Google Looks to 2018

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at Microsoft’s hardware announcements. This week, it’s Google’s turn. Where Microsoft was looking ahead to 2020, Google seems to be looking backward. Think I’m kidding? Consider the evidence:

New “Pixel Buds,” true wireless headphones that–in addition to letting you listen to music and made phone calls–allow you to talk to an electronic assistant. Regardless of your feelings about Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and HeyGoogle, these earbuds would have been revolutionary a couple of years ago; now they come off as “We’re going to jump off the same bridge as all of our friends.”

Then there’s the Pixelbook Go. Hmm. Where have we heard the word “Go” in a computer name lately? Microsoft used it for a machine that focused on portability. Sensible, even logical. Google uses it for a computer that, uh, has long battery life and was “thin”.

I don’t see the connection. (Google’s Go, by the way, is approximately twice as heavy as Microsoft’s.)

And, let’s be frank here. People didn’t buy zillions of the earlier Pixelbooks because they were too heavy. They didn’t buy them because nobody saw the benefit of a ChromeOS device at that price point. The Pixelbook Go will be cheaper, but it’s still at the upper end of the Chromebook price range.

Moving on, we have a new incarnation of the Google Home Mini. It’s now the Nest Mini, comes in a new color–blue–and has a wall mount. Supposedly it also has twice as much bass (which at least answers one of the major concerns about a device that small designed for playing music) and an additional microphone so it can eavesdrop on you more accurately.

After the “Apple is listening to you having sex” scandals, does Google really want to be promoting its enhanced listening capabilities?

The changes really feel like Google is repairing the deficiencies of something that wasn’t all that exciting or original in its first incarnation.

Of course there has to be an update to the mesh Wi-Fi gadget. The new version looks cooler. Slightly. It’s got Google Home built in, so your Wi-Fi network can listen in on youplay music and answer questions. Isn’t that what the Nest Mini and your phone are for?

Is it any faster than the previous generation? Able to support more simultaneous users? Dunno. Google didn’t say.

Again, incremental tweaks to a “me too” gadget.

And, finally, there’s the Pixel 4.

That actually has a unique feature: a radar sensor. No, not for detecting speed traps. For registering nearby motion so you can control it with hand gestures without picking it up.

I can see so many uses for that. Like changing the volume when listening to music while driving. Dismissing notifications while driving. Pausing videos while, uh, driving. Um. Let me get back to you on this one.

I’ll admit the new audio recorder with built-in speech recognition to transcribe lectures sounds neat. I do have to wonder how long it’ll be before they get hit with a lawsuit because someone figured out how to use it to transcribe song lyrics.

And, of course, there are the usual highly touted improvements to the camera, some physical and some in the software.

Granted, better and better cameras are, IMNSHO, a more useful arms race than bigger and bigger screens, but still, I have to wonder who the audience is. How many people use their phone camera in anything other than full automatic mode? Do the majority of us really need control of Google’s HDR algorithms? Or would we be better off with a cheaper phone that takes decentish pictures, while the few who actually need total control of their photos put the money they save on the phone toward a better lens for their DSLR?

Microsoft Looks to 2020

There’s nothing like a pre-announcement, right?

Take, for example, Microsoft’s forthcoming Surface Neo. Announced today for release in time for Christmas. That’s Christmas 2020.

Still, it sounds like a cool device. Aimed right at my small computer fetish. Two nine-inch screens, a detached keyboard, weight under a pound and a half. With even a half-decent CPU–which it sounds like it will have–the Neo could kill off my current favorite small machine, the Surface Go.

Of course, who knows what else will be on the market a year from now when the Neo becomes available for reals?

Interestingly, Microsoft is trying the same idea in a phone. Yep, getting back into the phone game. Only this time, they’re not trying to cram the full Windows experience into a handheld device.

The Surface Duo–also scheduled for the end of next year–is an Android phone.

Stop laughing. Microsoft Word for Android is actually solid, as is their remote desktop app. I haven’t tried the Android Excel, but the reports are good. And Android Outlook is no worse than Windows Outlook. (Yes, I know that’s a low bar to jump. So?) The point is that Microsoft has a decent track record with Android, and with a year to refine their apps for a dual-screen life, they just might score a serious win.

