Monday, October 22, 2018

What's up with that Bloomberg "spy chip" story?

Various people, who know a lot more than me, are coming down on the side that Bloomberg appears to be guilty of some bad journalism here. A couple random examples:

Oh, and also, Apple, Amazon, ATT, Verizon, and SuperMicro themselves are all still standing by their claims that the story is false.

It's been 3 weeks, and Bloomberg's reporting is not looking so great in this area at this point...

Barely a week to go ...

... time to start getting EXCITED!

15 Western Movies To Get You Ready For Red Dead Redemption 2.

Also, I liked this article about the pros and cons of fast travel, partly because it name-checked one of my all-time favorite games: Take the Second Left After the Field of Rocks

It’s important to acknowledge Campo Santo’s Firewatch when discussing contemporary resistance to fast travel, as Firewatch forced the player to use a map, a compass, and a set of directions in order to find their way around the Rockies. While the map in Firewatch is only a fraction of the size of most RPG maps, the limitations it imposes on the player in the form of obstacles make finding a suitable route quite tricky. The player can spend quite some time moving north before discovering that they actually ended up moving westward for a time, and followed the natural curve of the path south, leaving them further away from their destination than they were when they originally set out. There’s a certain sense of accomplishment attached to finding your own way while drinking in the nature of the game world, as your role as the player character is more dependent on your own intuition than usual. While the only thing you may need to do in some games in order to incapacitate a group of ten enemies is to mash square, finding your way through a vast and unfamiliar landscape is entirely dependent on your own sense of navigation.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A little bit more on The Master and Margarita

So just after I finished realizing that I had nothing coherent to say about The Master and Margarita, I stumble upon this absolutely wonderful essay by Viv Grokop, from The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Got You Down? Time to Read The Master and Margarita:

While The Master and Margarita is a hugely complex novel, with its quasi-religious themes and its biting critique of the Soviet system, above all it’s a big fat lesson in optimism through laughs. If you can’t see the funny side of your predicament, then what is the point of anything? Bulgakov loves to make fun of everyone and everything. “There’s only one way a man can walk round Moscow in his underwear—when he’s being escorted by the police on the way to a police station!” (This is when Ivan Bezdomny appears, half naked, at the writers’ restaurant to tell them a strange character has come to Moscow and murdered their colleague.) “I’d rather be a tram conductor and there’s no job worse than that.” (The giant cat talking rubbish at Satan’s ball.) “The only thing that can save a mortally wounded cat is a drink of paraffin.” (More cat gibberish.)

The final joke of the book is that maybe Satan is not the bad guy after all. While I was trying to recover my sense of humor about being Polish and Jewish instead of being Russian, this was all a great comfort. Life is, in Bulgakov’s eyes, a great cosmic joke. Of course, there’s a political message here, too. But Bulgakov delivers it with such gusto and playfulness that you never feel preached at.

It's a great essay.

Perhaps I should read her entire book!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Master and Margarita: a very short review

Well, here I go again: I finally got around to reading Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita.

Of course, this is one of the great works of 20th Century literature, not just Russian Literature but any literature.

And yet.

I'm not really sure how I feel about reading The Master and Margarita. I really enjoyed reading it; it's quite the romp!

And I realized, as I was reading it, that I was reading An Important Book Of Great Import.

But the whole experience was rather like reading Alice in Wonderland, another work of great literature which is just completely bizarre and strange.

Here's the short explanation of The Master and Margarita: it's set about 100 years ago, just as the Tsarist Era in Russia is ending, and the Stalinist period is beginning.

And the plot is: the Devil has decided to make a visit to Moscow.

There are lots of crazy bizarre discussions among lots of crazy bizarre characters.

And the whole thing is very entertaining.

But it's also the sort of book that comes with a 60-page section of notes, detailing and explaining the historical, political, religious, and literary references with which the book is packed.

Kind of like reading The Annotated Alice.

I sort of went back and forth: I would just read the book itself for a while, and then I'd go and read a bunch of the notes, to try to figure out why I was reading what I was reading and what it all meant.

I'm happy I read the book.

But I'm exhausted, too.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Up, up, and away (of another sort)

Probably you didn't see this story, or if you saw it, you probably didn't pay much attention: A National Park Is Airlifting Hundreds of Mountain Goats That Have Gone Crazy for Human Pee

Successfully captured goats are blindfolded, tagged, and fitted with GPS collars. Once loaded into crates, they’re transported in pairs to nine release sites throughout Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and on land owned by Seattle Public Utilities.

“The plan is to reach a zero population level of mountain goats in the park and adjacent Olympic National Forest lands…[removing] approximately 90 percent of the projected 2018 mountain goat population, or approximately 625 to 675 mountain goats,” the plan states.

I almost didn't notice the story, myself.

But, I did.

And, there's a story behind that.

You see, I've been paying a certain amount of attention to the goats in Olympic National Park.

Because, it turns out, I have a distant, but rather vivid, bond with another story about goats, and Olympic National Park: Mountain goat kills man in Olympic National Park

Boardman, 63, died after trying to shoo away a mountain goat at the top of Klahhane Ridge, about four miles north of the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, National Park Service officials said Sunday.

He is believed to be the first person to have died in an incident involving an animal in the park, spokeswoman Barb Maynes said. Rangers found and killed the animal, which was to be taken to Monroe for a necropsy, she said.

Accounts of the incident are murky.

Bob Boardman, let it be known, was one of my summer camp counselors, long, long ago, when I was just a wee 'un.

He taught me to play the dulcimer.

He taught me a lot of other stuff.

He was a remarkably Good Man.

It's a bit odd, to me, that I (once) knew the first man to have died in a Mountain Goat incident in an American National Park.

So, the story stuck with me.

It turned out to be a remarkably complex story, too ("Accounts of the incident are murky"): Court rejects claim over goring in Olympic National Park

In the lead opinion Monday, Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain reasoned that park officials had discretion in deciding how to handle the problem goat.

But the other judge in the majority, Marsha Berzon, wrote that while she was bound by 9th Circuit precedent, she agreed with dissenting Judge Andrew Kleinfeld that “our jurisprudence in this area has gone off the rails” and needs to be reconsidered.

Bob Boardman didn't set out, that day, to force a decision on the potential liability of civil servants who exercise discretion.

He just was taking his wife and his friend for a walk in the park.

And there, unfortunately, was a 370 pound Mountain Goat which had become habituated to the chemical secretions of Homo Sapiens.

And tragedy resulted.

And now, helicopters are relocating Oreamnos americanus elsewhere.

In the big scheme of things, it's nothing special.

But to me, well ...

Fare thee well, Bob Boardman: good friend to a young and impressionable lad.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Up, up, and away

For now, at least, Fremont Street is closed, First Street is semi-closed, the terminal is closed, and the investigations are underway.

The shoring system looks like a bunch of giant car jackstands; you can see some clear pictures of the equipment here: Further Shoring Work at Transbay Transit Center Prompts More Street Closures

First Street between Howard and Mission streets will close at 9 p.m. over the next few days as crews work to reinforce the bus deck above. The stretch of street will reopen at 5 a.m. on each of the following days.

No cracks were found in steel beams above First Street but two cracks were found in steel beams on the bus deck above Fremont Street on Sept. 25, prompting the immediate closure of the transit center and Fremont Street.

Mark Zabaneh, executive director of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority said in a statement, “Because Fremont and First streets are similarly designed, to be prudent, we have decided to reinforce First Street as a proactive measure.

Some of the damaged material has to be removed, in order to figure out the details of the damage, before a repair plan can even be formed: Plans revealed for testing cracks in steel beams at Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco

The beams have been in place since January of 2016, fire proofing material was installed in June of 2016. TJPA says they know the cracks happened sometime after that, they just don't know when.

"As dire as the situation is it's a blessing that we're able to catch it," said Zabaneh.

During a presentation Tuesday to the TJPA board officials outlined the calendar to get the building re-opened.

Jacks will be replaced by a temporary shoring system to relieve the stress on the cracked beams. Once that's in place, Fremont Street will be re-opened; the goal by next Friday.

"At that point in time we'll be able to take a sample of the steel girder, take it to a lab and do various tests," said Zabaneh.

Those tests which will take approximately two weeks will help determine what caused the cracks. A critical piece of information not just for curiosity's sake but because the cause will dictate the fix. There will be peer reviews both before and after the permanent fix is installed.

People of course continue to argue about that most human of complaints: who pays? ne of few certainties with Transbay center: Repair costs covered by warranty

The cost of repairing the Transbay Transit Center, a task that is likely to take weeks and cost millions, will be covered by warranty, officials confirmed Wednesday.

