Sunday, July 16, 2017

Modern fire management

We are now well into the 2017 fire season here in California, and there have definitely been a few scary fires already.

Meanwhile, in a completely different part of California, I'm keeping a watchful eye on the "Island Fire", which for now is being quite well-behaved:

The Island Fire is burning deep in the Marble Mountain Wilderness on the Klamath National Forest. It was ignited by lightning on Sunday June 25 and first reported on the afternoon of June 26. The fire is being suppressed under an alternative suppression approach to clean up hazardous fuels from a area that hasn't burned in a long time. There is no recorded large fire history for this portion of the Wilderness, although it is surrounded on the north, west and south by recent large fires.

Those "recent large fires" were horrific; it's amazing how soon those memories fade.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for all of California in the wake of wildfires that killed one firefighter and drove hundreds of people from their homes.

California's record drought, now in its fourth year, has "turned much of the state into a tinderbox," he said.

The emergency declaration, which included the activation of the California National Guard, will speed up help for thousands of firefighters, Brown said Friday.

About 9,000 firefighters were battling 24 large wildfires in California on Saturday, Ken Pimlott, the chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire said in an interview.

Dry thunderstorms were expected to threaten much of Northern California through much of the the weekend, Pimlott said. Thunder storms with gusty winds and lightning strikes have ignited fires, hitting Trinity and Humboldt counties the hardest, he said.

The smoke traveled hundreds of miles; it was an inferno of heat ablaze.

Wondrous rain has changed things, and now it's hard to remember what things were like, just two years ago.

This year, we shall let (certain) fires burn, for "there is no recorded large fire history for this portion of the Wilderness".

But I'm still watching; I'm keeping my eyes open.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Up, up, and away

They've taken the construction cranes and elevators down from the Salesforce Tower, as construction is nearly complete.

Of course, those cranes go somewhere; they don't just disappear.

It turns out there's a company which pays a lot of attention to this, and issues periodic reports about where all the cranes are.

In the whole world!

Anyway, if you wanted to know, The Seattle Times digests the report for you: Seattle is again crane capital of America, but lead is shrinking

Seattle has again been named the crane capital of America, as the local construction boom shows little sign of slowing in 2017.

Seattle had 62 cranes dotting the skyline at the end of 2016, the most in the country, according to Rider Levett Bucknall, a firm that tracks cranes across the world. That’s up from 58 in the middle of last year.

The company releases tower crane counts twice a year. In the last update, Seattle had an 18-crane lead over second-place Los Angeles.

But this time, a surge in construction in Chicago has catapulted the Midwest city into second, with 56 cranes, just six shy of Seattle. Los Angeles has dropped to third on the list with 29.

So now you know: Seattle really is where it's happening.

If you're a construction crane.

If you're that other sort of crane, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico is where it's happening.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Let's hear it for the old guys

It's an interesting, if tangential perhaps, aspect of American Jazz music that it is an art form that appears to particularly allow for an extremely extended career.

The list of Jazz musicians who did some of their very best work at advanced ages is a long list, and it's not hard to think of examples of Jazz musicians who have been very productive in their 80's and even in their 90's.

And lovers of Jazz are well aware of this, and there is a tremendous culture of respect for your elders in Jazz, which is quite interesting and refreshing given the attitudes that some other crafts seem to show to their craftspeople.

We had a nice reminder of this recently, when we got to hear Greg Adams and East Bay Soul.

Adams, who was a founding member of the pioneering West Coast Jazz group Tower of Power, has been performing for five decades; as his bio attests, he has appeared on an astonishing six hundred records.

And, he's still composing, and recording, and performing, with a great band containing a number of other Tower of Power veterans, including Lee Thornburg and Nick Milo.

I'm no spring chicken myself, so I'm pleased to see any evidence that the old guys can be just as productive and creative and influential and imaginative as they were when they were younger.

Thank you Greg and East Bay Soul, for such a stirring example.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

That sinking feeling

I'm not really sure what to make of this: Millennium Odor Problem Could Point to Fire Risk, Experts Say

Unexplained odors inside the Millennium Tower units could be evidence of a potential fire safety risk to the 58-story sinking and tilting structure, experts tell NBC Bay Area's Investigative Unit.


Pretlow and several other residents report having long endured unexplained odors permeating their luxury units. Then, late last year, the building’s homeowner association commissioned consultants Allana, Buick and Bers to investigate Pretlow’s unit.

When the experts cut open several of her walls and set off smoke bombs from the unit below, they learned that smoke was getting in through gaps surrounding pipes and ducts running through holes in the concrete floors behind Pretlow’s walls.

It's a reputable publication, and the story does in some ways seem plausible.

On the other hand, the article also fills me with a certain amount of unease; it makes me feel as though the various parties to the various lawsuits are trying to have their conflicts aired in the media, rather than being settled by figuring out what is wrong with the building and how it can be repaired.

Meanwhile, I can't deny that I'm intrigued by the notion of diagnosing construction failures via odors.

