News and Views

From my kids accomplishments, to my heretical perspective of the world

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August 6th, 2017 · 6 Comments

I experimented with a new car rental company on our trip to San Francisco last week.

Silvercar rents only Audi A4s, and the only color is (of course!) silver. This is a nicer car than you will usually get at a rental company. You can pay more for a “luxury” car, but you won’t be sure what you will get. With Silvercar you always know what you are getting, though not always which year, a point belabored below.

Audi A4

As we arrived in San Francisco and walked past the conventional car rental desks, there were 20+ people in line at each company, clearly in for an hour wait. We hopped on the shuttle (along with one other person) and got driven right to our car.

Once you are a registered user, you just get off the shuttle and walk up to your car. The phone app reads the barcode in the window and doors unlock and the car is yours. As a first time users, I had to show my credit card and driver’s license. The “concierge” then showed me all around the car, made sure my phone was linked to both Bluetooth and WiFi, and sent us on our way (yes, the car includes free LTE-based WiFi).

Most rental companies charge $8-10/gallon to refill, so unless you are running really late you better find a gas station before you get back. Silvercar charges a nominal $5 refilling fee, and fills at a local station, charging you just the local price. I still refilled before returning, but I didn’t feel like they had a gun to my head!

The car was really nice, drove and handled well and was fun to drive. Though it had 50,000 miles on it, it still felt almost new. My only complaint was that it didn’t have any features I consider should be standard on a luxury car — back-up camera, parking sensors, blind spot detection and adaptive cruise control. I sent a complaint to Silvercar after I returned, and they told me I must have got a 2015 year model, and that as they upgrade their stock the newer cars all have these modern safety and convenience features. But I don’t think there is any way to ensure you will get one of the newer cars when you make a reservation. Driving and parallel parking in San Francisco, I really missed the BU camera and parking sensors. I guess I’m spoiled!

Rental is a little higher than Hertz or Budget Rentals, but as a first time user I got a $50 discount for the 4 days, so the total come in around $69/day. High for Phoenix, but not out of line for San Francisco. Worth it if I could be assured of getting a newer car, maybe not if not.

In the future? If I can be sure to get a newer car and can get a reasonable price, I’ll probably rent one again.

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Medicare for All!

July 1st, 2017 · 2 Comments

All… er… Both. Both of us. Gisele and me both!

A little over a year ago I went on Medicare and wrote a post about it. It’s now Gisele’s turn.

For the past 6 months we have been paying nearly $900 per month for her coverage, which has a deductible of $6000. (On the plus, the maximum out-of-pocket was $7150 which we easily met with her back surgery this year. I guess that’s a plus…)

Starting today she is on a much, much better insurance plan, costing just $200 a month, with small deductibles and a $2200 cap on out-of-pocket (based on the particular Medigap plan she has).

The following table compares her previous coverage with her current plan. It’s even more significant an improvement when you realize that negotiated costs under Medicare are lower than under most plans, and after meeting the deductibles she only pays 20% of the Medicare approved price. It’s not likely that she will hit the maximum out of pocket in any given year (though this year’s surgery would probably have been pretty close).

Cigna Medicare
Premium $880 $200*
Deductible $6000 $1316 (Part A)
$183 (Part B)
Maximum $7150 $2200**

* Including basic Medicare, Medigap F-HD, and a Part D prescription drug plan
** Based on the Medigap Plan F-High Deductible we both have

This is especially interesting considering all that’s going on in Congress right now with healthcare. I understand that Medicare is a big piece of the national budget, and if it were extended to everyone it would be a much larger piece. But it seems that something could and should be done.

Anyway, I feel like we are set. As long as the government keeps its hands off our Medicare!

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Happy Loving Day!

June 13th, 2017 · 3 Comments

Actually, I’m a day late — “Loving Day” was yesterday, June 12. It was the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in the case of “Loving vs. Virginia” that ruled inter-racial marriages legal in all states.

If Gisele and I had come back to Arizona from Taiwan before 1962, our marriage would have been declared illegal. It was that recent that Arizona finally abolished its miscegenation law, but several other states (all southern) still had such laws in place until the Supreme Court’s decision on June 12, 1967.

In Arizona before 1962*, marriage between Whites and anyone even partially Black or Asian was illegal. In fact, the law even prohibited anyone of mixed race from marrying anyone else at all.

A mixed race (Black-White) couple, Richard and Mildred Loving “had married in Washington, D.C. to evade Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law (the Racial Integrity Act). Having returned to Virginia, they were arrested in their bedroom for living together as an interracial couple.“*

The Lovings went to court, but a Virginia judge denied their case, stating, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay, and red, and placed them on separate continents, and but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend the races to mix.“*

(Sounds a lot like the arguments against same-sex marriage, doesn’t it?)

