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.


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


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.


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.


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!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Here come the buses!

After 8 years of construction, the amazing new Salesforce Transit Center is (starting to be) open!

The Salesforce Transit Center is opening for Muni service on Saturday, June 16! While the full Transit Center, including the Grand Hall entrance and rooftop park, isn’t open until later this summer, the bus plaza will be operational for Muni routes 5/5R, 7, 38/38R, with the 25 Treasure Island beginning service to the bus deck when the Transit Center fully opens.

If I'm reading the exploded chart in the article correctly, the AC Transit buses will proceed counter-clockwise around the 2nd floor, picking up and dropping off passengers from the middle of the deck, not from its perimeter.

Which makes sense.

According to the Transbay Joint Powers Authority website, even the decorative metal grating around the 2nd floor facade is noteworthy:

Incorporating the groundbreaking geometrical pattern of Dr. Roger Penrose, the eminent British mathematical physicist, in the undulating metal facade
I have no idea what that means.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the rooftop park. The exploded chart seems to indicate that there is only one set of escalators up to the park, leading up from the Grand Hall and depositing you right in the middle of the park.

From there, I guess, you can walk in either direction, and then return to the escalators to go down.

There are also, apparently, three sets of elevators.

And, of course, the gondola.

Doesn't seem like enough access points to the park, though; I guess I was thinking there would be ways to get up to the park at either end.

And the exploded chart doesn't really explain what happens on the rest of the street level, either. There is the Muni section between Fremont and Beale, and the Grand Hall between Fremont and First, but what is going on from First up to Second?

Well, we'll know soon enough; the entire thing is supposed to be open within weeks!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

WC 2018!

Yes, it's true: the 2018 World Cup starts in less than 24 hours!

Since I hail from the U.S. of A., where (a) we didn't even qualify for the tournament, and (b) we think that all sports can be reduced to statistics, may I bring you the 2018 World Cup, FiveThirtyEight style:

  • Uruguay Got The World Cup’s Ultimate Prize: Russia’s Group
    If the opening is here for an underdog, surely that team will be Egypt. The African side has not reached the World Cup since 1990, but it now features an attacker legitimately among the best in the world in Liverpool star Mohamed Salah. He is projected to return after separating his shoulder in the Champions League final. Whether Salah will be fit to start the tournament remains up in the air, and Egypt would likely struggle without its superstar. But if he can come back, he’s as sure a thing as there is in world soccer.
  • Can Morocco Squeeze Past Spain Or Portugal?
    Spain, perhaps more than any other national team, has an established identity. Despite turning over nearly all of its attacking and midfield players since 2010 — only Sergio Busquets remains in the same role he played on the team that beat the Netherlands in that final — Spain has maintained the same probing, passing style. No team in the world has depended less on crosses to move the ball into the penalty area.
