Construction Ahead

Here’s a question for you. No, it’s not a poll, and I don’t insist you answer in the comments. And I’m not sure there is a right answer .

Suppose you’re in the left lane of a three lane road. You pass a sign warning that, due to construction, the two left lanes are closed ahead.

Do you:

  1. Immediately start working your way over to the right lane,
  2. Wait until you can see the lighted arrows where the closure begins, then move to the right,
  3. Stay in your lane until you reach the point where it’s closed, then merge to the right?

As you might have guessed, I’ve got strong feelings about this one.

Remember the Richmond-San Rafael bridge? The one I use to get to and from work? The one where they’re busily replacing the expansion joints? The one where two lanes are closed in each direction for hours at a stretch so the construction can be done safely? Yeah, that one.

The backups are, to put it mildly, horrific.

Once everyone has gotten into a single lane, traffic moves at almost normal speeds. The problem is in getting to that point. Within minutes of the cones and signs going up, all three lanes are filled for miles leading up to the bottleneck.

It’s easy to blame the tie-up on the people who picked the third answer. After all, they’ve taken the “me first” approach. Sure, going all the way up to the point where they have to merge may save time for the first few people who do it, but when they stop and wait for a chance to merge across, they trigger a cascade of stopped cars in all the lanes.

On the other hand, one could just as easily point fingers at the people who were already in the right lane or who moved into it at the first warning sign. If they were more willing to allow late movers to merge, the delays would take longer to develop.

The rule of the road–written or otherwise–used to be “take turns, one from each lane”. That seems to have been kicked to the curb.

The people I don’t understand are the ones who picked the second answer. Do they think the first warning signs are a prank? Do they have to get stuck in the miles-long parking lot before they believe the signs are real? It seems like waiting but not going all the way to the final merge point just gets you the worst of the other two possibilities. But maybe I’m missing something. I await enlightenment.

As I said originally, I’m not sure there’s a right answer to the question, though I’m fairly certain that the second choice is the wrong answer.

But I hope we can all agree that the folks who repeatedly lane-hop into whichever lane is moving fastest and the ones who drive up the shoulder are the absolute worst.

Bridging the Gap

Speaking of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge (as I was last week) maybe you’ve heard that it’s joined the Bay Area’s roster of troublesome infrastructure?

The problems aren’t as severe as the Bay Bridge’s issues, nor as expensive to resolve as BART’s shortcomings, but they’re still an interesting little tale of terror.

Okay, maybe “terror” is excessive. Trauma, though…that works.

The story, or at least the current phase of it, started earlier this month–but let me give you some background first. The bridge is double-decked. The top deck is for westbound traffic (Richmond to San Rafael). There are two lanes and a wide shoulder, part of which is currently being converted into a bike and pedestrian path. The lower, eastbound deck, also has two lanes and a wide shoulder. As I explained in that earlier post, the shoulder is used as a third lane during the evening commute.

The bridge opened in 1956 and has been updated several times since, including undergoing a seismic retrofit in the early 2000s. Of particular note, the majority of the bridge’s joints–795 of 856–were rebuilt during the retrofit. The remaining 61 have been in place since the bridge opened.

Which brings us to February 7 of this year. At approximately 10:30, the California Highway Patrol received a report that chunks of concrete falling onto the lower deck. Specifically, someone told them a rock had fallen onto the hood of their car, denting it severely. Inspection showed that concrete was falling from around one of the expansion joints on the upper deck. Yes, one of the Original Sixty-One. At 11:20, give or take a few minutes, Caltrans closed the bridge in both directions.

Fortunately, the morning rush hour was mostly over by the time the bridge closed. And, for the curious, yes, I had driven over the bridge that morning, headed for San Rafael. And no, my car did not knock loose the chunk of concrete that was the cause of the CHP being called in. I’d passed that part of the bridge about fifteen minutes before the caller’s hood was crushed. Not guilty.

Without the bridge, there really isn’t a good way to get from San Rafael to the East Bay. You can use the Bay Bridge, but that means going through San Francisco, which is a nightmare of a commute even in the best of circumstances. Or you can go around to the north, via Novato, Vallejo, and Crockett, which involves a long stretch on the one-lane-in-each-direction Highway 37.

