That may seem like very obvious advice, but the fact is that thousands of burglaries are committed every year by thieves who gained entry into their victim’s homes by being invited in! There are many tricks that burglars use to get their victims to let them into their homes. Once inside, it is much easier for a criminal to rob a house, ‘case the joint,’ or assault the occupant.

Fake Building Inspectors. One very common trick is the fake building inspector. This is an old trick that never goes away – because it works! What should you do if a stranger shows up at your door and says he’s a building inspector, a health inspector, the fire marshal, or some other government official, and asks you to let him in?  Just Say No!  Give him my phone number and tell him politely, but firmly, “Speak to my landlord.” Do not let him in! Real building inspectors make appointments in advance and will normally contact the landlord or property manager first, not the tenant.

The Furnace Inspectors. I used to own a house on Milvia Street near campus. Many years ago, one of my tenants there, a U.C. Berkeley student, let 2 men into his house who showed up unexpectedly. They said they were Berkeley city furnace inspectors. Once they were inside the house, these so-called furnace inspectors tied up my tenant and robbed the place. Fortunately, my tenant wasn’t physically injured, but he and his roommates lost a lot of property. After the robbery, I asked my tenant: “Why did you let these guys in? Weren’t you suspicious?” My tenant told me that he that he was suspicious and asked these men to show him I.D. before he let them in. One of the men handed my tenant a flyer titled ‘Furnace Safety’ with the City of Berkeley logo on it. Based on that – and that alone – my tenant let these 2 men into his house. My tenant showed me the flyer. I recall looking at the flyer and thinking: ‘This is pathetic.’ The flyer was just a list of furnace safety tips. It began with: ‘Don’t store flammable liquids like gasoline next to your furnace.’ I told my tenant that I had seen this flyer before, and that it was not I.D. You could pick up one of these flyers at any public library in Berkeley. I also told my tenant: “There are no city furnace inspectors. The city of Berkeley doesn’t have any furnace inspectors.” I don’t know of any city that has furnace inspectors.

Don’t Be Fooled By Appearances. Professional burglars don’t look or sound like burglars. If they did, nobody would let them in! Some burglars wear business suits, carry attache cases, and come with phony I.D. and documents that look authentic. Criminals posing as government officials often try to gain entry by intimidation. They may threaten to have you fined or arrested for refusing to allow them to come in. The more intimidating a person is, the more suspicious you should be! The fact is this – you cannot be fined or arrested  for refusing to allow a government inspector into your home unless he has a Search Warrant signed by a judge and stating exactly what it is that he is looking for. That’s in the Constitution!

The Boston Strangler. How dangerous is it to let uninvited strangers into your home? In 1962 and 1963, 13 women in the Boston area were killed by the Boston Strangler. All of these women were murdered in their own homes. All were raped and then strangled with articles of their own clothing. They were all respectable women who led quiet lives. The police were baffled because there was never any sign of forced entry. The Boston Strangler was front page news all over the U.S. and around the world. In 1964, Albert DeSalvo was arrested and confessed to all 13 murders. When he was asked how he gained entry into his victim’s homes, he said he simply followed a woman home, knocked on the door of her apartment and asked if he could come in. He claimed to be a handyman who had been hired by the landlord to check the apartment’s plumbing. He wore work clothes and carried a bucket of plumbing tools. If a woman showed any reluctance to let him in, he just left and then followed another woman to her apartment. He never tried to force his way in. All of the women killed by the Boston Strangler voluntarily let him into their homes, even though everyone in Boston knew there was a strangler loose in the city. OK. I know that this story sounds scary, but I am telling it to you because it could save your life!


30 years ago, there were no huge homeless encampments in Berkeley, Oakland, or San Francisco. Now, thousands of people live in them, and they are getting bigger all the time. A lot of people are baffled by this, but the explanation seems obvious to me. The number of extremely poor people in the U.S. has exploded over the past 30 years. The real inflation-adjusted income of the average American has been declining since the 1970s. The minimum wage adjusted for inflation has fallen by over 25% since 1970. For reasons that I don’t understand, very few people make a mental connection between the declining income of poor and middle class Americans and the rise in homelessness.