In computer science, there is a reasonably-non-crackpot technique that goes by the awkward name of Code Smells.

It's an approach for developing an almost-instinctive feeling about where problems might lie in a code base, based on unpleasant attributes of the code which you can train yourself to recognize when you're reading the code.

It probably would be more accurately named "code disfigurements," but that doesn't have anywhere near the ring of Code Smells.

Maybe there is a textbook somewhere of Construction Smells.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Naming rights and plaza arrangements

The cranes and exterior elevators have come down from the tower, and the trees are arriving; the long-awaited Transbay Transit Center is nearly ready!

Only, it's not actually going to be called the Transbay Transit Center.

Salesforce buys naming rights to Transbay Transit Center

Salesforce, a software company with its headquarters and 6,600 employees in the Bay Area, has agreed to a 25-year, $110 million sponsorship of the 2½-block-long facility set to open next spring at Fremont and Mission streets. The deal includes naming rights, which means that the complex would be known as the Salesforce Transit Center.

Similarly, the 5.4-acre rooftop open space will become Salesforce Park if the board of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority approves the contract Thursday at its monthly meeting.

The cloud-like Salesforce logo that adorns two towers near the transit center would not appear on the exterior of the new facility, however. Nor would Salesforce have veto authority on events held in the park, even those of rival corporations.

Mostly, I'm excited about the park, which (I hope) will be a delightful new space, to rival such world-renowed places as the High Line, or the Greenway ("a long lawn on top of a sewer").

Meanwhile, down at ground level, change is afoot there, too: Salesforce Tower redesign trims trees, sculpture out of plaza

As Salesforce Tower nears completion, the plaza that will accompany it has been shorn of two eye-catching features: a grove of redwood trees and a 40-foot-tall sculpture made from chunks of recycled concrete.

Instead, the half-acre space at Mission and Fremont streets will be handsomely paved but almost entirely open — a change instigated by Salesforce but agreed to by public officials. They welcome the idea of an uncluttered path to the new Transbay Transit Center, which should open next spring on the plaza’s south edge.

“In retrospect, 20 redwood trees are probably not the best thing to have” between Mission Street and what will be the transit center’s main entrance, said John Rahaim, San Francisco’s planning director. “This leaves a clear passage and sight lines at both ends.”

I'm trying to get my head around the gondola: what the heck?

But surely, this is progress. There was no way that 20 redwood trees were going to be feasible in that small space at the base of the tower. Open space, even though it's largely concrete open space atop a 5-level underground garage, is still open space.

Really, it's still very hard to imagine what it's all going to be like, but it has, I think, the potential to be tremendous. Yes, it's a lot of steel and glass and high-rises and urban canyons, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Being out and around on these streets during the day, the energy and activity is undeniable; hopefully that energy translates into a truly vibrant new downtown core.

The Girl on the Train: a very short review

As part of my summertime reading binge, I joined the millions who have enjoyed Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train.

Hawkins certainly knows how to craft a page-turner, and it's no surprise that her story was not only a runaway bestseller, but also became a successful movie. Entertainment, this is.

But our heroine is a severely mentally ill woman, self-destructive, with an extreme alcohol abuse problem.

And things go downhill from there: other major characters include inept and uncaring local police, a corrupt mental health professional, a lecherous and abusive colleague, etc.

It's a hard thing to finish a 400 page book without finding a single sympathetic character. I wanted the worst for all of them; I simply wanted the book to be over so I could move on.

But, I couldn't put it down.

If you like your entertainment gritty and fast-paced, this is it.

But it sure ain't a very pleasant time on the roller-coaster.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Alphabet is for Antitrust?

There's a certain amount of attention being paid to Alphabet right now, such as the huge EU outcome, and all the attention that Yelp have brought to the discussion.

And, a lot of that is, I think, quite justified.

Meanwhile, I must admit that I lost about 3 hours the other day to a bit of Alphabet frustration of a different sort.

Google Docs, when it works (and it usually does work quite well), is an amazing piece of software. Collaborative document editing in the cloud! What's not to love?

But there I was, just beating my head into a bloody pulp.

I was trying to combine 3 semi-related presentations into a single new presentation.

I started the new presentation, and wrote some introductory slides.

Then I began grabbing content from the other presentations.

I opened up several browser tabs, and picked a slide from this presentation, and copied-and-pasted it into my new presentation.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Simple, right?

Unfortunately, it wasn't working.

Normally, whenever you change a Google Docs document, it automatically initiates a background save. The message "Saving..." appears, followed after 30 seconds or so by the message "All changes saved in Google Drive."

But, not this time.

After I would paste in a slide, "Saving..." would display, and display, and display.

Until, after about 2 minutes, some completely bizarre error message would show up, and Google Docs would simply throw away all the changes I'd made to my presentation since the first "paste" action.

Sometimes the message would be something about permissions.

Sometimes it would be more generic, and would say "Google has encountered an unexpected error saving your document".

I refreshed tabs, logged back out and back in, over and over.