The bridge remained closed until shortly before 3:00. By then, of course, the evening commute was totally snarled. Opening one lane in either direction didn’t help much, and when more concrete fell, those lanes were closed again. (Again, I lucked out: I left work at three and made it across just before the 3:45 re-closure.)

After that, the upper deck stayed closed. A single lane on the lower deck opened around 4:30, but by then any commute anywhere in the Bay Area was a multi-hour affair.

Caltrans got a temporary patch in place–metal plates on the top and bottom of the upper deck–and reopened the bridge around 8:30. Amazingly, the congestion had all cleared by the following morning, and my commute to work was no worse than usual, aside from the jolt to my car’s suspension going over the temporary patch.

The upshot is that the Original Sixty-One are now being replaced. At least in theory. It’s been too wet for actual repairs to be carried out, which means the planned completion date of March 5 is totally out the window. The repairs and the delays to the repairs also means the bike lane is going to be delayed by at least two months.

To be fair, the rain is hardly Caltrans’ fault. And, as far as I can tell, the delay isn’t going to raise the cost of the repairs (about $10,000,000 for the 31 joints on the upper deck; the 30 on the lower deck were actually planned for replacement later this year in a separate rehabilitation project.)

But I doubt there are many Bay Area commuters looking forward to weeks or months of overnight lane closures.

And, even though there’s no evidence of problems at any of the other commuter bridges–and yes, that include the Golden Gate–I doubt I’m the only person who has second thoughts about driving on the Carquinez, San Mateo, or Dumbarton Bridges.

I mean, really, how much bridge luck can I reasonably expect to have?

Unfolding Before Your Eyes

The future is here–or will be on April 26–and it ain’t cheap.

Unless someone sneaks out a surprise, two months from now, Samsung will have the first folding phone commercially available in the US: the Galaxy Fold.

Though that’s actually a bit of a misnomer. When the device is folded, it looks like a fairly standard high-end phone, albeit one with an unusually narrow screen (1960×840) and really, really wide bezels.

Unfold it and it’s not really a phone anymore. The phone screen winds up on the back (here’s hoping they disable that screen when the device is unfolded) and you get a front-facing seven-inch tablet with a more-than-decent 2152×1536 resolution.

So what do you call it? Ars is saying “phone-tablet hybrid” but that’s a bit of a mouthful. Phablet is already in use and tablone isn’t very inspiring–and it sounds too much like Toblerone.

There’s been a lot of speculation about how well Android is going to handle folding screens, but largely in the context of a screen that folds into a different size and shape. In this case, you’re either using one screen or the other with no on-the-fly reconfiguration. Though, to be fair, it sounds like there’s some communication between screens. That’s a slightly different situation, however, and one that developers already know something about.

Frankly, I can’t see this gaining much traction, even among the early adopters who need every new thing that comes along. It looks prone to breakage (remember Apple’s butterfly keyboard?) and, because the folding screen can’t have a glass cover, likely to scratch easily.

Personally, I think a seven-inch tablet is exactly the right size, but by and large, the market doesn’t agree with me. Fans of eight to ten inch tablets are going to find the Fold’s tablet mode cramped, especially if they try to multitask. Samsung is saying you can display three apps at once, but how large are they going to be when they’ve divvied up those seven inches? I can’t be the only person who’s worried that text will be either too small to read or too large to fit well on a phone-optimized UI.

More important, however, is the price tag. At a whisker short of $2000, there aren’t a whole of people who’ll pick one up on impulse. And, as the iPhone X has shown, even Apple is having trouble convincing the general public to shell out four figures for a phone, no matter how large its screen may be.

When you can pick up a good phone and decent tablet for half the price of the Fold, two grand is going to be a hard sell. That folding screen has to deliver some solid value as a display or it’s going to come off as a gimmick.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of a folding display. A tablet I could legitimately fold up and tuck in a pocket sounds like a winning idea.

I just don’t think the Galaxy Fold is the right implementation. Even if I had $2000 to spend on a phone or table right now (I don’t), I’d sit back and see what other phone makers come up with. And I suspect a big chunk of Samsung’s potential market will too.

Follow the Leader

Can we talk about self-driving cars again? Oh, good. Thanks.

