Kona tourism tips


Don’t expect Caribbean-style clear blue skies when you’re next to an active volcano. For my entire six-night stay the air was hazy and tinged with brown and people had slightly irritated throats from the vog. My host noted that there was an organic farm right next to the volcano: “do they wash out the sulphur and bits of glass that come out of the volcano before they sell you your organic lettuce?” A woman who has lived here for a few years said that she always woke up with a metallic taste in her mouth (as did I) while her husband, a longer-term resident, said that he was immune to the vog.

The smoothest coffee that we found was pre-ground medium roast from Kona Cafe, available at Long’s Drug.

Best tourist experiences:

  • looking at the flowing red lava in the crater after sunset from the Jaggar Museum
  • morning snorkel trip to Kealakekua Bay on the Fair Wind. We saw the following from the boat: manta ray, humpback whales, spinner dolphins. We saw the following while in the water: moray eels, shark, lots of great fish. The ride was smooth despite 25-foot waves pounding the Hilo side. I would recommend doing the morning cruise due to the fact that winds can pick up in the afternoon. Very friendly and helpful staff. They provide breakfast and lunch, but it is heavily Costco-based.
  • Taishoji Taiko performing at the Waimea cherry blossom festival (early February each year)
  • malasadas at the Punalu’u Bakery.
  • Kīlauea Iki Trail in the national park

And of course don’t forget to take a flying lesson at Mauna Loa Helicopters!

Maybe skip:

  • Four Seasons Hualalai. Somewhat boring landscaping (my hosts’ condo complex had a lot more color). The beach is nowhere near as nice as the Mauna Kea‘s (the local architects said that the Mauna Kea is their favorite hotel in terms of design). The restaurant had a beautiful waterfront location and great service but some weak spots, e.g., you have to ask for bread to go with your $30 salad. Then it takes forever to show up because it is purportedly “cooked to order.” Then when it does show up your friend says “this is like day-old pita.” Then you get the bill and find that you were charged $5 for the day-old pita. The bread at Volcano House was 50X better, arrived without being requested, and did not show up on the bill. (We did enjoy dinner at the Volcano House!)
  • the local wine. We opened a bottle of Volcano Red that was fizzy. We brought a sparkling Maui pineapple wine to a dinner party. Taste summary: like mixing Super Unleaded with pineapple juice plus a splash of Drano.


Valley of the Dolls: Cost of Living in Manhattan


Valley of the Dolls describes events starting in 1945. What could a Manhattan resident expect to pay and earn back then?

“I can start you at seventy-five a week — how does that set with you?” It was more than she had expected. Her room cost eighteen, food about fifteen. She told him she could manage quite well.

In other words, rent for a room in a shared apartment was 24 percent of income for a fresh-out-of-college assistant. Note that food is nearly as expensive as rent. She would earn $3,900 per year, $52,000 in today’s mini-dollars.

How about a semi-swank one-bedroom apartment in a city crammed with people returning from World War II?

“Anne will come up with something,” Henry insisted. “Try for the East Side. Living room, bedroom, bath and kitchen, furnished, around a hundred and fifty a month. Go to one-seventy-five if you have to. Start in right away, this afternoon. Take tomorrow off, take as long as you need . . . but don’t come back until you have the apartment.”

The BLS CPI calculation says that $175 in 1945 is comparable to $2,333 today.

A rich person is described in the book as a “millionaire”.

Oprah as inspiration for giving up


A friend in his 50s who is fit but has a few extra pounds: “Oprah is a billionaire. She can afford the best chefs, the best trainers, the best gym. I figure if she can’t lose weight then I shouldn’t even try.”

Valley of the Dolls: Marriage


Valley of the Dolls describes events taking place between about 1945 and 1965. and was published in 1966. How did the characters think about marriage?