  • France’s Group-Stage Tuneup Will Tell Us Whether It’s A Contender
    At only 25 years old, Paul Pogba has already played in the finals of the UEFA European Championships and the Champions League. He won titles with Juventus, and after transferring to Manchester United for a whopping $116.4 million, he has become a fixture in the center of the midfield at Old Trafford. But no matter how much he accomplishes, there are still questions about exactly how big a superstar he is. His technical ability and range are a rare combination. Whether French manager Didier Deschamps unleashes him to get forward and contribute to the attack or keeps him chained to a more disciplined midfield role will likely influence perceptions of Pogba’s performance at this World Cup.
  • Argentina Is The Team To Beat In Group D, But Can Messi (Finally) Win The Tournament?
    If there is to be an upset in this group, who better than Iceland to pull it off? The tiny Scandinavian nation is going to its first World Cup after a Cinderella run in the 2016 Euros and a shockingly assured European qualifying season. Iceland will not be trying anything unusual or pretty, but what it does is effective. Iceland will look for quick-hitting counterattacks and set play situations. If neither of Croatia or Argentina can sort out a solution to their tactical problems, Iceland’s clear understanding of its own style should give them a real shot at an upset.
  • Brazil Got A Lot Better Since The Last World Cup
    CONMEBOL qualifying is the most difficult of all the regional qualifying tournaments, and Brazil romped through with little difficulty. The Selecao rate as the best defensive team in the world by a significant margin. But the likely back line of Danilo, Thiago Silva, Miranda and Marcelo has an average age of 31, so they’re not exactly at the peak of their careers. Rather, manager Tite has developed a tactical system that protects the back line with two of the best defensive midfielders in the world, Casemiro and Fernandinho. Both players anchor three-man midfields for their club sides, Real Madrid and Manchester City respectively, where they are largely responsible for stopping opposition attacks in midfield on their own. For Brazil, they can share the load.
  • Mexico May Need To Beat Germany To Have Hope — Good Luck With That
    Mexico has an intriguing attacking corps but has also struggled to score. In its three friendlies in preparation for the tournament, it scored one goal combined against Scotland, Wales and Denmark. Mainstays for the team like Chicharito Hernandez and Raul Jimenez have struggled to make an impact leading the line, and even 34-year-old Oribe Peralta is getting minutes.
  • Belgium And England Headline The World Cup’s Most Lopsided Group
    It should be remembered that Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola coached the best domestic teams of the past two World Cup victors — Bayern Munich of Germany in 2014 and Barcelona of Spain in 2010 — and his influence is clear on Southgate’s plans. In the friendlies leading up to the tournament, England played a midfield three inspired by Manchester City, with one purely defensive player (either Jordan Henderson or Eric Dier) supporting two attacking midfielders, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard.
  • A World Cup Sleeper May Be Lurking In Group H
    Skillful wingers Keita Baldé and Mané offer Senegal’s main threat in attack, while the towering defensive presence of Kalidou Koulibaly makes the spine of the team seem stronger than its 33 percent chance of progression may suggest. Given the relative equality of the group, a strong performance from Senegal in its opener against Poland could dramatically change expectations.