It occurred to me the other day that the public press (as opposed to the technical press) isn’t paying much attention to one particular aspect of autonomous vehicles: interoperation.

Every article I’ve seen that touches on the subject makes mention of emerging standards and the need for inter-vehicle communication, but they all seem to assume that having standards is the solution to all the potential problems.

Believe me, it ain’t. For one thing, there’s the ever-popular catchphrase “the great thing about standards is that there are so many of them”. Just because a car implements a particular standard, that doesn’t mean it implements every standard. And which version of the standard? They do evolve as the technology changes. Will a car that’s compliant with version 1.2 of the car standard for signaling a left turn recognize the intention of the oncoming truck that’s still using version 1.1 of the truck standard?

Lest you think I’m exaggerating the problem, consider the rules (not a standard, but similar in intent and function) for the noise-making apparatus in electric vehicles. (I talked about it several years ago.) That one document runs to 370 pages. Do you really think there are no errors that will require updates? Or a significant amendment to cover cars made in other countries? Or a missing subsection for retrofitting the technology to older electric cars released before the rules were finalized?

And, speaking of those 370 pages, that brings us to the second problem. Even assuming the best will in the world, no spec is ever totally unambiguous. Consider web browsers. Remember back around the turn of the century, when we had Internet Explorer, Netscape, and AOL’s customized versions of IE? All theoretically compliant with web standards, all delivering different user experiences–rendering pages slightly–or extremely–differently.

Nor do they do anything to prevent developers from introducing non-standard extensions. Do we really want some latter-day Netscape-wannabe from coming up with an automotive blink tag while their competitors over at Microsoft-like Motors are pushing their equivalent of the scrolling marquee tag?

But I digress slightly.

What started this train of thought was wondering how autonomous vehicle developers are going to handle weird, one-off situations. We know some of them are working up plans for turning control over to remote drivers (like OnStar on steroids). But how well is that going to work at 60 MPH?

Case in point: The Richmond-San Rafael has a part-time lane. For most of the day, it’s actually the shoulder on the eastbound part of the bridge. But during the afternoon rush hour, it becomes a traffic lane. There are lights to signal when it’s open to traffic–and the open hours are scheduled–but it can be taken out of service when necessary. That means developers can’t count on programming open times. Cars may or may not be able to read the signal lights. Maybe there’s a standard compliant (for some standard or other) radio signal as well.

But the critical point here is that the lane markings are, well, weird. There’s a diagonal stripe that cuts across the lane; when the lane is open, drivers are expected to ignore the line, but at other times, they’re supposed to follow it in merging into the next lane over.

How is the car supposed to know when to follow the line? (Come to think of it, how do current lane assist technologies handle that stretch of road?) How are the programmers prioritizing lane markings versus other signals?

Maybe, I thought, in ambiguous situations, the rule could be “follow the car in front of you”. That could work. Sooner or later, the chain of cars deferring to the next one forward will reach a human-driven car which can resolve the conflict. Hopefully that driver is experienced enough to get it right and neither drunk nor distracted by their cell phone.

But how are the cars going to know if the car in front of them is trustworthy–i.e. is following the same “follow the car in front of me” rule? Is your Toyota going to trust that Ford in front of it? Or will it only follow other Japanese manufactured vehicles? Maybe the standard can include a “I’m following the car in front of me” signal. But what if the signal changes in version 2.2a of the specification?

There’s a classic short story* in which cars and trucks have evolved from trains. Each manufacturer’s vehicles require a different shape of track and a different width between tracks. Some are nearly compatible, able to use a competitor’s tracks under certain special circumstances. As you might imagine, the roads are a mess, with multiple tracks on every street, except where a city has signed an exclusive deal with one manufacturer.

* Whose title and author currently escape me, darn it. If you recognize it, please let me know in the comments.

The story is an allegory on the early personal computer industry with its plethora of competing standards and almost-compatible hardware, but I can’t help wondering if we’re about to see it play out in real life on our roads.

A Modern Headache

Need a break? Too much going on in your life, and you just need to veg out for a while? Kick back, turn on the TV. You pick the channel, it doesn’t matter.