There’s a fair to middling chance I might be looking for a new phone around the end of next year or beginning of 2021; if the Duo reaches its full potential, it just might be enough to lure me away from the Pixel 5 (or whatever Google is pushing by then.)

Long-range planning aside, Microsoft has also announced a bunch of new gadgets that are coming out this year.

A new Surface Laptop. Two actually. One with the standard 13.5-inch screen and Intel CPU, and one with a 15-inch screen and an AMD CPU.

A new Surface Pro*. Very similar to last year’s model, but this one finally adds the USB-C port Surface fans have been screaming for. (The Surface Go has a USB-C port and it’s been great. I only wish there were two of ’em.)

* The main difference between the “Laptop” line and the “Pro” line is that the former have a built-in keyboard, while the latter use a sold-separately, magnetically attached keyboard.

Earbuds. Really? Yeah, I know Microsoft’s Surface Earphones have gotten some good reviews, but did we really need earbuds? Apparently so. Anyway, if you need earbuds that take dictation, you might give these a try.

Then there’s the Pro X. A thin-and-light laptop; it’s distinguishing feature is that it uses an ARM CPU. It should be fast, but if you need programs from companies not named Microsoft, I’d suggest holding off until we get more solid data about compatibility with existing Windows software.

Anything sound interesting to you?

The End of an Era

The mystique has come to an end.

According to multiple reports, Android will no longer have sweet-themed release names.

If this is true, Pie is a good way to go out, but it’s an interesting decision on Google’s part. Not only do they lose a wildly popular bit of their brand, but the stated reasons for making the decision don’t quite add up.

It’s a rare corporate decision that can’t be revisited. Change your logo and lose sales? Change it again to something closer to the original. Refocus on a new target market and take a bath? Bring back an old corporate spokesperson to re-engage with the original buyers (anyone remember when Snap, Crackle, and Pop vanished, only to return?)

But this is a decision Google can’t take back. If, a year from now, they announce that Android R will be named “Rice Pudding,” then retroactively the “Android Q” move will seem like a ploy to get free advertising from the media. Nor would (ahem) sugar-coating the news by claiming that Q was named Quisp (or Quince, or anything else really) within the company improve the look.

Why are they doing this? I’ve seen two claimed reasons.

The media focuses on the name rather than the new features. So? As long as users use the OS and manufacturers license the Google apps, do you think Google really cares whether the free advertising focuses on the name or the spiffy new Back button functionality?

People complained that the names weren’t inclusive enough. People switch phones for a lot of reasons, but I really doubt Google was losing business to iOS over the code names. But if I’m wrong about that, Google could improve the naming process. The company is already in the spotlight over diversity issues; improving representation in the group that chooses Android names would fall right in line with their efforts to do more improve representation throughout the company.

Of course, the reports could be wrong. Android Q will be out next month, possibly as soon as next week. Maybe we’ll find out that it’s actually named Quinoa–hey, if you can make rice pudding, why not a sweet quinoa-based cake?

Jackpot!

We all have a level of risk we’re comfortable with.

I’m okay spending ten bucks a week on the microscopic chance of winning one of the lotteries operated and widely promoted by the government. You may feel the same, you may not.

I’m also fine with investing months of my life on the even smaller possibility of hitting it big as a writer*. I know some of you think that’s an insane gamble.

* To be clear, the goal is getting my books published so people can read them and making enough money that publishers will continue to buy them. Cracking the best-seller lists and making oodles of dough is what Corporate America calls a “stretch goal”.

The point is not that I’m crazy. The point is that there are some games I won’t play, but plenty of other people do.

Case in point: the ransomware game. Now there’s one with high odds.

Sure, you might go a lifetime online and never get infected. If you stick with well-known companies that don’t run ads on their websites, you’ve got a good chance. Mind you, you need to go directly to their sites, not look them up on your search engine of choice. And, really, does anybody stick with just two or three websites?