And of course, because there's no such thing as too much of a good thing, two bonus links:

  • How Our 2018 World Cup Predictions Work
    At the heart of our forecast are FiveThirtyEight’s SPI ratings, which are our best estimate of overall team strength. In our system, every team has an offensive rating that represents the number of goals that it would be expected to score against an average team on a neutral field and a defensive rating that represents the number of goals that it would be expected to concede. These ratings, in turn, produce an overall SPI rating, which represents the percentage of points — a win is worth 3 points, a tie worth 1 point, and a loss worth 0 points — the team would be expected to take if that match were played over and over again.
  • https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2018-world-cup-predictions/
    Soccer Power Index (SPI) ratings and chances of advancing for every team, updating live.

For myself, I'm rooting for Iceland, Costa Rica, and South Korea, but anticipating France, Germany, and Brazil.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Up, up, and away

One of the next-door neighbors in my office neighborhood is about to open for business, an event which will certainly continue the transformation of my work surroundings.

Certainly, no building is earthquake-proof, but the design of the new building is quite fascinating:

  • This tower will be the most resilient tall building on the west coast of the United States
    Arup’s structural engineers employed a holistic resilience-based seismic design approach to minimise damage in a 500 year earthquake and allow immediate reoccupancy after a seismic event, far exceeding building code criteria. Its iconic tapering form, small footprint, and location in the midst of the Transbay urban regeneration zone presented significant engineering challenges. Arup incorporated groundbreaking design solutions including an innovative viscous damping system within the architecturally expressed steel megabraces and uplifting megacolumns which significantly reduced seismic and wind demands and resulted in a steel material savings of approximately 3,000 tons.
  • The Resilience-Based Design of the 181 Fremont Tower
    The mega-brace system is three braces in one (Figures 3 and 4). The middle (or “primary”) brace is a steel box section and the two outer (or “secondary”) braces are comprised of built-up plates attached to two viscous dampers at one end. As the building flexes laterally in a wind or earthquake event, large (elastic) strains develop in the very long primary braces. The result is approximately 6 inches of lengthening or shortening in the primary brace between the connected nodes. Since the secondary braces are connected to the same mega-nodes via dampers, this relative movement is utilized to activate the dampers and dissipate energy. The system was tuned to optimize the wind performance. However, the damping additionally benefitted the seismic response of the tower by reducing the earthquake demands across several modes of vibration.
  • San Francisco’s 181 Fremont will Become the Most Earthquake-Resilient Building on the West Coast
    The REDi Gold Rating that 181 Fremont - which Arup was the structural engineer, geotechnical engineer, and resilience consultant for - achieved includes enhanced structural and non-structural design to limit damage, improved egress systems, contingency plans to reduce post-earthquake recovery times, and development of a tenant’s resilience manual of recommendations to keep their space earthquake-ready. A building with a REDi Gold Rating can expect its repair costs to be cut by approximately 10 times compared to code-designed buildings and can also reduce the expected functionality downtime from 18 months to less than a few weeks.
  • The Skyscraper Center: 181 Fremont
    The other key structural innovation of the tower is the notch at the center; this notch creates turbulence that helps reduce the aerodynamic pull of the wind, allowing the design to require less steel to resist lateral wind forces.

What makes people think they know what a "500 year earthquake" is for the Bay Area? I'm skeptical.

Still, it's a beautiful and interesting building, and all indications are that it has been carefully designed and built.

It won't be the second-tallest building in San Francisco for long, though...

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Pew Group: a very short review

I really don't remember how The Pew Group ended up at my house. Did my sister-in-law send it to me? Did my mother drop it off? Did I pick it up at a garage sale? How am I so absent-minded?

Well, it doesn't really matter, I suppose: here it is.

And, so, what to do?

I read it.

And: it's delightful!

The conventions, such as they are, for a murder mystery, are pretty clear: there is a crime; there is a detective; there is a solution.


Oliver stands this all upon its ear.

Oh, there's a crime, alright. But Oliver has no interest in that; in fact, he gets it out of the way with the very first sentence of the book:

You couldn't call it murder and she had no intention of doing so.

And so, off we go.

There are crime(s), there are detective(s), there are clue(s), but really, in the end, none of that matters.

What interests Oliver is what people do, when there are Things To Be Done.

Rarely in my experience has a book with so little plot had so much activity! And what lively characters, in boring, piddly, mundane Flaxfield, Suffolk, U.K.

The doctor is little interested in medicine; the vicar little interested in theology; the constable little interested in law enforcement; and, so forth.

All I can say is, if you bother to track down this little gem in some long-forgotten dusty corner of some second-hand bookshop somewhere: you have never had so much fun reading a story about a lost porcelain figure from a Sunday church sale:

He picked up a small piece of white pottery lying on its side near a brass ashtray. It was crudely but endearingly fashioned with three little figures sitting stiffly on a high backed settle not unlike the oldest family pews in St. Peter's. He knew the vicar had a small collection of English pottery; it would be quite nice to buy it for him although perhaps it wasn't quite the same as the ones he had seen on the vicarage mantle-shelf, they seemed to have more colour to them, with little branches of green leaves sticking out behind them.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The GitHub deal

It's no longer the center of my professional life, but I'm still close enough to the SCM sliver of the industry to understand that Microsoft just made a brilliant move.

Kudos to them, and congratulations to the team at GitHub (and "Hi!" to those few there who know me!)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A visit to Wales, part 3: three days in Dublin

For various reasons, our holiday was split between North Wales and Dublin, Ireland. The two primary reasons were:

