relentlessly,  breaking unions as a matter of principle that you not only get worse results but spend more money, firing experienced engineers and workers because they are too expensive as some sort of Social Darwinian principle.

Also, hundreds of people sometimes die in horrific airplane crashes for no particularly good reason.

The absolute heart of the company is outstanding engineering expertise built over many, many decades.  What Boeing has been doing seems analogous to colonizing its own company, and when they do this, when treat their best assets as a cost to be avoided, they end up screwing up badly, leading to years of delay, serious manufacturing problems, or fatal crashes.  If you're raiding a chain of I don't know car washes and selling off the real estate, this might be tolerable, but not in, oh I don't know..


who make giant flying tubes full of human beings and also nuclear missiles.

And from the outside, so many colossal engineering, unnecessary risks and financial errors at Boeing seem to be related to a reflexively, non-rational anti-labor ideology.  Examples include the entire horribly delayed 787 program, the mass rehires in Puget Sound to fix the truly shit work done in South Carolina on fuselages (I like to envision them arriving with duct taped '67 Dodge bumpers hanging off the front)  and the pointless and expensive "move" to Chicago.)

Oh and look this morning.

June 24, 2019

Three New Warriors Join Team This Summer

My team lost the NBA Finals.  They made a good try, but by the end it became apparent that my oft-stated claim that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson could wipe out the NBA with a team of G-Leaguers proved inaccurate.  What I should have said was: Steph Curry and Klay Thompson could wipe out the NBA except for the Toronto Raptors with a team G-Leaguers, if Thompson got hurt and couldn't play in the last game.

So I must admit I was a bit concerned when the NBA draft rolled around just a few days after the Warriors' heroic exit.  The organization had been so focused on winning a championship, I wondered if the front office had even been preparing for the draft.  I needn't have worried, and for all of you who root for other teams, well, I pity you.

  • 1st round:  Jordan Poole, 6-5, Michigan.  They say Jordan Poole's a pretty good shooter, which is like saying Lawrence Taylor generally got good containment on the sweep.  Jordan Poole is a raging fire-flinging shooting demon likes of which...nobody has seen the likes of which.  The Michigan trainers kept buckets of ice by the bench so he could keep his fingertips from bursting into flames.  Scouts say Poole is most similar to...Nick Young?...better check that.  The rumors that Poole doesn't play defense, like, at all, are scurrilous lies spread by envious teams that picked up sure-to-fail 'projects' from Japan and Iceland in the first round.  They already know that they whiffed on the steal of the draft, a guy who took 113 three point shots last year and made all of them.  But no, go on, tell me more about Goga Bitadze's upside.

    Stick with me Commish, you'll go far
  • 2nd round:  Eric Paschall, 6-9, Villanova. Paschall would have been picked higher but his availability was uncertain until moments before the draft because he had been seriously considering an offer to lead a team of Navy SEALS on a mission to destroy Iran's nuclear capability, which was cancelled at the last minute when Trump pivoted to a negotiated solution.  Scouts say Paschall is like Draymond Green, except, you know, physically gifted.  Paschall's "signature move" is his patented dunk-shot, to which he brings a special flair.
Nickname: MURDER
  • 2nd round:  Alen Smailagić, ?, no known university.  Reported to be 6-9 when he signed with the Santa Cruz Warriors last year, the 18 year-old Serbian cypher - the youngest man to ever sign a G-League deal - has reported grown as much as two inches.  Where'd he go to school?  Unknown.  Can he shoot?  Pass?  Dribble?  Also unknown.  They say he tore up a couple of Serbian junior leagues before orchestrating an elaborate gold heist and resurfacing in the Bay Area. Rumors that he had played games in public for the Santa Cruz team have been counterdetailed by rumors that the player in Smailagić's jersey was a local high school kid, while the Warriors hid the real Alen Smailagić in a shack outside of Fresno.  On the other hand, maybe they should sign that kid, because I notice he can pass, dunk, run the floor, and shoot the three:

Anyway, if you're rooting for someone else next year, might as well give up now.  The Warriors have reloaded with nuclear weapons and everyone else is playing for second place.  You thought you had us, but you were wrong.  The Bay's Team is the Best Team, and those dreams of our demise are lost, like tears in rain, and this will be totally obvious when these Warriors rookies totally dominate Summer League, I bet.