The Lovings took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, where they finally won.

According to Pew Research, in 2015 17% of marriages were between different races, vs. 3% in 1967. Young people are much more accepting than their elders, with 88% of young white people accepting, vs only 36% of white seniors.

Interracial Marriage Acceptance by Age

The incidence of interracial marriage varies a lot by race and sex, as seen in the following graphic, also from Pew:

which matches my experience: it’s more common to see a black man and white woman vs. the other way around, and likewise a white man with an Asian woman.

I think most people, especially young people, see this as an ongoing trend towards openness and acceptance, but there are still large pockets of mostly older people who see it as a slide into immorality and depravity. All I know is that I can’t imagine being in a better marriage than my own, interracial or otherwise, and there is nothing depraved about our love for each other.


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Shoulder Surgery

May 28th, 2017 · 1 Comment

In the interest of using this as a diary, I need to document the recent left shoulder surgery, and I’ll provide an update.

Two complete rotator cuff tears and bone impingement, and something else I can’t remember right now. Surgery done Feb 7.

It is now 4 months (16 weeks), and I am feeling pretty much back to normal, thanks partially to the excellent Physical Therapy treatments by Mark. I see the doctor again next Thursday. With the right shoulder 6 years ago I was able to go back to basketball at 16 weeks, so I’m hopeful that my long injured-reserve time is almost over. I really miss it.

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Android Pay

May 21st, 2017 · 6 Comments

I recently signed up for Android Pay, and have been using it the past couple of weeks. It’s very convenient.

When you pay, you just tap your phone on the card reader. Within a couple of seconds you are done, and the amount is charged to your credit card.

It’s accepted at many places, including Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and most fast food places, with more being added all the time.

Using the new credit cards, with the embedded chip, is slower than it used to be. Android Pay is faster than the old credit cards, and a lot faster than using an embedded chip card.

My only concern is that my phone could be hacked and the card number stolen. But probably no more likely than that my wallet could be stolen, with all my credit cards.

There’s an Apple version for those of you on the other side of the fence, and Samsung has their own Samsung Pay, though that’s only available on a few of their phones. Samsung phones can also use Android Pay.

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March 25th, 2017 · 2 Comments

Gisele recently had surgery for Spondylolisthesis, “the forward or anterior displacement of one vertebra over another”. In her case when she bent forward or back the vertebra would slide forward or backwards over the one below. There was also degeneration of the disks, but simple disk replacement wouldn’t keep her vertebrae in line, so surgery was the only option.

Her symptoms were: Increasing numbness in her feet when she walked more than a few steps, a developing weakness in her legs and feet, and pain in her hips and back. She was on track for painful confinement to a wheelchair within a few short years.

For surgery she went to the Barrow Neurological Institute, which Wikipedia states, “is the world’s largest dedicated neurosurgical center and a leader in neurosurgical training, research, and patient care.”

The surgeon, Dr. Steve Chang, fused the L4-L5 and L5-S1 vertebrae together, installing screws and rods from both the front and back, on two separate days. Fusion can often be done just from the front, but in her case the spine was so unstable that the vertebrae needed to be supported both front and back.

The surgery was completely successful, with one caveat: Her vertebrae are so soft that until he x-rayed he wasn’t sure the screws were going in correctly. He described it “like screwing into butter”, hopefully an exaggeration, but still indicating advanced osteoporosis. Her recent bone scans had only shown osteopenia, so this is a disturbing finding. She will be seeing an endocrinologist specializing in osteoporosis to try to improve her bone density.

She is home now, 15 days later, and slowly recovering. The best news is that all her symptoms are gone — numbness (except for a little residual amount in one foot — probably from permanent nerve damage), and the pain and weakness. Pain from the surgery is still significant but improving all the time.

She has to wear her “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” back brace for about 3 months whenever she is out of bed. Since she can’t put it on by herself that means that hubby has to get up in the night with her each time she has to use the bathroom. Small price to pay to ensure proper healing!

I was going to put a picture of her in her brace, but she didn’t think that was a good idea. Here is what it looks like worn by a model.

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San Francisco Travel Documentation

December 7th, 2016 · 1 Comment

In the interest of documenting my travels for later reference, we just got back from 4 nights in San Francisco. We usually stay with Angela, but since she has mice and not much room, we stayed this time in a motel just a 10 minute walk from her apartment.

We flew. Had a connection cancelled in Los Angeles for mechanical problems, but then they brought in another plane and we arrived a couple of hours late.

That’s all. No comments solicited or expected.


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Hawaii 2-Island Conclusion

November 14th, 2016 · 3 Comments

I already posted about Oahu (Wahoo!). We only spent 3 full days there, but we were on the Big Island and Maui for 6 days each. Here are some high points.