  1. When traveling to Europe, I VASTLY prefer to take a direct airplane flight. I'd much rather suffer through a single 10.5 hour flight than take a 2, 3, or even 4-leg flight, with layovers, extended flight times, and many opportunities for missed connections, lost baggage, etc. Aer Lingus happen to offer a direct flight from San Francisco to Dublin, and Dublin is (pretty) close to Wales, so I chose for us to fly to and from Dublin, and then we got from Dublin to Wales and back on Irish Ferries. Overall, this was a great decision, and I wouldn't change it, even if our flight to Dublin was delayed 2.5 hours due to a flat tire on our airplane.
  2. I've found that, when we get to Europe, the jet lag is SEVERE, so I've begun incorporating a minimum of 36 hours of "zoned out time" to start each trip to Europe. That 36 hours should probably be more like 48 to 60 hours, but that's not really the point. The point is: when we get to Europe, I want to arrive at some place where we can just check into a place and rest and recover, without any complications for trip planning. I want us to be able to sleep, and wake up, and go out and do things when we have energy, and come back when we want to rest, and for that to be as easy and simple as possible. I don't want to have to drive anywhere, or be on any particular schedule, and I want there to be plenty of interesting and easy choices when we do have the energy to go out. So that means I want to arrive at a city which is tourist-friendly, walkable, big enough to have lots of options for things to do and see, places to eat, public transit, etc. Dublin fit that bill, perfectly.

Anyway, even though seeing Dublin wasn't really the primary purpose of our trip, we still got to do it, so what did we do?

For one thing, we walked.

Dublin is a wonderful city for walking. Its downtown is compact, and easy to navigate, and full of innumerable places to go and things to see, all within easy walking distance of each other. And if you get bored or tired of walking, Dublin has good buses and light rail service to take you around.

And the walking is, for the most part, fun, because Dublin is full of interesting architecture, and great shops to stick your head into, and lots and lots of public art, some of it really surprisingly good (like a vividly-drawn tiled mosaic in a downtown parking lot, or the phenomenal Irish Famine Sculpture), others of it simply dreadful, but still oddly compelling, like, yes, that Molly Malone statue, and still others of it somewhere in between, like this curious set of gargoyles that we found mounted on fence posts at the St. James Hospital LUAS station.

For another thing, we ate.

The restaurants we found in Dublin, while occasionally disappointing, were overall extremely good. We had an absolutely fantastic breakfast at The Woolen Mills, where we were introduced to an Irish Boxty. We had a superb lunch at House, with a rich mushroom soup and delicious fresh-baked dark bread. We had a lovely dinner at Paulie's, a great pizza and fun appetizers. And we had a very pleasant afternoon tea at Bewley's, with an elegant selection of fresh-baked pastry treats.

And for another thing, we learned.

We visited several of the many locations of the National Museum of Ireland, which is not only a wonderful museum, but is free. Free! The archaeology museum had astonishing 5,000 year old precious metal artifacts: necklaces and bracelets and crowns. The decorative arts museum had both traditional and modern craft work, including a fascinating gallery of late-stage Waterford crystal, and a compelling temporary exhibition of the fashion design of Ib Jorgensen.

We walked through the grounds of Trinity College, and we toured the galleries of the Old Library, and we got up close and personal with the Book of Kells, and we went upstairs to the ancient reading room, and saw the harp.

We walked along O'Connell Street and looked at the General Post Office, with its bullet-pocked walls. And we walked along St Stephen's Green and cast our eyes to the Shelbourne Hotel, and to the Royal College of Surgeons, and thought about those spaces, and those places, and those times.

And, most of all, we made the trip just a few kilometers west of downtown, to Kilmainham Gaol, and walked through the museum, and took the tour, and read the letters, and looked at the photos, and stood in those same spots in the yard where so many others before us have come to look, and to listen, and to think, and to learn.

Oh, of course, we did some really mundane things, too (... cough ... Guinness! ... cough ...), like checking out the Oscar Wilde statue in Merrion Square, taking in the view from the Gravity Bar, walking along the Grand Canal, feeding the ducks in the St Stephen's Green ponds, and enjoying the perspective of the city from midway across the Ha'Penny Bridge.

There's a LOT to do in Dublin. We could have spent at least a week there, and found many more things to do.

But we were over our jet lag, and it was on to Wales.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A visit to Wales, part 2: castles!