The general contractor or its subcontractors are responsible for repairing any construction flaws, not the center’s operator, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority.

In the meantime?

Well, this has been Fleet Week, and it's also Hardly Strictly Bluegrass weekend, and the weather is absolutely wonderful.

And, as they say, life goes on.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Kairos Power

I somehow wasn't paying enough attention, and hadn't noticed this new arrival: Kairos Power moves headquarters to Alameda Point hangar

Kairos Power, a fast-growing East Bay company, is moving its headquarters from Oakland’s waterfront area to Alameda Point, agreeing to lease an old hangar.

The nuclear energy technology company agreed to lease 56,000 square feet at Alameda Point, the site of the shuttered former Alameda Naval Air Station.

Kairos Power will move into West Tower 9, a one-time hangar and manufacturing building constructed in the 1940s. The lease was arranged through Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial realty firm.

The building is undergoing a complete renovation ahead of the Kairos move into the old hangar.

The new building is to be both headquarters and laboratory: Nuclear Research Coming to Alameda

Kairos Power will be moving its headquarters from Oakland to this building. Kairos will occupy half the floor space that will include a newly built second floor being added by srmErnst to the interior. The research-and-development work will be done in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)

Kairos Power has apparently been underway here in the East Bay for several years, somewhat quietly: Kairos Power Is Hiring For Hybrid Natural Gas-Nuclear Power System

Their technology is a system whose major components and integration modeling has been under development for several years. The research, conducted mainly at the University of California, Berkely (UCB) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has led the developers to believe that a hybrid system that uses both nuclear fission heat and natural gas heat can be a clean, competitive source of dependable, flexible power.

The privately-held company's founders recognize that too much exposure too early can result in inflated expectations. They are experienced enough to know that nothing moves very fast in the energy industry, especially in the nuclear segment of the industry.

They have a nice, if brief, web site: Kairos Power: The Future of Nuclear Power The About Us page makes an interesting observation:

Kairos Power has identified a unique moment in our energy landscape. The unprecedented growth in natural gas generation, initiated around 2000, will begin retiring in the next two decades. Kairos Power’s highly efficient and flexible reactor technology, through its baseload and peaking operation, is uniquely suited to replace U.S. natural gas capacity while accommodating the expansion of intermittent renewable sources. Growing from a broad research effort at U.S. universities and national laboratories, Kairos Power was founded to accelerate the development of an innovative nuclear technology that has the potential to transform the energy landscape in the United States.

It's all part of the ongoing transformation of the Alameda Naval Air Station, a decades-long effort that is nicely summarized here: Urbanizing a Former Naval Air Station in San Francisco Bay

Over 556 acres (225 ha) of land remains to be redeveloped on Alameda Point west of Main Street. The city has divided that land into four subareas: a waterfront town center neighborhood surrounding the southern seaplane lagoon; a Main Street neighborhood for a mixture of housing types with supportive services; an adaptive use subarea that contains over 2 million square feet (186,000 sq m) of existing buildings; and an enterprise subarea for research, industrial, and office development.

I'm a little surprised there hasn't been more discussion and controversy around the notion of nuclear power research here in town.

On the other hand, I'm a pretty big fan of research, and I'm not sure I can see the downside of having a bunch of PhD's out on the old Navy Base thinking about how to make safe and effective power sources for the future.

I'll keep my eyes open for more news as it develops, but in the meantime: welcome, Kairos Power!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Up, up, and away

Uh-oh.

Transbay Transit Center shut down after broken steel beam discovered

The $2.2 billion Transbay Transit Center, which opened in August, has been shut down by officials after a crack was discovered in one of the beams in the ceiling of the third level bus deck.

“Crews today discovered a fissure in one of the steel beams in the ceiling of the third level Bus Deck on the eastern side of the Salesforce Transit Center near Fremont Street,” read a statement from the Transbay Joint Powers Authority.

All transit inside the terminal, including Muni, Golden Gate Transi, and AC Transit, will temporarily move to the old temporary terminal on the block bounded by Folsom, Howard, Beale, and Main Streets.

For something like this, there is a press release: TRANSBAY JOINT POWERS AUTHORITY’S STATEMENT ON TEMPORARILY CLOSING SALESFORCE TRANSIT CENTER

“While this appears to be a localized issue and we have no information that suggests it is widespread, it is our duty to confirm this before we allow public access to the facility.”

The "ceiling of the third-level Bus Deck," by the way, is perhaps more accurately understood as: THE FLOOR OF THE ROOFTOP PARK.

When we first moved here, 30 years ago last month, one of the things I was fascinated by was the Kaiser Center Garage Rooftop Park:

The garden opened in 1960 as the first “true” post-World War II rooftop garden in the United States. The garden’s hardscape incorporated materials such as aluminum and cement made by Kaiser Industries for many of its large-scale projects around the world.

Ah, yes: the "hardscape."

It was apparently a pioneer in the entire concept of rooftop parks:

The primary challenges in developing the garden were drainage and weight. Drainage is provided across the sloped roof, through the use of downspouts which run through the 5 stories of parking spaces to a storm sewer in the basement. The heavy loads of mature trees were placed directly over support columns running through the garage. All of the trees chosen (olive, holly oak, japanese maple, and southern magnolia) have fibrous root systems, which I suppose makes them well suited for a shallower planting.

The Library of Congress may have more information, as part of the: Historic American Buildings Survey.

The Kaiser Center Roof Garden remains one of the nicest parts of downtown Oakland.

Let's hope that the Transbay Transit Center becomes a Historic American Building for a good reason, like the Kaiser Center Roof Garden, and not for a "shut it down! the steel is cracking! get out now!" reason...

Yes? Please?

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Deconstructing the kneel

I absolutely love this pair of essays by the Washington Post's Elizabeth Bruenig: All Colin Kaepernick ever did was ask and The NFL’s Capitalist Anthem Policy.

there’s something more, something wider and stranger, at the root of all this fury over a few athletes quietly kneeling during their country’s anthem. For one, there’s the straightforward fact that kneeling isn’t a sign of disrespect, and nobody brought up in a country with the faintest hint of Christian culture actually thinks it is. As Luke Bretherton, a professor of theological ethics at Duke University, wrote last year in The Post: “New Testament stories describe people who kneel before Jesus in supplication or lament. With their kneeling, these biblical figures say: Something is desperately wrong, please hear us and use your power to help us. Their act of submission signals their faith that healing will come and their prayers will be answered.”

...

it has to do with the fact that liberalism sort of makes no bones about its contempt for the weak. Simply stating: I’m subjugated, I don’t like it, you’re doing it, and I want you to stop, is met with all kinds of fury because it’s seen as an abdication of agency, which liberal capitalism equates with personhood. This is the weird, loopy way in which those at the bottom of the liberal capitalist hierarchy wind up not only blamed but hated for the situation they’re in.

This is complicated stuff, but I think Bruenig has crystalized it in a beautiful and powerful way.

Up, up, and away

My son, bless his heart, warns me to exercise caution on my lunchtime walks: SF Transit Center park — open barely a month and path already falling apart

already the visitor walkway that encircles the rooftop park is crumbling.

“No one is happy about it,” Transbay center spokeswoman Christine Falvey said.

Dozens of spots along the half-mile path have become the walking equivalent of potholes.

Okay, I don't know if that really counts as "falling apart", but hey, headline writers, don't ya know.

The walkway — which affords visitors panoramic views of the surrounding city streets as well as access to the various attractions and botanical displays at the 5.4-acre park — is made of decomposed granite rather than asphalt.

And while permeable, decomposed granite pathways have been used successfully in parks around the country, the mix here has failed to hold up even under normal foot traffic.

Here's a good resource for learning about permeable decomposed granite: Using Decomposed Granite as a Garden Paver.

Whenever gardeners talk about "decomposition", I usually think first of fertilizer, not of pathways. Gotta expand my horizons...

Meanwhile,

A long-term fix has yet to be worked out.

“They don’t know what the problem is right now,” Falvey said.

The good news is that the walkway is under warranty.

Wait, what?

The walkway is under warranty?

Wow, there's a LOT I don't know about building multi-billion dollar downtown transit centers.

I'll try to find time to go take a spin around the pathway sometime in the next few days, and I'll let you know about my hands-on inspection...

The Navigator of New York: a very short review

Is polar exploration a metaphor? This is, among other things, a question that is posed by Wayne Johnston's The Navigator of New York.