Okay, yes, there are search engines that don’t show ads. And entertaining websites that don’t show ads and never get hacked. You might get lucky.

But ransomware is on the rise. It’s the attacks on cities that’s getting most of the media attention, because that’s something new and different. Newsworthy, by definition. But attacks on individuals haven’t stopped, and–anecdotally–are becoming more common as well.

Which shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s a great moneymaker. As with spam, all you need is one success to cover the cost of thousands or even millions of attacks. And, also as with spam, you don’t just get one victim forking over the cash (or Bitcoin).

Your profit goes up even further if you don’t actually respond to anyone who pays up. Why maintain the infrastructure to send out decryption software and keys? It’s not like a brick and mortar company, whose victimscustomers have to be able to find them. You’re hunting down your own customersvictims and not giving them a choice about doing business with you.

So, yeah, the odds in the ransomware game suck.

Install anti-virus and anti-malware software from a reputable company. Even better if it includes a browser plugin that highlights links known to be unsafe. Make sure to keep it up to date. Install a pop-up blocker as well–many attacks are made via windows that pop-up behind your main window and do their work before you even realize they’re there.

And keep multiple backups of anything you can’t stand to lose. (I keep my writing in Dropbox which backs up continuously and keeps thirty days of history so if I had to, I could go back to an older, uninfected version of every chapter of every book. I also run an hourly backup from my main computer to a second computer in another room and a daily backup to a third machine in another state. It’s not a perfect system, but there’s that level of risk thing again.)

Back up, back up, back up. (Haven’t I said that recently?)

We all have our own comfort level with risk, but I don’t know anyone who wants to hit the ransomware jackpot enough to play the game.

Go On

I’ve been using the new computer setup long enough to have some thoughts. Since I know at least some of you share my fascination with small computers, I’ll post the thoughts here, rather than just keeping them in my head.

Let’s go back to June. In talking about my search for a USB-C hub or docking station that would support two external monitors, I said my previous computer setup just wasn’t cutting it for travel.

The biggest reason was that my laptop was too large. Too big to fit conveniently on my desk. Way too big to use on an airplane.

The adhesive holding the screen in the case was going bad, as well. I’m fairly sure it’s fixable, but until I can get that done, the “do I dare pick this up?” factor made using it even less convenient.

So, yes, I bought a new laptop. Sort of.

Remember my Windows tablet? I still love the thing. It’s a great size for an ebook reader, and having something that can run Word while still being small and light enough to carry was wonderful.

But, while I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth of use out of the tablet–$89 more than two years ago–it is showing it’s age. The storage is small enough to make Windows updates a pain the rear, the lack of RAM makes Windows 10 slower than it needs to be on that CPU, and most importantly, the power button is starting to fail. It doesn’t always turn on or off when I push the button.

So, yes, I bought a new tablet. Sort of.

To be precise, I got a Microsoft Surface Go. With the keyboard.

It’s bigger than the tablet, but when I disconnect the keyboard, it’s not noticeably heavier*, so it works well as a tablet-slash-ebook-reader. The larger screen makes it more suitable for video. I can actually watch ballgames on this thing without squinting. The keyboard is surprisingly comfortable to work with. I wouldn’t want to write a whole book on it, but a chapter or three while traveling wouldn’t be a problem. Heck, I’ve written two blog posts on it, and nobody’s complained about a surge in typos.

* It is heavier. Just not enough so that I notice in daily use.

The computer is far more capable than I expected. Just as a test, I’m currently playing a 4K video on one monitor while I write this post. The video is being scaled down to fit on the 1080p screen, and playback is still smooth, even though it’s being pulled down over the network. Nor is there any lag in the word processor. I type–on a keyboard connected to the same USB hub as the network adapter–and the characters appear on the screen.

It’s got enough muscle to run GIMP for the small amount of image editing I do, which is mostly preparing the pictures for Friday posts. It can handle WSL (Windows System for Linux), so I’m not cut off from the few Linux programs I need. I’ve even had GIMP, Word, a music player, and my email program running at the same time without a significant slow down.

