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.

A Departure

This will be the last blog post I link to on Facebook, at least for the foreseeable future. If you’re coming here to find out when I’ve posted*, I recommend you use the link on the blog itself to be notified by email whenever I post. You can also–at least for now–follow me on Twitter (@CaseyKarp).

* As part of your other Facebook usage, of course; I’m not quite egotistical enough to think following me is the only reason you’re on Facebook. On the other hand, if you are, drop me a note: I could use the positive reinforcement.

In addition, I will no longer be reading Facebook posts. No more likes, no more birthday greetings, and no more comments (though I will look for and respond to comments on this post for a few days).

Believe me, it’s got nothing to do with you, singularly or collectively. No, this is all about me. Because, as several people who know me will tell you, everything is all about me.

Okay, Facebook itself has a lot to do with my decision. And if you really want to spread the blame around, toss a bit at Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, who recently summed up much of what I’ve been thinking about Facebook.

I’m not going to follow his lead and delete my account, at least not yet. I’ll come back to that shortly.

Spoiler: my decision has little to do with the annoyance of having to link posts manually, except to the extent that the inability to link posts automatically is a symptom of the larger problem.

The bottom line here is literally that: Facebook is so focused on the bottom line that they’re incapable of admitting a mistake. Worse, even if they were to try to fix something, they’ve gotten so big and unwieldy they can’t possibly do it quickly or well. (Yes, the old oil tanker problem: if every course change costs you time and money, you had better get the course right the first time.) Facebook can’t change course on a dime. Hell, they’d be doing well to change course on a billion dimes.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that my Facebook account is, and has always been, in support of my writing. We’ve reached the point where at least as many people go to Facebook to look for someone as who go to Google or Bing, LinkedIn or Instagram, or any other search or interpersonal networking site, so if a writer wants to be found by his readers, he needs to be on Facebook.

Nor is it any secret that Facebook makes its money by selling information to advertisers. Not just who you follow, but which posts you read, what you Like or Hate, who you comment on, how long you spend on the site, and even how long it takes you to read a post.

And yes, Facebook limits what posts you see by how much the poster is willing to pay to get the posts in front of you.

Which is why the ability to automatically link blog posts went away. Facebook doesn’t want you leaving their site to come to mine, so they’re limiting my ability to lure you away, unless I pay them for the privilege.

Sure, there are ways to get around that, ways to see everything a particular person posts, but they’re clumsy, and not everyone knows about them.

Not only is this kind of silo not what the social internet* was created for, but if we can believe any of Facebook’s public history, it’s not what Facebook was created for either.

* The part of the internet used by the entire world to talk to each other, as opposed to the original, original internet intended to link military computers. (Gross oversimplification, I know. It’s a side-issue. Deal.)

I’ve decided that I’m not interested in being part of Facebook’s walled garden any more. I don’t want them making money by selling people advertising because they’ve chosen to follow me–or because I’ve chosen to follow them.

As I said, I’m not going to delete my account. If people are going to come to Facebook looking for me, I’m mercenary enough to want to be here to be found. But only to the extent necessary to direct them elsewhere.

Over the next few days, I’ll be unfollowing and unfriending everyone on Facebook. Don’t be offended: as I said, it’s not you, it’s me. And Facebook. If you want to do the same to me, please go ahead. Or if you would rather leave things as they are in the hope I’ll come back someday–and it could happen, although I agree with Dr. Plait that it’s unlikely–feel free. Your relationship with Facebook is your own business.

Hope to see you somewhere else.

SAST 12

Welcome to the twelfth production of Short Attention Span Theater. This installment is brought to you, not by hay fever and inconveniently draped felines, but by Like Herding Cats. I’m deeply enmeshed in what I hope will be the final revision, and don’t want to take the time to develop complete thoughts about much of anything right now.

Act One: Apple introduced new hardware earlier this week. No, not iPhones; that was back in September. The latest goodies-to-be are a new MacBook Air, a new iPad Pro, and a new Mac Mini.

I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about the laptop and tablet. I’ve never used a MacBook of any sort, and while the iPad Pro sounds like a nice bit of gear, it’s way to rich for my wallet–and massively overpowered for my tablet needs.

That said, I do appreciate Apple replacing the iPad Pro’s Lightening Port with a USB-C port. One less bit of proprietary gear, and more access to existing third-party hardware.

As for the Mini, I’ve got mixed feelings there. I’ve got an original Mac Mini around here someplace. It’s not in use because its power supply has wandered off, but it was a nice piece of kit in its day. I’m glad to see Apple hasn’t killed off the line, but I’m sad to see that they’re changing its emphasis.

The original point of the Mini was to bring in non-Apple users. As such, it was cheap. Cheap to the point of almost entirely forgoing the usual Apple markup. It seems, however, that Apple has decided the Mini has attracted all the Windows users it’s going to, and so they’ve decided to make it a more “professional” machine.

In case you didn’t realize it, in the tech industry, the word professional means “more expensive”. As such, the price has gone up $300. It’s still a good deal for the price, but it’s not as good a deal as it used to be.

Act Two: Our darling president’s latest threatpromise has been getting a lot of press, as usual. No, not that one. No, not that one either. I mean the one about wiping out birthright citizenship.

All the hysterical responses to the effect of “He can’t do that! It’s unconstitutional!” are missing the point.

First of all, “unconstitutional” is what the Supreme Court says it is. If you believe the current lineup of justices is a threat to abortion rights, why would you think they’d be any less of a threat to citizenship?

Secondly, Trump doesn’t care whether he can “do it”. It’s a distraction. Just the latest of many. When was the last time you saw any news about Russian interference in the upcoming election?