I'm a sucker for books about the Great North, an appetite that is often easily fed by hand-me-downs from my parents, who have a particular fondness for Canadian writers.

So I've wandered through a number of such books in recent years, such as The North Water and The Orenda.

The Navigator of New York is certainly a worthy entrant in whatever category this is, although in the end I found I didn't quite know what to do with it. It's historical fiction, re-telling the bizarre-but-intriguing story of the controversy around Robert Peary and Frederick Cook and who discovered the North Pole first.

Part of the problem is that I don't really care who discovered the North Pole first.

Part of the problem is that both Peary and Cook were, apparently, jerks; certainly they are both quite unappealing in The Navigator of New York

There are some very appealing parts of The Navigator of New York, most particularly the early parts of the book, when our "hero", Devlin Stead, is talking about his early life in St. John's Newfoundland.

We lived on the edge of civilization. North of St. John's there were settlements with names, but you could not call them towns. St John's was on the edge of a frontier that had not changed since it was fixed four hundred years ago. I imagined what it looked like from the sea, the last light on the coast as you went north, the last one worth investigating anyway. The forest behind the outlying houses was as dense as the forest in the core. In the woods between neighbourhoods, men set snares for rabbits, hunted birds with rifles within a hundred feet of schoolyards. Not outside the city but at some impossible-to-pinpoint place inside it, civilization left off and wilderness began.

But all too soon, via a plot device that is perhaps crucial but which I found tremendously distracting, Devlin is gone from St. John's, off on a voyage of exploration of his own, to New York City, where he tries to understand how he came to arise from that tremendous melting pot of American growth.

Looking out around the barrier, I saw that steerage passengers were disembarking over several gangplanks onto ferries that bore the name of Ellis Island. Some passengers, who seemed to think that they were being turned away from America, tried to resist, sobbing and protesting as they were dragged along by implacable officials who, I guessed, were well used to such behavior.

I knew that you could be refused admittance to America at Ellis Island if you showed signs of mental instability, an X scrawled in chalk on your shoulder or your back. My mother, had she travelled to America in steerage, might not have been admitted.

But, at odds with the book's title, The Navigator of New York has only a passing interest with New York, and even less of an interest with Newfoundland; it is all about polar exploration, and so we're off, for many hundreds of pages, to Greenland, to Ellesmere Island, to Baffin Bay, and to points beyond.

I guess it's all very well and good if you're really interested in polar exploration, and find it a hoot to imagine an alternate telling of the Peary/Cook story in which Cook is the character of most interest.

Or perhaps it is, as I suggested initially, a metaphor of some sort? (Though what sort of metaphor, I'm not sure. Something Oedipaen, perhaps?)

I can't say the The Navigator of New York is a bad book, but I sure found it odd.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Gentleman in Moscow: a very short review

So it came to be that Amor Towles's A Gentleman in Moscow was sitting on my bedside table, and of course I read it.

What a surprise this book is; what an unexpected experience it is to read A Gentleman in Moscow in 2018!

In all the shrill discord of recent times, it's as though you came home, collapsed onto the couch, picked up the (electronic, nowadays) newspaper, and, instead of reading one vehement and bitter article after another about wars, ecological calamities, and disputes over taxes, religion, and culture, you instead found yourself peacefully at home with something that might have been written by Jane Austen or Henry James.

But, more striking still, as you work your way through A Gentleman in Moscow, what you realize is that this elegant story, full of grace, dignity, and charm, is told against a backdrop as tumultuous, dramatic, and violent as any we are currently experiencing: the Russian Revolution and the creation of the USSR that started in 1917 and continued through the early 1920's.

I'm sure you know the broad strokes of this overall story, whether you learned it in high school, or made your way through Ten Days that Shook the World, or Doctor Zhivago, or Reds.

But you never saw those events from this perspective, I can assure you!

A Gentleman in Moscow tells the story of Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian aristocrat ("recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt ... born in St. Petersburg, 24 October 1889") from Nizhny Novgorod, who finds himself tried and found guilty by the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, and is thereby declared a Former Person:

In Russian language and culture, "former people" (Russian: Бывшие люди) are people who lost their social status, an expression somewhat similar to the English one, "has-beens". The expression went into a wide circulation in the Russian Empire after the 1897 short story of Maxim Gorky, Бывшие люди, translated in English as Creatures That Once Were Men, about people fallen from prosperity into an abyss of misery. After the October Revolution the expression referred to people who lost their social status after the revolution: aristocracy, imperial military, bureaucracy, clergy, etc.

In the particular case of Count Rostov, he finds himself sentenced to a sort of eternal confinement to his quarters in the Metropol Hotel.

That may not sound like a promising tableau on which to write a 500 page epic of a novel, but Towles rises to the task, and then above it. A Gentleman in Moscow is full of adventure, romance, heartbreak, mystery, drama, and everything you could possibly want, all of it told in the most elegant and refined manner possible.

As we go, we find ourselves, ever so gently, understanding how it is that Things Change:

Not long ago, the Count recalled, there had been three seamstresses at work in this room, each before an American-made sewing machine. Like the three Fates, together they had spun and measured and cut -- taking in gowns, raising hems, and letting out pants with all of the fateful implications of their predecessors. In the aftermath of the Revolution, all three had been discharged; the silenced sewing machines had, presumably, become the property of the People; and the room? It had been idled like Fatima's flower shop. For those had not been years for the taking in of gowns or the raising of hems any more than they had been for the throwing of bouquets or the sporting of boutonnieres.

Then in 1921, confronted with a backlog of fraying sheets, tattered curtains, and torn napkins -- which no one had any intention of replacing -- the hotel had promoted Marina, and once again a trustworthy seam was being sewn within the walls of the hotel.

"Ah, Marina," said the Count when she opened the door with needle and thread in hand. "How good to find you stitching away in the stitching room."

Marina looked at the Count with a touch of suspicion.

"What else would I be doing?"

"Quite so," said the Count.

Along the way, we have plenty of the Essays of Montaigne, plenty of Casablanca, plenty of fine wine, plenty of Mayakovsky, and plenty of Dzerzhinsky Street.

It's all marvelous, beautiful, heart-felt, and grand: I guarantee you this is far and away the most fun you will ever have reading about a man in a hotel.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Up, up, and away

Well, this is not the sort of news you want to see when you return to work after a long weekend: New Crack in San Francisco's Tilting Millennium Tower:

Residents started hearing creaking sounds followed by a loud popping noise at 2:30 a.m. Saturday. Soon afterward, one owner found the crack in his window in a 36th floor unit in the north western corner of the 58-story high-rise.

And that's definitely not the picture of your own office building that you want to see, through the broken window of the tilting skyscraper.

Hmmm...

Meanwhile, in other news ... did I mention that the new bus terminal is open?

  • A Grand New Space for the San Francisco Bay Area
    Behind the curvature of a pearlescent lace-like awning, this brand new multi-story San Francisco landmark transforms a commuter hub into an urban destination. With interiors open to the light, it’s a sociable, open space for people to gather, topped by a leafy park where the sky is the roof.
  • Another Landmark in Benioff’s Blue: the Salesforce Transit Center in San Fransisco opens its doors!
    San Francisco Mayor London Breed said: “Our city is growing with both jobs and people, and we need to do a better job of moving everyone around this region, and this transit center will do just that. The transit center goes far beyond a transportation hub. It’s a thriving place of economic opportunity,”
  • If You Build It, Will They Sponsor?
    It has long been the status quo in the U.S. for nonprofit and public institutions to depend on private largesse, from Carnegie libraries to museum wings named for various philanthropists. Corporate naming rights are a slightly more recent phenomenon but have thrived in an era of record corporate profits, unparalleled personal wealth, and public-sector retrenchment.
  • Salesforce Park - Salesforce Transit Center
    Seventy feet above the Grand Hall, the Park runs the entire length of the Transit Center’s nearly four-block stretch. Home to 600 trees and 16,000 plants arranged in 13 different botanical feature areas, the newest public park in the San Francisco Bay Area is for the benefit and enjoyment of all...and there’s nothing else like it anywhere.

I confess to a certain amount of bias, but: the park is really nice.

My colleague, a passionate runner, told me that he's changed his routine to start coming in a bit earlier for a morning run around the park, early early, when it's not busy.

Normally, he runs along the city waterfront, with a view across toward Alcratraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge.

So it's a definite statement that he enjoys running in the park.

And, man oh man, that bus fountain is awesome!

Just in time for September and October, the nicest two months of the year in the city.

Now, please: just fix the tilting tower already!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Backpacking 2018: Marble Mountains Wilderness, Cliff Lake

It was time to go, so we packed up and went.