* Deepest apologies to Garrison Keillor, whose "Three New Twins Join Club This Spring" first appeared in The New Yorker in 1988 and was republished in We Are Still Married - (link)

June 23, 2019

The real latte factor

I read today that if I give up my daily latte, I can become a multimillionaire.  Really!?
[David] Bach says a 25 year old who starts putting away $10 a day could have almost $2 million by age 65 in an investment earning 10 percent a year. (From 1975 to 2018 a diversified portfolio of 60-percent stocks and 40-percent bonds has had an annualized return of 9.9 percent, says Bach.)

Ok, Sparky, a couple of problems here:

  • First of all inflation.   $100 in 1975 was worth $500 40 years later.  So that $2 million ending balance is actually $400,000 in real terms.
  • Second, historical returns are very unlikely to be achieved.  The time period picked started with low stock market valuations and very high interest rates.  So stocks and bonds went way up.  If you pick up a copy of Stocks, Bonds, Bills, and Inflation (an annual read I find transfixing) you'll find that this is actually the only historical period where such fine results were achieved in both stocks and bonds.
Over time the expected return of an investment portfolio is its yield plus the growth rate of cash flows, plus or minus the change in valuation.  
So, buy yourself a 30 year Treasury bond with a yield of 2.57%.  Deduct likely inflation of 2% (the Fed's target rate), and your real return on the bond piece of your portfolio will be 0.57%.  For stocks, the long-term real growth trend has been 3-4%, and you have a yield of about 2%.  Deducting inflation we get an expected real return of (generously) 4%.  So for the 60-40 portfolio described, expected returns from here (assuming no nuclear or global warming catastrophe) might be (0.6 * 4%) + (0.4 * 0.57%), or about 2.4% per year.  
Well, what about the change in valuation?  Bonds can rise in value if rates fall, and we've all seen stocks go up faster than fundamental would warrant.  Sure, but rates are very low and stock valuations are high (though not extreme) so it's unlikely a favorable change in valuation would help you much as it did in the 80s and 90s.  And remember, he's selling on you returns achieved over a long period - the chances that period ends at the peak of a market bubble are...not high.  So for our purposes I'm estimated the change in valuation at zero.  A prolonged slowdown or accelerating inflation would likely turn that estimate negative.

So, plugging the numbers into a spreadsheet, if I give up a couple lattes a day, I'll save $3,650 per year, and in thirty years I'll have $172,765, which I admit is nice except I'll be dead then and won't be able to spend it.

You see, the final dirty trick here is that the miracle of compounding doesn't really kick in until the third or fourth decade.  After ten years of Spartan denial I would have just $40,706, enough to buy a nice car like, say, a Chevy Bolt:

Robin Leach is, alas, unavailable for comment

Now I wouldn't mind having a new car when I'm 67, but actually - given the choice of a nice new car then, or a delicious morning beverage every single day until then (and on into an uncertain future), I'll take the beverage thank you very much.

Oh, one other thing - most people will engage an investment advisor who will, by hook or by crook, take 1-2% off the top each year, significantly slowing down all this magical compounding.

So, no, a few simple small sacrifices and a programmatic savings program will not make you immensely wealthy some day.  As always you can consume your wealth or defer it.  Choose a sensible balance - of course you should provide for your future - but there is something to be said for enjoying a nice cup of coffee in a quiet moment.  You should do some of that, too.

I prefer cappuccino, but the logic works the same

Finish Rich with the 'Latte Factor' - (link)

June 16, 2019

Emperor of ruins

Japan's Emperor Hirohito in Yokohama during his first visit to see living conditions in the country since the end of the war, February 1946.

Wedding as a funeral goes by - Von Stroheim's "Greed" (1924)

Youtube - (link)

Wikipedia - (link)

June 14, 2019

This just in

June 13, 2019

Oracle closes, dynasty ends. It was fun while it lasted, now back our regularly scheduled programming...