Because your relaxation will be interrupted. Probably by a telemarketer–but that’s a subject for a different post. No, I’m talking about the commercials. Specifically, the drug commercials.

Annoying as all get-out, aren’t they? Most likely you don’t have the condition the drug they’re touting is intended to cure. Even if you do, the list of side effects would make any rational person flee in terror.

I’m especially confused by the ads that say “Don’t take this if you’re allergic to it.” How are you supposed to know you’re allergic to it unless you’re already taking it?.

But I digress.

What really puzzles me about the whole phenomenon is how many people think this is new.

It’s not. Consider Allan Sherman’s classic paen to one class of medical ads from 1963:

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Disturbing scenes of body parts you’d rather not see. Appeals to bypass authority. Untested claims of efficacy.

Replace “Bayer Aspirin” with “Otezla” and the only way the audience could tell the difference between the 1960 commercial and the 2019 commercial would be that the older one is in black and white*.

* Anyone else remember seeing “The following program is brought to you in glorious, living color” on a black and white TV set?

Bottom line, this kind of ad has built more than fifty years of inertia. That means they must work, or the advertisers would have tried something different. And that means they’re not going away, no matter how many people scream for legislation.

Let’s face it: Allan had it right. The only way to ensure you’ll never be bothered by a drug ad again is to eat your TV.

Slow Development

I’m waiting for the next big advance in automotive safety. As you might have gathered from my post last week, it’s not noise cancellation.

No, this isn’t a guessing game. It’s the logical outgrowth of the lane assist and automatic braking technology we already have.

When are we getting…um…heck, I can’t think of a good advertisable name for it. Which might just be part of the reason we haven’t seen it deployed yet. I’m talking about some kind of warning system that alerts a driver who’s following too closely.

It could just be an alert, like the lane monitoring routines that trigger if you cross the lines without signaling for a lane change. Or it could be a proactive solution, slowing down your car to increase the space in front of you, in the same way that automatic braking takes over the vehicle.

Yes, it’s a complicated problem. Off the top of my head, it would need to consider your speed and the speed of the cars around you, weather conditions, the height and direction of the sun, the state of the road, and even the age and condition of your tires. And there are other questions that would need to be addressed. Should the technology shut off in parking lots and other areas where the typical top speed is measured in single digits? What about in bumper to bumper freeway traffic? Can the driver shut it off, either temporarily or permanently?

But complicated doesn’t mean impossible, and it’s a problem that’s going to have to be solved for autonomous vehicles. That means there are plenty of bright people (and history suggests there are even more not-so-bright people) working on it right now.

I’d even be willing to bet that there’s at least one auto manufacturer who has it solid enough that they could deploy it by 2021–the same year as Bose’s noise cancellation.

But we’re probably not going to see it that soon, if ever, because if you thought the technology was complicated, give some thought to the marketing!

To be blunt, the people who most need this are the ones who are least likely to buy a car that has it. Do you think that guy who rides your bumper and goes zipping across three lanes of traffic will be willing to pay for his car to slow him down (or even nag him to back off)? How about the woman who’s trying to improve her fuel economy a little by drafting behind a big rig?

So, no, we’re not going to see Safe Distance any time soon. Not until some smart marketer comes up with a more salable name for it and all manufacturers are ready to deploy it–or there’s a legal mandate to include it in all new cars sold.

I’ll be dreaming of the day.

Quietly Bad

One bit of tech news that hasn’t gotten as much attention as I expected is Bose’s announcement that they’ve come up with noise reduction technology for cars.

They’re not making the cars quieter. They’re reducing the amount of road noise inside the car. Yes, like noise-canceling headphones, only for an entire vehicle instead of one person’s ears.

This is, IMNSHO, a bad idea.

Maybe not as bad as electronic license plates or the no-pitch intentional walk. Not quite.

Look, I don’t fly without my headphones. They work brilliantly at filtering out continuous sounds–like the plane’s engines–and not quite as well on repetitious sounds–like the crying baby in the seat behind me. But you know who doesn’t wear noise-canceling headphones on a plane? The flight attendants and the flight deck crew. In other words, the people who are responsible for the safety and comfort of the passengers.