On dating in New York City:

Anne smiled. “Lawrenceville. It’s at the start of the Cape, about an hour from Boston by train. And if I had wanted a husband I could have stayed right there. In Lawrenceville everyone gets married as soon as they get out of school. I’d like to work for a while first.” “And you left such a place? Here everyone is looking for a husband. Including me! Maybe you could send me to this Lawrenceville with a letter of introduction.” “You mean you’d marry just anyone?” Anne was curious. “Not anyone. Just anyone who’d give me a nice beaver coat, a part-time maid, and let me sleep till noon each day. The fellows I know not only expect me to keep my job, but at the same time I should look like Carole Landis in a negligee while I whip up a few gourmet dishes.” When Anne laughed the girl said, “All right, you’ll see. Wait till you get involved with some of the Romeos in this town. I bet you rush for the fastest train back to Lawrenceville. And on the way, don’t forget to stop by and take me with you.”

New England perspective on the basis of marriage:

“Anne, you are raising your voice,” her mother said calmly. “Willie Henderson is a fine boy. I went to school with his daddy and his mother.” “But I don’t love him, Mama.” “No man can be loved.” This from Aunt Amy. “But Mama, didn’t you ever really love Daddy? I mean, when a man you love takes you in his arms and kisses you, it should be wonderful, shouldn’t it? Wasn’t it ever wonderful with Daddy?” “Anne! How dare you ask your mother such a thing!” said Aunt Amy. “Unfortunately, kissing isn’t all a man expects after marriage,” her mother said stiffly.

“I don’t love Willie Henderson, Mama!” “There is no such thing as love, the way you talk about it. You’ll only find that kind of love in cheap movies and novels. Love is companionship, having friends in common, the same interests. Sex is the connotation you’re placing on love, and let me tell you, young lady, that if and when it does exist, it dies very quickly after marriage — or as soon as the girl learns what it’s all about.

Were women back then attracted to the rich real estate developer son of a rich New York City real estate developer?

Of course, his father, Gino, started the empire. They own half the real estate in this town. They’re rumored to be partners with those millionaire Greek shipping tycoons. Time magazine did a piece on Gino a few years ago. Maybe I can dig up a back copy in the library for you. They said his wealth couldn’t even be estimated. They ran Allen’s picture, too. Sole heir to the entire empire. You can imagine what an ad this was for the pair of them. Ever since, they’ve needed elephant guns to keep the girls away. … “Oh, he’s smoother than glass — but I think he’s as tough as his father underneath. He’s put over some pretty shrewd deals on his own. Managed to stay out of the Army by buying some plant that made parachutes, I believe.”

Was money a sensible basis for marriage? Here’s a 17-year-old’s perspective:

“Anne! You’ve made it!” “But Neely — I don’t love Allen!” “With all that money it will be easy to learn,” Neely insisted. “But I don’t want to get married, or give up my job. I’m on my own for the first time, and I’m not ready to give it up. I’ve only had two months of freedom —” “Freedom! You call this freedom?” Neely shrieked. “Living in a hall bedroom, getting up at seven and rushing to the office, eating lunch at the drugstore, maybe tagging along to ‘21’ once in a while with Bellamy and some client and freezing in that black silk coat? You want to stay free for this kind of gloriousness? Tomorrow is November first. Wait until January and February. Boy, it’s gorgeous in New York in February! Nothing but black slush. And that one little stinking radiator in your room is gonna seem like a matchstick. What are you giving up? Just tell me!”

“But it’s happened!” Neely hollered. “Only you hit the jackpot right away. Are you angry because you didn’t have to slave away for years, wear six-dollar shoes and bargain-basement clothes? Anne, if you blow this it won’t happen again. Do you think when you’re bored playing secretary another millionaire will suddenly appear on the scene and say, ‘Okay, Anne, time to get married’? Ha!” “I’m not especially looking for someone rich. That’s not important.” Neely sneered. “You’ve never been poor.” “Neely . . . let me put it this way. You’re thrilled because you’ve landed Hit the Sky. Suppose after a few weeks of rehearsal someone like Allen came into your life and asked you to marry him and chuck the show before it even opened. Would you?” “Would I? But so fast it’d make your head spin. Look, let’s say I have real talent. And let’s say someday I get a chance to prove it. If I work real hard for years, what will I wind up with? Money, position and respect. That’s it. That’s all there is. And it could take me years of hard work to get that. Allen is handing you the works on a silver platter.” Anne couldn’t believe her ears. Neely with the scrubbed face, looking younger than her seventeen years, pinning everything down so cynically.