In 1960, the largest private employer in the United States was General Motors. The average non-managerial employee at GM made $25.00 an hour, adjusted for inflation. Like most unionized industrial workers of the time, GM employees also got a generous fringe benefits package.

Today, in 2017, the largest private employer in the United States is Walmart. The average non-managerial employee at Walmart makes $9.15 an hour, and with relatively few fringe benefits.

When I see people working at Starbucks and Walgreens here in Berkeley, I sometimes wonder: “Where do these people live?” These people make $11 to $14 an hour, and a 1 bedroom apartment in Berkeley costs $2,000 to $3,000 a month. So where do these people live? In a city where the average 1 bedroom apartment costs over $2,000 a month, where can a person who makes $13 an hour live besides a tent, a friend’s garage, or the back seat of a car? What I can’t understand is why so few politicians and TV commentators see any connection at all between rising poverty and rising homelessness. The connection seems very obvious to me. What am I missing?


Here’s an example of how the lives of poor people are becoming even poorer in America. Our national parks were intended to be places that anyone could go to. The poor as well as the rich could visit a national park. Things were different in Europe, where the most beautiful places and scenic vistas were made royal estates, available only to aristocrats and their friends. Last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that the price of admission to Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yellowstone, and many other national parks will be going up from $25 now to $70 next year. This story didn’t get a lot of publicity, but I think it should have. For a lot of people, $70 is a lot of money. $70 is more than a whole day’s take-home pay for somebody working at minimum wage. Obviously, far fewer poor people will be able to go to a national park once it costs $70 to get in. I think that’s sad. Don’t you?


‘Disruptive’ is a hot buzz word these days. You hear TV commentators and politicians using the word ‘disruptive’ all the time, but it sounds like most of them don’t know what the word means. ‘Disruptive’ does not mean ‘destructive’; however, that appears to be what a lot of people think it means. An angry child smashing the family’s porcelain dinnerware is not being disruptive. He is being destructive. So – what does ‘disruptive’ mean? The word ‘disruptive’ has 2 very different meanings, one negative and one positive.

In politics, ‘disruptive’ usually refers to something bad. ‘Disruptive’ can describe a person who is undisciplined, disorderly, unruly, chaotic, or who just won’t play by the rules. For example, in the first presidential debate in 2016, candidate Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton 22 times in the first 30 minutes of the first debate. Constantly interrupting somebody who is speaking during a debate is very disruptive, and in the negative sense of the word.

However, in high technology, ‘disruptive’ usually refers to something good. That is because ‘disruptive’ has a second meaning. ‘Disruptive’ can refer to something new, innovative, or groundbreaking that radically changes the way business is conducted or how a product or service is produced, displacing the existing way of doing things. I was thinking about this last month at the annual BoxWorks conference in San Francisco. During his keynote address, Box CEO Aaron Levie interviewed Brian Chesney, the founder of AirBNB. Both of them referred to AirBNB as a ‘disruptive business’, and it is. Mr. Chesney created a new business model for temporary housing that was cheaper for travelers and that provided new income for property owners. However, as a result of this, established hotels and motels lost a lot of business. This is an example of ‘disruption’ in the positive sense of the word. The next time you hear someone on TV using the words ‘disruptive’, ‘disrupter’, or ‘disruption’; think about what he means. If he is using the word in a story about a politician, it almost always means something bad. In high tech, it almost always means something good.

Auto Antonyms. There are a lot of words like ‘disruptive’ in the English language, words with 2 very different and sometimes opposite meanings. An auto-antonym is a word with 2 opposite definitions. My Uncle Maurice got me interested in auto-antonyms a long time ago. Consider the word ‘citation’, which is an auto-antonym. A citation can be a an award for good behavior ‘The Boy Scout received a citation for saving the drowning camper’ or a penalty for bad behavior ‘The policeman gave the driver a citation for parking in a bus stop.’ Words with 2 opposite definitions creates a lot of confusion and and sometimes start pointless arguments.