Because the technology isn’t perfect. It also partially eliminates conversation. It glitches occasionally, allowing the background noise to leak through. Those glitches are distracting, and the unintended reduction of non-continuous sounds is a potential safety concern.

Consider how this would apply in your car.

Will Bose’s technology filter or reduce the siren of the police car behind you? Will it make your navigator–human or GPS–quieter? Will it be smart enough to know that droning noise is your favorite bagpipe CD, or will it filter out part of your music? Except, of course, for the occasional glitch where it cuts out and lets through a sudden burst of B flat.

All that aside, even if the technology was perfect, reducing only road noise, without hiccups or glitches, it’s still a bad idea.

Road noise is one of the signals a driver uses to keep tabs on the state of the car and the road. The pitch is part of the feedback system that lets you hold a constant speed on the freeway (traffic permitting, of course). Sudden changes in the sound signal a change in the road surface, alerting you to the possibility of potholes or eroded asphalt.
Do we really want to increase driver distractions and decrease their awareness of what’s going on outside their cars?

Apparently we do. Bose’s announcement says the technology “is planned to be in production models by the end of 2021.” Given the lead time involved in automotive design, that means contracts have been signed and engineers are hard at work now.

I’d offer congratulations to Bose, but they probably wouldn’t hear me.

Two Bits on Seven Gigs

Time to put in my two bits* on a technology story that’s been making the rounds. Sure, I’m late to the party, but I’m going to jump in anyway because it gives me a chance to exercise my contrarian side.

* Yes, I know the expression is “two cents worth”. I could claim it’s inflation, but the truth is, I like to think my opinion–however belated–is worth more than a couple of pennies. Either way, though, you’re getting it for free, so take it for what it’s worth to you.

Word on the street is that Microsoft is again tweaking the way Windows upgrades itself. This time it’s got nothing to do with forced reboots while you’re trying to get work done. Microsoft has noticed–and, gosh, it only took them three and a half years–that Windows 10 often runs out of disk space during upgrades.

There are all kinds of ways to avoid this problem. Making updates smaller springs to mind immediately. Upgrade files in use–a technique Linux has been using for years. Hardcore geeks will undoubtedly have other ideas.

Microsoft’s idea is to set aside a chunk of the hard drive for its own use. About seven gigabytes.

It has the advantage of simplicity.

To be fair, I’m making it sound worse than it is. On any reasonably sized drive, either 7GB is so small as to be unnoticeable or the drive is so full that sacrificing 7GB to the Deities of Richmond isn’t going to make any difference.

Where this will be a problem is on computers with small drives. Like, say, tablets, which often have no more than 32GB drives. (If the rumors are true that Google is going to allow Chromebooks to dual-boot Windows, the same will be true there.)

Much as I love my Windows tablet, space is tight. As I said in that original post, once the initial Windows updates were installed, it was down to a mere 1.5GB. After two years of use, installing just a few programs, and putting as much data on an SD card as I can, I usually have around 5GB free. If Windows sets aside 7GB for its own use, I’m going to be in negative numbers.

It may not be quite that bad, actually. Supposedly, certain temporary files will be stored in that reserved area, freeing up space elsewhere. But while zero is better than negative, it’s an awfully slim margin.

On the other hand, I have gotten rather tired of the semi-annual reclamation of disk space.

Bottom line–and this is where the contrarian bit comes in–I think this news is completely irrelevant to ninety percent of Windows 10 users.

If your hard drive is 256GB or larger, ignore the fuss. You’ll never notice those seven gigabytes.

Same goes for those of you with 128GB, unless you’re in the habit of carrying around your entire library of cat videos. If you’re in that group, embrace the cloud. Put the videos in OneDrive or Dropbox and enjoy the digital elbow room.

If you’ve only got 64GB, you’re in an odd spot. Space is likely to be tight enough that seven gigabytes will hurt, but you’ve probably got enough accumulated junk that you can free up that much space after Microsoft claims its share, and be right back where you are now. Cloud storage will definitely be your friend.

Case in point: my Windows laptop is currently using 57GB. That’s a bit tight, but quite usable. But I’d better clear out some deadwood before the spring Windows update. I note that I’ve got about eight gigabytes of photos and videos on there–a few Ragtime Festival movies and pretty much every picture of the cats I’ve ever taken. Maybe I’ll move those out to OneDrive.