The Marble Mountains Wilderness is in far, far northern California.

If you get to Oregon, well, you just missed it; turn around, and go back 20 miles.

This is old wilderness; it was one of the first "primitive areas" established by the 1929 Forest Service L-20 regulations:

The L-20 Regulation provided a policy to designate Natural Areas, for scientific and educational purposes; Experimental Forests and Ranges, for long-term research unfettered by other management objectives; and Primitive Areas "to maintain primitive conditions of transportation, subsistence, habitation, and environment to the fullest degree compatible with their highest public use."

Well, really, that's not what made it old wilderness.

But, at least, it's what helped us understand that, in fact, it is Old Wilderness.

To get to the Marbles, from the south, you Head North.

If you get to Oregon, you've gone (just a little) too far.

Anyway, did I say? It was time to go, so we packed up and went.

The most natural way into the Marble Mountains is from the Scott Valley, and so that's what we did. We rested overnight in Yreka, partially acclimatizing ourselves to the higher elevations, then out we went, past Fort Jones, through Greenview, and then up. Up. Up!

Before you know it, you're in the wilderness.

Our hike was, essentially, the one described here: Cliff Lake in the Marble Wilderness – July 2010

Things we did:

  • Climbed up to the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail to see Shackleford Canyon from above, as well as to catch a glimpse of White Marble Mountain to the west
  • Swam in lakes
  • Tried out various new gear (tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, chairs, etc.) -- even a camp boat!
  • Enjoyed the near-perfect weather (clear skies, no rain, mid-day highs in the high 70's, overnight lows in the high 40's)

Things we saw:

  • Smoke
  • Cows!
  • Bats eating bugs
  • A California Vole
  • Beautiful Shackleford Creek
  • A cowboy, on a horse, leading a saddled pony, accompanied by a herding dog
  • A brilliant full moon
  • Lots of fish
  • A dense and healthy incense cedar and mountain hemlock forest in the canyon; burned trees on the other side of the Pacific Crest

Things we heard:

  • Two owls
  • Cowbells
  • No airplanes or cars or trains

It was a very good trip.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

There can be no doubt that I am extremely fortunate

I was talking to one of my colleagues, and happened to learn that he had just lost his mother.

This is now the 4th or 5th such colleague who's had this experience, in the last year or so, so I'm coming to hear this more and more often.

I don't think I know any colleagues my age (I'm 57, after all) who still have both their parents.

There can be no doubt that I am extremely fortunate.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

All The Light We Cannot See: a very short review

I was standing in the ferry line, reading Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, when a man I (casually) know asked me: "What do you think of that book?"

"Phenomenal! Amazing! Stupendous!" I replied.

He sniffed, and allowed as to how he was disappointed: "I guess, after all the things everyone was saying, I just expected something more."

No doubt! You have high, High, HIGH expectations when you embark upon All The Light We Cannot See, a book which won the Pulitzer Prize, and many other prizes, and was short-listed for every prize it didn't win, and which made everybody's 10 books of the year list, and which spent a remarkable 3 YEARS on the New York Times best-seller list.

Yes. It's that book.

Arriving, roughly, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, All The Light We Cannot See is a work of historical fiction set during World War II, and follows two simply remarkable and endlessly fascinating protagonists: Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner, an orphan German boy.

What genius this is!

Suddenly, simply, and certainly, "through the eyes of a child," we have shifted from Just Another World War II Novel to something different, something special.

Doerr develops this difference, this perspective, this new vision, with a variety of simple, yet effective, techniques.

The story unfolds as a series of short chapters, sometimes as short as a few paragraphs, alternating between each story, occasionally diverting to relate the stories of a few other crucial characters, but generally just letting us experience events as Marie-Laure and Werner did.

And the story-telling is not simply chronological; it moves forward, then backward, dropping in and out of their lives as they, and the world, change.

These are well-trodden paths, and well-known approaches, to telling this story. No new literary techniques are revealed here.

And, yes, I know: you've heard this story before.

But Doerr's touch is so careful, so authentic, so pure, that you are transported, perhaps even mesmerized.

Partly, it is due to Doerr's open heart. Here he is, trying to help us understand what it is to be blind:

To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer, an older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air. Marie-Laure can sit in an attic high aobve the street and hear lilies rustling in marshes two miles away. She hears Americans scurry acros farm fields, directing their huge cannons at the smoke of Saint-Malo; she hears families sniffling around hurricane lamps in cellars; she hears the tamarinds shiver and the jays shriek and the dune grass burn; she feels the great granite fist, sunk deep into the earth's crust, on which Saint-Malo sits, and the oacean teething at it from all four sides, and the outer islands holding steady against the swirling tides; she hears cows drink from stone troughs and dolphins rise through the green water of the Channel; she hears the bones of dead whales stir five leagues below, their marrow offering a century of food for cities of creatures who will live their whole lives and never once see a photon sent from the sun. She hears her snails in the grotto drag their bodies over the rocks.

And here, in a gripping depiction of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of a World War I veteran:

Now Etienne hyperventilates. At thirty-four minutes by his wrist-watch, he puts on his shoes and a hat that belonged to his father. Stands in the foyer summoning all his resolve. When he last went out, almost twenty-four years ago, he tried to make eye contact, to present what might be considered a normal appearance. But the attacks were sly, unpredictable, devastating; they sneaked up on him like bandits. First a terrible ominousness would fill the air. Then any light, even through closed eyelids, became excruciatingly bright. He could not walk for the thundering of his own feet. Little eyeballs blinked at him from the cobblestones. Corpses stirred in the shadows. When Madame Manec would help him home, he'd crawl into the darkest corner of his bed and belt pillows around his ears. All his energy would go into ignoring the pounding of his own pulse.

And here, the life of orphan siblings in pre-war Germany:

Werner and Jutta sift through glistening piles of black dust; they clamber up mountains of rusting machines. They tear berries out of brambles and dandelions out of fields. Sometimes they manage to find potato peels or carrot greens in trash bins; other afternoons they collect paper to draw on, or old toothpaste tubes from which the last dregs can be squeezed out and dried into chalk. Once in a while Werner tows Jutta as far as the entrance to Pit Nine, the largest of the mines, wrapped in noise, lit like the pilot at the center of a gas furnace, a five-story coal elevator crouched over it, cables swinging, hammers banging, men shouting, an entire mapful of pleated and corrugated industry stretching into the distance on all sides, and they watch the coal cars trundling up from the earth and the miners spilling out of warehouses with their lunch pails toward the mouth of the elevator like insects toward a lighted trap.

Although Marie-Laure is surely the more memorable and more-easily-loved of the two, my heart was wonderfully drawn to Werner, particularly the description of how he found his love for radios, and his talent for understanding how they work:

what he loves most is building things, working with his hands, connecting his fingers to the engine of his mind. Werner repairs a neighbor's sewing machine, the Children's House grandfather clock. He builds a pulley system to wind laundry from the sunshine back indoors, and a simple alarm made from a battery, a bell, and wire so that Frau Elena will know if a toddler has wandered outside. He invents a machine to slice carrots: lift a lever, nineteen blades drop, and the carrot falls apart into twenty neat cylinders.

One day a neighbor's wireless goes out, and Frau Elena suggests Werner have a look. He unscrews the back plate, waggles the tubes back and forth. One is not seated properly, and he fits it back into its groove. The radio comes back to life, and the neighbor shrieks with delight. Before long, people are stopping by Children's House every week to ask for the radio repairman. When they see thirteen-year-old Werner come down from the attic, rubbing his eyes, shocks of white hair sticking up off his head, homemade toolbox hanging from his fist, they start at him with the same skeptical smirk.

The older sets are the easiest to fix: simpler circuitry, uniform tubes. Maybe it's wax dripping from the conenser or charcoal built up on a resistor. Even in the newest sets, Werner can usually puzzle out a solution. He dismantles the machine, starts into it circuits, lets his fingers trace the journeys of electrons. Power source, triode, resistor, coil. Loudspeaker. His mind shapes itself around the problem, disorder becomes order, the obstacle reveals itself, and before long the radio is fixed.

I could go on forever.

But, better, you can discover this treasure of a book yourself, or let it discover you when it is ready.

Oh, by the way:

  • There's a cursed diamond,
  • and a complex metaphor involving Captain Nemo,
  • and the most practical and sensible housekeeper ever born,
  • and a (literally) cancerous super-villain,
  • and John James Audobon's Birds of America,
  • and Clair de Lune.

And more. Oh, so, so much more.