Now, admittedly, I splurged a bit on the Go. I shelled out for the more powerful model–same CPU, but twice as much storage and memory–and then shelled out again for the LTE model. Not only can I write on the go, but I can get online anywhere I can get a cellphone signal without having to tether the computer to my phone. I’ve used the ability twice so far. Yes, to publish the two blog posts. Turns out I can’t get to my website with the Wi-Fi at work.

Dropbox keeps my writing projects synchronized between the Go and the multiple backups on my home computers*, so I can just pick it up and go, knowing I’ll have the latest version of everything I’m likely to work on already on the machine.

* Yes, I know I could do the same thing with OneDrive. But OneDrive’s cross-platform support lags behind Dropbox. And I’ve been using Dropbox long enough to have fine-tuned my configuration to fit my workflow. Not worth the effort to switch.

The Go isn’t perfect. Music playback does sometimes stutter when I open another program. But that seems to be more a Windows problem than something specific to the Go. I had the same problem on the old laptop.

I do a little video editing*. There’s no way I’m going to try that on the Go. But I’ve still got my desktop Linux machine. I can just use that for video edits. I can even do it remotely, so I can sit downstairs (where the temperature is more comfortable) on the Go while the Linux box stays upstairs and does the work.

* Which reminds me: I wanted to share a video from the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. Look for that sometime next week.

There’s no optical drive. I could buy a USB drive for ripping CDs, but that same Linux box has a DVD drive. More than sufficient for my needs.

The cameras…well, I haven’t actually tried the cameras. The one that faces me works well enough for logging me in. That’s all I really need. If I want to take pictures, I’ll use my phone. Or a real camera (to the extent that a point-and-shoot can be considered “real”). That said, the facial recognition is neat, in a slightly creepy way. Maybe if it didn’t insist on greeting me by name. “Good evening, Casey” does drive home the point that nobody really knows how much detail Microsoft gets in tracking usage. But that’s another day’s post.

All in all, the pros outweigh the cons. I’m quite happy with my new little computer.

The bottom line: If you’re looking for a highly portable computer and don’t need to do serious number crunching, the Surface Go is quite an attractive option.

Good Times

The good times never last forever. That’s a universal law–just ask any Warriors fan. It’s true in baseball, and it’s true in technology.

Since I wrote about the winning ways of the Mariners, Orioles, and Giants, the three teams have gone a collective 3-10. It’s not hard to see why: in those thirteen games, they’ve scored 43 runs and given up 86. With run differentials like that, it’s a minor miracle they’ve won any games. (Kudos to the Orioles, who contributed two of the three victories.)

There are around fifty games left in the season. The Mariners are trying to figure out their next few seasons, the Orioles are looking for ways to earn some self-respect, and the Giants are hanging onto a small chance of making the playoffs.

Meanwhile, we’ve recently gotten a lesson in how the universal law applies in the wonderful world of technology.

Maggie’s much-beloved cell phone passed away. Maggie refuses to give up a physical keyboard, so she clung resolutely to her BlackBerry Q10.

Let it be noted that I’m not casting aspersions on her choice. I see the appeal of a physical keyboard and still fondly recall my RIM 750, from back in the days when pagers were state-of-the-art. Where we differ is that I’m not willing to put up with the compromises necessary to have that keyboard.

Those compromises are on the software side of the equation. BlackBerry is, if not the only company still making phones with keyboards, the only one with any actual US distribution. Their latest phones run almost-stock Android–although updates can be erratic–but the Q10 runs BlackBerry’s proprietary operating system.

That, naturally, makes it hard to find software to do some very basic things. Like, for example, back up your data.

There is, or was, a Dropbox client for the Q10. It was hard to install, confusing to configure, and usually refused to run automatically. These are not desirable traits in software you want to back up something as precious as years of cat photos.

Then there are all those years of collected emails, text messages, and the contacts that go with them. Turns out that even though the Q10 requires you to use a GMail account for setup, it only uses GMail for transport. Received emails and contacts live on the device. Contacts can be synced to Google, but it’s a manual process.