As for those of us with itty-bitty teeny-weenie 32GB drives. Find that space is going to hurt. But on the bright side, once it’s done, we shouldn’t have to do it again. No more trying to scrounge those last few megabytes every six months. No more installing updates manually from USB drives and hoping the tablet’s battery doesn’t run down halfway through the upgrade. I’m inclined to think that right there is worth the initial pain.

So, yeah. Thank you, Microsoft, for trying to solve the problem. You may not have the most elegant solution possible, but if it works, don’t listen to the hip crowd. Take my seven gigs. Please!

I’m Back

And I’m back. Did–no, on second thought, I won’t ask if you missed me. If you did, I’ll be mortified at denying you the pleasure of my company for two weeks. And if you didn’t, you’ll be mortified at having to admit it. So let’s just not go there and save us all the embarrassment.

Taking the time off was definitely the right move. Not having to fit blogging around a work training schedule, holidays, and family time simplified my life enormously. I’m still on a training (read that as “variable”) schedule, but everything else has settled down enough that I think I can get back to blogging on the usual Tuesday/Thursday/Friday plan. I’ll worry about possible changes to the blog posts once I’m done with training and have a more predictable work schedule.

No, I didn’t get much fiction writing done over the break. But I’m ready to get back to that as well. As soon as this post goes up, I’m starting the second draft of Demirep. Unlike many authors, I enjoy revising. Finishing a first draft is a rush, but sometimes the actual writing is a slog. Rewriting is almost always easier, because I know where I’m going and how I’m getting there. Fewer false trails means faster, more enjoyable writing.

Moving on.

There’s progress on the Bay BridgeTransbay Transit Center. The repair plan has been made and approved. Not a whole of detail has been released yet–it sounds like there will be more after the Transbay Joint Powers Authority board meets on Thursday–but the gist is that steel plates will be attached on the upper and lower surfaces of the vulnerable beams.

Standard disclaimer: I’m not a structural engineer. That said, the fact that the plan calls for reinforcements to be added to both the Fremont Street and First Street beams suggests to me that the tests found nothing wrong with the metal–that the problem is more likely to be design or construction. I’m looking forward to hearing more, including the estimated date for reopening the Transit Center, which will depend in large part on how long it takes to find a source for the reinforcement plates.

Moving on again.

Actual employment that requires leaving the house does mean I’ll have less time for television. That may be a problem come baseball season–though, as I’ve said before, I find having a ballgame on in the background helps my writing–but at this time of year, it’s arguably a good thing. Yes, the latest seasons of Worst Cooks in America and Kids Baking Challenge* started this week, the former on Sundays at 9:00 and midnight Eastern, the latter on Mondays at the same time. Which is, by the way, very nice scheduling for those of us on the West Coast: 6pm and 9pm fit very nicely around dinner and bedtime. (As usual, those of you in other time zones get the awkward scheduling.)

* Shouldn’t that be “Kids'” with an apostrophe? It’s a competition for, i.e. belonging to multiple kids.

But I’m having doubts about WCiA. It’s a cooking show, supposedly. But it seems as though each season we see less cooking, and the antics of the competitors are getting more predictable. Both, IMNSHO, are the result of competitors being chosen for their personality traits, rather than their willingness to actually learn to cook.

We’ve got the wacky ones. We’ve got the one with a crippling lack of self-confidence. The annoying fan of one of the instructor chefs. The one whose mother still cooks all his meals. The model (and, goddess help us, we’ve got two models and a bodybuilder this season). The one who thinks sugar is a universal ingredient and the one who thinks the same of capsaicin. And, of course, the one who thinks her cooking is just fine and doesn’t understand why her relatives forced her to go on the show.

The producers think this will lead to wacky hijinks. The point they’re forgetting is that arguments aren’t story. Nobody wants to see watch people snapping and snarling at each other. We want to see the contestants successes and, yes, the failures that don’t threaten to fill the set with flames. It’s their growth as cooks that’s the story.

Last season the show spent so much time on personality clashes that the cooking seemed halfhearted. Even in the finale, the cooking competition seemed muted and the food wasn’t up to the standard set in previous years. If this season goes down the same path, I won’t be watching. Which would free up an hour a week for writing. Hmm.