June 11, 2019

And back to Oakland

“So set up your attacks that when the fire is out, it isn’t out.”  - Harry Nelson Pillsbury

Kawhi Leonard had just gone on a Jordanesque 10-0 run late in the fourth quarter to give the Raptors the lead.  The Warriors' best player had hurt himself badly and left on crutches, to the delight of the hometown crowd.  The champagne was on ice and Bill Russell waited patiently in the hallway, ready to present the  championship trophy. 

All that remained was to close the thing out.  Raptors coach Nick Nurse, noticing that his squad was tiring, called timeout, and gave them a moment to catch their breath.   He may well have turned to Steve Kerr and said something like "before you die I believe you will be interested in hearing how I defeated you."

All of this, in hindsight, was a mistake.

On the final possession of the game, needing just a basket to win, Leonard brought the ball up but encountered spirited opposition.  Two quick passes later, Kyle Lowry held the ball in the corner, poised to bury the game winner as the clock ticked down.  But as he released the shot a Warrior hand grazed the ball....

And they took the champagne back, and Bill Russell sat down, and they carted the trophy away.

"The only important statistic is the final score." - Bill Russell

June 09, 2019

Set pieces

In some of these old Japanese movies, it's kind of obvious they were in a hurry, or way over budget.  In others, it looks like they had all the time in the world, and made good use of it.  I have no idea what was going on, but in Zatoichi the Fugitive (1963) cinematographer Chishi Makiura earned his pay.  Here are a few shots from the film:

Good guy coming up
Bad guy coming down

Miwa Takada

How can we ever thank you for saving our ranch Yakuza gambling operation?

The Third Mountain

In the Bay Area there are three notable mountains that might be attempted by the discerning alpinist.  Each is prominent, presents unique challenges to the climber, and has its own unique personality.  Mount Tamalpais, nestled as it is among the villas of Russian oligarchs, is a deceptively peaceful place, and on a good day elicits associations with the Asia of the western imagination.  This is carried to its logical extreme in Tom Killion's fine Tamalpais Walking, which venerates the mountain in faux Ukiyo-e style.

And there is Mount San Bruno, looming over Brisbane like Ali over Liston, a brutal wedge of stone on an otherwise bucolic peninsula, its aggressive stance accentuated by its onetime status as a nuclear weapons base.

As documented here, I have met the tests of both peaks - not without misadventure - and lived to tell the tale.  And, I hasten to add, I accomplished this by fair means, without the use of supplemental oxygen, sherpas, porters, yaks, or any of the other accoutrements of the posers trotting around the Himalayas nowadays.

But there is one mountain that continues to defy me, tugs at my imagination, yet also elicits the deepest respect, even fear:  Mount Diablo.  Diablo.  The Devil's mountain.  The very name inspires awe.  Rising 3,849 brutal feet above the Bay Area on one side, and the Central Valley on the other, it was for the indigenous people of the region the center of the world, the point of creation.  The Ohlone called it Tuyshtak, "at the dawn of time."

As with all mountaineering ventures, one must weigh up the risks against the rewards.  The usual risks apply - given its proximity to urban areas, one must expect the same type of overcrowding that has become a hazard for the advanced alpinist everywhere.  Water, of course, will be a necessity, and it will likely be necessary to bring some type of food along, too.  So many variables to consider, so many ways to go wrong.

But the reward - for the hardy few who succeed - is astonishing.  According to the State Park website:
[Y]ou can look to the west, beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, to the Farallon Islands; southeast to the James Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton at 4,213 feet elevation; south to Mount Loma Prieta in the Santa Cruz Mountains at 3,791 feet elevation, north to Mount Saint Helena in the Coast Range at 4,344 feet elevation, and still farther north to Lassen Peak in the Cascades at 10,466 feet. North and east of Mount Diablo the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers meet to form the twisting waterways of the Delta. To the east beyond California's great central valley, the crest of the Sierra Nevada seems to float in space.  All in all, you can see over 8,539 square miles and parts of 40 of California's 58 counties from the Summit of Mount Diablo.  