What says the ancient-by-the-standards-of-the-novel boss (he’s early 50s)?

“Henry, I told Allen I didn’t love him. I told his father the same thing.” “You told them that?” He sounded incredulous. “Yes. Both of them.” “And what did they say?” “That’s what’s so unbelievable. I’ve never known people like them. They seem to ignore anything they don’t want to hear. Allen keeps saying he loves me — and that I’ll learn to love him.” “That can happen,” Henry said quietly. “Sometimes it’s the best kind of love. Being loved.”

A mother’s advice to her 25-year-old daughter:

“Look, you’re lucky — you have a gorgeous face and the kind of body men go for . . . though your kind of figure doesn’t last. … All right. Are you watching your weight?”

“I’m very thin, Mother. . . .”

“I know, but don’t gain and lose. That’s the worst thing for your breasts. Big breasts like yours are going to drop soon enough, and then they’ll be an eyesore. Make them pay while you have them. Men are animals — they seem to like them.”

What is the actual experience of marriage?

Helen’s eyes widened. “You read those books? Know something? I never read a book in my life.” “Now you’re teasing me,” Anne insisted. “Nope. When I work in a show, I work hard. After the show, if I’m lucky I have a date. If not, I come home from the show alone. And by the time I take a bath and read the trade papers and the columns, I’m ready to pop off. I sleep till noon, read the afternoon papers, go through my mail, get on the horn with my friends . . . by that time I’m ready for dinner. I never go out for dinner when I’m doing a show and I never have a drink till after the show. But after the show I like to hoot. Oh, yeah . . . I almost read a book during my last marriage. That’s when I knew it was going sour. …”

More: Read Valley of the Dolls

Lessons in Big Government from a ski instructor


Mt. Wachusett is a great place for an older Bostonian to learn to ski. If you have the stamina only for a couple of hours of skiing, why drive for 6 hours round-trip? Wachusett also has private lessons for $90/hour or $160 for two hours, about the limit of what my quads can handle.

Going to Wachusett also enables me to tell friends that “I skied the whole mountain… except for the two-thirds of the trails that were too steep and scary.”

My most recent instructor is a retired civil engineer who spent nearly his entire career at USDA. It turns out that USDA builds and maintains a lot of dams and irrigation systems. What would happen if the Trumpenfuhrer is able to make good on his campaign promise to shrink the government? “About half of the people at my agency did nothing. You could get rid of them and there would be no impact on the work,” he replied. “If you pointed this out you would be harassed and disciplined.”

[Separately, he gave a pithy education on the subject of Connecticut family law: “She got the house and I got a pair of skis.” (She out-earned him so there was no alimony.) “When we got married she said that she wanted to be independent and equal so she would do at least half of the driving. I don’t mind being a passenger so I said that was fine. Within two months I was doing all of the driving for any trip that we took together.”]

Harrison Ford landing on a taxiway at Orange County


A friend and I were looking at a report about Harrison Ford’s plane mistakenly landing on a taxiway at the Orange County airport at a time when the identity of the pilot(s) was unknown. (a follow-up from Variety, the official aviation news source for Hollywood)

I said “Obviously this couldn’t have been an airline crew because the plane was landed at the correct airport.” (example of airline heroics.)

[Of course the taxiway landing has happened in the airline world as well. Here’s a piece about Alaska Airlines landing a 737 on a taxiway at the airline’s home airport.]

How can we avoid being the subject of similar articles? One of my early instructors was an American Eagle regional jet pilot. He taught me to look for the black tire marks on either side of the centerline, the result of jets landing at high speeds. “That’s how you know it is a runway and not a taxiway.”

Separately, note that this unfortunate landing was much less dangerous than the taxiway landings that have been done in heavy jets. The two-seat Aviat Husky has a crazy amount of power for its weight and the piston engine develops power immediately. If another airplane had been directly in front of Ford on the taxiway he could have added power and been back up in the air within a few seconds. With an airliner the engines take a long time to spool back up to full power. At about 50′ above the ground the thrust levers come back and you’re more or less committed to the landing.