You will surely be disappointed, after everything everyone has said.

But: you will sit; you will sigh; you will look at a snail on the wall.

And nothing will ever be the same again.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Fair Shot: a very short review

Chris Hughes has had a very unusual life: prep school and Ivy League educated, he happened to be Mark Zuckerberg's roommate at college and found himself a co-founder of Facebook. Before long, he was retired and trying to figure out what to do with his life.

To his credit, he actually gave this some thought, and tells his story in a short memoir/policy proposal called Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn.

Over the last decade, he's tried various things: becoming involved in politics during the Obama campaign; buying and running a political magazine; getting involved with various charities; eventually making a trip to Africa to try to understand how various non-profits were trying to improve the lives of African villagers.

After all of this, he learns about the ideas that have been bouncing around about "Universal Basic Income," and comes to believe this is a viable and useful approach, so he has written Fair Shot to describe the ideas in more detail.

He calls his effort the Economic Security Project; you can read more about it.

Universal Basic Income is getting a fair amount of press these days; it's an interesting idea.

And it's certainly a more useful thing to talk about than some of the other things that seem to be dominating conversations nowadays. Fair Shot didn't change my mind one way or the other, but I found it an interesting book to read.

Friday, August 3, 2018

None of this is good

Ouch. I don't exactly know what sort of celestial alignment caused me to run across these essays more-or-less simultaneously.

Feel free to turn the page now.

Or maybe not?

I don't know. I don't know what to think.

If you're still here, then here we go: from distasteful to ugly to horrific, without much of a pause I'm afraid:

  • The Political Education of Silicon Valley
    The founders they surveyed were less likely than even Democrats to embrace the core expression of the libertarian worldview—that government should provide military and police protection and otherwise leave people alone to enrich themselves. They expressed overwhelming support for higher taxes on the wealthy and for universal health care. But in other ways they deviated from progressive orthodoxy. They were far more likely to emphasize the positive impact of entrepreneurial activity than progressives and had dim views of government regulation and labor unions that were closer to that of your average Republican donor than Democratic partisan.

    If you plot those values on the matrix of conventional US politics, there appears to be a contradiction: The tech elite want an activist government, but they don’t want the government actively restricting them.

  • Uber Is Not Serious About Changing Its Toxic Culture
    The open board-chair position was a prime opportunity to lead by example and to appoint someone who embodies the idea of strength through diversity and empathy. Instead, they appointed the former CEO of Northrop Grumman—a position that requires, more than anything else, the ability to be OK with making billions of dollars even as your products maim and kill hundreds of thousands of people around the world. That’s not the kind of skill Uber needs right now.
  • In Oakland, Nia Wilson’s Death Could Never Feel “Random”
    Every killing has its own idiosyncratic story. But when a society fails to respond in any systematic way to a pattern of black death, compensatory mechanisms will emerge. There are trends at work that black communities can see and that white America refuses to recognize—painful, documented contexts whose awful contours are too familiar and well substantiated to dismiss as simple paranoia.
  • This is what the life of an incel looks like
    Feminism and leftist political discourse had made all masculinity toxic, Joey said. “Ask a feminist what is one positive masculine trait? Any example of positive masculinity?” he said. “Traditionally it would be courage, honor. But no one wants to say that because they believe that implies that women can't be courageous or honorable.” He claimed media outlets like Vice are pushing “degeneracy” and demeaning masculinity. "You guys have males who look like me though, you know? You guys don't have masculine men, I don't think, on Vice.” As Joey pulled me further into the world of incels, it became clear this brand of misogyny was a circular expression of self-hatred: I am weak, like a woman. Women have made me weak.
  • What Happened When I Tried Talking to Twitter Abusers
    Women – both online and off – are told that we are overreacting, that we brought this abuse upon ourselves, that we can just leave the platform or get a new job, that the threats aren’t real, and a litany of other arguments meant to cause us to question our own realities and experiences. Teach a woman that she can’t trust herself and she becomes infinitely easier to abuse. Those of us who do speak up are labeled difficult, humorless, shrill, caustic; not only are women mistreated, but a system is in place to ensure that they can’t call out that abuse without doing more damage to themselves.

It's bad. It's really bad. I'm not sure how it got this bad this fast, but boy is it bad.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Broken Harbor: a very short review

The fourth volume of Tana French's brilliant Dublin Murder Squad series is Broken Harbor.

By this point, French has established a bit of a pattern, and Broken Harbor definitely fits it: a troubled detective, a troubling and complex investigation, a young partner with their own challenges, and a litany of fascinating other characters who wander in and out.

And through it all, French's amazing, almost effortless control of description, dialogue, and pace:

She had her hands wrapped around the mug again, tilting it in circles and watching the tea swirl. The smell of it was doing its job, making this alien place feel homey and safe. "Actually, it probably stopped working a long time before that. You can see it in the photos: we stop being jigsawed together like in that one there, instead we're just these elbows and knees stuck out at each other, all awkward ... We just didn't want to see it. Pat especially. The less it worked, the harder he tried. We'd be sitting on the pier or somewhere, and Pat'd be spread out till he was practically stretching, trying to keep close to all of us, make it feel like one big gang again."

With French, an ordinary paragraph from an interrogation room has it all: alliteration ("had her hands", "all awkward"), rhyme ("pier or somewhere"), sensory imagery (the touch of the mug, the taste and smell of the tea, the pictures), metaphor (the interrogation swirls like the tea in the cup), and the turn of phrase ("this alien place", "jigsawed ... elbows and knees").

Strikingly to me, with Broken Harbor French is more explicitly topical than in her previous books, dealing directly and bluntly with the consequences of the real estate collapse of 2008 and its consequences for Ireland. Broken Harbor was written in 2013, a time when I happened to be traveling in Ireland (though not in Dublin), and I saw for myself how dreadful it was.

I think French perhaps overtops it a bit with her plot: elements of it strain credibility to the limit. But, as is a recurring theme for her, Broken Harbor is deeply concerned with issues of mental health, and there can be no doubt that the Great Recession of 2008 dealt a several mental health blow to everyone who came into contact with it, even in the slightest of ways.

So I'll grant her a bit of dispensation on the farthest of the plot stretches, and content myself with another fine work of art.

How Not To Be Wrong: a very short review

I'm a sucker for popular mathematics books.

Especially good ones.

Jordan Ellenberg's How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking is a good popular mathematics book.

Although the book is wide-ranging, with many interesting topics, two particularly stand out to me.

The first is the strong treatment of the notion of "statistically significant." Ellenberg explores this notion in a number of ways, looking at ways in which it is used (correctly and incorrectly), what it means to say something is statistically significant, rigorously, and even looks at the historical background of statistical significance, tracing it back to John Arbuthnot in the late 17th century.

The second, much more entertaining if maybe not as practically useful, is Ellenberg's detailed and fascinating exploration of modern state lotteries, and how they fail. In particular, he looks at the flawed Cash WinFall lottery that was held in Massachusetts in the early 2000's, and how various parties (university students, actuaries, lottery hobbyists, etc.) found errors in the lottery rules that enabled players to profit from the lottery if they did things just right. The mathematical underpinnings here involve the notion of "expected value," and Ellenberg's treatment is extremely interesting.

If you like popular mathematics, you'll enjoy How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

Thursday, July 26, 2018

There is no need for you to replicate this experiment...

... but I can report to you that,

  • if you have a Mac (in my case, running 10.13.6 "High Sierra")
  • and you happen to write some buggy software
  • which very very very rapidly fills up your entire hard disk
  • and, I mean, FILLS, to the point where it is totally 100% full
  • then even though your terminal windows are still open, and the program has died, and you know where all those files are, if you try to remove the files you get rm: no space left on device
  • even if you run the command as root

This might throw you for a loop. Your disk is full, nothing works, and you can't even remove any of the files!

It might even be scary, and you might not be able to decide what you ought to do.

Well, just hard power-cycle the machine, so that it goes through a full system restart.

Something during the system restart process manages to release JUST ENOUGH of the allocated disk space, somehow, so that after the reboot you are able to remove those files.

And you can continue to use your computer.

Where we come from

This is beautiful, as well as illuminating: 200 Years of U.S. Immigration Looks Like the Rings of a Tree

Like countries, trees can be hundreds, even thousands, of years old. Cells grow slowly, and the pattern of growth influences the shape of the trunk. Just as these cells leave an informational mark in the tree, so too do incoming immigrants contribute to the country’s shape.

These immigration “rings” expand during years when certain welcoming factors are prevalent, such as when American immigration policies become less restrictive and its economy offers greater opportunity. The “rings” tend to stay slim during years of war or economic upheaval.