I know these things, yet try to keep up the appearance of detachment and disinterest.  And yet my mind wanders.  I find myself inspecting maps of the area, and eyeing the Osprey Mutant 22 with its integrated hydration system and La Sportiva's TX3 with its "climbing zone" toe.  Perhaps, with the right equipment, I could make up for some of loss of strength and stamina that comes with advancing years.  Perhaps, with the Garmin inReach Explorer I can maintain contact with base camp and send texts to my accountant over the Iridium satellite network, even under the most difficult conditions.  Perhaps...

But in the face of these unknowns, there is one certainty.  El Diablo will be utterly unforgiving of error.

June 08, 2019

Noted with interest

The estimable Meiko Kaji, from the Tumblr blog fuckyeahmeikokaji, which might go a little too far in its veneration of Meiko Kaji, were it not impossible to do so.

fuckyeahmeikokaji - (link)

One afternoon in the early 90s

Ranking just behind the heroic team ascent by the Laird and me of Tamalpais - conducted, let me remind you, without the use of artificial oxygen and entirely by fair means - and my terrifying solo and near-bivouac on Mount San Bruno, is my solo effort on The Rigi a few years before, which has unaccountably been overlooked in the literature of alpinism no doubt due to the petty jealousy of lesser men.

In a nation crowded with peaks, The Rigi stands alone near Luzern, its forbidding massif surrounded on three sides by water:

Rigi, the Queen of Mountains

Mountaineering snobs tend to downplay the significance of an ascent, however, because the peak is 1,800 meters, not the 8,000 preferred by the Himalayan crowd, and possibly also because the primary route to the summit is paved.

I'd like to tell you I went up that ridge, I really would

Doesn't matter at the top though.  You have as good a view as any in Switzerland, and that's saying something.  And, doesn't a mountain deserve consideration on its own terms, without all this quantification?  We all know K-2 is the tougher climb, so why all the bragging about Everest?

Anyway, The Rigi was a fine place to be on a nice day, and I climbed it.  By fair means, without artificial oxygen, and without a commercial guide or the assistance of sherpas.

Of course if you'd like a commercial guide those are available, but the cognoscenti will likely look down on your achievement.


June 06, 2019

Ramen westerns

The Japanese and Italian filmmakers of the 60's were watching each other closely.  Here are two scenes for your perusal:

Zatoichi on the Road (1963)

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

The most extreme evolution of this that I have seen so far is Bloody Shuriken (1965), which I think might as well be rescored with the theme from Bonanza.  It makes no sense in any Japanese historical context, but all the sense of the world if you imagine that everyone in Dodge City decided to dress funny and speak Japanese:

Showdown at the Oke Corral

The movie is not a good use of time.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

One additional note - that one girl is the estimable Masumi Harukawa, who looks great, breaks every rule, and seems to have had a bit of a cult following.  YMMV, but I like her approach.

Unholy Desire aka Intentions of Murder (1964)

A small sort of satisfaction

June 05, 2019

Only everyone expects it

(via Krugman)

Back to the beach

Jerry Deitch thinks he'll be able to keep his nerves in check but isn't sure. The survivor of Utah Beach, one of the five D-Day beaches, had always refused to go back to Normandy.

"I said, 'No,' I said, 'I don't think I can handle it. I'll get too emotional,'" he says.

Now 93 years old, Deitch decided he must see where good friends died and revisit the spot by a seawall where he was hit by a piece of shrapnel that left a fist-sized dent in his helmet.

Deitch, who is from Nevada, was 18 years old when he landed and says "after the first day I felt like I was 30. I went in a little boy and came out a man. You grow up fast."

Serving in a U.S. combat demolition unit, his job was to clear obstacles and blow up strong points that could slow the Allied advance inland. The shrapnel that dented Deitch's helmet gave him a concussion; he was evacuated back to England.

"I know exactly where I was when I was hit. Exactly the spot. I see it in my mind all the time," he said.

Long unable to speak to his family about his experiences, he recently started writing down his recollections so they'll know, when he's gone, what he went through. "I did a few chapters just before I came here," Deitch says.

"It changed my life, yeah," he said of D-Day. "It taught me to be very tolerant. God gives us free will; you've got to use it."