Third, nobody can actually stop him from issuing a proclamationan executive order. He may well go ahead and do it, on the theory that even if it doesn’t squeeze past the Supreme Court, it’ll be tied up there for months, leaving everyone scared–the administration’s preferred mental state–and providing the Republicans with the chance to spin the battle as “Democrats are soft on immigration.”

Third-and-a-halfth, if there is an executive order, you can be sure it’ll be written to exclude children whose parents are from countries that aren’t on Trump’s shit list. Because there’s nothing the administration would like better than than to divide the opposition by carving out a block of people who are going to feel like they dodged a bullet. Those are the ones who’ll be shouting the loudest about how Trump’s not such a bad guy after all…

Act Three: We end this production on a cheerier note.

The Austin Lounge Lizards are still doing their thing, thirty-eight years down the road (only eighteen years less than the Rolling Stones!)

Maggie and I went to last night’s show at the Freight and Salvage* in Berkeley. The band’s had a line-up change since the last time we saw them, which suggests that it’s been too long since we last went to one of their shows. It happens. The current group seems solid, though.

* Temporarily renamed the “Fright and Savage”. Though we were disappointed to see that the e and l on their neon sigh were left uncovered.

Granted, there were a few rough edges here and there, but to be fair, it’s probably been two decades or more since some of those songs were on their setlist.

The Lizards have tried out a number of things over the years–you can get damn stale doing the same thing over and over (Rolling Stones, anyone?)–including flirtations with folk, gospel, rap, and a few other styles that are currently eluding me.

The current experiment is with medleys, pairing (and sometimes tripling and quadling) selections from their back catalog with songs from across the rock and roll era–all in their inimitable bluegrass style. By and large, it works. I didn’t know the world needed a bluegrass rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep,” but now that we have one, I’m convinced we’re all better for the experience. (For the record, “Creep” goes very nicely with “Shallow End of the Gene Pool,” an instrumental take on The Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” and The Doors’ “When You’re Strange.”)

The current California mini-tour hits Winters tonight, Felton tomorrow, Culver City on Saturday, and winds up with an Election Night show in Houston, TX. Yeah, I know Houston isn’t in California–and thank all the deities for that–but that’s the Lizards for you. If you can make one of the shows, do it. Show some support for an American icon.

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced–You Know

A few days ago, a former cow-orker–let’s call him Fred*–asked if I’d be a reference for his current job search. I’m fairly sure this is the first time I’ve been asked.

* A nice, generic name that’s not even close to the person’s real name. Confidentiality is important, after all.

It’s possible I’m not the best person for the role–I imagine prospective employers would rather hear from people still working in the field. But I also assume Fred knows the market better than I do at this point. And besides, he’s a friend. So I said yes.

I figured I might get a phone call a couple of days down the road. Take a few minutes, tell the HR person that Fred is the Ken Griffey, Jr. of his field*, and be done with my good deed.

* No, wait, Junior is retired. Not a good implication. Mike Trout? Yeah, that could work. How’s your OPS, Fred?

Nope. A couple of hours later, I got an email from an employment screening company. They wanted me to fill out a three page form on their website.

Three pages turned out to be, if memory serves, ten questions, only one of which was optional. More than I’d expected, but I did my best, fillin’ out the form and playing with the pencils on the bench there. Hit Submit, and that was the end of it.

Until yesterday, when I got an email from a different screening company, right before I knocked off for the day. They’ve got six questions, and I can answer them either in a reply email or by calling the company’s toll-free number. None of the questions are the same as the first outfit’s selection.

I haven’t done that one yet–I’ll get on it as soon as I finish this post, Fred–although I have to wonder if Fred’s going to be penalized because I didn’t drop everything to respond immediately.

Not that it would have been an instant response. These questions, like the first batch, need some serious thought. They’re the kind of questions I’d expect to be answering if I was applying for a job.

Again, I’m willing to do it for a friend, but I have to wonder how much benefit the actual employer gets from this level of questioning. Do they really get better employees from these detailed electronic references collected by employment services than they would with old-fashioned, phone-based reference checks carried out by an in-house HR department?

There’s no going back, though. Onward into our out-sourced, technological future.

A Tiny Step Forward

The good news is that the Transbay Terminal is still standing.

The bad news is that we don’t know when it’ll reopen–heck, we don’t even know when we’ll know when it’ll reopen.

Seriously, though, at least everyone involved is making the right noises. “Get the temporary patch in place, then figure out what went wrong, and then decide what to do about it.”

Is it just me, or does that feel like the exact opposite of the way the Bay Bridge problems have been handled? I don’t think it’s just me. The attitude on the bridge seems more like “Fix the problem, then figure out what went wrong and whether the fix actually accomplished anything.”

But I digress.

The latest news on the terminal is that the temporary fix is in place and Fremont Street has reopened. Only ten days later than planned, but that was widely expected. Considering the patch involved cutting through three levels of the terminal, dodging pipes, cables, and ducts, only the most starry-eyed optimist would have expected them to have finished by the fifth.

In any case, the engineers involved believe the terminal is secure enough to allow invasive sampling–meaning “snipping off bits”–of the cracked beams. The current plan is to complete the testing by the end of October.

Then comes the fun of designing and implementing the permanent fix.

It’s not all gloom and delay, though. Depending on what turns up in the analysis of the cracked beams, there’s a good chance the rooftop park will reopen even before repair work begins. Though, to be fair to the downside, there’s no word on a fix for the crumbling paths in the park.

Reopening the terminal to pedestrians and park goers would be a win. Not only is the park a major attraction for an area that needs one, but there are many small businesses in the terminal. Getting more foot traffic, even if it’s not the daily commute crowd, would likely save jobs.

Kudos to the Transbay Joint Powers Authority for taking the proper approach to the problem, and best of luck for a swift and secure resolution.