Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Sabato Rodia, 60 years later

One of my strong childhood memories is of visiting the bizarrely-beautiful Watts Towers, in South Central L.A.; they were the perfect fascination for an 11-year-old boy.

Now here comes a nice article on seashells, and on Sabato Rodia, and on how we humans relate to coastlines around the world: The Symbolic Seashell.

That’s when he turned to the sea for salvation. Over the next three decades, Rodia hauled some 10,000 seashells from the coast to his property, where he built a whimsical fantasy of concrete walls, arches, and towers that soared to over 30 meters. He studded the structure with the shells, as well as with broken tools, plastic toys, glass bottles, pieces of tile, and thousands of other found objects.

"...these shells, they travel..."

Indeed.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

I love Polygon's list of the 100 best games of the 2010s

If you have any interest in modern video-gaming, you'll love The 100 best games of the decade (2010-2019)

They gave Journey too much credit, gave Portal 2 too little credit, and the game I'm playing now isn't even on the list.

And really, Far Cry 3 didn't make it onto the list at all? (good to leave FC 4 and FC 5 off the list, though!)

The thing about lists like this is: are they interesting? This list definitely is, mostly because the Polygon editors do a nice job of summarizing why they thought a particular game deserved your interest. So overall I'd agree they succeeded; it's a very solid list.

The biggest surprise of the list, to me, was Kentucky Route Zero. I gave this a pass 5 years ago, but maybe I should go back and give it another look? It's interesting to look at Metacritic's results on KRZ, which show an enormous distribution of scores.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Mistress of the Art of Death: a very short review

When I was recently at the ever-amazing Powell's City of Books, one of my selections was Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death.

Although it's quite expertly-crafted and very well-executed, Mistress of the Art of Death is also very much all over the map.

Is it a historical novel? A murder mystery? A romance?

Yes, to all three. The depiction of England during the time of the Crusades is quite vivid, and makes an entertaining backdrop to the foreground story of a serial killer terrorizing Cambridge with a string of gruesome murders.

And our heroine is quite an inventive character, a young woman from the ancient Italian city of Salerno. She is medically-trained and speaks several languages, and is known as a Mistress of the Art of Death because she got her medical training at a school which practiced autopsies, a quite rare approach at the time, at least in western medicine.

I'm not sure how interested I was in the romance.

And I'm not sure that 12th-century England is all that appealing a place to spend my idle reading hours.

But overall I liked Mistress of the Art of Death quite a lot.

I see that Franklin has written a number of additional books; perhaps I'll give them a try!

Saturday, October 26, 2019

A hard wind may blow...

NWS is worried: Red Flag Warning

Confidence is high that an offshore wind event featuring strong and dangerous winds and critically low humidity will impact the area from this evening through Monday morning. This event looks to be the strongest since the 2017 wine country fires and potentially a historic event given the strength and duration of the winds. The strongest winds are expected from late tonight into Sunday morning. Stronger winds mixing to the lower elevations will be a particular concern from late tonight through Sunday. Winds will gradually ease at lower elevations by late Sunday, but remain gusty across the higher elevations on Sunday night and into Monday morning. Latest model runs suggest winds will be stronger Sunday night than previously expected over the higher terrain.

Current forecasts indicate winds will top 80 MPH inside the fire zone.

Sonoma County Emergency Services are responding:

An evacuation order has been issued for the City of Healdsburg, the Town of Windsor, and surrounding unincorporated areas. You must leave before 4 pm this afternoon 10/26.

Please drive south. Evacuation Centers are located at the Santa Rosa Vets Hall, the Petaluma Fairgrounds, and the Petaluma Vets Hall. The closest evacuation center is located at the Santa Rosa Veterans Hall.

In addition, evacuation warnings have been issued a much wider area, including the Dry Creek Valley, Porter Creek drainage, Mark West, Larkfield areas, Fulton, Forestville, Guerneville, Occidental, Jennfer and Bodega Bay. This includes all areas west of Sebastopol, north of Bodega Highway, and south of Stewarts Point-Skaggs Springs Road.

Driving south is no fun: 101 is a parking lot.

A look at the detailed map gives you an idea of the scope of the effort.