Here’s the kind of paradise I usually think of as Hawaii:

or this, on the Hana Highway in Maui:

But there are places that look like this (driving up Mauna Kea on the big island):

and this recent lava bed near Hilo on the big island:
Lava Landscape

We loved our house on the Big Island, right across the street from a nice little beach. This picture of the sunset:

was taken through this window:

One thing made us a little nervous living here. Each time we drove down to our house next to the beach, we passed this sign (but it looks like the person is running towards the water…?):
Tsunami sign

The volcanic action on the Big Island was really neat. Here’s where lava was spouting up into the air out of a lake of lava:

Here the lava was running out into the ocean generating this huge cloud of steam:

And here it is flowing underground:

I love watching big waves crash against the shore (north-eastern Maui):

We also visited the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut packaging plant near Hilo. Not worth making a detour for, but if you are passing by, why not stop in.
Mauna Loa

I went snorkeling off the coast of Maui. Gisele took these through the windows of a “glass bottom boat”. The water was clearer than it looks in these pictures — the glass wasn’t very transparent. Lots and lots of colorful fish that I could get within a foot or two of.



And I did a little ziplining on Maui. This was a very tame ride, but easy to get to and didn’t take too long.
Ziplining on Maui

And back on Oahu, here’s a picture of the Kualoa Ranch where most movies that take place in Hawaii are filmed. This tree is from the first Jurassic Park. The doctor and kids hid behind this when the T. Rex was chasing the Galomimus.
Jurasic Park

Two weeks was a good visit. Long enough to see the three islands, I think. Maybe someday we will go back and visit other islands, but there are lots of other places in the world beckoning to us.

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October 26th, 2016 · 2 Comments

The first time Dennis the Menace went to Hawaii (over 50 years ago), as the captain announced that they were finally landing in Honolulu, Dennis shouted out “Wahoo!”. The flight attendant (they were called stewardesses at that time) said, “Why yes, that’s right Dennis. It is the island of Oahu.”

Oahu was lots of fun. We had a hotel near Waikiki Beach, though we were surprised to find that they only had valet parking at $22/night.

We really liked Kualoa Ranch, where we took a new tour of movie sets. This tour rides in air conditioned vans, stops at more places and takes about an hour longer than the old movie set tour, so we got to see a little more, in comfort. I was quite surprised at all the movies and TV that had been filmed, and are being filmed at this site. At least two of the Jurassic Park movies, Lost, Hawaii 5-0 (less of a surprise), King Kong, Jumanji (they are filming a sequel right now; we saw some of the sets as they were tearing them down) and lots, lots more. We saw several sets for many of these, many that I recognized.

Here’s a partially concealed skull from the not-yet-released new King Kong movie, Skull Island or something like that.
Kong Head

We also went to the Polynesian Cultural Center. We paid for a upgrade, but that was a mistake. Not worth it. Without the upgrade, it would have been an interesting afternoon anyway.

Another intersting adventure was hiking up to Manoa Falls, only about 20 miles from Waikiki Beach. We especially liked this area shown below, with the lush creepers wrapping the trees; everything was so green!
On the trail to Manoa Falls

We left Oahu on Monday, flying to the Big Island which will merit its own post.

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The Dunning-Kruger Effect

October 9th, 2016 · 2 Comments

David Dunning and Justin Kruger of the department of psychology at Cornell University in 1999 performed experiments measuring how well people evaluated their own competence. The result was that people who knew very little about a topic generally greatly over-estimated their competence, while experts tended to correctly or slightly under-estimate themselves. It was only after being trained on a topic that those lacking skill began to realize their own incompetence.

As Dunning himself put it: “If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent.… The skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.”

Dunning here discusses how this effect applies to Trump supporters, and in fact probably to Trump himself. Trump probably doesn’t understand how grossly unqualified he is for the job. (This article is worth reading.)

This effect is apparent everywhere, and in fact is a major weakness of Democracy. Voters are passionate about their choices, but often based on limited or incorrect understanding of the issues. Many people have strong feelings about economic policies, but really understand almost nothing about economics. Stimulus? Balanced Budget? Deficits? Raising or lowering taxes? Are these things always good or bad, or does it sometimes depend on the situation? People knowing nothing about Climatology are convinced that climate change is a hoax, throwing a snowball into Congress as proof the world is not warming.

I think a reasonable approach is to listen to the experts when they agree, such as with climate change. On a topic such as economics, we should probably go along in the cases where most economists agree, but when the experts disagree it is foolish to be sure you know the right answer.

There are some interesting quotes showing that this is not really a new discovery:
– Confucius “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”
– Bertrand Russell “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision”
– Charles Darwin “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”
– Shakespeare (As You Like It) “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool”

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