Click the link for the beautiful infographic.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Telex From Cuba: two very short reviews

It's been six weeks now since I raced through Junot Diaz's vivid barely-fictionalized fever-dream of his childhood, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

And all these recent weeks, it's been sitting on my desk right in front of me, staring at me, challenging me to decide how I feel.

Why is this so hard? Well, of course, because of this, and this, and of course because of the bigger context in which those events reside.

About those big, hard, complicated topics, I have nothing new or interesting to say.

But that doesn't mean I don't think they are tremendously important.

And, meanwhile, there, on the shelf, sits Oscar Wao. And, so, how am I to feel?

As a book, as a work of art, as an accomplishment, Oscar Wao is everything everyone has said about it over the last decade: it's powerful, it's compelling, it's brilliantly-executed. It sears its way into your brain.

But clearly it stands differently in the context of 2018 than it did in the context of 2008.

I'm overjoyed that I read it, it was lingering on my list for far too long.

But I don't know how rapidly I'll go seek out Diaz's other works. I'll have to think on that.

Meanwhile, Rachael Kushner is absolutely the writer of the moment, with her latest book being the only thing anyone could talk about this spring. With her substantial East Bay heritage, her books had been on my radar for a while, but I hadn't, somehow, made a start. I decided to start at the beginning, with Telex from Cuba: A Novel.

It's so easy to see Oscar Wao and Telex From Cuba through the same prism, given that they are both fictionalized depictions of what it was like to be a child in a poor Caribbean country in the mid-20th century, whether that be Dominican Republic under Trujillo or Cuba under Batista.

And these are both superbly-crafted books.

Telex From Cuba, though it won many fewer awards (was it unjustly penalized by arriving just a few months after Diaz's wonder-work had swept the world away?), is, I think, the stronger work, and may find a more enduring audience.

It is more delicate, more subtle, more patient. Where Oscar Wao shakes you by the shoulders and says: "Wake up! Pay attention! This is important!", Telex crawls slowly into your consciousness, bit by bit.

And Telex From Cuba doesn't dilute its focus by jumping back and forth between the Caribbean experience and the Caribbean immigrant experience, as Oscar Wao does.

Is it more problematic, less "authentic", that Kushner is Anglo and American (it was her mother that was the Everly Lederer character in Telex, recalling her experiences as a child of an American manager of the United Fruit Company in Cuba), whereas Diaz is Dominican through and through? Perhaps.

If you want to, and can, read both books.

If, for whatever reason, you can only read one, read Telex From Cuba.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Complexities of modern world noted

Today: Nonprofit for Migrants Declines a Donation from Salesforce

On Monday, Ryan asked Salesforce to cancel its CBP contract. On Tuesday, the company told RAICES that it would not cancel the contract but understood the group’s position.

In his email, Ryan called Salesforce’s response to employee concerns a deflection. “When it comes to supporting oppressive, inhumane, and illegal policies, we want to be clear: the only right action is to stop,” he wrote. “The software and technical services you provide to CBP form part of the foundation that helps ICE operate efficiently, from recruiting more officers to managing vendors. While you justified continuing your contract with CBP by claiming that Salesforce software ‘isn’t working with CBP regarding the separation of families at the border,’ this is not enough.”

Also today: Zuckerberg Looks To 'Clear Up' Stance On Facebook, Fake News And The Holocaust

"I'm Jewish, and there's a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened," he said.

"I find that deeply offensive," Zuckerberg continued. "But at the end of the day, I don't believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don't think that they're intentionally getting it wrong, but I think ..."

Swisher interrupted to say, "In the case of the Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead."

Seeming to view the question as primarily one of free speech, the Facebook founder said, "I just don't think that it is the right thing to say, 'We're going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times.' " Zuckerberg said that rather than taking down a fake news or conspiracy post or barring the user, the company would seek to minimize it.

...

"Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services," Zuckerberg said. "If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed."

One year ago: The Moral Voice of Corporate America

for the most part, companies got political only under duress. Rarely have chief executives gone looking for a controversy. Instead, the prevailing view was one articulated by the economist Milton Friedman in The New York Times in 1970: “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”

By the 1990s, some corporate actors began taking the initiative. Apple, Disney and Xerox extended health care benefits to partners of gay and lesbian employees, helping to pave the way for broader acceptance of gay rights. Still, promoting inclusion and advancing diversity were hardly part of the curriculum for emerging titans of industry.

“When I went to business school, you didn’t see anything like this,” said Marc Benioff, the founder and chief executive of Salesforce. “Nobody talked about taking a stand or adopting a cause.”

Now, Mr. Benioff is at the vanguard of a group of executives who are more connected — to customers, employees, investors and other business leaders — than ever before

Connected, ..., and experiencing that connection.

Up, up, and away!

Apparently it's still Seattle:

  • Seattle tops the nation in tower cranes for third straight year as construction reaches new peak
    new projects have broken ground while the number of developments that finished has been abnormally low, according to development data tracked by the Downtown Seattle Association.

    The area’s suburbs weren’t covered in the report, but officials in Bellevue reported 14 cranes, twice as many as its high point in 2017, as its downtown springs up with new skyscrapers and the burgeoning Spring District rises around a new light-rail station. Bellevue actually has more cranes than Boston, Phoenix or Honolulu.

    Doug Demers, managing principal of B+H Architects in Seattle, said he expects the jackhammering and concrete pouring to continue. He sees projects at their early stages, and the pipeline remains large, despite land and labor getting more expensive.

Interestingly, we were just in Seattle two weeks ago, and it didn't seem as crazy as I thought it was going to be.

But we didn't go anywhere close to South Lake Union.

Heck, I didn't even make it to The Spheres (my bad).

But I definitely noticed all the activity in Bellevue and Redmond, because we spent more time out in the Eastern 'burbs.

And our hosts noted that the nicest of those gorgeous new downtown condos are now well into the mid-7-figures.

Meanwhile, the chorus is growing, the observations are becoming sharper and clearer; just how much longer do we have? The End is Near For the Economic Boom

Frothy stocks, economic indicators pointing down, financial stability flashing red, trade war, and more—it’s a lot to worry about. It doesn’t necessarily mean calamity is just ahead. For all we know, stocks could resume rising or even “melt up,” as Grantham says. The economy may well grow impressively this year. But we don’t have to look much further out to get more nervous. No one except the Council of Economic Advisers seems to think GDP can grow at 3% over the long term, and if the recent stimulus turbocharges growth, it does so at a price that will have to be paid afterward. The economic cycle hasn’t been abolished; all evidence says we’re in the latter stages of one. And we had better be ready for the next recession, because when it arrives, economists will not have predicted it.

Sigh.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

WC 2018 final

What an entertaining game! 90 minutes of action, never a dull moment. Some weird things, too: fans on the pitch, goal-keeper mistakes, own goals, video-replay penalty kick.

I cannot believe how hard that Croatian team played. Outmatched from the start, they never played like it. Falling behind, they never gave up. Right down the very last minute, every single step they gave more, worked harder, over-achieved and over-achieved.

But what an astonishingly great French team this was! I may go a long time before I see another team as strong and deep as this one.

Interestingly, I thought it all changed when Kante came off for N'Zonzi. Perhaps it was Kante's yellow card, perhaps he was tired, I suspect he was hurt. Whatever it was, N'Zonzi came on and then in the span of 10 minutes it was decided. Pogba's lovely goal, followed by an equally lovely effort from Mbappe.

Vive la France! Well-earned, and well-deserved, and a most entertaining end to a most entertaining World Cup.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Talos Principle: a very short review

ICYMI, the mouse roared today, and defeated the mighty lion.

It was a joy to see my Croatian colleague as happy as I've seen him in quite some time.

Meanwhile, in other news Croat, I've been playing the lovely The Talos Principle, from the Croatian gaming studio Croteam.

I'm kind of a sucker for puzzle games.

But this is a very nice puzzle game. It's clever, clean, elegant, appealing to both the eye and ear (make sure you get the version with the nice soundtrack included), and entertaining.

As to the sci-fi part of it: well, I'm not sure how much I care about that frillery.

But it's a lovely puzzle game, and a great way to while away the hours.

Monday, July 9, 2018

WS 2018 Semifinals

We're getting down to it.

In many ways, trying to make picks isn't a lot of fun at this point. For one thing, the field contains only very strong teams, so no matter what happens, some great teams are going to lose out. For another thing, I rather like all these teams.