The mandatory evacuation covers 50,000 people, and the evacuation warning covers nearly 100,000 more.

We have lots of family and friends in the area, though none (so far as I know) are in the mandatory evac at this time.

May the wind stay in the mountains, may the people and animals stay safe, and may emergency workers be careful and safe.

And may they all see Monday dawn, safe and beyond this.

UPDATE (late Sunday night):

  • Wind speeds topped 90 MPH today.
  • One firefighter has been airlifted to hospital in critical condition.
  • Nearly 200,000 people have been evacuated from the risk area. 80,000 homes are considered "threatened". (Our cousins have found space in a hotel some 50 miles south.)
  • A second, stronger, wind event is anticipated on Wednesday

Now would be a good time for some good news.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Mars Room: a very short review

About a year and a half ago, I read Rachel Kushner's first book, Telex from Cuba. It definitely left me wanting me to read more of her work, so this summer I picked up The Mars Room.

It so happened that I picked it up at Powell's in Portland, browsing through the aisles with my mother. She looked at my selection, and made no comment, until I persevered, at which point she said, "she's not exactly my cup of tea."

Actually, I'm not sure that Kushner is anyone's cup of tea.

And I don't think she wants to be.

Kushner is that sort of writer who looks you in the eye and tells you that, yes, that shirt actually doesn't fit you. And it's not your color, either. She's a brutally honest ripper-off-of-the-bandage, let's-get-on-with-it sort, given to setting forth the truth and perhaps even rubbing your nose in it as well. The women in her books run away from home, disobey orders, ride motorcycles, get tattoos, dance in cabarets.

And go to prison.

The Mars Room tells the story of Romy Hall, on her way to a Woman's Prison in the Central Valley of California. Initially, we follow the story from Romy's perspective, both in real time as she arrives at prison, as well as in flashbacks of her earlier life, leading up to this point, revealing why she is here.

Over time, we meet other people in Romy's life, and we start to learn about their stories too; not in as much depth, but more and more as the book goes on.

Some of these shifts in perspectives provide balance and structure, via different points of view.

Other times, they provide sheer horror, as when we are suddenly plunged into the head of the sexual predator at the core of Romy's story; this part of the book is particularly powerful stuff, ghastly and terrible.

As befits a book with such subject matter, this is no elegant novel filled with figurative and romantic prose. Rather, Kushner deploys a blunt style. This is the sort of book that sits across the table from you, slapping you in the face:

I said everything was fine but nothing was. The life was being sucked out of me. The problem was not moral. It was nothing to do with morality. These men dimmed my glow. Made me numb to touch, and angry. I gave, and got something in exchange, but it was never enough.

Nothing ... sucked ... not ... nothing ... dimmed ... numb ... angry ... never.

Slap. Slap. Slap. You can hear it. You can feel it.

Kushner is well aware that she is telling a tale about people whose tales you never hear:

Who were those people, [...] and where did they go? A lot of history is not known. A lot of worlds have existed that you can't look up online or in any book, even as you think you have the freedom to find things out that I cannot, since I don't have access to the internet. [...] you'll find nothing, no trace, but they existed.

And if someone did remember them, someone besides me, that person's account would make them less real, because my memory of them would have to be corrected by facts, which are never considerate of what makes an impression, what stays in the mind after all these years, the very real images that grip me from the erased past and won't let go.

This is the power of great fiction, isn't it, to be free from needing to be "corrected by facts," so that it can tell the real story:

All the talk of regret. They make you form your life around one thing, the thing you did, and you have to grow yourself from what cannot be undone: they want you to make something from nothing. They make you hate them and yourself. They make it seem that they are the world, and you've betrayed it, them, but the world is so much bigger.

The lie of regret and of life gone off the rails. What rails. The life is the rails. It is its own rails and it goes where it goes. It cuts its own path. My path took me here.

"The world is so much bigger," indeed. And full of "history [that] is not known."

Kushner is still young, and I suspect she'll write many more books. And I suspect I'll read many of them.

What part of that bigger world will she take us to next?