Made that single great presentation multiple times, only to have Google throw it away on the floor.

Searching for similar problems brought nothing.

But then, while stomping around near my desk, complaining bitterly to the air, it occurred to me: I was using Mozilla Firefox.

I went back to my computer, brought up Google Chrome, and re-performed the exact same sequence of operations.


Which is a shame, because Mozilla Firefox is really the platinum standard of browsers nowadays, and it's rare that it lets me down.

Now, in all fairness, Google Docs is an extraordinarily complex piece of software, implemented as a MASSIVE amount of Javascript, running in the browser. And Javascript is notoriously non-standardized, with many disparate and varying implementations, not the least of which is Google's own proprietary V8 engine.

So it makes a lot of sense that my problem was due to a client-side Javascript portability problem, and switching browsers fixed it.

That is, what should make me think that running Google's tools should work on any browser other than Google's own browser?

Silly me.

But, I am (becoming) an old man.

And, I'm old enough to remember when a dominant computing company had their own suite of office software which worked best (or, in some cases, only worked at all) with their own internet browser.

And, I'm also old enough to remember what happened next.

Sometimes it seems like we go though the same motions, over and over.

For the time being, I unfortunately have work that I have to get done.

So, I'm sorry, Mozilla, but I'll be using Chrome for the next few days, at least until I finish this particular project.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Corporate goddesses

I've developed a habit of taking long walks around downtown San Francisco at lunchtime. I don't have a particular set route; often I just let my feet take me where they will.

There's always a lot to see when walking around downtown San Francisco. I haven't yet had the opportunity to see flying cars, but I suspect that's not long away.

Often, when I'm walking along, I find I'm mostly looking down at the street or around me at the various shop windows and displays, or out at the vistas over the Bay.

But, sometimes, I happen to look up, as I did the other day while walking back from North Beach.

I had no idea what I was looking at, but later I remembered to track it down, and it turned out that I had seen the famous corporate goddesses of 580 California.

If you have ever wondered about the sculptures on top of this building, the sculptures were created by Muriel Castanis, an American sculptor best known for her public art installments involving fluidly draped figures. Muriel described the 12 statue on top of this building as Corporate Goddesses. In 1983, Philip Johnson commissioned her to create sculpture for the top story of 580 California. Three different heroic-size figures are repeated on each side of the building.

It's hard to describe just how peculiar these statues are, but one wonderful essay about them is JW Ocker's Grim Roofers: Muriel Castanis’s Corporate Goddesses:

There are three individual wraiths, each one 12 feet tall, and the pattern of three is repeated on each side of the building for a total of twelve wraiths. One lifts an arm like she’s a Fate and her sash is a life-string to be cut. The second has her arms thrown back like she’s about to jump into oblivion. The third is holding her sash in front of her like one of those airport car drivers looking for his passenger. That’s the most terrifying one if you think about it.

The artist who created them was Muriel Castanis, who made a career out of empty robed figures before dying in 2006. She designed them by covering models in epoxy-soaked cloths. The models then wriggled out as the clothes hardened, and Castanis used those forms as a basis for the 12-foot-tall skyscraper specters San Francisco has today.

For some more pictures, including a few which give a better feel for what it's like to see these sculptures from ground level, try this short photo-essay on SFGate.

Apparently the phrase "Corporate Goddesses" may have come from Castanis herself, at least according to this old article on SFGate:

Price is gazing out over the city as an eerie sight emerges across the way, on the rooftop of 580 California. Ghostly, faceless figures surround the building's crown, spooky women in hooded white robes. From street level, the 12-foot-tall statues are all but unseen.

They're the creation of New York artist Muriel Castanis, who was specially commissioned to create the figures for the 23-story building. She has described her work as "corporate goddesses."

"The view is best from here," Price says, gazing down on the statues. "They used to put Santa Claus hats on them at Christmastime. They don't do it anymore."

I think it's just fine to leave the Santa Claus hats off; still, the statues do apparently need some attention from time to time. A few years back, a specialty art restoration company gave the statues a much-needed freshening up:

The figure was cleaned with detergents, biocides, and denatured alcohol to remove dirt, debris, and biological growth. Deteriorated paint was removed and cracks, losses, and impact sites were repaired with Paraloid B-72 and glass fiber bulked resins. Caulk was removed from the base of the figure and pedestal. Corrosion was removed from the aluminum-clad pedestal, and the metal prepared for repainting. Embedded iron was removed from the leg of a second figure, and the material replaced with fiberglass patching material. All of the treated materials were repainted with a color-matched, industrial paint system.

I hadn't heard of Castanis before, but I have to say, I find the sculptures pretty nice, overall. I have no idea what they mean, but I think it's nice that the building included this artwork, even if it's rather unusual.

Who knows, maybe one day I'll make it up to the rooftop garden at 343 Sansome and see how the Goddesses look from that perspective.

But one thing's for sure: as I walk around the streets of the city, I'll remind myself to make more frequent glances skyward.