Having long kept his war to himself, Deitch thanks people for listening to his recollections now.
"I feel better when I speak about it," he said. "If you have demons, face them."


June 04, 2019


Highly recommended: What We Do in the Shadows tv comedy, directed by Germaine from Flight of the Conchords, with Matt Berry from Garth Marenghi's Darkplace and based on the movie of the same name with the immortal line:

"We are werewolves, not 'swearwolves'"

Most amusing, TV MA for moments of gore and awkward vampire orgy sex.


June 03, 2019

The 'stream in the sky'

The Telford aqueduct



June 02, 2019

Livingston bails out Curry, wins game 2 with key assist

Video - (link)


You know, it happens time and again but they never learn

(Wait for it...)

Zatoichi's Cane Sword - 1967 (link)

June 01, 2019

A better hill to die on

Mt. Siple

Anyone who goes on a Himalayan mountain expedition is dicing with death.  The death rate on these expeditions over time has been perhaps 1-2%.  Going by the historical record your worst odds are on Annapurna, where 50 have died against 130 summits.  The odds are much better on Everest.  They've had a bad season this year, but most climbers make it back.  Everest has claimed only 300 lives against 6,000 or so successful ascents.

It got me thinking, though - could you spend your life better?  Is there a mountain worth taking some risk for?  Let's say you have one shot to bag a major peak.  You don't want a suicide mission, but you can tolerate plenty of risk.  Is there anything left out there that's pure?  A genuine achievement where you could go all-in and walk away with the laurels, or die like a Spartan instead of standing in line watching your oxygen run out?

For the discerning high-risk alpinist I propose Mt. Siple, a beautiful mountain that - just look at it - doesn't seem all that hard.  No craggy ridges, nice smooth sides.  Lots of snow, so you'll have to plot the route to minimize avalanche risk.  And you'll have to do a lot of the prep on your own, because unlike Everest where even the dead bodies are landmarks, hardly anyone has ever looked at Mt. Siple, much less gone up it.  There's no official maps, just this rough drawing from USGS:

I think you could set up on Lauff Island, motor in to Cape Dart, and go right up that ridge to the summit.  It's only about 3,000 meters, but it stands alone and is very prominent, so the views from the summit should be awesome.

The only really tricky bit is getting to it:

Still, it's right there - a first ascent opportunity!  Did I mention it's a potentially active volcano?  Well yes, it is.  But all life is risk.  Get out there and live a little!


Mayhem, with nice graphics

Before taking off from Chicago Thursday I decided to see if I could find something new to do on the iPad.  Maybe a nice light game, not too involving, pleasant to look at.  Hence Miyamoto, a rogue-like deck building mythical Japanese tactical combat game.

It looks great, and is only about as habit-forming as Fentanyl.  Each battle takes about five minutes.  Eight battles makes a campaign, although things get much more difficult as you progress.  I've only gotten to level eight a few times, and have never beaten it.  You don't know what's in your deck initially, so you have learn from experience - sometimes you've got a lot of lightning bolts, sometimes a lot of meat shields.  But the game lets you add a new card for each level you beat, so that - if you can survive long enough - you can gradually balance things out.

Actual gameplay is elegant and quick, and the game shows evidence of really heavy playtesting as the elements are in almost perfect balance.  Each encounter plays out as a confused and random tactical melee with constant reinforcement - imagine two small armies blundering into one another - and advantage swings wildly.  There are no "safe" strategies, only degrees of risk.  The general who delays attack is just as doomed at the one that leaves cover too soon.  In terms of the feel of the game, I'd say it's about like the attack on Carentan in Band of Brothers, but prettier.

Available at an App Store near you, and highly recommended.  A good review is here.

The places you'll go, from the estimable Jake Paker

Every once [in] a while I like to do master studies to sharpen my skills. My favorite way to learn from them is to create a brand new piece in their style. It requires looking at a range of pieces, pulling out parts, combining shapes, and doing some design algorithms in your head to pull it off. For this piece I combined Dr. Seuss with French comic artist Moebius. Really happy with how it turned out.