Valley of the Dolls: Perceptions of Age


Amazon says that Valley of the Dolls was one of the “100 books to read in a lifetime”. So I decided to give it a chance. The action takes place between about 1945 and 1965. What were perceptions of age back in 1966, the time of the book’s publication?

Let’s consider college. Today parents hold their kids back one year so that they will have an edge in K-12. Then Ivy League schools tell boring public school graduates to take a gap year before showing up. The American who enters college may thus be 20 years old. What about back then? The character Anne is a 20-year-old Radcliffe graduate:

He glanced at the form the agency had sent along. “Twenty years old and a B.A. in English, eh? Radcliffe. But no office experience. Now tell me, what good is this fancy background going to do around here? Can it help me handle a bitch like Helen Lawson or get a drunken bum like Bob Wolfe to turn in a weekly radio script on time? Or convince some fag singer to leave the Johnson Harris office and let me handle his affairs?”

A woman in her 30s is getting kind of old:

Sure, Tony thought [a 25-year-old] was twenty. But once he saw a girl who was really nineteen or twenty she might look a little beat

[a beautiful actress/model] was almost twenty-seven, and soon it would begin to show

Her figure was beginning to show signs of middle age — the thickness through the waist, the slight spread in the hips. Recalling Helen’s appearance in the past, Anne felt as if she were gazing at the cruel distortion of a monument. Age settled with more grace on ordinary people, but for celebrities — women stars in particular — age became a hatchet that vandalized a work of art. Helen’s figure had always been her biggest asset.

“You’re thirty-one. That’s late for children.”

Certainly 35 is too old to have a baby:

She was thirty-five — Good Lord, thirty-five! How did it happen? You felt the same inside, but suddenly you were thirty-five and time was racing on. One year blended into another. So much had happened — and yet so little. She had blown her chance for the great love and for children.

A star in her late 30s or early 40s is “Old Ironsides.”

Men in their 50s are portrayed as grandfathers and too old for high-quality sex:

Helen yawned. “Funny, about a year ago we went out. I was depressed, so Henry came home with me. And we decided to try it for old times sake. Nothing! I couldn’t pretend, and Henry couldn’t get it up. Well, after all, Henry’s getting on — he’s in his fifties. I guess it’s not easy to put starch in his lob.”

“Go back to your handholding,” he said nonchalantly. “Don’t let me stop you. Hell, you’re both young, enjoy it. I mean it — when you’re young you think you’ll always be young. Then one day you suddenly wake up and you’re over fifty. And the names in the obituary columns are no longer anonymous old people. They’re your contemporaries and friends.”

Nobody over 60 was worth including in the novel.

What about weight? An actress about 40 lbs. above what we would consider ideal is described by contemporaries in the novel as “a large mass of blubber”,a “blimp,” or “fat as a pig.” On the subject of sex with the otherwise beautiful 32-year-old, a character responds with “Good God, who would want her?”

More: Read Valley of the Dolls

How long is USPS mail forwarding supposed to add to delivery time?



We set up mail forwarding from one Boston suburb to another. Mail is taking an extra 2-4 weeks to be delivered. A first-class regular letter postmarked in Ohio January 3, for example, had a yellow forwarding label added with a date of January 18. It arrived some days later at our final destination address.

How is this supposed to work?

Should everyone be glad that judges have blocked Donald Trump’s restrictions on entry to the U.S.?


Donald Trump seems to be having trouble from the judicial branch in implementing executive orders aimed at restricting entry to the U.S. Presumably folks who were opposed to these orders are happy about this roadblock. I’m wondering if even people who support Trump’s attempted policies should also be happy about this.

As Hawaiians and Native Americans can attest, immigration can completely change the character of a country and the experience of life as a citizen. Why would we want to let one person, however wise (Obama!) or unwise (the hated King Donald) make decisions regarding what kind of a country we will have in 2050 or 2100?

Should Congress figure this out and limit the authority of Presidents to make massive changes via executive order?