As someone born and raised in the U.S. of A., my experience with Things Medieval tends to be mostly fanciful, and not much based in reality.

And yet, there we were, in North Wales, where medieval history is front and center.

Quoth the Wikipedia,

Following a series of invasions beginning shortly after their conquest of England in 1066, the Normans seized much of Wales and established quasi-independent Marcher lordships, owing allegiance to the English crown. However, Welsh principalities such as Gwynedd, Powys and Deheubarth survived and from the end of the 11th century, the Welsh began pushing back the Norman advance. Over the following century the Welsh recovery fluctuated and the English kings, notably Henry II, several times sought to conquer or establish suzerainty over the native Welsh principalities. Nevertheless, by the end of the 12th century the Marcher lordships were reduced to the south and south east of the country.


In 1274, tension between Llywelyn and Edward increased when Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn of Powys and Llywelyn's younger brother Dafydd ap Gruffydd defected to the English and sought Edward's protection. Because of the continuing conflict with the Marcher Lords and Edward's harbouring of defectors, when Edward demanded that Llywelyn come to Chester in 1275 to do homage to him, Llywelyn refused.


War broke out again in 1282, as a result of a rebellion by Llywelyn's brother Dafydd, who was discontented with the reward he had received from Edward in 1277. Dafydd launched a series of attacks co-ordinated with the Welsh rulers in Deheubarth and North Powys, who had been Llywelyn's vassals until 1277 and were now Edward's vassals. Llywelyn and the other Welsh leaders, including those in the south, joined in and it soon assumed a very different character from the 1277 campaign. It became a national struggle enjoying wide support among the Welsh, who were provoked particularly by Edward's attempts to impose English law on the Welsh. Edward, however, soon began to see it as a war of conquest rather than just a punitive expedition to put down a rebellion.


Edward divided the territory of the Welsh principalities between himself (that is, retained under direct royal control) and his supporters through feudal grants, which in practice became new Marcher lordships. The lordships created were mainly grants to Anglo-Normans such as the Earl of Lincoln who received the lordship of Denbigh. But additionally, Edward's Welsh allies received back their own lands, but on a feudal basis; for instance, Owain ap Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, of the princely house of Powys Wenwynwyn, received his ancestral lands as the lordship of Powys and became known as Owen de la Pole (or "Poole").

Lands retained under direct royal control were organised under the Statute of Rhuddlan of 1284, which declared that they were "annexed and united" to the English crown, although they did not become part of the Kingdom of England. They were the King's personal fief and in 1301, they were bestowed on Edward's son, Edward of Caernarfon (the future Edward II), with the title "Prince of Wales" and thereafter the lands and title became the customary endowment of the heir to the throne.

Well, anyway, there we were in North Wales, and the weather was beautiful, and called for a spot of traveling, and we had hired this brand new Ford Zuga which was just a joy to drive, so off we went to see some CASTLES!!

We didn't have to go very far to get started, as we could see the first castle from out our bedroom window! Our hotel was just across the River Conwy from the walled town of Conwy, so that was our first stop. There's a nice car park just south of the city walls, so we parked the car and spent a lovely hour walking the narrow medieval streets, stopping for a cappuccino and a scone, and poking our noses into the various shops.

This isn't the only castle at the mouth of the river Conwy, as it turns out: from our hotel room, we could see the site of Castel Deganwy, the ancient fortress of the King of Gwynedd in the 500's. Although we didn't make it up to that site, it was interesting to contemplate the varied choices made by the different kings in the different times: mountain top, or river mouth?

I wished we had found the time to explore Castell Conwy, which is said to be one of the best-preserved 750-year-old buildings you'll ever see, but such was not to be, as we had got a late start that morning and had other things to do.

Nonetheless, it was a beautiful building to walk around, and it made for a lovely view from our hotel room, high upon the hills above.

And similar sights greeted us elsewhere, for there are castles all around Wales, and we would frequently see them as we drove around.