But, anyway:

  1. Belgium vs France

    This match is the REAL final, I think: who prevails in this match will also win on Saturday. Belgium's attacking group (Hazard, De Bruyne, Lukaku, Fellaini, Chadli, Witsel) are certainly as good as any cup winner in decades, and Thibaut Courtois is the goalkeeper's goalkeeper.

    But, France measure up well everywhere. Even though Belgium must be feeling quite confident after the way they dispatched Brazil, France will be the hardest test by far. If Pogba and Kante play as well as they can, France can prevail. Vive la France! If you only watch one World Cup match, make it this one! It goes to extra time, but France are able to score the decisive goal in the 97th minute.

  2. England vs Croatia

    I think that the reason that England are in the semifinals is because they have the youngest team (2nd youngest?) in the tournament. However, this is also the reason that England's tournament is about to end. Croatia showed their experience and maturity in defeating the hosts, and they will bring that same discipline and coordination and mettle to this match. The match will be long and exhausting (to watch, not only to play). By the end of the match, which will go to 120 minutes and end up with 10 vs 10 on the field, Croatia will, for the third consecutive game, prevail in the shootout, much to the dismay of the English fans who will instantly decide that the curse has returned (they should not, for this is a fine English squad and hopefully is the sign of many great things to come).

Oh, by the way, pay some attention to the referees for these matches, for you're seeing the best referees at the peak of their skill, and being a World Cup referee is a particularly interesting and unusual skill:

  1. Cüneyt Çakır
  2. Andrés Ismael Cunha Soca

I hope this means that Néstor Pitana will referee the final! (Or Björn Kuipers, too, he's great. Just not Mark Geiger.)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Up, up, and away!

If there's a slowdown, it hasn't arrived here yet:

  • How Window Washers Almost Sunk Salesforce Tower’s Interactive Light Sculpture
    There’s a reason that most LED installations face the LEDs out—that’s easy, you just stick them on a surface. What Campbell proposed instead was really hard.

    “We had designed these rods sticking off the side of the building to hold the LED hats facing in,” Campbell says. And then “the window washers told us they would end up breaking some off every day. It took us six to 12 months to figure out what to do.”

    Campbell and his team first considered making the rods too strong to break, but realized that if they did that, a blow to a rod would end up bending the aluminum shell of the building, and that would be even worse.

  • Oakland Office Development Plan Would Rival SF Salesforce Tower
    The Eastside project would take up the entire block bordered by Telegraph, Broadway, 21st and 22nd Streets, nearly 1.6 million square feet of office space.

    “You see a lot of parking spaces around Oakland that are being developed for housing and other things. I think people are looking at it and saying, ‘We’re this close to transit.’ Transit is an issue. We think about environmental issues. It’s an ideal place to build and could be a catalyst for Oakland in terms of bringing good quality jobs.”

    Hutson notes Oakland has gone on a housing building spree, with 4,000 units under construction right now and says the ripple effect is two-fold. People can live in Oakland and stay in the city to work, avoiding the arduous commute to Silicon Valley; or they could continue to live near BART stops across the East Bay and shorten their public transit commute by getting off in downtown Oakland.

    “Given the fact that there’s so little commercial space in the Bay Area, certainly in San Francisco, Silicon Valley and certainly looking at Oakland, I think it’s a logical gamble,” said Hutson.

  • $1 Billion Alameda Point Construction Project Shifts Access
    the former Navy facilities and heavy industrial equipment are being torn down, while major infrastructure improvements are being built including new water, sewer, electrical and gas lines, newly paved streets with bike and transit lanes, and bulkhead improvements on Seaplane Lagoon for the new ferry terminal.

    The new mixed-use community will include apartments, townhomes, parks, and nearly 100,000 square feet of space for restaurants, retailers, makers, R&D, and office users.

  • Why are there suddenly so many ships on San Francisco Bay?
    The longshoremen who load and unload cargo ships had July 4 and 5 off for Independence Day, creating a bit of a backup on moving freight.

    “We have five ships at berth this morning and five due,” Bernardo said. He added that many of the ships are oil tankers and fueling vessels not headed for the port.

    So if ship-spotting is your thing, this is a good time. And it turns out a spectacular cargo ship is due to enter the bay Monday. That’s when a 1,036-foot-long, cherry blossom magenta-colored container ship is set to arrive at the Port of Oakland from Long Beach. Named the ONE Competence, the ship is the newly branded symbol of Japan’s recently consolidated container shipping lines. The ship will depart Tuesday for Hong Kong.

    The color represents a cherry blossom tree, symbol of Japanese spring, the port said, adding that ONE plans to brand more of its 240 vessels with the vibrant hue. The ONE Competence can carry more than 8,000 20-foot containers.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

WS 2018 Quarterfinals

Oh, here we are again! Time for those picks!

I seem to have done OK on my Round-of-16 picks, but that will not stand.

Partly, this is because my ambivalence is high, because, out of the 8 teams remaining, I now have to make some Very Hard Choices.

Enough whining: here we go:

  1. Uruguay vs France.

    Oh, tragedy! My favorite two teams have to play each other! Uruguay, possessors of the greatest of World Cup history, and far-and-away the hardest working team in this World Cup, have to play France, my top pick. Drat! But, did I mention that France are my top pick? Sorry, Uruguay, France prevail 3-2 in a beauty of a game, reckoned by all as the best game of this World Cup.

  2. Brazil vs Belgium.

    Again it happens! I wanted to see several more games from each of these exciting and entertaining teams. But it is not to be. Although Belgium give Brazil everything they can handle, the game is tied after 90 and Brazil score in the 107th minute to win 2-1.

  3. Sweden vs England.

    Sweden are the "winning ugly" of this World Cup, but England's victory over Colombia is uglier than anything Sweden have come up with so far in this tournament. Will I watch? Of course I will, but I'll be shielding my eyes the entire way. England somehow win, 1-0, in regular time.

  4. Russia vs Croatia.

    I knew Denmark would be a hard battle for Croatia, and frankly it's a wonder Croatia advanced. But advance they did, and are rewarded with the hosts. Russia have been batting WAY above their average in this tournament, and finally it catches up with them, as they face their complete equal in hard-nosed, disciplined play. This one is 0-0 after 90, 1-1 after 120, and Croatia move on after Kicks From The Spot

Ole!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Not rain

Around the middle of yesterday afternoon, the skies darkened.

The sunset was deep red, terrible and angry.

This morning we awoke to a coating of ash-fall all around.

It's that time of year again.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

WC 2018 Round of 16

Well! That was a lightning-fast first 48 games for the 2018 World Cup, wasn't it?

But we can take our breath, rest for a day at least, and, of course, make our picks for the Round of 16. (Though it's not at all the same without being able to debate them with Sandy)

So here we go:

  1. Uruguay vs Portugal. Uruguay is one of only three squads to win their first three matches, but in Portugal they face a substantially tougher opponent than they've seen so far. Portugal win, 2-1.

  2. France vs Argentina. Argentina somehow came to life in their third game, with their backs against the wall, but it feels like too little, too late, and I wonder how much of their energy they spent just getting this far. France win a game that is not as close as it sounds, 1-0.

  3. Brazil vs Mexico. Which Mexican squad will attend? The one who defeated the defending world champions? Or the one who were annihilated by Sweden? I fear it will be too much of the latter, but Mexico will make Brazil work for it. After regular time, it's tied 2-2, but after extra time Brazil take this 4-2.

  4. Belgium vs Japan. Japan delightfully made it through on the "Fair Play" tie-breaker over an equally-deserving Senegal, but still they earned their presence in this game. But Belgium are going deep in this tournament and are barely tested, beating Japan 3-1.

  5. Spain vs Russia. The home team have a powerful advantage, but Spain have a powerful squad. This one goes to extra time, and finishes 1-1. Spain advance on penalty kicks in the shootout.

  6. Croatia vs Denmark. I like both these teams. One of them has to lose. It is Denmark. Croatia win an hard match, 1-0.

  7. Sweden vs Switzerland. Another rough, physical bout. This one is 0-0 through 90 minutes, and 0-0 through extra time, and isn't decided until the 9th player steps to the shootout spot, at which point the Swiss prevail.

  8. Colombia vs England. The liveliest of all the round of 16 matches, this one features two high-scoring teams full of firepower and perhaps just a bit lacking in defense. Colombia exhibit the quality that brought them to the tournament from the hardest qualifying region, but this English team has youth and passion and, most importantly, for the first time in decades they have a goalkeeper who won't let them down. After finishing 90 minutes tied 2-2, and falling behind 3-2 early in extra time, England somehow rally and move on, 4-3.