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Up, up, and away (or not)

The rumors of last spring are confirmed, and the U.S. trade policy has claimed another U.S. casualty, and this time it's a pretty large one: Another Chinese Mega-Construction Project in California Is Halted, this one in San Francisco. List of Troubled or Scuttled Chinese Projects in California Grows.

The tsunami of Chinese money that washed ashore on the West Coast, and particularly in real estate in California, between 2014 and 2016, and that has done so much to inflate the commercial real estate bubble and the housing bubble, has now receded. And what is left to do is to sort through it all and figure out how to go on from here.

It's not the only project that Oceanwide is abandoning: Genworth's $3.8B Takeover By China Could Be Next Victim Of The Trade War

Nothing worked out as planned. U.S.-China political and trade tension ratcheted up as President Trump implemented a hardline approach on Chinese investments in the U.S., and China responded with retaliatory tariffs. China Oceanwide faces mounting debt problems at home and concerns about whether it can meet its funding promises to Genworth with Chinese regulators cracking down on capital outflows.

Hiring has stopped: Bay Area unemployment rates at record lows – and hiring is slowing

The nine-county region added 800 jobs last month, which turned out to be the first time in a year that the Bay Area’s monthly job gains were below the 1,000 level, according to data from the state Employment Development Department.

Restaurants are closing.

There are vacant buildings in SoMa, just blocks from the headquarters of previously sky-rocketing companies such as Slack, GitHub, CloudFlare, and DropBox (the last of which recently abandoned downtown for significantly cheaper digs in Mission Bay, near DogPatch). "Office transactions totaled $532.1 million year-to-date through August, down 79.1 percent from the same period in 2018, as half of the 33 deals completed were value-add plays.",

WeWork is near bankruptcy, AirBnB has pushed their IPO attempt out to 'sometime in 2020'.

It now seems certain that the amazing 10-year run of boom times in San Francisco is over.

In addition to the halting of investment from China, one has to wonder about the other major change, the halting of immigration visas: The Trump Administration Is Denying H-1B Visas at a Dizzying Rate, But It’s Hit a Snag

While President Donald Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants has grabbed public attention, his administration has been dismantling the work-based immigration system as well. In April 2017, Trump issued the Buy American and Hire American executive order, which he promised would reform the high-skilled immigration program to “create higher wages and employment rates for workers in the United States.” Since then, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been denying and delaying record numbers of H-1B visa petitions. The denial rate for first time H-1B applications went up from 10 percent in 2016 to 24 percent in 2019.

Nothing lasts forever, of course, but it is stunning to see how rapidly U.S. policy changes managed to stop the booming economy of the mid-2010's dead in its tracks.

Well, on we go.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

There was a F-35 at the SF Fleet Week Air Show

This was the annual Fleet Week event here in San Francisco.

This year, the air show included Captain Andrew Olson of the F-35 Demo Team.

This was the first time I had seen the F-35, and it was a remarkable demonstration.

Military.com has a short article highlighting the 2019 air show details: F-35 Demo Team Pilot to Debut All-New Moves for 2019 Show Season

"We're going out there to showcase the jet, [and] we're doing it fully aerobatic … fully showcasing the maneuvering envelope of the F-35," Olson said.

That means a minimum of 16 maneuvers, including rolls, loops, high-degree bank turns, and inverting to be fully upside down, among other actions. There will also be two new passes with the older warbirds, including a "fun bottom-up pass where the [audience] can see the bottom of the aircraft as it arcs over the crowd," he said.

Olson said the show pulls from the strengths and maneuvers of multiple airframes that came before the F-35. For example, the F/A-18 Super Hornet is "very impressive at a slow-speed capability, being able to do things like a square loop" and the F-16 Viper demo "is very fast and agile," he said. Audiences will be able to see the F-35 do both.

The F-35 "will be able to power out of other maneuvers" more swiftly because of its F135 engine, which propels it with more than 40,000 pounds of thrust, Olson said.

He will perform a pedal turn similar to the F-22, in which the F-35 banks and climbs high, eventually simulating a somersault-like move. But Olson will not use thrust vectoring or manipulate the direction of the engine's to control altitude or velocity.

I can't say that the Blue Angels were boring, for they never are.

But Captain Olson really stole the show.