Want to see if anything has been backed up to your user account on the carrier’s system? Better hope you don’t have Sprint: they require a two-step authentication process that involves sending a text message to your phone. You know, the phone that doesn’t work.

The lesson here is NOT that BlackBerry sucks or that Sprint is horrible.* It’s not even that one should avoid unusual systems or devices.

* Ironically, it was exactly here that Firefox crashed, taking Windows down with it and forcing me to turn the power off without saving anything. Fortunately, I had just saved two minutes before, so I didn’t have much to recreate.

The lesson is that the good times will end. They’ll be back eventually, sure. But they’ll return much faster if you prepare for them. In baseball, build up your farm system. In computers, backup.

Backup everything. Frequently. Make it part of your daily routine. If you can’t do an automatic backup, do it manually.

Ite, missa est

Not So FasT

Can anyone explain why there’s so much resistance to FasTrak?

That’s a serious question.

But let me back up. For those of you not in California, FasTrak is the local automated toll payment system. Currently used for bridge tolls, but in the not too distant future, it’ll probably also be used for paid access to express lanes. There’s a radio-triggered transponder in the car; when it’s tripped, a toll is debited from the user’s account.

The reason I ask is that this past weekend I got stuck in a multi-hour traffic jam on my way to work. The cause, as far as I can tell, was the non-FasTrak users blocking all the lanes as they tried to move across the freeway into the Cash Lane at the toll plaza.

This is not the first time I’ve gotten caught in one of these crunches–which is why I’d allowed enough time to get to work on schedule despite the jam–but it was definitely the worst.

I can’t believe so many thousand people don’t know that they’re going to have to get into the Cash Lane, nor that they don’t know they’re going to have to pay.

So there must be some reason they don’t sign up with FasTrak.

Granted, the program has some features I’m not happy with. Most notably, if you back your account with a credit card, FasTrak controls when your balance will be replenished and how much they’ll put in each time. But if that’s a problem, just don’t give them a credit card. Mail them a check or money order periodically. Or manage the account actively. If you make a manual deposit when the account gets low, the automatic payment won’t trigger.

The main concern I hear is about privacy. “I don’t want the government to know where I’m driving.” It’s a legitimate concern.

But FasTrak isn’t the problem. The toll plaza cameras record every license plate that goes through, whether you’re using FasTrak or paying cash. Sure, it’s partly–even mostly–to back up the FasTrak readers, but it’s also to catch toll evaders and to protect toll takers. If memory serves, the cameras were there before FasTrak.

Bottom line, the state knows where you’re driving. Or can figure it out with minimal effort.

And FasTrak does allow you to set up an anonymous account. No name or vehicle identification attached. Pay cash. Sure, they can use the camera data to tie your vehicle to the transponder, but see above–they can figure out who you are anyway.

I’ve also heard “It’s too expensive.”

Well, okay. If you use cash, there’s a $20 deposit for the transponder. But that will be returned, albeit without interest, if you return it in good shape. That aside, tolls are the same or lower if you use FasTrak. I’m not buying that argument.

How much is your time worth? If you’re on an hourly salary, you know exactly how much sitting in traffic costs you.

“I’d only use it occasionally.” So? There’s no charge for not using it. Why wouldn’t you get it for that one drive across a bridge a month or a year? If you go three years without using it, they’ll close your account and refund your outstanding balance. And if you use it enough to keep the account active, you’ll save time on those infrequent trips.

Look, I try to be among the first to condemn silly or stupid uses of technology. But I don’t think FasTrak falls into either of those categories.

So why do so many people think otherwise?

Oopsies

We all have bad days.

I hate having to correct mistakes, but one is warranted here. On Tuesday, I said that Massage Envy had pulled their ads off of the MLB.TV broadcasts.

This is not the case. The spots aren’t running as frequently–I only say four or five during a game yesterday, rather than the dozen or more I’d been seeing–but they are still running. I suspect the most likely explanation is that the cost to pull the ads entirely would have been more than the budget would allow.

And my point still stands: regardless of what Mike Pence might think, a massage, even one involving multiple genders, can be a non-sexual thing. And if Massage Envy is going to be in that business, rather than the sexual sort–or rape–they should be taking active steps now, before the suit goes to trial, to confirm their trustworthiness in the eyes of the public.