And, before we leave, let's join Deadspin in saluting the real reason that we watch the World Cup: South Korea's Performance Is Why The World Cup Exists

Fans and commentators love to sing the praises of teams and players that step up when the stakes are highest, but there’s also something to be said for giving everything when the stakes are obscured. South Korea came into today’s game knowing that even if they played perfectly and somehow managed to defeat a much more talented German team, there was no guarantee that their efforts would amount to anything. They were facing not just the long odds presented by their superior opponents, but those presented by their broader circumstance. They looked all that in the face and then went on to win the hell out of a soccer game.

In doing so they did everything an underdog is supposed to do. They packed it in and rabidly defended every German attack; they ran hard on every counter attack and kept running hard even as each one fizzled in increasingly frustrating fashion; they never for a second looked ready to accept their role as a station on Germany’s redemptive path.

The fun resumes in 36 hours!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

This Is Where I Leave You: a very short review

I've been falling behind on my book reviews, time to get with the program!

Up next, by way of my wonderful sister-in-law, is Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You: A Novel.

This Is Where I Leave You was an extremely popular title about 10 years ago (yes, yes, I know); more recently it was turned into one of the better-reviewed movies of the last few years.

It is, without a doubt, the funniest book about sitting shiva that you will ever read.

Removing the qualifier, it is one of the funnier books that I've read in a fair while.

It's an extremely lively read, at turns rowdy, rude, crude, shocking, heartbreaking, and heartfelt. It's not for the faint of heart, or for the easily offended, but if you don't fall into either of those categories you'll surely want to spend your time with Tropper's whirlwind tour of life, death, and everything in between.

Let's, um, have just a little taste, shall we?

Peter Applebaum is back to comfort my mother at close range. There are other people over, attempting to visit with her, but he doesn't register them. He is a hammer, she is a nail, and the rest of them are screws. He's had a haircut since we last saw him, almost military in its closeness, and he has shaved the dark, gangrenous fuzz off his earlobes. His cologne fills the room like bad news. He is pulling out all the stops, Applebaum is. He has not many more years of sexual function ahead of him, and there is no time for the subtlety of a slow flirtation. He pats Mom's arms, takes her hand in both of his, and strokes it relentlessly. That's just his way. Mom tries to draw some of the other visitors into the conversation, tries to retrieve her hand, but Applebaum holds the line, talking and stroking, his bushy eyebrows unfurling like caterpillars.

What a marvel Tropper is! Every sentence, every word bristles with energy! Just when you catch your breath from one blow ("gangrenous fuzz off his earlobes") the next is right on its way ("like bad news"). And, even when the words are bizarre and you're sure that's not what Tropper meant ("strokes it relentlessly"?), your sub-conscious gives you a kick in the pants and confirms that yes, oh yes indeed, "relentlessly" describes it perfectly!

I have no idea what Tropper's other books are like. Are they all equally thrumming with heat and life?

If so, I'll surely be picking up the next, and the next, and the next.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Up, up, and away!

OK, this is definitely not what we want to hear: New San Francisco Tower Project Tied to Newly Tilting FDIC Building

Construction on what will become San Francisco’s second tallest building appears to be causing the 20-story building next door to tilt, NBC Bay Area has learned.

...

Before and after images show new cracks that developed in the concrete wall that faces the Oceanwide project, began soon after crews started boring holes some 200 feet down to anchor the 900 foot tall tower to bedrock.

...

NBC Bay Area has learned rooftop measurements indicate the FDIC building is now tilting more than 1.5 inches toward the site of the nearby Oceanwide tower at First and Mission streets.

I'm not sure I understand how they measure "tilting more than 1.5 inches".

But I DO know which building it's tilting TOWARD.

And it's not my friend Andrew's building, at 525 Market.

Nope.

It's MY building, again.

Now buildings on both sides of my building are tilting toward me.

It's like my building is some sort of skyscraper magnet.

Hmmm...

Beauty, and my beholder's eye

I've got other stuff I need to do, and other articles I should be writing.

But I just want to make 3 short points:

  1. I can't get over how much fun it is to watch Xherdan Shaqiri, and obviously I'm not alone: Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri Is a Roomba Made of Lead

  2. For my money, either one of Ahmed Musa's goals over Iceland was beautiful, but together they are certainly the most classically beautiful performance of the tournament so far. Each one is beautiful in its own way:
    1. The first goal is pure technique: look at him in full stride, catching that cross from an equally-speeding Victor Moses, then without pausing delivering that instant volley with power and precision. Oh! Just look at that, again and again and again.
    2. The second goal is astonishing fitness: it's like he's on the field with children, from the moment he sees that glorious pass heading his way, to the final placing of the ball in the net. How can he be SO MUCH FASTER than anyone else on the field like that?!!
    Obviously, I'm not the only one whose jaw still remains solidly on the floor: WATCH: Ahmed Musa's Beautiful Double Gives Nigeria Key Win Over Iceland

  3. Lastly, and this is surely controversial, but it's true: Messi is not the problem with Argentina. Everybody thinks they know what the problem is, but it's not Messi. Messi's play is complex and subtle and hard to understand, and people often jump to conclusions. If you want to understand his play better, try this: Messi Walks Better Than Most Players Run.

    It sure will be sad when he's out of the tournament, though. And that could be in just one more match.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

There's no time to waste!

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, our side of the earth is tilted very much toward the sun right now, and so we are blessed with lots and lots of daylight.

So, how best to take advantage of what is, in a way, the longest weekend of the year?

Well, here's an idea:

  1. Take Friday off work. Fly to New York City. Yes, I know: it's clear across the country and that will take all day! Sorry. Take a deck of cards and play cards with your wife to pass the time.

  2. Wake up at 7:00 AM on Saturday morning (you're not mistaken: it does feel like 4:00 AM), and head out for a round of golf.

    Make sure you go to Saint Andrews in Hastings, a spectacular Jack Nicklaus-designed masterpiece that is one of the most beautiful courses you'll ever play in your life.

    Heh. Perhaps you should have paid more attention when you took those golf lessons 10 years ago. Let's just not keep score.

  3. Zip back by the house and change, then by 11:30 get on the road, heading into the Bronx, to take in a baseball game at (the new) Yankee Stadium. What a beautiful facility! Make sure you bring lots of sunblock, as the New York City summer is full of bright sunshine.

    It helps if you have a diehard Yankees fan among your group; she can tell you all about Didi, and why Aaron Judge is playing DH rather than the outfield today, and what makes Luis Severino perhaps the best pitcher in baseball this year.

    Go ahead, buy a bright pink NY Yankees ball cap for your wife. You're locals now!

  4. After the game, find a nice quiet spot and rest for a bit. The sun took it out of you a little, and, heck: you've earned a short break.

  5. As soon as you're re-charged, back into the car, for we're heading over to Queens now! Today we are going to visit both Major League ballparks, for it so happens that tonight is a concert by the revitalized Dead and Company. You've been hearing a lot about John Mayer, and it's time to see (hear) for yourself. Although (the renovated) Shea Stadium is quite a bit older than Yankee Stadium, it is also a beautiful facility, and before long you're down on the infield, waiting for the band to start.

    It's been a long time since you were a regular Dead Head, and to your embarassment you've forgotten plenty: you don't recognize The Eleven when it's played; you get Sugar Magnolia and Sunshine Daydream all jumbled up in your mind; you can't remember whether Eyes of the World was on Wake of the Flood or Blues for Allah; and so forth.

    But it's a warm, balmy New York City summer night, and there you are hanging out on the infield with 30,000 of your new best friends, and you're just amazed at what a difference modern technology has made for the audio-visual elements of a big stadium show. John Mayer is everything everyone has said he is: tremendous talent, boundless energy, and bubbling over with joy at his new gig. It's not Jerry Garcia's band anymore, it's John Mayer's, but, perhaps surprisingly, that's a pretty good thing!

  6. It's midnight now, and the show is over, and you suddenly realize you haven't eaten all day, and you're starving. No worries: this is the City That Never Sleeps, remember?

    Walking out of Shea Stadium, you realize it's just a half-mile walk down across the bridge to the Koreatown section of Queens, doing it's best to make you feel like you're in the Gangnam District of Seoul. Here, the restaurants are open until 3:00 AM, so you dive into a hot-and-piping dinner while you dissect the show with your friends.

  7. Back home at last, you realize it's 2:00 AM, and you've just spent the busiest and most action-packed 19 hours you're ever likely to spend. Go head, lie down; what a day!

Well, I don't know, it's certainly not for everyone, but what a day it was for me!