Instead of experiencing dramatic unplanned changes, why not get a political consensus around two main points:

  • how large a population do we want to have?
  • what kind of fellow citizens do we want to share the country with?

Most of our population growth is driven by immigration either directly or through the higher fertility of the immigrants we have accepted (Pew). If we increase immigration we can accelerate our growth from 325 million up to 600 million or perhaps even 1.35 billion (works for the Chinese, right? They don’t have any more land than we do.). If we shut off immigration entirely we could perhaps hold at somewhere between 325 million and 400 million. If we eliminate immigration and tax incentives to native-born Americans to have children, we could gradually restore the U.S. to the level of crowding circa 1970 when 200 million folks occupied this land (plus roughly 1 million Native Americans, who could not be considered “occupiers”).

There is no rational fact-driven approach to determining a “correct” population size, which is why it would make sense to decide it via a political process. Some people value solitude, open space, and affordable real estate. Others might prefer a society packed with interesting people to talk to and are happy to live in 300-square-foot studio apartments.

What about the Jihad/no-Jihad choice that Trump highlights? Maybe that is the wrong question.

Let’s start with economics. We owe $19 trillion and want someone else to work to pay it back. In light of The Son Also Rises, if we want successful people in our population we can give priority to immigrants from the most successful economies worldwide and to immigrants who come from exceptionally successful families (look at parents, aunts/uncles, grandparents, siblings).

There’s more to life than money, right? What could be more important than being surrounded by happy people? We can give priority to immigrants from any country ranked as happier than the U.S. and be more selective about immigrants from comparatively unhappy countries. (Note that at least one study shows that people in Syria and Yemen are extremely unhappy and therefore a heavy weight toward this factor would accomplish the same thing as Trump’s proposed restrictions.)

How about political stability? To judge by Facebook, at least half of Americans express terror on a daily basis regarding the consequences of perceived political instability under the Trump Administration. Why not give priority to immigrants from countries with a long history of political stability?

Facebookers are also prone to complaining that a lot of Americans don’t respect science and scientists. Instead of tearing ourselves away from the TV to study, we could give priority to immigrants from those countries whose 15-year-old citizens scored well in science on the PISA test. Alternatively, we could seek immigrants from countries with higher numbers of scientific publications published per capita (it might work out to more or less the same countries).

Crime makes people unhappy. Why not give priority to immigrants from countries that have a low crime rate?

The above are simply examples. My point is that we have a representative government. Why not let our representatives in Congress decide explicitly what the population should be and what kind of people we would hope to attract? Have the population size be an input to immigration policy rather than an unexpected output. Have at least some of the personal characteristics of the “new Americans” be a goal rather than a surprise.

Maybe this can be wrapped up with a Constitutional Amendment that tweaks the Fourteenth Amendment so that it is no longer enough simply to be born on U.S. soil.

Readers: What do you think?


Installing an SSD in an old Dell XPS 27


We had an original 2011 Dell XPS 27 all-in-one computer that was absurdly slow to boot and then, once booted, spent 10-20 minutes grinding away at 100 percent disk updating Dropbox, Microsoft antivirus definitions, Windows updates, etc. (I’m not sure that the latest Dell products would be any better; most of them proudly ship with mechanical hard drives and can’t even be configured from the factory with SSDs.)

It was time either to pull an Elvis (gunshot to the screen) or replace the sluggish mechanical drive with an SSD. How to avoid reinstalling everything? The motherboard has an mSATA slot that had held a 32 GB SSD for cache. We disabled this from the Intel Rapid Storage Technology software. Then we opened up the case (two screws) and removed an internal system board shield (eight screws?) and the mSATA (two screws). The new mSATA 1 TB drive from Amazon (about $300) went in and the machine started right up.

We installed the free version of Macrium Reflect and cloned the hard drive to the SSD while the system was running(!). Maybe the disk cloning software understands NTFS journaling and is taking a consistent point-in-time snapshot of the hard drive? The mechanical hard drive contained about 330 GB of information and the cloning process took approximately 2 hours. After that, it booted right up from the SSD!

What better Valetine’s Day gift to a loved one than 20 extra minutes per day not waiting for a 7200 rpm drive to spin around?


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