Moving on.

It’s only Thursday, but I think we’ve got a hot candidate for the “Bad Day of the Week” award.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has had so many bad days of late that even their good days are pretty bad. The public outcry for Somebody to Do Something have gotten loud enough that some wild approaches are being tried.

According to the SF Chronicle, Governor Newsom has decided that the best approach is to neuter the department.

No, I’m not kidding. The Chron’s headline on a story yesterday says “Silicon Valley vet tapped to fix tech-addled DMV”.

I’m not sure I see how forcing the DMV’s employees to display shaved tummies for a few weeks will reduce wait times, improve data management, or contribute to customer satisfaction, but if you can’t trust the governor, who can–what?

Oh. The new head of the DMV is an IT expert, not a veterinarian. Nobody’s tummy will be non-consensually shaved and no pockets will be picked–aside from the usual levels of graft found in public service.

Granted, the DMV’s computer systems are archaic, but modern technology is no automatic panacea. I like that the new guy says he’s not planning to do anything new, just pick up the best bits of available technology. As long as the focus stays on customer needs rather than speculative technological nonsense like electronic license plates, he might actually accomplish something.

So, a significant oopsie on the headline writer, but not a world-class bad day, even if the headline was on the front page. But then we get to Page A8, where we learn that Hawaii has been invaded by a movie monster.

“Protests spread as activists fight giant telescope” says the headline.

Once you get past wondering why they don’t just call in Gamera to take on the giant telescope–or borrow San Francisco’s Martian War Machine, aka the Sutro Tower–you find that they’re not fighting the telescope.

They are, in fact, fighting plans to build one. In other words, their beef is with the scientists who selected the site and the government bureaucracies that approved the construction.

No laser death rays, underpowered military defenders, or badly dubbed dialog. Just another front in the ongoing culture wars.

And a headline writer who needs a day off.

I suppose they got it. I didn’t see any howlers in today’s paper. But who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Not That Simple

To those of you celebrating the Fourth of July and what remains of our civil liberties, happy holidays. Stay safe and sane.

I thought I’d give you a bit of a tech post for the occasion, because what could be more American than spending money on electronics? Remember, most retailers are having holiday sales through the weekend.

Note: I have not been paid for any of the comments below, nor will I receive any benefit should you run out and buy anything on my recommendation. That said, if the various manufacturers mentioned want to toss piles of cash in my direction, I’ll be happy to accept.

As you may have gathered, I did not wind up crushed beneath a pile of USB-C hubs and docking stations. As it turned out, my first test subject proved adequate to the task. You may recall that the goal was to connect two monitors, one with a VGA input and one with a DVI input to a thoroughly modern laptop which has only a single USB-C port.

I chose to begin my search with the j5create JCD381.
04-1_jcd381

Note the symmetrical layout: two HDMI ports on the left, two USB 3.1 ports on the right, balanced around the network port. Symmetry may not be important in a device’s functionality, but it is aesthetically pleasing. There’s also a USB-C input on the end next to the cable. As that leaves the end unsymmetrical, I’ve chosen not to show it here.

The big selling point for the JCD381–aside from its cheapness compared to similar, larger docks–was that none of the ads I saw warned against using HDMI-to-something-else converters.

And it works fine with my converters (more on that later). It does not, however, Just Work. It is necessary to install driver software for the computer to recognize the HDMI ports. And, in a reversion to the Days of Yore, it was even necessary to reboot the computer after installing the drivers. I may be a fan of tradition, but that was a little too retro for my tastes.

However, drivers installed and computer restarted, I plugged in the cable and darned if both screens didn’t light up. A quick trip to the display settings made the biggest monitor the primary, and presto! Word processor in front of me, email to my left, and system monitor and other low-priority attention grabbers on the smallest screen where I’ll have to make a conscious effort to see them.