KBC, on the other hand, is still a delight. The kids all have their quirks, but they’re not extremely exaggerated stereotypes. They’ve clearly all been working hard at their craft for years, they’re thrilled to be on the show, and they understand that stuff happens–forgotten ingredients, knife cuts, and bad days–and has to be dealt with.

And it’s obvious they’ve studied the show’s earlier seasons. They know what’s coming, and it was charming to see them literally fleeing in terror when the twist arrived in yesterday’s episode. And yes, though we’ve seen it before, it’s still nice to see them pitch in to help each other finish when time is short.

That’s an hour of potential writing time I’m going to sacrifice willingly every week.

Quick Takes

A couple of shorter items today, because reasons.

First up, the Matier & Ross column in yesterday’s Chron announced that ticket kiosks are being reinstalled at the Temporary Transbay Terminal, suggesting that it’s likely to a while before the new terminal is back in operation.

Oddly, that’s not really bad news. I don’t think anybody expected a quick fix. Even by the most optimistic estimates, the new terminal couldn’t have reopened before February.

The only real surprise in the news is that testing of the cracked beams is still going on. That was supposed to be complete sometime in November. So, yes, the process is lagging behind schedule, but did anyone expect otherwise? And, frankly, I’m choosing to regard the delay as a good sign. Better to take it slowly and be sure everybody is happy with the testing than to rush it and stoke fears that something has been missed.

Assuming the tests wrap up this month and show the cracking isn’t a design problem, we’re still looking at a few more months. The fix will need to be planned, approved internally and by an external group of engineers, and then implemented and (one hopes) tested.

So spending the money to put the kiosks back where the riders are just makes sense.

Moving on.

A bit of news out of the Northwest.

Seattle has been granted a NHL franchise and will begin play in 2021.

Even though I no longer follow hockey, I’m pleased to hear it.

Just this once, let’s skip the discussion of injuries, violence, and general unpleasantness that usually goes along with talk about the NHL and NFL.

It may come as a surprise to many people, but Seattle was once a big hockey town. Back in the nineteen-teens–before the NHL was founded–the Seattle Metropolitans played for the Stanley Cup three times, winning once and losing once. (The playoff was canceled in 1919, due to a flu epidemic. No vaccines in those days.)

They also had a team from 1944 to 1975, playing in the high minor Western Hockey League. That was the team I followed obsessively in my possibly misspent youth. (There’s also a current minor league team, the Thunderbirds, but they don’t get a whole lot of press, even in Seattle, so…)

So, yes, it’s good to see high-level hockey coming back to Seattle. It should be good for the city: like the Mariners, they should be able to draw fans from Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, which means hotel revenue. There’s an automatic rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, not just because of geographic proximity, but also because Vancouver used to treat the Seattle team as a farm club. Now they’ll be meeting on an even footing.

The big question now, of course, is what the team will be called. That WHL team started out as the Ironmen, changed to the Bombers and the Americans, before settling on Totems. It doesn’t seem like there’s any sentiment for those first three names, but Totems has a lot of appeal–though, as several people have already noted, it would take some significant outreach to avoid controversy over cultural appropriation.

Apparently there’s even some interest in reviving the Metropolitan name. I’ll admit to liking the idea, but it probably won’t go anywhere. Inter-sport name collisions are one thing, but conflict within the league is discouraged. The NHL has a Metropolitan division, so confusion would be inevitable, especially given that Seattle won’t be in that division.

Some of the other ideas the franchise owners are considering are also problematic. “Rainiers” is on the list, but the Tacoma Rainiers baseball team is only about thirty minutes away. Awkward. “Cougars” isn’t much better. Washington State University wouldn’t be too happy about that, and annoying a big chunk of your potential fanbase doesn’t seem like a good idea.

“Renegades”? Blech.

“Evergreens”? Maybe. It’s somewhat unique, anyway. But are we really ready for the reporting when the team loses and attendance drops? “Last night the Evergreens tried to answer the old chestnut, falling 3-0 in a mostly empty arena. Not a sound was heard.” Nah.

I’m sure we’ll hear plenty more as ownership narrows down the list.