But, really, enough of this nattering on about castles we didn't visit; what about the castles that we DID vist?!

One fine sunny morning, we headed out in the auto and made our way to Caernarfon, which is about as far north and west as you can get and still be in mainland Wales (Anglesey Island is farther north and west, but then, it's an island).

Caernarfon is the 800 pound gorilla of Welsh castles, not just for its historical and cultural significance, but for its overall entertainment value: this is a GIANT castle.

The castle towers stretch nearly 10 stories into the air, the castle walls are solid and nearly 5 stories tall themselves, and the interior of the castle keep is an immense expanse of lawn (of course, when originally occupied, the interior of the castle was packed with stores and barracks and production facilities and courts and all of the other Machinery of the State; for now, you just have to see that all in your imagination).

In addition to clambering around on the castle walls, the various interior spaces of the castle are filled with exhibits and displays, so there was lots to see and learn about.

I found myself a bit disappointed by the museums, because they mostly focused on the military history of the castle, and I wished I could have learned more about the other roles it played in the life of late-medieval Wales (trade, education, agricultural and industrial development, etc.), but since the castle was largely a military fortress, perhaps the museum's focus was appropriate.

Still, I always find myself wondering about the most mundane things when I'm wandering around a castle: "where did they keep the pigs and chickens?" "how did they make beer in the castle?" "where did people go to do their laundry?"

But, did I mention the part about clambering around on the castle walls?

We could have stayed at Caernarfon all day, but I was impatient, so we popped back into the auto and drove out onto Anglesey Island, up to the small town of Beaumaris.

Beaumaris Castle is often referred to as "the greatest castle never built," a nice tag line which cleanly encapsulates the very interesting story of the castle. By the time that construction on the castle was begun, in 1296, King Edward I and his master castle builder, James of St. George, were at the peak of their power, their skills, and their ambition, and so the plans and scope of Beaumaris Castle were extravagant in the extreme.

Although the castle was never finished, it is so beautifully located, and what was actually built is so beautiful, that it is a joy to wander about and contemplate.

Of particular interest, when we were there, was the work of a team of modern stonemasons, hard at work on repair a section of the main keep walls, using historically-accurate tools, techniques, and materials. As we walked about the castle, the "ting! ting! ting!" of their mallets and chisels upon the stone wall lent a fascinating sense of realism, making it almost possible to imagine being a craftsman hard at work inside the castle as it was under construction.

By this point, after all this hard work touring castles and keeps, we were tired and hungry, so we repaired to a friendly cafe on the waterfront and sat at the outdoor table and enjoyed Welsh Rarebit sandwiches and Jacket Potatoes with a view of the Snowdonia mountains in the distance.

And we declared the day a perfect success.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A visit to Wales, part 1: family matters!

We took a simply lovely, though far too short, visit to Wales to visit our cousin.

... OK, let's see: your great-grandfather is my great-great-grandfather, right?

Yes, that was John Francis Xavier Goggin; here's a picture of him! He was born in 1847, in Limerick, Ireland.

OK, yes, that's my Irish side, for sure. But: 1847? Wasn't that the time of the Great Famine?

Oh, yes, definitely. I think they had to leave Ireland; pretty much everyone did. In fact, he was actually baptized in England in 1850; the family ended up in Hartlepool.


Wales is a beautiful place, particularly during late May, when the sun is shining and the grass is growing.

We stayed at an absolutely beautiful country house hotel.

The hotel was not far from LLandudno, a Victorian-era seaside resort, famous (or infamous) as, possibly, the place where Lewis Carroll stayed when he was writing Alice in Wonderland.

In addition to visiting the coast, we went walking in the Snowdonia National Park mountains, utterly beautiful, even on a day when the RAF are practicing their mountain-flying tactics overhead.

And we spent many lovely contented hours at the home of our cousins, which is nestled on a quiet country road, with a flock of sheep on one side and several mares with their colts on the other.

I'll have more to say about the entire trip later, just putting something short up now.