The JCD381 isn’t perfect. (You’re not surprised to hear that, are you?) This is not the dock to choose if you’re running a Mac. There are multiple reports that even after installing the drivers, you won’t be able to have different outputs on the two HDMI connectors. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of those reports, but they’re pervasive enough that I wouldn’t take the chance.

More significant to Windows users, the dock lacks an audio/headphone jack. That would have been handy and including one could have fixed the lack of symmetry on the cable end.

That, however, is a quick and cheap fix if you’re converting one of the outputs to VGA. Behold!
04-2_Rankie_HDMI-VGA

This is the Rankie HDMI-to-VGA adapter. Micro-USB port on the left to power it (and yes, it comes with an appropriate cable) and audio on the right. Eight bucks from that well-known purveyor of fine (and not-so-fine) goods whose name begins with an A.

Sure, I could have saved the eight dollars and just plugged my speakers into the computer’s headphone jack, but that would have meant an extra plug or unplug every time I moved the machine. Well worth the octodollar to have everything on a single cable.

There are other issues.

The USB-C input on the j5create box is a bit loose. If I accidentally move the dock when plugging or unplugging it, it can disconnect the power. Annoying, but not fatal, and I could probably find a way to anchor the plug more securely in the dock.

The dock does get hot in use. Not burn-your-fingers-and-set-the-desk-on-fire hot, but significantly toasty. Make sure it’s well-ventilated.

And, finally, the computer has lost track of the network port a couple of times. I’m still troubleshooting that one, but I suspect the problem is at the computer end–either a driver issue or a Windows bug–rather than with the hardware. Since the computer automatically falls back to Wi-Fi, I hardly notice. And the port comes back to life the next time I reboot the computer, so it’s not that big a deal. I’ll find a fix eventually, but it’s not affecting my quality of life right now.

So there you have it. Maybe not quite so simple that only a child can do it after all.

One Step Closer

San Francisco has its Transbay Center back.

You may note there’s a word missing from that sentence.

Actually, purists would argue there are a couple of words missing. But I just can’t see calling it the “Salesforce Transit Center”. Corporate naming is the modern equivalent of product placement.

Back in the day–mostly even before my time–companies would sponsor a radio or TV program. For underwriting a large chunk of the cost of the show, the sponsor would not only get to put their name in the show’s name (remember The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny or more recently, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom?) but would also get to have their products appear in the show.

Now sponsors pay a small fraction of the cost of production (Salesforce is paying $110 million over twenty-five years; the total cost of the terminal–not counting the recent repairs–was around 2.2 billion) but still want total recognition.

Is it any wonder people ignore the new names or nickname them into oblivion? I suspect that building in downtown San Francisco will be widely known as “The Transit Center”.

But I digress.

Anyway, the rooftop park, complete with its new non-decomposing concrete paths, reopened to the public yesterday.

Crowds were, well, not very crowded. But then, the reopening was only lightly publicized. Judging by the Chron’s reporting, most of the traffic came from people who stopped into one of the coffee shops that have doors leading to the park and decided to add a little sunshine to their caffeine fixes.

Fair enough. I’d likely have done the same if I’d been in the vicinity. (Let it be noted here that my previous employment was a short block away from the large hole in the ground now occupied by the terminal. I dare say that if I were still working there, I’d be hanging out in the park at lunchtime on a regular basis.)

But back to that missing word. There isn’t yet any transit in the Transit Center.

Debris from the repairs and the major re-inspections is still being cleaned up. And, naturally, the bus drivers who’ll be using the center need to be retrained in how to get in and out of the building. Or in many cases, trained for the first time. Those direct freeway on- and off-ramps can be tricky (and no, I’m not being sarcastic here; it seems like a potentially confusing transition.)

No date has been set to resume bus service, but official-type people are bandying “August”. Let’s recall that the center officially opened last August 10th. It might be nicely symbolic to have the official re-opening on the same day this year. (And it would be almost purely symbolic. The tenth is a Saturday, and most of the transbay buses don’t run on weekends.)

As for the ground-level businesses that everyone hopes will attract non-commuters to the Transbay Soon-To-Be-Transit Center, they’re not scheduled to open until “fall”.

But the park is open. That’s progress.